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THE HANDSOME SON (PART THREE) Part One -- Part Two
by David Payne a story of fine jewels and vanity



The next day began early. The young man awoke when the sun was still red. He roused Ivan and some other guests and they tiredly drank coffee while the servants were sweeping up. There would be only men travelling to the jewel market. The ladies were still asleep. Ivan quietly woke Katherine and asked if she’d like to go to the market. She was happily getting dressed when Aurelle stirred and asked if she could join them. Ivan told her that there would be only men going to the market. He then went and told Katherine to go back to sleep - before she could object he disappeared through the hall and boarded the departing coaches.

The market consumed the town hall and the street surrounding the Powder Castle. Vendors from all over the region had set up stands or laid out blankets and were selling marvels, charms, silver trinkets and musical instruments. The men’s coach was expected by a group of finely dressed Jewish businessmen who led them into the ground floor of a large urban mansion. They were given tea. The young jewel trader objected to the tea and, instead, took wine. Musicians were brought in to entertain the young trader and his entourage. The sofa he was offered was stiff and uncomfortable. He opted instead for a cushion on the floor, which he sat on while propping his back against a fluted column and drinking wine. One by one, vendors entered with their finest offerings. The young man knew well how to judge the quality and cut of the jewels. His father had instructed him with firm discipline and he ignored the annoyance of his entourage’s insistence that he purchase the Bohemian coloured lead crystal or other bulky, low-value goods.

The young trader purchased several kilos of garnets. Their grade was high but garnets in general were not of exquisite value, although it was the tendance for young Parisians to wear garnet bracelets and brooches. This effected the market and it was necessary to buy several kilos. He also, as his father had requested, purchased eight kilos of astral emeralds and sapphires. The cuts were fine but not expertise. He could have them recut in Paris. Some of the emeralds were engraved – which was seldom seen outside of the orient – this style didn’t please the young man but cut emeralds were also very popular with the young, wealthy Parisians. Purchasing gemstones was similar to gambling in a casino. The dealers offered wine and cognac to try and loosen the purse strings of the buyer. Hands moved quickly and eyes darted around, it was necessary to think quickly and act cautiously.

The young man was often reckless in behaviour but he had been trained well in this trade so when he was alone in the Prague marketplace, he acted cool and wisely. After he secured parcels of emeralds, sapphires and garnets, he asked that the doors be barred so no more dealers could enter. Ivan and the young man drank and talked merrily on the Bohemian tapestries. The young man gave Ivan many of the gifts he had been offered by the dealers – mostly bulky crystal trinkets. Ivan accepted without hesitance and they continued to drink.

Their coaches had been moved to the rear of the mansion – to a gated courtyard where fountains flowed and ivy climbed. The entourage disappeared quietly through the back and, after loading the jewels in the coaches, left through the cobbled streets of Prague.
The young man had no reason to worry about robbers. Neither did he worry about Ivan’s men ransacking his parcels. A successful jewel trader had a large network of comrades who ensured that he was respected and almost feared. The only threats to a successful jewel trader were the officials at the foreign borders – for they worked for the government, had the government on their side, yet their low pay and status ensured that they remained deviant and unfaithful to all – including their own governments.

On the way back, Ivan exclaimed that he wanted to stop by the grand Muzeum to show the young man all the relics of the great Bohemian wars. The young man wouldn’t hear of that, however, there were too many valuables in the coaches – even if Ivan’s men remained outside to guard them, it was not an option. Besides, the young man wanted to return to the estate to see Katherine.
The girls were not present when the men returned and the young man felt suddenly lonesome upon returning. There was another feast planned; it was Monday afternoon and the young man would be passing the border the next day. They would eat, drink, sleep and then ride west, Ivan kept saying as if it was a grand adventure to look forward to.

Ivan hoped that the girls would not return that night. He had not invited them but that hadn’t stopped their casual appearances in the past. Ivan knew exactly the unrest that was caused by the handsome young man’s presence and he had thought it over and over and decided that if it came down to it, he would be ready to kill the young man. He didn’t care what power or army the young man had on his side. If it were necessary, Ivan would kill the young man, without delay. Ivan drank his tea and smiled with a new sense of carefree power.

Meanwhile the young man considered Ivan’s earlier words and decided that it might not be a good idea to confess his feelings to Katherine. He had already, in his brief life, known many cruel women who cared more about power than sincerity. Still the young man felt, while picturing Katherine’s soft and pale face, that she was neither malevolent nor petty. ‘She would not be interested in such futile games.’ He thought. He drank the bitter tea beside Ivan and sifted through his purchases of that day.
The young man had many plans and ideas for attaining this young jewel, Katherine, but each one was flawed and unsure. He speculated on Ivan’s true malevolent wishes and came to the conclusion that no one within the boundaries of Bohemia was truly on his side – at least yet.

The young man resisted when Ivan, insisted that the two of them spend the evening out in the high-class dens and salons of Prague. There was a feast in preparation and the young man was determined to remain for it. A young lady entered the room. She was tall and blonde. Her face was almost pleasant but slightly bony – sharing the Slovak appearance that was common amongst Ivan’s friends. She walked with her head hunched over from disproportionate height. Her body was overly thin and this kept her from achieving the graceful movements that she was obviously seeking to convey. Her laugh was plentiful yet disturbing, full of snorts and heckles and she immediately took a fondness for the handsome young man. She apparently had no other reason for sitting beside him and showing such blatant interest other than for that she adored to speak of France and specifically of Paris. The young man didn’t want to speak with her about Paris, he didn’t care for Paris rhetoric and he cared even less for her pedantic way of speaking. He humoured her for a short while, then poked fun at the way she spoke of the old Parisian writers whom she obviously didn’t understand; finally during one of her sentences, he fell asleep on a plate of bread that was set out in front of him.

Although she was insulted, she laughed at this and moved on to interrupt a conversation that was taking place not too far away.
The young man awoke soon after to a caress on his neck and lower collar. He didn’t awake suddenly but softly, and comfortably. Turning his head, he had expected to see Ivan cooing softly with his palms upon the young man’s back – instead it was Katherine. He looked to her eyes softly, which held both the romantic light of mid-evening as well as the nurturing affection of a mother. He held her eyes briefly and then turned to see if Ivan was in the room.
"Are you looking for Ivan?" She asked.
"No." The young man said softly.
"Oh, well he was outside taking a keg of vodka from a wagon when the cat dragged the sandbag out from beneath its wheel. The old wagon rolled down the hill. He’s probably chased it clear down to the Jewish quarter." She laughed.
The young man laughed too - softer though, more concerned with the woman beside him.
"I will be leaving early tomorrow morning."
"I know." Katherine said.
"Would you like to see Spain?"
"Someday." She replied, with no hope in her voice.
"Are you engaged here in Prague?" The young man asked.
"For the moment… but I do not plan to return after I am back in Germany."
"Is Ivan going to accompany you to Germany?"
"That isn’t planned – why do you ask?" Katherine took her soft hands off of the young man and crossed them over her breast. A pendant with a small crystal bird swung back and forth from the movement."
"Isn’t Ivan the reason you are here?"
"Certainly not!" Katherine laughed. "I am here with my brother, Ivan’s good friend. I accompanied him here for the first time last week."
"And your brother… he is the fiancé of Miss Aurelle?" The young man asked, testing the situation.
"A humorous idea! That would, indeed upset his friend Ivan."
"Why so?"
"You and Ivan have spoken intimately often during the last two days… he didn’t mention that he is to marry Aurelle?"
"No." The young man said truthfully.
"That is surprising, considering Aurelle has taken quite an interest in you. I figured that Ivan would have made his position clear… so you mean that he didn’t tell you this even after you gave the chain of opals to his fiancée?"
"I haven’t given a chain of opals to anyone, in fact I accidentally destroyed her string of pearls."
"Curious! The games you boys play."
The young man decided then to ask the young Katherine for a walk in the garden when an abrupt, handsome man danced over and grabbed her hand, leading her to the wood floor under the chandelier where the two could dance to the music of the piano player who was commencing.
The young man watched the two of them. He felt childish jealousy as the young man swung her around and held her by the waist.

Rather than watch, he went alone to the garden. This night was a bit cooler and, not feeling like a lonesome promenade, he returned to the steps to smoke.
The couple – Katherine and the new handsome face – soon after retreated to the patio where the young man was smoking. They were holding hands and laughing and this made him cringe with a jealous apathy.
The young man in fact had a chain of opals – it was in his pocket. And while the couple approached, he thumbed it nervously.
"My brother." Katherine said, tilting her head towards her companion.
"This is your brother?" The young man asked, feeling silly for having the previous pangs of childish jealousy.
"Hi Salvador!" A hand was outstretched.
"A pleasure!" Salvador too reached out his hand, but his contained the chain of opals, which he pressed into the brother’s hand.
"For you."
The brother bowed low and thanked him. When he realised that they were true opals, he became even more grateful, "How did you know that my birthday is in October – the month of the opal?"
"Well here it is October first – your birthday must be soon."
"Actually, it’s tonight." The brother laughed, "Did you think these festivities were for you?"
The two men talked charmingly and lightly for several moments. Katherine was eager to be among them and she darted her ears and eyes back and forth.
The blue-lit clouds above thinned and formed wispy, lamp-shaped streaks that blew across the sky as a new, warm breeze descended, making the night feel like august and the stars blink gay and bright.
The hedges and thickets of rhododendrons contrasted sharply against the sky. They absorbed the light of the stars and after the brother had happily returned inside, Katherine and the young man walked between them, talking of Bohemia, of Germany, of youth and the future. They were soon after much closer and naturally their hands fell together to warm each other as they walked.
Those moments in the garden didn’t last long enough for the young man – neither for Katherine. The new couple was interrupted by a drunken trail of singers, led by the pedantic woman who had earlier begged the attention of the young man. The group of singers were colourful with bright streamers trailing off their feet and monstrous, makeshift costumes. The brother, third in the line, pulled the young man and Katherine into the group of howlers and, after the orgy had grown to fill the garden, Katherine had disappeared whereas the young man stood alone, wandering around, looking for a glass of wine.
It was at the banquet table some moments later that Ivan approached. He was unusually sober and cool. The young man joked a bit with no reaction and then asked the large, brooding figure to take a walk.
"Have you seen Aurelle?" He asked the young man.
"Much earlier."
The two fell silent. All the while, the young man thought to himself. Realising that he owed Ivan essentially nothing, and that he would be leaving the following morning, he went forward and spoke without apprehension.
"Why do you worry so much about Aurelle this night?"
"I was just speaking…."
The young man interrupted, "I thought you were in love with Katherine."
"Of course I am – that is my blessure." Ivan sulked.
"The why are you engaged to marry Aurelle?" The young man asked.
"Who on earth told you this?" Ivan appeared shocked.
"Katherine’s brother" The young man said without thinking.
"Oh!" Ivan laughed. "Indeed I told him this when Katherine and I had a falling out… about six months ago, after I first met Miss Katherine." Ivan stopped speaking and began to whistle a carefree tune that annoyed the young man.
"Do go on…."
"I already explained that Katherine had initially confessed her love for me. I have not lied to you in any way."
"And you love Katherine. Why then did you tell her brother that you were engaged to Aurelle?" The young man was confused.
"Katherine and I would probably be married now if I hadn’t grown unbelievably jealous one afternoon when I saw Katherine kiss a man rather affectionately in my own courtyard. It was a just several days after I met her. She came alone in the night from Berlin and introduced herself. I was immediately entranced and, although I didn’t understand why she came to my estate, I let her in and had the maids prepare a bed for her.

That week the two of us fell madly in love with each other and were inseparably – morning to night. Only two days later she disappeared for several hours. Finally I caught a glimpse of her near the fountain. I couldn’t see clearly but I knew she was kissing a strange man. I drew a blade from the wall near the door and charged the man in jealousy. That was the first time that I had such an immensity of blood upon my hands and clothes. When I came threw from a dizzy sickness that followed, I realised that the man I almost killed was my best friend, the brother of Katherine. That is why Katherine came to my estate. She had planned to reunite with her brother. He was indeed my best friend and he soon forgave me for the near-fatal wounds. Katherine, however, ended our romance and I took solace in the company of Aurelle. Since then I have been trying bring Katherine back to me."

The young man didn’t want to believe that Katherine had ever loved Ivan but his story sounded in earnest. Ivan trembled slightly in the moonlight. He looked much too human there. His hard Slovak features showed wrinkles and his body hunched over in soft weakness. Before, the young man had wanted to take Katherine with him in the night like a rogue; but now, after seeing the feebleness of his friend Ivan, he decided that it was right and noble to fight fairly for the love of this woman. He decided then that he would leave in the morning as planned and, upon bidding farewell to Miss Katherine, he would offer her the opportunity to reunite with him in Spain, or in France, or even in Germany – as far as she could travel alone.

When Ivan and the young man finished speaking that evening, the both looked at each other with a mutual, unmentioned respect for one another. The young man felt well of this Bohemian prince, whose eyes were capable of revealing the pain of an urban beggar, when he let him be that night and slipped off in the dark to the room where he was to be sleeping.
"Hooo…hooo."
"Hello?"
"Hooo… hooo… it’s your little German owl… are you sleeping?"
"Hi!" The young man said, rolling back his bedclothes to let Katherine, his little owl, sit down beside him. The room was dark all but a lamp that was left burning on the balcony near a nightingale’s nest.
"Hello sweet owl." The young man said sleepily to Katherine, caressing her bare arm as she sat beside him.
"When do you leave tomorrow?" She asked – a bit worried.
"Early."
"I wish I could come with you." Katherine whispered, stretching herself out beside the young man – simultaneously kissing him on the forehead.
"Can you?" He replied with hope, lying his head on her breast.
"I’m afraid I must wait her with my brother until the troops pass next week. But if you can not stay with me here, I will go as far as Spain to find you."
"I won’t go far without you. I would stay with you but then, I’m afraid, my paper’s will expire and neither will I be able to return with the gemstones, nor will I have an entourage to return me to Spain."
"I understand your duties, but please know that I would return with you next week, had you no jewels nor even any money – even if I had to carry the rickshaw, that you were to ride in myself."
Kissing her softly, "I’m afraid that many of the jewels I carry have already been purchased by others. But this is still no reason to say goodbye. I will return for you or by any means."
The two lay softly together for quite a while. Outside the young man’s room, the sounds of no one could be heard. The young man lay awake, tracing the shapes of the shadows on the wall with his fingers. The young lady was almost asleep when he spoke again.
"I will return to Spain with the jewels and the immediately ride to Weimar to reunite with you. It shouldn’t take more than two weeks."
"My love," Katherine said for the first time, "There is no reason for you to return to Spain immediately. You can deposit the jewels in Weimar – at my brother’s and wait there for me – or return here if you’d like… then we will travel to Spain together.
The young man thought about this and realised that he could be back with Katherine in two days. ‘But what,’ he thought, ‘what about Ivan, the man who stabbed another out of jealousy for the affections of Katherine. It would not be safe for him to return to Prague for her.’ It was apparent that Ivan would, upon the couple’s departure, hunt the young man down and slay him.
"I will," He continued, "Leave the gems at your brothers. Then I will wait a few days and travel to the border of Bohemia and Germany where I will greet you and your brother upon your voyage… It will just be the two of you departing, correct?"
"Yes… and do you mean it? You’ll travel to find me?"
"I will." The young man concluded.

The two new lovers drifted quickly and unknowingly to sleep in each others arms. At dawn, Katherine awoke and realised that she must return to her room. With a kiss they confirmed plans and Katherine slipped out the door. The young man thought quietly. He was no longer quiet. He lay silently and thought with great pleasure and apprehension about the coming week. ‘When we are together and travelling to Spain, everything will be alright.’ He thought, ‘I will have to stop in Paris and give the jewels and the papers to my father; then, it is sure, I will go to Spain. We will seek the sun and be alone together – her and me.

When the birds lit up the blue sky with their song, the young man dressed quietly and entered Ivan’s room to rouse him. Ivan was pleasant but quite tired and while the young man drank coffee in the kitchen, Ivan prepared the wagons and the other men.

The caravan trailed up the side of the sunlit hills, exactly as it had rode in. Ivan and the young man shared the trailing, two-man rickshaw, lined with velvet and cabinets of oak and mahogany. They drank brandy together and, in an informal ceremony, the young man offered Ivan – as expected – many valuable gifts in exchange for the hospitality. Ivan wanted to wait for the exchange until before they reached the customs gates but the young man was very excited to give Ivan his gifts. Ivan received them very sentimentally and this annoyed the young man. After they had only been in the same coach together for twenty-minutes – after they had just left the confines of Prague – the young man made a pretext to go and sit with the drivers who were swearing and drinking. The young man did enjoy their company more than the overly refined Ivan but there was some weak spirit in Ivan’s soul that the young man would miss after the two had parted ways.

When Ivan ceased shouting up ahead to the young man, and after the drivers stopped taking notice of him, the young man slipped back to the third car – which was empty except for wine and his jewels. There he could be alone and comfortable and he revelled it for the few moments he stayed there.
Soon, after the commotion had stopped and all of the passengers fell silent with the realisation that they had, yet, a long way to go, the young man quickly strapped the burlap bags of gemstones to his back and dove out of the coach into a neighbouring bush.

He had scratches on his legs and arms from the brier, but he shook off the pain in order to watch the road. He had to see if his companion’s wagons’ stopped. He thought that he should run if Ivan or one of the drivers noticed that he was gone. ‘No, one second thought,’ he considered, ‘it’s perfectly reasonable to think that I just fell out of the wagon when I was trying to return to Ivan’s coach. I’ll say that I would have chased after them but I was too hurt from the briar cuts… then I can escape again a few more kilometres down the road.’

There was, however, no sign of stopping wagons nor approaching drivers. The young man was mostly intact; he had his jewels and he would head back to Ivan’s estate – to meet Katherine,
The young man walked for several hours before finding a farm inhabitants and running water to cleanse his wounds. Initially, the farmer didn’t trust the young man for his loose travelling clothes and burlap sacs were stained with mud from the side of the road where he fell.
After offering the belligerent farmer several blue sapphires, however, his temperament turned to kindness and the farmer agreed to sell the young man a horse.

The young man paid for the horse with a few of the lowest-grade gems. The farmer didn’t know the difference. Once the horse was purchased and untied, the young man galloped off towards the estate. He had very little time to return to the frontier before his gems were seized and his papers robbed. His first priority, however, was to return to Katherine and bring her with him at all costs.
When the young man returned, Katherine was at the estate, speaking with the maids. The young man called to her from the garden quietly and she brightened up, ran out and jumped upon him – wrapping her arms around his body.
He explained with less affection than urgency that she had to cross the frontier with him at all costs. He offered to provide her brother with whatever money he needed to stay safely in Bohemia until after the German troops passed through.
She almost acquiesced without question. Then she asked, "Where is Ivan?"

He explained his escape to her and she informed him that there was only one road that could take him to German that evening. She insisted that he return on that road and, when meeting Ivan on his way back, explain that he fell out of the coach. He could then cross the frontier alone and wait for her. She would also take that road, but ride a few kilometres behind. She would hide herself in a dark hood, she said, and explained that there would be danger if Ivan and his men found him and her heading for the border together.

The young man acquiesced to her plan. The important things were that he returned to Germany that evening, with his papers and the Jewels and Katherine near to him – and that she never again comes face to face with Ivan. The young man set out again, alone on his horse. He said goodbye to Katherine with less tender romance but more fiery passion than he had ever offered a woman.
She didn’t question his behaviour yet she also bid so long with passion and worried longing.
He watched from the hill as Katherine too mounted a horse, hooded and unrecognisable, and began to climb the hill.

The young man increased his speed to a gallop. He would have to continue at that pace if he were to return to the border before his papers expired. The burlap sacks were firmly strapped on either side of the horse. The jewels within belonged to his father, yet he would be able – it was certain – to retain enough of them to comfortably travel to Spain with Katherine.

Later, not doubting her intentions, only doubting the clarity of their plan, the young man climbed a hill with his horse off the side of the road. From this hill, he could see the rooftops of Prague; he could also see the hooded rider many kilometres back. It was no doubt Katherine the lonesome rider, and he watched her for many moments, thinking sweetly of their time together.
The young man met Ivan sometime later – on the same road they had, together, travelled down. Ivan was confused – but if he was furious, it was well masked. The young man told the story of the accident that he had invented and Ivan was relieved. Ivan said that normally, the young man shouldn’t attempt to cross the border alone, for the border officials are bandits and they would now doubt, rob his papers, gems and money. This the young man knew and he asked, knowing Ivan was too tired, if one of his men – a government official, could accompany and ensure that the young man passed freely.

"There is no need for that." Ivan said. "We made it clear to the border before discovering that you had fallen out of the coach. The road was bare and there were no officials at the gate. I’m happy to say that you could cross easily with as many jewels or contraband that you care to."
This made the young man happy because, due to the late hour, he wasn’t sure if he could make the border before midnight – the hour that his papers expired.
"So go alone my boy, and – with no need to wish you luck, I wish you well." Ivan said.
The young man gave Ivan another colourless sapphire, which was loose in his pocket and bid farewell. The caravan continued on, back for Prague. The young man looked back to watch their leaving and then galloped forth to the German border.

The hills of Bohemia were even more green and voluptuous, this autumn noon, than the finest country in Switzerland or Austria. The young man felt in love with the dark-haired girl and in a dream on the whole expense; he was lazy and happy – until they reached the border.
There were, as Ivan had promised, no customs officials at their stations and the young man passed free and easy. He waited on the German side for several hours but his lazy happiness turned to longer for the girl. ‘She was only a few kilometres back.’ Thought the young man as he built a small fire with some scotch broom that was growing nearby the hill.
The night sky was steady, as it had been for hours and the chill, together with the brilliant stars made the young man think that midnight had already passed.
He thought that there might have been a problem with Katherine passing the border.
‘There couldn’t have been a problem,’ he thought, ‘she is alone, unarmed, and more importantly, she is German.’
Still, with his doubts, he returned to the road and rounded the hill where the border could be seen easily.

The customs men had returned to their post. They were in an old, shingled shed. Occasionally, one would pass the road, smoking, tossing rocks off over the hill’s ledge.
‘Any moment,’ the young man thought, ‘Katherine would ride towards them on her horse – cloaked in a dark hood. And she would pass and curve the bend in the road where the young man would surprise her – pulling her from her horse in an embrace.
It went almost exactly like that. The dark rider passed easily the border she continued a few meters and rounded back to the border, dismounting her horse and looking around. She then held his reigns while walking slowly around the bend.
The young man descended the hill and came upon the back of the rider. She turned around, and screamed in a loud but unthreatening female scream. She then noticed it was the young man and she said, "Oh Salvador." Wrapping her arms around him.
She then pulled off her hood. A face of horror was undeniably present on the young man when he discovered the young woman to be Aurelle.
"What are you doing here?" The young man asked.
"I was told that you wished me to come."
"By who?"
"You mean," she continued, ignoring his last question, "You are not happy to see me? We were to go to Paris together."
"No, I am more than happy to see you," The young man lied. "But who told you to meet me here?"
"The maid in the kitchen." Aurelle lied, embracing the young man again.
Shaking her arms off, "Were there any others on the road?"
"Yes… Ivan and his men. But with my hood I passed them easily unnoticed."
The hood she wrapped her fingers in while speaking through her small, hard-boned mouth. It was the same, or similar, hood that Katherine had worn when the two had left Ivan’s estate that afternoon.
"There were no others?" The young man asked.
"Yes… a cart with some grains led by a farmer and his children.
"That’s all?"
"Yes, why? Do we leave now, my sweet boy, for France?"
"I’m afraid I must catch up with Ivan, I had left two bags of gems in his rickshaw. I must get them – then I will return."
"But, as I’m aware, you can’t again cross the border with these jewels or you will lose them. You may however leave them with me." Aurelle said eyeing the bulky burlap sacks.
"I may also leave them with the customs men," The young man said. "They are armed and will be safe with them." He knew that the stories were true, that the customs officials were, indeed, dishonest and may take the jewels but he still had his papers and he must find Katherine.

At the border, the officials checked every bag. The young man said that there was no reason for this since he would be leaving the jewels at the gate – for the men to safeguard.
"I’m afraid you will have to leave your papers with us too. You may not pass into Bohemia with these papers, now expired."
The young man knew better than this but, as he only cared about finding Katherine, he acquiesced and handed over his father’s decorated papers.

The road back was dark and unlit, yet his mare knew the way to ride and the young man fell into a wakeful reverie – all the while, keeping his eyes out for Ivan’s company and Katherine.
Neither were to be seen on the road to Prague. When he returned to the area surrounding the city, he could see lit roads and dark rooftops surrounding the river that flowed through the center of Prague.
Few people marched in the streets as he descended the hills near the castle - some soldiers and peasants were all. Coloured lanterns shone brilliantly through the walls of the wealthy landowner’s gates. Their reflections spotted on the ponds in the misty night.

Another feast was commencing at Ivan’s estate. From the gate, the young man could see lit rooms and figures passing in the windows – drinking and the sounds of laughter could be heard. Couples fled with each other – arm in arm – from the music-filled halls of the mansion to be alone together in the mild night. They passed between the rows of bushes and hedges periodically and the young man called out to them, demanding entrance. They were all too drunk and consumed by their companions to heed his shouting from the locked gates, where, eventually guards took position and denied his entrance.
Katherine was not visible and though many young women passed in the yard, none were she. After every attempt capable of a bold mind, the young man was not able to re-enter the estate of Ivan where his dear girl was engaged.

It was only after Ivan himself threatened the intruder and asked the guards to have him arrested that he realised his position, remounted his horse and left the gates of Prague. On the eastward ride, where the road was empty of travellers and the night was advancing to its darkest moment, the young man’s thoughts were not on Katherine – of her affairs and the feast she was attending… not on the incalculable Ivan, who, in the end, revealed himself as a villain of the commonest sorts. He thought not once of the unknown and unwanted Aurelle, who was to be as far from the Bohemian border upon his return as the customs guards he had briefly spoken to. He only thought of his father who awaited his young man’s return from a first voyage with a purse of profit and the entrusted documents unharmed. It was for his father that the shamed young man kept his head bowed on his slow return to the frontier of his home.

© David Payne 2000
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