Now I've said we were friends, Nicolas and I, and so we were. We spent every possible waking moment in each other's company, even occasionally sober, although you might have gathered we were both colossal drunks. Well, if you haven't, we were. The sheer extent of our constant insobriety is there for anyone to read. There's really nothing like sharing a bottle or four of sour wine with another soul to forge an unshakeable bond. In the bottom of the third glass lies the sort of passionate open camaraderie that can even outlast the effects of the grape. In vino veritas, certainly, ah, but it was so much more than that.
Let me explain. Rewind a little more. And, by the way, you’d better get used to my hopping from one scene to another. With your permission, Mesdames et Messieurs, I present a narrative for your delectation which is as delirious in its execution as it is fractured in its presentation.
Okay, you know the scene we’re cutting to. Dismal rainy day making sludge of the snow, myself making a grudging public appearance in the fiendishly damp great hall, and trying to care about the merchants' formal appreciation of my apparent heroics, and failing miserably. I was expected to do my duty, to smile graciously like the lord of the manor despite my ragged leather and scuffed boots. How I hated it all. Well, you can imagine.
There I was, like any surly and unimpressed teenager (or near as damn it, I always forget exactly how old I am but twenty is a round enough number) in this vast dingy stone room, confronted by a sea of respectful faces on paunchy bodies as the few wealthy inhabitants of our little village lined up before me to honor the brave young warrior in their midst. Right out of the Dark Ages, all this. Anyway, none of it seemed to have anything to do with me in spite of my appearance at the heart of it.
Flighty, moody creature that I was, my gaze passed over the assembly with little interest. Alright, morbidly bored and blank to the point of numb desperation, that’s a truer picture. Like just about everything in that life, this scene held no meaning for me, that is, until the village spokesman stepped forward.
My attention didn’t waver once after that. Oh yes.
Nicolas de Lenfent. I saw -him- alright. It was nigh on impossible to miss him in that outrageous gold and rose coat, his hair soft and curling from the ribbon at his neck, gorgeous simmering mischief in those intense brown eyes. I knew of him but hadn't set eyes on him in years. He was indefinably alluring, this brash young upstart, but again, that wasn't it.
I had the strangest sudden notion that we were alone. Distant as I felt from the little scene droning on about me, I felt that wherever I was, he shared that removed place with me and he appeared the only sign of animation in that vast room. He was watching me, as I watched him, that's the top and bottom of it, and ah, what a deliciously knowing smile provoked his lips.
Little bastard. I think I already loved him completely.
Well, my interest was well and truly piqued. From then on as the ceremony progressed, I watched him all the more closely, in fact I was staring outright, and when he addressed me, his very tone of voice added another layer to the burgeoning mystery. What he said was matter of fact and as formal as befitted the occasion, but his eyes were dancing with roguery as if he knew exactly what I was thinking and what's more, he shared the joke.
Then, as you know, my brother announced that I would be unbearable after all this attention, right there where everyone would hear. I was caught between burning humiliation and the enervating pull of inevitability that he should have said something exactly like that for all to hear, and because I’d just have to stand and weather it as my fists clenched in outrage and my soul wandered further from the dull press of my existence.
Yet something odd happened. As Nicki drew near for the parting kiss to my flushed cheek, that odd sense of connection intensified acutely. I could see it in his eyes as he could no doubt see it reflected in mine. And as his lips brushed my cheeks they moved with that bold but oddly worshipful little whisper, "I too am impossible, Monsieur..." Imagine it! Right there in front of the village bigwigs.
Well that did it. I burst into sudden uncontrollable laughter, breaking the spell of that dreary gathering, all sober heads turning to stare at the Marquis' wayward son who was in any case rumored to be insane. Well, that was par for the course in nobility, anyway, and hey, what did I care. Oh I wanted to know a great deal more of M. de Lenfent in his outrageously sumptuous gold and muddy slippers who had thrown a sly challenge my way and who was about to crack my world in two.
He positively took my breath away.
"Let me come to you," he'd said. Too damn right. In possession of the gossip on him -which merely fired my fascination all the more- I hot-footed it to the village, and moments later we were sunk at the bottom of the first bottle of wine, paid for by him as they all were since I barely had a sou to my illustrious name.
And what happened -that- night, changed my life forever.