The Avarice in a Kiss

A gothic romance of exciting interest

 
 
Free Preview Chapter
 

 

(1997)

 

Christian Carter-Stephenson

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Jacques de Luna hummed an old epic ballad as he ambled into the picturesque little town of Saint-Gilles. The young minstrel had been travelling for many days now and he felt that it was high time he sought out the tender embrace of a fair maiden. His last romantic encounter had not been entirely successful - they seldom were for Jacques, although this one had gone particularly badly. Florence Guesdon's petulant father had been rather less than happy to find that she had taken Jacques to her bed. In fact, he had been absolutely livid about it and had said that his daughter's honour must be avenged. Jacques had not waited around to see what he meant. It was a terrible shame really. Florence Guesdon had been quite something. Still, it was what Jacques' life was all about. His heart had soon healed and he doubted very much whether she would be the last woman he would ever fall for.


It was early evening, and the cobbled streets of Saint-Gilles were almost deserted. The few people who were still out and about paid little attention to Jacques. They were used to strangers passing through on their way to Arles. Jacques adjusted the scabbard at his hip and started to make his way through the town. As he walked, he let his eyes wander over the pretty wooden buildings to either side of him. His gaze soon fell on the place he had been looking for. A building not unlike any of the others in terms of rustic charm, but bigger and with a sign above the door identifying it as the town's inn. Jacques smiled as he looked at the sign and read the name that was emblazoned across it in bold green lettering. "The Black Cat," he said to himself. "Lucky for some. Let’s find out whether it will be lucky for me." Pausing briefly to tighten his neckerchief and smooth back his hair, he headed inside.


The scene inside the inn was every bit as chaotic as Jacques had been expecting. Serving wenches wove their way expertly through hordes of drunken men, whilst a storyteller stood on one of the long tables, relating an epic saga of ancient Greece. Jacques looked around for somewhere to sit, but failed to locate a suitable niche. He couldn’t remember the last time he had been in an inn this packed! If he were to hazard a guess as to the reason, he would say it was down to the number of people on their way to Arles for the approaching festival, coupled with the boredom of the local population, who probably had nowhere else to spend their evenings. At any rate, it made for a warmer atmosphere, though admittedly large crowds often led to disturbances, which could pose a problem for Jacques, who had found during his travels that whenever there was a disagreement of any description, he somehow became involved. He didn’t look for trouble, but it seemed to have an unerring knack of finding him.


Just as he had resolved himself to spending the entire evening standing up, Jacques noticed an empty seat near a group of what looked like merchants, who were playing a dice game of some kind. Before anyone else could usurp this expedient circumstance, he plunked himself down into the chair and considered whether it was worth attempting to infiltrate the dice game - he was not a bad dicer, even if he did say so himself.


A serving wench, with long brown hair and a homely face, came over to take his order. She was extremely pretty and Jacques thought he could do a lot worse than manoeuvring his way into her bed for the night. He had no doubt about his ability to do this - he was after all, very aware of his handsome face and fine torso - but although it would also mean that he would not have to pay for a room, he pushed all thought of her from his mind. He had observed that the merchants at the table nearby were average gamblers to say the least and were just crying out to be beaten. "I shall have a mug of your finest ale, please," he said loudly. The serving wench nodded and hurried off.


Jacques tapped one of the merchants on the arm and was just on the verge of inquiring whether he could participate in the next game, when another of the assembled men began shaking his head vigorously. "We don’t want any trouble!" he exclaimed.


"Trouble," Jacques repeated incredulously. "Do I look like trouble?"


"No, but he does," replied the merchant, pointing over Jacques' shoulder. Jacques looked around to see who the merchant was referring to. Behind him, there stood a tall stocky man, with a shaved head and furtive eyes. The fellow was shaking his fists and seemed to be considerably perturbed about something.


"What seems to be your problem?" Jacques asked politely.


"My problem is that you are sitting in my seat," the man grunted.


"Oh really?" Jacques responded. "Well I have news for you. Possession is nine tenths of the law, so it’s my seat now."


"We’ll see about that," roared the man, seizing Jacques by the neckerchief and lifting him bodily off the ground. Adamant that he was not about to let a country ruffian get the better of him, Jacques drew back his fist and punched the man squarely on the nose, but the fellow seemed to just shrug off the blow. Jacques concluded from this that if he was going to come out of the conflict with the upper hand, then it would perhaps be better if he did not play by the rules. "I am sorry about this," he said with a grimace, as he kicked the man between the legs with all his might.


Letting out a cry of pain, the man released hold of him. Jacques seized this opportunity to draw his sword. The inn fell silent as he did this and all eyes turned to watch him. His opponent snarled, and flicked his wrists casually. To Jacques' surprise, a pair of daggers appeared from up the man's sleeves. He flung one of them at Jacques' head. Thankfully, Jacques had been blessed with incredibly quick reflexes and was able to duck easily out of the way. This rogue was proving to be something of a nuisance! Jacques decided that it was time to terminate the encounter. His sword flashed, knocking the other knife from his opponent's hand.

The man lunged towards Jacques, in an attempt to grab him, but Jacques leapt backwards onto the table behind him. His sword swept nimbly through the air, until the point was resting against his opponent's neck Failing to comprehend that Jacques had only refrained from killing him out of the goodness of his heart, the man pushed the blade roughly aside. With a sigh of reproach, Jacques seized a wine bottle from the table below him, and smashed it over the man's head. He stumbled back a few paces, then dropped to the floor, unconscious.


Jacques was expecting an attack from some of the man's friends, but to his astonishment a great cheer erupted through the inn. It seemed that the patrons were sick of this fellow's bullying ways and were glad that someone had finally stood up to him. Jacques jumped down from the table and fell back into his chair. The merchants were now happy to extend an invitation for him to join their game, but he was no longer in the mood for gambling, so he gratefully declined.


Moments later, the serving wench returned with his drink. She fluttered her eyelashes at him and said coquettishly, "I saw you fighting that lout just now. You were wonderful."


Given his recent experiences, a comfortable bed and an affectionate woman were sounding more appealing all the time. "Thank you," he replied agreeably, "for the drink and for the compliment. I suppose you realise that I’m now required by the laws of etiquette to pay you a compliment in return. I would say something about your lovely hair, if I didn’t think that by doing so I would be slighting your gorgeous complexion. I cannot even tell you that you have a smile that could light the darkest night, because your eyes are such an integral part of the overall effect. I suppose that I’ll just have to settle for telling you that you are the most perfect vision of a woman that I have ever seen."


The serving wench blushed and contrived to look away. "That’s very nice of you to say, but I’m sure you must be teasing me," she said in a voice that clearly indicated she was expectant of a further compliment.


Jacques started back. "I do protest!" he exclaimed. "I would never do such a thing. I am as honest as the day is long."


"In that case, I believe you," said the serving wench, though I can’t help wondering how you can say I’m perfect when you know so little about me. Would you care to rectify the situation? Come to my room after the inn closes and I’ll show you what you need to know to make an informed judgement."


A smile played across Jacques' lips and he answered suggestively, "I think l would like that very much."

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