Walk in the City of Love
Ezekiel Drake stepped through the doorway of his hotel room out into the hallway, his mind still occupied with the same thoughts that had occupied it all morning. What was this mysterious gentleman's club and what relation did it have to the quest at hand? His prayer last night had gone un-received, but that was not unsurprising. The Host did not provide visions every time an obstacle appeared. Mortals would never learn to stand for themselves, to solve their own problems. And besides, one did not just demand a vision from the angels, like one would request a servant to fix a sandwich. Despite what Monsieur Beignet seemed to think.
Speaking of Monsieur Beignet...
Ezekiel looked around the hallway and saw no signs of anyone else. He had thought he would be the last person to be in motion this morning, but he had not expected to be left behind because of his tardiness. Perhaps Katherine was in, he thought and then immediately thought how she fell into his arms the previous night. For shame, taking pleasure in her illness. But perhaps, Ezekiel thought as he walked across the hallway and rapped on the fine wooden door of Katherine's room, he could inquire as to her health.
She had been far too queasy far too long, Katherine decided as she walked around in the room in the bright morning. At least, today she felt much better. And if they stayed away from places that tickled at the darkest parts of her mind, she'd be even better. The voice that she had heard echoed briefly in her head and her eyes narrowed. It was unnerving and infuriating. And she was annoyed at herself for her body failing her. The next time they faced evil, stomach or not, she would stand true.
She looked out the window to the cheer of the morning and inhaled the shining light. Darkness be gone, she said to herself and covered her stomach with warm hands to sooth it. It was as sore as if she had been pummeled by Sadif with none of the learning pleasure. She made a face to herself, correcting that thought. She had learned that she didn't have sea legs. The thought amused her and she danced a step back from the window and hummed a sea ditty. A moment later, there was a knock at the door. "Please come in," Katherine called.
Ezekiel opened the door slowly and stepped in, leaving the door open behind him. He looked around the bright expanses of Katherine's room, but saw no one other than Katherine. Not that he objected to being alone with her (far from it), but it would perhaps not be wise to close the door behind him. It frustrated him that it was so, but the illusion of propriety was as important as the truth of it in this matter. "Good morning, Katherine," he said, giving a short, informal bow. "I hope you have banished your illness of the previous day and feel in good health again."
Her eyes crinkled with a smile as sunny as the morning. "Ezekiel!" she proclaimed as if he were the most welcome person in the world. "Darling, I am well. I am so sorry that I was so ill yesterday." She came for him but stopped herself short and held out a hand for him to kiss. The open door had caught her attention and reminded her of their rules and regulations.
"Your illness was not under your control. Please do not apologize. I am just pleased that you are feeling better," he said with a smile on his face. He looked around again, confirming that they were alone. "I see that Josephine has left you for the moment. Have you had breakfast yet?"
"Not a bit," she answered. "Shall we go forth and find some?" She smiled minxishly, "Or shall we eat here with the door open and be admired for our good behavior?" she added with a wink.
Of course, the open door had not passed by her notice. How had he not noticed how amazing she was until that evening of the dinner party? He would just consider himself lucky that no one else had noticed either or she might be someone else's wife now instead of being on the mission with him.
"I had thought to perhaps have Barrimore arrange something, but if you would prefer to go out into the city, I can have Barrimore call for a carriage." Then a small smile crept across his face. "Or perhaps we could walk. I promise not to loosen your corset along the way."
That brought forth a full laugh and she moaned a little afterwards, holding her stomach. "O, I do love you," she finally managed with a dewy smile. "I would love to walk and we shall not walk too briskly lest I start breathing hard." She tucked her arm into his. "Shall we go then?"
He nodded and smiled. "Indeed we shall."
As they walked downstairs and out of the hotel, he found tension he hadn't realized he felt leaving his body in a slow leak. Everyone had felt the evil last night. Everyone but him, that is. Combined with the lack of a vision, he must have unconsciously been worried about his connection with the Host. But Katherine's mere presence drove the tension away.
Stepping out into the street, he turned to Katherine and said, "I was thinking Rue Cler. They are nearby and make an excellent crepe."
She leaned a little into him, pressing close but not too inappropriately close. “Wonderful," she breathed and then frowned a little. "I am rude. I did not ask how you were this morning. Last night's events were taxing on us all. So, my love, how are you this lovely morning?"
"I am excellent, now that I can enjoy your presence." He started them walking down the street in the direction of Rue Cler. The sunlight lit the buildings with a golden tint as they walked along the cobblestones. Birds sang a delicate melody that seemed to be directed at the couple as they walked along. "I am, of course, worried about the evil associated with the club from last night, but those worries cannot stand when exposed to the light of morning. We should talk of more pleasant things. There will be time enough for concerns of our mission when the rest of our party shows up again."
She nodded, although her gaze remained clouded. "That much is true. I am not clear as to what I sensed. Thank you for telling the driver to go as I asked. Upon reflection, I should have had more resolve." Her arm in his tensed and then relaxed. "I will be ready for them next time." There was brittleness in her voice and she sighed hearing it, working to release the last of her tension of the night. She would be ready and she would be strong and she would be waiting.
But not now. Not in this perfection of a morning, not with Ezekiel walking beside her, not in Paris. "The Host is smiling on us today," she remarked after another cleansing breath. "It could not be more beautiful and the company could not be better." She skipped a step in a little dance and then favored him with twinkling eyes. "Tell me about your quest. What did you see? Or if that is still too serious a topic for such a glorious morning, what shall we do for fun while we are in Paris? Would you like to see Eiffel's folly?"
"No, it is not too serious if you wish to hear it." And as they walked, he told her about passing out in the forest at the age of eight only to be granted a vision of himself as an adult in the streets of London. As he told her about the sword and the ogre, he felt himself fall back into the vision, no longer just telling it, but experiencing it as fresh as the day he had first seen it. As he finished the vision, describing St. Peter and the Archangel Michael with his flaming sword, he stopped in the middle of the street, caught up in the moment. It had been a very long time since he had described what he had seen. Revisiting it daily in his head was not the same.
She listened intently, nodding her head ever so often, and when he stopped, she drew him gently forward. Her forehead had creased lightly in concentration; she was trying to gather information that would help them in the future to accomplish his quest and she prayed that she would not forget it. "So describe again the environment that St Peter and Michael appeared in, love," she instructed as she tried to pull him onward.
Ezekiel shook his head and brought himself back to the present. "The buildings are none that I have seen in London, but it was London. I have no doubt about that." He walked alongside her - they were close to Rue Cler, judging by the restaurants he remembered from his last visit to Paris. "I have always treated the vision as a symbol rather than a direct representation. But given the literalness of the vision of Rembecki, perhaps I should revisit that thought."
She brought his hand to her lips to kiss it. "Maybe it is the future we seek," she answered. "In looking at the now, we miss that what lies ahead is the beginning, not the end. We shall do this adventure now with Madam Rembecki and wait for the Host to tell us when we should pay attention, not the other way around. We are the sheep, not the Shepherd, and the sheep do not lead." She favored him with a bright smile. "When we get back, tho', I would suggest lovely walks around London. I am curious to see what you saw." She squeezed his hand. "And maybe we can train Neecy to understand that the Host isn't a dog to be called."
He smiled. "Perhaps. But the nobility and those who associate with them do not bother with religion. You seem to be one of the rare exceptions." Ezekiel reached into a pocket and fingered the small silver crucifix he had put in there. He normally wore it but hadn't wanted to antagonize his companions or ruin the part he was supposed to be playing.
Her eyes twinkled. "I am a creature of magic or so they say. To do magic, one must have faith in something. I cannot comprehend knowing magic and not having faith in at least one's self. It is merely a step beyond to acknowledge that there is something beyond that makes the magic and the ordering of the stars and the earth. Standing on the cliffs of England and watching the might of the sea and sky before you or standing in the still shadow of the deep forests, it is impossible not to hear the whisper that shouts in your soul. At that moment, can you ignore the obvious?" She tossed her head. "I say 'no!' So if I can have faith in the magic of myself and the power of nature and the world, I can do nothing but have faith in the Host." The curls arranged artfully in her hairdo bobbed with the curt nod of her head that punctuated her logic
As Ezekiel finished listening to Katherine make her explanation of her faith, beautiful in its simplicity, they arrived at Rue Cler. It too was beautiful in its simplicity, just outdoor tables and chairs, with brightly colored umbrellas for shade. A waiter approached and led them to a table where they both sat down. "Katherine, my love, your faith would shame many a supposed religious man." He smiled as the waiter approached with a glass of water for each and patiently waited for their order. "After we order, I would like to hear more about you. You now know what little there is to know of me, but I feel I know nowhere near as much as I would like to know about you. And I recommend the strawberry crepes."
Her eyes lit. ""Well, let me tell you that I love strawberries," she stated with relish.”And cream. Please order for me, darling. You have done nothing but prove your wisdom in many things and I know that I will love whatever you order." She listened with a smile as he ordered; as she had thought, he ordered a delightful breakfast and her stomach growled softly to let her know it approved. She blushed at the soft sound. "I am hungrier than I thought," she remarked with chagrin. Her stomach seemed determined to annoy her for this trip. "So, what would you like to know about me? Shall I start with my childhood or skip to more sedate and restrained adulthood?"
Sedate and restrained? He smiled at the thought. "As you allow me to order food for you, so I allow you to order the story for me. Tell me anything and everything. I want to know you...in every way possible." And he took her hands in his and squeezed softly.
The thrill that his touch gave her made her gasp softly as electricity ran the length of her spine and then throughout her body. Warmth, too much for the gentle walk that they had taken, infused her body, and she began to understand the descriptions in the penny dreadfuls that were her secret shame to read. She sent a thankful prayer heavenward to have found him and another for the rules that her father had seen fit to restrain them with. It was very difficult to not give in to passion . . . very difficult to ignore the maddening call of his arms around her. She inhaled, closing her eyes for a moment to regain control, and then opened them as she begin to manage to slow her breathing back to normal. But her smile was wicked as she spoke, her eyes sparkling. "You are quite undoing me, darling," she admitted. "But, let me begin in the beginning." She took another breath; the rate was almost back to normal and the heat of his hands was a gentle reassurance, not the kindle to the fire inside her. "I grew up in and around the hills of northern England. My mother died within days of my birth, so I was raised by my father and a number of governesses." She grinned ruefully. "I was quite hard on them. I was adventurous and stubborn and I loved to wander the moors and hills.
"It didn't help that in the north, they've barely let go of all the myths and legends, even worse that the Eldren there made symbols against me as the evil-touched red-headed daughter of a red-headed man. Many probably whispered that I had sucked my mother's soul from her as I nursed." She raised an eyebrow with a rueful frown. "Maybe I did. I was drawn to all the menhadens and fairy rings. And I was rather wicked with Bertie. He will still tell you that I chased him like a madman around the stable yard with a riding crop when I thought he was too cross with his pony." Her gaze found his. "You aren't going to want me if I keep telling you such things
"You should not joke about your mother's soul in that way," he commented, but Ezekiel smiled as he said it to make sure she knew he was not truly upset. He looked at her, those green eyes nervously looking for his approval. He took his glasses off and set them on the table in front of him so that he could look at her unimpeded...with his own eyes and nothing more. "I do not want sedate and restrained. I want passionate and excited. I want us to approach every day as if it were the beginning of a new adventure and to live off each other's boundless energy as if it were the breakfast on which we are about to partake. You have not scared me away, my treasure. You have only drawn me closer."
And he squeezed her hands again, causing lurid thoughts of other squeezable parts of her to cross his brain. He had to stay strong, he thought. He must, for the sake of their engagement. "Continue on, please. I would love to hear more."
Her mouth opened a little as he took off his glasses, her catlike eyes keen on his face. "I've never seen you without glasses," she remarked. "Your eyes are a wonder." She smiled, studying the bare, clean lines of his face, memorizing each feature unadorned. Thus she would see him on their wedding night and all nights beyond and the thought made her blush. She did that quite often now, she reflected, but that thought was happy and not rueful. She forced her mind back to the conversation, raising an eyebrow. "My second nanny would tell you that I would give you passion and more," she quipped. "She told my father this: 'That child is nigh unmarriageable and Host bless the poor soul who decides to take her on.'" Her accent was impeccably Yorkshire in her imitation, but there was fondness in the affectation and she barely kept from laughing as she spoke. "'She's fairy touched, Master Fleming, and t'ain't no kindly person going to be able to overlook that. With respect sir, you are going to have to offer a fair amount for her dowry.'" The rendition finally gave way to giggles. "You must realize that the poor woman had just spent two days trying to find me," Katherine clarified once her giggles had ceased. "Poor Lizzy! Lost me on an instructional visit to some Roman ruins. I was quite charmed by them and decided to explore on my own. The pagan artifacts and structures were amazing!" Her eyes had lit, causing her pupils to dilate with her excitement. "Oh, there is so much history there, Ezekiel! We must go back and you see it too!"
"Never again need you explore ruins alone, my dear. When you are lost, I will always find you. Our adventures will always be shared." As he said that, their crepes arrived, along with a small bowl of mixed fruit, delightfully arranged. He plucked a dark red grape from the bowl and held it up towards Katherine's mouth. "Speaking of sharing, would you like a grape, Katherine?"
"Yes please." She held her mouth open, waiting, heat suffusing her every fiber. Would that they were not on a sidewalk in public . . . she sought his eyes to share with him the fires within her. When she took the grape, she gently touched her lips to his fingers, a caress born in hunger not of her belly. It was inappropriate, that she knew, but among her many faults that had been enumerated ad nauseum by her nannies had been a shocking earthiness that all the training that money could buy had not erased. She plucked a grape in return and offered it forth. "For you, my heart?"
Her lips were like velvet against his fingertips, and their touch caused a shiver to run down his arm. When she offered him a grape, he nodded and let her slip the fruit into his mouth. As she did, he softly grabbed her hand by the wrist and put her palm against his cheek. She was more intoxicating than the hardest liquor, he thought, and if he was not careful, he was going to become drunk off her presence alone. "I must admit, Katherine," he said, finishing the grape, "I am at a loss as to how to handle the power of what we have discovered between us. It threatens to overwhelm me. I have never experienced anything like it before."
Every sense she had was alive. The scents of the restaurant, the colors around them, the songs of the birds, and the brightness of the sun, it was all so brilliant and alluring. Yet though she was so very aware of it all, all focus was on him. The scent of him, the colors of his being, the song she felt in her heart with him, and the sunshine of his smile. She shook her head slowly, wonderingly. "Neither have I," she admitted softly. "I am swept away by you, by emotions that are more powerful than I hope to contain, and yet you give me peace deeper than I've ever felt. I am so very proud to one day soon be privileged to call you 'husband." She rubbed her thumb against the crest of his cheek, lovingly, as her fingers spread to lie against his neck. "I can only say that you are a gift. The Host knew to let us become friends first. I could not have contained myself were this to have happened when we first met. I was much too young. But you must know that even now, my want and love of you almost strain every discipline that Sadif has trained me to. I must apologize. I should have more control than to encourage your affections so inappropriately." She pulled her hand from his face slowly, absently clenching her fist in unspoken frustration before picking up her fork. "This looks delicious."
Everything at the table looked delicious, he silently agreed, including the woman sitting across from him. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, letting the sounds of the world wash over him as he brought himself back to reality and a more measured state of affairs. When he opened his eyes again, he picked up his fork and took a bite of his crepe. "Exactly as I remember it," he said quietly.
As they continued eating, Ezekiel decided to change the subject slightly. "I worry that your father and Monsieur Beignet will try and shape me into something that I cannot be. And I do not want the cost of their failure to be losing you." He thought of the meticulous hobbit plotting to have him give up everything he believed. Ezekiel understood why Katherine's protector wanted that for him, but it threatened to put him directly between his beliefs and his love for Katherine, forced to make a choice that could shred the very fiber of his being.
Her eyes crinkled with merriment. "Like the reed, bend and let the wave wash over you," she answered. "Neecy will serve as your shield, if you let him. He is extraordinarily capable of letting me get away with what I want and yet keeping my father well pleased." An eyebrow rose. "Neecy is more English than the English and he takes a certain delight in managing and organizing. He will believe that you are being changed to what my father expects and that will please him. And even if he knows it not to be true, then the appearance will still comfort him. You will be in position to know that change comes from within, with the means to begin to make it happen and the access to start the change you seek. A fox in the henhouse, I believe, is the saying, or better, a wolf in sheep's clothing?" She let her eyes twinkle innocently at him. "Besides, I won't let them change you. I haven't let them change me."
"Deception, even for a righteous cause, has never been my strength," Ezekiel admitted ruefully. "I hope you are right and this is not beyond my capabilities." He took another bite as he gathered his thoughts. Was he worried about being changed? No, that was not quite it, was it?
"If I cannot create the appearance of being changed, will that cost me my chance to be with you? That is my true fear."
Her merriment dissolved into sobriety. "No," she declared firmly, but her voice quavered as she added more softly, "I truly hope not. I would stand against my father for you. I will marry you or he shall lose me. I would run away with you." Tears made her eyes glisten. "You are my destiny and I won't lose you."
"Please do not cry, my love. I did not mean to upset you." He reached forward and patted in her hand in a comforting motion. "Destiny is a powerful force that cannot easily be defeated. I should know that and I thank you for reminding me. I was foolish - just because the Host did not send it to me in a vision does not mean that it is not my destiny. And it must be, for I suddenly cannot imagine life without you." In point, had he not been advising Monsieur Beignet last night that the Host did not dispense visions to guide mortals through every stage of their life? Perhaps you should heed your own advice, sir.
Katherine sniffed softly as she dabbed at her eyes. "Nor I you." She put down her napkin and took up her fork to take another bite. In her distress, the food had suddenly lost its flavor, the morning as if a dark cloud had covered the sun. She chewed, regaining her composure. What good would a weepy willow do as a partner for such an amazing man? After a moment, she swallowed. "Faith is difficult, my heart," she stated, forcing a smile to cover her worry. "We will stand strong together." She leaned closer and lowered her voice. "If we must elope, then so be it. I have my own funds. We shall not be rich, but we will do what we must. The Host will provide. Maybe we can start again in America? That would be an adventure, n'est pas?" She leaned back and took another bite. The flavor was back; the darkening cloud repelled and she let the fear and worry disperse into the ether as her mind was wont to do and smiled, looking about them. "This is a lovely cafe. Thank you for bringing me here. If you don't have anything else to do after we finish breakfast, do you think that it would be possible for you to escort me to the shops on the left bank of the Seine? I would love to continue walking with you." She shrugged gracefully. "Maybe we can find something that will help us on the quest?"
"I will gladly do anything that allows me to continue enjoying your company." He reached down and put his glasses back on. It wouldn't do to forget them. "And, yes, we may find something that would help us in speeding this situation towards a resolution favoring the forces of Order.” He finished the last bite of his crepe and pushed his plate in. The waiter had brought them the bill earlier - he laid several coins down on the table to cover the bill, taking the receipt itself and folding it carefully into his pocket for Monsieur Beignet. Financial responsibility, he thought, a step towards my new life.
She paused in eating as he finished, caught as to whether or not to quit her crepe. But with a stubborn glint in her eyes, she almost cleaned her plate, leaving just a bite remaining. Best he knew that she would not starve herself for appearances, she thought with merriment. Dabbing her mouth, she waited for him to come to her to regain possession of her person and help her stand. She tucked her hand into his arm once they were moving and asked, "So, love, I know that you have brothers, but I've never had the joy of meeting them or your family. Tell me about them? What should I expect and how horrified will they be at what we've done?"
"Malcolm and Jacob are..." he paused, gathering his thoughts. How to properly phrase it? "Eminently practical. They are serious and they run the family estate and business well. My father would have been very proud of them." Would his father have been proud of him? He didn't know. Ezekiel had loved his father and he was mostly certain his father had loved him. But his father and his brothers were cut from the same cloth. Their practicality had often collided with Ezekiel's innate tendencies towards being a dreamer.
"Your father is not alive?" Upon reflection, she knew that he had not mentioned his father often. Somehow, she had failed to understand that Ezekiel, too, was missing a parent
"No, he died when I was twelve." He walked aside with her as a light breeze picked up, twisting small strands of Katherine's hair about in the sunlight, creating pure radiant strands of crimson, muting the unpleasant memory of those days. "Malcolm took over the estate then. I am just thankful my mother stood firm on making sure I stayed in school rather than being sent to become part of the clergy. While I respect the brothers of the cloth, I could not seek my vision under those terms."
"No, that would have handicapped you greatly." She felt like a princess on his arm and her steps were light and effortless. "Your mother sounds like a woman of great insight and resolve. I look forward to the pleasure meeting her." She tilted her head and looked up at him through her eyelashes. "And to hopefully charm your brothers."
Ezekiel chuckled despite himself. "While in my eyes, you could charm a mother bird off of her nest of little ones, I wish you luck in charming Malcolm and Jacob. They are traditionalists...and human centric. Your Eldren nature will not please them. But very little does, I am afraid. But I desperately wish to introduce you to my mother. You and she would get along famously, I feel." He was his mother's child, for certain. With every year that passed, he grew farther apart in nature from his brothers. It was one of his great failings of faith that he had not yet found it in his heart to forgive them.
Her mouth formed a perfect "O" and she laughed. "I've rarely met someone that I didn't charm or just peeve. I suppose that your brothers are just going to have to be in the "peeved" category. I will make it a mission to show them just how wrong they are. Until then, I will just let them disapprove of me." She walked a few more steps and then exclaimed, "Mercy! I need to shop for a small gift for her and a gift for Neecy's new bride-to-be! You will have to help me with one for your mother. A silk shawl? A parasol? Oh dear, oh dear." She bit her lip ruefully. "I don't want to drag you through a woman's shopping. Maybe that is something that I can recruit Flora and Josephine for." She looked back up at Ezekiel. "But I will still need some ideas from you."
"I said before," he chastised her mildly, "anything that keeps me in your company is welcome, although I suppose we cannot spend the entire day together un-chaperoned."
"No," she admitted. "I suppose that we will have to go back and get one or two of the others." She sighed. "I'd love to have Flora chaperone us but that would mean that we are burdened by Bertie. But I don't want Josephine to be burdened by having to watch us. I suppose that we will have to do with whomever we find." She stopped walking and turned and regarded him with twinkling eyes. "And although you want my company as much as I want yours, how are we ever going to miss one another if we are always together? How will I long for you if you are always at my side?" She could not help but grin, even if the expression was not as demure as it should be on the public street.
And Ezekiel laughed out loud, a good honest laugh that had a nearby passerby staring. "Of course you are right, Katherine." His eyes did a little twinkling of his own, as he had them do an about face towards the hotel. "Then we should proceed with all haste to be done with the time apart so we can get back to the time spent together." And the corner of his mouth twitched upwards in a bit of a smirk.
She let him spin her with breathless laughter. "I do believe that I shall love being your wife," she announced once she had finished giggling. "I intend that we shall be very improper together as often as we can for as long as we can."