A Matter of the Heart
David entered Lila’s small home a few hours after Gabrielle, holding the dead chicken in his hands.
“Hey everyone,” he said cheerily. “I brought dinner.”
He stopped next to Gabrielle and handed her back her sai.
“You dropped this on your way out.”
Lila looked at the large bird in surprise.
“Where did that come from?” she asked.
David shrugged and looked over at Gabrielle. She merely rolled her eyes and went back into the tiny bedroom. Lila looked after her, concern etched in her face.
“She’s been that way all day,” she said. “What happened?”
“The temple we wanted was double booked by accident,” he explained. “She’s a bit miffed, right now.”
Lila shook her head understandingly. “I know she was really looking forward to it. That’s a shame.”
David nodded. “I know. I told her I understood, but I guess I don’t really. Then she kind of shot down my alternative plan.”
“What was it?” Lila asked as she began cleaning the bird.
David shrugged. “I suggested having the ceremony at your old home.”
“David,” Lila said. “That house is a shambles. You couldn’t possibly fix it in time.”
“I know,” David agreed. “I mentioned refurbishing the barn for it. I thought it was a decent idea, but?” he shrugged again.
Lila laughed quietly.
“What’s so funny?” David asked. “I could get that place cleaned up and ready in a week.”
“I know,” Lila laughed. “But you have to look at it from Gabrielle’s point of view. She was all set for a Temple wedding, and you propose a barn? How did you think she would react?”
David thought about it for a minute and smiled. “Yeah, I see your point.”
“Not that it’s a bad idea,” Lila was fast to add. “The old property is more than big enough for a wedding. It just needs so much work.”
David nodded again. “That’s what the Village magistrate said when I bought it last week.”
Lila dropped the small knife.
“You what?” she asked in surprise.
“I bought it from the village last week.” David answered, looking back towards the small door to the bedroom. “They bought you out when you couldn’t keep the place up anymore, but they never did anything with it. Since the house fell apart even more, they’ve just let the place sit and used the barn for storage. I was able to get it at a bargain rate.” He suddenly looked nervous. “I was going to tell you, but I wanted to keep it a surprise for Gabrielle, once the new house was built.”
“How could you afford it,” Lila asked in a hushed whisper. “Even at a “bargain rate”, as you say, it was still a big piece of land?”
David smiled. “During our little mix up with Gurkan, I actually ended up with a pocket load of dinars, well over ten thousand. I just used some of that.”
“How much?” Lila pressed.
David shrugged. “Six?”
Lila smiled. “Then you got it for a good price. The village gave us nine for it two years ago.”
David breathed a sigh of relief. “I would have asked, but Gabrielle has been around you the entire time she’s been planning the wedding. I couldn’t get a word in.”
Lila smiled understandingly. “That still leaves the house and the barn,” she laughed again at the idea. “Do you think you could actually fix it up in time?”
David shrugged. “Not by myself. But I could do it in a couple of days with a little help.”
“Couple of days?” Lila fixed him with the same dubious stare that Gabrielle had earlier. “What could you do in a couple of days?”
David rose and stepped over to the bench. He leaned down and quickly whispered his plan to Lila. She listened and a smile spread across her face.
“You think it’s possible?” she asked, once David was finished. “You’ve got quite a list there, you know?”
David nodded. “I just need you to cover for me for a little while, while I run over to the tavern and talk with Beltanus.”
“Fine,” Lila said. “What are you still doing here?”
David kissed her on the cheek and jogged out of the house.
Gabrielle poked her head out of the bedroom a few moments after the door shut.
“Where’s David going?” she asked.
“He went over to Beltanus’s place, to get a wineskin to go with this chicken,” Lila replied smoothly. “He’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Gabrielle started to close the door again, apparently not finished sulking about the day’s disaster.
“Gabrielle?” Lila called. “Can you find that jar of mixed herbs that David carries with him all the time? I want to use that on dinner.”
Sullenly, Gabrielle came out of the bedroom and rummaged about in David’s knapsack until she found the requested jar. She set it on the counter and began moving back toward the bedroom.
“Hey,” Lila said. “Sulking won’t help. Come on, you can help me get dinner ready.”
Reluctantly, Gabrielle turned back to the kitchen and stood next to her sister.
“You know,” Lila said conversationally. “David’s really trying to make things better.”
“I know,” Gabrielle said. “And I appreciate it. I really do. But, the barn? Come on Lila?”
Lila shrugged. “What about that nice spot by the lake?” she offered, knowing the response.
“Oh, sure,” Gabrielle rolled her eyes. “If we’re there past dusk, the mosquitoes would eat us alive.”
“Hey, now,” Lila chided her. “We’re all just trying to give you some alternatives. Besides, my old bones couldn’t handle a long trip to Athens anyway.”
“Please,” Gabrielle retorted. “You’re not that old.”
Again Lila shrugged. “I’m just saying that you don’t need to have a big extravagant wedding to prove how much you mean to each other.”
David jogged through town to the large flat structure that was Beltanus’s inn. He ducked through the low door and stepped into the torch lit fog of a drinking establishment in full swing.
He spied several of his tables, occupied by patrons who were inspecting them with looks of approval. Several of them nodded in greeting, or gestured to others that he was the man who had built them.
Beltanus, huffing and puffing behind the bar, raised a hand and waved.
“Good evening!” he shouted over the din.
David grinned and waved back. He threaded his way through the crowd and leaned up against the bar.
“What can I get you?” Beltanus asked cordially. “Whatever you like, on the house.”
David grinned. “I appreciate it, but I actually need a little more than a drink.”
“Oh?” Beltanus’s eyebrows rose. “What’s on your mind?”
David handed the small bag of coins back to the bartender. He looked at it in surprise.
“What’s this about?” he asked, fearful that David might repossess his wares.
David smiled. “I’ve got a deal for you,” he said. “How would you like those new dining tables tomorrow?”
Beltanus looked at the money, and then at David, then back at the money again.
“I don’t understand?” he finally admitted.
David nodded. “You told me that you’d like your two boys, Salius and Timitus to apprentice under me?”
“Yes,” Beltanus nodded.
“Well,” David nodded. “I’ve been thinking about it, and I think it would be a great idea. I also need your help on something else?”
“Yes?” Beltanus’s eyebrows rose.
“I’m going to be asking everyone here, and in town to help with a little cleanup and restoration project at the old farm, and I’d like to ask you to provide the food and refreshment?” David’s eyebrows rose expectantly. “I’ll pay for the food and drink, that’s not the issue, but it will be a lot, and it must be kept secret from Gabrielle.”
“My new tables tomorrow?” Beltanus thought. “And a nice big profit for the week? My sons learning a trade? Plus, I get to help a fellow man pull one over on his wife – future wife?” he grinned. “Sure, why not!”
David smiled, and then he stood up on the bar. “May I have your attention, please!” he bellowed.
The entire room fell silent as they anticipated David breaking into a song, or something. He looked about the room and smiled.
“Everyone, I need your help!” He continued. “And, I need each of you to keep a secret!”
Quickly and neatly, David outlined his plans for the next three days. The murmur began to spread throughout the entire room as everyone got into the spirit of the project. Many of the younger men began thumping their mugs on the new tables enthusiastically, while the elderly patrons swore oaths of secrecy amongst themselves.
David dropped from the bar and gave Beltanus a wink. He turned to go and then stopped.
“Oh,” he said quickly, fishing in his pocket. “I also need a wineskin.”
Beltanus handed a skin of wine to him and refused the proffered payment.
“On the house,” he said again. “We’ll talk in the morning.”
“Thanks Beltanus.” David said gratefully. “Have your boys meet me at the barn later tonight.”
Beltanus nodded and David wormed his way back out of the inn.
When he got back to the house, he could hear the two women “discussing” David’s idea. He paused at the door and listened.
“Well,” Lila was saying. “I think it’s a charming idea.”
“Lila,” Gabrielle countered. “He turned the old cattle stall into a tool shed.”
“So,” Lila replied easily. “If he could do that, he can change it into something else.”
There was a grumble and David gauged that the discussion might degenerate into a full blown argument at any moment. He stepped back and then came in the door with the wineskin in his hand.
“Libations for the fowl,” he said cheerily.
Lila looked at him with considerable relief while Gabrielle’s gaze was still dark.
Lila took the wineskin and David slid into the seat next to Gabrielle.
“How you doing?” he asked, trying to stay upbeat.
“Swell,” Gabrielle muttered.
David looked at her face and smiled understandingly. “Listen,” he began, placing his hand over hers. “I know that my idea didn’t sound like the best. Compared to a temple in Athens, it must have sounded ridiculous.”
Gabriele looked up at him expectantly. “Then why even say anything?”
“Because I wanted to try and help,” David replied. “And because I’ve been to a wedding where they did that and it was great. I thought you might consider it?”
Gabrielle sighed, picking at her plate. “There’s just some things that I really wanted,” she finally said. “When I got married the first time, it was so rushed. There was no time to plan anything, we just went to the nearest temple and – got married. I wanted something different this time.”
David placed a hand on Gabrielle’s shoulder and rubbed it gently.
“I don’t know what I can say that’ll make you feel better,” he offered. She looked at him, and for the first time, she smiled a little.
“I know you meant well,” she replied, her hand coming up to cover his. Then she shrugged, also at a loss for words.
Gabrielle stood at the end of a long walkway, looking down through the temple. Faceless individuals occupied seats on either side, all turned to gaze at her expectantly.
The aisle itself seemed miles long, and down at the far end, she could see David waiting, an expectant smile on his lips. She felt the nervousness and anticipation balled up in a tight knot within her belly. She began walking towards him as soft melodious music began to drift throughout the vast chamber.
Her heart leapt! It was finally happening. It was the wedding that she wanted! Everything was perfect. The flowers adorning the seats and strung in undulating waves along the aisle. The scent of them perfuming the air, and her betrothed, standing, tall and regal, his hands clasped in front of him, waiting for her. She continued forward, but felt as though she were getting nowhere. She frowned, looking down at her feet. She began to feel heavy. The aisle was becoming longer with each step she took. Was David aging before her eyes? It began with subtle streaks of gray at his temples, fanning out as the color in his hair seemed to drain away. His face wrinkled and withered, his eyes dulled and he became bent with age. The flowers strung about the temple withered and faded and their perfume slowly changed to the stink of rotting plants. Still she could not reach him! Panic began to set in and she could feel her heart reverberating in her ears, drowning out the music that had sunk to the disharmonious yammering of de-tuned instruments. The faceless guests looked upon her in disapproval…
Gabrielle sat bolt upright in a fright, a short terrified cry escaping her lips. She could still hear the trip hammer pace of her heart thundering in her ears.
“David?” She whispered. She turned to speak to him and discovered his side of their small bed was empty.
A mild panic momentarily seized her heart, and the irrational side of her mind screamed that he had simply gone away, or that the last few months had been a dream, or some other departure from reality.
She looked about the room and saw several of his things, lying folded or hanging where he had left them. That quieted the panic somewhat, but it didn’t answer the question of where he was?
Her feeling of angst continued as she got wearily out of bed and went quietly into the main room. Again, David was nowhere to be seen. He saw Lila, curled up on her small bed, sleeping peacefully.
She crept past her slumbering sibling and eased out into the cool night air. The humidity and the cool breeze sent a shiver up her spine as she looked out at the misty street of her home village. So much had changed, and yet, it was still the same. She rubbed her shoulders and tried to drive the images of her strange nightmare from her mind.
She spied a large figure strolling casually up the lane towards the house, and she sighed with relief when she recognized David’s movements in the walking figure.
“Hey,” he said quietly. “What are you doing out here?” His hair was wet, and he wore no shirt. Small specks of sawdust and debris still clung to his forearms in spite of his efforts to clean up after working.
He saw the tired smile and the look of relief on her face and his cheerful gaze sobered a bit.
“Nothing,” Gabrielle lied. Then she shrugged. “I just woke up and you weren’t there.”
David smiled gently. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t sleep, so I went to the barn and did some work. I would have told you, but I didn’t want to wake you.”
In actuality, David had just returned from cleaning up the barn, after he and the two innkeeper’s sons had finished building Beltanus’s new dining tables. He wrapped an arm about Gabrielle’s shoulder and felt the cool sweat that still lingered.
“Nightmare?” he asked.
She leaned up close to him and nodded.
“Want to talk about it?” David offered.
She shook her head. “I was nothing. Just a bad dream.”
“Well,” David said, leading her back to the house. “Let’s get inside and get some rest. I promise I won’t go anywhere before daylight, okay?”
Gabrielle curled up next to him, feeling his strong arm wrap protectively about her. She sighed, suddenly content and her eyes closed. This time, there were no unpleasant dreams.
David looked down at her for a long time and smiled. No matter how many times he saw her, he was always struck by how beautiful she was. He realized that he could look at her for hours and never lose that fascination he had first experienced when they met. It was a part of why he loved her. He knelt closer and kissed her gently on the forehead before letting his own eyes drift closed.
“I am,” He thought as sleep finally took him. “The luckiest man in the universe.”
The next morning, David woke early. The morning sun was streaming in through the open window above him and the sounds of birds could be heard outside.
David gently extricated himself from his fiancée and got cleaned up. He paused, looking at Gabrielle as she slept peacefully.
“It’s about time we’ve had a break,” he thought. He quietly stepped through the small doorway into the main room and found Lila already awake and bustling about the tiny kitchen.
“Damn, woman,” David said. He smiled. “Don’t you ever sleep?”
“Not at my age,” Lila replied cheerily. “What about you? Out late last night, weren’t you?”
“Yeah, well,” David shrugged. “I needed to get Beltanus’s tables done.”
“Did you?” Lila asked conversationally.
David stepped over to one of his stuffed knapsacks and rummaged about for a few minutes.
“All done,” he said. He drew out his small coffeepot and began sliding the components together. “His two boys turned out to be quick learners. They helped me out a lot last night.” He slipped the small tripod in over the fire and set the pot upon it. After a few minutes, the sound of coffee percolating began to help drive the weariness from him. The aroma filled the tiny room and drifted into the bedroom.
“I’m sorry for the way we’ve monopolized your home these past few weeks, Lila,” David said suddenly. “We really appreciate it.”
“Don’t you worry about it,” Lila said amiably. “You two kids need to be able to be alone.” She stopped suddenly and chuckled. “Listen to me. You kids. It’s easy to forget that Gabrielle is my older sister.”
“What about Sara?” David asked. “She hasn’t been around much?”
“Oh, she’s staying with a friend for a while.” Lila replied. “She felt that it was too cramped here with four of us.”
David was about to say more when the door to the bedroom opened and a groggy Gabrielle came walking out. She plunked herself down at the table and rubbed the sleep from her eyes.
Lila smiled. “Still not a morning person, are you?”
“Absolutely not,” Gabrielle replied.
David drew two metal coffee mugs from his gear and poured two cups of steaming coffee. He slid one in front of Gabrielle.
“Here,” he said. “This will wake you up. Just don’t have too much. Remember the last time?”
“Oh, yeah,” Gabrielle nodded. “I remember.”
Gabrielle had tried coffee for the first time in the clubhouse of the Zombie Squad. The end result had been the poor bard speaking at a mile a minute and moving about just as fast as she was consumed with nervous energy.
She sipped the beverage cautiously as she watched David.
Her fiancé smiled a little bashfully.
“Okay,” he said at last. “Come on. Out with it.”
“I was just thinking,” Gabrielle said carefully. “About what you were saying yesterday.”
David slid into the small seat next to hers and looked at her expectantly.
Gabrielle sighed. “I don’t want to wait another year to get married, do you?”
David shrugged. “I’d prefer not to, but I could wait if we had to.” He eyed her knowingly. “I guess the real question is: Could you?”
“Could, yes,” Gabrielle smiled. “Want to? No.”
David smiled warmly. He could recognize when Gabrielle was taking the long route to a point. It usually happened when she wasn’t sure about something, or when she thought she might be dining on some previous words.
“I’m open to alternatives,” she finally said. Then she winced. “Just, not the barn? Okay?”
David held his hands up noncommittally. “Fine. We won’t use the barn for the ceremony. Done.”
Gabrielle’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. That compromise was way too easy.
“What are you up to?” she asked him knowingly.
“Would you still consider having the wedding on your old property, if I could get it ready?” David asked suddenly.
Gabrielle looked up at Lila, who merely shrugged. She immediately realized that her sister would be of no help in this conversation. She sighed in defeat. “I don’t know.”
“Give me three days,” David offered. “Let me show you what I have in mind. If you don’t agree with it, then fine, we’ll figure something else out, fair enough?"
Now Gabrielle was sure her soon-to-be- husband was up to something.
“David?” she asked him, her hands wrapping about the mug thoughtfully.
“Three days,” David repeated. “And you can’t come by until the three days are up. That’s the deal.”
Gabrielle sat back and folded her arms, her eyes fixing on him with almost feral intensity. “You’ve already done something, haven’t you?”
Now it was David’s turn to shrug. “Maybe. Do we have a deal?”
Again, there was no assistance from her sister. Instantly, Gabrielle knew that the two of them had been conspiring together.
“And what am I supposed to do for those three days?” she asked.
“Well,” David considered. “ I know you wanted a new dress for the wedding. And I’m not exactly up on the latest fashions of this period, so I was kind of hoping you would pick out something for me as well?” He smiled. “Unless you want a twenty-first century biker at the altar?”
Gabrielle smiled softly and her gaze also softened to something more agreeable, even seductive. “Oh, I don’t know. There’s something I love about that rugged, just out of the wild look?”
David laughed. “You’d have loved Sturgis.”
Gabrielle finally nodded. “Alright,” she agreed. “I won’t come snooping about for three days. On the fourth day, though,” she held up a hand. “I expect a guided tour.”
“Done and done,” David nodded. He rose and headed for the door.
“Where are you going?” Gabrielle asked.
“Hey,” David said with a shrug. “I’ve only got three days.” He opened the door and vanished outside.
Gabrielle’s eyes narrowed again and she went after him. She stepped out the door and stopped dead in her tracks.
David was in the midst of a group of no less than a dozen of the younger men in the village. All of them carrying some form of tools or another, and all of them heading down the road towards her old home.
More of the men came trekking past, each of them smiling and greeting her cheerfully. All of them had expressions that said they were in the know about something.
David turned and waved to her, his grin was wide and full of mischief.
Lila came and stood next to Gabrielle, smiling as the men of the village went off to do whatever David had in mind.
“Well, Lila,” Gabrielle sighed. “He did it to me again, didn’t he?”
“Gabrielle,” Lila smiled. “I think he’s got the entire village doing it to you this time.”
She wanted to be angry with him, even if just on some small level. Somehow, that emotion just wouldn’t form.
“Well,” She sighed, now plotting on her own. “At least with so many people in the know, I should be able to find out what he has planned?” She arched an eyebrow at her sister.
“Gabrielle!” Lila chided her. “That’s unfair and, well, just plain rude!”
“I never said I wouldn’t ask questions,” Gabrielle countered.
“Somehow,” Lila smiled knowingly. “I think David has that part of his little scheme covered.”
“Lila,” Gabrielle turned to her sister. “Nobody’s that good.” She stopped when she saw Lila’s eyes. “He’s already told you all about it, hasn’t he?”
“Oh no you don’t,” Lila waggled a finger in her face. “Don’t even think of pulling that old trick with me! I will not be your little fact finder this time!”
“Come on, Lila,” Gabrielle pleaded, reverting back to their childhood for a moment. “It’ll be fun!”
“Gabrielle,” Lila countered sternly. “We have a dress to shop for, as well as clothing for your husband to be. We don’t have time for these little games!”
“Lila?” Gabrielle pressed.
“Not a chance,” Lila replied quickly. She grasped Gabrielle by the arm. “Come along, you need to get cleaned up and have breakfast, then we shop.”
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