A dozen pairs of young, eager eyes looked up at David as he crouched before them. The average age of the children was about eight. They listened raptly as David outlined their “mission”.
“Now,” he said. “This is a very important place. And you have to make sure no one gets in that shouldn’t be here, okay?”
Twelve eager head bobbed up and down. One small girl raised her hand.
“Who shouldn’t be here?” she asked timidly.
“There’s only one person,” David said. “You all know Gabrielle, right?”
Again, more nods.
“Well,” David continued. “She’s the only one who shouldn’t be here. And she might try to sneak in from the forest or along side the road, so you have to patrol all along there, without going into the forest, because, if you see her, I need to be able to see you when you wave, if you see her, got it?”
Twelve enthusiastic children erupted in excitement.
“Okay!” David clapped. “You guys know what to do!”
The kids ran hooting and hollering across the field.
David grinned as he watched them go. Then he turned back to the job at hand and almost ran into Aphrodite who had silently appeared behind him.
She wrapped her arms about his waist, her hands coming down on his rear.
“Ooh,” she said. “Hey studly. What’s shakin?” She smiled up at him.
David gently pulled the Goddess’s hands from his posterior and smiled.
“Hello Aphrodite,” he greeted her cordially. “What brings you around?”
“Well,” Aphrodite said knowingly. “A man and his friends helping to set up a wedding site for his future bride. Does that scream “love” or what? Duh!”
“Silly me,” David muttered as he tried unsuccessfully to push past the giddy Goddess.
“What can I do for you?” he asked as he surveyed the demolition of the old house’s collapsed roof.
“Oh, nothing,” The Goddess said, seating herself on a nearby bail of hay. “I just thought I’d see what you came up with?”
She stood back up and looked over his shoulder at the wreckage of the house.
“So far, lover boy, I don’t see much?” she teased.
David looked down at her and smiled.
“It’s the morning of the first day,” he said sarcastically. “You not pleased? Jump in and help.”
“Sure!” the Goddess replied immediately, much to David’s surprise. “What do you need?”
David looked at the Goddess skeptically. “Right now? I need a bunch of people on those ropes to help pull the rest of that section of roof down.”
“What?” Aphrodite winced. She looked down at her hands and shrugged. “I could get splinters?”
“Ah,” David smiled knowingly. He pointed over at the second group, getting ready to drill post holes. “How about helping those guys get the entrance walk ready?”
Aphrodite looked over at several burly young men placing markers, digging post holes and laying flagstones. She shook her head.
“Do you know how long it takes to get these nails just right?” she said, holding up her perfectly manicured hands. “And digging in the dirt? Like, yeah, right!”
David tried his best to conceal his smile. “Of course. Okay, besides Goddess things. What can you do?”
“I was thinking something in a supervisory way, you know. Making sure the job gets done right?” She shrugged and smiled.
David frowned slightly. “I thought you deity types were supervisors?” he shot at her sarcastically.
“Oh very funny,” Aphrodite replied. She seemed about to return a scathing remark of her own, but David spoke up again quickly, a disarming smile on his face.
“Actually, there is something you can do.”
Instantly, the Goddess smiled again in anticipation. “And what would that be, big boy?”
David smiled sincerely. “Make sure no one gets hurt on this job. That’s the most important ‘supervisory’ position I can come up with, and I think its right up your alley?” He shrugged. “And I might need to ask something else of you later.”
The Goddess looked at him like an eager youngster. She rubbed her hands expectantly. “Oh, and what’s that?”
“Later, My Lady,” David said politely. “Later.” He gave her a bow. “What do you say?”
Aphrodite looked about at all the men working on the property. Her face took on a critical expression. It slowly melted into something more desirous as she noted several of the younger, fit men, working on dismantling the collapsed roof.
“Watching over those boys?’ She mused. “Oh, I could definitely get into that. A bunch of strong, sweaty young men flexing their muscles. I might have to get a couple of them later?”
David laughed. “Man, the guys in the Squad would have loved you.”
David smiled and joined the crew working on dismantling the main section of the roof on the old home. As Aphrodite watched, the house slowly dissolved as the boards were, for the most part, removed in large groups and taken aside to be completely dismantled. A team of six other men took the pieces apart, separating all the decent material from the junk, and stacking it neatly for use elsewhere. Though it was a long and laborious process, the derelict condition of the old home actually made the job easier. Aphrodite watched the events with a mixture of wonder and curious desire. After the final section of the roof came sliding down from the top of the remaining walls, the team of twenty men let out a cheer of triumph. David shook a few hands and had a few quick conversations. He smiled as he strode past Aphrodite, now sitting in a comfortable, wide backed wicker chair, beneath what could only be described as a pink beach umbrella. She held a tall glass in her hand and sipped at her drink from a straw.
“Comfortable?” David asked, smiling in amusement. “Enjoying the show?”
Aphrodite eyed several young men over the rim of her glass and smiled. “Oh yeah. Lot’s of good looking boys around here today.” Her eyes glanced up at him with just a hint of desire. “Including the boss.”
David laughed. “Sorry, this boy’s spoken for.” He turned and began walking up towards the road.
“Hey!” The Goddess called after him. “Where are you going?”
“I need to run back into town and see Beltanus about getting the food and drinks out here for lunch. I’ll be back in an hour.” He gestured to the work crew. “The guys all know what to do. Just keep an eye on them for me, okay?”
Aphrodite looked back at the men; a couple of them had shed their shirts as the heat began to rise.
“Oh, no problem,” she smiled as she settled herself more comfortably in the large wicker chair. “Take your time.”
David turned quickly and smiled to himself. “God help me, I’ve created a monster.”
David leaned across the bar, looking down at the piece of parchment on the smooth surface. Beltanus leaned over and studied the plans.
“It’s a nice setup, if they can get the house out of the way,” He agreed. “I think she’ll like it.”
David smiled. “If you could have the boys set up the fire pit here, where the new house will be going, that should be out of the way enough for the guys to get something to eat and drink without tripping over each other.”
David and Beltanus were still talking quietly when Gabrielle and Lila entered the inn.
“Good afternoon ladies,” he said quickly, as David folded the plans for the house and hid them beneath his hands. He leaned over quickly. “I’ll have Salius and Timitus get the provisions loaded up for you.”
David grinned and winked, taking a second piece of folded parchment from Beltanus’s hand.
Instantly the elder innkeeper was around the bar and guiding the ladies to one of his new dining tables.
“What can I get for you today?” he asked.
While Lila situated herself at the table, Gabrielle sauntered over to the bar and edged up next to her fiancé.
“So,” he said casually. “What have you been up to?”
David surreptitiously pushed the folded parchment behind him and smiled. “Just came by here to grab something to eat. You?”
Gabrielle smiled knowingly and matched David’s equally knowing look.
“You’ve been trying to snoop,” he said, grinning. “Haven’t you?”
“No,” Gabrielle replied, her eyes flicked to the parchment on the bar. “Just a little shopping.”
“Find anything?” David asked conversationally.
Gabrielle smiled. “Maybe? You won’t know until the wedding day, though.”
“Ah,” David nodded. “Payback for my little secret?”
“Little?” Gabrielle shot back. “You have the entire village – my home village – in cahoots with you!”
She shook her head and smiled, leaning against him as he put an arm about her shoulders.
“How do you do that?” she asked as her hand edged towards the parchment.
David’s fingers intercepted hers and he raised her other hand and kissed it.
“It’s a gift.” He said simply. He smiled as she tried to find another way to edge about and get hold of the parchment.
This time she slipped her arms about his waist and hugged him to her, smiling again. Each of them could see right through the other’s act, but they tried none the less, as if they were seeing which one of them would break first.
Her hand reached out again, and David’s arms clamped down about hers, pinning them at his waist.
“You’re just dying to know aren’t you?” he grinned.
“And you’re dying to tell me,” Gabrielle suggested.
“No, I’m not,” David replied.
Gently, but firmly, he went over and sat next to Lila, bringing the reluctant Gabrielle with him. Her eyes fell back on the parchment and she looked at David with challenge in her eyes.
“So?” David asked Lila as they sat down. David made sure he sat between his future wife and her desired target. “Any luck finding a dress?”
“Yes,” Lila replied immediately. “And we found-“
“Lila!” Gabrielle exclaimed.
Lila smiled. “Sorry, sis. I couldn’t help it.”
Gabrielle growled softly as Beltanus served the drinks.
As David waited for his food, he watched Gabrielle, still eyeing the parchment lying on the bar, not ten feet from her. David’s smile grew.
“You’re not going to let this go, are you?” he asked. “Why can’t you just let it be?”
“You said I couldn’t come out to the old house.” Gabrielle smiled. “You didn’t say anything about looking at a picture.”
With that, Gabrielle launched herself towards the bar. David also leapt up and moved, quick as lightning. His hand scooped up the plans and he held them behind his back.
“You never give up, do you?” he asked, backing away from her as Lila laughed from the table.
Gabrielle, grinning like a banshee, tried to reach behind him with one hand, and then the other, her fingers always snapping closed a fraction of an inch away from her target.
“Not when I want something,” Gabrielle countered. She reached again, and this time, David caught her face in his hand and planted a passionate kiss on her lips as he turned around and got his back away from the wall.
Gabrielle stepped back and grinned. “That’s not fair,” she teased. “You distracted me!”
“Every chance I can,” David laughed. He backed to the bar, and when Gabrielle reached again, David tossed the parchment to Beltanus.
“Give that to Timitus,” David said quickly. “And tell him to get moving! I’ll keep the barbarians back!”
Gabrielle spun around and would have leapt across the bar, except that David was faster and caught her again. This time he held her, as if they were preparing to waltz, and he swayed back and forth, spinning her across the floor with a few graceful steps humming a soft dance tune.
“Can I have this dance?” he asked, still grinning.
Outside, they both heard the sound of the small horse drawn cart as it rattled away from the rear of the inn.
“You’re terrible,” Gabrielle said. Then she kissed him, and spun out of his grasp, bolting out the door.
David let her go and leaned back against the bar, completely pleased with himself.
Lila looked at David, and then at the still swinging door.
“David?” she asked, and her expression changed from concern to a knowing look.
David sighed and reached back, underneath his shirt and drew out the actual plans.
Lila gave him a stern look. “You are going to drive her mad, you know that?”
David turned the folded parchment in his hand a couple of times and smiled. “Yeah, I know.”
“What is she about to get from that poor young man?” Lila asked.
David smiled as Beltanus, also grinning, handed over a cloth bag containing David’s lunch.
“The grocery list,” David said. He gave the elder woman a kiss on the cheek. “See you later, momma,” he said kindly and he strolled out the door, whistling to himself.
Lila watched him depart and smiled as one hand came up to support her cheek. Then she laughed to herself as Beltanus brought the two meals and set them on the table.
“If they don’t kill each other in the first five years,” Lila commented. “It will be a miracle.”
Beltanus chuckled. “Yes, but they are having fun, aren’t they?”
David stepped out into the afternoon sun and began walking casually down the dirt path that led back to the job site. Quickly, he folded the parchment into the cloth napkin within his lunch bag and slung it over his shoulder.
He came across Gabrielle, trudging back with a defeated scowl on her face.
“Hi honey,” he called cheerily. “Why the long face?”
Gabrielle held up the folded piece of parchment she had recently procured from the innkeeper’s son and waggled it at him. In spite of her best efforts, her smile reasserted itself.
“Good one, David,” she said. “Real good. I didn’t even see the switch.”
David smiled and kissed her. “That’s because you always close your eyes when you kiss me, sweetheart.” He said.
“And what’s with the lynch mob?” Gabrielle continued, jerking a thumb in the direction of the house. I had a dozen kids ambush me just this side of the creek?”
“That’s my security team,” David laughed. “Making sure the riff raff stays out.”
She drew back a fist in a threatening manner, but the smile soon reappeared.
“What am I going to do with you?” she sighed.
“Is that a multiple choice question?” David’s eyebrows bounced a couple of times. “Cause I have a few ideas?”
Gabrielle shook her head and smiled, then she kissed him again. “You’re a terrible, terrible man,” she joked.
“Yeah,” David agreed. “But you love it. Dinner tonight?”
“You cooking?” Gabrielle asked.
“I have a few ideas,” David replied. “Meet me down by the lake?”
Gabrielle’s eyebrows rose. “Oh?”
“It’s a surprise,” David said before she could say anything else. “About sundown?”
Gabrielle slapped him in the arm. “I don’t know about all these little secrets of yours,” she said. “I’ll see you later.”
He kissed her again and the two of them went their separate ways.
When David returned to the site, the majority of the men were already enjoying the afternoon repast. The roof and one wall of the old house had been dismantled and the salvageable wood was stacked neatly beyond the old foundation and floor. He spied Timitus walking across the exposed floor, his eyes scanning the surface critically.
David pulled his sandwich out of the bag and stepped up next to the young man.
“What’s on your mind?” He asked.
The young man shook his head. He gestured to the end of the foundation that had been exposed to the elements when the wing had fallen.
“A lot of these planks are rotting,” he said. “They’ll need to be replaced before we set up the marriage pavilion.”
He stepped down and the two men saw the old board flex dangerously. “These won’t hold my weight, never mind a couple dozen guests,” the lad finished.
David smiled. “So?” he asked, taking another bite of his sandwich. “What do you do?”
The young man, suddenly realizing that he was being quizzed, smiled and stepped back.
“We can pull the bad planking up, and then run reinforcing cross braces at intervals of, say, this much?” he held his hands apart a little less than shoulder length. “Salius and Perin are small enough that they should be able to squeeze under there and help move them into place. Then we lay new flooring on top?” he looked up expectantly. “What do you think?”
“I think you got it down pat,” David smiled, patting the young man on the shoulder. “That’s your job. Get a crew together and start on it after lunch, okay?”
The work continued at a fever pitch until the sun began to set in the western hills. By that time, everyone was pretty much exhausted, but the entire old house had been completely dismantled and most of the rotten floor planks removed. Several men were busy sweeping up the assorted small debris still lying on the old floor. They finished tidying up and then began to filter out singly or in small groups. David watched them all depart and shook hands with many of them. Like him, most hands were callused and cracked, bleeding in some places, but no one minded the discomfort.
David pulled a few slivers out of his palms and then dunked his hands in a shallow basin of water, washing away the grime from the day. He looked up at the sky and judged he had about an hour to get ready for dinner. Quickly, he grabbed the newly built table and two stools, along with a large woven basket containing the provisions for the evening, and a change of clothing. He made his way across the field towards the lake as quickly as his burdens would allow.
He set the table and stools up underneath a large, leafy oak tree near the lake and started a small cooking fire. Once the fire was burning merrily, David set up the table and looked at the sky. He decided that he did have time for a quick bath. He stripped down and dove into the lake, quickly washing the days grime and sweat from his limbs.
He sighed, humming to himself as he bathed, and then he turned to find Gabrielle seated at the table, watching him.
“I didn’t realize it was going to be dinner and a show?” she mused, smiling at him.
David smiled. “Come on in,” he offered. “The water’s great!”
Gabrielle sat there, dressed in a simple green dress of local style. She grinned and shook her head. “Later, perhaps,” she countered.
David stayed in the water, eyeing her curiously. She had a smug smile on her lips, though he couldn’t figure out why. Then he noticed and a grin began creeping across his face.
“Darling?” he said sweetly. “Where are my clothes?”
Gabrielle simply let her smile grow and blinked a few times. She gave a little shrug.
“This is payback,” David grinned. “Isn’t it?”
“Maybe,” Gabrielle replied.
He nodded and pursed his lips as Gabrielle began inspecting the preparations for their little dinner.
“This lamb looks delicious,” she commented. “And you got a wineskin as well? My, my.”
“Sweetheart,” David said cordially. “You realize that you’re pushing a bad position?”
Gabrielle theatrically placed a hand over her heart, looking shocked. “I have no idea what you mean.”
“Uh huh,” David said. “So, I’m supposed to sit in here and shrivel, or I tell you what you want to know, is that it?”
Gabrielle rested her chin on her fist and smiled, staring at him. “Something like that, yes.”
“Ah,” David nodded again, and his smile grew. “You’re forgetting two little details.”
“Oh?’ Gabrielle said. “And they are?”
David grinned like a banshee and began stepping towards the water’s edge.
“First, that I have absolutely no shame.” He said as the water level fell with each step. “And secondly. When I get out of here, you are definitely going to get wet.” He held his hands out and shrugged. “Clothes?”
Suddenly, several of the village women stepped out of concealment, though their giggling gave away their position before David actually saw them; he paused with the water just above his waist. He was amused to see Lila among them.
“I know you have no shame,” Gabrielle said with a grin. “Besides, you wouldn’t shock me, coming out of the water?” She looked at Lila and the other women and smiled. “That’s why I brought some friends/”
David looked over at Gabrielle’s sister and shook his head. “Playing both sides against the middle, momma?” He asked her.
“David,” Lila replied, grinning. “She is my sister after all?”
“Still want to come out?” Gabrielle teased.
“Absolutely,” David replied. He began resumed moving towards the shore.
“David!” Gabrielle shouted.
“What?” David looked at the assembled group of conspirators and shrugged. “You already know what I got, and your sister’s ‘been there, done that’, just not with me. But you know the old saying. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.”
“What about the ones that haven’t?” Gabrielle shot back, suddenly feeling a knot of horror in her belly.
“Well, then they get a good look at what they’re never gonna get?”
All the jaws dropped open as David casually stepped out of the water and began stalking towards his betrothed.
A look akin to panic suddenly washed over Gabrielle’s face as she realized that her plan had completely fallen apart.
David paused and saw several of the younger women holding his clothing. He smiled cheerfully and stepped over to them. They were completely frozen in shock.
“Good evening, ladies,” he said, and he gave them a little bow. “Can I have those please?”
Numbly, the two women holding his wardrobe surrendered the errant articles, their eyes never looking above his waist.
“Thank you,” David said as he took his clothes and casually slung them over his shoulder. He turned and began walking casually back towards the table and Gabrielle.
“You know,” he explained. “There’s a beach in Spain, where everyone goes completely naked. Once you’ve been in public like this, in front of hundreds of other people, you never really worry about it again.”
He stood in front of Gabrielle, also looking at him in total shock. David dropped the clothing next to the fire and smiled. “Now, then. Did you bring a change of clothing?” he asked in a kindly tone. Then, without warning, he scooped her up and charged back towards the lake.
“David!” Gabrielle struggled in his arms. “David, don’t! I swear, if you do, so help me!” She squealed as the two of them landed several feet from the bank of the lake with a tremendous splash.
She came up blubbering and looked at him with an instant of wrath. Then she splashed water at him and laughed. “I hate you sometimes, you know that?”
David only laughed and let himself float, on his back, further into the water.
Lila, realizing that the show was apparently over for her and the rest of Gabrielle’s accomplices, snapped everyone out of their stupor.
“Okay girls,” she said breathlessly. “I think we’ve seen more than we ever should have. Time to go.”
Reluctantly, the other women turned to leave, whispering in shock and surprise among themselves. Lila watched them depart before she moved to the edge of the lake.
“Well, Gabrielle,” she said to her sister. She helped the waterlogged bard out of the lake. “I like how your plans work, sis.” She grinned. “Should I run back to the house and grab some dry clothing for you?”
Gabrielle stumbled out of the water, her dress plastered to her body and squelching as she moved.
“No,” Gabrielle replied, looking back at him with feral intensity. Then she looked at Lila and smiled. “I had no idea he was completely shameless. Sorry.”
“Sorry?” Lila grinned. “Gabrielle. You’re David has nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Lila!” Gabrielle hissed. The elder woman only shrugged and began walking back towards the faint lights of the village. “It’s just my opinion.” She finished.
Gabrielle watched her depart and then wheeled to face David, still floating on the water, his arms behind his head, exposed in all his glory.
She began pulling the waterlogged clothing off her body and wringing it out before she lay it next to the fire to dry.
“David Forester,” she growled at him. “When I get in there, you are in big, big trouble.”
David kicked upright and tread water as he smiled at her.
“Ooh goodie,” he teased. “My favorite kind.”
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