by Mike Lawless
Merry Black Widow
by Keith Graham
The Merry Widow
by Jeffrey P. McManus
The Merry Widow
by Bill Wright
The Merry Widow
White Velvet Dress
by William Doren
The Rise and Fall of My Roommates, and its Applications to Western Society
The Merry Widow
by P.J. Wolf
The Merry Widow
The Merry Gladiator
by Colin Campbell
THE MERRY WIDOW
Owain smiled gallantly and held his hand out to his new bride.
Torchlight glinted on the fine-carved copper of the catenas bracelets as he led his lady out on to the dance floor. The bracelet he wore, symbol of lawful marriage, was twin to the one about Eliane's slender wrist. Only that afternoon her father had performed the honors, fastening the double band about both wrists, then separating them, saying the old, old words.
"Parted here now, may you never be parted in fact. What the Gods have linked let no man put asunder." All around the room, couples had touched their own bracelets together, smiling as they remembered their own vows.
And now he was dancing with her, finally wedded to her, di catenas, in the sight of all in the Hold. He had never been so happy.
He had loved Eliane hopelessly from the moment they'd met. His folk were long dead in one of the many feuds that flared in the Hellers; he had but a small Hold and only a small store of gold to offer her. Yet her family had welcomed him from the first, beyond even the traditional mountain hospitality. Verily, this match was a dream come true.
The reel ended, and the musicians began a slow, dreamy air from the Plains of Valeron. With a sigh of contentment he held her closer, drifting around the floor in a leisurely waltz. He gazed at her lovingly, feasting his eyes on glossy black curls that framed spirited gray eyes and an exquisite heart-shaped face. Her hand on his shoulder was delicate, six-fingered, and pale as befitted a lady. Many of the old mountain families were six-fingered; they usually had laran, too. Owain had felt no touch of Eliane's thoughts, but he believed she couldn't be all headblind, or how could he love her so? Nay, she must be but shy, as a maiden ought to be. He found it most becoming.
The waltz ended, and Eliane lifted her face for a kiss. For some moments, Owain quite lost track of what was happening around him as he drowned himself in the scent and the feel of her. Gods, he could hardly wait, this night was endless...
With a laugh, his friend Mikhail tapped his shoulder. "Come, friend, 'tis not seemly to dance with her all night. Ye must share your luck, my brother! May I dance a while with ye, damisela?"
Owain gave a slightly strained smile, and bowed out to his friend. Mikhail was right, he and Eliane were supposed to dance with others for good luck. As some of the wedding jokes he could already hear would say, he and Eliane would dance later, alone.
Walking carefully, for he was still aroused by her kiss and her touch, he made his way through the well-wishers and partygoers to the buffet tables. Suddenly hungry, he loaded up a plate, grabbed a tankard of mead, and looked for a place to sit down and eat.
He was almost at his chosen seat when he tripped over something. Plate and mug flew, spilling all, and Owain himself landed hard on his bands and knees, mildly spraining one wrist in the process. Annoyed, he looked back to find he had tripped over a pair of breeched and booted legs that were sticking out from under a table. A closer look revealed his cousin Raimon, sprawled on the floor with his head pillowed on his hands. His eyes drooped, and the sharpsweet smell of the dreamsmoke was thick about him, stronger even than the wine on his breath.
Owain sighed, and his cousin turned huge black eyes on him, only a sliver of blue around enormous pupils.
"O, Owain...", he giggled, and blinked owlishly. "That rhymes, cousin." He giggled again, and the eyes began to shut. Owain frowned, and shook him gently.
"Come Raimon, must ye do this on my wedding day? I thought to ask you to help me celebrate, yet saw you not 'till now. Come with me, ye should lie away from the walkway at least, not so?" The last he said with a smile, for he did love this cousin, almost his last living kinsman. He didn't hold Raimon's nature against him; his cousin was a good man, only flawed. Raimon's hands grasped his suddenly, and the huge eyes locked on his. The man's mood had changed, lightning-swift. "Oh, cousin, I'm afraid," he whispered, "I fear for you. I dreamed she was a vampire, and you died."
Despite his pity Owain had to laugh.
"My lady a vampire? Ay, Raimon, what dreams are ye lost in now?
Ye have seen her smiling, and eating. Saw ye fangs, then?"
"Nay, cousin, it's true. Yet I fear..."
"Vampires are in stories, cousin. We told them ourselves as boys around a campfire. No, 'tis only that you are overwrought, my kinsman. Will l you let me get you to rest?"
Raimon nodded, and struggled to his feet, allowing Owain to lead him aside to where couches lined the walls. Some already held slumbering, overstuffed guests, but he soon found an empty one and settled his shivering cousin there under a woolen cloak. Fairly quickly the drugs in Raimon's bloodstream conquered his fear and his eyes closed. Owain sat long enough to be sure his cousin was breathing well, then returned to the food tables to replace his lost supper. Best to let the other man sleep it off. After that he danced, both with Eliane and with others, forgetting his unfortunate cousin's strange words almost at once. He'd heard Raimon say wilder things that that, betimes.
The festivities swept on. As it grew later, Eliane's father and others of his generation retired for the night. In their absence the jokes and songs became more ribald, with instructions to the bride and groom a favored topic. Owain took it in good humour. 'Twas only custom, no harm in it. Eliane blushed and kept lowering her eyes, but that was only proper and besides, it inspired her audience anew.
Toasts were offered, to their health and to the health of various bodily parts. A couple of the toasts were quite explicit. A loud rendition of "Gods Bless the Human Elbow, O Bless It Where It Bends" led to Owain downing not one nor three but five small noggins of fiery raki, the rough mountain brandy. Added to the mead and ale he'd had already, it wasn't long before Owain's steps began to wobble. He wasn't sick, having eaten well before, but he did lose track of one dance and trip over his own feet. Those still on their feet laughed, and the guests began to talk of putting the couple to bed "Before it's too late!"
A few last toasts of exceptional rudeness, and they were ready. With a great to-do of jokes and "advice", the newlyweds were separated to 'get prepared". A crowd of young women surrounded Eliane and led her away, while Owain was surrounded by such male friends and guests as had not already passed out. Hooting and hollering, they took him to be washed and dressed.
Owain was tired but glad when the well-wishers finally opened a door to show him Eliane, clad in not much of spidersilk and fur, blushing among a mountain of pillows and quilts in a giant old wooden bed big enough for half a dozen people.
With much solemn advice and smothered giggles, he was put to bed with her in view of them all. It was tiresome but he didn't want to spoil their fun and anyway, it was almost over. A final horrible pun, a last rude toast, and the crowd mercifully left, in search, they announced, of more beer. Owain sighed in relief as the door closed behind the last of them.
He turned his head to gaze lovingly on his bride. She blushed again, but kept her eyes raised to meet his for several moments. Blue flashed, and he saw she wore a starstone on a long chain, so it hung between her breasts. So that was why he hadn't seen it, for she modestly kept it hidden, being no Tower witch to flaunt her powers. "So ye do have laran, my love?" he asked gently. "Aye, love, though I fear it is poor enough. They would not take me at Neskaya, save only such training as we all must get." She lowered her eyes, and for the first time he could feel her thoughts a little. He smiled at the concern he felt there.
"No, no, of course I'm not angry, my lady. I had thought that you must have laran, or how did my heart come to know thee so quickly and so well?"
She smiled a relieved smile, small white teeth bright against lovely red lips, and Owain found his cousin's words in his mind again, and laughed once more at the silliness. He'd never seen a more harmless or kissable mouth.
He kissed her again, then lay holding her, content in the warm threads of rapport he could feel beginning to form between them.
Hesitantly she returned his caresses, and he began to untie the ribbons and laces and froth from about her. Long black hair fell loose about her shoulders, and Eliane returned his kiss as her small, cool, fingers loosened his own clothing. They could feel each other's feelings as they touched in growing excitement.
Owain reached for her thoughts, but couldn't quite mesh, yet. No matter; they were linked, and he already knew his bride was not much of a telepath. He loved her more than he'd ever loved anyone, and if he'd wanted a telepath, he would have stayed at Tramontana Tower.
He lost his train of thought; the small fingers, cool no longer, were doing the most astonishing things to his body and his nerves. The last of the fluff parted in his hands, and he clasped her willing form against him, around him, drowning in the scent of her hair and the feel of her skin and his. Her arms tightened around him and she gasped once, as he...
Blue fire FLASHED and his nerves were burning. Her eyes met his, smiling a cold and alien smile, and she brushed aside his shields with contemptuous ease. His body kept moving, suddenly not his to control. Her starstone was a hot coal against his skin as she flattened her hands against his temples.
Pain flared in his skull; pain, and WORDS: ..You see, "my beloved", there is more than one kind of vampire. Even as I'm taking your seed, so now I will take your soul..
The palms tightened more on his head and the pain soared as knowledge came to him, too late. As he brightened in a crescendo of white-hot pain, he felt in her thoughts of the years, long and empty, alone in the keep. As his sight reddened and dimmed, he saw through her eyes the spiders and dust, the mildew and rot her spells had kept him from seeing.
The bones everywhere, still clad in their bright festive rags, and the places where sky shone through the ceiling, these she now laughed and let him see.
Raimon slumped, unbreathing, on a crumbling mildewed couch, hand still clutching the dagger hilt that must have killed him. Had he and his cousin been alone, then, save for the ghosts and the witch?
As the redness began to fade toward black, he had one last moment of clear vision; of a face, growing younger before his eyes, dropping years in that brief glimpse.
...and he knew, to no use, the why of his death