Bridge Over the River Krim: Chapter 9

Read all previous installments here.

A cold wind blew across Wynefrede’s exposed arms and bosom.

“You’re shivering.” Raphe started taking off his jacket. “Here…”

“You’re right, it is chilly out here,” said Wynefrede. Inside the ballroom, Benedicta was longer dancing but was sipping at a glass of wine next to one of the fireplaces. She patted Raphe on the arm. “It was so nice to meet you, Jake.”

“It’s Raphe,” he said, but she was already on her way back inside. Instead of turning back and apologizing she just made a mental note to stop trying to call people by name. She’d read somewhere once that it was a good way to remember who people were. But really, how many names was a person supposed to remember?

She’d already memorized Margarett and Benedicta’s names. The three of them had been to several dress fittings, had gone shopping at Krim’s central market, and visited the historical society together. By their fifth or sixth day together she had their names down cold. How many names was a person supposed to remember, anyway?

She liberated a fresh glass of wine and joined Benedicta by the fireplace. “So how was your dance?”

“Perfectly pleasant,” said Benedicta. “And yours?”

“I heard some good gossip,” Wynefrede said. “The guy I danced with…”

“Raphe?”

“Oh, you know him?”

“He was at the leper hospital with us today.”

“Well, whatever his name is, he said that the guy you were dancing with could be the murderer.”

“Nigel? Raphe says that Nivel’s a murderer?”

“Well, not in some many words. But the general implication was there. I heard he’s looking for a chance to fight a duel.”

“Are you sure? Nigel didn’t look like he could hurt a fly.”

“That’s exactly what murderers want to think.” She took a sip of her wine and looked out over the dance floor. “So, did you like him?”

“Nigle? He was okay. I’m not particularly enthusiastic about him, though. Why? Are you interested?”

“I do like the idea of dating a murderer.”

“Are you? Are you, really? Or do you just think that’s what would annoy your parents the most?”

“What makes you think I care about what my parents think?”

“Because you keep bringing them up. How many times have I mentioned my parents since you’ve known me?”

“I don’t know. I don’t keep track.”

“None. Because I’m an adult and have my own life. You should try it.”

“And go live in a freebie apartment on Facepage with an ad bot? No, thanks. Anyway, can you introduce me?”

“To Nigel?”

“It that’s even his real name.”

“Of course it’s probably not his real name. We’re on Krim.” She looked around. With her height, she had a clear view of most of the dancers. “There they are,” she said, pointing across the room. By the time the current song had come to its end, the dancers were near their side of the room again and Benedicta and Wynefrede stepped away from the fireplace to intercept them.

Margarett was the shortest person in the Royal Season, and Nigel was just a smidge taller than she was. Margarett was more than happy to give Nigel up to Wynefrede and move on to someone else.

In addition to his purple jacket and small stature, Nigel had several other affectations, including a thin mustache, a receding hairline, and a pair of eyeglasses that clipped to his nose. He wore a rapier on his left hip and refused to make eye contact with Wynefrede as they danced, preferring instead to focus on her chin, which was at his eye level.

He was a good dancer, in the sense that he didn’t need to count steps out loud. But then again, this wasn’t his first dance of the night.

“Are you coming to see the battle tomorrow?” she asked.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’m a big fan of historical reenactments and the medieval period in particular. While Krim isn’t historically accurate in the least, the world does do a fair job of conveying the spirit of the middle ages. That’s why I signed up for the Royal Season, you know.”

“Oh?”

“I figured that this was an opportunity to find a partner who was as interested in history as I was. Or, at least, could tolerate it.”

“Well, I very much enjoyed the leper hospital earlier today,” said Wynefrede. “I’m only disappointed that I didn’t get to see a trepanation. That is where they drill a hole in your head.”

“Yes, yes, I know. Barbaric custom. I’m looking forward to seeing one, myself.”

“Have you ever seen a case of the bubonic plague?”

“I was a reenactor in several battles of the Hundred Years War. In the last one, we lost more men to the plague than to the fighting. Very disappointing for the men. You spend month preparing, researching, aging the costumes, tracking down the right historical replicas for all your supplies, and then you go and get sick and die before you can actually kill anyone.”

“So you like to kill?”

“Who doesn’t? Of course, knowing that our enemies don’t really die, just show up later in new avatars, makes it a different experience. I don’t know how I would have held up in a real war, where people really died.”

“You’ve thought about it.”

“Who hasn’t? I mean, I’m sure you’ve wondered what your life would have been like if you’d been born in the past.”

“If I’d been born in the past and had to go to war… well, I probably wouldn’t have had a choice,” she said. “In a situation like that, you do what you told, don’t you? It’s either kill or be killed. It’s not your responsibility, not personally. More of a natural disaster than anything else.”

“Or manslaughter.” He shook his head. “Either way, a bad experience for everyone concerned.”

“So why reenact the wars?”

“Well, you have to understand that it’s less about the moral conflicts and more about the fun and excitement of reliving a period in history. And there’s a rush to fighting side by side with your fellow men.”

“And then watching them die.”

“Oh, have I got an amusing story for you. At the Battle of Caen, the guy next to me, Tom, got into a pissing match with some of the archers — on our own side, mind you — and got an arrow through his head. Literally went in one ear and out the other. The rest of us couldn’t stop laughing for hours.”

“Was that when you saw the plague?”

“No, the plague was later. Anyway, Tom’s buddy decided to moon the archers. They were behind our position, you know, and he bent over, and started to pull down his pants…”

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