Time and Season (a vignette from the Fourth Empire universe)

“Your words are very pretty, sir, but what do they mean?”

Her simple prose cut through his poetic monologue like a knife through butter. He was taken aback. “What do you mean?” he asked quietly.

“That’s just what I said, sir. All that rubbish you’re saying about me. What does it mean?”

“It means just what it says, Alexandria. You’re as beautiful as -”

“Yes, yes, I heard you the first time. But why are you saying it? What is the purpose of all this rubbish?”

“I… well. I suppose it means I would like the hold your hand.”

She tossed her short brown waves of hair and pointedly did not move her hand out from under her sleeve. “I see,” she replied curtly. “Is that all?”

“No,” he answered quietly. “I would also like to go dancing with you after your performance this evening. Then I would like to walk you up to your room and steal a kiss from your sweet lips before-”

She cut him off again. “I see. Well, you should have said that in the first place, instead of going into all that blather about the stars.”

“Would have assented?” he asked hopefully.

“Absolutely not.”

“Will you now?” he asked, taking his one last chance.

“Don’t be a fool.” She stood up, grabbed her violin and her bow, and trotted away.

“…please come alone.” The noted was signed from ‘A Friend’, but Alexandria knew better. Mysterious notes came from men, even pleasant, friendly notes. Alexandria weighed every word in her mind. Bring her violin? Perhaps someone sought a private concert? That would be fun. But not if her tried to kiss her. Oh, no. Alexandria knew all about that.

“What is it, child? What’s bothering you?”

Alexandria looked up in surprise, “Hello, Madame Bonsoir. I wasn’t expecting you here this evening.”

The headmistress nodded, “I know.. but little Marie said that you were distressed, and that you had received a missive. May I read it?”

Alexandria’s brow furrowed. The lack of privacy here bothered her, but what could she do? She reluctantly handed the note over.

Madame Bonsoir read the note, then laughed. “Poor child. An admirer at your age? Well..”

Alexandria was young, beautiful, talented, refined, and naturally charming. Why shouldn’t she have an admirer. The headmistress cringed with jealousy. How long had it been since Lord J’kath had come to see her? His absences were longer and closer together than they had been when she was younger, and now his wife was expecting. His new wife. She shuddered.

“I wouldn’t go if I were you, child,” she said lightly. Men are dangerous, especially at your age. They are cruel, conniving, and underhanded. They seduce you and leave you lonely. Do you understand?

“No, mistress. What does that mean, seduce?”

Alexandria was seventeen, and the absolute picture of innocence. Madame Bonsoir wanted it that way. She liked her girls protected. Their music was sweeter, more special, more precious. Besides, the music of a virgin was laced with the olde magic.

“Never mind. Stay in your room, tonight Alexandria.”

“Yes, Madame.” She smiled.

The absolute picture of innocence.

She walked slowly along the beach. She was in no hurry to meet the strange man; she didn’t want to seem too eager. She found a rock outcropping with a surface smooth enough to sit on, then perched upon it and lifted her violin to chin. She began to play, a slow piece and melancholy. Her white dress billowed in the wind, her soft brown hair flying back from her face like a flag. The world around was green and fog and the crashing of waves. The moon hung low in the air, a few stars hanging around it, but most of the air was full of fog and cloud.

Alexandria took the man’s breath away, and as her haunting melody filled the air, he was enchanted. Her eyes fluttered closed, and she stood up, carried away by her own music, playing up at the sky like a wolf howling at the moon. The man drew nearer, then sat down on the wet sand by the rock. He looked up at her, then closed her eyes, too, and listened.

The sudden stop of the violin awoke him. He opened his eyes and looked straight into hers. She looked afraid.

“Who are you?”

“Who are you?” he replied softly.

“Alexandria. Didn’t you send for me?”

“Is it that easy, Alexandria? All I would have to do is send for you and you would come?”

“I-” she faltered, then shrugged. “I wanted to see who sent for me.”

“It wasn’t I.”

“Who are you?” she repeated.

He stood up and offered her his hand. “Jækob. You’re very good, you know. How long have you been studying?”

“Two years under Madame Bonsoir. My father taught me before.”

“And who is your father?”

“A bishop.”


Alexandria nodded.

“You also are lovely,” he said simply.

“Well,” said Alexandria.

“Well?” he asked.

“That was rather unexpected,” she answered.

“Was it? Don’t you think you’re lovely?”

“Not really. But that’s irrelevent. I’m not a man.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “I had noticed that. You’re graceful and very lovely.”

“I don’t like men,” she interrupted.

“Why not?”

“Madame Bonsoir taught me that men are conniving and seducers. I should stay away from them. I should stay away from you.” Alexandria rose to leave. She picked up a cloak that she had dropped aside and moved to pull it over her shoulders.

“Wait,” he said.

“For what?”

“Don’t go, I mean,” he answered.

“Why not? I told you, already-”

“I’m not a man, either, you see.”

“You’re not? Then what are you?”

“Just a boy.”

“What’s the difference.”

“I’m not conniving or seductive, and you have nothing to fear from me.”

Alexandria sighed and sat back down on the rock. It was raining now. “I shouldn’t have come, boy. I’m going to be in big trouble now. I don’t know how to go back without Madame seeing me. I never thought of it before.”

The rain was pouring down her face, and the world had shifted from green to light purple. It wasn’t so windy anymore, only rain, coming straight down. The enchantment was lifted. Jækob looked at Alexandria and saw suddenly not the face of a muse, like earlier, but the face of a friend in trouble.

Much more comfortable. Much more loveable.

He smiled.

“I’ll get you back in, Alexandria. I think I may know a few things about this place that you don’t.”

They climbed a trellis that led to Jækob’s room. Alexandria had never before seen the room of a visiting patron, and was delighted. The walls were decorated with paintings of the Allpan Mountains. She ran her fingers over the bumpy brush textures.

“They look so much like the mountains,” she exclaimed. “They’re beautiful.”

“You like art?” he asked.

“Oh, yes. I think. I’ve never looked at art, before, only music.”

He smiled, “Art is like music, but you can see is. It’s not so frightening, I think, but it’s just as easy to get lost in painting as picture as it is playing the violin to the sky.”

Alexandria smiled slightly. She looked up. “You paint, monsieur?”

“Call me Jækob, please.”


He smiled and gestured over to an easel by his bed. “I paint. Would you like to see?”

Alexandria shrugged, conscious of the fact that she was still in his bedroom, and feeling a bit trapped. “Yes, but…”

“Good! Come here.”

Alexandria followed him over to the easel.

On the easel wasa young woman in the middle of a field. Her coloring was much like Alexandria’s, brown, with milk-white skin, and she was wearing a red velvet dress. Her feet were bare, and one of them was kicking out of the grass as she spun, a violin in her hand. Alexandria grinned. “You like violins, Jækob?”

“I like to see girls playing violins. I don’t think I could play one myself.”

“I could teach you.”

“Could you? Would you?”

“Yes. I will.”

“Thank you, milady.” He bowed.

Alexandria laughed, then fell silent.

“I’d better go,” she said suddenly.

“Absolutely. Can you get back to the dorm from here?”

“Easily. Will I see you again, Jækob?”

“I will find you, Alexandria. I want to learn how to play the violin. And perhaps you will let me teach you to paint.”

She smiled and nodded. “Good.”

“Goodbye, Alex.”

And she was gone.

“Now what would keep Madame’s finest pupil out until midnight, that’s the biggest question,” announced Marie as Alexandria crept into the dorm room. There were three candles lit, by the three beds in a row of the three nosiest girls at the school. The one in the middle was Marie Heresford. Alexandria blushed to her ears.

“A man?” guessed Erika, one of Marie’s less-than-bright satellites.

Marie shrugged. “Maybe.”

Marie was beautiful. Even Madame Bonsoir had to admit that. Her red curls went about 20 centimeters past her shoulders. Her eyes flashed green when she was proud or happy, which was most of the time. She was reclining on her bed with a music theory book in her lap, obviously her excuse for being up so late.

“I was practicing by the shore,” Alexandria informed Marie coldly. “And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell Madame. If she finds out I got my violin wet, she’ll have me executed.”

Marie laughed, “Is that all?”

Alexandria shrugged stoically. “Isn’t that enough?”

“I suppose.” Marie tucked her theory book back into her nightstand and blew her candle out, motioning for the other girls to do the same. “You’re a real bore, you know that, Alexandria?”

“You’re just jealous, because I’m so devoted to my art,” Alexandria sang.

Marie laughed. “I have much more important things on my mind than art, Alexandria Stepperson.”

Alexandria was accustomed to the dark, and changed into her nightgown by the light of the moon that streamed in through the large windows that lined the walls. She peeled back the comforter on her warm, all white bed, and tucked herself in. “Oh, yeah? Like what?”

“Men.” Marie’s whisper rang right by Alexandria’s ear. She sat straight up, surprised by the closeness of the girl.

“Marie, what are you doing over here?” Alexandra whispered shrilly. “I have to go to sleep.”

“I wanna talk.”

Alexandria sighed. “What’s on your mind, Marie?”

Marie grinned in the darkness and climbed uninvited onto Alexandria’s bed. “Jean-Luc.”

“The flautist?”


“What about him?” Alexandria asked. Now that she was in bed, she could feel her energy dissipating, and she really wanted Marie to leave and go to sleep.

“He asked me to steal out with him this evening and… I did.”

“You did?” Alexandria was suddenly awake.

“Mmmhmmmm… we walked through the forest, we held hands, and he made me sing for him.” Alexandria stifled a laugh. Marie had an awful singing voice. “Then we sat on a big stone in the middle of the clearing…”

“Girls! What is the meaning of this?”

Marie jumped out of Alexandria’s bed and quickly climbed into her own as Madame Bonsoir entered the room. “Sorry, Madame!” she exclaimed.

“Sorry indeed! So this is all the noise I heard. I was worried that some of my girls might have been leaving the building.” She glared at them.

Alexandria’s eyes widened.

“Oh, no, Madame,” Marie said. “We’d never.”

“No. I thought not. As it turns out, it was just one of the boarding patrons. He said he didn’t see anyone.” She frowned slightly. “I must admit I was uncertain as to whether he was telling the truth. Boys like that have trouble lying…” she trailed off.

Alexandria flushed scarlet. It must have been Jækob, and he must have covered for her. She would remember to find a way to thank him.

“That’s a relief, Madame,” Alexandria put in.

Madame Bonsoir smiled. “I know you would never be consorting with the patrons, Alexandria. You know better, don’t you? You learn well.”

Alexandria felt her stomach churn with guilt. “Thank you, Madame.”

“Yes, Alexandria. I expect you to look after the little ones. If any of them leave, you’ll tell me won’t you, dear?” She did not wait for an answer. “Anyway, goodnight. No more chatter between you two, understood?”

“Yes, madame,” they murmured in unison.

“Goodnight, then.”

She closed the door behind her. Alexandria sighed softly in relief.

..sigh. It had been a beautiful night, but Alexandria was overloaded with guilt. She was scared, too. He said that he was a boy, not a man. She was holding onto that. So, technically, she hadn’t been out with a man. She had just been playing a song for a boy that happened to meet her along the coast. Jækob.. Jækob. A nice name. Nice eyes, too. Nice curls. Fantastic voice. Like a prince, or something..

Alexandria slowly drifted off to sleep.

Alexandria turned the note over and over in her hand. She had read it five times already; she had it memorized. But she still hadn’t made a decision. Jækob wanted to see her again. He wanted to learn the violin. He wanted to teach her about paint. That was the part that appealed to her most – learning about the music that you could see. It was said that artists and magicians used the same implements. Alexandria wanted to ask Jækob about that.

But should she go? She doubted it. It was the sabbat today, she could do whatever she wanted, and the sinkhole was within the grounds. There was nothing irregular about a visit there. Only that she knew he would be there.

She decided a to take a walk.

The “sinkhole” was the most beautiful spot on all the grounds. It was a circular clearing, about twenty feet in diameter, in the middle of the woods, sunk about six feet into the ground. It was carpeted with soft green grass. A little river fell into the sinkhole, creating a small pool near the edge. The river continued about ten feet into the hole, then flowed right into the ground. There were several mossy boulders and logs that had fallen into the hole. The younger girls often sat there, watching the little waterfall and composing childish poetry.

Alexandria climbed down on one of the fallen logs which served as a downward bridge into the sinkhole. There he was, crouched on the largest of the boulders with a sketchbook in his hands. From her perch, Alexandria could see that his eyes were closed. She leapt lightly down onto the ground, and crept up behind him. She climbed onto the boulder and lightly tapped his shoulder.

He jumped. “Alex! You scared me!”

Alexandria grinned.

“You didn’t bring your violin,” he said. “I’m disappointed.”

“I’m sorry,” she said sincerely. “It’s too wet here. I shouldn’t have been playing by the ocean either. It could ruin my violin. If Madame found out, I’d have dinner duty for a month.”

“Aw, I’m just teasing you. This is a much better place for painting anyway. And if we need music, we’ll sing.”

“You sing?” asked Alexandria.

“Why of course. Doesn’t everyone?”

“I didn’t know boys did.”

“Some boys have better voices that girls. I, for example, can sing very well.”

Alexandria’s eyes flashed. “Can’t beat lessons from Madame Bonsoir, boy or not.”

“Let’s try it. Do you know any duets?”

“Scores,” she replied airily. “You pick one.”

“”Time and Season?'” he asked hopefully.

Alexandria wrinkled her nose. “What’s that?” she asked.

“Hmm, a duet. Obviously. How about ‘Live My Life’?”

“Ah, yes. A beauty. I know that one,” Alexandria replied confidently.

They were well matched in tone and fluency. Alexandria’s strong point was range, his was breath control, but they let it rest at that.

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