Fox and Lory

Some of my ‘auditions’ are not full stories or even full scenes, but tableaux, flashes of action, bits of dialogue. Sometimes they run together until they actually make up a scene. This bit, if it fits after editing, is for the ‘Orchard’, otherwise known as Where Angels Die.

Revel had been licking his wounds since the meeting with Lady Swan; but he was not arranged by nature to hold any lasting melancholy. He was listless enough while Greyhand led him and the Badger through the sinuous passages of the Keep. But when they emerged through a broad double doorway into an open court, he decided to take an interest in living again. Three young women were walking across the court, dressed in the flowing gowns that marked them as Angels of Life. These were not uniforms so much as plumage: each Angel had her own patron bird, as the paladins had their beasts, and the pattern of her clothing imitated the feathers of her totem. One seldom saw two Angels who dressed alike, but there was no mistaking them for anything else.

‘You sirs will want to meet some of the ladies you’ll be working with,’ said Greyhand. ‘Over here, my ladies! Meet the new paladins!’ He waved with his good hand, and the three women approached with a lively interest in their faces.

‘My ladies,’ said Greyhand, ‘this is Sir Valerian Brock, Knight Bachelor of the Covenant of Justice.’

‘Badger to almost everyone who knows me,’ said the Badger, smiling broadly and inclining his head just enough to count as a bow.

‘And this is Revel Enfield, Probationer. You’ll have to ask him what an enfield is, because nobody else can tell it properly. He nearly gave Master Herison a fit.’

‘I bet it looked good on him,’ said one of the women.

‘And my lords,’ Greyhand went on, ‘these are three of our finest Angels: Mistress Brant, Mistress Swift, Mistress Lory.’

Brant was a solid young woman in a brown and white robe with a black cowl. By her face and hands she was the Badger’s age, or a little younger, but something in her bearing made her seem older. In a few years, people would probably start calling her matronly. Swift was younger, thin, clad in brown with a flash of white scarf showing at her neck. Revel took them in at a glance, and promptly forgot they existed. All he could see was Lory.

This was entirely according to Lory’s own design. Her plumage made it painful to look straight at her, and nearly impossible to look away. Her costume technically fulfilled the strictest requirements of modesty, but Revel had seldom seen a woman so immodestly dressed. Lory’s gown was belted tight with a wide scarlet sash, to emphasize the curve of her hips and the swell of her breasts; the long skirts trailed away strategically, leaving just enough of a gap to provide an intermittent and tantalizing glimpse of one bare calf and ankle. She wore her cowl open, so loose that it kept falling off one shoulder or the other; at the moment, a long curl of jet-black hair was playing across the eggshell brown of her right shoulder before plunging below the high neckline of the gown, making Revel yearn to follow where it led. And the colours! Her cowl was bright violet, her bodice red, a shade lighter than the sash that bound it in; there was a strip of yellow at her neck, a dash of black round the shoulder blades, vivid blue where the gown clung to her hips, garish green where the skirts fanned away to the ground. She fluttered her lashes and smouldered at him with half-lidded eyes, and dazzled him with a smile that seemed to contain about a hundred snow-white teeth.

‘I can’t wait to see you work,’ she said in a throaty voice.

‘How about before work?’ Revel suggested.

The Badger dug his fingers into Revel’s arm and held him back. ‘Down, boy,’ he ordered.

Lory took her full lower lip between those perfect teeth. ‘Think of me till you see me,’ she sighed. Then somehow, before Revel could think of a suitably indecent reply, she turned on her heel and strutted away, switching her hips, pausing to toss a burning glance back over her shoulder. Brant and Swift took her firmly by both arms and escorted her out of the courtyard by another exit, chiding her in tones of hushed exasperation.

Greyhand sighed noisily. ‘This way, sirs.’

The Badger put a finger under Revel’s hanging jaw and pushed his mouth shut. Before the afterglow of Lory’s gown had quite faded from his sight, Revel found himself in a long cloister. The colonnade looked east towards the river, but more than half of it had been bricked up, with shelves and writing desks against the wall. On the west side was a long row of grey stone cells, sleeping quarters for the paladins of Angel Keep. At one of the desks, a tired-looking man in a russet robe was leafing through a small cloth-bound book.

Greyhand gave a polite cough for attention. ‘Begging your pardon, Fox, these are the new paladins we asked for.’ They went through the introductions again.

‘Have you got a first name, brother Fox?’ the Badger asked.

‘Just Fox,’ the older man replied. He had close-cropped hair that was still mostly black, and a neatly trimmed beard that was already mostly white. A few crimson hairs scattered across his chin suggested that he had chosen the name of Fox for reasons not entirely to do with cunning.

‘I’ve already introduced them to some of the Angels,’ said Greyhand. ‘Shall I assign them to their quarters, sir, or would you rather do that yourself?’

‘Which Angels?’ the Fox asked. ‘No, don’t answer that. I’d know that slack-jawed look anywhere. Enfield, is it?’


‘Well, Revel, my young friend, here’s some advice for you. Stay clear of Mistress Lory. If you let that one lead you on, she’ll only lead you to grief. She’s far too canny to let anyone catch her, you know.’

Revel laughed. ‘Tried her and failed, did you, old man? I can’t say I’m surprised.’

‘Manners, Revel!’ said the Badger.

‘It’s quite all right, brother Brock, I saw at once that your friend was a fool.’ Fox smiled; this was old game to him, a bit of friendly sparring with the new arrivals. ‘Revel, my dear boy, you mustn’t judge others by the standard of yourself. I have never “failed” with Mistress Lory, for the excellent reason that I have never tried. The truth is, I don’t chase women at all.’

Revel furrowed his brow. ‘Why not? What’s wrong with you?’

‘I’m dying,’ said Fox matter-of-factly.

‘Oh,’ said Revel doubtfully. ‘I suppose that might do it.’


  1. ah, yes, the moment that may or may not fit in a story. . .

    This one certainly has its charms even in isolation.

  2. What a brilliant line to land on. It made me giggle.

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