A Sound of Ember and Fire

Submitted for Contest #64 in response to: Write a romance that involves one partner saving the other from a fire.... view prompt

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Oct 23, 2020

Historical Fiction Romance

The first time I saw her, I was just a boy, son of a peddler, and a housekeeper. I was helping my stepmother, Mrs. Miller, to make the groceries. She was cleaning some tents. Dirt and aloof thing, but his hazelnut eyes were like a star guiding my eyes. I had to talk with her. All my fibers told me that. But as mute, this task was as challenging as to describe colors to a blind. Complex, hardly impossible, but uplift if accomplished.

Mrs. Miller was bargaining some fabric, so I took the opportunity. My mind was weaving plans that just vanished when I stood two steps away from her. She had something special, some energy which made me behave like a fool. In despair, I took an apple and threw a coin, my only coin, before running away. I did just like the posh nobles that couldn't even look us in the eyes. Soon as I step beside Lady Miller, she passed me the groceries, and we went home. The apple shining atop it all. That was the begging of my story with her.

****

Months later, I was mature enough to handle messages and make quick purchases for Lord Tyler. I make up for my speech limitation by being good at writing and numbers. Mom and Mrs. Miller had trained me to be a butler since I was born. I excel in my duties, not only because I want to be a butler but also so I could see her more often.

I quickly and correctly had my tasks done so I could learn more about her. Her name was Ruby, seems to have no family members. A couple of years older than me and works in the fair as a helper. Besides sweeping the plaza, throwing away spoil products, she also had to move heavy boxes. The soul away from her body, her mind not home.

My first interaction was helping her. Ruby was having some trouble moving heavy boxes, so I handle a couple. I force myself too much, but my pride denied me to show weakness. As smooth I came, as smooth I left.

I was young and naive. I thought the better plan was to become a guardian angel to her. From nowhere come to help her in some task and after vanish. A weak and fragile plan that somehow manage to achieve the goal. Fate favors passionate hearts.

****

Two years had passed. I had already move countless boxes, stop plenty of stealings, prevent many fruits from fallen, and hit dozens of rotten fruits in the back of rascals. All as a ghost, and without interfering with my duties. Last month, my sixteenth winter, I became, officially, the second butler. My responsibilities now include: conduct visitors, handle my master schedule, assure the safety and order in the manor, and atop of this be confident of Lord Tyler's secrets. I need to make the better of my time as my street work had lowered.

I was as tall as Lord Tyler, even if slender, so I need new clothes. I ask to take the evenings for personal business. I knew a peddler who, once I month, came to sell good clothes. To my joy, she was there. The girl had gone, now she was a young woman. I was already used to make me understand, even when dealing with someone who does not read. The fair was empty. The best products were gone in the first hours. I pick some shirts and trousers, which would last more than a year. My heart was pounding as drums of war, but I kept my expressions stoic. I appointed the clothes and made the universal symbol for money. At first, Ruby's face looked blank, but when our eyes met, some fire lit inside her. "You! I am not mad. He is you, isn't it? They call me a liar and mad, but I know he is you," she spoke as gale, not loud but strong. "Admit it!" said her holding the clothes I wanted. I made the signal that explains my condition and my confusion "You are not confused, you just don't want to admit it. Admit you are the kid that these years have helped me from the shadows. Just do it... please, just help me," her last words hit me right where hurt the most. My plan someway seems to put her in trouble. Ashamed, I nod. Beautiful is everything that is loved. It was the first smile I saw on his face, and it was for me. I love it.

Until that day, I only had seen an ember in those eyes, but inside Ruby, there was a fire. A fire that only needs fresh air to grow. There live so many words that need to find the world. My stupid plan wasn't perfect, people I had hit blamed her, some thief I stopped came with weapons after, in many toughs moments I wasn't there, but someway I made a difference in her life. A nameless boy that just helped her without asking for nothing. I know that even to people who don't owe your name to gems, being worth means a lot. My younger self was the most bright stupid genius, so I thought.

I paid attention to every word she said as my life depends on that. I had to say something, but of the many signals I knew, I was not sure of which Ruby would understand. So I acted boldly, inappropriate. I hug her and let her feelings hear instead.

****

The first thing I taught her was my name, Flint, which also means lit in signs. The second thing was the manor I lived and worked in, a century-old manor, with two flours in the town's edge, with gargoyles in the roof, big dark blue windows. The first thing she taught me was how to jump a window. The second how to comfort and be comforted.

At least twice a week, after Lord Tyler dismiss me, we met to share our world. Without people to hush her or judge, she was full of doubts and critics. A charm that I tried to reward and encourage with smiles and some answers. Time did not flow as usual when I was with her. She was there when Mrs. Miller passes out, although not my mother by blood, she treated like her son. My mother passed when I was eight, father at twelve, Mrs. Miller now, all victims of a bloody cough.

One year passes in a blink, we could signal short messages, and I convince her to stop working in the fair, whereby each day become more violent. I indicate her to replace the clean maid who had taken my stepmother position. Lord Tyler hired her, even though she had no experience in a manor. I thought that his decadent wealth didn't allow him to pays properly, which justifies the few candidates for the vacancy.

Thus we start to work together. I taught everything that needed to know about the job. During the day, I was strictly professional, to her discomfort, but after been dismiss, I tried to make up for my cold manners. As the months passed, she accepted my coldness, my skills to be everywhere, and know-all. On the other hand, I create a secret signal only for us, and each day her aura turns me deeper into a fool.

By her first anniversary in the manor, a little left of the fair helper. Dark curly hair tied as the fashion, pale olive skin without a smooch of dirt, eyes with a full and bright fire now, and no more hungry face. On that day, to myself, I unraveled my feelings towards her. We are friends for sure, but this label didn't satisfy me. I have never wanted to be more than an acquaintance with anybody, and for the first time, I want to be something more. I was frightened of what I feel and, above all, if I was reciprocate.

On a mist night, the master called me to write a letter to a business partner. The pains of age were unbearable. Besides, I knew how to translate Lord Tyler's speech to something proper and smart. The time was devouring his wits. After the letter was sealed and sent, he rent my ears and silence to personal issues. He wants a new wife, more than a decade single would stain his reputation. He confesses he wants a wife of noble blood and mistresses to fulfill his lust. I was astonished. He confesses his dirt desires, acts which would shock society and the church. He expected my understanding of the desires of the flesh. As a lad, I understand the body needs, and sometimes such desires scream, but also mind and heath should be the judges. Otherwise, we would equal to beast and monsters. When did my master turn to be a wolf in sheep clothing? None of my thoughts escapes my mind. I had nightmares, wasting my night awake listening to the creepy sound of the house and the rain outside.

Just a few helpers knew my language. Fewer could ask personal or dangerous questions. Mr. Manson, the first butler, was a sharp mind man whose body didn't follow anymore. The next night, I seek him to solve my thoughts. Already with them in a paper, I delivered it to him. His face turned dark, sighing, he told me I was mature enough to know and soon would be my duty to deal with those dark secrets. Since master's youth, he was known as a clever entrepreneur whose personal life was kept secret. The truth was, Lord Ryler never accepted women's refuses of his advances, part of the family's wealth spent to hush scandals and hide bastards. His two first wives suffer terribly in his hands, body, and mind. Everything escalated with a never coming heir. That was one of the reasons Mr. Manson made rigid work schedules, so never a maid was left alone with the master. Despite his efforts and grief, some cases had happened. That was the best he could do to those poor women without compromise the family's name. I left, pale and angry, right to Ruby's.

Ruby was asleep, but I had an urge to talk to her. We have a special knock to call each other and, within a short time, brought her from the maid's dormitory. The drums of war return in my chest when I saw her in a nightgown in the pale night. I spent all my forces to stay focus. I sign her that she needs to promise me something, that she never, ever would stay close to the master. If he appeared in a room, she should leave right away, without care for tasks left behind. I would deal with it. My message put her awake, was the middle of the night, the time when only the Manor's timbers talked, and I was asking odd and specific requests. "Why?" She whispered. "Danger," was my answer. It was my fault that put her in such danger. I would find a way to find a safe place. "Flinch, I already know the dangers of the master. Other maids alert me. Sometimes you so overprotective and naive," she said, disguising a laugh, "But, why did you awake me to tell this now?” So many answers fly by my eyes, but I sign "care." I care for her, I care so much that sometimes aches, and the possibility that something could hurt her put me that way. "Which way?" asked her. I answer "unwell," ready to do the impossible, and other incompletes signs. I sighed, asking for a bit of patience because what I need to tell wasn't easy. Her face turns dark. The sign was easy, just two middle fingers down and the hand from my chest to hers. I said I loved her, I was hers, lips moving without sound.

Nothing is more meaningful than absolute silence. Nothing is louder than the first love. That smile and red cheeks was my answer.

***

I give myself two years to earn enough money to left Lord Taylor's manor, marry Ruby, and move to another city. I grew up as a house helper, she as an orphan street helper, nothing less to a good life I accept to us. I worked to my limit, aware of any opportunity, any sound in the house, any shadow moving. I don't trust Lord Taylor anymore, no longer my master. He was our warden.

In the month of my nineteenth winter, the coldest month of the year, I notice a letter from Lord Brightwell, who was moving to the countryside to treat bad lungs. He asked the recommendation of helpers who would agree to leave the mist town, my opportunity. Not proud of myself, I wrote a letter praising mine and Ruby's skills and sent as if I was Lord Taylor. As the butler always intercept mail, there isn't any chance of being caught. Later that night, I told Ruby. I wasn't sure, but it has a good chance of success.

We are afraid of the people's tongue, so our love should be discreet. Some touches and quicks signals, brief talks at dawn, some words I was teaching her hidden behind portraits and vases. There isn't anything I teach she didn't master in a blink of an eye. I tried to keep the pace in the arts she taught me too.

The winter puts many helpers badly sick. Mr. Manson didn't survive. Until someone who could speak arrives, I would be the first butler. I was working double to let anyone but me close to the Lord, I was afraid of what he could do now that he was trapped in the manor, and his mind was even worst. Despite my efforts, I couldn't be ubiquitous. Every time I saw his shadow in some aisle, my heart stop cold, trying to find Ruby's location.

Late, in a dark evening, Lord Brightwell's letter arrived, our recommendation accepted, our presence expected in a week in the Brightwell's countryside property with a letter of recommendation. But for this, he demanded copies sent to ensure our identity. I sneak to Lord Taylor's office and forge two letters, my moral burning in disgust, but the necessity drove my hand. When finished, it was dinner time, so quickly I went to the kitchen to bring the meal to the master bedroom. He preferred to be served there in the winters. Patiently I wait until he finishes and dismisses my services. Then, I try to take his signet. As his hands were turning bigger and swollen, he doesn't wear it anymore. I search in his shirt pocket, nothing, so I see it on the nightstand. Soon the post office would close, and in the morning, he would miss the signet. My opportunity was to leave now, so my ploy shouldn't be discovered. My heart shivered with the thought of what could happen in my absence, but it was necessary. After sealing the letter, I let Ruby know and left for the post office. It was a cursed choice.

I run against winds and snow to arrive on time. Breathless, I send the letter to be delivered the next morning. Even with a horse, it takes some time to get there and back. I spent all my forces to make this trip the shortest. It took me just an hour, but when I arrive, I saw everything on fire. The wind blew the smoke in the opposed direction, so I had any clue. Large blazes flew from each window, helpers running away, and despair reign. In a mind snap, I notice the missing piece: my beloved Ruby.

They tried to stop me, nor God could stop me. I tight myself in my wet and cover in snow cloak, and enter in the flames. The gates of hell must look like that. I guided myself between fire and smoke search for any trace of her. In my mind, I already know where she was. Pieces of the ceiling were falling, and the floor creaked with my weight, but I ignored all danger. For the first time, I wish to have a voice to scream for Ruby. The maid's room was empty, the master bedroom too. My options were shrinking when I heard a human voice. I run to the origin, the office, to find Ruby being assaulted by Lord Taylor. God forgive me, but I slammed his head with a hot poker. Without looking back, I hug my beloved and run to the first view window with fire logs falling around. I kick the window open, put my cloak in her, kissing her cheek, I threw her to safety. The fire had devoured most of the manor and already took some bites of my body. The smoke was making me dizzy and blind. Holding my breath, I said goodbye to my old life and jump through the window, leaving the crime proof behind. Burn in hell old bastard.

***

I never asked her how the fire started, neither she asked me the origin of the money. I took advantage of some secrets of Lord Taylor, invested the coins my parents left in a lamp manufactured. Almost all partners of the deceased had helped me with this, someway. My legs and arms had burning scars. God helped us, and, in Ruby, only bad memories remain. Our copies of the recommendation letter were safe in my coat when the flames destroyed our few belongings. We are going to the Lord Brightwell manor only with clothes on our back, some coins, and in my pocket a pair of rings. The rings that I bought with Lords Tyler signet. The rings with which I will propose. I hope for a new life, where the only blazes I need to deal with is Ruby's fire eyes.

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