10th of April:
"So this, said Arthur to himself, is what you have become: a fool, a cheat, a murderer." He looked at the blood being washed from the streets. At the very same time, the Lady O finally declared herself disgraced. Who would marry a lady with such a tarnished past? She would remain alone for the rest of her life.
A tortured king once said jewels were more dangerous than woman and worth a thousand more than gold. For once, the king may have been right. It took ten days, for poor old Arthur's world to crumble. Of one thing he was certain, and this was still a poor comfort to him, it was that his story really did start with the end.
9th of April:
All night, Arthur looked for that intersection but saw neither Iris nor wondering goat. All he remembered, from the last time he was here, were rays of golden light grazing the thick walls of its elegant fortress. He had come to display his royal craft and his welcome had been glorious. Arthur looked and hunted the streets until his leg almost gave up. He knew his time was almost up. He knew that this tedious journey would have been all for nothing. His vocation and his name, his love and his art, would slip into nothingness and take him down with it. Dawn finally broke when Arthur spotted the flowery porch of the Smith family. Across from it, the little round tavern with the thatched roof, “The Wondering Goat”. He heard a carriage coming and saw the guards, hiding and ready to charge. He was too late.
“ Glass! Glass!” he yelled out but the crowd was already assembling in the streets. His leg was aching and burning, but Arthur threw himself into the streets and repeated endlessly:
“ Glass! Glass! Conspiracy! These are fake. It's nothing but bric-a-brac!”
An exquisite carriage, wrapped with velvet and headed by two silvery Friesian horses made its entrance. The charming Chevalier of O cheered and smiled at the increasingly agitated crowd. Arthur was so close. He held out his arm and jumped out to reach the Chevalier but was brutally knocked aside and fell onto the pavement. He attempted to raise his bleeding head but quickly fell back, motionless, on the floor.
Two guards were now restricting the Chevalier, while a third one searched him. He looked across his sleeves, inside his boots and in the feathers of his hat. When Arthur came back to his senses, he saw them stripping the chevalier of his shirt and neckcloth, revealing his bare chest from which hanged a long chain with three exquisite little red gems, like three little drops of blood.
“They can't possibly be real”, Arthur told himself, but the stones glowed like only true rubies could. Tears started to fall down his face. He stood speechless, never taking his eyes off the jewels. He didn't even feel the guards crushing his leg while arresting the poor chevalier.
The Chevalier demanded an explanation but was overpowered by the screams of the Lady O, alarming the horses and the crowd. A horse jumped, the crowd moved and a shot was heard. Arthur remained petrified. The crowd spread out and he observed as trickles of blood poured from the cooling remains of the Chevalier of O. Arthur crossed the streets and entered the small tavern, singing frantically to himself: “They're real. They're real. Let me pass. Let the dead man pass.”
8th of April:
Still raw from his night spent on the cold and filthy prison floor, Arthur dragged himself to the nearest tavern. He had asked no explanation from the guards and let them beat and crush his leg until it was blue. He knew other jewels must have been found and he knew the pamphlets must have been telling the truth and yet he still didn't have what they wanted. Arthur ordered a pincher of wine with a side of beer and a few sips of whiskey.
“You must have heard about the pamphlets, tell me, girl, what did the third and fourth say? Who were the unlucky souls?” demanded Arthur.
“You are late to the party old man. The third and fourth are history and the fifth is only moments away and it is sure to have already reached the king's ears. The poor soul, as you say, will meet his end tomorrow and if you ask me, it is well deserved. They say we are crooks. They say we are pinheads but look at them, smug bunch, the whole lot of them” barked the landlady. To his feast, she added the already well blacken pamphlet. Arthur brought a trembling glass to his lips and read:
“The Chevalier of O is walking on air that will soon turn to glass. He may be a fool but is no less of a traitor. Find him, at dawn, at the crossing of the irises and the wandering goat. You will find him more perverse and more greedy than any other, as it is upon his heart that he carries the fruit of his betrayal.”
Blood rushed to his head. That name. The Chevalier of O. The Lady of O. That neck. These illustrations in the gazette. He remembered now.
“Glass beads, sparkling glass beads. I am a free man” yelled Arthur. The landlady looked at him with a sceptical look. He had the whole night, and the whole night only to reach that intersection. Arthur never felt closer to his goal. Sure, that intersection could spare a life but to him, it meant much more. He hadn't felt this thrilled in years. He saw a life full of integrity and love again. He swore to himself he will not have his life stolen from him again. And so, half-dead but terribly joyful, Arthur entered the dark streets of the capital.
7th of April:
On his way to the capital, Arthur had wished to avoid all passers-by, shops and taverns. He wanted, above all, to avoid anyone or anything that risked tarnishing his spirit. He slept in white meadows or in some abandoned barns. The days, he kept to small country roads or cut across fields. When he finally arrived, he was famished and decided to take a chance on an old tavern near the town's entrance. He sat at a small table in the back, near the window, guarding the doors. He gobbled his pork pie and roasted potatoes with a side of cider. He considered a nap but was awoken by a drunkard brutalizing a young girl, who he accused of having stolen his chair. Arthur was not a young man but the idea that someone so foul could even brush someone as delicate as this young girl horrified him. He stepped up and kicked the man's leg right in the knee. The men fell to the floor, giving the girl ample time to run away. With difficulty, Arthur defended himself from the ensuing kicks and strokes, even giving a few himself. He knew it was a lost cause, especially on his own and started to feel a little foolish. After all, Arthur was a stranger here and he didn't expect anyone to fight his battle for him. The whole commotion brought royal guards to the tavern and they were both thrown in a cell for the night. Arthur was handed the luxury of a bucket of soggy water and a few pages from an old gazette to sleep on. In the streets, the cold April air was bracing but inside felt like piercing spears into his already swollen leg.
He laid out the old gazette. There was nothing very exciting, just a few neighbourhood rivalries. On the back, he saw two portraits next to each other. The man was handsome enough but it was the lady that caught Arthur's eyes. Her neck was long and only partially hidden by thick and undulated locks of hair, suggesting a multitude of secrets. Underneath the portrait, it said:
“Chevalier of O has chosen a new Lady O”
6th of April:
That green-eyed lady spent most mornings in the library, at the dismay of both her parents. This time, however, she would not be disturbed and could freely and deservedly leaf through her encyclopedias and the latest science papers.
Science was only one of her very diverse interests. She had always been of a curious disposition but things took a drastic turn when her parents decided she had reached the age to marry. Never had we seen a lady so enchanted by the whole world, then the moment the lady saw queuing for her lonely chamber, a flock of clueless counts and princes.
Today, however, the sun would shine and the birds would sing, if only in the dusty corridors of her apartments. A suitor was finally agreed and her parents, like herself, were revelling in utter relief.
Starting his journey to the capital, Arthur's mind was on the third and fourth pamphlets. It was as if he knew they had arrived and already fallen through the masses. It had been years since Arthur's name was passed around as the most knowledgeable jeweller in the kingdom. His face had, sadly, not taken to time very well. His hair was whiter and scarce but his smirk and piercing black eyes were still very much there. He worried and yet also wanted to believe, his name hadn't been completely forgotten.
5th of April:
Unfortunately for Arthur, the second pamphlet turned out to be true. The Count of Seydon had taken to hide his jewels in the heals of his shoes. Granted, the jewels were of poor quality and the King eventually resolved himself to simply banish the count. Still, Arthur was rudely awoken by a pair of guards who dragged him to the town's place of execution, still fresh and red from its last performance.
“What is the meaning of this?”, Arthur politely complained.
“This is what happens to liars and crooks” recited the guards simultaneously.
“I don't know anything about these dreadful pamphlets. I swear on my most precious possessions, my own bed and roof, I only sell bric-a-brac, simple trinkets with no worth or quality. Some do shine, even sparkle, but I swear on my life, they aren't real.”
“We have a witness who said you proud yourself on being more than a common salesman. Is that true?”
“It was”, granted Arthur reluctantly.
The guards turned Arthur's shop upside down and despite founding nothing, closed his shop. With all the efforts he could muster, Arthur watched silently as the guards removed the sign, hanging from his wooden door. They, luckily, didn't notice the tears of anger rapidly accumulating on Arthur's face.
“Is this what this had finally come to”, Arthur told himself, “it wasn't enough they took away my purpose, now they want to remove every trace of hope I have left ?”
For a long time, Arthur had moaned at the King's cruel decision, possibly out of fear or because it was simply easier. Jewels had been his whole world for as long as he could remember. For years, he had felt like a blind mule advancing through life without even the hope of directions. No longer would Arthur feel like an imposter. Come morning, he will ride to the capital to plead his case. There is an explanation to these sordid events and he will find it and in the process, reclaim the last thing they had taken from him, his name.
4th of April:
Arthur could not sleep that night. The lady's soft hands, her delicate neck and even her powdery perfume haunted him. Like a double-faced beast, she was both beguiling and disturbing. Too beautiful for simple glass beads, he told himself. Arthur spent the whole day, angry and bitter until a guard knocked on his door. He blindly offered him a choice of ribbons for his lovely wife or perhaps some wooden horses for his child.
“ Is there any truth to these treacherous pamphlets. We know they originate from this village. What is your knowledge of this old man?”. Arthur had none.
The guard stared at him, wandered around the shop and stoped on the padlocked wooden chest under Arthur's desk.
“No jewels for you, old man, if you know what's good for you”.
The guards left but not without first giving Arthur an alarming warning. He waited for the guard to disappear from his sight before putting his hand on his chest and sighing in relief.
A few villages away, in the capital, the green-eyed lady went to bed thinking of nothing else but a charming young chevalier, who she had heard only the day before, was actively looking for a companion.
3rd of April:
On the 3rd day of April, the first pamphlet was released to the crowd, accusing a certain prince of Condy of importing foreign jewels by hiding them in pies or other savoury delights. There will be four others and on the 9th of April, the final and worse of the traitors will be denounced. People came in groups to enquire about Arthur's opinion on the matter. Wouldn't he know if there were such jewels in circulation? Arthur found the whole thing quite amusing and even rejoiced that diamonds had finally rejoined his daily life.
Earlier in the day, the lady attended a reading by the scandalous Mrs M. She found herself annoyed by a group of young girls, yapping and gossiping in front of her. That lady had the rare gift of remembering everything she even heard even things she didn't care to remember, such as her parents' constant pestering. But that particular gossip, she found interesting.
That night, neither the Lady nor Arthur got much sleep. One was full of excitement while the other was becoming seriously concerned. About what, Arthur didn't know.
2nd of April:
Making a living around things as precious and beautiful as jewels does have an effect on one's way of life. Arthur had cherished his early morning “toilette” and often added a splash of jasmine to his daily wash. His jewels deserved the best, he thought. With things as they were, his routine has shifted slightly and it wasn't at all rare for him to avoid it altogether. On that particular and delightful morning, he didn't. He removed his nightdress and sleeping cap, carefully placed his wooden medallion on the chair and grabbed his bucket. He hadn't taken his first swing when he saw her beautiful face looking through his window. Arthur jumped to the floor. He only had time to grab a shirt, breeches and his boots before she made her second entrance of the week, recklessly leaving his precious medallion on the chair. That visit was not as enchanting as her previous one. The lady was undecided. She asked to see a variety of coloured glass beads but couldn't decide on the colour. She found the purple, too harsh and the blue, too pale. Poor Arthur finally had to go all the way down to the basement to unearth a small pack of crimson beads he remembered purchasing from a travelling salesman. To no effect at all, the lady finally purchased a combination of dark red and purple glass beads.
This strange encounter left Arthur baffled and curiously sad. With no other customers to serve this early in the morning, Arthur decided to follow her. The lady's walk was fast and decided but rapidly became frustrating dull. She entered a printing shop, most likely to have some verses printed out. As diamonds were made redundant, the ladies often turned to words but what did Arthur know about words?
1st of April:
Arthur was a wretched old man that cursed more than he loved. Like every morning, he opened his shop with the same old grim he had woken up to for the last five years. That such a sad event be turned into an even darker one, Arthur never understood. When the king's only son died as a result of a catastrophic jewel theft, he ordered all jewels and precious stones banned from his kingdom, thus destroying all that Arthur treasured most.
For most of his life, Arthur had dedicated his days and his nights to the search and sale of precious items. He liked to think of himself as more than a salesman, he was a storyteller, for each of his gems were inseparable from their often dramatic journeys. To put food on the table, Arthur had had to adjust and now unwillingly spent his days, selling bric-a-brac. Those who used to come for stories and priceless gems now came to gift their loved ones, glass, wood or other worthless pieces. The leg he had damaged when climbing the northern hills to fetch a golden stone with the rarest of turquoise glare, had once brought him pride and honour and now felt like a considerable burden. He felt miserably and unconditionally worthless.
On this first day of April, Arthur received a very charming visit. The lady was covered with a silk cape which generously revealed thick ginger locks and outrageously tempting emerald eyes. Her beauty wasn't what enchanted Arthur most. The lady had questions. The lady was curious. She wanted to know about his precious stones. Drunk with glee, Arthur went on to tell all his favourite stories but now, the lady also wanted to see.
“ I hold but only one remain of my old life. Three little stones, three delicious little kisses of pure beauty that I keep firmly hidden upon my heart. Is not yet born, the one that will take them from me”, Arthur gloated.