Friday 12 February 2016

A Valentine's Day Story, Chapter 4 - The Lady

This is Chapter 4 of a multi-part story

You can read the previous parts at the links given below:

Chapter 1 - The Girl
Chapter 2 - The Boy
Chapter 3 - The Manipulator

[In which I masterfully - in my opinion - set up the climax. Among other things.]

Chapter 4 - The Lady
There are always some people who look strangely inappropriate in the mundane, urban, environment of Midgard City. Apollonia Gogol was one of them. Reclining on a luxurious couch in an Ancient Roman Palace, standing on an altar at an Ancient Roman Temple of Juno, or staring down haughtily from an exhibit in the “Ancient Mediterranean Art” section of the Louvre Museum, she would have looked right at home. Standing at the entrance to the Cricket Pavillion at Midgard-Caledonia, she looked a little like a snowflake in a desert – beautiful and welcome, but essentially out-of-place.

..beautiful and welcome, but essentially out-of-place.

“What ho, Apollonia,” I said cheerily. She was in Victoria House, like Arabella, and what with running into each other quite regularly at Prefect’s Meetings and the like, we were probably more than casual acquaintances.

“Hullo, ugly,” she said, speaking metaphorically, of course.

“What brings you here?” I asked. Unlike the Football team, which couldn’t move about in their jerseys without being mobbed by swooning women, the Cricket team was sadly – or mercifully, depending on how you look at it – bereft of female attention for the most part.

“There’s a Valentine’s Day party in the Biology Lab,” she said, in her soft voice.

I motioned to her to walk towards the cricket pitch. She nodded and sauntered by my side on light feet that barely seemed to touch the ground.

“Well, of course there is,” I smiled. “Today IS St. Valentine’s Day after all. When else would it be?”

She scrunched up her shapely nose and flicked my arm.

“Jormund, you’re an ass.”

“Didn’t Titania fall in love with an ass in A Midsummer Night’s Dream?” I asked to no one in particular.

“So she did. Now the point is, all japes apart, are you going to the Party?”

“As soon as Rout releases us from fielding practice,” I said.

“Good. Then – can you take me? I don’t have a date and you’re better than nothing.”

I raised a very surprised eyebrow. Not so much at the lukewarm assessment of my merits as a date, but at her being without a date to being with. Apollonia was, as I think I have said before, beautiful. Though shorter than Arabella, she had possibly an even better complexion, with a thick mass of raven-black curls and a nose than would have made a Greek Goddess proud. That she was without a date on Valentine’s was very difficult to get my mind around.

“You don’t say? What’s wrong with the male populace of Midgard-Caledonia?”

“A lot of things,” she said crisply.

“I’m going with Arabella Radayevna,” I said. “We are kind of seeing each other, you know.”

“Oh, that’s fine then. Think nothing of it,” she said cheerily.

We were emerging now at the gate to the field. I could see Rout and Priestly in one of their heated arguments about batting order. Barett, the team’s star batsman, was hitting balls towards Pete-Pete, who was failing to catch them. Then his eyes fell on Apollonia and he began to ogle her unabashedly.

“Now that you are…here,” I said, hesitantly. “Do you mind if I ask you something?”

She nodded regally to indicate her assent.

“Well like I said, I’m seeing Arabella…”

“So you just said,” she agreed.

“Well, and as you know, or as everyone in the school knows, really, you and she…you were caught making out at the Christmas fete right here in School. Was there anything there I should worry about?”

“You’re asking me if Arabella is straight.” It was a statement, not a question.

“I’d like to know if she’s not,” I said. “And I’d like to know that I am not being used.”

“I can’t answer for the latter,” she said, rather coldly. “But she prefers boys to girls, yes.”

“And you don’t, which is why you’ve turned down other invitations and want to go the Valentine’s party with me – Jormund the ‘safe’ option?” I said, a trace resentfully.

She sighed. Barett was walking up to us, swaggering as was his wont, his muscle-bound arms glistening in the evening sun. Wiry, pale Pete-Pete was trotting behind, trying to keep up.

“Safe, Jormund?” she asked.

“Well, you know I won’t…you know what I mean. Try to take advantage of you.” I said.

“Yes, the Code of the Elvers,” she said, a touch sarcastically, I thought. “Above all, Honour. Ante Omnia, honorem? Why else would I ask?”

“Yfir allr, Virding,” I muttered, correcting her.

“Ah yes, Vikings, not Roman. Forget I said anything…”

“Oi, Apollo – Appala – you, Gogol!” grunted Barett.

She turned those bottomless black eyes upon him.

“Yew don’t have a date for the Wal – Walton – Waltenin – for the Party?”

She nodded, eyes twinkling. I couldn’t blame her, Barett might be incoherent and slow, but he was a sports star, tall, dark and well-built.

“Then you come with me,” he said, and made a grab for her hand.

She side-stepped him with a deftness that would have made Artemis proud.

“Pete-Pete. You have a date?”

“I’m not going,” he said. Pete-Pete, being personally incapable of finding a woman to agree to cross the road with him, let alone go with him to a Party, generally claimed to have no interest in social occasions.

“Yes you are. Come with me,” she said, and crooked her finger at him.

His jaw dropped, but not lower than Barett’s. Pete-Pete floated in Apollonia’s wake as she headed towards her house. Behind us, Rout’s melodious voice summoned Barett and me over to resume practice.

“Strange days,” I said, shaking my head.

*       *          *          *          *         

An hour later, having cleaned the grime of the playing fields from my skin, I found myself at the foot of the stairs leading up to the Biology Lab.

To my surprise, Apollonia was standing at the foot of the staircase, looking contemplatively at the rounders court. She had changed out of the school tunic into a flowing white dress.

“What ho, old thing,” I said, nodding at her, “what are you doing down here? Where’s your date”

“He’s passed out from drinking too much orange soda, I think. Didn’t know a man could get drunk on that. As for me, I’m taking a breather, Jormund. I hate it in there. All that bad music and worse dancing. Whatever happened to the classical forms? The harp music? The long, white robes? I shouldn’t have bothered – this nonsense offends my sensibilities. Maybe I should go home. But why are you so late?”
“Don’t even ask.  Rout and his fielding's like he loses track of time. Anyway, is Arabella very upset that I’m late?”

Something like a sly smile clouded her perfect face.

“No, just in a state of shock.”

“Shock? Whatever for? It’s hardly something to be in shock about. I told her I’d run a little late.”

“Nothing to do with you, Jormund. It’s Joshhound.”

“Eh? What did he do? Try to kill himself?”

Her next words were uttered with the sort of relish with which Juno must have informed Jupiter that his son Hercules had killed himself in the funeral pyre on wearing the poisoned tunic given to him by Deonaira.

“No, he proposed to her.”

If Juno herself had popped down from Mount Olympus and slapped me with a raw fish, I could not have been more surprised. The school buildings seemed to have popped out of their foundations and commenced a vigorous tango around me. I think it was the tango, at least, though I wouldn’t swear to it. About three minutes later they stopped the tango and began a gentler waltz.

“What did she say?” I asked in a low voice.

“I don’t think she’s said anything yet. When I left she was still near-comatose. Do you want to go and see?”

“Yes! You damn well bet I want to go and see,” I said. With the initial shock having passed, and the school buildings having resumed their proper places, I had only one thought: to separate Joshhound’s limbs from his torso. True, he out-weighed me by about twenty pounds, but we Elvers are made of pretty stern stuff, and I personally liked my chances of reducing him to pulp.

I had just about put my foot on the first step when Apollonia tapped my shoulder and held out her arm. Not knowing what else to do, I took it in mine and we walked up the stairs together at a slower pace than I’d have liked.

The stairs open out near the end of a long corridor. Towards our left were the Biology Lab and the Prefect’s Hall. On the right were the Chemistry and Physics Labs. The Party, as I think I’ve mentioned before, was in progress in the Biology Lab. Apollonia and I made our way towards it; the last door on the left. Even standing outside, it was easy to tell that something was wrong. Instead of the sounds of revelry and bad party music that characterise such bashes there was an eerie silence, broken at intervals by the sound of a girl crying.

Taking a deep breath and gathering my courage for what I knew might be a violent fight to defend Arabella from the despicable advances of Joshhound Prawnson, I placed my hand on the door and pushed it open.

The tableaux that met my eyes was, to put it mildly, interesting. 

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