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Bride of Traps 2
Act 14.2: Doris Synchronus, Runaway Slave of the Censor
© 2024 James LaFond
Night, Breadday, Fifth Day of Sepulcher
The night outside deepened to a shade that was unpierced by the distant gaslights. Orpheus came to her with a cup of beer, “Small, beer, dear sister, not too strong.”
She took the beer, sipped its nasty suds and set the cup down on the small table where the children, the miniature bar maid and tiny gladiator, sat together, jabbering about their lives, filled already with action and the tales of meeting with interesting adults.
Ma Ann had been pouring drinks, serving cheese and meats, and flirting with the boxer, a man perhaps her own age and of much esteem in these parts.
‘I feel lost. Perhaps there is a view outside?’
Doris advanced to the single front window, there being no visible back window, and no windows on the side of this curious box of a house slotted between others of its kind. The curtain was of black sack cloth and she so yearned to peek out at the nighted street.
That great hand restrained her, and she realized that she had progressed in a trance—an affliction of hers—to the window and had not heard the giant lumber up behind her, had been unconscious of his lumbersome limp. The hand felt so good, laid on easy as it was.
“Lady, this is an unsanctioned inn. The curtain must not admit a view of your face or the light of our revel for any of the Eyes of Censor who might skulk afoot.”
Doris looked at the black curtain and drew her hand back.
‘You speak well, formally—yet I am no lady, but your slave,’ she hummed wordlessly, like an opening rose.
His hands each cupped her shoulders, tiny in his palms, “That there brand is a ruse doll. My brother will inherit my goods—you among them. Old Rex can church you up to nunny ways. He is a noble sort and of a house that stands above the Censor where mine is merely besides the Censor. Clyde and his mates are below the Censor’s thumb, making that pug the hero of the hour for inducting your brother.”
‘You do not desire me? I am too thin?,’ she shrank, like a wilting rose.
Doris knew that he understood her thoughts, her hums and keens, knew that this creature of instinct understood her in some way that others had not. Yet he failed to continue the show of desire and admiration he had affected on the platform before the mob.
‘Am I so lacking appeal—even for this battered old arena heel?’ she turned, smoothing her dress about her, as if asking for a judgment.
The man noticed, she knew, saw his eyes survey her form, ignored her question, made with a mere pursing of lips and the alternating slumping of her shoulders, “This certain street has faulty gaslights on purpose, so as to hide the commerce here. Billy Gear did us a boon like in King Arthur’s time.”
She looked up at him, an unusual act for her being so tall and mimed with book hands and a pointed finger, ‘You read?’
He snorted like a bull and it moistly mussed up her hair, “Not the head for it. The Deacon Lyndt reads to us Scots, and, some, a few, have the letters and take their turns at stories.”
The man framed her in his hands, her shoulders tiny again in his palms, squinted with the unruined right eye at her brand, blew on it kindly.
“Yah big oaf,” came Ma Ann’s voice as she brought a small jar of branding salve, “She is not a race horse, but a woman, a virgin woman, a maiden.”
His hand was pulled away because it did not resist. “I will attend your mean brand, a sword and shield on this beautiful neck—you turd.”
“Ah, ah,” he began and the inn keeper cut him off, “Come here, darling. He might be more tender when he’s sodden. I have enough on tap to get them all good and drunk—these are the good sorts of drunks, here… I can tell, know my business.”
She was now sitting like a giantess at that table, feeling so awkward above the boy and girl, the woman standing behind her not much taller than she was seated. The girl looked up at her, “You are a Sybil?”
The pale hand of Orpheus lightly tapped the table, “My twin sister sings without words—cannot speak. She does mime well.”
Doris smiled slightly and made the symbol of a pool of water as she made the sound of small waves lapping and of a stone dropping as her hands mimed the pebble drop and the outward spread of ripples. She then made a female form with her left hand and had her lean against the praying hand to God.
“Your are a nymph, then?” observed the girl.
Doris brought her hands to her heart and nodded ‘Yes.’
“Pollux, over here, my Fresh mate,” came the voice of the boxer. “Let’s see you move—no time to train you up. Show us what you got!”
Orpheus smiled to them, “I must attend my Aptus [1].”
The boy looked up at Doris sideways, with clear, intelligent eyes as Ann stood behind her applying ointment to the brand, a wound that ached not a fraction of the pain in her heart.
“I seen you sing while your brother danced at Bell Church. The mobby [2] priest let us Pipes—were my gang—in for special masses.”
Doris smiled and nodded lightly, ‘Yes,’ and keened the Easter Wind, more softly than for a standard audience, and placed her hands to her heart to indicate that is her favorite song, to keen the Wind of Ascension, of the Holy Spirit eddy about Mother Mary at the foot of the cross.
Little Annie spoke up, reaching across the table and tapping the tiny, bright-eyed man-child on the back of his hand, “She knows things, Minicus. Nymphs know!”
Ann mildly reproved, “Keep that nymph cant to yourself girl, less you want to be whipped by the Black Nuns over at Doctrine!” [3]
Annie, a vivacious and spoiled child, full of energy, rolled her eyes comically, placing her little chin in one hand, elbow braced on the table, while the other hand held Minicus in puppy like thrall, “Yes, Mommy.”
Ann was done salving her neck and was now carefully brushing out her hair. Little Annie continued, face propped in one hand, the other one tapping on the little lad’s hand, “You know something about tonight?”
Doris smiled awkwardly, with tilted head, mimed the shape of a snow flake and then formed a cloud with both hands break into fingers of many snow flakes, falling down upon the table as she keened the cushy, soft patter, a sound that the men ignored in their rough slap boxing, but which amazed the children as Minicus explained, “Heard it last winter, the sound of snow puffing down on the roof tops.”
Annie looked up amazed, “It is still summer, Lady Nymph… I would so like to find snow on the window sill tomorrow.”
Doris mimed softly, in assured giving, with a slight bend, admiring those red pig tails as they bobbed in excitement, ‘You will. I promise.’
Minicus then tugged on her sleeve slightly and she looked down as he looked up, “Milady Nymph, pray for Sandy Max—he thinks you are an angel.”
‘I know, I’m crying,’ and so she was, unable to understand why she had ever resented the lack of this ability, what was now a waterfall of shameful weakness, the wreckage of her ship of hope. She sobbed pathetically, unnoticed even by her wayward brother who was now dancing like a devil before the boxer in their caper of hands, her new and soon to be departed master, beating a cadence with the palm and fist of his big hands.
‘So you have a new singer, now, aye Brother? I am gone already?’
“Easy girl, its the closest thing to a wedding night a branded beauty is like to get—lets wash those tears away with some tea and honey… Go on, Annie, show your lad how tea and honey is made and serve us all up.”
She was being hugged by a stranger who somehow cared. Yet still, despair sang her song down in her soul. That stranger rose her voice and called out, “Billy, you man the taps. I have a maiden to prepare.”
And the rough men laughed like the thunder that washed a girl’s dreams away.
-1. An Aptus is the most skilled rank of gladiator, who are the primary trainers of their fellows, the higher ranks generally concerned with politics, church, match making, war service, financial and medical concerns.
-2. Mobby is a term for a decent person who has sympathy for or connections with the criminal mobs.
-3. An infamous reform school for impious plebe children and mobby tykes.
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