Title: Night Seasons
Word Count 1565
Char Kit Marlowe
March 1, 2 am
The Night Seasons
The window was the way to go.
The window because the moon had come up at noon today, and most of the sky was dark. Kit would be draped in shadow as soon as his feet hit the ground. It had snowed three days back but rain had come today and washed it all away. The ground was dark and soft. It smelled of spring. Even in the cold he could smell it.
The only window was over his bed. When Nick and Geoff sneaked out they had to step over Kit to do it. They trusted him not to reveal them. He never did. He didn't mind. They had girls in town. They had money to play at cards, to go to taverns. Kit had no money, and no girl. He would have liked more money, at least. Sometimes the other boys got things sent from home; gingerbread sometimes. Nick and Geoff gave some to him, because he shared their room. Not because they were really his friends. If Kit had money he would buy gingerbread enough for everyone. He would buy more firewood too. As for the girls-- he had thought that the want of them would come in time, come like whiskers, or a solid knowledge of geometry. He had hoped that it would push out the formless inchoate need for something other, something more. Well. He had learned. Leaving home was good for learning. He knew now that it never would.
He would be punished if he was caught. Worth it. Worth it to walk in the dark alone, just for a little. Worth it to get out. They were not unkind here, not really. It was no worse than any other place, better than most because he was supposed to learn. But there was nothing to answer the clawing need below his breastbone. He needed to be alone. He needed to draw the shudder of cold air in, and keep something of it forever. He needed to think.
Across the room tonight the other two were lumps in the darkness. He could hear them breathing. He reached up and unlatched the shutter. He pushed the window gently open.
He balanced a moment on the sill, and pushed off, let the pulling earth have him. He folded as he landed, came up to a balanced crouch. His breath was even, but he could feel his heart racing. A different dark here, than indoors. Silver and black, until you looked up. Up was a species of blue. If Kit looked too long, he felt himself falling, up, up, away from everything away between the stars. It seemed like drowning. He brought his gaze down, dizzy.
Somewhere off to the left an owl called, it was a kindly sound. She was at work in the night, she hunted alone. Kit imagined her soft feathers. They would pillow over the hard clench of her talons. An owls claws were long and sharp, dirty too, but above them she was softer than a hen. Her nest would be warm, windless, and safe. She would sleep there, all day, with her fierce eyes turned from the sun. He wondered if owls thought in words. What would the words of such a being be? Did she dream of eggs?Of blood and feathers?
He was a few steps out now, from the wall. He felt it at his back, turned to look. It was utterly dark. Everyone was asleep. The tavern in town was closed by now, the willing girls of the town were asleep themselves. What words did they have? Did they dream of boys? Nick and Geoff certainly hoped so. They carried on as if girls were a great mystery-- a different sort of being, sinless or very wicked, depending. Kit had seen more, perhaps. There was a notable lack of mystery with two parents and four little sisters in three rooms above the cobblers shop.
He slipped between the dark buildings, heading for the curve of the river. Ice fringed it now, enclosing the dry reeds at the bank. Kit knew their secret. There at the river edge, where the dry stalks rattled like finger bones, that was where the spring would begin. It would come shy gray and soft green, and with tiny streaks of scarlet at the swelling of the stalks. It would come with fuzzy catkins, and then with the grudging release of the frozen ground into mud.
Even in winter the river was alive. He knew it from childhood, the way the water chuckled to itself, asking questions and answering them. Rivers all spoke the same. He thought they were all one. The names men applied sat lightly and askew. He could smell the water. In summer this would be a sunny bank, a place to lie, to read and dream. They were not allowed that, of course. Lolling on riverbanks was no occupation for a scholar. Still, perhaps someday--
Ahead of him, a shuffle, a shift. Kit froze, his eyes wide, kept his hands held away from his sides. He forced himself to breathe slow and deep. Yes. No. Yes. There was a figure up ahead of him, perhaps thirty steps ahead. This was the deepest part of night. Nobody should be about now. This man was transgressing, just as Kit was. He was trying to be quiet too, but was not very good at it. He was dressed in a dark robe. That meant nothing, he could be a master, a student, even a man of the town. It was too dark to tell.
The figure moved on, and Kit followed. This man was really poor at sneaking. He slipped once, in the wet grass, flailed his arms, almost fell. Kit heard him curse, even from well back. The voice was ticklishly familiar. This was not a student. It was an older voice, not one that Kit heard often. He let his memory gnaw. If the knowing was in there it would come. It would help if the stranger spoke again. The fellow might actually speak again, Kit thought. He had given up almost all pretense at being stealthy now. He was turning his head, in evident frustration, looking for something.
They were parallel to the river, Kit in the shadow of the buildings, the stranger more exposed.
Kit had maintained his distance, he did not want to get too close. He saw the man stop, at the edge of a pool of shadow. His face was averted, then it turned, white in a scrap of moonlight now. Kit's breath caught. It was enough to show the line of the cheek, eye, beard. He was not a student, no. Nor was he a man of the town. This was a Master. He worked with older students. But Kit had seen him, now and then.
But why he was creeping through the frost, at 2 am was impossible to know.
In this way, they proceeded another thirty steps, Kit was watching for it, but he was still startled when it came. A shadow ahead, detached from the darkness, a man's shape, young, but taller and built wide. He was dressed, not as a scholar, but a laboring man. His leather jerkin was poorly cured and creaking.
Kit could not hear what passed between them, but they seemed to be disagreeing. Leather jerkin gestured more strongly. Kit, saw his teeth gleam in the dark of his beard. Kit saw him reach out and give the scholar a stiff fingered push to the chest.
The smaller man slumped in acquiescence. He fumbled in a pocket, his robe lifted slightly in the wind, and now Kit could see his thin legs, gleaming white. He held forth something, it looked like a book. Leather jerkin took it, already turning away. He gave a single bark of a laugh, and departed.
Kit let himself slowly sink into a crouch. He was, he knew, more likely to be seen at eye level. He let his hair swing down over his face, to change the shape, and distort the pale oval. His innards prickled with fear. He had thought to see-- well he was not sure what. But this seemed both disturbing and oddly disappointing. Many books were forbidden of course, perhaps even most books. Forbidden books were everywhere, even Kit had read some. Many were salacious, the province of boys. Some led to wicked questions, or to religious agitation. Some books were treason to possess, to read or even to see. But the townsman in the rough jerkin hardly seemed the likely recipient of a forbidden book.
The man was passing him now, going back the other way. Kit was close enough to see the robed body heaving with breath, close enough to catch a waft of fear-sweat. Then the dark shape of the scholar became lost in the shadows.
Kit was cold now. He found he wanted only to go back , and sleep a little. He would put aside the thoughts of the robed scholar, and the man in the jerkin. He would think of the golden man who had watched the class last week. Kit could climb back in the window and there would be time for warm dreamy thoughts, delicious thoughts. He turned back the way he had come.
He did not see, or feel the steady gaze of the fourth man.