Title A Chest of Songbirds
Word Count 844
It was more an outgoing gasp than a word. He came down hard on his back foot, danced away again as his blade was knocked aside. The force was enough to numb his hand. The attacking point was under his guard, slick as a whip, the point at his throat.
“Put up,” Kit said. “You got me.”
Thomas gave a breathless grin, and lowered his blade. Kit could see his chest heaving for air. Kit's own breath was a labored rasp, his pulse hot and large. He caught the white gleam of teeth as Thomas breathed through them.
Kit wiggled his fingers, forcing the stinging strangeness away.
“By Christ you are fast,” Thomas said.
Thomas, kind by habit, had tried not to win too quickly. Kit thought he had almost managed it too. The rapiers were Thomas's. He had trained so from boyhood. He carried a sword at his side, he was a gentleman. Kit would be a gentleman in name when he was done with his studies. But it was not at all the same. Kit's father had had no sword. He had had a great bow to draw, in practice on the green. Kit had gone to watch when he was very little. That was before father's knee went bad. After that the bow lay in the attic. Kit sat up there sometimes, squatting beside it, stoking the dust from the smooth wood and dreaming of armies. But John Marlowe fought with his fists. Hard fists they were too. Kit rubbed at his cheekbone absently.
That was long ago. He would not live there again. Today was real, was warm around him and smelled of dust and sweat. It was lovely.
The sun was gaining strength now, climbing the sky toward noon. Kit had put his gown aside, then his doublet. Then he had rolled his sleeves up. His shirt was an old one, worn thin at the elbows, dingy at the neck. It was sticking to his sweaty skin. He pulled at it. The air in the courtyard was very still.
They had raised the dust, dancing back and forth. It clung to Kit's shoes. Tonight he would wipe it away with a damp rag, and another bit of the afternoon would be gone forever.
“Thirsty work. Here.”
The flask was beaten silver, heavy in Kit's hand. It was made with the shapes of fanciful deer, and trailing ivy shaped into a subtle curving 'TW.' Thomas had handed it to him to drink first. The wine was dark tasting, ticklish and rich up the back of Kit's nose. It would stay on his tongue for hours, proof for memory. Kit smiled as he handed the flask back.
“Aye. Thank you.”
Thomas drank the rest off in a series of long swallows, breathless by the finish. He wiped his mouth, tossed the flask back to their heaped clothing. He took the rapiers, his own, and the one he had loaned Kit, and set them down too, somewhat more carefully.
There was a bench, grey with age, crammed into the courtyard's remaining sliver of shadow. Thomas dropped onto it. He leaned his head back against the stone, and looked at Kit.
“Sit down a moment while I catch my breath,” he said. Kit could see that Thomas was already breathing slow and even. It was he-- he was the one who seemed to have a chest full of songbirds, Kit sat, carefully not too close. He was still sweaty, he was sure he smelled horrible.
“Next week I need to go home to Scadbury.” Thomas said.
“Oh.” Kit looked down. No reason for his full throat to ache so. Stupid to see these times as the pivot that held his week. He would not look forward to it so if everything else was not so dull. Stupid.
They had been meeting every week now, through the cold wet spring, and into the early summer. They worked codes until Kit was fast with them. Sometimes they fought, as they had today. Sometimes they just talked. Those days were the best. Kit knew little of how else Thomas spent his time. With girls probably, with people more entertaining than Kit Marlowe.
Scadbury was Thomas's uncle's estate. It belonged to Thomas's uncle, the other Walsingham, the one everyone knew about, No doubt it was grand and green. Full of books probably. Kit would live to be old, and there would be books he never saw, never read. Scadbury was probably full of those.
Thomas was still speaking, Kit had lost the thread. Something about horses.
“I said, I have two stabled here in town, but we would need a third to carry things.”
“Before that-- I missed what you said.”
“I said, I have to go to Scadbury to speak with uncle Francis. If it can be arranged, would you like to come with me?”