Swordspoint fic: Knotted Time [Alec/Richard, general]
Title: Knotted Time Author: celandineb Fandom: Swordspoint Pairing: Alec/Richard Rating: general Summary: Richard wants to give Alec a gift, and finds the perfect thing. Note: ~2100 words. Written for just_ann_now for her bid at livelongnmarry. She wanted to know about The Bed. Ann, I hope you enjoy this! I'm sorry that they were not more forthcoming about what they did in the bed; perhaps I will try to get them to be so on another occasion.
Tam Hodgson the carver stroked the wood before him, feeling its grain. His quick eyes noted the whorls and knots; he would use them to accentuate the figures that would eventually spring from the surface.
The commission was an important one. Word had come from the king's own household to make a bed for his sister upon the occasion of her marriage to Duke Tremontaine.
"Carve it as you will," the messenger had said, "but remember that it is for one who bears the blood of kings, and whose children may themselves one day rule."
Tam reached for his charcoal and began to sketch. Oak and ivy, holly and yew, all entwined, and the horns of the stag likewise. It would be a creation worthy of its recipients indeed.
The rooms had been let partly furnished, which meant that there were a few bits of furniture: a couple of rickety chairs and a table, and an equally rickety bed. The latter creaked so alarmingly even with one person in it that Richard had taken the mattress off within a week of the day he moved in, disassembling the bedstead and getting his landlady's current lover to store it away in one of the attic rooms.
It didn't signify much to Richard whether his mattress was on a bed or the floor. The floor was often cooler in the hot sticky summer nights, in fact, and in winter he could simply toss on another quilt or two if he needed them.
By the time winter came, however, there was Alec, and with Alec there Richard was warm enough.
Alec never said anything about the fact that they slept on the floor. He never commented on Richard's rooms -- not since the first night that Richard had brought him home, not expecting then that Alec would stay, but wanting at least once to wake beside those high cheekbones and hear that drawling voice greet him.
The payment for his latest job lay close-tied in a pouch at his waist. Few men would have been safe walking through Riverside carrying such a sum, but even those who did not know the swordsman St. Vier by sight recognized that he was not someone to be trifled with. There was more than enough to keep them for a month, even with the profligate way that Alec built up the fire in their room, and Richard wanted to spend it on something a little more permanent than wood or ale or the fish that Alec so loved to eat in the mornings. Much of what was for sale in Riverside was stolen, of course, but that was not Richard's concern.
Technically, he supposed, the very houses were stolen, since the noble families who had originally owned them had rarely sold them off, instead merely decamping to the Hill and leaving their ancestral mansions behind to be occupied by whomever chose. The contents of the houses had also often remained, being deemed too old-fashioned to warrant the trouble and expense of moving it. The newer inhabitants were quite happy to make use of them, or to sell them to those who might.
Richard paused by a shop at the edge of the market square. The owner had displayed a pair of chairs outside, indicating the contents within. Through the greenish diamond-shaped panes he could make out an array of furniture set haphazardly. He went in. Perhaps there would be something worth the price, less perilous to life and limb than his current furnishings.
"Yes?" A skinny elderly man, presumably the proprietor, stepped into view. "Were you looking for something in particular?"
Richard shrugged. "What do you have?"
"All sorts." The man shrugged deprecatingly. "Chairs and tables, desks, chaises, beds, wardrobes... there's two more rooms through there." He pointed at a low doorway. "If you want to look in there, I'll give you the candle."
"Yes, thank you." Richard waited while the man fetched a stub of candle in a chipped pottery holder and lighted it. Shielding the flame with his left hand, he walked through the doorway.
If the front room had seemed crowded with furniture piled at random, this room was thrice as full. Chair sat on table sat on cupboard in wild confusion. Picking his way through in a winding path, Richard saw three chairs of the same pattern in completely different locations, and wondered how many alike there were altogether. It was impossible to see everything, and he didn't try, merely tapped or shook a few likely-looking pieces to see how sturdy they were. Towards the back of the third room, he grew bored and turned to leave. A glint caught his eye, a reflection from the candle, and he moved forward to see what it might be. Everything was thickly furred with dust, and the glimmer surprised him.
It proved to come a brass hook set into a post of carved wood; after a moment Richard realized that it was a section of a bedstead, and for a wonder all of the parts appeared to be there together.
Richard felt over the carvings with his fingertips and then held the candle close to see them more plainly. He recognized oak leaves and holly berries and winding tendrils of ivy, with antlered deer appearing here and there among the carven leaves. The carving itself was finely done although dirt from who knew how many years marred the delicate details. He looked more closely, searching for worm holes or other damage, but found none.
Squaring his shoulders, he nodded to himself and went back to bargain.
It took some time, but eventually Richard agreed to pay sixteen silver pieces and became the new owner of a very old bedstead. In fact he paid five that day, the rest to be given upon delivery, which was promised for the following afternoon. Richard had no fear of being cheated; the shopkeeper had far too many things in his shop to decamp overnight, and Richard would know where to find him if the bed were not delivered.
Well-pleased, he went home to find Alec sitting by the window in the rapidly waning light.
"Did you get paid for that job?" he asked without looking up when Richard came in.
"Yes." Richard untied his money pouch and jingled it in Alec's direction. "I spent some -- you'll see what on, tomorrow -- but there's plenty for candles and firewood, and I'll pay Marie the next month's rent and we'll still have plenty to eat with until another job comes along."
"Shall we go to Rosalie's tonight's?"
"Wherever you like," said Richard.
Later that night, when they had come home somewhat intoxicated and fallen onto the old mattress on the floor, Richard smoothed back Alec's hair, thinking how beautiful he would be lying on the bed. It would doubtless need hangings, he reflected, but he could find something suitable another day. In the meantime he would have Nan from the next street come to clean it. Richard thought he could manage to put the frame together himself, with Alec to hold the pieces.
The next day he woke late, as usual, and practiced with his heaviest sword for a good part of the day. He spent some extra time working with on blows with his left hand; it would never be quite as good as his right, but the ability to shift hands was one that could confound an opponent in a pinch.
Alec had gone out after noon, perhaps to one of the taverns. He hadn't said. Richard didn't think he ever went back to the university, but Alec was impossible to predict. In late afternoon there was a great thumping at the door and Richard went down to let in the men carrying all the pieces of the bed.
The shop's proprietor himself had come with them, and Richard paid him.
"For five coppers each we'll put it together for you," the man offered, nodding at the three others who had accompanied him.
That was an offer worth the bargain, Richard decided. Then it would be done, and more easily than he could manage, even with Alec's help. Moreover Richard would enjoy seeing Alec's reaction upon walking into the room and being confronted unexpectedly with a bed, even if it was not yet cleaned and polished and lacked curtains.
The man had clearly done this sort of thing before. In a trice they had put the bed together, with much banging, and even lifted Richard's old mattress onto it. Luckily it was near enough in size to fit.
Richard thanked them all for their help and added another four coppers to the agreed-upon twenty, telling them all to go have a drink after their labors.
He went off to arrange with Nan about cleaning the bed, and on his way back saw Alec coming along the street. It was already just past sunset, but no clouds covered the sky tonight and there was just enough light for Richard to recognize Alec's slumped figure hurrying along in his ragged scholar's gown.
"I've a surprise for you," he called out.
Alec's eyes glittered, ice on a deep green pool. "Do you? I had a surprise for Reginald Thorby today; I won rather a lot from him at dice."
"I'm glad you won," said Richard. "Come upstairs, I've something for you to see."
"A letter?" asked Alec in a deceptively bored voice. "Tell me it's not another love letter from some infatuated noble."
Richard laughed. "Not at all. I think they've given up on me for the moment."
Once upstairs, Alec said, "It smells different in here. Musty. You haven't bought me a new old book, have you?"
"No. Shut your eyes."
He pushed open the door to the other room and led Alec into it. The bed seemed to take up twice as much space as the mattress on the floor had done, although really it was only a few inches larger all around. The carved mass of it, though, loomed in the dim light of the sliver of moon and stars that shone in through the open shutters.
"There. Open your eyes."
"Where did you find it?" were the first words out of Alec's mouth after he had circled around it warily several times. Had he been a wild animal, a deer perhaps, his ears would have been flattened nervously. He craned his neck, smelling at the ancient wood. "This is old, Richard. Very old. It probably dates back before the fall of the kings. Where was it?"
"In that shop at the west end of the market square, the one with all the furniture crowded in the windows. When I saw it sitting there in pieces, somehow I could imagine you lying in it. Nan Sharpe is to come give it a good clean and polish tomorrow, and it needs curtains yet."
"No curtains." Alec shook his head. "I don't want curtains."
"They're warmer..." Richard trailed off when he saw Alec's expression. "But if you don't want any, then I suppose we needn't bother."
Just as Richard had done in the shop, Alec had stepped close to one of the carved posts and was peering at it, running his thumb over the designs. "Remarkable," he murmured.
"The quality of the workmanship, partly, but I was thinking more of the stories of what these carvings represent. I didn't study history at the university but I attended a few lectures on it with friends. This may be even older than I thought; it looks like the northern kings at the hunt."
"Does it matter how old it is, or what the carvings show?" Richard shrugged. "I saw it and thought of you. I wanted us to have a proper bed, and this seems to suit."
Alec sat on the edge of it and bounced experimentally. "I say we go and have a few drinks and a good dinner to celebrate this acquisition, and then we can put it to its intended use," he said.
"An excellent plan," Richard agreed.
The bed waited in the silent room when they had gone, the moonlight that fell in through the window creeping up over the tangled leaves and figures, making them seem almost to come to silver life.
Centuries were as nothing, not when the land waited. The hunt would come again, and the kings.