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Note: Since this is an erotic fantasy, I will only post this first chapter.
In many ways The Candle isn't your typical romance, especially when measured against romance novels published recently. I wrote the first edition clear back in 2003. It managed to defy conventions then, and still defies many today. I'm very proud of that.
Enjoy the chapter.
In a Place Beyond Thought
“C’mon home, girl,”
Momma cried on the phone,
"Too soon to lose my baby
and my girl should be at home...."
But Momma try to understand,
Try to understand,
Try, try, try to understand—
He's a magic man.
“HAD ENOUGH, Allison? Can we leave now?”
“I'm not through here yet, John. Can't you be a little more—?”
His cell phone went off—again. He held up his finger, quieting her with a single, swift motion, pulling the phone to his ear with his other hand. Moments later he was speaking to a business associate.
Allison, frustrated and offended, sighed. She resented being shushed for a cell-phone call; she resented that John had even brought it here to the Renaissance Festival. She had told him just last night not to. She resented that he wore sunglasses in heavy shade, that she could not see his eyes. She resented his slacks, how they seemed entirely out of place here, and how his gut was beginning to hang over them. She resented hearing him say to his associate in a mocking voice, “Yeah, I’m here at the fake fourteenth-century fru-fru-a-thon. It’s nothing but a bunch of fairies and liberal pansies in tights wanting to hug trees and sell me incense. Right. Twenty minutes? Should be leaving by then. I'll be at the office later. What? What quotes? Hold on a sec …”
He brought the phone down and forced a meek smile to his fleshy lips. The effort accentuated his contempt. “Baby? Got some paper in your purse? I just have this little bit of business, then we can keep walking—”
She had done this before, and came prepared. There was a small pad of paper in her purse she used to keep track of her own clients; she yanked it out and shoved it into his chest, along with a pen. She forced a fake smile in return, making sure he saw it. “Have fun,” she snapped.
She walked away.
“Catch up with you in just a sec, hon ...” he yelled. “Promise this'll be the last call I take. Promise. Just a sec, baby....”
But Allison was already lost in the crowd, one that melted in and out of the hillside shade as folks watched the plays and listened to the music and browsed the many vendors of the Larkspur Renaissance Festival.
After a time she found herself at the festival’s periphery. The crowds had thinned away like early morning fog in bright sunlight. Dreamy silence lulled her into a quiet sense of timelessness. Somewhere deep in her spirit a young girl ached for something she had never seen before but somehow always knew existed.
She raised her chin and looked about. The vendors here were selling everything from medieval swords to stationery to—yes—incense, along with silk scarves and clothing of a kind she had never seen before. She heard laughter and music, but it was as though both were echoes in a barely remembered dream. They sharpened only when she sought for their source, looking for them. Several large, proud horses grazed in a flaxen field beyond, black and rippled with muscle. The vendors here made no effort at all to bring the crowds to them, preferring to sit well inside their awnings and well beyond the heart of the festival. They regarded her coldly. Clearly she had wandered too far, having been preoccupied with her frustration and anger.
As she neared the field to take a closer look at the horses she heard, “Candles, my lady?”
He stood behind a table full of them, and under an awning providing shade over his tall, slender frame. His straight black hair had been pulled back into a ponytail. As he moved from shade into the bright sunlight streaks of brilliant yellow flashed like lightning through it, vanishing at his broad shoulders. His hair framed an angular, almost gaunt face. Ocean-blue eyes watched her. A slight smile played across his face, inviting and disquieting, a smile framed by high cheekbones and a strong, almost pointed chin.
Allison suddenly felt as though she was two inches tall and under a microscope; as if he could, with a simple flick of his wrist, squash her without any effort whatsoever. For a brief moment she wanted to run, to wheel about and find her way back to the easy, monotonous safety of John, but the vendor’s presence was undeniably compelling. The dull, ever-present ache within her bloomed like a desperate flower. She approached, painfully conscious of her own form, as if she had entered the presence of some medieval god, there to offer the sacrifice of her own body to his every desire.
“Candles?” she said, smiling overaggressively, knowing instantly that he could sense her effort to assert herself.
He inclined his head slightly, affirming her query without a word, watching her.
She looked over his selection. Most were just like the hundreds of others she had seen from countless other vendors today, everything from the tall and thin to the psychedelic to the ornate and Gothic. None were lit.
She shook her head. “I don't think I need any, but thanks anyway ...”
He nodded in patient silence.
Perhaps it was frustration. Before she could stop herself she spoke, the sting of reproach in her voice. “You know, I think you'd do much better if you were actually part of the festival, don’t you think?”
“I have no interest joining people who ... annoy me,” he said with that same slight smile. “And if I may say so, it seems you feel the same way.”
His voice was low and gentle, not a whisper but not a rumble either. He tilted his head, studying her.
She looked at him, then down at the table. She chuckled. “Is it that obvious?”
“Not with everyone, no.”
“So why don't you—?”
He lifted his chin, puzzled. Then he nodded again. “You mean, why don't I choose to make more money over in the main area? I think I told you that. And the people who seek me out do so for a reason. They just don't know why most of the time.”
“You really believe that?”
He let her question linger on the still summer air for several seconds without answering. Instead he queried, “So why are you here, Miss—? Please forgive me: I haven’t asked your name ...”
She hesitated. “Allison. I’m Allison.”
“So why have you wandered to the edge of the festival, my fair Allison?”
“I'm just trying to get away. Away from my—”
“—lover,” he finished for her.
The word jolted her, and she blinked blankly. It occurred to her then that she had never thought of John as her lover. Boyfriend, yes. “Significant other,” yes. But—lover? They had sex, yes; when John got drunk, which was often, they fucked. But the way this man just used the word lover made fucked, a word which Allison hated, sound even more disgusting.
She rallied. “He's just really not into this gallantry and chivalry and medieval stuff. He thinks it's gay. I mean—I, er ... I hope that didn't offend you.”
He shook his head indifferently.
“And he's just ... well, he’s just such a damn yuppie, and I’m ...” She shook her head with a couple of violent shakes, as if to clear it of an invisible but persistent gnat. “I'm … I’m just frustrated, I guess ... I mean, I don't know why I'm telling you this, I don't even know you....”
She watched his smile warm toward something that felt like empathy, so she continued, feeling increasingly stupid: “I guess I'm just aggravated that he can't come here and enjoy the woods and the fields and the smells and the foods. He's always got to be 'productive,' whatever that means. He's probably still on his cell phone. Jesus, that makes me angry! I mean, we only get to see each other weekends, if that, and here he is, still at the office!”
She saw that he was listening intently. But it was more than that. Somehow she felt as if he already knew everything she was going to say and was only waiting for her to realize it. His look asked her to continue.
She stood in uncomfortable silence, shifting her weight from her left foot to her right and back again. She brought her eyes from his to the candles on the table. She felt embarrassed over her confession. She randomly spotted a plain white candle mounted on an equally nondescript pewter base: a bright, thick stalk maybe four inches in diameter and perhaps that tall. It was lost in a garish forest of wax and fairly close to him. To break the unspoken thoughts lingering in the air she pointed at it. “How much is that one?”
He followed her finger, then turned his head to look at her. For a fleeting moment he saw surprise reflected in those oh-so-sure eyes. After a brief pause he slowly shook his head. “It is not for sale, fairest one ...”
She brought her gaze back to it. “So if it isn't for sale, why is it here on this table?”
“You may have it for free.”
She chuckled. “What? Is it a joke candle? Blow it out and it sputters back to life?”
“No,” he said. “It won't light.”
She stared at him, then back at the candle, puzzled. She bent over the table. “How do you know? The wick hasn't been touched! There are no burn marks on it at all! The wax is perfect!”
“Perhaps I should be clearer. It will light—but only for the right person.”
She was beginning to enjoy this. “A magical candle? Designed by a witch?”
He was dead serious.
“You really believe that?”
“Do you really believe you can find love with a man who can't stop making love to his own image?”
She pulled up, startled. She felt no reproach in his question; it had been asked plainly, almost as if he whispered it in her ear, almost as if he knew that she had been thinking that very question the entire day. He stood above her, chin steady, blue eyes deep as the sea.
Her answer was barely above a whisper. “You didn't answer my question—”
“What is so unbelievable about it? Why not believe it? Indeed, this candle will light, but only for the sorcerer's true love. He has sought her for a thousand years. A million of the fairest maidens across time and space have tried lighting it, but none could match the passion the candle demanded of them, and they failed. Their souls were inadequate to the task. He finally gave up and gave it to me. He instructed me to sell it. But no one has ever offered to buy it—until you. It has been long enough. You may have it for free.”
His voice reflected a profound sadness and resignation, like an autumn wind that could find no more leaves to blow through, for all had died and fallen.
“The sorcerer—he is dead now?”
“His fair maiden never came, and now he is too old! How sad!”
He smiled in silence.
“So you have carried it around for these many years as a favor to him? And now even you are quitting? He would be so disappointed in you!”
“So what happens if I take it home and try to light it, and it actually lights up?”
“The candle will never exhaust itself. The wax lasts forever.”
She wanted to patronize him, to humor him, to lighten the mood. She wanted to laugh at the thought of an eternally lasting candle. But she looked in his eyes, and could not.
“The sorcerer would come for you,” he added. “You would become his princess, the only one worthy of him and his magic. Together you would leave this dirty plain of existence and return to his world, where you and he would live in great passion and peace forever.”
She knew without question that he believed every single word he had just spoken. She found herself wanting to believe him, to feel the great passion he felt in telling his tale, to lose herself in its emotion. She found she wasn't frightened of his unwavering belief in it; in fact she wanted to hear more.
“He would know it is me?”
“How long before he came for me?”
“When you no longer believed in him.”
That stopped her. “Huh?”
He lifted the candle from its base and produced a small brown box, and placed it inside.
“With my compliments,” he said, offering it to her.
“Thank you,” said Allison, taking it.
“The candle will not light. But if it does, I must warn you: never touch the liquid wax.”
“Why, is it really hot?”
He shook his head. “It is wax from a magical place, created by the sorcerer's living passion. If you are indeed his princess, and you touch that wax, you will eventually be overcome by the angels of the heights—and the demons of the depths. His passion mixing with yours, a passion unrealized for a thousand years, a passion unrequited. A passion your eternal soul knows, but you don't. It would be too much for you. Now ...”He came around the table and grasped her hand, brought it up to his lips, and gently kissed her middle finger. “Go back to your lover. It was nice making your acquaintance ... Allison.”