Anton and Four-tooth sat quietly outside the tavern, blankets wrapped around themselves, covering their faces. Standing around them was a line of the King’s elite maroon and gold soldiers. They were all standing there absolutely still. Except for one guy on the far right, who was practicing tricks with a yoyo. He had mastered simple up and down and now was trying ‘Walk the Dog’, but with very little success so far.
Anton had observed this soldier for a few minutes, but soon went back to his own, more pressing thoughts. Such as:
Maruska. I need to see Maruska.
Seeing her a few weeks ago had been incredible. He never expected to see her again in this lifetime. She was still beautiful, and his love for her had resurfaced again so powerfully, like a dormant volcano erupting. And being back in Firgenduke was giving him massive nostalgia. He remembered walking down this street with her, holding her hand. He remembered lying under that tree over there with her, looking up at the sky through the treetops, his head resting on her stomach like a pillow. Yes, it was true she had done something terrible to Ginessa, but Anton didn’t blame her for that. He blamed himself. He let his thoughts drift, flitting between happy memories, sad memories, traumatic memories and the present.
Suddenly, a shiver went down his spine and he felt adrenaline or butterflies explode in his stomach and his entire body felt electrified. There was the rhythmic sound of someone skipping down the street, together with a familiar voice humming a tune. Anton didn’t even need to look to know who it was coming down the street.
“Lady Maruska,” said one of the soldiers (whose name was Ebadeb), “Greetings, Milady on this fine night. What brings you out on this fine Firgenduke night?”
“It is a fine night isn’t it?” said Maruska. She twirled around and her robes splayed out like a flower in bloom. She giggled, then said, “Is Lena or Clarence inside?”
Ebadeb said nothing for a moment, so stunned was he at seeing her giggle. He had never seen her giggle or chuckle before. He had see her smirk once, four years ago when a clumsy guard had slipped on a banana peel in the courtyard.
Maruska waved her hand in front of his face playfully.
“Oh, sorry,” said Ebadeb. “I don’t know if Lena or Clarence are inside.”
“That’s okay,” said Maruska, “I’ll just go inside and see if they are in.”
“I’m sorry, milady,” said the soldier, “We are under strict orders from Javier not to let anybody in or out of the tavern.” Then he whispered, “We’re in the process of capturing someone wanted by the King.”
“Who?” whispered Maruska.
“It’s a secret,” whispered the soldier.
Maruska nodded slowly and then said, “Very well then. Please do me a favour and inform Lena or Clarence that I stopped by to say goodbye. And that I’ll be at the docks tonight if they want to see me. And I want you to tell Lena that she is very dear to me. And tell Clarence he’s alright.”
And with that, Maruska walked off down the street. After a few steps, she once again began skipping and humming, as carefree as a child.
Anton, meanwhile was completely stunned that Maruska had just walked past him! He had just been thinking about her, and then she just appeared! Oh, and she looked so beautiful tonight! As beautiful tonight as she had ever been. The sourness and anger he had witnessed when speaking to her last seemed to have lifted from her being. He went to stand up, but Four-tooth instinctively yanked him down and said, “What are you doing?”
“Maruska is who I came to see,” said Anton, “I have speak to her.”
“Are you crazy?” whispered Four-tooth, “Javier and his men are right here! They are looking for you! Let’s wait and try to sneak out to the docks before sunrise.”
Anton shook his head, “I can’t risk missing her. My wife’s life depends on it.”
And with that, he stood up, stretched a bit and with a flick of his arms, shedded the blankets that had thus far concealed him.
There now stood a bear of a man, with a blood-red hooded robe. All the soldiers now saw him now, as if for the first time. It was as if he had just appeared out of thin air. Even the soldier practicing his yoyo stopped and looked.
Anton strode calmly past them. Perhaps because he was so relaxed and fearless, none of the soldiers thought to capture him. They just watched him, unsure if he was the man they were looking for.
“Maruska,” said Anton.
The fair red-headed maiden, who was joyfully skipping down the road, froze.
Then she turned around.
Urgh, thought Anton to himself, as if he just got punched in the chest, She’s too beautiful.
Indeed, in the moonlight of Firgenduke, the very same moonlight he had gazed upon her many years ago, she looked once again like the Maruska he’d loved.
He walked up to her and without even thinking, took both her cool, delicate hands in his and stepped in close to her.
(By this stage, all the soldiers and Four-tooth were mesmerised. All thoughts of capture were gone and they were transfixed on the scenes unfolding in front of them.)
Maruska looked into Anton’s eyes, unblinking.
“Anton…” she said.
Anton would have loved to wrap his arms around her, but a strange feeling inside him he had to do something more important. He went down on one knee. Then it occurred to him, that this might confuse Maruska and make her think he was proposing to her, so he put down the other leg too, so now he was kneeling on both knees.
“I came to Firgenduke,” he said, “To beg you to please cure my wife, Ginessa.”
It went all quiet.
As Anton looked up at the beautiful Maruska, with the Firgenduke starry night sky as a backdrop for her head, he could see her heart being crushed once again. Once again, by him. Her fingers withdrew from his hands; they slithered out like cold snakes. Anton saw a tear drip off her cheek, illuminated by the moon.
Just then, there was a mood breaker.
The door to the tavern opened.
“And then we ate the canteloupe and I said to the guy, that’s why you can’t elope!”
It was Javier, followed by the Three Sisters.
“Men!” said Javier, “It seems our prey has slipped through our fingers! We must find him or the King will have our heads! Two of you, go back inside the tavern and search it more thoroughly. We are looking for a big man, with a red robe. The rest of you, we will split up. Look for him. If you see Lena or Clarence, I want them arrested for helping a man wanted by the King! And I told you Frank to stop playing with your yoyo on duty! It makes us look unprofressional!”
One of the Three Sisters, the blonde named Arisa, tapped Javier on the shoulder and said, “What did you say Anton was wearing again?”
“A blood-red robe,” said Javier, “Why?”
“You mean a bit like that?” she pointed to Anton, who was standing before Lady Maruska.
“Yes, yes, exactly that colour,” said Javier, “Now men! Let’s split up and oh my gosh he is standing right there. That’s him. Yes it definitely is.”
Anton now went down on his hands and knees and pleaded to Maruska once again. “Please, Maruska. You can do anything you want to me. But please help me cure my wife.”
Javier came to his senses.
“What are you waiting for men! Capture him! Swarm! Surround him! Flank him! Do not let him escape!”