Moments in Time
The boy is prettier than any boy ought to be – and smarter, and funnier. And Marian pushes such thoughts as far away from her as she can, because those are dangerous things floating in the back of her head.
“You’re a woman,” it was the first thing that Marian said to her after the incident with the Sheriff and his attempts at alchemy.
“Well spotted,” Djaq’s reply was dry – she didn’t look up from the pot of particularly pungent liquid that she was stirring over a camp fire (they were alone).
“I didn’t know,” Marian blinked and looked away, clearly a little perturbed.
“Well, now you do.”
“Does it matter?”
“Djaq, where are you going?”
“For a walk.”
“About – don’t panic, Much, I’ll be back.”
A heart beat of time filled with the sound of the forest.
“Are you going to see Marian?”
“Does it matter?”
“You know it does.”
“Tell me something, Djaq.”
“Anything. Tell me… your home – tell me about where you came from.”
“I am interested. You are interesting. Tell me.”
The hint of petulance in Marian’s voice made Djaq smile – she reached across the short space between them and picked grass out of Marian’s hair.
“Please?” Marian offered it as an afterthought – she was not used to asking for things nicely. She was high born: noble, but a little spoiled.
Djaq found it rather endearing.
The sky was always blue, unless it was black and star-studded or deep, thunderous grey. Her name was Safiyah, and she had a twin named Djaq.
Their mother had died when they were born – because they were twins, and Allah himself would have had to intervene directly to allow a woman to survive that.
But they didn’t need a mother, when they had their father (who never remarried), and when they had each other.
Djaq used to brush her hair for her, quickly and deftly and with fingers that were always neater than hers. Back then, it was long, (of course) and warm and weighty and comforting on her shoulders. Djaq liked to braid it for her – Safiyah used to say that they must be one person who had accidentally been split into two, for there were times when he seemed better at being female than she did. He loved to play with her hair and what little bits of jewellery that she had. Sometimes he wore her favourite bracelets on his ankles.
And Djaq used to tease her about her infatuations – Farrah, from down the road, who had such eyes as you never saw; and Amani, who laughed and sang as freely as a bird soaring over head.
Djaq knew of course – Djaq knew everything. Just as Safiyah could see Djaq’s gaze lingering on those handsome older boys who used to plough the fertile soil outside of their village. They would come and call for Djaq – sit on the steps outside of the house and listen to him tell them funny stories. They liked Djaq – Djaq was smart and quick-witted and cutting, his short, stocky young form constantly on the move as he clowned around to entertain them.
Safiyah was always shy around those boys, glad of her khimār to keep her safe. They were loud and uncouth and full of themselves. Djaq was the clown – the witty, smart, confident boy about the village, handy with a weapon, good with his words and his lessons. He sauntered easily amongst them, and they seemed not to notice how admiring his gaze could be become. Safiyah was his soft-spoken sister, smiling indulgently at his exploits and wondering at his confidence; watching him brazenly hanging off the shoulders of those boys who interested him so. She stuck to her books and her dreams.
“He would have liked you,” Djaq told Marian, honestly. Her brother had always had an appreciation for dry wit and pretty features and noble sentiment – though, Djaq suspected, he probably would have liked Robin just a little bit more than Marian. (And Allan, and Will and probably Much as well).
The thought made her smile.
“I think I would have liked him, too,” Marian told her.
“How do you know?”
“Just thinking about him makes you smile,” Marian pointed out, giving her a gentle prod, “having him about would clearly be beneficial to your mood – and it’s no bad thing, seeing you smile, Djaq.”
Djaq hid her face in her hands.
“Djaq, please – come on – Djaq, don’t!”
“No – no – no! Djaq, Djaq – no!”
“Djaq, breath – breath, breath – I can fix – ”
“No, you can’t…”
And then he died.
“This cannot be normal.”
“Does it matter?”
“I’m not going to think about it for a while.”
“Oh, you are adorable!” Marian hopped up and down with glee.
“If you tell anyone of this I will come after you and flay you,” Djaq told her, quite earnestly.
Marian giggled, “Why not? I think the boys might be rather appreciative.”
“That is precisely what I am worried about,” Djaq retorted, tugging at her sleeves a little self consciously.
“Hmm, those are a little long,” Marian remarked, of the sleeves, “could take them up if you want – mind, it might be better to get a girl from the village to do it. I’m useless with hems.”
“No, this is only for a moment,” Djaq did a quick turn in front of Marian’s looking glass, more to get a feel for movement in these unusually warm, clean clothes, than to see what she looked like.
She was wearing one of Marian’s tunics. A dress would have been pointless – Marian was much taller and an entirely different shape from the Saracen and her gowns would have drowned Djaq; besides which, it had taken enough effort for Djaq to swallow her pride for this request in the first place, without going all out for a dress. Marian probably did have something that would fit her – from when she was younger, perhaps… but that was a very dangerous line of thought.
Marian had been absolutely unable to contain her childish delight about the idea and promptly emptied most of her wardrobe onto the floor of her room in search of something suitable.
The tunic was red wool, with a green trim and a satin lining. It had a delicate leaf motif embroidered around the hem and the neck, and the accompanying under shirt was a pleasant, mossy-grass colour. A pair of light tan breeches could be worn under it, although Djaq had to roll the cuffs up several times to accommodate her woefully short legs.
“It’s never suited me,” Marian told her, “the colours are too bold, it looks awful on me – but it’ll be alright on you.”
Djaq sincerely doubted that anything would ever have the audacity to look awful on Marian, but she said nothing, and got changed.
“Why so determined not to let the boys know?” Marian was sitting on the end of her bed, legs crossed, head quirked.
Djaq smoothed the tunic down across her abdomen, feeling the soft wool under her fingers. “To them I am… I mean, I cannot be…”
“A woman?” Marian lifted her eyebrows.
“…yes…” Djaq turned around in front of the mirror again, then raked her hands through her hair, trying to remember the weight of it when it had been long. These days, it was starting to creep back below her ears – and she was finding the idea of cutting it again to be growing more difficult. “Allan already has this way of looking at me…”
“Why does that make you feel so uncomfortable?” Marian seemed more amused than curious, and Djaq made a face. It was easy for Marian, of course…
“You are used to such things,” she told the noblewoman, “I am not – and I don’t like it.”
“Used to what things?” Marian asked, a little fatalistically.
“Men – looking at you…”
Marian snorted, “they can’t help the way their eyes are pointing, Djaq – it’s normal.”
“Not for me!”
“And yet, here you are, indulging,” Marian pointed out, somewhat amused. “Why am I allowed to know if the boys aren’t? I mean, aside from being the only one with the ability to help you. You could have made me close my eyes.”
“Because you are – ” Djaq was about to say ‘less intimidating’, but realised that that was not entirely true. She closed her mouth and began straightening the tunic again. Because, just as it was vitally important that the boys never see this – it was also vitally important that Marian did, somehow.
She didn’t want to be one of the boys, when it came to Marian. Somehow, she didn’t want to be seen that way.
“Because it matters,” she finished, somewhat inadequately.
Djaq fidgeted uncomfortably for a moment. Was Marian genuinely ignorant or was she simply seeking reassurance from Djaq’s definition of the situation?
Djaq did not have a definition for the situation.
“I should be getting back,” she pulled the tunic up over her head with one sharp, determined jerk.
When Marian came stumbling back from one particularly harrowing run as the Nightwatchman, Djaq was (as ever) waiting for her in the stables.
“Oh, sweet merciful – ”
“Djaq, just – ”
“Little encounter with – a farmer and his – ah! – pitchfork – ”
“He thought I was some kind of… demon – ow! – ah, there’s no excuse for superstition is this day and age – God! Oh, God that hurts!”
Djaq’s hands were quicker and lighter than Marian had thought they would be, remembering (as she did) precious little of those few hours in the cave as she bled to death with Djaq standing frantic guard between her and the eternal blackness. The Saracen was pulling away strips of shredded clothing and mopping up thick, black blood as it oozed down pale skin, the night draining it of the expected scarlet hue.
“Marian, you must be more careful!”
“You sound like Robin.” Marian rolled her eyes.
“Robin is not always wrong,” Djaq told her, covering two deep puncture wounds with her hands, pressing lightly as she tried to stem the sticky liquid still streaming forth.
“Ha.” Marian spat the word out in disgust, pain tingeing the sound until it dissolved into a sharp exhalation of shock. “Ah!”
“Marian, do you think before – ”
“I haven’t time to think! I do nothing but think all day! Sometimes I want not to!”
“Obviously you do not think enough! Allah above, Marian, this could kill you!”
“I have survived worse.”
“By accident! By fluke or by miracle or both!”
“I had you.”
“You were still dead for a good ten minutes! Nothing I did saved you from that!”
“And yet, here I am, living to bleed another day.”
“Do not be so flippant!”
“What am I supposed to be? Would you prefer hysteria and melodrama? Want me to act more like a little girl? Would that keep you happy, Djaq?”
“Marian – ”
“You think I don’t think, Djaq? About Robin and about my father and about our estate and about my people? You want me to feel more responsible than I already do?!”
“No! I want you to think beyond those who you assume would be hurt!”
“What? Ah – sweet Mother of Jesus!”
Djaq pressed a little harder on the rents in that pale abdomen, biting her lip, torn between anger and sudden paralysing fear.
“I want you to think about me!”
“If you get yourself stabbed to death – again – where does that leave me, Marian? Who am I left with who cares – understands – who – ”
And she was taken by total surprise when Marian grabbed the front of her shirt and kissed her.
The smell of blood and the stables; the kiss was warm and moist in the dry, freezing air of the winter’s night – and Marian’s blood was still oozing between her fingers.
The puncture wounds in her abdomen were pale little pits by the next spring, and Marian was alive and sighing and laughing and teasing as Djaq undressed her for the – God, she’d lost count. Were they into double figures now?
This time they were in a familiar little thicket hidden from pretty much anyone who was not directly above them in the trees. The air was blissfully warm and still aside from the bird calls and the tiny stream chattering eagerly to itself as it ran by a few feet to the left.
“Your hair is getting longer,” Marian remarked, combing her fingers through the soft, black tendrils hanging down past the Saracen’s ears.
“Mm?” Djaq was busy pressing her lips to Marian’s collar bone, exploring that soft smooth place where her shoulder swept up to become her neck. She liked the way the fall of Marian’s dark curls on her shoulders made the skin seem even paler by comparison – the sharp contrast between something close in shade to porcelain and something dark as ebony.
Marian laughed softly, tipping her head back to give Djaq better access to her throat.
The touch of Djaq’s lips on her skin was soft and warm and desperately exciting. Months upon months of this and she still couldn’t grow accustomed to the sensation – it still made her feel as if she were filling up with something hot and light and incredibly potent. She shivered, leaning into the Saracen’s touch, feeling Djaq’s eager little hands (oh those light, delicate doctor’s hands) running down her sides to her thighs, and insistently pushing up her underskirt (the dress was long discarded).
“You are wearing entirely too many clothes, my dear,” she murmured into Djaq’s ear – and Djaq hardly paused long enough to breath as she yanked her shirt off over her head and discarded it, going back to another one of her favourite places (between Marian’s ear and her jaw).
Marian exhaled softly, pulling Djaq close against her, wrapping one arm about her waist and placing her other hand against the back of Djaq’s neck. Her skin was hot and velvety under the midday sun, which was brilliantly high over head, spilling dappled pools of gold down through the tree branches. Marian watched the light playing over the Saracen’s back, turning the skin a rich, warm honey colour. She thought of the desert sands and the those faraway places that Djaq talked of with that mixture of fondness and horror – brilliant blue skies and blood-drenched battle fields. She shut her eyes and thought about Djaq’s abdomen against her side, and the hand that was sliding delicately up the inside of her leg under her skirt, the lips that were on her jaw and then her ear and her neck and her throat and her shoulders and her collar bone and then her throat again and –
Djaq was smiling. Marian could feel it in her kisses, and she began to laugh again, suddenly glad – absurdly, exuberantly happy – finding her hands beginning to shake uncontrollably. This was an odd state to be in (though not nearly as odd and upside down as it had felt the very first time). It seemed mostly to be a great whirling conglomerate of physical sensation and internal emotion, all entangled via a desperate rushing feeling, like being pulled helplessly along by a current that she could neither see nor understand the source of.
Djaq pressed another kiss to Marian’s temple, then her forehead. Her movements were quick and deft – she adored every inch of this woman, and somehow it seemed incredibly important to impart that information via kisses. Marian, however (spoiled and wonderful as she was) had run out of patience for such gestures – particularly as she felt Djaq’s hand creeping further up her inner thigh again, and found a familiar need beginning to well up somewhere low down in her abdomen.
Lifting Djaq’s head, she crushed her lips to the Saracen’s, tasting Djaq’s breath and her tongue and the wetness of her mouth and liking the raw, carnal brutality of the act.
Djaq placed one hand on either side of Marian’s jaw and surrendered herself to the fact that Marian was (yet again) going to get what she wanted just precisely as soon as she wanted it. She was, however, too concerned about keeping as much of Marian’s skin in contact with as much of her own as possible to complain – and was not entirely unhappy with the situation anyway. Marian was a bossy lover – but that didn’t make her a bad one.
Marian tipped them both over, so that Djaq found herself on her back with the noblewoman nearly on top of her.
Here there was only the briefest moment of hesitation, as the noblewoman caught her breath and watched the Saracen catch hers.
“Hello,” she remarked, softly.
“Hello,” Djaq touched her cheek affectionately. “What were we doing?”
“I’m not entirely sure,” Marian admitted, honestly, though her eyes were bright with amusement.
With a grin, Djaq pulled Marian down to her and kissed her again, pushed her gently and rolled them both back over.
“Ana behibek,” Marian repeated it quietly as they sat in the rain under a blanket.
“What?” Djaq looked at her sharply.
“I know what it means,” Marian told her, “I asked Much, a while ago.”
“He didn’t seem surprised when I told him who I’d heard it from.”
“I doubt he would be.”
Much knew, of course. Just like Djaq always had. Much knew everything.
“Do you understand, Marian?” Djaq asked her, speaking without looking at her.
Marian lifted her eyebrows, then smiled, sweetly, “no.”
And Djaq tipped her head back and laughed, hoarsely, for there was nothing else to say to that.
“Does it matter?” Marian enquired, quirking her head at her.
Djaq only shook her head, “I suppose I am almost glad that it does not.”
“Well then,” Marian shrugged, “what are we waiting for?”
“Why don’t you wake me when you leave any more?”
“When you leave in the mornings from my bed – after we… why don’t you wake me anymore?”
Marian looked more confused than she did genuinely wounded. So much of whatever she had with Djaq was undefined and confusing – she was too used to the rules changing to be able to tell the difference between the norm and an emotional shift.
Djaq stood up, eyeing Marian as she stood next to her horse at the edge of the campsite.
“Because I cannot stand to say goodbye to you so often, Marian. I cannot bear it.”