Title: WIP: Music is the Food of Love
Author: Harper Kingsley
Summary: inspired by Twelfth Night. Duke Orsino sends Bastian to speak to the fair Olivia on his behalf.
MUSIC IS THE FOOD OF LOVE
Bastian kept her chin tilted down, but her eyes couldn’t help straying to Orsino where he sprawled in the window seat. The handsome duke was a surly sort, melancholy wrapped around a poet’s soul so tight that sometimes he lost his words. And then he had her play and play and play.
I would play him a thousand sonnets and a million lullabies, if only he would think of me as he does HER. And that was a hateful thought perhaps, to wish misfortune on the mysterious Olivia she had never met.
In her guise of man, the duke did not look upon her. Would not.
But this was the way she was. The way she’d always been. The way she’d always wanted to be.
Feminine wiles and fripperies were as foreign as the soil of the moon would be beneath her feet. It was not her fault that she had to pretend to be a man to dress the way she FELT inside.
Neither woman nor man. Simply herself.
Born Viola, twin to Sebastian. Now Bastian in memory of her lost other half, torn from her by the grasping white caps of the sea.
She’d been so alone without him. But dressing in his clothes made her feel close to him somehow, as though it were his face gazing back at her from the mirror. Smiling gently. Promising that he would make everything all right, even after their father died so tragic and ruinous a death.
He’d promised her he’d never leave.
But where was Sebastian now? Swallowed by the sea.
Her fingers had been continuing their journey over the keyboard, music pouring out of the heart of the piano, yearning toward a man that dreamed of someone else.
He rose from the window seat with startling abruptness and strode across the room to slam the fallboard down. She flinched, barely pulling her fingers out of the way in time.
“I don’t like this song anymore,” he said.
“I… I could play something else,” she offered.
“No. I’m tired of music. My soul hungers for more than song. It calls to her. Olivia.”
She wasn’t sure what to do. What to say. Her shoulders felt tight and her skin hot and stiff. She glanced around and saw the other retainers studiously busy at their various tasks, none wanting to draw the duke’s attention when he was in such a manic state.
She licked her lips and opened her mouth to say–she didn’t know what–but he didn’t give her a chance to speak.
“You have a way about you, young Bastian.” Orsino’s face was suddenly close to hers, examining her closer than they ever had before. Dancing over her face until she ducked her chin away in the hopes that he would grant her mercy. “No sign of a single mustache hair, but a way with words is what you have. More than these, hollow-headed jackanapes. She sent Sergino scuttling, but you… You are young and still so boyish yet. She might allow you into her parlor and give you a chance to speak my favor into her delicate shell of an ear.”
Orsino’s eyes–gray with specks of maybe blue–gazed into the soul of her. Bastian swallowed a shuddering breath and felt her heartbeat fluttering at the side of her neck.
“You would do this for me, will you not?” he entreated. “Go to her, Bastian. Speak for me. Spin sweet words of wonder and beauty. Bring into her my heart, Bastian, and you will never live in want again. I will make you a wealthy and most fortuitous of men. Bring my love into her heart. Warm her by my fire.”
Bastian swallowed. There was only one answer that she could give: “Of course, my lord.”
His beaming exuberance had her up off the piano bench, his hands grasping her upper arms as he led her in a riotous dance around the room. His chest brushing against hers, his arms encircling her; it was glorious hell.
It was inevitable that she would find herself making the journey to Olivia’s house on Orsino’s behalf. The letter he’d written and sealed with wax was a fat weight in her breast pocket. She allowed a merry tune to escape her lips and told herself that she was happy.
If Duke Orsino found love, she would rejoice for him. Because her love was a pure love, in as much as her envy allowed. She would not deny him happiness simply because her lips were not the ones he wanted to kiss.
She walked the meandering path over hill and pasture to reach the sprawling estate that belonged to Olivia. It was such a lovely day that she didn’t mind the walk for the joy of the journey.
The tune she whistled became a jaunty sounding thing of extra trills accompanied by the occasional jig of her feet. It was good to walk. The sun was warming against her face and she liked the solid tromp beneath her booted feet.
And the land she walked through… Olivia’s family had left her a beautiful and well-maintained estate. She could see men and women in the distance performing their various tasks and duties, and they all appeared clean and well-fed. The group of children playing outside a crofter’s house were in good health and bright spirit, their singing and laughter carried to Bastian’s ears by the cheery breeze.
She smiled and tipped her face back to the sun. It was a lovely day for a walk. There was no room for heartbreak and might-have-beens but never-will-bes. It was too good a day for feeling sad.
Her feet met a stone walkway that wound a cutting path direct to the stately manor house. She curled her toes in her boots as she walked, experiencing every bit of the journey. She felt connected to everyone and everything in this moment. The air and the sky and the trees, sun-warmed and beckoning, carried her feet around the house to the side door waiting for those daring to come to call on the fair Olivia.
She tugged the elegant chain next to the door and heard the ringing of bells inside.
The door was answered promptly enough by a young woman in a maid’s cap and dress. “Who is calling?”
Bastian bobbed a quick nod. “I have been sent by my lord, Balthus Orsino, Duke of Illyria. He has charged me to deliver a letter on his behalf to the lady of the house.”
“I suppose if you give it to me I could pass it along,” the maid said.
“Nay, fair lady. I have been instructed to deliver his words directly into your lady’s hands. He would be most wroth if he found me slacking.”
“I see,” she said. “Come with me.”
Bastian allowed himself to be ushered inside where he was led to a parlor room and instructed to “Stay here. Touch nothing.”
She wondered if she should feel outraged, but just laughed. She was a nobleman’s page. There was a good chance the household had seen many a glitter fingerprinted or perhaps even outright destroyed by curious hands left to wait too long.
She resolutely put her hands behind her back and began walking the diamter of the room, counting the steps one two three before closely examing the artwork on the walls and the decorations left on low tables and tall baseboards.
Bastian was duly impressed. The place was lovely. At the very least, the Duke had fallen for a woman of taste as well as means.
There was the brisk clatter of footsteps and she hurriedly propelled herself to the middle of the room, standing in a close approximation of attention. The butler that entered was who she had to impress if she wanted to be let in to see the lady.
“I have been told that you wish to see Lady Olivia?” the butler’s accent was crisp and ringing. He had a way of projecting his voice that made Bastian feel smaller than she was. She noted the effect and promised to practice until she carried as much presence.
“Yes, good sir, I have been instructed by my lord, Duke Balthus Orsino, Duke of Illyria, to call upon your good lady. I am to present a letter from his hand direct into her own.” She attempted a charming smile, but could tell by his expression that she didn’t much succeed.
“I see.” He looked her up and down, his still expression perhaps hiding a sneer at the presumption. Olivia had refused the Duke’s suit on half a dozen occasions by this point. Most suitors would have already moved on to sweeter dispositioned fruit, yet here he was sending yet another letter to remain unread. “Come with me.”
In her time as a page, Bastian had grown accustomed to being told to go here and there, to stand in place for long stretches of time, and to entertain her melancholic lord as needed to keep his dark moods at bay. She followed the butler without complaint, choosing to spend the walk glancing to-and-fro with her eyes while her head remained appropriately positioned, chin tipped up as she was careful not to clatter on the marble floors.
She was led to the closed double doors of a larger parlor. She caught a slight glimpse inside when the butler tapped on the dark grained wood and went in, the door closing firmly behind him.
Bastian figured she’d be left to cool her heels for another long while. Olivia would be in no hurry to see her as the Duke had no favor here. She wished for a chair, but the hallway was large and bare of furniture, though there were nooks for decorative vases and art pieces were strewn here and there. The wallpaper was a lovely oddity of rose and gold, and she had just reached out her hand to touch when the doorknob turned.
She hurriedly straightened her shoulders and pushed out her uniformed chest. She schooled her expression to hopeful attention.
The butler held the door open. “The lady will see you.”
Bastian gave him a nod as she passed, acknowledging the warning in his hooded glance if she tried anything inappropriate with his employer. He didn’t look like much of a fighter, but since beginning her martial training Bastian had been surprised a good few times by men turning out more dangerous than her eyes had presumed.
The parlor was large and airy, with velvet covered furniture and lovely oak wood. It was cast in a pall of somber darkness by the heavy curtains drawn closed and the decorative black grate spread before the fire, the etching of leaves and lions taking nothing away from the sense of misery in the room.
The lady herself was shrouded in black silk and lace, her much vaunted beauty hid behind a fine mesh veil that turned her features to outline and shadow. She was seated on a low divan, a lady’s maid to either side, and a large embroiderers hoop spread on the table before them. Bastian spared the fine needlework an admiring glance. The lady had a great skill.
“My lady.” Bastian gave the bow she’d been forced to learn by the strict Master Gereson and pulled the letter from her pocket with as much grace and elegance as she could muster. She held the envelope toward the lady on the palms of her gloved hands, waiting until the lady deigned to reach out and snatch it away.
“I told your lord that I have no interest in love at this time,” the lady said. She tore the envelope open with barely suppressed impatience. “My brother is barely cold in the ground. The fires of my passion have burnt out, and I don’t think it appropriate that they be rekindled so soon. I wish merely to be left alone.”
Bastian nodded. “I hear you, my lady. I apologize for intruding upon your grief. But my lord, he wishes you to know that he holds you in his heart. I think that he would gladly wait the lifting of your grief, if he but knew that at the end his patience would be rewarded by even a chance at your heart. He loves you so.”
“I see, I see.” Olivia held the letter up to the light of the candleabra on the table, straining through her veil to read the strong looping strokes of Orsino’s pen. “Ah, my face is a picture, my form a poetry, and every bit of me a delight to be savored and worshipped. He sounds like any other, promising the sun, the moon, the stars above, if only to kiss my hand, my feet, my lips, and my… well. He at least has not chosen to write of such indecorous things. Perhaps he truly wishes to win my heart and not simply access to my nethers.”
Bastian sputtered a shocked laugh. If she’d been the boy she appeared, she would have perhaps been lost in the imagery presented. “My lady!”
“Oh, I do apologize.” Olivia seemed to peer over the letter, the brightness of her eyes peeking at Bastian. “You’re quite young, aren’t you? Still callow in your youth. Untouched by such things as lust and avarice.”
Olivia waved a lace gloved hand. “With the death of my brother the family fortune’s have fallen to my shoulders. There is many a man that has taken one glance at my situation and decided that I would make a perfect wife.” She snorted. “They all want to take it away from me. To relegate me to the bower or the birthing bed. It’s quite sad and pathetic really. That they think me such a fool.”
“I don’t think you’re a fool,” Bastian said truthfully. “I think that you’re wise. Tis better that you wait and find someone that will love and cherish you than to settle on the first face to come to call. But the duke… He is a good man. He has true feeling for you. I do not think that he would ever treat you wrong.”
“But that doesn’t mean I won’t be ill-treated.” Olivia sighed, tossing the letter to the table and settling her back against the couch. “Even the best of intentions means nothing to the truth that all men see my sex as inferior to their baser needs. They are more set to impressing their fellows than to treating the womenfolk in their lives as more than chattel. I refuse to lose all that I have so that my husband can feel himself a greater man. I refuse your duke. Tell him no. He will not have my love or my hand.”
From the way Olivia looked at her, Bastian felt that she was waiting for some form of explosion. “Very well,” she said. “I will tell my lord that you have refused his troth. His sadness will be great. He will have me play plenty a weeping lullaby, but I suppose his heart will move on.”
She shook her head. “Tis a sadness though.” She laughed. “He so handsome, you so lovely, the world is made lesser for the lack of matrimony. Your babes would have been most beautiful.”
There was a startled silence. Olivia tilted her head. “You are very free with your tongue.”
“I am my duke’s man,” Bastian said, showing her teeth in a smile, “which curbs the worst of my humor. But at the best of times, I have been called ‘sharper of tongue than wit.’ For if I were a smarter man, I would not be so free around a lady of your great quality. Forgive me, my lady, and please do not tell my lord. His punishments are most severe, and my hands cannot stand the digging of another hole in the ground.”
“I… I will not tell your lord.”
“Oh thank you, thank you, most gracious of women.” Bastian executed a florid bow to Olivia’s begrudging amusement. “Though I admit, I feel sadness for my duke. You are all that he has said and more. His poetry when he speaks of you makes quite a wit of sense. I can tell why he would be disappointed that you refuse to be his wife.”
She had begun wandering the room as she spoke. Olivia’s head turned to follow her, as did the suspicious gaze of the older lady’s maid. “Is there something in the room that has caught your attention?” Olivia asked.
Bastian shrugged. “Nothing in particular. I find your decorative senses charming, though… It is quite dark in here.” With a smooth jerk, she pulled aside the curtain of the largest window. Light flooded into the room, and she could see the flowers in the garden below. “There. It’s so much lovelier with the light coming through,” she turned and blinked, “and so are you, dear lady. A great beauty indeed.”
“You’re not going to win me over with your charms,” Olivia warned.
“Believe me, I wouldn’t dare try.” Bastian wandered the edges of the room until her eyes were caught by a piano that had been hidden in the shadows. “Well, hello there,” she murmured, heading straight to it, her eyes drinking in the complete perfection. “Is that what I think it is?”
“And what do you think it is?” Olivia asked.
“It’s beautiful,” Bastian crooned, running her hand across the top of the Blüthner. She carefully opened the fallboard, letting her fingers hover over the keys. “Do you mind?”
At Olivia’s nod of permission, Bastian sat at the piano bench and ran a quick set of scales. Then she began to play, a lilting tune meant to get the toes tapping.