by Kougyoku (紅玉) (mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/293493.html) It was late in the evening. In the kitchen an empty pizza box sat next to a stack of dirty dishes. Through the door the living room lay empty, with the TV on standby and an open DVD case on the floor beside it. All life in this flat, it […]
He first appears one morning when they’re on parade.
They’re in the middle of a dry, scrubby piece of ground, just on the outskirts of a tiny French village whose name Charlie can’t pronounce. The place is far enough from the front lines that it’s not even possible to hear the gunfire. It’s almost peaceful. For the past two weeks, the mud of the trenches and the constant bombardment from Kaiser Bill’s German army has been nothing more than a bad memory.
The sun is hot for the time of the year, making most of the men restless as they stand to attention, waiting for their commanding officer to arrive.
“Here,” whispers Private Greening as he stands beside Charlie, “d’you see him?”
Charlie looks around. “Who?”
Greening jerks his head towards the end of the line. “New chap,” he says. “Not seen him before.”
Charlie strains to see, but he’s stopped by the arrival of the officer and a bark of orders.
They don’t parade for long. The officers are as tired of the heat as the men are. Charlie tries to get a look at the newcomer as they’re marched back and forth, but all he gets is a glimpse of broad shoulders and a blank expression.
Finally, the parade is called to an end with the command to rest well; they’ll be marching back out to the trenches that evening.
Cyril Beck was not familiar with Elves. He knew of them, of course; everyone who’d ever been to a music hall or to the pictures, or who’d read a novel, knew of Elves. They were either flippant and vain or tired and dull, steeped in meaningless tradition and singers of endless ballads. As the catchphrase from the wireless went: “Does this remind you of yet another song, Tafty?”
When it came to real Elves, however, Cyril had only met two. The first, he was assured by his mother, had been called Mr Brin, and had lived in the village Cyril had grown up in for as long as his mother could remember. “Oh,” she would say, “he was so good to everyone. And to see the way he used to bounce you on his knee!” Cyril had been too young to remember him, and all he had left were vague memories of golden hair, the smell of tobacco, and the feel of tuppence in his hand to go buy sweets from the local shop. That had been long ago. Mr Brin had enlisted in the army in 1916 when Cyril was only four years old; he had been killed in France a few months later and only a few weeks before Cyril’s father had gone the same way.
The coach rattled and jolted as it travelled along the turnpike road. James, having been unable to secure a seat inside, was sitting on top of the coach at the mercy of the elements, the cold December air biting at his fingers and the wind dancing about his ears. He had had to remove his hat, lest it blow clean away, and had instead wrapped his scarf over the top of his head and tied it under his chin to keep warm.
When it comes down to it, Arthur is rather privileged. There aren’t many in service who’d give up the chance to work as a valet for the heir of the Brinsley family. He gets good meals, a good wage, a crisp set of clothes, and if he plays his cards right, he may even make his way up to butler by the time he’s 30: a worthy achievement by all counts. He’s well-liked. He’s respected.
And, God help him, he thinks he might be in love.