This story was written for the Brigit's Flame mini-contest, based on the painting "A Tale From The Decameron" by JW Waterhouse. I didn't have a chance to proof it and keep it at 1000 words before the deadline, so I apologize for it being rather rough around the edges.
Rating: PG13, SFW, contains romance, mature themes and death
Word count: 1000
Surrounded by the lushness of the garden, it was easy to forget where they’d come from. With the sound of water splashing from the fountain and the sweet smell of blossoming flowers, it was easy to forget the devastation of the plague. But she refused to forget.
They sat in the shade of the garden, listening as Dioneo told them a story of uninhibited love. Each day they came to hear his stories. Each day they came to speak. One at a time, each of them was chosen to be Queen and given the chance to share her story. Dioneo would always start with a song and often one of the women would accompany him. Then the Queen of the day who would speak until her story was told.
Florence sat with the other women. She was the only one who did not care for the Dioneo’s tales; in fact, she didn’t care much for any of them. They were able to distract themselves with these tales of love, loss and happiness but she found them dull and empty. Before the black death, before all of this, she’d been one of them. She’d laughed and played the role of a coquettish virgin at court. Her life had been carefree, without worry and without consequence. She’d bedded many men, leading each of them to believe that they were her first and only.
It was Gabriel who changed things. He’d arrived at court in the middle of summer, bringing with him tales of the Orient and exotic sights. Florence had been struck by him immediately. His slate blue eyes and reddish hair, so much like hers, made him stand out among the crowd of dark haired, dark eyed men and women at court. She knew he would change her life in the way that volcanoes change the face of the earth. At first she’d avoided him, frightened by the intensity of her feelings for him. But Cupid would not be brushed aside so easily and she soon found herself seeking him out.
They’d fallen in love quickly but their love burned with a slow, cool and steady flame: strong, lasting and difficult to extinguish. It was a togetherness that existed as though there had never been separateness; as though no one had come before or would ever come after. They laughed and loved each other with the ease of two people who simply understood each other.
He would tell her the most amazing stories from his travels, painting scenes with his words. She loved him most in those moments; the way his face lit up with excitement and his eyes sparkled with joy as he described the landscape, colours, sounds and flavours of the world. Sometimes she was so distracted by the simple happiness of it all that she missed most of what he was saying. He never let on that he noticed but she knew he did.
Time seemed to pass by so quickly and before long, they found themselves talking about growing old together. The fates had something else planned, however.
Late one night, in the middle of October, Florence came to Gabriel’s bed after being woken from her sleep by a physician.
“He is asking for you and refuses to see anyone else,” the physician told her. “I would strongly advise against getting to close to him. I believe he has the black death.”
She felt the colour drain from her face. Her legs grew weak but somehow she found the strength to push the doctor aside and run down the corridors to his quarters. She flung the door to his room open and rushed towards his bed. He lay there, feverish and sweating, a feeble imitation of her strong and beautiful lover.
“Florence,” he whispered.
“I am here my love,” she climbed into the bed and wrapped her arms around him, the doctor’s advice already forgotten. Kissing his forehead she whispered, “I am here.”
“I am sorry,” he said to her as she lay there with him, feeling his body aflame with the plague.
“I am not,” she replied, tears rolling down her face.
She stayed with him that night and each night for 5 nights as the illness robbed him of his vitality. He was dying and she would be with him until the end. She knew the risk to her own life but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that they were together. She watched as the black death raged through him until one night, he looked into her eyes and smiled for the last time.
They had fled shortly afterwards. Seven women and three men. They’d escaped to the countryside, taking her with them. Gabriel’s death had resurfaced the landscape of her soul, and even the beauty of the garden where she now sat in her green dress, listening to Dioneo’s sermon seemed nothing more than an odd dream, somehow separate from reality.
She reached down and picked a flower from the grass beside her as the other women sat mesmerized by Dioneo’s voice. She sat alone, unaware of his hand reaching out towards her as he called her name, unaware of the fact that the other women had turned to look at her. Before she realized what was happening, the crown was on her head and she had been named Queen.
She sat there dazed for a few seconds before understanding dawned across her face. They had named her Queen and that meant they would be expecting her to share a story with them. It was Gabriel’s story, her story. The story of their love, their joy and his life. Even Dioneo held his silence as she turned to each one of them in turned, gazing into eyes that had each seen their own horrors. She would not forget and neither would they, she realized. They carried the memories of the dead into the realm of immortality.