Short Stories of Eric Maxwell

Eric Maxwell / Lady Mort (c) chardes
Feedback and comments welcome.

Story #1: Midnight

A rap on the aged, oaken door turned a head from the study table.

The lady stood, heaving a sigh as her reading was interrupted. Judging from the length of the candle, burning quietly on the desk, however, she smiled-- there can only be one visitor at this ungodly hour. With two soft steps on the wooden floor, the woman, looking to be in her late twenties, reached for her cloak, draping it over her small frame of slightly over five feet with a deft swing. Even as her hold on the lamp remained unwavered by the sudden activity, the lady managed to remove the latch and draw the heavy door inwards, letting in the cool midnight air-- and her drenched visitor.

"Oh my, come on in," the lady managed to comment, using her shoulders to push the entrance closed even as she attempted to stifle her glee with her free hand to her lips. Her visitor, walking into the familiarity of the stone tower, took quick, measured steps towards a guest towel, hanging in easy access right next to a large shelf, stacked with thick manuscripts. The man then collapsed onto her reading couch, taking solace in his new proximity to the fireplace. "Losing sleep again?" the lady inquired, mostly rhetorical. Of course he was.

Tired, azure eyes peeked up from behind the mess of his medium length blonde hair, smothered by the pristine white of the wet towel. "... Pretty much," he started with a shudder, feeling his body attempting to regain its' footing from the battering rain. The lady was seated in a separate couch right opposite of him, now, the lamp settled on a small table separating them. A steaming mug of water, flavored by a few slices of ginger, was left within his reach on the same table-- possibly when he was hardly paying attention with his already limited attention span. With sheer willpower, the insomniac grabbed at the mug, taking from it small sips even as he allowed the mug to warm both his hands wrapped around it.

"Let's hear it, then," the lady began, her face betraying her sincerity and concern. While it was frequent affair for Maxwell to wander into her study quarters at night thanks to it, the contrasting causes of loss of sleep suffered by him and her own made all the difference. For herself, it was her compulsion to read.

For him, it was his nightmares from war.

The most the woman could do for him was to act as his counsel and friend through the night, offering warm beverages. After all, there was no inherent cure for losing sleep -- and neither could anyone provide him any further help in banishing his nightmares apart from himself... And his own faith.

The man, uncertainty evident in the way he averted her gaze as he spoke, was a stark contrast to how he usually was in daytime: a reliable squad leader, trusted by the few subordinates that he did have. Being his mentor, however, the lady knew better-- the one seated before her, thoroughly defeated by the creations of his own mind, was who he really was. It was not something that he showed sparingly to others, much to her irritation.

"... Well... Tonight's slightly different," Maxwell muttered, quickly lowering the clay cup onto the table lest he crushed it. His statement raised an eyebrow from the other. "I-It's about the Lord Manor's proposition earlier today."

The woman blinked, and burst into laughter.

Maxwell, taken aback by her response, jerked his head upwards and straightened, the towel unceremoniously dropping towards the floor. His brow furrowed, eyes widening slightly, not comprehending the hilarity of the situation. The lady's foot connected with the edge of the table then, and her laughter skidded to a halt, replaced with stifled giggles and tears from the pain of the collision. "Sorry! Wait-- is brave little Maxwell getting fussed over courtship and love? And losing sleep over it?" she managed to blurt out amongst giggles, and ended with a "Whaaaat!" in a pitch much higher than he was used to.

The supposedly stoic soldier flushed red under his mentor's teasing, a hand reaching down towards the towel and proceeding to press it against his face in embarrassment. He only removed it once the lady's giggle fit has ceased. "Alright dear, I shouldn't have done that, you poor soul," the lady noted with a grin-- one that Maxwell knew all too well. It was a grin of mischief.

Gathering his courage, he started to describe his dilemma before she can manage to tease him further with embarrassing questions.

Lord Manor patted him on the shoulder, a rare sight in itself. It was not often that his squadron was within the safety of the lord's fortresses, and even less often did he see the lord taking personal visits to the barracks. With him being preoccupied with the management of funds and logistics, Maxwell was genuinely surprised by the visit-- and what the lord had just proposed.

"F-forgive me, sire, but what-"
"Oh, don't give me that look, Captain! I know you had your eyes on one of the kitchen hands for a while," his superior hollered, and Maxwell's subordinates-- being boons and supporters of any occasion for a good drink-- joined in the persuasion by cheering. "It'll do the men good too with a celebration; especially to all the others! It'll help liven up the grim mood! Don't you think?" the lord grinned.

"Beats asking for her hand in marriage behind the kitchen!" one of his subordinates shouted, voice full of glee.

The poor captain had not been given a chance to refuse.

"... The main problem being that it is to be a huge occasion celebrated by everyone within these walls, Lady Mort," he concluded, clasping his hands together and repeatedly grappling at one another in a nervous attempt to lower his anxiety. Mort eyed her student. "Oh, stop being silly. Rejoice? Elena's a fine girl," the philosopher folded her arms. "There's nothing to be embarrassed about that."

Maxwell gave a small nod. The lady sighed.

"If you prefer it that way, then see of it as a political arrangement," she spoke as she stood, side stepping towards the large cabinet, a hand running through the many volumes lining the shelves. "The war has been long and hard for you, me, and everyone else," she continued, drawing one well-worn leather bound out of the many, sliding it across the table towards Maxwell. The man eyed the title of the volume.


"... To realise, and play my part as a vassal to my liege," Maxwell recited, his eyes seemingly gazing at an unknown realm beyond the vellum encased in leather as he made his recollection, "... and a ceremonial marriage would aid in boosting the morale of the lord's subordinates." Mort nodded, and rejoined him at the table.

"It works in the favor of our liege as well, on multiple occasions. It improves on his reputation as a caring lord, if ever so slightly, for one." Mort noted this as she watched her student took another sip from the cup, now that his nerves have been calmed by the logical perspective introduced into the seemingly maddening topic. Maxwell shook his head. "But this is a waste of funding that can be used for campaigns-"

"-and the end of civil war is nowhere in sight. Life goes on even amidst war, Maxwell. Happiness is an essential resource-- scarce, yet precious-- for man's prosperity."

"Make it happen, for yourself and those around you. After all, what is a little embarrassment when compared to the hardships of war?" Mort smiled, and the man mentally winced. Turning down challenges was not exactly his forte; Mort made him walk right into that one. Maxwell shrugged, downing the entire mug's contents as an excuse to not verbally respond, although the outcome was clear for both of them. The invasive tinge of gingery spice assaulted his throat and nostrils as he downed the liquid, but he paid it no further heed.

"So, did she say yes?"
"Who?" he croaked, still trying to recover from ginger hell, the mug lowered.

Maxwell hurriedly stood at that comment, but not before setting down the mug. With no hesitation, he made quick steps to hang the towel back to its' original place by the wall, opened the large, oaken door, and disappeared.

"Oh dear, seems he had forgotten to ask," Mort said to herself, looking ready to burst into another bout of gleeful snickering.
I enjoy a cute romantic story.

One nitpick: in that first paragraph, that sentence:

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Judging from the length of the candle, burning quietly on the desk, however, she smiled-- there can only be one visitor at this ungodly hour. 

The way it's written, someone is concluding her smile based upon the length of the candle. "However"also doesn't seem to have a use there. I would recommend rewriting that sentence, since I don't see an easy cut our switch to make it make sense. Maybe something like:

"She judged the time from the length of the candle burning quietly on the desk- there could be only one visitor at this ungodly hour."