* * *
It had started to rain, which was good; it meant Trav could wear his hood, and if he kept his head down he was unlikely to be recognised. He knew he would be lucky to find Isolda. In this weather she would most probably stay indoors, but he wanted to see her so much he had to go and look. People were clustered by the shelter of the stalls in the central square. Trav walked round, then looked into the shop windows, but Isolda was not there. He saw a fruit stall and went and bought some apples and a hessian bag to put them in. Pocketing his change, he glanced up and there she was, coming out of the glovemaker’s, as if summoned by his wish. The elegant way she moved made her unmistakeable though she was shrouded in a cape and hood. She was alone. He followed her down a narrow lane. The rain grew heavier, and she took cover under an overhanging building. He joined her there.
‘Wet day for a walk,’ he said. Her head turned sharply and he smiled at her. It was so good to see her, and he could tell she was pleased to see him. His spirits soared.
‘Trav? You’re mad coming back. Carl is thirsting for your blood. What are you doing here?’
‘Oh, I just came to get some apples…’
‘Fine, don’t tell me then.’
‘…but since I am here, and we happen to have bumped into each other, why don’t you come away with me?’
She looked at him.
‘You mean, leave Carl, leave all my belongings, walk away with you now to wherever you are going? In the rain?’
‘Right. That’s it exactly. If you get a better offer today I’ll be surprised.’
‘But I hardly know you…’
‘You like my stubble.’
‘I don’t know where you live.’
‘Doesn’t matter, I don’t live there any more, Carl knows the address.’
‘So you want me to join you on the run? You’re insane.’
No one was about. Trav put his arms round her and kissed her, savouring the delicate lily scent of her. Apparently she still liked him…quite a lot, it seemed. This thought made him smile too much to go on kissing her properly, so he stopped and said, ‘Come on, Princess. Trust me, it’ll be great.’
She leaned back against his arms smiling and gazed into his eyes. ‘You know, I really like you, Trav. But I’m not quite crazy enough to run away with you.’
‘If I kissed you again, would you get crazier?’ He bent his head towards her. She stopped him with a hand on his chest.
‘It’s no good, Trav, you’re very nice, I find you very attractive, but you’re just not the sort of man I go for.’
Trav saw that she meant it. His confidence and excitement of a moment before evaporated. The colour leached out of the day, leaving it grey and flat, and he became aware that his left boot was leaking. Everything seemed heavy, complicated and barely worth the effort. He let go of her.
‘You mean I’m not rich?’
‘Yes, that is what I mean. I’m sorry.’
‘So you prefer a rich bastard like Carl to someone you like who’s poor?’
‘I like the life. I like money, nice clothes, someone else doing the cooking and cleaning. Good food and wine. Not having to get up at dawn. I’ve tried being poor and I didn’t like it.’ Isolda was getting into her stride now. ‘I’m not going to go back to it for anyone, and if you’re honest I bet half of what you like about me is the gloss that wealth produces; the way I dress, the way I smell, the fact that my hands aren’t red and cracked and my face isn’t careworn from a life of petty worries. I doubt you’d have looked twice at Isolda the kitchen maid in her grubby rags.’
‘You think that’s what attracts me to you? Your clothes? Okay, I like the packaging, you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met, but it’s not just that. It’s you I want, Isolda, the real you that I can talk to. You when you’re being kind and funny and understanding. Carl only cares about your looks. For him you’re the beautiful mistress who adds to his status, that he bought like any other expensive object in his palace.’
There was contempt in Trav’s voice, and Isolda thought not all of it was for Carl. She flushed.
‘I am my own person, not yours, not Carl’s. I am here because I choose to be. If you don’t like the way I live my life, that’s too bad. It’s none of your business.’
‘You can’t have it both ways, Princess. You’re paid to do what Carl wants, however you wrap it up. You’re his down to the last polished fingernail.’
‘I think you should go.’
‘Right,’ he said. ‘I’m going.’
Her hand moved towards him uncertainly. ‘Trav – take care of yourself.’
He went off through the downpour. Isolda stood as he disappeared round the corner. There was a lump in her throat, and a piercing sense of loss in her heart. Part of her wanted to run as fast as she could after Trav, frantic that it might be too late and she’d never find him. She turned and walked in the opposite direction back to the palace, rain mingling with her tears.