Can Gregor Brannigan survive in the mystical realm of his bride, Kazia Czartoryscy?
|Thank you, Dawn Embers for including my story in your 2014 April 30th Fantasy Newsletter!
Thank you, Robert Waltz for featuring my story here. "Fantasy Newsletter (July 6, 2016)"
Written for "The Lair - CLOSED"
Gregor stood in the ancient chapel in Poland, horrified by the three ancient women—Rodzanice according to his wife—looming over the cradle ensconcing, Janek, his newborn son. Gregor's mind recoiled from the spectral sight and spun back to the first time he set eyes on his bride, Kazia . . .
She somehow deflected the shabbiness of The Black Horse Tavern. The barkeep's tatty Hawaiian shirt, the slosh of whiskey into a questionably clean tumbler, the crunch of peanut shells under worn sneakers, the exhaustive noise from the juke box, and the torn vinyl of her bar stool. A princess waiting in his favorite pub, situated in lower Manhattan. Where he knew everyone's name.
He shambled over, oafish, leaned against the bar, and thrust his clumsy American hand into her domain. "Hey, gorgeous. Can I buy you a drink?" Came the billion dollar one liner sure to wilt any budding romance. "Gregor Brannigan. Pleased to meet you."
Although the shy smile and slight tip of her head charmed him, both hands remained serenely folded in her lap. "Good evening. My name is Kazia."
"Hey, Kayzia. Pretty name."
The princess-girl's expression changed from open to solemn, as if Gregor's comprehension carried officious authority. "It's pronounced "KAH-zhah."
"Right, that's what I was trying to say. One too many Heineken beers makes my tongue all fumbly." Apparently it also stole his ability to think. Or was it the jasmine in her hair he smelled that drove him to jibber-jabber? “I’ve never seen you before. You just move into the neighborhood?”
“I come from the Polish noble family Czartoryscy.”
What a weird reply. The name, Czartoryscy, smooth as satin on her tongue, defied American pronunciation. She shrugged one sculpted, fine as bone china shoulder. From her, a delicate gesture, not goofy American offhandedness. He tried again. “Uh, you here on business?”
“I’m visiting some American friends, who invited me to hang out? That’s what you say?” Kazia frowned at her wristwatch.
“Hang out, yes.” What was it about her that made him never want to leave her side? He snagged a bar stool with one foot and dragged it closer. "A woman like you should never be sitting alone."
When she caught her lower lip between thumb and forefinger, she looked like a child, alone in the world. "A woman seated with unknown man is more proper than woman sitting alone?"
Her ring finger was bare. He considered asking Kazia to marry him, but ordered a drink instead. Once he found a relatively clean spot on the bar, he propped an elbow, let his head rest in one palm and shifted closer. "Not too many etiquette rules in America. What's life in Poland like?"
In the dimness, her blue eyes, pale as a Siberian Husky’s, gleamed. "What is your life? In America?"
Her deflection of his question should have set bells of suspicion ringing. "I'm C.E.O. of an independent airline, Highland Aircraft." One hand nonchalantly came to rest on her slim wrist.
She stared at his hand, but didn't move. "What is ceo?"
The puzzlement on her face needed to be kissed away. He leaned in until their shoulders touched. "Chief Executive Officer. It means I'm a billionaire who works ungodly hours."
At the word 'ungodly', her left brow twitched. "Tell me more." When Kazia's hand brushed his cheek, both knees weakened, and Gregor blessed the bar stool for its stability. After glancing over his shoulder, she said something that sounded like 'dime-a-boo-she.'
Before he could ask, three women waltzed into the room and swallowed up his precious gem in a group hug. "Sorry we’re late." A hefty redhead wedged him out with her knee and threw an arm around Kazia's shoulders. She signaled for five beers. "Kazia, you won't believe what happened. Some guy tried to rob Jess—“
The moment evaporated, leaving him no choice but to walk away and dream she’d remember him. Would their paths cross again? Her air of mystique was seriously messing with his head.
Caruso, the barkeep, grabbed an arm as he was leaving. “Tough luck, dude. She’s a hottie.”
How idiotic to hate Caruso for calling her a hottie. Gregor grabbed a bar napkin. “Hey, you got a pen?” With the sticky, probably germ-infested pen in hand, he scribbled his name and phone number. “Make sure she gets this before leaving?”
Caruso’s lewd wink and shoulder punch almost earned him a black eye. The Black Horse Tavern’s door closed with a thud, and the winter sidewalk demanded all Gregor's attention. With Kazia’s name on his lips, he walked home.
Kazia Czartoryscy peered through the throng of friends and patrons, catching one glimpse of Gregor Brannigan shouldering out the door. I have to see him again, somehow. Will he accept the mystical side of me? Believe in the Rodzanice? Stop thinking so far ahead. He's not yours yet.
A few hours passed before she could break free of her American friends and call for a ride. Kazia ignored the ratty barkeeper signaling her by waving a piece of paper, hauled open the oaken door, and stepped outside where her cab was idling.
Back in his penthouse and feeling forsaken, Gregor spent hours sifting through his emotional state and trying to clarify his patchwork impression of 'dime-a-boo-she.' Despite visiting ten Polish websites and translating them into English, his curiosity remained unresolved.
Three weeks after his chance meeting with Kazia, a freak ice storm hit and kept Gregor imprisoned while he dealt with cancelled flights all across the country. On coffee breaks, his mind strayed to Kazia. Did she experience the same affinity? Two days passed, and she became a fairy tale he would never read. On the third day, as he poured through customer’s names on flight lists, fate intervened. Kazia’s plane was grounded in Boston.
Half-jogging, he huffed into his coworker’s office. “Matt, old buddy.”
“Oh, hell no, Gregor. I recognize that look. Forget it. No way am I taking on your problems.”
Gregor kicked the door shut with his shoe. “Not even for true love?”
“Love? You? This I gotta hear."
And so, Matt heard the story of Kazia Czartoryscy. “I wouldn't mind falling in love with her, myself,” Matt sighed.
“So—" Gregor asked, downing a soda in one gulp—“you’re saying yes, you’ll help?”
“Get outa here.”
Two hours later, Gregor Brannigan’s plane touched down in Logan Airport. He hustled through the harried jumble of humanity, elbowing his way over to a telephone. “Operator, please page a Miss Kazia Czartoryscy to the courtesy desk.” He paced the floor, counting the tiles, plopped in a convenient chair and found some chewed up bubblegum with his shoe. In the middle of scraping it off with his Visa card, someone called his name.
He would have recognized her sensuous voice anywhere. “Kazia!”
“Gregor? You came for me?”
“I can’t live without you.” he replied, exercising no caution, despite his acute awareness that Kazia was more than a pretty face.
During the six months of their engagement, Gregor thought time shrank and simultaneously vaulted. Too short for plumbing the depths of Kazia’s brain, and too long until she would be his.
"Gregor,” she said, lazy on the hotel bed in their honeymoon suite—“I should have told you something before you married me.”
Here it comes, he thought. Which one of us hurried the marriage along? “You’re dying of cancer. Carrying another man’s child?” She laughed, a noise so sensuous, he missed the undertones of her reply.
"I'm only a visitor to America, and at some point will have to return to my home.”
Some point sounded distanced and harmless, until ten months later she announced her pregnancy.
Kazia’s serene query and soft squeeze on Gregor's arm jerked him from his musings and back to quasi-reality. He turned his head from the spectacle and focused on her glacial blue eyes. Her name should be Crazy, not Kazia. "I thought Rodzanice were creatures of mythology?"
Kazia's laugh was valley-deep and sensual. "Myths are based upon real life, Gregor. Only the noble house of Czartoryscy is able to witness the event."
“Because that makes perfect sense.” The three mythical spirits of human Fate supposedly watched over her during the course of her pregnancy, but they’d never been visible.
“Sweet Gregor.” Kazia stretched on her toes and brushed his lips. Soothing, yet electrifying. “So steadfast in reality.”
His eyes darted to the first maiden and then back to his wife. “Why’s her lower lip camel-like?” He braced for rebuke, but Kazia was entranced.
“The first one holds the thread for weaving.” Dove-smooth fingers guided his head back to their son’s cradle and held him with surprising strength from one so fragile. “The second woman is weaving—“
—“the tapestry of Janek’s life.” He finished her sentence. The woman’s thumb was paddle-thick. From ‘doing her duty’ since life began, his wife compassionately, tenderly, explained, wanting him to believe. In this moment, he resented her serenity. Her royal command of him. Her insistence they travel to Poland. Dammit, Janek is my son. “Kazia, I’m taking my boy and returning to America.”
He elicited a gasp from her, and exalted in his authority, “Whatever is happening here, make them stop.” The ascension to manly-hood dominance was primitive. He flexed his shoulders, triumphant, having firmly, finally, put his foot down. Although it was dwarfed by the shovel-sized foot of the third woman peddling the spinner.
“Hush,” Kazia whispered. “Listen.”
So much for the manly-man. “What’re they mumbling to each other?” He asked more from incredulity than confusion. The folktale Kazia spun no longer stunned him.
“Janek’s destiny. The reason we traveled to Poland. To bring us closer to the old ways. Our family needs a male heir.”
Still, he resisted. “But they’re mystics. Women who foretell destinies that cannot be altered. How do we know Janek’s destiny is to continue your family line?”
At that remark, Kazia’s eyes became pools. “We don’t,” she whispered.
A vibration in the air, one that tingled all the way to his bone marrow, brought his gaze back to Janek’s cradle. The Rodzanice had vanished.
He flinched. How had she magically slipped away to return with Janek curled in her arms?
"Janek is a gift born from our love, and nothing else matters. He’ll be who he will be. The fates have decided for us. He is ours to treasure without worrying if we’re good or bad parents. If our decisions are sound, or have we misled him.” Kazia settled into the crook of his shoulder. “Take him. He is your son.”
He was nothing more than blanket and a tiny nose, but Janek, so real in this suspended reality, terrified him.
“He’s not made of glass.” Kazia gave him no choice, shifting her body until his arms coddled Janek in a first father’s awkward embrace.
The sun struck the stained-glass windows of the chapel, casting rainbows around the dim room. Gregor thrust his chin up and squared his shoulders. “I don't like what happened here, but I love Janek and you.” He raised his eyebrows. “What now?”
“Gregor, no other man in the world would have entertained his wife’s whims. You've given me more than I ever expected. Let’s go back home.”
One thing he learned from Kazia, nothing was absolute. “Where is home, now?” Would she want to stay in Zalipie? The city where her great-grandmother's famous painted house stood vacant?
Her handbag lay carelessly on a bench. Wordlessly, she rifled through it, concentrating and concerned.
Janek whimpered and Gregor kissed the baby's forehead. "Kazia, what does dime-a-boo-she' mean?"
She looked up with her shy half-smile. "'daj buzi'" means 'kiss me.'"
"What?" A tiny baby burst came from Janek, as if he felt the shock gripping Gregor. "Our meeting each other at The Black Horse Tavern was no coincidence, was it?"
“My sweet, silly Gregor." Kazia fanned the contents of an envelope in his face. "Look what I found in my handbag."
The embossed logo of Highland Aircraft jumped out at him. "Tickets back to America? How? When did you buy them?"
"I bought them online from your website the morning after we met."
Unsure and unsettled, wanting to find some agreement between mysticism and reality, Gregor spoke to his son. "Janek, your mom showed me a world I never believed existed. And I let you be part of that world. I'll never have two feet grounded in reality, ever again."
"Are you frightened by what you witnessed?" Kazia's voice broke and she gulped to stop the tears from falling. "Sorry we ever met?"
Gregor's smile lit the room and he reached for his wife. "Dime-a-boo-she."
With the baby cushioned between their bodies, Kazia kissed Gregor, and the moment stretched into eternity.
Written for "The Lair - CLOSED"
While researching for this story, I came across the famous painted houses in Poland. I found a way to work it into the story and added the image. Here's the link:
The Slavic Rodzanice has subtle differences from the Moirai myth.