Sir Ruffsalot

Words filtered into his consciousness, muffled and distant, but there just the same. Two old women were arguing in languages he did not understand, and he wasn’t sure even they knew what the other was saying – only that they were angry and emphatic. Small fingers could be felt, warm against his ear as the women continued to bicker. As they worked their way along his ear, the sounds became sharper, more clear. The touch soothed him in a way he could not explain.
Something shattered against a wall.
The women fell silent, and the fingers paused. “Omo,” a young voice said from above him. The voice etched a place upon his very soul, calling him. “Please don’t throw plates. It’s rude.” The gentle chiding was repeated in another language, and one of the old women huffed angrily as the other chortled. “Abuela,” the child continued. “Please stop picking fights with Omo. It’s rude.” Those words, too, were repeated in yet a different language. More huffing, but no chortling followed.
The moments ticked by, and he became aware of more and more things. The ticking of a clock upon a wall. The soft clicking of metal upon metal. A soft, humming song from one of the old women. The tapping of a padded foot in time from the other. The occasional click of a tongue.
A blurry face formed overhead, and it took him a moment to focus upon the child’s features as she beamed proudly down at him. “There you are,” she breathed, her smile brighter than the sun.
She was beautiful.
She couldn’t have been more than four, maybe five years old with dusky features framed by wavy black hair. Her eyes seemed a contradiction – a pale blue that seemed so much brighter set against the darkness. Her smile was wide, showing gaps in her teeth. “Omo! Abuela!” She hefted him in her hands, turning him to face the old crones. “Isn’t he beautiful?” They paused in their sewing – one with salt and pepper hair, the other silver – and they both beamed with pride as she repeated the exclamation in their individual tongues.
His princess.
One of the women asked a question, and he was turned about once more as the little girl studied him, her brow pinched thoughtfully. “Sir Ruffsalot,” she answered with a firm nod, her tone as serious as the set to her features.
Sir Ruffsalot.
His heart swelled.

*****

The first day of kindergarten was pure hell, and if Sir Ruffsalot had teeth, he would be grinding them.
It had only been a few short months since Dianthe had brought him into the world, but he couldn’t bear to be part from her for that long. In that time, whenever they went out, she would carry him so he could observe the world, and whenever they sat, she would often give him his own seat though occasionally he would sit in her lap, resting within the protection of her arms.
But here, she was asked to leave him in her bag.
Those impossibly blue eyes had welled with tears, and something deep inside twisted. He listened to the class from his corner, so very, very bored. Colors and songs? Alphabet and numbers?
By the time recess came around, he wanted to scream.
Dianthe gingerly withdrew him from her bag, cupping him to her chest as she ran out to the playground. Standing there, she stared with wide eyes. “The trees,” he whispered in her ear. “To your right.” She turned, head tilting so that the strands of her hair tickled his nose.
She took off at a full run in that direction, and he can feel her cheek swelling with a smile. She paused once there, staring up into the branches. “This is better,” she agreed.
“School is boring,” he grumped. “And they said your name wrong. Diane? What kind of name is Diane?”
She held him before her, giving him one of her lopsided smiles. “It is boring. But we can play together every day after lunch.”
“Can’t they teach anything interesting? Even math!” The disdain was clear in his voice.
“I think the counting is math.”
“No, it’s not.”
She smiled and kissed the tip of his snout. “I know,” she agreed. “But we can look at Mama’s books when we get home.”
He sighed, shaking his head. “You should ask about languages. Surely they’ll teach- behind you!”
She spun about just as two of the boys from her class crept into her little sanctuary with her. “My name is Dale and this is Rick. Wanna play?” one of the boys asked. “We have a ball.”
She frowned at both of them, hugging Sir Ruffsalot tightly to her chest as she took a step back. “I’m already playing,” she countered.
Rick smirked, but didn’t argue. “You sure?” Dale asked. “It seems scary back here. I don’t think we’re supposed to be in the trees.”
In the trees…
“I’ll be fine. Thanks, though, Dale.”
And yet the boy lingered. “You speak funny. I like it. It’s pretty.”
She only smiled – a tight lipped expression. “Thank you, Dale.”
And the boy turned to run after his friend.
Sir Ruffsalot was going to have to keep an eye on him…
But Dianthe was already staring up into the branches as the boys toddled away. “How high do you think we can climb?” she whispered.
“High enough to touch the sky…”
She tossed him into the branches as far as she could throw, and hiked her dress to follow.

*****

They waited until the lights had turned off, and silence had fallen throughout the house. Omo and Abuela had returned to their corners of the house, the bickering on hold until the morrow. Mother and Father had sipped their wine and conversed about the day in hushed tones. The moon was fat and heavy in the sky, shining down upon their backyard.
Sir Ruffsalot let the minutes tick by.
He could feel her body tremble with anticipation, the occasional giggle escaping. “Shh, shh,” he scolded gently. “Just a little longer…”
He returned to counting.
Only once he was certain that all was clear did he lightly tap her cheek lightly with his paw. The blankets were tossed aside with a squeal of joy, and she all but flung herself from the bed. Ragdolls, a couple of bunnies, three teddy bears, and an overstuffed pig all climbed out from their various hidey-holes. The table-lamp was clicked on by one of the ragdolls, and one of the bunnies tapped the ‘play’ button on the stereo.
The Beatles began to pump over the speakers, and all of Dianthe’s creations danced about her feet, spinning, leaping, and singing along as she did the same.

*****

Her arms weren’t as small as they once were, but she still held tight, and he felt her chin resting upon the top of his head.
They had been together for only a couple of years, and he could not imagine his life without her. There were others she had sewn, breathing life into each, but there was a hierarchy to such things, and they all answered to him when she was not around.
She swung her feet as they listened to the sermon. She had a grandmother on each side of her – the only way the two old batties would get along, even at Church.
At least it got them out of Sunday School, but he knew she found the service boring.
He, however, found it fascinating.
His furred paw moved on its own, clasping one of her hands to provide her some little comfort as the preacher prattled on. There was an occasional shift in language – Latin – and he gloried in his understanding of the words when he still had difficulty with Spanish and German both.
“I want to play,” she whispered against his ear.
His ear twitched, and he cuddled back into her stomach. “After,” he whispered back. “We’re getting to the good part. Listen.”
She sighed, loud enough for the adults to hear her this time. Dark scowls were sent her way, and he tightened his paw upon her hand.

*****

It had been three years, almost to the day, when he had first opened his eyes to gaze up into her big blue eyes. Now, those eyes were filled with tears.
Again.
She sat between her parents, her head down, shoulders hunched, hugging him to her chest. Her clothes were dirty, her hair mussed, and she had a busted lip. Her pain, her embarrassment, filled him with a barely controlled rage.
“Mr. and Mrs. Weber,” the teacher was saying as Dianthe clutched him to her chest. “I’ve been concerned with Diane-”
“Dianthe,” Mother corrected, a hand settling atop her daughter’s dark head. She was still in the scrubs from work, coming straight to the school when called.
The teacher’s features colored. “Dianthe,” she allowed. “She is clearly an intelligent girl, but she does not get along well with other students. She prefers-”
“I did not realize being an introvert was a ‘problem,'” Mother said, her chin lifting a notch. She was a Mediterranean beauty with dark hair, dark eyes, and dusky skin. It was a glimmer of what Dianthe would become, complete with the fire in her eyes.
“It’s not. Normally,” the teacher allowed. “But she prefers to play with her dolls rather than the other children, and there was a fight…”
“Two boys against one little girl,” Father’s voice rumbled like thunder, his blue eyes – Dianthe’s eyes – hard as he stared at the woman.
“She beat both of those boys severely,” the teacher pointed out.
“Because they attacked her,” he shot back, starting to rise from his seat. His pale features were flushed a deep red.
“But violence-”
Father arched a blonde brow high, his hand settling upon Dianthe’s far shoulder in a half-hug. “Do you know who I am?” he asked softly in his heavily accented voice.
“I’m… I’m sorry?”
“My husband,” Mother piped up. “He competes on an international level in fencing. Still. He opened a school ten years ago when he moved here, teaching the same. Our daughter has been fencing since she could walk.”
“It’s still not appropriate for a second grader…”
“Then perhaps we should be speaking to the parents of the two boys who thought it appropriate to gang up on a little girl?” Father growled.
The teacher shifted in her seat, lips pursing to a thin line, color creeping up into her cheeks. “That’s not appropriate…”
“Would it be more appropriate if we spoke with a media outlet?” Mother mused.
An hour later, the parents of the boys were in the office, and agreements were reached that the boys would be the ones suspended.
Dianthe remained silent throughout, picking at the top of his head.
His heart ached.

*****

They waited until the lights had turned off, and silence had fallen throughout the house. Omo and Abuela had returned to their corners of the house, the bickering on hold until the morrow. Mother and Father had sipped their wine and conversed about the day in hushed tones. The moon was fat and heavy in the sky, shining down upon their backyard.
Sir Ruffsalot let the minutes tick by, forcing himself to be patient.
The others knew to be quiet, to be still, to wait until he gave the all clear. Still, he counted, listening to Dianthe’s even breathing. He crawled his way up through the covers, poking his head over the edge. He patted her cheek gently, his patchwork paw dark against her skin. Another soft pat, and she rolled over other side with a groan, pulling the blanket up over her head.
He stared mournfully down at her, paw hovering over her head. He could feel the rest staring at him, waiting… waiting…
Waiting…
With a sad shake of his head, he settled once more upon the pillow, cuddling close to her back. He heard the sighs from about the room, and felt her body tremble with silent tears.

*****

“We are concerned about Dianthe.”
Fifth grade, and she sat in the back of the office, Sir Ruffsalot in her lap. He was worn and frayed, his backside had patches to keep his stuffing in place, but she still took him with her wherever she went.
“Again?” Mother was annoyed. No scrubs today – she was in a pantsuit with a white jacket thrown over it.
The counselor sighed, sitting back in her seat. “Your daughter is brilliant,” she said, taking of her glasses, but she’s a loner.”
“There’s nothing wrong-”
“I know, Mr. Weber,” the counselor interjected. Father frowned, but let the woman continue. “She doesn’t want to make friends other than her dolls. At this age…” the woman sighed, shaking her head. “Imaginary friends are all well and good, but at this age…” She trailed off, looking between Mother and Father. “Are there issues at home?”
“What?” Father exploded, Mother leaping to her feet with the same question.
“She’s showing symptoms of depression and Antisocial Personality Disorder,” the counselor continued, her tone even and calm. “And with having an imaginary friend for this long, it suggests that there may be more problems. If you are not aware of any issues, I would strongly recommend she begin seeing a psychologist, even do group therapy to help her learn to open up.”
Silence fell throughout the room, and Sir Ruffsalot felt tears fall upon his head.

*****

The meetings with the psychologist seemed to have been helping.
With some things.
Dianthe was starting to practice more and more at Father’s school, and was even preparing for her first tournament. She was sewing more, though now she was focusing on blouses and dresses rather than making new friends. Junior high had begun, and she was actually invited out to someone’s house for a birthday party.
Sir Ruffsalot was left at home as the weeks turned to months, but still, every night, they cuddled together and she whispered to him about her day.
But they didn’t dance as much anymore.
Tonight she sat in the middle of her room, staring blindly ahead. Everyone was crept forth – there were easily twenty of them by this point. Was tonight the night?
Sir Ruffsalot touched her elbow, and she jumped, turning to look down into his button-eyes. “Do we dance tonight?” he whispered.
Her hand smoothed back over his matted fur, and she shook her head sadly. “I think it is time for you to go to sleep,” she said softly.
“To talk about our day?” he asked, taking her hand in both of his paws, tugging at her lightly.
Shaking her head, tears crawled down her cheeks. “I have that party.”
“Oh…”
“I mean…” she trailed off, tilting her head back to stare up at the ceiling. Her fingertips brushed her tears away. “I mean all of you. I think… I think it’s time.”
Sir Ruffsalot could only stare at her, the hollow pit in his stomach threatening to swallow him. “You mean it’s time for you to grow up,” he said softly. “To put aside childish things…”
The tears were flowing openly, but she bobbed her head in affirmation. “I…” but her voice cracked.
He climbed into her lap, wrapping his arms about her neck, and she instantly buried her face into his furry body, arms nearly squeezing the stuffing from him. “I love you,” he assured her. “You will never be alone.” He pressed a kiss to her cheek. “We will always be here if you need us.”
“I love you, Sir Ruffsalot,” she said in a scant whisper. “I will never forget…”

*****

Darkness.
Silence.
He had been banished back to the nothingness from whence he came, but he longed again for the light and laughter. For the smiles of a little girl, and her whispered words promising adventure.
Of dances at every full moon.
A scream rocked him back into his body, and the light burned his button-eyes.
He found himself in a place he did not recognize, sitting upon a daybed. It was a studio apartment, small and neat, with old maps framed upon the walls along with the very stars themselves.
A dark-haired beauty was sprawled on the bed before him, a man over her. One of his hands was fast about her throat, pinning her to the bed, as his other tore at her clothes
But oh, she was fighting him!
“Shut. Up. You. Bitch.” The man hauled back, his free hand striking her across the face hard enough that, for a moment, she could only stare.
Pale blue eyes stared at Sir Ruffsalot, from a face that was…
Dianthe.
He pushed to his feet, and her eyes widened, but the man hadn’t noticed.
Gritting her teeth, she returned her attention to her assailant, one long leg curling up to her chest. She managed to get it between them just enough that she could push. A twist of her body, and she was out from beneath him, and on her feet a second later. Her eyes never left him as she reached for a practice kendo sword of bamboo from its place against the wall. She held it steady with both hands, not so much as a tremble as blood traced its way down her chin and cheek.
His heart swelled.
The main snarled, lunging at her with both hands out, using his sheer size to try to overwhelm, but there was no form to his movements, no grace.
And that was all she was.
A quick step to the side, and the bamboo cracked across his ribs beneath his outstretched arms. A spin, and she was behind him, smacking him again and sending the man stumbling forward.
That put her between the man and Sir Ruffsalot. His voice cracked as he tried to cheer.
The man charged again, and this time the sword smashed down upon his nose, and sent him sprawling to his back. A trembling hand lifted, wiping the blood from his chin. He could only stare, jaw agape. “You hit me!” His voice had hit an octave that likely had not been seen since he had hit puberty.
“Get out,” she spat, breathless. “Before I call the cops.”
The man should be more afraid that she wouldn’t call the cops.
It was amazing how quickly the man was on his feet and out the door. “Crazy bitch!” he bellowed behind him as fled into the night. Shivering, she followed, but only so far as the door to slam it closed and throw the bolt.
She stood there, his princess, his queen, staring blindly at the door. The shinai fell to the floor with a faint thud against the carpet.
Sir Ruffsalot hopped from the couch, his joints too loose as he wobbled to her side. One paw lifted, touching her bare calf. There was blood, so much blood.
Her blood.
She turned, staring down at him with that blank, fathomless expression. They stared at one another as the seconds ticked by.
He told himself to be patient…
Then he was in her arms, and she was sobbing into his chest.
Her blood, her tears, they made his heart break, and he wrapped his tiny arms about her as she crumbled to the floor. “It’s alright,” he soothed softly. “I’m here. I’m here.”

Leave a Reply

Name *
Email *
Website