Note-Sorry it's taken so long for me to update anything. Playing Patience is taking a very long time for me to hit my max page deadline, the plot bunnies are invading my room and I'm too preoccupied with Democracy and World War One at the moment to write anything fictional. So here's a oneshot that took a week to write!
"Run, Moritz, run! What are you doing? Keep running, you silly – no, don't stop! No! Run! She's right behind you, Moritz, run, run! Oh…"
Ilse lowered her sword and sighed wearily as Wendla leapt onto Moritz's back and threw her arms around his skinny neck with a sinister cry. Moritz yelped, and fell face forwards into a pile of burnt autumn leaves, the girl on his back falling off his back and landing on her back next to him. The small boy lifted his head from the ground, and looked around him, completely dazed. Wendla took one look at him and burst into peals of bell-like giggles. A little way away, Melchior folded his arms, his face split with an amused grin. Ilse groaned quietly to herself.
"Oh, Moritz, look at your face!" Wendla shrieked. "You've got mud all over!"
Moritz lifted himself up, and sat heavily down. He lifted a tentative hand to his face, and stroked at his cheek with his delicate fingertips. A clump of thick brown dirt fell off, showing the naked pink skin underneath. He inspected the mud on his fingers, and then began to laugh himself, his small body racking with mirth. Wendla leapt on her friend and threw her arms around his neck again, squeezing him to her in a hug. Moritz flushed as Melchior burst out laughing, and squirmed away, a huge crooked smile adorning his lips and stretching at his cheekbones. He stood up, and offered Wendla a hand, gently hauling her upwards. He wiped at his face again, more vigorously this time, and most of the earth fell away, leaving great mud-smears all over his cheeks.
"Come on!" Ilse cried out impatiently. The three stopped laughing, and looked at the girl. She was standing upright, glaring at them with the sort of pouty frown that only eleven-year-olds can manage, her arms folded in annoyance.
"Calm down, Ilse…" Melchior said quietly. "We've still got plenty of time"
"We have to start all over again now" Ilse whined, flicking her orange hair out of her face. "You're so slow, Moritz. In real life you'd be a rubbish pirate!"
Moritz's face burned in shame, and Wendla slipped her hand into his.
"Don't say that, Ilse" she said softly. "It doesn't matter, anyway. It's only a game"
Melchior nodded, and Ilse silently fumed. Wendla may be her best friend, but she was always such a goody-two-shoes: never lost her temper or got annoyed with anyone, always the peacekeeper, always careful never to get mud on her frocks or to stain any of her shoes, always said the right things. It was quite infuriating, sometimes.
"Fine" she huffed. "We'll start again. Everyone back to their base"
She kicked up a clump of crisp foliage, and, ignoring the shared looks of concern and exasperation between her friends, stomped over to the oak tree, Moritz reluctantly shuffling to her side like a small, dishevelled pup. He looked up at her, nervous and slightly frightened, but she ignored him.
Over by his and Wendla's base, Melchior raised his left hand, and drew a cross over it with the index finger of his right. Ilse did the same. It was the signal that the "captains" had agreed on to show their readiness to begin. When they'd first started playing The Pirate Game, when they were about six, it had been an anything-goes sort of game, with imaginary comrades running around all over the place, a game where sea-goddesses and monsters could jump up at any minute and attack. As they got older, they'd drawn up a treaty of sorts (which was really a bit of paper with a badly-written list of rules drawn on it in thick pencil lines), which stated that imaginary things could only be called up in agreement. After a while, the imagination got less, and the rules more, with requirements of courtesy and status becoming top priority. Now they were eleven (although Melchior was almost twelve) the game was all about strategy, completely different to the one Ilse had invented to pass the time one summer day. She knew now that in the Game, and in life, strategy was everything, unless you were determined to surrender everything in loss.
"Go!" Melchior shouted, and he and Wendla started talking in hushed whispers. Ilse turned frantically to Moritz, and began speaking in a wild murmur, occasionally looking to her left to make sure they weren't being spied on.
"Ok, new plan, since we can't use our old one anymore" she relayed to her wide-eyed companion breathlessly, with a pointed glare. "We need to get back to our secret base. We've still got the treasure there, yes?" Moritz quickly nodded. "Good. They'll be expecting me to have it, because I'm the captain, but I won't. You will. We'll stage an attack now, and I'll pretend to kidnap Wendla, and take her to a different, false secret base by the river. Melchior will follow us: you know what he's like, so I'll abandon Wendla and come and find you while he looks for her. They'll be looking around for our treasure, but meanwhile, you go back to the real secret base, and find the real treasure. Hide it on you somewhere, and come back here to base. I'll meet you, and then we can find where their treasure is so get both treasures so we can win!"
Moritz slowly nodded, and shuffled his feet.
"All good? Don't let Wendy get you this time" Ilse muttered, and her friend flushed.
"Are you done yet, slowcoaches?" Melchior yelled. He was leaning arrogantly against the oak; arms folded smirking with a mocking pride. Wendla was swinging her body from side to side with a patient, angelic smile on her face.
"We are just going through the details of our foolproof plan, Gabor" Ilse taunted back, brandishing the wooden stick she'd whittled down into a sort-of sword. "Obviously your tactics are so basic they don't need to be discussed!"
"Can we just hurry up and get on?" Melchior said, and Ilse felt her cheeks burn scarlet.
"Salute, Captain Ilse"
"Salute, Captain Melchior"
The two saluted each other, accustomed to the polite rivalry of the formalities. For a moment, everything seemed still in the wood. Ilse turned to look at Moritz, who had braced himself for attack, as if frozen whilst running, and a look of determination plastered on his pale face. She adopted the same stance, and then…
"Charge!" she yelled, extending the vowels as long as they would stretch, and the two ran forward, strewing horrific war-cries in their wake. Ilse took her sword and slashed at the air in front of Wendla, whose playful grin completely opposed her own mask of seriousness. Wendla giggled, and waved her own stick, crossing it with that of her best friend, leaping and jumping with elegant, dance-like footwork. Suddenly, Ilse's hand darted forward, and grabbed her friend's shoulder, spinning her around and pulling her to her in one swift, sharp motion. Wendla cried out in surprise as Ilse wove a hand around her stomach and held her sword to her friend's neck.
"Yarr…" Ilse growled loudly in what she hoped was a sinister voice. "Nobody gets away from Captain Ilse and lives to tell the tale. Ye'll be coming back to my secret den, Fair Maiden, for ye's sacrifice to Neptune, aye!"
"Oh, you're so beastly!" Wendla cried, forgetting all pretences of piracy and bravado. "Melchi, help me!"
A little distance away, Ilse watched as Melchior lunged with his sword at Moritz's stomach, but missed as his comrade's scream distracted him. He looked over at the girls, and bared his teeth at Ilse, his opponent forgotten again.
"Dare ye kidnap me Fair Maiden, Cap'n Ilse?"
"Aye, I do, Cap'n Melchior" Ilse replied, watching as Moritz quietly scampered off in the direction of the den. Knowing all was going to plan, she focused her attention back on her enemy. Melchior raised his stick, and began to saunter confidently towards her. But suddenly there was a loud howl, and she looked in time to see her Cabin Boy stumble as he caught his ankle on a root, and stumbled. Her eyes flicked back to the sly, calculating grin on Melchior's face. And suddenly it wasn't just a game. She felt a chill of fear go through her. Melchior was going to kill Moritz.
"Moritz! Run!" she cried out, and she pushed Wendla away, ducking past Melchior and sprinting away towards to her friend. She reached out, and grabbed his wrist, dragging him to his feet.
"Get them!" Melchior snarled behind them. Ilse tugged on Moritz's arm again, and, shouting and cursing, ran off through the thick trees with her friend stumbling behind her.
"Ouch! Stop, Ilse! You're hurting me!" he protested, but with panic still etched into her face, Ilse kept running, ignoring his pleas. After a few minutes, the harsh cries of the others behind her faded into the trees, but still she kept running, pushing past branches and fens with urgency. And then she saw it, and relief flooded through her.
"Moritz…there it is…" she panted.
The Secret Den was really a makeshift tent, made with a sheet that Ilse had taken from the store cupboard at home, stained brown with rain and Earth. They'd slung it between a tree and a long pole, and laid some cushions around in the attempt to make it a little more homely, and had managed to make what they called Their Wigwam. Although it was only basic it was made to last, and had managed to withstand quite a lot, to the extent that the pillows were barely even dampened. Upon reaching it, Ilse collapsed sideways onto the mound of pillows, panting heavily, Moritz flopping down beside her. They lay there, side-by-side, for a few moments. Then Moritz sat up.
"Ilse…are you…alright…?" he said through shallow breaths. "What…was that all about…?"
"Sorry Moritz" the eleven-year old replied, sitting up again. "I thought…it's silly…I thought Melchior was going to kill you!"
"I know! But I saw his face, and he looked really horrid and I was…worried"
A small grin crept onto Moritz's face. "You were worried about me?"
"No!" Ilse protested indignantly.
"Yes you were!" Moritz teased, not without a trace of happiness seeping into his words.
"I was not! You're making it up! I just didn't want to loose again"
"Alright, Ilse. If you say so"
Ilse huffed, and looked down at her clothes. "Oh, no! Their all torn and dirty, look. Papa's going to absolutely kill me!" she wailed. Moritz frowned, and there was a long pause before he spoke.
"He isn't really, is he?"
"Going to kill you. He won't, will he?"
Ilse looked at her friend in amusement, and hit him playfully on the shoulder.
"Of course not. Honestly, you can be so stupid sometimes!"
She lay back down on the pillows with a weighty sigh. The wood was silent. Somewhere close by, a woodpecker hammered against a tree, and some small animal, a rabbit or a mouse, hurried on through the yellow fields of leaves.
"Do you like Wendla?"
Now it was Moritz's turn to be surprised. "W-what?"
"Wendla. Do you like her?"
Moritz furrowed his brows, and itched his arm as he pondered the answer, choosing his words carefully. "Well, yes. She's one of my best friends"
"She likes you"
"It's so obvious" Ilse muttered, her voice full of contempt. "She keeps on giggling and looking at you all funny"
"I can't say I'd noticed"
"Well of course you didn't. Boys are too dense to notice things like that. Do you like her? I bet you do. She's always so pretty and good" This last word she spat.
"Would you marry her?"
"No! I mean, she's alright" Moritz replied quickly, obviously in a hurry to change an awkward subject. "She's one of my best friends, after Melchior and you. I don't…I would never think of her like that"
Ilse seemed satisfied with the answer, and she didn't say any more, but rolled over away from him and started playing with a string of grass. The pair fell silent, and Moritz shifted uncomfortably, crossing and uncrossing his legs, trying to avoid staring at his friend. But after five minutes or so of silence, he gave up.
"Are you angry at me?"
"Why would I be?"
"I don't know. But…are you?"
"What about me?"
The question was so sudden that Moritz was completely taken by surprise. "Sorry?"
"You said you'd never think about Wendla in that way. What about me?"
Moritz's mouth dropped open. "I…what…I mean…"
"Oh, never mind. I'm sorry for asking. I'm just curious, that's all"
"Oh…" Moritz breathed a sigh of relief. "Right"
Silence descended on the children again. The light fell through the trees, casting a dappled shadow on the top of the sheet that seeped through onto them, flickering like candlelight. The sky above them was a rich, deep blue with barely a cloud in sight, the green wood echoing with silence.
"I'm sorry I dragged you out here, Moritz" Ilse said in a voice that was so quiet that the boy almost missed it.
"It's fine. I like being here. It's nice and peaceful. We haven't come here in a while"
"No. But then we haven't played Pirates in a while either"
"Yes, you're right. I suppose we haven't. It must have been…"
"It was last July. July twenty-second. That was the last time"
Moritz stared at Ilse, his mouth agape.
"How do you remember that?"
Ilse shrugged, and rested her arm over her eyes. "I just do. It was a good day"
"Yes, it was. We used to play all the time, didn't we? I remember; we always used to run back to your house after Sunday school. We don't play so much now"
"Well, you and Melchior go to school now, with the other boys" Ilse said. "You don't have time to play with the girls any more"
"That's not true!" Moritz defended. "I'd come and play every day if I could"
"But you can't. That's the point. It's all changing now, isn't it? You're going to grow up and be really clever and get a good job and get married and probably move to…Munich or somewhere, and I'll still be stuck here sewing tapestries. Even the Game's changed. Do you remember when we used to be able to do anything we wanted?"
"I miss that Game. I don't like this new one very much. It's too logical"
Ilse sat up. "Really?"
"Yes" Moritz nodded. "It used to be more fun. And anyway, I don't want any of those things that you just said. I just want to play with you and Melchi and Wendy. None of it's ever going to happen anyway. And besides, you've never done a tapestry in your life!"
"I could do one if I wanted to!" Ilse replied hotly, and Moritz laughed.
"I bet you couldn't. You're too impatient"
"Oh, all right…"
Ilse grinned, and then a faint voice cut through the cold autumn air.
"Ilse! Moritz! Where are you?"
Moritz's eyes widened, and clasped his hands to his mouth.
"Oh no! We forgot about them! How long do you reckon they've been looking?"
"Do you promise that it won't change too much? Promise me you won't leave"
Moritz was slightly taken aback, but he nodded nonetheless. "I promise"
"And do you promise me we can still play together, even when you're busy?"
"Of course I do, Ilse!"
Ilse smiled, and then she leaned over, and kissed Moritz on the mouth. Her lips were sweet and salty, sticky and rough, and Moritz's eyes widened as the blood rushed to his face. Then she pulled away, looked at him once through her large green eyes, and then burst out laughing with thick, bubbling giggles.
"You look like a strawberry!" she grinned, and stood up. "Come on, let's go. They'll be wondering where we are"
She extended her hand, and hoisted her speechless friend to his feet. And then she walked off, her carrot-orange hair swishing behind her, hand-in-hand with her best friend.