Red Silk and the Wolf: A Futuristic Fairytale
Set after the series and before the "Serenity" BDM. At the Training House, Inara tells her girls a bedtime story that may have a moral – and may be based on her own experiences.
The girls were whispering when Inara swept into the room.
"What's wrong little ones?" she asked.
Alesandre pointed an accusing finger at Therese. "She told us a terrible story about a girl who was walking in the woods and then a wolf came along and ate her!"
Inara tipped her head. "Therese?"
The proud young girl nodded.
"That's the story I was told. You must be wary and not wander from your true path and should not trust any man."
Inara had high hopes for Therese but the girl had a stubborn streak she was quick to display that needed to be worked on. Therese still had little concept of "shades of grey".
"But when my mother told me the story the girl ran away," Mai Ling said. "And the wolf ate her grandmother but then a brave woodcutter came and chopped off the wolf's head!"
The girls began arguing over their personal version of the story. Inara clapped her hands for silence.
"All right. Settle down. I will tell you the story as a Companion knows it."
The girls quietened down and got themselves comfortable on the floor cushions, listening as Inara began her tale.
Once there was a companion who loved to wear red silk robes. She had a red cloak to that fell to her ankles and it had a voluptuous hood that covered her elegantly styled hair to protect it from the elements. Her given name was one fairly common and she was sometimes confused with another Companion and to tell them apart, she was given the affectionate nickname of Red Silk.
Now one day Red Silk was engaged by a client who lived deep in the woods. She had to leave her shuttle at the edge of the forest and walk to the client's house.
The path ahead was blocked by a fallen tree. Red Silk was not happy at this. The rain that had loosened the tree roots had made the ground muddy and she didn't want to get her silken slippers dirty.
"What's the matter, darling?"
Red Silk turned to find a man leaning against a tree, watching her. She straightened her posture, prepared to defend herself with her martial arts skills if need be.
"The path is blocked. I will have to find a way around," Red Silk said.
The man nodded. "Or I could help you over the tree. The path's probably clear up ahead."
"It's a very big tree," Red Silk doubtfully. "With lots of branches sticking out. They would tear my clothes. And I'm very fond of these clothes."
The man laughed. "Are you mocking my outfit?" He was wearing tight pants and a tight red shirt, with long boots on his feet and a brown overcoat that hung down to his knees. "This is the outfit befitting a pirate."
"A pirate," Red Silk said with disdain. "What are you doing in the woods, Mr –"
"My name is Wolf," the pirate said.
"They call me Red Silk," replied the Companion.
Wolf bowed. "Pleasure to meet you, Red Silk."
"So, Wolf, what is a pirate doing in the woods?"
"Business. Mr Winger has something I'm to transport."
Red Silk's eyebrows lifted in surprise. "I am going to see Mr Winger."
"Then we ought to stick to together," Wolf said. "That only makes sense."
Red Silk wasn't sure how it made sense, but she didn't say so.
"There's a dry patch on this rocky ground," Wolf said. "I'll go and explore, see where it leads. Wait here."
Red Silk waited while Wolf darted off into the woods. It was all very well for him to get his pirate boots covered in mud but it would never do for a Companion to show up dirty to an engagement.
After a few minutes Wolf returned, grinning.
"I've found a way around. It's rocky here and then there's a big puddle, but I can lift you over it. And after that, there's some drier ground that leads back to the path behind the fallen tree."
Red Silk hesitated but she had little choice, especially since she was already almost late for her appointment.
"Very well. Lead the way, Wolf."
She followed him carefully, making sure not to tread in the mud and staying on the stones and pebbles that were clean but a little slippery. When they came to the puddle she took a sharp breath. It was more like a pond than a puddle. Wolf turned, arms outstretched.
"Front or back?"
"You can wrap yourself around my front, a little awkward, maybe. Or you can go piggyback, with your arms around my neck. Or you can let me hold you so that your own arms are looped around my neck and your legs are over one of my arms. Like you might hold a child." Wolf demonstrated, rocking his arms backwards and forwards.
Red Silk considered. Her dress was quite tight and it would be difficult to climb onto his back and stretch her knees around.
"Carry me in your arms," she said reluctantly.
Wolf gathered her up and she wrapped her arms around his neck. He was strong, she thought as he held her easily to his chest. His scent was musky, overlaid with the fresh scent of the pine from the woods. Not at all unpleasant. Even his hands weren't as rough as she'd expected.
"Not far," Wolf assured her as he moved slowly through the water. It only covered the very feet of his boots and they'd soon dry.
At last they reached the drier section of the trail and he let her down gently.
"Thank you," she said sincerely.
"My pleasure," he said, with a bow. "Can I ask you something?"
"Are you a Companion?"
Red Silk nodded. "Yes."
Wolf shook his head.
"You don't approve of my profession?" Red Silk asked.
"I think Winger doesn't deserve a woman of such beauty and grace even if he is paying for her company," Wolf said. "I've heard rumours about how he treats women in general. If there's truth to them, it might explain why he has to hire a female to spend any time with him. All of the local women have gotten wise."
Red Silk looked down her nose at him. "I shall be the judge of Winger's suitability to be a client," she said haughtily. What could a pirate know of elegance and sophistication anyway?
"As you say," Wolf said. "This way."
Once back on the path, they soon found their way to the gates of Winger's house. A servant met them at the gate and took them inside to meet Winger.
"I was becoming concerned," Winger said. He was a tall, well-dressed man, with a very expensive ring on one finger. "The storm delayed you? No mind, you're both here now. I had rather hoped to have concluded our business, Mr Wolf, before my dinner guest arrived."
"Perhaps we should all take dinner," Red Silk said. "I will give you an extra few hours, gratis, Mr Winger. Mr Wolf was of some assistance in my reaching you at all and I feel he deserves some show of gratitude."
Dinner was a somewhat strained affair.
"Well I'll take receipt of the package and be on my way," Wolf said, crumpling up a napkin and throwing it onto the table. "Leave you good folks to it."
Winger nodded and gestured to his manservant.
"Thank you for a lovely meal," Wolf said. "Especially one with such delightful company." He looked at Red Silk as he said this and lifted his glass to her.
Winger's face turned thunderous. "A pirate like you could never hope to possess a woman like her," he said.
Wolf shrugged. "Never said I could."
"Possess?" Red Silk asked icily. "Mr Winger, you hired me, you do not own me."
He flicked one hand at her dismissively. "A slip of the tongue, woman."
Red Silk got to her feet, as did Wolf. The manservant returned to the room and put a small box onto the table, bowing as he did so.
"You ought to be a little more respectful," Wolf said.
Winger tapped the box. "You ought to know your place, pirate, if you want this cargo."
"Seems you're the one needing our services," Wolf returned. "So it might be in your interests to not be a jackass."
Red Silk hid her smile at this remark. Wolf was right, though, and Winger had no right to treat guests in this manner. Winger strode around the table and grabbed hold of Red Silk's wrist.
"Wipe the smile off your face, whore," he said. "Or I'll report you to the Guild."
"Unhand me," Red Silk ordered. Wolf stepped in and shoved Winger so that he stumbled.
"How dare you! I demand satisfaction!" Winger shouted. "We will duel to the death."
"To the what"? Wolf asked, suddenly aware of the trouble he was in.
"By the laws of this planet, you are in my home and have assaulted me. We will duel at dawn." Winger stalked out of the room.
"He's locked the whole house down," Red Silk said. "I heard the electronic locks slide into place when we entered. We can't escape."
Wolf put one hand on her shoulder. "Then I'll have to win the duel."
She shook her head. "You are a foolish man. You should have allowed me to handle him. Words might have prevented this violence."
"I'm more of a doer than talker."
"So I see." Red Silk sat, head in her hands. "I should never have come here."
The manservant showed them to their rooms and Red Silk slept tried her best to sleep, without success.
The air was chilly and mist clung to the damp grass the next morning. Winger and Wolf took up their positions and each took up a pistol. Red Silk watched, clutching her purse with one hand while the other kept her cloak pulled closed.
"Three paces, turn and fire," the manservant said. "One. Two."
On two, Winger turned.
"Wolf," Red Silk screamed.
Wolf threw himself to one side, not quite enough for the bullet to miss him entirely. Red Silk ran over to him, hoping Winger wouldn't dare to shoot at her.
"You cheat," she yelled, crouching at Wolf's side.
"I was merely a little overeager and fired too soon," Winger said.
"No wonder he needs to hire a woman," Wolf muttered. He put one hand to his side and it came away bloody.
Red Silk glared at Winger. "Enough of this madness," she said, getting to her feet. She strode over to him. "You are a handsome man, with big eyes and broad shoulders, but Winger, your ego is so big it would crush anyone who stayed with you for long. But you paid for my services and yet you've tasted none of them. So let me fulfil my part of the bargain."
Red Silk kissed Winger. He smiled, stumbled sideways, then fell to the floor in a crumpled heap.
"That's quite a kiss you have there," Wolf said, wincing as he stood.
"I'm not proud of it," Red Silk said, "but a drugged lip gloss can be useful on occasion."
The elderly manservant held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. With his cooperation Red Silk and Wolf left the mansion before Winger recovered – Wolf even taking the promised package.
"Are you sure you're all right?" Red Silk asked. She was letting Wolf lean on her for support but she had the impression he was only doing so because he liked being so close to her. They'd found an easier trail leading from Winger's gates and were almost at the edge of the woods.
"I've had much worse. I've a medic on board my ship," he assured her.
"That was a very foolish thing you do."
"You mentioned that."
"And rather brave," she admitted.
He grinned. "I aim to please. So, Red Silk, how about coming with me? I could watch your back and you could watch mine."
"You're a pirate," Red Silk said. "It would be unthinkable."
"Not unthinkable. I'm thinking about it right now. Well, if you change your mind –" Wolf gestured. "My ship is just over here. Come on. One of my crew can make sure you get back to your shuttle okay."
Red Silk nodded. "Thank you."
They said their goodbyes and Red Silk made it safely back to her own shuttle. It had been quite an adventure.
"What happened to the client?" Mai-Ling asked.
"He was struck off the Companion register," Inara said. There was some ooh-ing and general approval at this suitable punishment.
"What about Wolf?" Therese asked. "What happened to him?"
Inara shrugged. "He went on as before, being both somewhat disrespectable and very helpful to damsels in distress."
"Stories are usually romantic. Did Wolf love Red Silk?" asked Alesandre.
"I'm not sure," Inara replied. "I'm not sure he knew that himself. He'd spent a long time being a pirate and that colours a person's thinking."
"Did Red Silk love Wolf?" Bianca asked. "She seemed to like him. She was worried when she thought he was badly hurt."
"Like is not the same as love, and love is a very serious business, not least for a Companion," Inara said. "Remember, we must watch our emotions at all times, not suppressing what we feel, but understanding our feelings and managing them appropriately."
When they'd run out of questions, Inara had one of her own.
"So," she said. "You all seemed to enjoy the story. What do you think the moral of the tale is, if any?"
Bianca raised her hand. "Be careful who you take on as a client. Always do a background check."
There was a murmur of agreement from the girls and Inara nodded her approval.
"Don't judge people based solely on their appearance," Mai Ling put in. "The well dressed client was evil and the scruffy pirate wasn't."
Inara again nodded and smiled. "Very good, both of you. Anything else?"
The girls whispered for a while. Inara stood and lit some incense, putting in the special holder by the miniature Zen garden in one corner of the room.
"It's all right to need help sometimes," Alesandre suggested.
"Always keep your transport close by," said Therese.
"Trust your instincts," Erin said.
Inara sat back down, gathering her silk skirts around her.
"I'm pleased you're all seeing something different in the story," she said. "And you're all right. There is, however, one more thing."
There was a loud crack, a small explosion that sent a plume of smoke into the air. Several of the girls screamed. Bianca clutched at Mai Ling.
"There, there, it's fine," Inara said firmly, her calm tone overriding their panic. "I was just making a point."
She glanced over her shoulder at the explosive incense stick, now blackened and broken in half.
"Remember the drugged lipstick? Always be prepared," she said with a smile.
The girls relaxed and began chattering, discussing all the sorts of hidden weaponry that could be used to their advantage from hairpin daggers to actual stiletto-heeled shoes. At last Inara clapped her hands.
"All right. Ready yourselves for bed," she said. "We're going to greet the dawn tomorrow morning with a special ceremony and I want you all rested."
There was, she thought, watching the girls busy themselves with finding out nightwear or heading off to the bathrooms, one more moral, one they couldn't have guessed.
"You can never escape your past," she said softly, thinking of Mal. "Especially when it's written so deeply on your heart."