Saturday, July 19, 2008

Chapter 11

XI


Fangline accepted Al’bert’s invitation, and looked forward to it, but something had changed within him since the day in the riding meadow and he began to feel pulled in two different directions.


Zedwig he had scarcely seen since then. Either the mage was subtly avoiding him, or Fangline was suddenly acutely aware of how little he actually ran into the Royal Chief Mage when left to circumstance. When they were in the same place at the same time, there was little more that occurred than brief eye contact, as if each was hesitant to allow adequate time, communication, or proximity to muddle their lives with anything more.


Instead of dwelling on it, Fangline prepared for the weekend’s travel, which took very little time, and practiced avoiding his aunt, who seemed to constantly want him to do something horribly boring. He really did dislike her. She was along the same vein as Sangwine and his father, which made Fangline the odd man out. He struggled with it, especially because he could remember a time when his mother lived and he belonged somewhere.


These days, most of what he did was avoid them all as much as possible.


The hour before his departure, Geeves knocked on his open door.


“Your Highness, something has been sent for you,” said the butler, handing him something wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.


“Thank you, Geeves,” he replied, and Geeves departed.


Opening it, he discovered it was a book: Advanced Theories on Destruction. Within was a small note, written in a tidy, pleasant hand.


Your Highness,


I took the liberty of assuming you might enjoy something to read on your trip.


Z


Fangline was delighted. It was like giving a man who loves shoes a cobblery or a man who loves food a buffet. He wanted to read it immediately, but time didn’t allow for it, so instead he set himself to wondering why his Aunt Ellinya couldn’t be so in tune with what he desired to learn to educate him like this? For all of his life, Fangline had always been told what to do. He’d never once been asked what he wanted to do. From the earliest he’d been told he’d be king; there was no alternative whether he wanted the job or not. What they wanted from him was to be an exact copy of his father, who was a copy of his father, and so on. Fangline wasn’t the sort who wanted to be anything but what he was. Zedwig offered him more than the mage realized. He gave him freedom, and for the first time the prince began to feel like an individual with purpose.


He wanted to scratch the entire trip and go find Zedwig most of all, but decided he should probably read the book first. To the Fromage estate it was.


The countryside was pleasant, and he passed it by on a gray and black horse that was one of his favorites. During the time it took to reach the fairly remote estate of Al’bert’s, he contemplated and surmised a theory on the strange anomaly of magic between himself and the chief mage, promising himself he’d bring it to Zedwig as soon as he returned home.


Riding to the front of the estate, Al’bert and Camilla were outside on the grass; both languidly busy with Al’bert throwing pebbles into the pond that mirrored their estate and a large chunk of blue sky. Camilla was wearing a light, airy thing that made her seem fresh and perfect for young summer and as he dismounted he was quite convinced the smile she wore was very genuine.


The greetings between friends were light and effortless; the world became sky and meadow and free will for the next hours that passed until dinnertime.


At the table, no expense was spared in impressing the prince with the fashionable nature of the Fromage estate. They ate, they talked, and very little of substance was taken in either mode.


Late that night, Al’bert came to find Fangline reading in his room.


“What is this? You’ve become bookish in my brief absence?” Al’bert asked, a grin upon his face, as Fangline looked somewhat startled at his friend’s entrance.


“A little,” conceded Fangline, leaning back in the comfortable chair he occupied. Al’bert, falling into an adjoining chair, inspected the cover of the book from behind.


Advanced Theories on Destruction,” said Al’bert. “Now it makes a lot more sense. Although, it’s awfully thick.”


“It’s easy reading,” said Fangline.


“Sure it is,” said Al’bert, leaning back his chair and propping his feet on a footstool. “From whence did you pick that up?”


“The Chief Mage,” he replied, nose still buried in book.


“Zedwig?” asked Al’bert, although there was no reason for Fangline to answer, since they both knew the answer to that, so he continued to read. “I didn’t even know the elven mages use destructive magic. At all.”


“They don’t,” replied Fangline.


“Actually, isn’t it sort of outlawed?” Al’bert said, in a meandering way.
“Magery isn’t my strong suit, but I could have sworn I’d heard that somewhere.”


“So is glamour,” replied Fangline dryly, glancing around the book at his friend.


“At least glamour is nearly impossible to prove,” said Al’bert, leaning back in his chair and not in the least disturbed by the lawlessness of his blood relatives. “Destructive magic, well, blows up things.”


“Does it ever,” grinned Fangline.


“What, you’ve seen it?” Al’bert asked, sitting up with interest.


“Just a little,” he replied, and he began to say something else, then stopped.


“What?” prodded Al’bert, who was very good at knowing when to press Fangline and when to leave him alone.


Fangline put the book on his lap, marking the place with a finger. He glanced sidelong at Al’bert.


“I talked Zedwig into trying it.”


“The Royal Chief Mage?” Al’bert exclaim-asked, then laughed. “Well, you don’t exactly beat around the bush, do you? How in the blazes did you manage to talk him into doing something that is entirely against everything our country stands for?”


“It shouldn’t be,” said Fangline in a somewhat brooding way.


“Well, it is,” said Al’bert. “Zedwig could be, no he would be discharged immediately for that, or maybe even thrown in the gaol! Or both!”


Al’bert thought about it for a moment.


“Well, at the least he’d be severely reprimanded,” he said plainly.


“What is the matter with our society that we are so obsessed with remaining peaceful that we fail to learn the most basic offensive abilities?”


“I wouldn’t say that,” said Al’bert. “We do learn sword mastery and that sort of thing.”


“Sure, to use for defensive purposes only,” said Fangline irritably.


Al’bert sighed back into his chair over his friend’s dark mood.


“Schloeffelonia is just what it is. It’s been run by the Schloeffels for thousands of years, and they are pacifists,” said Al’bert.


“Not all of us,” rejoined Fangline.


“I wonder if they’ll beat it into you eventually,” said Al’bert with a grin.


“They will not,” he replied.


“Then what will happen when you are king?” asked the Comte.


“Perhaps we should think in terms of if I become king,” said Fangline.


Al’bert turned a curious, if not slightly alarmed, eye on the prince.


“Do tell me what you are talking about,” he said.


Fangline glanced away to the window, dark and empty, and only showing the dim reflection of the two lamps within his room. He drew a breath.


“It’s always been obvious to me that Father favors Sangwine over me,” said the prince, bitterness in his voice. “It is Sangwine he wants to be the king. It is Sangwine who is just like him. It is Sangwine who does everything exactly how they should be done; like a Schloeffel… and not like me. I am not one of them.”


“Then you’ll rule in a different way,” said Al’bert. “All you have to do is bide your time.”


“It isn’t just that,” said Fangline restlessly. “It’s everything. I can hardly stand to live there anymore.”


Al’bert sighed.


“At times I simply wish for an end to the entire Schloeffel line,” Fangline said quietly. “A clean start. The old wiped entirely out of existence. Only then could it truly change.”


“What?” Al’bert asked, shocked by the concept. “You don’t honestly believe that?”


“I wonder sometimes,” he said. “I don’t think I could ever really be king, not with my aunt looking over my shoulder, or Sangwine ever-present, fretting over details. That wouldn’t be being king. That would be being a trained animal.”


“It sounds lousy when you put it that way,” said Al’bert. “But then again, you would be the most powerful man in the entire country. That isn’t all bad, is it?”


“I’m just not sure I want it on those terms.”


“Then what are you going to do?” asked Al’bert. “Relinquish the inheritance to Sangwine?”


“I don’t know,” said Fangline darkly, obviously disturbed by the idea of relinquishing anything to his brother.


There was a long moment in which each of them sat quietly in their own swirling reveries. Al’bert broke the silence first.


“Well,” he said, rising. “I’ll let you resume your studies, but remember we’re going hawking early.”


“Of course,” replied Fangline.


“And when you take over all of Schloeffelonia after murdering your family, make sure to call yourself ‘Overlord of Darkness’,” grinned Al’bert. “It’d just fit.”


Fangline chuckled as Al’bert left like a shadow.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Chapter 10

X


Al’bert was certain his father was an ambitious man. He was distant from his children for reasons Al’bert never really knew, nor did he analyze, but there was nonetheless a familial pride all Fromages shared, regardless of the quality of their relationship.

In the dining hall, the seating arrangement was always the same for dinner. They had a long, beautiful table, and at one end sat the Duchesse, cold and lovely, and at the other sat le Duc, distant, but mildly pleasant. In the center of the table, far from the parents, Al’bert and Camilla sat across from each other and did most of the talking on most nights.

This night they were discussing Prince Fangline and Camilla’s prospects. It seemed to Al’bert that his father was more or less delighted that Camilla had made such an impression on the prince, but when le Duc du Fromage looked pleased, it was very subtle.

The union of the Fromages with the royal family was practically the only thing left for the house to move up in the world. They’d long ago outstripped the other noble houses in rank and le Duc spent most of his time making sure they stayed at the top of that mount, so to speak. The politics of Schloeffelonia weren’t simple, but the Duc’s innate skills helped make the job far easier for their estate. The Duchesse, on the other hand, spent her time compulsively assuring that the estate itself was a thing to be envied for it’s beauty, fashion, and perfection.

The siblings were just in these recent years learning their prospective duties, but for Al’bert it simply came naturally, and had hit it off blithely with Fangline from childhood. Their friendship hadn’t been intentional, for it formed before anyone had thought of the political ramifications, but was only a happy consequence of chance and was as natural for each of them as if they’d been plebeian neighbors.

Fangline and Al’bert were opposites, and fully fulfilled the concept that opposites attract. It wouldn’t be a case of attraction, really, but more two halves making a whole. Somehow Al’bert brought Fangline a measure of rare happiness with his presence, and Al’bert felt comfortable with Fangline like a years’ worn winter coat.

Due to her being Al’bert’s sister, Camilla had from an early age filled the third wheel role with the friends. Fangline seemed to like her more than most women, even though he’d teased her when she was young, and referred to her as “silly” now, because on occasion he would perform some type of vague subtlety that would prove to Al’bert that the prince considered Camilla an integral, if small, part of his world.

He sat tonight, over bisque, and relished the fact that he was entirely right to council Camilla on the matter of correspondence with Fangline.

“You should invite Prince Fangline to the estate this weekend, Al’bert,” his mother was saying.

“I would, if there were anything to do,” he said.

“What is it you do at the castle?” she asked him, seeming slightly offended Al’bert wasn’t thrilled with the entertainment her estate provided for him.

Al’bert glanced down into his bisque, considering how exactly to break it to his mother that there was always something interesting happening at the castle, and the Fromage estate, for all its beauty, was remote, desolate, and bereft of the warmth of life. He didn’t have to think for long, because his father spoke.

“Hawking,” he said. “Bring in a hawker,” he told the Duchesse, in a final sort of way.

She glanced at him and nodded her head lightly.

Al’bert shared a grin with his sister across the narrow table.

“I’ll send a letter first thing in the morning,” said Al’bert, and the matter was complete.

After dinner, Al’bert and Camilla walked through the hallway in an aimless, wandering manner. They had nowhere to go, but conversation to pursue.

“Why won’t you let me read it?” he asked her, referring to the last letter she received from Fangline, which he’d caught her reading and noted it was several pages long. Not only was it singular for Fangline to be writing so much, but also for his sister to keep anything from him made him almost alarmed and definitely wildly curious. Since then, he’d prodded her nearly incessantly over it.

“I told you I promised, Al’bert,” she whined. “We have to have secrets, right?”

“Yes, but only the kind of secrets I don’t care to know,” said Al’bert, grinning at her. He enjoyed teasing her like this, and although he was curious, half the fun for him was figuring out what it would take to goad her into letting him read it.

“Well,” she said, raising her chin and feigning superiority. “You’re just going to have to live with it.”

With that she began to stride off in the direction of her rooms.

Al’bert wanted to laugh and murder Camilla at the same time; so instead, he stole her away to his room and tickled her until she screamed for mercy.

Afterwards, as he sat lounging in a chair and halfheartedly brooding since she still hadn’t told him a thing, she lay sidelong across with width of his bed, thoughtful, with her hair strewn over the side. It nearly touched the floor, but didn’t, and instead teased it with its proximity. They spent some time in silence, being perfectly comfortable with it between them, but eventually Camilla’s voice broke the void.

“He’s not a very good kisser,” she ruminated.

Al’bert laughed, finding himself overwhelmed by this revelation.

“I’m… sorry?” he offered, still affected by the absurd hilarity of the moment.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe it was just bad luck that one time.”

“Maybe…,” replied Al’bert, fully aware that it generally didn’t work that way. A person was either good with kissing or bad; there would be no switching sides in the middle. “I do have to say, though, it makes an odd sort of sense.”

“Well, I thought with all of his sulking and brooding that he’d be better,” she said. “You know, the passionate, tortured soul and so on.”

“Maybe, well,” began Al’bert, choosing his words carefully. “Maybe you’ve got to get his heart into it.”

Camilla replied to this with a longsuffering, languid sigh.

“It is my experience with Fangline that he can be extremely good at anything he wants,” said Al’bert.

“You know,” Camilla said, thinking. “I wonder if that was his first kiss? Ever?”

“Probably,” said Al’bert.

“How can the two of you be so incredibly different?” she asked him.

“He’s…” began Al’bert, but he trailed off thoughtfully. “Fangline just hasn’t ever shown much interest in that sort of thing. I don’t know why. He likes things like weapons and chance and power.”

“So do you,” said Camilla. “And you use them, too, in this particular category, no less.”

“Then I’ve no answers for you,” said Al’bert. “But you have some for me, don’t you? In the form of a letter. A letter you won’t let me read.”

He paused for drama.

“Because you’re cruel.”

Camilla laughed.

“Oh, Al’bert,” she said to him with a smile. “Don’t be jealous; it doesn’t become you.”

Friday, July 11, 2008

Chapter 9

IX



Out of doors in the riding meadow was where Zedwig liked to think when he grew tired of being inside the library. It was especially in May, when the weather is pleasant and only slightly hot, that he could be found deep in thought, walking in a meandering way, with a small notebook tied dangling from a light chain around his waist.


The path was painted with unusually vivid colors today for Zedwig, and the afternoon sunshine was yellow as it filtered through the trees onto the ground. He’d only just finished with his classes: not for his education, but for the education of the other royal mages. There were at least twenty of them, all fairly eager if not quite as talented as Zedwig. Zedwig had surpassed what any mentor could teach him in Schloeffelonia, so he was left to either do his own research, study abroad, or stop his education altogether.


The last was an impossibility, since Zedwig was the sort of person who thrives on continuing to learn, and would be miserable otherwise. Studying abroad was questionable because he wasn’t even sure there was anyone who could mentor him, aside from a few odd figures, such as Teitnl the Illusionist who probably wouldn’t teach him anything anyway since he was known to be incredibly hermitous and spiteful. That only left the option of doing his own research, which he did, and he mostly studied from ancient literature to discover the meaning and depth of the world of reason combined with the world of magic. To Zedwig, they were one and the same.


Today, though, Zedwig was pondering something that he found vaguely disturbing, and that was his recent experiences with Prince Fangline.


He knew that he’d never shown any sort of ability in the realm of telepathy, and it didn’t really seem to be telepathy exactly to Zedwig, but it was more in the way some of the smallest creatures he’d observed sense and communicate with each other; without words, without seeing, without touching. Somehow they simply know, and that was what it was like with Fangline. He could tell that during the last time Fangline had nearly reared up in anger against Zedwig for what was happening, but there wasn’t anything the mage could do about it. As far as he knew, it was as much the prince’s fault as it was his. Of course, should the prince decide to be furious about it and proclaim it Zedwig’s fault, there wasn’t anything the mage could do about that, either.


He decided to worry about that bridge when it came time to cross it, and instead try to analyze what exactly “it” was in the first place. His notebook at his side was hardly written in at all, because Zedwig had failed to come up with any proper analysis except for that it reminded him of the way ants communicate. That didn’t really help, because he couldn’t ask an ant what it was like to be an ant talking to another ant. He was currently reading a tome on telepathy, which was extraordinarily thick and he hoped would give him some sort of insight, but was taking far too long to get through.


While he was considering all of this, he heard the prince’s voice from behind.


Zedwig?” was what he said.


Zedwig turned, and saw Fangline standing on the path about five feet away. His attire was spartan yet extraordinarily stylish, as if he didn’t care and it happened all by accident. His sandy blonde hair was pulled back, but pieces of it were claimed from his queue by the nature of the outdoors, or the wind, and his skin was nearly as fair as his hair. It made the unusually vivid green of his eyes all the more disarming.


He noted that Fangline looked unusually cautious today, or perhaps he sensed it, but he hoped very intensely that it was the former.


“Prince Fangline, hello,” said Zedwig, being hesitant himself. Fangline drew a breath to speak.


"I finished it,” he said, showing the book to Zedwig and then handing it over. The mage took the book with some surprise.


“Already?” asked Zedwig, and then he found himself forgetting the insecurities of their “problem” as the role of mentor took over his thoughts. “Were you able to grasp much of it?”


“Yes,” he said, “I found it fascinating, if that doesn’t sound too contrived.”


Zedwig grinned.


“Well, I suppose the realm of destructive magic isn’t altogether boring, to put it lightly,” said Zedwig.


“Lightly, yes,” said the prince.


“But wouldn’t that be the case with any dangerous subject?” asked Zedwig rhetorically.


“I want to try it,” Fangline said abruptly, which caused Zedwig to be entirely taken aback.


“Your Highness, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said.


“Why not?”


“Because of the reasons I’ve already told you in the library,” he said. “It’s destructive to not only what you cast at, but to you as well.”


“I’m not really so sure about that,” said Fangline dubiously.


“Wasn’t that covered in this book?” he asked the prince.


“Yes,” said Fangline. “And it was very vague. You would think it would be more well documented. Who knows if it’s only to scare those who aren’t skilled enough to be using that sort of power into not using it? Have you ever known anyone to use it?”


“Well,” considered Zedwig. “No.”


Fangline let that point lilt in the air for a long moment. It was Zedwig who broke the silence at last.


“Regardless,” he told the prince. “You shouldn’t be trying anything of the sort with no experience in magic at all. It’s a reckless and practically insane idea. Ah… no offense meant.”


Zedwig felt remarkably awkward for having defined Fangline’s idea as “insane”, but it was, so he couldn’t retract it.


“I suppose you’re right,” said Fangline. “This is really your sort of thing.”


“Yes, but-,”


“If anyone were to research this subject, it would have to be you,” continued Fangline, as Zedwig listened politely. “You’re the most talented mage to come along in a millennium, do you know that?”


“Yes, I’ve been told that, but I try not to listen.”


“Why not?” asked Fangline. “What have you against knowing what you are?”


Zedwig didn’t want to go into his theories on pride, and so he merely replied in this way: “I don’t know.”


Fangline chuckled wryly.


“If I had your power…” the prince said, trailing off with a gaze across the meadow at the treeline, which footed the mountains. Zedwig found it oddly humorous that the future king would envy anyone’s power.


“What would you do?” he asked. Fangline looked over at him and grinned.


“Well, for one thing, I’d find out what I could do with it.”


Zedwig looked down at the book in his hands. He supposed Fangline was right; if anyone were going to study this realm of magic, it would have to be him. It didn’t make him any less afraid of it, though the idea of researching an entirely untested wing of ability intrigued him. He decided to give Fangline a small concession.


“If I were to try,” he began cautiously, “which would you be most interested in?”


Fangline immediately seemed very excited about the prospect, so Zedwig cut him off.


“Because I’m only going to try it once, so you’d better choose wisely,” he told him quickly, as the prince took the book from his hands and turned to a page without much searching at all, then handed it back to Zedwig.


“The fireball?” he said, scanning the page.


“I thought it might be easiest for you, since your greatest talents lie with the elements,” said Fangline.


Zedwig read over the theory and it seemed somewhat backward to him, as it was the opposite of everything he’d ever tried to do with magic. However, it was possible, and he felt he could probably do it were he to try. Meanwhile, Fangline watched him expectantly.


“What… now?” Zedwig said, glancing over at Fangline.


Fangline grinned and took the book from Zedwig’s hands, to which the mage gazed up towards the sky in exasperation.


“Fine, just let me think for a moment.”


Zedwig paused.


“I sincerely hope this doesn’t kill me,” he said.


“So do I,” replied Fangline honestly.


Zedwig would have been a lot more hesitant if he truly thought there was a chance it could kill him. After studying the theory, he was mostly sure it wouldn’t have much effect on him at all. That’s what he hoped, anyway.


He drew a breath and closed his eyes. He tuned himself into the push and pull of life everywhere around him: growing, thriving, and dying in every direction. It was a force that glowed and pulsed in a way no eye can discern, but could only be felt, and Zedwig could feel it. It came from every blade of grass, every tree, and from the air. Most especially, he could feel Fangline’s force beside him, and it was strong, vibrant, and unusually terrible. He was so set off-balance by the force of Fangline that he opened his eyes and glanced at the prince to see if he still looked the same as before.


Fangline seemed to be trembling.


“What did you just do?” he asked the mage.


“I was only preparing to use magic,” said Zedwig plainly. “I draw from the forces around us that we can’t see.”


“I could feel it,” Fangline said quietly.


This was new. Never had Zedwig had a student, or worked magic around anyone that was so intensely in tune with the use of it. Occasionally someone might subtly notice magic about to be used, but Fangline looked as if he’d been struck.


“Do you want me to try again?” Zedwig asked him cautiously.


Fangline gathered himself and glanced at Zedwig.


“Yes.”


Zedwig closed his eyes again and slowed his breathing, focusing on the forces again, feeling Fangline’s beside him like a dragon in the midst of a garden, and then, drew from it. When using defensive or constructive magic, he would draw the force and coax it gently into another form. Now, however, according to the theory, he had to take an entirely different route. He inhaled and drew a large amount of life force from everywhere around him, through the ground, through the air, into his hands, legs, arms, and coursed it through himself into the center of his body, centering it and forming it into a ball, and then, at the last moment, he tore it, ripping it forcibly from those lives he drew it from and making it his own. He could hear Fangline gasp audibly beside him and the shreds of life he stole, desperate for belonging, melded into a whole. He made it glow, burn, become infernal and torturous, and finally, upon opening his eyes, fired it like a missile across the riding meadow.


A long, silent moment passed as they watched the fireball streak across the grasses, beautiful and horrible.


His entire body felt alive and powerful, and he could do nothing but stare after it and breathe.


Its trajectory ended near the base of a hill, and burned a swath into the fresh, wet spring meadow. It took some time for Zedwig to tear his eyes away from where it had passed. He couldn’t seem to bring himself to look at Fangline, though, who was still hovering at the edge of his senses, even more prevalent than he was before. After some time, Fangline spoke.


“That was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen…” he said, then, after a moment, ventured, “… or felt.”


Being the first time either of them had directly referred to the strange anomaly they both felt, Zedwig moved back and glanced cautiously at Fangline, who looked nothing if not wildly alive.


“Do it again,” said the prince.


“No,” replied Zedwig.


“You liked it, didn’t you?” pressed Fangline.


“We have no idea what kind of effect this could have on me, Prince Fangline,” began Zedwig, but he was cut off.


“I could feel how it affected you,” he told the mage directly, who looked away. “It was exhilarating and thrilling and powerful. It was.”


“Yes…” admitted Zedwig in weakness. “It was.”


Fangline moved closer to his side.


“Do it again,” he said to Zedwig, his voice and life force equally insistent and impossible to ignore, for everything about Fangline was nearly blinding to Zedwig’s finely tuned senses at this moment.


He was facing the meadow; Fangline was at his left hand. Something snapped in the mind of Zedwig. Perhaps he let his conscience fall by the wayside, but in any case, he determined that if this was what Fangline wanted, then he would have it, and Zedwig would show him the very depths of his power. Shifting his eyes to the prince, he began to draw life from all that surrounded him, including Fangline. He knew as well as he knew he had two hands that Fangline could feel every subtlety of what he did, and that the prince thrilled with the power and Zedwig’s masterful manipulations of it. It was gratifying, even seductively so, for Zedwig’s intricate and beautiful ability to be fully recognized by another and even though he distantly knew he would regret this later, at this moment he didn’t care. So Zedwig paused, waiting, filling the air around them with anticipation; a few airborne dandelion seeds floated past, suspended like the magic the mage was holding in the afternoon light growing more and more golden, and then he drew it all at once, in one swift, sharp intake and he watched Fangline catch his breath in response.


The prince’s hand came to grip his shoulder, and with the contact, everything magnified exponentially.


Zedwig drew the power into his center, and as he did, he drew more and more from the searing fire that was Fangline, until he shaped it, scored it, and finally tore it away from Fangline and the rest of the world and made it belong to him, and him alone. The ball of power formed, screamed with life, ached to destroy, and he held it possessively in his grasp, glowing, blinding, and mindlessly exalting. At last, when he couldn’t hold it any longer, he drew force from the ground, from the sky, from the leaves of grass, and drank deeply from Fangline until there was a vacuum of force, a sort of silence of life around him for only a split second. It was a brief moment of darkness, if one could see it with eyes, then he released it all in one coursing, brilliant exhalation, immense in power and unknown in the world until that moment.


The fire blazed across the meadow, charring and churning up the ground as it went until it barreled into the base of the hill, tearing a boulder sized part free from the rise and setting even the spring wet grasses alight.


Both of them were breathless, struggling to regain lost composure and to comprehend what they’d seen, and moreover, what they’d experienced. As the last of the flames died out, Zedwig dared to look at the prince.


Their eyes met, and Fangline fell to his knees before Zedwig and began to reverently kiss the palms of his hands.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Chapter 8

VIII



The next week Camilla did come with Al’bert to see the watchmaker, although she had absolutely no interest in watches or the gnomes who made them. Fangline, as usual, was delighted to see his best friend, who seemed equally pleased to be in the company of the prince again. Camilla firmly held the position of third wheel for the entire day, but she did notice Fangline colored against his will when he saw her first, and that was enough compensation for her.


The gnome was a curious sort, if a bit lacking in grooming skills, who wore all kinds of tiny contraptions on his person, and seemed to mutter a lot of nonsense under his breath when he wasn’t explaining his handiwork or answering questions. He was surrounded in this particular sitting room, which was deep green and mahogany, by a handful of royal elves that nearly all found him interesting and delightful. Fangline was at least as riveted by the gnome as anyone else, and asked the majority of questions of the small creature.


“What else do you make, besides watches?” he asked the gnome.


“A number of things,” replied the gnome, as if the answer was obvious and complete. He turned to show Al’bert how to wind the pocket-watch he was puzzling over, which was a pewter shade with a glass back that showed the inner workings of the gears and rods and ticked with mild precision.


“Care to relate what?” asked Fangline, vying for the gnome’s attention, which was difficult.


“It would be impossible to list it all within the next hour, your highness,” said the gnome, still fiddling with Al’bert’s watch, as the Comte was having a difficult time figuring out what the gnome wanted him to do with it. It made a noise like a bell and the face sprung open, revealing the inner workings from the front side, so one could see through the open spaces of the marching gears to the ornate rug on the floor below. Al’bert took his hands away, for fear of ruining it’s delicate workings, and let the gnome take the business over entirely.


The gnome seemed quite put out by Al’bert’s ineptitude with mechanisms, but worked it again, showing him how to manipulate the watch. Fangline, his curiosity momentarily subdued, seemed to find Al’bert’s fear of the watch very amusing, and demanded one of his own.


Camilla noticed how Fangline seemed to learn anything he was interested in very quickly. In the case of the watch, he worked it with ease after being only shown once, and promised the gnome that he would provide Al’bert with tutelage in the matter later. The prince learned so quickly, Camilla thought, that it seemed there was very little that did not bore him after a brief time.


“Ah, you’re still here,” smiled Fangline’s aunt Ellinya as she came into the room. She looked lovely, as usual, and graceful. Her eyes were green, like Fangline’s, and she supposed they shared that trait. Fangline seemed to despise her, for reasons Camilla didn’t know.


“His Majesty is embroiled and can’t meet with you, which I promise you he sorely regrets, but he would like some of your handiwork, if you have anything for him,” Ellinya told the gnome, her smile warm and pleasant.


The gnome took note of Ellinya, then turned to his satchels, brown and rugged, and a small case he carried with him.


“There was something…” he muttered, and he rummaged through all that he had in search of it, until finally, upon patting his pocket at last, he pulled out a slender golden watch on a thin, smooth chain.


Its workmanship was remarkable in its delicacy, all etched with leaves and branches, and as he touched a tiny clasp on the side, it sprung open to reveal an elegant face made of ivory, with ebony for hands and willowy hour marks. As silence fell in the room, Camilla could hear the sound it made: soft ticks in perfect rhythm, like footsteps in sand, or the heartbeat of a fairy.


“It’s beautiful,” sighed Ellinya, radiant with happiness. “The king will love it, I know he will.”


“It is beautiful,” said Fangline, as the gnome slid the golden watch into a small velvet bag and gave it to his aunt. Of this, Fangline said nothing more.


As the day ebbed, Camilla concerned herself with enjoying the palace gardens while Al’bert and Fangline discussed their own interests until her eyes crossed with boredom. She walked down the path, and eventually lost herself in the flowers and greenery that surrounded her. It was all very beautiful, and better than what the Fromage estate managed. She supposed that was how it should be, anyway, and decided to dismiss any sort of jealousy that could emerge and just enjoy herself. Eventually, though, as she was walking, she heard a snip-snip along the path and was curious to discover the cause of the sound. Turning the corner, she found the palace gardener, whom everyone called “Gaffer” for some inane reason, trimming a hedge.


He saw her and smiled, and she liked his smile. He had a sort of seasoned pleasantness about him.


“Good afternoon, lassie,” he said to her, tipping his worn straw hat. She was very bored, since Fangline had been entirely ignoring her for most of the day, and welcomed some semblance of conversation, even if it was with the gardener.


“Hello, Gaffer,” she said, sighing and making no pretense at hiding her boredom as she wanly brushed a budding rose with her fingertips.


“Somethin’ amiss?” he asked her, trimming a branch.


She pondered the gardener, and found him entirely harmless, so figured he was probably the safest stranger in the world she could spill her woes on. Besides, she could always use her power on him to make sure he stayed silent, if need be.


“It’s Prince Fangline,” she said wearily. “He never shows any interest in me, even though he invited me to come with Al’bert today. What am I doing wrong?”


Gaffer leaned his arms on the hedge and regarded her for a long moment.


“I wouldn’t say yer doin’ anythin’ wrong, lass,” he said to her. “Yer a lovely lass, an’ prob’ly aren’t hurtin’ fer suitors.”


Camilla always enjoyed a good compliment.


“Thank you,” she said, feigning demureness.


“It’s Fangline, yeh know,” he said. “He’s just a bit different, but if he’s aware yeh exist, then yer doin’ a whole lot better than any other lass ever has, as far as I know.”


“I don’t really know what to do,” she said openly.


“Well…” said Gaffer. “All I know is this: Tha’ Fangline could use a good woman ter give ‘im some direction. That’s all he’s lookin’ for, lassie. He’s lost, an’ tryin’ ter find his way.”


Camilla fell into deep thought over the matter, and Gaffer began to whistle and trim a rose bush.


That night, Fangline found Camilla alone in the green and mahogany sitting room, near the fire.


All between them was vaguely uncomfortable, due to their letter writing, and she’d let him avoid her for the day because of it. This meeting was unexpected; Al’bert should have been here, but Camilla suspected he had found a lovely young scullery maid or something of the like and was temporarily detained.


Camilla was determined, however, to remain a fa├žade of unflappable. As she saw him, she gave him the sort of nod and curtsy that would reflect his station, yet subtle and plain for the intimate circumstances that surrounded them. His green eyes left her, and then came back.


“Camilla.”


“Prince Fangline.”


“Just… Fangline,” he said.


“Fangline,” she said, more quietly.


There was a long pause.


He approached her and then, after a moment, took her hand. This he pulled gently, bringing her towards him, and then he kissed her. It was a hesitant, almost awkward kiss, and Camilla hovered between returning it and allowing him his say without her intervention.


He stopped, but lingered near her, as if unsure of what he’d done or what to do now, and Camilla decided it was time for her to take over matters. She took his face into her hands and kissed him with warmth, which slowly brought him to embrace her and return her affection with surety.


It was in this way with kisses that they spent the next fifteen minutes beside the fire, during which the winter of Fangline melted into a brief spring.


“Ahem,” said Geeves, who was ever-present at the wrong times. He was standing very reservedly near the door, and looking entirely unabashed. “My humblest apologies, Comtesse, but your carriage is waiting, along with le Comte.”


She felt her face must be flushed beyond dignity, but gathered herself and thanked the butler, then looked at Fangline, who put something small and cool into her hand.


“Good-bye, Camilla,” he said to her.


She curtsied and left, and as she looked into her hand, she saw a pocket-watch, equal in beauty to that given to the king, but forged from shining silver.