Friday, September 19, 2008

Chapter 20 (of 43)

XX

Rascaline was a country of humans, pure humans, closest to Schloeffelonia. They were a people of very little discipline and a lot of idleness, which resulted in a country that never truly prospered. Nonetheless, they resented Schloeffelonia with jealous eyes for its wealth and beauty, and many of them strictly hated the elves. They wanted for their own that which they could have had freely, but, not knowing or perhaps not being willing to admit they had the industry buried deep within them to obtain it, what they chose to see in the elves was piety and self-righteousness.

What the elves possessed had taken monumental effort by their forebears, who slowly created a wealthy pacifist state out of nothing. These days the elves lived hardly cognizant of that fact except in passing, not understanding due to lack of worldly experience what tremendous gifts they had been given.

The Rascaline had long moldered in only adequate wealth in better times, poverty in the worst times. They lacked character in general due to the failure of an ancestor, which carried through the generations, and what they wanted as a whole was a reversal of situation for them and the elves. They wanted the wealth for themselves and to see the elves suffer. Unfortunately, they continued for ages to fail to understand that it was not with conquest, but only through themselves, that they could know the prosperity the elves enjoyed, and it was only the elves themselves who would create the fissure that could crack the solidity of Schloeffelonia.

In this miasma, Fangline was well received. He initially was content to tarry with the Rascaline for a time, but as time passed his thoughts began to change. His bitterness grew towards his homeland, and most especially towards his family. He resented his country not only for its oblivious prosperity but also for its potential, for Fangline was a man who loved a good weapon and Schloeffelonia in his eyes was a blade with no equal forced to lie unwielded.

His thoughts turned to how he would use the wealth and power of Schloeffelonia, should he rule it. He wondered on reclaiming the throne, knowing it would be his if he humbly returned and asked for it. He knew, though, should he reclaim his birthright in this way that it would be on someone else’s terms but his own, and that is the last thing Fangline wanted. He would then be forced to hold the unmatched blade and keep it sheathed for all of his life.

He wondered on Zedwig, and knew he had returned to his position after the prince had gone. Feeling a certain indescribable betrayal, he wondered with a smoldering anger if Zedwig was happy, now. With loss he considered what he could do, if only the chief mage were more pliable to him.

It was after a time of some few years that Fangline was given the artifact that would change the course of many thousands of lives.

There was a traveling magician who dealt in small things. Fangline was always attracted to small machines, mostly of the aggressive type, and the magician had a certain earring, which was rarely useful, as it required a magnifier to wield it properly.

The thing was very small, tear shaped, and opalescent. The workmanship was unusually fine, and the magician said he was fairly certain it was more or less ancient. He held it up, and then dropped it lightly it into Fangline’s open palm.

It was right at this moment of Fangline’s possession of the artifact that the magician knew, of a surety, what Fangline was. He told him to keep it without any charge at all, and left hurriedly, in what might have been interpreted as a panic.

Shortly afterwards, and after some extensive, aggressive testing on various unfortunate magic wielders, Fangline wrote Al’bert a letter.

Al’bert,

What would you say to me if I said I had in my possession the ability to overthrow all of Schloeffelonia and take it for my own?

Fangline

To which the reply came:

Fangline,

I would say you’ve gone and caught mad Rascaline disease?

Al’bert

And then again:

Al’bert,

I do. I have the means to control Zedwig entirely.

F

Al’bert replied again with fluster:

Fangline,

You can’t be serious. You can’t be serious!

You can’t be thinking of actually doing it. What game are you getting at? And while I’m on the subject, when are you coming home? It’s getting remarkably boring here with out you, and Camilla still pines.

Al’bert

Fangline continued to be direct:

Al’bert,

I will not write any more, but meet me on my side of Pixie Pass tomorrow night at moonrise.

Fang

Al’bert had no choice but to comply, for Fangline’s rhetoric brought out the most unbearable sort of curiosity in the comte.

The night was awash with starlight, which slashed diagonally across the sky in a milky haze along the skyline visible while in the pass. Al’bert rode his favorite horse, which was a black one and rather tall. He couldn’t help but feel some measure of excitement at the prospect of seeing Fangline again, and he wondered if his hair had grown long yet.

He didn’t have long to wonder, for Fangline was waiting for him on the other side of the pass. The moon hadn’t deigned to rise yet, but there he was, astride a dappled gray horse and looking foreign, yet familiar.

He was still wildly fashionable, and his time in the world had brought a certain exotic air about his dress and manner. His hair was still short, but Napoleonic in style, and his coat was cut like a spin on the traditional elven coat no one had ever thought of yet; open at the neck, bearing folds that turned flatteringly across his torso, and clasped with an emerald. He still looked like he didn’t care in the slightest what he wore and it all happened by accident. It was sensational, actually, and Al’bert was delighted by it.

Most of all, however, he was delighted at the sight of Fangline. He wanted to light from his horse and embrace him soundly with a kiss on either cheek, but something in the way Fangline moved restrained him. He had gained an inapproachability that never existed before.

“Al’bert, it is good to see you,” he said.

“Fangline,” began Al’bert, until Fangline cut him short.

“It’s only ‘Fang’, now, if you don’t mind,” he said.

Al’bert grinned, although it wasn’t returned and so quickly faded. It confused him to find Fangline so reserved and detached, and even injured him a little bit.

“So… Fang,” he said with emphasis. “You look well.”

It took him a moment to decide what it was he would say to greet him. Although Fangline did look smashing, he was entirely disconcerted by his manner. It was strangely menacing.

“Thank you…” Fang said. He shifted on his horse then dismounted. Al’bert took that as a signal to do the same, and then Fang crossed the space between them and took his hand. He smelled faintly of wood smoke and exotic spices.

Fixing Al’bert with an intent, green gaze he asked, “How loyal are you to me, Al’bert?”

Al’bert had to fight down the compulsion to make a joke out of such a serious question.

“You know I am your best friend,” he said to Fang.

Fang drew a breath and looked down at Al’bert’s hand, which he kept in possession of both of his. After a moment, where he seemed to choose his words, he looked back to Al’bert.

“I am going to overthrow Schloeffelonia and take it for my own.”

Al’bert automatically thrilled with the idea of such a thing, for it was sensational and epic, filled with rareness, change, and the wind that alters the seasons in a day. It put in him a giddiness, which, in Al’bert, would generate a nervous sort of laughter unchecked, but he fought it under control and laughed no more than a small turn in the corner of his mouth. It frightened him, excited him, and captured his imagination. He drew a ragged breath.

“How?” he managed to breathe.

“An artifact,” began Fang, who was not the type to become lightheaded in the face of such an idea like Al’bert, but became sharply focused, like light through a magnifying glass. “I found it on a traveling magician, who was kind enough to give it to me. Fortunately, in my time with the Chief Mage, I discovered I have a rare ability. Given this, however,” and he indicated a small teardrop shaped earring he wore in his left ear, “the magnifier becomes magnified.”

Al’bert didn’t quite understand what he was saying, but nodded regardless, as everything was still slowly sinking in. Fang took his arms brusquely and looked into his eyes with intensity, as if to force some of his focus onto his friend, whose coherence was flagging under the news.

“As I will fully control Zedwig, and the rest of the mages, no one will be able to stand against me,” he said. “I have an army here of humans, and although they are not as advanced with swords as the elves, they are more in number and possess more strength. Beyond that still, they possess an undying hatred of the elves and wish for nothing more but to debase them.”

“Odd how they love you,” said Al’bert.

“Of course they do,” said Fang. “I’m giving them exactly what they want.”

“And your family?” asked Al’bert.

Fang looked away. The moon was rising on the horizon over the mountains. It was a thin, pearlescent line stark and white against the black mountainside. Some moments passed before Fang spoke again.

“They’ll have to die,” he said.

Al’bert drew back, away from Fang and out of his hands. It wasn’t really a conscious movement, but one of instinct. He couldn’t imagine anything that would ever bring him to kill his own family, and although it would bode well for the Fromage’s standing to have the Schloeffels entirely removed, he did have a heart and knew the Schloeffels didn’t deserve to die, regardless of politics.

“Why?” asked Al’bert, his voice weak with disbelief.

“I can not conquer Schloeffelonia and leave members of the royal family alive. My complete rule will always be contested, and-,”

“And you could just be king if you went and asked for it,” said Al’bert. “Why do you have to do it this way?”

“Because-,”

“Fangline,” Al’bert interrupted again, a pleading tone in his voice. Fang’s eyes flashed at him and he moved, seeming to grow taller and more menacing, and Al’bert stopped.

“Al’bert,” he said darkly. “Go home and talk with your father. Find out on which side he wants the Fromages to lay in the aftermath. It is loyalty I require, now, Al’bert, not questioning.”

Al’bert paused, frozen in wondering where his friend had gone. He watched Fang mount his horse and the dark velvet swaths of his cloak curve against the young moonlight.

“Will you write to me?” Fang asked from the darkness in a voice, which reminded him more of Fangline than anything he’d done all night.

“I will write to you,” replied Al’bert, resigned and with hues of faint melancholy.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Chapter 19 (of 43)

XIX

Time passed. As is the way of life, everyone copes with everything eventually. The Schloeffels went on with life, and the only thing that changed was Sangwine became the intended heir. They mourned the loss of Fangline, especially the king, but being unsure of what more they could have done, decided to wait and hope he would prove to be as the prodigal son someday. Sangwine felt the burden of future rule a heavy one, and didn’t wish for it. More than anyone else in the family, he longed for the happy return of Fangline. Hope was his constant companion, however, and she buoyed him whenever his insecurities threatened to overwhelm.

Zedwig returned to his position as Royal Chief Mage after a short sabbatical feeling far more in possession of himself and keeping a secret sense of relief upon hearing the prince had gone away. He returned to his previous studies, and entirely ignored those months of his life where he fell into lawless ways, pretending they didn’t exist. From time to time, however, he indulged himself in thinking of Fangline, and wondered with some measure of sentimentality what he had done with himself.

Le Duc et la Duchesse du Fromage were sorely disappointed at the disappearance of Prince Fangline, for they had all but closed the surety that Camilla would be his Queen someday. Both of their children had such a tremendous “in” with the ruling family in Fangline that his loss dashed many hopes. Camilla missed him in a way beyond caring about his status, and mostly just pined after the way he felt and smelled. His presence was dearly missed for Camilla. Al’bert waited, missing him the least of anyone, knowing he would hear from him from time to time, and replied to his letters dutifully, but also with great interest.

Dear Fangline,

I have to admit I admire you for sticking it out in Rascaline as you have, although things don’t sound horribly bad from what you say. I don’t necessarily know the world as you do, and perhaps that is to my detriment. I’ve always assumed I’d sojourn one day in the wilderness, and it merely hasn’t happened yet.

We’ve always known that Rascaline was somewhat embittered towards Schloeffelonia, but I didn’t realize to what extent. It must be unpleasant to resent and be powerless to do anything about it. They like you, though, don’t they? The prince who deserted his own people. It’s so unusual for any of us to leave, I’m sure you’re quite the curiosity among the humans.

You’ve asked me about the state of the more powerful families in Schloeffelonia, and they are the same as always. You’ll have to be more specific as far as what you’d like to know. Does it really matter, from where you are?

Take care,

Al’bert

Al’bert folded his letter, sealing it neatly, then feeling a small pang at least of longing for Fangline. He swept it under the rug, however, which he was always very good at.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Chapter 18 (of 43)

XVIII


Much later that night, the Fromage estate sat silent and tall, and the sky was empty of clouds. Al’bert was secreted away into the corner he enjoyed most of the estate, reading by wan lamplight and surrounded by a small library. There was one window, and a branch scratched against it.


What he read was a letter from Senna, which was exceedingly long and somewhat redundant, although he couldn’t fault her for it. Her friend from midsummer, whose name was Janel and which he had picked up quickly for it was thrust upon him by her overt advances, had seen him far more than Senna had in the past few weeks, although the girl had absolutely no idea. Janel was what he categorized as an instant and generally complication-free diversion. She was really only interested in making it with le Comte du Fromage, and that made things rather easy for them both. Senna was entirely oblivious, and that also worked out remarkably well.


He was pondering how exactly to reply to Senna’s eight pages of very nearly declaring her undying love to him, when Camilla burst into the room. With her came the scent of outside, and her radiant blue eyes were wide and alarmed. His gut reaction was to find her state amusing, but he subdued his smile until he found out the reason behind her frenzy.


She hesitated beside a table, as if deciding how she should put what she was about to say.


“Fangline is here,” she said.


“Oh?” asked Al’bert, finding that very odd, indeed, but not alarming. “Is something wrong with him?”


“He’s cut his hair,” she said, and her voice sounded with a mixture of revulsion and despair.


Al’bert blinked and stood, the letter on his lap falling to the floor unheeded. Without words, he left the room with Camilla behind him and traversed the length of the estate to where Fangline waited, outside, refusing to go inside or anywhere until he spoke with Al’bert.


The wind was moving, and as Al’bert cast open the door he saw Fangline against the backdrop of meadow in the moonlight. His cloak moved and his countenance was darker than he’d ever seen it. His hair was short, like a human, but fine, like an elf and the wind grasped at it jealously. Al’bert wondered within himself what sort of odd madness had gripped his friend, and was even hesitant, through no conscious reason he could logically discern, to cross the threshold of the door and come fully into his broodsome gaze.


Regardless of what the night and Fangline’s strange state was doing to his bravery, Al’bert passed outside and drew close to the prince. Camilla waited in the shadows of the estate within earshot, but scarce to be seen.


“Fangline?” he said to him, asking a thousand things at once, none of which he desired to vocalize completely.


Fangline met his gaze with intensity, and seemed curiously possessed and certain of himself, considering that he’d just cut his own hair and looked terrible.


“I’m leaving Schloeffelonia,” he said.


“What?”


“Tonight,” he continued. “I’m not sure if I’ll ever come back.”


“But… why?”


“You know why,” he said.


Al’bert couldn’t help but feel like Fangline was throwing out the baby with the bath water, but he went along.


“Where are you going?”


“I don’t know…” said the prince, and he looked aside with deep thought in his eyes. “Rascaline, perhaps.”


“Hnn…” replied Al’bert.


“Come with me,” said Fangline impulsively.


“What?” said Al’bert, shocked at the idea of leaving his home, and unable to think of a single reason why he would want to. Then again, it was true he didn’t have to live with a family he despised, only parents he hardly knew. One was far worse than the other.


“He can’t,” said Camilla, from the shadows.


Fangline’s eyes moved, and he noticed Camilla, although he had to have known she was there before.


“Does he belong to you?” he asked with a sardonic twinge.


“Yes,” she replied territorially, moving closer, into the moonlight where Fangline could see her. As Camilla and Fangline stared at each other over his possession, Al’bert couldn’t help feeling like this was a very bizarre night.


“Fangline,” said Al’bert, interceding. “I cannot go with you. My father doesn’t have an extra son lying about, so it wouldn’t bode well at all for the family. But…”


Trailing off for a moment, he watched Fangline, who was still so oddly self-possessed. Never had Fangline ever held such focus before. He was always highly talented and held great potential, but never had he been anything but unsure and unorganized. Al’bert found it ironic that Fangline would seem so solid and intent now that where he would go and do was entirely and utterly unknown.


“Write to me, Fangline,” he said to his friend. “Don’t disappear, please.”


Brilliant green eyes flashed at Al’bert, and his gaze held regard for him. Something within Fangline had entirely changed, but Al’bert had no idea what it could have been. He might have asked, but situations dictate the decision to pry, and he couldn’t shake the vague sense of fear Fangline was drawing from him, like when something becomes completely unpredictable and unstable, and you have no idea what it might do next.


“Of course I will, Al’bert,” Fangline said. He gave Camilla a glance and stepped back. Al’bert thought it was now that Fangline would leave until Camilla, although stubborn, made a noise behind him.


She ran upon Fangline, flung her arms around his neck and kissed him. He took her kiss, possessing it and relishing it for what it was. Al’bert watched, wholly unabashed, considering it his farewell as well.


The prince left them then, and Al’bert and Camilla stood outside for a long time listening to the sound of the wind in the treetops nearby.


Friday, September 5, 2008

Chapter 17 (of 43)

XVII


Fangline was mostly woebegone, regardless of Camilla’s affections. The midsummer night’s fire was only a brief bandage for the wound he felt.


For one thing, he had thought over the past months he’d become more important to Zedwig than he actually seemed to be after all. No one could simply leave like that if that wasn’t the case. It was not only a blow to his ego; it simply hurt. Fangline had rarely in his entire life put himself, vulnerable, in the hands of another. He was a closed book to nearly everyone. It had begun with the death of his mother, and he’d only become more calloused since. Al’bert was perhaps the closest he’d come to trusting anyone, until Zedwig. The communication between them was always so direct and open; they could, in a sense, read each other’s thoughts when tuned finely enough. He’d gotten accustomed to it. He didn’t want to live without it.


He didn’t know that he hung precariously on verge of something so rare in their society it was largely undefined and unnamed. His attachment to Zedwig was one of oblivious innocence, but it had grown very strong, and the abrupt severance of it left a gaping wound he could barely stand.


He could hardly eat or sleep. He grew irritable and listless, even more than those around him were accustomed to expect from the oldest prince. He spent his days in brooding thought and his nights elsewhere than the palace, forgetting… not quite, but displacing.


Still, he was expected to be about his princely duties, and Fangline resented them more than ever. He’d been briefly shown something else, something new and thrilling, and to go back to what he’d been forced to live with before was like putting a freed man back into prison or like seeing the world only for an hour in brilliant color and then having it taken away forever. It was misery. He hated it, resented it, and wanted to escape and be left alone.


He hated the way the country was run, so steeped in tradition that no one even questioned what was right anymore. They simply did what was done before, and lived in blithe ignorance. The world was out there, somewhere, and Fangline knew from his studies that it was quite different from Schloeffelonia. The rest of the world was weak, poor, and disorganized, and his father only spent his time making sure whatever treaty Schloeffelonia had with whatever state was renewed satisfactorily for another hundred years. The elves kept to themselves, and everyone left them alone.


At the very least, the elves still learned to defend themselves, should it be necessary. It hadn’t been necessary for thousands of years, but they still practiced swordplay and magical defense. With such long lives an elf could learn to be at least ten times better than a human with a sword. The humans stayed away, except to trade. Trade was extremely important, for it was the cornerstone of Schloeffelonia’s wealth.


Fangline found himself wondering why Schloeffelonia penned itself into such a small space when they could easily expand their borders if they should wish it? Wouldn’t more of their country be a good thing, and in fact a boon to whomever was fortunate enough to lie in its path? But no, anytime he had ever brought up any sort of question like this it was only dismissed forthwith and never discussed with anything less than blatant dogmatisms. He’d learned long ago that his ideas were not welcome here. To discuss with an open mind was beyond his aunt, father, and brother.


They all had an intense sense of what they believed to be right, and it seemed Sangwine did from birth. He never wanted to do anything except exactly what his father told him to, and it pleased his father to no end. Meanwhile, Fangline fell swiftly out of favor. His life was awash with intense loneliness, and it seemed like since his mother died that was all he’d ever known.


Fangline never realized his loneliness was self-inflicted, and gradually he was hardened by it, having grown accustomed to it, and eventually preferring it. He held Camilla at arm’s length due to it, leaving her drawn to him even more as a result. It made him push away even further, until he found her tiresome and only good for the occasional comfort. She was predictable and dull. She was lovely. The idea of marrying her bored him to tears. The idea of marrying anyone bored him to tears. It seemed to him like it would only be extra baggage he couldn’t bring himself to desire at this point in his life. His life was complicated enough without an enigmatic woman to bother with.


The ragged, bleeding edge that Zedwig left in Fangline’s life was quickly replaced with the bitterness he held towards everything else he knew. Then again, it wasn’t entirely replaced, but mostly just buried. Somewhere inside of Fangline, there was a faint flame of hope that someday he might be understood and accepted by someone. Only once that was extinguished could complete destruction come.


On this night Fangline had gone out without a word. That made it one of the better nights, as when his aunt protested it became violence with words and even though he despised his aunt, it always put a dark cast on everything he did afterwards. He’d passed Sangwine, pretending he didn’t see him, and his brother was sitting in the dusk with Hope on a long swing talking animatedly about something Fangline was certain he’d see as mind-numbingly boring. He did find himself wondering how one becomes the best friend of a fairy, and what that would be like. He couldn’t imagine it, for fairies were such banal creatures, and Hope was no exception with her incessantly sunny disposition. His brother did seem content, except Sangwine seemed to have always felt a certain obligation to pull Fangline into line if he could, and Fangline found it amusing. Sangwine generally didn’t press him, because due to respect or fear he never became a nuisance in his insistence, but even though his brother continually insisted he didn’t want to be the king, his actions spoke very differently. If Fangline was envious that the king loved Sangwine best, so be it. Perhaps someday Sangwine would have the kingdom, then it will never have mattered at all.


After a moment’s hesitation by the road, Prince Fangline decided to spend some time at dice at the Rusty Barrel.[1]



[1] Refer to comic page #288 for what happens between this chapter and the next.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Chapter 16 (of 43)

XVI


Al’bert noticed a difference in Fangline when he saw him next, and most likely would have had to be blind not to. The prince was inordinately sullen and irritable.


It was midsummer, and Camilla had succeeded in creating a party for some equally bored friends who thought the idea of having a fire on a hill in the middle of the night was a stellar one. For himself, Al’bert thought it was kind of silly, but went along with it because Camilla was overtly enjoying herself with the planning.


Impromptu by execution, but secretly well planned, Camilla had even managed to get a musician to show up with a lute, and Al’bert had to agree that always went well with a fire at night.


They were atop a hill in the pasture of a man who raised sheep on the Fromage holdings. The hill was cut along the sides with sheep trails, where the animals had trod over years until it became a narrow spiral all around it leading up to the top. The top was rounded, and from there, under the full moon, the pastures all around were visible, and beyond them forests, and, rising above an expanse of wood, the roofs and tallest towers of the Fromage estate. All was blue and silver, and the stars shone along with fireflies that chose to linger outside the glowing sphere the fire created.


There were perhaps seven of them in all, including Camilla, Al’bert, Fangline, and the fellow playing the lute. Senna came, bringing with her a friend from a nearby estate with auburn hair and a tendency to giggle, and also Ganlin, who was very distantly related to the Schloeffels, but not enough to be anything but the son of a lesser lord. His father was only nobility in title. Their family lived very nearly just like everyone else of the plebeian class, but Ganlin was a gregarious sort who liked both the comte and the prince, so from time to time he wiled away with Al’bert and Fangline when his apprenticeship didn’t keep him wholly occupied.


As for Senna, Al’bert had taken his time in an intentionally adagio way with her, for, from his point of view, he had all the time in the world. On this night he didn’t fail to notice the blushing glances she sent his way, however, the tremendous funk of Fangline’s occupied his interest much more fervently.


Together they sat on the hill, where Fangline had lingered silently for much of the time, staring into the fire. Senna and her friend were catching fireflies down the hill a little, and Camilla and Ganlin were engrossed in the discussion of his apprenticeship at the city printer, so the time was ripe for Al’bert to pry.


“Well, you’re awfully chipper tonight,” stated Al’bert dryly.


“Hmn,” replied Fangline, in a noncommittal manner.


“Fine. So sarcasm isn’t going to work its magic tonight,” said Al’bert. “How else should I ask when my best friend is brooding in a manner which is extreme even for him? For, Fang, you are, above all things, He Who Broods. This, though, is beyond anything I’ve ever seen from you. Do you blame my concern? Resent it? Despise it?”


His overly dramatic monologue didn’t seem to have much effect upon Fangline, but brought a slight grin to the prince’s face when he continued by asking if he loathed his concern beyond all loathings.


Fangline sighed, at last opening the dark fist of his brooding to Al’bert.


“Have you ever nearly had something you badly wanted, only the have it taken away all of a sudden?”


Al’bert thought on that question. He couldn’t think of many times when that had actually happened to him, but he felt like he could probably muster up some sympathy.


“What’s happened now?” he asked.


“I don’t really know,” he said with obvious frustration. “For the first time I’d been enjoying my studies, and then suddenly my instructor left, with just a letter and no warning.”


“Oh, you mean Zedwig,” said Al’bert. “Right, Camilla was fairly put out that your entire letter to her was about some boring mage.”


He grinned at the prince, who chuckled.


“I wrote about what interested me at the time,” he said. “What does she want, love poems describing her beauty?”


“Yes,” replied Al’bert, and Fangline laughed.


Camilla looked over from her talk with Ganlin, causing Fangline and Al’bert to casually resume their conversation.


“So… find another mentor,” suggested Al’bert. “Surely there are other mages around.”


“No, I can’t,” he said.


“Why not?”


“There are no mages like him,” said Fangline.


“Why did he leave?”


Fangline drew a slow breath and let it out. He picked at a blade of grass for a moment, and then said, “I suppose I pushed him too far.”


“He does seem to have a conscience, doesn’t he?” ruminated Al’bert. “I can imagine teaching you about destructive magic would probably dredge up some guilt in certain types.”


“But you have no idea what he is capable of,” Fangline said, sitting up and leaning closer to Al’bert. “Not only is he able to command massive destructive forces, he can command the other mages, as well.”


“As in, all twenty of the mages?”


“Well, I didn’t exactly get it out of him that he knows how, but he certainly could. I don’t think he’s ever tried it.”


Al’bert thought about that.


“You know… that’s rather dangerous,” he said.


“What is?”


“Zedwig’s abilities,” said Al’bert. “That they even exist is somewhat disconcerting. Can you imagine if Zedwig decided to overthrow the kingdom one day? He could do it. He could do it tonight, if he wanted to. None of us could stand against him. No army could stand against twenty-one elf mages wielding destructive magic.”


Fangline was riveted in thought, enthralled by this revelation of Zedwig.


“I think we are fortunate he is as benign as he is,” said Al’bert, and he looked at the sky. There was a giggling beside them, outside of the fire’s reach, and Senna appeared, with her friend behind. She sat down beside Al’bert in a fluff of skirts.


“So, what are you two talking about?” Senna asked, all innocence and fresh springtime about her. “It looks serious.”


Al’bert smiled at her and noticed her friend, who was giving him a very flirtatious look out of Senna’s sight.


“Nothing that would interest you,” he replied.


“War,” said Fangline bluntly.


Senna wrinkled her nose.


“You’re right,” she said, and her friend giggled. The redundant giggling was becoming irritating, but Al’bert was fairly certain he could persuade the girl to stop, or at least reduce her gigglage significantly.


Camilla came over at this time and sat very close to Fangline in a way that was both territorial and full of relish, which reminded Al’bert strongly of a large cat. Fangline allowed it, seeming to draw some measure of solace from her attention to ease his displeasure over losing his beloved mentor. He was the wolf who tolerated her, allowing her arrogance but capable of shredding it should she become a nuisance.


In this way they passed the night; idle conversation and stolen kisses. The musician played, the fire rose and fell, and the stars shone.