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.


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