Monday, October 13, 2008

Chapter 24 (of 43)

XXIV

“Al’bert, I require that you find him,” said Fang, whilst in the throne room.

“Indeed?” asked Al’bert, who was feigning ignorance. He knew exactly what it was that Fang wanted him to do. He wanted Al’bert to go out in the world, find Prince Sangwine, and kill him. This is one of the last things that Al’bert actually wanted to do. The idea of killing anyone gave him a very unpleasant feeling right in the center of his stomach, and even more someone whom he had known since childhood. Besides, he didn’t really dislike Sangwine so much as he’d found him annoying. Regardless, Fang pressed him.

It had displeased Fang greatly that one part of his meticulously laid plan didn’t work, and his brother was still alive somewhere, although in exile and not likely to return. For as long as Sangwine stayed alive, Fang couldn’t claim complete and total dominion over the throne of Schloeffelonia, and Al’bert knew Fang well enough to know that would bother him incessantly until it was resolved.

“I’d like to find Geeves, as well,” muttered Fang. “I don’t believe it to be coincidence that he should disappear shortly after his plan failed to kill Sangwine.”

“Well, that’s Geeves, right?” said Al’bert wryly. “He always was good at that sort of thing.”

“Doubtless he knew Sangwine would survive it all along,” said Fang.

“Or at least hoped,” added Al’bert.

“Whose side are you on, anyway?” asked Fang with a sharp glance.

Al’bert chuckled, but Fang wasn’t in the mood for humor, and it gave Al’bert a brief pang for the lighter past.

In the throne room there was a throne upon a dais that was carved of wood and polished, behind which was a red tapestry of the house of Schloeffel. Upon this dais stood Fang, and nearby was Zedwig, who rarely left Fang’s presence anymore. The mage generally looked like an egg about to crack, but Al’bert had a tendency to pretend he wasn’t there, not so much to intentionally ignore him, but because his unpleasant situation made Al’bert decidedly uncomfortable about where Fang was heading. For now, though, the Fromages were faring decidedly well in the new Schloeffelonia.

“You know where my loyalties lie, Fang.”

“Then find some help and get rid of Sangwine,” said Fang.

“Right away, then,” he replied, bowing and leaving like a swift breeze.

Outside, he stepped into sunlight, which was the same sunlight that had fallen on Schloeffelonia a month ago, or so it seemed. In actuality, it wasn’t the same sunlight at all, but was entirely different and individual, and would only warm it on this day, in this place, and in this particular way. How did it differ from the last rays the king saw fall upon the stones here on that day? It was long, long ago. It was only a month ago. No, it was only a moment ago.

The change had been vast. The humans from Rascaline seemed to relish their new position as rulers over the elves, which they ruled under the leadership of Fang, all except the nobility that had backed Fang’s ascension. The elves were side-blinded by what had happened; it seemed impossible, but still it was what had happened. There had been outbreaks of rebellion here and there, as the elves initially had seen it as something that must be a joke. However, where the numbers of human soldiers couldn’t suppress mutiny, the mages under the control of Zedwig who was in turn under the control of Fang could and did suppress them swiftly and with terrible judgment.

Now, as it had finally begun to sink into the common collective of the elves that they had been overturned and conquered, Fang turned his eyes to the world outside of Schloeffelonia.

Al’bert found it all dubious. He had always thought Fang was an extraordinarily interesting individual, which was part of the reason he’d been his best friend from the first they’d known each other, but it seemed to him as if all of this Fang was doing was a little much. Actually, he thought it was quite a bit too much. However, it looked as if everything was coming up roses for Fang, although the overlord didn’t seem very happy about it at all.

Perhaps Fang would find something that would give him happiness out there, Al’bert thought, looking at the mountains that formed the border of Schloeffelonia and was where he was ultimately headed. First, though, he went home.

Outside of the estate, Camilla waited. They’d both gained a certain sobriety from the reality of what had happened to their country, as everyone had. Lightheartedness seemed to have no place here, in general, and though Al’bert was normally a very lighthearted individual, even he was relatively subdued of late.

It was afternoon when his horse came over the last bend in the road to bring him in full view of his home. There was a light breeze in the air, and the leaves on nearby branches seemed pale yellow-green and translucent, golden and rare, and they made the sound of a small brook in the wind. He could see Camilla sitting beside the gate, small and insignificant, but deeply significant. She was wearing plum.

He dismounted and she came to embrace him.

“Our overlord is well?” she asked in a stilted way.

“Oh, right as rain, really,” he replied, busying himself with his horse and trying to stall telling her that which he didn’t wish to tell her. “He seems to be settling in well. I think he’s going to attack Narman City next month unless the snows come early.”

“Attack it? Why?” asked Camilla, who, like most of the elves, found offensive military action an entirely foreign concept.

“To conquer it, of course,” Al’bert told her breezily and he led his horse into the stable. Camilla followed him, looking concerned. “Don’t worry, he’ll be quite victorious.”

“And what does he require of you, Al’bert?” she asked him.

Al’bert sighed as the inevitable had come to pass. He looked at her.

“I’m being sent to dispatch Sangwine.”

“Can’t he send anyone else to do that?” she asked, looking angry.

“Apparently not,” he said, in a resigned sort of way. Then, the shadow of his gregarious self passed across his face. “Think of it this way,” he said. “You’ll get the estate all to yourself while I’m gone.”

“I will be agonizingly lonely,” she replied.

“I will write you letters,” he said. “Letters upon letters. You won’t have room to store them all.”

“It won’t be enough,” she sighed, wan and morose.

“You’ll have your dozens of suitors to fill your hours,” he said to her.

“I hate them all,” she replied petulantly.

“Then what can I do?” he asked her, at a loss.

Camilla was suddenly and singularly overcome, so instead of saying anything else to her brother, she only hugged him, inhaled his scent, and hoped to remember it well.

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