Monday, October 13, 2008

Chapter 26 (of 43)

XXVI

Al'bert was in somewhat of a diveish inn north of Schloeffelonia, at the mouth of a canyon. It hadn't been hard for him to figure out where Sangwine had gone. He didn't seem to try very hard to cover his tracks, and Al'bert was almost entirely sure it was due to a mixture of ignorance and naïveté. In fact, Al'bert was fairly sure Sangwine would wind up killing himself for the comte, and he wouldn't have to do much of anything at all except follow him around until it happens and then return and report to Fang.

He didn't dwell at all on the fact that he sorely hoped that was how it would happen, and especially didn't dwell on the fact that he didn't really want Sangwine to die at all. It was perhaps safe to say he was in denial over his consequences.

This inn was small and rather empty. It was at the mouth of the canyon on the City of Ena side and was surrounded by mountains and conifers. The wooden siding was painted barn red and it felt very ordinary. Ordinary for most, though, was odd for Al'bert du Fromage. He felt a strong curiosity when he came into a place like this, as well as a level of disgust he tried very hard to suppress in order to further his practical education. The servants who worked and the patrons who were at this particular establishment seemed to be entirely human, and so he believed he'd finally broached the outer edge of where elves dwell. It was a curious and wondrous moment for him, as he'd never left the valley of his homeland.

To be Fang's servant in good faith, he'd right away set himself to finding others to do his work for him. There was a wizard he'd written to, who had known his father, and was the purest sort of mercenary but reportedly powerful for a human mage. He was to meet him here, but Al'bert saw no one of his particular description.

He was drawing attention, he knew, for most of these people had never seen an elf outside of Schloeffelonia, and it chagrined him because he wanted to be able to observe unnoticed. He was wondering to himself how he was supposed to learn anything about these people if they were staring at him all the time when a young woman approached him.

She was fairly young, with blue-green eyes that fiercely denied the calming oasis they should have been. She was dressed like a peasant, but had a swagger he didn't expect and found intriguing, yet humorous. The girl sat down in front of him and leaned to the side in consideration of who and what he was.

“Odd,” she said in a way that implies many things.

“Indeed,” he agreed, feigning only half-interest.

“Who are you?” she asked him bluntly.

“Le Comte du Fromage,” he replied.

“Hmm... the Count of Cheese?”

Al'bert felt a moment of intense irritation.

“That translation is... inaccurate.”

“I wouldn't mind enlightenment,” she said, her grin lopsided, and her blue-green eyes stubbornly refusing to be anything related to serene.

He regarded her with his entire focus for the first time.

“Of course you wouldn't,” he said, and then rose for want of air.

Outside, as he leaned against the doorframe on the front porch of the inn he was plainly distressed. Al'bert was a man used to ruling his surroundings socially, and in this situation there were too many unknowns for him to feel at ease. He felt wrong, out of the water, and obvious. Culturally this wasn't who he was, and he couldn't so quickly assimilate himself to the world, as he would have liked.

“I never knew it was so easy to offend an elf.”

The young woman was leaning on the other side of the doorframe, her arms crossed, as if she'd been there for hours. She was smiling, obviously amused by his odd behavior and unlikely to give up from Al'bert's judgment, although he knew next to nothing about humans yet. Within himself he considered his two choices: He could either; brush her off entirely and gain nothing, or he could let her have her fun and learn something about humans in the process. For Al'bert, the choice was obvious.

“You don't know much about elves, do you?” he replied.

“Probably more than you know about humans,” she said.

“I suppose I can make that concession.”

“So, what brings the Count of ... something... to the Spinning Precipice Inn?”

“I'm looking for someone,” he said.

“Ah,” she said. “What kind of someone?”

“A wizard,” he said. “Seen one around?”

“Yes,” she said.

“You have?”

“Not really, but it was worth it.”

He was losing his patience.

“Look,” she said, drawing a knife from her belt. He briefly thought she might be about to mug him or something, but her smile discounted all suspicion as she raised the knife then threw it in a spinning line at the far porch post. It stuck thickly in the post, vibrating back and forth with the precision of her aim. Her smile really was brilliant as she delighted in her own skill while looking for his approval, and he was forced to grin, despite himself and his unfamiliar circumstances.

She winked at him and pulled out another from the same belt, and threw it to land directly below the last one, then, procuring yet another blade from who-knows-where, she hit the post squarely above the first two shots. Al'bert's eyebrows rose of their own volition, because he was truly impressed.

“I'm good, huh?” she said to him directly, her smile confident.

“Yes, you are,” he replied, but wasn't entirely sure how to proceed. “Is that a ... hobby?”

She gave him a look like he was crazy and retrieved her knives with little yanks, which he discovered he found very attractive. Her skirt was to the ground and the overskirt gathered its thick fabric to the side like a drapery, and within her corset he could see the curve and bend of whalebone underneath the broadcloth seams. It moved and gave almost in tandem with her movements, but not entirely, resisting her torso not stubbornly, but like a dance. Beneath it she wore a thin white top and he was suddenly intensely aware of how differently human women dressed than elves.

She tossed her hair back and looked at him with her hands on her hips, all three knives gracefully spread in one fist.

“Where are you going?” she asked him.

“I'm not sure,” he replied immediately and honestly.

“Can I come?”

“What?”

“Elves are hard of hearing, too?”

“No, it's just, why would you ask that?”

“Because I'm bored.”

“You don't even know me.”

“You don't know me, either.”

“You're not answering my question.”

“I thought I already did.”

So it was that Al'bert had to quickly decide whether or not bringing this young woman with him would be useful or if she would try to knife him in the night.

“Do you...” he began, then changed directions. “Is there anything else you can do?”

She looked bemused and offended, but after considering him, she nodded and began sheathing her weapons.

“Yes, I am a healer.”

Al'bert blinked.

“You're hired.”

No comments: