Monday, October 13, 2008

Chapter 38 (of 43)

XXXVIII

It came suddenly, actually, and while Alice wasn’t especially aware of it, all of the things which had become commonplace for her were soon to change drastically. Al’bert was commonplace, and if she were a betting woman, she would have placed a large sum that he was growing attached to her against his better judgment. She merely found it amusing, really, as he, even after all of this time, knew hardly a thing about her and who she really was. It didn’t matter, regardless, and since he didn’t think to ask, she wouldn’t bother to tell him.

They were in a small town following Al’bert’s failure in the monolith at the hands of Sangwine and his friends, and as it had steadily grown apparent that Al’bert very likely did not plan to finish Sangwine quickly, and as Al’bert stalled and hemmed and hawed proverbially, some of the group that he had gathered lost interest and moved on to greener pastures. For one, Steev grew bored. Alice suspected there wasn’t enough bashing for him, for he was the type to thrive on that sort of thing, and Al’bert had made it very clear he didn’t approve of Steev picking fights in the places they traveled, as was his wont. So it wasn’t long until Steev quit Al’bert’s employ.

The thief left, too, but Alice supposed that might have been for different reasons. He had always admired her from afar, and her continued involvement with Al’bert combined with his naturally nervous nature drove him away with totality one day, although they never knew where it was he had gone.

On this day there was a courier who appeared, and he looked rather flustered, as if he’d been forced into rapid delivery, nearly beyond his physical capabilities.

Dear Al’bert,

I have need of your healer as expediently as possible. Let me repeat: as expediently as possible. Send her immediately and all inconveniences will be sorted out later, and generously. Use only the fastest horses.

Fang

Al’bert read this letter with Alice looking over one shoulder and the Wiz looking over the other. One shoulder-gazer of course was quite a bit taller than the other, but they made a balanced trio, regardless, and especially in reaction.

“What is this?” Al’bert asked the letter, as if it had any more answers.

“Well, it seems I’m off to meet the overlord,” replied Alice.

“Yes, but-,” began Al’bert.

“As expediently as possible,” said the Wiz, and then he grew extremely, and even uncharacteristically, helpful. “I’ll find the fastest horse in town,” he said, and then left with a breeze. Al’bert only spared one brief look of irritation after the Wiz before continuing his sentence.

“Why would he need you?” he wondered. “Aren’t there healers in the south too?”

“Perhaps this is my chance for a promotion,” Alice said teasingly, but her humor was lost on him and his thoughts. She smiled, but it was only for herself since he was still staring at the letter as if it could be decoded, somehow, so she touched his arm and spoke again. “I suppose I’ll be working on my expediency, now. If I leave right away, I can be back in a week or so, depending on how long he might need my services.”

Al’bert didn’t say anything quite yet, but took her arm with his hand to stay her while he began to fold the letter to its former unread state with the other. It was only something he busied himself with in order to allow himself time to think before responding to her, and they both knew it, but he folded it neatly and sheathed it silently into the inner pocket of his coat while his other hand held her with a firm, unyielding grip. At last he finished, and his eyes finally rose. As they met hers, his grip relaxed on her arm, and then fell away, and then he altogether receded from her, although he didn’t move more than a half step away. His breath was short, and so she became very curious.

“You’re acting silly,” she told him blatantly.

“It’s because I don’t know what to say,” he replied.

“Then don’t say anything.”

“I don’t think I can do that.”

“All the more reason to leave right away,” she told him with a half-grin.

The humor relaxed him somewhat; it always did. So he began to speak to her.

“I know Fang, Alice, and … I am probably being useless, but I am…” he stopped, then thought, then meandered: “Concerned…”

“You’re saying you’re worried about me?” she offered.

Al’bert was obviously very uncomfortable with this concept, but his sigh at long last voiced his consent. She grinned as he glanced away, and moved very near to him.

“That’s rather adorable,” she told him closely, almost condescendingly, then gave his silver lock a playful tug. He looked faintly annoyed by the gesture, but it only furthered her enjoyment of the moment as she moved to whisper against his ear, “Good-bye, Al’bert.”

His eyes were closed, she saw, as she pulled away from him. He always smelled like leather and warmth, and as she drew back, she inhaled, savoring it for what it was. As his eyes opened, she gave him her most jaunty smile and left him behind, all the while looking forward to a wild, harried ride towards the south to meet the overlord.[1]



[1] The scene on page #334 is intermittent between this chapter and the next.

No comments: