Friday, November 23, 2007

Chapter 18

XVIII

Sangwine continued the sword fights in the lower quarter, not only because it gave him what he wanted to survive, but because it gave him something to do. However, as a precautionary measure, he took to wearing a porcelain mask when he fought.

He realized this probably only made him more memorable, and didn’t quite hide what he was, but with his hair braided in a particularly ear-concealing fashion, he could be mistaken for… well. An extraordinarily pretty young human man. Maybe.

He also went so far as to ask the man running the fights to conceal his elfin nature, but didn’t go into details as to why. The man was remarkably curious, and even required a bribe to go along with it, but seeing as how Sangwine was bringing in a great deal of profits, he was more agreeable than he usually would have been.

If pressed, Sangwine would be forced to admit that he found the idea of being a mysterious masked swordsman rather attractive, because he had always been a person drawn to vaguely romantic ideas. He was a dreamer, as it were. Or at least, so his Aunt Ellinya would have said. Countless were the times in the past that she had to pull him back from his daydreams to focus on the task at hand. She was always patient, though.

Sangwine sighed.

Tonight he’d fought someone faster, who fought with two blades; one being a long rapier, the other something shorter and thicker for parrying and defense. He was glad they were finally putting some effort into giving him someone challenging to fight, although there wasn’t much to this one, either. The fellow was a roughly educated swordfighter. He’d never had any sort of formal training, Sangwine could tell. So as long as this man relied on his field education, there would always be holes in his technique. Sangwine found those holes, took advantage of them, and brought him swiftly to defeat.

The speed of a human can never match the speed of an elf, anyway.

So now he wound his solitary way to the room he’d let, this one being out of the way and discreet, but near the cafĂ© he preferred, and found something new at his doorstep. It was a young woman.

“Hello,” she said. She had auburn hair and hazel eyes, and was in the very bloom of youth.

“Hello,” he replied. “Do I know you?”

“Not yet,” she said, smiling at him. Her hand moved in a way that drew attention to the dress she was wearing, which was a remarkably rich shade of red. “They said you like red,” she said.

How did they know I like red? Sangwine found himself wondering.

She was a lovely young woman, of course, but Sangwine would sooner wallow in a mud puddle as let a human touch him romantically.

“Well, yes, I do like red. Thank you,” he said oddly, and moved to unlock his door, which she was partially blocking with herself. He tried to be polite in the matter, but she seemed oblivious… or waiting for something. He really had no idea.

“Ah, pardon me, my… ah… lock is behind your arm,” he said.

She sighed languidly.

“You sword fight like nothing I’ve ever seen,” she said. “What is your name?”

“I don’t have a name,” he replied enigmatically, still attempting to politely unlock his door, but failing. She ignored his unwillingness to part with his name and went on.

“The way you move… it’s so beautiful,” she said. “And deadly at the same time! It’s a devastating combination of grace and fire.”

He paused, somewhat interested in having his ego padded, and also curiously fascinated at how this human seemed to be waxing poetic in a very clumsy way in order to describe him. She gave him a look, and he remembered what she was here for.

“Thank you,” he said shortly. “Now, if you’ll kindly move, I’d like to-“

“Don’t you like girls?” she asked point-blank. He was aghast.

“Of course I do!” he said, affronted at the idea of his masculinity and orientation being questioned.

“You don’t think I’m pretty?” she asked. “Is that it?”

“You’re very pretty,” he replied, although he instantly felt condescending from the way he said it. “You’re just- it’s just…”

He really had nothing else to say about it, that he wanted to relay to this woman.

“What is your name?” she asked again.

He’d had about enough embarrassment for this night, and even though he was trying to spare the feelings of this obviously misled young woman, he resented being in this situation at all. If Fang hadn’t gone and ruined everything, he’d never be in this situation. He’d be at home, with his family, waiting to be paired with whatever high-bred elven maiden his family deemed quality enough for … well, that sounded lousy, too.

He exhaled and leaned a shoulder wearily against the doorframe.

“My name is Sangwine,” he told her. She smiled warmly at him.

“What a curious name,” she said.

“What’s yours?” he asked.

“Maisy,” she said.

“And you call my name odd?” he said to her.

“What?” she replied with a smile. “My name is boring. There’s a Maisy on every corner here, don’t you know that?”

“No…” he said.

“No, because you’re obviously not from around here, are you,” she said.

“I’m not,” he relented.

She studied him for a long moment, wherein he felt a measure of embarrassment and so moved to return his attention to unlocking his door. Her hand found his arm, to stop him.

“Don’t touch me,” he said.

She recoiled, and he felt a tinge of remorse for being harsh.

“…please,” he added posthumously, then quickly entered his room and shut the door.

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