Thursday, November 8, 2007

Chapters 13, 14

XIII

Al’bert stood in the waning light of afternoon and regarded the walls of this particular city. They were large; and poorly constructed. Kind of like humans.

He chuckled inwardly at his own wit, then sighed. It was more than two months ago that Fang had put him to the task of finding Prince Sangwine and putting an end to him. During that time, Al’bert had gathered some compatriots, if you could call them that. There was Steev, the big, dumb one who liked to smash things. He supposed everyone needed one of those. The fellow who never gave his name, who everyone called Thief, was flighty, and seemed nervous all the time. Al’bert wondered just how intent Thief really was on this mission. He seemed to have a conscience, which really didn’t do well for someone who is trying to follow the orders of Fang, Overlord of Darkness. Al’bert decided long ago he’d keep a sly eye on Thief, and so he did. Also with them was a tall human called The Wiz, who was eccentric and powerful, but made Al’bert a little uneasy. He looked at Al’bert the same way the girl Al’ice did, sometimes, and Al’bert just didn’t swing that way. However, Al’bert prided himself on his ability to manipulate all sorts of people, and this was just another challenge.

With the innate abilities he’d enjoyed since birth, it was a matter of course that Al’bert was constantly in need of something to challenge him, for anything rarely did. He regarded Al’ice, the human lass, sidelong for a moment. She wasn’t unpleasant to look at, for a human. She must have felt his eyes on her, because she glanced his way, and smiled. Al’bert gave her that look, and as her cheeks flushed he felt a certain measure of satisfaction. He kept her squarely pinned beneath his graceful finger; always wanting more, but embroiled enough to be blind to anything else that might come along. She was a decent weapon, but utterly and completely unchallenging.

That’s not to say he didn’t use her, because he would have considered him completely foolish not to. If nothing else, Al’bert had an honest and healthy appreciation for sex. Well, perhaps overly healthy, he thought, but everyone has their idiosyncrasies. All along his past lay scattered the numerous conquered battlefields of his youth, and before him all he could see is victory. It was all coming up sunshine and roses, really.

There was the problem with Sangwine, though. Fang had sent Al’bert to do this, but Al’bert didn’t really like the idea of killing Sangwine. He was a lover, not a fighter, so the saying goes, and he really preferred to find some way around it. Most of what he remembered of Sangwine was a little skinny boy running around with a wooden practice sword in his hand, always with a sense of awkward purpose. Al’bert had always found him unintentionally hilarious, and Fang just found him annoying. So while Sangwine had worked on his lessons, Fang and Al’bert had worked on honing their skills in a more practical way; Fang was always drawn to gambling, debauchery, and, moreover, intrigue among the men, and Al’bert was drawn to the women, for obvious reasons. Debauchery and intrigue were a part of that too, he supposed. It was all part of the overall amusement, more or less. They’d been the best of friends; inseparable as their unique talents complimented each other to perfection.

He’d changed, though, Fang had. Gone was the fun and lightheartedness, and the quick rapier wit was replaced with fierce razor-sharp command. Fang demanded results and complete loyalty, and for now Al’bert was willing to play along.

Al’bert had his own ideas on how to off Sangwine, most which involved allowing something besides himself to do the job for him. If somehow Sangwine were to get killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, well so be it. Even better yet, if he were to be there of his own choice. Al’bert pondered on this as he approached the gates of the rather largish human city. Quite a lot of asking around and manipulating had brought him here, and it hadn’t always been unpleasant. This city, however, was remarkably unpleasant. If Sangwine wasn’t an elf, which would doubtless stick out like a sore thumb, Al’bert would have been dismayed at the idea of finding one person in this city.

As it was, he decided it was going to be rather easy.

Al’ice brushed past him, her smile warm and languid on the backdrop of crowds.

Definitely sunshine and roses.

XIV

Not to roll his eyes while walking into what they called the pen took all of Sangwine’s willpower. He supposed it would be better to seem unassuming in this first of fights.

The pen, as it was penned, was a sort of fence, in an octagonal shape. The width of it in each direction was about the length of three tall men, and around it were wooden benches. Sangwine noticed numerous blood stains on the floor, and, in a new strategy, he tried to ignore the stench, which was at least five times worse in here than anywhere else he’d heretofore been in his life. Looking around at the patrons, who were busily looking him over and doubtless fritting away their sparse coin on useless bets, he noted they were peasant-class, the whole twenty or so of them.

So this is what peasants do, he thought to himself.

His challenger, Jend, appeared on the other side. Also remarkably peasant-like in flavor, Jend had a crude sword in his hand a bit smaller than Sangwine had expected, and he wasn’t a young man.

Sangwine was genuinely amused and surprised at realizing humans were even more dense than he’d surmised. He didn’t bother drawing his sword.

Gilden emerged from a side door and walked to the center of the octagon. He raised his hand in a theatrical way very unsuited for the small group of witnesses and began to talk loudly.

On this side we have Jend of Bale Alley, and on this side Sangwine, who is an elf.

There was some chuckling from the audience.

Remember, the goal is to disarm, but if you can’t do that, killing works well enough, Gilden said, then he left the ring.

A hag rang a bell.

Jend lurched at Sangwine, his sword out in an obvious attempt to catch Sangwine off-guard. It might have worked, if he didn’t move as slow as molasses. Sangwine sidestepped around Jend's thrust, and past Jend, who emerged a little disoriented on the other side. Jend was nothing if not deliberate and determined, though, and he tried again with the lunging, as if this time it would work. For Sangwine, it made the fight dip into the well of slightly ludicrous.

At last Jend realized he could not lunge Sangwine to death, and he stopped, sword at the ready, and panting.

Draw your sword, he scathed.

Sangwine did not deign reply to the man.

Sangwine’s silence only served to ignite the barbaric fury of Jend, who seemed to decide a passionately errant side-swipe was in order. He flung his sword blade in a long arc towards the elf, who stepped back out of reach with grace and ease. Another arc, and another followed, and each one was dodged with svelte he found sublimely irritating. Perhaps he supposed that with enough force behind his swipes that Sangwine would merely stand there and let Jend flay him, but it wasn’t very well planned out.

Finally, as Jend was lashing out with his blade slicing diagonally through the air, Sangwine dodged sidelong, moved behind him, and pushed Jend squarely in the lower-back. Being entirely off-balance, he fell to the floor face first, and dropped his sword.

Seizing opportunity, but in a casual way, Sangwine pinned the flat sword’s blade on the floor with his boot and declared victory with his demeanor.

I win, he said.

The entire room was silent, as if still processing what they had seen.

The hag rang the bell again.

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