Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Chapter 23

XXIII

Al’bert always dressed very carefully in the morning. He never really thought about it, but it was something in which he found a distinct sort of pleasure. It was vanity, surely, but a vanity so engrained in the elven psyche that it wasn’t remotely considered vain by Al’bert; it was just a part of life. However, if someone were to call him vain he wouldn’t care at all.

So this particular morning, as he smoothed the clasp near the throat of his longcoat, one of his favorite noises in the world came from the mussed recesses of the bed at hand. It was the sort of noise a woman makes in the morning, when not displeased at all with the events of the night before. He glanced from himself in the mirror to the tumble of auburn hair which was currently the only evidence in plain sight that the girl existed and he grinned to himself.

His thoughts split in two directions as he straightened his cuffs. One part of his mind went to the fine make of his coat, and how he was chagrined that he had to be careful with it because there wasn’t similar quality of tailoring to be found anywhere near this human city. This was yet another way he found himself roughing it here among the humans of the world. The other direction his mind went was to Sangwine.

The girl had been a fair, pleasant conquest, and she’d told him everything she knew and possibly more than she knew. Al’bert now knew where Sangwine lived, when he was there, and where he went during the day. He had everything he needed to do what Fang had sent him to do.

Al’bert’s movements slowed as he considered this.

It was problematic, to say the least. Al’bert just didn’t want to kill Sangwine. Sangwine might have been a fairly annoying kid, sure, but he didn’t think he deserved to die. Well, none of the royal family deserved to die, but the way it goes is that when those at the top are removed, those below move up a rank. So with the death of the royal family, Al’bert’s father, le Duc du Fromage, moved up in royalty, as did the rest of the Fromages. It was a mixed blessing, one that required heartlessness to appreciate. Al’bert’s best bet was turning a blind eye, and doing what he must.

But if what he must required killing?

He sighed audibly, not knowing what he was doing.

What’s wrong? he heard the girl ask from behind.

He looked at her in the mirror as she was trussed with an angelic swirl of sheets and coverings which created a sort of strapless gown twisting to the edges of the bed. Her auburn hair stood out starkly against the white and her fair skin. He smiled at her.

Nothing at all, he replied, smoothing the front of his attire.

He paused.

Except one thing, he said to her, turning.

What is that? she asked him, tilting her head slightly.

I’ve run out of time, he said. I have to go, now.

She looked somewhat disappointed then asked, You have to go find him?

Al’bert caught himself before he hesitated too long.

Yes, he said simply, as he leaned over her to kiss her.

As he shut the door behind him, he realized he wasn’t going to find Sangwine. He didn’t know how long he could put Fang off, but he didn’t want to do it quite yet. Regarding the act of killing, he supposed the four people in his current service would have few qualms with killing the doomed prince. Well, the thief probably wouldn’t. Three of them, anyway. But it all came down to his orders, and Al’bert couldn’t shake the feeling that Sangwine’s blood would be on his hands no matter what he did.

There was also his family to consider. As they were a family aligned with Fang, as it were, it felt to Al’bert as if they were hostage to Fang’s dictatorship. If Al’bert were to perform too poorly he didn’t doubt that Fang would use members of his family as leverage to force a better performance out of him. He’d done it already with others. The Fromages had been treated differently than most, simply because Fang and Al’bert were best friends as children, but Fang was rapidly losing his humanity, as they say.

Overall, however, there was nothing to be done for it. Circumstances were what they were, and Al’bert would eventually do what he had to do, when he had to do it.

For now, though, he would stall.

As he thought this last thought, he’d arrived at the fairly pleasant inn where he and the rest of his party were staying. The morning was brisk and lovely, and as he turned into the common room, he saw the four sitting at a table. Al’ice was looking for him, and as their eyes met, he made sure to act as if everything was quite normal and perfect. The Wiz, who had been ruminating over a steaming cup of coffee in the direction of the bored others, spoke first.

So, have you found him? he asked.

Quite nearly, said Al’bert cheerfully. Perhaps today I’ll stumble across what I’m looking for.

The girl didn’t know? asked Wiz, knowing full well Al’bert didn’t desire him to bring up the girl in front of Al’ice. Al’bert made a mental note to chastise Wiz later, as Al’ice in turn feigned nonchalant tea consumption.

No, said Al’bert dryly. She didn’t know.

Then why did you…”

Al’bert coughed loudly, and Wiz took the hint at last. He rolled his eyes and ignored the rest of whatever Al’bert or anyone else might do, and absorbed himself broodily in scribbling notes into a tiny notebook next to his coffee mug. Steev was too moronic to care about what was going on, the thief looked nervous as always, and Al’ice continued to act uninterested and nonchalant. Al’bert knew he was probably going to have to perform some damage control later with Al’ice.

As he moved to sit beside her at the table, she stood up and left. Al’bert ignored this pointedly.

It should only be a few more days, he told the rest. Maybe a week.

A few of them looked bored. Well, the two that weren’t drawing algebraic shapes in a notebook and completely ignoring everything he was saying looked bored.

At most a fortnight, finished Al’bert, to no one in particular.

3 comments:

spasticfreakshow said...

i begin to think that albert is a good guy after all, even if none too gentlemanly. maybe sangwine will find in him an unlikely ally in the end.

novel's going well, eh? when is nanowrimo over?

Colby said...

NaNo is over! I'm just continuing the novel because I'd like to finish it. :)

Littera said...

I'm so glad that you are writing this -- I've been a fan of your comic for a while now, and really love reading the back story!
Also, Xylic is my favorite, though I feel very sorry for him.