Notes: another chapter I enjoyed writing immensely. Please enjoy.
Time for Assemblies and Farewells
‘I thought Erwin would’ve put up more of a fight! If I knew he was going to fall like autumn apples I wouldn’t have let it hold me up for my meeting!’
The fat, boisterous man finished his sentence by thumping that burly dining table with his goblet. Mikel Portat, mayor of Gleanne, was always the life of parties. Tonight was no exception. He had done enough drinking, eating and laughing to match all his guests put together. Even Wallace Baldrim had to be content with second place as Mikel moved to his third bottle.
‘Dad, what did I say about drinking?’
Mikel’s enthusiasm seemed to have faded somewhat under the stern gaze of his daughter.
‘Last bottle, darling,’ he chuckled awkwardly, ‘I swear by the Lady.’
‘You are hopeless,’ Anna gave a shake her head and snatched the treasured bottle of foreign wine, ‘if only mum was here to see this.’
Mikel exchanged a weary glance with Nileas as he watched Anna leave, no doubt to hide his bottle in a stash he’ll never find.
‘That girl knows this house better than I do,’ conceded the mayor, ‘her mother would be very proud to see what a tight leash she has put on me.’
‘Love of a daughter,’ said the old Master, laughing, ‘right, Rose?’
Rosalind had to suppress her amusement by quickly occupying her mouth with chunks of steak. To her left and right, Wallace and Boris both took to emulating her effort, though with less success; the fat knight had long since ran out of meat and Boris had to reach for the napkin as food threatened to make an exit through his nose. Even the stoic Cain Edgeworth smiled. Oh, if only the poor father knew how Anna had been ‘hiding’ his liquor.
‘Oh well, for all it’s worth,’ laughed the fat mayor, ‘take my blessings, the town’s favourite fatso.’
‘And where does that leave me?’ interjected Wallace, drumming his belly with fingers the size of small carrots.
‘Fat, I suppose,’ Rosalind sank her elbow into the man’s gut, ‘never knew you to be an attention seeker, sir.’
The fat knight chuckled in good nature. ‘It’s a pity the Watch doesn’t take women. We could use someone of your skill.’
Upon this statement, Cain’s hard eyes shot daggers at Wallace. ‘You will not claim her, knight. She is ours.’
‘Cain,’ reprimanded Nileas, ‘please.’
‘If I had it my way, all those boys in the morning would be reading up on the Arcane Craft instead of playing with sticks,’ continued the Director, no doubt spurred on by alcohol, ‘for the past three years, we have claimed multiple medals in provincial tourneys, but not turned out a single Adept until Rose came of age. What does that tell you? We, the people of Gleanne, have become muscle heads!’
Cain got to his feet and departed at a frenzied pace. Then, as if he had forgotten his coat, the Director turned his heel at the door.
‘Congratulations, Rose,’ his lips, after much twitching, squeezed out what little smile there was, ‘you’ll make an outstanding addition to the Society. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.’
With that, Cain Edgeworth gave a final wave of the hand and disappeared. Anna returned moments later, having ‘hidden’ her father’s liquor down the drain, holding plates of pudding. Wallace welcomed the dessert with two spoons and looked about for seconds. Anna, the ever well-prepared hostess, slipped him another serving.
‘Well,’ declared the satisfied man, ‘Rose, congratulations. Everyone knew you’d make us proud. That’s it for me. Good night to you all.’
‘We better leave too,’ said Rosalind, who then whispered to Boris, ‘let’s go egg Erwin again.’
The smaller boy nodded.
‘You two go on ahead,’ said Nileas, ‘I have things to discuss with the mayor.’
During late hours, scattered pairs of Eyes wondered the streets of Gleanne, more occupied by chatter than patrolling. Any man with a bird’s eye view of the town would suggest that its true guardians were the tall, black lampposts that kept the shadows confined to its corners.
Rosalind was in a good mood. She lifted both hands in the air and spun about with the grace of a dancer. The moon, stars and cool breeze made this town much more agreeable than it was in the morning. Seeing men of the Watch, the girl waved at them, smiling.
‘Hi Rose,’ replied a man, shouldering his staff, ‘knew you’d make it. Congratulations!’
Not far behind, Boris watched her, entranced, enchanted. The moonlight, bouncing of her hair, gave Rosalind an almost unearthly radiance. He would’ve caught up to her had his ragged pockets not been laden by eggs. Though Rosalind suggested that they would pelt Erwin together, Boris knew he would simply end up supplying the girl with ammunition. His hands, as they were, would not allow much exertion, and he doubted whether he had the heart to face the large man once Rosalind left town.
They found their victim tied to the back of the fountain statue. This punishment was both boring and uncomfortable, a combination that drove Erwin cursing so poetically that Rosalind had to collude members of the Watch into taping his mouth shut. For the afternoon, his muffled anger served to attract record crowds as the local band was made to play their third encore.
Presently, a young woman stood looking up at Erwin. While her dirty overalls were nothing to boast over, she had the physique and a well-rounded face to turn more than a pair of eyes. Her blond pigtails, under the watchful moon, were like two lanterns. Just moments ago she had tried to untie the man only to be stopped by an Eye. Unable to free Erwin, she was resigned to staring at his sorry state.
‘Can you at least remove the tape from his mouth?’ she asked the man guarding Erwin, ‘I need to speak to him.’
‘Sorry, but doing so would invalidate this duel.’
‘Alright,’ the pretty girl threw up her gloved hands, ‘Erwin, mum wants to know if you can come home for dinner. Can you come home soon?’
The large man shook his head. He also made an audible struggle against the tape but came off second best in the contest between lip and rubber.
‘No, he can’t,’ Rosalind answered for her prisoner, ‘he is to be tied till midnight. That was the penalty for defeat.’
‘Oh, hello Rose,’ smiled the girl, ‘is that the Order’s badge?’
‘Thanks Jane,’ Rosalind pulled her into a hug, ‘what brings you here?’
‘Well, Erwin didn’t come home for dinner so mum sent me out to look for him,’ said Jane, ‘and I honestly did not expect to find him here. Why is he up there anyway?’
‘I fought him in a duel and won,’ explained Rosalind, ‘Boris, show Jane what he did to your hands.’
Jane, a gentle, caring girl, gasped when Boris rolled up his sleeves. She wrapped the hands in her own and whispered soft apologies to the young man.
‘And that’s why I put him up there,’ Rosalind shrugged her shoulders, ‘sorry to waste your time, Jane.’
‘I’ll tell mum Erwin got in trouble again,’ Jane then turned to shake her head at her brother, ‘oh Erwin, sometimes I think you’ll never grow up.’
Her head down in shame, Jane departed. Once she was out of sight, Rosalind gave Boris a nod, upon which the boy produced two eggs. She took them, juggled them as if they were rocks and smiled ever so maliciously at Erwin.
‘I feel sorry for Jane,’ Rosalind’s hands arced with such force that it became a blur, ‘she works day in day out and has to take care this big baby. You’d be forgiven for thinking she was the older child.’
Erwin closed his eyes as he braced himself for the next egg. He needn’t have, for it did not find his face. The projectile struck his groin so hard that Rosalind thought he might break free. Mercilessly, she gestured for more ammunition from Boris, her silent accomplice.
‘This is fun, Boris,’ cried Rosalind, laughing, ‘pity they hurt your hand. You should really give this a go sometime.’
Having covered Erwin with what might’ve been tomorrow’s breakfast, the two continued homeward. She saw Boris to his home. The boy, quiet as a cat, pushed aside the wicket gate without so much as making a squeak. He lifted his injured hand halfway, as if caught between detaining the girl and waving good-bye.
‘Rose,’ said Boris, ‘thank you.’
‘For being a good friend.’
‘Oh stop! You know I’ll hurt Erwin with the slightest excuse.’
Boris laughed. Neither spoke for some time. All that could be heard was the softly buzzing lamp standing outside the Hardend Craft House. Rosalind, expecting Boris to bid her good night, found this silence rather disconcerting.
‘Boris, what’s wrong?’
‘Oh, uh…it’s just that you’re going away,’ he smiled sadly, ‘I –’
Frowning, Rosalind shot a finger at Boris. ‘Don’t cry on me.’
She then softened, and gestured for him to approach. Boris, somewhat hesitantly, made his way to the fence. He was understandably nervous as Rosalind had a habit of pinching him on such occasions. Without warning, she threw her arms around him, smothering the smaller boy. It took him a moment to realise what had happened and to respond in kind.
‘It’s not like I’m going away for long, you stupid mule,’ said Rosalind, ‘besides, I’ll write to you. Does that make you feel better?’
Boris nodded. ‘Good night, Rose.’
Rays of sunlight had leaked through her drapes by the time Rosalind opened her eyes. Yodelling a nameless tune, she descended and greeted Nileas. The old man was in his favourite chair, browsing the latest issue of the Dominion Weekly.
‘Good morning, Rose,’ said Nileas, ‘Agatha came over earlier.’
Rosalind felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up.
‘She wants you to join her for breakfast,’ said Nileas, ‘go on, I told her you’d be there shortly.’
‘Why can’t I just have the usual here?’
‘Because she insisted,’ Nileas went back to reading, ‘and there are no polite ways to turn down an old woman’s goodwill.’
‘This is Mrs Birdbrain –’ Rosalind quickly corrected herself. ‘Mrs Lanrook doesn’t like me.
‘Nonsense,’ said Nileas as he brought the pages against his face to better examine the crossword puzzle, ‘why would she invite you over for breakfast if that was the case?’
Rosalind shuddered as she stepped inside the Lanrook front yard. She was dressed her best. Her ensemble of pleated skirt, summer blouse, round hat and gloves made her feel ridiculous. Surely there were better expressions of feminine modesty than wrapping oneself up like a box of candies to be given away. Don’t break anything!
Tentatively, she knocked, having not touched the woodwork for five years. Agatha admitted her quickly. The Lanrook home has not changed much. Being a fastidious cleaner, Agatha had tasked herself to make everything appear as if they were installed yesterday. Everywhere she turned, Rosalind found spotless rugs, shimmering floorboards, snow white drapes and shining wall paper. She half-expected the clocks to be still, too.
‘Sit,’ said Agatha, ‘I’ll heat it up for you. In all honesty I cannot see how it is possible to sleep in on such a beautiful day.’
Rosalind dared not even respond to Agatha, fearing whatever she said may trigger another lecture on the makings of a proper lady. She sat fiddling her thumb, waiting. Moments later, steaming hot omelettes slipped onto her plate. The scent of lean beef, pepper and onions caused Rosalind to desert all manners. Agatha frowned, but for some reason, refrained from commenting.
‘Do you like it?’ asked the old lady.
‘Yes,’ managed Rosalind between bites, ‘it’s good.’
‘I can only imagine how you and Nileas get by,’ Agatha sighed, ‘he’s a man of science and you’re more likely to wrestle your dinner than put on an apron.’
Rosalind, embarrassed, managed a weak smile. This certainly was better than whatever an Eltridge could put on the table.
‘So you’re in the Order,’ began Agatha, ‘I heard from Nileas.’
‘You must be seventeen then,’ said Agatha, ‘how time flies. When you first turned up at my doorstep, you couldn’t even reach the door handle.’
Rosalind knew better than to speak up. The elderly have a habit of drifting off into meaningless monologue.
‘It’s good to see that you’ve grown into a charming young lady, at least when you choose to be.’
The old woman went away, returning with tea and cookies. She set down the tray and offered Rosalind a cup.
‘I was never lucky enough to have a daughter,’ Agatha sighed, ‘I had three boys. They are now three heartless men who do not even think to pay their mother a visit on her birthday.
‘In a way, Rose, you brought hope and joy into my house when you first showed up at my front yard. I thought of you as the little girl I never had. But you were difficult, much more difficult than I ever expected. I introduced you to Anna, to no avail. The moment I finish my lesson I would find you tearing out Erwin’s hair. Every afternoon I see you covered in mud and bruises. It got worse when that oaf Hardend decided to give you a crossbow. The Lady be praised that the only thing you shot was poor Jerry Senior!’ She laid down her cup and stared Rose straight in the eye. ‘That’s when I gave up. You weren’t my daughter and whatever you did was no business of mine. If Nileas tolerated your behaviour then who am I to oppose?’
‘You’ve always been good to me,’ Rosalind said slowly, her eyes downcast, ‘I’m sorry I repaid you so poorly. I liked Jerry too and I’m really sorry I…’
‘Jerry Senior was a bird,’ said Agatha, ‘and birds are poor substitutes for sons, no matter how broad their vocabulary. It was foolish of you to think that I would stop loving you over such an accident, and even more foolish of me to have done so. If you weren’t heading off, I may have never realised it.’
Rosalind stared up at the cage dangling by the window. Jerry hopped around, chirping. He grew louder and was at last supplied with water.
‘I have something for you, Rose,’ said Agatha, ‘here.’
The old woman removed her necklace. Rosalind knew what it was.
‘I can’t take that!’
It was a greenstone, shaped like a teardrop. Transparent, it encased a feather. To those initiated in the Craft, there was no higher prize. Notwithstanding the girl’s protest, Agatha laid it in her hand and closed them around the medium.
‘It may surprise you to know that I too, was once an Inquisitor,’ said Agatha, ‘this is the Amber of wind. Use it well.’
‘You should give it to your children,’ pleaded Rosalind, ‘I can’t claim this.’
‘My sons are even more hopeless than that Hardend boy when it comes to the Craft,’ Agatha laughed dryly, ‘and I haven’t used it once since I had Jerry. It should have no problem accepting you as its new mistress.’
‘This is worth more than a hundred gold!’
‘All the more reason that it should go to worthy hands,’ Agatha was firm, ‘I won’t hear any more objections. Your path is a perilous. It never hurts to be well armed when you’re a member of the Order.’
Rosalind stood, her lips quivering with emotion. ‘I…I shall cherish it!’ exclaimed the girl, fearing that her voice might fail her. ‘Thank you, thank you so much!’
Rosalind got up bright and early on the day of departure. She must’ve cried out all her sorrow after the encounter with Agatha for she felt cheerful today. Nileas, accompanying her, offered to take her backpack. This Rosalind allowed, for she travelled light. Together, they bounded for the train station, located just outside of town.
Anna came to deliver her ticket. Soon, the entire Hardend family turned up with the noted exception of Boris. Wallace Baldrim and his boys of the Watch too, joined in. By the time they had reached the station, almost half the town had gathered to see her off. The last to join this assembly was Jane, who came running.
‘Has anyone seen Erwin?’ cried the girl, ‘has anyone seen my brother?’
‘What’s wrong?’ asked Rosalind.
‘He left us a note saying he was going away,’ said Jane, trying to catch her breath, ‘but he’s never been gone for this long. I –’
Wallace took Jane aside. ‘He might’ve left town. Nobody has seen him for the past few days. Don’t worry, I’ll write to our neighbours. If they see him, they’ll let us know.’
‘If I find him,’ Rosalind made a fist pump, ‘I’ll send him back.’
‘Thank you, Rose.’
Rosalind, giving the town folks one last wave, made her way to the counter and presented her ticket. She was promptly admitted inside. The platform was an open court surrounded by tall grass. On it, a lone traveller sat under its derelict shelter, outnumbered by red sparrows. She recognised him in an instant.
‘Boris, what are you doing here?’
‘Rose,’ the boy looked up, beaming, ‘I’ve decided. I’m taking up an apprenticeship at my uncle’s Craft House.’
‘That doesn’t explain why you’re here.’
‘I’m going to Trisblanc.’
Rosalind contemplated the news for a while before sitting down next to Boris. She wore a large grin as she pinched his shoulder. The boy flinched. When laughter ceased, Rosalind tried her best to put on a straight face.
‘I want my hug back.’