Ruby Red and Gentilberry Green: A Fantastical Romance - Part IX

in #fiction6 years ago (edited)

This is the ninth part of an ongoing serial. Here are Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, and Eight. Updates every two days.

By the time Anne realized that she was no longer falling, she had already come to a complete halt.

Halt, as a matter of fact, was an inaccurate descriptor of her state. She hadn’t slowed down at all. She had simply switched from a state of falling to not-falling, as quickly and cleanly as a new-oiled gate-latch. She was seated… somewhere. She couldn’t really tell just yet. There were still spots in the back of her eyes. Her skin still prickled from sheer speed. It was a marvel her stomach hadn’t flipped inside-out. Even the green dress was gone, although to where, she had no idea.

She rubbed her tingling lips, glanced down at her legs to make sure they were still there, then stood up with the decided intention of kicking the nearest object over.

Naturally, she fell like a string of sausages.

“Well, don’t just stand there!” she snapped. “Help me!”

Necristo stared at her, then touched one hand to his chest. The chandelier reflected the back of his white head, splitting it into so many milky rays like diamonds.

Me? he mouthed.

Yes, you, mouthed Anne, frazzled hair scraping on the lush carpet, and if you were a gentleman you’d realize that. Didn’t your mother teach you how to treat a lady? I swear, men these days. No manners at all!

As things were, this was slightly too much for anyone to insinuate in a single go, let alone a mentally and physically unbalanced girl of eighteen years, and so Necristo simply tilted his head, blinked in a confused fashion, and waited.

It was at this point that Anne considered her options. She could, perhaps, continue fuming on the ground, but she was actually famished, and she did have her dignity to care about. She could get up by herself, if her legs would hold her, but that would probably give Necristo the completely wrong impression. You didn’t teach a boy to be a gentleman simply by doing everything yourself, after all. That wasn’t how it worked in the slightest.

So she swallowed her pride, forced her eyebrows down, and said, mouth twitching:

“As you can see, Mr. Sorcerer, I have fallen over, and I cannot get up. It would be an honor if you would assist me to my feet.”

“Oh,” said Necristo.

He raised a finger. An unseen something tugged Anne by the shoulders and returned her to her velvet chair. She stared, patted herself down, rubbed her aching hands, looked up, and then stared again.

“Oh,” said Anne.

The dining room was the most beautiful space she had ever been in. It was small, no larger than her bedroom in Necristo’s house, but the walls were blue and gold and the carpet was a beautiful shade of burgundy, making her feel as if she were ensconced inside an old jewelry box. The round tablecloth was the purest white she had ever seen, filigreed with gold at the corners, and at one end of the room glinted an old worn mirror, with two brass lionsheads looking sternly out from top and bottom.

Necristo sat anxiously in front of his plate, knife and fork hidden underneath his fidgeting hands.

“I’m sorry, Miss Gentilberry. I was under the… the impression that you wouldn’t want my help.”

Anne sighed, rubbing her forehead. It was a bit hard to be angry at him anymore. Not when he had saved her from falling forever, and given her such a beautiful place for breakfast. Besides, it was like losing your temper at a scrawny puppy.

“Now why in the world would you think that, Mr. Sorcerer? Men are meant to help ladies in distress, aren’t they?”

“Some of the other women didn’t, ah, appreciate it,” winced Necristo. “They said it was, well, sexist.”

Anne had absolutely no idea what this sexist thing was, but it sounded naughty. She frowned to show her disapproval.

“So you have been making a habit of this. How many women have you taken?”

“I always put them back,” said Necristo, picking up the service bell and ringing it. “Coffee or tea, Miss Gentilberry?”

“Milk will do,” said Anne. “And just because you put us back doesn’t mean you can just take us. How do you think I feel?”

Necristo smiled. It was a thin, fleeting thing, but strangely transfiguring. It made him look less helpless. Only wan, in a worn-out, accepting way. He looked tragically young.

“Miss Gentilberry,” he said, “do you mind if I ask you a question in turn?”

Anne squinted suspiciously at her glass of milk, darted her tongue out, and licked a bit off the froth. It tasted annoyingly good. She nodded.

“Is there anyone in your family who has, well, the power to stop me from taking you?”

Anne shook her head. It didn’t sound anything like a threat, and at any rate, she was farm stock. She prided herself on telling thing as they were, even if it took a few days or so.

“Not in mine. I’ve heard we Gentilberries are a widespread lot, though.”

“Correct,” said Necristo. “You have, ah, quite the pedigree, even if you may not know it. Your blood… well, it’s so powerful, I felt that Creation wouldn’t be too much of a problem for you. Even as a first magic.”

She did know it, as a matter of fact, but she wasn’t about to admit it.

“Which is what I can’t make sense of,” she said. “What’re you trying to do, make a fool of me? You aren’t afraid that I’ll just jump the gate? Go back home, where I belong?”

“You could,” said Necristo, raising a very well-mannered finger, and looking hopefully up at her. “If you knew how to, that is.”

Anne folded her arms and sat where she was, mouth twitching at intervals. A jug of milk materialized, topped off the froth in her glass, then vanished.

“You can’t?” gasped Necristo, eyes growing very wide and very round.

“No,” Anne groaned at last. “I mean, yes, I can, but I don’t want to, because…”

There were just so many things inside her head, jostling like a whole stall’s worth of bulls. Ma, Uncle Matt, Necristo, two whole Aunt Matties… it was like her entire family’s history was tied up here, locked into a frayed dead knot. If she left now, she knew that she’d never, ever forgive herself. Not even in the afterlife.

“So you’ll stay with me,” said Necristo, looking far happier than anyone with snow-white skin had a right to be. “Wonderful! I can’t even tell you how delighted I am, Miss Gentilberry. I was so worried…”

“Stop, stop, stop. Just stop.”

When she was sufficiently certain that Necristo had gotten the message, Anne dropped her hand, took the fork, and jammed it as best as she could into the table. It bounced, which was slightly disconcerting. She put on her best business face. It didn’t feel very good at all.

“Mr. Sorcerer, I must tell you that never, ever, not in my entire life, have I been so bamboozled by a single individual.”

“Ah. Thanks?”

“No, it’s not something to be thankful for. Look here. Let’s try to see things from my perspective, shall we? You snatch me from my bedroom without even bothering to call a whirlwind, you lock me up in the nicest torture room I’ve ever seen, you bring me bread and butter just because I asked for it, you give me whatever this Creation hootenanny magic stuff is…”

“Well, I thought you might like it.”

“And what’s more,” pressed Anne, “you let me run you over like a starving sow. It ain’t natural. Not in the slightest.”

Necristo fell silent. A stack of hotcakes appeared on her plate one by one, each one a marvelous circle. A dollop of fresh cream bled warm honey from the top of the tower, glazing the ridges with golden-white. There was a fresh blueberry in the center.

“Well then,” he said in a new, pensive voice, completely stutter-free, “I guess I’ll have to be plain with you, Miss Gentilberry.”

She glanced down at the fork in her hand, suddenly self-conscious, and dropped it. The change in his manner was astounding. He still wasn’t looking at her, but his shoulders were straight, and his face was completely free of the perpetual, wincing cringe that she had come to expect.

“I need you,” said Necristo the sorcerer, “to kill me. Take my heart, Anne.”

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