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

in #fiction6 years ago (edited)

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

“How was breakfast?” asked Aunt Mattie, standing at the chest-of-drawers and scribbling.

Anne threw a brown knitted ball on the bed and flopped straight down on her face. Aunt Mattie picked the ball up and pulled it apart, squinting cynically.

“Mittens,” she said. “Are these souvenirs, girl, or are you trying to insinuate something?”

The ironing board known formerly as Anne lay stiff on the bed and made a low groaning noise. Aunt Mattie adjusted her hood, dropped the mittens, and turned back to the chest-of-drawers.

“You will have to talk to me, girl,” said Aunt Mattie, picking the quill-pen back up. “I can’t read your mind.”

“Aunt Mattie, why are men so stupid?”

“They don’t read minds, either,” said Aunt Mattie at once. “You’d be surprised at how far women can go on air and assumptions.”

“Air,” groaned Anne again, before rolling abruptly on her back and balking. “Wait. You saw me fall through the shower!”

“I did, yes,” said Aunt Mattie, eyeballing the parchment on the chest-of-drawers. “And technically, it wasn’t a shower at all, which probably explains why it was so empty.”

“Why didn’t you help me?”

“Because that’s not how magic works, girl. I can’t just snap my fingers and fly - I need to keep my magic in something, a stone or a phrase or a symbol, so I can see or hear or touch it. We mortals are grounded that way.”

“Oh, so the hood just turns you into an embroidered owl whenever you have it on. Brilliant.”

“It hides me,” said Aunt Mattie dryly, “but only when I ask it to. If anything, you should have saved yourself. You’re the one whom he’s sharing his sorcery with, although I have no idea why.”

Anne sat up and rubbed the back of her head. On one hand, she didn’t want to tell Aunt Mattie anything about what had happened at breakfast, because frankly, it was still annoying her. But on the other hand, she was rather certain that she’d go insane if she didn’t talk to someone about the whole kerfuffle, and the only someone here was, well, Aunt Mattie.

So she decided to go halfway.

“Aunt Mattie, you don’t seem to be very worried about my well-being. I mean, if Necristo is so dangerous that I have to take his heart, then why aren’t you helping me more?”

“Young lady,” said the scarecrow woman, finishing off the parchment with a scratchy flourish, “I have given you one of the most prized magical weapons in three worlds, and despite having it hidden in your pocket, you refuse to simply stab your captor with it. You’ll understand me when I say my hands are tied.”

Anne raised her finger, thought about it, then conceded the point.

“Alright, fine. I’ll give you that.”

“You don’t have to give me anything,” said Aunt Mattie. “Necristo is a sorcerer. If he wants to kill you, enslave you, or torture you forever, there’s not much I can actually do about it. The fact that he hasn’t done so already… well…”

“It means he’s nicer than you think,” said Anne in triumph, glad to score even half a point over her cantankerous Aunt.

“No, you silly girl. It means you’re more important to him than you think. Why else would he give you the power of Creation?”

“Simple. He doesn’t want me to run.”

Aunt Mattie laughed. It was a dry, weathered sound, like the howl of sand across a desert graveyard.

“No. He wants to make you just like him.”

Anne froze. Her hands suddenly felt heavy as lead. She stared down at them in horrified denial, half-expecting them to turn bone-white at any moment.

“That’s not true,” she said, heart sinking. “Why would he…”

“Think about it. You have Gentilberry blood, and with it, the talent to use sorcery without dying. You have no idea how many kings would kill you for that, enthrall your soul and raise you. If Necristo can make you into a sorceress just like him, even a half-sorceress, he’ll have the companion he needs.”

“But…”

Why would she trust her kidnapper, anyway? The whole idea was so absurd.

“That, or he can just take your heart and grow even stronger,” said Aunt Mattie.

“He… he wouldn’t do that. I mean, he’s so strong already…”

“There are sorcerers, and then there are sorcerers,” said Aunt Mattie, giving her usual look of ambiguous distaste. “What else do immortals have to do with their time?”

There was some part of her, deep down, that wanted to tell Aunt Mattie that she was wrong, wrong, wrong. That Necristo wanted nothing better than to die, that all Anne had to do was to give him a reason to live. But despite all that, she knew, clear as well-water, that there was no way she could fully trust a man she had just met yesterday, who had her in his house as a prisoner and guest. It was just too dangerous.

“I’m not going to say you’re wrong, Aunt Mattie.”

“For what it’s worth,” said the scarecrow woman, pursing her lips, “I don’t think I am.”

“But I think, well, that there is a possibility that you might be right.”

“If I am, girl,” said Aunt Mattie, “then the rest of your life will be torment, far beyond what you can even imagine.”

“But if you’re wrong!” pressed Anne. “I mean, if you’re wrong, and he’s not lying, and he really does want nothing better than to di…”

Aunt Mattie raised an eyebrow.

“D-discover friendship,” fumbled Anne, “and purpose, and companionship and all that, then why can’t I try to help him?”

She was trying her best not to mention Necristo’s desire for death. For one thing, Aunt Mattie would probably just tell her to stab him and get it over and done with. For another thing, it felt so… private. Like he had bared some deep and precious part of his soul to her, something that fit right in with who he was, like the two pairs of tacky brown mittens, or his snow-white skin and sad ruby eyes.

“There is no possible way,” said Aunt Mattie, “that a sorcerer would ever agree, willingly, to lose his sorcery. Power to that degree… it changes you. Leaves you a stuffed husk of what you were before. If he falls in love, he does just that - he gives his heart away, and loses everything he’s worked so hard to gain. Friendship? Companionship? The next word is love, and you know it. It’s what we want as mortals, but it could never, ever be something that he wants.”

“That’s what you think,” said Anne, frowning at the back of her hand. It felt like she was obliged to disagree on principle, to not just fall over and admit defeat. “I have part of his Creation power, don’t I? I don’t feel very changed.”

“Don’t you?” shot back Aunt Mattie. “Go on, try using that power. Try creating breakfast because you’re too lazy to get up, conjuring chariots because you don’t want to walk. See where it gets you. You won’t recognize yourself in two weeks.”

“I wasn’t going to do that,” protested Anne. “Ma taught me how to look after myself like a proper lady should. I’m no moocher.”

Aunt Mattie rolled the parchment up. It vanished into her cupped palms, and when she whispered to it, the gaps in her fingers glowed Gentilberry green.

“Do you really think you’re that strong, girl?” she asked. “Do you think that Necristo, or any other sorcerer for that matter, wasn’t a hundred times more capable in life than you ever were? You aren’t even a proper Gentilberry. You’re a farmer’s daughter from a backwater plane in the middle of nowhere.”

It stung, being treated like a child. Anne clenched her fists on the bed and tightened her jaw.

“You’re right,” she said. “My britches are too big, my swagger’s too wide, and I don’t even know where the saddle is half the time.”

“You’re not wrong,” said Aunt Mattie, without a hint of pity. “Have you seen a horse since you got here?”

Anne put her hands out, fiddled with the air, and dropped a saddle on the floor. It was stiff, dry, pony-sized and smelt vaguely of cotton, but it was a saddle. She folded her arms.

“Look, Aunt Mattie, you know a lot. You’re old, and you’ve seen a hundred worlds a hundred times over, and you’re certainly smarter than me. But fact is, we’re both in this chicken-coop together, and if we want to get out before the cocks come home, well, you need me as much as I do you. Like you said, there’s no way you can ever let him see you. Let me do this my way. No stabbing.”

The scarecrow woman, arms folded in exactly the same way as Anne’s own, walked over to the other side of the bed, picked up the saddle in both hands, and inspected it.

“I see now,” she muttered. “You don’t want to take his heart because you feel sorry for him. He’s got to you, hasn’t he, girl?”

Anne set her jaw and said nothing. Aunt Mattie sighed.

“Remind me, in the next life, to never have sisters ever again. Take this, you incorrigible rust-nugget.”

Anne looked up suspiciously, then took the tiny brown square. It was the parchment that had been on the chest-of-drawers, only about the size of a sugar-cube. She squinted at the ant-sized writing.

“Just so you know,” she ground out, “I can’t read.”

“Figures,” said Aunt Mattie, “but it doesn’t matter anyway. I’ve imbued this contract with a seal of summoning. If you rub it with your thumb, place it on your tongue and then cast it on the ground, I'll come. Just try not to leave it on your tongue, because that would be highly indecent. And also painful.”

Anne stared some more at the tiny contract, then put it, reluctantly, inside her pocket. She couldn’t help but feel like it was making faces at Hearthunter.

“You… don’t need breakfast,” she asked lamely. “I mean, you’re not hungry, Aunt Mattie. Are you?”

“Well, I don’t suppose you saved me some leftovers.”

Anne turned beet-red and stared at the ground, shamefaced at her own lack of hospitality. Aunt Mattie sighed again, reached inside her cloak, and removed a dry chunk of bread. It was hard and black and smelt vaguely of walnuts.

“Wanderer’s waybread,” she said. “A single pinch lasts you a week.”

“Oh,” mumbled Anne. “That’s… handy. Does everyone eat that where you’re from?”

“First off, it doesn’t come from my plane. Secondly, no, because if you take more than a pinch at a time - this much - your insides clog and you die. Also, it takes away your sense of taste for a week, so say goodbye to your eating pleasure.”

Anne nodded slowly. She still felt terrible about not bringing breakfast. Aunt Mattie made her unimpressed noise, then threw the black ball of dough in her mouth and laughed.

“You’re a real hike, do you know that, girl? A hike up a forest path. The forest’s on the side of a mountain, the mountain’s a volcano, there’s a waterfall along the way for some reason… half the time you’re as stubborn as your mother, and the other half you’re as mousy as I was.”

“But…”

“Cork it. I’ve survived far worse than this comfy room, I can tell you that. Trust me, I can take whatever you dish out. Even if the dish is empty.”

After a long while, Anne managed to muster the energy to feel annoyed again.

“If you’re from another plane, how do you know what my mother was like?”

“People don’t change, girl. Not even across planes. Try to save me a crumb next time, won’t you?”

“Trust me, Aunt Mattie,” said Anne. “There’s no way I could possibly forget.”

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Love the dialog! Sorry I came in late, but better late than never.

Glad to have you! Thank you very much for reading!

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