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

in #fiction6 years ago (edited)

This is the thirty-sixth part of an ongoing serial. Here are Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen, Seventeen, Eighteen, Nineteen, Twenty, Twenty-One, Twenty-Two, Twenty-Three, Twenty-Four, Twenty-Five, Twenty-Six, Twenty-Seven, Twenty-Eight, Twenty-Nine, Thirty, Thirty-One, Thirty-Two, Thirty-Three, Thirty-Four and Thirty-Five.

“What?!”

Anne blazed. Necristo blanched. It was a remarkable achievement for someone with snow-white skin.

Fortunately, Matthias stepped in between them.

“I understand. You'll sacrifice your heart and wish to lose your immortality.”

Necristo rubbed his brow and nodded gratefully.

“I've wronged all of you in some way or another. If I hadn't taken your Matilda, then none of this would have happened to any of you.”

“I wouldn't have spent five years of my life trying to find this world,” said Matthias.

“And I wouldn't have…” frowned Matilda. “Well, I was under the impression that it was all my fault, but I suppose you can take some of the blame if you want to.”

“And our Matilda would still be alive," said Necristo quietly.

There was a general silence at this. A wind rustled up from nowhere, sending the ash up and around in slow circles, like dust on a dead-end road. History hung in the air like a curse.

“No, no, no!” stormed Anne, bristling like a thunderstorm, sweeping the silence aside like a furious broom. “None of that is happening!”

“Anne…” said Matilda.

“Aunt Mattie, I don't know what happened with the other you, but Necristo loved her. He wanted her to love him back, but she didn't. How is that something he has to be punished for?”

“I loved her too,” said Matthias. “Doesn’t that count for anything?”

“It… it does,” spluttered Anne helplessly, “but…”

Necristo looked straight across at her, his red eyes full of compassion, and at last she put her hands together and fell silent.

“It does count for something,” said the sorcerer. “You came to save your cousin, Matthias, just like you’ve come to save your niece. That’s more than I ever did for either of them.”

“Don’t forget me,” said Matilda. “Not that I’m thanking you or anything, mind you.”

Necristo smiled sadly, then said to Matthias:

“I’ve never had the courage to love. Not truly. I’m not as brave as you.”

Matthias winced in discomfort, looked down at the gray ground, rubbed his arm, and at last ground out:

“You did, but you clearly forgot about it.”

“You sent Anne away because you were scared of me, weren’t you?” asked Matilda.

Necristo glanced back. Anne was staring at him, her eyes blazing like a needled cat’s, just daring him to make one more wrong move.

“I suppose I might have, yes,” he said at last, cautiously.

“And if she was willing enough to come back and face down your mother with a rusty knife,” said Matthias, “what does that say about who you really are?”

Necristo fell silent, his face as slack as a strip of red linen. Behind him, Anne fumed, tapped her feet one after the other, folded her arms, and at last said:

“Look, Necristo, you’re a spineless sack of fairy dust.”

“I suppose I am,” said Necristo.

“A big honking pansy is what you are.”

“That does sound accurate,” said Necristo.

“I could probably knock you out with a handful of porridge and you’d still say sorry.”

“Sorry,” said Necristo, and then, “Oh.”

Anne sighed.

“But for all that, there’s still some part inside of you that’s soft and kind, even though you’re so old. Some part that’s, well, like a down pillow. You have all the power in the world, but you’re still a gentleman… even if you did kidnap me.”

“For which I apologize,” said Necristo.

“Please don’t,” said Anne. “I probably deserved it, anyway.”

And she walked up and kissed Necristo right on the lips, craning up on the tips of her red-toed shoes.

Matthias and Matilda looked at each other.

“Great,” said Matilda. “Just great.”

“I agree,” said Matthias. “Now he has to stab himself.”

“No-one is stabbing anyone, especially themselves!” yelled Anne, red-faced. “Well, Necristo?”

Necristo stood there, blinking, looking thoroughly bamboozled.

“I… I must confess, Miss Gentilberry, I’m almost curious to see what I’ve forgotten.”

“Not an answer,” warned Anne.

“It’s not just you, Miss Gentilberry,” said Necristo. “I’ve forgotten so much more. How to be with people, how to live without my sorcery. The fear of death, the feeling of life. Now that Mother is gone…”

“And may she rot in whatever redundant Hell there is for phantasms…” added Matthias.

“I’d… I’d like to experience it again. Life. With you,” said Necristo. “If you’ll have me, I mean. We were only together for a few weeks, which I can’t exactly remember, but if you can bear with me enough to start again…”

“I just gave you my first kiss in front of my Aunt and Uncle!” wailed Anne. “What do you think?”

“I think you’re very kind,” said Necristo. “Far more than I deserve, at any rate. If you will, Miss Gentilberry?”

Anne stared down at Woewarder, eyes still wet with indignation.

“If I do this,” she said, “you’ll die. Not now, but eventually. Maybe you’ll be so old you can hardly think. Maybe you’ll just break your leg in a bad spot. I… I can’t say I’m worth that, Necristo. I sulk and I… fuss and I make a whole lot of noise over nothing…”

Necristo touched her cheek, gingerly, as if stroking a broken leaf. She looked at him and realized he was crying.

“Miss Gentilberry,” he said, “I can still remember most of what happened before I met you, and I can tell you very clearly that I wanted to die. What I did to Matilda…”

“I know,” said Anne miserably. “You told me. Don’t cry, you idiot, you’ll make me…”

“If you’ll forgive me,” said Necristo, “and if you’ll be good enough to have me, then I think I’ll be able to live. Death doesn’t even factor into it.”

He looked back at the other two, plaintively. Matthias glared at him, shifted his weight from foot to foot, then grumbled:

“Ah, get over yourself. I’ve cut logs with more backbone than you. Lose the sorcery, I say. It’ll be enough of a punishment, and then we can get to working out our differences. Like real men.”

“Thank you,” said Necristo. “Thank you so much.”

He shifted his gaze to Matilda. The scarecrow woman folded her arms.

“Listen, Necristo. I heard it from your hag of a mother, so I guess I can tell it to you straight: you didn’t kill the other me. I thought you did, and you think you did, but we were both wrong. I’m sorry. I only wish I could give her the hair-twisting she deserved.” ”

“But I was the one who kidnapped the other you, so…”

“And I’ve done a whole host of terrible things in my life,” said Matilda, ”so if you shut up about it and just go with me, I’ll have one less thing to worry about.”

“Aunt Mattie!” cried Anne, overjoyed. “You’re really coming with us?”

“Well, I don’t have much choice, do I?” she retorted. “The clan will never let me hear the end of it, and besides, I need to make sure that lover-boy here doesn’t accidentally abduct one of your cows or something.”

“I don’t think there’s much chance of that,” said Necristo.

“With any luck,” said Matilda, “there won’t be. Give me the knife. Anne doesn’t know how to use it anyway.”

When Necristo hesitated, she walked over, gesturing as she did with three fingers. Woewarder floated from Necristo’s hands and landed in her bandaged palm like an obedient child.

“Sorcerer Necristo, what do you sacrifice?” she asked. “What do you offer for your heart’s desire?”

“I give my heart and all my power,” said Necristo, bowing his head.

“And what do you wish to gain in return?”

“I wish for a heart of flesh and not of magic. A true life followed by a true death, graced with the hand of Anne Gentilberry.”

Matilda raised an eyebrow.

“That last one isn’t up to you,” she said. “You’ll have to ask her parents, for one thing.”

“Nix it,” piped in Anne from behind. “We can talk later.”

“I suppose I shall, then,” said Necristo. “Nix it, that is. Is there anything else we have to do?”

“Not really,” said Matilda, and stabbed him in the chest.

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