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

in #fiction6 years ago (edited)

This is the thirty-eighth 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, Thirty-Five, Thirty-Six and Thirty-Seven.

When they returned home through Anne's dressing mirror, Matthias grabbed Necristo by the arm and pulled him right out the bedroom door.

Matilda looked at Anne and raised an eyebrow. Anne looked at Annabel and raised the other eyebrow. Annabel looked back and raised both eyebrows.

"I mean," she said, "you aren't going to introduce yourself to your sister and her husband in those rags, are you, Matilda?"

Matilda looked down at her bandaged hands, sniffed her knuckles dubiously, then dusted her left shoulder off. A coating of fine gray ash puffed from her cloak like soot from a powder-puff.

"I happen to like these rags, thank you very much.”

“And if you want to keep wearing them, Aunt Mattie,” said Anne abruptly, “we’ll need to give those things a good wringing. I don’t care how magical they are. Annabel, get me something nice.”

“I am far too old for this,” grumbled Matilda, even as Anne jumped and a crazy-quilt torrent of dresses exploded into the room.

“Annabel!” she yelled.

“What?” retorted her other self, seemingly just as put-out. “This stuff is what you like!”

“I was talking about Aunt Mattie!” flailed Anne, picking her feet out from the cascade of clothes.

“You think I can read minds? I’m just a sorceress!”

“And I’m a farmgirl, so do better!”

Matilda picked up a cotton plaid dress, wrinkled her nose, then folded her arms and sighed.

“And to think I actually wanted to meet you back then. Annabel, here’s what I’ll need. Listen up.”

“Of course, Matilda.”

Annabel glared one last dagger at her other self, then put her hands together and grinned at her other Aunt. Anne turned aside in a huff, considered her response while contemplating a black-white slip on the wall, then spun right back and stuck out her tongue.

#####

“You’re back from Heltria?” said Simon Gentilberry, shifting in surprise. “I didn’t hear you come…”

The massive man fell completely silent. Behind him, Lizzie Gentilberry stood with her hand at her mouth, porridge bowl forgotten in front of her, half on the table and half off it, sending wisps of steam up before her wrinkled hand.

“Hi,” said Necristo, biting his lip. “I’m Necristo. I… believe I’ve caused you a lot of trouble, for which I apologize. Did I mention that your daughter saved my life?”

“There are… things we have to settle,” said Matthias. “I haven’t been here for you like I should have, Simon. Holing myself up in that cabin was the worst thing I could have done, and I did it. And Mother…”

“Excuse me, Matt. I hear you, and gods know I’m glad you’re saying it, but you have to give me a moment. Just one.”

Simon Gentilberry pushed his chair back as daintily as he could, stood, and clapped his gigantic hand on Necristo’s shoulder.

“You don’t look anything like my girl said you would,” he frowned. “Like a scared white rabbit, she said. Sure you aren’t an impostor?”

“Ah, yes,” said Necristo. “I mean, no. I mean…”

“Don’t hit the boy like that,” said Lizzie, “you’ll snap his collarbone. Take a seat, won’t you? Heavens know I'll have to.”

Necristo flicked his eyes down, grinned nervously, waited for Simon to retract his arm, then made his way to the closest chair and placed himself gingerly within. Lizzie did the same, settling into her chair like a sibyl.

“If I have to explain the situation,” said Necristo, a pensive light in his sapphire eyes, “perhaps I’ll start from the beginning. You have to know everything about me, all three of you.”

“And why is that?” asked Lizzie. Her hands were folded in front of her, guarded as an eyrie in some inaccessible crag.

Necristo swallowed. Simon clapped his arm around Matthias’ back and leaned in.

“Because I caused you great grief by taking Matilda. Because I stole your daughter with no right to do so, and because now, at this present moment, I am no longer a sorcerer. I can forget, and I can die. You will understand me when I say I do not wish to tempt Fate.”

The silence was so thick, it was settling on the porridge.

“I suppose you’ll have to talk, then,” said Simon at last, clapping his hands together and leaning away from his brother. Matthias straightened up, then nodded. Lizzie pursed her lips, but said nothing. Her cheeks were drawn and taut, as if she were holding something in her mouth, something she had kept for years but was only now beginning to taste.

“Thank you,” said Necristo, and then, after a while:

“It begins with my mother, I suppose.”

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