Previous subchapter is here.
I came to with a faint headache. I sat up and clutched my skull, trying to keep my brain from leaping for freedom. I sensed someone nearby, but didn’t say anything. I wanted them to identify themselves first.
“Good. You are awake.”
I recognized the basso profundo of Angriz. I turned to where I heard his voice coming from. I still could not see.
“It didn’t work, Angriz,” I said. I tried to keep the disappointment from my voice, but I don’t think I succeeded.
He gave a low chuckle. “I’m sorry. I forgot to light the fire.”
A familiar sound rumbled from him. When I saw a stream of fire race from his mouth to the fireplace, I recognized it. Then, “Holy crap, Angriz! I can see again!”
I leaped to my feet. In my excitement, I got my feet tangled in the blanket I’d been covered with, and slammed into the floor. I groaned in pain, and then remembered I was no longer blind. I sprang to my feet, exuberant, and made to throw my arms around my friend in my exuberance. I then spotted the blood-caked claw marks on his face.
“What happened to your face?”
“I forgot my place and Lady Soo-jau reminded me,” he said sotto voce.
“I believe I will speak with her about this,” I growled as I headed for the door. ‘Even if she did fix my eyes, no one gets away with hurting my friends.’
“She forgave me my lapse.”
I stopped. “Is this a dragon thing?”
“But, you’re only a half-dragon. Why’re you being held to the same standards as a full-blood?”
He cleared his throat. “It’s…personal, Carter.”
“Damn.” I sighed.
When Angriz didn’t reply, I looked around and discovered a log cabin style room. What appeared to be mud chinked walls stood in a pentagonal shape. Tapestries hung from the walls on my left and right as I faced the fireplace. On the left, a forest scene with a deer drinking at a brook. The right hand one looked to be of the night sky. A fan of astronomy, I walked over to learn what constellations I could come up with. When I approached, the wall-hanging seemed to become three dimensional. I smelled something like heated rose oil. It grew stronger until I was about two feet from the arras. The stars now surrounded me, to my delight. I’d never seen anything so remarkable! I reached out to try to touch one of the stars before I stopped myself. I did the same thing at the movies. As my hand approached, one of the stars grew larger until I spotted planets revolving. My jaw dropped as a grin grew on my face. ‘This is awesome! I gotta ask if I can have one of these!’ I reached for one of the planets next.
A sudden knock startled me. I blinked, and the tapestry had reverted back to its two dimensional form. I opened the door. When my eyes fell upon the gorgeous woman on the other side, I forgot all about the tapestry. Her robes were palest azure trimmed with silver thread. Her hair, a fiery dark orange, hung over her right shoulder in a braid. Her eyes were the color of grass, her lips like sun-ripened strawberries and her flawless skin like ivory. A smudge of brown paint marked her high cheek bones and a golden necklace with a small bird pendant rested just above the swell of her bosom. Most surprising, her ears were pointed and pushed out a little through her hair. ‘Lady Orwen, you are the most beautiful woman I know, but this lady; she is magnificent.’
“Are you an elf?” I asked. Then, realizing how it must have sounded, I slapped myself in the forehead.
“Nae,” she laughed. “I be a half-elf. Me father be the full-blood.”
The memory of our previous meeting surfaced just then.
“Oh, yeah. I remember now. Your mother came from Éire.”
“So this is what you look like, Keeper Dearbhaile,” I said, my voice husky. “You are beautiful.”
“Thank you, Lord Blake,” she said, blushing.
Her burr was almost gone. ‘Curious. I’ll have to ask her about that.’
Angriz spoke up from over my shoulder. “Is Lady Soo-jau waiting for us?”
“Oh, aye! The Lady sent me tae learn whether Laird Blake had risen and tae invite ye both tae dinner if he had.”
She turned and hurried off. I gave into temptation and watched her hips sway as she glided away. After she was out of sight, I turned to Angriz.
“Please tell me I can bathe. I reek,” I said.
“Indeed,” he replied.
He led me to the back of the house. He opened a door and gestured me inside. I entered and saw a bathroom which wouldn’t have been out of place in a mansion back home. The hardwood floor resembled black oak. The ceiling appeared to be glass. As I watched, clouds scudded across the sky. I gathered from their swift movement a storm would hit soon. I looked back at the rest of the bathroom. The tub, hidden by a line of actual shrubs, was the size of an Olympic pool yet not artificial in form. The builders built over a natural pool. I glanced to my right. ‘And over a brook as well.’ Across from where I stood, buffalo grass grew right up to the edge of the water. The pool itself was strewn with cattails and water lilies. Bullfrogs and crickets chirred nearby. A single willow tree made up one wall. The others, marble and the white of fresh snow. ‘I’m in someone’s sacred meadow.’
I don’t know how long I stood, mesmerized by the beauty before me. A knock at the door brought me back to my senses. I shucked my clothes in a hurry as I called back to the door. “Yeah?”
“Just checking to make sure you were still alive,” responded Angriz.
I laughed as I slid into the warm water. “What would you have done if I had been under water and missed your knock?”
“Came in, and when I found you were okay, drowned you for worrying me.” He chuckled.
“I’ll be done in about ten minutes.”
“I’ll inform Lady Soo-jau.”
I finished my ablutions in a hurry and found the pile of clean clothing someone had left for me along with a four foot length of deer hide to dry myself with. I dried and dressed, then went out looking for my friends. I took in all the sights, like a starving man at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
The theme I noticed in the bathroom continued throughout the house: Three walls of pure white marble with the fourth being the trunk of an enormous tree. The flooring continued to be black oak and the ceilings were all glass, or maybe crystal. The place had to have been constructed with magic.
Soon, I found my way to the dining area, appointed in a Japanese and Roman blend. ‘I wonder how they achieved this effect. Have other people come here besides me and Keeper Dearbhaile’s mom?’ The table was situated low to the ground, and at each side was a couch. An older woman with blue tinged skin reclined at the far end of the table from me. Angriz and Keeper Dearbhaile knelt at the table to the woman’s left and right sides. From this positioning, I assumed she was Soo-jau, the Weirdling. As I crossed the room, I continued to look around. The wall behind Angriz was a huge stained glass window depicting a blue dragon lying with an emerald one by a wooded glen. Behind Dearbhaile ranks of gladiator statues lined a marble wall. Behind Soo-jau stood three wooden Tiang Roman pillars that rose to the ceiling. To either side of the pillars were shoji, a sliding rice-paper partition. What appeared to be Tatami mats rested on the floor. Servants came and went: bowing, placing platters of food, removing empty ones and refilling cups and glasses. I approached the table and bowed forty-five degrees to everyone, beginning with the lady and ending with Angriz.
“Please forgive this one’s lateness,” I said, imitating something I’d seen in a samurai movie. I was inspired by the scenery.
“Nothing to forgive, Carter,” said the lady on the couch.
I recognized her soft voice. She was indeed Soo-jau. She gestured for me to sit at the table. When I began to take a position near Angriz, the Lady beckoned me closer to her.
“You shall sit at my right hand.”
I did as she bade. A servant placed a brace of rabbit on a plate before me. The rabbits were roasted to a golden brown perfection. The aroma wafting upwards into my nose had my mouth watering. With a surreptitious glance around me, I noted the others were eating. So, without further hesitation, I began to devour the rabbit. I spotted a bowl of green vegetables. I pulled them over and began to scarf them. Angriz and I had only been traveling for a couple of days, but I felt as if I hadn’t eaten any vegetables in forever. Next was a tureen of a stew with thick chunks of boar floating near islands of potato. Here and there were carrot pieces sticking up like a jagged reef. Though I’d been eating for the last twenty minutes, the scent of the herbs and spices coming from the stew caused my stomach to give a loud growl. A muffled chuckle came from my left. I glanced at the Vaush-Tauric’s apprentice, then resumed my eating. She slid a platter of fresh biscuits over to me. I murmured my thanks, grabbed a biscuit, dunked it into my bowl of stew and took a large bite, moaning with pleasure at the taste.
“Hungry, Carter?” Angriz asked.
Rather than responding with sarcasm, I grunted and continued to eat. Seeing a plate of fish had been placed within reach, I pulled it to me. A massive belch threatened to erupt from me. I did my best to stifle it, but it still managed to rumble through despite the tightness of my lips. Again, from my left, came a muffled giggle. My face heated with embarrassment.
“Compliments to the host’s kitchen!” said Lady Soo-jau.
This caused everyone else in the room to give a shout of laughter. I ducked my head and paused in my eating. I hated the shame that welled up within me. This reminded me of that time in kindergarten when my class got to visit the White House and have lunch with the President of the United States. We had won a contest by being the kindergarten class that had raised the most money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. I had belched at the table, causing almost everyone to laugh. I was pulled from the table by my teacher and lectured on how “nice people didn’t do things like that at the table”.
A warm hand touched my shoulder. I glanced over to Keeper Dearbhaile. She had a look of concern on her face.
“Are ye unwell, Laird Blake?” she said in a soft voice, fingering her necklace.
“Yeah. Just reliving a bad memory. I’m okay now.”
“I apologize if me laughin’ caused ye pain.”
“No,” I lied. “It’s something else.”
I put on a big smile for her benefit. She gave me a warm smile in return, then patted my shoulder and returned to her meal. I’d been so focused on her that I hadn’t noticed that conversation had resumed around me. I resumed eating as well when Lady Soo-jau spoke to me. “I understand that Angriz has begun to teach you how to fight with a sword.”
“Correction, ma’am, he has begun to teach me the care of a sword and the various parts of a sword.”
“What are the common parts of a sword?”
“A sword is comprised of a tip, edge, fuller, tang and hilt, which is made up of the guard, grip and pommel, Lady Soo-jau.”
“Excellent. What is the best way to care for a sword?”
“First thing in the morning, the sword is removed from the scabbard, wiped down with a cloth – rabbit skin is best, but deer hide will do in a pinch – then the edge is sharpened. After sharpening, the blade is wiped down with a grit cloth and then buffed with a polishing rag. At the end, you rub a light coat of oil over the length of the blade and re-sheathe.”
“Excellent, Carter. You are taking to your lessons well.”
I smiled with pleasure at the compliment. I had heard similar words from Angriz, but they seemed different somehow when Lady Soo-jau said them.
“Carter,” boomed Angriz. “Tell the Lady what you have learned about pumice.”
I decided to add what I learned about it from my world, in addition to what he had taught me.
“Pumice is a term for a volcanic rock that is solidified frothy lava created when super-heated, pressurized rock is ejected from a volcano. It has a sulfurous odor, yet is excellent for cleaning swords. If dried blood, rust, or other undesirable element is on the blade, a light scrubbing with a pumice stone will clean it off in a matter of moments.”
“Excellent, my boy. I am a grand teacher, am I not, Lady?”
“You are indeed, Sir Angriz,” she said with a chuckle.
“Lady Soo-jau,” I asked, changing the subject, “how is it that you were able to restore my sight? I was told that the magic of this world wouldn’t affect me.”
“I used ancient draconic magic to heal your sight. Who told you that magic couldn’t heal you?”
“Lord Mordecai. He told me I was immune to magic.”
She scowled. “That is odd that Mordecai would tell you this. He is no beginner. I’d wager he knows more of magic than I.”
As I puzzled through this line of conversation, I was well aware of the gorgeous elf woman sitting to my left. Every movement, and change in breathing I noted. I know: you are wondering how I have these reactions to Lady Orwen and Keeper Dearbhaile if I have feelings for my lab partner Daphne Sinclair, right? Allow me to remind you: I am fourteen years old. According to what biology teaches us, I should be reacting like this to just about any female within ‘breeding age’.
I searched for something to say when there was a streak of gray before my eyes. I blinked and was fascinated by something familiar perched upon the table near my plate. The creature came forward and rubbed his head on my left hand like a cat. I grinned, at the same time, Keeper Dearbhaile shrieked. Somehow I knew this was the Slitter which had adopted me at Victory Keep.
Keeper Dearbhaile leaped to her feet in fright. She pointed her finger at the Slitter and electricity began to play over it. I put my right hand out and the Slitter ran up my arm and huddled on my shoulder. I looked at her and waited with a calm that wasn’t one hundred percent real. She looked at me with a sheepish expression and lowered her hand, the electricity dying away as she did.
“He’s a friend,” I said.
“Shocking that a Slitter can be friendly, huh?”
“Aye,” she said.
“This one was raised by Lady Orwen to help defend her home,” I explained. “For reasons I haven’t fathomed, this one has decided to adopt me.”
The Slitter clambered up to my head and curled its fingers in my hair as he sat. Seconds later, he made a series of sounds that were similar to underwater flatulence. I burst out laughing. I couldn’t help myself: it was funny. What made it even better was seeing Keeper Dearbhaile laughing as hard.
Lady Soo-jau ignored our laughter and made the same type of sounds herself. I fell from my chair, convulsed with laughter. The Slitter leaped back to the table in seeming disgust. I was soon joined on the floor
by Keeper Dearbhaile. The Slitter and Lady continued to take turns making the sounds. I laughed so long and hard, my jaw cramped and ribs began to ache.
I was hauled to my feet. “Control yourself, Carter.” said Angriz.
Having a seven foot tall half-dragon growl at you is a sobering experience, let me tell you. My desire to laugh withered. I turned to Lady Soo-jau. Out of the corner of my eye, I detected Keeper Dearbhaile returning to her feet, solemn. She brushed off her robes and sidled behind me; making me the sole focus of the Vaush-Tauric’s wrath if any came. She played with her necklace again.
Lady Soo-jau continued to make the sounds with the Slitter. I noted a rhythm to the sounds which escaped me earlier. Then, it hit me: they were conversing!
“They’re going to be a while, Carter. You should retire for the evening,” Angriz whispered.
“Why are they going to be a while?” I asked.
“Slitters are used to conversing with treebeards which are the only race with the patience to chat at length with them. Introductions will last several hours.”
I had heard that somewhere before, but couldn’t remember where.
“Got it,” I said. I looked over my shoulder to the half-elf woman standing behind me. “Keeper Dearbhaile, would you show me back to my room? I’m worried I’ll get lost.”
“O’ course, me laird,” she replied.
I burst out laughing.
“What is funny?”
“Sorry. Private thoughts caused me to laugh.”
I had read the same thing about characters in a book by J.R.R. Tolkien a while ago. I stretched out in my bed after Keeper Dearbhaile left me to enter my room, and closed my eyes.