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A Quiet Confrontation

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A Quiet Confrontation

Post  Sarala on Fri Jul 19, 2013 11:58 pm

Sarenith 24

Following the meeting the young sorcerer headed down to the library. It was a short walk, not quite long enough to process the information gathered. Besides, the matter was dealt with and he would have to prepare for the afternoon class. Piotr was handling things admirably given his short tutelage. He was quite capable, and he also had about the same drive to succeed as Zaistrun himself did, which meant he was constantly improving his mind, often reading by candlelight well into the night only to have the dawn class prepped and ready for the business folk looking to improve their acumen.

He was able to check in on the morning class, and see that it was indeed going well. The young ones in the class were attentive and excited. It went from only having enough space to pick the best and the brightest. Tutoring nobles was much more tiresome than this as they usually had little drive and were quite spoiled. Piotr was able to handle the seventy person class with ease as he went through the verb parsing for the day. Noting his way with the children, he had them completely enraptured with him. He kept them spellbound despite the boring material and the sorcerer had to admit that he was better at teaching than he was, although he probably wouldn’t say it out loud.

He checked into the index room several times for the advanced reading selection he was preparing for the students in the afternoon class, it was mostly material he was not interested in, but it held the necessary vocabulary for advancement. They were required to spend a fair amount of time at home in self study if they wished to keep up with the furious pace. Once they were able to handle their own reading selection, it would be easy to select the truly exceptional for magical studies, something he had been working toward for a year now. So enveloped was he in his work that he wouldn’t have noticed if an owlbear was standing next to him.

Sarala was waiting for him. She had seen him go in and out of the index room in the library several times already that morning so she felt confident that he would be entering it once again before the day was through. All she had to do was wait. Wait, and wait some more. Waiting was boring. Pulling the flask out of her pocket she took a quick swig. One for courage, she thought, and maybe another, just to kill time. She took another swig. Shaking the flask, she realized that there wasn’t a whole lot of whiskey left inside. Reluctantly she placed it back in her pocket wishing she had brought more of the fiery liquid with her. But if she left to get more now she might miss her golden opportunity.

Was the opportunity really golden, or was it simply necessary? She wasn’t sure. After drinking two tumblers in her room, a flask during her initial scouting of the library, and most of the refill she had picked up before sneaking into one of the side rooms to wait she was just a tad fogy. After a seconds deliberation she decided that she liked the idea of a ‘golden opportunity’ more, just because it had a nice ring to it.

There was a stirring outside the door. Then she heard the distinct monotone of a certain male nobleman. Suddenly a fear of what she was about to do gripped her. She reached in her pocket and quickly downed the last of burning alcohol. After a grimacing shake of the head she composed herself and none too soon as the door began to open. She watched Zaistrun step into the room and shut the door behind himself before putting on a sweet smile and speaking.

“Well hello there, magister. Are your lessons going well?”

Zaistrun followed his instincts when surprised, which was to freeze rather than to jump. With a practiced skill, he tried not to let it on that he was startled at all, which he somewhat prided himself on. He raised his eyes from the scrolls in his hands to address the intruder as if he knew she was there all along. “As well as could be expected considering the circumstances. Why the sudden interest?”

“Just making small talk, Zaistrun. You are familiar with the concept aren’t you?” grinning, she spoke with a sarcastic lilt.

“I wouldn’t say familiar, unless we are talking about a distant cousin. I usually say what I mean and have little to do with small talk.” He said flatly.

Sarala actually smiled at the joke. This man could be funny despite all his severity. “Now, now,” she continued, “Didn’t your mother ever teach you that it is impolite to get right down to business? I for one was taught that it was proper to chat a bit with a person before discussing the matter at hand. It helps people feel at ease, or so I was told. Though you may find it hard to believe, I was simply trying to not do you any disservice.

“But if it is business you want, than business...”

Zaistrun cut her off with a wave of his hand. “Despite appearances, I do have some time for relatives. Perhaps some comment on the weather would help set you at ease. I suppose it has been sunny.” She had been rather ill at ease during the meeting this morning, but for good reason.

“Now Zaistrun,” Sarala cringed, “I think you had better leave off the small talk all together. You have no talent for it. And to make matters worse, your attempt has only proven to make me more uneasy. As of right now, I don’t want to be feeling that way.”

He arched his eyebrow and waited for her to continue. She had been unusually forthright today, perhaps it would continue. This was not something to be missed.

“I have something to ask you.” her face suddenly became serious as she looked him in the eye. “So enough of the banter, and let me get to it. This morning, when I revealed that it was my hand that caused Mivon the property damage listed in their third, and hopefully by the gods, final grievance with Novastasia, you came to my defense, repeatedly. What on earth possessed you to do so? Surely you know that by most systems of law I acted out of line. Why come to my aid like that?”

Zaistrun didn’t bother hiding his surprise at the question. He decided quickly to do her the honor of answering her question without barraging her with his own. “The economic boon we will give their country will far surpass any damage you did, providing the talks with the elven nation come to fruition. Those mangy dogs snapping for any purchase against our successful king deserve no sympathy for their unabashed disdain for what they cannot control. I have no sympathy for them and would not give them the scraps from the kings table, much less his sister for whatever they might call justice. These lands are still uncivilized due to their negligence, I’m not about to show them deference.”

Sarala had started rolling her eyes as soon as he had mentioned the words ‘economic boon’ but she thought it best to let him finish. Maybe he would get the nonsense out of his system. “Blah, blah, blah,” she droned on waggling her head and waving her hand. “You can’t seriously be telling me that the only reason you gunned so hard for my acquittance is because you thought it was good for business!”

When she waved her hand, he caught a whiff of something she was drinking. This was a bother, as he didn’t really know how much although the time of day didn’t speak well for her. He was rather stunned by this, although he had known for a while that she did like to keep a flask with her. He stared at her blankly.

She narrowed her eyes, searching his stolid features for clues. “There’s something more, isn’t there?” she spoke slowly, trying to bait him. “I can see it flittering behind those languid eyes. Out with it now, or I shall be forced to do something drastic!”

“What is with the sudden interest?” he probed quickly but with a measure of control.. “You never showed interest in my motives before. And why are you drinking? And what the hells do you mean by drastic? Your behavior today has been uncharacteristic.”

She looked back at him with brooding eyes, trying to decide which of the questions to answer first and which ones she would completely ignore. Then her demeanor changed. Propping her elbows on the arms of the chair she gave him a cunning smile through tented fingers.
“I’m just trying to draw you out, Zaistrun. Isn’t that what you want? To be drawn out? To be known? How am I supposed to know who you really are if you hide behind all this pretense of ‘the good of the kingdom’. We all want to do things for the good of the kingdom. Why else would we be here. But your argument this morning was more than just that. wasn’t it? So tell me your real reason, your ‘motive’ as you like to say, and I might leave you in peace... maybe.” She stared down her nose at him, willing him to crack his hard exterior, just for a moment.

He had gotten his wish. She wasn’t ignoring him anymore. She was, however, treating him as a hostile force. Perhaps he could match her tone. “I’ll tell you my motives if you tell me yours. You of all people should know that information is anything but cheap.”

“You assume, good sir, that my motive is more than simple curiosity.” with eyebrow raised she waited to see how he would respond.

“I assume that simple curiosity would not need privacy or alcohol.”

“Hmm,” she nodded in cool ascent. “Maybe so, maybe not. Maybe you assume too much. Have you ever thought about that, Zaistrun?”

“Maybe I just assume too much for your liking. I would say that I did assume too much if I was wrong. Would you show me evidence for that?”

It had come to this. She hated vulnerability, even after four good glasses of whiskey. But if it would get him to talk, then so be it. Steeling herself before the revelation she looked over at the sorcerer sitting before her. Something was a little off. He seemed bothered, perhaps even somewhat annoyed. It was a curious development, one that she may be able to use in steering this conversation.

“If you must know, “ she sighed with reluctance. “The desire for privacy was merely a bit of formality. I have come to the understanding that questioning a person’s motives in public is a bit of a taboo. Don’t you agree? As to the alcohol, well, that is another matter entirely. Though maybe an important one, since it seems to have you on edge. Or is that not the reason for your agitation?”

Zaistrun raised his eyebrow and exhaled in frustration. She answered nothing, so he would have to because of the clause he intoned earlier. “You can detect my agitation in this matter but you cannot discern my additional motives in the matter of my defense of your liberty this morning? I find that hard to believe. More likely, you already know the answer but do not wish to accept it. I can at least be assured that if you intend to immediately make sport of me, after divulging my motives that we are in a private place. Thank you.” His voice had the unmistakable quality of sarcasm, somehow without really changing tone from his stiff formality.

“Good gods, Zaistrun! I’m not a mind reader!” Sarala threw up her hands in exasperation. Zaistrun truly was impenetrable. After exhausting four different attempts to draw him out she found that she was coming to the end of her rope. “You infuriating man! If I had understood your motives I wouldn’t be here asking you about them. I wouldn’t be drinking whiskey at ten in the morning, for gods sake. You have never once told me what your motives are! I have to get that information second hand. Maybe it’s a stupid idea, but just happen to have this little habit of checking my sources. What is your deal, Zaistrun? I don’t know if I’m coming or going with you. And not knowing is driving me insane!”

When she started yelling, Zaistrun had a sinking feeling in his gut that maybe he had pushed her too much. This wasn’t friendly banter anymore, things were raw and open. Even he could see that. He could divulge himself now.

Sarala glared at Zaistrun as she rose from her chair. Suddenly she realized that standing was a bad idea as the blood rushed in a booming chorus to her temples. As she reached out to steady herself, letting the crescendo ebb away, she realized what she had just done. Blast the whiskey, she’d said too much. Zaistrun was the last person she wanted to open up to, but there were her feelings, displayed all over the floor. Looking like a frightened rabbit she glanced back at Zaistrun, hoping that maybe he wouldn’t notice. Maybe it would be best if she just left the room. She tried to bolt for the door but found her foot caught in the leg of the chair she had just been sitting in. Instead of fleeing she was now falling. Could this situation get any worse?

As she fell he instinctively dropped his scrolls and reached out for her with his jeweled hands. Despite his bookish ways, he caught her easily and he was close enough to catch how intoxicated she had become from the smell alone. His first thought was to lean her against a shelf or deposit her back in her chair, but having her in his arms so suddenly startled him a bit and he froze. While she was still there, close and reeking of drink, he spoke a bit more tenderly than he normally would. “I shall always come to your aid, Milady. Even if your need is to be rid of me.”

Suddenly his conscience was screaming at him to unhand the king’s sister before someone came in on them because of the commotion. He managed to put her back in her chair without too much of a fuss and began picking up his scrolls when Piotr stuck his head into the Index room. “Is there trouble? Because I would be the first to send for help as you well know.”

“No trouble here, Piotr, other than my insensitivities toward the lady and her rightful anger. Be about your business and practice less curiosity in such matters. You are of far greater help to me and the kingdom by not interrupting your class.” Despite his harsh words, he clearly was not annoyed at his protege for being too interested. He knew that he had to investigate to quell the curiosity of the students in the next room or else they would be completely distracted.

Piotr seemed completely unaffected by the rebuke, as they have been able to come to a working understanding of each other. “Sorry, Magister.” He said flatly, in a bit of a mocking tone. “I’ll continue the evil plan of education while you virtuously distress the damsels. Don’t bother calling if you need anything as I will would only use the occasion to undermine your authority.” He said this last statement cheerfully and backed out of the room.

Sarala stared at the man gathering the scattered scrolls on the floor. She was still reeling from what just happened. What did just happen? She was falling one second and the next... she had been in his arms. His surprisingly capable arms. He had promised her something, too... And then there was another man at the door. Barely a man, more like a boy, who had quite the sharp tongue in his mouth... Had she fallen and hit her head? Was she dreaming? No, as awkward as this was, it felt all too real.
“Well... that was... um... thank you?” she said haltingly after clearing her throat. “I mean, um, thank you... for not letting me, um, fall, that is.” Sarala knew she was making a mess of this. She tried to pull herself together.

“By the way, how do you know that piquant lad and are you sure he is allowed to talk to you that way?”

He paused his collection of the scrolls and looked up at her with his clear blue eyes from behind the curtain of his bangs. “You are welcome.” He watched her recover for just a moment before returning to his work. “That is Piotr, my protege. He is far more capable and respectful than he seems. He has seemingly perfected the art of sarcasm, but is otherwise an intelligent and capable teacher. He takes care of the classes when I am out of town and has taken the large morning class over completely with but a year of study.”

Sarala couldn’t stop thinking about the way his arms had felt cradling her body. The sensation had been new and... strange. And it was kind of freaking her out. Trying to keep a calm appearance she reached up to twist a lock of her white hair between her fingers. She was concentrating so hard on looking as naturally as possible that she forgot to let go of her hair and ended up tangling her fingers in an unruly knot. Maybe she could pass it off like she had meant to knot her hair...

“That’s... interesting. So this Piotr is your assistant? Is he, um, as loose with his tongue as he is quick?”

“It would depend on what you might need his tongue for” said a Zaistrun with narrowed eyes. “I will not have you pulling him from his work.”

“What?” Sarala blinked in confusion. “What would I want him for?”

What in the world was he talking about. She continued to blink slowly, trying to decipher his meaning. The conclusions he could jump to were astounding.

She went back to trying to untangle her hair. “No, I just wanted to know if your ’protege’ is prone to gossip. Because this is not the best of pictures... Maybe I should leave soon...” She looked toward the door with a worried expression on her face.

Although he was satisfied that she held no affections for the good looking boy he kept as his protege, he wasn’t quite satisfied with the note on which this conversation is ending. “He does like to poke fun, but I’ve never found him untrustworthy with knowledge. He will protect your honor, even if it is at the expense of mine. I would not wish to employ anyone of lesser character.” He paused for a second after saying so and then added, “If you are going, you must be satisfied with the information I gave you. Will you be needing anything else?”

“Satisfied?” came the weak reply. She had stopped messing with her hair. It was useless. The knot just wasn’t coming undone. “No, not really... I still don’t know what this is,” she motioned to Zaistrun and then back at herself.

“I don’t know why you insist on so much but say so little. I just know that I let you in on a lot more then I was planning to...” she sighed. “So forgive me if I’m a bit skittish.”

He paused for a moment to consider his words here. “This.” He said simply and stood. He took a step in her direction and placed the scrolls on the table next to her. “This is an unpolished, uncut stone. It’s true value is yet to be seen.”

Looking back at Zaistrun, eyes askant, she replied, “What does that mean? For a man who claims to speak his mind you sure can spin some riddles. Would you care to enlighten me or do I have to figure it out on my own?”

Zaistrun sighed. Poetry may not have been the best choice. Wynn’s advice didn’t seem to be working as of yet. “When a gemstone is mined, it doesn’t necessarily look very good. It is rough, in its primitive state. When it is polished and cut, it brings out the beauty inherent in the stone that could never have been seen before if it did not receive the care its potential deserves. I think that what is between us might seem ugly now, but perhaps later it might be something very valuable.”

“Just how valuable do you mean?” Sarala asked cautiously. His explanation made sense, in a strange unexpected way. But she couldn’t help feeling that it all hung on that one loose end. Sarala preferred all her loose ends tied up tight.

Poetry wasn’t the problem, it was the alcohol. It was obviously dulling her senses. It was now very clear that he would have to be far more blunt that he would like if he told her now. But was this the time to do so? Would he have another opportunity? His eyes grew narrow as he set the scrolls down on the table next to her and he came close so he could be sure that he had her undivided attention. His voice carried an intense tone as he usually reserved for special occasions. “Valuable enough not to entrust a pivotal moment to one who is inhibited by drink. When one is unable to stand properly, I do not give them gem cutting tools.”

He reached out and gently grabbed her hand to pull the lady up to her feet. “Please allow me to escort you back to the castle. You already have plenty with which you can wrestle, it might be best if you do not do it in public.”

It wasn’t exactly what she wanted to hear, a clear declaration of his intentions seemed easier for her mind to deal with, but it was by far more information than she had ever gotten out of him before. She would have slipped another snarky comment into the conversation if the mists in her brain hadn’t been muddling her thoughts so terribly. Instead she simply nodded in assent to his request to take her back to her quarters.
“Yes, I think... that might be a good idea.”

She thought it was strange how defeated she felt as a result of this encounter. She had never been patient or understanding, especially when she was hunting for information. But now she realized the conversation with Zaistrun had definitely ended. In any other situation she might have felt the ending was premature, but somehow this felt right. Maybe the defeat wasn’t really what felt so strange but the fact that she was really ok with losing, this time.

He took her hand and lifted her from the chair and supported her with his arm. With his other arm, he wove a spell to cover them with invisibility before they left the index room through the back door. The street was a bit busy as people bustled about, so he led her down some side streets on their way back to the castle. He often traveled invisibly through the town, but it was a little different with a lady on his arm. He felt like he was ten feet tall. Pleasure seemed to radiate from where her delicate fingers graced his forearm.

Upon approaching the gate, Kennrick the watchman was at the door. Zaistrun spoke from his invisible state. “Good morning Kennrick, how are the children?” A silver piece appeared out of nowhere, flipping and spinning into the watchman’s gloved hand who looked at it and smiled then opened the door.

“Coming home a little late, sir?” queried the watchman.

“Now, now, let’s not get excited over a little thing.” He said as he ushered the lady through the door. He took her to her wing of the castle, the one between his own and the king. He hadn’t been down this wing in a long time, but since he had worked a bit with Sarala on the construction of the castle, it wasn’t as if he was lost. Her tower was on the end of the hall, with a fair amount of rooms but all of the tower halls did. By the time they finished climbing the stairs their invisibility had worn off and they were there at the door.

He didn’t want to leave, but it was time.

The walk was a quiet one. Neither she or Zaistrun had spoken a word to each other. Sarala hadn’t even noticed this, however, because her mind was still spinning, trying to process what exactly Zaistrun had said to her. It seemed as though he was pursuing a relationship with her... or did he just want to make her jewelry? She wasn’t sure. Maybe he wanted to make her into jewelry? No, that couldn’t be right. And then there was the whole mess about value. She wasn’t sure if she was valuable to Zaistrun or if she wasn’t, but something was valuable... though whatever it was, it was not as valuable as it could be. All this was giving her a headache. Sarala realized that she needed some water badly, and then maybe another shot of whiskey, to clear her head.

Finally they had arrived at her door way. Somehow the proper etiquette for such a situation found it’s way through the fog that had decidedly settled in her head. She offered her hand daintily to her escort in the familiar manner of a lady of noble birth.

“Thank you for your kind assistance, Lord Garess,” she said politely. “Your forbearance with my faults has been quite commendable this morning. I will now take my leave and wish that we meet again under more pleasant circumstances.” Dipping her head in a graceful bow she turned and stepped through her door.

Once the door was closed she dropped the facade of good manners and slide slowly to the ground. What had she just done? She had started this mission to apprehend the sorcerer with the goal of bringing calm to the confusion that had been mounting over the past few months. And yet the result had only served to confuse her even more. She had failed at meeting her goal. It was more apparent now that Zaistrun did feel something for her, but what did she feel for him? She wasn’t quite sure... One thing she was sure about was the fact that her mother was most definitely rolling in her grave at this very moment.

The young sorcerer watched the door close and he really felt like smiling. So he did. It had been a while, and so it didn’t last long before it hurt. So he quit that foolish exercise and stepped lively back to the castle gate. There was still much to be done today, but he didn’t have to think of it for four to five blessed minutes until he was back at the library.

As he passed Kennrick at the front gate, a coin was flipped to him as the watchman said, “You dropped this, sir.”

“So I did, Kennrick.” He studied the coin for the hidden mark he had placed there earlier, finding it missing. “So I did.” He slipped the silver through his fingers and soon it disappeared entirely. And then the sorcerer disappeared as well, but a light humming could be heard through the streets in between the castle and the library.


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