Thursday, July 9, 2009

PART TWO: Chapter Twelve: Continuations

It took me a long time to get over Harriet. It could perhaps honestly be said that I never got over her, and I wonder to what extent anyone ever recovers from their first brush from love, or if recovery is the right word for it. There seems to be a bond forged at the point of first love that never goes away.

Teitnl and I spent days upon days in the library, or out in the orchard, or beside the stream, where I would practice and he would teach me. I lost track of how many days passed; I didn't know if I was still sixteen or if I had turned seventeen, or perhaps even eighteen. Nothing changed, really. I stayed the same, and so did Teitnl. Time passed around us as if we were trees in a river. I began to understand him, in a sense, and he had long since understood most of me.

There were seasons, although in this land they were mild changes, with some days of brilliant autumn display, some days of snow, some days of fragrant meadows full of flowers. In the summer the trees grew heavy with deep green foliage, and it was a green that seemed to go on forever within the depths of the branches.

On a summer day I sat beside the stream and created a dandelion, which I aged to a hoary white seed-sphere, then blew it all away into the wind. Teitnl approached from behind and sat in the grass beside me. His movements were always lithe and feline, and though sitting near the stream in the grass would be a somewhat awkward or undignified action for most people, for Teitnl it was as simple and graceful as tying a bow.

He watched the dandelion seeds disperse in the wind, and there was a long moment when that is all we did. There was much of that in these days; a quiet silence in which the moment was experienced and everything else fell away. I think this is how it seemed to me that we stood still in the river of time.

"I have a message for Lord Orthridge," said Teitnl, who I now saw was holding a rolled parchment in his hand.

It had been a long time since I'd done any couriering, and though I'd never delivered a real message to Lord Orthridge, I was still anxious regarding the task. Something told me the Lord Orthridge would be a wily fellow, even if he wasn't exactly like the vision Teitnl had once produced. I opened my mouth to speak, but Teitnl superseded me.

"Don't," he said, "Accept anything from him. Anything."

I glanced at my master and was again superseded.

"Anything," he said.

I glowered at being cut off twice in a row, but I took the letter and stood.

"Except a return letter," added Teitnl behind me.

"What if he says it's a return letter, but it's really an exploding one?"

"Nobody sends exploding letters!"

"Wouldn't the fact that nobody sends exploding letters make an exploding letter much more unexpected and, therefore, effective?" I ventured.

Teitnl's eyebrows pinched and he looked more irritable than normal.

"Just go and bring back a letter, but bring it directly to me and I'll make sure it doesn't explode." He said it all in a patronizing way and as if telling a child. I suppose I was a child, even less than one, next to his millenium of experience. Still, it wasn't pleasant to be treated like one. I left to retreive my handkerchief without offering any pleasantries.

I arrived in Lord Orthidge's study feeling mixed and windblown, and found him there just as Teitnl had once showed me, sitting in a large, comfy armchair and looking rosily rotund. He blinked as he saw me, let out a jolly but sharp laugh and stood, tossing the papers he had been reading aside and nearly charging me with his interest in my instantaneous arrival. I leaned back out of instinct from his hasty approach for he was a large, imposing man who seemed almost as wide as he was tall. Everything about him was round, from his spherical girth to his bulbous nose to his round, delicate silver spectacles. A pocketwatch chain arced in a half-circle over the lower left hemisphere of his globe-body, and the buttons of his vest coat were obscenely circular, all three of them, made more exaggerated by the profusion of circles and spheres which made up his entire person. Suffice it to say there wasn't a single angle on the whole of this man.

He looked at me with delight.

"Ah, so it's true what they've been saying about your master," he said, and then waited, half-cocked between expecting an answer and a readiness to laugh at whatever my reply would be, as if I knew what he was referring to regarding Teitnl. I half sensed that there was something witty I should say here, something that was cultural, something that most anyone would say that Lord Orthridge rubbed elbows with, some sort of joke, but I was lost and felt uncomfortable.

"Message for Lord Orthridge from Master Teitnl," I replied, holding out the letter and feeling dull.

Lord Orthridge paused, his little round eyes glancing at the rolled parchment in my hand once, then he looked back at me with more consideration as he took it from my hand. He sat on a chair and read the thing and I, like before, was distracted by his books. They were the same, the books, as in the vision that Teitnl had shown me, and I felt a sudden flush of awe towards my master, for his ability to recreate a place in which he surely hadn't spent a large amount of time with near-perfect replication. It was beyond my imagining, the ability to catalogue details in such a way, but I would continue to try. I took it every detail I could within this room, inhaling it with the intent of later creation, if only to see my present capabilities compared to my one measuring device: the brilliant skill of Teitnl.

Lord Orthridge made some hemming and hawing noises while he read, seemed to chuckle a bit, and then moved his circular girth to a desk where he began to write. The sound of a pen nib moving across parchment filled the room along with a soft ticking coming from the mantle clock. I noticed The Frozen North: Why It's Impassable on one of the shelves and narrowed my eyes.

"You read, do you boy?" asked Lord Orthridge in a booming, jolly voice.

"Yes," I replied while casting him a suspicious look.

"Well, here. Why don't you borrow one of these books?" He moved to the wall and took the most suspicious book of all from the shelf.

"No thank you, sir."

Lord Orthridge blinked.

"Sir, I've read it already. Thank you." I was caught between being polite and suspcious of this man.

"Suit yourself," he said, but he looked at me again in that calculating way, the one where the jolly facade slips, and then he began smiling again with rosy cheeks and an air that smacks of great uncle. "How did you like it?"

"It was quite good, sir. I enjoy anything that expands on the outside world."

He peered at me more, and I wondered if I'd said something wrong.

"Where are you from?"

"I'm a yam farmer from the northeast, sir. I mean, I... was."

"You were?"

I tried to decipher if being coerced into telling Lord Orthridge about myself was a form of subterfuge.

"Yes sir. I was," I said, deciding to err on the side of less information.

He looked me over, seeming as if he were about to continue the mild interrogation, and then smiled instead. He handed me a folded letter sealed with a blue glob of wax.

"Give your master my best," he said while patting me hard on the back, and then I sneezed.

I whirled back to the manor, and upon finding Teitnl I handed the letter with not a little anxiety.

"Why do you deal with Lord Orthridge?" I asked him.

He opened the letter and read it, his body all lines and sinews, angles pointing upward in such juxtaposition to Lord Orthridge that he seemed like an arrow after staring at a rubber ball. He didn't answer me, so I asked again.

"He is a middle man," replied Teitnl, his eyes narrowing at the script on the page.

"It isn't an exploding letter, is it?" I asked.

Teitnl glanced at me.

"No," was his dry reply. He resumed reading.

I don't know if I was disappointed that it wasn't an exploding letter or not, but I did feel a sense of deflation when I realized I wasn't going to be able to claim some kind of victory over my caution in our earlier conversation regarding Lord Orthridge's exploding methodology. He began to fold the letter to put it away in his coat but stopped.

In fact, he not only stopped, but looked very consternated.

"What's wrong?"

"The letter..." he said, pulling at it, his coat partially open. "It seems to be stuck."


"To my hand."

Indeed it was. In fact, the letter was still stuck to his hand at dinner that evening, and it was an exercise in restraint to refrain from finding a large amount of humor in the situation, especially since he seemed to be pretending that there was nothing at all out of the ordinary about having a piece of paper inexplicably attached to one's hand. Finally, as he bit into another lemon using his free hand, I became brave enough to inquire.

"Does Lord Orthridge do this sort of thing often?" I asked.

"What sort of thing?" he replied with his eyes upon me in a challenge to declare the elephant in the room odd.

I ate a large bite of potatoes instead of continuing, and the meal began to pass in an awkward silence which was periodically broken by the sound of fluttering parchment. At last Teitnl threw down his fork, which bounced, skittered off the table, and landed on the rug.

"Yes, he does," Teitnl said with too much calm restraint following such fork violence. "Lord Orthridge does this sort of thing consistently and every time he corresponds."

He took a spoon and began spooning his food that would be better forked.

"I never know what it is he'll do, but it's always something."

"Then why do you bother with him?" I asked.

His blue glance landed on me and he said, "I have many secrets, and I have to limit those I make privvy to them. So... I endure some hardships." While saying the last, he lowered a baleful gaze at the parchment stuck to his hand.

"Think it'll come off?" I inquired.

"Of course it'll come off, you idiot!" he snapped. He stood suddenly, grabbed a handful of lemon slices with his free hand, and stormed off towards his study. His voice came distant as he yelled an added, "Eventually!"

I'd like to think I was loyal enough not to snicker, but I did.