215: Overbooked Trip

on May 14, 2008 in Book 8

In Which Hazel Is Not Very Nice

Amaranth woke me up a bit before noon.

It had only lasted for a few hours, but it was absolutely the most restful and satisfying sleep I could remember having. Doubling up in a dorm bed might not be the most comfortable thing in the world, but Amaranth didn’t mind an uneven surface beneath her and I could easily bear her weight, so it worked.

I woke up feeling warm and feeling loved, and even if I hadn’t felt rested, I wouldn’t have traded.

I had an incredibly selfish moment of thinking that if Amaranth would just sleep with me every night, then I wouldn’t need to get new blankets. Of course, she couldn’t, and I knew that… and that realization made me remember what she had said just before we’d fallen asleep.

I felt like I should say something, but I didn’t know what. There was no point in asking about it… I knew what she had said. The question was, did she? It was possible she’d been half-asleep already. It was even possible that she hadn’t quite meant it.

It was probably better to just leave it alone, not poke at it or over-analyze it. She loved me. I knew that. It didn’t really matter how much—more than anybody—she loved me, did it?

“You’re quiet, baby,” Amaranth said. I realized I’d frozen in the act of pulling on my jeans.

“Just thinking,” I said.

She sighed.

“Always thinking,” she said. “It never seems to make you any happier… maybe you’re not thinking about the right sorts of things?”

“What should I think about?”

She smiled and took off her glasses, folding them in her hands. She looked down at me, smiling coyly. It had been a while since she’d done this. While I was getting pretty far past the point where I had a hard time thinking of Amaranth in sexual terms, I still took her nudity for granted sometimes. Doffing the glasses still had the effect of making me stop and go wow… naked.

“Why don’t you start with how very much I love you?” she said.

I knew what she meant… but how could she know that’s exactly what I had been thinking about?

“How much do you love me?” I asked.

The question seemed to take her by surprise. She rocked back on her heels, started to fidget with her glasses, and then put them back on.

“Well, I love you very much,” she said. “You know that, right?”

“I do,” I said.

“That’s all that matters, then,” she declared, rubbing her hands together briskly as if wiping them clean. “Finish getting dressed. I’m going to go find Two, okay?”


She hurried out of the room and I finished getting ready and got out my cache of coins. I headed out into the hall. Amaranth and Two were down at the lounge end of the hall, where Hazel was counting out coins and handing them to Two.

“Hi, Mack!” Two called.

“Hi, Two,” I said, dutifully.

Although I was wary about being too close to her, I had to smile at this simple, unchanging ritual. She said hi, I said it back. There was so much in Two’s life for her to be sad over, but it took so little to make her happy.

“Pay attention, now,” Hazel scolded and started going over a list of ingredients.

“We’re not going to have to go the grocery store, too, are we?” I asked Amaranth. Having to meet with a lawyer was more than enough suck for one day, as far as I was concerned, and I was already looking at shopping for bedding and carpeting on top of that.

“Two can do her shopping while we’re meeting with the lawyer,” she said. She gave me a very quick swat on the rear, making me jump. “And don’t whine, baby… it’s not at all becoming.”

“I wasn’t whining,” I said. “I just want to know what to expect.”

“I think you were,” Two said.

“Never mind, Two,” Amaranth said. “We’ll talk to you later, Hazel.”

“Later,” Hazel said. “Don’t none of you do anything I wouldn’t.”

“Okay,” Two said. “Bye, Hazel.”

“Bye, Two.”

“Is Steff coming with us again like before?” Two said as we headed downstairs. “I had fun last time.”

“No, honey,” Amaranth said. “Steff’s having fun with Viktor today.”

“Oh, okay,” Two said.

There was another group waiting when we got to the carriage stop. The guys in the party looked at Amaranth with interest, and gestured for her to go first when the carriage arrived, but she smiled demurely and said she’d take the next one, to my relief. I wasn’t in the mood to be part of a crowd.

We waited for the next carriage. The sun was shining, but a cold breeze came and went in spurts, and I leaned against Amaranth for warmth. She turned us on the spot to shelter me from the wind. It was nice.

When I’d dared or bothered to picture myself with somebody, I’d always imagined a boy… somebody big and strong. There wasn’t anything the least bit masculine about a nymph, but Amaranth was taller and broader across the shoulders than I was, and I could lean against her and let her drape her arms around me.

She didn’t exactly have a school jacket to give me… but, oh well. Settling for the warm body of a nymph wasn’t exactly settling.

I hated to have to move when the next carriage arrived, but I was glad to get out of the cold, and we got to snuggle right back up again as soon as we were settled inside. A whole carriage for the three of us… I’d always been a bit of a claustrophile, and some idle corner of my brain reflected on how easily everything I owned would fit inside the expansive interior of the vehicle.

Once I’d graduated and had a career as an enchanter and made a ton of money, maybe I could buy a carriage instead of a house. I could travel around, see the world. There was some appeal to never settling down: nobody would ever have to know who I was.

The problem with that fantasy was it was impossible to see a place for Amaranth in it. She needed to “work”, both to sustain herself and to do her duty to her goddess and to Paradise Valley. A life on the road wouldn’t really work, not if we were truly going cross-country. It could be days between settlements.

On the other hand, what kind of future could I have with her if I did settle down? Would I be able to make a career as an enchanter in her tiny agrarian hometown? Would I even be welcome there? Would she be allowed to settle elsewhere?

The slaver Hrothvar had once posed to her the question of whether she was a free being or the property of the commune. It had been a rhetorical question but it seemed like the matter had never really been tested properly.

Amaranth could be a regular chatterbox when she was with Steff, but it hit me that we’d made it almost halfway to town without a single word being said. That was okay. It wasn’t awkward, or hadn’t been until I noticed it. I was wrapped up in my thoughts, but Amaranth seemed content and Two looked pleased as anything to be in a carriage headed into town with us.

Though maybe I wasn’t giving her enough credit. She liked being included, but she’d spent more time in Enwich than I had and had even started going on her own. Maybe shopping was just one of her life’s pleasures.

“Looking forward to shopping?” Amaranth asked Two, after noticing I was looking at her.

“Yes,” Two said.

“I did some research and it looks like our best bet for covering the floor would be to either buy a big area rug or get a cast-off section of carpet,” Amaranth said. “Apparently, you can get those fairly cheap, but you have to go a specialty store.”

“We could just get a big rug at the Walled Market, though,” I said. “I mean, that’s where we’re going for clothes and stuff, right? We can get the bedding there, too.”

“Well, yeah,” Amaranth said. “But I just thought actual carpet might be a little more, you know… homey.” She hugged me more tightly. “I know it’s really your room, yours and Two’s, but when I come back there it feels like… well, anyway, I just thought it might be nice to look.” She tried to make it sound nonchalant at the end, but I knew what she meant. I wondered if she’d been thinking about the future, too.

Either way, here and now in the present, my room was home for both of us.

“My friend Hazel says that you should always shop around for the best deal,” Two said. “And never buy an umbrella from a dwarf.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound like a very nice thing to say,” Amaranth said. “Especially as she’s involved with one.”

“It’s what she says,” Two said.

“Well, I don’t think it’s very nice,” Amaranth said, and we lapsed back into silence. I thought I got the gist of what the saying meant, but I didn’t say anything, as Two didn’t seem at all put out by Amaranth’s estimation of her friend’s wisdom.

As the carriage rolled closer to the walls of the town, I started to tense up in anticipation of the entrance exam. Enwich was warded against monsters, which unfortunately included me. My student ID and the school’s carriage service would get me through the gate, but not without being battered by a series of intrusive probing spells as we crossed the threshold.

Amaranth tightened her embrace just before we passed through.

“I’m sorry, baby,” she said once we were inside the city proper.

“It’s okay,” I said. “You didn’t do it.”

“I’m still sorry you have to put up with it,” she said. “We’ve got a little time… what do you want for lunch? We can go back to that cafe or try something new.”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Well, what are you in the mood for?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I repeated. I looked at Two. “You know the town better. What do you recommend?”

“My friend Hazel found a restaurant that is all-you-can-eat,” Two said. “They have lots of different flavors of pudding and types of cake and pie, and my friend Hazel says when you go to an all-you-can-eat restaurant, you can take one dessert for every trip to the buffet you make.”

“You probably shouldn’t listen to all of Hazel’s advice,” Amaranth said. “What’s good for gnomes can’t always be good for golems. But… what do you think, baby?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “What kind of food do they have?”

“Different kinds,” Two said. “Pizza and grilled chicken and baked fish and mashed potatoes and fries and salad and ham and turkey and other things.”

She’d actually had me from “pizza and chicken”.

“Sounds good,” I said.

“That’s decided, then,” Amaranth said. “They, um, do have a salad bar?”

“Yes,” Two said. “They do.”

“Okay, then,” Amaranth said, obviously relieved. “We’ll follow you.”

The carriage came to a stop and we disembarked. Two immediately pointed and said, “It’s this way, past the antique shops. My friend Hazel’s cousin Honey likes antique shops.”

“That’s nice,” Amaranth said. She could say that somebody liking antiques was nice and mean it. That was as amazing to me as everything else about her. “Does she come to town with you guys?”

“Once,” Two said. “But she says she wants to keep a low profile and Hazel attracts too much attention.”

“What is she, hiding out from the cops?” I asked.

It was hard to imagine a burrow gnome keeping a lower profile than they normally did. Hazel had the sort of brassy personality that let her command attention when she needed to, but that aside, she could be a little hard to notice. Before Hazel had befriended Two, I hadn’t been able to tell the gnomes apart and sometimes had forgotten they were on the floor.

“No,” Two said. “They know where she is. She writes a letter home every week.”

“That’s nice,” Amaranth said. She pursed her lips. “I hope Dee takes my advice and does the same.”

We walked past several antique stores and a vintage clothing store, full of jerkins and tunics and other things that had gone out of fashion enough years back to be coming back in certain crowds.

“Here we are,” Two announced when we got to the restaurant. I barely noticed it, though. Something else had caught my eye.

“Hey, a bookstore!” I said. “Can we go inside?”

There was a Borderlands Music and Books on the corner. Okay, big chain, evil corporation, blah blah… but I’d never seen one in person and I was excited. There hadn’t even been a tiny mom and pop used bookstore around when I was growing up, so seeing commercials for this sort of place had both entranced me and pissed me off. “Keep on the Borderlands”? I would have liked to.

Amaranth sighed.

“We’re kind of booked up for the day now, but we can check out their hours after we’ve eaten,” she said. “If they’re still open when we’re done, we can come back. Okay?”

“But we’re right here!” I said. “We can go in for a minute, just to see.”

“We have so much to do,” Amaranth said. “And the first thing is an appointment we can’t be late for.”

“It’s at two,” I said. “What time is it now? Not even one.”

Amaranth sighed.

“We’ll see,” she said, but something in her voice told me I’d won. She was looking across the street with the same sort of expression I imagined I must have had. Books were her weakness, even more so than they were mine… a giant bookstore was the promised land to her. “We’ll see.”

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6 Responses to “215: Overbooked Trip”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Amaranth sounds like my wife trying to rein in my addiction to bookstores. But then Alberta never would pass up a hardware store. All those years of being a horsewoman hanging around feed & tack.

    Current score: 2
  2. Anthony says:

    “Keep on the Borderlands”? Seriously? *groan*

    Current score: 0
  3. Anonymous says:

    I just realized that the walled market is a wall mart pun…

    Current score: 0
    • tordirycgoyust says:

      For future reference, EVERYTHING is a pun–’tis one of the things I love most about ToMU.

      Current score: 1
      • anonymus says:

        frustratingly so
        i keep noticing that something seems like a pun but i dont know which cultur/book/story/film/meme it refers to and don’t understand it 🙁

        Current score: 3
  4. Moridain says:

    “Apparently, you can get those fairly cheap, but you have to go (to) a specialty store.”


    Current score: 0