130: An Evening Stroll

on January 4, 2008 in 05: The Weekend Shift

In Which Mackenzie Defends The Earth

Two was able to fix my belt and my jeans with simple mending spells, but she said it would take multiple spells to get my underwear back together. I stuffed the shreds into my pocket, and the three of us headed back to Harlowe.

Two reached for my hand when we got outside, but I stopped her.

“Two, is it okay if I walk with Ian?” I asked.

“Okay,” she said.

“And, um… can you let us walk a little bit ahead,” I said. I gave Ian what I hoped was a meaningful and not at all needy look. “We kind of need a chance to talk.”

“Okay,” she said, though she’d gone a little stiff. “But… I will walk in front and you two can walk behind.”

“Um, okay,” I said. “Is that important to you, Two?”

“Yes,” she said, nodding.

I started to ask her why, but the brittle, bright look in her eyes told me exactly what she was worried about.

“You know I’d never do that to you, right?” I said.

“I know,” she said. “But… in case I’m mistaken…”

“You go ahead,” I said, and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“What exactly was that about?” Ian asked as Two headed off.

“If she’s going ahead, we can’t leave her behind,” I said. At his doubting look, I said, “It makes sense to her.”

“Okay,” he said. “But, look… about what I said earlier…”

“It’s okay,” I said.

“The thing is, nothing’s really changed,” he said. “You aren’t an easy person to know. You might not even be a safe person to know.”

“I… well, I know,” I said. “Believe me.”

“My head’s telling me that you’re not… I mean, a relationship with you is not worth it,” he said. “Probably everybody else would tell me that, too.”

“Probably,” I agreed.

“But something… I guess it’s probably too early to say ‘my heart’… my head says it is, anyway,” he said. “But something’s telling me to stick it out a little longer.”

“I’m pretty sure it’s not your heart,” I said, tickling his… belt buckle. I almost went lower, but couldn’t quite go through with it. Not with Two so close.

“Bitch,” he whispered, half-smiling, and I felt warmth flowing down through me.

“Hold my hand?” I asked as we set off after Two.

He looked hesitant.

“I don’t have cooties,” I said. “I promise.”

After a moment he took my hand, but said, “The thing is, I haven’t made up my mind.”

“I know,” I said. “But while you’re holding my hand, I know you’re not going anywhere. Anyway, you don’t have to decide in a hurry, do you? We’re still going to see each other in lab, and if I’m going to be tutoring you…”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” he said.

“It’s an important class for you,” I said. “Anyway, maybe you just need a different approach. Maybe fire’s not your element.”

Ian laughed, waving his free hand dismissively.

“What?” I asked.

“You wouldn’t say that if you knew my dad,” he said.

“Why would I have to know your dad to tell something about you?” I asked.

“I don’t know if I can make you understand,” he said. “Um… did your mom have anything to do with raising you?”

“My mother… she was everything to me,” I said. “If I can even pass for being halfway good some of the time, it’s only because of her.”

“Well, it’s kind of the same thing,” Ian said.

“My mother always told me I could be anything I wanted,” I said. “A career like enchantment would have been the last thing she’d have picked for me, but I like to think she’d have supported my decision.”

“Hey, I chose my own major,” Ian said, letting go of my hand and pulling his arm away. “The fact that it makes my dad proud is just another reason it suits me.”

“You know, let’s just not talk about this anymore,” I said, folding my arms in front of me.

“Fine,” he said. “We’ll just talk about something else, then.”

“Fine,” I said.

“What… um… what element do you think would suit me?” Ian asked, after a few uncomfortable moments. “If it wasn’t fire.”

“Earth,” I said, without even thinking. I realized as I said it that it was true: Ian was a rock. Maybe a little stubborn some times, but reliable… and if he was slow to come around, he was also slow to give up.

“Earth?” Ian asked, in a tone that suggested I might as well have said he had an elemental affinity for excrement.

“Why not earth?” I asked.

“Earth types are dull and unimaginative,” Ian said. “Earth is the lowest element for a reason.”

I thought about Amaranth, my beautiful nymph of grain and field… she was set in her ways, yes, but she was also warm and receptive, comforting and supporting. I thought of Two, whose flesh had once been clay. Her constancy and consistency could bind like shackles… but they were also her strength.

According to the oldest histories, we–that is to say, humanity–had once come from clay, too.

“It’s the lowest element because it’s the foundation that everything else sits on,” I said. “It’s the strongest element. You’re a strong person. I don’t think it’s an insult to compare you to earth.”

“Now you’re lecturing me on elements,” he said. “You wouldn’t say earth was stronger than fire if you’d ever seen them in a duel.”

“Fire burns out,” I said. “Earth remains. Earth goes on.”

“Look, you don’t understand how this stuff works,” Ian said. “You were lucky enough to be born with a direct line to fire…”

“Lucky?” I echoed. “You think it’s lucky to be what I am?”

“You know what I mean,” Ian said. “The point is, just because you’ve got a natural knack for elements doesn’t make you some kind of expert.”

“I guess not,” I said. “I suppose it would be like you lecturing a real musician about music.”

“Exactly,” Ian said. “Wait… what? I am a real musician. You’ve heard me play.”

“Well, you’ve got a talent for it, but you’re letting it languish,” I said. “On that subject, did your father ever consider that fire is the creative element? Whatever your dad does to tap into it, he isn’t you. How did he expect you to tap into the most artistic element when he discouraged your artistic talents?”

“Music and magic don’t go together,” Ian said. “That’s why bards never get any respect.”

“That’s the words of a mage with no musical ability to speak of,” I said. “I couldn’t make it work, but I’d bet money you could. If you’re not going to try starting from earth, you could at least try a different approach to fire.”

“What, you want me to bring my lute to class?” he asked, rolling his eyes.

“It couldn’t hurt,” I said. “Ian, I’ve heard more fire in your voice than I’ve seen you get out of that log.”

“You don’t understand how it works,” Ian said again.

“Says you. Remember, I can invoke elements in my sleep,” I said.

Ian turned, his hand moving spasmodically.

“Hit me,” I said. “Go ahead! I’ll be okay. I have an easier time with water after I’ve had a good release. If you won’t use your art and you won’t use your temper, I don’t know how you ever expect to get fire.”

“I won’t lose my temper, you mean,” he said.

“Your father has a temper, doesn’t he?” I guessed, feeling a sick thrill rising up within me, along with a certain confidence. “That’s how he can tap into fire so easily. That’s why he fights magic duels. That’s why you’re afraid of…”

The sound of his hand hitting my cheek drowned out my growl, making it only for him. I stared up at him, smirking triumphantly.

“You aren’t done feeding yet,” he said. “You didn’t get enough.”

“That doesn’t make me wrong,” I said.

“I don’t think you have any idea how wrong it makes you,” he said. He suddenly looked off to the side. “Two?”

I followed his gaze and saw her holding her little mace.

“You hit Mack,” she said.

“Two, honey it’s okay,” I said. “I like it.”

“I don’t,” she said. “I do not would like him to do it again.”

Ian stared at her, his mouth going over the words “do not would like” a couple times.

“It’s okay, he won’t,” I said. To Ian, I added, “Not in front of Two, anyway.”

“Not ever,” he said.

“We’ll talk about it later,” I said.

“Two, we need to get Mackenzie more… uh… food,” he said. “Are you…?”

“I am not suitable,” she said.

“I don’t exactly go around asking my friends if they’re virgins,” Ian said. “And I don’t know who’d be willing, anyway…”

“We should get Amaranth,” Two said. “She knows all kinds of people.”

“I doubt many of them are virgins,” Ian said.

“Anyway, it’s not like we could find her,” I said. “Let’s not bother.”

“She is at the match,” Two said. “She was going to volunteer her services. Didn’t she tell you?”

“I haven’t really talked to her today,” I said.

“You didn’t sleep all day, did you?” Two reproached.

“Pretty much,” I said. “Well, it’s going to be a lot of fun trying to find her there. She’ll either be surrounded by a bigger crowd of spectators than the actual match, or she’ll have gone off somewhere private…”

“She’s probably in the healing tent,” Two said. “I’m certain that’s where she is.”

“You don’t think they’d let her work in the healing tent?” I asked.

“Yes,” Two said. “That’s what it’s there for, isn’t it?”

I stared at her, trying to figure out where and how she’d got herself so badly turned around. I couldn’t work it out.

“What exactly did she volunteer to do?” I asked.

“Heal injured fighters,” Two said. “She asked my friend Dee to come but Dee said that abetting such a vulgar spectacle would be a criminal misuse of her gifts.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well, let’s go…”

“Yeah, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Ian said. “You in a crowd, you around fighters…”

“Also, the tent will be full of divine energy,” Two said.

“Right,” Ian said. “So… um… I guess I’ll go get her? I mean, you’re not going to take a bite out of Two if you get peckish, are you?”

“Of course not!” I replied, horrified… though admittedly, this was mostly because of the fate I’d imagined for her during my earlier episode.

“Take her on to Harlowe,” Ian said. “Take her to the lounge or something… where there’s people.”

“Why? She’s not going to be in any danger alone with me,” I insisted.

“I’ll get my friend Dee to help,” Two said, nodding.

“That’s really not necessary,” I said.

“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” Ian said.

“We’ll be fine,” I said.

“Okay,” Two said. “Bye, Ian!”

“Bye, Two,” he said, and hurried off.

“Look, you guys are worrying about nothing,” I said. “I got plenty of virgin blood for one night.” This was probably true, I thought, though I wouldn’t mind having a little something more to fill my stomach. “Hey, why don’t we go take a walk back by the fountain? That way we won’t have to wait as long for Ian to come back.”

“I think we should wait inside where there are people,” Two said. “Did you like your cookie?”

“What?”

“The cookie I made for you,” she said.

It took me a moment to remember what she was talking about.

“Oh, yeah… I did,” I said. I smiled to think about the frosting picture, and the letter that had accompanied it. The warm feeling managed to dislodge and displace my other thoughts of… what had I been thinking of? “And the note. That was cute.”

“It wasn’t cute,” Two said. “It was polite.”

“It was both,” I said, giggling.

“Honey said we were using too much frosting, but my friend Hazel said as long as the frosting didn’t weigh more than the cookie we were fine,” Two said. “She said that’s the rule.”

My smile faltered a little.

“Um… you know she probably made that rule up, right?” I asked. It was wonderful that Two had bonded with somebody over a common interest, but there were a lot of bad habits she could pick up if she blindly trusted the free-wheeling shireling’s word.

“I know,” she said. “But I like that rule. Don’t you?”

“Yeah, I suppose I do,” I said. “I like frosting, anyway.”

“I do, too,” she said. “Do you know what happened to my hair band?”

Just like that. No segue. The question caught me flat-footed. What did I tell her?

“Mack?” she asked. “If you lost it, that’s okay. You should try to take better care of other people’s things, though. Actually, you should try to take better care of your things, too.”

“Um… I didn’t exactly lose it,” I said. “Barley took it.”

“Why did she do that?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “She’s sick, or something.”

“She should go see a healer,” Two said. “That’s what healers are for.”

“It isn’t that kind of sickness,” I said. “It’s… it’s in her mind.”

“There’s mental healers,” Two said. “She should talk to them. If you see her again, tell her that.”

“I don’t think it’ll be that simple,” I said.

“Why?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“I think you should tell her,” Two said. “If you see her again.”

“I will,” I said. I looked at Two. She had the strength of the earth inside her… but she looked so fragile, so child-like.

Child-like… like a child.

Vulnerable.

Tearable.

Edible.

I felt a sudden, fierce longing to take that vulnerable child-like figure away, out of sight of any inhabited building…

“Come on, let’s go inside,” I said quickly. “Where there’s people.”

“Okay.”

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3 Responses to “130: An Evening Stroll”

  1. pedestrian says:

    I would think if more women carry and know how to use a mace, there would be fewer successful assaults on them. Especially when they are alone with a male they know and trust.

    Current score: 3
    • MackSffrs says:

      “…know how to use [a] mace…”
      Brilliant.

      Current score: 2
  2. MentalBlank says:

    The thing I love about all of Alexandra’s characters is their ‘Pratchettesqueness’. I’m a massive fan of the Discworld books, and love the similar depth and scope of the characters without sacrificing humour and a sense of whimsy.

    Current score: 2