Chapter Twenty-Three: A Brief Endeavor to Walk the Fox (2)Mature

Thirty-five minutes later, the late morning sun found them strolling out through the main gate, Raif bouncing along at their heels on a leash of twine.  Fiona did not entirely trust the fox-like creature not to take off after a squirrel and never come back, but she couldn’t leave it alone in Carviliet, lest the black-cloaked man come after it to exact his revenge.  The three of them, she sensed, would have to stick together.

            The day was shaping out to be a warm one, probably one of the last pleasant days of the season.  There was still a bit of frost left in the shade, however, to act as a reminder of November’s steady march into winter.

            “Why aren’t you afraid of me?”Henry asked her.

            “Hmm?”  She frowned at him, confused.  “Why should I be?”

            “After that rant the other night, I would imagine you’d think me mad.  In fact, I think I may very well be mad.”

            She shrugged.  “You frightened me a bit,” she admitted.  “But I wasnae really afeared for my safety.”

            Henry sighed and crossed his arms over his ribcage.  “I’m a dangerous man, Fiona.  I’ve done…I’ve done terrible things.”

            Fiona studied him thoughtfully.  “Were they just?”

            He furrowed his brow.  “What do you mean?”

            “Did the people ta whom you did those ‘terrible things’ deserve what they got?”

            “Well, yes, I suppose so,” he replied.  “But that doesn’t make what I did any less wrong.”

            “No, it does no’,” she agreed.  “But it means I ha’e no cause ta fear you, Henry, provided I gi’e you no cause ta harm me.”

            Henry exhaled deeply again.  “If I am going mad (which I strongly suspect is the case), I doubt that it would make much of a difference.”

            “Then let’s hope that you are no’ goin’ mad.”

            They had to pause for a moment at this point, for Raif had managed to wrap its twine leash twice about Fiona’s legs.  When she had disentangled herself, she passed the animal-handling duties off to Henry.  The fox-thing’s relentless tugging had been beginning to make her arm sore.

            “Take care ta keep the bonny rascal frae rollin’ in anythin’,” she instructed.  Henry nodded in reply.

            They walked in silence along the road for a few more minutes, making little progress on account of Raif’s insistence upon smelling seemingly every blade of grass, before Henry sniffed loudly.  Fiona looked up at his face and saw that there were tears rolling down his cheeks.

            “I’m sorry,” he mumbled, trying to dry his eyes with the back of his hand.  “I’m not very good company, am I?  It’s no wonder why nobody seems to like me.”

            “That isna true!”

            Henry dismissed her declaration with a wave of his hand.  “There’s a definite difference between being liked and being pitied, and stupid though I may be, I am not so oblivious as to fail to notice when that line is crossed.”

            “You are no’ stupid, Henry,” Fiona insisted, but the mage ignored her.

            “I’m just…” He sniffed again, kneading his eyes with his knuckles.  “…I’m just terribly nervous and terribly confused, and I only want…I only want a normal life.  I do not enjoy being a mage.  I never wanted to be the Lord of Carvil, never wanted to be the Anyone of Anywhere!  All I’ve ever wanted is to be left alone to do as I wish.  I never wanted to be responsible for anything more than myself.   I never asked for any of this… this shit.  It’s…oh, for Rezyn’s sake,” he grumbled with exasperation, coming to a stop and looking over his shoulder. 

            Fiona followed his gaze and saw that the creature known as Raif—which was beginning to look rather plump and glossy-coated—had plunked itself down in the middle of the dusty road and was refusing to move, its twine leash pulled taut between its neck and Henry’s hand.

            “Come on, Raif,” she groaned.  “We ha’e no’ e’en walked a quarter mile, you fat auld ham.”

            But Raif had no intention of moving.  The fox-thing merely yawned widely, producing a high-pitched squeak, and blinked dolefully at them.

            “Weel, look at that,” Fiona drawled.  “Just look at the tragedy embodied in that image.  ’Tis right poetic.”

The End

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