Henric and Alex Part VIII (v1.3)

Feb 15th, 2014
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  1. Villainous male knight / virtuous female squire, this chapter is exposition
  4. The drug and the fuck left Alex dehydrated and aching so badly between her legs that she was barely able to move them. The moment Henric left her alone (even he knew he wasn’t going to be able to take her outside that day to train) she got out of his bed and descended painfully to her pile of furs and her backpack.
  6. She found the things that Yorick had given her and ate one of the pills that were meant to remove pain without hesitation. “Thank you,” she murmured under her breath to the masked man. Wherever he was, she knew he wouldn’t hear her but she wished he knew that she appreciated his help.
  8. The pill helped by making her body feel somewhat numb. She felt the pressures and aches of pain, but only distantly as if they were voices shouting from far away. She made it across the room to the buckets of fresh water and drank as much as she could, then went back to her furs to sleep, pulling them up over her body so she would stay warm.
  11. The boys were outside in the field waiting for Alex. Ellis was the least impatient but most worried. It wasn’t like Alex to be late, he was usually the very first one outside every morning, no matter how exhausted he always looked.
  13. “He’s pissing me off is what he’s doing,” Micah said, crossing his arms.
  15. “Oh it’s not that bad,” Glenn said. “Sir Henric was ill yesterday, maybe Alex caught sick too?”
  17. Ellis glanced back at the barracks and twirled his wooden sword. “Maybe I should go check?” he suggested.
  19. Glenn shrugged. “Sure. We’ll wait.”
  21. The boy nodded and handed his sword off to Micah, then jogged to the building and went up the outside stairs to the second floor where he and Sir Isaac shared quarters and where Alex and Sir Henric shared quarters. He knocked on Sir Henric’s door.
  23. There was no response, and he knocked again, harder. He heard a muffled Alex inside saying something, and took it as an invitation to enter. It wasn’t locked and he slipped in.
  25. He hadn’t seen Sir Henric’s quarters before, and found them barren, dark, and unwelcoming--if spotlessly tidy. He saw Alex half asleep in a corner under the loft, lying on the floor. Alex seemed half asleep, half aware, and Ellis got the shock of his life when his friend sat up abruptly and he saw breasts.
  27. It had never occurred to Ellis that confusion would be an emotion that breasts would instill in him.
  29. Alex looked at him and her eyes went wide.
  31. “I’m so sorry,” he said, aiming his gaze at the floor as politely as he could. He had no idea what he was supposed to say in a situation like this. He wasn't sure if he was supposed to be upset that Alex had breasts and had lied about not having them, or be apologetic for having seen them. Women made everything confusing and his next words were stuttered, “I thought it would be alright for me to come check on you, I’m, I’m so sorry.”
  33. Alex’ voice came evenly, but he heard her forcing it to be so. “You’re my best friend,” she said.
  35. “You’re my best friend, too,” he said, and though the words came out automatically and with great confusion, he meant what he said. He brought a hand to his forehead and leaned back against the wall. “I, I won't tell. Never. I swear, Alex.”
  37. She said, still fighting to keep her voice even, “You better… um. You should run before Henric comes back. Just say I was asleep and sick and didn’t answer when you knocked.”
  39. He left running, terrified.
  41. Why was Alex naked? Did Henric know? Of course he’d know if she was in his room sleeping naked. Ellis wondered if they were sleeping together, but didn’t think it was likely. Alex never talked about Henric or had good things to say about him. They didn’t even seem like they were friends. He wiped his forehead with his sleeve and was slow as he plodded down the stairs. His thoughts became less innocent as they trailed on, and he wondered a lot of horrible things that made him feel sick.
  43. He returned to Glenn and Micah.
  45. “You look like you saw a ghost,” Micah said.
  47. “No. Just worried about Alex. No one answered the door,” Ellis said.
  49. “He’s probably off with Sir Henric again,” Glenn said.
  51. “Yeah, I guess.”
  54. Alex was almost catatonic after Ellis left and she buried herself under furs. When the door opened again late in the evening, she knew it was Henric. She knew the footsteps coming towards her were his, but just for fun she pretended they were Ellis’, that he was walking over to her because he wanted to lie down with her and… just hang out. Or cuddle.
  56. Henric pulled Alex’s fur off and she looked at him with wet eyes. He looked somewhat impressed. “You made it out of the bed!”
  58. “It took a while,” she said. “But I did it. I crawled to the water too.”
  60. “Aren’t you strong-willed,” he said dryly.
  62. She sighed. “Do you have homework? Books for me to read? I don’t like missing practice.”
  64. Henric laughed derisively at her for being an eager student. “You can’t learn knighthood from a book.”
  66. “I read about it plenty as a page,” she said. “They had good books for us to read.”
  68. “Books full of stupidity,” Henric said. He wagged an angry finger at Alex and then ran it through his hair when he turned to a cupboard.
  70. Not this fight again. Alex was too tired. She pulled the furs up again over her head. Henric was in a chatty mood, however. It was uncommon for him except when he was exceptionally happy. And that was uncommon. “I met an old friend in town today,” he said.
  72. He was fishing for a response, and Alex humored him for her own sake. “Whom?”
  74. “Kerran Myar,” he replied. “You may have heard of him.”
  76. The name was indeed familiar to Alex, but she couldn’t place it. “Maybe. Why?”
  78. “When you were a kid and I was a page he was a very well-known wizard. I met him a year or so into my squire training, he took me under his wing.”
  80. The name clicked for Alex when she heard he was a wizard. She was incredulous, but not wholly unbelieving. “Wait, do you mean the necromancer who wiped out two towns in the west?”
  82. “The very same,” Henric said. Today he did Alex the kindness of removing his own armor, and he dropped each piece into the chest where he kept it with a loud clang.
  84. “I thought he died years ago,” Alex said over the din of armor.
  86. “He did,” Henric said. “I wasn’t there, but yes, he was killed.”
  88. The girl put a hand over her eyes and reeled with fear. “Shit. Fuck. Henric, fuck. Are you crazy? Shit.” A muttering stream of displeased expletives slipped from her lips.
  90. He chuckled, and left her alone again. Alex put her hands on her forehead and thought about the necromancer back from the dead. Those thoughts trailed into memories of the dead mercenaries.
  92. She faced a horrible question: At which point did her responsibility to report Henric outweigh the fact that she wanted to protect her future as a knight, her right to inherit her father’s lands, and her very life? At what point would it become so much that it would be more important to her that they catch Henric than her own life was?
  94. Logic answered first: You should have reported him the night he raped you. He would have been hanged and those eight men and all those goblins would probably still be alive.
  96. Emotions provided the counterbalance: I don’t want to die. I want to be a knight. I don’t want to end my family line and break my father’s heart.
  98. Thinking of her father made her cry. She thought of what his reaction would be if he knew what was happening to her because he had decided to raise her as a boy. She would never have been in this position if not for that decision. Alex would never have blamed him for this, but she knew he would have blamed himself and that he would never have forgiven himself.
  100. Henric came back with food. Some soup and bread. He set it on the table, pulled a chair out for Alex, then sat down in his usual seat, watching her. “What happened when I was away?”
  102. The girl gave him a puzzled look as she got up to hobble to the table. Henric explained his question by pantomiming tears, mocking her. Her lip curled at him but she tried to focus on the soup. She was starved.
  104. Henric watched her while he ate slowly. “You didn’t answer me.”
  106. “I’m pissed off,” Alex said, dropping her forearm on the table with a heavy thud that made their bowls shudder and their soups jump. Her face knitted into a scowl. “I’m fucking pissed off. And I’m scared as shit. And I hate it here, and I hate you. Crying just happens sometimes, okay? Fuck.”
  108. She drank the rest of her soup, grabbed the bread, and walked back to her furs feeling stronger and gnawing at the stale loaf unhappily. There was no good bread in the barracks, everything was delivered from the town every other day and it was never perfectly fresh. She’d learned to tolerate this, grudgingly admitting to herself that perhaps she had been spoiled by good food as a child.
  110. She would never have admitted this concession to Henric.
  112. Her mind wandered to Ellis.
  115. He wanted to see Alex again. Ellis waited outside on the field early in the morning. Earlier than he ever had before. Sir Isaac had commented on his strangeness, but Ellis had no good answer for him except to tell his knight he needed a walk. Sir Isaac had shrugged his broad shoulders and let his trusted squire go.
  117. Ellis was scared that Alex wouldn’t come out again, that he (no, she, he corrected himself for the millionth time) would be stuck in the room again. Ellis brooded anxiously while he paced, and Alex appeared at his side.
  119. “Ellis,” she said softly, looking sideways up at him.
  121. He jumped slightly with surprise like an elephant jumping at a mouse. “Oh. Hi. Alex… how are you?” He tried to speak like he always did with his friend, tried to be casual and normal, but it was impossible. Normal was gone.
  123. "I'm not okay," she said, words clumsily spilling out of her mouth. "I'm less okay than I have ever been in my life. Nothing has been alright since I became a squire, I am sad from the moment I wake up until the moment I fall asleep. I cannot wait until the day that it is over and I can be a knight like I always wanted. The only thing that ever makes me feel good anymore is when I see you and you smile at me."
  125. It was such a heavy statement that the weight made Ellis’ knees bend and he seemed to shrink closer down to her eye level. While she talked he realized there was no consolation he could offer her that would be sufficient, and when she ended it by speaking about him he was even more at a loss for words. Part of him still saw her as a boy and continued to be baffled by her face as he tried to work out the truth of it.
  127. Finally he ran a hand through his light hair and said, “What do I do?”
  129. Alex shrugged. Ellis glanced at his (her!) chest. He didn’t see breasts, like always Alex’ chest seemed flat. Had he imagined it? Was he crazy? He must have stared too long, because Alex laughed. His (her!) hands went to Ellis shoulders and he (she!) shook him to get his attention back.
  131. “I tie them down,” she explained in a whisper instead of answering Ellis’ question. He blushed knowing that she’d seen his stares, but at least Alex seemed distracted from her mournful speech now. “Kind of like a bandage. To pretend to be a boy.”
  133. “It’s a lot to take in,” he admitted, regretting that he felt the need to darken the conversation again. “Because… Sir Henric…”
  135. Alex shook her head adamantly with her eyes shut tightly. “Just don’t think about it. Please. I don’t want… to think about anything. I just… you know about me now. I’m actually kind of happy about that. I don’t want to think about the bad things, I just want to hang out with you.”
  137. He swallowed and nodded his understanding. “Yeah. I’m sorry.” He was sorry for a lot of things, even things that it wasn't his place to be sorry for. He was sorry that he couldn't help Alex, sorry that she couldn't be a squire without hiding who she was, sorry that he was just a boy who had no idea what to do or even what to say.
  139. Alex looked around nervously, and then hugged him. She squeezed him more tightly than he’d ever been squeezed, and he was pretty sure he felt her breasts through his shirt, her shirt, and the wraps. Even if it was just his imagination, it felt nice and he hugged her back. He wasn’t used to hugging the other squires. But maybe he should have been. Alex seemed like she really needed it. A good knight would hug anyone who was good who needed to be hugged.
  141. Still he had to be honest. “It’s um. It’s weird that you’re a girl.”
  143. “Tell me about it,” she said with a sigh. “It’s just as weird being a boy. I can’t win with either one, so I just try not to think about it.”
  145. “I can’t stop thinking about it,” he confessed nervously. “You’re my best friend but you’re also… I mean it’s not that we can’t still be friends, we’re still squires together, but it’s just that now that I know I see stuff differently.”
  147. “Like what?” Alex asked.
  149. “Like,” he said, breaking the hug so he could look her her face (and again, his eyes glanced down at her chest), “Like I wouldn’t normally think of telling one of my friends that he was pretty.”
  151. Alex smiled. Ellis did too, nervously. He didn’t want to look like an idiot, and was glad that she would never see him as one.
  154. Henric went to town again to meet with the necromancer. Alex was just glad he hadn’t taken her with him--time away from Henric was good. She spent the evening with Ellis and Sir Isaac and ate dinner with them.
  156. “What has Henric been having you read, Alex?” asked Sir Isaac. He was an enormous man made of naught but muscle, but he was no fool and every conversation that Alex had with him made her more aware of how intelligent he was.
  158. “Not much,” Alex said. Like always when her knight became the focus of attention, she seemed to shrink a few inches into herself. “He believes in practical training over hypotheticals from books.”
  160. “He’s only part right,” Sir Isaac said. He was enthusiastic. “There’s no substitute for experience but there’s no harm in studying things before you try them. That aside! There are many books I’ve been having Ellis read that aren’t instructions. There’s philosophy, Alex! And of course the study of our language itself and the history of our people.”
  162. Ellis leaned an elbow on the table with his face in his hand. He didn’t understand the love of books compared to swords, and he was slightly jealous that Alex was better than him at both of those things. He said, “I prefer the practical stuff too.”
  164. Sir Isaac patted him on the shoulder. “I know you do, boy. But even if you don’t have fun reading the things I have you read I hope you remember that they may be useful someday. Philosophy is very important to our knightly order.”
  166. “I thought that was swords,” Ellis complained.
  168. Sir Isaac took a deep breath that Alex recognized with excitement as a precursor to education and she happily leaned over the table to make sure she filled her ears with what he had to say.
  170. “Understanding philosophies of our forefathers, of the current times, and of other cultures will all help you make better decisions and it will help you understand and have compassion for others. And helping people is what knights are for, first and foremost. In war time we are soldiers and generals and we must be fast with sword, yes, but more than that we are helpers to anyone in need.” He paused and took a drink of the exceptionally black and pungent coffee that he imported often from one of the central continents. “Sometimes people need to be talked to and understood and you need to walk them through to calmness.”
  172. Alex wished that was all it took with Sir Henric. “Some people are just evil though, aren’t they? Sometimes you can’t talk to people and you can’t change them.”
  174. With a sad nod Sir Isaac admitted this was true. “That is one reason fighting happens.”
  176. “Why… what makes a person like that?” she asked. She saw Ellis from the corner of her eye looking slightly uncomfortable. “Why are some people just bad? Do you think they are born like that?”
  178. The knight shrugged. “I can’t say. I wish I could. It seems like it could happen in a number of ways. But maybe some people are just born without a soul.”
  180. Alex nodded. Ellis emitted a loud imitation of a snore to force them on to more interesting topics of discussion.
  183. Sir Henric returned in early morning hours after Alex had gone to bed and been sleeping soundly for quite a while.
  185. She sat up and rubbed her eyes at the sight of him, bundled in warm clothes that he began to remove. It had been at least a week since he had shaved and his beard had filled out, and his hair was long enough now to be looking shaggy and improper by Alex’ standards. Dark circles were impressed under his eyes, and the black eye she had given him the other night was still there, if faint. She wondered what excuse he had given for it.
  187. “Alex,” he said in the dark room.
  189. “What?” she asked in a reproachful tone.
  191. “Exciting things are afoot, Alex,” he said. He lit the lantern that hung down in the middle of their room. “Big things for us.”
  193. Oh gods, she thought with horror as she shielded her eyes from the light with an arm. “What?” she asked, holding one of the large skins up to her chin.
  195. He paced while he stripped away his clothes for bed. Henric was bouncing on the balls of his toes, more awake and alert than Alex had seen him before. He constantly cracked his neck and rolled his shoulders. “We may be going on a trip in a few months. I don’t want to say just what yet, because you will whine.”
  197. She conceded to herself this was probably true and let him climb up to his bed to sleep alone.
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