Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Eleventh Letter - By Opalf

Dear Astra,

Fourteen Days 'til the Night Of Rudeth

I may as well be blunt, I am engaged to be married to the Xar. It cannot be much of a shock to you. But I will tell you how it happened.
The Xar returned late last night, and I was taking an evening stroll in the Gardens. I was a bit startled at his sudden appearance by my side, but the surprise was not unwelcome. I asked after his trip and he after my life at the palace. We both answered in the negative, and he, with his blunt and confident manner, remarked that it would have been much more pleasant had I been with him. I was pleased and flattered at this compliment and returned it, adding that I hoped he did not have to go away again very soon. His face began to look grave and he said that yes, he was due to be at a very important meeting the very next day and would not be back for another three. I was silent for a while, unsure as to how deep my disappointment went in his leaving.
Before I had time to judge the depth of my feelings, we had begun on a different topic and went on for some time in a casual conversation. When we came round to the bench near the Lotus Pool, I was quite certain that I was feeling much happier with the Xar back and was doomed to be depressed the whole while he was to be gone. We sat down and I let my hand rest in his.
We sat in silence for some time and I confess, it was the first time I have felt the silence a bit uncomfortable. Just as I was about to begin on a new topic of conversation, the Xar brought up a new and slightly shocking subject. That of marriage. More specifically, marriage between himself and myself.
We discussed the idea for some time, until we came to the conclusion that it would benefit the both of us and that neither of us had the least objection. He then knelt before me, and with the most exquisite ring in his outstretched hand, formally asked for my hand in marriage. I accepted and before we had the time or opportunity to seal the proposal with a kiss, were interrupted by a flurried looking page, in search of the Xar.
With a parting look and mutual understanding, the Xar allowed himself to be led away and I have not seen him since. He left early this morning and our hopes are that he will be back before the closing of the week.
I have never been romantic, you know, but I have found the whole thing very satisfying and I do believe I am deeply in love and we shall get along very well.
My only regret is that you will not be here for the wedding. We discussed different dates, but have decided on one week from today. Do not be alarmed, I was adament in refusing to break my promise to you and, not knowing how long I was to be with you, the Xar insisted we make the date as soon as possible. We will be married and spend a week together, giving me just enough time to make my way to Corinth and then to you. Even with my new promises, I have not forgotten the ones I made to you.
Yes indeed, I believe I shall be very happy and I only want for you to meet my fiancee and approve my decision.

Friendship Forever and Always,

Don't do anything drastic to poor Gale. I daresay he can't help being so perfect. You must try to forgive him for his faults or rather,his lack of them.

Dear Astra,

Four Days 'til the Night of Rudeth

I write this to you in the greatest frustration a soul has ever known. It is done, I have lost it! That must mean something to you! You, who has known me to never crack under pressure, never flinch with a charade or break a sweat over a disaster or crisis. But this... man, has done what no one has done before. I have lost it! I have lost my cool, I have lost my hot, I have lost any last bit of rational thinking I have been known to possess.
But I daresay you are still in the dark. I shall narrate these past few days of... horror and tragedy.
After my last letter, I spent a few peaceful days, content in the prospect and preparations of my upcoming wedding. The Xar returned and I spent my days in the greatest happiness, always near to my fiancee.
After my first day of beautiful bliss, I crawled into my feather bed and quickly drifted off into a dreamless sleep. It must have been near Mid Night when I was awakened from sleep by the telltale sounds of someone creeping up the tower stairs.
I left the comfort of my bed and threw my robe on in the chill night air, then positioned myself near the door to the stairs and armed myself with an old rusted knife that I had found in the back of the closet.
I confess, I do not know what made me suppose that the person was coming up with less than honest intentions, but the night was black and the wind was moaning in the old Willow outside the window and the atmosphere made everything seem ominous.
With the knife clutched in my hand, I hid myself as much in shadow as possible as the door creaked open. To my complete surprise, I recognized the figure and outline of Benden Steel.
My knife clattered to the floor as Benden turned toward me, seeming not in the least surprised to see me awake and hiding with a knife, ready to stab the first person to come into the room.
After scrutinizing me for a moment in the blackness of the room, he strolled over to the bedside table and struck a match, creating moving shadows along the stone walls.
I stood in my corner a moment longer, in a bit of daze at my unexpected nightly visitor. When I regained my mental stability, I walked to my bed and sat down, curious to know why Benden would have any reason to visit me in such an unorthodox fashion and hour. He sat opposite me on an old rickety chair and we both openly studied each other. After a moment Ben leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, apparently content to wait for me to take the lead.
I did so. "What in the world are you doing here Ben?" My question was frank and his answer was even more so.
"I'm here to convince you to call off your engagement with the Xar." His eyes were still closed and his whole manner conveyed comfort and affability.
I laughed and leaned back on my arms, copying his attitude, intent on beating him at whatever game he was playing.
"Oh Ben, I thought you were done pretending. You can't actually expect me to put up with it again. You don't know what a pain it
would be having to explain everything to my fiancee." He stayed silent. "Oh come on Ben. It's great to see you but couldn't you have postponed your visit 'til morning? This is hardly the best hour for a friendly chat." I laughed again and Ben's eyes flew open.
I was startled at their color, shining in the candlelight, but more so in their depth and... passion. All pretense of casualty was gone and his face was full of solemnity.
"Xan," He leaned forward and his eyes seemed to penetrate my feelings. "I'm serious. I have been sent to convince you to call off your engagement to the Xar and if that fails, I am to not hesitate to use more compelling means."
I tried to laugh again, but it was caught in my throat, held there by the truth in Ben's eyes.
My thoughts were flying rapidly and I tried to sort them out, searching for a way to shrug off this insane declaration. But in spite of my efforts, I could not think of any reason for Ben to be in my room at that hour and his explanation kept coming to my mind. My engagement had been anounced that afternoon and it seemed plausible that if someone were to try to stop me, they would do it as soon as possible and in a fashion much the same as what Ben was employing.
My thoughts were spinning and as Ben's eyes held mine I seemed to be able to feel his passion, his seriousness and I began to be a bit frightened. What did I really know of this man? Why did I let him stay this long in my bedroom? What interest could he possibly have in annulling my engagement?
I stood up quickly and went to the window to let my thoughts cool and to be away from the searching glance of Ben.
The wind was playing in my hair and my thoughts were settled enough to allow room for questions.
"Why?" My back was still turned to Ben but I could feel him come up behind me.
"The Xar is not what you think. He belongs to Nova. He knows you have the Gift and he has played you to perfection, certain that with you as his wife, you will no longer be a danger to him or his power. Under the laws of the magyks, once wed, he is lawfully enabled to stop your powers, if not use them." He took a breath for another load of rubbish but I lost it before he had the chance to go on.
"Oh My Stars!" I turned away from the window, brushing forcefully against him as I went back to the bed. "What is wrong with you people?! Do you not know when to stop?!" I sat down on the bed and Ben stayed by the window, his arms folded across his chest, watching my antics from a safe distance. I couldn't stand his scrutiny and I got up and stomped around the room as I raved.
"I know! Astra got you to do this, didn't she? You were hired! Astra never liked the idea of my attachment to the Xar and now she has concocted some ridiculous scheme to get me away from him!" I am sorry if I have done you an injustice in this accusation, but I was not thinking clearly. "How stupid do you think I am!?" I ran my hands through my hair, not knowing how to work off my frustration. "I am sick, and tired of this prank! Just leave me be!" I glared hard at Ben, looking for all the world as if we were having a friendly chat over dinner. His calm was getting on my nerves. "Well let me tell you this! Go tell Nebuela or Nova or the Stars Above, that not on my life will I call off my engagement to suit your fancy! I am getting married to the Xar and you can't. stop. me!"
My finger was nearly in his face and I fancy my eyes were nearly shooting flames. Ben didn't smile. He simply sat there, his eyes searching mine, looking for something and not really listening to me.
I grabbed his arm, and ushered him to the door. He gave no resistance and was soon on the top step. As I was closing the door, he put his hand against it and leaned back in the room. "Are you sure you won't change your mind?" Now I detected a hint of a smile. "NO!" I slammed the door in his face and I heard him chuckle as he hurried down the steps.
My heart was beating fast and my pulse was high. I was in such a state of confusion and elation and anger that it was near breakfast time before I finally drifted back into a troubled sleep.
When I finally roused myself, lunch was being served and I was being called to join the Xar in the Garden for a private picnic.
I readied myself and hurried off, almost forgetting the events of the night. I had a wonderful picnic and I found myself laughing inwardly at my behavior during the night.
As the Xar and I walked together after our picnic, he himself brought up the topic of the night. Apparently, the stable boy had seen my light on and had seen the outline of my visitor, and had thought it his duty to bring it to the attention of the Xar.
I do not know what enticed me to act the way I did, but when the Xar asked me who it was, I found myself telling my fiancee, one who I had hoped to never have secrets with, a lie! I told him it had been an old family friend, one of Grandfather Melvin's old friends and when he had heard I was engaged he simply had to see me and congratulate me but he was due to leave early the next morning and he was a very good friend with the family and so he did not find it improper at all to come visit me in the middle of the night.
Astra, you know I am not one to lie! I do occasionally bend the truth, but I have never been one to even attempt an outright lie, but here I was, telling a falsehood to none other than my fiancee! And it came so naturally! I do not know what enticed me to protect Ben with such a statement, but it seemed to come of it's own accord. My fiancee took it all as truth and did not ask any more questions concerning the matter.
At the end of the day, I sat in my room brooding. I could not help but think about what Ben had said as I had been with my fiancee that day. I cannot say that he was inattentive, for I was with him nearly all day and he was very concerned about my comfort and always anxious to please, but he did seem a bit preoccupied and I could not help but wonder if he was tiring of my company. But these were all silly doubts that Ben had placed there and I was determined to think no more on it and get a good night's rest.
As I lay in bed, I was startled at every creak of the tower and groan of the old willow, certain that Ben would make another visit. I lay awake for hours, unconsciously repeating to myself every word of your letters against the Xar and every word spoken by Ben the night before. My mind was tired and I kept feeling like there was something I was missing, as if you and Ben knew something I didn't and if I could figure out what, I would know what to do.
I eventually dozed off and didn't wake until late in the morning, and then it was with a splitting headache. I had the cook bring me breakfast in bed and I nursed my head with water until I heard the steps creaking, announcing the cook.
My head was in an awful state and the appearance of Ben instead of the cook didn't do much to help. I groaned and laid my head back on the pillow and he just chuckled and set my breakfast on the side table and himself on the edge of my bed.
"Xandra," he whispered and poked me, trying to get me to open my eyes.
"What?" I muttered and slapped his hand.
"You haven't possibly changed your mind, have you?" He was still whispering and I was glad he was because my head was pounding up a thunder storm.
"No, I have not changed my mind." I said through slitted teeth. "Just go away." I turned my head away and he eventually left.
I ate my breakfast and was only a bit surprised to find a note on the plate. Here's what it said:

Xandra, please just trust me! Just call off the wedding until after the night of Rudeth! I can't explain a whole lot now, but can't you just wait? I am aware that you think this whole thing is a bunch of bues, but you've just got to trust us. I know this sounds melodramatic, but there are a lot of people depending on you. Pretty please?

I could hear his voice in my head, his sweet pleading voice. You know, Ben can be so... emotional. The way he speaks conveys exactly what he's feeling and his passion. Unlike the Xar, who speaks very rationally, and he is a very calculating man. I like that, it gives you the feeling of safety, like he has everything under control. But, alas I will not see him again.
Well, roughly, this routine went on until the day of the wedding. No more night visits, but every morning Ben would stop in with my food, somehow always convincing the cook that I had insisted he bring it up to me.
Our conversations were nearly always the same, him trying to convince me to believe him and delay or cancel the wedding and me adamently refusing.
I was almost disappointed when he failed to make an appearance on the morning of the wedding, but soon decided I was much relieved, thinking he had given it up and there would be no problems on the day of my wedding. Oh my stars, was I mistaken!
Near noon, I was completely ready. My hair was flowing down my back in the most beautiful waves and curls and it sparkled with the Syne, shining only white. Oh I wish you could have seen my dress! It was the most beautiful thing! It was specially made to bring out my eyes and it was lovely! The material was made of the silk of the bunee's and it flowed elegantly around my body coming up over my shoulders and flowing into a sort of cloak. Oh, I felt like the most beautiful bride!
I was making my way to the old Chapel on Sapphire Street with my ladies-in-waiting and we were passing under the Great Arched Bridge. I had always dreamed of spending a moment by myself under the great arches before my wedding and I had the perfect chance. I ordered the ladies to go ahead and I began to walk around the glorious arches, admiring the exquisite carvings.
As I came around one of the arches, I jumped at the sight of Ben leaning casually against the side. He was in the dirtiest Mountain Ranger clothing and his hands were covered in dried mud.
I stepped back, in surprise and for fear of getting my dress dirty. He glanced briefly at me and then made some remark that I'm sure was meant to be a compliment.
I had a faint feeling of warning, but in my pride, I disregarded it, certain that with the wedding less than an hour away, there was nothing he could do to stop me.
Ben stood up straight and turned his peircing eyes to study me. I did not flinch, but it was not the most comfortable thing.
"I suppose you mean to go through with the wedding?"
"I do." I no longer took his questions as a joke. He was serious and so was I.
"Well then old friend, I guess this means goodbye." He held out his hand to me but I hesitated to take it, as it was dirtier than Old Mauds dish rags. But, for fear of being rude, I gave him my hand. He held it in his, keeping his eyes locked on me. When I thought on it later, I realized that, as his eyes locked with mine, they were sort of saying sorry. I know that sounds strange, but the feeling was so real. I knew he was trying to apoplogize for something. And at that moment, I gave into my intuition and decided that something was wrong.
But it was too late. I tried to pull my hand out of his, but sooner than you can say tse, he pulled me to him, and after wrapping a scarf around my mouth he tried to tie my hands together.
I confess, I was not very good at defending myself, me being so much smaller and never much a fan of athletics. But I did what I could. He held one of my hands in his and he was trying to grab my other one, with the intent of tying them together. We played a game of keep the hand away, but, after swatting me on the behind, he won and I was neatly tied and thrown over his shoulder.
He carried me for some time, which was highly uncomfortable for me, and we eventually came to a path leading into the trails of the Mount Zide. I was gently thrown up onto the lone horse and Ben swung up behind me.
We rode for what seemed hours and finally came to an old camp ground, which had been neatly prepared for us. Ben lifted me down from the horse and I sank gratefully onto the soft ground. By this time, my beautiful wedding dress was muddy and ripped and I nearly cried because of it. But I kept good face and sat on the ground, refusing to look at my captor.
Ben untied me and then built up a fire and set to making dinner. I am certain you can guess the trials of that first day, my obstinancy and his stubborness. We fought a great deal and talked very little. I tried to escape three or four times, but was always dragged back to camp before I had made it more than fifty yards.

That was three days ago.

So now, here I sit, by a coldfire, made by a man I almost hate and writing to you dear friend.


Ben is taking me to Corinth, so I suppose I will let him. He brought me the Opalf and I will keep it with me.

I will try to write you one more before the Night of Corinth. I have nothing better to do.