There had really been no choice. This he stubbornly relented, aiming another growl-aided blow at his opponent. He should never have sought the company, of anyone. The memory smacked him hard, and he faltered.
What? No cute witch girls for you, Spencer? he growled, snapping a button off his coat violently. It bounced off into the darkness.
Oh Tholorelm, he hissed to himself. His coat was already in horrible condition. It was faded from what possibly had been a cool black, to something resembling the skin of a dead grey and brown…thing. A mangy thing, for the frays of what must have been cloth stuck out like clumps of fur, strings of hair falling to the ground whenever Spencer moved. If only, he thought, it could have been made of skin. As soon as he had no other choice, he was using some of his gold and buying a real leather coat. He began to rise in search of the button he had lost, but sat down immediately. Some idea seemed to pass before his eyes, and they narrowed. To himself, he said:
You know, you never do anything that you don't feel is absolutely necessary. You're always pushing it. I mean, look at you. Falling apart, and here thinking 'Oh, don't bother with it.' Like some kind of lazy fool. When was the last time you had a bath? Or spoke to a real person?" he was about to continue lecturing himself, he looked poised to complain about something else, but then the light in his eyes changed. He growled, stood up and kicked the ground.
I can't believe I'm hearing this. Really? I've always been alone. I don't want to talk to people. He bared his teeth at nothing, er himself, but the flare of anger dissipated completely when he heard a soft chuckle.
It had come from beneath him.
Upon realization of what it was, he hissed, The very ground laughs at you, fool and sat down again with a slump. His shoes, squeaking in the grass, had brought him back to reality. Examining his history, he would be silly to think that he didn't want or need people. As a child, he had been outgoing, and as a forest dweller he had travelled with his wolf. He had always been talkative with her, and when she left he had made that deal with Patrick, and then there were those two ladies in the cottage, and now…he was alone. Truly alone and he was talking to himself. How ridiculous could he be, to think that all this time he had been alone? There was only one thing he could do, he decided. There was simply no other choice. He would have to get over people.
Charged with resolve, Spencer acknowledged (there was no debate) that it was time to get going. He patted his pockets and took one last look around, and set off toward the road. If he were lucky, maybe a…carriage would drive by.
Pardon! Pardon me! Slow down! he called out after the passenger vehicle making speed down the road. Loose road gravel sprayed as the coachman pulled at the reins. He looked back to see who was calling, saw Spencer, and began to speed up again. The four horses tossed their heads in confused protest, and thundered away.
Oh bother him, Spencer murmured, looking down at his clothes and sighing. When he looked up again, the carriage had stopped a little up the road, and a man was getting out of the back. Something was exchanged between the two men that Spencer could not hear, and then the passenger started in Spencer's direction.
Spencer made up his half of the distance, wary but adorned with a smile. He thought he would have to make his case quickly, looking the way he did, but the stranger beat him to speaking.
I'm so sorry for that. My cabbie seems overly concerned with getting to the castle before dark. He's not very friendly. In the city, we don't just ignore people like that, I'm so terribly sorry. Oh, I'm John, John Walder, by the way. In on business form Lindony, hopefully not for long… he smiled nervously, picturesque country you've got here, uh…
Spencer Durin. He filled in. Spencer thought that John looked incredibly out of place, perhaps easily gullible. It would likely be pointless to try to rob him, as the businessman was dressed plainly and didn't look well-off at all. Maybe that was why he did not seem to have yet noticed Spencer's own unkempt look. He had mentioned something of interest, however… You said you are going to the castle? he added, an idea formulating; an idea which involved catching a ride with a certain unsuspecting traveler.
Oh yes. My business is with the Count. I'm an interior decorator, here to discuss color for his new place in Lindony. I don't think he's ever even seen it. A dreadful barbaric thing…nearly falling apart…and next to a cemetery no less. I suppose he'll want to tear it down and re-build. I'm a little surprised he's called me this early in the process. Oh! You know, I've never met the Count, and people aren't very forthcoming about him. Do you know him? Are you headed up to the castle as well? said John. He was smiling broadly, as if delighted to have someone finally paying attention to him.
I am, in fact. I'm in charge of making sure everything gets transported safely. Insurance and security, that sort of thing Spencer rep, doing his best to mimic the speech patterns of his new city companion. He had no doubt that John would soon offer him a ride up to the castle, to meet this 'Count'. A purple tint had invaded the sky behind them, and like clockwork the coach driver called out something in a foreign language. Even if he had the jewel equipped, Spencer's adept hearing wouldn't help with that one. John chuckled to himself.
It's very quaint, no offense, how the native peoples in these parts are so superstitious. I'm afraid I can't help a little laugh. Someone back in the village told me what that meant, he waved his hand at the coachman, apparently referring to his words, and it appears to have something to do with evil and danger coming with the night, monsters with no name. Sorry, I hope you don't think me rude for laughing he said, but did not hold back his mirth. Spencer chuckled along, not really amused but having no reason to believe the tales either.
Oh no, I'm familiar with the rampant superstition, you learn to live with it after a while but it's still funny when you stop to think about it he chimed in, having fun with his new role. Given some time, he thought he could even cultivate the perfect city ramble. John nodded enthusiastically, and then his shoulders slumped as he looked at the coachman, who was still waving his arms.
The man would not even leave his horses in order to come and fetch John. Spencer would have to watch out for that one; he might have a keen eye for deception. John turned back to Spencer, sighing somewhat more dramatically than country men would dare,
I ought to get back before he has a conniption, a bigger one, anyway. You know, Mr. Durin, I insist on you joining my party up to the castle, walking up the mountain just won't do he began walking back to the carriage, and Spencer had only to follow. Just you try to bake that cake.
Upon reaching the castle, Spencer exited the vehicle, ever slightly more disgruntled than when he had boarded it. Night had fallen hard and the darkness made him seek the moon. He found it peeking two thirds-obscured from behind a thick spire, one of a countless many. The details of the castle were not discernible at this time of night, as the whole building was limited to a looming silhouette, but the overall effect with nonetheless sublime…Well, maybe not sublime, but Spencer hadn't seen a structure this size in…actually, he hadn't ever seen one so big. Hey, that's what she- um, where were we? After locating the moon, he made sure not to look up again. John appeared at his side, and in the gas lamplight, Spencer could see his unassuming grin.
I bet this place is exceptionally picturesque during the daytime. Did you see the portcullis? Hmm, I wonder where our coachman disappeared to? John held the fading lamp aloft, and squinted.
Oh well. Here's the door. It had better not a long wait, I'm feeling quite chill he traipsed in that direction, and Spencer followed closely, if only to prevent the man from falling in case he stumbled. The stones that made up the walkway were uneven and dislodged in places, and a thump in his pocket reminded him of the charm he carried. Traversing this place would have been much easier in his other form. His hand smoothed over the fabric that covered the charm, and feeling its shape beneath the fabric brought him comfort. They had reached the door, and John looked at him expectantly. Right, of course. He stepped obliquely past the other traveler, conscious of his dirty coat brushing John's tailored clean one. Thank darkness. The door stood like a solid slab of stone in front of him, doing whatever the opposite of beckoning was. He grabbed the appropriately oversized knocker and dropped it.
It didn't take long for the door to open. Spencer expected a loud groaning sound, maybe a scratch or obnoxious squeak from the door as it strained on its hinges or touched the ground. What happened was even more terrifying. With a perfectly silent and deceivingly light swing, the door opened. It didn't look as if anything had opened it, for there was no one in sight.
Hello? Spencer said, forgetting he was supposed to know better. At last the sound of footsteps brought forth the image of a man to the door.
Welcome honored guests; the Count has been expecting you. I am Igoro, at your service.
Igoro, a short bald man who looked as if he ought to have worked in a blacksmith's shop, nodded and bowed. He looked genuinely pleased to serve. Maybe he just didn't get out much. Spencer walked through the door past Igoro, and John clasped his hands and said fantastic! in his usual way, before doing the same.
Spencer and John stood still as a cooling bowl of stock that someone had forgotten on the stove, facing the high back of the Count's chair. How very dramatic, Spencer thought, shaking off the feeling of haunting dread that came naturally with a place such as this. It scowled at him reproachfully, before going to pick on John some more. A rustle of movement came from the Count, and with the speed of someone something with heavy luxurious garments, he rose. Even as he became visible from behind the chair, there was something in the manner of his rising that called to Spencer's mind the image of unfurling, as if the man grew taller in increments. The Count's posture stopped one notch below completely upright. He was tall, and though laying heavily of lush fabrics, looked thin to the extreme. He shoulders were held back and square, proudly, but his neck and head arched forward as if he were listening intently to the words of someone just under his nose.
The Count rounded the chair and made his way to stand before the two men, arms outstretched palms upward in greeting. He had an equally welcoming, youthful face, which contrasted harshly with his back-swept white hair. His eyebrows and lashed were also fair, and the overall look was of someone whose face was colored with bleached flour. His eyes stood out a shocking blue, one shade darker than hazy cataracts, yet clear and…discomfiting. Spencer saw they were not friendly like his gesture was, for something was hidden there. The Count spoke:
My good visitors, I am pleased that you have made your way safely to my house. It is much better to meet a friend face-to-face, don't you think? That way we can be properly introduced. I am Benedict Fillip Moraedor, Count Erevik. But please, call me Duke He smiled, and his teeth were, if even possible, whiter than his hair. John smiled back, of course, and Spencer watched him lean forward slightly, I'm John Walder, pleased as ever to meet you, Count. He glanced at Spencer, as if not sure whether to let him speak, or just go on. Spencer nodded complacently. John continued:
Do…Do you think this is the color palate you'll be wanting in Lindony? I have my lookbook, and some inspirational pictures from the garden three kilometers up the road from where you'll be staying, it's lovely. I think the colors, if we brought them to your place, could really brighten the place up. Oh! And they'll still work even if you're building, instead of just reno… The Count took in a breath, and with at all of the sound from the room. Or so it seemed.
In fact, I plan on keeping the residence looking exactly how it is. I would like for you to tell me more of this garden, as well as the current designs in Lindony, later. There will be time. Now, I have business with my Head Hunter. He turned to Spencer, to say something further, but John interrupted.
Headhunter? Eh, you know what, I know a firm back in Lindony that'll set… he swallowed, catching the Count's look. Spencer was re-formulating his plan, now that he was being called a Head Hunter. Well, better than being kicked out, he supposed. This, he reckoned he could fake well, for he was a great hunter. The Count, ahem, Duke, motioned to a side door. Apparently whatever this hunting business was, it didn't involve John. Igoro had reappeared and had hastened the interior designer off in another direction. That was fast. Spencer walked briskly into the new room, confident in his ability to impress. The Count…er…floated in after him.
You're less polished than the gentlemen they usually send, but all's the better. I'm sure you will be merciless in the pursuit. How often have you hunted satyrs? Oh, I'm sure of your credentials, don't doubt that sir. I'm only curious. the Count asked. Spencer smiled, a beastly smile, some might say. One or two lonely girls out there might say it was handsome, but only because they didn't know him very well. With a smooth cadence, he replied,
Satyrs are my specialty, I've lost count if the hurt, but the hunts, every one, I remember well. My father taught me the best techniques, and they called him the best until the day he died. That was many years ago, and I've far surpassed his ability. I get you your satyrs, be sure of it Spencer ended confidently. This 'project' actually sounded interesting. But, just what the berries was a satyr?