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TODAY

Monday, June 17

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Airbags

50 Cent just isn't one to make friends, is he? When 50 dropped by Howard Stern's Sirius Radio Show this past week, he took the time to dis Ludacris for not "defending himself" when he appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show.

"What's his name? Ludacris, he spent his time on the show in a fetal position," 50 barked.

As many of you know, 50 has been sounding off on Ms. Winfrey for quite some time because she hasn't been inviting hip-hop artists to her show. He even went as far as to call her an Oreo and only catering with middle-aged white women. So while 50 has been letting Oprah feel his wrath, he has decided to let the shrapnel hit Ludacris, who has never said anything about 50 Cent. Will Luda respond?
—HipHopSite.com

I fear the boy Alfie and I have lost our way.

Three days now he has spent in the port city of Rheidling, ostensibly watching and listening for signs that his father, former lord of the city who was imprisoned when the Dark Lord Kayne usurped King Mandrake's rule, remains alive in the dungeons below the city hall. Three days he has gone to the city, staying longer each time, saying less each night when he returns to our hideout. Something is amiss.

Yet I too hide something — something that could wreck what little plans we have cobbled together. And I cannot bear to turn away.

Her name is Eveleth.

Were I dishing out blame, I could start with the boy — it was he who left that first morning without properly replacing the lock on the door of the barn where we hid, a short distance from Rheidling. But if blame were going round, I would receive the largest helping. Upon hearing the barn door open that morning, my first instinct was to immediately kill the person outside. Perhaps I ought to have done this thing. But those green eyes...

Blame also rests with her for not following her own instinct to run when she saw a strange ruffian, caught unawares and undressed in the disused barn. Curiosity won out, though, leading her to snatch up my ax and clothes and question me for the better part of an hour, a sly smile growing on her face. Again, I faltered — it would have been no difficult thing for me to wrest the weapon from her and strike her down, doing no serious damage, and making an escape. Instead I stayed, speaking much but saying little of the circumstances that brought me to her barn. When she seemed satisfied, it was my turn to question her.

"Will you tell?"

For a moment she considered, turning her gaze upward to the barn roof. "I'll give you one more night," she said, "but make no fire, and do not set foot outside after suppertime." Her husband had given up farming life years ago, she explained, partly out of boredom, and because signing on with the new city guard (instituted under Kayne's rule) paid nearly twice as much. In an offhand manner I asked whether he likes the job; her answer was noncommittal, but I saw in her eyes what I have seen on the faces of others whose loved ones aligned themselves with the Dark Lord — the work has turned him cold.

I kept my face impassive, a mask, yet she read something there, and asked me about it the next morning when she brought fresh bread and cured meat. Her husband gone for the day, as was the boy, we talked for hours, laughing even, and with every toss of her dark hair, every coy smile, every flash of those emerald eyes, my defenses fell. She listened, the smile running from her face, as I eventually told her of the battles, the years in exile, the quest that brought me to her doorstep. Again she swore to keep my secret as she departed.

The boy knew something was amiss. The night before I had begged off making a fire due to wet wood, but the rain had finally stopped that afternoon, and he was soaked after making his way back from the city through the dripping trees and bushes. Yet he said nothing when I refused to kindle a fire, only raising his eyebrows and accepting a bit of bread I offered him. He chewed and stared at the barn wall.

"What news of the city? Your father?"

"Nothing," he murmured. "Yet."

"And the jail? Have you found it?"

He nodded and bit off another hunk of the loaf.

"Heavily guarded?"v

The boy shrugged at this. I interpreted his silence as disappointment, the beginning of his acceptance for the sorry fact that his father no longer lived. There was sympathy in my heart for him, but I had buried too many friends in this terrible time to shed tears for one more. And besides, my mind was elsewhere.

He left early the next morning, before sunup. I heard him leave but said nothing. Several tedious hours passed as I sharpened my ax, which needed it not at all, and cursed myself for a fool. Finally she arrived. We talked. Laughed.

I swear on Mandrake's tomb, it was her that kissed me.

How long it had been since a woman looked upon me with ought else than fear or revulsion, I cannot tell. Too long. In that moment, our eyes closed and all the horror and anguish and danger I knew sunk away, but when we parted these things came rushing back, heavy and oppressive.

"You must leave this place. Now."

She looked hurt, then angry. "Who are you, issuing orders to me?"

"Please," I said to her, taking her hands. "This is madness. To go any further–"

Leaning forward, she kissed me again, and further we went.

Long I laid in reverie after she left, my better judgment calling faintly in the back of my mind as I replayed the afternoon over and again. It was madness, there was never a doubt. But far too long had I watched the world go mad around me...

The sky, glimpsed through the windows set high upon the barn walls, grew dark as I sat in the hay where we had lain. Eventually I got out the bits of food she'd brought me, but the airy, excited feeling in my belly supplanted any appetite. With great effort I turned my mind back to the boy, back to our erstwhile plan to spring his father, back to the hag M'yrrgh's message, which he promised to deliver me upon releasing his father or finding him dead. Tonight, I told myself. Tonight we would have things out. Make a plan. Every moment we stayed here we faced a greater danger of being found, captured, killed. Yet my fool heart answers back — such a fate would be bearable, if only for one more moment in Eveleth's sweet embrace...

I closed my eyes. No. We must be off. Tonight the boy and I would palaver.

~*~

But the boy never came.

It is near midnight now, if not past, and there has been no sign. I sit on a crate in the center of the barn, ax across my knees, waiting, ears pricking at the smallest sound, counting the passing minutes. Some time ago I knew that he would not show tonight, yet still I wait. In time, I sleep, seated upon the crate, though my eyes snap open with every hoot of an owl, creak of a tree limb. Morning comes and he is not here.

Now I pace. Very possibly he was arrested, asking the wrong question of the wrong person. He is stout of heart, and quicker than I have given him credit for, but he's no hardcase. Should Kayne's men put the screws to him, he will not stay silent long.

Probably I should flee. Trace back our trail through the woodlands, away from the city, and plot my next move. Presumably, the sage Osgood knew the contents of the scroll well enough to tell it to the boy; with luck, perhaps I could steal up to his house in the night, apply the proper motivation... all was not lost just yet, although my other recent encounter with a magician — the dwarf alchemist Mullerbinns — had not done me so well.

Still, I had to allow the possibility that the boy may still live. Perhaps he'd spent the night staking out the jail, lurking in some nearby alleyway, timing the changing of the guard at midnight or somesuch.

Midday. That's how much time I will give him. Not coincidentally, the same time Eveleth would appear...

She arrives early, a sly smile on her lovely face, bearing a parcel. "Open it," she says, handing it to me. A pie — apple, and fresh. "Go on, eat it, while it's still warm."

A smile comes over my face, and she kisses me on the cheek, my scarred, unshaven cheek. The pie is forgotten and I reach out, drawing her to me. We kiss and that is the moment the door opens. A host of figures stand silhouetted in the noon sun, and though I have never seen him, I know the man in the center is her husband. He raises his arm, giving the command, and the guards at his side draw their crossbows.

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About the Author(s)

A former mercenary for hire, Blagg is an axman by trade and still carries the banner of King Mandrake, the once and true ruler of the realm. Gapers Block readers are invited to contact Blagg for advice, insight and recommendations at blagg@gapersblock.com. His column appears every other Saturday.

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