In The Night
Chapter 8 - Moments of Sincerity
There were voices all around, but he couldn't open his eyes. There was pain from the shafts embedded in his flesh, blossoming passionately. But it told him that he was alive. Yet the thought of his father's disappointment overrode the physical pain. He'd lost to the Orcs. Again.
He'd failed his father and Gondor.
Light is a particularly painful thing to encounter when you wake up. Of course, Carl knew this, but he opened his eyes anyway. As a yelp escaped him, Carl seriously considered if he was a vampire.
"Good afternoon," said a familiar voice next to him.
Blinking furiously as he sat up, Carl managed to make out the lounging form of Van Helsing. Before he could completely distinguish his friend, a boy jumped up in front of him and grabbed his nose. Jem Kan made a loud honking noise then turned to Van Helsing. "So like that?"
"Exactly," affirmed Van Helsing.
Carl glared at them both. Jem snickered, then placed his hands on his hips. He demanded a little proudly, "Where's my thanks? I spent a whole day healing you. And no scars either."
Carl did not fail to see the fairy eying up the various silver items that Van Helsing was in possession of. Jem smiled hopefully, turning on the cute little boyish charms. Carl struggled to comb a knot out of his hair with his hands, failed, then said quickly, "You're far too young to be addicted to silver."
"But I like silver," pouted Jem. "And I just turned twenty."
Van Helsing dropped a silver stake as he coughed in surprise. The fairy smiled hopefully at it. Carl sighed in exasperation and changed the subject, "I do hope you remembered to severe Chanhassen's head cleanly. Did you secure the money from Jason Kendrick?"
Glad to be in territory he knew the ropes of, Van Helsing produced the wad of notes and threw them at Carl who counted them. The ex-friar smiled and hurled the money back at his companion, "Good. I'd say it's enough for a decent headquarters. Pick a country – any country! I don't really mind – as long as it's not Italy," Carl added thoughtfully.
"I suppose the Cardinal would not like us moving in on the Order," joked Van Helsing dryly.
Jem piped up, "I've always loved Lichtenstein."
"NO!" Van Helsing growled immediately.
Carl noticed that the hunter was trembling uncontrollably and that his eyes had become gold. Carl cleared his throat and tried to make light of the situation, "I know it was embarrassing for you to be seen wearing a dress…"
"Hey, I'd like to know more of that story," Jem suggested keenly.
Van Helsing glared daggers at the both of them. "Then perhaps you'd like to reminisce about Carl wearing a pretty dress and waltzing about Cheapside?"
"If you had managed to track Hyde like you were supposed to," spluttered Carl, "I wouldn't have had to do that!"
"BE QUIET!" roared Jem Kan so loudly that the windows rattled. Once he was satisfied he had their attention, he curved his lips up sweetly. "It is a no to Lichtenstein, then. Do you know any cheap alternatives? As Van Helsing here was telling me, you'd need quite a sizable headquarters for the work we wish to carry out."
"We?" demanded Carl.
Van Helsing met his gaze squarely. "Jem expressed an interest in aiding us."
Carl looked like he was going to explode. He clenched his fists and debated about the best words he could shout.
Isn't this what you wanted? Faramir asked him almost kindly.
Carl mentally snapped at him, Oh sure, fairies swinging swords.
Is that so unusual? Our partner is a werewolf.
There's no OUR! Carl complained, but he did see Faramir's point.
He heard Van Helsing whisper to Jem, "Don't worry about this – it happens all the time. He's talking with his inner self, Faramir."
"Inner self?" Jem muttered, unnerved.
"Yes," Carl answered suddenly. "Apparently a few centuries ago I was a warrior named Faramir. Well, I do wish to recruit persons into our new order."
"We need a name," decided Van Helsing.
Jem jumped up excitedly. "Ooh, I know! Silver Addicts Anonymous!"
Carl and Van Helsing said simultaneously, "No!"
Carl tugged at the irritating knot in his hair again. "We're still doing the same work as before, are we not? How about…"
"How about – no?" Van Helsing advised. "We are not going to be the Holy Order Mark II."
"How did you know I was going to say that?"
Jem cleared his throat. "Excuse me! I'm the only one that does magic around here. As we are unresolved in this issue, how about we reach a decision on location?"
Carl snapped his fingers. He knew Van Helsing wasn't going to like his idea, but it seemed the best option. Carl asked Jem carefully, "Does a deserted manor in a derelict village sound reasonable?"
"It does," the fairy mused. "How much is it?"
"Oh, I'm sure we can just waltz in…" Carl said nervously.
He looked significantly at Van Helsing who then seemed to catch on and delivered the correct response. Van Helsing snapped, "I have no desire to return to Transylvania."
Too bad, thought Carl mercilessly.
"Deal with it," he said to his friend.
Van Helsing strode across the small space between them and bent over to look Carl straight in the eyes. "What's happened to the timid man I first met?"
"I've changed," Carl replied evenly. "My dreams…"
His companion told him quietly, "Don't change too much."
There was a silence, but it was comfortable. Brief understanding passed between the two of them. Van Helsing straightened up and nodded briskly. "I'll gather our things immediately."
"Wait," Carl said and the hunter stopped in his tracks. "Thank you."
"Don't mention it."
Jem Kan watched this exchange in satisfaction.
The bartender of The Jamison Jewel had seen his fair share of strange characters in the twenty or so years he'd been working in the inn. It seemed that particular night had attracted more interesting people than usual.
Two men entered the inn, dressed mostly in black and both wearing floppy hats. They were accompanied by a boy dressed as a manservant and carrying a heavy looking bag effortlessly. The bartender gave them a beady stare on their approach.
"Lodging for three, one night," the tallest of the group said easily, sliding some coin across the bar.
For a moment, the bartender thought he saw golden eyes blaze at him. Overcome with anxiety, he quickly gave them the lodgings. Maybe he had imagined it, but even so, that group had an air of mystery around them.
"My backside is so sore!" Carl exclaimed as soon as they were in their assigned rooms. "I don't see why we have to constantly ride horses for days on end."
Van Helsing threw off his hat and began a quick check over his sword. Jem Kan kicked off his brown leather shows and gave the hunter a scathing look. "Is there ever a time when you're not gazing over your weapons?"
"I'm about to use it," Van Helsing said easily. "Carl – I challenge you to a fight."
Carl blinked at him. "A sparring match? Are you touched in the head? My derrière is sore."
"That doesn't stop you from fighting."
Jem decided they were being too war faring and turned into his miniscule self, taking up residence in a bag full of crucifixes. Van Helsing threw a silver bullet at the fairy. "Keep your hands of those. Choke on this."
"That's not wise!" Carl spluttered. "We don't want Jem addicted to silver."
Van Helsing grinned at him, then brandished his polished sword. Carl accepted the challenge and drew out his own. "Isn't it a little crowded in here?"
"Be creative," Van Helsing replied. "Now show me what you've got."
Carl swung at him immediately, but his companion parried and sidestepped. Carl did not overbalance, pushing himself off the wall with a bent leg. Van Helsing met the flurry of attacks, allowing Carl to take the offensive for a few moments, then made sure the blades intercepted. He pushed and his force sent Carl careening into the door.
"Can you take that outside, please?" Jem said angrily. "I'm trying to sleep."
Carl twisted the doorknob and stumbled outside. Van Helsing followed, kicking the door shut and shouting through, "Better?"
"Much!" Jem answered and closed his eyes.
Outside, Van Helsing again exerted force through the crossed blades, this time sending Carl down the stairs. Carl rolled onto his feet, pulled a dagger from his boot and threw it up the narrow staircase. Van Helsing sidestepped it, then wrenched it out of the wall.
"Now that's cheating," he reprimanded.
Carl cautiously watched him descend the stairs. "You should have seen me gambling on the way back to Rome a few months ago."
"I had to save you from the debt collectors, remember?"
"Oh yes, that's right."
Van Helsing suddenly jumped the last few stairs. Carl shuffled to the side and kicked him right into the bar. Following, he had to duck as his friend's sword sliced the air.
"That could have beheaded me!" Carl puffed indignantly.
"Shame I missed, then."
The patrons of the bar were frozen in shock. Ignoring them (and the affronted bartender), both continued to fight. Carl leapt onto the bar and poised, ready. The bartender swatted at his legs. Van Helsing took a running jump in following and performed an uppercut.
Carl forced his sword back down, then stepped backwards to overbalance his opponent. It didn't work the way he wanted – he had reached the end of the bench. Carl went flying backwards and landed hard on a table sporting exotic drinks. Showered in alcohol, he apologised to the people either side of him and rolled onto the floor.
Unfortunately, he rolled right into a pair of boots belonging to Van Helsing. The blade that was suspended just above his nose signalled the end of the sparring match. Carl let out a gusty sigh. "You win this time, Jack."
"We're even now." Van Helsing helped him to his feet. "Should you apologise or should I?"
"I'm in no mood to be glared at. You do it."
Van Helsing scanned the silent but incensed crowd. "Let's just leave it this time, Faramir."
Both disappeared out the door as the uproar started.
She rested a pint between her hands, but had no intention of drinking it. She could not believe her eyes – yet, it was his fighting form and the other man had called him by the name she knew.
Strapped to her side was a light, thin bladed sword tailored to her. She'd worn that by her side for countless years, in search of him. And he had just walked by her, not even seeing her. It was possible he didn't remember – wiped clean of the happy existence he'd shared with her.
She would leave when they did the next morning. She would follow them to the ends of the Earth if need be – first she'd actually have to find out which room they were lodged and she'd be damned if she was going to climb those trees outside to peep through the windows.
Who knew what she'd see anyway…