Chapter 11: Ballroom Dancing.
“Well ya said it yerself, ya know. He’s a kid. Kids get scared.”
Dysz leaned back on the couch of Guile and Slayd’s receiving room and tipped his hat down further over his eyes. “Ya prolly did somethin' that scared 'im, and he locked the door. Simple.”
It was morning, and Guile hadn’t bothered to sleep. Dysz had tapped on their door again when the rest of the palace had begun to take up and go about their morning routines.
“But he is not a child,” Guile grunted, “he only appears so. That’s what I tried to tell you.”
Dysz coughed out a laugh. “Yeah but he thinks he is. Don’ be stupid.”
Guile just shook his head. “He has always been willful. I have a feeling our journey will be a long one.” He rubbed his temples and sighed.
Dysz laughed again. (It was a rather unpleasant sound, if you thought about it. It sounded like dropping quite a lot of marbles on the floor.) “Well now, that’s yer doin', ain’t it? I don’ see why ya have ta go through all the trouble of this lil kingdom-by-kingdom tour ya have planned.”
“And I already told you,” Guile hissed, “that I have little choice in the matter. I do what has been commanded of me, nothing more. You should know that by now.”
Guile’s attention was drawn to Slayd’s door, which had opened a tiny crack. He could see the glint from one of Slayd’s shiny black eyes peering out at them. Dysz didn’t notice or didn’t care (or probably both).
“Oh yeah, that’s right,” he was saying, “I forgot, everythin' ya do is 'cause yer master commanded it. Yer such a good slave to Moroloth’s will. He’d be so proud.”
Guile flinched, but didn’t make any retort. “We have an audience, Dysz.”
The strange man shrugged carelessly. “So let the lil monster join us, if he’s gotten over whatever nightmare he had last night.” He tossed a toothy, shadowed grin over at the crack in the door. “Come out, come out, wherever ya are!”
The crack swung open slowly, and Slayd stepped out looking very shy and sheepish. “I - I didn’t mean to eavesdrop on you.”
Dysz waved it away. “’Course ya did, lil liar. Don’ matter though, we don’ really talk 'bout nothin' important.”
Guile would have rolled his eyes. “You will have to excuse Dysz’s behavior, Slayd. He is a hunter by nature, and knows little of proper manners.”
“Oh, and ya do? Ha, ha! And that’s why I like ya Guile. C'mere Slayd, let’s have a look at ya. I haven’t seen ya fer ages.”
Slayd obediently sat down next to the strange man, who patted him on the head. “Yer guardian and I go way back. He’ll have to tell ya that story sometime. It’s really pretty interestin', once ya get past all the magical melodrama.”
“I know, I know,” he snickered, “ya like keeping yer secrets. Though one day he might need to hear 'em.”
“But not today. Slayd, why did you lock yourself in last night?”
Slayd kicked his legs over the edge of the couch, refusing to meet Guile’s stare. “I guess I just really didn’t want to get yelled at again.”
Dysz chuckled. “He’s lyin'.”
“Leave it alone, Dysz.” Guile got up and stretched his wings. “In any case, Slayd’s presence has been requested by the palace’s tailor. Now that you’re awake, I can take you to him. There is a reception and ball tonight in your honor, and it would not do to have you presented to the people dressed so strangely again.”
Slayd fingered the hem of his dress shirt. Strangely?
Morning slipped by slowly. Guile had dropped Slayd off at the palace’s tailor and vanished, much to Slayd’s annoyance. The tailor didn’t think very highly of Slayd’s suit and tie, and he found himself enduring several hours of fittings and quite a lot of fussing. Guile had shown up at around what Slayd assumed was midday with some lunch before disappearing again, and by the time Slayd’s fancy new clothes were ready, he was almost ready to pull his ribbony hair out of his head. The tailor was posing him in the mirror for the third time when Guile turned up again.
“How is the fitting going?”
Slayd was relieved. “Oh thank goodness you’re back, Guile! Please tell me I don’t have to stay here any longer! I’m so tired of being poked and posed and prodded and told to sit still, I think I’m going to go insane!”
Guile shrugged. “I’m sure you’re fine.”
The tailor glanced up at Guile from behind Slayd. “Ah, I take it that you are here to escort Moroloth’s Heir to his formal celebratory reception?”
A non-committal grunt. “I suppose I am. Are you done with him?”
“Oh yes. Doesn’t he look absolutely striking? I must say, it has been a while since I’ve worked with Master Slayd, but I am very pleased with the - ”
“Thank you. Say goodbye Slayd.”
Slayd bowed awkwardly to the tailor and hastily followed Guile out the door. He jumped back, startled, when he left the tailor’s for a fully armed escort of eight soldiers was waiting for them. Guile ignored them as they flanked the two on either side.
Slayd whispered cautiously, “Are we in trouble?”
Guile snorted. “Of course not. The King believes it is prudent for such an important figure such as yourself to have an armed guard when you are moving from one place to another, even within the palace walls. Particularly since you don’t seem to recognize your own importance and go wandering about by yourself at night.”
Slayd flinched. He had hoped Guile wouldn’t find out about that, but he guessed he should have known better.
Fortunately they arrived at the Grand Hall in short order. The gilded doors were thrown open as soon as they drew close to the hall, and a fanfare of trumpets surrounded them as they entered the crowded hall. It seemed even bigger than before, and the crowd looked like it had swelled tenfold. Slayd felt his heart start to pound against its cage, but Guile offered him his arm to lean on. He took it gratefully and tried his best to smile at the many faces turned his way.
On the far side of the hall the King rose from his throne and raised his arms to Slayd. “My I present the Heir of our Lord the Lich King Moroloth, Slayd of Amoth Shyr!”
The crowd cheered and clapped, and Slayd tried out a clumsy bow. He glanced anxiously up at Guile, who nodded in approval and hissed close to his ear, “You cannot fail in this situation, little one. All you do is gold in their eyes.”
They strode the length of the hall with their armed guard flanking them, to stand by the Maggot King’s side. Jyrr was there as well, beaming at Slayd and drawing a dark scowl from Guile. Slayd pretended not to notice and tried to focus on anything else that he could. But the reception was an excellent distraction, and Slayd found himself asked repeatedly to dance or to take part in conversation. He didn’t recognize anyone except for some faces he recalled seeing at the banquet the night before, but that didn’t seem to bother anybody. From the names of the people he was introduced to, he got the impression that these were the most powerful and influential people in the Maggot Kingdom; he danced with the likes of the Marquis de Mouche and had conversation with the Countess of Gnats, among many others with very interesting and grand titles.
And it was with great surprise when the Maggot King took him aside and formally introduced him to Dysz, still wearing the same travel-worn clothes and wide brimmed hat he had been wearing earlier that morning. “Slayd, may I present to you the Mosquito King, my greatest ally and long-time friend.”
Dysz swept off his hat and bowed low, grinning up at Slayd with a mouthful of jagged teeth. “Pleased to make your formal acquaintance, Heir of Moroloth.”
The proper words seemed out of place coming from Dysz, but Slayd wasn’t really noticing the words that he’d spoken. He had never seen Dysz’s face clearly before, and he found himself transfixed by his eyes. One was run through by a heavy, ugly scar, coloring the eye and the skin around it a milky pus-white. Tendrils of what Slayd assumed was discharge leaked from the corners. He stared.
Dysz placed his hat back on his head. “We’ve already met, ya see,” he said to the Maggot King, slipping back into his usual accent, “though I haven’t had the chance ta dance with 'im yet. Eh?” He offered a hand to Slayd, who took it sheepishly.
“I’m sorry I forgot my manners, Dysz,” he said as they joined the floor, “I just haven’t actually seen your face before.”
Dysz laughed his queer, gravelly laugh. “Ya’ve seen plenty of strange things since ya got back from the Veil - or so I hear - and it’s my scarred eye that makes ya awkward? That’s a new one.”
“I – I can’t seem to help myself,” he stammered, “Everything seems to surprise me wherever I go. I just can’t seem to get used to anything.”
Dysz grinned down at him, and Slayd could see the firelight reflected in his milky eye. “Eh, ya’ll manage. Once ya get yer memories back ya’ll be fine.”
“I’m not so sure it will be that easy. Sometimes I wonder if all of these memories that everyone seems to think I might have… sometimes I wonder if they’re really there to be found.”
Slayd stared down at Dysz’s chest to avoid his eyes. “Well… maybe Moroloth’s Heir and I are two different people. Or… or maybe we used to be one person but we’re not any more. What if I’m not who everyone thinks I am?”
Dysz rolled his eyes underneath his hat. “’Course ya are. Don’ be stupid. Ya know, ya really should trust what Guile tells ya over some weird idea that popped in yer head.”
Slayd fell silent. He certainly wasn’t going to tell Dysz about the warnings about Guile that Jyrr had told him last night. Dysz spun him once more before returning him to the Maggot King’s side.
“See ya around, Slayd. Have fun.” And he sauntered away.
“He certainly is a strange one,” Jyrr said as he sidled up to Slayd. “Are you enjoying yourself?”
Slayd beamed shyly up at Jyrr. “I guess I am, actually. Everyone has been so nice and friendly. I wish Guile and I could stay here for a long time.”
Jyrr’s face fell. “Alas that he desires for you to depart so soon. I hear he wishes to leave within a few days.”
Slayd sighed. “That doesn’t surprise me, I guess. Where is Guile anyway? I haven’t seen him dance with anyone or talk to anybody, or do anything except stand there by the King’s throne, but now he’s gone.”
Jyrr shrugged. “Guile doesn’t dance. Perhaps he went out to get some fresh air. He’s been in a foul mood since he arrived. Perhaps being away from the hustle and bustle for a little while will help him.” He offered his arm to Slayd. “Would you give me the pleasure of dancing with you this evening?”
Guile leaned back on a bench in the courtyard’s gardens, breathing deep the dusk breeze. He flexed his claws irritably. Things were not going well. He had seen Jyrr approach Slayd just a moment ago, he could only assume they were dancing now. And one of the palace servants had told him earlier that day that she had seen Slayd out late last night on one of the balconies with Jyrr. He gritted his teeth until he spat blood. What was Slayd thinking? Hadn’t he told him to stay away from Jyrr?
“Thinkin' about somethin' important?”
Guile glanced up. “Hello Dysz.”
“Ya gonna answer me or not?”
“Slayd is dancing with Jyrr.”
Dysz flopped down on the bench next to Guile and tossed an arm around him. “Is that a problem?”
“I told him to stay away from him.”
“Eh? What’s wrong with Jyrr?”
Guile shoved Dysz, but he didn’t move. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“You are trying my patience,” he scowled, “and you’ve nothing to do with Jyrr anyway. You two never talk whenever you pass through the Maggot Kingdom. You weren’t here when Slayd and I last visited, so you couldn’t possibly know what happened then between Jyrr and Slayd.”
Dysz snorted. “Aw, is Guile jealous? Yer poor lil Slayd found someone ta play in the sheets with all those years ago, and it rubs ya the wrong way. Is that it?”
“No. I care nothing for who Slayd does or does not sleep with. I told you that you wouldn’t understand.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“Jyrr is a threat. I won’t go into why.”
Dysz rolled his eyes. “Eh, fine then. Keep yer fuckin' secrets.”
“I intend to.”
Dysz said nothing more, and the two of them watched the constellations and a few clouds drift across the sky in silence. The sounds of the festivities came to them only dimly through the courtyard’s gardens, and Guile found himself grateful for their muting properties. The last thing he wanted to hear right now was the cheerful racket of the celebrating crowd inside.
Guile rubbed at his eye sockets with a claw. “What else can I do? I truly wish I could be on my way. It does Slayd little good to stay here. He will never recover his memories if he stays in the Maggot Kingdom.”
“Never you mind, Dysz. You do not care about such things anyway.”
“Heh, yer right.” He stretched and yawned loudly. “I’ll never understand why ya take everythin' so seriously. But in any event, all this social time has my head spinnin'. ’s been fun, but I gotta run.”
He kissed Guile on the corner of his mouth and tipped his hat. “Catch ya 'round.”
Guile watched him leave, winding soundlessly through the footpaths of the courtyard and past its gates to the valleys beyond. “I hope not, Dysz,” he murmured to himself when he could no longer see the other man. “For your sake, I hope not.”
He sighed and glanced back at the palace archway that led back to the festivities inside, but he made no move to go back in. The crowd didn’t need him in there, probably didn’t want him there, if they remembered him at all. But if he could endure a few more days of this absurd merry-making nonsense, then perhaps he and Slayd could be on their way to the realm of the Spider Queen. He grinned, probably a little too manically than he meant to. Now that was an encounter he was looking forward to.
Jyrr returned Slayd to the Maggot King’s side, giggling and blushing and trying to catch his breath from the fast-paced waltz he and Jyrr had just attempted together. He couldn’t remember enjoying himself very much since he’d woken up days and days ago on in his coffin, but he certainly was now.
One of the crowd approached the Maggot King and bowed. “If you will permit me, Majesty, I would ask on behest of the people that the Heir of Moroloth might grant us a song? For years ago we remember his sweet voice rising in this very place to praise those who have passed on to the Halls of Satarin.”
Slayd looked from Jyrr to the Maggot King, to the man who had approached them. A song?
The Maggot King returned the man’s bow with an inclination of his head and turned to Slayd. “If it pleases you, I would desire this as well, for it has been a long time indeed since the walls of this palace have been graced with the sound of your voice.”
Slayd stared wide-eyed up at the Maggot King, and he felt an all-too-familiar twinge of panic growing in the pit of his stomach. Many heads were starting to turn in their direction now. Apparently the man’s request was a popular one. “But… I don’t – I don’t know any songs. I don’t even know if I can sing!”
The man looked confused, and glanced up questioningly at the Maggot King, who shook his head. He placed a hand on Slayd’s shoulder. “Forgive us, Slayd. We expect much of you too soon. Your memories have not yet returned, and it is hard for my people to keep this in mind.”
Slayd dropped his gaze to the floor. “I’m sorry.” He felt awful. There were a few hushed whisperings in the crowd watching them now, and he felt like he’d failed some sort of test.
Jyrr curled an arm around his waist. “Don’t worry about it, dear one. Someone else can sing for us, yes? I have a good friend who I’m sure would be willing to do so.” He scanned the crowd for a moment before motioning to someone off to the side. “Drael, dear friend, would you sing for us? You know all of Slayd’s favorite hymns.”
The young man Jyrr had singled out from the crowd hardly looked older than a teenager, much less to have been old enough to remember what Slayd’s favorite songs might have been, if Slayd was certainly as old as all of these people seemed to think he was. But Drael grinned and readily climbed the steps up to where they were standing. “Gladly, my Prince.”
He dropped to one knee and took one of Slayd’s hands. “I have sung for you before, although my own voice pales in comparison to your own. Perhaps one day you will grace us with your songs again. But for now, I’ll sing for you.”
Jyrr snickered. “Drael has a silver tongue as well as a beautiful voice. Best he keep in mind his place.”
Drael’s grin widened. “Indeed, my Prince.” He stood and bowed to the crowd before he began to sing.
Slayd couldn’t understand any of the words, but he could feel the magic in them. The bright, happy lights in the hall grew dim as Drael’s voice rose, the words materializing over their heads in strange runes and hazy smoke. The crowd grew silent as he sang, until the only accompanying sound to his voice was the echo of the verses as they wove their way through the rafters. Slayd found himself lost in the sound of his voice, closing his eyes and mouthing the same words, though he didn’t know what he was saying.
Jyrr watched Slayd silently as the hymn floated through the hall. He ran a hand through Slayd’s hair and smiled. Perhaps he would remember sooner than he had hoped.