Well, I would have gotten this up about two or three days ago, but my computer decided to take ages trying to upload it so I'm having to use another computer right now. Hey, at least it's up! Enjoy.
The first parts of me to awake were my ears. A foreign, tinkling music sounded somewhere outside of me; the light, simple tune repeated over and over and grew slower and slower and finally wound down in the middle of a phrase and stopped. Silence for a few seconds; then a slow, deliberate clicking-cranking sound…and the music began anew, once more at its original tempo. Then it wound down a minute later as it had before.
A music box.
I finally dared to pry open my eyes. It was still dark; a black blanket of sky hung overhead- but no, it was only cloth; I could see the folds and dips of it. I was still in the tent…the magician's tent.
My mind and logic were next to fully awake, and I reassessed the situation and came to realize that I was not alone in the place. The magician; the masked man. Who else could have been winding the music box?
Try as I might, I could see no further with only my eyes from my position lying down. Slowly, carefully, I pulled myself up an inch at a time to find myself facing the long table in the tent. Two new candles burned on either end, and sitting on the very center of the table's surface was what appeared to be the figure of an animal- a monkey- adorned with elaborate gold ties and lacings and richly patterned fabric. It seemed to be the source of the music: tilting my head, I just barely saw the edge of a silver handle revolving slowly at the back of the box upon which the monkey was fixed.
Suddenly anxiously aware of my situation, I glanced quickly about the room: nothing but darkness. I couldn't even make out the space that was the exit in the heavy drapes of the tent. Forgetting for a moment the mysterious hand that had caused the music in my insatiable curiosity, I stood, staggered, and padded over to the table to examine the monkey music box. Just as I put a hand out to touch the lifelike fur on the animal, a dark shape moved swiftly and smoothly out of the black drapes, as though it itself had been made of darkness. I had no time to even turn my head before a slender but surprisingly strong hand grasped my wrist in a somewhat painful grip before my fingers had so much as brushed the monkey. I was locked there, so I turned to look at my assailant and found myself face to face with a pure white mask.
"You need to learn the art of discretion if you intend to be so inquisitive," the smooth but icy voice said, loud enough for me to hear but a person standing a foot away wouldn't have even seen his lips move.
I could hardly speak; I couldn't decide whether I was more frightened or relieved: he was the great magician I'd hidden in the tent to meet in the first place! But he'd proven he could be as dangerous as he wanted to be, and though I knew as a small boy I posed no large threat to him, I had no knowledge of his character…
Registering my fear, the man with the ghostlike masked face loosened his grip on my wrist, but his icy tone of voice remained. "What did you expect to thieve from this tent, boy?" His dark eyes bore into mine. "If you've nothing to say, leave."
His words and voice made me want to do just that- not because of their lack of friendliness, but something in his command told my mind to obey him and my limbs almost followed along.
But here I surprised myself. Perhaps I had a bit of adventure in me after all, for I didn't intend to leave until I'd had a satisfactory encounter with this phantom man.
"I…I stayed to- to m-meet you," I said; my voice trembled but my words were sure and I didn't look away.
He did not move, but seemed to stare through my eyes into my mind to see whether I spoke the truth. After a long moment he spoke.
"You were in the crowd watching this evening." It was a statement wanting confirmation, so I nodded.
"And your family. You stayed without them?"
I nodded again.
"Without their knowledge or permission."
I was beginning to feel slightly foolish now. It had been a silly thing to do, after all…I may never have been able to find them again later, and had this man not found me I may have been lost.
Finally he nodded sharply and released my wrist, which now throbbed slightly but felt better.
"You acted rashly, but with intent," he said softly, almost to himself. "Perhaps there's some…why did you want to see me?" The question was once again sharp and probing in comparison to his calmer, slightly more open attitude of only seconds ago, and it was flung out so quickly it took a moment for me to think to reply.
"You- your tricks- you were…I wanted to…" Thinking of it now, I hardly knew what I'd expected to gain from meeting him after all. "I only…" I felt his hard gaze upon me and felt suddenly like melting down in tears. "The show was amazing; I don't know, I wanted to- talk to you, I suppose…"
He seemed to realize that I couldn't possibly have been such a good liar to fake my uneasiness.
"Sit down," he said suddenly, and I saw a low stool of dark wood behind the table that I hadn't noticed before. He pulled it out to where we stood and I sat gingerly on the very edge. For a while I simply sat while he pulled several items- books and other things I didn't recognize- out of a black sac he must have pulled from a dark corner of the tent. Then, still sorting through his things, he spoke to me.
"I take it you don't live here."
I shook my head, still too ashamed to speak; then realized he might not have seen with his back turned. "No," I replied. "I- my family- lives in Paris."
"What brings you so far?"
"We're on an adven- we're traveling," I caught myself. How silly I would have sounded had I finished that first sentence…though, he probably knew what I had been about to say. I wished I would stop making a fool of myself in front of this great man; I was ruining any chances I might have had of proving to be a worthy apprentice, or at least confidant, to him.
I quickly tore myself from my daydreams. "Father and mo- my parents- used to travel here, and now that Philipe and I are old enough they're taking us, too."
"Philipe is your brother?"
"Oh- yes. He's older than me." I hoped he wouldn't meet Philipe later and like him better than me.
Now he turned to face me. "You are one eager for adventure, I see." There was something slightly teasing in his voice; he sounded much friendlier than he had before. "I'm familiar with the feeling. But don't let it steal your senses and make you forget…" He trailed off, and for a few moments silence hung over us. "Just be sure to keep your head about you," he continued finally. "Youth doesn't mean immortality."
He abruptly went back to arranging his things, leaving his words to sink into me. I waited with growing curiosity for what he would do next. Everything about this man seemed so unpredictable; so mysterious.
Suddenly he turned back with a deck of cards in hand. "Do you know any tricks of your own?" he asked.
I smiled nervously. "They aren't very good…" I began.
"Show me." He extended the cards.
I took them and proceeded to perform the few little tricks I'd learnt here and there; most from Christine's father during the drowsy afternoons spent at her house. He said nothing but watched and nodded his approval after each.
"You have skilled hands," he said, with something close to a small smile. It was the first true expression I'd seen on his face other than cold neutrality. It put me a little more at ease around him. "All you need is material to work with."
"Will you teach me the first trick you did?" I asked hesitantly. Perhaps he didn't want to share his magic.
To my enormous surprise, he let out a small, low laugh. It seemed at first very out of character for this stunning being to show such a human characteristic- and he even seemed a little surprised at himself. Perhaps he never normally had much reason to laugh; he seemed such a dark, solitary person I wouldn't have thought it possible. But his smoothness and spontaneity of character made it seem somehow natural physically.
"I will. You do have quite a lot to learn, boy." The way he addressed me seemed to make him remember something. "What is your name?"
"Raoul- Raoul de Chagney," I said.
"Son of the Comte, I take it?"
I nodded in surprise. "How did you know?"
The look in his eyes was unreadable. "I…used to live in France. Born there. Not Paris, but I'm familiar with the goings-on almost anywhere in the region."
Of course- the man was speaking French to me! I felt stupider than ever for not having registered it before- perhaps because he spoke it so fluently I didn't even think to. I wondered how he'd known to at first…and I wondered what he was doing here if he'd been born in France. It was the first personal detail I learned about him- I still didn't even know his name. I wondered whether he would tell me if I got up the courage to ask.
"What's the Comte de Chagney's son doing running about Nijni-Novgorod on his own, then?" he said. "I daresay your parents are quite worried about you."
Remembering the situation reluctantly, I began to rise. "You're right- how long has it been since I…I think I passed out?"
He seemed to avoid my gaze as he said, "Only an hour. But you're not to worry; I've sent someone to find your parents and tell them where you are. They should be here shortly; I can't have you wandering around the fair alone at this time."
"How did you-"
"I recognized they were your parents by sight, and the person I sent said he heard them speaking of the inn at which they are currently staying."
"Oh." I decided to no longer ask how he knew anything; he seemed to know everything.
"How long are you staying in the area?" he asked.
"At least another night more. Perhaps longer. I'd like to stay longer; then I could come back and see your tricks," I said, before I could stop myself.
Another light laugh. "And you shall," he said. "You seem to be a young man of good intentions; I'd like you to enjoy a longer stay here. Come tomorrow afternoon, if you wish. I'll show you one more trick then."
"Thank you," I said, feeling thoroughly undeserving but ecstatic. Remembering his show, I asked, "Will you show me how you made the lilies sing?"
"Ah, but that one might take a little more time to teach."
"I have lots of time!" I said eagerly, once again without thinking. "I mean- if you want to teach me…"
The smile was a little bigger now. "You know, I've never met so curious a little boy as you. You seem to want the secrets of the world all in a book just for you."
I smiled abashedly, unsure whether or not that was a good attribute. "Well, I also have a- a friend who sings, too, and she would love it; I could teach her, too…- I mean, that is, if you don't mind; I wouldn't want to-" I cut myself off once again. I really had to take control of myself.
"Ah, well, if she sings she may know all the musical tricks she wants. The magic won't wear off if just one more person knows, I suppose."
I grinned at the thought of telling Christine of all my adventures with this musician-magician, and teaching her his tricks. Perhaps one day I could even introduce them.
Suddenly I heard a muffled rustling noise behind me, and I turned to see a man appear in the entrance of the tent, holding back the thick fabric. The sky was dark, but the world outside where I sat was brighter than the tent.
The man was tall, straight, well-dressed, and- like the man who sat with me in the tent- looked thoroughly out of place at a rough foreign fair. Their air of familiarity and their similar appearances (though this new man did not sport a mask) made me figure they worked together.
"The boy's parents, sir," the man said. "They're outside." His voice was flat and level; it certainly lacked the musicality and pure life that the masked man's emitted, and the difference was shocking after talking with him for so long.
The great magician- musician- stood.
"It's been a long night for you," he said. "You should go out to your family."
Was it only me, or did the way he spoke the last part of his sentence seem to have a bitter edge to it? Either way, it was gone as rapidly as it had appeared as soon as he bid me good-bye.
"I'll come back tomorrow," I said eagerly, moving towards the opening in the side of the tent. He nodded and turned back to his table.
Before I passed through the exit, though, I paused. I had to know.
"Um- what…what's your name?" I asked, shy once again.
He turned back to me, and simply looked at me for a long moment.
"Erik," he said finally, softly; and I slipped out of the tent into my own reality outside.
My parents and Philipe were waiting only a few feet away. My mother was the first to rush at me.
"Raoul! I was so worried! Why in the world would you do something like that? You could have been lost; we had no idea where you were, what you were doing…"
She pulled me close to her, and I felt suddenly ashamed. I hadn't thought about this part of what I was doing, it was true.
My father came over too.
"I wish you would just tell us," he said seriously, but there was a note of humor in his voice. "It's not as though we wouldn't have let you try to stay and meet him."
"Well-" I began. It was true- my parents were ones who'd traveled as vagabonds in their own youth; they would have been willing to stay behind.
Philipe looked relieved, but a little jealous, too. But all I had to do was grin at him over Mother's shoulder and mouth, 'I'll tell you later,' and he was appeased.
As we left the fairgrounds and walked towards our carriage, Mother asked, "What was his name, did you find out?" Father and Philipe, too, looked at me curiously.
I glanced back over my shoulder at the dark tent which steadily grew smaller as we walked away from it. I recalled the magician's own reaction at my questioning him.
"No," I replied. "I don't know."
I was the last to climb into the carriage. I pulled the door shut behind me, and the carriage took off into the night.
Et voila! By the way, I shall heed no comments on Erik being out of character- he has his reasons for being so friendly towards Raoul. But I won't analyze it all here; that's your job. ;) Review to say anything at all!