Letters Never Sent
Letters Never Sent
"I'm heading out after breakfast," Seyruun Castle's postmaster announced, poking his head into the great hall where the royal officials ate shoulder to shoulder with the castle staff as a show of brotherhood, equality, and good-will (not to mention a great savings in space). "Any post?"
There was a squeak of a chair being hurriedly pushed out as Princess Amelia tossed her napkin onto her plate. "Just a second," she said and got up.
"I know I have a pile around somewhere," Prince Philionel said, shuffling uncomfortably from the seat next to the one his daughter had just vacated.
"The ones on your desk?" the postmaster prompted kindly, giving the princess a smile as she sped past him.
Prince Phil snapped his fingers and pointed at the postmaster. "Those were the ones!"
"Already got them," the postmaster said confidently, patting his mailbag.
"Good man!" Phil congratulated and promptly returned his attention to his hearty, artery-clogging breakfast.
"Here!" Amelia said, breathlessly returning to the group and holding an envelope out in front of her.
The postmaster took the letter gingerly from her. It was sealed, not with the official Seyruun crest used for all matters of state, but a single cursive 'A' stamped into the wax, signaling that this was a personal letter and not an official one. He glanced at the address briefly and smiled. He placed it in his sack and said, "I'll see that it gets where it's supposed to."
"Thanks!" Amelia said, taking her seat back at the table.
The postmaster tipped his hat to her. "Well, off I go!" he said and left.
Phil gave his daughter a sidelong glance as he finished chewing a mouthful of scrambled eggs. Then he said, "Another letter for your Mister Zelgadis?"
Amelia gave him the 'caught' look of all young people who find their personal lives under the scrutiny of fathers/mothers/nosy aunts/alcoholic grandmothers. She took a hasty gulp of orange juice to stall until she'd regained her poise.
"Oh, you know," she said casually. "It's just that usually I couldn't send him letters since he moves around so much. Since he's staying at the Burtol Mansion for awhile, it just seems like it would be a shame to ignore the opportunity to correspond." She shrugged as though this wasn't a big deal at all.
Phil digested this along with his breakfast. "You've sent him quite a few letters already. Has he returned any yet?"
Amelia couldn't help but stare sadly into the spiral of her marble-rye toast. "Not since the first one."
Phil crossed his arms and squinted as he tried to remember.
"You know," Amelia prompted. "I showed you it. It was where he said he'd be staying at the Burtol place for awhile to get a look at the Erce Grimoire."
"Ah yes," Phil said, taking up his fork and having another stab at a sausage. "That was awhile ago. Though I wouldn't really call a quarter page of words a letter. More like a note."
Amelia sighed. "I'm sure he'll send something soon. He's just…"
Phil patted Amelia comfortingly on the shoulder. "Some people just don't like letters. Have you ever thought of that? A lot of people prefer to talk face-to-face."
"I'm sure it's not that," Amelia said, almost despairingly. "He's very good with words. He's very… smart. I'm sure if he was going to write a long letter it'd be better than any of mine."
"Well then what the devil's keeping him from writing?" Phil asked with his palms facing upward in a questioning gesture.
"I'm sure he's very busy," Amelia said briskly taking a clementine from the basket in the center of the table.
"Busy?" Phil repeated in puzzlement. "But you're a princess and you find the time to write him pages and pages."
Amelia stopped peeling her clementine and set it gently on her plate where it rolled sullenly into the untouched scrambled eggs. She suddenly didn't feel hungry anymore.
"Oh, daddy," she said, getting up abruptly with a somewhat brittle smile on her face. "You know how it can be sometimes when you're working. Why are we talking about this anyway? If he had time I'm sure he'd write!" But she had serious doubts about this last statement.
"You barely touched your breakfast," Phil noted with parental concern as Amelia pushed in her chair and meandered over to the hall entrance.
"I'm not hungry," Amelia said, not turning around.
Phil looked seriously after her and said, just barely loud enough for her to hear him: "You always get gloomy whenever you talk about him."
She stopped abruptly as she reached the door and turned around. "What are you talking about, daddy? I'm not gloomy. I'm smiling." And indeed she was.
Phil was unconvinced. "Amelia, my daughter, when you're happy you have the prettiest smile in the world. You can't fool a father. I know you're not happy."
She turned back and clasped the doorknob. "Don't worry about me, daddy. I'm fine."
She knew she shouldn't be disappointed. Zelgadis had… other things on his mind. She'd just been excited when she thought that they could exchange letters for awhile. She understood, though, that he had to focus on his goal. It shouldn't hurt to think that… that she was probably the last thing on his mind at the moment.
Dear Mister Zelgadis,
I hope that this letter finds you well. I know you must be very busy – mercenary jobs can be so unpredictable, I know! Remember when you and I had that job in Atlas City where we ended up getting involved in that crazy in-fight over the chairmanship? You know, it's funny, back then things were really dangerous, but looking back on it now… It seems like those times when we were traveling together were the most fun I ever had! I don't know if you agree… it's probably just being cooped up in the castle that's making me think that. I'd rather be on the road any day.
I haven't heard from you since your first letter… Like I said before, I know you must be busy so it's not like I want to press you to writing. It's only that I don't even know if you're getting these letters or not and I want to make sure I have the address right.
And… well… I just want to make sure that you're okay.
I hope things aren't dangerous where you are. I asked daddy about Mister Burtol and he said that he had a lot of enemies. Apparently he's known for being somewhat obnoxious. I hope that's not true.
But I also heard that he collects a lot of rare books. So it seems like what you heard about the Erce Grimoire is true. I know you'll be able to get it. Once you put your mind to something you don't rest until it's accomplished. That's something I've always admired about you.
…Anyway, like I mentioned in my last letter, things are a little hectic around here. The Assembly is under the head of a new leader with some… severe views. Just yesterday he proposed a law forbidding people to chew gum in public! I mean, obviously we have power of approval, but he's been drowning us in paper lately.
I'm a little worried, also, because there's been some movement from a secret society (though, not very secret now) called the Twelve Gifted Moons. They've been making some pretty extremist statements lately and it seems like they might follow through on them. Daddy says that their appearance is just the sign of a growing and thriving community of free-thinking individualists and that quashing them just because they don't hold our opinion would be unjust. They've been recruiting sorcerers though… I think they're plotting something. A little quashing might not be so unjust, right?
Well, maybe Miss Lina and Mister Gourry will be able to do something about it when they visit next Friday (I mentioned that in my last letter, didn't I?). They're magnets for trouble!
Whatever the case, I'm really looking forward to their visit. I miss having those two around. Of course, I wish you were here too.
…I don't want you to think that I'm being… silly or anything, but please, take good care of yourself. I think about it a lot… how you're out there risking your life for your goal and all I'm doing is sitting around signing papers. I guess it's stupid to think that if I was there I could somehow help, right? I know you prefer to work alone.
But still, maybe when this Erce thing is done… you could think about visiting? It'd be nice to see you face to face again.
Hope to hear from you soon!
Dear Amelia, Zelgadis thought as he folded her letter gently and slid it into the tied parcel that held its fellow letters, it seems a bit of a stretch to call all the times when monsters were trying to kill us 'the good times', doesn't it? But somehow you're right. Hindsight is probably just preferable to whatever is going on in the present. Isn't there a parable about that? Something with a tree…
Then again, at least when monsters were trying to kill us we could watch each other's backs. Not like here were I'm surrounded by… well…
He turned out the lamp beside his bed and lay down on his cold, hard mattress in the smallest room in the mansion. No matter how grand the estate, the builders always make room for one or two rooms so grubby that most innkeepers wouldn't even bother renting them out. It's probably to show the servants how inferior they are or something.
He tried to sleep, but he kept thinking.
I must have read your letters dozens of times over by now, he thought. My excuse is that there's really nothing to read around here except Stella's library of nauseating romance novels. You know the kind, right? The ones that have illustrations of a masked man with his arms around a woman whose dress has somehow gotten ripped in very convenient places. What do they call those? Tunic-tearers or something? Anyway, I haven't quite sunk into as severe a literary starvation to justify perusing one of those. I don't think I ever will.
Oh pardon me, he thought bitterly, I haven't mentioned Stella to you yet. My boss's daughter. The less said about her the better.
Oh yes, your sources aren't wrong; Mister Burtol does have a large collection of rare and magical books. But he keeps them locked up in the highest tower with many complex protection spells and traps set around them. I'll get the Erce Grimoire someday, though. I'll either earn it or find a way to steal it.
Zelgadis wasn't really sure why he was directing his thoughts at Amelia right now. It wasn't as though he was actually writing a letter. It must be that… well, there was no one to talk to in this hellhole so it was either talk to himself or talk to her. Since she wasn't there to talk to, he wasn't sure which was crazier. But it helped to get his thoughts straight.
It wasn't just here though. It had always been this way. When Amelia was around… well… she was a silly girl. Nice, but silly. Way too enthusiastic in general, of course. And just when he thought he had her pegged, she went and did something surprising. When she was around he knew all this.
But somehow it was different when she was gone. For some reason he thought of her much more when she was gone then when she was right by his side. It seemed like when he was away from Amelia she was… impossible to ignore.
Dear Amelia, Zelgadis thought the next day as he hunkered down on the kitchen floor in a bad temper, if this was a real letter I couldn't possibly tell you that I'm spending most of my days peeling potatoes. You'd be too disappointed. Knowing you, you've probably been imagining daring fight scenes.
Well, to be fair, there have been a few of those. As you noted in your last letter, Burtol has a great many enemies. Technically my job right now is to fight those enemies off. But enemies can't come a'calling all the time and when bloodthirsty assassins aren't in hand, Mister Burtol likes to make sure that he's not paying people for nothing. This means that in my downtime I've been peeling potatoes, scrubbing floors, and refurbishing garden ornaments. You heard right: Burtol is obnoxious.
It's humiliating, but I tell myself it's all in the name of getting the Erce Grimoire. So I have to grit my teeth and deal with it.
Not that there aren't plenty of servants around to do this, Zelgadis thought savagely as he sliced at a potato with such reckless abandon that he would've been bleeding if his skin wasn't made of stronger stuff. Burtol's just a jerk. He knows I want the grimoire so he knows I'll do all this grunt work for him.
Thankfully, I don't see him very often. He's cloistered up in his tower all day reading books that other people would kill to get their hands on (and don't think the thought hasn't crossed my mind). Mostly it's only the scores of servants in the employ of the Burtol family that I see around here.
Of course there's Stella, who I unfortunately see much more often. She likes to roam the halls until she can hunt up someone to feel superior to. Since talking back to my boss's daughter isn't the best idea, I do my best to avoid her (since not talking back to Stella is often impossible).
That's pretty much it for the family… Except… Old Lady Burtol. She's not someone you'd want to think about either to be honest. She's Mister Burtol's senile old mother and she spends her days haunting the third floor. When I say haunting, I mean haunting. She thinks that she's dead. It is bizarre.
None of the servants cross her path if they can help it. First of all, she thinks she can walk straight through anyone and anything, so it's best to walk around her. She makes "Woo-woo" noises at people and wiggles her fingers at them. She's mostly harmless, but creepy nonetheless.
He dropped the potato skins in his hand into a blue bucket at his side and put the skinned potato in the basket at his other side. Funny how talking to Amelia took his mind off things… even though she was miles and miles away.
He'd finally gotten off potato peeling detail and earned some free-time. The study was empty and much more comfortable than the room he'd been given. For example, the study had cushy, overstuffed chairs with foot-rests; his room had a wooden plank nailed to the wall in what he could only assume was supposed to be a bench. So he'd decided to sit down for awhile and relax until someone else yelled at him to do something.
He pulled the parcel of letters from Amelia out of his cloak and selected one on light green paper. He knew it practically by heart. It contained a long story about a magician who'd come to entertain at the palace and had nearly walked off with the castle's entire supply of cutlery before the guards got suspicious. The story didn't interest him in the least, but when he read it he could hear Amelia telling it, and that was comforting.
He wished she'd send more letters. Six in all. Considering the amount of time since he'd let her know where he was, this was a lot. But it just… stretched kind of thin. It couldn't replace her.
Not that he had any right to complain. He hadn't sent her a single letter since his first one. He'd been feeling guilty about that and, honestly, he swore he'd write her one very soon, but…
Well, it should be easy right?, he thought. In his mind he wrote her long letters every day. But somehow when it came down to pen and paper he just couldn't manage it. He'd have to soon, though, she was getting worried.
Tonight, he swore. I'll write her a letter tonight and send it out first thing in the morning.
"What are you doing in here, boy?" a shrill and unpleasant female voice asked, tearing his concentration away from the letter in his hands.
Ah yes, Zelgadis thought, falling once again into letter-writing mode as he looked up into the nightmare in green velvet. Can't avoid Stella forever. Charming, isn't she? Note the pet-name. When I introduced myself as "Zelgadis" she took one look at me and said, "No. Your name is boy," and flounced off.
You'd hate her.
"Reading, if there isn't a problem with that," Zelgadis said evenly.
Stella crossed her arms and glared at him as though she thought that this was a likely story indeed. She was his age, but as far as she was concerned good-breeding and a large sum of money in the bank gave her a good twenty years on him.
"A letter, is it?" she said interrogatively as she turned her head in an attempt to read the neat handwriting. "Who'd want to write to a freak like you?"
Zelgadis choked down a comeback as he folded the letter to keep it from view. "Just a friend of mine," he finally said when he trusted himself to respond.
"A freak friend?" she asked, not willing to let this thread go.
"Not especially freaky, no," Zelgadis said wearily. He looked longingly beyond the girl, wondering if there was any chance to escape.
It didn't seem likely. Stella had a restive stance that seemed to indicate that if he tried to leave that she'd follow him. He watched her look from him to the letter and saw the idea forming behind her eyes before she'd verbalized it.
"Give me it," she said, holding out her hand expectantly.
"No," Zelgadis said simply. "It's mine."
She stomped her foot like a five-year-old and flipped her white-blonde hair out of her face angrily. "I'll tell father!"
"You'll tell him what?" Zelgadis asked unable to keep the sardonic tone out of his voice. "That I wouldn't let you read my mail? Well, I guess I'm really scared now. I'm sure he could have me thrown in jail that."
To Stella's credit, once she realized that this tack wasn't going to work, she abruptly switched plans. She reached out with unexpected speed and grabbed the letter and pulled just as Zelgadis saw what she was doing and tried to pull it back.
There was a rip as the letter tore in two. Stella got the bottom half which she was greedily running her eyes over, while Zelgadis got the top half. He got up and wasn't at all happy. Boss's daughter or not, she'd stepped over the line.
"Give that back right now," he said threateningly.
Stella wasn't listening, she was paying more attention to the signature on the letter. "Amelia? But that's a girl's name!" Stella said almost accusingly.
"Fitting, considering she's a girl," Zelgadis said acidly, reaching out to snatch the letter half as the girl dodged him.
"Is she your girlfriend?" Stella asked critically.
This was too much. "No," he shot back angrily. "Weren't you the one who said, apropos of nothing I might add, that any girl would have to be crazy to be seen with a freak like me?!"
Stella was unmoved in the face of his anger and unconvinced as well. "But it says 'Love, Amelia'," she said.
"That's just something people say at the end of letters," Zelgadis said, and because he'd been pushed around enough that day, he added: "You'd know that if anyone wanted to send you any."
His insult had hit the mark. She glared up at him with childish fury on the edge of tantrum in her eyes and, with great malice, crumpled up the half-letter in her hands and threw it to the ground with great force. "FINE," she yelled loudly enough to raise clouds of dust over the knickknacks on the mantel. "Have your stupid letter and your stupid Amelia! It doesn't make any difference to me!" She held her hands up theatrically in the air. "Maybe she is crazy enough to want to associate with a freak like you but I'm certainly not!" She flounced out of the room in a cloud of melodrama and cat hair.
Zelgadis thought a bad word at her, but at least had the restraint not to say it.
He stooped down and picked up the balled letter, smoothing it out as best he could. He held it up to the upper half of the letter still clenched in his fist. He'd held on so tight that the ink had smudged a bit.
Crazy, huh, he thought almost numbly as his anger subsided. But you are crazy enough to associate with the likes of me, aren't you, Amelia?
Or is that just wishful thinking?
He walked out of the study without a word, barely looking up from the bifurcated letter as he went. Later that night the letter was back in one piece, and a roll of tape was missing from the supply closet.
This is it, Zelgadis thought to himself that night as he sat on the low-effort bench in his room with a piece of paper spread out in front of him and a pen in his hand. I'm going to write her back, he decided.
There were so many things he wanted to say to her after all. This passed day had proved that to him. He bent his head and put his pen to the paper.
Dear Amelia, he wrote.
He paused for a full five minutes.
The problem, he began to realize, was that though there were many things he wanted to say to her, there were also things that he just couldn't tell her.
Could he tell her that he missed the old days traveling with her? No… too sentimental. He couldn't do that. Could he tell her that he reads her letters every day? That they were his only consolation in the terrible place he was in? Well, that just made him sound pathetic. He knew he couldn't tell her that he thought about her almost constantly. He knew he couldn't tell her that he wished that she'd write more letters. He knew he couldn't tell her that he missed her. He knew he couldn't tell her that he…
Well then, what could he write?
He tried, and it read like this:
I am well enough, though I'll be happy to get out of this place. Burtol's everything you've heard about and more. Don't worry, your letters have been arriving and are appreciated. But I've been much too busy fighting off his many enemies to do any writing.
I can't even think about a visit right now as I'm not sure how long it'll take me to get the grimoire (it is very well protected). Maybe some other time.
He read it over twice and wondered if that was really the best he could do. The worst part was that he knew it was. There was a disconnect between head and heart that he just couldn't fix.
He sighed and went to bed. He'd send it tomorrow. At least it was better than nothing.
It was early the next morning and he was back in the study filching stamps and envelopes. The last thing he wanted was Stella or Burtol around demanding that he pay them for the privilege of using their office supplies. Besides, this way he could send the letter out early.
He'd put the address and stamp on the envelope and was about to put the letter inside when he stopped.
He unfolded the letter and picked up a pen. Perhaps…
He scrawled something quickly underneath his name as though he didn't want to give himself a chance to think better of it. Then he folded the letter again and shoved it in the envelope, sealing it immediately against his own second thoughts.
He power-walked out of the mansion and down to the mailbox in the town square and then back into the murk and rot of the old mansion to face menial chores and verbal abuse with curiously high spirits.
"Looks like you finally got your reply," the postmaster of Seyruun said several days later, depositing an envelope on Amelia's napkin at supper.
Amelia couldn't hide her excitement as she saw the return address and eagerly opened the envelope and unfolded the letter. Her heart sank slightly after rising so high. It was a short note.
Prince Phil watched his daughter's expression with fatherly concern and asked, "What does he say?"
Amelia swallowed and reported. "Well, he's alright so that's good." Her eyes flicked on. "He's been busy fighting for Mister Burtol – I guess he's just as bad a piece of work as we'd heard."
"Anything else?" Phil asked patiently.
"Oh," Amelia said slightly dispiritedly as she read on. "He probably won't be able to visit for a long while since he's not sure how to get the grimoire yet."
Phil nodded. It hurt him to see his daughter so… so shut-down by someone she cared about. Such was young love – better not to interfere even though he wanted to fix everything.
But suddenly Amelia's expression changed. Her eyes lit up and a smile perched on her lips. It was one of those special smiles – the prettiest smiles in the world.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Oh," Amelia said, tearing her eyes away from the letter. "Nothing. Don't worry about it," she said, putting the letter in her pocket.
But it wasn't nothing. She'd caught the PS. It wasn't much at all… just a sentence, but it was more than enough for her.
P.S.: Wish you were here.