mars_assassins: (Default)
[personal profile] mars_assassins

Chapter Forty-Three

Schloß Rosenkreuz, 1872

"What is it you do?" asked Schuldig, prowling around the new boy, noting the soft roundness of his face and the softness also of his frame, indicating he had lead heretofore a life idler than those of the students in the Schloß. In height he was the equal of Schuldig, but his nervous, timid air made him seem younger. "How old are you?"

"I'm fourteen," said the boy with an eager smile, his accent betraying his Belgian origins. "My name is --"

"I'm not interested in that yet," snapped Schuldig, annoyed to find the boy a little older than himself, for he was still but thirteen, though he was told he would be fourteen shortly. "Well, Herr 'I'm Fourteen', what do you do?"

"Do?" said the boy, sounding more nervous than before, his gaze darting between Schuldig and the other boys perched on their neatly-made, narrow beds. "I'm not sure what you mean --"

"Idiot!" laughed one of the others, Bernhard by name, "Schuldig here reads minds - what do you do?"

"You can read minds?" said the boy, his eyes round with wonder.

"You can't?" mocked Schuldig. "Now, stop worrying about whether or not you'll wet the bed tonight and tell me what you do do."

The boy blushed deepest scarlet as the others hooted with cruel laughter, knowing well that here was a fault no boy was likely to forget quickly, nor to forgive, should he indeed prove so weak. "You didn't have to --" he muttered.

"No, but I wanted to. Come on, or can you in fact do nothing?"

"They told me I'm sensitive," the boy said.

"You look sensitive!" cried another boy. "You look very soft indeed -- why not go to the older boys' dormitories and ask them if they agree?"

"Huh," said Schuldig, pulling out his knife and tossing it to the other boy who caught it with an awkward grasp of both hands. "Well, then. Tell me what you can deduce." The boy looked at him in misery, and clutched the knife tightly. It was plain to Schuldig that he did not yet fully grasp the truth of his situation, nor the reality of what the instructors said he could do. "You're not going home," said Schuldig softly. "You are never going home again. Stop thinking about it - even someone as deaf as Jakob here can hear you. Yes, yes, he's a mind reader too. Not like me, though! Now, do as I tell you."

The boy blinked back sudden tears and fixed an angry and hopeless glare upon the knife, running one careful finger up and down the blade. "You are full of anger and hate," he whispered. "This knife has been used against other people. It has caused injury and that made you happy. You have not used it against the one person you most long to kill, though when you have stabbed it into someone it is almost as good as hurting that person." The boy looked up quizzically at Schuldig, saying, "You want to stab a man with brown hair and a dry and boring voice. Why - who is he? Is he one of the teachers here?"

"That's enough," said Schuldig, taking the knife back. He scowled at the floor, wondering if he would now have to fight all the boys in his dormitory, and cursing both the new boy for revealing a weakness of his and himself for allowing it to happen. "So you're not as useless as you seem. He can have the bed by the door, hey, fellows?"

The other boys grinned as the new boy protested, "But there's a terrible draught there!"

"So why should we have to sleep in it? When there's another little boy put in here, you can make him sleep nearest the door," said Schuldig. The boy sighed and sat on that bed, resignedly. "I wish I were at home with Mamma," he thought. Schuldig smiled slyly, saying, "I told you, you're not going home. And you should be ashamed to call your mother "Mamma" like a baby!" He laughed as the boy looked up, startled. "You did not really believe I am a mind reader, did you? I am, and so is Jakob. Simeon knows what people are feeling."

"And you?" said the new boy, looking at Bernhard, who grinned cheerfully back.

"He can stop your heart, if he gets his hands on you," said Schuldig. "Try not to draw him as a partner when we have combat training." He drew off his boots, quickly disrobing as did the other boys, changing into their night attire as if at some signal only they had heard, the new boy slowly following their lead.

"Hurry up," scowled Jakob. "You'll get us all in trouble."

They were all scarcely tucked in their beds when the door opened suddenly and a thick-set boy of some sixteen years opened the door, scowling to see them all under their blankets. "Lights out," he said. "No talking." With that he extinguished the gas lamp and closed the door once again. They all lay silent and still, hearing his booted steps recede down the hallway.

"What's your name, new boy?" asked Schuldig at last, when it seemed safe, and the dull resentful thoughts of the prefect were far distant.

"Antoine," said the boy. "Must we always speak German here? I am not very good at it."

"All the lessons are in German," said Schuldig. "Perhaps you can take French literature with the girls, if that would make you happy." He smiled as the others laughed. It was important to make them always think of him as fast-witted and agile, lest they seek to take advantage of his younger age for, in the manner of boys everywhere, they esteemed a gap in age of mere months to be of the utmost importance.

"Is your name really Schuldig?" asked Antoine. "That's not a real name, is it, it's just a word, surely?"

"It's my name," said Schuldig firmly. "And if you're going to insult me we can fight right now, or leave it till the morning."

"Oh, I meant no insult!" cried Antoine quickly, drawing hissed admonitions for silence from the others.

"Tomorrow, then," said Schuldig, turning over. It wouldn't be difficult to beat Antoine, he thought. The boy still no doubt believed in fair play and not hitting below the belt.

Within weeks Antoine looked thinner and older, becoming hardened by the rigorous training the students of the Schloß underwent. Schuldig noted with approval that he was always respectful when they spoke together, his greater age giving way before Schuldig's greater length of time in training. He had not had to thrash Antoine since the first time, the older boy willingly attaching himself in the manner of an acolyte to Schuldig's side. He was useful, Schuldig supposed, though it was annoying to see the hopeful looks he turned upon Schuldig, as if he thought they were friends. Schuldig supposed he had had friends once upon a time, but it was not anything he liked to think of, finding himself feeling sick and faint if he dwelt upon the matter for too long. Antoine, however, did not require much thought and was unlikely ever to pose a threat. He would be, Schuldig supposed, destined to be given to some man whose skills and training lay in the seeking out of obscure knowledge. He grinned to himself, picturing Antoine holding items of antiquity and saying what he saw. He himself, Schuldig was sure, would go on to far greater things and would be revered by all those who currently sat in the classroom with him. Perhaps, when he was a man with his own team he would ask for Antoine to be assigned to him. Right now, however, he was hiding his smile like all the other boys as Fräulein Albrecht brought the cane down again and again on Antoine's outstretched hand. The Belgian boy shook with suppressed whimpers, biting his lip so that he would make no sound past the sharply indrawn breaths that were all that the students were allowed utter whilst undergoing punishment. Finally Antoine was allowed resume his seat, where he sat, silent with downcast eyes, until they were dismissed.

"I warned you to speak German," said Schuldig, off-hand.

"I only said, "Oui, Mademoiselle"!" cried Antoine. "I was not being disrespectful, I cannot help that I think in French!" He swallowed a sob and dashed at the tears standing in his eyes.

"Oh, let me see it," said Schuldig roughly, seizing Antoine's hand. "Why, it is not so bad - she only caned you six times!" He pushed at the other boy's shoulder, adding, "Don't be such a baby! Come on, let us go for luncheon."

In the dining hall they ate the plain food provided for students, dividing their attention between their plates and the other boys, lest any attempt to creep up on them unannounced. Schuldig frowned to see Fräulein Albrecht enter, and instead of sitting at the instructors' table as she usually did, make her way over to speak to Herr Dorfmann, who stood in conversation with one of his favourite pupils, an evil-tempered older boy. Seeing Dorfmann come their way, Schuldig hissed, "Stand!" Both boys stood ramrod-straight as Dorfmann looked them up and down in disapproval. Schuldig kept his thoughts placid and respectful, feeling great annoyance as Antoine's thoughts ran in circles like a small, scared creature.

"Fournier," said Herr Dorfmann. "You have been giving Fräulein Albrecht trouble in class, I hear?"

"Sir, I didn't mean to!" cried Antoine. "I'm just so used to replying to teachers in French!"

"It was the third time," said Herr Dorfmann. "Once may have been excusable. Three times certainly is not. No more French, Fournier, unless you are in French class. Come to my parlour at five o'clock this evening, and we will address your inability to do as you are instructed."

"Yes, sir," whispered Antoine as Dorfmann walked away. "Is he going to hit me, do you think?" he said to Schuldig when they were alone once more.

Schuldig looked at him silently, then said, "Yes, yes, I expect so," as gently as he could. "Finish your lunch," he went on. "You probably won't feel like eating later." It was useful, having Antoine trail him around, he thought. It deflected unwanted attention from the instructors at the very least. He pushed his plate aside, letting the other boy finish it.

He was no longer hungry.

* * *

The ruined city, 1880

Schuldig wiped a hand across his brow, grimacing at the feel of his hair sticking damply to his skin with perspiration. Crawford had insisted that they go through each room of the temple in what he deemed a thorough and scientific manner, with the result that they were still drawing each of the figures in the first hall they had come to. He looked over to where Crawford balanced precariously on the very top of a ladder, taking down an inscription into one of his endless succession of notebooks.

"Crawford," said Schuldig, walking to the base of the ladder. "Come down! You will destroy what is left of your eyesight!"

"I am almost finished," said Crawford distractedly. Finally he slowly came down the ladder, stretching and yawning when he reached the safety of the floor.

"Must we take all this down?" asked Schuldig, handing Crawford a jug of water. "Is there anything of use here, or is it all for your own amusement?"

"There are many references here to myths found in other places, as well as to previously unknown material," said Crawford, pouring a little water on to his handkerchief and patting at the back of his neck. "How hot it is!"

"Do not change the subject," said Schuldig with a sigh. "This is all to assuage your lust for ancient knowledge, is it not?" He shook his head, finding it very queer that such a sensible man as Crawford could forsake all reason when it came to knowledge that had no use in furthering his aims.

Crawford sighed and looked very tired all of a sudden. "You want to explore the whole temple complex, I know," he said. "No doubt you picture the vast treasures that await us somewhere in here."

"That would be nice," said Schuldig with a grin. He thought of both of them showered with golden coins, letting Crawford see his thoughts, and making the thought as silly as possible, to elicit Crawford's amusement.

"I've been trying to see where we should go next," said Crawford, smiling a little at the images and tucking Schuldig's hair behind his ears. "I can't see anything of use, and -- oh, Schuldig, what if it is all a fool's errand? What if there is nothing here? All our travel and work for nothing - I have built this up within my mind to a place where I can find something that will give us our freedom for once and for all. And now I find myself wondering how I can have been so stupid."

Schuldig raised his eyebrows. "Crawford," he said. "You are clearly unwell. How can you, of all people, have lost confidence? Come now, we are all tired, all hot - rest yourself and the future will become clear once again."

"It feels as though I am foreseeing - but I see nothing of use," repeated Crawford. He drank deeply, continuing, "No doubt you are right, Schuldig. We must just keep on and achieve our aims through sheer perseverance. We'll finish here and go on - Nagi may have a lot of work to do if we must go through what were once open courtyards!"

"He'll be overjoyed to oblige you," smiled Schuldig. "It is simply unnatural for a boy to want to be so helpful!"

"I hope he may never grow out of it," said Crawford with an answering little smile, "and that you may one day grow in to such a habit."

"I am wounded," said Schuldig. "Cut to the quick by your cruelty. Let's put helpful little Nagi to work."

"Does he have any idea how old he really is?" asked Crawford suddenly.

"No," said Schuldig, "or at least he has never thought of himself as being a particular age that I am aware of - he varies between petulant thoughts that he is not a baby when he has been teased too much, and sheer pleasure at being babied at other times. Why?"

Crawford shrugged, saying, "I just would like him to have the chance to claim he is very young and perhaps avoid punishment thereby, should things go very wrong."

"I do not like your current views on the future," said Schuldig heatedly. "What have you been keeping from me?"

"Nothing," said Crawford looking down. "Truly, Schuldig. Let us not start fighting again." He turned aside, saying, "The others have finished in the outer hallway. Don't let them think anything is wrong."

"Nothing, I hope," muttered Schuldig, "is wrong. Nagi!" he cried, as Nagi looked round in the gloom and came their way. "We have a task for you!"

"What is it?" said Nagi, his voice a mix of eagerness and caution.

"We're going to explore the rest of the temple properly, and you must help us clear the way if need be - Crawford doesn't want us to miss any idols of gold simply because they are covered in tons of sand!" Schuldig fought to keep a smile from his face as Nagi thought, in great detail, of the golden idols he would find for Crawford. "Come on," he said, leading Nagi away, and telling himself he did not feel vaguely slighted to see Crawford stop following them to fall deeply into conversation with Micah. "Be glad Crawford is happy to have found a brother," he told himself. "You are in no way threatened by that." Becoming aware that Nagi had spoken, he looked down at the lad, saying, "What was that? I was miles away, I am sorry."

"How will we carry all this gold back with us?" repeated Nagi. "We will need much room for water - will there be enough room on the cart for the gold as well?"

"Assuredly," said Schuldig. "And if there is not, why you can carry it all back to New London for us!" He grinned at Nagi's suspicious look.

"Are you joking?" asked Nagi cautiously. "It's a very long way."

"I'm sure you can manage it. It's all right, Nagi, I'm joking, of course. We shall only ask you to carry it half way."

Nagi gave his quiet little laugh and ran to the hallway leading from the huge pillared room. "Come on, Schuldig," he said. "The treasure will go off!"

Schuldig followed him, shaking his head over such youthful exuberance. He had always been of the opinion that one should do as little as possible until the situation demanded otherwise, at which time one should do one's utmost, so that one could return to indolence once more. "Such an eager child," he thought, as Nagi gestured for him to catch up, "I wonder if I would have been like that, if I had never gone to the Schloß? I wonder how quickly it would have been beaten out of him if we had sent him there? Not that we would ever have done such a thing!" He looked back, seeing Farfarello amuse himself by idly scratching obscene words into a pillar and Micah throw back his head in laughter at something Crawford had said. Crawford smiled and clapped Micah on the shoulder, looking then over at Schuldig and smiling more broadly. It was good, Schuldig thought, to see Crawford look more cheerful and for him to be distracted from his unsuccessful attempts to foresee their future.

"Schuldig!" called Nagi. "Stop being so lazy and come on!"

Laughing, Schuldig jogged after him, feeling all at once that he was a lucky man, surrounded by friends. He would let nothing bad happen to any of them, he thought. That was how friends served each other.
Anonymous( )Anonymous This account has disabled anonymous posting.
OpenID( )OpenID You can comment on this post while signed in with an account from many other sites, once you have confirmed your email address. Sign in using OpenID.
Account name:
If you don't have an account you can create one now.
HTML doesn't work in the subject.


Notice: This account is set to log the IP addresses of everyone who comments.
Links will be displayed as unclickable URLs to help prevent spam.


mars_assassins: (Default)

September 2006

24 252627282930

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 22nd, 2017 07:55 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios