Chapter 5 - Andre
“By my beard who’s this!?” Boomed the giant man I knew as Andre of Astora, beard a scraggly mess of white, hair in a similar state and bound together by a rough cord in a ponytail to keep it from impeding his work, “Why, I haven’t seen a woman as beautiful as ye in all my days!” He looked Orlai up and down excitedly. She to a step towards me, eyeing him suspiciously. Andre fell upon his small bench heavily, the poor thing creaking loudly as it took his full weight, “Can’t say I’m surprised she be a wee nervous of old Andre!” He roared, laughing heartily and holding a hand to his chest, “Of all the men to hide behind she chooses ye!” The building shook with the strength of his cheer, “This be a match made by the gods themselves! A fantastic pair ha, ha! Good on ye lad!” He slapped his knee grinning broadly through his beard, “I can bet ye had a twist in the sheets then eh? She looks quite the fierce one eh?” He cowed, bouncing an eyebrow at me.
I winced as Orlai gasped, “You what?!” She shouted storming up to him. She jabbed a finger in his face, cutting his laughter short, “You tryin’ to say something?!” Andre’s eyes crossed as he looked at the finger, head twitching away from it. I had been worried she’d be shaking her sword at him rather than the finger, though he acted as if her finger was just as bad.
Regret painted Andre’s face, “Milady,” he coughed apologetically. “Forgive me abruptness t’was but a joke, surely you-” Her finger inched closer as she leaned in.
Andre pressed against the wall, eyes fixed on that finger like it was a venomous snake. “A joke eh?” She growled, glancing at his setup, “Well from my perspective I’m betting you and that anvil have had some interesting nights alone together.” Orlai shot.
Andre glanced at me pleadingly and I shook my head, perfectly fine with watching. My cheeks were beginning to hurt from smiling, “No Milady, ye just so beautiful I assumed-”
“Assumed what?” She cut in, jade eyes flashing.
Andre’s jaw worked frantically, “Well I assumed nothin’ a course,” He explained quickly, watching the finger carefully, “I, Andre of Astora, do not condone such actions, though I mayhap developed a relatively rough disposition due to the work I partake in and cannot rightly say me finer skills have-” The finger closed in for the kill, “I simply wish to convey I humbly regret me speech and tone!” He yelped. Orlai’s eyes narrowed, finger’s descent halting. Andre raised his hands defensively, “I don’t want no trouble, just nice to see someone else for a change, and one who holds a conversation.” He nodded to me, “This one likes to keep to himself.” He said respectfully, eyes asking me for forgiveness and I shook my head, waving a hand dismissively to assure him I understood. With a satisfied nod Orlai dropped the finger, Andre watching it closely as it fell.
She turned to me and Andre sighed quiet relief. He cracked a grin with an approving nod to me over her shoulder. “You know him?” She snapped. I bobbed my head several times, “Really? Care to explain?”
“Good friend.” I grunted. Andre’s bushy brow rose into his mop of white hair,
“Gods above,” He whispered, “Ye spoke!” He said shaking his head, “I can scarcely believe ye speaks!” Orlai scoffed at his reaction,
“Don’t get too excited, that anvil of yours has more things to say that this blank slate.” She mused gesturing to Andre’s gigantic black slab of metal, “You should be honored, that’s the first real sentence he’s spat out in a while.” Andre barked a laugh, eyes fixed on Orlai,
“I believe ye! He’s never done ol’ Andre wrong but he be the cheeriest bloke that’s walked through me little smithy here, aside from ye Milady, but never once has he said a word to ol’ Andre!” Andre shook his head, “Ye musta used some sort a magic on him, M’lady, to loose them dusty ol’ lips a his.” He grinned stroking his beard, eyes flashing mischievously, “Or perhaps tis’ more simple than magic?” I growled a warning at Andre, “And ye look loathe to admit it!” He chortled, a thoughtful look crossed Orlai’s face as she regarded me. I wasn’t smiling anymore.
“You think I did something to him?” Orlai asked quizzically.
“Indeed Milady, he be quite taken with ye!” My fists clenched as I glared at Andre, reaching for my pouch threateningly. This only encouraged them.
“What do you mean ‘taken with me?’” Orlai asked playfully with one eye on me.
Andre motioned for her to lean in close but still spoke as if he intended for me to hear him. “One could say it’s an attraction on ye emotional level perhaps?” He chuckled lowly with a wink at her. Orlai stared at me for a minute before shaking her head laughing,
“Andre,” She chortled, “Quit bullshitting, he hardly says a word to me, much less giving me an explanation on this crazy quest he’s been talking about.” Andre’s brows bounced in jovial thought.
“Perhaps from innocence?” His howling laughter shook the smithy again. Emotions bubbled hot in my chest. “Imagine, blushing like an innocent maiden by the cause of a woman! What a jest!”
Orlai joined in, both laughing hysterically. “Innocence?! A stone like him, how?!” She guffawed between breaths.
“Because it met a diamond!” Andre roared and they both fell to the floor cackling,
I’d had enough. “She is.” Their merriment cut off like a hot knife through butter. Andre and Orlai stared at me.
“Come again lad?” Andre asked with a small smile, cocking an eyebrow and leaning forward expectantly. Orlai watched quietly, jade green eyes fixed upon me. I raised a gauntlet, coughing loudly into it,
Head tilted forward so it hid my eyes I repeated, “She is a diamond.” Andre whistled.
“Well then, I must revoke me earlier statements.” He nodded approvingly, eyes glinting, “It warms me heart to see a man who knows when he’s been blessed.” Andre glanced down at Orlai, her eyes glittering, “What say ye, Milady, to this man’s advances?”
I stepped back in shock. “Advances?!” I cried, clutching my throat from the sudden outburst and coughing painfully. I shook my head vigorously, cutting a hand through the air violently.
“Seems a mite too reticent does he not Milady?” Andre asked, nudging Orlai with an elbow, “How does the stone’s diamond respond?” Orlai did not seem to hear him, staring at me blankly, “What’s this?” Andre thundered, “A love believed unrequited is instead found to be mutual?” He glanced at me meaningfully.
Orlai fired a glare at Andre, “Shut your mouth wrinkles!” She snapped, stomping up the stairs and growling.
Andre’s eyes slid slyly over to me with a wide grin, “To think ye was such a prince charmin eh?” He nodded up the stairs, “Ye better be quick, else lose a prime chance.” I rolled my eyes, walking up the stairs, “Be back soon eh? I’d like ta meet the yung’uns!” His booming laughter chased me up the stairs and out of the basement of the bell tower he called his smithy, the patterned bang of hammer on steel resuming.
Orlai leaned against the brick wall next to the Bonfire, arms crossed and peering into the flames. I stood there a minute awkwardly and glanced around, head twisting left-to-right, hands clawing at my sides for something to say, and mouth opening and closing soundlessly. She looked up at me, “What, is that the mating dance around here? You a bird?” I blinked, assuming she was insulting me.
“I…” I raised my hands as she watched me, struggling to add something else.
“You what?” She asked coldly, shining green eyes fixed on me, “What?” A lump formed in my throat, still sore from shouting earlier. No thoughts surfaced, words caught in my stomach. My mind locked, throat silent.
With an exasperated sigh my hands dropped and I planted myself in front of the bonfire glaring at its base. “Train you.” I spat, disgusted in myself, “Rest first.” I pulled my knees up and spread my legs. Elbows resting on each knee I let my claws hang over my shins, scowling in the solitude of my hood and mask. Orlai, hidden by the edge of my hood, said nothing. iI heard her push off the wall and walk over. With a quiet exhale of breath she next to me, jade eyes on the flames.
I turned my head, eyeing her questioningly.
“What?” She asked without looking at me. I jerked back to the fire, fixating myself on it. I shifted, crossing my legs and arms. My mind was frozen. After a moment a warm body leaned against me and I looked down at Orlai, who in turn was looking up at me, “Do you mind?” She muttered angrily. I shook my head dumbly. “Good.” She grunted with a nod and lowered her face to study the bonfire. We sat together in silence, watching the astral flames spiral slowly.
“What?” Orlai asked, looking back at me,
“You are warm.” I murmured. Andre whistled loudly from below and I realized the hammering had stopped. I sat there stiffly, waiting for her to jump up and yell down at him, but instead she tensed for a moment before relaxing after a few seconds.
“Thank you.” She whispered. I struggled to contain overflowing joy that flooded my body and tickled me with a smile. After a while her breath slowed with sleep and I carefully extracted myself from her. Putting a bedroll beneath her head I wafted a cloak from my bottomless box over her. Sitting down next to the sleeping Orlai I settled down to keep watch. A fuzzy sensation worked its way into me, one I had never felt before, and my cheeks burned from smiling. This woman, I glanced at Orlai, did so many things to me but I simply could not fathom how. A week we had known each other and traveled together, eons more than any undead I had met. They always conversed with me and left. I’d never spent so long with anyone. Low thuds from the staircase made me turn around. Andre climbed up the stairs, walking around Orlai and I to sit across the Bonfire from me,
“Not often I get company like this,” He chuckled quietly, careful not to disturb Orlai, “Thought I might enjoy it for now but I’d like ta avoid Milady’s temper.” I nodded, sighing,
“Yes.” Andre regarded me through the fire, eyes growing sad,
“This be a dangerous place for love.” My jaw tightened but I didn’t answer, clenching my fist. “Why haven’t ye told her ye duty?” I twitched, staring at him, “Something to hide?” I remained silent. Andre sighed, eyes dropping to Orlai, “She don’t be from around here, I can see that much, and she ain’t used to living like us.” Eyes softening Andre smiled passionately over the fire at her, “She be quite beautiful. Got quite the fiery temper, and mouth. She’s enough to make any man jealous.” His eyes darkened as he watched her. I grabbed the handle of my sword,
“Don’t,” I growled feriociously, “Touch her.” Andre watched me with a level gaze.
“I know I couldn’t challenge ye for her, and she’d probably tire of watching ol’ Andre hammering scrap metal eh?” He sighed, “Doesn’t mean I can’t hope though eh?”
I stood. “Leave Andre.” His eyes met mine and I saw him considering it. “Please.” I whispered, partially drawing the sword from its sheath.
He grunted to himself, “Very well.” Standing up he grumbled through his beard, “I value me life as much as any undead.” He walked around the opposite side that would take him closest to her. I stepped between him and Orlai, Andre walking just past me staring beneath my hood and directly into my eyes.
I saw a burning jealousy consuming him, a blaze of envy that showed no hint of extinguishing. One swing and I would send his head rolling. No one was to be trusted. What would I tell Orlai? I didn’t know.
Against my better judgement I let him pass. He turned, walking down the stairs and thudding loudly onto his stool, grumbling quietly. I sighed in relief, sitting down next to Orlai.
She awoke several hours later.
Orlai opened her eyes, looking up at the hulking figure of the man in black. The light of the Bonfire waxed and waned steadily, casting strange shadows beneath the black hood over his masked face. His breath was slow, eyes closed as if he slept, but she had not seen him sleep ever since she met him.
She is a diamond.
Orlai snuggled deeper into the cloak, she figured he’d given it to her while she slept, and a red hue slowly colored her cheeks as she recalled his words. She hadn’t expected him of all people to say something like that. It seemed so ridiculous and out of the blue, especially coming from him, but that by no means annoyed or angered her it just… surprised her. Warmth blossomed in her. She knew what it meant, that she was attracted to him, and he seemed to return the attraction but… he wasn’t human. No human was as cold, emotionless, and dead as him. A darkness hung over him, one that both drew Orlai in and repelled her. He was an enigma, one that she found interesting.
“Awake?” He asked suddenly, dead eyes open and watching.
She noticed that same glimmer of light from before, dimly flickering in those black recesses. It seemed brighter now. “Yeah,” She stretched with a yawn, “Let’s go.”
“Good luck Milady!” Andre boomed from below,
“Thanks!” She called back, “Well?” Orlai asked, turning to the man in black, “Let’s be off then eh?” He nodded stiffly. Orlai thought she detected a hint of hostility in his eyes but he looked away too quickly, climbing the set of stairs leading to the next level. Orlai followed behind, casting a glance at the stairs leading back down to Andre before hurrying after the man in black. The steady bang of a hammer on metal rang rhythmically behind them.