Chapter Eight: Baudouin
Victor's face was scrunched up in concentration. He and Francesca were staring intensely at the apple in his hand. Once again, he said the levitation spell. However, the apple remained motionless.
Victor let out a huge sigh of disappointment. "I still can't do it..."
Francesca put a hand on his shoulder. "It's fine! Lots of people have trouble with magic on their first try!" She didn't add that he had about as much magic as a dwarf.
This confused her immensely. Elves usually picked up on magic with their first try, yet Victor wasn't controlling the slightest bit.
"Frankie, are we nearly there?" he asked.
Francesca pointed down the road. A massive and pointed shadow loomed over the city. "We're going to the castle first. I need to tell the people there that I'm going to be helping you."
He nodded. "Okay!"
"Oh! Wait! Victor! The mask!" Francesca said hurriedly. "You need the mask that Lin gave you."
Victor's face fell. He reached under his cloak and pulled a mask off of his belt. It was a simple mask. It was wooden, smooth like glass, and completely white. The only features on it were the two holes for his eyes.
He slipped the mask on and pulled the hood off. He looked up to Francesca. His big amethyst eyes were still visible.
"Is this okay...?" he asked quietly.
"It's fine." Francesca put a hand on his head.
They approached the tall gates of the castle. Francesca strolled up naturally while Victor trailed behind. The guards greeted Francesca with friendly smiles, however, they immediately grew wary upon noticing Victor.
"Who's that?" one of them asked. Victor flinched away; the guard had used the lance in his hand to point him out.
"This is Victor," Francesca explained. "He's with me. He could be a potential new servant for the king."
"Oh yeah?" he asked gruffly. "So what's with the mask?"
"We just came from Lin's place," she said without missing a beat.
The guards winced in unison and nodded in understanding. They stood aside and let them inside. Victor looked back to see that the guards were instantly back in their places.
"Frankie..." Victor said quietly.
"Yeah?" she asked.
"Why did you tell those guards I'm going to be a servant here?" he asked. "I can't look for Master if I just stay here."
Francesca didn't look at him. "I said that so that they'd let you in. They wouldn't have otherwise."
"They would think you're here to hurt someone."
"Really..." Victor grasped at the ends of his sleeves, but Francesca didn't notice.
"Don't take it personally, it's kinda their job to assume that."
When they entered the castle, it was full of movement and noise. There were servants, knights, officials, and the like buzzing about like bees. Francesca had to take hold of Victor's hand so he wouldn't get lost amidst the sea of bodies. They forced their way out of the entrance hall and into a much more empty hallway.
"Dammit, he wasn't in there..." Francesca groaned.
"Who?" Victor asked with a tilt of his head.
"The grouch I have to report tooo..." Francesca slapped on a bright smile once she saw who was approaching her. "Today's weather is lovely, isn't it, Oswald?"
The middle-aged man holding a scroll gave Francesca an exasperated look. "That save was horrendous, but at least you tried," he said dryly.
"I was just looking for you!" Francesca said in a falsely bright tone. "I have some matters to discuss with you!"
"Not right now, you don't," Oswald said flatly. He opened his scroll and tapped upon Francesca's name on the list. A schedule replaced the list of names on the scroll. "It says that it's your turn to keep Prince Baudouin company."
"Yeah, but-" Francesca started. All Oswald had to do was wave the scroll. "Fine... But once I'm done, I really do have to talk to you."
"Yes. After you're done."
Oswald walked into the entrance hall. Francesca rolled her eyes and started pulling Victor toward the cellars. The wide hallways were barren downstairs. No paintings, no people, just the torches brightening the marble. At the end of the hallways was a giant pair of double doors.
"Where are we going now?" Victor asked.
"I have to watch the prince," Francesca said irritably.
"You sound mad," Victor observed. "Is the prince mean?"
"No. Not at all!" Francesca said hurriedly. "Quite the opposite considering his condition."
"Well... Let's just say his condition makes him a handful to deal with."
Francesca opened the double doors. Light poured into an otherwise dark room. There were torches high on the wall that were put out. Victor's eyes widened behind his mask when he saw what was basically a wall made of red scales. The floor seemed to rumble as a deep growl filled the air.
"I'm sorry, your Majesty," Francesca said gently. "Did I wake you?"
The wall of scales shifted. There was another short growl. A heavy thump nearly shook the ground. The scales lifted up in the air until Victor could see that a giant, scaly claw was behind them. Victor trembled as he followed the long body with his eyes. His gaze finally met with a huge eye's, narrowed and looking at Francesca.
"F-Frankie..." Victor whimpered.
"Your Majesty, look." Francesca motioned to Victor. She shut the doors behind them. "I brought someone else with me today. Isn't that nice?"
There was an answering growl before the room was suddenly bathed in a warm light. A trail of flames from a scaly mouth lit the torches on the walls. Now the prince was in full view. No, a dragon was in full view.
A huge, lithe body took up a huge portion of the room. The ceiling was high, to accommodate his long neck. He rested his head upon twisted and scaly claws. Even with his mouth closed, Victor could still see pearly white fangs attempting to make themselves present. Giant green eyes were half-lidded with sleepiness. Thin columns of black smoke came drifting out of his nostrils. Leathery wings were folded on his back, nearly hiding a jagged ridge that ran from the base of his neck to his tail. His tail, Victor noticed, was waving blithely.
The room itself was mostly filled with glass. Glass cups, glass mirrors, glass statues, glass bottles, and more were scattered across the multiple tables in the room. There were a few glass chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Most of the items in the room twinkled in the torchlight. There were a few toys in the corner of the room, however. Stacked in a pile that was messy compared to the rest of the room.
"This is Victor, Prince Baudouin. Why don't you say hello?"
Baudouin lifted up his head. Green eyes seemed to be scrutinizing the new boy before him. After a minute, he extended a paw toward Victor, stretching out a single, black claw toward him. Each paw was large enough to carry a grown man. When Victor flinched away, the dragon let out a small sound of disappointment.
"Victor," Francesca said stiffly. She seemed to be attempting to convey "please don't upset the prince, I want to live" using only the tone of her voice. "Prince Baudouin wants a handshake. You know, the thing that I showed you."
"Oh! Right! Sorry!" Victor said weakly.
He stepped forward and grabbed the claw. It felt hot. He shook it and Baudouin gave a satisfied snort.
"I-It's a pleasure to meet you, Baudouin," Victor said. Francesca was almost scared the prince would be offended by the lack of formalities, however, if anything, Baudouin enjoyed it. He eyed Victor with interest.
"See? That wasn't so hard," Francesca sighed. "Now, which would you like to hear first, your Majesty? The gossip around the castle or what I did at Lin's?"
Baudouin's posture shifted. He looked more attentive and stared directly at Francesca. Quickly, he tapped a claw against the ground once.
"Gossip it is, your Majesty," Francesca said.
Francesca proceeded to chatter to the dragon about small matters happening about the castle: whose birthday it was, who was out of the castle for the day, the rumors about who had affections for whom, a funny story about Yolan messing up a spell and landing in the courtyard's fountain, and the like. The dragon couldn't comment, however, his reactions always made his thoughts clear. Victor didn't think dragons could laugh before, but after the fifth or sixth time he heard Baudouin make an odd breathy sound, he realized that was essentially what it was. Despite the dragon laughing, Victor thought that he looked somewhat sad. He had a look of longing in his eyes as he listened to Francesca.
"Baudouin looks a bit like Master," Victor said absentmindedly.
Francesca stopped mid-sentence to look at Victor. "What?"
"Not like his face or anything," Victor continued. "But Master used to have that same look in his eyes."
Baudouin stared at Victor curiously. He jerked his snout toward him with a huff.
"I think he wants you to keep talking," Francesca guessed. The dragon nodded his head. "No, he definitely wants you to talk."
"Number one rule in Prince Baudouin's room is if you go inside, you have to talk."
Baudouin nodded again, a bit more forcefully. He lied there patiently, waiting for Victor to say something.
"Well, um..." Victor fidgeted under Baudouin's gaze. "I-I don't have as much to say since I've been living alone for a while..."
Baudouin tilted his head and let out a small grunt of empathy.
"Well, just say what you can," Francesca said with a pat to his shoulder.
"Well... I didn't always live alone," Victor began. "I lived with Master. An elf, like me. But unlike me, he was a sorcerer. He was always working on something so most of the time he just asked me to help. But..." He paused to remember. "Before he asked me to help, he used to try to play with me. He said they were games that I used to like. After a while, he stopped though and started his project."
Francesca frowned. "Did he ever tell you what the project was?"
Victor shook his head. "No. Whenever he talked about it, he would have that same look Baudouin had. He disappeared before he ever finished it."
Victor then recounted what happened the first time he ever went outside his tower. The day his Master disappeared. Victor told them that his Master had heard a noise outside and ordered him to hide until he came to get him. He described the eruptions of noise that happened in his tower after he started hiding. He said that after a while of silence, he started looking for his Master. He went to a nearby house and got thrown out. He got called a monster.
Victor shrugged his shoulders. "I'd never even seen my face before then; Master kept the only mirror in the house covered up. So I stayed there and waited until you agreed to help me look for him, Frankie."
Francesca felt a pang of guilt run through her. She felt guilty for thinking poorly of Victor's master before she had even gotten the details. He didn't abandon Victor, as she had thought before.
He was taken.
"Victor..." Francesca said quietly. "I'm sorry."
"For what?" Victor asked with a tilt of his head.
"For making you say all that..."
"You said it's a rule to tell Baudouin a story. It's fine."
Baudouin was looking at Victor differently than before. The empathy was still there however the look held something more. Slowly, he extended a claw and gently brushed it against Victor's mask.
Victor shivered and touched his mask. "Do you... Do you want me to take this off?"
Victor looked up to Francesca. "Am I allowed to...?"
Francesca shrugged. "If you want to."
Victor gulped. With shaky hands, he quickly slipped off the white mask.
Baudouin's reaction was something unexpected. His eyes grew wide. His mouth dropped open and he started shaking his head. Questions that he demanded to be voiced only came out as confused growls, as if he'd forgotten that he couldn't speak anymore.
"Y-Your Majesty?" Francesca asked nervously. "What's wrong?"
When he didn't receive any answers, he abruptly brought his face closer to Victor. He started frantically sniffing him over. He knocked the boy to the the ground as he did so but didn't seem to notice. Victor started coughing hard from all the smoke that was suddenly surrounding him.
"Your Majesty! Calm down! Please stop!" Francesca cried as she attempted to pull the dragon off of Victor.
Baudouin slowly lifted himself off of Victor. His eyes were still wide and Francesca noticed that he was shaking. He was sniffing the air and his eyes shifted toward the door. He slowly brought his snout closer to the door until he was only a few feet from it. He took a deep inhale.
His maw twisted upward in a way that Francesca had never seen before. He let out one breathy laugh before he backed away from the door and started raking a claw against the floor.
Francesca and Victor clapped their hands over their ears to block out the painful din of Baudouin's claw carving into the wood. Francesca ran forward and tried pushing the prince's claw away from the floor.
"Your Majesty! Your father doesn't like it when you mess up the floor! Stop!" Instead of stopping, he started scratching in a different direction. "What are you do..."
Francesca's words faded from her mouth as she looked down. She saw that the prince wasn't merely scratching into the floor. He was carving a letter. There in the wood was an untidy S.
At that moment the door opened and Oswald strolled in. Victor hurriedly pulled his mask back onto his face.
"Benedict, I'm here to tell you that your shift is over-" The balding man took one look at the scene and dropped his scroll. "Your Highness! What on Earth are you doing? Stop that this instant!"
Baudouin, at first, looked like a child who was catch in an act he wasn't supposed to do. Then his determination to get his message across reignited. He looked back to his writing and started on a new letter.
Oswald ran forward, said a spell under his breath, and lifted his hand. Baudouin's paw lifted from the floor, the dragon let out a panicked cry and attempted to push it back down. The paw remained motionless, however.
"That's quite enough of that," Oswald huffed. He looked toward Francesca and Victor with a dismissive wave of his free hand. "You two can go now. I have this taken care of."
"Oswald," Francesca explained. "The prince is trying to tell us something."
"What could he possibly have to say? He's been in here his whole life; waited upon and ignorant."
Baudouin growled at Oswald. His eyes narrowed and he exposed his fangs. Oswald just rolled his eyes and lifted his other hand. Baudouin's other paw got lifted in the air, he struggled to keep his hind legs from slipping and colliding with any of the glass in the room.
"Now go," Oswald said sternly.
"That's an order, Benedict."
Francesca sighed in defeat and started walking toward the door. Baudouin started roaring and struggling harder against the spell cast by Oswald. Francesca ignored him and grabbed Victor's hand. Victor tugged against her grip in protest.
"But Frankie! Baudouin-"
"Orders are orders," Francesca said sadly.
Victor looked back at Baudouin as Francesca dragged him out. The dragon's green eyes were peering at him in despair. He looked so helpless as he dangled there like a marionette on strings. Victor let out a small gasp of surprise when he saw that Baudouin's eyes were getting watery. Baudouin let out one more desperate roar before the double doors were shut.
Francesca and Victor heard the most mournful sound that a dragon could possibly make.