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Of Braids and Boredom

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He was gorgeous. How he could be described in any other way is preposterous. He had skin the color of tanned leather and eyes reminiscent of a dense forest. His armor glinted in the sunlight as he stood in a triumphant pose and gazed upon his love.

His “damsel in distress” (who was anything but a damsel) was paler than paper. The sunlight caught on her fair skin and nearly blinded the wandering knight.

The reason the knight took notice of the damsel was not because of her beacon-esque skin, though. The damsel was singing, quite loudly, out of the window of her tower. Her high-pitched notes echoed off the rocks and trees surrounding the clearing and her sighs carried even farther.

The knight was enamored the moment his ears caught a sigh of the lilting voice resonating from the tower. However, he was screwed once his eyes locked with hers. She immediately stopped her song, backed away from the window and slammed the shutters.

The knight did not know what to do with this reaction. Usually, the damsels he encountered greeted him with pretty smiles and limp-wristed waves. This one shunned him without a second glance.

Well. The knight was nothing if not persistent.

He rode his horse to the tower and slowly circled around it, searching for some sort of entryway. When he found nothing but sparse ivy vines and stones without chinks, he decided to go with the more direct method.

He rode his horse to the front of the tower once more and looked up. Being slightly scared of heights and knowing exactly what he’d have to do in order to reach the damsel made the gaze up more nerve wracking. “Um…hello?” he called up to the lonely singer. He waited a moment but received no response. He tried once more, slightly louder, “Hello!”

He heard the shutters open tentatively. “Yea hi…why are you here?” the voice called down. The knight was taken aback. Despite the initial reaction of the damsel, he still wasn’t expecting an indignant response.

“I’m here to rescue you of course!” he called up. He was still a chivalrous knight, regardless of the treatment he received.

“…Prove it,” called the damsel. This time, she called not with sass, but with reluctance. The knight was about to ask how, but he saw hands and a basket reach out the window. “Put your weapons in the basket and then you can climb up,” called the damsel once more before lowering down the basket.

The knight was confused, but didn't think for a moment that a damsel, regardless of her sass level, could hurt him, armed or unarmed. He relinquished his small dagger and long sword and watched as they got pulled up to the window and removed from the basket.

The knight was rewarded with a long braid of hair being thrown down to him. It landed with a thud at his feet. For a moment he simply stared at it before it started being pulled up and he quickly grabbed on. He barely had to do any work but hang on as he was hoisted off the ground and into the air.

He kept his gaze pointed up or on the tower next to him as the ground below him grew farther and farther away. His stomach began to turn as he came closer to the window, however. This maiden was indignant and willful. Would she respond to his gesture in kind or would she shun him again?

All these questions vanished from his tongue once he climbed over the wide windowsill and came face to face with his damsel. She was…beautiful.

And she was wielding the knight’s dagger. He knew sending his weapons up would bite him in the ass. “Fair maiden, I don’t think there’s cause to be so…why are you laughing?” The damsel was giggling under her breath, fighting a smile.

She opened her mouth and a somewhat funny, somewhat terrifying answer came out. “You honestly think…” She paused to laugh. “…you honestly think I’m a girl?” At this she let out a laugh so boisterous it put the knight into a state of mild distress.

“So, you’re not a princess in need of saving?…” the knight inquired.

“Hell no! I was put up in this tower for the safety of those around me not because of some evil witch or whatever. And I am a guy. A Lord, to be exact. I’m guessing you're a knight judging by your armor?” He gestured up and down the knight’s body with the small dagger.

The knight nodded. “Indeed I am. And if you don't need saving then why were you singing so forlornly? And why is your hair long enough to fashion into a rope?”

“Oh, the hair is just a way for me to get in and out of this place. Took me ages to grow it out, too. I’ve been meaning to cut it off and now I finally have the means to do it. So, thanks knighty!” At that, he raised the dagger to the nape of his neck and began to cut at his ungodly massive braid of hair.

The knight could only stare in wonder at this strange lord as he sawed off his wild mane.” So…what about the singing?”

The lord looked up from the ground, where he was staring in concentration. “I just sing to pass the time. It does get pretty boring being locked in a tower all day and night.”

“But your voice…is that of a maiden…” the knight responded hesitantly.

“Yea well there are some lords with maiden’s bodies, dude. Get used to it,” he responded curtly, pushing his voice to be slightly deeper.

The knight knew not to ask any more personal questions…but he couldn’t help himself. “Why were you banished?” The lord sighed.

“I was banished because I,” he sarcastically mimed air quotes, “endangered the life of the prince by performing dark magic.”

Well, now the knight was getting more concerned. First, the beautiful maiden turns out to be unkind. And then a lord. And is a dark sorcerer. And he has no weapons. Great.

The lord saw his growing anxiety about the situation and sighed. “Calm down. I'm not going to hurt you, ok? I just wanted some company is all,” he trailed off at the end, seemingly embarrassed. “Make yourself at home. Take a seat or something…I’ll put some tea on.” With a satisfying thump, the lord’s hair fell to the ground, leaving him with a very short, very choppy pixie cut.

He walked over to his small fireplace and hung a rusted iron pot above it. He gestured to a chair for the knight and, reluctantly, the knight sat. The lord placed the dagger on a small table, instead picking up a small, stringed instrument resembling a guitar and began strumming it rhythmically. He padded around his small room to the rhythm he played, humming to himself quietly.

The knight smiled despite his heightened fear and watched as the setting sunlight streamed through the huge windows in the lord’s tower and caught on his frayed hair. He looks pretty when he smiles, the knight thought.

“Thank you, knighty, I’m flattered,” the lord sung-talked at him. The knight blushed, unaware his brain-to-mouth barrier had betrayed him. “You must be hot. Take off some of your armor, why don't you?”

The knight stiffened, not wanting to be so vulnerable around this very suspect person he had only just met. But, something in his gut told him he could trust this strange sorcerer. He slowly removed his chest plate and begin to unfasten the rest of his garb.

“That must feel nicer. Now take a damn load off while the water boils,” the lord sung-talked at him again. He continued his strange almost dance around his room, all the while humming to himself. His movements became more dramatic as he floated his way around the knight, humming all the while. His movements were reminiscent of ballet, graceful yet pointed.

As he danced in and out of the sunbeams, the knight had time to take everything in. He was in a large room with absolutely huge windows to his left, taking up an entire wall. They were open at that moment and the knight thought the open wall resembled a ledge rather than a windowsill. The sorcerer’s braid was fastened to a hook hanging in the window, keeping it from falling out.

Directly across from him was a fireplace. The pot hung over a modest fire that seemed to burn more red than orange. He chocked that one up to magic. There was a bed to his right, across from the window-wall. Another, more normal sized window was above the bed. There were small tables around the bed and fireplace, all with strange magical items on and under them.

The most interesting and peculiar sight in this room, however, was the sorcerer himself. He was donned in dark green and purple clothing, indicative of his formal royal status. All he had on were tights and a beautifully embroidered shirt that was long enough to reach his thighs. Gold thread weaved its way through the entire garment, painting stories too small and too intricate for human eyes to appreciate. The sleeves of the shirt tapered down to a small loop of fabric hooked on each of the knight’s middle fingers.

This garment moved as if it were part of the sorcerer. He seemed to float just above the stones of the floor as he hummed his way around the room. The knight swore the sunlight was bending to meet the sorcerer’s will, looking like sparkles in the air surrounding his pale skin. The knight thought the sorcerer was beautiful in the way the night sky was; absolutely breathtaking to look at, but impossible to understand.

The knight was totally screwed.

“So…do you have a name?” inquired the knight tentatively.

The lord kept moving, but huffed a laugh. “What kind of question is that?”

“A simple one.”

The lord stopped his dance, sunlight returning to its normal beams, electing to look straight at the knight. “I knew you had some balls on you, knighty. But, if you want my name you have to give yours first.” At this, the lord walked over to the boiling water and hummed a sweeter tune directed at the fire. The flames grew in size and enveloped the pot until the water inside was in a lovely rolling boil. When his humming ceased, so did the flames. He placed his instrument on the table next to the dagger and began looking for suitable cups to drink from.

“I am Roman, the chivalrous; leader of the Royal Guard.” He straightened his back at this, muscle memory assisting his posture.

“Cute name Roman. And I am Virgil.” He turned around to bow deeply and theatrically, but straightened up with a smile. “Former high sorcerer to the great King Doucheka!” he proclaimed mightily with a heaping spoonful of sarcasm.

“I think he prefers to be called Dofka…” Roman said, stifling a smile.

“Oh I’m very well aware of all his preferences. It’s his preferences that got me thrown into a tower in the middle of a nondescript forest,” he muttered, a large heaping of bitterness laced in his words. Virgil turned away from Roman once more, locating and picking up two teacups and a jar from underneath one of the small tables. He placed them on the table and got on his knees in front of them.

The sorcerer began humming a different tune, this one broader and slower than the first tune he sang. He retrieved dried mint leaves from the jar and proceeded to crush them into the two teacups while he hummed.

Entranced by the sorcerer’s tea methods, Roman failed to notice the pot of boiling water slowly but surely working its way up from the fire and towards the teacups. By the time Virgil had added sugar and cinnamon to the teacups, the pot of water was floating patiently next to the table. Virgil dipped a hand into the pot, at first alarming the knight. He calmed slightly when he realized the sorcerer was in no pain whatsoever and had simply removed a perfect sphere of water.

Pointing out that impossibility seemed idiotic to him at this point. He watched as the sorcerer dropped that ball of water into a teacup, doing the same to the next cup and patiently continued his song until the iron pot was back hung up over the fire. The balls of water seemed to melt into the cups, taking on their natural physics once more.

Virgil picked up the two cups with upturned hands and turned back to Roman with a smile. “Tea?”

Who would the knight be if he refused? He accepted the tea with a nod, but couldn’t muster any words. He felt none could capture what he was truly thinking and feeling about the mysterious sorcerer. Instead he settled on, “The tea is lovely.”

Virgil, now sitting cross-legged on the ground, turned towards the window with a poorly concealed smirk. “Thank you, knight. It took a while to perfect this recipe. But, time heals all tea debacles…” Roman did not think that was the quote, but so be it.

“May I ask one more question of you?” Roman inquired politely after taking a sip.

“I suppose I'm feeling generous,” Virgil replied, letting go of his teacup midair and letting it float right where he left it.

“Why were you banished to this tower?”

Virgil seemed to freeze. His small smirk remained cemented on his face but his eyes were harder now, a coldness taking over the warmth that was there moments before. His teacup stopped its gentle up and down floating motion before slowly lowering to the ground. Roman now believed he was truly screwed.

But, Virgil unfroze. He picked up his teacup and returned it to midair and shook his head with a mirthless laugh. “That is a story for another day, Roman.” He turned his gaze towards the windows and popped up from his seated position. “And I think it’s time for you to go. If I am correct, your guard will come looking for you soon and you cannot be seen up here.”

“How do you know th-”

“And if you really feel the need to look for clues about me, look for anything with this symbol on it.” He picked up one of the arm plates from Roman’s armor and scratched a sigil on the inside of it with the dagger. It was a sun, with all its beams, with rings around it like a planet.

The sorcerer hummed a quick, precise tune as he pulled the knight up from his seat and plucked the teacup from his hands. At the sound of Virgil’s voice, the knight’s armor fixed itself back onto his body.

“I thought you were going to keep me here,” Roman said, hiding his disappointment at having to leave.

“No…you were never being kept. I just wanted tea with someone other than myself,” he half-heartedly laughed and rubbed his newly exposed neck. “If you really want to know why I was banished, come visit me again with new tea leaves. And bread,” his smirk returned with its old warmth.

Roman nodded and stood up straight. He scolded himself for allowing his joy to slip out in the form of an eager bounce on the balls of his feet and a small smile, but he was forgiving. “Now how do I leave?”

“The same way you came in knighty…sorry,” Virgil replied with a shrug. He pulled the massive braid up until its end was inside the room. “Hook a foot on there and I’ll lower you down. Your sword will be waiting for you at the bottom, but your dagger is mine.” His smirk turned into a shit-eating grin. Roman nodded and hooked a foot into the braid.

He sat on the ledge and looked back to the sorcerer the last time for a long time. Virgil gave one last magic laced smile before the knight pushed himself over the edge, immediately being caught by the braid. He was slowly lowered down to the soft grass below him. It took longer than he remembered it taking going up. Once safely on the ground, he looked up to the tower, waiting for the basket to be lowered. It took a bit more time than he would’ve liked, but the basket did come.

When it reached him, he saw it contained more than just his sword. A small covered jar with a note tied around it was also included. As soon as he took it out, the basket was hoisted back up. He watched it become smaller and smaller until being pulled over the edge. The knight watched for Virgil to return one last time, for a goodbye or another indignant comment, but he never did.

He turned his attention back to the jar. Roman removed the note. In messy handwriting it read: use in case of injury- be safe. Virgil had drawn his symbol below it. As a knight, any kind of salve or charm would come in handy. He silently thanked his strange new friend and mounted his horse. He rode back into the forest just as his guard met him.