One Shred of Light: Part Nine
Caelum didn't see Magax for the next three days and was beginning to suspect that he had washed his hands of the situation completely with his gift. She wouldn't blame him; he had more than repaid her for what he had done by saving her from the Werelupes, but it upset her. She wanted to become his friend, to find that shred of light and nurture it so that it became more than a shred, and he became more than a monster.
She was pleasantly surprised to find him leaning on the fence when she turned around from collecting her buckets to go to the river. He had the same blank face on that he had the day he had saved her, the one without the malice in his eyes. It was a lack of expression inside him, a blank slate. Again, the desire to kindle a light in his eyes, a light of sympathy and kindness sprung up in her. She checked herself, knowing that if she pushed too hard, he might become angry, or just leave.
"Hello, Magax," she said. She smiled, a friendly smile, but a soft one.
He didn't smile back, but he did speak. "Good day, Caelum."
She wanted to cheer. He knew her name, and had called her by it. He had never done that before. She hoped it was a sign of progress. She smiled a little brighter, hoping it wouldn't upset him.
"I was about to go to the river. Are you doing anything today?" she asked.
"No, I just wanted to see if you were healing well," he said.
She flapped her wings, the injured one moving smoothly even though it was still bandaged. "Quite well. My wing should be in top condition in another few weeks, and all my other injuries are long forgotten. Thank you."
He nodded, and they lapsed into silence. She stood there a minute, waiting to see if he would say something, but he stayed silent.
"Would you like to join me on my walk to the river?" she asked.
"No," he said.
"Okay, well, have a good day. I hope I'll see you later," she said, opening the gate and stepping past him.
She walked down the hill and through the fields in the direction of the river. She looked back once and saw him still standing there watching her. She turned and walked on, to the river where she filled her buckets and then headed back. The going on the way back was slower, as the buckets were heavy and she had to walk carefully to avoid spilling them.
She expected to find Magax still waiting at the fence, she was so used to him just being wherever she saw him last, but he wasn't. She glanced all around, but he was nowhere to be seen. She felt a little disappointed, but she reminded herself that she had to take it as it came, baby steps. He had come to see her; he had been concerned about her. It was a start. She still had six weeks. There was time yet to accomplish what she hoped to accomplish.
"Where have you been, Magax?" Fiona whined as he flew into Castle Nox through a window. "I have been so lonely."
"Why are you here again, Fiona?" he asked, flopping down onto a sofa across from her. "It is day, and the middle of it; shouldn't you be sharing deep secrets with your dear friend the Battle Faerie?"
"Oh, gag me with Mortogs," Fiona spat.
"Not having so much fun as you were?" he asked.
"The novelty of it has worn off. She is so trusting, so easily won. For the wise one they claim her to be, she's rather the fool."
"No one said she was insightful, merely that she wasn't headstrong enough to fight to the death when the battle was clearly lost," Magax said.
"You didn't tell me where you were. I suppose the Master had you running some fun mission while I'm stuck with the boring one," Fiona said with a pout.
"No, Fiona. Sometimes I just go out and amuse myself. I do not sit around waiting for Nox's call. I am not a mindless drone," he said.
"Are you implying something?" Fiona demanded, her cheeks flushing violet.
"I was not, but if you felt there was an allegation against you in something that wasn't intended to be, you might want to evaluate yourself," Magax replied coolly.
"What a safe and cruel answer, and I don't believe you for a moment," Fiona said in sullen tone.
"And I really could not care less what you believe and don't," Magax replied with a resigned sigh. "Why don't you find something to amuse yourself with until you need to return to Faerieland. Sitting around here only serves to keep you bored, and I'm certainly not going to entertain you."
"Hhm, I suppose I could do that. I might go torment that little Neopet girl a bit. Perhaps destroy her house," Fiona mused.
"You'll do nothing of the sort. I've taken a renewed interest in her, and you won't meddle with her," Magax said, his face darkening.
"What, now you do think she is some kind of spy or trap?" she asked, surprised.
"I don't know, but you will not interfere with her. Am I understood?"
Fiona began to pout again. "Oh, Magax, you spoil my fun. What can I do now?"
"Go pull on the bell on Edna's dwelling and see if you can get away before she turns you into a Mortog. I hear the Neovian children who are stupid enough to venture out that far love that game," Magax suggested.
Fiona began to giggle. "You are cruel, friend. It is one of your best qualities."
"You're back. Here to see how my wing is healing again?"
Caelum smiled up at Magax from her position below him, kneeling in the dirt. He leaned on his elbows on the fence and simply nodded.
"I take the bandages off for the last time tomorrow. I won't be doing any flying for another week or two just to be on the safe side, I don't want to strain it and permanently damage it, but for all intents and purposes, it is recovered," Caelum told him.
"That is good to hear," he replied.
"Is it common to for Werelupes to prowl at that time of day? I was under the impression it wasn't, which is why I chose to travel the woods at that time," Caelum asked, hoping to make conversation he might be willing to engage in.
"No, it isn't. They serve a dark faerie who likes to cause mischief in that part of the woods. I've dealt with her; you won't have to worry about her or her Werelupes so long as you stay out of the Haunted Woods," Magax told her.
"That was hardly mischief," Caelum replied with a frown.
He shrugged. "All things are relative."
"I guess..." Caelum wasn't sure what else she could say to that. "If that is your idea of mischief, though, what is your idea of evil?"
Magax was silent for a minute and then answered, "I don't think you want to know."
Caelum nodded, looking back down at the ground. Another silence passed between them. After five minutes, Caelum looked up to see if he was still standing there; he was.
"You could come and sit on the bench," she said, waving a hand at the bench that stood right beneath the window where he had shattered the shutter.
He looked at it for a moment, noticing the missing shutter. Caelum instantly regretted the lapse; it had not been her intention to bring attention to the missing shutter. She turned away to hide the embarrassed flush that was showing in her ears, and hoped he wouldn't be upset.
"I'm fine here," Magax said after a long while.
"If you're sure," she said, not daring to make eye contact.
Again there was silence. Caelum just worked, pulling the weeds, spreading fertilizer, watering the plants that needed to be. When she finished, she stood up and looked over at where Magax had been. He was still there, watching.
"Do you have a garden, Magax?" she asked.
"No, that is handled by others," he said, and then remarked, "The plants are more colorful when they grow outside of the woods."
She glanced over her shoulder at the dismal greyness of the wood and everything visible in it.
"The woods certainly are a different environment," she commented. "They likely taste different, too. Would you like to come in and have some tea and sample some of the fruits and vegetables I have?"
Magax shook his head, suddenly looking wary. She had an epiphany, Magax disliked the idea of going inside her house. He had only come in the one time, to deposit her there after he rescued her, but he had been in and out as fast as he could.
"Would you like to have a cup of tea and snack out here? It really is too nice a day to sit indoors," Caelum offered.
The wariness left his face and she could tell he was considering it.
"You don't even have to come inside the fence. You can stay right there."
He gave in with a sigh, one that said he was simply worn down from her insistence, not that he actually wanted to have tea with her. Still, it was a start. She smiled at him and walked into the house, leaving the door wide open so he could see her while she worked.
She brewed the tea while she cut the produce and placed them on top of crackers spread with a soft cheese. She put two cups on a tray, the snacks, and the pot of tea and carried it outside. He was still there, looking resigned to the situation. She set the tray on a table that stood in the corner of the yard. She poured him a cup and handed it to him. He accepted it and moved a little further down the fence towards where she had set up the tray. She offered him a cracker and he took it, but he only held it and the cup, tasting neither.
"Magax, what kind of life have you led?" she asked.
"What do you mean by that?" he demanded, looking suspicious again.
She poured herself a cup of tea and took a sip before she answered, "I've never met anyone who is so suspicious to the point of paranoia. You accused me of being here with ulterior motives once before, and you won't even set foot inside the fence if you can help it. You were able to watch me prepare the food, and yet you won't taste it like you suspect it is poisoned. It isn't," she picked up a cracker and took a bite of it to help illustrate her point. "If you don't trust me, you can pick my next cracker to prove that I'm not afraid to eat anything on the plate. I'm drinking the tea. I really mean you no harm."
Magax glanced down at the cup and cracker he was holding, the suspicion fading from his eyes again. It was replaced by embarrassment. She smiled encouragingly at him, and he frowned in return, but he raised the cup to his lips and took a sip.
"Are you dead yet?" she asked with a laugh in her voice.
To her surprise, he laughed too.
"I suppose I was being uptight. It wasn't so much being suspicious of your food as simply not being accustomed to something like this."
"You can come in and sit down; I have two chairs," she offered.
"Why do you have two chairs when you are living alone?" he asked.
"You are so suspicious!" she laughed. "I have two chairs because I may live alone, but I hoped I would not always be alone. I have three inside the house. I didn't know if anyone lived out this way, but I hoped I would not be completely alone. They are for the guests I hoped to have. Guests like you."
Magax leaned on the fence and ate the cracker, showing no signs of considering coming in.
"All right then, baby steps," she said.
"What?" he asked.
"Baby steps. We'll work up to the chair. We're having tea today. Maybe one day we'll get you to come inside the fence, and then we'll move up to the chair. Sound good?" she said it in the same humorous tone she had used for asking about the tea.
Magax laughed again. "Don't push your luck, girl."
"You have a nice laugh," Caelum said, and she meant it.
He shook his head. "No, I don't. I have a cold laugh, like everything else about me."
She offered him another cracker and he took it and ate it. She smiled softly at him.
"You may say that, but you might be too harsh a judge. I won't pretend to know you, but you're not cold right now. You're more alive and expressive than I've seen you before."
He shrugged, looking blank, like he wasn't ready to believe her, but didn't think she was flattering him with blatant lies.
"This is nice, Magax," she said. "I know you don't seem to be the most sociable person, but I am lonely. I enjoy the company."
Magax simply shrugged. "This isn't intolerable."
"So, you might come by on occasion?" she asked hopefully.
He shrugged again. "We'll see. I can't say."
"Well, that's better than a no. Thank you."
To be continued...