“So, Stragosa is it, Professor?”
Narcisse raised his eyes to look across the table at Brandon, egg tumbling off his fork as he stopped it halfway to his mouth. Brandon had always been among his better students back when he still taught at the Parliamentary University of Port Melandir, always had a way of deducing the truth from but a whiff of evidence. He should have known the boy-, no he was a man now, would catch on eventually.
He gave one of his sheepish half-smiles.
“How did you guess?”
The rotund black haired man chortled with a self satisfied look, stirring his own breakfast like a witches cauldron.
“Nobody ‘winters in Stromburg’ for a month before packing their bags, especially with the snows coming in the next few days. We’re well north of Rogalia, so you had to have a reason to come here. But it’s just as much a crossroads as it is a destination, so you could well be on your way just about anywhere on the northwestern coast of Gotha. But what’s been the heart of the world’s curiosity for near half a decade and stands just over the mountains?”
“Stragosa,” he admitted, shaking his head with a wide smile and spearing his eggs again.
“And you’ve always been sentimental,” said Brandon, popping a grape into his mouth. “Thus inviting me to brunch with you.”
“I confess, I confess!” Narcisse laughed, holding up his hands. “I’m leaving for the miraculous frontier.”
“My ship arrives tomorrow morning and departs at midday.”
“Bah!” spat Brandon. “You never give me time to do anything.”
“Excusez-moi?” he asked, eyebrow raised as he brushed egg from his beard.
“Isn’t it obvious?” the student replied, as if it was. “We’re going to need to throw you a going-away party. I’m a wealthy man now, your tutelage saw to that. Run the books for nearly all Stromburg’s fabric exports to the northern Rogalian counts. Let me repay the favor, Professor; it won’t be any trouble.”
“I don’t know, I can’t miss the-”
“Put it out of your mind,” Brandon said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I’ll take care of everything. It will be just like old times when you visited us in the dormitories after final examinations! You’ve a lot of friends up here who would be heartbroken if they learned they didn’t see you while you were here.”
Narcisse smiled slowly, folding his napkin and brushing crumbs from his coat as he rose to his feet. He’d left the University in a hurry, and had missed many of the relationships he’d built there in the cold winter months since. It would do him well to see some old faces, blow off a little steam and enjoy one last night in a beautiful city he’d hardly had time to properly adore.
“Well…” he sighed “I certainly wouldn’t want to disappoint them, eh?”
“It’s of a merchant’s daughter brought up in Vigevano~!”
The faces of friends and strangers around the table upon which he stood grinned up at him, steins in their hands as his heel stomped out the beat. Whether he’d met them years ago, just tonight, or never before made no difference; they all knew the song’s reply.
“Hurrah~! Hestrali girls~! Doodle let me go~!”
His own stein sloshed beer onto the table as he raised it high, boots splashing the bitter puddle onto those closest in the press of bodies. He wondered idly why he’d had it filled just before leaping onto the table before deciding it hardly mattered and the remedy was as simple as drinking it.
“She brought me in the parlor and said ‘won’t you be me beau’~?”
“Hurrah~! Hestrali girls~! Doodle let me go~!”
He brought the glass to his lips and started chugging, hopping and jigging along the tabletop causing mugs and plates to scatter in his wake. All the while he drank, and all the while the crowd sang out the chorus.
“Doodle let me go, me girl~! Doodle let me go~! Hurrah~! Hestrali girls~! Doodle let me go~!”
His head swam with the warm buzz of the alcohol as he danced and sang. Verse after verse thundered by in a blur, and he tried his best not to tumble off into his audience.
Halfway through he lost his barrette and his jacket unbuttoned to the waist. As the final chorus rang out and the audience clapped and cheered, Narcisse slung the stein with all his might over their joyous heads. It shattered into a thousand sparkling crystals, and they cheered all the more.
“So you’re the Professor everyone’s talking about, hm?”
Narcisse pulled the wine glass from his lips and shook his head.
“Please, you were never one of my students. You have no need to call me that. Narcisse is fine.”
“But you are him, aren’t you?” The blonde had hope in her eyes and a smile tickling the corner of her mouth. He couldn’t help but smile back, he always was weak for the kindnesses of women.
“Oui, I am. Professor Narcisse, Master of the Seven Liberal Arts, poet, playwrite, and partisan,” he said with a sloppy, heavily intoxicated bow. “Though not necessarily in that order.”
“But you’re so…young! I always thought academic were stodgy old coots up in high towers.”
Narcisse chuckled, running a hand through his hair. He wondered for a moment where his hat made off to before promptly forgetting he ever had one.
“I, eh, had a very educational upbringing one might say? I did not have long to go when I made it to the University; it was more a matter of proving my knowledge and filling in the gaps than anything.”
“Well you certainly know how to throw a party,” she grinned, gesturing to the merrymaking all around them. His own grin widened too. Flattery would get her anywhere.
“My specialty is people. People in groups even more so. It only makes sense I would know how to put a smile on their face. With suchshortcuts as alcohol and song, it’s truly not so hard!”
“Well…” her eyelids fluttered. “Do you know what would put a smile on my face?”
“Tu n’es qu’un poulet mouillée!”
He wasn’t certain precisely when he’d reverted back to his mother tongue, but by now the toxins coursing through his veins burned enough that he hardly cared. Who knew if they understood him? They certainly weren’t making any effort to speak Cappacian.
He swung a right hook which Randel neatly dodged, smacking him upside the back of the head and knocking him off balance. He would have fallen flat on his face if he hadn’t instead collided with the wall of bodies that framed their makeshift boxing ring.
“Celui-ci était gratuit, mais vous n’en obtiendrez pas d’autre!”
“You’re in the Throne! Speak Gothic ya fucking frog!”
Rage boiled up in him the way it only ever did when he drank. No one insulted his country and lived to tell of it! He’d kill Randel right here in front if all these people, and he hardly even cared if they saw. He’d do it, and nobody could stop him.
He spun and lunged, arms outstretched as he roared his fury. Randel, the greasy haired man who he’d only met tonight, one of Brandon’s friends in the cotton trade, looked taken aback for but an instant.
As the fist connected with Narcisse’s jaw he remembered why he took up the pen instead of the sword.
Sunlight shone down on the poor poet, whose eyes pierced into him like shards of glass as the blinding Ray’s tore through the shades. A smokey haze filled the room, and groaning revelers made their way around piles of snoring drunks as they made their way about their business.
Hissing and holding his throbbing head, Narcisse crawled to one of the nearby tables that hadn’t toppled over, using the chair to climb to his feet. His shirt was gone, as was his hat and jacket. He had one boot on and had no idea where the other might be, but something told him he wouldn’t have time to find any if his belongings. Even his coin purse was missing, and it hardly helped that his head was ringing like a bell.
“Excusez-moi monsieur,” he begged, wincing at the sound on his own voice as he reached out and tugged on the cuff of a passing party goer.
“What is the hour, do you know perchance?”
“Eh, nearly noon I’d say. Sun is nearly at its peak.”
“Merci beaucoup, monsieur, truly,” he nodded, his head dropping into his hands. At least the whole day wouldn’t be wasted, and all told he still might have enough time to find the other boot before-