“Please find him, Fletcher. Oh please, please find him.”
While there were many things he could have done, Fletcher know he could not disobey the Baroness. For more reason than one. Perhaps more important than the fact she had commanded it (asked it, pleaded it) was the knowledge that her son was likely at the orphanage.
There were many children to save. Fletcher rushed there with no hesitation. And while he helped them evacuate, he learnt something terrible.
He was not there. Neither were Winter and Summer. Dahlia. The boy Golden. A few other children. They had gone further toward the shore to play.
The day caught on fire.
There was no warning. The people went through their motions. Nemissa prepared her report to be sent to the marquis, comforted in the knowledge she had successfully protected her position. She may have married the Baron, but she would not be removed. Maybe not even for her son. He would do well in the future.
What a future it was. Tumelo came to her, not even excusing Fletcher from where he sat in the corner proofreading for her.
“My lady, there are unknown ships in the distance.”
Curious, Nemissa grabbed her scope and advanced on the window. Putting it up to an eye, she tried to spot them.
Instead, she heard Tumelo gasp at the same moment a loud explosion occurred. Pulling it away, she looked down upon the town of Castlehaven.
Where is my son? came her first thought.
But she encompassed that concern in the larger picture. “Hurry! We must defend!”
If only she could.
He was almost disappointed to know that Fletcher wasn’t going to show him anything with his rainbow coloured magic. He tried his best not to show it.
“If you enjoy this lesson, you should ask your friend to join you again.” Fletcher said, right before they started.
The Baroness’ son cocked his head to the side. “Which one?”
“The surly older boy.”
“Golden?” He was never certain what to say about the boy called Golden. Though, despite saying he didn’t want to do anything with anyone, Golden did spend a great deal of time trailing along after them anyway. So he nodded. “Sure! You think he’d like this?”
Fletcher’s lips twitched upwards. “I have a funny feeling. But I will let you be the judge of that.”
Then Fletcher took the cover off of the solar system and he was utterly distracted from the thought of anything else.
Golden shouldn’t have felt so interested, but there it was. “What is all of this?”
Fletcher didn’t stop what he was doing, arranging the instruments on the table. “I teach the young baron in his spare time. While I can’t teach him magic, which is my specialty, I can still show him the things I have seen from all of my travels.”
Golden sat on the other side of the table. He should have left, really. Well, that was only how he felt about it. What about that one? he wanted to ask, but the fact he had already asked a question stuck on his tongue. He felt more like scoffing and walking out. He struggled against it.
“Once this is put together, it will show an outside representation of the sky.”
“What?” The question left him before he could think about it. Golden continued to not think about it. “None of that looks like the sky.”
“And it won’t, from what we see down here. It took me long enough to come up with a physical representation…” Golden wasn’t sure what he was talking about now, but eventually Fletcher got back on track. “Would you like to stay and watch?”
Then the Baroness’ son would know. Golden got up and left the room. If Fletcher said anything after him, he didn’t listen.
There were times she could put everything else aside. Castlehaven, her son, Fletcher… everything. Those times were few and far between, but they did exist. Sometimes Nemissa needed a minute to herself.
And it would be only a minute. A single minute to take in a breath, one that didn’t submit itself to another person, another concept, another anything. In that minute, she would miss things. She would miss submitting herself to those other things. How much Castlehaven had become a part of her since she had been sent here! How much her son meant to her, how she could not imagine life without him! How Fletcher somehow had become a part of both of those things.
A minute was more than enough time away from those three things.
The knock on her door came at exactly the time she expected it. “…my lady?”
She took in another breath of the sea air. “You know you don’t have to call me that. Come in.”
It came to be that his favourite part of the day was going down to the orphanage. Or when some of the kids came up to see him. It made him feel a little bad, because his favourite part of the day used to be the time he spent with Fletcher. And he used to feel guilty when that had superseded how much he liked spending time with his mother.
Unlike with his mother though, he could tell Fletcher this without feeling too bad about being honest.
Fletcher laughed. “Don’t feel bad about that. It is good that you have found other children your age to spend time with.”
“But that means I’m spending less time with you.”
“I still see you every day.” Fletcher spread out an arm, gesturing at the map covering the table. “We still discuss. You still learn. One must balance what they do. You still do enjoy our time together?”
“Then what is the problem?” He laughed again. “Though next time you invite them to one of our lessons, let me know beforehand. Preparing for more than just you requires a bit more thought on my part.”
In that moment, he couldn’t be more content with life. “Okay, Fletcher. Thank you.”
He went to go see Winter.
She couldn’t help it. She reached out an poked him.
At first, he might not have noticed. Then Dahlia was extremely aware of how much he had noticed. He looked down on her, the tall and sturdy form he had, despite having no blood rushing through his veins. He had been cold.
And she had poked him. Dahlia’s blood decided to decorate the insides of her cheeks.
“Did you need something?” he asked. Kindly, maybe.
Dahlia’s mouth worked around air. Then she nodded.
“Don’t be shy.”
He probably didn’t mean that like she acted he did. Even she knew that. But she reached out and poked the undead man once more.
He waited for Fletcher as he always did, with rapt anticipation. There was something about the undead man which resonated with him. His mother often teased that he enjoyed Fletcher’s company more than hers. It always flustered him.
Fletcher entered the room with a question. “Left or right pocket?”
He hesitated, but tried to forge on ahead, as Fletcher obviously wanted him to do. “L-left?”
Fletcher smiled. “Good. I was hoping you’d say left, young master. Shall we work on your mother’s birthday present?”
A wide grin broke out across his face. If only his mother knew how much of his and Fletcher’s time was spent figuring out ways to give her something.
Apparently, Fletcher hadn’t always lived in Castlehaven. He couldn’t imagine that, because he felt as though Fletcher had been here forever. Perhaps there were moments he remembered of his infancy where Fletcher was not, but the Baron’s heir had assumed that was because it was hard to remember being that young.
“Where did you live?” he asked the undead man one day. They were looking over maps, Fletcher teaching him about different places. Sometimes his mother sat in when they talked about this. Apparently she used to live somewhere else too.
Fletcher smiled. “Many different places. I can’t say settling down ever occurred to me until arriving here.” His finger trailed across the map. It might have seemed random, but he could tell Fletcher was being deliberate. The path he had taken to Castlehaven.
He stopped Fletcher’s finger on a particular spot. His finger was cool, not cold, but not warm, not like his mother. He didn’t mind. That was simply how Fletcher was. “Tell me about here!”
Fletcher began to speak. With the colours of his magic, the heir of Castlehaven could see a place half a world away.
For someone whose body should have been considered deceased, Nemissa couldn’t decide what was dead about it. Perhaps it was odd, the lack of a heartbeat. Fletcher took her hand and placed it against his chest, allowing her to decide how she felt about it.
What she felt was his ribcage. Then again, there were plenty of people, well alive, who looked more skeletal than Fletcher felt. Or maybe those people had been undead too and Nemissa simply couldn’t tell the difference.
He wasn’t cold. From the magic, it seemed.
“Did you ever have a heartbeat?” she asked him.
Fletcher shook his head. “The spectrum of my kind is wide. For some, becoming undead is a process where they lose the aspects people consider as their humanity. For others, they simply are like this.”
Nemissa pulled her hand back, reaching for his instead and placing it against her chest. “Then feeling one must be very strange to you.”
Fletcher looked thoughtful, staring at his hand’s placement. The thoughtfulness dissolved into something else as he turned his gaze to her eyes instead. “Perhaps, but it is a very comforting type of strange.”
He pulled his hand away then, but some of Nemissa’s composure had already vanished. She turned her head away for a moment, feeling the warmth in her cheeks which didn’t show well through her dark skin. Then she faced him again with a smile.
Fletcher smiled back.