Henry and the Malcontents (formerly untitled), Chapter 3
*Well, I must say that this has not been my favorite chapter, either to write or as a finished result. I tried out several ideas before I settled on one (that’s the best excuse I have for the month-long delay. Sorry!). I’m still not absolutely, entirely, unequivocally satisfied, but I can edit it later. This idea actually came to me as I was wandering through my house, hot and tired and desperate, in search of a missing vacuum cleaner. Note that I’ve changed the title, at least temporarily, to “Henry and the Malcontents.” It’s…well, it’s rather reminiscent of children’s literature and obscure rock bands, but it’s the best I can do for now. Criticism is most welcome, as always.*
Henry spent many sleepless nights dreading the encounter with Wintra. Now that his mind was clear and he had had time to ponder the question, he knew that he could and would not become involved with revolution. The idea of risking all in a fight for liberty might have appealed to him when he was a young man, but he was now too old, too tired, too—safe, to even consider it. Thus he argued to himself, subduing his doubts, and thus he planned to argue to Zael, when he would next speak.
But Zael did not speak. He seemed to have forgotten that strange interview in his teacher’s office, for he made no allusion to it or to revolution again. After two weeks had passed and he had still not spoken, Henry decided that the incident must have been nothing but a childish, elaborate hoax. His prevalent emotion was relief, but he found, to his surprise, that it was not unmixed with something like regret.
It was 6:37 on a Friday evening, and Henry was waiting for the Krajan Grand National to arrive.
The train station was gray and shiny and windowless, faintly illuminated by the long lamps that lined its high ceiling. It was an immense and mysterious place, with towering columns and high-reaching walls, but its grandeur went unheeded by its inhabitants. Somehow, the people in the building were such a multitude that they seemed to diminish it by comparison.
Henry looked like an insignificant speck in the great crowd, but felt oddly comfortable. He had ridden 7:00 train home every day for over twenty years, and thought the station familiar, if somewhat cold and lofty. And gray, he thought. It was very gray.
Even the people in the station looked gray. Nervous men with dark suits and briefcases were standing in a tense little throng, ceaselessly clicking away at their hand-held communication devices. A pair of young women in hueless school uniforms exchanged confidences, their enthusiasm and voices too high to be real. A female centaur with a tight blonde bun and a tight fretful face held the hand of a restless child. The foal—it was a male of about six years, with a blunt brown coat and untidy hair—fidgeted and squirmed to get away from his tired mother. "Stop it!" she hissed, goaded to desperation, and tightened her grip until the boy squealed with pain. And only a few paces away, a tall young boy leaned against a column, his head tilted towards the exalted ceiling as he sang something under his breath. His uplifted eyes were a vague, shadowy green under the thick mass of his orange hair.
Orange. Not half-heartedly reddish, but bright coppery orange, like the color of a newly minted coin. The strange boy glanced at Henry without moving and smiled, and his bright hair and his serenity contrasted starkly with the tired gray crowd.
“Not as grand as the elf-palaces and cathedrals of old, is it, Instructor Limminer?” asked the boy, speaking as if Henry had just made an observation about the building. “Still, it’s rather impressive in its own way.”
Startled, Henry glanced at the stranger inquiringly.
Seeming surprised, the boy turned his face towards him. “Oh, don’t you remember? You said the elves were the greatest architects Kraja has ever had, and that nothing we can do with our fancy machinery can ever touch them.”
Henry thought rapidly, mentally searching through the ranks of former students. “Oh, it’s you!” he cried. The boy nodded happily. “Yes, I suppose it’s me,” he said, laughing.
Henry laughed too, inexplicably delighted. He could remember almost nothing concrete about the red-headed boy, but felt certain that he had taught and liked him. He picked up the thread of conversation. “Well, the elves were great architects. With all of our knowledge and technology, we’ve never approached their accomplishments.” Wallis, Henry thought. The boy’s name was Wallis, and he must have taken the history class only a little while ago—he could not be more than seventeen or eighteen years old. Now, what was his first name?
“You always had a soft spot for the elves, Instructor. Have you ever seen one?”
“Oh, maybe. A few, a very few. They don’t walk among us mortals anymore, you know, they live in special little communities of their own.”
“Ah yes, unfortunately. I’d love to meet an elf.” He sighed, half-seriously. “Well, maybe after the revolution.”
“Yes, maybe. By the way, how long have you…” Henry’s voice trailed off as he realized what Wallis had just said.
“Oh, of course we can’t expect to change everything all at once. But surely the elves will come out of hiding when…” Wallis’ voice trailed off as he realized what Henry had just said.
“Oh, but Wintra told me that you’d…”
“You know Wintra?” Henry whispered, sharply.
“Yes, we’re part of the same team…”
“The same team? You’re a revolutionary?”
Wallis, confused but still smiling, nodded.
“Yes, I’m a revolutionary.” He waited for an answer, but received none. “I’m a revolutionary,” he repeated. “Just like you.”
“Oh, I see.” murmured Henry, shakily. Of course he didn't see, but that didn't seem to matter very much, anymore.