Only Stone on the Outside
a Slayers fanfic
I do not own this terrific series; I just wish I did. Please let me know if you'd like to print or archive my story, though, because it's a real boost to the ol' faltering ego. There are a few minor spoilers, but nothing really descriptive. PG for minor swearing.
Many thanks to my friend Shell Presto, a wonderfully talented writer/artiste (check out her A/Z story One Third Human) for her invaluable editing commentary. Thanks also to Marie, for being my faithful sounding board and offering ingenious solutions to convoluted plot problems.
Chapter Four: Music of the Heart
Zelgadis was enjoying himself immensely. It had been so long since he'd heard any proper music. He had discovered long ago that his pointed ears, with their more-sensitive hearing, let him focus on subtle nuances if he so chose.
The minstrel played several more bouncy, toe-tapping pieces, his fingers clever on the strings. The atmosphere in the room was one of almost visible gaiety, as the crowd nodded and swayed and clapped along with him.
Next came a couple of long, magnificent ballads, of the sort designed to give heart to weary soldiers. We could have used him during some of the bad times. Zelgadis' mind flashed on several of the bleakest moments of the last few years, but the music pulled him away from the memories, as he lost himself instead in the intricacies of the chording. His fingers itched to take up a similar instrument.
The minutes flew by on wings. Zelgadis was surprised when a short intermission was announced. We can't have been here that long. But it seemed they had. He and Amelia backed up to the wall to allow people to walk in front of them as the room became brighter. He noticed that the crowd was much thicker than when they'd arrived. Automatically, he planned several escape routes, just in case.
Just before the second half of the evening began, a woman holding a sleeping baby of about a year old took up a position beside him. He frowned, hoping it wouldn't wake up and start fussing during the music.
The minstrel started off with a clever question-and-answer song, which had the audience laughing hysterically at times as they tried to keep up with their half of it. Even Amelia joined in. He almost asked her to stop, but she seemed to be having such a good time that he just sighed, realized that choosing to remain silent probably attracted more attention. He could have joined in, he supposed, but by now the instinct to remain inconspicuous was too strong. Besides, it wasn't... dignified to act so silly in public.
Next, there was a jaunty homage tune, about what a wonderful kingdom Seyrune was to live in, describing the royal family (Zelgadis twitched as Amelia's name was mentioned), and several of the more well-known eccentrics of the city, poking gentle fun at them. Zelgadis noticed that for every sassy remark, the musician tactfully (or prudently) added one of praise.
Then the tenor of the music shifted, as the minstrel began to sing a melting love song. His fingers rippled over the strings like water. The young man caroled in a warm, rich baritone much like Zelgadis' own, a perfect accompaniment to his song.
After a few moments, Zelgadis caught the expression on Amelia's face. Like most of the women in the audience, she was dewy-eyed, looking like she was half in love with the young musician. Zelgadis was surprised to feel a twinge of regret, as he remembered how she'd looked at him that way a few times in the past. He wondered who she was thinking about now.
I wonder if Mister Zelgadis would ever sing like that for me? Amelia sighed dreamily, imagining a romantic scene with Zelgadis serenading her, wearing a lovely pale-blue tuxedo. Without realizing it, she leaned sideways against him again.
The chimera looked down at her. Amelia wasn't looking up at him, or watching the man on the stage, either. Suddenly discontent, he thought, She must be thinking about some guy she likes. He would have edged away, except for the woman with the baby on his other side.
The minstrel began another love song. A pretty tune, to be sure, but Zelgadis was distracted by the feel of the girl leaning against him. He could have just asked Amelia to move, but she looked so content that he simply sighed, and resigned himself to patience.
He refocused his attention on the music. Some of the songs had familiar rhythms; he wondered who had composed them. They sounded similar to songs he'd played in his youth-back when he'd once considered the life of a minstrel-something even a short, skinny youth (as he had been) could do well. Of course, that was before...
He was brought out of his reverie when Amelia took hold of his arm. She hooked her nearer arm through his, with that hand up near his shoulder. Her other hand was on his forearm. He was too startled to say anything for several moments, looking down at her with wide eyes. She'd put her hooded head against his shoulder, so he couldn't see her face. What is she doing?
Amelia had gotten so caught up in the beautiful melody that she forgot herself. Instinctively, she'd embraced him, wanting to be close to him. She had touched him often enough in the past not to be startled by the way he felt -an odd sensation, flexible stone, covered in heavy cotton. Unusual, and uniquely Zelgadis. She had to be careful not to bruise herself on him, that was all. She found herself wondering what his stone skin felt like-he'd always kept himself well-covered-whether out of modesty or shame, she wasn't sure.
After several moments, Zelgadis whispered, "Amelia-what are you doing?" He moved his arm a little.
The young princess snapped out of her dreamy state. "Oh-sorry." She released him, blushing sheepishly. Hoping she hadn't embarrassed him, she tried to look up into his face, but all she could make out was a faint shimmer where his eyes were. Her shoulders drooped, and she faced the stage again.
Zelgadis was a little annoyed. Hanging on my arm in public like that, he thought in disapproval. Still... he softened as she looked up at him, an earnest, apologetic expression on her face. He smiled to himself as she turned back to watch the musician. So she hadn't lost all of her puppyish charm, and was still apt to do things without thinking. Somehow her little demonstration of affection put him back in a good mood.
I can't believe I did that. I probably embarrassed him horribly. I wonder if he'll ever forgive me? Amelia was so upset she barely heard the next song.
Finally, the evening drew to a close. The minstrel began a slower tune, a sort of lullaby, putting everyone in a peaceful mood. Both Amelia and Zelgadis were caught up in the soothing ambiance. With a final chord, the minstrel stood up from his stool, and bowed toward the audience. He received a lengthy ovation. Amelia clapped enthusiastically, and even Zelgadis unbent enough to applaud, for a job well done.
The lamps slowly brightened. A wonderful evening, Amelia thought. She began to walk toward the entrance with the rest of the crowd, assuming Zelgadis was right behind her.
Suddenly the infant next to Zelgadis, who had been awakened by all the noise, made a grab for the chimera's facemask. Instinctively, he pulled back, his action having two effects, both bad: one, that of flipping his hood off his head, leaving him fully exposed to sight, and two, that of cracking his head against the marble wall behind him, leaving him dazed for several moments.
In the next instant, a piercing scream from the young mother cut through the sleepy chatter of the crowd. Those nearest the woman also let out yells of alarm as they spotted an unmasked Zelgadis.
Amelia wheeled around. She spotted what had happened and began to run back to stand at his side. Unfortunately, she stepped on the hem of her cloak, and tripped, turning her ankle painfully under her. She let out a cry of pain as she landed with a thud.
"Amelia?" Zelgadis reacted to that familiar voice, though the room was fuzzy around the edges. "Where are you?" In his haze, his first thought was that someone had attacked her.
He couldn't see her. He growled, "Get out of my way!" at the nearest gawkers, and cast "Flare Arrow!" straight up to enforce his order. It flashed overhead, not doing any physical damage but having the sound and the flash of an explosive-spell. Screams of terror rang through the concert hall as people began scattering in all directions, knocking each other over, trying to escape from the fearsome man-demon that had suddenly appeared in their midst.
A couple of terrified men tried to attack him unarmed, but he simply threw them off and strode over to where he'd caught a glimpse of rust-red color. Amelia was trying to get to her feet, but had somehow become entangled in the borrowed cloak. Her hood had fallen back.
Suddenly Zelgadis was crouching beside her. As his head cleared, he understood what had happened. He also realized there was nothing to be done now but escape before some fool tried to be a hero and someone got hurt. "Can you walk?"
"I-I don't know. I think I sprained my ankle, but-"
With an exasperated sigh, he slid his arms under her and picked her up. She looked up at him with wide eyes, speechless. Zelgadis began looking around, trying to remember his escape plans.
"Hey, look! The demon is kidnapping the princess!" some idiot exclaimed from the crowd.
"Oh, no! He's right!"
Several people began to encircle them. Zelgadis fumed. Damn! The next thing you know, a real swordsman or wizard is going to show up and make me fight him. And I'd rather not destroy this concert hall if I can help it.
He spotted an opening in the crowd in the entry hall and shouted, "Rei Wing!" With Amelia in his arms he lifted off and flew through the doorway. Angry shouts followed them as he flew up higher into the night, and headed toward the palace.
Amelia was caught up in a memory. About two years ago, she'd gotten hit on the head and he'd carried her in his arms, the same way he was holding her now. Except that then he'd been running, not levitating. And it had been a genuine life-or-death situation.
She felt again the somewhat uncomfortable pressure of hard stone pressing against her back, and under her knees, but their clothing helped cushion the contact. She also felt the same warm feelings she hadn't had since she was a small child being carried by her father: those of safety, and security. She knew Zelgadis wouldn't let anything happen to her.
The young princess had had something of a crush on him after the first time he'd carried her, but he had rebuffed her early overtures with gruff embarrassment, making it clear that he did not share her feelings. After the final battle with the Hellmaster, she had returned home, and had nearly forgotten her infatuation with him, as most young girls will, becoming more involved in her duties and her social crowd. She had even been dismayed when her old traveling companions disrupted a ceremony in which she was to have played a key role, but was soon immersed in yet another frightening, exhilarating adventure to save the world.
Lina and Gourry were the same unlikely pair she remembered. As for Zelgadis... well, the more she saw of him, the more she admired. I told myself he was just a good friend... he never showed any signs that he saw me as anything more. And I was more interested in Miss Lina's relationship with Mister Gourry at the time. It's so obvious that the two of them are meant to be together, forever!
I don't regret asking Mister Zelgadis to come back with me. Even though he eventually said no, for a little while I was sure he liked me. I just hope I'm right...
After it was all over, everyone had gone their separate ways, but Amelia had remained interested in Zelgadis' well-being. It hadn't been any trouble, really, to ask all the royal couriers to keep tabs on his whereabouts (and his appearance). She'd sort of hoped he would come to see her after he'd found his cure. She'd looked, every now and then, in the palace library, or one of the others in the city, but had gotten discouraged after a while.
But then a few months ago, she'd overheard two maids talking. "So, who do you think our princess fancies?"
"None of 'em, from what I've 'eard."
"Ah, our little Amelia. Just like her father. She always has to do things her own way."
"Well, she'd better choose soon, or it's 'er father'll be doin' the choosin'."
Somehow the conversation had stuck in Amelia's head. She'd been hearing about the whole 'suitor' business for so long now that she pretty much ignored the whole topic. Even though over the last year several of her friends had gotten betrothed, it hadn't seemed to have anything to do with her.
Now, she wondered. Would Daddy really choose a suitor for me? That would be unjust! She hadn't been able to get out of her lessons with that excuse, though, and her father was really adamant about following this tradition. Even though she disliked the whole situation, Amelia understood why her father wanted her to do this. It wasn't only so that she'd have someone to 'take care of her' if anything should happen to him, or because he wanted grandchildren-'lots of 'em!'
It was because he knew all too well the heartache of losing a spouse at an early age. Her Mama hadn't even been thirty when she'd passed away. Amelia had often heard her father declare how grateful he'd been to marry her mother so early-he'd had several more precious years to know and love her.
Yes, the princess understood her father's reasoning... but she wasn't in love with any of the 'suitable' (human) men she was constantly being introduced to. Her heart had already been captured by a certain elusive, frustratingly unsociable, intelligent, brave, honorable, handsome chimera.
Amelia became aware that Zelgadis was carrying her without a word. He must be really mad at me. I wish he'd just yell at me and get it over with. His face was somewhat lit up from the city's lights, but he was staring straight ahead with an impassive expression that gave her no clue to his thoughts.
After a few moments, she couldn't stand it any more. She gathered her courage and piped up nervously, "Mister Zelgadis? I-I'm sorry. I should have listened to you."
The chimera had been concentrating on the effort of flying a double load. At her words, he looked down at her with a frown. He was annoyed with her, but she looked up at him with such a miserable expression that he only sighed and said, "It's not your fault, Amelia."
He's just being nice. She looked away. "Yes, it is."
He could not contradict her, because to be honest, none of this would have happened if she hadn't insisted on going to the concert.
Amelia was uncharacteristically silent as they flew. This bothered Zelgadis more than he wanted to admit. Maybe I should say something to cheer her up. After all, she meant well. "Look, Amelia... I don't blame you, really. It was a kind thought. And it was partly my fault-" he added to be fair, "I should have been paying more attention."
She didn't respond for a long moment. "I just-I just wanted to do something nice for you," she murmured, heaving a huge sigh of unhappiness.
Zelgadis found himself unexpectedly touched. He hesitated, then said, "Do you know how long it's been since I've heard music like that?"
She looked up at him questioningly.
"Years." After a few seconds, he added, "I'd almost forgotten the pleasure of listening to fine music. I didn't even realize how much I'd missed it until tonight."
"Then you aren't mad at me?" Hope shone in her eyes as she looked at him.
"I-no." He realized the last of his irritation had vanished. After all, nothing had been damaged, no one had been seriously hurt.
He forgives me!
Amelia gave him a smile so full of joy that he almost lost control of their flight. One of the almost-forgotten benefits of letting people get close to him was the ability to make another human being smile like that. He didn't even notice that he'd included himself in the 'human' category.
Slowly, she relaxed against him. He'd been flying upright so as to hold her securely against his chest, with parts of their clothing fluttering out behind them, but until then she'd been holding herself stiffly, her muscles tense. He smiled a little at the feeling of protectiveness that she roused in him. Her obvious trust and affection for him was flattering, to say the least, not to mention... endearing.
Zelgadis gave his head a shake to clear it of such thoughts. He remembered the reason he was carrying her in the first place. "How's your ankle?"
"Oh, right." She wiggled it under the long cloak, and winced. "It hurts."
"Can you cast a healing spell on it while I carry-"
"I'll cast a healing spell on it if you'll-"
They spoke simultaneously, both breaking off to look at each other. Amelia burst into laughter, and even Zelgadis smiled. He couldn't help but notice the delightful feeling of holding a laughing girl in his arms, although he suppressed that thought immediately.
Still chuckling, Amelia reached out and held her hand out over her ankle, a white glow surrounding it.
Zelgadis was getting tired, but the palace had appeared in front of them, and soon they were landing on the same balcony that they had started from. Carefully, he set her down on her feet. "Are you all right now?"
She took a couple of cautious steps, holding onto his forearm in case her ankle wasn't fully healed yet, and because she didn't want to let him go so soon. "Yes, I'm fine." Reluctantly, she released him.
The two of them looked uncertainly at each other. Zelgadis muttered, "Well, I'm going to bed. I have a long journey to start tomorrow."
"Oh, yes... I should get to bed too."
They made their way down the palace's dim corridors, with only an occasional oil lamp mounted on the wall to light their way. Amelia commented, "It must be later than I thought."
"Hm?" Zelgadis looked at her questioningly.
"They've turned down the lights for the night." She looked up at him. "Do you want me to cast a light spell?"
The stone man shrugged. "Don't bother-unless you need it." To him, the corridor was somewhat dim, but surely not nearly as dark as it was for her.
"Oh, no, that's okay. This is my home, after all." A light spell was harsh and glaring, and Amelia thought it would ruin the feeling of closeness she was sensing between them. She was looking at Zelgadis when she bumped her head against a wooden shelf. "Ow!" she said involuntarily as she rubbed the sore spot.
The look Zelgadis turned on her said: 'I told you so'. Since he was right, as usual, she ducked her head and gave him a sheepish grin.
Oddly, instead of saying something acerbic, the chimera simply watched her solemnly for several moments. Finally he sighed, and to her astonishment, offered her his elbow, as well as a small, indulgent smile.
Her eyes wide, Amelia looked from his face to his arm and back again. Then, smiling gratefully, she gingerly placed her hand on the inside of his elbow. "Thank you," she said softly.
Zelgadis wasn't sure where the impulse had come from. It had simply seemed easier to offer her his arm than to let her continue banging into things by foolishly trying to pretend she could see as well as he. She doesn't want to cast a light spell, for some reason. Actually, he didn't particularly feel like casting one, either.
Amelia led them back to the cloakroom to hang the one she'd borrowed back on its peg. Suddenly regal and beautiful once again in the elegant white gown, the young princess took his arm again, and they began to walk toward the living quarters. As they moved along a narrow passageway, Amelia said softly, "You really haven't heard any music for years?"
"Well, not much-and none like that."
He thought back through the evening, realizing again just how enjoyable it had been. He closed his eyes for a moment, hearing again the liquid notes of the instrument, unaware of the peaceful smile on his lips. "It's been a long time."
Amelia noticed his smile, and was pleased. They walked along in companionable silence, until she chuckled.
"What is it?"
She turned to him with a grin. "Can you imagine their faces when they come to tell Daddy that I've been kidnapped?"
Zelgadis had a mental picture of several men facefaulting as a cheerful Prince Phil replied in his booming voice, "My Amelia, kidnapped? There must be some mistake. She spent the evening attending a concert with a good friend of the family, a fine upstanding fellow if ever there was one! And as a chimera, he makes an excellent bodyguard!"
The notion was amusing. Then he had another thought. "Amelia, does your father know where you went tonight?"
"Of course. Actually, he was the one who told me about the new minstrel in the first place."
Good. I don't need the royal army of Seyrune on my trail.
When they came to the corner where Zelgadis needed to leave her to head down the guest wing, he hesitated. "Maybe I'd better walk you to your room. In case your ankle isn't completely healed yet."
Amelia almost protested that she had done a perfect job on her healing spell. Wait a minute. Maybe he just wants to spend more time with me! In any case, she was perfectly happy to have him walk her to her room, so she said nothing.
Authors' Notes: Flare Arrow is a spell that attacks living spirits or souls, not physical objects, so it was a logical choice for Zelgadis to use for a crowd-distracter.
When I was fifteen I was in a special program at school where we got to attend mini-classes at a nearby college. We learned about things like critiquing films and other stuff I've mostly forgotten, seeing as how it's been fourteen years since then, but one thing I do remember is that we got to see one of the few genuine folk-singers left in America: Odds Bodkin. I based the 'concert' Amelia and Zel attended on my experience there. I remember all the lights were turned out except for a little candle on a desk, next to the stool upon which Mr. Bodkins sat. He didn't always play his guitar as he talked, and sometimes added other sound effects with his mouth or props like bells or by tapping a foot on the ground. I also remember the 'interactive' songs, during which the audience participated. Hmm. Sounds a lot like a childrens' story hour, now that I think about it. Well, anyway, it was fun.
|NEXT---Chapter List---DS's Fan Art---B!'s Library---Main|