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The Earl of Zerces: chapter 5
“You’re back!” Lia exclaimed happily as Lang ambled out of the forest, lost in his thoughts. What had just happened? Why had Elena given him that note? Did she want to meet with him again? Why had her mother been so standoffish? Why did Elena need to keep her body “pure”, as it were? What had he gotten himself into?
Lang’s thoughts were interrupted as Lia jumped up to give him a great bear hug, or at least the closest thing to it that a small child can accomplish. Lang toppled over backwards, barely regaining his balance. Then, as he was brought back to reality, he looked down in surprise at Lia, who was smiling greatly.
“I knew you’d come back,” she beamed, and Lang felt a great tenderness suddenly sweep him. Lia had lost everything. She had lost her family, her home, her future. She had no reason at all to trust or even to acknowledge him. And yet she still managed to retain her childish faith in those around her. Lang slowly smiled, and patted Lia’s head.
“Yes, I’ve come back,” he said.
“Did you do what you were supposed to do?” Lia relinquished her hug and returned to the ground.
Lang blinked. He had completely forgotten about the tug given off by the amulet, and his quest. Quickly, Lang turned back to the forest, but…there was no longer any tug. Whatever he was supposed to do in the forest, he had already done. What did that mean? Lang was deep in thought again.
“I…suppose I did,” Lang said very slowly. Had Elena been somehow connected with all of this? Had the test that the Earl mentioned something to do with her? Lang was puzzled. But he knew that if he wanted answers, he would have to see Elena again. A slight flutter wisped through his stomach as he thought of her, but he immediately shoved it down. Thinking illogically would get them nowhere.
“Let’s go into town,” Lang said to Lia. “It’s gotten pretty dark now, but we still should be able to find a place to stay. Where did you put your sword?”
“Right here,” Lia picked up the sword from under a pile of leaves that she had placed.
“Good,” Lang smiled. “Then let’s go.”
Together, the pair walked down into the quieted-down town.
When they finally got into the inn, the place was overflowing with people. Lang quickly grabbed hold of Lia’s hand, so as not to get separated, and the two slowly made their way to the head-desk.
“Um, hello,” Lang picked up Lia so that she wouldn’t get crushed. “This might seem a little late, but we’d like a room.”
“Ah, not at all,” The clerk, a fat man with a well-groomed, walrus mustache, bellowed. “We’ve got plenty o’ room in ‘ere. Ya might have ta double up with another group o’ travelers, but I never turn a customer away.”
“Splendid,” Lang muttered as a beefy man bumped into him and mumbled an apology.
“Yes, yes,” the clerk closely examined a sheet of paper with little x’s on it. “Now let’s see ‘ere. Where’s free?”
“Is Room 12 available?” Lang quickly blurted out. “I had a friend who stayed here once, and he said the view from Room 12’s window was lovely.”
“Ah, I’m afraid I can’ do that,” the clerk sighed. “The Purifier’s finally come to this village, and ‘er mother insisted on giving ‘er ‘er own room.”
“The Purifier?” Lang asked in genuine lack of knowledge.
“Aye,” the clerk grinned. “At long last she’s ‘ere. Maybe now the demon will be put to rest.”
“Demon?” Lang suddenly turned pale. Did the Earl want him to kill a demon?
“Aye,” the clerk turned somber. “It’s been spoilin’ our crop fer about three seasons now. We get aid from the King, but we need ta stop it now, a’ fore it gets worse.”
“Well, maybe we’ll see her when we leave tomorrow,” Lang said.
“Maybe,” the clerk had gone back to his sheet of paper. “Ah! We haven’ got Room 12 available, but we’ve got Room 11 for ya. It’s just as good. Here ya go.” The clerk handed Lang a small piece of paper. “It’s on the fourth floor.”
“Thank you,” Lang took the paper and again weaved his way through the crowd to reach the stairs. Slowly, Lang and Lia managed to reach the fourth floor’s hallway. Standing in front of one of the rooms were two guards that glared suspiciously at Lang as he slowly went into Room 11. Lang looked around, and seeing no one, set the sleepy-eyed Lia down on one of the beds.
“Lia?” Lang asked, trying to keep the little girl awake. If he could keep her awake long enough to ask her questions, Lang might be able to get some answers on this whole “Purifier” and “demon” business. However, it wasn’t working. Lia was slowly nodding off, and Lang didn’t know how to keep her awake. Sighing, Lang lay Lia down on the bed and tucked her in. Then, he started pacing around the room.
If he wanted any answers, Lang was going to have to go to Elena. That much was obvious. However, there was the matter of the two guards. Lang could easily beat them in a fight, he knew that. Royal heirs were trained for battle. However, if he did fight his way through, it would cause a ruckus, and Lang didn’t want that. Also, this was the fourth floor. Lang couldn’t simply walk out and get in through the window. Unless…
Lang opened the window and looked out. There along the wall was a ledge, which easily lead from his window to Room 12’s. However, it was very, very thin. Lang might have been able to walk across it, but his chances were slimmed by the insufferable wind. Lang suddenly jumped as he heard a crowd of noises starting to come up from the stairs. If he was going to do something, he was going to have to do it now. Biting his knuckle, Lang finally came to a decision.
Slowly and carefully, Lang got out from the window and placed his feet on the ledge. Then, he precariously inched across the ledge. The wind bit at all sides of him, and Lang felt his knees jitter from the cold and fear. But Lang shoved the feelings down, and continued inching across the ledge. Finally, just when Lang was ready to give up, he realized that he had made it. Quickly, Lang grabbed the window. Please don’t be locked Lang prayed.
It wasn’t, and Lang was able to open the window rather painlessly and fall face-first through the window, gasping and wheezing. Lang clutched his heart, it was pounding. Lang swore never to do something like that again. Slowly, very slowly, Lang felt his heart calm down, and felt his composure come back. When he was finally back to normal, Lang turned around-
-To come face to face with a very surprised Elena. Lang almost shrieked in surprise, but then caught himself. Elena was looking at him from her bed, breathless and surprised.
“You came,” she whispered almost inaudibly.
“Yes,” Lang gasped and laughed at the same time. “I did.”