No spoiling our fun

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
Beatrice determines to find out her mysterious friend's secret. But there is a test - and a lesson to learn.

Submitted: December 06, 2011

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Submitted: December 06, 2011

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The two weeks would be over tomorrow. It was natural that Beatrice could not sleep that night. She watched the bright patch of the streetlight on her wall and tried to will the hours to pass more slowly. Too much had changed since that evening, thirteen nights ago when she first met Nip. Even now, the name brought forth a smile. It was an extremely silly thing to call someone, but so very fitting in this case. Because Nip was a rascal. Incorrigible.

Again, she went over the fateful moment in her mind, searching for a loophole. There had to be some way she could keep the scoundrel. What did Julian say, exactly? Again, she cursed herself for not listening closely enough.

He will be your guide, she heard - a shadow of a voice in her memory. He will teach you something vital. A lesson you must absorb well, if you are to proceed along this path.

Did mages always speak cryptically? It must be a job requirement, she thought. How did the topic even arise? At first, she accredited it to drink, but the more she thought about it, the more it became clear that her elusive friend had singled her out. True, she had been curious about Julian. He always seemed so sure of himself. Silent and world-weary. Everyone respected him, without clearly knowing why. And they had all been surprised when Julian announced his intention to participate in their party. Heh, participate. It was just the kind of word he liked to use. But, however momentous the occasion, it all paled into insignificance compared to what came after.

She wanted to walk, partly to get away from the noise for a while and partly to settle her stomach. She couldn't drink like she used to. She found him out there, in the moonlight. The Robin's had one of those old-fashioned porch swings. For some reason, she sat down and listened.

“Everyone is curious about you,” she had said. “You are so.. aloof!” The word came unbidden and sounded like an insult. But he just smiled. The affairs of a mage, he said, were not to be scrutinised by the likes who make such awful noise. She tried to forget her petulance, but it was unmistakably in her next question: “What affairs?” He would say no more on the subject.

They sat in silence and as her mind slowly cleared, she turned to him. “I'd really like to know,” she said, more calmly. This time, he promised to show her, but only if she passed his test. She agreed.

That was when she met Nip. Julian opened a pocket on his coat and out poked the head of a ferret. Beatrice exclaimed in surprise, but he corrected her. Ermine, he said, not ferret. And he was to be her test. All she needed to do was keep Nip for two weeks and then Julian would tell her his great secret. “Well, what does he eat? Does he need a cage?” she asked, intrigued despite herself. It was then that things became really weird. No cage, the ermine assured her. And he would eat whatever she gave him, he wasn't at all picky. Leaping from the swing, Beatrice pointed a trembling finger. “It talked!” she accused. Two faces watched her, one amused, the other condescending. Nearly a minute they remained silent. Finally, it was Julian who spoke. If it were too strange for her, he explained, she could forget the entire affair. Possibly, she could ascribe the event to the drink. But if she had spoken in earnest, this would be her first step towards learning. The first lesson. The most important one. And it would be taught her by little Nip, the talking ermine. They would await her decision. She had one hour.

She took her walk then, in a stunned daze. However she tried, she could not blame the drink. It had happened. It was real. What choice did she have but to accept? Before her hour was up, she rejoined the silent pair on the swing and said: “Okay, two weeks.”

***

How strange, Beatrice thought now, as their final night was passing, that things which seem odd at first become commonplace so quickly. So vividly did she remember that first morning, when she awoke with a dreadful pain in her head. It was a dream, she said to herself. But scarcely did she finish that sentence when a cheerful “Good morning!” sounded from the crook of her arm. And then, as she watched in amazement, the little creature stretched and yawned so endearingly that she ended up laughing, despite her headache. “What took you so long?” Nip asked as he leapt off her bed, “It's a beautiful morning and I want to see all of it!” And it would not do but that she dressed quickly and ran outside. It was truly a spectacular day, one of the brightest and warmest in April. Beatrice could not remember when she had laughed so much, or so hard as she watched Nip's antics. He poked his nose into everything and each time exclaimed in surprise. Like an innocent child, she thought, even as something in her responded to the joy. It was infectious and liberating and so much fun that she forgot about her headache. Only when Nip paused in his running and look mournfully at her did she remember the time. “I'm hungry!” he said in a soul-rending cry. She quickly glanced at the sun and found it was afternoon. So busy were they exploring the places of her childhood that she completely lost herself in the green of grass and the blue of sky. The farm was old and large and full of the most interesting places. When was the last time I climbed to the attic? she asked herself as she brushed cobwebs from her hair. She turned back toward the house with Nip in her arms, feeling again as content as she had been so long ago.

“I think you shouldn't talk in front of my parents,” she told Nip. “They're old and wouldn't understand.” Still it was difficult to explain, but in the end, her parents accepted. She'd keep her friend's ferret while he was away. She'd take care of him and promise that it wouldn't be a bother to them in any way.

The days seemed to fly by, even the school. Julian wasn't there, but then he'd often leave on 'family trips' for weeks. She made sure that Nip stayed silent, most often asleep in her backpack. And even while all her friends were enamoured by his charm, she made him promise to keep his mouth firmly closed in company. He was a delightful secret and she wasn't ready to share that with anyone.

***

Too soon, the days passed and only a few hours remained. But no matter, she told herself, surely if she asked Julian nicely, he would leave Nip with her. She would beg if needed and pay anything to keep 'her little weasel'. She stroked his fur again, as she had done countless times that night, just to assure herself that her friend was still there. All too soon, morning came. The sunlight crept slowly down the wall, despite her best efforts to halt it.

Nip woke and stretched with his customary squeak: “Good morning!”. She put on her best smile and rose, dreading the day, but determined not to show her worry and fear to her little friend. But he was perceptive, that one. With an intent look, he laid a paw on her knee. “What's wrong?” he asked. “It's the day I should give you back to Julian,” she explained after considering a lie. “Oh, I see,” he said with dejection.

“But don't worry, I'll ask Julian to leave you with me. No way I'm giving you up, Nip!” she promised through tears. The ermine brightened right up. “That's okay then. Come, let's play! No use being sad on a day like this.” She smiled bravely and dressed herself, just a tad stiffly, which could be explained by a wakeful night. Then came a knock on the door. It was her mother.

“Are you awake, dear? Your friend Julian is here to see you.” There was surprise in the voice, for even though she spoke sometimes of him, the strange, silent kid never came near before.

“Yes, he can come in. Thank you!” she said, surprised that there was no quiver in her voice. Julian entered, a solemn expression on his face. Nip squeaked a greeting, but Beatrice couldn't say a word. “Hello, both of you,” he said as he closed the door behind him. She hugged the ermine close and pleaded: “I know, you want him back,” she said and swallowed. “But would you please leave him with me? I'll pay for him, anything you want.”

The mage smiled sadly and shook his head. She stood up, not bothering to conceal her tears. “Come on, Julian! He's the best friend I've ever had, I can't give him up. I won't!”

He took her hand in his, warm and gentle. He led her to the bed and sat her down. “I'm sorry Beatrice, I truly am. But it is not something I can do.”

“Why not?” she sobbed.

“Nip is only a result of a spell. An illusion, which only lasts for two weeks.” He sighed, in genuine regret. “I cannot make it last longer.”

“He is not an illusion! He's real! Everyone can see and touch him.”

Julian nodded. “Of course. I said an illusion, not a delusion. But still only a fragment of magic. Soon it will fade out.”

She tore her hand from his grasp and turned away. “You complete and utter bastard! You knew this would happen. How could you do this to me? Get out of my house and I never want to see you again!” She would hit him, but both her hands were around the ermine.

Julian almost reached the doorknob when she called him back.

“Wait. Don't go! I'll..,” she blinked away the tears, “Please, you have to help. Make Nip stay, I'll give you anything you want.”

For a long moment, the mage looked at her, but his expression never changed. “I'm sorry. It is part of what Nip has to teach you. Besides, even if I were allowed to, there is nothing I can do here.”

She stood up and caught his sleeve. “Please, just tell me what I have to learn. Anything, just help us.”

Julian released the knob and turned. “Very well. I will tell you exactly what was told me.” He took her hand in both of his and for a moment, she could see emotion in his eyes. His voice was so soft that she almost stopped breathing to hear better.

“Nip is an illusion, a reflection of yourself. He is a part of you that you've ignored. The spell only took from your mind to create him and gave you a chance to speak with your own thoughts and desires. Perhaps,” the mage mused, “he is your inner child. The depth of emotion you experience is to show you that however old you are, things can still touch you deeply. And the days you spent together are now forever burned in your memory. In time, they will become your bastion of strength, tampered by this sadness. All this simply to remind us that we are, in the end, human. If you choose to follow this path, you will wield great power. But in Honor of Nip's memory, you will use it wisely, considerately and responsibly. Once you understand this, come see me and I will begin instructing you.”

“Why me?” Beatrice asked in a broken voice.

“Because you have the gift. To my eyes, it shines like a second sun, radiant, unmistakable. It is what you are destined for.”

With that, he left her alone.

For a long time, she didn't move. Only when Nip moved in her arms did she stir.

“I'm so sorry, my Nip. My beautiful little ermine. You're going to die and there's nothing I could do about it.”

Nip licked her finger, salty from her tears. “I know. I've always known,” he said sadly.

“Why didn't you tell me?”

He managed to look apologetic. “It would spoil our fun,” he answered, simply.


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