Al was in a quandary.
He didn’t know whether he should call Adric’s on/off boyfriend and get him to come to the hospital or not.
They were very much off at the moment, due to an altercation in the lighting section of Ikea that Adric had mentioned in passing but refused to go into. But they were bound to get back together eventually, either from habit or a sense of duty or a fear that this relationship was the best either of them was ever going to do. And surely being in hospital bleeding all over the place after a drive by shooting counted as extenuating circumstances, break or no break.
Adric’s other half was a highly strung organic sous chef named Timothy. He played the violin badly, and classical guitar reasonably well, and he had aspirations of becoming a gentleman farmer one day. Al had never met him, but they had talked over the phone a few times.
He looked up the number on Adric’s phone and went for it, hoping he wouldn’t get in trouble later.
Timothy was at the hospital almost literally in the blink of an eye.
He was dishevelled, which was unlike him – not that Al knew that, having never met him in real life before.
“Hello,” he said, sticking out a hand to shake, “you must be Aloysius. I’m Tim.”
“Sorry to meet you under these circumstances,” Al said, shaking obediently.
“Oh well, not to worry.” He awarded a penetrating look, and Al noticed that his eyes were a sharp, tinkling azure green. He’d never seen such a colour in nature before.
“Thanks for getting in touch,” he was saying, “I really appreciate it. Adric would be too stubborn to ask the hospital to call.”
“That’s OK,” Al said, flushing slightly as he realised how intently he had been examining the other man’s eyes.
“So where is he?”
Aloysius led him down a corridor, up a few floors, left, right and so on. They didn’t pass many people along the way, as Timothy observed.
“Quiet tonight, isn’t it,” was how he put it.
Al nodded shyly.
When they reached his room, Adric was sitting up in bed, wincing dramatically.
On seeing Timothy he paled slightly, then gave him the beginnings of a quavering smile. He raised an eyebrow at Al, who looked away.
“How are you feeling?”
“Oh fine,” he said robustly, “just a few stitches and a bit of blood loss.”
“Eight hundred and seventeen stitches,” said a passing nurse, sticking her head round the door to get a better look at Tim’s piercing optical equipment, “and about twelve pints of blood.”
“She’s exaggerating,” Adric whispered conspiratorially. “Nurses, eh.”
“She isn’t exaggerating,” Al corrected him, “there was a lot of glass.”
Tim sat down on the bed beside Adric. He didn’t seem to be listening.
“Were you… working?” Adric asked him, suddenly serious.
“Always,” Tim replied, smiling sadly. His eyes weren’t smiling though. And that made him look more sad than he would have done if he hadn’t smiled in the first place.
“I think I was onto a lead, but it’s only a hunch really.”
“Um, I guess I should be going now,” Al said, loath to intrude but concerned it would be rude of him not to say goodbye.
“No,” Tim said, “please stay. I don’t want to leave Adric alone.”
“Why,” Al said, puzzled, “are you going somewhere?”
Tim looked pained.
“He has to,” Adric said understandingly, “he’s been working on this quest for absolute ages.”
“Quest?” Al asked incredulously. “Like, quest in the sense of searching for holy grails and slaying dragons?”
“That’s the general idea,” Tim said, “although dragons are all but extinct now so the remaining ones have gone into hiding.”
“That’s lies,” Al said without thinking.
“Heh, you’ve gone native,” chuckled Adric, descending into a horrendous coughing fit that sounded as though he wouldn’t stop until he produced at least one lung.
“I can’t leave your side when you’re like this,” Tim said, “I’ll have to find the amulet another day.”
“But the trail will go cold,” Adric said, “What if you miss your chance? The prophecy said-”
“The prophecy can go hang,” Tim spat angrily, “I’m sick of all these damned prophets going on about how I’m the only one to do this that and the next thing. Twenty years this has been going on and what have I got to show for it?”
“You’ve got me,” Adric said bravely, taking Tim’s hand.
“Yes, but I met you at book group, not as part of some ridiculous jaunt halfway across the world in search of some ancient cursed object that some masked crazy person wants to use for evil.”
“I was at one of the climactic showdowns,” Adric said, wanting to be involved.
“Yes dear, you were,” Tim relented. “And you were only passed out for about two thirds of it.”
“I fought a centaur,” Adric told Aloysius proudly, “I hit him ever so hard with a baseball bat.” His face fell. “But then he shot me with a bow and arrow. How is it that I’m still alive, Tim?”
“The wiccan priestess brought you back using a spell,” Tim sighed as though he’d been through this several times. “But in return she took parts of your brain that are used to retain information, which is why you now forget things all the time and had to give up your job as an investigatory journalist. You always forgot what you’d learned before you could write any of it down.”
“Oh yes,” Adric lied, “I remember you telling me.”
“Anyway,” Tim said, “it’s probably a false lead anyway. The amulet thing.”
“What does this prophecy actually say?” Al enquired curiously. “Like the actual verbatim words.”
“Ice and wind and fire and rain… yadda yadda… man of average good looks and fair of hair… must destroy the amulet to defeat the maiden fair.”
The three of them ruminated.
“Average looks and fair of hair,” Al pondered.
Tim and Adric looked at Al, with his average to good looks and his fair hair.
They looked at one another.
They got sidetracked from the point at hand whilst gazing into one another’s eyes. The altercation in Ikea was long forgotten now.
They looked back at Aloysius Hunkington-Smythe, the secretly aristocratic library assistant.
“Hold on a second,” Adric said slowly, as though a thought was dawning on his brain, “that description isn’t necessarily just of you, Tim. If anything, you have amazing good looks.”
“You do have the most enchanting eyes,” Al agreed. “Although I prefer Bracken’s.”
“Oh well, each to their own,” Tim shrugged charmingly.
“What was I saying?” Adric asked. He had decided to milk this newly introduced ‘forgetful’ character trait for all it was worth whilst he was still in the scene.
“You were saying that I could probably be the guy in the prophecy,” Al said, “as could hundreds of other young men across the globe.”
“Oh yeah,” Tim agreed, “you totally could. I was never specifically named in this one. I guess I just assumed it would be me because usually they come to the door with my full name and address and everything.”
“So,” Al said patiently, “do you want me to find this amulet thing for you so that you can stay here and look after Adric?”
“I WOULD LIKE YOU TO STAY,” Adric whispered in caps lock, temporarily remembering he had another weird character defining thing that wasn’t really working out so well, namely the volume control issue mentioned in previous chapters.
“Tell me what I have to do,” Al said, “I’m not busy tonight anyway.” He looked out of the window, which he had just noticed. The moon was almost full and the sky was made of purple.
“It’s all in the scroll,” Tim said, “if you’re sure you’re up for it. I feel kind of bacd just letting you go off and do this… have you ever been on a quest before?”
Al thought back.
“Yeah,” he said, “I have. Once rode across Surrey on horseback to locate a special brand of plant food for our gardener, who I loved like he was my own father.”
“Were you successful?”
“Was there peril involved?”
“There was some mild peril. I wasn’t very good with horses, there was a chance that the shop on the other side of Surrey wouldn’t even have the stuff… there were risks, certainly. Maybe not the sort of thing you’re used to, but I can think on my feet at any rate.”
“Not all of my quests involve monsters and certain death,” Tim said comfortingly. “I’ve had a few mundane ones. Everybody has to start somewhere.”
“But this one will have danger?”
Al steeled himself with a deep breath, and took the scroll from Tim. It was made from ancient yellow parchment and the remains of a heavy green wax seal still clung to it like little bits of green wax stuck on paper.
“Right then,” he said bravely, “I guess I’ll be off.”
“Thanks for doing this,” Tim said genuinely, “we really appreciate it.”
“Yes, thank you,” Adric added. “I’ll cover for you at work tomorrow.”
“You aren’t going back to work tomorrow?” Tim said, shocked.
“I’m the only one who has all the keys.”
“Well I’ll take them along and pass them to whoever is covering for you.”
“I dunno, with two people off it’ll just be the part timer and she might not even come in once the gossip about today has done the rounds. It will have escalated to the point where she probably thinks we’re both dead. Actually, where’s my mobile? You still got it Al?”
Al handed it over.
“There see, she’s texted her condolences about my death to whoever inherited my phone. She wants to know when the funeral is.”
Al rolled his eyes.
“Text her back and tell her,” Tim suggested with a conspiratorial wink. “Then tomorrow you can ring her up pretending to be your own ghost. It’ll be hilarious.”
“That’s a bit mean,” Adric said thoughtfully. “And she’s got a bad back.”
“I don’t see what that’s got to do with anything,” Tim replied.
“She doesn’t anyway,” Al interjected, “she’s faking it. Can’t you tell? When it’s quiet and people aren’t looking at her she stands up straight and even does a little bit of ballroom dancing.”
“No way!” Adric appeared to be genuinely shocked.
“His memory problem,” Tim surmised wisely, “it’s a blessing and a curse.”
“OK,” Al said, “well I guess I’d better get on with it. I’ll ring you in the morning to let you know how its all going.”
“That would be lovely. We are completely rooting for you,” Tim said enthusiastically, “and here’s a little leather pouch of magical fairy dust for luck.”
“Are you taking the mickey?”
“Are you the part timer?”
Al did not find this argument especially comforting, but by this point in time he was very tired and hungry and just wanted to get out of the hospital. He’d check out the contents of the pouch later on, in conjunction with the scroll and preferably after some chips.
For want of a better exit, he saluted them, and marched stiffly out of the room.
They didn’t say anything for a while.
“Why did you never question the prophecy before?” Adric asked. “Haven’t you been searching for that amulet for two years now?”
“Oh at least,” Tim admitted. “I don’t know, I just assumed it was me. It has been me, so many times. Although certainly none of the other signs of destiny have been in place for this one – I was starting to wonder. But if the prophecy is really talking about Al, he’ll have it sorted by the end of the night probably.”
“I’ll still let him have the day off work though.”
“Oh yeah, quite right.”
They smiled at each other and held hands and gazed out of the window into the moonlight. It looked like it was going to be a nice night.