--Chapter Twenty: When Logic Collapses

When Isa opened the tavern door, she saw the imps (who, despite their lack of a naming system, she now called One and Two) gathering what they could for breakfast on the floor. Isa wondered how they were finding enough, given that she had just swept that floor last night. On closer inspection, she saw that some materials had slipped between cracks in the wood planks. Then she wondered exactly how sanitary it was for these imps to eat off the floor... But apparently they were not concerned with such things, since they both looked quite satisfied with the morning’s haul. And if it did not worry them, she thought, then it should not worry her.

She greeted them with a friendly wave, and they shouted back, “Hello!” She smiled and walked to the kitchen to get a kettle warmed up. When she lifted the kettle from its mount on the rack in the far corner of the kitchen, she remembered what Essa had said about its maker. Isa could almost picture a younger Till grabbing at a saw and some leftover firewood... cutting out the pieces and only putting it together once it was all prefabricated and waiting for some nails to hold various parts in place. That was how Till would do it, she thought: save the actual building for the last minute, but do a decent job in the end... just as he had saved marriage until he was very old for a new groom, but would probably prove to be a decent husband in the end.

Isa filled the kettle and set it over the wood stove. Then she grabbed some tea leaves from the pantry, put them in a filter, and placed this all in a large ceramic cup designed for holding warm liquids. Isa never had thought that a teacup was enough for her thirst; she used these larger cups for everything from tea to coffee and sometimes even soup. Within a few minutes, the water was warm enough for tea, so she took it off the stove, filled her cup, and went back out into the dining room. She picked a stool at random and set her drink on the bar. She rested her head on her right palm, elbow on the wood, her table manners temporarily cast aside. With her left hand, she took the chain attached to the tea filter and used it to stir the steaming liquid.

A small voice from the floor asked, “What you thinking about, hm?”

Isa removed her elbow and looked down. The imps were both eying her with intense curiosity. She supposed she must have looked deep in thought to them, though in truth, she was only tired.

“You thinking about him?” One asked.

Isa sighed and said, “No, but I actually was earlier. Why do you ask?”

“You love him?” said Two, who really was not all that bad a guy once he stopped hiding in the corner and telling things around the room to catch fire (“commanding” them, in one instance, as if he had a special power to burn any material at which he would point; fortunately, no real fires had yet resulted).

“I don’t know,” said Isa. And she did not. “I have only known him for five days.”

“But what you think of him, then?” asked One. “He seems think you are very nice.”

“I think he’s very nice, too. Clearly my mom wants to see something more happen so we can have a relationship, but then, Mom’s been trying to marry me off since I was twelve, so... I do not know that there is anything in that.”

“What are you drinking?” asked Two. His eyes may have been drawn to the cup by the steam (read: looks like smoke) coming from its top. Or he had a very short attention span. Either way...

“Oh, this?” said Isa, thrown off at first by the rapid change of topic, “This is tea. It’s made with water and some herbs in the area... We preserve the herbs over winter so that we can have something—” She stopped herself there. She would have said, “something hot to drink,” but she knew by now that any mention of the word “hot” might be a risk she was not willing to take. So instead, she said, “...something tasty to drink when it gets cold outside.”

“Oh.” This did not interest the imp very much—most likely a good thing, Isa reasoned—so the two little friends said their parting words and went to their hideout behind the fireplace

Long after they had gone, and long after she had finished drinking her tea, Isa thought about Asmir. Every way she reasoned it, she could not see herself in love with him. Several excuses ran through her mind:

“I haven’t known him long enough.”

“He’s from the city area and I’ve never left this village; we’d be too different.”

“I still don’t know his age, but I’m sure he’s at least twenty, and I’m only sixteen.”

“No matter what the imps say, I’m sure he probably doesn’t like me. I mean, he’s a traveler who can hardly stay in one place. Why would he want someone who would keep him in one spot? After all, I have to stay here to take over the family business. It’s not like I could just leave anytime I wanted to, like he can. How could I ever ask him to give up that kind of freedom for me?”

Still the thought persisted. Why? Why, after all this logic, would Asmir not leave her mind? Because love doesn’t follow logic, she reminded herself. Was there anything else in the world that behaved that way? On the night when she made her wish to a star, she had thought there was nothing else that followed the same pattern, but now that she thought about it, quite a few things in the world did not always fit in with the normal order of events: war, hate, kindness, and care, to name just a few.

Then, when the logical side of her brain had quit from exhaustion, a thought came from a part of her mind that, up until this point, had remained untapped. This said, It comes down to this: no matter how many times you think about it, the way you look at Asmir will never make sense. But then, maybe that’s because it’s not supposed to. Ever think of that? Don’t try to justify it; instead, ask yourself a few questions. First: do you want love or not? Second: if yes, is this man from the East at least worth a try? And third, is there anything really stopping you?

These may not be the easiest questions to answer—not because you cannot answer them, but because you might not want to admit how you really feel here. If nothing else, then, remember that you at least owe it to both him and yourself to be honest about this. Do you get all of this so far?

The logical part of her brain nodded halfheartedly; it could not argue in its current state. Maybe when the caffeine from the tea would kick in...

Good, said the unknown part of her brain. Now, here’s what I want you to do. When he comes in here for some breakfast—

The thought ended there, because at that moment, he came in. “Hi,” said Isa, surprised. “You’re up early.”

Asmir shrugged. “It’s not so early, really. The sun comes up late in the winter.”

He took a seat next to her. She looked at her empty cup and said, “It looks like I need a refill. Want me to get you some, too?”

He held up a hand and said, “Please, just a moment, if I may.”

She was halfway standing, but she sat back down again.

“I’ve enjoyed it here these last few days, and I wanted to say thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” said Isa. She could not figure out what was wrong with Asmir; he looked healthy enough, but something in his manner seemed either nervous or at least uncomfortable.

“More than that,” he continued. “I wanted to tell you I like you, and I like being with you.” An awkward silence passed, and he said, “I spoke with Roth yesterday, and he said the stables could use an extra hand. So I’m making arrangements in the hopes of being able to live and work here.”

“But I thought you set out on the road for adventure or something,” said she. “You wanted to tour the whole country...”

“I’ve been to every place there is to be seen, except the mountains,” he said. “I set out this time so I could find a place to stay and call home. And I’ve found that place now. I like the people here, the setting, everything... It just feels like home to me, even though I’ve only been her for this short a time. There’s only one thing I’d have to know if I stay here, and that is if you and I could be together. Maybe nothing serious; take it one step at a time, and all that.”

The words escaped Isa’s lips before she could stop them: “Are you saying you love me?”

“Uh, well, I wouldn’t go that far just yet—we’ve only known each other for what, five days? And I know there’s an age difference between us; I’m nineteen, and you’re what, fifteen?”

“Sixteen.” Isa smiled. So he had been thinking the same exact excuses as she... I guess this is something human, then, and not only me going crazy, said her brain’s logical side. This is somewhat of a comfort to know...

Shut up, said the other part of her brain. I’m calling the shots here. Initiate hormone sequence in ten, nine, eight, seven...

“Ah,” said Asmir. “The point is, we’ll see what happens. I think you’re an interesting girl, and—”

Whatever words were going to be said, Isa stopped them with a kiss to his lips.

Somewhere in the back of her mind, a voice said, Mission report: stage one successful. Keep estrogen flow at two-thirds power. Introducing tongue sequence in twenty, start new countdown...

Watching his security camera screens from Mt. Bertrice, Crispo grabbed a tissue and did a bit of directing of his own as he said into his headset microphone, “Good, now zoom in on the kiss. Start romantic music on the sound playback... now. Aw yeah.” He shed a tear. “That’s beautiful.” He sniffed. Then he blew his nose... and, in the process, instantly incinerated the tissue. “Oops,” he said.

At that moment, three of his helper imps walked in.

“Something wrong, Master?” said one of the tiny creatures. “We hear you cry.”

“No...” Sniff. “Nothing’s wrong. I’m just... It’s so touching, that’s all.”

“If it so great,” said another imp, “Why not you get someone? Dragoness?”

Crispo considered this for a second. “We’ll see if any show up for the solstice party come summer. You’re right, but with these types of things, it’s always good to wait until the mating season. You try any other time of the year, and if you get rejected, those female dragons will do more than merely slap you for proposing a date...”

The imps nodded in unison. Dragon wrath was something they all understood very well.

The first imp said, “Gargum’s here, also. Wants to go hunt. Should we tell him you coming, or should we tell him you too busy watching soap opera thing?”

Crispo picked up his remote in a flash and turned the camera off. Immediately his eyes dried off. “No no, don’t tell him anything. I’ll be right there.” When a dragon was going to go anywhere with his hunting buddies, it was best things like “soap opera” remained out of all conversations.

Gargum was indeed outside Crispo’s cave. Gargum, a younger gray dragon who used a grenade launcher as his weapon of choice, nodded to Crispo and said, “Going unarmed again, man?”

Crispo snorted smoke and said, “Never have and never will.”