17 The Art of Books*
Phillip hated to admit it, but the meeting between himself and Anna truly had been coincidental. Despite how he had been drawn to her that day, because of the inhumane schedule his brother had given him, Phillip had had no time for anything but business deals and goods inspections. Not to mention the myraid of parties that Varkevia had nearly every night. Finally, after months and months of adhereing to his brother's every command, Francois had released him.
"Go and take a break".
A simple order, but Phillip had decided to take full advantage of it. He'd assembled a hunting party amongst friends and business associates and then not hesitated to ride North. Not because of Anna, though he would later claim it was so to charm her, but because Cordon was the closest human village to where the Volotun Fruits were grown. Phillip did not trust the Elves and their deal, it was simply too good to be true. And a month before, he had discovered he was right.
He'd run into an Elven Warrior who was attempting to rob their household. A bold move, Phillip had commended him for it, then asked what the hell the Voluton fruit really was.
It turned out, the Voluton fruit did exactly what was described...if you ate it once.
Indulging anymore than that, and it could have severe side effects for humans. A tid-bit Philip was not sure Francois was aware of. There was a cure, but only if it was taken within a week of the first Voluton fruit, and it would completely reverse the effects of the fruit. Together, the Elf, Gerrick, and himself had plotted to find proof of the Voluton fruit's side effects in order to present a case to his brother. Hence, his venture to Cordon.
But of course, now that he knew Anna was here, he was not going to shy away from her company.
It took a few more days, to the point where Phillip had begun staying until late at night in the Orchard reading whatever book had took his fancy, and it was on one of these occasions that Anna sought him out.
"What are you doing out here?" she'd asked.
"Reading," Phillip had replied, "It's peaceful here".
"In the dark?" Anna had asked, skeptical. And she was right to be, no ordinary person could read with such faint light. In answer, Phillip had rolled up his sleeve to expose the mark on his arm. It was an image of two concentric circles, a line of block-like text in between them. Anna had squatted down with intrigue, forgetting herself as her fingers rose to trace it.
"It's so beautiful, what is it?"
Phillip cleared his throat, momentarily taken aback by her forwardness, "It's...It's a Magician's circle. It gives me the ability to see in the dark".
"Magicians can do that?" asked Anna with surprise.
"Light element Magicians can, for the right price," Phillip had admitted. His had been a parting gift of the Academy for his achievements.
"I've never seen a Magician before," Anna admitted with a frown.
Phillip smiled, "Not even in Varkevia?"
Anna shook her head.
"I suppose Varkevia is an outlying city," Phillip reasoned.
"What are you reading?" Anna asked, pointing to the book.
"You seem awfully talkative today, any particular reason for that?" Phillip smiled.
"Just tell me," Anna rolled her eyes. It was at this moment, seeing that look of so many meanings in her dark eyes, that Phillip fell in love.
He turned away after he saw her blush, thanking whatever gods there were that she could not see he was blushing too.
"It's a collection of poems," Phillip admitted, "By Isaac Minor".
"I've never heard of him," Anna replied, "Would minstrels know them? Perhaps I have heard one and didn't know it".
Phillip doubted it. Isaac Minor was not the most optimistic of fellows.
"He's not well known," Phillip replied.
anna hesitated a moment, then leaned against the trunk of the tree beside Phillip.
"Read to me," Anna said.
Phillip couldn't find a reason not to.
"Upon the graves of mournful souls the bloody men do dance, the web of lies and tricks they weave their only true romance..."
Anna never mentioned to him why she came every evening to accompany him, but he was vaguely aware that her family was encouraging her to marry Carter, a union she did not approve of. They met so often in the evenings that Anna had insisted that Phillip teach her how to read, and he could not refuse her.
They grew closer, so much so that near the end of his stay, Phillip could hardly think of leaving. He liked life in Cordon. It was peaceful. And of course, he had Anna. She was kind, and hard working. Her eyes full of life. It was only ever alone with him that she showed her insecurities, and even then she did not seem aware she was doing it. Not until Phillip mentioned it.
Since he had loved her since before she had asked him to teach her to read, Phillip had begun teaching her without restraint. She learned diligently, to the point where it was her reading the poems, not him. Though she stumbled and struggled like a child Phillip never complained.
One night, as he watched her struggle to read, he could not contain his thoughts any longer.
"I love you".
Anna paused, shocked, and looked up at him in surprise. The truth in his eyes was undeniable.
"But...you hardly know me," Anna argued.
Phillip smiled, taking the book from her as he leaned forward and pecked her lips, "I know enough".
He stood and walked off through the orchard, one hand in his pocket, leaving Anna completely gobsmacked.
The following night, he waited for her like always, this time with a letter of his own writing instead of a book. He waited until four hours after the sun went down, then could not help but sigh in disappointment.
"You humans are so childish," Gerrick sighed as he dropped down from one of the trees above, "Love is so fleeting to you".
Phillip scowled, "Don't rub it in Elf. And since when were you spying on me?"
"Long enough to know you're infatuated," Gerrick replied, "Even if you do a good job hiding it".
Phillip stood, putting the letter on the ground near the tree with a rock on it as a weight so it wouldn't blow away.
"What's the use of that, you scared her off," Gerrick stated.
"Call it a lover's hope," Phillip snapped, "Come on, let's get this over with".
Phillip accompanied the Elf deep into the woods as he had done for many nights after Anna had left. After nearly two hours of walking, just after midnight, they reached the side of the crops and hid as they had done many time before.
But unlike the times before, this time was different.
This time, they had a human magician there, and when that magician whose power had come to fuition months before in the mines of Jarrica had been unable to resist the temptation of having one of those divine fruits again. The backs of the elves turned, and he ate his fill.
And then exploded into a million pieces.