Flash Fiction: Advantages (530 words)

Jace paused before he knocked on the heavy redwood door, deciding for the last and thousandth time that he wanted to knock, wanted to parade into this office, wanted to turn clipped thoughts into clipped syllables and see Master Durrell’s expression in response. Oh yes. He wanted to.

He knocked, firmly. Then he dropped his hand to his side, adjusted the fat papers in his other hand, and waited for the invitation to enter.

“Come in,” Durrell said, almost immediately.

Jace pushed the door open, shut it behind him, and stayed by it.

Master Durrell looked up without moving his head, bent over a large book on his desk.

“I get it,” Jace told him.

Durrell pushed back from his book slowly. “Really?”

Jace raised his armful of papers, stretching a smile over his teeth. “These are fake.”

Durrell raised his eyebrows.

“Really?” Jace asked. “You thought I wouldn’t catch that Clan Lord Dierk of the Isander made a contract with Lord Ammad and a cow? Dierk promises to send sailors and soldiers, Ammad promises to send ships, the cow promises to keep a heartbeat. Sounds fair.” Jace waited to catch Durrell’s guilty smile, but the older man just stared back at him blinking. Jace started flicking through the next few pages. “This one is between Lord Liam, Lady Kenna, and a cat. Cat promises to sleep. Here’s one between Lady Jayden, Lady Reniea, Lord Eyden, and a dog. Dog promises to breathe.” Jace dropped both hands to his sides again, without the stomach to thumb through anymore. “Do you think I’m stupid?”

Durrell looked thoughtful while he composed his best answer.

“Stop it,” Jace said. “They’re fake. What do you want from me?”

“I want you to tell me the significance of those contracts pertaining to each other and the locations and time periods they were made,” Durrell said reasonably.

Jace blinked, looked down at the papers again, nodded. “Sure. Just tell me… when did you make them? Last night? Last week?”

Durrell snorted. He leaned all the way back in his chair. “Sea Clan contracts belong to the people who sign them. No matter the duration that’s decided in writing, if one of the undersigned dies, the contract breaks.”

“Yes,” Jace said. He hadn’t walked in looking for lessons, though Durrell seemed in the mood to give them.

“So what advantage do they gain by including animals in the signing?” Durrell asked.

Jace paused, mouth open. He pulled in a breath, and let it out, heavy. “An easy out without having to commit murder?”

“Exactly,” Durrell said. “Intriguing, confusing and often hilarious custom. Wait until you find the ones that take advantage of the fact that cow and fruit fly sound very similar in Kretic.”

Jace stared at him. “They’re real?”

Durrell didn’t bother nodding. “While you’re here, maybe you can tell me the advantage Masters gain by playing pranks on their students?”

Jace gritted his teeth. “An afternoon’s entertainment?”

“Oh…” Durrell smiled. “Why do so much work, when you take care of that yourself?” Still smiling, he returned to his book.

Jace slid back through the door. He was fairly certain he had only slipped into a different joke.


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