Henry and the Malcontents, Chapter 9

Fiction By Annabel // 7/27/2011


Henry said, “Well enough, you?” when Peter Rafer asked him how he was doing. Of course this was—as most of what he told Peter was, he realized— a deliberate lie: Henry Limminer, sitting in the teachers’ lounge with a cup of coffee that didn’t have enough sugar to suit him, though he was too polite or too shy to get up to get more, was as unhappy now as, perhaps he’d ever been before. But that wasn’t right either, he decided—he’d been unhappier in his youngest remembered days, in high school, such a plain clumsy pale soul he had been—and when his own group of revolutionaries began to fade, as the malcontents would probably do as well soon enough, that had been worse. Yet he was, comparisons aside, still rather miserable now.

He could not safely tell the minotaur about the difficulties he would face in attempting to help a disjointed group of parentless, potentially troubled, certainly distrustful young people to damage the established government. For one thing, causing any significant damage to the Council, much less dismantling it altogether, was an extremely improbable goal. They’re all going to die, he thought, suddenly melancholy for the sake of these near-strangers. He’d only met with them once since their clumsy first encounter at the Wallises’ house: they had talked of government websites and controlled information and secrets and eaten some white chocolate brownies that Wryre had baked for them. They were very informed and serious and very idealistic. Of course they would die, or at least be caught and tortured or hidden away, for years, until they emerged pale and vacant-eyed, any vestiges of their former personalities faded by constant friction and by loneliness.

He knew just enough of each of the children to predict, at least vaguely, what would happen to them when caught at last. He could see Gabe retreating so far into himself that he’d never resurface; Mike killing a prison guard in a fury that would scar him inwardly; Immer losing his reason to a reverie of martyrdom; Luna, he thought, breaking, turning the others in for money or security. He knew the thought was not particularly kind, but he could not help but feel a slight antipathy towards the shy little Soleaster girl, who knew nothing about computers (the main venue for the malcontents’ work) or about “inciting rebellion” through demonstrations or writing, or even, as far as Henry could tell, about the Council. In fact, it seemed to him that Luna, quiet and clinging as she was, was kept in the group only because the others felt an obligation towards her dead parents, who had both apparently been influential revolutionaries, or perhaps because Mike, who rarely displayed tenderness towards anyone, had in a sense adopted her. Luna Soleaster was valued, and highly at that, by the malcontents, Henry could see, but useful she certainly was not.
He imagined that Wryre would try to find some way to comfort the other prisoners she came into contact with, and that Otis would sink into a depression more sullen and abrasive than his current, unresponsive attitude. Zael, though—he had no idea what Zael would be like. Zael was not easy to predict.
So many lives to watch, Henry thought, so many souls. And there was really no hope for them, or for him now that he’d cast his lot in with theirs. But he told Peter Rafer, who was thinking about rugby and pay raises, that he was well.
He met with Zael in his office, again, later that afternoon. And not to talk about the Council, or the revolutionaries, which was something of a relief. To talk about Zael himself, which was very difficult and peculiar.
“Harry!” Zael cried as he walked into the office. His smile was dazzling, childlike and affectionate. He sat at the desk and rested his chin on his hands, gazing up at his teacher with wide eyes. Henry could hardly refrain from smiling back at this, his most frustrating, most unpredictable, and occasionally most charming student.
“You know why you’re here, Wintra?” Henry asked, pulling a formidable pile of documents from a desk drawer.
“Because I’ve been a bad child,” Zael replied, beaming.
“I’m going to have to ask you a lot of questions…Grausam doesn’t get many problem students, but when it does, it takes them very seriously.”
“Everyone takes me too seriously,” Zael sighed. “And I can’t imagine why. I’ve never given them any reason to, have I? But ask away.”
“Tell me about your family.”
“That’s not a question.”
“My parents separated when I was a year or so old. My father is untraceable now (don’t even try), but when he was around he was a lawyer. Odd fellow. Too smart. Liked dragons. My mother is called Tessa, and she is freakishly pretty. Also smart, naturally, though she’s good at hiding it. We’ve moved several times, and always to neighborhoods nearby the Capitol, though I don’t know why. Six years ago, she got married again, to a nice vanilla guy named Ron. And I was sent to a boarding school, partly because Tessa needed the space and partly because I swallowed a canary. And three more schools after that, and here I am.”
“A canary. Really. Why…”
“Mind your own business, boy.”
“Okay. Never mind. Why so many schools?”
“They didn’t appreciate me at any of them. Seemed to want to rid themselves of my company.”
“And why?”
“Because of,” Zael counted on his fingers. “Insubordination, failure to complete assignments, uncalled-for discourtesy, habitual untidiness, possession of contraband books, and sandals.”
“I’ve been looking at all of your files. All of your instructors thought your performance unsatisfactory.”
“Shock and dismay.”
“Also, you’re reported to have never integrated well with your peers.”
“What about the way they integrate with me?”
“And this sort of behavior is continuing at Grausam.”
“Do you consider my performance unsatisfactory?”
And Henry surprised himself by saying, “No.” And meaning it. Zael was certainly not a well-behaved student, but he learned.
“It’s a step up,” Zael grinned. “One instructor thinks I’m doing okay.”
Henry grinned back and hardly begrudged it. “I’m out of official questions.”
“Do I go now?”
“No, wait. Unofficial questions.”
“Why does Gabe have wings?” The question had been burning the back of his mouth for weeks.
“His mother was an odd sort. Unmarried, barely out of her teens, something of a mystic. She moved to a commune, all fairies, and gave birth with the help of a midwife in some little shack there, far away from the doctors or policemen who could have made her give the kid the surgery. Even the commune folk thought letting him keep the wings was stretching it—the only fairies who still wear wings are the ancients, three hundred years or more, and there are probably, like, five of them left, right?—but I hear she insisted. And of course, by the time the authorities caught on Gabe was already five and taking the wings off would have killed him. So they stayed. He stays in most of the time, to avoid fuss.”
“His mother sounds like an unusual person.”
“I tell you she was odd. I knew her for a little bit—white shimmering fairy, white hair and skin and light eyes, really young and small, faraway look. Last year some policemen came to the house and dragged her away. She’s dead for sure.”
Henry grimaced. “What’s wrong with Otis?”
“His father was arrested five years ago and his temporary family—us—we’re not very helpful. But to be concise, his problem is Angst. He’d be angsty no matter what sort of a life he had.”
“That’s superficial analysis, Zael.”
“Darn right it is.”
“Don’t be glib. What’s Mike’s story?”
“Both parents and five older brothers taken over a span of ten years. He’s the angry one, if you haven’t noticed. Wryre worries about him.”
“Why are he and Luna such friends?”
“She needed a guardian and he needed a protégé.”
“Glib again. Wryre seems to be alright.”
“He’s Immer. Always will be. Do I go now?”
And what’s your story? Henry wanted to ask. What are you hiding, what allows you to be so different? But he just nodded at the boy and went back to his papers.


It’s been months, and

It’s been months, and months, and those who were reading it have probably forgotten what came before by now. And this is pretty short. But still.
Criticism, as always, welcome.

Annabel | Sun, 07/31/2011


I didn't forget! Actually, I was concerned that you had abandoned it (and possibly apricotpie, which would have been even more sad). So I'm glad to see you're back, and this chapter didn't disappoint. :) I especially found the fairy/wings thing interesting.

Hannah W. | Tue, 08/02/2011

I nearly let out a squeal of

I nearly let out a squeal of joy when I saw this! It was splendid. Did I mention I really like all the characters? Well I do. Aslo, if possible, don't take so long with the next chapter! (please?) :)

Renee | Tue, 08/02/2011

Just read these comments.

Just read these comments. Thanks for the encouragement, girls--you're wonderful. Odd though it may sound after so many months, I'm actually hoping to get another chapter up soon, so...:)

Annabel | Tue, 01/03/2012

And done.

And done.

Annabel | Wed, 01/25/2012