THE BOY CAME PAST the bend at a light, limber step.
Shadow fled the flame of his lantern into the opening yawed before him. Apace he emerged out onto the balcony, its chipped bannisters knife-edged against the deep-black dark beneath and the far orange ahead. The heels of his black-leather travel-boots grated wood on loose rock. To both sides pillars grew, water-carven of ancient stone, tall, fissured, crowned with darkness.
The boy uncoiled a length of rope from the belt. The one end he hooked about the base of the balustrade. Tother he swung over the precipice. The rope fell, fell, fell… till far below the brass weights clattered on the lower floor. He wound a tatter of cloth about one hand and began the descent.
The sense of ground back under his feet was a relief.
The boy turned up his worn eyes, yet so long was the drop the end of the rope vanished in damp blackness. That takes care for retrieving it leastwise, he marked in thought. The likeliness wasn’t Old Hell should anger at but a piece of rope dangling from between its many teeth. The Crone was a fickle beast, perhaps, yet not much clever. The trick was to keep a hush. Once, the boy had been remiss to swear at her for stubbing his toe with a sneaky mound of dripstone. The memory of the rock shifting and grinding for miles below him clinched his insides even now.
As the darkness burned away from his lantern, the pillars took form around him, emerging ghostlike from the gloom. Their trunks, black and so wide as a man grown shan’t ring their arms around, glistened with water tumbling down the spider-web cracks. The ground here was uneven, treacherous, but the boy made a fast pace natheless, dwarfed, even cowed.
A man felt small where the great pillars grew.
Afore long there loomed before him the manse on the lake.
The bridge led him over the windblown chasm to its crimson-red garden. The wicket rasped behind him as he slipped past. He halted for brief to examine one upturned rosebed, then made toward the front doors of the house. They opened before him as if by a spell, allowing him inside. He went in. At his back, the doors clicked close again.
The wind ceased. A soft dimness draped the silent foyer.
A small figure marked a page in her book with a ribbon, eased it shut, and stood.
She had hair the colour of lilacs and the same scent. The flowers of her eyes were soft warm violets. The buttons of her faded-blue smock were fashioned in the like of hearts, and her breast was surmounted with a glaring red orb held in a net of crimson cords.
She set aside her book and approached, one hand drawing stray locks from her brow.
“Welcome back, Garion,” she greeted the boy.
There was something to be said for that.
The boy was me. The name of him was not Garion, but that was what she called him.
“There’s another word for those who take the kind of sweet time you do,” she chided. “Come now, give me your cloak.” “Were you waiting?” he chanced.
She let that brush past her ears.
The boy also spoke not at all, but let her take his cloak and pack. The small woman put them away before taking his hand in hers. She flinched away from his cold once, but gave not. She drew him gently out the foyer and into the cool hallways of the manse. The tips of her fingers probed the flat of his palm as they walked, as if making certain there weren’t any hurts.
She let a tiring sigh from her pale lips.
“All well to hear,” she said, “but you honestly could have let me check myself. As a matter of fact, it’s a point of pride for me to be sure you didn’t cut any place of yours open on some jagged corner somewhere.” “I apologise.” “That’s all right, Garion. I’ll find something else to be proud of, do not you worry. I had a bath ready for you... but it’s gotten all cold by now, I wager. That’s what you get for making me wait.” “I wished—” he began. “To keep up your tradition of getting under my skin, no doubt you did. As a matter of fact, never you mind. I’ll more likely flay myself first than get you out from under there, even if you weren’t always going out of your way to claw deeper in. I forgive you, of course,” she added with a shadow of amusement. “I’ll not be as stubborn as to agitate the one who could start tearing me at my seams any moment. So you’ll be a nice boy and not make it any harder on me, will you?” “... As you wish.” “I do, at that. How was the sky?” “Wet, low... steel-grey. It is fall above now.” “I see.” She slowed her racing steps. “We’ll talk about that later. There’s the bathroom now.”
They halted before the stout oaken slab guarding the way unto the sultry bath-rooms of the manse.
There was a wistful, trailing touch as the woman relinquished the boy’s hand. She held the door for his wearied feet.
“Oh, and Garion?” she said after him.
The boy half-turned. “Yes, Satori?”
She did not release it easily, but when it came, she had a beautiful smile.
A flock of minutes came and flew away idle as he filled the tub with the gurgling boil from the hot caves underneath the house. And steam rose.
Garion skinned his dirt-splotched garbs to the marble floor. Water fizzed about him when he sank in it up to his chin.
Only then did his wear truly appear to his mind. Already though the bubbling bath sucked away at it through the pores and scars of his skin. The boy closed his eyes. A calming warmth washed over him inside. The last he’d been any warm had been in the common-room of a porters’ inn in the mud-spattered town under Moriya. The hearth had had a crackling little fire going that kept the patrons from growing frost, but the benches were all taken, the floor was all sawdust and rotted straw, and mice skittered over and about on tiny pointed feet as he lay wresting for his sleep.
Here there were no mice. Cats, yes, and some other menagerie, but leastwise not mice and not their piping squeaks nor their curious little teeth. And it was warm.
The boy held to the edges of the tub and dunked his head in the bath.
A moment hence he came back up, snorting water.
He’d missed this dearly.
[ ] He sat for a while, sinking in the warmth, wondering. [ ] He didn’t linger, not now.
[X] He sat for a while, sinking in the warmth, wondering.
There were things he’d missed worse, but these he earmarked for later.
The heat steamed out the thought in him.
A lot has been put to change in these months since ridding of his malefactor. The least of it was Garion. The world was the most—to his mind. There was a beauty about it he’d not seen ever prior. Sun-blasted, rain-stricken, raw-hot or sodden, it mattered not at all. The world needed seeing. And he needed to see it.
Satori had said once he ought become a storyteller. And so he had. Going ‘round the Land with but his boots and cloak and a story to make his bread. That’s what he was. The smallfolk in Moriya, the mountains, farmsteads and elseplaces were all too ready to trade the fruit of their labours for a tale well-told—and readier yet if in their cups.
The road was his wife still as had been always. But he’d found a lovable mistress in the smokey common-rooms of inns and wayside temples sprinkled from end to end of the Land.
The oddest was how the monsters had taken to flee him for no seeming reason except his trail-worn smell... and mayhap the thing the cat-maid of the house had once divulged to him. “There’s saying with clarity whose little brother is,” she had said. “And that is Master Satori’s.” Whether it was the one or tother, he was not of a mind to find. The fact counted monsters left him alone—for the most part. Those which dared approach him he swayed in usual form.
And whenever he should grow sick for home, he’d return here.
The boy turned about in the scalding-hot water.
Sick for home and baths.
When he’d crawled out, all red, and towelled himself down, Satori met him back in the hall.
“You’re making quite the hobby of making me wait,” she noted, tart as a cat in water. “Come along, let’s have some supper. The wait’s made me famished. Then we can go to our room... and you’ll tell me where you’ve been.”
“As you wish,” he said, feeling her tiny fingers lace with his.
There was still one thing he’d missed the dearest.
After they’d supped, they repaired to Satori’s soft-mantled bedroom.
A bunch of blush-pink roses poked their heads out a vase atop the reading table. “A special sort of roses,” the small woman had once told him. “They never wither, even without the Sun. Only if you leave them alone for too long.” The boy had gotten the message clear, but his yearning for the world above had ever been stronger. The orange glow from without slanted through the blinds, enough just to light the room, but enough also to make a moody shadow. The scent of lilacs and old books was powerful. The scent of home.
They seated themselves at the table for a spell rest and reading. The jammed bookcases of the manse’s great library called after Garion almost so loud as did the winding roads and the sunny fields above, but his little hostess would not allow him to carry the books outside. “They’re precious tomes,” she’d remind. “They’re to stay—and you, too, if you want to read.” That which he held right now struck him as no more precious than any he had on the surface; but if he wist that, Satori did not.
The volume treated of another of those olden histories he was wont to read. The mark he’d left in it had sat in the mid of the brick of leafs, but the page had looked no more familiar than the one after it or before.
Grudgingly, he’d begun from the first anew.
A dozen hadn’t crinkled past when Satori slammed her own book shut and stood.
“That’s enough, isn’t it?” seemed to say her pining violet eyes, as she stole first the boy’s read, and then his hands. There was an unspoken wish on her perfect white face when she drew him hungrily toward the wide canopied bed. The mattress whined when her tiny arms shoved him down on it. She climbed after him, kneeling abed with her knees and calves around his hips.
She had him overmatched in height this way so he must crane up his head to look on her face, but this only appeared to excite her more. She wound her arms about his neck and kissed him.
They kissed plenty those days (when he was in the house), but only in this room.
It had begun as all had between them, on a chance. The boy had been eating his way through an ardent tale of a certain lord the old palace had once housed, when inadvertently he’d thought back on the kiss he and Satori had shared under that sagging tree on the shrine hill, the night of the festival. The night had seemed almost ancient.
The kiss had been first, awkward, worsened further by the malicious entity which had then burrowed in his mind still, and by his small lady’s private jape against the red-white priestess. The boy had remembered it all, that, as well as she’d not allowed him near her lips once since—not even when he had lain with her in her bed; not even when he’d pleasured her with his touch and massage.
Satori had caught the thought by the tail. She’d closed her book and given him that tired sigh she had.
“We’d have to get that out of the way sooner or later,” she’d conceded.
She’d sat on his lap and they’d tried kissing. Tried being the operative word. I almost knocked out her teeth, Garion recalled. And she, mine. The memory made him feel all boyish again.
Satori slid back out of the kiss.
“Are you so bothered by that?” she asked him, her voice softer than her lips.
Then there was the night they’d wondered if they might kiss without stopping their eveningly reading. The feat had proven difficult, so they’d elected to kiss firstly and resume reading once they were done.
They had not read a single more passage that night.
Am I so bothered by it?
“Well, are you?”
“No,” he wanted to say.
Instead he kissed her.
One of his hands went to her chin to pull down on her lower lip. Awhile she resisted, but then her mouth opened for his. She tasted of their meal, tomatoes and bread, and the delicate wine she’d sipped together with it. The wine had been spiced with a pinch of honey and cinnamon.
A corner of her smock slipped the band of her skirt. The boy yanked it all out, and his hands went under the cloth, to feel the burning skin on her sides and back. She shivered under his touch. There was a girlish yelp, and presently both they collapsed backward on the whispering silken beddings. The bed wailed, but they cared not.
There, in that warm fleecy heaven, never taking his lips from hers, Garion managed someway to gasp out a question.
“Was I truly gone so long?” he asked. “Too long,” she breathed in answer. “Only a month—” “Too long.” “What is a month to you?” “Too long.”
She thieved a last feel of his lips before she rose to a sit.
The buttons of her smock gave up under her slim fingers. She tugged aside the frilled collar and bared her porcelain shoulder. Her skin was all flawless white, but for the tiniest brown birth-mark where her collarbone sank into the flesh of her breast. She gave a shudder all on her own. “Come. Give,” she was begging him voicelessly.
“What would you have of me?” Garion wanted to know.
The small lover looked down at him with guileless violet eyes, eyes innocent of shame.
“The trouble is,” she told him a sticky half-hour later, “when you’ve freshly gotten a thing, it’s all the more hurtful to have it taken away again. You’d do well to take that to heart. A pet’s only so good as long as it keeps near its master.”
“A pet?” Garion rose his head from the disarrange of cloth and frills on her breast. “That’s what I am?”
Satori gave a catlike smile. This time the cat was in cream, not in water.
“I didn’t hear you protest when I called you mine, now did I?” she purred.
“No,” he granted.
“Then that’s settled, isn’t it?”
She ran her fingers once more through the thick of his hair, softly stroking the scalp with the nails. Were he any like a cat, he’d purr, too.
At some point in their love-making she’d finagled out of his arms, claiming enough. She’d lain back on the pillows of the bed, had him do selfsame as well, and begun toying with his warmth-curled crown. The boy hadn’t mourned, not overmuch. The fashion she had him love her had ever been queer to his mind.
An unthinking hand went from his side to the bite-marks on her shoulder and neck. He mightn’t start to guess at why it pleased her so, but this it did—she’d attested to so much in plenty a manner and volume. To the boy, it called back the image of that black day not enough agone, when he’d beat her beloved face to a bloody mess having her wrongly for his malefactor. The malefactor had been inside him all along. The one he’d beat had freed him of her. She’d forgiven him, too. “I won’t stay like this forever,” she’d assured him. “I will heal, eventually.”
She’d kept her promise and healed, that she was beautiful again, but...
... The guilt was not so easily rinsed away.
There weren’t many things Garion had felt guilt for, but this had never left him to be sure. A great many people had come in and faded out of his life, oft-times learning never more of him than a few harsh words and a false name – that much was true... Yet none of them were Satori. And none of them I’d made bleed.
“That’s all right, Garion,” she calmed him now. “As a matter of fact, you’d best worry for things I’ve not yet forgiven.” She tugged a flap of her smock a whole half inch over the marked skin. “You’re too full of worries you’d be far wiser to never mind. There’s this thing called the future to worry for; that’s what should be on your mind the most. That and me. I’m the tallest hurdle you’ll have to leap right now.” Another of her sweet little smiles paid a visit to her lips. “As a matter of fact, you’ve yet to tell me what amazing thing you ran across that kept you away for so long. A girl, perchance, with less of a tall price to appease? A prettier-placed birthmark? A comelier bed manner?”
“No such thing.”
“I know, but then what? Get to telling, my Garion. You’re still so close-lipped when you aren’t spinning a story—too very close-lipped.”
Some habits die hard. Very well.
“There’s a turn in the peoples as the season turns,” he began. “The coming of rain-storms marks the pass of fall, and thus so of the harvest. The field-hands no more toil away at the fields, taking instead to their mills and granaries and workshops, whilst the land lies in rest. The roads run brown with mud-slides in the mountains, and in the flatlands they gather pools of water that belie the surface beneath. Trade and freight is halted for those, and fear of accident—as well weather as monsters. The trailside inns stand all but empty, and the temples quiet.
“There isn’t overmuch for a storyteller to do in this wet sad time, but go where go his audiences... and hope for them to spare the coin e’en when ‘tis the selfsame voice they hear telling the tale each night. ‘Twas the alehouses of the town below Moriya where I sought my luck this past moon, though sparse I found it. A shabby place, to be sure, but Moriya are shabby folk. Shabbier still when most had nought on thought but a quick tankard and a warm bed after—or any bed in truth.
“I lasted an overnight in Moriya, on the floor of a porters’ inn, but on the morrow I took to the wild.”
“A porters’ inn?” Satori questioned.
“Not mine own invention. The Moriya are so shabby with their coin as they are with their tongues. They think themselves porters after a fashion... mayhap porters to the Goddesses’ Mount, but they are shabby goddesses for this stripe or porters. The wilderness proved kinder than them by far. A two-ten nights I spent in it, or close as makes no matter, and no night went by without a meal... Although my stomach would say elsewise if you asked it about berries and rabbit.”
Satori’s laughter was like a small silver bell, and Garion’s face took on a tragic cast.
“That you’d eat a rabbit is gross enough,” she said. “There’s terror in rabbits not many living know, yes.” “That’s not what I meant, you dunce. I could never put in my mouth something I’d seen on its legs and running for its life. Your wit’s sharpened since those escapades,” she marked. “Will you start bringing home bad jokes in addition to your mud and stink now?”
The boy apologised. “I apologise.”
“You needn’t say it twice. That’s the hardest thing about you, did you know that? You narrate.” “Only to stay in practice.” “That’s golden. There’s something to be said for people who speak to themselves in their heads. You were sick, Garion, I cured you; I don’t want you falling into yet another sickness so soon.” “Will you hear the rest now?” he was anxious to know. “The tale isn’t yet done.”
The small lover rolled her eyes unseriously.
“Oh yes. Why, don’t let me interfere with your blithe ride down to the madhouse. Should you lose another screw someplace on the way, fear not, I will drag you back by the scruff and fix you up again. Only to stay in practice, to be sure.” She gave a great sigh. “Get on with it, why don’t you? Give it to me, already. I simply can’t wait to hear what dangers you’ve put yourself through while I chewed on my knuckles for your life back at my safe and warm home.”
“As you wish,” he said.
“I do,” she murmured in response. “Gods help me, I really do.”
She buried her hands in his hair and he continued with his story.
Satori hushed the boy at her breast with a finger. “Come in,” she said. She made no effort to hide neither him nor the affair of her clothes. Who stood there framed in the doorway when it opened was the pet, cat-maid of the house. Orin, they called her, her friends as well as her master. Though her true name was else.
“Good day.” She curtsied. “To Master Satori. And little brother.” She gifted him with a smile. “Good day to him also.”
By way of greeting, the boy rubbed his nose up and down in her master’s breast.
The cat-maid righted herself and patted down her ankle-long dress. It was princely piece, of noble pine-green that set off the fiery auburn of her hair. At the heart of her bosom, she enriched it with a gemstone brooch in the like of a crescent moon. Two booties of dark scarlet peeked out from under the lace-trimmed hem of her skirts. The whole of her presence was a glittering flow of red and green. A forest fire living, walking. Cat-eared.
“What is the uproar?” Satori questioned.
“Ah, no,” said Orin, “no uproar, not that. Only that Orin has arrived home from her duties, yes. To others, ‘twould seem,” she added with a bitter set of jaw. “The sisters of Orin know no bounds in their play. They have made uproar of the storage-room, that they did. There is scraps of flour-bags everywhere and flour for hours...” “They’re your sisters.” Satori’s tone carried no room for doubt. “They are, plain as plain. She will care of the mess—and words, too, once done. Ah, but firstly...” She looked on the two embracing on the bed. A dreamlike smile graced her lean face. She curled her hands into paws. “There’s room enough yet for one on the pillows, there is—and it seems so warm and soft, oh yes, so warm... Might be little sister could rest a while?... A while on the pillows with little brother and Master Satori...” “After,” Satori said firmly. “Only a while, perhaps...” She left it hanging, and her generous lips took on a slight pout. “After, Orin.”
“Oh, cruel!” The cat-maid puffed. “Cruel is Master Satori! So be it then. After, says Master Satori. And let it be after—but she will come, she will, and there’d best be place still on the pillows.”
She spun on a heel and swished out the room in a huff.
Satori breathed out with grief. “She’d barge in before long, I knew.”
The boy looked up on her face.
The wrinkles on her nose were a study in irritation.
“Was that why you had us stop?” “... Among other things,” she confessed. “It’s fine if we’re seen lying together or kissing. Anything more is...”
She did not finish.
There was nothing for Garion to do, but fall in with her silence. They’d been caught once, experimenting with further steps in their love. They’d had to scramble for their clothes when Orin had turned up knocking at the door. The glint of her eyes had lain bare she’d known exactly what they’d been busy at before she come. She had scented them out. It wasn’t such a grand deal; it irks her too much by half.
“That’s easy for you to say,” she groused. “You weren’t the one with one breast out and the other in someone’s mouth.” “They’re your friends,” Garion reasoned. “They’d not make an issue of it.” “They’re pets, first and foremost. Would you find no issue in... going at it with a cat or dog looking on at you all the while?”
The boy deigned not to reply.
She’d not like the answer at any rate.
“As a matter of fact, no, I would not. And please don’t say she scented us out,” she moaned. “That’s so vulgar.”
“As you wish.”
“Thank you,” she sighed in reply. “That’s really enough of that topic.”
He closed his eyes on the soft, quiet cushions of her breasts.
A lazy time passed in her lilac warmth.
“Garion?” Satori murmured at length. “Are you awake?”
“... Yes?” he muttered, never looking.
“There’s one more thing, before she comes and coaxes all of our attention.”
“What is it?”
“I want to visit with your parents.”
Garion felt as though his heart had just lodged in his throat.
“We’ve still some weeks before winter blows around,” Satori went on. “I’d like it better if we could pay them a call this year and not the next. They’re certain to have us, given we don’t crash on them in the middle of stock-making. I should have liked to do so earlier, but you were off in your wilds, and—”
The boy had torn away from her chest and now was gaping at her with a fright.
She met the grey of his gaze, a hundred years of tousled, frowning, violet-eyed disapproval.
“You promised,” she reminded him. “At the festival, remember? You do.”
“That does not count,” Garion argued. “The promises I made when still with her, they hold no matter—”
... she said, and he was no longer sure.
A patch of silence stood flat between them.
“Satori—” Garion started again.
“I wasn’t asking, Garion,” she rode him over. “There isn’t—leave you my deuced hands alone!—there isn’t an argument to be made here. I told her I would fix you, and I mean to do just that. That includes the wrongs you’ve made together. Your father wished you show me to his wife... and you’ll do that, whether you like or not. We’re going, and that’s final.”
“The roads—” “The devil take the roads. We’ll fly.”
“No,” he grated. “No, we won’t. The winds are foul for flying anyway. And we’d best be thorough if we’re to make pretences. We’ll require disguise...” “You’re a crafty one,” Satori told him confidently. “You’ll figure out something. As a matter of fact, of that, I have no doubt.”
“I have,” he admitted. And curse myself for it. “The weather will justify warm clothes—thick warm clothes, to hide your... parts. The selfsame should warrant a soon return, for fear of snow.” The gears of his mind ground hard at work despite him. “The transport, too, I have a notion—but Satori, I’ll need time—”
“Then you’d do well to be quick about it. Winter’s just around the corner, after all—and believe me I should be cross if we have to walk back home with a snowstorm snapping at our heels.” She gave a painfully sweet smile. “Well, my Garion?”
[ ] On the morrow. The sooner it was done the better for him. [ ] A few more days. He’d only just returned.
[x] On the morrow. The sooner it was done the better for him.
Let's see if the part with the parents can be fixed. Maybe when Garion finally wants to meet up with them, he realised that they have already pass away due to age or sickness and thus make this his regret forever.
Quickie asky: would you eagles prefer if I waited for everyone (that’s about 5 people, methinks?) to have their voice at junctions, or just was an ass of a face and update whenever I damn feel like it?
Sorry to bump this, but I’m a filthy attention whore please rape my butt-face I’d like an answy as quickie as the asky.
[X] On the morrow. The sooner it was done the better for him.
“There’s a good line of thought,” Satori approved. “Though I loathe to let you go so soon.”
“You said to make haste.”
“To be quick, yes. I did... I trust you’ll handle it prettily, as you usually do.” She looped her arms soothingly about his neck. “There’s no cause for alarm, my Garion,” she spoke, lovingly quiet. “Your father did frighten me, that is so, but only because I was surprised—by you, too—not because... well, anything else you might think. We’ll be fine, you and I... and them, too. We’ll all be fine. I promised besides. You know I am a girl of my promises...” “He’s not my father,” Garion reminded. “To your mind,” she allowed, “no, perhaps not. To all other intents and... purposes, he is. Are we honestly going to debate semantics?”
“I do not.” “Not what?” “Like.” “Yes?” “... One bit.” “And from the start now, please.”
The boy grunted. “I do not like this one bit.”
She gave him a smile that was centuries her junior. “There’s a good boy. Shake that frown from your face though, won’t you? We’re going, there isn’t any way for you to squirm out of this, why beat yourself over the head with it?”
She was misled in the thought, of course.
Garion was perhaps younger and less pleasant on the eye, but he was over a foot taller than she was, and long of leg as well. There were such places he might run not even the keen nose of the cat-maid would trail him. To the dense woods of Moriya, or the waste eastern plains; he might run with never a hesitation and she’d have nought to say in it.
The trouble part was, he did not want to.
A man takes much for granted when he isn’t in love. There’s things love takes, rolls up into an accordion, and plays as it well likes: refusal, for an instance. With no groundless reason do they speak love and madness in the same lines. The years had hardened him to soppy sentimentalism, but he may not deny oft-times he’d take heart from only seeing this small, wilful woman brush the stray curls from her brow or cast him one of those longing looks she had in the cosy shade of their room. She had fearfully longing looks, and eyes like pools of warm velvet love.
A man might drown in those eyes. He had. How might he say no if he were drowned?
The boy let off the weariest bubble of breath. What will I do with you? he’d say, if he dare the humour. What will I do with myself?
“What will you?” Satori canted her little head. “A ticklish question.”
“Would you answer it?”
“At a price. No, I jest. Take what time you need with those preparations, but tomorrow. We’re somewhat shorter for time at the moment; Orin will come back any minute now. That’s all we’ll have for ourselves, I fear. As for what you’ll do... Will you help me button up my clothes?” “Why I?” She pulled him closer to his twin violet doom. “Why,” she said, her voice cloying with mischief. “You’ve made a disarray of them; you ought to clean up your own mess, no?”
“... True,” he decided.
“Then get to it. Get to it before she comes. My Garion.”
No more than he had two buttons past, she was brushing her lips on his.
Sweet it was, sweet and snug and gone too soon. The morrow came unbidden, a stab of orange light through the blinds. Garion woke stiff, but not aching, not cold, and not alone. Satori lay with her scented hair spilled over his shoulder. Orin dozed wreathed up on the pillows above their heads, holding Garion’s motherly between her chin and breast. The boy wormed out their arms to his feet.
A huge yawn rolled out of his mouth as he reached for his clothes tossed over the backrest of a chair.
The cat-maid, a trace of drool now hanging out the corner of her lips, had joined them before much too long on the previous evening, and made good on almost all her master’s fears. She’d caught them at kissing, too. She’d japed that if her master was so hungry for kisses she needed but ask, but Satori hadn’t the mind for any more skinship that night. They had lounged instead, and talked, and turned down Orin’s mocks, till drowsiness overtook them each in turn.
The little sister had not come to join them, being someplace out, nor had the winged Okuu, and good, else he’d be stiffer and worn thinner than the shaft of a spear. Of that much, he had to be glad.
At his back, the beddings whished and rustled under a waking girl. Who, that he knew without ever turning.
“Good morning, Satori,” he said.
“Garion,” was her reply. Her voice was thick with sleep.
The boy yanked the belt through his trousers. Clasps, hooks and buckles rang a dissonant iron ring.
“On the third day hence,” he began, pulling on his boots, “wait me close the gates to the underworld. I cannot vouch for the exact—ugh—time... but I shall speak with the princess to grant you stay in her tollhouse. She should be accommodating. On the third day,” he said again.
“All right.” There was a stifled yawn. “Garion? Tell me. Where exactly are you going?” “A farmstead southerly of Moriya,” he replied. “The last I went by there they’d been done with the ploughing. I’ve told for the head farmer’s family before. They’ll surely do trade with me.”
“Will you need money?” “A handful might be in due course.” “There’s some in a sock in the drawer I keep my underwear. That, there—no, the one below. Yes. Just don’t look too hard, will you? There should be a stuffed sock somewhere—somewhere in the back, I imagine. Yes, so. The one with the heart. That’s right. That’s the one. Take as much as you want—oh, but leave the sock, please. The money will have to cut it.”
“Thank you.” The boy pocketed the coins and put away the sock. “I’d happily do much more than that,” she told him, “but likely you’d not like me to.”
“No.” I travel faster on my own.
“As a matter of fact, yes, that’s probably right. On the third day, yes?” “Yes.” “All right. I’ll do my best to remember. Garion, before you go...” “Yes?”
He turned about to see her wishing for him in her arms.
On the fourth day, from the predawn gloom loomed out to him the toothed gates to the underworld.
The mare reared from their long-fanged jaws, and from the gaping darkness between, but with a blindfold about her eyes they became no more than a distant and very foolish daydream. That made nothing to her whinnying whenever her hoof caught in a ridge or pinched a rock shooting to the side, but Garion led her discreetly around the most ragged ground.
The boy had not determined to overnight in the woods before the underworld, but the mare’s shoe had split past the middle not half a league away the farm, and he’d had nought to do but turn back and have the smith re-shoe the beast. The wait had been nothing if not grating, though every passing field-hand had assured him of their master’s goodwill, and it threw all of Garion’s plans into a vile mess to boot. An early evenfall had beset him first on the road to Moriya, then secondly some miles before the gates.
Were he alone, he’d have gone on. With the panicking animal on the rein...
The last of outside light winked behind a bend, and the entryway lit up with the rot-green of the torches on the bridge.
The mare’s steps clip-clopped on the stone and squeaked where it was patched with age-greyed wood. At tother end, the tollhouse sat squat against the high slanting walls of the cavern. The boy brought the horse up to a rusting lamppost and tied her reins to the pole. A candle shone through a low window of the tollhouse when he went for its door, hoping against hope that at this hour Satori would be yet abed and he’d not must face yet her violet-eyed rage.
The hope turned to crumbs when a pile of shawls on feet answered the door.
Atop the pile, Satori’s head glared on him with the very eyes he’d feared.
“Took your deuced time!”
“I was set back.”
The shawls cloaked all her hair, shoulders and back. They were sewn of a cloth brown and thick, but motley patterns glowed on the over-side of each, painting the small woman in a curious maze of colours. They hid her inhuman parts well however. The longest piece went all the way down to her waist, and hung its tassels glittering around her slight hips.
The boy leaned down and fished her hands from the folds. Then he squeezed them and kissed her, and for an instance he felt as if he were kissing not his lover, but some mysterious rich-clad princess from a children’s picture-book. The scowl melted from her brows as she kissed back.
“That’s enough,” she told him softly. “No... wait.” She kissed him again. “That’s enough. You’re lucky the lady of the house isn’t here. She’d not let us hear the end of it.”
“Where is she?”
“Upstairs, presumably. Asleep, I should think—though not much longer. Since you’ve finally decided to show up, I’ll have to go and thank her... and say sorry for the delay, probably. She was kind enough to feed me and let me sleep on the couch. An apology’s the least she deserves.”
[ ] “Then go,” he would tell her. “Best not to offend the vengeful thing.” [ ] “Let her sleep,” he would say. “The day’s wasting already.”
[X] “Let her sleep,” he would say. “The day’s wasting already.”
“Let—” “That’s not very courteous, Garion.”
“Mayhap,” he consented. “But the day’s wasting.” “You’ve squandered one already; what’s another? You’ll have to tell me what you’ve stumbled on this time. But yes,” she agreed with a little sigh, “perhaps you’re right. The princess would like only grumble and spit on my shoes anyway. She’s too fearfully jealous.” “She is.” The tolltaker had indeed a fine temper and an even finer pride. “Then let us away—” “And you’re more dogged than a hound, did you know that?” She gave up his hands. “All right, let’s get on that beloved road of yours, if you’re so keen—just let me blow out this candle... Here. Have you what you went out for, anyway?” “I do.” “Then let’s see the deuced thing.”
The mare made nary a neigh of noticing when they approached.
The boy’s small lover climbed up to her toes and touched the animal’s nose with the flat of her hand. A critical look crinkled her features under the shawls. Garion felt a sudden and irrational need to defend the beast. She’s brought me in a single piece at least. She’s a good beast.
Satori gave a grunt. “Awfully stupid, though.”
“What is she thinking?”
“Wondering who took away the Sun when she’s woken not two hours ago.”
The thing doesn’t know she’s wearing a blindfold.
“Well, yes. There’s only so much you can expect from a horse after all. Garion? Will you help me up? I’ll never reach that high myself.”
The boy lifted her up onto the saddle. The tips of her brown cowhide booties dangled helplessly halfway down to the stirrups. Garion undid the reins from the post and began leading the mare back athwart the torchlit bridge. Ahorse, Satori clung to the saddle’s pommel with ten frightened fingers as the beast clip-clopped again across the old wood and rock.
“Garion?” She spoke. The damp cavern air made her voice thinner somehow than normal. “Aren’t you going to get on, too?” Garion cleared his throat. “When we’re under the sky.”
“Why not now?” “The beast is blindfolded. She may trip—” “And you had me sit all the way up here?!” “—with so much weight and no one to lead her,” he finished. “She won’t with my lead... and but the littlest thing such as you on her back.”
The small lover pondered it over.
“Well, all right,” she murmured at length. “And thank you... I suppose.”
There had been a silver mist out afore he’d gone in through the gates.
The last of it was now milking away, fine wisps of white borne on an eastering breeze from the highlands, that had been kissing their hands and faces since the black threshold. Away beyond the valley-mouth, two leagues or three or so as the eye leaps, the highlands themselves glimmered grey with fresh dew in the morrow Sun. Satori shielded her eyes from the rising light. The clouds had opened, and the Sun had cleft a mighty bank down their mid, golden-yellow, a promise of some warmth in the wet.
Garion slipped the cloth from the mare’s head. The animal blinked and flicked her ears at him in dim recognition.
A foot through the stirrup and he was swinging himself up on the saddle behind Satori. The small lover had dropped her hood, and now she was basking her little face in the weak morning rays. There was nought more to do here but go.
He spurred the mare with a thrust of the hips.
Satori jolted up.
The beast started a leisurely trot down the sloping path. A soft grind was heard as he hoofed along on the gravelly ground. The valley slid by in chopping shakes.
The small lover twisted about to look on her boy two dark agates for eyes.
“That was a curious sensation,” she told him mildly. “Now don’t do it again.”
“... Never mind.” She turned tensely away. “Just don’t do it again, Garion. Or give me a warning, at least. As a matter of fact, count yourself fortunate I’m even saying this. I dislike surprises—with a passion.”
“... As you wish.”
Afore the hour was out, they cleared the last wind-whipped walls of the valley.
An air opened, so vast it dwarfed, and Garion could see the Land laid out before him, bathed in mists drawn up by the waking day. The leas and fields of the realm lay stained with ruddy yellows and reds of the shedding glades and woods. The greatest of them, the Forest of Magic, came out of the yet-unseen west, spilling in a powerful sweep south and west again, deep- and blood-brown, like a great splash of tea across the dark tablecloth green. A web-work of rivers wove through the flats, arching and bending and arching, shimmering white in the sparse Sun.
To the north mists lay heavy, far beyond which the Goddesses’ Mount stood grasping for the skies some twenty and five leagues away.
“That’s picturesque,” Satori noted in a half-voice.
The boy did not lower himself to ask which she had meant.
As they sank in the chilling shades of the Forest of Magic, Garion began to take heed.
It was a day’s walk to the village, half ahorse. They would before long come on a turning right, and take to the weathered pilgrimsway, that wound from the Hakurei hills and turned to the village, skirting the densest and worst of the woods. There were yet some hours till they must present themselves to Garion’s “parents,” but the farce had yet a score of holes to patch.
Satori had tired quickly of the mare’s steady joggling, but she’d found as soon it helped if she rest against the boy and let herself drift off to sleep. The ride has been dull a whit. All well, too. A shame to wake her for nought critical, but... As gently as he might, he wove his fingers though hers.
The small woman roused slowly.
“Garion?” She was mumbling. “Are we there?”
When her boy gave no reply, she threw a pale glance about.
“This doesn’t look a village,” she marked. “Where are we?”
“The Forest of Magic still.”
“Ah.” She paused. “Garion, love? Can I have my hand back? Something caught in my eye.”
“As you wish.”
“Thank you.” She kneaded limply at her face. “Um... Garion? I didn’t call you ‘love’ just then, did I?”
“Ah. That’s... good. That’d be embarrassing.”
Whilst she shouldered off the last scraps of sleep, Garion began to speak.
“We shall carry on the act from the festival,” he declared. “They know my name to be Corin; we shall also, for that time as we need. Your name shall once more be San... San Mei.” That was what she’d first introduced her as, when they met first. To test him mayhap, or mayhap to play him a fool; it was ancient history now. “You have lived all your life in a lone manor house offside... westerly of Moriya. Your own parents, and family, are your own choosing; I shall deter to you.
“What of them left in seek of change and what you’ve buried, that is also yours. You had been living but on your own for some months afore I chanced upon your house in my travels... sometime mayhap in spring this year. There I met you, seeking shelter... and fell in love with you at first sight.”
“Well, that part is true at least.” Satori smiled.
Garion ignored the sally.
“We married in summer-time,” he went on, “not long after the Hakurei festival. The wedding was covert at best. There were repairs to be made around the house; we did not want festivity, nor gross merrymaking. There is a hole yet in the roofing. On the leeward side, methinks. Above the kitchen.” “Why does that matter?” “The details make or unmake a story. You should remember well; when it pours, rainwater soaks in and drips straight over the sink. At first we’d been of a mind it ought be well if we did nothing with it; but not too much later the hole moulded overnight, and I made ready to go to Moriya for tools and supplies... when we recalled we had been intended to visit my... my parents.”
“So we wrangled,” Satori took up the tale, “and wrangled and wrangled, until you complied to visit first, buy what tools you need in the Human Village by the way, and then come back before the roof rots all the way through? Why, Garion,” she chirped. “That’s so very awfully convenient I may laugh.”
“It is well that we shan’t linger too long.”
“Are you that loath to those people?” She gave pause, yet the boy vouchsafed no reply. “You worry for me, don’t you,” she spoke regardless. “You worry that something will happen. You shouldn’t.” “I do,” he drawled. “I will.”
“Why?” “I was a boy of six,” he said, “... seven mayhap, when they took me in. And even then they sang me the same tired refrain: stay athwart of going to the woods, for monsters lurk there, that’s what all children are taught. The whole village quakes in its breeches for monsters that aren’t well-known and thus welcome to its walls. You are one such monster, Satori, whether rightly or not. I shan’t allow you to come under risk. There are sentiments there and flames best left unstirred.”
Satori bristled. “Shan’t allow me? Aren’t you maybe rising above your station a little?”
“... Yes.” The boy tightened his fist on the reins. “Yes, I am. You are in my care, Satori—” “And so you’ll tell me what I can do and not? That’s your pretty picture of care?”
“It is.” “I am older than you and wiser besides. I won’t consent!” “You will.” “And why is that, pray tell?”
“Because,” he said, “I fell in love with you at first sight.”
“You...” The woman squirmed in his arms. “That’s not true!” “No,” he admitted, “but you enjoy the thought.” “You stop that right now!”
“Orin speaks of how dearly you love. Then for the love you bear me, you will do as I say.” I do not want you to come to harm. “Am I to make even clearer why to stay is to tempt fate? There is no place for those such as us among those sorts.” You do not belong there, and neither do I. “You are my greatest treasure, Satori, and so long as I still draw breath, you are to remain buried where only I should find you. Nobody else shall.”
“... And how I am to answer to that, do you think?”
Stay buried, Satori; you are much too important for those squabbles in the village. There are too many that’d be lost for their lives without you.
They rode on in a quiet.
Till a mile after so they rode, when Garion asked anew:
“Will we do it my way?”
Satori gave her head a feeble shake.
“You really are pig-stubborn...” “Will we?”
“Yes. Yes, Garion. We will,” she surrendered. “You have the right; we shouldn’t kick up any wildfires on only a visit. I’ll do what you say.”
The boy smiled for her. “Thank you.”
Satori spun away in a huff. “You should! You love me much too much, did you know that? But unless you plan to bury me in the brush beside this road here, will you kindly tell this dumb beast to hurry along? I’ll rue the ungodly shaking, but this gait might put a rabid dog to sleep! I’ll be raw between the thighs by the time we’re there anyway; might as well make it quicker on me. Yaa! Yaa! Come on! Go! Gods, why am I blushing?”
The Human Village was a village but in the name. Town should suit it more, and mess for a surety.
In times agone, a palisade as tall as two-and-half a grown man had embraced the village in a protective band. The defence had since been dismantled to allow new housings to sprout and the fields to expand. A meadow half-mile wide was its fence now, beyond which dark woods lurked, slowly but surely encroaching on the peoples here living.
Tall men heavy-cloaked and at spear stood watch below the derelict archway, but when Garion’s mare capered close, they parted and let them cross without words.
Though the hour neared afternoon, and the weather bode ill, time and again the rainblackened cobblestone streets carried teams of industrious villagers to and fro among the brick- and timber-stacked houses. A wool-clad farmboy or girl would now and then cut through their path, goats or sheep or piglets trailing after them in rows like schoolchildren.
Satori had retreated deep into her shawls, saying nor doing nought, not even when the boy hissed, “Prr!” and reined the mare in beside a hasting farmsman.
“Neighbour!” he called the man. “Aye, you. Prr, beast! The stables, good neighbour. Are they still where they were last?”
“The southside gate, aye.”
The man pelted along, giving them not a second glance.
“Neighbour?” Satori’s dubious voice came softened from her cowl.
Garion shrugged. “I read it in a book once.”
They tracked to the stables, where the boy swung off the saddle and helped Satori to come down. After he’d bolted the horse in a stall with a bucket of water and basinful of hay, he tossed a few coins in the toll-box nailed to one wing of the stable’s gates. A furtive tock of a window shuttering nearby told him he’d done well. An unsociable service, but efficient, he noted for the future.
The boy took his small lover in hand, and they walked the way remaining to his parents’ house on foot.
The house stood in a district walled in with other estates, hedged apart with pickets and dense chest-high thujas. Theirs was a two-storey house, with an overbuilt loft and a nigh mountainous angled roof. The chimney sputtered puffs of grey smoke on the cool breeze, as most chimneys do in such an autumn time.
The thing which set this house apart from the others was a workshop—no more than a hut in truth—thrown together of old planks and thatch, that perched bevelling in the yard, its doorway opened inviting to the street.
“Shop Redgreaves” proclaimed the frontsign with pride. A mistake the old man had valiantly refused to correct.
A banging noise hammered from the hut. Earmarks were, the master was in.
[ ] “Wait here,” he’d tell Satori. “I’ll play that one a prank before I hale him out.” [ ] “Come along,” he’d say. “Better he smothers you with kisses than me.”
[X] “Come along,” he’d say. “Better he smothers you with kisses than me.”
Satori gripped hard his palm afore he might say so.
She turned up a nettled face. It was not quite a pout, not as yet, but it was the next best thing.
“Are you planning to make fun at my cost, Garion?”
“No such thing.” A whit of fun would not hurt, however.
“The old wolf would have his fun either way; there is no hurt if I take advantage of it.” The boy attired a melancholy look. “I do not anticipate this, no more than I did from the start; less even. You’ll excuse me if I stand behind you when the kisses start flying.”
“Oh, I despise this new wit of yours, I really do.” She tugged faintly at the edge of her hood. “All right. There’s only one way my feet will get even colder, and that’s dallying around in this breeze. The sooner this is over with the better for me—was that what you said?”
“Are you so nervous, Satori?”
“Why, no, Garion. As a matter of fact, not at all.”
Garion did not question then how hard she squeezed.
“Well, if you know it,” she hissed, “then why do you insist to ask? Of course I’m a little high-strung. I’ve never been a wife before. This is a first.” She allowed her shoulders to drop. “Come, Garion,” she begged, “or Corin; let’s go, already. San is standing in the slips to see her parents-in-law.”
“As you wish.”
The workshop smelt of burnt rosin. The air was heavy with its taste.
Of late, Garion had lived tending nought but the basest of base needs. This shop—of a stripe—was testament to how a sedentary style of life muddied the waters for those needs. Appliances broken and fixed hung from hooks on the walls: here a split pitchfork, there a frayed saddle, a clog with torn straps, springs and buckles, a snapped pack-harness... When Garion and his... father... had first set up the business, it had been of necessity. The necessity had since switched sides, and the business had flourished. The old man had always had a penchant for tinkering; his neighbours – for getting things broken. The solution hadn’t been all too difficult, although it had stepped now ostensibly a pace beyond control. A shattered stone statue... How in Old Hell will he fix that?
The hammering beat from the unlit back-room, where the actual magic took place.
Garion knocked his knuckles on the counter.
“Come one, come all!” called a sweaty voice. “A bit occupied here, but be with you in a trice. What’s the problem?”
The boy drew a tense breath.
“A pup ran from my house,” he called back, “now a hound’s come back and he needs a collar.”
The banging broke as magically into nothing. A chair was shoved aside as a huge bear woke somewhere in the dark doorway.
“AT BLOODY LAST!”
And then the bear was on them.
Out of the shadow, and he was vaulting over the counter with an un-bear-like almost agility. The boy backed away, ready to offer up Satori to the charging beast, but the beast never glanced his way once. The girl stood fixed as a pillar of salt when Michael tossed his meatloaf arms round her small back; then she pushed forth a shy smile when he fell to a knee and gave her palms both a noisy kissing. But whether it was a smile of gladness or anxiety, she made unclear.
“Th’ day I see San-lady in my ‘shop is th’ day my luck peaks, I was saying. Well, an’ there she is.” The old man neared sixty, but his grin was fifty his junior. “Things are goin’ t’ get downhill from here, aren’t they?”
“A—An overstatement, probably,” Satori stammered. “Anyway, me and Corin—”
“Corin?” The bear feigned a frown. “I know of no rascal by that name. All I ever wished was see San-lady once more.”
“I’ll show myself out,” Garion murmured.
A bear-paw caught him on the shoulder sooner than two steps.
“The pup’s grown sulky. That’s not the pup I know.”
The boy mightn’t so much as say his prayers before he was crushed in a giant bear hug. That’s not the pup he knows... Garion returned the hug, with all his strength. The boy was near so tall as his foster father, but the old man had the greater bulk and such an imposing beard as Garion mayn’t dream in his deepest dreams. That isn’t to say he did. It’s good to see you again, my friend...
“It’s good to see you again, my friend,” he said. The words pricked, bitter. I see you’re preoccupied at the moment; perhaps we should come back later? “I see you’re preoccupied at the moment; perhaps we should come back later?”
“That’s mighty vile nonsense and you know it.” Michael creased his ruddy face. “That there lady up the street, she breaks her devilwrought candlestick an’ cries an’ cries ‘fore her half-a-man left-hands son takes it here t’ glue. And then he says it’s all made o’ brass an’ gold an’ such so I’ll have t’ solder ‘t or melt or what, and goes. Well, I may have footballed his fooly arse all the way up to the smith’s, but an experience’s an experience. That’s for another day, though. The bloody weeping willow may wait. There’s San-lady come t’ brighten my day. And a vagrant son come home,” he added by way of parental duty. “You’ve gone inside, I take it?”
“Not yet, no.”
The old man’s grin all but split him from ear to ear. “That means Rae hasn’t yet met San-lady, has she? Well, we’ll play the sunflower a pretty fine surprise then, we will.”
They filed out to the yard, where Michael ordained them stand on the driveway. The man himself swung open the front doors, bellowing:
“Rae! Rae, my little rose, leave the pots be a minute. Come look what the wind’s blown on the lawn.”
And then he retreated beside the two.
A moment hence, a small creature clad in an apron slid out the shadowy doorway.
Garion’s foster mother was a tiny thing of short flaxen-gold hair streaked with gentle white. The years of cooking and sampling had rounded her from a “little rose” to something more approaching a tulip. The icy blue of her eyes had ever reminded him of a clear winter sky, but the truth was they were cold but in colour. A man might see the very Sun dawn in those eyes when they fell on the boy waiting ill at ease in her garden.
With never a word, she ran up and embraced him who she loved as a son.
The smell of fresh bread and vegetables on her clothes—the smell of home he’d never truly had—almost buckled his knees. In a failing voice, he managed her name. “Rachel...”
The little mother didn’t say anything.
They said—or had, afore Garion had turned of age—that Rachel had not spoken a full sentence since her child had passed away. That was but partly correct. True enough she spoke rarely, but she had sung for Garion on some days when he had been a boy, and when she had, her voice had been as lovely as it had been rare. What was a wonder was how she’d coped with her broad-mouthed husband.
“A fair surprise, no?” he was gloating. “Well, never fear, he brought us a something to make up for his face.”
Michael’s plump wife came away from her son, looking to her husband for explanations. The old wolf gave yet another grin even as he stepped aside to reveal Satori. Garion’s small lover stood with wide violet eyes and a mouth slightly ajar. When Rachel blinked mutely in confusion, Michael took up the question.
“The pup’s been leashed, ‘t seems. That’s his new master you’re staring at—his wife, he tells me.”
If she had run up to Garion, Satori had her tearing across the grass. A muffled gasp and she had the girl all in her portly arms, nuzzling at her ear with the reddened nose. There were no words here, no whoops, nor girlish shrieks. Only there was a contented silence from Rachel, and a strange, mystified look from Satori.
And then, something amazing happened.
The small lover made a grateful sigh and shut her big eyes, her hands going behind the old woman’s shoulders and head, reciprocating the embrace. The sight puzzled. The two were of a height, and though one was greyer and more wrinkled than tother, suddenly there was no saying which of them here was the mother.
All through his daze, Garion heard his lover speak.
“Yes,” she said, the softest of whispers. “Yes. That’s right. I’m San. Your son is in good hands.”
It seemed scarce any time at all before they were sat down at the broad dinner-table, each nursing a towering glass of warmed home-pressed cyder. All but Garion. The boy had mildly refused the share. “The pup’s yet a lot to learn,” Michael had marked to Satori. A lot indeed, but this. There’d been mishaps enough in his life involving the drink that he was apt to avoid it on base of prevention. A distaste welling in him, he called back such a night as when Satori had gulled him into quenching his thirst from her drink-goblet. “It’s only chokeberry juice,” she’d promised him sweetly. It had been wine—strong wine, with cloves ground in and ginger-race, that churned his stomach all but inside-out.
She’d laughed, too. She’d been drunk as a lord, and in mind of frolicking.
It had cost a year of his life and much more for Garion to put his giggling little lover to sleep. So it was now that he stooped grim fingering a cracked cup of water in place of the dark-golden drink. Those two of his parents were anyway more partial to paying affections to his smiling little wife, over their rather less than beautiful son. That was well enough. Affections were something for which Garion had ever been singularly ill-suited.
With an asinine twinge of jealousy, he noticed Rachel had taken a similar like to his small lover’s hands. The good old woman cradled them with especial care, only letting go to reach for the glass, or shaking lightly whenever she wished that Satori come closer so the mother may whisper some secret question in her ear. Satori had been suffering it graciously, but when he’d thought that, she’d all but crossbowed him to the wall with her eyes. All too well, that’s how she’s taking it.
The boy in the meanwhile had been flattening his rearside on the painted hardwood, brooding. I want to be away. I don’t want to play the son. These aren’t my parents. I want to go home and smell the lilacs, to lie down and kiss with you, and then I want to go out and see the country rained on and windswept. And I want your hands.
But if she’d heard him, she made no sign.
The story of the roof had got its own life ahead Garion might even supply his part. Aflame almost on cheeks, Satori painted her parents-in-law a spirited picture of her manor on the blowy northern plains. The house had sprouted a library as well as a vegetable garden, a dining room to sit a fifty, a spacious yard with stone-chiselled flowerbeds, and a horde of pet beasts so vast she knew not half of their names or numbers.
A younger sister, fortuitously, was spared a dragging from the closet.
They dawdled through to the afternoon with the boy speaking but the littlest bit or comment, and drinking in Satori’s stories and smiles. And was she not more anxious than I, afore coming? Yet here I am, staring boreholes in my palms as she dries those little white teeth...
When an hour closed that it was time for dinner, Rachel stood with an unvoiced announcement, and ushered Satori to come keep her company in the kitchen. Though the girl had given her boy the most apologising look, the old woman had still a dear hold on her hands. He allowed her have it—for now.
They had no sooner vanished out in the hallway than Michael was scuffling across the bench to shove his half-emptied glass under Garion’s recoiling nose.
“That long face don’t gladden the day any,” he tried as a beginning. “You’d have surmised almost you’re none too excite’ t’ see yer old man’s face.”
The old wolf’s too keen by half. “I worry for the house,” Garion replied. “That roof’s not let me unwind a minute since it moulded. San was demanding we visit you by the way of finding those tools I’ll need. That doesn’t mean she took any steps to fix my roof in turn.” Though she knows the way. “She’s having the pretty fun, when I’m sitting as on needles here, gnawing at my nails for the return.”
“She’s seeming happy to be here, yes.” Michael at least was in agreement. “You’re turnin’ out more recluse than she—though frankly I ‘ad thought elsewise.”
So had I. I’ll ask after explanations later. “There was something you wanted to speak on that couldn’t bear the hearing of the ladies?”
“There’s always things as those ‘tween ol’ wolf and pup, no?”
The boy had to smile. Would that you knew, old man...
“Get this slop out of my puppy eyes and I may just entertain your doddering curiosity.”
Michael snorted laughter. “The pup’s still not learnt respect for th’ best lubrication there is to make yer engines tick. A good cyder’s plenty work, did you ever knew? And warms you plenty, too.” He chugged healthily from the glass. “All right, you sly scurvy mongrel. There’s speaking t’ have, yes. This isn’t such somethin’ as Rae would’ve said if she noticed, the dear, but it’s not ‘scaped me, not the least.”
“What is it?”
“San-lady has mayhap the loveliest hands I’ve held on my life, but there’s something she lack.”
The old wolf made a smirk. “A ring. You, too,” he added, pointing. “There’s no ring on neither of you. For a wedded pair, that is—” “Safer, for a surety,” Garion chimed in. “We left the rings at home. ‘Twas a trouble to find a ring to suit her for starters,” he went on a reflective way. “The folks over at Moriya mightn’t give belief how small I’d wanted it. Anyway, the rings we’ve only left behind for the trip, do not you let it drive sleep from your eyes. The size of her, chances were it should slip off along the road someplace. And the damned road’s long enough to make a painful search.” And to come up with an excuse as this also.
Michael scratched at his chin. “That’s rightly true,” he admitted. “She is terribly small, that San. You could do worse than her face, but she’s just the littlest bit of a thing, isn’t she?”
“I like her most exactly as she is.”
“That’s assuring to hear.” The old wolf drank again. “Well, then... What about children?”
That raised Garion a hot knot up in the throat.
“We—” He faltered. What am I to say? The truth? “We’ve not... tried, yet,” he decided. “These things, she’s from an old-moded family...”
“That’s left ‘er to fend for ‘erself, di’n’t they?” Michael noted. “What I say is bugger ‘em in this case. The lady ‘erself is no fool t’ these matters, no she ain’t, sir. The only thing as harries me is... well, she’s so very small.”
“So is your wife,” Garion marked. “And yet someway she was fine. Quit your fretting, old wolf.”
“That’s an unfair point.”
“That’s what I said. You’re larger than I was your age. You’ll be watchful, won’t you?”
“Very well, I will,” said the boy, a touch sharper than he’d intended. The frivolity with which the old man spoke of Satori’s... functions... gave his anger an inexplicable rise. “I’ll be damned watchful, you get out of my hair. What’s it a business to you, whether I get her with child or not?”
The old wolf never answered at first. Only his tired old eyes wandered someplace toward the hearth, grey and impassable.
“Well, ‘tis jus’ that,” he rasped at length, “children are a deal important in this family—either ours or any.”
Yes. Yes, that’s right. They would. I’d forgot.
“Sorry,” Garion said. “Never fear. When she starts to put on the pounds, you’ll get the word before the midwife.”
Michael gave such a churlish smile that it gainsaid his real mood. “Ah, that’s all right, boy,” he said, “there’s no must for hurrying to the bed as yet. You’re youn’ still; y’ don’t even seem your age. How many years were you s’posed t’ be, again?”
“That’s bizarre,” the old man mused. “I’d of sworn you were nearin’ thirty-some by now...”
But Garion was not listening.
The subject had given him such a wonder that he’d scarcely noticed the water he was sipping was water not at all.
They whiled away the enduring part of the afternoon in like fashion. When the hour aged, and a dark fell outside, they’d repaired firstly to the hearth then lastly to beds. Garion and Satori climbed the rickety steps to the boy’s whilom child-room in the loft, though no quicker than bidding his parents a long drawn-out good-night.
The room was bare-furnished, having but a small reading desk, a chair, a bed and a bench; but at either side there were bookcases as tall as the ceiling and bricked with leathered book-spines—history and cooking mostly, as it happened. There were three narrow windows that looked streetward over the yard, splashed by low lamplight, toward the square and the school far up on the hill. There was no dust on the sills, or the shelves, nor anywhere else. Then again, mayhap with no one living and flaking dirt here there should be no dust.
As he made the beddings, Satori peeled out of her shawls. Only in her underclothes, her cords and orb, she swished about the room, curious for its contents. The boy slumped down on the bed, watching his barefooted precious, who was visibly glad to be out of her clothes. And so frightfully small, even in this cramped room.
She is less than giant. A man with one good eye might not have given her more than fifteen winters lived. Though her bed-manner was everything but innocent and her temper also, for a surety, outward she was no bigger than Michael’s tiny wife—who was sparsely two-thirds his size already. Could I have taken after the old lecher’s likes? The old wolf had ever had the incline to favouring younger girls with his big full-toothed grins (and discounts at his workshop), but he’d loved his wife most of all. His tiny little wife.
At last Satori caught his look. “Something on your mind?”
A lot and more.
“As a matter of fact, yes, I can see that.” She treated him to a scantily-clothed smile. “Why don’t you start somewhere, Corin? Your mother gives me enough trouble, having to pretend to guess at her words all the time; at least you could help save my nerves. They’re rather expensive nerves—and delicate besides.”
[ ] He’d ask after those explanations. The change riddled him. [ ] He’d ask about children. [ ] There had been questions enough for an evening. He’d ask her to be quiet and come to bed.
“Children. Yes. What about them?” Satori’s voice was a great sea of unbroken tranquillity. “What, is it supposed to be surprised? Abashed, perhaps? And I—am I supposed to drop my eyes and burn pretty pink at the thought? Why, what a strange idea. Why didn’t you simply ask me to blush for you instead? I might have humoured you. No, I’m only aping.” She brushed the pale curls from her brow. “There was talk about children, so what?”
“You didn’t? Why, is this senility kicking in I sense?” When the boy scowled, she laughed him off. “Your father isn’t half as good at hiding his thoughts as you are, and you haven’t exactly been getting any glibber at it since we chased her out of that mess of hair of yours.”
I had nothing to hide any more.
“No, you didn’t. My Corin would not secrete things from his San, would he? As a matter of fact, San trusts he does not—most of the time.” Satori mounted on her tiptoes for one of the books on a higher shelf. After leafing through some pages, she pushed it disinterested back in its slot. That was the book I’d taken on a loan from the school a month afore heading out—on monsters. I never considered to return it. “At any rate,” Satori continued swanning about the room on her dainty feet, “yes, your father and mother both are concerned somewhat for our... bedly matters. Though for varying reasons; I won’t take that away from her. Would you like to hear, my Corin?”
I do not know that—
“You were to say yes, I would. Your father, as much kind as he is, would like a grandson only second; his first concern is with you. He has this amazing notion that... bedding me... will someway make you a realer man. What is with the word, anyway? That’s so crude, to attribute the entire existence of a bed to that single thing. But yes, I don’t believe that’s all too reasonably based. Is it, my Corin?”
She knows about me and An— “No.” The boy made himself speak. That is past. But she has the right. “It is not.”
“So we both know—but he doesn’t. Well, it’s only normal for a father to want his son to be a man and not a girl. Your mother, meanwhile... This shouldn’t interest you, really. You wouldn’t understand. As a matter of fact, you don’t understand your father’s sentiments either, do you? You’re not bothered to understand.”
They aren’t my parents.
“Yes, yes. That old refrain’s grown to be boring. We’ll have to change that record sometime soon. But not now. You’re dreadfully selfish, did you know that, Corin? You don’t give a splintered nail about those two downstairs. You’re the most curious about what we could do instead. Am I not just the rightest in the world?”
Garion grunted a grunt he hoped dearly expressed his attitude toward the allegation.
Satori gave another silvery little laugh. In tiny tiptoe steps, she went and seated herself upon Garion’s lap. The top of her head came to just a bit beneath his chin. The scent of lilacs came to him mingled with the warm kitchen smells. And when he leaned down to scent it better, then his small lover put her weight against his chest, lifting her arms and crossing them at the wrists over his neck. A leg went up, smooth, and bare as the moon all the way from the hip to the littlest toe. There was a pleasant sound from her as she stretched that leg, the lowest sigh, the lowest moan.
An instance passed that Garion knew not where to place his hands.
Then he made as if he’d had hands not at all. They’re no place; best they stay there yet awhile.
We’ve spoken on this before, he realised with laggard clarity. The night of the festival, that loud motley night, he had questioned her on the possibility of child-making between one of monster- and human-kind. The asking had nought in common with curiosity, nor even with chance. Even then I was strong-arming myself into conviction she was whom I sought – making theories to an already-made conclusion. That she was my “mother.” That she had abandoned me, for some baleful end of her own.
“You were beginning to grope at the edges of it, yes. And all it took to lull your attention was some chokeberry juice and a spontaneous kiss.”
I did not want to believe it.
“No. She made you. You enjoyed my hands too much. The kiss, too. To do that with your ‘mother...’ Tell me, was it then you conceived I had brought you up so because I craved a lover-boy shaped to my liking?”
“No.” Garion twisted left and right. “That was not ‘till later.”
“When you slept with me, perhaps?” Satori nipped on her lip. “That was immature, too—of you and me both, to tell the truth. You wanted to sleep together but would not confess it; I as well, but kept telling myself it was only to hear your sleep-thoughts, to better heal you... Were we always so silly, Garion?” She forgot the name temporarily. “Were we always making such a kindergarten of ourselves? You’d fallen for me since I kissed you; I fell for you soon after... Orin must have found it comedic. Why were we sidestepping around each other so much? Yes, there was she, but... Gods, why did I ever wish myself into such a convoluted state?”
It gets lonely in Old Hell, she had said once...
“That’s all but saying I’d fall for any human whatsoever to tumble down to my house, Garion. I’d not. As a matter of fact, yes, you’re right, I was lonely—but not that deuced lonely, do you hear? And do get so, still. You never stay for long.”
“I do not,” he confirmed.
“Why, thank you. At least you own up to it. The same goes for my sister. And my pets... A pet’s decent enough company, but you long sometimes for someone to do more than fawn over you endlessly for providing their food. You long to hear someone’s voice, see them smile at your stories, speak with you on more than corpses, hellfires, or wayward siblings. Someone like... well, like you, for all you’ve done. You’ve spoiled me, Garion. I had burrowed there in that hole for years on end and never was lonely once—well, save a time or two, perhaps—and then you happened along, with your cooking and your stories and your messy hair, and... This is going to tear my heart apart someday, did you know that?...
“And as for children,” she went on, subdued, “yes, maybe. No. I don’t know. They’d liven up my life, perhaps, but... I really don’t know. I don’t know if we could, if we should... I don’t know if we might even...”
Garion touched her elbow, so softly. Why am I doing this? “The Hakurei told me there was one half about at the least,” he said. “The house where they say he dwells does exist, though never have I gone near enough to peek in. And you said that you had—” “I said what I said,” Satori bulled over him. “There’s no need to repeat it.”
“Then should it not be possible?”
She dropped her arms and shuffled around to face him. The corner of her lower lip was tucked cutely betwixt her little white teeth.
The big violet eyes were uncertain.
“You think so?”
The tone of her question painted her even more doubtful. But wishful, too.
And then, without warning prior, Garion became aware.
The awareness proved as disquieting as it were sudden. For he was aware suddenly of this tiny woman in his lap: of the slim flat plane of her belly, the tasteful curved line of her back; he was aware of the soft downs of flesh under her simple roseate brassiere, and of the wet red tongue inside her mouth slightly ajar. And worse; for then he pictured her nude.
And himself, inside of her.
The way she bites lightly on the nails of her fingers as he eases himself in, how the peaks of her breasts stiffen when he pinches them, the press of her legs around his hips – it all came to him unbidden. And then, he was deeper, pushing in, going out, again, drinking in the damp shine of her eyes, then bending down to nip the white skin of her neck, exactly how she likes... And her impassioned gasps kissing behind his ear...
She was staring at him with intent.
“That... Yes...” She licked her lips. “No...”
... They’d not cease at that, either. Satori was wilful. She’d want the reins before long. She’d shove him on their great bed and tease him with that smirk she had as she lowers herself on him. The crescent of her mouth would melt into a full moon as she starts rocking back and forth, back and forth, keeping herself upright by one hand steadied on his chest, the other tangled with her hair. The sweet curve of her back would dip as she explores how else she may yet move. And then he would rise, ever so slowly, and pay court to her breasts left alone, gathering the flesh in his fingers, sucking on the—
She thrust her hands out at him, clenching her legs at the thighs.
“No, Garion,” she choked out. “No. No... There are my pets at the house. They’d hear. Smell. We can’t... With them, we— I told you— I couldn’t bear if—”
“There are no pets of yours here,” Garion said.
The remark hung between them on a fine moon-silver thread.
At length, at length, Satori’s lips parted, glistening, loose in a ponder.
“Is...” She gulped once more. “Is the door... Is it locked?”
“Are you... Are you positive? Completely?”
“I am.” Yes, it is.
“Then... Then maybe... A bit...”
And then shook her head.
“No. No, no, no.”
The word was a quarrel through his chest.
Satori pushed away from him. “No, Garion,” she said. “No. Thank you. Gods, thank you, but no. Not here. No. There’s—There’s your parents, and... I don’t like you—not like this.”
“What are you talking about?” And why am I so flustered?
“There’s an answer—yes, an answer, to both of those questions. But not now. You’re—You’re too fixated on me. There’s two other people but a floor below who deserve your... well, your love. You’ll have me all for yourself forever, and I – you, but they... They’re not going to be around forever. They’re just not. They’re tired, old, and grey, but mostly, they... They’re your parents—whether you... whether you want it or not, they are. You can’t disappoint them, please.”
“Satori—” “No, Garion.” The small lover stabbed a silencing finger across his mouth. “You have to see. This is all my fault. I... I was in such a bright mood today, too.”
“That—” “That puzzled you, yes. But I’m always in a bright mood when it turns out I was correct about something. Never mind, Garion. That’s nothing important—not right now. Your parents are. You’ll give them what you’re due.”
“Be their son. That’s all I ask of you. Well, no, actually. I’m not asking. Garion?”
“Yes?” he said.
Satori folded her arms on her front.
“No kissing,” she declared.
The boy blinked.
“Am I not patent enough, Garion? You may not kiss me until you satisfy my request. You may hug me, and touch me if I say so, but if you so much as pucker your lips my way before that’s done...” She allowed him to envision the consequences on his own. “Are we understood?” she wanted to know. “Until you do your part, you’ll have to pull your horns in this or another way. I’m not jesting, either. You’ll regret it if you disobey. Are we understood, Garion? Not a pucker.”
“... Yes,” he yielded. He wished to ask a last kiss afore the decree goes into effect, but he dare not. “Yes, Satori.”
Satori bobbed her despotic head. A moment thence, a usual hand trailed to her brow to sweep the unruly hairs aside.
And then she was again her everyday self.
“Great,” she said, relieved. “That takes the stone off my heart.” She rolled lightly off his lap onto the quilted beddings. “As a matter of fact,” she murmured, “I should be glad that’s over. Ah, that’s soft... Oh yes. There’s one last thing. Garion? I realise this is going to be everything but easy after all that, but...”
“Yes?” said the boy, resigned to whatever next she says.
Satori gave him a loving smile from down in the covers.
“Let’s do try to get some sleep tonight, why don’t we?”
When Garion stirred, numb and clammy-eyed, his small lady was up already on her feet, winding the shawls round her head and shoulders. A pallid morning was bleeding in through the windows, and a damp autumn chill rode on its tail, shivering. The sky without was stitched with thick clouds.
The boy clambered up to a sit, heaving a cavernous yawn in reply to Satori’s “Good morning.” She blurred in his eyes when he finished; but by that time when he had rubbed the haze from his sight, she had rushed out of the room with never another word and was tapping hurriedly down the stair to the kitchen. Someone was pulling fresh loafs of bread from the oven. I should know the smell from tother end of the country and like the decade as well, Garion reflected, rising to dress. Astonishing, how senses’ memory serves. There was a voice calling for him, Michael’s. The boy threw on a tunic and answered.
They broke their fast on hot puffy bread, smoked pork, apple pulp and spiced cheese. The sunrise found them at the table, drinking from cups of honeyed milk with a clove of garlic crushed in. Across the front-yard, the town was waking to life. A team of farmhands pushed up the street towing a dumpcart bristling with spades and pitchforks. A plump townsman in gilded green vestments trundled past on a much too tight rickshaw horsed by a stout bald-headed youth. A screaming flock of schoolchildren raced toward the far hill, cutting short blithely through the pickets, yards and gardens, stamping dirt, grass and tomato alike.
Sooner than a half hour, and a distraught neighbour was dulling his knuckles on the door of Michael’s workshop. The old man excused himself with a guilty flash of teeth. Satori went with Rachel to wash the dishes, prating on the species of roses she tended to in her own garden. The kindly old woman might not have been more fascinated if Garion had brought out his most captivating stories. The one about the lone king and the peasant wench, for an instance. That one gets the ear of the whole taproom every time.
With nought to do but watch the town live without the windows, he concluded he should acquaint himself with it a touch closer. He called to the kitchen that he would go work his legs a tad, then quit the house and told the same to Michael, gossiping with the neighbour in his workroom. There’s wishing he doesn’t noise about my comeback too loud. Garion had made a point of not divulging his face to the townspeople more than he must, and would rather it kept that way. Though now that I have been dragged here to them again, mayhap it makes no matter...
All the same, he retreated into the shadow of his hood, and took to a moody stride along the cobbled streets.
The nearest causeway athwart the rain-ditch that bordered this district from the adjacent took him after the children from the morrow toward the school building on the hill. To reach the hill, he would have to cross the craftsmen’s and the square, and brave a snaking ribbon of a road through the barracks workmen spent their nights. There had never been need for him to attend the famous classes, and there was not one now, hence he sought out a turn toward the residential, where he used to do shifts on the kitchens.
The cheap take-out eatery where he’d made his first-time coin had been pulled down and replaced with a two-floor manse of painted brick walls and tall iron fences. They chewed you out, did they not, old bull? The proprietor of the place had been a hard master, acid-tongued and ox-shouldered, but fair, and Garion would appreciate the lessons even in his youngest years. But you never had the best of ways with your customers. That must have ultimately made its undoing.
To see his second workplace also vanished gave him more pause. The colourful open-fronted eating-house was nowhere in evidence. A row of boarded-up windows overlooked the street, the signboard gone; only a prong of crooked rusted metal stabbing out of the crumbling wall showed where there a fat roasted pig had once liked to sprawl upon a wide round tray. The smell of crust and gravy would carry on for streets, drawing the curious nose by the dozen.
A tall girl of no more than twenty stood upon a roofed handcart, crisping cubes of chicken-meat over a brasier, turning the skewers as the meat sizzled. The dry sting of her smoke was but dishwater after the greasy smells of Garion’s past place of work. The girl gave him a tilt of the capped head, poking at the meat with a pair of charred tongs. A tangle of long unkempt hair so light it seemed white spilled from her cap, but the boy paid heed neither to it, nor her meat. Dark thought massing like a storm in the eye of his mind, he shambled back whence he had come.
This town has forgotten me.
That isn’t to say he’d made an effort toward being remembered. That’s wrong. The town itself had been changed from his memories. There were houses he’d not seen ever in his youth; and there was cobble going out lined with houses where he’d see but a field opening and the woods farther on. The worst, though, was not what had been raised over the years, but what had been torn down. The Human Village had thriven in his absence... but it had withered also, where it had been rife with life afore.
This isn’t like me to worry after such a thing. Yet here I am...
But not all was different from what he had taken in his heart when he had left in the quest for his caretaker. The streets were longer and houses more numerous, and the gutters filthier, but there was one solitary thing that had changed not at all. There was yet a house which had stood its ground against the years and was exactly how he had remembered it. And those two living in it, too... Though not for much too long.
And then, suddenly, he knew what Satori had meant by saying to give his due.
I am not the only one frightened of forgetting.
All the black thinks vanished from his head as if dusted out by the breeze gusting from the nearby alley.
Satori was right. I say I love her, but am fool enough to turn a deaf ear when she tries to help me. And what for? Some qualm of misconception already made? Garion was not the son of Michael and Rachel Redgraves, that was not subject to doubt. But Corin is, and he is as much part of me as Garion and Dias and others. The ghost had taught him to make a new name where he wished not to be remembered, but he may never make a new face nor person. The name would melt away like dew from the minds of those he’d met, but not his face—nor nothing else.
Whoever he was now—whatever he was—he had been Corin once... and Corin had yet a duty to his aging parents. No, not a duty, he thought, walking. A love. They raised him; they gave him roof over the head and the home he’d never had. They fed him and spoke with him and saw him off with tears welling in their eyes when he left them. And you, Garion, would sulk on the fact they do not share a blood with him? Truly? You thrice-folly-loving fool.
If he had been close or further in the sulks since standing, now he saw how needless that had been. And foolish, yes. That in droves. What did he have to do? Be a son? That was easier than what he’d wound through in the course of the last half-year. More, I’ve done it already, and good enough to fool even myself ‘till majority.
When he looked up, his feet had returned him to the front door of Michael and Rachel’s home. And Corin’s, too. Could not forget that, even should I want.
A pillar of smoke was climbing from the chimney, and metal was banging on metal in the shabby workshop. When he knocked, he heard a clatter, then a rush, and then his aproned mother opened the door for him. With never a second thought, he threw his arms around her back and kissed her soundly on both cheeks.
So was the beloved old woman stunned that she gasped out his name.
That is but one of my names, he thought almost fondly. But you needn’t know that.
“The same,” he said with a smile. Though different. “Are you slaving San in the kitchen now? She has more delicate hands than they look. They’ll burst all over your pots. Unless red and sticky is the new culinary mode?”
Rachel voiced no answer, but her frown was rebuke enough.
The boy laughed. Corin was a vicious beast, taking after his father. After so many years of playing the son, the humour came to him all but naturally. He’d jape ‘till their ears rot off if he must. He’d be all the Corin they want and more. He’d be the most Corin there’d ever been.
And I’ll have my kisses back before the night is out.
Unfortunately, that won’t be ‘till later, because I’m unexpectedly going away for a few days—four or five, somewhere around. I hate that as much as you do. All of you five... four... maybe three dudes? Wait, if I count myself in, would that make four again? Can I do that? Would that be cheating? I do re-read the previous updates sometimes...
Anyway, I’ll be back soon, and then we’ll resume our usual daily updates.
Well, It's sad that Corin doesn't hold any feelings for them, but I guess it is natural with Garion's... condition.
But I think Satori was smart in what she did: like this, they will all end happy, they'll get their son, Dias will get Satori's kisses back and Satori's will make both his loved one and his family happy.
>>10110 Oh, that. I wasn't talking about that. I think something unexpected is going to happen, and I've got an idea of what it is, but I do think the story's going to have a happy ending despite that.
>>10110 The best part about that is it’s as new as it is completely false!I honestly haven’t the first idea where that came from. I don’t recall ever writing a particularly bad ending to a story.
That said, I’m back, folks, one and all, so untie your panties and prick up your ears. I have no update for you at the present, sadly, but I did zipline over a quarry while pretending to shoot dudes today. Thrice.And it was as much fun each time. Of course, you don’t care the slightest tit about that, and I’m certain you’re much more interested to hear that regular updating will resume tomorrow. That’s what you wanted to hear, right? Yes, really. While pretending to shoot dudes. Thrice.
This is a bumb for those that missed the previous greatly-important announcement.
>>10163 >I did zipline over a quarry while pretending to shoot dudes today. Thrice. Well, if nobody else is going to ask about this, I will. Any context to this?
>I don’t recall ever writing a particularly bad ending to a story. >particularly I can think of more than one ending I'd consider fairly bad, but if that's what you think...What would you consider an example of a particularly bad end, then?
...Oh, yeah, and still waiting warmly, but that practically goes without saying.
>>10186 >Any context to this? Only your average writefriend’s vacational activities. A costly entertainment, but the whirr of the pulley, the roar of the wind, and over eight stories of empty space below you is a thrilling combination.
>What would you consider an example of a particularly bad end, then? Well, I was thinking more in terms of... a nuclear rock falls, love interest dies, protagonist contracts a deadly sickness, the villain reigns victorious, society collapses-kind of bad ending. I wasn’t talking in terms of quality, because then LOL SELF-CRITICISM. But on the average I don’t think I’ve ever done anything THAT depressing.
Also, fuck my ass face, I have to apologise. It’s ludicrously hard to get back in the groove after a week away from my laptop and books, and the bloody heat isn’t helping any, either. I’ve got pretty much everything until the end of the story planned out, but I can’t get it out. Whenever I make some progress, it either gets too hot to think straight and I have to fetch a bottle, or it gets 4 in the morning and I have to call it a night.
I’m almost tempted to start that story I was to start after this as some change to see if some fresh scenery helps, but likely that’d just end up the same way. God damn this weather.
When he carried her up the stairway, it was hours since nightfall. She was flushed with wine, and he ached of laughter.
The evening had been all scented with the scent of wine. A certain fat wine-cask had made sure of that, gotten by the old wolf some weeks prior off the hands of one workshop’s frequenter. Or one frequentress, for all that we know. They’d had to empty that, they all, he, and his wife, and Satori also. “What better time t’ broach the bastard?” to hear them tell it. The old man’s wont of tongue had begun to rub off on Garion’s love, and a deal. The boy knew not what to make of it—rights, ups or downs, whatever it were. Or rather, he mused, I know not at all that it suits her tongue; he liked her tongue more as he’d known it, after all: harsh but in the words. Not in the damned sound of them. Though to tell true, he’d heard worse spoken up in the north than whatever the old wolf might serve. And he’s served plenty this eve, that he did. I as well.
The conclave down at the hearth had heard more out of Garion than any of the past months, whatever one. After his resolution it was only what he should do to make it so. The start had been slow; but when his tongue had unravelled, and when he’d slipped up to the belt in Corin’s fool-rainbow breeches, japes and jokes were quick as they were divers. And without the wine’s aiding hand, too. Satori had drank, however, and while no wise nigh so much as her deep-bellied father-in-law, she also was quipping with the worst of them before much too long. Even Rachel spoke an instance or twain... which is more as you should come to expect from Rachel. A cup of sour wine changed even the headstrongest of minds, it seemed.
And mayhap not always for the worse. Come next time, he would see if he may swallow the drink wanting retching. But that was next time.
This was time of reward.
Their door gave before his boot then again when he heeled it close behind. And when he came by the bed, he collapsed on it half-carelessly, Satori and all, and heard it complain of his acrobatics.
With not a wait nor permission, he threw back his small lover’s shawls and took her lips.
There was but the littlest resistance afore she kissed back. The littlest resistance suits her, he thought, as she clutched greedily at his lapels, but no more than the biggest love. “Master Satori loves dearly,” the cat-willed Orin had said once. And, by gods, that she did. I would in my youth think myself a man of iron will. What did I know? What did I not?
“Nothing,” Satori stopped long enough to say. “Nothing I couldn’t show you.”
She pulled the hairs from her blushed forehead.
She was terribly blushed—messy and blushed and warm. And so very lovely.
She made a smile. “Was it so hard, now? To do as I said?”
The hardest part was to stop.
“You mean picturing kissing me? Or your silly witticisms? You’ve too clever of a mouth for your own good, Corin. Garion. Whoever you are right now.”
“You say I am close-lipped.” For I am.
“Yes. But you have this most awful incline to switch across the two extreme ends of the scale. And then the things you say... Some are good, yes, the kind of things you may say more often. Some are... less good, shall we say?” She shrugged. “The bottom line is I’m beginning to wonder who exactly it is I’ve allegedly wed. Garion? Corin? Or some other man yet to show his face?”
“‘Tween these,” said Garion, smiling half a smile, “which would you like?”
“Oh, I don’t know? The one that won’t undress me when I’m still talking?” She paused to give him a look that might curdle blood. “I am serious. Stop that. I’m not so drunk not to notice. Garion.”
The boy kissed her nose. He pulled loose the last of her cloaks and tossed them aside. The crimson of her orb and cords was somehow darker than the rule. But as the rule, it glared. Satori, too. She glared up at him, red and beautiful.
“Garion,” she chided, “please.”
The boy did not stop; his fingers flashed in the milk moonlight. The buttons of her shirt undid one by one, one by one, from her neck down to her navel, ‘till her bellybutton showed and her shoulders were bare.
“Are we really going to do this?” she asked him hesitantly, “really?”
Yes. Yes, we are.
“But your parents...”
Garion shook his head. “They’ll never hear,” he said. “I would oft sneak out of this house unheeded; I have told you this. The walls are thick. They’ll not hear a noise. They sleep likely, drunken, or worse.”
“What worries you so?”
“Nothing, Garion. Not in... particular.”
“It’s nothing,” she insisted. “It’s only that this... To do it here...”
“Do you not want to?”
“N... No. No, I...”
The gleam in her side-turned eyes gave the lie to her words.
Her chest heaved with her short breaths, up and down, straining the plain silken brassiere. A fastener perched on the front, ‘twixt the two swells of flesh, crouching half-hidden beneath a minuscule ribbon. It was but proper that Garion oblige. The boy unloosed the lock with a flick, and the two breasts spilled free, flushed and pink-tipped.
Satori was not such a plump woman as to overflow her clothes as some did, but she was by means none lacking in femininity. A rose may shrivel up and dry underground, but Satori was as full and smooth as her birth-day. Where she was not perfect and white, she had brown birth-marks spotting the skin. Where she had no birth-marks, she had fading red spots from their play. Where she had neither, she had two breasts the size of ripe apples, but rounder and sweeter than the fruit. And however she looked down at them, blinking as if she’d seen them now for the first time, still they rose and fell, rose and fell like empires, as she sucked the air through her clamped teeth.
But the teeth had to part, bemused, when he pecked a kiss firstly on her neck, then lower, lower, and lower... yet no, not on her shoulder, nor the breast, nor no place there.
But on the ever-scowling orb.
Satori quailed. Stiffened. A stab of fear flew through her, icy-cold.
The day was still present to her mind: the black day when he’d seized that blood-red orb with purpose to crush it in his palm, to tear it from her body, to test her purported immortality. That black day when he’d haled her rope-bound and gagged to that grave-dark cellar, driven to the madness by the spirit within... Yes, black was that day. The blackest day of all mayhap... but present no more. Then cradling the orb as he might only her dearest heart, he whispered the words,
“Fear not,” he said. “I love you, Satori—evermore.”
A lesser man may flush at saying so, but Garion was no man lesser, nor young enough to flush anyway. Old enough to know well what I want, though. And for a surety old enough to have it.
“Is that what you think?” Satori replied, as sly as sudden.
Afore, however, than he might even frame a yes of a sort, the boy found a small hand shoving him down in the beddings. The quilts, sheets and blankets embraced him, a soft fleecy prison. When out of it he came, Satori was mounting him, as naked as he’d left her, but wielding it now no less threatening than a spear or knife.
The tell-tale smirk was on her lips, threatening to break—break him—if nothing else.
“You’re fortunate that isn’t true.” A poisonous sweetness crawled in her voice. “As a matter of fact, the sole thing broken here is your sense of decency. What did I say of undressing me, Garion? Am I truly so simple to you, that you’ll take everything short of a slap in the face as leave to steal my underwear? And ‘fear not?’ Are my ears hearing right? You’re a self-righteous fiend, you who says you love me. You snake. Lecher.”
Garion bit his tongue. “You said—” “I said no, didn’t I?”
“But—” “Why, you’re right; I did think yes. But I said no. You can’t read my mind, Garion, so don’t pretend otherwise. You’ll get naught but bruised.” She allowed her shoulders to limp. “You have no idea how silly this makes me feel,” she said. “I feel like a... a giddy teenage girl, snuck in her boyfriend’s bedroom in the dead of the night, with his parents asleep down the hall and the door unlocked.”
I do not make mistakes of that kind...
“As a matter of fact, no; perhaps not. Although that doesn’t change anything of the fact I am feeling incredibly silly about it all... Also,” she added, “I am aware these are probably one of the prettiest parts of me, but you needn’t stare so hard... nor picture what you’re picturing. You’ve seen them before, for all gods’ love. You have, haven’t you? Quit staring.”
“Then what would you have me do?”
“Can’t you figure? You’ve proven ready for guessing. Guess. What did I say?”
“To stop picturing.”
“That’s correct. So?” She walked her fingers up his front. “If not picture, what might it be? What-ever might I want?”
Don’t picture... Do.
“Yes.” Satori’s lips curled into a smile. “Yes, my Garion. That’s right. Do.”
The smile infected him, too.
As you wish.
And so he did. Seldom had he loved her more, than when she whisked her hands away from him, to put them high above her head. Seldom had she seemed more delicious than when the flesh of her breasts stretched pleasantly after her raised arms. Seldom have I beheld her so. Too seldom.
She shared the sentiment—or looked to, crossing the arms behind her neck, arching to the side. Inviting, daring. A frisson of thrill shuddered down her back when he slipped his hands about her hips. The hungry violet eyes watched him as he wet his lips, nearing, closing, when he parted his mouth with a moist smack...
And then the door banged open.
And the night went to hell.
“All you early birds, up! We ‘ave outside a—”
Satori scrambled for the coverlets and sheets—to hide, shield, cower.
But it was too little.
Michael froze, stopped dead, mid-word, mid-stride, mid-thought, his eyes going so wide as the full moon without.
A frantic Rachel rushed at once behind, shaping mute reproach with her lips. But when she saw inside the room, she stopped also.
The lamp she had held clattered to the floor. The fall snuffed out the flame.
But it does not make matter.
The scarlet cords shone, and the part-covered orb, red in the creeping silver moonlight like the worst offence.
The old wolf stood sagging and silent, his huge callused hands gripping the polished ears of a chair. Upon the chair, loomed over by the old man, Rachel exercised her famous like of speech.
Without the dark windows, crack after blast after clap, coloured lights splashed on the sunken mass of the clouds.
“The first snow,” Michael had offered by way of explanation. Or breaking the silence. “Change o’ seasons. They’re ‘avin ‘emselves a celebration.”
And we’re having ours.
That had been forever and a half ago—or nigh as to make no difference—and the last they’d heard of the old man. Garion’s nerve was tapering. Satori had sobbed the last of it out an eternity agone, but those two had not volunteered another word. They’re pig-headed if they’re old.
The little lover, neither. The nails of her fingers dug deeply in his clothes beneath the blanket. She had gotten on well enough with them afore, but now they have seen what she is and it made a ruin of her. Satori was frightened of people; Garion knew that. Yet what frightened her droves more was whenever her plans went awry. Awry but begins to describe this. Michael and Rachel had lost their only child to a monster. Their sentiment toward them wasn’t exactly a puzzle. Those two are the least of the troubles, though. Will I have to steal her out of the village, those outside may fall upon us...
The village numbered fifteen score at the least; how many had crept out to the streets to the lights there was no telling. The stables remained at the south gate-way, a sneak through a quarter of the districts tenanted by like criers. The odds were slim; but should they reach the stables unmolested with a few of minutes on their hands, he might saddle their horse and they might away with no-one the wiser... No-one but the Redgraves. And these were yet a quiet danger waiting a chance in the same room as he and Satori.
Garion had no vain hopes of overpowering the old wolf. The old man was wider, heavier and more seasoned besides. But if I may lay my hands on Rachel first... No, the keg-armed old mender would seize Satori the same fashion. The boy mightn’t say which should prove the brittler in the exchange. And I won’t let go of Satori, either. Not now, not ever. Sooner I’ll go with her, wherever she goes—but she won’t if I can help it.
Words had been his sword since boyhood. They must fight for him now, if there was ever a time to. Garion chewed through a slow hissing breath.
“You won’t touch her,” he drawled, his voice cold steel, a dagger in the dark.
The old wolf’s eyes were patinated silver when he turned them up on the boy. The night shadowed his features. Strike on, you Garion. Strike on while the iron is hot.
“You’ll not put a finger on her,” he said again. “You’ll not have a hair of her as long as I stand.”
“That was ne’er my intent, boy,” Michael replied. “Well, not too often anyway.”
The jest was stillborn.
“This isn’t a farce, old wolf,” Garion sissed. “She’ll not come to harm while I yet have my arms and fists—and knees and nails and teeth, if must be.”
“You’ll only break those.”
“I have a knife in my boot also. What about that?”
That was but a bluff; Garion had relinquished the blade to Satori months before, but the old man need not know that.
A darkly warning wrinkled across his forehead.
“You’d draw it on me, boy?”
Garion made a frosty smile. “You taught me handling a knife; you should know the least I can do is draw it.”
“Your own courtesy—but you mistake me. I’d much sooner not see any blood tonight if I can—” “Sound thinkin’.” “—but I will if I must,” the boy finished. “You’re out of your match, old man. I have seen the Land and the horrors of it; I have been to the Goddesses’ Mount and beyond, seen the farthest outlands. I have been to Old Hell and back… and believe me that is not the worst of it.”
“So?” Michael said, deaf to the boast.
“Without you’re willing to part with that what you cherish most, you’ll allow us to go.”
“Allow you—Are you a bloody fool?” The old man straightened to full his height. “This is a farce if I’ve seen one!” A glance at the mess of blanket and Satori on Garion’s lap and he was glowering. “I didn’t raise you like this, Corin,” he said. “You ain’t made for this dupe’s shambles—” “You raised me not at all,” Garion rode him over. I am not his son. “And that is not my name besides.”
“Now that’s jus’ a crock of bull—” Michael spat an oath and let go of the chair. “You listen here, boy—” “Not another step, old wolf—or I’ll stick you.”
“Oh no, pup… no, you won’t.” The old man flexed his hands. “There won’t be no tossin’ threats here, not in my house. This ain’t yer Goddesses’ Bugger-Mount, nor yer Hells, old nor elsewise. This is my bloody house—Redgraves’ house—an’ it ‘as Redgraves’ rules as there are. An’ you’ll follow ‘em—whether it bloody well pleases you or not.”
“Your rules matter scarce to me,” Garion said. “You’ll let us go, or there’ll be blood.” Yours or ours, either will do.
“You are my son, Corin; I won’t—” Garion tensed. “I am not your son!” Will he never understand that? “You aren’t my father!”
“All right,” the old wolf surrendered; “damned right, in fact. You aren’t my son; never were, for a surety. A foundling – that what you’d have me style you? Well enough by me. You aren’t my bloody son. There. Are you yet satisfied? Won’t mean by no means you can turn yer back an’ jus’ walk away after all this circus. You may not be my son, but—”
“But he is!”
The cry startled them both into blinking.
“You’re fools together is what you are! Fools! Fools! Fools!” Satori punctuated each “fool” with a whop of little fists on the boy’s chest. She gave them no window to make a defence. “You’re blind and deaf and stupid as all hells! You, too!” She twisted her reddened face at Rachel. Tears stood in her swollen eyes. “You’re all the worst fools I’ve met—ever, likely! Are all of you rid of your wits?!”
“Satori—” Garion began.
“Shut up!” She cut him off. “Shut up, shut up, shut the deuce up!” Whop.Whop.Whop. “And let go of me while you’re at it!” She thrashed free of his arms. “You’re as false as she was, you… you dumb Garion! Will you stop at nothing to get under my skin? You’re no better, either,” she snapped at Michael, “so don’t you even think it!” The old wolf shrank from her scowl. “Are your eyes twice your years? ‘He isn’t my son?’ You look at him deuced close now—look, damn you! Has he not your eyes, your hair? Your jokes are like as bad, too. You’re as father and son as you cursed could be! Quit squirming and look!”
The boy and the old man exchanged a queer grey stare.
Garion was first to speak.
“Satori,” he said quietly, “what are you—” “What am I getting at?” She was twice so angry as he’d ever seen her when she gave him her blood-shot violet eyes. “You think you’re so smart, because I let you kiss me and pick me out of my skirts. You know nothing, Garion. As a matter of fact, you know less than nothing. You jerk.” She wiped a corner of the blanket across her face. “You couldn’t have honestly conceived I would come to this cursed place for the sheer deuced thrill of it? I am a dreaded Satori. I peer into the hearts of men. And I peered into that old clown’s, you know well when. Would you fancy what I saw there? A boy of no more than five, with golden hair and deuced grey eyes that I’d known from somewhere else. As a matter of fact, I knew him much too well for any kind of good sense.
“But it might’ve been a chance, no? A coincidence. Yes, I realised that, too. That’s why I had to make certain, Garion, you big jackass. I needed to see the heart of someone who has also seen that boy. That’s why I wanted to see that stubborn half-mute housewife over there. It’s unlike that two people should share the same memory of the same boy... let alone three.” Again her eyes were on Garion. “You as well. You’ve memories of yourself at five, six, and more, and I’ve seen those, too. You match in everything but the huge ego. Congratulations.”
“A moment,” Michael pleaded. “That can’t be. He was—”
“He seemed more than ten—older than your son—when you... when you found him. Yes. Yes, that happens.” Satori sniffed. “The closeness to the dead ages the person quicker... only in looks, though, not in truth. Your son has been with a certain dead person for far too long to escape unscathed. Yes,” she said, “that’s right. You’d best get used to the sound of it. Anew. And no. That’s just wrong. I am allegedly much too warm to be dead. It was someone else.”
The old man took on a pink that belied his age. “Then...”
“Yes,” Satori said. “You grieved all for naught. Your son was alive all along. Cheers.”
The silence was long enough to grow moss. But when it finally exploded, there were cheers.
The old man was cheering and crying and laughing all at once when he snatched Garion from the bed to lock him in a fiery bear-hug. The little mother, the good quiet little mother, could not believe her fingertips when she touched the boy’s face. The boy, too, was at a loss of words, thought and all. Then they are. They are my parents. After all that, they are, they always were... And I was so...
If he had esteemed himself unable to shed tears, he was wrong. So wrong. So very wrong. Where else was I so wrong?
There were words of disbelief and words fondest than love. There were kisses and embraces so warm they squeezed from them a sweat. But it matters not. They were his parents. Garion, Corin, whoever he was, he had been the son of these people first. There was his true home—his place and family since forever. And he had been returned.
He might not contain the overwhelming joy if he wished. A home. And parents, real parents, real flesh and blood. A family. All I ever dreamed. The boy laughed and cried, cried and laughed, and again, had his hair ruffled and his shoulders crushed in hugs, and the world—the world was a blur, but it was the sweetest blur he had tasted.
The boy was happy.
Somewhere else, someone else sat sad and slumped, bundled in thick blankets and quilts, small and miserable.
>>10219 I’m sorry. Was that too cheesy? It isn’t too late to have it changed up.
Also, unrelated, but I’m sorry for being so long with this. I went to visit a friend in another city and ended up staying at her place overnight, as opposed to going back home and doing some god damned work. BECAUSE I AM A BAD PERSON.
Well. Hopefully this won't end with them / their bond effectively replacing Satori, but I honestly wouldn't be entirely surprised if that happened. >Where else was I so wrong? >All I ever dreamed. >the sweetest blur he had tasted.
And assuming these are conscious thoughts of his, Satori's picking them up (or a close enough equivalent). Ouch.
>You know nothing, Jon Snow Garion. Intentional, or just coincidence? Eh.
>>10222 No idea, been a while since I read the parts with Ygritte. I wouldn’t go so far as label the phrase “you know nothing” as a GoT reference. It’s just a normal phrase, for crying out loud. If I wanted to make a GoT reference, I’d write... shit, I don’t know. “Kill the boy” maybe? I’m bad with these. I’ve a bad memory.
Unless they’re LoK references. Those I’m quite adept at. Why is this no surprise?
So caught were they in their private celebration she had passed unmarked below the walls of their arms and attention. The happiness had made them heedless. Unmindful.
And now she was gone.
Son and father thought alike. They saw one another’s eyes lit up with distress. The selfsame eyes, of autumn sky riddled with clouds. Alarmed.
They whipped about on their feet, scanning, glancing, and searching. A deep shadow stalked the room, the lantern gone out and the fireworks long done. The opened door seemed as a cave-mouth far underground, nothing beyond but cold black night. The room was still, never changed, never different.
They found her.
The missing mother was perched on the edge of the bed.
At her breast, she nursed Satori’s pale-lilac head.
The boy and the old man shared a look of relief. Their small mother and wife was not speaking, but time and time Satori nodded to some unspoken words. Then Rachel reproached them with a flash of her summer sky-blue eyes. The old man looked cowed. We’re like right enough; both forgot whose hands brought us back together. And as like thinking the same thing. “Ought we not join them also?” The old wolf raised and dropped a brow. That was a yes.
They fit as well as they might on the undone bed.
A while passed that they were in silence; but at length Satori came away from the good old woman’s bosom and let her face be towelled of blush and tears. Then she cleared her throat.
“She says,” she began, “that since she... since dislikes speaking, she’ll say what she will through... through me.” The small lover looked to Rachel for approval. She got it. “That I am a Satori... a monster... that makes no matter. Anyone who says elsewise must... must seek her permission first. The price for that permission is twenty... twenty thousand ladles to the... the back of the hand. Twenty-and-five for her loose-mouthed husband. The permission lasts a single second. Then the price... has to be paid again. That’s what she says. There’s to be no... no negotiations. That’s final. She says she means it.
“Additionally,” Satori went on, pausing to hear each next thought, “we will tell no one of this... this slight accident we saw tonight. That’s no one as in no one. She doesn’t want needless... needless social calisthenics. She likes her quiet. Also, she’s as happy as you are, but she’s tiring. She wants to... to go to bed—along with her husband, so that we may...” She covered her mouth suddenly. “Ah. Ah, um, yes. That’s right; never mind. Tonight, sleep.”
“But I’ve so many questions!” Michael protested.
“Tomorrow,” Satori insisted. “Tomorrow... she says. Tomorrow is a day, too. Garion... um, Corin... he’s a great storyteller; he’ll tell you the tale doubtless without missing out too many details. You’ll know all tomorrow. That’s what I said, not she.” That earned her a smile from the little mother. “Anyway, that’s all for now. You may go—er, she says you will go now. That’s not a request, either. You’d best do as she bids; she has the most frightful things in mind for you otherwise. The most frightful. I kid not. Can—Can you do that?” she asked of the woman. “Honestly?”
Rachel gave the world her gentlest smile.
“All right, Rae, that’s plain as plain.” He offered his wife an arm. “Tomorrow sounds a fair deal in me think. But I’ll have all of it, hear? Tomorrow, you rascal. And there’d better than not be some good words in there if ye—ouch, bugger, mercy, Rae, mercy! What did I say? Ouch! Oh, dear lords—”
The little mother gave them a last kind look before half-leading, half-dragging the old man without by the ear.
Then the door clicked close.
That left but Garion and Satori.
The bedroom a floor below closed with a thump. There were faint voices, muffled, nigh-illegible. A squeal of an old floorboard. And then there was nothing—nothing but he and she and the singing of night-crickets outside. Satori was staring.
The boy strained. His head was pounding, and keeping balance ostensibly had quit his roster of skills. She must be wounded, he thought, but there was no response but for the stillness of her dark violet eyes. The boy must say something; yet he found his tongue hard and numb, as tongues get when, after having been used for a lifetime, they’re out of the blue tasked with “saying something.”
The sky without was beautiful withal the clouds, he marked. But that would never please her, would it? Satori swept the hairs from her forehead, waiting. Garion felt a panic coil in his belly. In all my years I have never found issue drawing my words. Why now? Say something, you dumb Garion.
“I... I love you,” he croaked.
That surprised her. She produced a beautifully dishevelled frown.
“Out of all the things to say, you’d choose that one thing I already knew? Of course you love me, Garion. There isn’t anyone who’d have defended a girl so fiercely if he weren’t madly in love.” The small lover sighed. “You were this close to crumbling what had still remained of my big plans. Would you have done it, Garion? Attack the only father you have? What could you have done to him besides, raked at his eyes with your nails? You’re the most bloodthirsty stupid jackass I have seen in all my long life.”
“I... I was not thinking.”
“As a matter of fact, no – you were thinking too much. You can’t be the main pushing figure of every story, Garion. Sometimes you have to button up your lips and watch how it unfolds... on its own. Have you something to say to that, my stupidest Garion?”
“... Thank you?”
“That’s adequate. Belike you’d prefer if I was placated by that alone?”
“Satori...” I am in your debt, but—
“But you could never repay it, not on your life, not ever. This is bigger than you, or your silly stories. Yes, that’s right, Garion. You’re absolutely right. You can’t wriggle out of this particular debt. So don’t try.”
Garion grunted. “Then what would you have me do?”
Satori smiled, all sweet innocence.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she twittered. “You could come here and warm the bed, for starters. There won’t be any more unexpected visits. That’s right. Come hither. You weren’t planning on sleeping tonight, were you?”
I do know not that I could after the excitement, he thought, creeping under the quilts. And that was true.
The mattress had been wrung out of most of the heat, but even still it was not all cold. Satori pressed to him. Under the covers, she was still naked. I’d forgot that. I’d forgot completely.
Garion tunnelled through the softness and slid a tender hand down across the incline of her side.
“You’re still so eager even after all that,” she said. “I like that. There was yet one thing you’d begun but never finished this night. You remember, don’t you?” The small lover threw off the blankets and climbed atop him. The white of her skin glowed in the dark. All at once she was again the queen of the night—his queen—and her robes were nothing but her dreamy smile. A crown of pale hair adorned her head, curling messily down her brow. “You’ll not disappoint,” she told him. “You’ll do as I say.”
“Yes,” he obeyed.
“You’ll make me happy as well.”
“You’ll give me everything I want.”
“Yes.” What would you have of me?
“Oh, only a simple thing.”
“Your love,” she said. “Your love... please.”
The boy understood.
As you wish.
“Oh, Garion?” she asked moments after as they kissed.
“You could also untie your breeches for me. You’ll be too busy to do so later, I suspect, and I don’t want to overwork my fingers. Only the string; I’ll handle the rest. Thank you. You’re a dear.”
After the first there came the second snow, then the third, fourth and so. Awhile, and the world had cloaked a thick white coat.
They knew not whence the idea had come, but they’d resolved to winter the winter in the village. Most like it was Michael. The old man shall never quit making my life more hell than it is. Yet time had slid by lazily since they’d imparted on the boy’s parents the true story of Garion. They had been as rapt an audience as he might wish. With withheld breath they had heard him tell of his journeys through the Land ‘till his descent in Old Hell; with laced fingers and pale knuckles they had listened how at last his malefactor had been gulled and banished. And when the boy spoke of what his life had been since that fatal day, then Michael took his turn to surprise him.
“A Flower Hell Deep?” he’d questioned. “Of a King and a Wench? A Bad Palmist?”
They boy had gaped, shocked. Those were the fairy-tales he enthralled the inns and temples he came upon in his roves.
“They tell tales o’ you youself,” Michael had laughed. “A tell-tale wanderer. They reckon you a monster, since you ne’er come down t’ our Human Village. An’ here turns out ‘at was jus’ you! A mystery undone, I reckon myself.”
The old man had required more than his wife for acceptance of Satori’s nature. She bewitched him no less as she had afore his learning their secret, but yet she was a Satori still. The old wolf had not let that go omitted. “So long as she keeps t’ mind my thinks ain’t always the cleanest,” he had said gravely... afore breaking a grin and tossing his huge arms about the girl. So she is pretty that he is ready to never mind her ability at a smile. Was I the same?
Of their stay, Rachel might not be gladder; though Satori bewailed the little mother’s caprice for quiet often in their nights. The boy believed it only meet she should shoulder some difficulties. At any rate Satori as well as Rachel were sedentary, home-bound women both; they whiled away their days together in the kitchen and more seldom wrapped in piles of furs in the snow-coated garden, whilst Garion conducted occasional works and talks for his father in the town. Winter-time saw want for more repairs, and Garion knew which end of the hammer to swing at a nail. The one that hurts more when you miss a blow and strike your finger.
Their mare they’d lent out to a neighbour making his living of haling firewood from the storehouses. They’d got the worse of the deal, but the boy had not stooped to complain.
Awhile, they lived as ordinary hardworking townspeople.
Yet those were but most of their days. Some weren’t so routine.
Some had them tend to other things.
( ) A letter from the town’s school. ( ) A visit by Rin. ( ) A meeting of the town’s council... with Garion as the guest. ( ) A trouble come down from the holy hills. ( ) And a certain chance encounter...
>>10233 So desuka... NO! I meant the other thing, the so nano-wait screw it.
( ) A letter from the town’s school. ( ) A visit by Rin. ( ) A meeting of the town’s council... with Garion as the guest. ( ) A trouble come down from the holy hills. ( ) And a certain chance encounter...
( ) A letter from the town’s school. ( ) A visit by Rin. ( ) A meeting of the town’s council... with Garion as the guest. ( ) A trouble come down from the holy hills. ( ) And a certain chance encounter... (x) All of the above
( ) A letter from the town’s school. ( ) A visit by Rin. ( ) A meeting of the town’s council... with Garion as the guest. ( ) A trouble come down from the holy hills. ( ) And a certain chance encounter... (x) All of the above
Because happy endings need to be milked for all they're worth, and I'm terrified of the void when YAF has to move onto another story.
( ) A letter from the town’s school. ( ) A visit by Rin. ( ) A meeting of the town’s council... with Garion as the guest. ( ) A trouble come down from the holy hills. ( ) And a certain chance encounter... (x) All of the above
I'm especially interested in seeing Tenshi again at some point, if we may.
( ) A letter from the town’s school. ( ) A visit by Rin. ( ) A meeting of the town’s council... with Garion as the guest. ( ) A trouble come down from the holy hills. ( ) And a certain chance encounter... (x) All of the above
It wasn’t a fortnight since the cold had settled in, yet the town wore white.
Garion quit the workshop to the sound of snow squeaking beneath his boots. A taste of frost clung to the air, and a promise of a cold night. Though it isn’t later than seven or six, the Sun is gone to sleep. A pity. Garion liked the Sun as a friend.
A swirl of thin milky mist fled his lips. The boy slammed the door and watched a volley of icicles break from the roof and sink soundlessly in the white puff massed below the overhang. Only a grouping of round holes marked where they had fallen. There is a strange comfort to icicles; no matter how many fall there are always new ones on the morrow. The village was a hurst of black smoke pillars rising slowly toward the dimming sky. An etching out of a children’s book. Without the cold I should feel as a hero in wonderland. He laced the furs tighter on his neck. The winter-clothes fit him but barely, for being hand-me-downs from the farthest reaches of the old wolf’s drawers. Satori had weller luck with Rachel’s, but mayhap that is given. He was thankful he had any cloth at all warm to wear; of his, they had left all in Satori’s manse back in the underworld. Elsewise, he’d boast a growth of hoarfrost in his smallclothes for sure. There were few things Garion relished less in his smallclothes than hoarfrost.
When from the dusking sky he brought his eyes on the street, something no less wonder-like met him. Where the driveway ran into the frost-shot wicket barring entry, a tall person squatted beside the fence, squinting their eyes at the place the name-plate should be. I wonder if they realise we’ve taken it off for fear of it splitting in the chill. Mayhap he ought call...
“Help ye?” he bellowed before catching himself. Two weeks yet and I’ll skip my vowels also. “Er, you need help perchance?” he tried anew. And give me a lesson of speech?
The person rose, patting their knees clean of snow.
There was no saying their sex below the jackets, cap and scarf, but the fall of hair as winter-white as the street and the roofs betrayed her as a girl. Also tells why she’s got snow on her clothes and hair; someone must have pelted her. Whoever she was, leastwise she had good ears.
“This, uh... the Red-Grays house?”
Close enough. “Redgraves,” said Garion. Oddly, he recalled the voice from someplace. “You want something fixed? The shop’s closed ‘till morrow, I fear.”
The girl had no care for the shop, from her look. “There’s a lad livin’ here, aye? A travellin’ tale-writer or some such.”
“Teller,” the boy corrected. “I tell tales—not write.”
“That don’t make matter. You’re what she wanted.” More silvery hair showed when she pulled off her cap and shook it clean. “Er, right,” she continued; “thing be, I had a letter for you. But some stuff on the way happened, and... Well, bottom line, I misplaced it. Like as not it lies somewhere in a gutter. Rolled an eye at it, though, so I can tell y’ what it was. You know the school, right? Well, you’re no schoolboy, that’s plain, but one reason or tother, Keine wants ya t’ go up there and... do some such thing as you tale-tellers do. She’ll treat ya t’ more details her-self for a certainty. I’m jus’ a letter-bearer.” She made a derisive sound. “Well, a shoddy one. Anyhow. School. Keine. That clear, Red-Gray?”
Garion considered that a brief instance. “The hour isn’t much too old,” he said. “Will she be there should I go now?”
The messenger shrugged. “She loves ‘er buggered school if she’s Keine. As like as the sunset she’ll be porin’ over this or other damned book. Fly and you’ll get her ‘fore she reads ‘erself blind.” She tittered at her private jape afore asking, “This ‘ere shop; you fix shoes as well?”
“Oh yes.” That’s Michael’s berth; let him work. “We’ll mend your shoes if there’s but a scrap of lace left.”
“Well, might be I’ll call on yous Red-Grays some time, then.” A wave of hand and she was leaving down the snow-clogged street. “Carry on!”
Good-bye, no thanks, thought Garion, puffing steam.
This was as probable to come back to bite him in the nether parts as the Sun was yellow if Michael learned of it that he hadn’t gone. The schoolteacher enjoyed certain fame among the townsmen, of whom the old wolf had ever been part—the more vocal one, too. More weird she’d send for me, when she’s known for turning down every one of those men as approach her.
That was unlike to be the cause for the summons, of course. But it’d have given the old man a stroke if it were.
The village school was a weathered, single-story construction with withal a soaring rooftop steeper than a mountain track. A bell-tower it had in place of a chimney, though the bell had been mislaid in some darker past.
The insides were like more to a church than a place of teaching. An ample hall opened immediately from the entrance, floored with wood and alike roofed, with thick-hewn rafters looming high aloft in the gloom. At tother end a lectern stood upon a dais, and before it rows and rows of desk and chair. The walls were lined with chest-high bookcases, but most housed toys for books, and geometrical contraptions carven of wood and marble on wire stands. The air was stuffy, but short still of being musty. The smell of discovery.
Athwart the hall the boy went, tracing a wistful hand along some desks, his iron-shod boots clunking.
The teacher’s haunt, he knew, was in the back, an office of a sort tucked away in the backside of the building. The sacristy. A furtive orange light spilled below the stout chestnut door. The boy knocked.
A voice ushered from inside, “Enter!”
The teacher was seated at a polished work-desk laden with tomes. A tallow candle guttered beside her, fused messily to an earthenware saucer, casting fluttering shadows across her serious face. The shadows danced.
Keine Kamishirasawa was a comely woman, educated, and more than ripe for marriage. At no more than twenty-and-six, she had scored the trust of a majority of the townspeople with but a handful of years at her pulpit. She had a dainty nose that endeared her to anyone at a look, and a set of sweet, naturally pink lips that, according to some, were “made to be kissed, often and deep.” Whether there was to that any truth, however, having Satori to kiss (often and deep), Garion might not say.
The true wonder lay within this woman’s ability to elude the advances of men who at any rate see her mothering their offspring already. A fearsome willpower... or something other. Those who dare not approach her with propositions of... arrangements... most oft did so for she reminded them a touch too much of someone from their childhood. A bizarrely common misgiving, but... mayhap it should not interest me. Satori for a surety would have words to say of that.
“A moment, if you’d please,” the teacher murmured. A rich voice was hers, but tangibly roughed by the years spent preaching to pupils with wandering attention. “A few more figures is all.”
Garion bowed his head, though he doubted the woman saw it; with a mild feeling of queasiness he observed her slim hand scribble red circles and crosses over a page of ciphers and diagrams. The motions of her ornate fountain pen mirrored her repute. Slashing as though a sword, but without the malice. She’ll point where you’ve erred, but will not scream nor throw things. A firm but well-meant woman. The boy grimaced. And I should perhaps quit weighing her as trade goods.
The teacher scraped a last glowing red wound on the maimed paper then set it aside atop a like-marked pile. The cap of her pen clicked and the pen spun in her fingers as she switched her attention to the fur-clad man come to disturb her peace and drip on her floor.
“You are... Corin, was that it?”
“Among other things,” Garion allowed. “You would be the one that summoned me.”
“I would be, yes. Call me Keine, please. We’re almost of an age, if I’m told right.”
“That leans quite heavily on who’s telling. Was it the old wolf?”
“You mean Sir Redgrave,” Keine said. “You’d not be far wrong. What he’s shared with me, he’s letting you wait the winter in his attic in return for some... favours? I am not privy to the intricacies of your agreement, and neither do I believe this is anything that should concern me.”
On Rachel’s request they had not made much noise of their revealed kinship, but for a mention of an old acquaintance, if anyone should ask. Garion had found the solution comfortable; Michael less, but his wife’s word was law.
Keine produced a small opaque smile. She was ostensibly tired. “Yes. What I’ve happened on,” she resumed, “and what caught my own interest was his praise of your... talents, shall we say? The... old wolf, as you had the invention to name him, he swore on his ancestors’ bones you had an extraordinary gift for... well, stories? That was the gist that I got. Have I the right?”
“Splendid.” The teacher put down her pen. “You are a well-travelled man, I hear.”
“A little more than most,” Garion admitted.
“What colour are the roof-tiles of the shrine in Moriya?”
“Green,” he said at once. “The tiles were originally hammered of copper plates and painted, but the paint has since flaked and the copper has greened in the rains. The head priestess mislikes it, but the townspeople are fond of likening it to her hair.”
“That is apt—more than apt, in fact. I’m clearly dealing with an expert in metallurgy and hairdressing.”
“You flatter me.”
“I had a hunch it should work.” Keine stood from her chair. “Would you accompany me outside? I was about to close up, and our business won’t need us to sit.”
“As you wish.”
The teacher gave another wan smile before blowing out the candle and untying a large key-ring from her dress.
They filed out of the office to the shadows of the main hall. Keine locked the door behind them.
“Say,” she inquired as she led him back toward the entrance. “How are you minded to children?”
“I wouldn’t know; never had my own.”
“At any rate, as I outlined in my letter, I had heard of your travels and your skills, and I was wondering if you would maybe find it in your schedule to come and give a... lecture, at our school? A relaxed lecture, to be sure. You have stories that the young ones would be thrilled to hear, reportedly.”
The one about the king and the wench, most like. Though not so much you. “Some, mayhap,” he said carefully.
“And you’ve been around. That should be enough to arouse their curiosity. The boys this year are too adventurous...” She palmed her forehead feebly. “Oh yes, you’d do well to wove some truth into it. The message we want to communicate is they can never be too well prepared to go out of the village on their own. Are we on the same page? Would you do that for me?”
“The lecture? Certainly. The truth? We shall see.”
She opened the front door and waved him through.
Outside, a night had fallen, dry and chilly.
A colony of lights flickered downhill: street-lamps, torches and half-shuttered windows shining in the dark. The teacher slipped into her coat, a fantastic creation of soft brown hide and fuzzy grey furs and tails as long as her ankles.
“Then,” she said to Garion, her breath white vapour, “I should like you... tomorrow? There are classes in the morning, obligatory—but in the afternoon we have voluntary exercises for those who want to... widen their horizons? At the third stroke after noon. Would that be acceptable? The children will flock to the school if they hear there they’ll have a storyteller, instead of my usual... well, whatever they call it when my back is turned. With some luck, maybe even those that don’t attend as a rule...”
So I’ll be your education enticement programme. “Third stroke,” Garion confirmed. “Very well.”
“You’ll come then.”
It was more a statement than question, but Garion saw fit to answer natheless. “Indeed. Yet I shall have my own favour in return, if you’ll find it fit to oblige.”
A shimmer of curiosity crossed the teacher’s sapphire-blue eyes. “What would that be, now?”
“You keep records of the village’s inhabitants,” he explained, “births, deaths, departures... that stripe of information. Or your predecessor did before you. Am I correct?”
Keine hesitated, but answered, “Yes. Yes, I did... receive... such instructions from my... predecessor? And you would request access to those records?”
“Hmm. May I ask why?”
Garion drew a deep, chilling breath and looked up.
Awhile, he gazed at the pitch-black sky and said nothing. The teacher waited, wiser beyond her years, or simply too gentle to shatter the boy’s forlorn silence. The air was cold and dark and still.
At length, the boy exhaled and gave a weak smile.
“Half my life I spent on search,” he said. “Half my life I sought a person whom I had thought my most important. Across the Land, in the caves below it, over the roads and the plains, lakes and forests – I searched in every place she might hide. And when I found her, she was in one place where she might not.” The boy squared his shoulders. “There are yet things I do not know about her,” he confessed; “mayhap I should learn them not in the Land, but in leather and ink and old paper.”
The teacher mulled over his words, her young face solemn.
At last, she nodded.
“Very well,” she said. “You will have your request.”
She shook his offered hand before excusing herself for the night. Then she left.
The boy watched after her ‘till she vanished in a torch-lit alley. Then he started back home.
So it was children turned in his mind when he lay abed beneath a heap of quilts.
Satori reposed beside him, her little head lain upon his shoulder. A small heater she is, but a heater withal—but for her feet, sadly. Satori’s feet were never more warm than a yesterday’s meal; Garion wondered whether it might be for some purpose he had not yet uncovered. They are as if tiny little mice poking at my calves with their cool noses. The noses were the toes.
Satori’s bed manner had ever been quizzical to the boy. Alone she slept as calm as might anyone; with another in the bed she tossed. Would that you wished a decent night’s sleep beside her she should be let known you are near—very near—and constantly if she is to be still. The plainest way was to take her in your arms. That does nothing for her feet natheless. They’ve a life of their own, they do. The feet were, however, the least of Garion’s troubles that night. The coldest, to be sure, yet not close the greatest. That would be the children.
The trouble was, Garion had nought experience handling children beyond the simplest jerk on the back of the collar. Any manoeuvres more intricate than that were—to him—a never unearthed secret. To boot I have but of late quit boyhood myself; what are twenty years if whiled away on fruitless wanderings? There were more considered him a child than a man grown, he was aware; he himself even had taken to styling his self a boy. After whom, I could not know. Yet whereas he might manage this one boy with not too much sweat, with others to mind surely he should be lost.
“Would you like some pointers?”
The boy twisted his neck aside. “You aren’t sleeping?”
Satori could smile the sneakiest smiles, but this was not it. “You’re making so much noise as a philosopher thrice your age, you boy,” she said. “I mightn’t sleep worse if a hurricane was tearing the house plank from plank.”
Satori had passed the day corning fruit and vegetables alongside Garion’s tight-lipped mother. The effort had seemed innocent at first, but come evening a whole citadel of stacked jars had been erected inside the larder. Were he ten years less, he might squat among its walls flinging wrinkled apples and sausages at a small enough oncoming army.
Of mice, for an instance.
“That’s very clever; now will you want those pointers or should I find something to plug my ears?”
“You have schooled children before?” Garion asked.
“No. As a matter of fact, no, I haven’t—but I do have this unique advantage of having peeked into a child’s mind being adult myself. That isn’t something many can boast, is it?”
“It isn’t.” Satori dug her hand out of the beddings and pinched his cheek. “You’d do well to remember that, too.”
“Ouch. I apologise. I shall try. Where ought I begin?”
“You could turn and face me for starters.”
He did. The small lover’s eyes glimmered like purple gems in the night.
“There’s your first lesson,” she said in a voice as soft as silk. “Whenever you can, have them look at you—closely, if it isn’t too... ah, inadequate? The vast majority of children will pay you better attention if you stay around the centre of their sights. You’ll have to hold their eyes as much as their ears. Was there any specific reason you are contemplating a school-teaching career now, by the way?”
There is no concealing things from her.
“As a matter of fact, no, there isn’t. Well, Garion?”
The boy touched her arm under the covers and said, “An opportunity presented itself. I seized it. There are records the school keeps I wish to see. The teacher there wist someway my talents; she proposed to me I should entertain her wards. I named the records my price.”
“Talents?” Satori was puzzled. “That must be the first I’ve heard you refer to them as that. Anyway,” she went on afore him, “a whit of an encounter with children won’t do you ill. You’ll learn a few things perhaps. Soon or late you’d need to, either way.”
“To see what it is having to answer dumb questions all the time.” She squeezed her brows together. “And on that note, my dear, would you tell me how I’m speaking to you right now? The volume, manner?”
“That’s right. Good boy Garion.” She graced him with a little smile. “The quieter you speak, you see, the more the children will need to focus in order to understand you. You will want to have them have to prick up their ears to hear you; it’ll leash their attention a lot tighter that way, too. Yelling is hardly a solution with a fledgling mind. Speak softly—” “And carry a big stick?”
“Why, if helps you concentrate better, my Garion,” Satori said grandiosely, “by all means. Only do remember not to raise your voice. There isn’t a quicker way to lose a child’s interest than yelling.”
Yet you yelled at me more than seldom.
“You were older than that age, Garion. And I had other ways of winning you anyway. But you don’t want to go around kissing them and holding their hands, so put some rein on those comments and listen. A young mind sees more clearly than it hears; not by happenstance picture books are weller received by children than regular books. The same goes for anything else—from the décor in their rooms to labels on their shoe-lockers. A child heeds better what they can see.
“So should you need entangle yourself in one of those colourful descriptions of yours,” she advised, “you couldn’t do better than pen them a sketch to go with it, or motion with your arms if you can’t. A picture says a thousand words; that at least remains the same throughout all our lives. Though more so the younger the eye.”
“But I am a poor artist. As well give a fish a brush and canvas.”
“Why, when did I say it mattered at all, my Garion? Their imagination will do the bulk of the job for you; you need but set it off. Would you like me to demonstrate?”
“I do not know—” “The correct answer was ‘yes.’”
A single moment and the quilts were off them.
The boy would shiver; but then Satori sat astride him, locking her thighs about his own. The top buttons of her sleeping shirt came loose sooner than he might frame a word. When she bared her shoulder and breast, there were still faint bite-marks on them from yester-night. And the one before, and before, and before... Withal the chill the sight made his blood rush wherever it liked. Satori urged it even faster with a knowing smirk.
A rash of goose-bumps was sprouting around the pale pink peak of her breast as she spoke.
“Well?” she was saying, “this is working or not?”
The boy may not deny it; it worked, and he would be lying if he claimed elsewise.
Through his breeches he could sense her warmth seeping and joining his. The selfsame warmth that was prime on his mind only last night, when she had clasped those legs around him as he reached the end of his endurance. The softness of her chest when he fell on it powerless and the heat of her breath on his numb ear as she whispered to him, whispered... though he might not say what it was she was whispering. She had but laughed at him when he’d asked afterward.
“And I’ll gladly laugh at you again, my Garion. As long as you give me the cause, that is.”
It took the best of him to answer. “We did it yesterday...”
“You’ve grown very casual about this.” And pushy in some parts.
“So what?” She made a slight pout. “Can’t I?”
“That is not what I said—” “You thought it.” Satori pushed the hairs from her forehead. “Of late we’ve only been together at night, Garion,” she reminded him. “Come dawn you and your father go down to your workshop and do there gods-know what devilry until you up and vacate the premises for your own ends. Yes, yes, you do works for the old wolf in the village, I realise. But this was supposed to be a getaway from the usual.”
The usual being my vanishing and leaving you for weeks on end.
“Yes.” Satori laid her hands flat on his belly. “That’s why I had this tiny vain hope we might spend some more time together.”
“I cannot help it.” Whether it be the works or the escapades. “It is powers that be.”
“Then you could at least give your nights to me if I can’t have your days.”
Garion made a sigh. “You do realise,” he said, “this still unnerves me to do it with my parents so near.”
“They will pay us no mind—even if they hear. As a matter of fact, just today, your mother said—” She ceased suddenly and covered her mouth. “Ah, um... no, never mind; it’s nothing.”
The boy glared. “Satori...”
A slow blush crept over his lover’s face. “I said it’s nothing, Garion. It really isn’t... well, anything. She didn’t even say it, just... Ah, did you know what? This is going anywhere; why don’t we get back to the matter at hand? You’re pushing at me like you want to lift me up. Are you going to deny that?”
“That’s not something I can control, you are aware.”
“You don’t want me then.”
“So what’s your issue? Are you going to make me beg for it?”
That might be nice for a change of pace.
Satori gave her lilac-crowned head a shake. “That’s so very like you menfolk... Very well, you rogue; I’ll beg. Whatever blows your skirt up.” She threw up her arms. “The lengths I go... Would you at least undo these deuced laces? What kind of knot is this? Gordian? Why does a girl need to carry scissors to get some love around here?”
This isn’t harder by half than telling a tale in a taproom, he reflected, as sixty-and-four little hands clapped for him a cheer. Only you watch for the years of your listeners instead how far in their cups they are.
The children-host clambered as one to their feet, a motley of messy hair and missing milk-teeth. A chatter rose with them, and it was over it the young schoolteacher had to speak to have her word. The last word. Always the last word. The boy had made good on his promise to make the wild lands amply dangerous—or he hoped. Well, what-ever she wants them know she is taking them to hear it without. The young ones filed after their teacher out to the schoolyard, thirty-two strong and apt noisy. A girl of about nine years and a mop of frayed tawny hair, last in the row, spun round at the step to give him a rosy grin. The storyteller answered in kind.
When the door swung close behind her, he let his smile wash out of his face. The silence was a release. With never a care for what was being spoken outside, he turned to gather up his notes and sketches.
Satori had told him his hand at art mattered not, and she had gotten the right of it.
The images he’d scrawled on the papers were no better than what one of the class might have done, but still the children passed them along, pointing out to each other the eyes and teeth on the monsters and the trees on those hills and dells as he’d drawn. A few snickered, but I had the lion’s share. The undisputed favourite had been the one-eyed giant he had seen once bearing felled timber for a trailside temple in the making. The giant had been a well-cultured fellow and had allowed him pass by the grounds unmolested, but in his sketch he had a grotesquely overgrown head and his single great eye was far from innocent. Garion wondered briefly what the courteous monster would have made of it. With some luck he should not hear of it. And if he does someway... We shall see.
The last drawing he picked up was of the underworld’s gates. An especial love he’d given to this one; but the children were more curious for the ones that moved and roared as well as had big teeth. A shame. The boy had seen these gates many a time, enough to maintain more accuracy than with the rest, yet accuracy mattered scarce to his audience. And what was I expecting? This is earth and dead rock; who fears rock without it hangs spiked overhead?
Garion sighed at the picture and put it away along the others.
“And why so great a sigh?” said a voice at his back. “All they are pretty pictures. To be sure the storyteller plays no favourites?”
The boy turned with never a surprise.
The woman appeared behind him was a dumpy pile of cloths on booted feet. Snow was melting on her fall of waist-long hair, flames-red and smooth as summer cherries. A pair of tiny gloves lined with grey fur guarded her hands from the chill. Green, green, green. That and red. Though the ears are nowhere in evidence.
“Orin,” he greeted. “The winter look agrees with you. What tidings?”
The cat-maid—however cat no more—gave a smiling curtsy. “There is not a thing escapes little brother. Although he should be wise to call little sister Rin only—Orin is too specific to that one Rin, and little sister comes here... how does one say? Incognito? At any rate, good tidings. And bad, so little brother is not too happy. How fares little sister’s Master—Master San, her name is?”
“Well,” said Garion. Too well in some regards. But she needs not know that. “We did not inform you of our stay,” he remembered. “Are you caring for the house?”
“Yes, oh yes; little sister cares for the house, let little brother fret not. The house is as well-cared for as it might be with Rin, oh yes. That is one of the tidings she brings.”
“The good one?”
She flashed him a set of perfect white teeth. “Why, little brother is so insightful as always. The cold will have dulled him, little sister feared. But it has not. That is good; little brother shall have need of all the wit before long. And care and patience, yes.”
Garion frowned. “Why?”
“When he knows, he knows.” Orin laughed at his folly gently. “She has asked after Master San, little sister has, but she has lied in truth. She has seen the house where her Master dwells for the time. A good house, that, but Rin went not inside. She does not wish to disturb her Master’s... ah, respite? And bring her the troubles she left at home, no.”
“So you brought them to me instead.”
“As quick as he is wise. That is what little sister enjoys most in her little brother.” She swept a gloved hand across the ties of her coat. Then her bright face donned a graver cast. “A certain priestess of Hakurei paid their home a visit latterly. On what calls, little sister knows not; alas, she was paying court to something else at the while. So it was that another opened for her the door. And when the priestess inquired for her Master, the bird-brain went into tears, for she had been lonely ever since Master had gone away. And she whined out to the Hakurei everything she knew. Ah, little sister should have been home that day, she should have!”
“What’d she tell her?”
“That their Master had gone attend affairs—in the village. With someone.” The cat-maid slumped her shoulders. “Thankfully she might not call back on little brother’s name if her life was hanging in the balance.”
“Then I should anticipate a Hakurei nosing about soon?”
Orin shrugged. “That depends on what the priestess had wanted. At any rate that is as bad as they get, the tidings. Master San’s little sister has gone astray once more; but she does no less oft than every winter; little brother needs not worry. And then the bird-brain isn’t lonely since little sister has taken her to bed each night. The garden complains for some tending, but that is perhaps best tasked another. When little sister digs, her nails break. That is all little brother should needs hear, little sister thinks; elsewise nothing is amiss.”
“Thank you.” Garion inclined his head. “You have done me a service.”
“An it please little brother.”
The front-door of the school opened then, letting in a gust of chill and a shivering Keine.
The schoolteacher sneezed; but when she looked to open her mouth again to speak, she espied Garion in mid of conversation and made instead for one of the bookcases. Very unobtrusive, but for the sneeze. The more he saw of the woman the more he found befit her fame. Anyway this talk is best soon concluded.
“You are better on your way before long, little sister,” he said enough loud for the teacher to enjoy a share of the exchange. “The Sun dies faster in this cheerless season. The streets are perilous in the dark.”
Orin’s eyes shone with shrewd understanding. “Aye, that is true,” she said, like as loud as he. “And there are things for a certainty good storyteller wishes to do yet this day. Good-bye then.”
“Good-bye,” Garion replied, “and fare you well.”
He took her hand in his and pulled the glove off by the longest finger. Then he gave it a kiss.
Orin giggled. The hand was stiff, but then it was cold.
When she had gone, then only did Keine dare shuffle close.
“A mother?” she asked in a wan voice.
“An acquaintance,” Garion replied, “from my travels. I have many.”
The teacher sniffed. “I see. An acquaintance; that’s good. Thank you, at any rate—for that show back there. Seldom do I see the young ones so... enthralled? They liked the Cyclops, didn’t they?”
“Well enough to give him bad crinkles. He’ll rue it for his old years, no doubt.”
“Quite. Sir Redgrave was not mistaken about you. You do possess a fearsome gift for... words? The children weren’t the only ones listening with their mouths ajar. There is a manner in your speech...”
“I had an inspiring teacher, is all,” the boy said humbly. “She taught me well.” And I have hated her for it.
The thought washed unnoticed by the pink-nosed Keine. “There’s hoping they say the same of me when they come of age,” she said. “Anyway, I must apologise; I have duped you, in a manner.”
The boy lifted a brow. “What’s that?”
“The records you requested—they are available to anybody who should ask. That’s what my... predecessor... declared to be. I should not have accepted paying you by letting you see them. Outsider or otherwise, you are a... human? That alone entitles you to some... privileges? Yes. We are nothing if not together in this. Should you come to a mind of a different price, only name it. A lesson so told deserves its reward.”
A bowl of hot stew and a clean bed with someone to warm it, the boy thought. But he said, “I have none. The records interest me most.”
A short time the teacher regarded him with her deep water-blue eyes. Then, she nodded.
“After me, if you please,” she said.
The room she led him to was scarce more than a storage-closet, ten-by-ten feet of shelves, books and dust motes. A half of a table sawn off and a rickety stool gathered grime by the one wall; the others were crowded with boxes and files and leather-bound tomes.
Keine turned to Garion on a heel, her face drawn from the chalky air. “Was there anything you were after in particular?” she offered helpfully. “The births, harvest records, medical...?”
There, before him spread three pages of crumbling paper and faded ink. Answers, no—never answers. But the key. And now I know.
The hour had grown old without by the time he pieced it all together.
When dark had fallen outside, Keine had brought him candles to last him a week. When he had commented of cold, she had brewed him honeyed red tea so he kept warm. Twice and thrice and more she would come each hour, to loom over him, giving tips and feigning curiosity; now he hadn’t seen her for what felt ever. As like as not she has forgotten or given to sleep. But not I. The records spanned decades; he had not near so much time.
Turning page after page, he was staggered by the number of people died in the town since its foundation. To each man and woman half a page was lined off, the same list scribbled in shorthand time after time after time: name, date, cause, comments, addendum. So many... and yet life marches on. Who remembers them now but these ruined pages? Will I die, and be made a scrawl of words among a thousand others, too? Age, sickness, accident, even murder and suicide: the lists shied of none. The comments would bristle the hairs of any lady born high enough to taste wine, but Garion knew they weren’t meant to shock. They’re merely clinical, even my own. The boy had found his death.
A male child of five, the record stated, reft and devoured by a monster beyond the bounds of the village. Son of Michael and Rachel Redgraves. The commentary treated in brief on the story of that day. Garion had read the short impartial account five times over at the least afore moving on into the earlier years. The words had chilled him. A male child of five, reft and devoured by a monster beyond the bounds of the village. Son of Michael and Rachel Redgraves. Along with ten of peers left the village. Search begins five hours later when three of the peers return. Exposed remains of clothing and blood three days thence. Assumed and recorded dead. That was everything there was. Six sentences, as unemotional and detached as the clouds on the sky, dry and cold and dry, so dry it chafed. A male child of five, he had gnawed on the words as a hound on a bone, reft and devoured by a monster. Was that all he was? All he had become to the world? A male child of five...
There was his first name, too. And it was such a simple thing. Garion and Corin would never have accused their elsewise colourful parents to lack of creativity to this degree. “A male child of five” felt more unique compared. The boy had found his death so disagreeable it was all but comedic.
But it was not his death that interested him. He had dug on.
And there she was. The woman who had eluded him for so long she had taken half his life to track down.
The page laid out before him had been designed to offend him, he’d decided. Suicide. A poet. Teacher. Self-asphyxiation. Comments: none. Addendum: see case MMMMMMMMMMDLXVII. That was it. The exact date was absent. The records from that period had all wanted it. The names were oft skipped as there had been nobody to provide them. And so was hers.
Case MMMMMMMMMMDLXVII turned out a like-laconic page, but dedicated to a child. Pestilence. Fortnight before a year. Comments: treated at mother’s request. Curation failed. Suffocation. Comments: none. Addendum: none.
The link had foiled him, ‘till he had gone through the box marked “medical” of records from the same period. Then the truth had dawned on him, as slowly as surely.
The plague took away her child. The despair drove her to suicide, yet her grudges had not allowed her the rest.
Satori had taught him once of ghosts and spirits and their workings.
An earthly spirit, she had said—that is one which stays in our world to roam it—was made when a person died alone or with deals unfinished on their minds in their final moments. A ghost so formed would then haunt the world, unfettered by needs of sleep or eat or breath, seeking tirelessly to mend their past mistakes. They split from there: vengeful spirits, regretful spirits, spirits too bound to their possessions, spirits too holy, too loving, too mad... They had all one in common, however.
And that was a wish.
So hers was to save a child. Since she had lost her own, she wished to save another from the selfsame fate.
And she had found Garion. A male child of five, reft and devoured by a monster.
Only then not yet devoured. Satori had told him, monsters fled in fear of spirits, for even to a monster immortal a ghost is the most intimate agent of death. “We dread death more so than do humans,” she had said, “for it is not in our nature to die. A ghost is the next deadest thing to a corpse, but where a corpse cannot drag you along into its demise, a ghost can—and they will if you should give them the chance. They tend to reek of death besides, and we have sensitive noses.”
When he had questioned why she had in that event taken residence where ghosts had been plenty, she had laughed and said, “A ghost is a fickle creature, as the human was in life. They dislike me peering into their hearts, and so they stay athwart of coming too close. That presents me with the special advantage of being able to threaten them or order them around. Why,” she had said, “how else did you conceive I had convinced them to extract her from you before you tore the heart from my chest?” She had grudged it then still, though she did no more. And may you never again, Satori.
So it had been from the ghost the monster which had snatched him and his childhood friends had fled. Yet it had not been enough that she had spared them from its jaws; her wounds had festered deeper than that. The moons and seasons spent a spirit had swollen her regrets.
So she had taken him to child.
A male child of five, reft and devoured by a monster.
She had entered him, locked away what he had been, and remade him as her own. She had spurred him to carry his new self out of the bloody hole and stole with him into the night. She had made him hers, taught him everything she had known, how to cook, how to read and write, how speak and hunt and add and multiply, how to live... And then she left me. She had backed into some black corner of his mind whence her voice shan’t reach him, and from there watched what would become of him. The boy had been shown how to survive. The test had begun. How well a mother had she made? Time would tell.
So then, Garion brooded, why did she begin to interfere after Satori had scented her out? There was no danger to her. Why had she thrust me in her arms, only to have me turn on her later? Was she scared as ghosts were of her allegedly? Or had so many years in death simply driven her insane?
The boy touched the mouldering paper where her name should have been.
The candle had guttered out, but he did not light another. The stool whined as he stood from it, threatening death itself. The boy paid its opinions no heed. In a melancholy dark he jammed the records back in their covers and files and returned them to the shelves. Then, never looking past his shoulder, he left the cramped archive and went to find Keine.
The young teacher had fallen asleep on her desk in her office. A trace of spittle ran down her chin and crossed arms where she’d laid it.
She dared not disturb my study, Garion realised with a stab of guilt. If she weds nobody the world will have us out of our hides for making such a waste. He’d not have done so under normal circumstance, but now he allowed himself to touch her back as he woke her.
Keine blubbered something as she roused, but soon light was back in her eyes.
“Are you done in that case?” she asked him softly.
“Yes,” he answered. “We may go home.” And never go back in that paper mortuary, if gods allow.
The teacher bobbed her head. She unfastened the keys from her belt, threw on her coat, and they went outside.
The Great Bear glittered still dim on the waking sky. Though her cub hides behind a cloud.
A click of a locked door and Keine was pacing shakily down the path toward the village. The boy gave a short chase, asking if he should escort her.
“I can find where I live,” she told him without much fervour. “Thank you, though.”
Withal, he insisted. The drowsy schoolteacher was none too thrilled, but there was nevertheless nothing she might do to bar him from walking beside her.
When at last she had gone inside her house—an indistinct squat residence not unlike many others—the Sun had begun to set. A dawn was breaking, pale and cold and brand new.
The boy stepped back on the street, looking eastward over the light at the school on the hill, where erelong children would gather before the gate, waiting their teacher to come pass her knowledge on their young minds. They would come wanting to learn. To see and understand.
The days grew shorter. The nights grew strong. Garion grew not at all.
Though mayhap I should’ve. A number of the on-scene repairs contracted by Shop Redgreaves was so contracted precisely for it would’ve broken the back of anyone towing it to the workshop. The backs of the Redgraves were plainly a fairer liability. This would have undergone easier had I the old wolf’s bulk or leastways a few turns more on my shoulders. The boy gave the aching small of his back a twist. A kink in the making, for a surety. At least Satori’s appetites had petered out enough it was unlike she should want to exercise him much this night. Unlike felt an oddly hopeful word; but it cost little to be hopeful. A wrick or three or a dozen at worst. A soulrending disappointment at best. It was hard not to want to be disappointed, but Garion was steady and a man grown besides—even if not a lot.
Satori would have differed. She would every so oft complain of his size. Garion must unwillingly agree.
Standing on his tiptoes to kiss himself each time did seem as it’d quick become enervative.
The snow was fresh and soft and squeakier than a churchful of mice in flight. And like as mice it piped under the soles of their boots when they made down the darkening street. The old wolf was humming. Garion had toyed with the idea of daring the old man to lick a lamppost to end the less than immaculate symphony, but he’d decided it a mercy day. Tearing him away from the post would’ve destroyed what was yet whole in his backside anyway.
As though sensing the eyes on the base of his nape Michael spun round mid-stride.
A custom smile was making wide wrinkles on his cheeks. “Tirin’ job, aye?” he said. “Th’ bloody thing wou’n’t budge. I swear on my bones...”
“Aye,” Garion aped, cracking the staleness from his knuckles. “Good pay, though.”
“All ‘bout the money, eh? That’s all proper, I s’pose, but there’s t’other things t’ mind.”
“The good cobbler’s lady wife, to be sure? That’s your department, old wolf.” The boy granted himself a smirk. “You forget who schooled me in parley with customers.”
“Why, where’d y’ get th’ notion I did? That’s all the trick, y’ see. You distrac’ ‘em with parleyin’, an’ I get my personal bonus. All in the book.”
“The book?” Garion faked surprise. “I never knew you could write.”
The old man laughed a jolly “ha!” and gave his son a jog that would have sent him sprawling were he not ready.
There is good in bickering like this, too, Garion thought, counting the near-cracked ribs. At the least he’s quit that awful singing.
“There’s somethin’ else also,” Michael betrayed as they squeaked on through the snow. “There’s a meetin’ tonight—some deal important, too.”
“The full moon’s showin’ tonight, an’ it’s beginnin’ a week’s end, if I ‘ave my finger-tally right. That means the council’s comin’ together tonight—an’ it seems ‘tis my turn this two-year.”
“Your turn to what?”
The old wolf sighed, oh, so great a sigh. “They don’t think it ‘nough t’ weary us with their stamps an’ seals an’ papers an’ all, so to boot they ‘as taken to this thing as some daft soft-buttocked stealer ‘ad conceived.” He scratched at the hay-dry tangle on his chin. “See, what they do, they ‘ave some of us simple-folk sit in with ‘em on the meetins. ‘That’s equality’ or what, they say. There’s a list... circle-list goin’ on; each full moon some other people go an’ listen to them bitchin’ an’ ramblin’ an’ runnin’ their mouths. There’s two meetins each moon; at first they jus’ yelp an’ wrangle on their stuff ‘till their throats’ gone dry, then they go t’ sleep on it – make their minds, they say. An’ next eve they come again, only this time pretendin’ somethin’ actual gets done—‘cept it don’t. A load of crock, an’ plain; but it’s their crock, so they’ll defend it ‘till death – theirs or yours, blast ‘em.”
“So why do you not just shirk it?”
“Oh no.” Michael gave a shiver. “That mean upsettin’ th’ whole list. That there next-door loon of a neighbour of mine would o’ taken ‘t out on me big time. The sot’s all ways wrong.”
All ways wrong, repeated Garion in thought. For once he had the gall to glance and smile at your little wife—my little mother—as she weeded the patches.
The irony fit the old man so much as a glove the boy had not the power to shake his head.
But he said instead, “Very well. So what you want is me to keep you company, yes?”
Michael’s grey eyes went innocently wide. “Wha—Where’d y’ get that notion now, pray?”
You’re too transparent, Father. “Baseless guesswork. I mean your hard-boiled lone-wolf reputation no harm.”
“Well, I jus’ don’t know that company suits such a famed tough lone wolf as me... But, so long as you’re offerin’, who am I t’ say no an’ make you cry?”
“Am I offering?”
[ ] “The death of me seems a decent tradeoff. I’m offering.” [ ] “On the morrow, mayhap. Tonight San and I are going out.”
[x] “The death of me seems a decent tradeoff. I’m offering.” Interesting that this is done in the full moon. I suppose that keeping them busy that night is good for Keine. I can't imagine what would happen if one of those guys tried to ask help with a burning house while the Guardian is trying to literally record history.
[X] “The death of me seems a decent tradeoff. I’m offering.”
Garion capitulated with his shoulders. “The death of me seems a decent tradeoff. Very well. I’m offering.”
“Then it’s done.” The old man summoned his wrinkles once again. “Squeeze it.”
They shook hands and Garion smiled for his crushed knuckles. Soon and I’ll be bonemeal not human.
Yet the smile he found was not so easy banished. After all, is it not well? They waddled on through the fresh fall. To the fore, the father; son for the rearguard. And the snow stood not a chance. We make a soldiery to fear, though we pettifog. As we have ever. That was the strangest thing. There were few as remembered Corin the foundling, fewer still the boy before him; now Garion was a whole new person just-arrived. Yet not for the old wolf – not him, nor his little wife.
Am I Corin to them? Am I Garion? Or mayhap that other boy? Garion mused, lost in wonder. Though Satori had unravelled the truth of their bonds there had been scarce difference to their kinship. The old wolf quipped and japed on every littlest thing as always; his wife had not re-taken to sing of sudden, yet she gave the boy no more nor less of warmth than she had Corin in his pre-major years. Whilst he’d down a cup of sour-wine sooner than confess it, Garion was quizzed by these affairs. Was I always their son to their minds that it made no change? And then, what was there to change, if he had remained the same person anyway throughout?
Satori would say he overthought it. But what good am I if not thinking?
Michael shoved the wicket to their yard so hard it sliced through the mound of white blocking it. To the boy fell wrenching it back out. But when he did and well-nigh somersaulted backward from the force laughter was mingled with his cursing.
Satori waited them in the foyer. She took their furs and coats; then Garion recalled what he’d thought and leaned low so she might kiss him with less effort than usual. Beside the kiss, it netted him a disarmingly wry roll of the big violet eyes.
“You as well, old wolf,” she told Michael exasperatedly. “Take after your juniors sometimes. They have better sense than they show. Sometimes. Now bend down.”
The old man flushed, did, and received his kiss.
“She can be a despotic lil’ thing when she wants, eh?” he marked to Garion as they followed her to the never-resting kitchen.
The boy had but a shush for him and a meaningful silence. Satori, however, it appeared had not heard.
At the stove, Rachel was stirring trouble in the pots. Of recently, Garion had begun to recognise his own recipes in their meals. And while as oft as not there was a twist to them or ingredient or some extra spice, he knew more than well whose doing it had been. There was someone who had seen him at the ladle times enough to learn some things by heart. A lovely little someone who flatters an apron all but so much as it does her.
There was a sharp pain in his side as Satori jabbed her fingers in his flesh.
Michael went over to his wife and passed the kiss on. Then he snorted a sudden chuckle as the little mother went to pitch it back to her son.
“This jus’ happened by me,” he said in that jovial voice he had, “but there ever is some sort o’ deadly face disease, all hells, we’re in for a bloody hard time.”
The council proved more a crowd than he had thought. Their lodge also was ample for a feast. The long, plane-cornered table readily might seat a hundred. For the nonce it must be content with a measly third of the number.
Thirty-and-three faces flushed-red squinted in the smoke. The grated hearth was going strong, attended by a short work-clothed drudge; atop sweet incense was burning, scenting the air with smells of lime and pomegranate and ripe red apples. Garlic, ginger-race and bulbous onions hung in bunches roped from the rafters. A serving-girl of sixteen years and a plain freckled face was filling the cups of the assemblage with hot wine. When Garion’s turn drew nigh, he mustered to refuse; but then one of the elders murmured something behind a withered hand and the girl pinched him some spices from a belt-strapped pouch. The old councilman thanked her afore drawing deeply from the cup.
Garion had nurtured a taste for wine latterly, so long as it was sweet or hot or spiced. Better still if all at once. “What that over there gentleman is having” made sure his share was just as so. And threw in a girl’s smile to make it go down sweeter to boot. Though her brows are crooked and her teeth askance.
That might never hamper the old wolf’s levity, naturally, and indeed it did not. The jest the father beside him told the girl as she poured was apt neither for her ears nor his own. She fled on naked toes, almost as beet-red as her face, dress joggling with her form. The old wolf thought it worth a laugh. Garion could but squelch his face at the clowning.
As he sipped on the drink, colour rising to his cheeks, he scanned across the room the countenances of the gathered. There was an odd discrepancy to how these of the lodge were fashioned, and how these housed either farther from the heart of the town or on its outskirts. These men balked leather and furs; instead they wore loose robes to the ankle sewn of whispering silk or sateen or cotton (for these poorer) and embroidered with glowing gold patterns. The robes flowed and glittered in the firelight, crimson and teal blue and dark-green, but all alike rich. They look more priesthood or nobles than townsmen—but mayhap that was the intent. Michael’s mantle-and-cape and his own quilted tunic were crude in contrast.
A steady thrum of talk had been floating in the hall since the first drink, each exchange muffled by the other and the smoke. A given with this many in one place. What hopes he had fostered to find a perhaps known face, however, were fast disappointed. His eyes lingered on one man, one who must have felt as out-of-place as he. Tall he was, with fair light hair of a style that was seldom seen in these parts; and queer-clothed, in garbs the likes of which Garion had seen not ever in his travels. Where other men conversed, this one was silent and stooped, and loving his half-full cup with stiff pink fingers. With dark eyes and grim set mouth he traced the cup’s lips restlessly, waiting. There is a fear about him tothers don’t know. And anger and contempt, too. Contempt over all.[/spoiler]
Then another caught his eye, who had not engaged in words and sat quiet, arms crossed; but afore Garion might study closer this one’s face a voice rose over the talk, demanding attention. [i]Mine included, as like as not.
“Quiet!” it bellowed. “Quiet in the lodge! You chatter like old hens, and with less sense. I. Will. Have. Quiet!”
The final word was punctuated with a crash of fist on the table. A few talkers jumped, but a quiet they gave.
The speaker at the end of the table clapped his hands sardonically afore he settled back in his chair. His scarlet-wrapped throne-chair groaned under his buttocks.
“Thank you, my Lords,” he said. “Mayhap now we shall hear something of substance for a novelty.”
A sullen murmur washed across the table.
“My Lord Humbug!” the head lodger requested even so, “why do you not begin?”
A weathered man with an impressive streaked-white beard and whiskers answered the call. “Shall I, my Lord of Meat?”
“By all means.” The first one waved his approval. “Something not too burdensome for starters—if you will.”
The one named Humbug sketched a half-serious bow. “Whatever please my Lord. Ah yes...” He coughed. “Say, my good neighbour. What wussit I was speakin’ to you about just before our Lord of Meat?”
“The floor, my Lord,” the man beside him provided.
“Ah, yes. That’s right. Ahem! My good fellows of the lodge, our times are grave. The floor needs dusting.”
There was a nervous titter. The “Lord of Meat” joined his fingers before him like a belfry and watched with a twitching brow.
“Yet even so dire a strait pales compared to our other duties,” Lord Humbug continued, all solemn, “for to be sure there are many and more an effort to be made even mid this gloom unfriendly season. And who better to direct these efforts than we, my fellows of the chain? But what efforts, you ask? Allow me but a minute and I shall find the gods-damned list... Ah yes, here we are. Well, firstly and foremostly there is the issue of fields. The crop o’ this last autumn was a smidge low as it happened, and as some o’ you may know yet. Too many mouths suckin’ for the bosom of our lovely mistress, as it were. As such, propositions are to expand the fields on the northerly strip—to about three-hundred pace from the tree-line or somewhere close as so. Voices are this had best be done afore thaw, afore spring sowing. How? Among the voices these are the options: firstly to clear the snow...”
Whilst the hoary lodger speechified on ways to ready the frozen earth for culture, Garion elbowed at his own man, old also, cheerful and already in his third cup.
“Who’s the goat?” he whispered.
Michael wiped at his mouth with a sleeve. “Which one of them?”
“The one they call ‘Lord of Meat.’”
“Ah. That one. Slimy grey rogue, that one.” The old wolf belched. “Well... if this were a menagerie, he’d ‘ave the whip, I s’pose. Only ‘cause no-one else wanted th’ bloody thing, t’ be fair.”
“What do you mean?”
“As I understand, why he ‘as that there chair is ‘cause he wanted it ‘imself. There ain’t no codger mad enough in this hall wants rein o’ these—” he struggled for a word, “—well, these scoundrels, not t’ wrong any honest scoundrel out there. Too much a hard work for but a chair—which is like as hard, likely. You saw how they cared when he wanted t’ get stuff underway? That’s the codgers’ lodge for you.” The old wolf chugged from his drink-cup. “The lazy bloody council,” he concluded.
“That so?” Garion said. There he has the right; they weren’t the gladdest to be silenced.
A teal-cowl launched off over Lord Humbug, standing; but for his tribute to the discourse he had but rich-man plaints. There we go then, thought the boy. He let them to their entertainment.
“Why ‘Lord of Meat?’” he asked again in an undertone. “Why lord over food of all things?”
“A slab of meat don’t make th’ best o’ smallpersons, does it?” Michael chortled. A moment’s pause and he was feeding his cup anew from a pitcher left behind. The girl must stand politics nigh so well as bawdy japes. And small wonder. “Well, yes,” the old wolf went on to explain, “it don’t, that’s granted. It ain’t the quickest at followin’ orders, for one. Anyhow. Our Lord of Meat is lord of meat simply for the ‘ole o’ his career broke off a butcher’s hook firstly ‘fore creepin’ someway to the councilhouse. A lowly butcher’s son climbed t’ lordship, if you will. All things considered I ought have ‘im fer a fellow most like—bein’ honest-born an’ all. Though t’ be sure I ain’t seen his ‘pprenticeship honours. A three-years romance with th’ cows and pigs and t’others wou’n’t do ‘im harm. But it’d give all these other rascals reason not to let ‘im hear th’ end of it ‘till grave also, and our Lord of Meat can’t ‘ave that. Oh no, good sir. A lord ‘as to look th’ part most important—an’ cow-bloodied hands ain’t I wager the most lordly thin’ there is.”
Here as well he speaks sense.
The butcher-made-lord visibly did everything he might to appear of state. Here he tented his hands below his chin; there his eyes nodded at whoever was presenting his claims at the while. Look, he’s shifting in his seat, crossing his legs. Now he’s banged his knee on the table-top. And now he’s checking if anyone has seen. There was one who had. Then again, I suspect I do not count.
Garion had heard enough of the man. And indeed seen so, too
“What of tother one?” he inquired. “The one Humbug?”
“Lord Humbug? Got nothin’ on him. ‘Cept his dreadful notion ‘o humour, that is. Good lad elsewise.”
This lad is elder to you by twenty years if you’re a day, old wolf. “The name wasn’t his mother’s notion, I take it?”
“Would it were!” Michael stifled his laugh with the help of a hand. “Why, no, my boy. No, it wasn’t. Lord Humbug took his name from that when ‘e was yet a wee tyke there was this girl as came t’ perch on his windowsill by night makin’ crickets hum their songs for ‘im, so ‘e says. The prettiest girl t’ be seen, t’ give him faith; played the buggers like bug ensemble, ‘e swears. Well, I wou’n’t know ‘bout this girl o’ his, but th’ name stuck anyway.”
“Humbug,” Garion murmured; “I see.” Very clever. The boy stabbed his chin at the sulking stranger. “What of that one? What three has he fallen off?”
“None you’d ever see, pup. Can’t you tell by these his habits? That ain’t the sort o’ hide none o’ our stock would grow.” The old wolf snorted. “Lanky bastard, too. Cou’n’t lift a sack o’ spuds if his life were standin’ on the scales. There’s one o’ ‘em fabled ‘outsiders’ for you.”
“Outsiders?” Garion frowned. “As in, from Moriya or someplace?” I know the Moriya; they do not dress in this fashion.
Michael was shaking his head. “Moriya, no. Outside. Across the Great Barrier. The other world.”
“What?” Garion blinked. “There is no—”
A shout cut him short.
“How long will this farce go on?! A man died, and you geese honk on about your fields. I demand voice!”
All the men in the hall but a handful squirmed in their chairs to stare wide-eyed on the interloper. The “outsider.” The stranger was standing, black with anger, his brows knitted.
Lord Humbug made calming gestures with his leathered-grey hands. “All in due time, my good friend,” he appeased. “You have my sincerest assurances you shall have your voice. As soon as our current issues are dealt with—”
“Your ‘current issues’ are wheat and turnips and dead earth. Never knew earth to rip a man limb from limb.” The queer-dressed man addressed the murmuring assembly. “There are dangers greater than being late for spring showers and sunshine, my Lords. Why, by that time the Sun comes round we may all lie dead, our lifeblood watering those fields you so worry for.” The outsider attired a haunted face. “This is no child’s play, nor a fairy tale. Not a full week ago I saw a friend torn down the mid of him in front of my living eyes. I smell his pain, his blood, and the reek of shit when he soiled his pants. His dying screams keep my sleep away at night. His blood still scalds my skin where it spattered on me. But you know what is worse?” He leaned forward. “The sound of that... thing... gorging itself on his entrails while he yet begged for mercy, whining like a shot dog.”
“That happens,” Lord Humbug was trying to argue, “men die—”
“One man died,” agreed the outsider. “But who is to say how many will turn up dead on the morrow? The day after? I say we take steps, gentlemen. I say we strike back.”
The murmur became more and more angry.
Humbug looked to Lord of Meat for support. The head lodger gave a nod; his fist began to hammer on the table-top ‘till every mouth was shut.
Then Humbug cleared his flabby throat once more.
“Outsider,” he said, “my friend and fellow. You speak folly, and quite fluently. Your friend died, of that I have no doubt, but he died for his own mistakes. This is not your world without; this is Land of Illusions; by laws we are not permitted to do war on monsters.”
The outsider bridled. “And whose laws are those? Yours or the monsters’? Oh, I know of your overlords, the Yakumos; I know of the goddess Yasaka. Your very shrine maiden protector consorts with the man-eaters. And who is to say what else? Why does she spurn us, whilst making friends of monsters?”
One councilman, younger and greener than the rest, leapt up from his seat as stung, his nostrils flaring. “You leave our good maiden Hakurei out of your—”
“A mere fact... my Lord. Or would you claim otherwise?” The challenge went unanswered. “The facts speak loudly, my friends,” the outsider continued. “We are attacked, and yet forbidden from retaliating. We are given right to settle and cultivate the land, and yet we’re oppressed. We’re crushed beneath the heels of tyrannical racialist women, and yet when we demand justice, it is somehow a sin? Where is your spirit, my Lords? Where is your forefathers’ just indignation? Are you not descendants of those who hunted the fearsome and mystical? They are but few ancient whores counting heavily on your complacence. You are many, strong and honed by your endless toil. Your forebears would scream for war. You are their sons and legates. Why do you keep meek and quiet?”
But he’s wrong in that, Garion marked in thought, they’re everything but quiet, and he best pray half so meek as he believes.
Yet this was all he thought on the man. A different notion set his mind ablaze.
Whatever the council had been muttering about now exploded into full-blown quarrelling. All around men old and elder began to shout one another over, each pushing a dozen views and hearing none. All but one. The silent man Garion had never gotten the chance to examine afore. Why, he seems more pleased even than my drunken father, and he hasn’t had a lick of the wine.
At last the ham-fist of the Lord of Meat brought the court back in order.
“You make the outsider right, you councilmen!” he roared. “Your honking shadows the real important issues. You, outsider!” he growled next. “There will be no war waged against any monster, innocent nor guilty. Now sit your arse or walk away.”
The outsider took on an ugly red. “My friend died, and you say—”
“Your friend died a fool, and the world is better off without him,” Lord of Meat said. “You did more smarter than he by running rather than facing the monster; you’d do well to quit trying to convince us you’re as dumb as your friend after all. This is not your world without, outsider. We are not your people. We are weary of conflict and war. Our worst enemy is not the monsters; it is the seasons and the winds and the rain, and monsters are small and weak compared to those. There will be no war, I say again. This world is meant a paradise for all, not just us noble humans, and no half-a-wit outsider will change it with his inane blathering. Seat yourself. Your voice is closed.”
“You...” There were veins bulging on the queer-clothed man’s forehead. “You can’t silence me like this.”
“Go dash yourself to pieces on the Great Barrier if it help you sleep. For the meanwhile, you’ll be quiet for real problems needing discussion. Or go away and preach your petty vengeance elsewhere, if you please. I weary of your raving, and your ugly face. Away—or pull your tongue and sit. The choice is yours.”
The outsider would not have it.
A vile oath, a spit, and he was turning over his chair, charging out of the hall. His swearing echoed, carrying him off into the night. The silence he left in his wake was tense.
Then Lord of Meat smiled. “Trouble gone.”
With that, the tension snapped and vanished, not unlike the man who’d cast it. There were laughs of relief and subdued talk rose of a job well done, a crisis averted. The councilmen as one man reached once more for their cups, calling for refills. Lord of Meat sat back, evidently pleased with himself; Lord Humbug also. The odd silent man had retained his oddness and silence, yet when Garion looked, someway his previous leisure seemed gone. He did not join with the laughs or talks. His cups remained empty, and his eyes glazed over, dark and unknown. How very quaint.
But all of that made scarce matter to the boy, whose mind was elsewhere and away.
The concept of an “outside world” burned bright in his head. Another world. Across the Great Barrier. What may I see there? Where may I go?
The idea itself thrilled him; knowing there was someone had come from the mysterious beyond had him all but giddy with excitement. Awhile he played at the notion of chasing after the outsider to smother him questions; but finally having to leave his father behind reined in his prancing enthusiasm. There were other times.
The morrow, the boy determined inside. On the morrow I will find him and ask. A single day seemed hardly an unacceptable delay.
A good representation of a certain IRL faction. Very good indeed. Also, our hero, wanderlust incarnate, finally finds out about the outside... I wonder how that will go. No; I already know how that will go, I just want to see how it does.
Last, but all but least: >“Would it were!” Michael stifled his laugh with the help of a hand. “Why, no, my boy. No, it wasn’t. Lord Humbug took his name from that when ‘e was yet a wee tyke there was this girl as came t’ perch on his windowsill by night makin’ crickets hum their songs for ‘im, so ‘e says. The prettiest girl t’ be seen, t’ give him faith; played the buggers like bug ensemble, ‘e swears. Well, I wou’n’t know ‘bout this girl o’ his, but th’ name stuck anyway.” Thank you for this. Ms Wriggle definitively needs more love.
At first light they would find the outsider on the road, a pile of dead bones red with blood, cracked and ravened of their marrow. A crude spear would lie cracked beside him, tacked together of a knife, a broomstick, and a piece of string. The bones they would bury among the unnamed others in the cemetery near the town. The spear they’d throw away. The mourning would last mayhap ten minutes.
But for Garion that was yet distant future.
The meeting closed and disbanded, the boy and his father took to the slow walk home.
The sky was wide and black, the streets white and empty. The old wolf had taken his drink in stride, but he had taken it in droves (“Not my place t’ squander given wine,” he’d say), and his pace had been a stagger more than any stripe of walk when they had quit the manse of the Lord of Meat where the lodge met as a rule. The cold had since sucked most of it out through his pores, and since he had swallowed of the fresh night air, the old man had braved the snow and ice on his own power. Though I had to hold him that he would not cartwheel down the stair and split his toenails or worse.
The boy sighed, his breath a thin cloud, orange in the streetlights.
“That boring, eh?” Michael sniggered. “Yer offer, if I might remind.”
Garion gave his father a deflated look. You had your wine and son; I had my thoughts. Wager which of us was had more right to bore? “You were right, though,” he replied even so. “They never did a thing aside lots of words. The lazy council makes its own name.”
“Ah, I dunno ‘bout that, pup; flappin’ yer mouth costs some effort, too. Say, chicken?”
The old wolf jerked a thumb at a vaguely familiar stall atop a handcart a street over. Even at this hour smoke was rising from the brasier, and the cooking-girl was fussing at the spits. The bright white fall of her hair was almost a lantern of its own, leading sleepless hungry men from the growling dark of their bellies.
>>10317 >At first light they would find the outsider on the road It's not first light yet, is it? He's gonna shank any youkai he sees, and even if he can't ID Satori, she can read his murderous thoughts. Probably better to come home now.
Called for the first option that tied. Also, there’s too damn many of you. Where are the golden times when I could fit all the votes in a single screen and count them effortlessly? You’re trying my poor stamina.
>>10324 Since this is a side story, most options are pretty irrelevant in the long run (do x now or later?) But here there was a chance to perform a time paradox and save a fellow man and pursue the outside world all in the same choice. That's heavy stuff we're talking about here. About 1.21 Jigawatts heavy.
I am not BioWare, I make mistakes!foOlREAVlE2012/08/18 (Sat) 02:07No. 10328▼
>>10325 Right. But I said this’d be a light-hearted afterstory: just some character interaction, tying up the looser ends, et al. I botched the part with la gran revelación precisely because I had the genius stroke to jam a fistful of drama into a hole that was never meant to hold it. In retrospect (coughandgoingbyyourreactionscough), that was dumb. But then I never was the brightest shell in the basket, so yes.
Are time paradoxes your idea of “light-hearted?” They aren’t mine. You’ll have to wait for that till that YoumuFuto next story.
THIS ABSENCE OF UPDATES BROUGHT TO YOU BY DARKSIDERS THE SECOND
>>10328 Right. So this story is enjoyable, but a lot of people don't bother voting because choices aren't important. The number of readers you have is constant I think (specially since this is an extra to a popular story, not unlike AFT's side stories)
>>10329 That was more or less my unspoken point. The choices here are basically “what do we do first and what later”/“do you want to see what became of character X?”/“do you want to see some extra characters appear and interact briefly with our cast?”/“do you want to see steamy Satori sex” All right, maybe not that last one. But you get the gist. And then there’s, what, eight votes out of bloody nowhere and talk of time paradoxes. Hence my confusion.
This isn’t Legacy of Garion. This is Your Love Please. There won’t be no tearing superfluous appendages off of ancient monsters, no poorly justified fratricide fuelled by motives of revenge. No conversations on the metaphysical in florid English, or pompous inner monologues with a light coloration of snark. No... Hold up for a second.
Anyway, yup. Here’s a picture. The Deposed King is kicking my fuckin’ arse. One hit from that freezing club smash and I’m horsetoast.
>>10330 If options for steamy Satori sex were more common I'd vote more often
I just think it's funny that I decided to change my vote to join a tide-pisser, and suddenly the tide pissed back. Time paradoxes and damsels in psuedo-distress get people riled up. When they notice them, I guess.
If Your Love, Please morphed into Legend of Garion, I'd be fine with it. I wouldn't mind Garion getting revenge tearing appendages off of his brother who's also an ancient monster somehow whilst running an internal monologue on the metaphysical in florid English. Followed closely by steamy Satori.
“As well say no to a warm bed and woman, but very well,” said Garion. “I opt in.” Won’t be the first I’ll make her wait.
“She loves you any, she’ll ‘ave mercy.” The old wolf started for the ‘cart. “She’ll call it barefaced naked villainy, make faces an’ squirm something awful, but at the end o’ th’ day she’ll shake ‘er head like you’re but a naughty tyke an’ smile an’ all be well again. That’s what they do. Or, well—” he made a shrug, “—leastways that’s what Rae always does.”
That’s so since Rachel is an angel in woman’s skin, and you are no more than a tyke outgrown his own.
But he had to follow the father, lest he lose also the treat. ‘Twill be his treat, I hope.
The cooking-wench wagged her tongs at them by way of greeting. Too familiar the closer I get. Have I seen her someplace? The years under his ghost-mother’s thrall had instilled in him to remember the faces of those he met, should need arise to elude them further on. Yet since he had found home in Satori’s arms, the instinct had blunted. He might no more elude anybody than they might ask around and trail him to his refuge. There was no longer need for him to know everyone he saw by heart... Or indeed pay them overmuch heed if they were of the fairer sex. Specially if they are. Satori was a generous lover, but jealous. And with ways to nurse the mislike.
The grizzled-white-haired girl, however, eluded him.
“Awful behindhand t’ sup,” she told them, clacking with the tongs. “But not over-late, I s’pose. Standard fare or extra?”
The smell of roast chicken and vegetables made his mouth water, but Garion’s belly was full yet of the light repast offered at the conclave, and of a different mind.
“Standard—” he began to say. “Twice extra,” Michael overtook him.
The boy might but give him a sour look.
“All right,” said the cooking-girl. “These are all but done. A few shakes, m’kay? Or’d you prefer raw? Some folks like raw, if it confound me. Well, not my place t’ criticise or nothin’, but raw’s got nasties in it will turn your stomach wrong-side-out. Only a word o’ warnin’, ‘kay? You want raw anyways, jus’ shoot. Aye? Won’t be no skin off my teeth.”
After being satisfied they would not, as a matter of fact, prefer raw, the girl got the want to talk.
“Where’d you broke out of so late?” she’d ask. “Unusual for you folks t’ be up this time o’ night.”
“Could ask you the selfsame,” Garion marked. “Why keep open your stall if you’ve no clientele?”
“You say first, you not-clientele.”
“Comin’ down from th’ council,” said Michael. “Guests we were; elsewise we’d be home, like, fondlin’ our wives as honest folk ought ‘pparently. Aren’t I right, Corin?”
You aren’t; also, no-one asked you to speak.
The girl’s eyes picked up a shine. “Corin, aye? That’s you. I had this gut-feelin’ I recalled the mug from somewhere. Heard of yer lil’ show from Keine. Good stuff, good stuff. Anyways, the council, eh? That council? You one o’ them their lordships then. Why, I’m humbled.”
The old man hooted laughter. “Would I were! Woul’n’t ‘ave t’ worry for me wife findin’ me oglin’ no lass on th’ street. Would jus’ find me ‘nother one.” A pair of shutters crashed close somewhere near, prompting from the father even more laugh. “Gentle ears they ‘ave, don’t they?” he noted all but through tears. “Anyhow, no, missy, we’re as honest folk as could be. Grown on salt and toil, that’s we. We was guests of honour only, for what honour it made us. A lot o’ whingin’ an’ whinin’ o’er big piles o’ nothin’. We’ll be in luck if we e’er get that expansion what they talked.”
“All same old, aye?” The girl conjured up a mocking smile. “Wouldn’t pay ‘em too much care if I was yous twos. They’re loud enough, right, but not nigh so harmful as they would want.”
“They rule the town still,” Garion observed. “They are the council.”
“Old men like t’ play at runnin’ the world is who they are. Aren’t the first, either; nor like t’ be last.” She made an ugly sound. “We’ve seen their kind, oh yes, we have. Sittin’ for weeks long screamin’ over one another for nothin’ on end; forgetting nothin’, forgiving less; takin’ their dusty feuds to the grave rather than let go. They’ll have the bells toil for ‘em as if they’re any worth the bell-ringer’s back, but sooner than they’ve cooled in the ground, whole ‘nother flock will flock an’ take their game for theirs.” The girl probed at the crisping meat ‘till juice came out and sizzled on the coals below. “You let them to their squabblin’ an’ they’ll let you t’ yer things, man. That’s how it’s done. That’s how everyone gets jus’ what they want. We’ve been at it for ages; not like at all that’ll change any soon.” She poked at him one of the dripping spits. “This one’s yers, Lordling Corin. An’ this, is for my low-born fellow.”
“Thankee kindly.” Michael gingerly received the other, heavier, stick.
The cooking-wench grinned. “I know ya wan’ed th’ big one from the start, but think this a gift from me, why don’t ya? We smallfolk got to keep together, after all. Ah, yes. That’ll be three-and-half hundred, for all. Coins, if you’ll deign; papers don’t stick to me.”
As they nibbled on the greasy hot meat, cucumbers, mushrooms and baked onions, the old wolf presumed once more to break the cold-nightly silence.
“So what ‘bout you?” he wanted of the cook. “What’s one as you doin’ out so late? Corin ain’t the softest-spoken o’ lads, true, but ‘e has the right. There ain’t seem t’ be no-one but us is fillin’ yer pocket this night, does it? How’s for you tellin’ us with your tale?”
The cook sized him up, sticking her head over the next grilling share. “That ‘pends. Can ya keep a secret, old man?”
“Keep a few meself. Ain’t one left me so far.”
“That’ll do, aye. What of you there, Lordling?”
Garion made through a chunk of chicken afore he answered, “To be sure. You can’t begin to guess at the secrets I guard.” Some of them stuck in my craw. “Say on; fear not.” This old wolf has a frightful loose of a tongue, indeed, but his uprightness holds it back—more oft than not.
The girl twirled her tongs. “Well,” she said, “I mislike talk of my own affairs, but since yous twos are such outstandin’ decent fellows...”
Michael dug an elbow at his son. “Hear that, pup? We’re decent!”
“Shush.” The boy beckoned at the cook. “You—what shall I call you?—go on.”
A brow of some awe arched on the girl’s face. “You don’t know me? Would a’ sworn Keine would’ve... What ‘bout you, big man? No? Horseshit, you must if you’ve spok’n with Keine once. Or has she made good of what I’ve begged ‘er for a dozen years now ‘tlast? Well, either case, acquaintances ain’t my hottest thing, but, you want, you can call me, uh... Kaguya, if it please you. Awful name, yeah, but what can y’ do?” She waved it away as one would a pestering fly. “Anyhow, where was I? Ah, yes. The secretin’. Well, see there, there’s this friend I’m waitin’ on t’ come back t’ town an’ see me, is all. It is all. Would a’ liked t’ tell a tale t’ tide me over, but there jus’ ain’t one t’ be found. Shame, eh?”
“Unkind of a friend to keep you so long awake,” Garion marked.
The cooking-wench looked uncomfortable. “She ‘as... uh, reasons, as it were.” She trifled with a spit turning it around. “Look. She feels as tellin’ ya, she will. That’s ‘er share you’re gobblin’ by the way. Ne’er pictured no-one else’d come hungerin’ at this hour. So beat it with ‘em looks, aye? Or I tell on ya.”
And what would I rue worse than that? The boy stuffed himself with food.
Only when it had disappeared all, and he had thrown the char-black spike with others dirty on the ‘cart, then Garion licked his fingers of cold grease and spoke out.
“Something on my mind,” he said. “The one you style outsider. At the meeting he goaded for war, but the tract-pushers would not heed it. Yet I know the sentiment in the town is everything but amiable, where monsters are in concern. How does it come?” If the townsmen are so disenfranchised, which they were, but yet the council perpetuates an opposite stance, will the man not seek—and worse, find—ears to hear his warmongering elsewhere?
The Human Village, it had to be said, was not quite yet the power-keg of dissent but waiting for the spark the outsider had thought it, but it was a near thing; not for nought had Garion ground his teeth for the well-fare of his less-than-entirely-human lover in this place. Whilst Michael and his wife had stomached the truth that was her nature well enough, it was but for they’d come to love her before they had learned of it that they had. A love, any love, is not so delible once it has taken root, and they loved her still despite. As I loved her yet even after I had marked her my malefactor.
What tother townsmen, however—or the lords of the council—would have done had they known of this monster skulking among their ranks, he might but imagine. Taking to war without the safety of their village was one thing. Taking to it within, surrounded by allies, was whole another.
The thought gripped him, fists clenched, and his heart was all but set ablaze. Worse yet, what would I have done? Almost I wished death on my own father when she was threatened. Would he kill in her defence? And if so, how many afore I am seized—and hanged? Though I would relish any blood of those who raise a hand against her... The boy prayed he should not be put to the test too soon. A man may only take so many heads with a day full of work behind him. Otherwise, one or a thousand...
A wicked smile broke out on his face.
Satori would doubtless say he was overprotective. Garion was of a different mind. Garion is only in love.
The old wolf, wolfing yet down his enlarged share, cleared his maw to answer. The smile had avoided him, and good. “How comes it?” he repeated. “Well, pup, that’s ‘splained real simple-like, if y’ ask me. The mice don’t bite th’ cat. They don’t have t’ like ‘im, the furry ol’ bastard, but that scarce mean they should go an’ take him t’ fight. ‘Specially if the cat leaves them alone elsewise. That’s basics o’ basics o’ how things are ‘round here. An’ anywhere else, for ‘at matter.” He tossed a cube of meat up in the air, then deftly caught it in his mouth. “You don’t like th’ stare o’ your customer on ye, but you pull in yer pride an’ do jus’ what you must. As like, he don’t like yer stare on th’ rump-side o’ his wife, but ‘e needs that plough repaired fer the morrow... See my meanin’?”
“All too well,” said Garion, “but what for does the cat need a convention of mice to defend it?”
“That’s—” “That’s ‘cause the cat ain’t half so scary as the mice tell.” The cooking-wench had taken interest in their discussion. “Not t’ forget, these mice used t’ beat the ever-lovin’ cat-shit out o’ the cat an’ its family.”
“The Land of Illusions was crafted for monsters foremost,” Garion observed.
“Aye. That it was. But what monster ‘twould be if there was no humans ‘round t’ spook? An’ look at it: who’s keepin’ peace if this or other monster go off th’ hook someway or other?”
“The Hakurei—” “Who’s right enough human. Aye. Consider ‘t this way, Lordling: the cats are big an’ clawed an’ all except many. The mice are tiny, but gods willed, there’s hundreds an’ hundreds of ‘em. A gross scratches hurts no less’n one huge gash. You best believe. An’ then there’s a mouse’n a thousand as is bigger an’ clawier than the cats. Your Hakurei ain’t the only one there is, neither.”
“So what you’re saying...”
“That monsters need yer council t’ keep all those lil’ mice on a leash. String. Thread. Whatever keeps you mice on. There’s benefits’n that, too, I bet ya my buttocks. They don’t want th’ rabble rebellin’ for they’d lose those also, whatever these are. Food, money, berth... tits. You name it. Anyhow,” she said with a lift of the shoulders, “that’s how ‘t is. Th’ monsters need us, not t’tother way ‘round. So they have their plugs t’ keep ya pacified. You needn’t tell that to Keine, though,” she added as an afterthought, “that I said that. She thinks I have ‘opinions.’ Well, b’ way of bloody course I do. After the years, I ought start t’ think f’ myself. You’ll keep yer mouths buttoned up, though, aye?”
“Oyeh,” nodded Michael. But only if you keep mine crammed with food, his eyes were interpreting.
“Aye,” agreed Garion. But only if you answer my next questions. “The prime cause the humans are frightened of monsters is they savour the taste our flesh,” he said. “Yet it does not oft happen that a human is eaten—not without they venture far unto the woods unwary. And, not each monster assails every human it comes across.”
Satori, it sprung to his mind. Satori does not eat humans.
There had been a time when Michael had thought it might be elsewise. They were wrenching away at a broken chest-latch in their workshop when the old wolf had posed the question. “Won’t mean I’ll love ‘er any less,” he had said, “but it harries me some deal.” Garion himself had attempted—clumsily—to accuse her of the same crime when they had first met, and so he had said. She was rather less than pleased. She was hurt.
The cooking-wench—Kaguya, or was it?—tugged at the lobe of her ear. “Well, no,” she conceded. “They don’t gobble up everyone. That don’t mean crap, Lordling; eatin’ isn’t the worsest they can do t’ ya.”
“Yet the town wants no man nor woman.” And my own death was rare.
“You callin’ me a liar, Lordling?” She was glaring him a fiery warning. “You be lackin’ for a smackin’. You have th’ gall, I give you, but have you th’ muscle? Warn ya, I beat crap out a’ lions for breakfast.”
There’s a more curious diet than a monster’s. The boy put up his hands. “No such thing,” he assured. “Wondering is all. You assert monsters aren’t so dangerous as they would have us paint them.” Smooth moves. “So then pray tell. Why do they need confinement in the Land? Why are they not allowed outside the Great Barrier,” if there is indeed a world beyond it; “what is there that they must not be let near?”
“Are you deaf, Lordling? Were you listenin’ at all? Th’ monsters are the ones hidin’.”
Speak sense! “What from?” The outside world? Say on!
“Their own mothers.” The wench stared him down. “You un-stick yer nose from where it don’t b’long, Lordling. Ain’t there snow f’ you t’ shovel someplace? Th’ monsters’ business is their own. As lil’ as I like it myself, there ain’t coppin’ out. We’re here, them too, no changin’ that. Why strain yer brain? Jus’ stay ahead a’ bein’ eaten an’ do your part. You’ll not regret it.”
This one knows nothing, Garion realised. And nothing she would tell him.
The boy yielded.
“That’s a good Lordling. Seconds? On the house, since we’re waitin’ anyway.”
The sky was lighting when the friend arrived. When Kaguya espied her lumbering through the snow on the street, she flourished her arms, and cried,
So it is she, Garion thought, as well turning to meet her.
The young schoolteacher was mussed as may be only one waking at this pale hour. The fuzz of her coat was sprinkled with tiny crumbs of ice; likewise specks of snow glittered in her hair. The hair was a tousle itself. She acknowledged their presence with just the vigour of someone spent the whole of the night on the road. Or else hostile place. A nod and not a smile—but then she had scarce reason to smile for them. They were only here for stray curiosity. And the food, where the old wolf is concerned.
“Sir Corin,” she greeted in her wispy voice, “and Sir Redgrave... You have my thanks, if belated. Your recommendation proved... serviceable? The children were... quite taken? Yes. You helped me greatly.”
The old man would have kissed her hands and laughed, were his not greasily occupied; even so he gave a grin. “That’s one thing as th’ pup’s not a total ass at, y’ have t’ give it to him.”
The boy slanted a brow. Cheers.
“That is not to diminish your... labour, of course,” Keine was placating him. “Only I feel everyone involved deserves... due thanks? Yes.”
And I have gotten mine already. Garion inclined his head. “‘Twas my pleasure anyway.”
“As you say. I feel compelled to ask your cause to be here at such a late time, but... you are not children? No. You must have your reasons.” She crossed her arms and made a sound, something halfway between a yawn and a moan. She makes sounds that become her face. “That said,” she went on huskily, “the night’s all but out. We should all take to bed before too long, children or... otherwise? Gods be good, am I not drained... Winters are always the worst. The mornings even more so... At any rate, Moko—” “A bite?” The cooking-wench thrust at her a bit-laden skewer. “You’re famished, like.”
“Ah, yes. A bite...” Keine took it in tentative fingers. When the hot meat touched to her lips, she made a little “Ah, sss.”
Garion watched her with one half-open eye, anxious more for the breaking dawn. Those lips may be an affair of many, but me; Satori will peel mine own off with a knife if I don’t rise with her at breakfast. The old wolf had insisted on staying, and the cook had appreciated enough their company (so far as being generous), but the boy’s nerve thinned by the minute. Would that they looked tother way I should bolt; but what of my villain of a father?
Keine picked up on his disquiet. She swallowed the morsel in her mouth, then said to Michael, “Yet I might ask as well... What is a man of your status doing out at this hour? A married man, is what I mean.”
The old wolf gaped first at the teacher before his son. “Why d’ they always feel th’ need t’ remind me o’ that, Corin?”
Garion spread out his hands. “How should I know?”
“There’s thin’s plenty remindin’ me o’ that already. Why mus’ our love miss Keine add t’ me sufferin’? Can’t a man grown while th’ night watchin’ fireflies in th’ sky? Or the youth playin’, remindin’ him of his lost own? Cruel.” His face became a show of misery. “Was there somethin’ I missed t’ read in my weddin’ pact? Womenfolk! The sly creatures. Hark me well, Corin; you never let yerself get married, pup—ever. That’s hell an’ toil’ an’ mortal torment is what ‘tis. The payoffs ain’t hardly worth it.”
“What would your wife say if she heard you?” asked Keine.
Michael pondered on it awhile. “She’d ‘ave my whiskers out, most like, if only—” He ceased at once seeing the teacher’s blue eyes narrow. “Now!” he coughed, “I like my whiskers, miss. A beard don’t look half so well with no whiskers. An’ my beard’s especial ridiculous alone.”
The cooking-girl chortled. “You were wide opened for it!” The tongs snapped on the air. “Should we trim ‘im now t’ spare the poor wife th’ pain doin’ it on her own?”
Keine made a thinking murmur. “Well...”
“You wouldn’t!” Michael spun about for Garion’s aid. “Why ain’t you sayin’ anythin’, pup? Come; toss your old friend the bloody rope. Some rope? A loop will do. Corin?”
“Your pot, old wolf. You drink it.”
“You rascal! What snake I’ve suckled in my own house! You don’t know the first thing, pup. Oh no. Say, why don’t we level th’ scales ‘ere a tad? Get you hitched so y’ see how real fun ‘tis? You!” he pointed to the cook. “You look the stron’ kind o’ lass. Why d’ you not marry him? There’s more t’ him than ‘e shows, you have my oath. Say th’ word an’ the pup’s yours. So? How ‘bout it?”
The white-haired one almost doubled over in laughter. This is below comedy...
“Oh no, ah, oh no,” she regained her breath and said. “Ne’er was too big on that hitchin’ b’ness, fear me. That’s a mighty plain offer besides, if I heard one. There’s folks as would a’ made me better chicken-catchers than this lad. Take on o’ those an’ come back; might be we’ll talk.”
The old wolf shrunk, defeated. “Well, what d’ y’ know. How’s ‘bout our miss Keine, in that then case? She’s out his pen, that’s for sure, but let’s hear what she ‘as t’ say. Come now, miss Keine. There’s a pup fer takin’. What say ye?”
The teacher quit chewing just enough to give the boy an appraising look. Oh, for gods’ mercy...
“Ah, hmm.” She cast the cook a questioning glance. “... Should I?”
That one shrugged. “That’s yer funeral, Keine.”
“Yes,” agreed Keine. “Yes, it is. I know; but that golden hair he’s got... Would you not say a baby with this colour of hair would not be... charming? Yes. A great many women would kill for his hair.”
They should not, thought Garion, it’s messy and already owned besides.
“Aside from that he’s learned, travelled,” the teacher counted out, “well-spoken, and children like well his stories. That’s more than most can boast in this village. Why, I should take it he is worldly as well, can hunt and maybe even cook. And who is to say what else? With a few polishing touches he should make a splendid... husband? A splendid husband. Yes.”
“You make me blush,” Garion grunted.
“Honesty does not constitute flattery... Corin? Yes. You should choose well your wife-to-be. She shall be happy with you for a certainty. Why, I do not marry as a rule, but if I did... You could take Mokou, however. She has a couple of rough edges you might help... file down? No? Mokou?”
Mokou. The boy did not fault the girl for keeping her true name. Why, I did myself, and like longer than she.
Anyway Mokou did not find the idea too thrilling. “You chop yerself a lock o’ that hair an’ marry it if you love it so,” she said, “but best leave me out a’ this. I like t’ keep my rough edges, thank y’ very much.”
“Only saying.” Keine shaped a little smile, for the first instance tonight. “You needn’t get upset.”
“Up yours. You quit givin’ me bull already.”
“A man won’t do you ill, Mokou. You can’t dwell on the past forever until the end of your days. There’s things in life a girl should experience, soon or late, even one such as you—because you are a girl, yes?”
“So that,” said Keine, “you have to try and be... more open? Yes. We aren’t all out to skin you, you know. You won’t believe if I say it for the thousandth time, but we aren’t. There’s those that look on you and see a woman... a very pretty woman, with but the littlest bit of a coarse tongue. There’s no shame in... indulging them, every now and again? Yes. A few of the boys in my class say even they should like to marry you when they come of age. You’re a pretty girl, Mokou, whatever you say. You make the world a disappointment.”
“So what?” The cooking-wench was stubborn. “Am I s’sposed t’ spread my legs at the first yokel t’ happen by? Says miss send-every-lad-away-sad? You have more suitors than I; why do you not get boned, ah?”
“That’s not something best discussed in front of others.”
“An’ th’ state of my pants is? O, you tread slow now, you meddlin’ cow. There’s a lad ‘your age.’ Why won’t we ask him? You there, Corin or what are you. Step up. You like yer miss Keine, aye? Give ‘er a kiss. See how she indulges ‘t now. She won’t scratch, ne’er fear; I’ll hold ‘er.”
The teacher flushed. “Mokou!”
“What? That’s nail f’ nail.” The cook hopped off her ‘cart. “Come on now, pup,” she called; “don’t be shy. All yours.”
“Mokou—!” Keine began squealing.
Garion had had with it. “I am married,” he said. “I decline.”
A silence fell flat between them. Garion squared his shoulders.
That’s right, he thought. What was he if not married?
There had never been a ceremony, mayhap yes, but for that there was no want. Nor need. Who would have married us besides? Unlike a priest would join a human and monster. All the same the fact remained Garion was nought if not wived. Satori already was his life; why should anyone else need avow it? She had done so, and he, and that was apt. Why would it not?
They said, in villages near and far, all girls dreamt of wedding. They would plot their marrying, they told, from meeting to ring, from ring to altar, from altar to bed, from bed to children and beyond and beyond, the whole way to the grave. Whether there was truth to that, and whatever it was, Satori eschewed such foolish dreams. She wished for no dress nor feast, no ring nor altar, and not grave. All she does wish is love – my love. A ring would anyway bring her but discomfort. She bruised easily on the hands; easier yet on her fingers. She has small fingers, unfit for gold and precious stones.
The old wolf had had plaints with it, yes, and like would have yet, but he understood little enough of his daughter-in-law. These two gawping at him now – less still. Not that they will ever more.
“I am married,” he told them again.
They traded abashed looks.
At length, Keine said, “Well.” Mokou said, “Gah,” and Michael said not a thing.
Were it a thing actually, it would have made nigh so much matter.
The boy stared with cold, inimical eyes ‘till they minded their own affairs.
But no more than Keine was two bites into hers, she creased her fair pink forehead.
“Did you hear that?”
The other three glanced at one another, questioning, but by their looks none had.
The sky was paling-grey now, low and foreboding; first light was making out the puffs of the thick blanket of clouds. At night, not a star had pricked the sky, and now became clear why. There are birds waking away in the woods, Garion marked, but if the teacher had meant those indeed, she was much displeased with them for what they were.
The spits, half-and-less-eaten clattered on the ‘cart. Whatever she heard, she makes it awful dramatic.
A “Come with me,” and “Mokou, you too,” and they were chasing through the snow into the pale morrow. Shops and mansions, windows dark, raced past as they ran. The town was white and numb. When the archway of the southern pass swung over their heads, Garion realised they were leaving the village.
Would that I knew beforehand I would have excused myself home, he thought sourly as the trees closed about them. Satori first, then I must find the outsider. To be sure he will tell me of this world beyond the barrier...
Yet when he saw what lay in a bloody, broken heap on the road, not half a mile from the outmost buildings, the thought died in him.
At first re-reading I wasn’t pleased with that previous series of chunks, and I must say I’m still not entirely satisfied after re-reading it again a day later. Well, but we can’t linger on my little misgivings now, can we? Show must go on. So on it goes.
Yet dead dreams, unlike relatives, like not grieving, better left alone.
So it was not long afterward, indeed but days few, that he sat breathing the damp-wood smoke of a tavern’s taproom, perched atop a drained beer-keg with Satori upon his lap, feeding her bits of dried apple and less dry kisses in turns. The room was hushed withal the hour, with windows shuttered tight and tables rounded by low-speaking patrons. A fire pranced on the hearth, crackling and puffing puffs of pine-scented heat. A ragged minstrel slouched in a corner, plucking at his harp. The song was gentle and wordless.
And it suits us well.
Somehow in the quietude he had forgotten why they were here. ‘Twas my mother who sent us. With never a word, and she had us out of the house. Satori had told him the qualms she had nursed. That she had the company of her daughter-in-law always at home, she did not misprize. That the daughter was at home always, yet, she did.
Garion’s mother was a small woman – such that, encountering her, one would be hard-pressed to decide whether to go around or put her aside. She was a dear thing, with a willing heart and a waterfall of blond locks that wanted brushing for all the brushing she did to others. A soft and sweet-tempered creature was she, and as implacable as three-thousand pounds of hard black granite. So with a thought to her beloved mouthpiece she had shooed her out to the streets. Or this alehouse, which she had vouched was sweet and quiet. The boy mightn’t disagree. The place was quiet to begin with.
A shadow less quiet were his own concerns. To conceal Satori’s features had been easy; even now she was little more than a warm bundle of coloured cloak and hood on his laps, poking its nose out to be kissed. To smother his carks with taking her among the people had been harder, but doable yet. The hardest was to assuage Satori herself. She is frightened of people worse than I am of mislaying my fire-steels. And she would stop at nothing to feed her fears. The thoughts of others in the room with them drew her indelibly like moths to a flame, like lords to meat, and like Garion to the road. The violet shimmers under her cowl would dart from figure to figure, listening much and hearing more.
So to battle that, Garion had devised a procedure. The wooden platter-full of dried-apple cubes was part of it. The rest was he and timing.
To bind her stray attention he had the fruit. Whenever her eyes began to wander, he would push a piece between her lips, forcing her to focus (lest she misses the treat); when even so she would pay heed to anything but he, he would dip unto the shade of her hood and occupy her lips himself. Then, when she was again all his and chewing or reproaching (as she did each time), he would tap along with the harping on her thigh. The plan was working, if he might say—as well for her as for him.
Shameful though it was, he had to wonder what he enjoyed it more. The excuse to kiss her, or the knowledge she was enjoying it also.
Satori was scowling up at him when he broke the thought, a charming little scowl. “You think you have me wound around your little finger, don’t you?” she asked him reprovingly. “Why, you should get on famously with a certain cat...”
Garion found her hand and traced his finger lightly down the inside of her palm. Apple or kiss? he thought.
Apple it was.
The evening crept by on a snail’s foot. A cold white dark had fallen outside, noticed scarce by the two.
They drank little, spoke less, enjoyed each other much. Garion had taken a cup of mulled wine with cinnamon, anise and lemon; Satori had gone for the brown bitter ale endorsed by the locals. After the apples, a huge pig-roast had rolled out from the back-room, sizzling and seducing the tongue. They took each a slice then backed yet again to their private seats farther the flocked tables. The keg and the lap.
Those instances when they spoke, they did of nothing of consequence. Garion had relayed the events of the council’s gathering to his small lover, but among the madness of Rachel’s kitchen it was scarce more than glossed over. Awhile he had japed how relieved he was she had allowed him have sleep at night, unlike their few first weeks, but the jape was ill-received, with a frown and a shush and never a smile. Satori had grown so sore of the subject as she had been openly greedy about it before. At the least she doesn’t spurn my kisses yet. The lovemaking had been wonderful, but not something he might not live without, if he must. The kissing, I dare not imagine. There was grief there, yes, but not heart-rending. Soon or late, she would wake him naked in the dead of the night once more. Garion was nought if not patient; he may wait.
When someway they touched on Garion’s most recent pursuit—the outside world—Satori was solemn, if not a shade reluctant. She had told him all what she knew of the place (“Very little, littler than I,” to hear her say it), and expressed no surprise when Garion had commented the schoolteacher had had for him even less, on account of her age. “Too young to know such things,” the woman had told him she was. Twenty-and-six indeed is young, but none older I asked had answers would please me. “What answers would those be?” Satori had wondered. Garion had not the humour to say, “Any.”
As the matter melted from their minds, however, they unwound again and switched to lighter topics. And kissing. Wherever my ghost-mother has gone, she would have blushed to see us kiss this much and so flippantly. The drink and meat had warmed their bellies, but left their faces exposed. This was only one way to resolve it, but one they liked most. Satori was sweet, small, and sweet again, with earnest lips and longing eyes. Who was he to say no?
‘Twas doubtless for those eyes and lips that he had not seen who had come in pelted in fresh snowfall and slumped at the counter to order a cup of steaming hippocras. Then her cowl came off and the boy’s heart near lodged in his throat.
The winter clothes belied her. Yet the face is not one to forget quickly—nor the name.
The girl brushed her matted-black locks propping her chin on her hands. A few of the patrons were pointing fingers, but she made nought of it, her drink more momentous. There were no red-white ribbons twined in her hair, but her face made up in one colour, and the fur on her coat, the other. Hakurei, Garion realised with a pull of sickness.
The trouble had come down from the holy hills. Satori stiffened in his arms.
[X] Stay, lie low. [X] If she gets too close, use our body to block Satori from sight. [X] Worse case if she tries to talk to us, immediately start kissing Satori passionately without letting anyone see her face.
I doubt that even Reimu would dare bother a pair of lovers in the middle of a kiss considering her own lack of experience in love.
>>10385 [X] Stay, lie low. [X] If she gets too close, use our body to block Satori from sight. [X] Worse case if she tries to talk to us, immediately start kissing Satori passionately without letting anyone see her face.
>>10396 You just want to relive it by reading even more kissing scenes, don’t you...
Well, either way, guess I shouldn’t wait for that tide-reversing flood of votes out of nowhere. Still, no update tonight, due to finishing Darksiders 2 (21 hours well, well spent!) and raging over the absolutely shoddy Dark Souls port. Good lord, this thing blows! I won’t even start. You just go and pirate it if you want to see. Only don’t buy this pile of donkey poo. I beg you, don’t reward dev laziness. Ugh.
>>10397 >Darksiders 2 Yeah, I watched my friend play it for a while (I didn't buy it because I'm broke) and I can see why you spent 21 hours playing it instead of writing Satori sex scenes more snarky comedy in florid English despite the story being in Japan.
Seriously, I couldn't help but think of Reaver from Fable 3 while I read the bit with the council. And while Mokou was talking. It's a nice change of pace, though.
Whatever she came down for, it is not for us. Stay yourself.
The last was ordered more him than her, but both listened. Satori masked her unease in the shadow of her hood, but there it was all the same; her fingers gripped tenser with every moment the priestess, who now looked not at all priestess, waited her drink to be made.
Garion had drunk too much, he’d made his mind. His head was swaying, and each sway brought his insides closer his tongue. The heart, most of all. Almost as though alongside those, there returned to him that festal night so many moons agone, the lights and the music, and the red-white’s warning him of too close relations with monsters. And when I told her she mistook me and she laughed, I dared assume it was done. Now look at him, behold. What am I doing with the monster I had claimed unswervingly I did not love? The shame of the lie churned up his stomach.
A barmaid emerged from the back-room with an earthenware vessel, which she exchanged with the priestess for a handful of bright coins. The Hakurei rose with her prize in hand, and swept her crimson eyes lengthways the inn, this way and that and this again, seeking a free seat. The snow on her coat had begun to thaw. She was wet, wet and stooped and dripping when her sight fell at length on Garion. There was a glimmer of recognition. And there was a step.
The boy felt a flutter in his belly.
Sooner than his scandalous lover might object he turned about on the keg, folding her in a half of his cloak. A cautious “Quiet!” and he gave his every outward attention to a dark stain of something on the wall near. She will mayhap lose heart if pay her no heed, mayhap go away. A fool’s design, but... The boy stared.
The stain was large and irregular, with rounded edges and faded tones. Whatever had made it had seeped into the halved oak-wood beams that made up the taproom’s walls. The options were plenty, and one more curious than tother. Was this a splash of this local brew so bitter and so dark it ate through the wood as well as a man’s wits? Or mayhap was this blood, from some dreadful history, of sword and revenge? Or simply bloody drunken brawling?
Or are these taps of boots on the floor behind me, stopping? A glance and he knew they were.
A sound from her and he was whipping his cloak aside. This is the last way, thought Garion even as he took his shocked lover by the hips and pried her lips with his tongue. Satori startled; her violet eyes blinked; her little hands clawed; but they had not two heartbeats past when she answered. And how sweet she was...
They were flushed and breathless by the time they let go. Satori was swallowing, gasping for her air, then swallowing again, her sweet eyes glazed over and her chest heaving. As if to say something she opened her mouth, but words escaped her. The tips of her nails scratched on his leather belt, bumping on the buckles. She wanted to be kissed again, and more, more... but then the question came, and all came apart,
“Are you quite done?”
The Hakurei had spoken.
Garion swore. Curses, curses, thrice and more curses! He locked his arms about his dearest, and faced the priestess with all the threat of a man red and short of breath for kissing. The Hakurei was glowering, red herself, though whether for what she had witnessed, or the cold, or what else, the devil knew.
“You won’t touch her,” the boy hissed. The hiss came out only half so ominous as he’d have liked, but it was enough.
The Hakurei reeled, her ears as red as her drink, her mouth a widening O for outrage. And well; let her be outraged. The more cross she, the more chance I stand if we fight. The boy would fight, if he must; whoever his opponent, Satori’s safety came first. What patrons who had pointed out the priestess when she had entered had bored of her, but it meant all but nought now that they were discovered. And if they rise in her defence, gods be good... The boy crushed his fist as tight as vice.
“You won’t touch her,” he said again nevertheless, “not while I draw breath.”
The Hakurei gagged in shock. “Wha—Are you mad? Are you lookin’ for a fight?”
“That conditions on you alone.”
“Conditions on—” The priestess batted wildly her black lashes. “Are you out of your mind?”
Yes. Yes, I am – out of my mind with worry. “You might essay to find out,” he said, for good or ill, “or you might leave. I shall defer to you on this choice.”
“You’re telling me to get out? You?”
“A crazy man, tossing me orders. I can’t believe this. Where has my repute gone? Am I to be a loon’s punching-bag now?”
“We harry no-one being here,” the boy growled. “Will you leave us in peace or not?”
“I paid for this drink, don’t you know,” she told him. “And, gods willing, I mean to drink it... for one.”
Garion’s hand went slowly to his hip, where in other times he may feel the burnished handle of his knife.
The empty space he found there now made his fingers itch.
“Then you shan’t leave?” he wanted to know.
“No. You can choke on it if you’d like, but no, I shan’t.”
“... So be it.” One or a thousand...
The boy tensed, ready – ready to, within next split-seconds, fling the empty plates beside him in the priestess’s blood-red face, floor her whilst she is stunned, dash for the exit and fly, wherever, but away, fly...
Satori’s hand stayed him.
“That’s enough, Garion,” she was saying.
And sooner than he knew she pushed open his arms and came out.
And even if he had been holding to her with all his might, now he was powerless to stop her from rising. What are you doing? he willed out to her, and “Come back!” too, but she made as though she had been deaf. The Hakurei towered before her, a good one-and-half head more girl, and infinity more dangerous. Then his small lover bowed, and the boy’s heart grew over with frost.
“You’ll forgive him,” Satori pleaded of the red-white menace. “You must... please.”
That gave both her and the boy a start.
“Will I?” Will she?
Satori lowered her head lower still. “You must,” she repeated, “please. He meant none of what he said. He’s only... too fiercely protective of me. I couldn’t say why. As a matter of fact, I’ve been trying my best to disabuse him of that for some time now, but... so far it hasn’t availed me much. You have questions, yes. We lied to you. Well, he did. I know. Only sit, and we’ll talk... please? Reimu?”
The sound of her name must have pulled the right kind of lever in her head. The priestess released her air with a wheeze. “Well if he sits and stays like a good boy... I don’t want no more uproar today, all right? All I wanted was something warm before I went home. I had a damnable tiring day. Why did I even...” She groaned through her red nose. “Grnh... Quit grovelling, Komeiji, would you? The sight of you bowing makes me sick. It’s like I like to be bowed to or something.”
Satori summoned up the wannest of smiles before she rose. She staggered coming to her full height, but Garion caught her and let her settle once more on his lap. “Thank you,” she was also saying to the Hakurei. “And sit down, if you will. You can take whichever of these barrels as you please. There aren’t any chairs left, either way. As a matter of fact, there weren’t already when we got here, and that has been... a while.” She twisted on her padded seat toward her would-be knight. “And you, Garion,” she chided, “please stop with these morbid thoughts. There’s no cause for alarm. We’ve been found out, I know. That’s a pity; but she told you the truth. She’s not here for us. She only wanted something to warm her. That isn’t a crime.
“And yes,” she went on before him, “I find her company... less than optimal, shall we say? That doesn’t disable me from being reasonable. As opposed to this one mess of hair I could name, apparently.”
The Hakurei, who had clambered atop a keg opposite of them, spoke then. “You must have knocked your head somewhere, Komeiji. Or maybe I did. That’s the hardest gods-damned sense I heard today—and from you, to boot. The world’s either gone as crazy as this guy or I’m in some sort of dream. I don’t like this dream, either. The cold feels too real.”
“How did you know me?” Garion asked.
The priestess shrugged with one arm, the one free of the drink. “I have my mother’s sharp eyes is how. What, didn’t I tell you when we talked last? Well, eyes and the overbearing sense of obligation, it seems. Here I was on to say hi and thanks for that chit that got my debt to go away, and there you up and... go off. Almost I was about to drop my gods-damned jaw right there. Common enough for monsters to spit threats at me, but humans? Good gods. That’d be all-out insanity. What were you thinking?”
She is absurdly calm about this. Was I not enow convincing? “I was not, mayhap.”
“The kissing, too. What the hell?”
That, I hadn’t thought through at all. “A foolish act,” he conceded.
“And yet you haven’t kissed your last, I don’t reckon. Am I on the right track, Komeiji?”
Satori inclined her chin. “Or more or less so.”
The red-white priestess made a thoughtful “Mm” sipping from her drink.
Awhile she judged them with these crimson eyes with crow’s feet, unspeaking. Awhile was nought but a huge unknown, a shadow over he and Satori, neither of whom saw meet to disturb her. And then, three sips or four or more after and a shudder from the strong spices, and she set the drink down on her knees, motioning for more.
“Well, I want to hear what happened, in that case,” she said, “—and truly. Though keep in mind it wouldn’t do for you to make it too long. I did have an exhausting day. Short version, all right? I don’t have the head for wrangling today, either, so don’t you even damned start. And spare me any more kissing—or I swear I’ll vomit.”
They didn’t kiss. She didn’t vomit. It was a tall price to pay, but endurable.
Starting at the start, ending at the end, the Hakurei had attended to their story with both wine-flushed ears. Their chance meeting, the first days, the sowing of suspicions, the festival, their charades again, the research, wait, biding of time, the pre-final night... and the failed murder. All this the priestess had taken, weighing behind these two eyes like living embers, sternly attentive. Some details they had given a miss – those she needed not wit. The involvement of one Angel, their moments most private, their long talks, the boy’s excursions, their taciturn (but budding) love... And I only fell for her once my ghost-mother had been gone. A fair compromise ‘twas, if untrue. The Hakurei swallowed it withal.
And when Satori had picked up the baton, then Garion had pinned back his ears, for there were minutiae there he had never been aware of. That she read plenty was plain; but what texts these were: on ghosts, possession, spirits and curses, this was brand new tidings to him. Yet it makes for a sensibility, does it; I never could recall what it was she read. The one in him had always guided his attentions elsewhere. That they had held conversations on occasion also had struck him as new. Yet it is sound, for ‘twould be in those times I was elsewise preoccupied. Hmm.
Whenas, however, they had gotten to Garion’s parents and their stay under their roof, the Hakurei grew incredulous. “They know of this—of you,” she demanded. There was a stir in the fire of her stare at their affirmations. This one apprehended a case such as this when we spoke—of humans making friends with monsters, Garion remembered. And what of ours? Would she make exceptions? The crimson eyes said no.
The boy flexed his better hand.
“Good man lover-boy,” the Hakurei said, with a courtesy so stiff it was like to poke holes in their faces, “you make a needless thing and a monster will cry tonight.”
Satori turned about on his lap and glared Garion out of his gymnastics.
The priestess made a fraction of a smile. “Awfully dogged on her safeness, for havin’ tried to end her misery. Aren’t you just... pup?”
There is that name again. “Only proper,” he replied, “for making attempts at her life, to protect it now.”
“What was that?” the Hakurei repeated, “‘proper?’ Then it is just your fashion repenting for your sins? And weren’t there words of love somewhere in there just then? You love this little thing atop your lap dearly—or do you not?”
“I do.” This is no more question than I am a horse. “I do love her.”
“Then speak it plainly and don’t try to muddy my waters. Clarity’s a virtue I see too rarely in my work. At least outside of it I should be granted some. Ah, yes. That’s right, friend.” She answered to his frowning. “This isn’t part of my job description, to uphold peace in this sodden mess of a town. That’s somebody else’s berth. So pull your horns in and don’t make it my job description, or there’ll be two women put off with you this night.” The red-white priestess eyed him for a while. “You’ve forgotten, haven’t you?” she asked him then. “What thing I told you that blasted morning, after the piss-up, just before you went and proved me all wrong?”
“Would that I hadn’t, would you ask?”
“Would that you hadn’t,” she corrected him, “you would quit making fists. Why’s he so damned ferocious, Komeiji? Are you sure for sure he hasn’t another blasted ghost in him? Well, bother that, not my headache. What I told you, lover-boy, I told you there was no helping it if you were in love with her.” She folded her arms on her breast. “Straightenin’ people’s brains ain’t my duty,” she said. “You love her, that’s damned all right by me. What the hell do I care? I don’t like her; don’t mean I must dream to make her every waking moment a tragedy. And, for the love of the gods, unless she gets under my nails, why the blazes should I? That’s but more work for me.”
“Then you haven’t complaints of our... arrangement?” Garion shied from the word marriage, though thinking it gave him a queer hope. She is a priestess after all...
“None at all?” the boy wanted to be certain.
The Hakurei hrrmed. At length, she lifted a finger. “Once,” she said, “you told an untruth when I questioned you.” She raised another. “Twice, you well-near charged me with fists just now. Thrice...” A pause. “... There’s none so far. So, why do we not make it like this: you don’t give me a ‘thrice,’ and I won’t go medieval on your arse? That sound any good?” Garion gave a nod, and the priestess waved her hand, dismissive. “Great, cheers. Then you and I are done, for the meantime. Good riddance. You’re not my type anyway.”
The jape was wry, but mayhap well-meant.
The Hakurei drew heftily from her drink, looking somewhere wall-wards to his left. The tips of her ears flared as the hot wine made at home in her belly. A slow blush painted over her round cheeks. She is nowhere so threatening when she is not... well, threatening. Garion had seldom paid womenfolk the heed they would have him, mayhap yes, but with his lifelong quest water under the bridge this had somewhat changed. The red-white priestess was perhaps holy, but her bearing was everything but. The coat covered her all now, but the boy recalled still the thin, Sun-burnt arms and the shadow-circled eyes she’d had on the day following the festival. The eyes tired even now, wrinkled by many a sleepless night, and the fingers gripping the vessel were blistered and cut. A worn-out woman was Hakurei Reimu, withal her young age. To compare her to Satori would be exposing old parchment beside silk.
And the silk liked to pinch.
“Stop that!” she scolded.
Garion murmured an apology. All in all she is pretty yet.
Satori rolled her eyes at the ceiling. Then she said to the object of their gossip, “Can I ask a few things?”
The priestess gave an allowing shrug. “Shoot.”
“Was there any trouble this winter? Or has there been, maybe I should say?”
“Other than you, no. The newbies called truce before first snow. And well for them; leastwise they know when to settle down.”
“That’s good.” Satori made some show of relief. “Then all is well.”
“As well as can be in this blasted place. Kas’s pissed off wherever; Marisa’s wintering. There’s nothin’ happenin’ that’s too major. Well, all the same I get called to investigate now and then; the usual nonsense. Maybe I should get Sanae to fly in for me. She’s all too zealous with no work. This has been a slow winter—which doesn’t stop things from cropping up time and time. Why, just latterly, I get this news of this feller—” “The outsider?” Garion blurted.
“The—Gods be good, no. Outsiders I don’t even touch. Who knows where they’ve been? Why? Was there some outsider got under your skin recently?”
Then she knows nought of him. A mystery? Or mayhap I see plots where there are none? “... No such thing. Never you mind.”
“As you pretty well wish.” The Hakurei sniffed. “What was I saying? Oh, yes. No, wait, forget about that. Komeiji, I heard of that book you wrote. There’s words we must have ‘bout that.”
Satori was surprised. “That was years ago.”
“A book?” whispered Garion.
“An idle pastime, now shush. You’ve read it anyway.”
“Well,” the Hakurei went on, “years or not, I only heard recently. The thing is, I’d have liked for that thing to go by me firstly, you know what I’m saying? That’s flimsy stuff, monsters. The sort of thing best, uh... well, controlled, ‘fore it goes out to the rabble, all right? The other stuff, not my business. This? I make it my business. That’s me has to clean up any misunderstandings there come. You know what I’m getting at?”
“Yes. I will get someone to... Yes. I know.”
“That’s good.” The priestess drained the last of her drink. “Well, that was all nice an’ smart, talkin’, but the night’s not getting’ any younger. Got to get moving if I don’t want to freeze my ears off. You, lover-boy,” she said to Garion. “A word, outside. Alone, if your master’ll let.”
Satori made a sweet smile. “Won’t I just read his mind anyway?”
“That don’t damned make matter to me. Outside, pup. Chop-chop.”
They shuffled without the tavern, where the night was in strong going.
A chill-instilling wind was whistling down the street. Garion shuddered at its kiss. Ill fate to fly in this weather.
The Hakurei was no more pleased. “All right,” she said, “I’ll make this brief. ‘S anyhow why I wanted you alone, that your sweet little lover wouldn’t barge in her sweet little arse and make me stay out longer than I ought. Any-how-way, there’s one thing you best know, pup. That place your little one lives—that’s a bad place. Old Hell, or what they called it. The blasted thing does stuff to people.”
“She is a fickle creature, yes,” agreed the boy, “but not cruel.”
Ah, foiled. “Old Hell.”
“She’s a she now? Well, forget that. You know how monsters are made, don’t you? No? The stuff monsters are made of is, well, human stories: legends, old wives’ tales, fears, rumours... stories, all right? Yours, ah, that one is made of fear, of your dirtiest thoughts bein’ heard an’ read, basically. That’s not somethin’ people like most, issit? The bottom of it is, Old Hell—there’s magic in that place, catch? Ancient, powerful magic.”
The Hakurei blew a like powerful sneeze. “So,” she said, wiping at her face, “unless you want on the wrong end of my stick, pup, you best don’t do any such a thing might give this Old Hell any frisky ideas. That’s so. Truly said, if you keep that infuriating little thing out of mischief, I should even go as far as being happy for your rotting with her down there. As long as you keep her out of my hair, whatever, good luck, enjoy it.”
Was she so up in your hair before? “Very well.”
“That don’t mean I won’t crack down on you like an unholy storm of shit if you don’t,” she cautioned, red-nosed. “You don’t mistake me, pup. You haven’t my blessing, or approval, or anything—just my limited indifference. The first signs come you’re up to no good, I will hop down there like a bunny, and I will pull all that blasted heavy rock down on your heads. Are we clear here?”
“Good. Great, brilliant. Then go and kiss her sorry for the wait ‘fore she sets the town on fire, why don’t you?”
The boy nodded.
The Hakurei sighed, relieved; then she turned her face up at the black sky.
“Gods, I loathe to fly in this cold...”
“Good priestess...” Garion began prudently.
She returned her eyes to him. “You still here, pup? What did I say ‘bout kissing?”
“A question afore you go—afore we go.”
“What is it?”
“The outside world. Can one go there mayhap?”
The eyes narrowed. “What’s this? The pup feels vagrant?”
I was vagrant since my fifth birthday. “Curious.”
“Where’d you get this curiosity?”
“There was—” “An outsider, yes,” she cut through him; “you said; my memory hasn’t failed me yet. What did he tell you?”
“Nothing.” He was ripped open from neck to gizzard. He was ill-suited to talk. “Thus I wonder.”
“That so? Curious, huh?”
Awhile she was a stone statue smaller than he, black-haired and flinty-eyed. Then her arms crossed once more on her chest. The furs and fabrics rustled.
“There’s nothing out there—not for you.”
“What?” Garion blinked. “What do you mean?”
“What I mean, I say,” the Hakurei told him. “There isn’t anything of interest to you out there. Your interest is inside, in this Land of Illusions. This is your home, no?”
“Still, there must be a way or a spell—”
“There isn’t.” The priestess set her brows. “Your place is here, inside the border. Aren’t we too greedy, ah? This country not big enough for your strider legs? And what of your sweet lover that you well-near got your arse toasted for? As I hate it, she’s a woman also in some manner; bein’ a woman myself I know what she’d do. Well, that’s assumin’ she loves you as well; I never heard ‘er say that, now, heh. Assumin’ yes anyhow, very probable she’ll make uproar. And who’ll have to clean up after she’s blasted someone up to bits? That’s right, pup.” The red-white priestess curled her lips mockingly. “So tuck in your pup tail and scoot back where you belong, because I damned hate extra work. The outside world isn’t for you—nor me, in fact, nor anyone else here. You best forget it. You’re nothin’ but wastin’ your time—time otherwise could be spent kissin’ your loverly little monster. Eugh.”
And with that last “Eugh,” she was gone.
The boy watched long after she had vanished in the black night sky.
Mayhap not so pretty after all, he noted in thought.
Anyway he would do no good standing out in the chill. The priestess had told him nought of matter but empty warnings. There was not much else he might do. There were sources yet—people he might ask. Here, he was done. No, not yet done. Satori.
The Hakurei had claimed she hadn’t heard anything of her loving him. I am of a mind to prove her wrong. The tavern rented beds to those few wanting peace outside home. Garion had coin enough, and the plain truth was, he wasn’t half so patient as he would have said.
She truly never did say she loved me, he remembered indignantly. Small matter now.
The onset of the new year came, went, evanesced. The work was endless, and Garion worked. Satori minded that he ate well. They did their best both. Although she has begun to plump a shade, Garion reflected. The work ostensibly serves her better than me.
Today, his blew him but yet again unto the richer quarter of town. ‘Twas not oft that an order came from the higher echelons, but even so seldom it did. A lord deigned as ready as a peasant when his last chairs crumpled below him an afternoon afore a feast. As yet not so ofttimes as the smallfolk, who do shorter work of their fittings, Garion opined, but their coin leastways is cleaner.
The boy quailed not from handiwork, but many did. That was where he and his father entered the picture, with their vice and glue, their nails and hammers, and a sufferable price for unsullied hands. ‘Tween those and sweat and splinters and scabs, most chose the first. Would that I might as well, Satori would bewail my touch less. Alas.
The stoop-backed scribe had fouled his mood, gawping as the boy had hammered new pegs into his furniture. Of all things, Garion resented being watched at work. To be so felt all but revealing some dark secret he shouldn’t. Satori had always watched him, and she had unearthed so much more than secrets. Satori is my angel however, Garion thought; her, he might forgive. The grey-haired old push-quill, not so.
The boy hoped silently his mind was not so see-through to this one as it had been to his small lover.
But his mind had a farther reach than he had imagined.
The thought of angels must have drawn her out.
A patchwork of stalls had been pitched on a square across the scribe’s house when he came without, a slush-spattered market for spare winter-stocks: wrinkled fruit and preserves, quilts and blankets new and patched to keep the bed warm, matches and firewood. The sky was bare, the Sun pinned to it like a lamp without warmth; but even so many had crawled away half-sleeping from their hearths to browse the goods. The square was jammed with people.
All more chance that he saw her.
She was clad in a padded dress of white as the snow and teal as the summer lakes. The wide brim of her hat troubled those scraping past, but she was heedless, glancing over the wares offered around. She had braided her hair; now it spilled in pale-blue plaits across her shoulders and breast, now it whipped with each toss of the busy head. And on her front the rainbow buttons were sewn in rows, that she liked most.
Garion halted, his mouth drying.
“Angel,” he said. The name came to him unbidden.
Angel stopped. Angel turned at him her ruby-red eyes. Angel startled, Angel gaped, Angel gasped.
Angel did a lot of things.
Angel didn’t say his name.
An opened mouth, a bitten lip. A vicious spark in her eyes and she spun on her heel, shoving through the crowd of townsmen to run away. A moment the boy stood, undecided. What shall I do?
There's a whole variety of reasons we really ought to speak to her, such as a proper conversation now that our possession adventures have come to an end and she's (hopefully) cooled down a little. Speaking of which, we kind of owe her anyway for using her like that, even granted we weren't in the best of sorts.
Plus, we can help her out by letting her vent at someone other than Iku for a while. Poor girl.
Oft I would do things outside myself only to please her. Why not again?
A sound thought it seemed, and Garion fastened his tool-bag closer the back. Then he launched after the girl.
The crowd parted before him laggardly, more swearing than parting in truth, but making way in the end. This has happened once before, marked the boy, elbowing left and right. The night of the festival, I saw her in the host. What had he thought then? A glimpse of that pestilential hat, and I bolted, leaving even Satori. Then, his ghost-mother had nested still within him, restraining his voice. Not now, though. “Angel!” he roared now. And “Angel!” after “Angel!” after “Angel!” he crashed through the crowd, pushing and swearing and pushing again.
When he evened with her, all but he steamed from his ears from cursing. The instance, however, his fingertips brushed on the back of her shoulder, she slipped to a halt.
Garion caught her by the wrist afore she might fall.
The girl looked up at him from below a shock of braids and hat, red as a beet, snake-eyed and stubborn.
“Are you content now?” Garion spat between his teeth.
When she didn’t answer, he wrenched at her arm that she staggered again.
Nothing. Another wrench. The boy was tiring.
“Would you have come back had I not given chase? Or would you not and run on, as is your wont?”
That struck her pride. The ruby eyes flashed, insulted.
“Would so! I’m a good girl, I am!”
Why did I expect nought less? He let go of her. Angel kneaded the sleeve where he’d gripped her.
And what next? Garion’s tongue caught in his mouth. Somehow pleasing her had lost its savour. Why had he decided toward it in the first place? There was nought between them now but old memories. Angel had thrown his mistakes in his teeth and fled afore he might make sense of them himself. I was enthused then, elated having been unfettered. Would that I had thought straight...
... Then what?
“Then what?” Angel echoed.
The boy started, but she was not reading his mind. Only asking what I would do with her now that she’s caught. “Would you speak with me, Angel?”
“Would? Want, more like!” She frightened at her own outburst. “What, no! Why’d I want speak with a black wood made-mole as you? You let me go! You quit staring on me!” She yanked back the hand he’d released, forgetting he had. “You’re no Cassy. I know Cassy, no you. I don’t want no filthy smiler at monsters. I want Cassy—no, would so,” she corrected at once, “were he live and not buried and dead. You’re no Cassy, you... you monster-smiler, mole. You killer.”
Yet I was him once. “And if I commanded you?”
Angel paused, swallowed. “That,” she murmured, “... would you do so...”
“Are you a good girl or not?”
“Ack.” She clamped her teeth.
“Then come with me,” said Garion, by the love that you yet bear me. I am not so entirely innocent of it as you would have me.
Angel considered it. A doubt as deep as her heart coiled and coiled in her wet eyes; but at long length her head made a meek nod. “All right,” she muttered. “Where to?”
“I know a tavern, not far.”
Garion started for the closest alleyway. Then he stopped, swivelled about, and held out a palm.
“Hand,” he demanded. I should not like to chase you again.
Angel balked, but complied. And when her fingers clinched his, a phantom of a smile haunted the corners of her lips. Garion sighed inwardly, “Hopeless.” She had slim fingers, long-nailed, fitted for scratching. And scratch him they did. The pain made every kind of troubled memory present to his mind. The journeys, the camping, the hunt... The kissing, the sex, the bites... The boy’s mind reeled from the weight.
Yet to let go and let it be done never once crossed it.
Quiet even if populated at night, during the day the tavern was barren, still and noiseless. Garion felt unseemly loud for swallowing his wine. The whishing of rushes beneath his boots seemed more louder yet. Though there’s no-one to mind it; but for the aproned inn-keep and the serving-girl, they were alone in the balmy taproom.
Angel had shed her scarfs to make a pillow on her arms folded upon the table. A half of her face stuck out from the cloths, its ruby eye staring everywhere that wasn’t Garion. The boy might not help but begrudge it. What hopes he had nursed to break the ice with a flask of drink had been dashed when he’d asked, “You want the honours?” and got but stubborn silence in reply. So Garion had cracked the seal himself and drank alone since.
And still I haven’t figured why I wished words with her. The boy chafed at his own illogic. Angel had been his partner once: a companion, a protector, even a protégé... A friend, when I pleased it. A lover, when I needed it. She had sworn an oath to see his quest to the end, and indeed had made good on it, withal his running, scolding, violence and betrayal. Although she did not resent those, as like as not.
Angel had ever been a girl who found pleasure in pain, after all. Garion had found it early in their journeys, when, struck for her offences, the girl would but clench her lips and challenge him with red unyielding eyes. She would learn which words and acts brought out the worst in him and indulged in them with recurrence. She clung when he bade her “Away,” spoke when he ordered “Quiet,” stripped when he looked, snuck naked in his bed, thieved and wore his clothes... And bit ‘till I bled when she kissed me. And when he rebuked her she would lay one ear, tother twitching already after more mischief.
All the same, Angel had known exactly what made Cassy tick. A fearsome knowledge, to be sure, but Angel had made such use of it it became her. So she had wrapped him round her finger he had lowered to teach her his arts. So well she had sweetened him he spurned not her sleeping beside him. She hounded me into making love to her, and that alone is commendable. She had been worse than a child at times, but she was his first and his saviour. It was Angel had tracked him to the underworld without him aiding it. Angel had attended to the details of his final plan along his side. Angel had risked her neck to allow it to bear fruit. Angel had thwarted his losing his senses the penultimate night. Angel had engaged Utsuho whilst he dealt with her master... And Angel it was eventually left me in Satori’s arms.
And yet, what matter did any of that make, if the selfsame night his quest had been laid to rest she had thrown her food at him and maligned him cheater and murderer? What matter did it make, if her bed had been an empty ruin on the morrow? What might she want of him, she who had fled so many moons ago? And I, what do I want? Should I thank her, draw myself a fool? Or should I explain where we erred, and make us fools both?
Garion did not know.
Angel must have heard his distress spilling. She climbed out from her scarfs, a crisscross pattern pressed into her cheek, red and foolish. She was all red and foolish, but Garion had not the mind to laugh. A long-nailed finger she unfurled and stabbed jealously at his half-done glass of wine.
“You drink now?” The question was as good as an accusation.
“This yes,” he confessed. And this instance, it is for you. “Otherwise no.”
“You never drank with me.” Again, she was judging him. “You never did.”
Garion turned the glass in his hand. The one time I was all but about to you gave me something else to mind.
Angel watched him darkly, her grudges bubbling on the tip of her tongue. She reined them in sharply, with a screech of nails on the table. “You,” she forced out, “—what are you now? You said you wanted speak. Why aren’t you speaking?”
“Garion.” Corin, tell-tale, pup, even Lordling sometimes. And would that I knew why.
“Garion,” Angel drawled the name. “Same as that black wench made you. She’s live yet, no? That’s as why you use this name. You’re hers still, aren’t you? You’re hers.”
“So I’d thought. So what’s mole as you got to speak with me on? A mole won’t know, but I’m a good girl; I won’t touch no killer bedding with wild living filth underground. What’d you want with me, Cassy-thing? I haven’t all day, no I don’t—not for the likes you. You speak quickly, or don’t at all. And sense, if you can—for as I see it, chances are low there’s that still left in you.”
Garion said nothing.
Angel ground her teeth and leapt up to her feet. “Speak, you idiot! Or’d you like I went off and went away more?!”
“I count to three, you ass!” she screamed over him. “Three! And if you don’t speak what you want to speak, I’m off! Off, you hear?!
“Silence!” The boy crashed a fell fist on the table, vehement. “You make worse fuss than a murder of crows. You will be quiet!”
The count perished on Angel’s tongue. The wet ruby eyes grew so big as walnuts. Good; let them grow.
Garion unfolded his hands on the table-top, forward leaning, threatening.
“You may hold elsewise,” he said, low, low, ominous, “but you and I are not alone here; nor is your sentimentalist pageantry welcome. Seat yourself.” Obey, as you did, lest my nerve gives out. “Sit, I said! Close your mouth; you aren’t a flytrap. Sit and we’ll speak. Now!”
Angel flopped on her chair as if a rug had been pulled from under her feet.
Garion heaved an inward breath of respite as he, also, sat down, his spine as straight as a spear. Out the corner of his sight he espied the portly serving-maid eying them alertly from the safety of the bar. One word to the innkeep and we will be freezing our ears off outside sooner than we’d like. Chewing on the snow also, if her face was any clue. The portents aren’t the grandest. That it flattered him not mattered not; Garion praised himself on the inside. ‘Tis not what either of us needs most now, snow. Angel needed something elsewise; if her clinging to her dress were any like the grinding of her teeth, the thing should be in shreds now very well.
The boy knew how it felt, to be clung to; each one of her nails was graven someplace on his back after all. The teeth, no different; I feel them on my lips still when I remember. He found more pity in him for the dress than he might have liked. Angel and he and dresses went back a long ways.
At last beside pity he found it in himself to speak on.
“You must know I am sorry,” he said, to her outward shock. “No, not in the meaning you’d have. I am sorry for our... dealings... unfolded in the fashion they did. I should have been more pleased if they had gone elseways.” And wanting flinging of things, if possible. “You were a valuable companion, Angel,” and a sweet lesson; “I confess my course of action might have been not the gentlest... but I am not alone at fault. I had been scarcely just freed then. You may not conceive—not begin to conceive—what a release that was – the rapture, exaltation...” ... love... “... And yet you must.
“You did me an invaluable service, Angel. Had you not appeared when you did, mayhap I would have yet been caught in that place, rotting inside with seeping black rot of vengeance never borne fruit; mayhap I would have rotted as a corpse, torn asunder by this or tother pet of she whom I had wished murdered. You understand this as do I; my debt to you is all that I possess now—more than I possess. You made it reality. Had it not been for you, I might never have made progress with my plans; I might never have lived so far. You taught me many a thing came of use in my endeavours, also.” The way to touch, the way to kiss, the way to battle displays of emotion. “I may not pay this debt, but I acknowledge it fully. You have my gratitude, however to be grateful lies against my rules. You have it, Angel. So much of it I have, and more.
“Yet, this isn’t what you would have of me, is it? Speak not,” he silenced the girl, with a flat lifted hand. “You will when I have finished. And I have not yet, oh no. Whilst I do shoulder the majority of the guilt, you, too, have taken missteps you now bemoan, have you not? That was a rhetorical question; you needn’t say. You threw your grudges in my teeth whenas I wished but to explain; you vanished the next morrow whenas I looked for you, yearning words, not conflict. What possessed you?” he said, embittered, “what madness betook you, to flee, as though I had wronged you somehow beyond redemption? You say I am not Cassy; but you, too—when ever did Angel run?”
Angel bit on her cracked pink lips so long and so hard all but Garion felt his own ache. And at length she said,
“I can’t say. I can’t. Something made me—something did. I’m a good girl—” “You are,” allowed Garion. “Yet good or else, you wounded me.”
There was hope in that question, but none of the malice she would have given it in their past days. She is gladdened seeing I cared enough to be wounded. The boy nodded.
“And you do still,” he said. “Satori does her hardest to sew these wounds, but... Ah—” he had to smile when he saw her mouth sour immediately at the name, “—that chafes you, does it not? Satori.”
She looked even sourer turning her head aside. “Ack.”
“There’s no shame in it, Angel. Speak though I do from a rather less than romantic point, love and jealousy and regret are all human things. I can no more love you than I can quit loving Satori—but I can tell you your love was not wasted on me.”
“I don’t love you!” Angel exploded. “I loved Cassy!”
“And who am I?” Who am I if not Cassy, Corin, Dias, even that plain boy from before I was five, even my ghost-mother’s Garion? Who am I? “Who am I, Angel?”
The ruby-eyed girl sucked in a sharp draught of breath. “Cheater, mole, liar, killer, monster-smiler, mole, and cheater and liar and flowery-tongue and cheater, too!” she spouted in one burst. “And when you shout, then... Cassy... and afterwards that... Garion...” She made the name a curse. “I don’t know who you buggered are, I don’t! You’re a mole is what you are, black mole and Cassy-thing! What are you having me say?!”
“Only what you would not say.”
“I would say nothing, I would. But for you.” Colour mounted in her cheeks. “You’re no Cassy, I know that, that I do. You’ll not take me travel no more. You’ll not teach me nothing. You’re no Cassy. You love that... that wild living... that Satori, that monster. That thought-leech, that thief! She knew everything, too!” Angel exclaimed with chagrin. “She came to speak, to my room, the night before, after we’d... A—And she told me! Told me: ‘do all he says,’ she did. She knew!”
“Yes.” Yes, she did. “And still you did as she had bidden.”
“As you had,” Angel insisted. “Which was doing as she had, but... it was doing that I would do anyway, I would do whether she told me or no, I would... whatever happened, for you, I would...”
“And for that, Angel,” said Garion, smiling, “I thank you.”
You are my second-greatest treasure, withal your flaws.
Angel took in his smile with a sweet medley of blush and grimace. The little cheeks did one, the squeezed lips, tother.
“Well,” she murmured. And then again: “Well...”
For a while or a few of a tacit alliance, they both quiesced.
The boy sipped the cold wine from his glass, watching. Angel laced her fingers together and twiddled her thumbs restlessly. The way she did reminded Garion uncomfortably of the places she would jab them when-ever in their journeys he would have ignored her prattling or pleas for attention.
All the same he waited but a moment after his drink had drained, afore he reached across the table to wipe Angel’s face dry of the stale warm tears.
The girl started, slapping his hand aside afore she thought better.
“You should not ruin your face with crying,” Garion told her reprovingly.
Angel scoffed sadly. “Pfah! What matter’s it make?” she asked him. “There’s no-one wants me now anyway. You ruined me for marriage, you did. You had me first. No-one wants no maid as is not maid-en.”
The boy choked on that a little. “Ah…”
What should I say? he thought. “How so?” seemed too naïve, even disrespectful; “it was my pleasure,” a shade too frivolous. Would she rather I gave it back?
He decided best he duck the issue.
“… Anyway,” he continued, “there is no need, nor indeed wish, for ill blood between us. You cannot have me, mayhap not, but what-ever you would have of me, I shall give to you. To this, I swear.”
Angel bored into him those stubborn red eyes. “No!” she said, annoyed. “I don’t want no filthy thing of you!”
“Are you so certain, Angel?” This may come to plague you later.
Angel clacked her teeth. “Yes I am, you stupid mole! No, I don’t! Well, no! I do! I mean! Ngh…” She struggled with her feelings. “I don’t want no filthy thing!” she huffed, crossing her arms, “unless you mean to carry me up-stairs and throw me on a bed, and plow me like a field like you would, no I don’t!”
Garion staggered, thinking he misheard; but her brows were set and her ruby eyes impudent.
It's like I want to see just how you'd try to justify Garion even considering the option but I don't want to derail this story but I really want to see you write the opposite for the lulz but aaaaaaaaaaaaaagh
Yet Garion was not so tractable. She will try for no reason but she can, but she shan’t succeed.
“No. I will not—and do not you raise your voice,” he added, too late.
Angel’s braids bristled at the ends. “You swore!” she cried. “You said—!” “I lied,” said the boy, unwavering.
“You—You’ve no honour!” Angel shrieked; “nor ballocks, neither! What’d she do with you down there, that footpad, that black stealing wench? Geld you? You were a man, once! Aren’t you no more? You black craven! You aren’t half a man if you wanted!”
When the contumely availed no reply, the girl hissed through her gritted teeth…
And then, as though air had come out of her all at once, she made a whimper and crumpled on her chair, burying her face in her arms on the table. And when he saw the feeblest shake her shoulders were shaking, Garion felt a lurch of dread in his chest. One instance of crying today had nigh scared him out of his skin. Another would rip him open for a surety. There weren’t many things Garion knew not what to do with, but crying was one; his heart caught in his throat.
All the more startled was he when Angel came back up, and he saw it was not crying, but bitter breathless laughter she was making. The boy may but stare, with eyes blank and wide-open, and questions stuck on his mind. A paltry few were women in Garion’s life; yet it occurred to him in growing disquiet each was even more quizzical than the last. At the least Satori I can kiss and it is the end. The rest had not been near so easy.
Angel palmed her face from forehead to chin. “That’s precise the kind of thing Cassy would say,” she murmured, in tones suggested it was everything but heartening. “That’s so, so unfair, it is. You’re no Cassy; you shouldn’t…” She sighed; Garion’s flask ended up someway in her hands and she drew from it, never asking. “Too sweet,” she complained. “All this sweet does you ill.” She returned the flask. “Cassy’d never have drunk a thing as sweet. Cassy’d never have said yes, neither.”
Without he scented some profit in it, Garion corrected inside, as he did with Satori. But some truths were too old to say, and silence was not a lie.
“You’ve changed,” Angel went on, “you have, that—but then you’ve not. What am I to make it? All I wished today was see what’s sold in the village. Trinkets, cloths, fun-stuffs, maybe. I’d never saw meeting Cassy—and here, of everywhere. Cassy loathed here.”
“Cassy was hiding,” said Garion. Turning his tail. “There are such living in this town as know him too well.”
“Cassy would wear his cloak and hood and skulk whenever he stopped here, too.”
“Skulk?” Garion was surprised. “I did?”
“Yes. No. Cassy did. You… no, you did. You would dress me, too; ‘draw no eye, make no commotion,’ you would say. The people, shopkeepers, they would give you these looks, they would, and you’d not notice nothing, but do your thing still. And it was all I could do, not laugh. Ah…” Angel toyed with her fingers, choosing the next words. “You know what I think?”
“No,” he admitted. Though I suspect I am about to.
Angel couldn’t look straight on him, so she was earnest in looking sideways. “What I think,” she said resolutely, “Cassy isn’t dead—not for true. All he is is covered with some dirt. All someone has is give him a tug—”
Oh no. “No, Angel,” he said. She was not doing that to him. “I mislike dying twice over, but Cassy is no more.”
Yes. Yes, he thought. I used to believe elsewise, but he is.
Garion had changed, whether he willed or no. There was no more of that poison in him, the mistrust and misgiving, the fear; he loved now and was not shamed by it. The story of his revenge had been nought if not true, but it was a past thing now, and dark. The boy wished not return to it. Withal anybody had loved that man—Angel, whoever—he must stay dead.
… And yet, would he? Garion had felt nought lying, not minutes before, if it meant quelling this girl. No, not lying, he reasoned, for I would indeed give her whatever she wills, but for what I cannot. Would it weren’t also what she craves most... The boy felt vile with it, but it was better still to be sure than what Cassy would have given her. The best he would is harsh words and coldness, and spoiled false hopes.
So he said, “No.”
Angel only sighed, but whether it was for she had no power for more or had expected nought more, one might not say.
“Would you have something else of me then?” Garion asked.
“No,” she surrendered.
And it was over.
Except it wasn’t; for then Angel raised her ruby eyes.
And unpredictably there was in them a new spark, and it was red and malicious: so unlike her grudging winter self and so like that wild summer Angel, that Garion stared at her with his heart fluttering in his breast and his head throbbing with memories.
“No, there is a thing,” she told him audaciously. “Wine. The real stuff: sour, fruity—none like your moley swill. And talk. You’re no Cassy, you’re not, so you should know a few things of him. And I’ll tell you, oh yes I will—but not before wine. You give me wine and talk, and we’re even.”
Garion broke out of his shock. “Have you preferences?”
“Yes. The most expensive there is.”
“You swore,” she reminded him. This time it was all but as if she’d outwitted him. “Or’d you more like buy me two the most expensive?”
“... One should be plenty.”
Angel gave him a grin.
The grin was thin, insolent.
“Cassy’d say same. Cassy knew best.”
The boy grunted; but even so he beckoned at the serving-maid, and fumbled with the laces of his purse. The tips of his hairs almost turned old-grey when he heard the price, and his ears almost withered, but he made not a sound when he handed over the coin. There was work yet to be done in the town. A bottle of wine—however costly—was mayhap the least he could do to show his thanks.
Nay, it is the least, he marked with a shudder when Angel cracked the stopper wrenching it open. That might have very well been me.
When they quit the tavern hours after, he was lighter by half on the belt. Angel was lighter also, skipping along on the fresh snow, white and teal and glowing, her dress hopping around her slender hips.
And I had not the dimmest idea I loved this girl so, Garion marked, straining to keep pace, but I dare not say she was telling fantasies. On the inside, he did not so want to, either; he did not regret thinking her his “second-greatest treasure,” not quite yet, but he sensed he would someday change his mind. Though Garion had forgotten about Angel and her workings, she had not forgotten his. She knew yet which place to push him to get of him… well, whatever it was he gave at the time. And push she did.
When she stood on her tiptoes and threw her arms about his neck, what he gave was a chance for her to plant a sloppy kiss upon his face. Angel had aimed for his lips; Garion had planned to give the cheek. What they got was something awkwardly in-between. She didn’t bite, but he didn’t think honestly it was for the alcohol, or even simple abstraction.
Anyway Angel was smiling when she let him go. She was more than plainly tipsy, but then some of their most intimate memories were when she had been tipsy. Garion could all but feel himself attiring an unmanly pink.
This whole afternoon had tried him.
“Well, I got go home,” Angel was telling him, flushed and happy. She will be less on the morrow, but that is her care, not mine. “You be well, you mole. Cassy-mole. Garion-mole… All right? Hic. You fare well.”
“You so too,” he said. “Can you fly, you are sure?”
“Ahh, yes. Thissis nothing, Cassy. Garion. I’ve flown worse, I have. Well, best I be off anyway; Father’ll like disown me that I turn up late, else than I lost my maidenhead to some mole. Erk. Good-bye, Cassy. Or Garion. A half this, a half that. All mole.” She giggled at her lame jape. “You don’t go making children on that... Sto-tori of yours, hear? That’s asking for trouble. She’s small and pretty, the black thing, but you’re big and ugly. And you’ll have marry her then, too. That’s badder yet. What’s that I was saying? Ahh... Oh! Aha. Home. Thassit, that it is. Whop! Good-bye, now, Cassy!”
Afore he might frame a reply, Angel set her feet; then she launched toward the slaty sky in a mighty spiral. A heavy eastering wind caught in her clothes, and for a terrifying split-instance Garion watched the girl flip upside-down mid-air with his heart almost on his tongue.
Then she flapped her arms wildly and someway regained verticality. An angry shake at the skies and she was making a skewed arc somewhere to the west.
As soon as the drifting snowfall made it too much a pain to watch her go, Garion breathed heavily and wiped a fist across his eyes. The tired shoulders slumped on him, sucked of their strength like pines of sap. All in that uproar I never told her I travel still now and then, he realised. Whatever matter it made now, it was not for him. Snowflakes sailed down from the clouds, white and light and ceaseless, landing and melting in his hair.
The boy was flagging. Angel had exhausted him as Cassy; she was no better now. Garion wanted to go home and topple on the nearest bed and never rise. He wanted a hot meal and a quiet; he wanted to sulk; he wanted to cry; he wanted a pillow to bury his face in and complain.
The harshest of winter passed with a howl; next Sun looked closer upon the earth, and spring was once more guest in the Land. The snows turned to slush first, then to rain; green grass and flowers poked their heads out to the light. Sooner than anyone knew the chill biting winds were nought but a distant white nightmare. The trees donned yet again their coats of green, and the villagers rejoiced.
The time of parting drew nigh for Satori and Garion and his parents; but the nigher it did, the more oddly reasons arose to stall it. Now the garden wanted tidying; now the house needed cleaning; now the roof pleaded for repairs. The last of the snows had long melted to dew when Garion noticed how overdue they had been. Yet I, likewise, bade my time.
Thrice he had been summoned to the school on the hill, to speak of the perilous Land to the town’s children: in the winter yet once, once at its close, and once after the onset of spring. Twice the schoolteacher had conveyed him to one acquaintance who wished pen some of his colourful words. Once she had sent for him but to persuade the matter of his recompense (which, aye, he had refused), for no reason but she felt ingrate. Scarce she knew; already Garion had all he had ever wished. And more yet, though I did not then know.
The young teacher made, however, for good company, and what times that he had enjoyed it he did not rue.
A chance came also, when the nights warmed, that a traveller overnighted in the alehouse Garion had come to like to take his lover, and this traveller wist of the outside world things more fascinating than aught the boy had heard from anyone. Yet even after heeding with shining eyes stories of the vast unexplored lands, the sprawling cities of steel and glass, and the boundless lakes of salt-water that outmatched those of this country thousand-fold (purportedly), he must bear a disappointment.
The outside world was closed to those born in the Land. Those stumbled from tother side of the Great Barrier might cross it once more—but only those and those alone. The rest were forever bound to this realm, for good or ill it did them, to these green fields and rolling hills and monsters. “There’s a ton of folks who’d jump at the opportunity to switch places with you,” the traveller had said, gulping right merrily from the tankard bought by Garion’s coin. “You be happy you’re here. The outside world’s a rotten scrap-heap, cars and planes and vaccines or no.”
The boy knew not what any of these were, but he surmised they weren’t much impressive if the outsider had chosen over them the woods and perils of the Land of Illusions. Thus the man’s foamy grin was the last straw; the boy had abandoned the dream of the world without the Great Barrier.
Though he would mourn it at first, finally he would decide it stone off his wavering heart. The outside world meant anyway to make a long journey—indeed, longer than most, even by his measure. And to make such, in turn, meant to leave Satori for weeks—months mayhap, mayhap so much as a year—and leave her all alone. And that, Garion may not help but dread. These cold months they had wintered in the Human Village Satori had been always near, each night and each day, waking and in bed, in candlelit evening and at white pale dawn, with her lovesome violet eyes and her pining snow-pale lips. Sooner than he knew it, he might not imagine it elsewise. Yes, love is an insidious thing, he thought one night, lying sleepless with Satori’s head breathing softly on his shoulder; but Garion had tasted and drank of it, and now there was no going back.
So he had cast away the far impossible to focus on the closer present.
The day must come, however, that they must return to the dark underworld. And at last, it did.
The night prior, Garion and Michael sat late before the cold hearth, presided by the painted box housing what they had, for lonely long years, thought the sole keepsake of the blond dirty-blue-eyed boy abducted by a monster on his fifth birthday. The box had stayed, even withal Satori’s abrupt revelation. They simply knew not what to do with it. A memento as this, even bereft of meaning, was not so easily discarded.
The father and the son made mostly small talk that night, that people are wont to make before times they must part. Satori, and her mother-in-law, with whom she had grown nigh inseparable, had retreated elsewhere first, to talk without the pesky earshot of their men, then to their respective beds. The boy and the old man had remained, deep into the morrow hours, when they, too, gave to their wear. The wine had given them the warmth of the bed, but not the softness, nor the sleep.
They had spoken of the littlest of matters: the town and its troubles, the people for whom they had worked, the roads’ state, holidays coming and the like. The old wolf had been far in his cups when their talk switched to Garion’s lover upstairs. “You treat ‘er nice now,” the old man would say, “else when I hear you don’t, oh, I’ll walk meself o’er there an’ paddle yer hind-side ‘till yer bloody bloody.” Yes; never mind the monsters, the black-dark treacherous caves and the creaking small of his back. The instance his beloved daughter-in-law suffered the littlest injustice, the old wolf would pounce, fangs bared.
Garion might laugh, but for he knew with Michael these weren’t entirely empty threats.
The boy took also a good long look at this father whom he had known for someone else for the longest time.
The old, once tow-headed handyman was well-nigh to sixty years now; his hair was well salted with grey, and his face had grown deep ridges like a walnut, but the age had spared his humour. The more years weighed on his shoulders, the more they seemed to hone it. Oft the old wolf would jape of topics more fit someone a fifth his age; full as certain he was to glance after front-cut dresses and knee-showing skirts on the street, or indeed whenever his plump little wife looked another way. A light twinkled in his eyes, grey as slate, and a knack was in his callused hands that many a green stripling would envy. Garion had seldom pondered growing old; but if he took that after Michael as well as he had the eyes and hair, it did not frighten him by half.
And Satori; would it not thrill her all to pieces if I settled for my old years, and put down my roots, japing rather than jaunting? The notion amused him enough to warrant a little smile.
As for now, however, his abiding interest lay elsewhere.
This was not such a thing as he would say aloud, but the stay—pleasant though it was, regardless—weighed on his mind. The jaunts be damned; but what of our home? Orin couldn’t mind the great manse on her own for ever more. Tother denizens of the underworld as certainly would begin to wonder erelong, and Koishi, the sweet Koishi, so easily forgotten, would pine away and die without teasing her older sister for too many days. The time was ripe to return.
Satori wist that full well; but as far as she went, Garion’s small lover was remarkably abstracted those days—some would even venture “dreamy.” A few months’ time living with a proper family had softened her tiny ageless heart. The prickly manner followed soon... as had indeed the rest of her. The afternoons spent around the kitchen had rounded her sides; she had grown hippier, and her belly was not so flat as it had been. But even that was not, not closely, not scarcely the most mystifying of the changes.
She was happy now – perpetually, and not always with ostensible reason. At some times she would hum some hearty melody withal someone might hear; at tother, she would smile out of nowhere and kiss her boy dearly withal anyone seeing... A most lovely thing, but Garion was at a loss. Close-lipped as she was, his little mother was of little help pinpointing the cause; less even was her horse-obtuse husband. And when at length he caved in and asked the source of his confusion directly, all he heard in return was, “When it’s time, I’ll tell you, but not until,” and he knew it was all he could do to wait.
When she was being stubborn, Satori gave the most dogged of mules a run for their money. “The time” had been his best hope of finding out.
Yet now their last night in the town was upon them, and “the time” had not come.
Truly said, it had no earmarks of ever hurrying up, either.
The last morrow came with a stab of light and a tiny hand on his cheek. A time had come—though for something else entirely.
Satori had risen before him; fully dressed now – in a floral travel gown she and Rachel had sewn together of the little mother’s old frocks – she shooed him out of the bed they had shared all winter that she may take the sheets for washing. Yawning, stuffy-nosed and puffy-eyed, Garion stumbled step by step down-stairs, where a breakfast of boiled eggs, fresh white bread and greasy brown bacon spread already on the table. The old wolf stooped over it, his brows knotted, flexing the fingers of his right hand, red and ever-so-slightly swollen on the top. At his side, her ladle close at hand, Rachel was packing what preserves that had remained from the cold season in a little bag. When the boy entered, the father bellowed a good-morning, reaching at the same time for the treats on the table.
The ladle struck him dead on the knuckles, cat-sharp and cat-swift. The old wolf squealed pain. Awhile he clutched at his hand, redder and more swollen than a moment earlier, blowing and hissing curses in turns.
Still his smile was just a trifle smug when Garion sat to gorge himself on the foods.
The good-byes and kisses were just a shade florid, but not exactly tearful.
After he had fetched their mare from the neighbour, Garion lifted Satori up on the saddle. The beast had been well tended, so much she had put on more meat in places, and her flanks rippled as she switched from hoof to hoof. This wintering seems to have served well everyone but me. Satori had come down with a terrible nosebleed while he had been gone, but both she and his little mother had assured him it was nought should cause him concern. There was nought for him to do but believe.
Afore he hoisted himself up on horseback, Garion stopped to tug at all the cinch-straps he might have missed. Two pairs of eyes, one summer-sky-blue, tother grey as chips of granite, watched him silently from the wicket. The eyes were solemn – though there was no grief, and sad – though there were no tears.
And all at once he was sixteen again, a man just grown, just burgeoned, filled with vengeance and leaving this warm place called home – again. They were fearful then, unlike now; my mother yelped weeping, and the old wolf was holding his arm around her, doing his best to comfort her. A long half a dozen years they would not see him who they had loved as a son, ‘till he would return weathered and bloody-handed, a monster for a companion, however sweet. And what has it availed them? They learned I was their true son all along, but what of it, what of it, I wonder, if I am leaving them yet again?
... No. The boy shook his head. These were dangerous thoughts. Garion shouldered them aside.
All the same when the mare clip-clopped down the street in the white rays of a spring Sun, and he turned around to wave the last good-bye, he felt a rush of feelings – not regret, for they would have rejected regret, but longing. A deep and comforting sense of belonging, for he had not one home now, but two, and however far he strayed, whatever twisted paths his fate took him, there were two places now they would receive him and love him no matter what. More so, there was the vague beginning of an understanding how dark his life had been, and how lonely, though his fortune shone now brighter than a star, though it did not for many.
And finally he began to grope at the edges—the true edges—of this cruel concept called “love” that had shaped his entire life.
Satori laid her hand on his, saying nothing, but nodding sagely at his discovery.
The boy bent down and kissed her gently on the back of the cheek.
The morning swept by in a cool breeze as they rode through the waking town.
The road glittered in the bright noon light, a winding golden ribbon trailing north. The woods were budding green, and the air was rife with the cloying smells of blossoms.
A great many bird-songs filled the day: the tut-tutting of thrushes, giggling of flickers and impatient trilling of sparrows. A wonderful place was the Forest of Magic in the spring, and long it had been beautiful; and there strange beings dwelt, the monsters dreaded by humans and those not so dreadful. The roadside brush churned as small animals scurried from the sound of hoofing coming up the gravel trail. A few stuck their noses out to see what odd two travellers joggled atop this great four-legged beast.
A man, tall and flaxen-haired, of thirty or abouts, rode behind, holding in front of him a woman no bigger than a minute, with hair the shade of lilacs and an orb of blood-red mounted upon her breast on many like-crimson cords. The orb was in truth hidden beneath her flower-patterned gown, but the creatures had noses sharper than a knife, and used those, the better to see it. Yes, they did.
The woman raised a hand to her forehead, sighing an oh so great a sigh that left her all but twice smaller when it had come blowing out.
The boy paid her no heed, taking in the scenery with a face rapt with innocence.
“Oh no. As a matter of fact, no. You pay attention to me, or your day might start going to the devil.”
Garion smiled. “Is that a threat?”
“A promise.” Satori elbowed back at his arm. “You make so much noise it isn’t funny. Your father is quieter up there than you, and that’s quite something.”
“I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful you aren’t depressed or anything,” the small lover went on, “but your incessant narration does get on the nerves of even someone as amiable as me. As a matter of fact, I’ve known people driven mad by lesser noise. What do you have to say to that, Garion?”
“The poor fellows.”
“Ah, no. Actually, ‘poor’ only begins to describe it. Were you going anywhere with all that useless thought? Or were you just exercising my capacity for patience?”
The boy made a sour lip. “You were nicer before we left.”
“No. As a matter of fact—no, I was. I was nicer, I guess. Never mind. I’m a little nervous, is all.”
“Oh, shush.” She flicked him on the back of the hand. “Trust me; I most definitely can be nervous. Just don’t ask me to be neurotic. That’s your specialty.” There was a pause. “Garion? You had something else on your mind. Why don’t you say it so all these curious little animals may hear?”
“Aye,” said Garion. “This was a good stay.”
“A trifle long.”
“Yes. As a matter of fact, yes. Very good...”
“It’s nothing. Go on.”
The boy gathered his thought before he spoke.
“There was once a king,” he began, “who loved dearly his little spouse. The king, unbeknownst to him, had a frightful many holes in his kingly education. Aye, a frightful many—but he had also two teachers, sages wise beyond their years, though plain-spoken, who had watched him grow and rule. The king was proud: a righteous bastard of the most selfish stripe, sooner to wage war than listen to treaties; indeed, his sword-hand was surer even than the one his wife felt oft snaking up below the laces of her bodice—”
“Tss!” Satori made a sound.
“Ahem,” Garion cleared his throat, “aye, a good sword-hand in truth. The sages saw, however, his great folly, as indeed did the unfortunate wife; and as one they pleaded of the king to heed their counsel, for they weren’t the king and thus saw his mistakes abundantly clear. A good lesson,” he said, “comprises of parts three: presentation, level and relevance. The relevance was as close as it might, for yes, the king would need more kingly be if his kingdom were not to fall. The level was apt, even of those coarse-tongued sages, for the king’s folly had put him on a level scarce higher than a child’s inane wailings. And the presentation, ah, that one might never be better, for they had come upon him unawares, in the dark dead of the night, when heedless the king was paying sweet court to his wife’s pink and soft—”
Nay, methinks Garions are everything but pink and soft.
Satori smacked him across the hands he had wound round her waist.
“That’s awful! Are you trying to mock me? Well, you’re doing a right good job, because I am mocked to my bones!” She gave a wince. “Would you not give me heart attacks each time I pass on reading your mind for a change? I’d forgotten about that, too. You just had to remind me, didn’t you? Oh, and here I was trying to focus on the more important matters...”
“That sort of spokes you wheel, does it not?”
“And gives me shudders. All my years I hadn’t experienced anything so remotely embarrassing. Why did you have to dig that up?”
“To say I learned something. ‘Twas merely an opener.”
“As a matter of fact, yes. Yes, it was. And it’ll stop at that, or I swear to Old Hell I’ll rake your eyes out with my nails. ‘His wife’s pink and soft,’ my ear!”
“Well, it did teach us a lesson.”
“Yes, to lock the blessed door, most of all,” Satori muttered in agreement. “No, Garion. I’ve changed my mind. I don’t wish to hear any more of this.”
“As you wish.”
A quiet half-hour had passed when Garion spoke again.
“Satori?” he said, touching her little hands.
She made an absent murmur. “... Yes, Garion?”
“What will you do when we get home?”
“Mm. No.” She brushed away the previous thought and gave him her full attention. “No. No, Garion. You’re not. You want to know because you’ll want to go out and resell this witless beast. Yes, you’re right; we can’t keep her, not a horse, not underground. Well, there’ll be some tidying to be done around the house, I suppose, so you’ve a bit of leeway if you want to vanish for another month... And I’ll have to do something about that rose-bed at last. Yes, you make your business trips, my Garion. You won’t be long away; or am I mistaken?”
“No,” said the boy truly. I could not bear it.
Satori gave a small laughter. “Oh, you will,” she told him knowingly; “and you’ll ache for another trip before long, and another and another. You mark my words. That’s all right, though. You can go and be all the mysterious tale-telling wanderer you pretty well want, my love. I’ll wait. I have for so long; why should another few months kill me?”
“No, my Garion. As a matter of fact, no. I only loathe when you lie to yourself. You have worn many names over the years, haven’t you?” she asked him trickily. “Yet tell me, did you ever truly believe for a moment you were any of those awfully-named people really? There is no changing your nature, Garion. I should know that. I have tried. You just can’t do that. You have always been, and will always be, my rough-handed, golden-haired, vagrant Garion.”
“I wasn’t always yours.”
“No,” she agreed, “but you are now: my Garion. Or did we not establish this a long, long time ago, when you were clinging to me as desperately as a child in that cold dark basement, just after I had released you from that ghost? What did I call you then, please refresh my memory? Was it ‘my porcelain teacup?’ ‘My book of cooking recipes?’ No. I said you were ‘my Garion,’ and I would much rather have you than yet another teacup or book – vagrant, rough hands and all. You are my Garion, and that’s it.”
The tone of her voice left no doubts: he was her Garion, and that was it.
He turned one of her palms over in thought, toying with her tiny fingers.
“Will we visit my parents again?” he asked.
Satori made a faint shrug. “Why, I imagine we will have to, at some point.”
“You want to see them again sometime, no? Quit asking stupid questions. Of course we’ll do whatever you wish. You are my Garion, but I am yours too, no?”
The boy mightn’t want to hear anything more.
“Yes,” he said.
“Good. Then that’s the end of this story.” Satori breathed a tired breath. “Will you keep your eyes on the road now, please? There’s still a ways to go before we’re home, and if this hare-brained beast comes up lame on some random rock somewhere, I’ll really consider seriously changing my mind about those hands.”
“As you wish,” said her Garion.
They rode on.
It was perhaps an hour later that she broke again their riding silence.
“Say... How many more children would you like to have?”
The boy made an unthinking hmm.
“Well,” he said, “truly, I do not know if—”
And then he stopped.
A startled throb tore out of his chest and flew out his throat.
“‘MORE’ children?!” he exclaimed.
The smile she smiled when she turned to face him was expertly angelic.
※※※THE END※ ※ ※
“And w’en the boots hath worn, and the staff hath worn; w’en of wind and swelter dried hath tine eyes that no more tear may they shed, THEN shalt thou on World’s end find that which thou lovest and seekst. Surely.” -Flourens Delannoy, “Fairy Tales & Myths,” doubly paraphrased
That was quite good, and quite satisfying. The visit really did drag on, though; it could have just as easily been half its length, and it would not have detracted from the narrative, I don't think. Either way, I really enjoyed it, and look forward to whatever you might choose to do next.
All right then, boys and girls, time for a closing word.
This has been a decent run. I won’t say slightly sappy romance without a real plot, that—at that—has little to do with actual Touhou is a good run especially, but it was decent. I hope it didn’t offend your senses how utterly pointless this “mini-sequel” has, in fact, been. It would have mine, but my senses are made of diamond-coated dragonforce; it’s inconceivably hard to offend them. You would sooner drive a nail with a Youmu than so much as scratch them.
Speaking of “mini” sequels, here’s some data:
Tenshi is in This Story: Total word-count: 149 973 words Running time: from 25/04/2011 till 9/06/2012 = 411 days or 1 year, 1 month and 15 days Average velocity: 365 words per day
Your Love Please: Total word-count: 53 917 words Running time: from 12/07/2012 till 03/09/2012 = 53 days or 1 month, 22 days Average velocity: blazing 1017 words per day
I know what you’re thinking. “But, but, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?” That I am a lazy fuck! Absolutely nothing. It’s just a buffer to make my post look deceivingly scientific on the top page before I get down to my real intent, which is, in actuality, very blatant attention-manwhoring in form of replying to your posts! [VGW] Woohoo!
>>10523 Hardly masterfully. I effed up in a few places, including that completely needless bout of drama around Satori’s spookeh monstrous reveal. Completely unneeded, out of the mood of the story, a mistake for which I have nothing to blame but alcoholsleep deprivationnether regions’ friction burns myself and myself alone. WELP. Guess I’m not so smart after all!
>>10526 >How did you ever thought that keeping this story in your mind was a good idea? I didn’t! That’s why I tossed it out, duh!
>>10533 I put the blame on your vote for every god damn thing in that multi-choice a while back. Those scenes are easily 50% of the whole story. I never intended to write all of them, either. I had them all pretty well developed in my head (and god knows I wanted to shoe-horn some additional Satori kissing Keine and/or Mokou in), but I didn’t think having all of them would be a good idea. WELL AND LOOK WHAT HAPPENED.
Unless you mean the writing style (which has been bemoaned many times already, yes I know), in which case I have nothing to say other than you forget who the narrator for this one was and WHO SCHOOLED HIM IN ANCIENT PROPHECIES pompous word-weaving.
>whatever you might choose to do next I was planning to piss off for a while.
That’s it for the moment. And now I hand /underground/ over to its RIGHTFUL INHERITORS whoever is enough of a bad dude to update his own story. I request that you sage this thread from now on. Cheers!
All righty then. I feel like a superior breed attention whore bumping this, but there’s a question I’d like answered.
Would you duddey dude dudes be more interested in exploring more of this-story-related stuff, or should we treat it rather as water under the bridge that it retains its sublime sense of finality? Note that at the present moment I’m not recording, I’m not on tour I do not have any solid ideas for such stuff; I am merely asking whether this should remain an open area, or if we should focus entirely on the bright white-haired future.
Thank you for wasting your time letting me waste my time wasting your time.
Also, rather than yet another sequel, I was thinking more along the lines of extras (I dunno; you know my tendencies, you should know what kind of stuff to expect). Some unseen scenes from the TiTS period, maybe?
>>10569 Well, that’s the thingo – I don’t want to triquel this sequel. All I’m asking is if you bombastic fantastics would like me to develop any bonus ideas I come across related to TiTS/YLP, or if I should focus on that new thingo. Which was already settled, too. There’s little point in another vote. I AM going to do that new thingo next. This is just a side-thought. All of this is, of course, thinly veiled stalling, since I’ve nothing for the new thingo besides a general storyline and a few key scenes I want to write. I don’t want to start it before I’m completely sure I’ll be able to finish it, either. So I’m stalling.Or I just want to write more Satori smut, who the fuck knows.
>>10572 >>10573 BAM! That’s what I like to hear. CASE CLOSED. Everyone go back to your monster hunting. We’re done here for the time. >>10574 I didn’t nuke it; I took down the appetiser thread as I said I would after I got my questions answered (which I did, thanks a lot for that). We’ll have a proper thread anon (with an empty OP post, so that it takes up less space); in fact, I’ll see to that as soon as I’ve settled on some fluff.
Stay frosted, my butts, Team R slacking off again!
I’m moving on to write something of my own. Since /blue/ has asked me to provide links (and bear in mind I am hating this), I’ve set up a public place where I’ll keep things up to date. You can find me there; ask anything you might want to ask without bothering THP with bloggery nonsense. This is the link: http://homelessgirls.wordpress.com/ It’s a god damn riot.
Here’s to us all.
Oh, and thanks once again for making this story (as well as TiTS) possible. Cheers.
>>10761 It was either committing the next year to that story (because I wouldn’t have started it without intending to finish it), or a change of scenery and more artistic freedom (which I already had, since TiTS was basically a repurposed original story, but still). I figured it’d be healthier if I took the second option. I should think THP has other (better) writers to fill up the slot I left.
Come to think of it I probably should have made a thread/memo about that Youmu/Futo thing not happening. Would have pre-emptied some questions. Well, my bad. That would have violated my low profile principle anyway, so maybe it’s a good thing. I’d be lying if I said I have no regrets (because instant gratification in the form of votes/discussion is a massive motivator), and I’d certainly be lying if I said I’m happy about setting up a god damn blog of all things (because I was asked to), but I really want to do something original. I can only hope this whole enterprise of learning how to set up a blog and shit won’t end up a waste of time because nobody wants to read a fucking blog, much less one written by me. Eugh.