The Thinker's Bane, Part 2
Barely a lick of sunlight was left to peek its reddish color in through the tent’s slit, creeping ever slowly over Shyrrik’s body until its glow had become bothersome to his closed eyes. He squinted and hummed in minor displeasure, shifting and curling his body farther inward so that the bulk of his shoulder blocked out the evening’s last offerings of warmth. Taking in a deep, languid breath, his nostrils flared and caught a thin floral scent in them, causing his restful arms to contract around that which he held to be most fragile just then; the slim-bodied half-elf girl residing peacefully within the envelope of his embrace, shrouded away from the world by the closing of his arms and shoulders about her, in which she willingly hid. Her body laid flush against his own, their legs in a great tangle and arms a woven mess around and about her chest, where above she’d nestled her head into the crook of his arm and remained placid, eyes shut and lips pulled in a small, saccharine smile. His sinewy muscle contrasted with her fairness of skin as he traced the length of her arm with his lightly passing fingertips. For a while now, he’d dared not stir, as if it were so precious a moment that to disturb it would be an unforgivable transgression. Laelia, for her own part, seemed hopelessly enamored, bedded down into him and bathing in his radiant warmth, and it took more than a bit of cruel courage to rouse her.
The bustle outside had waned to a simmer. Inventory had been taken, posts assigned, and soldiers accounted for, leaving a scarce few scurrying about to stand watch or communicate loose ends. Without the jarring collision of sabaton and soil to discompose, it was strangely serene out on the field, even as the tide of war hung about them as intimately as their bed-dress. It crawled insidiously into the mind of Shyrrik, who paid it little heed, but the nagging responsibility of their presence at the table this evening would finally grant him the will to pry himself away from his heavenly reprieve. Maneuvering his chin in above her shoulder, he smiled at her out of sight, and then gently blew his humid breath across the length of her elven ear to tickle her to wakefulness. Laelia groaned pitifully, twisting her head away and huffing out a soft, drowsy laugh.
“Mmn’h!” She complained. “Devil…”
“That is the mildest thing you’ve called me today.” He said through a cheshire grin, kissing the side of her head. “Now I plead you, that I might rise. For if I do not, and my arm goes any more numb, I’m afraid it will have to come off. And then I know you’ll be far less taken with a man who cannot out-shoot you.”
“Nnn’not a s’hance.” She slurred, and let out a feminine noise when he reached and gave her hair a soft tousle. Much to her displeasure, he slipped his needle-pricked arm out from underneath her and pulled into a kneel, leaving a coldness where he’d been, and giving her cause to whine with quite an exaggerated anguish as her arm reached back for him in blind silliness. Shyrrik smiled, found her hand and laced his fingers in with hers, kissing the back of her palm, which made her white cheeks rosy. Then he stood, retrieving his clothing.
“We’re late for dinner.” He said, feeding his legs in through his trousers.
“All proceedings shall stall until his highness arrives.” She mused, hands over her head in a luxurious, cat-like stretch.
“I see you don’t mind the shameless chatter, but I have an image to uphold as a sad hermit of the trees.” Pulling his undershirt over his head, he grinned at her, looking positively bedraggled with his hair in a frizzled mess. And when she spied him, she put a hand across her mouth and chewed down a laugh that threatened to burst forth with offensive volume.
“You look…awful.” She said dotingly.
“Ah,” he returned, “and you look simply stunning.”
That struck her in her most girlish places, moving her to nibble on a curled finger. Shyrrik smiled with a hint of vulpish smugness, permitting himself to play the charmer for once in his droll life, and turned to feel about for his armor in the haphazard pile of belongings they’d created.
“Heaven knows your cheer paints me in a fairer light – oops.”
He clumsily spilled an assortment of her things from inside her satchel in his quest, hurriedly attempting to scoop them back.
“Mn, and how fair am I, that I might hold such a strong power?” Preened the half-elf girl, enjoying the pampering of her womanly wiles.
He did not answer, prompting her to turn her body over and find him standing still with his back at her. His elbow was flexed, and his head slightly hung; he seemed to be looking at something in his hand.
“Shyrrik,” she called again, “what’s wrong?”
A few heavy moments lingered, before the ranger slowly turned himself about, and regarded her with an eye devoid of the warmth that had only moments ago flowed so richly between them. It chilled her, but what dimpled her skin all the more was that which he revealed to be in his grasp. A small glass vial sealed with a cork, containing that which even in the poor light could clearly be seen as a potion the color of lavender, swirling ominously, clinging to the translucent walls like a viscous ooze. Nightshade. One drop, and a man forgets himself – two drops, and he sleeps eternally. Shyrrik’s fingers closed around it in a grip that would allow no man access, and shot a knife-like stare down to the disquieted half-elf girl.
“What is this, Laelia.”
“It is nothing, Shyr-”
“Why do you have this?” He fiercely questioned, motioning towards her with fiery inquisition. This caused her a flinch, and a defensive retort.
“I should say it’s no business of yours, my Lord.” She said with acid on her tongue.
“This can kill you!” He lunged forward to beat back her salty response, divulging the ampule to her between his fingers as if she were unaware of it, and repeated himself with ferocious tone of voice. “Why do you have it!”
“I do not seek death, Shyrrik.” She said meekly, wishing to reassure him of at least that much.
“Is it that you seek to rot your mind and body until one could hardly call it life at all, then? This is for men that have been robbed of all reason.” He callously bellowed, shaking the vial in singing reprimand. She could not look at him, her face was turned aside and visibly pained, holding out a long silence.
“Give me my clothes.” She demanded.
“I will not stand for being assailed in such a way while in my indignity. I’ll have them, now.”
Shyrrik sneered, but he complied and delivered her things in a crude toss. She was meticulous in dressing herself, not once giving him an eye as she finally pulled herself into a kneel, sitting on her legs and folding her hands neatly in her lap. Looking onward and downward, she appeared shamed yet indignant as Shyrrik tried to speak with his ire suppressed.
“You’ll not judge me, you varmint.” She hissed, unwilling to endure him.
“Then you’ll forgive me if I act on my conscience.” He said with resolve, turning on his toes and stamping his feet with heavy footfalls over to the tent’s entrance, where he drew back a flap and wound his arm up in a cock to pitch the vile substance out where it would most assuredly be broken by a passing foot or hoof, eager in his disturbed worry to see the noxious substance disappear into the soil and pose no further threat. But before he could let it into the air, he was accosted by a snarl unlike he’d ever heard out of his friend the half-elf girl. She’d risen into a pouncing position, the bridge of her nose scrunched in aggression, and in her left hand she fisted the long shaft of an arrow that she’d hurriedly procured from her nearby quiver. And yet even now, she could not raise her eyes to see him.
“I’ll not have you be doing that.”
Shyrrik fell from his readied posture, standing with both hands clenched, unwavering in his commitment to confront her.
“See you, now. The creature is in you, sure as the sun sets.” He spoke his disappointment without sympathy. “What weakness is this?”
This angered her, but she seethed only in a fluster that saw her drop the arrow and retreat back onto her knees, pushing her fingers up into her bangs and managing to find what was clearly becoming a voice unsteady.
“Stop it, Shyrrik.”
“This is not the Laelia I know!” He pressed further.
The force behind these words, their begging nature, took Shyrrik aback as she further tucked her head into her hands. There was a pain being shown here that Shyrrik had never seen, frightening and confounding him. Never even for a moment had she fancied the thought of letting him get the better of her, yet this foreign outburst came in such a great swell that it rightly held him quiet for a time. Her fingers had balled into her hair onto which she desperately held, as she fought to retain her failing composure.
“What do you presume to know about anything, tree rodent.” She venomously bit. “You’ll not speak of the constitution of others while life has rowed you down a merry little stream.”
“You know nothing of what I’ve been through!” Shyrrik hotly contested, unwilling to tolerate that.
“Then I do profess that I wonder what unmerciful god could spawn such a charming hypocrite as you. Are your wits as pure as your blood, Shyrrik?” Now she had no inhibitions about meeting him eye to welling, emerald eye.
“What nonsense do you speak, here?” He accused of her, thoroughly bewildered by this upheaval.
“You left Iskask with the winds at your back, and the world waited for thirty years while you lazed in the lap of idleness, your only torture the terrible prospect that one day the gods might force commitment upon you. And they rewarded your frivolity by bestowing upon you a mother, an ancestry, a title and home? They even bought you a dog, just to properly garnish the insanity of it!” She furiously censured. “You were destiny’s child, right from the start. I knew this, and I put myself in harm’s way for you while you were frail and unable to see what it was that I saw. And, then…”
“….you abandoned me!”
She cried it with every malice in her fiber. The devastated look on Shyrrik’s face would signal its success.
“Without even a warm word of regard, you skipped into the trees and damned me to the same meaningless death that frightened you witless while you trailed after some invisible voice in a thoughtless stupor. One arrow was the difference between you and I, but it was enough that you could steal away under your own pretenses, while I…prostrated myself to even attain safe passage out of that miserable dung heap!” The admission of it wracked her shoulders in sobs that could not be swallowed.
“What…?” Shyrrik’s eyes were wide, disbelieving. “You told me…you told me you left with the next raiding party!”
“Oh, aye!” She loathed, hands clutching their opposite shoulders. “That I most certainly did, but it was not as their ranger that I convinced them to take me on. My arrows would not grant me a second chance. I sold my soul just to follow your glorious exit, if not on my feet then on my back. But when I finally picked my head up, Ehlonna did not show me the same riches that you have so haplessly stumbled upon. I had nothing, for two decades! No means, no rank…no brethren! And you ask me, why is it that I make myself drunk on deadly root? I tell you, Shyrrik, that question is so very like you, for what a bane it surely is to be the sort of man who only thinks, and never feels!” Defeatedly did she wither, tearful in a sudden, crushing silence.
Shyrrik could not stand. To his knees he fell, then into a sit, his face gaunt and dull. For a long time, there were no words.
“I would die for you.” It came suddenly, so simple and plain from him in his catatonia, that it might’ve been the truest notion he’d ever spoken. Laelia lifted her chin, looking at him sorrowfully with a bruised heart.
“Every good turn of fortune, every stroke of luck, every trivial comfort I’ve ever enjoyed, I could squander it all. I would have, if I knew. I never knew.” He said, prideless. “You sheltered me for so long, and when the time came for me to protect you, I couldn’t find a way. I really am a fool.”
But to his greatest surprise, the half-elf girl closed the distance between them, timidly slipped in against his front, and laid her head underneath his chin. Her hands gripped his shirt, unwilling to let loose, and he coiled his arm around her middle to draw her ever closer. Her body felt fragile. His felt impotent, but he kept her in his immediacy and felt the short swell of her breath each time her bosom pressed against him.
“No,” she said, hardly above a whisper, “you were right, for I am weak. What sort of saint am I, that I could not celebrate the happiness that you found for yourself?” She nudged into him. “Bitterness is not very becoming, is it?”
He looked over her with a somberness, ears proverbially lowered. As he glanced past, he saw his hand laying open across his knee, in which he still kept the vial of belladonna. He eyed it, and she must’ve as well, for she spoke again.
“Never have I surrendered to it, while I was with you.”
Shyrrik flexed his fingers, breaking the glass apart, allowing the purple poison to seep into the grass. And for a while longer, he held the first and dearest friend he’d ever made to him with both hands, worrisome now for a different reason, and understanding in that there may have been one further responsibility that he had to take on.