A Drifting Soul

The story of Daithi, a young shaman of the Nioneska prior to the events of A House Of Photographs.

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10. A Flame Rekindled

Unafraid of what may be on the other side of the door, Daithi opened it. What he saw shook him to the core. Romona stood standing there, her arm draped over Laurel's shoulders. Romona's green eyes brightened when he opened the door and began to explain.

"Darius took Laurel's medicine away with him on a hunting trip and I need a safe place for her to stay while I get more herbs from another Andruisk downriver. Daithi's eyes narrowed as he let them in. "Sampsa and Mina left to visit her parents and his youngest doesn't know a thing about Laurel and Callum isn't home." Romona said all she needed to with her determined expression. Normally it would have made Daithi laugh seeing as her features were more round, taking after their mother's side, and she looked like an angry child. But right now his focus was on Laurel. He helped Romona set her down on the soft skins in front of the fire. Romona dashed out, her various pouches on her belt bouncing off her hips. Daithi closed the door behind her and sat across from Laurel. She was ghostly pale and she coughed desperately. When a few drops of crimson flew through the air and into the dirt floor Daithi realized just how bad it was.

Daithi looked around the place, at what little he had on the shelves, to the chest where he kept spare clothes that he'd been given, to the pots where he kept his food. He reached around behind him and dragged one over. Wrapping his legs around it, he took off the lid with a spot of difficulty and got a whiff of mixing smells that made his mouth water. It was sweet, yet savory. He pulled out a fruit pastry and broke it up into pieces and reached around the fire to give it to Laurel. Her hand shook, as if holding it up was a strain, then took it She thanked him weakly and nibbled at it. But as she swallowed she was struck with another fit of coughing.

"You've gotten worse," Daithi pointed out. But Laurel shook her head.

"No....I just forgot to take my medicine." Laurel's voice was so small and weak that Daithi scooted beside her so he could hear. Not only did he hear her better when she spoke, but her heard the raspy sound that was paired with her breathing and he felt the vibration of her shaking.

Laurel's illness was unlike anything anyone had seen in the tribe. She would be consumed with chills and her lungs would bleed. The only thing that kept her from dying of that was the healing factor of all Nioneskans. Daithi recalled an instance when they were kids where she had to be carried back home to be treated because she become paralyzed. It struck at any time unless she took a special mixture of herbs and roots that was blessed specially by a shaman. It was Champas Daileska who had first pioneered this cure. And because the case was the only one ever, no one felt the need to study it and think of a permanent solution. Daithi had thought of trying many times, but his knowledge of medicinal plants was lacking compared to Callum and Romona.

When Romona returned, Laurel had fallen asleep leaning against Daithi. Not wanting to ruin her comfort, Daithi stayed as still as a statue. Romona sighed with relief, knowing if Laurel was able to sleep despite the pain, she would be okay. So Romona sat beside Daithi and mixed the ingredients thoroughly and adding water to ease it. "If you don't mind."

Daithi nodded and waved his hands over it, whispering and muttering chants and prayers he'd used in blessing before. His fingertips glowed green and lit up the concoction before dying like embers. He sighed and nudged Laurel awake. Her eyes flew open and she saw what he held in his hand and slowly drank it. She made a face which clearly meant it wasn't very tasty. But after a time she stopped shaking and she drifted off to sleep again.

With furrowed brows and a warbling voice Daithi asked "Has this happen' before?"

Romona took a minute, weighing her options, then nodded slowly. "He's done this a few times. I don't know if he realizes how bad it affects her when he takes it away but....can she stay here with you?"

"What?"

"Just for awhile!" She whispered so as not to wake Laurel. "I know how you two were before you left and that can be difficult, but he doesn't know where you live and if he comes back in a bad mood it'll be worse for her and she can't stay with me and Siiri and Magnus because he knows we're friends with her and would look there first."

"Wait wait wait, who's Magnus?"

Romona rolled her eyes, irritated that Daithi latched onto trivial and irrelevant information. "He's Siiri's, I don't know, partner I guess? But whatever! Will you help her?"

"Of course!" Daithi spat, offended that Romona would assume that he wouldn't. "She'll be fine here, now go home. I'm tired. I've been helping teach the kids about spirits all day long."

"Ever the nurturer," Romona comment sarcastically with a smirk before leaving. "The joys of having a baby brother like you."

Daithi hissed at her as she closed the door with a click. So he was left alone with a mixed up head and a heart that didn't know when to stop throwing itself against his ribcage. He tossed it and turned it over and over in his head. Laurel was married now, but he clearly didn't respect anybody but himself. Given Laurel's condition it wasn't right for her to be with him. Daithi's jaw began to ache from gritting his teeth and the scars on his back ached. He wished his grandma and his dad were still around. They were smart about these kind of things. And Daithi knew what he had in mind would have been backed up by them at least.

"You think too loudly, you troll," Laurel teased. She smiled weakly up at him. The smile sent butterflies flitting around in Daithi's stomach and he blushed. Then her brows were knit together in thought. Daithi could feel her heart beating faster. His beat just as quickly, as if they were racing each other but were neck and neck. Suddenly, for him, it bcame to hot in there to bear. He gave Laurel warning and told her that he'd sleep outside on the earthen roof. There was a distinct difference that provided relief for him. The vent was open just enough for the fire's smoke to escape and he became relaxed with the faint smell of burning wood. Daithi did his best to let his mind go blank s he gazed up at the stars that blinked at him and painted endless pictures that he searched for until he fell asleep.

 

"Daithi! Breakfast!"

Daithi awoke with a start and accidently rolled into the wall of stones that kept people from falling into the vent. There wasn't a fire so he rubbed his eyes and peeked through the vent and saw Laurel setting out various pastries and dried goodies. When he entered he was bombarded with sweet and delectable scents. His stomach rumbled in response and he took a place across from Laurel. Laurel chuckled at his bare feet, stained green, as he crisscrossed his legs and began to eat. He found that she had made the little pastries with crusts and biscuits and her own special mix of berries and little tricks to bring out the flavor.

"MMMM! But Laurel," he said around a mouthful. "you don't need to do this, you're my guest. I-"

"I insist. I don't want to trouble you. Especially not you," she said, cutting him off, before nibbling at a strip of jerky. Daithi found himself staring at her, the way the sunlight that seeped in through the vent lit up her soft waves of hair, the way she carried herself, how graceful and thought out her movements were. When she looked up at him he looked back down again at the food, pretending he hadn't been watching her. Then he imagined what she must have seen watching him; a gruff, rough around the edges man who had the heart of a child and a nasty temper who never thought of anything he did in advance unless it was important and required extreme thought.

"Daithi? Come on, we have to teach the kids today," Sirri called through the door. She tried to look in through a window but Daithi had used scrap cloth as a set of curtains to discourage such behavior.

"I thought we did that yesterday!" He hollered back. Laurel couldn't help laughing at the interactions between the siblings of his family since she was an only child.

"Okay but if one of the little toerags accidently burns oyur house down because you didn't tell them not to then don't blame me," Siiri retorted. Her razor-sharp wit never ceased to amaze. Daithi nodded is head and forced another mouthful of food in before he got up and straightened out his shirt and his pants. He grabbed a string and braided his hair as he left and quickly shut the door behind him so Siiri wouldn't see Laurel. But he could hear her trying to keep from laughing out loud as they went along.

So Daithi spent the better part of the afternoon with Siiri teaching children barely at the age where physical aging would slow down for them how to control magic. Daithi was reminded how one needs to prepare and practice before trying anything new or the shock could take a physical toll. It became glaringly clear why he had passed out and gotten sick. As he guided a young ginger boy with hand motions he became very grateful for cutting that deal with the spirit. After a time, despite the few overly frustrated and perfectionistic kids, Daithi found himself enjoying it. When they sat down for lunch, provided by a few mothers, Daithi became wrapped up in a highly sophisticated conversation about which Great Spirit, Skye or Nature, was the most powerful while a young girl, younger than the others, combed out the loose braid in Daithi's hair and replaced it with a half ponytail and three little braids with beads. Siiri shook her head, not the type to give children more leeway than they could earn. Only her prized students that she'd taught the year before were allowed to goof around and mess with magic.

When training was over, Daithi found himself exhausted and ready to go to sleep without anything to eat. But when he dragged himself home he heard a crackling fire and smelled fish frying. Laurel was sitting their on the floor with an old shirt over top of her long-sleeved shirt and vest and a pair of Daithi's boots on.

"Those are mine," he pointed out, gesturing towards his boots, not caring about the shirt.

"Well you don't seem to be using them," Laurel replied, referring to Daithi's constant state of bare footedness. Daithi nodded as if to say you have a point. "Romona left some paint for you to paint your door since you seem to live here instead of with the twins," Laurel added as she handed Daithi a wooden plate with have of the fish.

They ate in silence, grateful for the company and stealing side-glances from time to time.
 When Daithi finished he decided to step outside with the paint and do the door. He didn't realize that Laurel followed him out. She took a short and squat jar of a pastel teal from his hand and rolled up her sleeve. "What are you doing?" Daithi asked jokingly.

"Helping. Take off your necklace." Doing as he was told, Daithi took off his necklace, running his thumb over the beads before handing it to Laurel. She looked at it, inspecting every little flourish and line. Then she rested it on the windowsill so they could see it clearly. Then she set to work, painting with her fingers. Daithi watched her start with his family's rune; it always reminded him of a roof with a bent left side and a partition down, that bent to the left halfway, the middle. Three lines rested beneath the bent side, and seven lines, alternating between long and short, beneath the straight side. Laurel stepped back to admire her handiwork and brushed some hair out of her face. Daithi looked at a splotch of teal paint she'd left on her cheek and laughed.

"Hahaah, here." He set down his jars of paint and tied her hair back for her so it was out of her face. At first she flinched and almost seemed to try and avoid his touch. But after a moment she thanked him, then picked up another jar filled with an almost dried, thick dark blue and made a circle around it. Daithi began to get his own ideas and dipped his fingers in the purple jar and traced her blue circle so it created almost a night sky color.

"What are you doing?" She screeched in a mocking version of offended.

"Painting. Hang on, I think there was some bright orange an pink in there." Then Daithi opened the door and came back out with more paint. He brought a rag and a bucket of water too. As Laurel washed off her fingers he kept an eye on Daithi as he began to dip three of his fingers in three different colors: orange, pink, and yellow. Then he made the squiggly lines inside the circle that symbolized he was a winter baby.

"That's right! I'm older than you are! I was born in the summertime!" Laurel exclaimed, smacking Daithi's shoulder and accidentally smearing paint on his shirt. Daithi retaliated by flicking a fat gob of orange onto her nose before getting back to the task at hand. They both got a dark green that almost seamlessly blended into the dark blue and started doing the weird wheat-like bits that framed the bottom just below the rune. After that, it was practically done, save for the border that encompassed the entire thing on Daithi's necklace. They worked together on that on too by slowly blending an orange into the blue and purple so the change wasn't so abrupt but it made the whole thing look a little cozier. They both stepped and admired their handiwork. It was a little rough around the edges, but so was the owner of the door. Laurel threw her hands up in the air and splattered orange paint on Daithi.

"Hey!" Daithi picked up a jar and grabbed a dripping gob and flung it at Laurel. Then it was all out war. Daithi was hit in the chest with half of the jar of teal and he responded with a flick of pink. He chased after Laurel, flicking and splattering her when she was in range and flinging some onto the door in the process. Laurel would look over her shoulder for a fraction of a second to try and splash Daithi with paint while he pursued. 

They circled the house, running up the hill and on the roof then back down maybe five times until Laurel's heart couldn't take it and she threw herself inside. Daithi didn't break his speed in his pursuit and slid on his knees on the dirt floor and fell on top of her. Their giggles and cackles mixed into a symphony of excitement and fun. The sunset's glow illuminated the house and them with it. Daithi panted heavily, propped up on his hands and knees. And suddenly he wasn't in the present. He wasn't in the reality that was her being married to anther man. Daithi wasn't in the reality of him not being with her. He was in the past where they would do this all the time. Where they would chase eachother through fields of wildflowers. But as sweet as the sensation was, Laurel began to cough and hack and brought him back again. He didn't hesitate to jump to his feet and search his shelves for what was left of the medicine he and Romona had made for her. Unfortunately his hands found it before his eyes did and it went tumbling to the floor. He watched in horror as its contents were spilled on the floor and soaked into the dirt.

Daithi looked back at Laurel as she curled up in a ball by the remains of the fire. She tried to shake her head, write it off as just a fit. But it wasn't. Daithi caught sight of a red drip of blood that ran down her cheek. In a flash, he picked her up bridal style and ran out. Daithi searched frantically for Romona and Siiri's place. He dodged people on their way home and children at play. Mere yards away Daithi's legs began to give out on him from the stress and worry. He stumbled when he shouted "Romona! Romona, help her!"

The door opened with a creak and Siiri let him in. Before Daithi even set foot inside Romona was already getting started. Daithi dropped to his knees, still holding Laurel in his arms. She chuckled weakly. "You worry too much."

"Perhaps not enough," Romona countered. Her movements were erratic and clumsy. Daithi could see his sister's forehead glistening with sweat. Siiri went to Romona's side and steadied her hands in a calm and collected way. It brought some comfort, though not much. Siiri was the third youngest, born before Romona, but she was wiser. She forced Daithi to set Laurel down to open her airways. It made him feel stupid and guilty for not thinking of it. Daithi found a corner and waited there with bated breath when thy finally finished it and gave it to Laurel.

"What did you do? She's overworked herself," Siiri informed.

Daithi was struck with more guilt than he'd ever felt before. He felt responsible for this fit. "We were painting and she forgot to take it and I spilled it and.....by the spirits above, I'm an idiot!"

Laurel drank the concoction and scrunched up her nose again proving that no matter who made it that the mixture was murder on the taste buds. Then she shook her head. "Daithi, it was an accident....." Tears pricked her eyes when a wave of pain hit her. Just as the pain washed over her like a wave of the sea, guilt and self loathing washed over Daithi until it threatened to drown him. He could barely hear Romona and Siiri explain that they would go out and find more of the ingredients for Laurel's medicine because their stores were running low.

Laurel beckoned him closer and held his hand. She squeezed with every ache and throb. When it finally began to subside and the medicine took effect, she apologized to Daithi. The look of confusion on his face forced her to elaborate. "I'm sorry for the trouble I've caused you. You're the last person I want to burden."

"I don't care. If you need me then tell me, don't....not bother me," Daithi wheezed, fumbling with words as he always did around people he truly cared about. It made Laurel, however pained it may have been. She began to cough a bit and Daithi undid the top buttons on her tall collar to help her breath. But he caught sight of something purple on her skin. A bruise. Too big to be an accident and oddly shaped. It took a minute to draw the conclusion but when he did his anger bubbled to the surface. He took deep an ragged breathes but he was seeing red. His hands went numb and he wanted to smash things.

"Is he?! Laurel, tell me does he hurt you?!" Daithi demanded, his anger morphing into desperation and fear. What was an angered snarl was changed into watery eyes and a trembling lip. Everything he felt was almost like a tangible thing that hung in the air and filled their lungs. Laurel reached for his cheek and traced a circle on his cheekbone. Her hand was cold against his skin. Not in a freezing way, but his anger had consumed him so completely that he was like a fire trapped in a human skin. But her touch, rather than igniting sparks like it had in the past, sent a comfortable chill that spread from his cheek. Laurel sat up, never letting go of Daithi's hand. She wanted to look him in the eyes. But she didn't realize how close he was and they were nose to nose. She tried to back away out of respect but Daithi held her shoulder firmly, but gently.

In a hoarse and wavering whisper he said "Laurel, do you still love me?"

The very question made Laurel panic. Shaking her head, she didn't dare look him in the eyes for risk of answering his question without a word. But her reaction was enough for him. 

"So why did you marry him?" Daithi's grip loosened and his shoulders sagged. Though he felt like he could fly over the moon and back, he felt betrayed, broken. He felt like the ferocity of his heart beat from his anger had made it shatter into a million pieces. 

"It was....hard to get food when we triedd to get here. My parents were starving themselves to feed me....Darius was doing well so I thought it would help my parents. And....he was kind at first. But...." Laurel flinched as if she'd been struck by the cruel hands she spoke of. 

"Then leave him!" Daithi cried. "I'll stand for you, I'll represent you in front of the council and make sure it happens," Daithi cried desperately.

"I can't, Daithi! Since my mother died my father's been so sick he can barely work up the strength to go out sometimes! Darius takes care of him because I'm not strong enough to-!"

"I'll do it! Laurel, I can't stand to see you suffer like this. No man like that has the right to hurt someone. Especially not someone like you!"

Laurel through her arms around him and sobbed on his shoulder. Between sobs she cried "I can't do that to you!" Daithi held her like a child, realizing just how small she was. But he felt just as small with the thought that he couldn't protect her no matter how tight he held her. So he made a silent vow to her. He promised he would do anything in his power to make her happy even if she refused to separate from Darius. Even if he himself died for it.

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