The Loneliest Traid

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  • Published: 2 Apr 2017
  • Updated: 13 May 2017
  • Status: Complete
Love and death and war and Gods and blood and magic and dancing and rest and revenge and kings and fate.
Don't worry, within these three stories you'll know yourself,
And I will put you back together again.

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76. Pet

Chene was put in a cage somewhere under the floors of the castle, where it was dark and he could see numbers scratched into the stone floor.  They were in so many languages, he struggled to find which ones he could read, but those he did read up to days in the hundred thousands.

No one passed.  Food was dropped from the roof, water passed in a stream by the bars where cups pressed through into the mud below.  Chene was sure that it doubled as the sewage system.

He dreamt every night, and in it he was falling towards an ocean.  He fell, and screamed, until his tongue was as fat as a cloud.  And he heard Gomez’s call for him, below in the ocean.  He was drowning, and that’s why he had jumped, to save him.  And he’d see his body floating away from land, still dead, blue and violet and an arrow through his neck and he’d wake up in a cold sweat.

The guards - Jinn soldiers, like he was once - laughed at his back, the burn marks.  His numbers.  Elvish symbols of a time that he’d rather be in now, and they’d ask if his master had given him that.  He was a wizard now, still a pet.  And the darkness would throw itself against the bars as he slept, but no one dared to say a thing.  Sometimes he’d wake to the screams of burning men, and when he opened his eyes, they’d shut up.  He couldn’t see the other prisoners, not through the wall, but they spoke to each other late at night about the wicca in cell who’d given his life for a prince.  Pet, they’d agree.

But I won’t bore you, heroes do not belong in cages.  His life was more than his imprisonment, and as he carved his thirty first number in the tiles, he had a shiver that sent warmth across his skin.

    He rubbed his fingers together, but he felt it again  A hot breath at his neck, the walls sweating, his muscles too heavy to move his body from sitting cross-legged on the floor.

    The room flashed, sparks erupting from his bed - thin sheet in the corner.  Its fire was red hot, its glow catching in the dim cracks of his cage, and he didn’t move for while.  He had nearly convinced himself that everything that had happened in his dream, was only a dream.

    The other prisoners asked what was going on, if someone had died.  He didn’t reply, and after a while this sheet was ash, and they stopped asking.

    Noom clawed her way into his lap, and he patted her little curved beak.

    “You took your time,” he said.

    She nibbled his finger, whining, and he knew that he couldn’t be Gomez, but he could try his best, and she would be the last living part of him.

    Noom was tired, and curled up into a little, scaly ball.  He ruffled them, and they clicked until he stopped.

    “You’ve come a long way for me, huh?”

    She nudged her head further into her body, and he rolled her tail between his fingers.  Without startling her, he pulled the key from around his neck, the one to the orphans’ room.

    “Will you cut it for me?”

    Noom look up, and blew a lazy, flaming breath.  The key melted, fit in the door, turned.

    He lifted her onto his shoulder, and she wrapped herself protectively around his neck.  He patted her little head, and left his cage, the other prisoners looking away as he passed.

    

    He knew the castle well, and slunk up the back steps into the empty servant quarters, out the window into a smoking room, a conservatory that was still ripe with sweat and tar.  The rest of the people who worked in the castle were conscripted to join the army, on the losing side.  There was no one left but the dungeon keepers, the messengers, a cook and maybe a cleaner or two.  Other than that, this was a mourning house, and we’ve heard that the king would cry late into the night, and Favi controlled her part of the universe with joyous hands.

    He ran through the gardens, the night thick with fog.  He was lucky, and there were no guards to watch out for the runaway this time.  In the distance he spotted a small lamp at the end of the gardens.  As he was about to duck away into the hedges, he saw how it moved, lurching along, out of the castle walls.

    He kept low, hopping into the back of the carriage behind bales of hay mixed with crossbows and long swords, among other things.

    Lying flat, staring up at the averse stars as they rattled by, he wondered where he was going.  Noom was awake now, walking into the hay and snapping at the arrowheads until her heat singed the straw.  He watched her roll and pounce and take chunks from the iron.  She could never understand what had happened to the boy she had belonged to, and how lucky can one creature be.

    Chene lay his head back against the coat he had stolen from the servant’s vacant bed, and closed his eyes, letting the rocking of the cart and the radiating heat from the dragon lure him into a sleep where he watched Gomez, helpless, dead, as he fell from the Heavens.

    

    There was a shake, and a stop, and Noom pecking at his sleeve.

    He opened his eyes, and saw a jinn standing above him, shaking his head.  His face was scrunched up, deciding what to do with him.

    “I should kill you, I suppose,” he said.

    Chene sat up against the doors, uninterested.

    The farmer offered a hand, and his name to with it.  He pulled him to his feet and said, “But there’s no use, is there?  I heard about the wizard they were keeping in the gaols.  You do pass as one, that’s for sure.  On the short side, though it’s not like I can say much.  I’ll say this, you look dreadful.  Eat something, get some sleep.  You look so scooped out you’d think you were porcelain.”

    Chene looked around.  He didn’t know where they were anymore.  An empty desert path, nothing around but blue meeting red, and miles of it.  He looked behind the cart, a grey blur in the distance, surrounded by miles of black lines - the Forests of Dead, the only place in Cardeni where black magic wasn’t shrouded in darkness.  

    Chene grew up there, he had never told Gomez, he had never told anyone, as long as he had lived - but now he regretted it, and he wanted to say it.  He grew up just beyond the Forest of Dead.

    “Why are we here?” he said.

    “I have to deliver all this to that town out there.  You’re just tagging along.”

    He looked back, “And you won’t kill me?”

    “Why would I?”

    “I’m a prisoner, a wicca.”

    The man shrugged, “I’m not exactly the kind to take revenge, not when so many are dying for my breed as is.  And besides, I was asked to look out for you.”

    “You were?”

    “Yeah, a woman stopped my cart on this road one day and asked me to look for a jinn the next time I was in the palace.  She could mean anyone, she was in an awful rush, but who knows.”

    Chene shook his head, “No one’s looking out for me.”

    “Well, if you’re ever afraid that they are,” the man pointed into the empty horizon, “There’s a house out there.  The people of this town needed a refuge for the deserting soldiers, but I think it’s empty now.  Help yourself, there’s a water hole and food packages and a couch by the fire, you’d like that, huh, little guy?”

Noom quipped, and ran in circles, up the man’s arm and into the crook of his neck.  He laughed.  This man lived in the village and had a wife with a toothache and three daughters of ten years apart in total, and the eldest read while the younger two played, and that night he’d come home and fix up dinner and wait for the wife to come back to kiss her cheek and ask her about mundane things.  He had everything that Chene wanted, and everything that he would never have.

“Just rest, won’t you friend?” he gripped Chene’s shoulder.

“I… Yes.”

He smiled, and handed Noom to Chene, “Stay well, and can I add?”

Chene nodded, pulling his coat around his waist.  Noom slipped into his pocket.

“You once met my parents.”

“I did?” he said.

“I think so.  A wizard and prince slept in their home, and gave my father a pendant, and my mother a copper tree.  It was only with that that I could afford to move my family to this town, and I always thought that if I ever were to meet this prince I’d thank him, the wizard too.” he pulled the pendant from around his neck, and sure enough it still glowed green with a defense spell Chene once knew.

Chene opened his mouth, and gaped at the necklace, “It’s strange that I was to meet you here?  Aren’t you Jinn?”

“I’m dwarven, although I mightn’t look it.”

“And… How did we meet here?”

 

I finished my knot in their lines, dainty and fine.  Nona thought it cruel.  Morta and I knew that it was time enough.  Chene had to see Gomez’s death for what it was, or else we’d never see more than him trapped within his mind.  Heroes are more than their imprisonment.

 

The man clasped his hand, “Never mind that, take care, and as much time as you need with it.  Where is the prince you traveled with?”

“He’s…” he let Noom pull at his thumb, “He died.”

The man’s face fell, “In battle?”

He nodded.

“This damn war.  I’ll say this much, those who sent our people to their deaths have seen nothing of Hell until they meet their next realm.”

“You sound like your father.”

The man stopped, and broke into an easy smile, “Anyway, I am so sorry for your loss.  My paretns spoke highly of him, my mother especially.”

“He had that effect,”

“And my father spoke of you for so long,” he said, “The wizard who was kind and brave and more than this world even deserved.”

“Tell them I say thank you , even still.”

    “I will.  I won’t hold you up any longer, go straight until you reach the house, and do what you have to to live, we can’t blame you anymore.”

    The carriage jolted away, bouncing over stone and slip.  Chene raised his hand, and waited to be alone again.  He squinted in the direction of the house, thinking that maybe if the sun was higher in the sky he could see the windmill outside turn.  And he walked through the breaking of the dawn, the sand glass under his feet, and the sky clear and void of all life but vultures.

    Noom whimpered, and he brushed down her swings, “We’ll be okay now, just a little further.”

    

    The house was small and painted a dirty yellowing cream, with a couch facing a small opened fireplace and covered in knitted doilies.  There were three bedrooms, all barren and too cold - or maybe just too lonely - for Chene to ever see himself sleeping in.  The upstairs opened to a balcony that overlooked the windmill, low enough so Chene could swing one leg over the side and kick a hole in the fabric.  He didn’t, but he could.  The kitchen still smelled like flour, and grain, and baking butter, but the wheels turned nothing themselves.  There was a bathroom, but no bath.  Outside, the watteringhole sat beside a large steel tub that he dragged inside and propped against the sink.  There were drawing on the presses, stapled down.  Little kids that drew witches that stole their cats, and sirens that stole their fathers.  But most they were just children, playing splashing in fountains and dancing in rain.  He took one down, smoothed it out and put it back.  The girl who drew it drew his father, a dwarf and farmer, her two other sisters and a mother with a toothache.  He smiled.  It felt foreign on his face, but he let it stay for a while.

    Although it smelled of moths, rice, and clove it was warm with Noom resting in the fireplace, and it felt like it was a home once not so long ago.

    He helped himself to crackers and cheese, and a bottle of caramel coffee.  He lay on the couch, and Noom ran up and down the halls, and to her beating rhythm he felt his eyes drift shut.  He was just so tired, and as the oozing desert sun set through his window, he wondered where else in the world he could go, - and apart from with him, where would he rather be.

    In his dream, he jumped, but before he was weightless, he heard a knock on the door.  He rolled to one side, but there it was again.

    He sat up, rubbing his eyes.  He swept the crumbs from his  his trousers, and pushed back the stray locks that fell over his eyes.  As he grabbed the handle, he had only expected the man from before, and when he opened the door into the night his heart nearly left his body.

    “You.” Meliae said, shaking in the doorway, her hands in fists, her eyes wet with tears and scorching through them, “You killed him, didn’t you?”

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