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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72. Tired.

Gomez was weak, again.

    It wasn’t his fault, we couldn’t blame him.  The truth was, the dark power Chene used to keep him upright was never meant to be consumed by elvish types, and it bore holes in him while he breathed.  His steps seemed strong, but they ground his bones nevertheless, each time sighed, or spoke, the air that left him smelled of rot and decay.  One eye was white again, the other barely opened.

    They had reached the border again, retreating themselves, all though the war had followed, as it always does.  They hadn’t heard the news of their sides, who was winning, because they knew that they were both losing, so why would it matter?

    They ran, until the felt rain begin to bless their skin, a kind touch after so long of being so tired.  They had kept to the rivers, passing streaks of blood, and passing bridges.  Some days it was clear, for Mavros, and the water was still and some fish that had survived kept going upstream and Chene admired how Gomez knew how to bring them is, even he wouldn’t catch them.  He made him apples instead, and Onyx carried him on his back when his knees collapsed.  Chene, of course, was exhausted, but didn’t say a thing.  His strength was Gomez’s, that was his excuse.

    It was getting cold, and the autumn that Gomez loved so dearly turned bitter, the ground cackling ice under their feet.  Some mornings the river would even be frozen over, but Chene would just pull their coats tighter over them where they lay against the horse for warmth, and slept in, until he heard the horns that had followed them like ghosts, a march of the living dead.  But gomez didn’t notice the changing in season, if he did, he said nothing, admiring the Gods who had painted the colours in their world, even in a land so desolate.  

    “It’s beautiful,” he mused.

    “Sleep, Gomez,” Chene said.  He was pulling Onyx’s reigns while he lay on his back, staring at the sea of grey clouds.

    “It is,” he said again, “The way the trees change, it’s almost other worldly.”

    A flake of snow landed in his eye, and he rubbed them awake, sitting up and saying, “I think I can walk again.”

    “Are you sure?”

    “I’m sure.”

    His walk was slow, but not overly so, and he could keep up with Chene if he wasn’t in too much pain.  Trauma consumed him, but he persisted.

    Chene could not survive on the foods he could create.  He described it as eating a limb and not losing weight, it didn’t work.  So he leant his power to Gomez, giving him the strength to grow small plants, like sweet peppers or squash that could fit in the hand of a child.  Chene could pretend that it was enough.

    The stopped at a building, what was once a brothel disguised as a schoolhouse, just inside the curtains of Mavros’ night.  The house was empty, beds and blankets strewn about and a few jars and bowls still in the kitchen.  The vegetables had gone ripe, and flies made their homes in the walls, but it was somewhere out of the passing snow storm, so they were grateful, and helped themselves to stale bread that they had sliced the blue crust from, and they found jams and honeys that were filled with keys, of all things.

    “Whoever lived here left in a hurry,” Gomez said, lifting the pillows from the couch.  He saw coins stuffed into the creases.  

    “We are near the West, aren’t we?”

    Gomez muttered, he thought so, they must be, after all that walking.

    “Then who invaded in here?  A brothel?  Jinn would not be the ones to rampage in a brothel.”

    “Disguised as a schoolhouse, though.  I can’t imagine elves raiding it.”

    They looked around more, finding metal bathtubs and towels wrapped around leaking pipes, old notes under the wallpaper that had names in hearts, some names repeating quite a lot.

    “Why do I feel as if I’m living in a scrapbook,” Chene said, picking up an old painting of a boat with a hole punched through it.

    “It’s all so out of place, I- Did you see these keys?”

    “In the jam, what about it?” he called back, looking through drawers reluctantly, surprised to find them empty, but their contents thrown into an open suitcase at his feet.  Clothes and blankets and coins poured out of it like it had burst, and no one had been bothered to take it with them.  The wall beside it was indented, round, larger than a fist could be.

    Gomez came in, wiping several brass keys off with a rag.  Some were detailed, and some were small and plain, but none fit the same.

    “Is there a stairs?”

    “Around the back, through the halls.” Chene pointed, and he took off.  The house was old, and rickety, and Chene heard his steps, and the turning of keys.  One through three, and on the fourth he stopped.  His feet didn’t move.  Nothing did.

    “Gomez?” he shouted, walking into the halls, looking up the stairs.

    And he heard it again, feet, now running.  And keys, turning, four through eight.

    “Gomez?” but on the first step of the stairs he smelled it.  Rot.  Putrid, rancid, strangling.

    He saw him, and then he saw the rest of them.  There were children, so many it was hard to keep count.  They had been starved, some shot, some strangled, some half eaten and their wastes now turning, and the floor glowing neon, as it must have been for weeks now.

    Gomez swore, something he seldom did, and backed away, even more keys falling to the floor.  The children were girls in most rooms, and boys in others.  Wizards and witches - orphans, it was clear.  They held each other, their mouths bloody, their eyes all closed, except one, the last one.  The smell was something that no demon could create, no torturer would inflict.  They lay in their own gore, and slept, those brothel children.

    “This was us, both elvish and jinn,” Gomez said, his voice hiccuping, “This was this whole war.”

    Chene made a strangled noise in the back of his throat, “Don’t look-”

    But Gomez stepped into one of the rooms, looking over all the little boys who were sitting in chairs, lying on the mats.  They held dolls - socks stuffed with rice and tied with shoelaces.  Some had wrappers, or blankets, or photographs of themselves and others that would never know, if they were even alive to know, exactly what had happened in that place.

    Gomez stepped out, turning the key in the lock.

    “Gomez-”

    “Let them find it,” he said, his shaking hand struggling to turn the next key, and the next, “Let them find the sleeping children of their war, and let them know what they’d done.”

    He took the keys with him, stuffing them in his pocket, and he stormed down stairs, out the door, his body giving in and landing on Onyx, who sniffed him, and nudged his hands.

    “It’s alright, it’s okay,” Chene said, because it was the only thing he knew how to say, although it was soulless, and he held Gomez’s back against his chest.

    “They left the children, each one who left the brothel left the children locked in their rooms.”

    He was quiet, and the stench of the children turned into the smell of moss and wet clay, and they were forgotten, almost.

    Chene brushed back the thinning pieces of hair until they were thick again, his hand on Gomez’s hips until he felt the bone push back into place.  He didn’t whimper, or sob, but he stood there, holding a key in his hand.

    “Let’s go,” Chene took the key from him, and put it in his own pocket, “Let them rest.”

    Gomez nodded, and walked with him, pulling Onyx so that he wouldn’t look to find the source of the smell.    

    They walked along the river, Gomez slumped to one side.  Chene moved to heal him, but Gomez pushed him away without saying a word.  Chene had been weak too, it was clear in how he stood, how often he slept, but he said nothing about it.

    “We had to leave them,” Gomez said, but Chene supposed that he was assuring himself, “What else would we had done?  Burned the house down and lead them to us.  And if we did, no one would see what our people started.”

    “They’ll rest well one day.”

    “But for now?”

    Chene could think of nothing to say.

    Gomez looked up at him, “Do you don’t remember who you used to be?”

    He was one of those orphans.  He was taken in by wicca and made work himself to the bone, and expect little other than food and beatings.  He could, easily, have been there, dead, surrounded by others that were left, and left again.

    Gomez sighed, and pulled Onyx closer, his tremor no better, no worse, “It was all we could do, I know that.”

    

    The trees cleared, almost as if they were bead curtains of dying willow trees, pulling apart to reveal a beach.  It was stoney, and it was empty, but it was somewhere that was clean, where they could wash their hands of what they had seen.

    “Chene?” he said, kneeling by the water.

    He hummed, his lips to the sea, where the salt was closer to sugar.

    “Why do you stay with me?”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Why do you stay?  I have shot you, kidnapped you, tortured you, and now, I drain you of all your powers.  How can you wait with me?”

    Chene wondered this too, and then he shrugged and said, “I think that you’re something I never knew.  You’re what it feels like to be listened to, and cared for, and I know that whatever you give me, I would give to you back.  It’s the closest I’ve ever been to not being so alone, and I can’t imagine what I’d do without you.”

    “I’m sure you’d be fine without me,” he laughed.

    “I don’t think I would be,” he said, watching how Gomez’s hands cupped the water, and how the fish were drawn to his fingers, and lilypads floated up under his touch, and how Gomez was kind and giving and amazing, and how Chene finally felt the scratches in his skin close up, and his hatred that burned and screamed out for revenge, the monster inside his soul, it became static - background noise, that he could cloud, “And it’s weird, but I think that I’m finally starting to know you.”

“I know you too.  You may never tell me who you used to be, but I know who you are now, and that’s enough for me.”

    “Even though we may never be anything more than deserters, and now and again, I might just be coward, and a war criminal, and the monster within me, and I can’t do anything to stop that?”

    “If you’ll take me being weak, and young, and foolishly trusting.”

    “I would be honoured to live with you that way.”

Gomez smiled, until his ears twitched and his face lit up like sun on the water, that broke the clouds of Mavros and made the world good again.

    “I’m glad.  Chene, I need to-”

    The horns were blaring again, and outside the hase of that world, it was louder.  Or maybe just closer now.  Maybe it was everywhere, caging them in like animals.

    Chene swore, grabbing Gomez’s hand, the water slipping from the cracks between his fingers, “Let’s go, quick.”

    But Gomez seized up, and looked back in the woods from which they came.  And he didn’t speak, or blink, but he watched as the call grew closer, and closer.  It was no longer a Jinn call, an elvish call, but it meant something to him that Chene couldn’t understand just yet.

    And so far, Gomez had lied about what the fortune teller had told him that day.

    “Will you wait with me?” he said, in a very quiet voice.

    “Let’s just go.”

    “Will you,” he said, clearly, loudly, loud even through the horns, “Wait for me?”

    Chene watched the forest, and the hooves and steps and shots that it hacked up, “Always.”

    Gomez took a deep breath, “Okay,” he stood, and stumbled, but he was as he always was - strong, brave, a rightful king, “I’m ready now.”

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