Summer was cool that year--the year of the passing. The passing of the man I called my father. A tall, strong man, with shoulders of oak, eyes of iron, and a heart like steel.
He was my father, and yet, that was where the relationship ended, because while we were bound by blood, never once were we bound by emotion. Of course, I cared for him as I would anyone else--with all the love I could offer to the positive things in his being--but he never once returned it. Or, perhaps I thought that he sometimes did. It was often hard to tell just what he was thinking, and whether or not those blue eyes smiled in approval or frowned in stormy distemper.
He was a man who kept his mind from others, and kept his body only at arms length from even those of his own flesh and blood.
The most I remembered about him, besides the chestnut-red color of his hair and scruff, scruff that tickled my brow whenever I did something right (like walked like a lady), was that he was the biggest, most imposing man I had ever met.
He was a free spirit, my father. His skin was riddled with old scars, scars from a war he told only my brother about.
My brother was the one who looked more like him. That I remembered quite plainly! Avion had the same sloping brow and the long, lean jaw. His eyes were the same color as my fathers for a very long time--until they finally settled on silver, instead of blue, when he reached his twenties.
Avion never liked that, really. He liked being his own person after the passing of father. With good reason, considering how father had treated he--and I, but this is merely a memoir, not a self-pity party.
It is a memoir, you know. One Avion says I should not waste my time on. But it is the least I can do, on the seventeenth anniversary of his passing, so very long ago. For all his faults, the man was still my father, and that person was one I could not have survived without. At the very least, he gave me his name--Nimure, of the earth, and I was a part of him, still. I think I had his temper, before I learned to measure my passions with compassion instead, going against the greater nature of my race and their emotional detachment. I was happy to throw myself into the smidgeon of my being that was human, something my father never approved of.
Oh, but where was I? Oh! Yes, his scars. The scars from the wars, I think, are what defined my father the most. And I wanted so desperately to blame the nameless war that had caused them for the way he was then, but I could never bring myself to. For while he was a man of many things, my father had told me to never tell lies. And it would be a lie to tell you it was the war that caused his misfortunate demeanor.
The biggest scar, I remembered, ran the length of his arm, a large, scraping mark that puckered at the edges whenever I grabbed his arms and begged for a hug. It was diagonal in shape, running from the wrist up to his shoulder, and he would always hastily wrench that arm away from me--holding it with ease out of my reach, so much taller than me. He never told me why they were there--the scratches on his fingers, on his arms, sometimes on his back when he wandered out of his room in the morning.
He never told me why.
But I never tried to pry, either. From a young age, I learned that he enjoyed his privacy--the privacy of his wealthy study, cluttered in a corner of the cottage in the woods, Avalon, where we were raised. He sometimes took us to the mountains in the spring, and that is where I learned to talk to flowers and stones. Avion was the quieter of his children, as many might have guessed, and I always had to bolster his spirits whenever my father spoke down to him.
It was out of
well, I do not know what it was out of, truly. For my father wanted us to be strong, I suppose, in the way he spoke to us, told us what to do, and what he expected us to be.
You will be a lady, Nimue, he said, his deep voice a thundercloud over my head. A warm hand, scarred thoroughly and chafed rough on the palm, passed through my rumpled red hair, messy then, and just to my shoulders. You will be a woman of the court, and you will show respect to the man that will one day marry you. You will live in a courtly way and dignify yourself to my name. You are Nimue Nimure, daughter of Merulen, and you will be a lady. Do you understand me? That means no more running up and down the forest roads and causing a spectacle of yourself in town. That means no more climbing trees and tearing your clothes--Gaea knows, the women I court will not always be seamstresses, so you should be grateful for what I have managed to provide for you thus far. Are we clear?
But father, I had protested, as he lifted his hand away, to wipe briefly against the front of his brown tunic. I dont want to be a lady
What about swordplay? Will I still be able to fight?
His eyebrows rose, bristling question marks, before he ruffled my hair dispassionately and turned to face Avion, who stood silently in the trees, watching us with his narrow, silver-blue eyes.
Nimue, the day you lift a sword again will be a sad day for me. You are nine years old--wooden swords are well and good, but yours are fingers that should hold needles and thread--or perhaps a fan. You are royalty, little one. Get used to it. He folded his arms, and Avion lifted his chin defiantly as Merulen, our father, studied him from under his unkempt hair. Father looked sick again--his eyes red-tinged and skin faintly washed out, as if he had not slept well--and he belched quietly into a fist before speaking.
As for you, Avion--its time you abandoned those silly storybooks of yours and took up swordplay yourself. You are to be a count, or perhaps even a lord--and I will not stand for a son who cannot defend himself in battle.
And I will not stand for a father who-- The sharp words of my younger brother were cut off as Merulen lifted the hand that held his wooden staff, and swept it forth under Avions thin legs. My silver-haired sibling, I recalled, toppled into a stone and fell, holding his side, to curl against the earth. I started towards him immediately, but Merulen slammed his staff down and blocked my path to my little brother stonily, lifting a pipe from the folds of his vest with a quiet sigh.
And to think that magisters from across the world sought my knowledge, he growled under his breath. And now, here I am--bridled with two disobedient scraps of youth who cannot even abide by their father. Is it too much to ask for, Gaea, he added dryly, tapping his walking stick against the ground, To ask for them to be as I wish them to be?
I peered up at him, framed by the crowns of twisted branches of the woods, and he paid me no mind until I tried to speak.
Father? He glanced down without moving his head, sandaled feet tapping out an unusual beat as he paced forwards, with me trotting at his side. Will I ever meet our mother?
I asked him every year, for it had been nine without any idea of whom my mother was. Nine years without the touch or embrace of warm arms and comfortable bosom. No womanly sound ever filled our house except--
I stooped to extent a hand to Avion, ducking my head out of those thoughts, and my little brother reached out to take my hand--but Merulen cleared his throat, and Avion instead slammed his fingers against the earth, straightening on his own under a disapproving, judgmental blue-gray stare.
Nimue, said Merulen slowly, exhaling a plume of sweet smoke into the air. The birds twittered gently in the trees above our head as we moved towards the crooked, leaning mansion, of sorts, in the middle of the deeper woods. One day, you will understand who your mother is. And when that time comes, you will understand why you are the way you are, and why I am the way I am. You will understand war. You will understand love. You will understand terror, peace, truth, and hate. And that is why, my dear
He smirked and cuffed me lightly on the back of the head. I hope you never know who she is.
I swallowed confusion as he shoved Avion forwards with a hand, chucking him upside the head as well.
Now, run along home. I have to see a man about a dog in town, so I will not be home until late. You two are to study, eat, and go to bed as normal. Are we clear?
I grinned up at him, and, snagging Avions hand, ducked down the pine-needle laden path towards where home was, with glittering stained-glass windows and crooked, wooden beams. Avion sighed beside me, took a deep breath, and planted his feet, one after the other, to rush along beside me.
Do you really think were getting a dog, Avvy?
You really are awfully dense. He paused, and then bolted ahead of me, only briefly, to snag a log and leap over it. Of course were getting a dog!
We never did end up getting a dog. We did, however, get a woman who could not cook. Merulens first
charge of the month. He used to tell us they came to him to learn magic, and I, the less shrewd of his children, always believed him, for he was a clever man, and I was very proud to call him my father. Even if he was not proud to call me his child, I would make him proud.
Oh dear. I promised not to make this about myself. I honestly did. I wanted to tell more about him. He was a wizard for the Avalonian armed forces for many a year--but after the war, he had retired to being a teacher, using his money and magic to construct his home--parts of it, anyway. The rest of his money was spent on his drink, which he was, in fact, quite fond of--and the other I always saw him giving to the ladies who came to learn about magic. I did not understand then, they were merely momentary mothers, I supposed, because they either kept their distance from Avion and myself, or else cooed and affectionately took care of us while my father slept away an evening sickness, brought on, I came to later realize, by drink.
I was instructed to never disturb him when he was with a lady. He often sent me to bed, or out into the fields, depending on the day or time, for which I was always pleased to go, pleased to please him while he taught the ladies magic. I would spend hours playing with flowers and stones; making games out of the way Id chase the birds out of peasant cornfields. Avion came with me, and when father wasnt around, sometimes, hed run with me, out in the woods. He liked to talk to the birds, but only if he was sure it was merely I who listened to him do so. Father didnt like it--he said it made Avvy eff
effeminate, is the word he used.
Weak was often another.
When my fathers nightly sickness could not be cured with magic lessons, he would call me to his bedside to wash his face--and if I did not come fast enough, he would often swear oaths in old Gaelic, words I did not understand, and slam a hand against the side of the bed while I washed his face and feet, cursing me for existing, and never once taking it back. I did what I could to help him--though the stench of barley wine was almost more than I could bear to be around, suffocating in the little wooden room that served as his personal dominion.
Sometimes, if the drink made him sick, but not physically ill, and there was no one around to teach, he would, instead, train my brother. Or at least, I told myself it was training, for he often liked to take the back of my brothers neck in his hand, and force his head down onto his books, to study long past the hours he had originally intended. Just as a child. Or other times, Merulen took pleasure in making a sport of their training--by taking his staff and teaching Avion how to move, how to block, parry, thrust, how to dance around an enemy with such speed and accuracy that the enemy would never even know they were there.
However, Avion never learned how to move fast enough for his liking, and Merulen satisfied himself by a quick thrust of the staff-end to Avions gut, or to rap down on his shoulders, upside the head, or even clock him upside the jaw that matched his own.
Then I would use the little ability I discovered I had to help Avion feel better--soothing his aches and pains by taking them onto myself instead, the only way I knew then to heal.
Then Merulen would snort in dissatisfaction, hoist himself to his feet, and drink some more--before clapping a hand against the war-drum he had slung by the door (the sound always made Avion flinch), beat it once, a warning--and trek back upstairs, to collapse until morning, when he would be himself again.
Or, as much as we knew of him.
I still longed for a mother, as did Avion. Sometimes he would quietly say that he wished our mother had taken us with her when she had left. And I had scolded him with the idea that our mother was dead, not gone, and there was very little to do about it.
I hate him! Avion sobbed, burying his face against the pillow of his bed, in our shared room. I patted his back sympathetically, not knowing how to heal a hurt I couldnt see. Ten years old. I studied my brothers tear-streaked face, the pointed nose scrunched up, the teeth bared, and the features tinged pink to keep his sobs stifled. I hate him, I hate him, I hate him! I stroked his shoulders, petting them to keep him quiet as well. If Father heard, he would have just come in and told us to be quiet, that he was reading, or working.
It had been a particularly brutal trial of training tonight--Avions nose had bled, and one of his arms had hung limp and dislocated from his inability to block. I had fixed him up, but something still felt broken, and I didnt know what.
Im sure he had a good reason for it
I pleaded softly. Avvy, dont hate him. He loves us. He does--
Youre a liar, Nim, he mumbled, choking down a snort of sour laughter. I blinked, lifting my hand as he swatted it aside, hugging his pillow to his features and closing his eyes. He never wanted us. You know it. I know it. I dont wann-want to stay here anymore. Do you understand? Lets go. Teach me how to climb out the window tonight--you do it all the time
He hiccupped, and I knew from the way his face shifted, he was ashamed of the sound.
I slowly lowered my hand back to his shoulder, and he stilled completely, shutting his blue-silver eyes once more.
I closed my eyes as well, trying to send happiness to him, make him feel what I could feel, sometimes, without a heavy heart. There there. There there, little Avvy. Itll be okay
itll be alright
hush-a-bye, dont you cry
I sang to him in the darkness, as the crickets thrummed, rubbing their violins in the trees outside, and slowly, his breathing evened out, and my brother slipped off into sleep unhindered by practical lessons, knowledge, or training that made him
Made him want to leave.
This was home, wasnt it?
This was home.
The summers faded and the seasons turned, and there again was another year. The year that shifted everything around, changed it all, made it seem so much more real. Ten years of happiness (or oblivion, if you prefer) were shattered within the jerk of a moment. And it was my fault, I supposed, for bringing it on--interrupting my fathers work, and finally understanding just how many faces a man could have
My father had many, many faces.
Muddy feet that slapped against the ground, a frog clenched between my triumphant fists, and the smell of crabgrass bursting in the air, kicked up by excited heels, were the prominent memories I have, of the first time my father had shown his other face to me. A crueler face. I held the frog aloft, giggling excitedly--Avion, winded from childhood asthma behind me, stopped to hold onto the tree nearest with his hand.
I danced through the dappled green and gold colors of summer foliage with happiness putting springs in my feet. Merulen, leaning on his bo-staff, was speaking quietly to a lady whose bodice was quite low, reaching out his fingers to touch her porcelain, painted cheek. I stumbled sharply on a stump and stone, nearly fell, but kept running. Just a yard or so away, and Merulen glanced up, his gray-blue eyes flatly opaque. I squeezed the little frog gently, and it emitted a rumble of irritation that mirrored what mightve been the same emotion on my fathers face.
I slowed to a jaunty trot a few feet away from him, and beamed, bare toes exploring the crevices of the rocks underneath them, pointed nose turned towards the welcoming breeze, and sneezing as the dandelions tickled my nostrils. I could hear the croaking of frogs from the millpond and marshes and streams, hopping on the slick and slime-covered trees. Avion crunched up in the grass behind me, his footsteps noticeably slower than before--shy, as ever he was, in the presence of my father.
I smiled up at the tall, imposing figure, leaning on his staff, and up at the lady as well--best to be polite, as he wanted me to be. Father wanted me to be a lady.
Beggin your pardon, maam, father, sir, I said lightly, and opened my palms, asking the frog silently to be obedient. Whether it was dazed or actually listened to me remained a mystery, for I half-crossed my eyes in the effort of fixating my gaze upon it. But look! I caught one, finally! Do you think it grants wishes?
I think it grants diseases, said the lady, shrugging her shirt higher onto one exposed shoulder. I wrinkled my nose at her, and shrank back down onto the flats of my feet, no longer standing on tiptoe to try to meet Merulens height. My father lifted a pipe from within his robes, and set it coolly between his teeth. I should have taken that as the first warning sign of his irritation, but I pressed on.
Oh, no, maam. Around here, ysee, some animals are wish-grantin! And frogs especially. Know whyyy? I said, obnoxiously drawing out the word for as long as I possibly could. She scowled slightly and went about adjusting the bobbins in her midnight-black hair. Because--I think its cause theyre slimy, but I dont really know. Say! Say, are you an father courtin? Are you to be our new mother, maam? Milady?
The woman ticked a brown-eyed stare towards Merulen, who smirked behind his pipe.
These are yours, then?
Im afraid so, my fathers deep, good-natured voice drawled. (I was to learn later his voice was only ever good-natured when drunk.) My apologies, milady, for not telling you sooner.
He stooped to kiss her hand, and she jerked it away, which I thought was very rude. So I took the frog while her back was turned, and moved to hold it close to her face, so that when she was done stooping to fix her bootlaces, it would be there for a kiss.
Avion reached out to grab my arm to stop me, but I shook it off--and lost my hold on the frog. It leapt gracefully in an arc through the air--and landed squarely in the space between the womans breasts, wriggling down into the darkness. The woman let out a piercing shriek and began to squirm, which I laughed at to no end. Merulen, chuckling fondly, rubbed his crimson scruff and hid the smile behind his pipe.
Mortica, it will come out faster if you hold still
I dont CARE, she shrieked, throwing down her hands and shuddering in repulsion as the poor froggy finally wriggled free. Gods and goddess, Merulen--when you told me you had children, I expected full-grown youth, not babes of the blasted Seelie! And you can forget about another rendevouz, she added with a snarl, jabbing a finger into my fathers chest. His laughter died behind the pipe. I dont take men with such rotten baggage!
I-it was just a frog? I said, half-questioningly. Lady Mortica ignored me, and stormed off down the dirt path, out of the forest. I slowly turned to glance at my father, bending down to scoop up the frog. Avion remained quiet.
Um. I brought this for you, father
I said brightly. I-Im sorry if I ruined your courtship, sir. Really I am.
maybe if you make a wish on the frog, shell come back? I beamed at him encouragingly, frog innocently clenched between uncertain fingers.
It was then that it happened.
His hand swept around to greet the smile on my face with a sharp flick of the back of his gnarled fingers. My head canted to one side briefly, and I felt a sharp sting from where he had struck me.
The frog slipped away and flopped against the ground, crawling blissfully away. I slowly turned, blinking, to glance up at Merulen, face still aching.
My father lowered his hand to dash ash from his pipe.
Tomorrow, I think, he said in his low, deep voice, I shall enroll you officially in manners and etiquette class. It is not a ladys place to run amok and cause such chaos. He smirked and patted my head. Dazed, I could only look at him.
You might take a few lessons from your brother. Hes effeminate enough for the both of you, father added. He was just upset, I told myself, as Avion stalked past the both of us, his thin back stiff.
He was just upset.
Hed get over it.
I got over it, after all, completely so, even when the very next day, my father introduced me to the four women who would instruct me in town, two elves, a human, and a Seelie lady who had funny yellow hair, and smelled like pears. They were to teach me etiquette, poise, dance, and courtly manners.
it was I who ended up teaching them. For I was a very, very disobedient student. I taught my etiquette teacher how to scoop up the leeks in leek soup with ones tongue and hold them--I also taught her how to slurp soup through the corner of ones mouth with utmost discreetness--until, of course, the end, when one made the biggest slurp imaginable.
I taught my poise teacher how to climb trees, for it was there I ran and hid when she fetched the rod to teach my slouching back a lesson. I loved to sit at the tops of trees, close to the sky, and let my legs dangle over robin-nests and blackberries. She never liked getting her dress dirty, which made me laugh--it was just dirt, after all.
I taught my dance teacher that stepping on a gentlemans foot could, in fact, be very funny--and it was much easier to dance in ones undershirt and plain breeches than in those silly ballroom dresses. I couldnt stand the way that they rustled when one moved, either--how could a person spy or run away in a silly dress like that? And where would I put my sword, were I to get one?
What I taught my court teacher was that no matter how a lady is addressed, she should speak what she feels like speaking--be it in tongues, waggling and all, or in peasant slang. I refused to pronounce my vowels and enunciate when she asked me to, settling instead for mumbling around a mouthful of mush whenever she wanted me not to. A lady could be modest as she pleased--and I chose to be as obstinate as I pleased, in turn!
But it dawned on me, by the third day in their care, that my father had not spoken to me, and it was all well and good to play these games, teach these lessons, and, in turn, be taught--but what about my brother? When could I go home?
When I had asked, the women had exchanged a glance, and told me softly in voices that spoke worlds to emotions I never understood that my father would send for me when I was ready. And that I was to behave until he did so.
It took ten years, but I learned. I learned, slowly, and grew--slowly. I learned to turn docile under the rod that struck my legs when I stammered in confusion. I learned to force down my stammers in this way. I learned the difference between a soup soon and a broth spoon. I learned how to carry a fan. I learned how to dance (my one, true joy, in their classes). I learned how to walk like a lady. I learned what a lady says to a duke, or a count, and what a lady says to a peasant. I learned how to bat my eyelashes. I learned stupid, USELESS things that no woman in her right mind would want to learn! I hated petticoats. I hated corsets. God, I hated the restrictions!
But I did it because my father willed it, and it was his desire for me to be a lady.
Avion, in the meantime, learned to write letters to me and send them, periodically--every two months. He was sent away to study with gnomes and humans, learning magic and fencing and fighting, while I sat and learned to sew, cooped up indoors, staring out windows, and learned the difference between dancing with a prince and dancing with a count.
I expressed my fondness and how much I missed him, and he, in his own, cordial little ways, did the same. He told me he wanted to be a teacher to those who could not yet read and write--so many, in Avalon!--and I told him how I wanted to traverse the island and heal those who needed healing. We spoke of our dreams, of our hopes, and of our fears, as ten years whipped through our life fast as a lash, lightning that grazed out minds, and made us grow.
I grew to be a head shorter than my father, that enormous man I vaguely remembered. He never answered my letters. My hair became a lighter shade than his, a fiery red, where his was dull and muted, like dried blood--or chestnuts. Yes, chestnuts. My eyes finally settled on a color; for all Seelie children have eyes that warn of changing moods, or thoughts. I became green-eyed and pale-skinned, losing the ruddy hue that had mirrored my fathers. In secret, I taught myself the sword, so that while he could be proud of me, I could, in turn, be proud of myself. And if I was going to be a healer, I would need to defend myself. People in pain can do terrible things, after all.
When I reached my twenty-second year, my teachers all embraced me, one by one, telling me how proud they were of me, how much of a lady I was (A TRUE lady, maam! my etiquette teacher had told me, tears in her eyes), and allowed me to go home, saying it was time. I smiled, and gave my affectionate, dutiful replies (for they had, after all, taken care of me), and said farewell.
On the road home, I met my brother again--for the first time in ten years. He had grown even taller than me--but not taller than father, who still stood at least half a head higher than him, if I recalled correctly.
Avion was silver all over--pale skin the color of fresh milk, and eyes that gleamed like a wolfs. His face was longer and gaunter, then--but not as gaunt as it could become, when he was fiercely angry. He had tied his platinum hair back into a simple horsetail, bobbing over his slim shoulders, which he had cloaked in dappled gray, and his nose, as he looked down at me, I realized, had gotten longer as well.
He finally flashed a shallow smile at me, as I stared, gaping, up at him.
You have not changed much, he said in a mellow way, his voice calm and low--just like fathers. I reached up, and without further ado, yanked his head down to stare at his hair.
Whatve you done to this, blimey! I burst out, ruffling it frantically, and tugging it out of the ponytail. Youve become a man! Stop it! Un-grow up, right this very instant! You cant be taller than me, youre my little brother!
He laughed faintly, nearly dropping the satchel from his back, and batted my hands aside, straightening and briefly squeezing my shoulder.
And look at you. Can you breathe in that thing? He said dryly, nodding to the corset. I smirked up at him.
I never tighten it, I only tie it. You try havin somethin squeeze your ribs when you walk or breathe, see how you like it. Its awful hard to walk in this silly thing. Are you excited to go home? I missed you so much! How do you think father is? Do you think he missed us at all?
The laughter died on Avions features, and he shrugged lucidly, throwing back his head proudly as he turned to gaze down the road, confidence burning in his eyes--or was it vengefulness?--at the house that was familiar, at the windows that shown like shattered rainbows in the dying eye of the night.
We shall have to find out, will we not?
I remembered that night, the passing of my father, as something that rings in my head whenever something comes about to trigger it. Trigger-senses, you know--triggers.
The smell of soured barely-wine, streaking across the feeling of oily wooden floors, lying unwashed for years. The taste of sickness in the thick, spice-choked room of the ruined kitchen. The grime that lay streaked across the stained-glass windows of his home. The broken crumbling feeling of a house gone to ruin, gutted from the inside out. The entrails of a dead rabbit left on the counter to rot, as the body swung back and forth absently, skinned, and forgotten in the window.
And the sight of a body on the kitchen floor, in a pool of its own piss, arms strewn under its head, breathing, but only barely, fitfully, its body clothed in thick brown rags, one hand clenched stubbornly around a bottle that looked as cracked and disheveled as the rest of the place.
I remained frozen in the doorway, staring, just--staring, down at the shrunken figure on the ground. Gone was the rugged, ruddy-colored skin I knew and loved, instead replaced by waxy, yellow skin that hung slightly off his bones. Just bones, the muscle seemed
gone. Gone was the thick, abundant chestnut-colored hair, replaced instead by thin, gray-streaked brown, dull and mousy. His face was bearded now, not carefully trimmed.
Gone, now, was the man who had towered over me--shrunken, withered, and wan, he lay there, reeking, his face buried in his arms. Moonlight crept up through the windows to peek down fearfully on the undusted floor, leaving the bleached bones of the house exposed, as Merulen (if that was who--what--that thing, that poor creature was), rolled over with a groan, staring up at us.
His eyes were bloodshot, the blue-gray hues streaked with broken veins, and his mouth looked dry and shattered, the lips broken and bleeding slightly. Stifling a cry, I broke out of whatever stupor I was in, and shoved Avion, also frozen in shock, aside, rushing to my fathers side.
Father--Merulen! I whispered, taking his head in my hands, and lifting him up, out of the stinking filth, to stare at him. What--what happened to you? Are you alright? You look so ill--so-- My hand came away, to check his pulse, and his skin, I found, with a stab of horror, clung briefly to my palm, the sweat sticking and trickling between my fingers.
Merulen smiled lopsidedly at me, his slant of a mouth twisting upwards, into sag-marks near his cheeks and eyes. He lifted a hand loosely to press against my cheek, stroking aside worry with his fingers, old fingers, fingers I didnt remember.
Nimue, he said, recognizing me, through his haze of detached pain. I have missed you
you have become
His eyes traveled over me, once more examining my features as he ended up on my face again, staring--taking in whatever I was, now--a lady or not. Such a beautiful young lady. He closed his eyes and rolled back his head to peer at Avion, his eyes slanting slightly. The moonlight played across features ancient and jagged as oak, littered with amusement and cold, dark silence. His voice was weaker and raspier than before. And therein stands my other daughter--no, my son. My only son, with his face like stone. Have
he paused to cough, limply dropping back into my arms and lap. Have you become a man then, at last?
Avions eyes narrowed in turn, and he tightened his jaw--stooping down to snap the bottle out of my fathers limp hand, drawing it away, to sniff at the top--and grimaced, throwing it towards the floor, far from my father (what was left of my father).
Poisoned, Avion said quietly. And this is not the first time. Step away, Nimue--there is nothing you can do for him now.
But you have to! I burst out, holding onto Merulen stubbornly. I have to--we both have to. Can I not heal him? Hes sick, I can fix it, I swear I can--
You cannot take diseases or poison unto yourself, Nimue--for then, you would die! Avion hissed. Step away and let me see what I can do!
No--I have to--
Same old little Avion, father murmured, his eyes closing once more. His body jerked slightly, coughing once more. Twelve--ten? Ten years. How long--how long, and still
no change. You
have studied as I taught you to? Give me male
he reached out for the bottle that wasnt there.
Please, father--let us get you into bed, I whispered softly. Avion set his satchel down, and, reaching down to his side, drew forth a dagger.
The night froze as the knife was lifted, and Avion, holding my shoulder, drew me upright. I stumbled away, my eyes wide.
why? I said, pain in my voice, unable to hide it. Why would someone want to hurt father?
Well, he had a lot of enemies, Avion said, kneeling down. I paused, at the emotionless way in which my brother spoke, and ticked my head around to stare at him.
He glanced up, and the wolf was back in his eyes, in his smile, a smile I never recognized, one that was more a grimace than anything remotely close to a grin. He shifted back to kneel, and took my fathers back to raise him off the ground.
We are Seelie, Nimue. We are creatures of habit. Our father is half of what we are, and we do not know our mother. He was a war veteran--and survivors have nothing but close acquaintances, few in number. Everyone else will continue to be a threat, a compulsion to hide, a compulsion to drown oneself in flesh and discover the truth in drink, rather than in truth itself. He showed my father the curved knife, one Id never seen before. And the truth is, his personality was never one to endear others to him. Charisma is where it ended, and this, in turn, is where it ends. It is over--and it is a shame we did not have time to reconcile. But the metal in his stomach--the metal someone packed into his barley wine--
I closed my eyes. No, it was not true, Avion had been away as long as I, time healed all wounds, why could I not heal this--reconcile--please, anything.
There was a wrench and the air quivered as my father drew out a shuddering sob. I flinched, and heard Avions words drop to a low and disconcerting murmur. Not triumph--but pain.
Has eaten him away within. I shall release him from his torment. Avion set his forehead against my fathers, and closed his eyes, as Merulen spat blood--joining with the filth on the floor.
It is, after all, the only way I can possibly hope to repay him for his years of training. His years of self-sufficient lessons. I am not as he is, but I can be grateful for what he has done for me, in a way. In a way, this is how it should be.
Dad is dead, Nimue, Avion added, sheathing his dagger and straightening. His thin back was slicked with sweat, and his gray eyes were narrowed, as he stared down at the figure on the floor, its twisted, withered skin a tribute to its place remaining on earth. Worm-food, Avion added coldly, and slipped his sheathed dagger under the brown vest he wore, wiping it clean on the front of his gray shirt. Another stain. Another mark left.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
I buried my face in my hands and hung my head, hunching up my shoulders to obscure such thoughts from my mind. Avion gently held out his hand, pale fingers closing over mine.
I dont understand our life, Avion, I said miserably. How could he send us away when he needed us s-s-so much?
Avion paused, then drew my arm upwards, folding his free arm around me. I choked down another sob and flung myself against him. He briefly squeezed me and let go, gesturing to the floor.
Nimue, that man was not our father. Blood means nothing when you are your own person. The gnomes taught me that, the humans taught me that ties of the family could only go so far. I have learned much in my absence, and I have missed you--yearned to be with the sister who taught me to forgive. To forget. Nevertheless, while I may heal in time, and so shall you--for you are hurt, no matter how much you tell yourself you are not--but now is not the time. We are of age, we are grown--we are not children anymore.
Being grown-up doesnt make the pain lessen
I murmured. Avion kissed my brow, taking my hand again.
But even if the pain is there, the cause of it is gone. It is a truth, one he never gave us--he was a hypocrite, to tell you never to lie. But in short, Nimue? The truth is that you will heal. As you heal others. As I learn, and teach. We are officials in his place now--you know he was a member of the courts? We have much still to learn-- he squeezed my hand. And dwelling on the past will get us nowhere.
Hypocrites. Both of them.
But I held his hand tighter and closed his eyes, and--together--we crossed the threshold from the house, out into the woods, unafraid, but still in pain. Pain that would pass.
Together, we left that world behind, behind us, in the night of the summer when he passed, when everything we knew changed again, turning.
And that was the truth.
That was what we had, each other, and our dreams, our hopes, our fears.
And those remain the memories brightest in my mind of my father. Merulen Ashavane Nimure, the wizard of the nameless war. I truly would never understand all that he was.
But I understood what he meant to teach us.
It was nothing, after all. Nothing is what he taught us, for we were always taught by others, or each other.
Rest in peace, father.
In death may you find the respite from whatever wounds you nursed with drink.
In death may you smile where you frown.
I forgive you, father.
I love you.
That is the truth, unending.
I promise I will learn, and heal, and be a lady. Sometimes. You taught me everything except one thing, and that, I now, will teach to you, in the words of the living to the ones who moved on, the most important truth of all, besides love, and hope:
I forgive you.