Stories Hub / Mind Control / Tristan's Tale Pt. 04 / Page 2

Tristan's Tale Pt. 04

by IncomingPornDuck 08/19/15

The stranger looked at Harper in silence. It sent shivers down his spine -- the mismatched eyes beneath the hood betrayed no emotion. They were eyes that could watch the world end without flinching. Sweat beaded on Harper's forehead.

"Ask me instead what you truly wish to know," said the stranger. "Your fear has little to do with me."

Harper gulped, and calmed his nerves. He eyed the silver piece on the counter, then flicked his gaze back to the man at the door. "What...What news from the East?" he asked. "Are the rumours true?"

Silence hung between the two of them, taut enough to slice.

"War."

Damn it all. Harper clenched his fists, then let them go with a sigh. "I'll make the necessary preparations. I'm not the first owner of the Traveler's Tavern, and I'll be damned if I'm the last. These walls are tough, and I'll make sure it lasts through the fighting. This place has seen war before."

The stranger looked at Harper, and then around at the building, taking it in as if the history of the place was there before his eyes.

He turned back to Harper with the faintest trace of pity in his eyes. "No, it hasn't," he said softly, then opened the door without it making a sound, and left.

"Ancients above, may they save us all," murmured Harper to the empty room. He stood at the counter in silence for a moment. Sicil was a prized strategic possession, the direct access to the South. It was always a contested territory in the big wars -- not the petty nobles fighting over territory which usually brought in business. That being said, the fighting never spilled into the town proper, and there hadn't been a real war in many years.

The stranger's words hung over his head like a guillotine.

His mind went to the memory of his wife. She'd always made the decisions, the guiding hand behind his usual stalwart composition. What would she have done?

What do I do?

He shook his head, straightened his spine, and finished drying the mugs. He left the candles lit.

"Boy!" he called to the back.

After a moment, a small pipsqueak of a face appeared around the corner of the doorway. His face was creased with the drowsiness of having just been woken up. So young...

"Yes, papa?"

Harper kept his voice even. "...Change out of your nightwear. Get your boots on. I need you out here."

The boy's eyes widened and he disappeared into the back room.

Harper sighed, and looked around the place. There was work to be done.

~~~

Jade and I had moved from the fountain to the grass. We were lying down, our faces turned toward the sky. Her head was on my shoulder, my arm wrapped around her. Ember-orange hair sprawled across my chest, and I swore it glowed beneath the stars.

The night was warm, as if it was summer, though I had no idea if they even had seasons here. We were both clothed, she in her white linen pants and a black shirt, me in a similar black shirt and black shorts, but, despite the fabric, the feeling of her body pressed against mine had kindled within me a fire that burned like hot cinnamon rum. It was as if I was the furnace from which summer drew its heat, and she was at once the coals and the billows which kept it alive.

There is a selfish aspect of being with someone to whom you're magnetized -- as if because I'd won this particular lottery I'd won them all. I felt at once powerful and profoundly small, like I could create entire universes with my willpower if only I hadn't been completely entranced by Jade.

"I can hear your heartbeat," she murmured. Her ear was pressed against my chest.

"What does it sound like to you?" I asked.

"Mmm..." she said, focusing on the sound. She listened for a moment. "Like a heartbeat," she said with finality.

I laughed. "Just a heartbeat?"

"Not "just" a heartbeat. It is a good thing, you know, for something to sound like itself. A rare quality, in people," she said.

"True enough," I replied, trailing my fingers over her shoulder. "I've only ever met a few people who really sounded like themselves, if I'm getting what you mean. Most of the people where I'm from don't know who to be like, so they just guess, they act however they think they're supposed to." I scratched my head. "Myself included, I suppose."

"I don't think that's limited to those people," she replied. "It is not an easy thing finding oneself. I'm curious," she added, "what sort of people do you know that you think sound like themselves?"

"Oh, I don't know," I said, thinking back to what I'd said. Jed certainly sounded like himself. Though, the more I thought about it, the less sure I became about what exactly "sounding like oneself" meant.

"Surely you do!" she exclaimed, "Otherwise you would not have said it."

"Er- I was just, I don't know, I was just saying that to give myself time to think."

"Ah," she said, curling up against me, "I see. I forget that you are new here. I think perhaps being honest all the time makes one very literal."

"I can see how that would happen."

"Really?" she asked with surprise, "But how would you see such a thing? Your eyes can't actually see speech, can they?"

I rolled my eyes. "You're joking, right?"

She giggled mischievously. "Maybe." She placed a soft kiss on my cheek, and I damn near melted. "But tell me about these people. I'm curious."

"Well," I replied, trying to focus on the conversation and not the goddess I was having it with, "There's one person, a man named Jed that I know. He may have passed through here, actually. Do you know him? Big guy, very friendly."

"I do not know anyone by that name," she said.

"Well, he's a very honest person, and he loves to tell stories. Helped shape me up a little, so I was a bit less arrogant."

"You? Arrogant?" she asked, incredulous. "Tristan, you have been nothing but humble in the few hours that I have known you. You refused all the praise Emmit dumped on you when we first met, and even now, you haven't said a word to me about how you got that scar! You're quite the legend around here, you know. People's first days are rarely so...complicated."

"Me, a legend?" I scoffed. "Hardly - people just love to tell stories about the things they don't understand. The less you actually know, the more you can make out of it. Like spinning a single fibre into a coat -- you won't be warmed by it."

"True enough," she conceded, "Though the telling of a story only conceals the truth of the matter. It doesn't invalidate it."

"Sure, but so far, it sounds to me like the stories are only based on my disappearance, not on anything I've done. At least, I don't feel like much of a legend."

"Well I suppose I won't press the point. I wasn't saying much. Just that, based on what I've seen, I have a hard time imagining arrogance living inside you." The way she said seen sent shivers down my spine, like she really had seen me, and I remembered when she'd held my gaze and stared into me, how tangible that had been. How bare I'd felt.

"Yeah, I can't take a compliment, I know. But that's different, I meant a different sort of arrogance," I explained. "I'd show up to work late, wouldn't treat customers with respect, didn't care what others thought of me. That sort of thing."

"The kind of arrogance where one assumes the world will just work out for them," she said.

"Yeah, exactly. What I did didn't matter, I didn't consider whether or not I could hurt people. Stuff like that." I sighed, and scratched my head. "Jed, well, he kicked my ass, told me to shape up and why. Something about that guy, when you talk to him, it's like you're only talking to him. Nothing going on besides him."

"That is a good kind of person to know. Kiara has proved to be one such person for me, here."

"Kiara? She's one of the Odieh, right?" The one who'd mastered seduction. I didn't say that last part, but man, was it on my mind. What exactly had she passed on to Jade?

"Yes. She is a fine shaper of Clay. I get personal lessons from her every so often, when she has the time."

"Personal lessons?" I asked. "How did you go about making that happen?"

"I won last year's Clay shaping tournament," she said, "and Kiara got in touch with me afterwards. She liked my work, apparently. One thing led to the next, you know how it goes."

"Sounds like winning the tournament has some perks," I commented.

"Mhm," she said, and brought a hand to rest on my chest. "But let's not talk about that. Tell me about you. Tristan the Bold, more or less finished with his first day at Caer'Aton!"

"Give or take a few weeks..." I muttered.

"Two and a half," she pointed out, "and you weren't even conscious for them, so they don't count."

"Fair enough," I acceded. "Still, it's far from a comfortable entrance. More like Tristan the Unconscious. Though," I said, pulling her close and kissing her forehead, "Things didn't end up so bad."

"Not so bad?" she asked.

"Well, comparing this to my life back home, I don't have complaints."

"I see," she said. "Well, I admit I am curious, but it is not considered polite to inquire about another's life before their arriving in Caer'Aton."

I slowly twirled a finger through her hair. It was soft and bouncy, with a nice consistency and a tendency to make small curls around my finger. "Well, I guess I can see why that's so. It's not really a problem for me, there just isn't much to say."

"I don't believe that for one minute," she said seriously.

"Oh no? Why not?"

"Because it's your life that I am asking about!" she exclaimed. "I don't think it is possible for someone to be alive and to not have much to say about it. Even if life feels empty and hopeless..." she said, trailing off, lost somewhere in her memory. Her energy, her vibe, whatever it was, dimmed. I sensed a shift in her - an inward tightening, as if she sensed danger. "There are many shades of bleak," she finished softly.

I loved the way she spoke. In a way, it was as if she wasn't entirely here ever, that she was only temporarily visiting this plane of existence. I wanted so desperately to know this person, this wild and mysterious creature, but it felt impossible on some level. But, hey, if there was ever anything impossible that I'd try and do anyways, getting to know Jade would probably be it.

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