The change came on very slowly. His skin and hair faded to silver and gray. His new hunger suddenly sharpened, then diminished as abruptly as it had came on. And everyday he felt more clear-headed, and more himself, though he couldn’t say who that old self has been, as he had been bumbling since infancy.
He discovered a new joy in talking with Tyrdan however, and they spent a lot of time together in the garden. Tyrdan showed him how to grind the essences of his flowers down into their purest form to use in alchemy, and Evelos would teach him a few tricks he had learned, though he couldn’t say for sure where he had learned them. If Tyrdan wondered, he never said anything. For a good many years, they were happy.
The trouble came when Evelos’ cousin came home with the refugees. She had found them journeying from the north, fleeing some terror Evelos’ aunt and uncle never spoke of. Tyrdan and Lellith were angry she had brought them, though Evelos couldn’t quite understand why, given charity was something they always held to be very important. One way or another, though, the refugees were finally welcomed into their home: the father pressed into service to help Tyrdan with the garden, and his two daughters helping with Evelos’ chores. There was no mother, and Evelos thought that odd and sad.
He was just a few years from reaching the age of majority at the time, and it was then he began to feel the first stirrings of love.
The younger daughter was maybe 7, just old enough to be left alone for some spans of time but still needing someone nearby to keep her from getting too deep into trouble. The elder daughter was about Evelos’ age. At first she made fun of him for his hair and skin, and that hurt Evelos’ feelings, but soon it simmered into a kind of fascination that she held for him.
Evelos’ first reaction was to want to strut and show off, but Tyrdan kept a watchful eye, and whenever he was just about to get to the good part in a joke he thought very clever, or express some profound feeling or sentiment for her, his uncle would appear and swoop in and break the two of them apart, sending them to do chores on the opposite side of their land. When Evelos protested, Tyrdan had struggled with a response, seeming to want to say a lot on the subject, but instead just point blank forbidding Evelos to see the daughter on anything more than a casual basis. Her father also was inclined to agree, though in a distracted way that said he was more worried about other things, and perhaps that he was too polite to say what he really thought of Evelos.
This, of course, just encouraged Evelos all the more.
It was night when he and the refugee’s daughter met up again, and Evelos crossed the front room of the cottage with her arm in his, recalling his running away those years before. Then, as now, he guided her through the darkness without their waking anyone. Instead of running far away, they went down to the edge of the lake.
Freed from supervision, they talked about silly things. Evelos recounted how he had once thought sex and baby-making was another form of magic, and she laughed uproariously to that. He found himself liking her even more when she laughed.
Then she quieted, and they both felt the pressure of the moment. They kissed, her lips soft and strange on his. They knew there was more to it, a wonderful unknown, but they didn’t yet have the courage to try it. So he held her a little longer, and then they promised the next time they met, they would go further. They were proud and thought themselves adults.
The next few days, Tyrdan breathing down his neck was easier to take. Evelos was positively cheerful about it, even. Tyrdan would squint and act suspicious, but he couldn’t prove anything, because the two of them stayed away from each other during the day, as they were told.
Then at night, they met.
Despite their promise to each other, they didn’t try going further the second night or even the fifth or sixth. She admitted to him she wasn’t ready to make a baby, though he assured her she wouldn’t conceive all that quickly. It almost felt prophetic to Evelos, though he wasn’t sure why that would be so.
Then on the ninth night, they cuddled closer than they had before. The night was cold, and her skin was warm. It was somehow easier than he expected, slipping free of their clothes, and then into each other’s love…
The next days became agonizing, their new-discovered pleasure a torture as much as it was a heaven. The nights were growing chillier, and their favorite meeting place on the banks of the river grew cold and hard. She complained too, that he acted strangely, calling her by another name in his sleep, seeming to expect a closeness from her she wasn’t prepared to give. “I’m a young maiden, and you’ve already gone and wedded me and moved us out together in your mind,” she would joke.
And Evelos would grin ruefully, for he was thinking along those lines. It was idyllic and wonderful enough that he never saw the end coming.
She refused to see him very suddenly in the dead of winter, after a spate of flu that seemed to strike her hardest out of the family. The next morning he heard her crying in her room. Tyrdan came to speak with him, as cold and angry as the now ice-locked lake. Evelos wouldn’t be seeing the refugee’s daughter anymore. Her father had found out about the tryst, and he had called into question their family’s hospitality. This dishonored them all, and the refugees would be moving on.
Tyrdan began to say something else, about cheating on a future wife, but clammed up abruptly.
Evelos didn’t notice. He was angry and sad. In a teenager’s show of rebellion, he didn’t come out to bid the refugees well when they left. After calming down, he regretted it for a long time after.
Evelos’ cousin had also grown into a young woman, and she grew restless. She had given up the sword training with Tyrdan, showing more interest in the magic of her mother. Evelos could tell Tyrdan was faintly upset by this, but even that seemed a small thing to his uncle, as if something far worse overshadowed his thoughts. When his cousin asked to leave to study in the north, Tyrdan allowed her, without much thought put into it.
It was surprising enough Evelos broke from his self-pitying depression. His foster parents were well known for not wanting much contact with the outside world. Evelos cornered Tyrdan once about it, after dinner when the others had gone away to bed.
“Is something bothering you, Uncle?”
“Nothing that should concern you,” Tyrdan had replied, and though he smiled bravely to soften his words, Evelos grew only less at ease.
But further prying only made his uncle ornery, calling on Evelos to go to bed like he was a child again. Evelos didn’t, but he also left Tyrdan alone.
Evelos instead strolled along the lake for long periods. Part of him pined after the refugee’s daughter. Yet the pain went far deeper and seemed apart from her, too. He wondered at the name he had spoken to her but had never heard himself say. A dark part of him wondered if her flu had been morning sickness, and though he was pretty sure it was not, he kept feeling like he was missing something of that nature, something beyond their little world on the lake.
The gloomy thoughts eventually brought him to another, and he confronted Tyrdan about it one day. “Why didn’t you let us marry? Then we could’ve kept seeing each other, and everything would have been fine.”
Tyrdan seemed to have come to an internal conclusion before Evelos had even asked. Tyrdan sighed, and said, “Because you have been promised to another since infancy.”
“I am?” Evelos couldn’t believe it. “Why didn’t you tell me? It would’ve saved us a lot of trouble.” It wouldn’t have, really: he had liked the refugee’s daughter too much. He wasn’t about to admit that to Tyrdan when he thought he could make him feel bad, though.
“You were too young to understand.”
“Too stupid, too, I bet,” Evelos said with a wrinkling of his nose, but despite the sneer, he felt horrified. Suddenly he and Tyrdan seemed as allies in a terrible secret, something to do with why he had been raised in the middle of nowhere, and why he was turning so pale. Yet what the secret was never manifested in his mind, except the aching knowing of his foolishness when he was younger. “Was she—did my betrothed ever know of my mental problems?” Evelos asked in embarrassment.
“Yes,” said Tyrdan.
“Oh,” said Evelos, spirits plummeting. Though the days of his mind seeming to move like a glacier were long past, he still felt shame keenly for them.
“She loves you deeply,” said Tyrdan.
“How can she? She’s never met me,” Evelos replied in a pique. Or had she? Evelos groomed his memories for a woman. Beyond a few at the school, he could think of no others entering his life besides Lellith, his cousin, and of course the refugee’s daughter, and he was pretty sure none of those were the one Tyrdan was speaking of…
“It’ll make more sense in time,” soothed Tyrdan. “This year is the beginning of the end of all our troubles.”
It frightened Evelos on a level he couldn’t comprehend. Tyrdan seemed to sense this, and seeming to regret his words, reached out to embrace him. He kissed Evelos’ forehead, and smoothed his clothes, in a way that seemed mildly possessive.
“In time,” Tyrdan repeated with a sigh, then suddenly found other work to be doing. Evelos was left to stew in his confusion and the feeling he was missing something, something even larger than that of his intelligence when he had been younger.
An attitude of hush and waiting fell over the household. Evelos’ cousin suddenly boldly declared she was leaving the cottage tomorrow, to make her own way in the world. Evelos heard Lellith crying in her room later, and he knocked and went in to comfort her. She, like Tyrdan, was tight lipped about what was bothering her, and Evelos’ anxiety began to turn to dread.
“Something bad is going to happen, something bad about me that neither of you want to say.” He looked down at his own pale hands and his bleached hair, which he wore long these days. “Auntie, what’s-what’s happening to me?”
Lellith only sobbed harder and hugged him tighter, until Tyrdan could come to rescue him. They must have had a talk about it, because the day after his cousin’s leave-taking, Tyrdan didn’t even let Evelos finish his morning chores before approaching him.
“Come, Evelos. It’s time.” His face was stern, and his eyes a little wild.
Evelos recalled his juvenile attempt at running away and felt the same urge come on now, but he bowed his head solemnly and came.
They entered Tyrdan and Lellith’s bedroom. Something was different about it; the air wasn’t quite so shimmery, and with a shock Evelos noticed the large ritual chamber spanning beyond the bed, occupying a nether space that couldn’t possibly exist, as the exterior of the cottage was far too small. He had been in the bedroom before, briefly, and had never seen such a thing.
Neither Lellith nor Tyrdan seemed all that surprised though, and both had on expressions of patience as he balked and demanded to know what was going on. Lellith looked like she has been fresh from crying. In return to his question, she held out a stone to him.
“These belong to you. I’ve been up putting them together all night.”
“What are those?” Evelos asked suspiciously.
“Memories,” said Lellith, and she and Tyrdan clasped hands hard. “Your memories, from before you were small.”
Evelos eyed the stone. Her words didn’t make much sense. Had he lived before? He glanced from one of his foster parents to the other. “What do I do with them?”
“Hold them,” said Lellith, and held the stone out to him again.
“Why do you look so sad?” Evelos asked defensively instead of taking it.
Tyrdan, ever truthful, spoke first. “We didn’t get along before. It seems likely we won’t again. Understand we only ever did this to help you.”
The strange words brought on an incredulous smile from Evelos. “Oh, uncle! You raised me as my own parents. How could I ever forget that?”
But Tyrdan’s eyes only looked dark and haunted, and Lellith held the stone out to him, yet again, most insistently.
Evelos looked at it closely for the first time. It was just a stone, if a colorful one, polished smooth. It has an odd way of bending the light around it that hurt his eyes if he looked at it too long. It drew on him, like a piece of candy, or the view from the top of a hill he had yet to climb.
And it scared him. “Do I have to?” he asked plaintively.
Tyrdan struggled with himself. “You don’t have to do anything,” he finally replied. “You have felt the emptiness though, I’m sure. The questions we couldn’t answer. Everything is in there, nephew.” Then softly, almost tearful, repeated, “Everything.”
Evelos then made up his mind and reached for the gem, and Lellith released it into his hands. “I feel nothing unusual,” Evelos said, even as he watched the stone seem to evaporate into his skin. His complexion went ever paler, almost translucent at the wrists, where he could count the blue and purple veins supplying blood to his hands. He frowned, then looked up at Tyrdan and Lellith, and the shock only jumped out at him, then.
The past years suddenly seemed an illusion, a trick held up against a very deep-seated hatred, though he wasn’t aware of any sudden influx of knowledge—only a knowing that had been there all along, suddenly sharpening. Betrayal beat in his temples. He felt first hot, then cold, as he delved into his memories for explanation. There, his terrible sickness. There, the only cure they could find at the time. There, the stolen years and stolen wife and the inkling they were due to bear children of their own, before Tyrdan had intervened. The memories blurred with the refugee’s daughter, and Evelos clenched jaw and fists tight.
Tyrdan looked at him, his face a mask, then turned to leave. Lellith looked between them, then squared her shoulders. “He’ll be here any day,” she told Evelos. “Then we’re taking you home.”
“Who will be here?” Evelos asked warily.
“You.” She gave him a meaningful look. “We did this to save you, Evelos, from the powers of the Shadow. Brought you back in time and raised you in a new body. We did it because Tyrdan loves you.” Her expression broke. “And I do too, now.”
“He sacrificed decades of his life to raise you—again,” Lellith said in an imperious tone that she almost never adopted. The moment didn’t last long though, and she collapsed, until Evelos felt he could see through her, but discover nothing there he hadn’t already known. “Just think of that before you go saying anything rude to him, okay, my son?”
Evelos just shook his head, bewildered. He was trembling. “Where’s Breyd? My wife?”
“You’re just going to have to wait,” replied Lellith with a sniff, almost petulantly, and then she left after Tyrdan.
Evekos stood in the ritual chamber, watching the runes glow faintly on the floors and walls, piecing together old memories and new and what he couldn’t remember, but could still deduce.
He couldn’t stop shaking. Though this second life had given him much, cured his wasting malady, he also felt like he had lost something equally important. He looked at the door his foster parents had just exited through, and thought now he understood what.
No wards stopped him when he finally stepped from the room. He saw Tyrdan and Lellith through the window. Tyrdan was tending the garden patch that he and Evelos had planted together. Lellith was crying.
It shattered him, but he held back. Old memories whispered of the lack of trustworthiness in his uncle, the burden of uncertainties their relationship would always face. His mind scrambled over the memories of the past few years, trying to find any meaning in them, any hidden motive.
Then, suddenly, he realized he could let the feelings go. What had once driven him to rumination no longer had that hard bite, that wicked edge. The Shadow infection inside him was gone, and with it, a good deal of anxiety, self-doubt, and suspicion. He still couldn’t like what his uncle had done, but it no longer carried the same hair-raising, illogically life-threatening power over him.
And looking at his uncle in that light, he suddenly wanted to cry, too.
He fumbled with the latch and pushed outside. Tyrdan looked up at his approach, and whatever weakness the man had been feeling snapped back into place behind a formal mask.
Lellith, if anything, sobbed harder.
Evelos sank to his knees before his uncle. It wasn’t possibly to fully block out Lellith’s cries, but at the moment, Tyrdan seemed more important. He put away her mystery for a later time.
He spoke directly. “Uncle…you did some very wrong things.”
Tyrdan didn’t stiffen or speak. He inclined his head slightly, though whether to accept the blame or simply bid Evelos to go on, Evelos couldn’t tell.
Evelos swallowed hard. “And I…hated you for it.”
“But you know what I hate more?”
“I remember now. I promised to not give up on you, if you wouldn’t give up on me. And I…did.”
Still no response.
Evelos looked away, rubbed at his face. “I did, and you didn’t. You were more true to your word than I was.”
A thoughtful expression crossed Tyrdan’s face, and Evelos wondered if it was a scheming expression, or merely reflective. “I raised you as my own, twice,” Tyrdan said. “I loved you as any man could love his brother’s offspring. And whether or not you believe it, I still do.”
“Why?” The question cane out with a shudder. “Why do it? When so many things could’ve gone wrong—and did. Why did you do it?”
“Because I wanted the best for you,” Tyrdan said simply, and Evelos could not detect any lie.
He wanted to scream at him, and cuddle with him, like a small boy—to hit him and to shame him and to apologize and to hear him. Instead he did none of those things, getting back to his feet and walking away.
Behind him, Tyrdan closed his eyes in pain, then stood to attend to Lellith.
Evelos returned for supper, and was quietly polite. He asked Lellith about what else his treatment would entail, and listened calmly to the answer. His eyes involuntarily met with Tyrdan’s when Lellith said they would go to Silvermoon tomorrow, to take the place of his past (or perhaps future) self so that self could come here, have the taint cut from it, and be reborn anew in a new body—his body—starting life over as the bumbling child Evelos could remember being. She spoke about it as if it was another person he’d be taking the place of, but it would be him. It had always been him, and he knew that, on a level deeper than either of them could understand.
Evelos interrupted whatever she had been saying. “It was me. In that dream of a scared man and a sad woman. It was me, wasn’t it, Aunt Lellith?”
Lellith blinked hard and bobbed her head. Despite himself, Evelos took her hand and stroked it. Then painfully, his gaze went to Tyrdan.
“I thought it was you for a long time,” Evelos said, trying to look past him. “That you had done something strange to conceive me, and that’s why you were afraid and sad.”
“In a way, we did,” said Lellith, and her composure began to crumble. “I didn’t carry you, but you were like to us a-a-a son. I wasn’t—won’t be—sad because of that, but because we’re going to be l-l-losing you—and you won’t even think differently of Tyrdan for it!”
Tyrdan just looked stony and troubled for his part.
“Trust isn’t easily mended,” Evelos said slowly, looking at his empty plate. “But…I hate that there’s distrust there at all. Is there always going to be distrust there, Uncle?”
“I led the raid to capture Breyd,” Tyrdan said abruptly in return, his voice without emotion. “I employed the warlock who took her soul and who coerced the gnolls to attack.”
It didn’t strike Evelos as hard as Evelos thought it might. Instead of a cold shock, it was like the click of the last piece into a puzzle that had been driving him mad for years. Part relief, and part realization.
Evelos’ next words were stern. “My distrust for you almost got me killed with the Shadow. And you almost killed or horribly maimed Breyd, and at the least thoroughly insulted her, for your prejudice.”
Lellith huffed, but Tyrdan held out a hand, accepting the accusations without protest.
Evelos deflated a little, looking at that hand as the silence stretched. “I hate fighting,” he finally admitted in a soft tone. “And I hated fighting you, especially. I just wanted us to be a family, without all the complicated bit of the war and the inheritances.”
“You don’t have to worry about inheritances anymore,” said Tyrdan. “Your cousin is the Sunwalker heir.”
Evelos felt a pang of jealousy, but then reminded himself he knew his cousin and loved her; they had grown up together. He managed a smile.
“We started over, sort of,” he told Tyrdan, then swallowed. “Maybe we can start over again, just with less diapers…and trysts.” He blushed at the thought of the refugee’s daughter now, and was now glad for Tyrdan’s insistence she leave, even while it had hurt Evelos at the time. The woman could have never held a candle to his Breyd, and Tyrdan had known that, and acted for him when he couldn’t himself.
Tyrdan looked up at Evelos, and for a moment there was raw emotion on his face. He closed his hand over Evelos’.
“Welcome home, nephew.”
The world blurred. “I-I love you, uncle.”
And Tyrdan held him like a boy. The memories of his second life would always be his to keep, Evelos knew. It was both of theirs. Evelos kissed his uncle’s chin. Forgiveness was a long, bumpy road, but they were traveling it at last.