Brothers Apart, Part Five

There weren’t crickets in Orgrimmar. Or if there were, they were an overly-large, spikey kind that couldn’t sing. That seemed to describe a lot of things in Orgrimmar, Mirium thought, as she listened to the muffled howling of one of the orcs downstairs as he tidied up the Doomguard barracks. The first time she had heard him, she’d come running with a weapon in hand to beat back his torturer. With an offended frown, the orc grunted he was only singing a traditional sweeping chanty and that that the cat seemed to like it. Mirium had slunk back to her room amid more bellows of sweeping off enemy heads and sweeping enemy legs out from under them and even sweeping through a land in conquest, feeling mortified and quite confused.

The feelings of mortification only deepened as the days dragged by. She was here due the Doomguard’s courtesy to Keelath, using his room and bed since the death knight didn’t need such things anymore. He had been distant, a thrum of worry when he did stop by between patrols and other duties, and Mirium said nothing in fear that she was at the bottom of his unrest. 

It was odd, sad. She had hoped inserting herself in his military life would’ve meant a closer bond between them. Instead she only felt the weight of her own uselessness and fear. While everyone else attended to their duty, content and efficient, she sat and repaired buckles, or cleaned out the rooms the howling orc had missed, or sat and petted the cat, feeling worse all the time.

Now she lay awake as evening deepened into night. The howling orc finished his rounds about the mess hall with his broom, and with a final bawling flourish, retired for the night. She heard mutterings from the other rooms that might have been relief, then they, too, subsided away as the Doomguard slept.

Except her. Tears blurred the view of the candle on the bedside table. Missing Keelath ached, the confusion and fright of her exile throbbed, and her terror of being little more than a spineless hanger-on to the seasoned warriors here wanted to find a way to burst out of her in a high wail. Instead she only turned over and pretended she was truly alone, no others within miles, as she cried silently into the pillow.

If she slept, she wasn’t aware of it. The candle still flickered, creating quiet shadows on the wall up front of her. She wondered what had roused her, when suddenly the mattress bunched up under her, as someone heavier than she was sat down at the foot.

The bawling orc? she thought wildly, as memories of unwanted advances from Talthan and Tyrric swirled in her head. Or maybe she was being silly again; Tyrric had never acted on his obvious feelings for her, and Talthan had only done so out of emotionless duty, most of the time. Mirium peeked over at the intruder.

Keelath tugged off his boots with a grunt. His toes were black, and Mirium bit back a grimace as he picked at them, just out of her field of view. Then he gave a sigh–she hadn’t realized he had taken a breath, for he normally never breathed–then relaxed, and when the toes next swung into view, they looked normal. 

Of course. His illusion. Or his unholy healing or whatever he did, to appear as a mostly normal blood elf. He mentioned it stirred his bloodlust to do so, and she couldn’t repress a shudder.

That got his attention. “Are you awake?” he asked.

Meekly, Mirium nodded.

“How long?”

Her voice felt rusty. Did she ever talk to the other Doomguards at all? For shame. “All night.”

A flicker of the man he once was stirred the death knight’s facial features, and he seemed to swoop up to her. Mirium gave a cry and cringed back, and so did Keelath, his face twisting into a scowl.

No, a frown. She had hurt him. For shame, again.

“I’m sorry,” said Keelath.

“No, I should be,” said Mirium.

“For what?”

“Hurting you,” Mirium breathed.

Keelath just blinked at her, then he smiled. Smiled! Talthan would’ve used it as an excuse to list her other failings. “It’s alright,” he said. “Can’t be easy waking up to a ghost hovering over your bed, then coming to grope you with his icy fingers.”

Mirium let out a giggle at the same time her eyes clouded over with tears. “I thought you didn’t have those kinds of feelings anymore.”

“I don’t,” Keelath admitted. “Though I remember having them, and that is a pleasure in itself. Does that make sense? At any rate, I’ve been thinking I could be doing a lot better by you, and I came to check on you. That’s all.”

Him? Do better by her? And what did that, if anything, have to do with his toes? The familiar panicky confusion swept over her. “What do you mean?”

“I know this hasn’t been easy for you,” Keelath said, reaching out to touch her hip, and the ice inherent to him reached through to her even past the covers. She refrained from a flinch. “And I’m sorry I’ve been away. I was most concerned with getting us settled here, with no chance of pursuit and people whispering we might still be traitors.”

“Did Haljek tell you I was feeling poorly?” Mirium felt a little ill. She has asked the Zandalari spirit to keep the fact she cried through the nights to himself, but trolls had other ideas about morality and making promises…

Keelath just gave her a faintly offended frown. “Please, I’m not completely a heartless bastard. I could tell something was wrong by your behavior.”

She had hurt him. Again. More shame. “No. Of course you’re not,” she murmured and focused back on the wall, even as she wondered what detestable behavior he meant.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Keelath’s shoulders fall. She had never been good at lying, even with lies that weren’t really lies. She closed her eyes to keep herself from witnessing more of her failure, only to be startled when Keelath dropped his full length into the bed so he was between her and the wall she stared at. 

“Miri, what’s wrong?”

She cracked open her eyes. His voice and his doggish expression of woe reminded her so much of the good days when he had been alive that she started to cry. Light blast it. No, no, she couldn’t allow that. She rolled over to face away from him, but he put an arm around her and tugged her close. She tensed up just as much from the unwanted contact as from his chill, and he abruptly let go.

“I’m sorry. I forgot about that,” he grunted.

It took her a few minutes to get her voice under control. By that time, it was no use pretending anymore, and she said so. “I’m miserable,” she admitted. “I haven’t felt this lost and confused since Talthan tried to have me killed, and at least then I was in and out of consciousness most of the time so I didn’t have to feel it. Now I just feel so useless…”

“Worthless?” Keelath hazarded a guess.

“Yes…yes,” Mirium said, surprised he would say so.

“I understand.”

“No, no, you don’t!” The anger was as mournful as it was sickening. “You don’t know what it’s like to feel in constant danger, in the very places you should feel the most safe. To be so hated by the people who should love and r-respect you. Who should’ve been there to stop it all, and they weren’t!”

“Maybe not,” Keelath said carefully, “but I know what it’s like to fear death, even while yearning for it, and to feel alienated from one’s own family. Mirium, is this feeling in you because I died during the war?”

“Maybe. No. I don’t know.” She took a deep breath that turned into a sob. “I’m sorry. I keep falling apart on you, and you don’t deserve it. You’ve got so much else to worry about.”

“Maybe because I’m safe to fall apart on,” Keelath pointed out gently. “Look, I’ve seen a lot of different kinds of hurt during the war–wars. And the ones that take the longest to heal from are not the physical wounds, but the mental. You’ve got to stop beating yourself up for what someone else did to you. That’s the first step towards healing.”

Mirium sniffed. It was easy for him to say, but could she tell him the cruel things his brother had said to her, too? How she was overemotional, manipulative even, as her fears overreached her good sense? It was a personal failing. She tried, she tried so hard to hold them in, but it was like holding back a thundersquall. Just the thought of it made her want to curl up, or vomit until nothing was left of herself inside. Her throat tightened until she did fear she would make herself sick.

Only to realize something soft was pushing at her face. She opened her eyes–not realizing she had closed them–to see a pillow blocking her view, resting on her cheek.

“My apologies,” said Keelath from somewhere above her. “I know you don’t want me to hold you, but I think you should hold something.” He ducked his gaze when she glanced up at him. There was love there. And worry.

Mirium took the offered pillow and hugged it fiercely. She tried to get the whirling emotions inside her to shift, to come out, but just as suddenly they were dead inside her. She felt numbing fear and hopelessness instead, as icy in her guts as the frost on Keelath’s hands.

Keelath pressed something against her back–another pillow perhaps, since he was still refraining from touching her personally. She gasped and struggled to not struggle against the steady pressure, but despite herself, she did begin to calm.

“Oh, Keelath, what are we going to do?” she said once she trusted her voice again.

“I don’t know,” he answered from behind her. Most of the weight turned out to be his; he had just folded the blanket between them to keep away his chill. Mirium felt oddly touched by that. “I don’t like feeling helpless either, but it’s okay to admit that, sometimes, we are.”

“You say that, and I think of a million ways to make it sound like I’m just a horrible person who deserves all this.”

“Because you have been traumatized,” said Keelath, and it came out in a low growl. He must have felt her stiffen, because he quickly added, “and that makes me very angry, that someone would treat you so.”

“Please don’t get angry. You scare me when you’re angry these days.”

“I do?” His note of honest confusion broke through her haze of fear. Oh. He was being honest. “Anger is what kept me going when I was Scourge,” he went on after a long pause. “The anger that that wasn’t me, that I could make whoever had done that to me pay.”

“Could you?” Mirium asked bitterly. “Were you there when the Lich King died?”

“No, I wasn’t,” he said sharply, though she knew his anger wasn’t directed at her. “Nor was Sylvanas,” he added after a moment’s thought. “It didn’t break me though, because I still had thoughts of you. I decided if I couldn’t make the Lich King pay, then I’d put all that energy into continuing to do right by you and the rest of my family, even if I never would see you again.”

Her emotions flipped again, quick as blinking. She wished they would stop that, but hadn’t the first idea on how to make them do so. “I’m sorry your family turned out not to be worth it,’ she spat out, like a poison exhumed.

“Oh, but they were,” said Keelath, his tone gentling. “You make me alive. You remind me of softness and warmth when everything else can be so cold and hard and sharp.” She felt him roll his shoulders through the blanket, a nervous tick from when he had been alive. That memory, and the thought he still had that side to him, thawed her heart.

“And Tyrric?” she choked out. “Your brother. I–I’m sorry things got so bad with him.”

Keelath sighed. “He’s changed,” he murmured. “There is something wrong there, but I can’t put my finger on it. It made me furious when I thought he was just bending to the manipulation of that warlock woman to hurt you, but now I think that was all him. How, I can’t remember imagine… Miri? Do you think it mad of me to be certain he was not this cruel and selfish when I was alive? Or is it just a failing of…my memory?”

He put his vulnerability out there like an offering at her feet. She sighed and reached across the blanket to him, taking his hand even though the cold burned her. He quickly slipped a bit of the blanket between their palms so she could hold him tightly and not be so discomforted. “No, because that’s what I remember, too,” she told him. “That’s part of why this has been so confusing. With Talthan, there were signs of what he really was, even if I missed them or blithely ignored them. But Tyrric was always true. Until…until…”

“I returned?” Keelath asked dourly.

“No,” Mirium said, and wondered if Keelath blamed himself as much as she blamed herself. “Before that. It was after Talthan married me, after the Second War was won. Evelos was still fighting for the Alliance, and I wanted him to come home. Something Tyrric said….” She choked at the sting, still as fresh as it had been that day. 

“Mirium?”

“He said he loved me–d-desired me. That I was being just as selfish in wanting Evelos to change for me as wanting him–Tyrric–to just forget all about me and move on.” The blush on her cheeks was just as hot as it had been that day, too. She flustered her way through her next words. “I had just given birth to Medi a few days before. I was tired and missing sleep, a-and Medi was crying, and I thought maybe I’d misheard him. It was the only time he ever looked in on her, or me, since that.”

Keelath’s hands became like a vice around hers, then suddenly they eased. “Did you love him in return?” 

His voice was so mournful, as if expecting a rejection or the admission of a tryst, that she almost laughed. “Oh, Keelath. No. When we were all young and unmarried, maybe there were feelings, but you more than filled me. He was always, I don’t know, jealous of you in so many ways, and that was just one of them. But he was young, and he grew up. We all grew up. …he was a good uncle to Evelos. A good friend. I-I just thought he had put all that behind him.” 

Keelath was silent for a moment. “And Talthan? Did he know?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. Once I got pregnant he stopped spending as much time with me. Sometimes I wondered if it was because of Medi…” Her throat closed and she didn’t have the will to dredge up those memories. Not on top of everything else.

Luckily, Keelath was still focused on the topic of his brother. “So it is possible your exile was all a fit of jealousy? He married so quickly, as if to have something other than you to focus on…in spite…”

“Maybe.” She tried to pay attention to Keelath’s musings, but the bad memories seemed to rumble in her mind like thunder, and Keelath put a new fear in her. Would Tyrric’s unwanted attentions have grown to worse if she had stayed…?

“…so he kicked you away a second time, to keep himself from cheating,” Keelath was saying.

“Why would he cheat?” Mirium asked coldy. “He said he was deeply in love with the warlock. He made everything about her. Even when she lost control of the fel that one time and it was clearly her mistake, he blamed me for startling her into it!”

“Trying to convince himself, maybe, so he wouldn’t risk his made-up love of her,” Keelath said darkly, then paused again. “No. You’re right. It’d all be the act of a child, if that were the true reason. He was man grown enough to acknowledge those feelings and properly resolve them, without all the drama and lying.”

“But it would make sense, wouldn’t it,” Mirium said softly, more statement than question.

“It would,” murmured Keelath in an equally uneasy whisper. “And that is why something is wrong, very wrong. That’s…not my brother, Mirium. That’s not how he is.”

The obvious grief in his voice kept her from voicing her first thought: that that was how one with dishonorable intentions all along would act, in secrecy and with lies. Yet for all those years…centuries, even… even an elf couldn’t keep an act up for that long–especially not with two full-fledged priests in the family, between herself and Evelos.

“Something must have happened to him,” Mirium murmured. “The Scourge broke more than just our wards and walls. It could’ve gotten to him, broken him.”

“My brother,” Keelath said tensely, “was not one to blanch at war.”

 It was her turn to grip his hands tightly. “No, but there is still the naaru.” Keelath just looked at her in confusion, but she smiled faintly. “I think I know what I need to do now, Keel, to be useful. I’m going to be making a trip to the Outlands. Find answers there. For Tyrric and… maybe your bloodlust problem.”

Keelath thinned his lips in worry, but then he nodded. “Well, I am glad you’re feeling better anyhow,” he finished lamely.

It was then she felt a sudden rush of love and appreciation for him, a dawning sun on her confusion and grief. He was there for her, even if there were more obstacles between their love now than before all the wars. She couldn’t put aside her fears and pain entirely–maybe not ever–but she knew with more certainty now that she didn’t have to bear it all alone. “My husband,” she told him fondly, and watched with pleasure as a returning smile sprouted across his face. “Not so fast with you. You’ve been gone for nearly a month. We have some catching up to do, mister.”

“My pleasure,” Keelath growled, and they leaned into each other to kiss.

It was like kissing a bar of metal in the deepest part of winter. They gingerly detached with much wincing and apologies.

“Catching up to do…once you retrieve that charm that keeps your ice down,” Mirium amended once she was clear of him, rubbing her lips.

Keelath barked a laugh that she quickly tried to shush, so as not to wake the whole barracks. In answer, he smoothed the blanket between them for insulation. Mirium thought it wouldn’t last the whole night without the cold getting to her eventually, but she found she didn’t care. Maybe she was too exhausted to. He held her, and she slept, feeling secure in his arms as she hadn’t felt in decades.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *