Brothers Apart, Part Five

Tentatively Part Six as a lot has happened in between this scene and the last. The snarl of spinoff plots with this family is something I haven’t yet been able to sit down properly and straighten out for this blog.

Author’s Note

The cottage was dark when Keelath made it home from the Faire. Mirium was sleeping–of course she was sleeping. It was past moonset, and at this time of month, that happened only hours before dawn.

Keelath dismounted, letting the ghost of his bonesteed drift away, back to wherever such undead creatures lurked until they were called again. He let himself pause to listen to the nightly sounds: crickets, a muffled stamp from the stables, water trickling some distance away from the brook, the cloud of humming from the frogs living near a pond Tyrric had left behind when he had dredged the grounds of Dawnmist from the swamp that had given them its name. Joining those sounds now was a crackling buzz from the new wards Lithliana was helping to lay around the manor, since Haljek had gone. The buzz would fade once the wards were fully up, she had said, but that would take another few days.

He edged up on the cottage. Mirium couldn’t stand his presence at the moment, shrinking away anytime she caught sight of him. He knew it was Talthan’s doing, not a reflection of her honest thoughts about him, but it still hurt. One never appreciated what they had before it was taken away…

He hated the urge to even now peek in at her, feeling it rather akin to a peeping Tom. That had been the reason he’d visited the Darkmoon Faire, to give themselves both a little distance. Though no one expected the Festival to run into the kind of trouble a death knight could help with, it had made him feel useful to be there.

As useful as riding off to Nazmir to sate your bloodlust when all know the blood trolls are as good as routed?

The question still bothered him, even after the reading of the runes to address just that sort of questioning. What would happen to him, now the war was over? Even the Doomguard were turning away from the constant battles that sustained him; could he find enough bounties to fulfill instead?

Just what place in a world of growing peace did a tool of destruction and death have?

The runes promised a good outcome, but with only obscure methods of obtaining it. The oracle had said that Keelath would have to let go, to give up something he loved for all to turn out well, but what?

He eyed the cottage again, and he felt ill to his stomach. The runes had only promised power and energy, not love and family, necessarily. The Oracle had even counseled him to let go of his hold over his loved ones. Was that what was meant? A parting of the ways?

He reached for the phoenix-stone Mirium had given him, in a purse tied about his neck. No. He had made a promise not to go down that path. And he couldn’t think of any way of breaking up the family that would lead to happiness for any of them. 

And, it was exactly what Talthan wanted. That, more than anything, steeled his mind from the option, and Keelath turned away.

He instead entered the manor itself, trying to keep his boots from clumping too hard down the hall as he made his way to his room. It was dusty, still without furniture, as Keelath rarely stayed there, and he quickly moved on from it again. Its emptiness echoed that in his heart a little too much for comfort…

He was surprised to see the light of a fire coming from the living room, and when he looked inside, Tyrric was sitting in his favorite chair, reading. Keelath’s brother was beginning to look better, Keelath reflected, the hollows in his cheeks and eyes beginning to fill out again after his self-inflicted starvation. Keelath stood for a moment, watching, silent as only one of the dead could be.

“Hello, brother,” said Tyrric drolly, without looking up.

“Hail,” Keelath acknowledged.

Tyrric read on in silence for a moment, then turned a page, speaking as he did so. “Did Mirium throw you out again?”

“I didn’t call on her.”

Tyrric looked up, sympathetic, and Keelath thawed. There was a change there. The insane jealousy, that Keelath had half assigned to Tyrric having never matured properly as a man, was gone. The curse from Talthan removed, Tyrric was returning to his old self, and Keelath felt a chill as he wondered how he ever could have lost faith in his brother so easily.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Tyrric asked.

“No,” said Keelath, but he did enter the room and sit down nearby, starting the process of pulling off bits of armor and checking them for wear and tear.

“Are you really going to do that in here?” Tyrric asked in exasperation.

Keelath paused, but only for a second. “Yes.”

Tyrric sighed and shut his book. “You know this means I get to interrogate you.”

“You would anyway.”

“Indeed. So, tell me,” said Tyrric, flicking an imaginary piece of lint from his clothes, “Where were you?”

“At the Darkmoon Faire.”

“A nice, gloomy place for a nice, gloomy person,” Tyrric quipped.

Keelath grunted. He didn’t want to talk about the fortune he’d received, but what the runes had read still loomed in his mind. He looked up at Tyrric. Let go…

“I’m sorry,” Keelath murmured.

Tyrric looked surprised. “For what?”

“Signing you up for Wickham like I did. I should have asked you first, not forced you into it.”

Tyrric looked uncomfortable. “You only thought it would help.”

“Yes, but, the truth is, this is something out of my control. Like when Evelos chose to be a priest instead of following in my footsteps as a knight of the kingdom–what you do with yourself from here on out should be your choice, not mine.”

Tyrric looked more uncomfortable still, twin spots of color rising in his cheeks. “Stop it,” he said abruptly. “I’m the one who should be sorry. I was the one trying to control you. I was the one who overstepped, and–“

“And we both did,” Keelath cut in, tone dark. Tyrric didn’t deny it, lapsing into silence and still looking troubled.

“I’m no good at these emotional things,” Keelath started again after an awkward pause.

“You never were.”

“And you’re more like Mirium than like me. Light, even Evelos is.”

“Is that my brother, admitting he was wrong?” said Tyrric in feigned confusion.

“No,” growled Keelath. “Only admitting he has no idea how to really help. I can’t even help myself.”

Tyrric put his chin in his palm. His expression was sly, but his eyes were still soft and empathetic. “And now you’re coming to me, the real brains in the family, to tie all your troubles up in a tidy knot for you–and for you to slice through in a fit of pique when you get sick of my machinations again.”

“You’re making it increasingly difficult to want to apologize to you, if that’s what you’re after,” muttered Keelath.

Tyrric let it go, deflating. His confidence still wasn’t fully restored, Keelath noted, as his brother’s eyes took on a haunted cast.

Tyrric looked away. “The truth is, I don’t know either, brother. For the record, as much as you won’t like to hear it, seeing Mirium in this state is helping me. I see her struggling with all the same questions as I had.”

“What questions?” asked Keelath. “I wasn’t aware she had asked you for anything.”

“Not that kind of question, my dull coal of a brother,” said Tyrric artfully, then he sobered. “No. It’s wondering how much of the urges she’s feeling really come from within, and what really comes from Talthan. What he is actually planning for whatever havoc she wreaks here.”

The two brothers went silent; there really wasn’t anything more to say about it. 

“I’m sure she loves you still,” said Tyrric after a moment. “It could be that which keeps her away. I know I…loved Evelos, but…my being near him only hurt him, while Talthan was guiding my actions. I didn’t really realize it until the end, and even still, I kept trying to find my way back into his life against his wishes–” Tyrric faltered.

“Have you spoken to him since the curse was lifted from you?” Keelath asked, eyeing him. “Spoken properly, I mean?”

“No,” Tyrric said. “He hates me…  It’s better for the both of us if I stay away now. … especially as I will soon have my own children to look after.” He smiled, but strainedly, his eyes not meeting Keelath’s gaze, but instead staring into the fire.

“Getting a pair of half-elves for offspring still bothers you?”

Tyrric gnawed on his knuckle. “Can I be honest with you?”

“Can you ever not be?”

“Don’t taunt me like that–yes, it does bother me. Alelsa suggested she lay on them the same illusion she has on herself, to make them appear as sin’dorei. It’d be permanent, like hers. I would never have to look on–I-I felt better, knowing that.” He redirected himself from whatever he was about to say. Keelath raised an eyebrow, but didn’t ask. “They won’t live as long as a real elf, and I suppose it would be a pretty pickle if either of them start showing enough magical powers to be called on for the Trials, but at least they’ll be–” Tyrric stopped, mouthing it, but not letting himself say it.

“Elven,” Keelath supplied. 

Tyrric bowed his head. “I shouldn’t dislike them for their human blood, but I do,” he admitted quietly. “And though I care about Alelsa, in the back of my head I will always know she is one of them, too.”

“And why is that so wrong, her humanity? Perhaps instead of flagellating yourself for it, you should challenge the thought at its core.”

Tyrric snorted, but he didn’t speak. Keelath hoped that meant he was thinking it over.

“You’re not the only one with cold feet,” Keelath finally admitted. “Can you imagine me, holding a newborn? Rocking it to sleep? Kissing it–I’m one of the undead, crying out loud.”

Tyrric looked up. “Actually I think you’d make rather a good caretaker. You don’t have to sleep.”

“So I’ll be even more overprotective than I was with Evelos.”

“On the contrary, tying yourself up in knots like this, you’ll probably be too distant,” Tyrric returned.

“Great. Then you can be the father to Aubraan, and then you can marry Mirium when both Alelsa and I are gone.”

Tyrric went very red. “Don’t think I haven’t thought of that.” He broke eye contact again, staring very hard into the fireplace. “Don’t you ever dare.”

The awkwardness reared up between them, and Keelath even paused in his caring for his armor. The snaps of the logs in the fireplace was the only sound.

“So…” Keelath broke the silence. “Is that what’s actually troubling you? Alelsa being a poor replacement for Mirium?”

Tyrric gave him a desperate look, but he didn’t correct him.

Keelath sighed. “Does Alelsa know?”

“How could she not? That woman doesn’t miss a trick.” Tyrric rubbed at his face, as if he could keep tears from leaking out that way. “I’m trying, Keel. I’m trying to just focus on what I have. To love her. But it’s–I don’t think it’s working.”

Let go… Keelath frowned. “You can’t force love.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Tyrric snapped. He was shaking his head to himself. “I’m terrible. A terrible excuse for a man, a husband…the Baron. Terrible.”

“Well, at least you love her enough to believe that.”

Tyrric looked at him.

Keelath gestured at him. “Wasn’t it not so long ago you admitted to wedding her only to spite me and secure the title against me, while Talthan was in your head?”

“I guess…”

“So, there you have it.” Though it wasn’t clear to Keelath what he had; it just sounded right. “Just treat her well. You’re not the first aristocrat to find yourself in a marriage not of your choosing. So make the most of it. It’ll come. Trust me on that one.”

“You really think that?”

“I do.”

Tyrric was already shaking his head. “Maybe, but it’s not what she deserves, Keelath. Tied to a man who will not age or die, miles away from her own kin, forced to hide–everything about herself. Light, Keel, her past alone–” Tyrric stopped.

“What about her past? If I can accept her for being a warlock, then surely you can.”

“It’s not that at all,” said Tyrric. “She’s been rejected, strung along, even forced into–and here, what am I doing, but the same thing?”

Keelath rolled his eyes. “I didn’t hear ‘forced’ in all the noises I heard out of the two of you last night when she took you to bed.”

Tyrric had the grace not to blush harder. “So, that’s an added bonus. But it’s not the same as…being well-loved.”

Keelath eyed him levelly for a long time. “I told you, I’m bad at this stuff, so I wouldn’t necessarily listen to me,” he began, “but if you care for her enough to worry about that, then I think you do love her. It’s just not the hot, sudden swoop you were expecting, and that’s unnerving you. But it’s still love, brother, and a type I think she would cherish, regardless of its reasons.”

Tyrric did color this time and muttered something about hot, sudden swoops, but he leaned back in his chair. His stare at the fire was mollified.

Keelath didn’t speak. The shots had been fired, and now it was time for Tyrric to retreat, regroup, and consider his options. In some ways, a battle wasn’t that different from this kind of talk–this kind of healing.

And Tyrric didn’t disappoint when he ventured forth again. “Mirium will come round, and you’ll make a good father–again,” he said. “There’s not any replacing you, brother, so don’t you get any thoughts in your head that you’d be better off dead or apart from this family. That is, you are a part of this family, and nothing will change that.”

Let go… Once again, Keelath wondered what he was supposed to be letting go of. With irony, he wondered if it was the notion that he had anything to do with the troubles the rest of the family found themselves in. Blaming one’s self was just as unhelpful as blaming others, after all.

Tyrric returned to his book, and, his armor now fully shed, Keelath rose from his place. He touched Tyrric’s arm, hoping his brother would understand the gratefulness in it. Tyrric just grunted and waved him away.

So, Keelath went, but he did so with a smile, and a lighter heart.

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