It was many weeks after the funeral. Mirium dully trailed through the column of numbers again, but try as she might, she just couldn’t make the figures add up. Something wasn’t right here; the family coffers stored much less than they should, but she couldn’t put the reason why to coherent thought.
Or perhaps, merely, she didn’t want to. It would remind her that half of the earning capability in the family was gone forever.
She gave up, folding her arms and putting her head down inside them. She heard Tyrric stir from his place by the hearth and come over to her, but she shrugged his helpful hands away. She didn’t want comfort. No kind word or heartfelt prayer would make things right again. She sat up suddenly, harshly shrugging her shoulders until Tyrric left her alone, his own hurt audible in the slip of his footsteps as he retreated.
He said he had come to live with them to aid the household during their time of grief, but Mirium knew there was more behind it than that. There was a rift growing in the family; perhaps Tyrric saw it and sought to hold it together as a raft for himself, to save himself from his own grief. No, that was uncharitable of her. She could see that his brother’s death had unhorsed him; it had done that for all of them, though he was perhaps the least affected, in a sense. He stayed for their benefit as much as his own.
Evelos was distant now, taciturn and increasingly more extreme in his wild politics. Two years ago he had spoken of making friends and trading partners of the humans; now he spoke of riding into battle side by side with them, just as the quel’dorei had in the Troll Wars half a century before his birth. Mirium didn’t have the heart to explain the differences between now and then that had made such an alliance possible then and not so much now, though she sometimes heard Tyrric and Evelos getting into a row over it. Tyrric didn’t like humans. He seemed to believe their failures were what allowed the Black Horde to push so far into Quel’Thalas in the first place, and Mirium found herself being unable to disagree.
Someone rapped at the study door, startling her from her thoughts. Thinking it was Tyrric, perhaps back with a bottle and the misguided belief that what helped him cope would also help her, Mirium groaned.
“No, Tyrric. Not this time. I just need to be alone to think,” she told him.
“It’s not Tyrric, it’s me,” said Evelos stonily, as he pushed inside.
Mirium turned in her chair to face him. She smiled wanly, feeling slightly better Evelos had finally broken his silence to come speak with her, but the rucksack over his shoulder stilled all half-formed notions of relief.
“You’re going back to Stromgarde?” Her tongue stumbled around her mouth. “To the humans? Now?”
“Yes, Mother.” Evelos drew himself up to his tall, willowy height of just over six feet. He had gotten that height from his father, she reflected, as she herself didn’t even push five. The unbidden thought of Keelath throbbed in her.
“I’ve decided I should go where I am most needed, and that is on the front with Alleria Windrunner and the Farstriders. My healing could put soldiers back into the fight more quickly and perhaps stop some of their deaths entirely.”
The strength of her emotions surprised her–like a courser lowering its horn and galloping straight on through an army, trampling all reason before it. “No,” she said dully. “You can’t do that.”
Was it just her own grief coloring things, or did Evelos seem to waver and lose a piece of himself? “I can, actually,” he said, his voice going cold and stubborn, just as his father would when he believed he was right… “I spoke to my senior at the temple, and she’s let me go with her blessing. It’s all set up; the next caravan awaits me at the border–“
“I will talk to her and stop this nonsense!” Mirium snapped out. “You cannot go! I am the baroness of this family now, and I command it!”
“Actually, Mother, you’re not.” His empty eyes had taken a steely cast to them. “I was the heir, and with Father’s death, I am now the baron. But it doesn’t matter. The world will burn if we don’t fight, and maybe even if we do. So I will. Titles won’t matter to a–“
“Says who?” Mirium shrieked, and she hated her tone, but she couldn’t stop it. Something had ignited in her, a fire that been smoldering inside the ashes of her loss. She now fed it. It felt good to feed it, instead of the empty hole of her grief. “Children’s tales and human rumor!” she shouted at him. “You are a fool to believe such things could ever threaten us! Stay home, Evelos. This is your proper place, as the heir–” Her voice wavered and snapped.
Evelos’ voice filled the silence of her hesitance without skipping a beat. “You are the fool, Mother, if you so blindly ignore the war at your doorstep–the war that slew my father!”
It was like the pair of them were on a stage, acting out lines written for them months before, Mirium thought dazedly; things felt so out of control. The fire in her continued to spread. She was on her feet, advancing on her son. When had that happened? Words fell like acid from her mouth, but it felt good, to be finally doing something, to be finally in control of something or someone, when so much else had gone to pieces. “And you ignore your true duty! If you had been here–my son, the great healer–you could have saved him! Instead you were out on a madman’s errand to the south, protecting the very humans who did this to us, deserting your family in our time of need. Keelath’s death is your fault, Evelos!”
She could see the reeling blow she struck him in his eyes, and just as quickly as the good, hot feeling of mastery had come, it vanished. The horror of what she had said rocked her.
But what was said was too terrible to apologize for or to even acknowledge now. It fell to the ground between them, a scorched, blackened thing, like a dead bird. If she didn’t look at it, maybe someone else would pick it up. Or maybe it would fragment and blow away out of memory.
Evelos was perhaps thinking the same thing. Without sparing another look for her or even a muttered goodbye, her son swung around abruptly on his heel and departed.
Mirium sank to the floor. Something had broken inside her. Again the cursed tears, familiar friends to her by now, came pouring out, but they felt like hooks this time, wrenched up through her with a terrible power that left her gasping for breath. She felt her inner Light fade into darkness. For a single, irrational moment, she was pleased. The world would burn, indeed. Why not her world first? There was nothing left in it. That had fallen apart at the thrust of a troll’s sword and the folly of a human king.
Tyrric found her like that, and tried to cheer her as he always had. He tried to help her see the good in what Evelos had done, the honor and glory that awaited him and that he would bring back to the family once the war was won, strengthening both their familial bonds and their holdings.
Mirium chased him away with angry words, watching the flints spark and then shatter in his eyes before he left, as they had in Evelos’. She had a single, sudden moment of clarity, of how she must seem to them–a woman mad with all-consuming grief–but she pushed the bitter image away as hopeless. Her beloved was in the grave and the forests of Quel’Thalas burned. Half of her herd was dead, the other would likely have to be sold off to pay their debts. The ledger, still on her desk, refused to balance.
It seemed such a tiny thing, that book, but it was a tipping, ripping point. She closed her eyes and willed a dark veil to close over her and hide her from the world. She wasn’t sure how long she remained like that, and she found she didn’t care. When she woke again, the night had mercifully filled the room, mirroring her inner turmoil and hiding her from the light that seemed to have forsaken her.
Mirium welcomed it.