“So you don’t love her,” said Keelath, putting his hands on his hips, “but then you love her enough to do that to her. The whole manor could have heard you, if the whole manor had been full.”
“Shut up,” said Tyrric. They had carried him outside to sit in the garden, but months of neglect while he had been in the Black City and the winter chill biting his cheeks had turned the garden barren.
Keelath didn’t mind the cold, and he seemed to think he was being helpful, turning over mounds of dirt — and poking at Tyrric’s emotional sores.
“How does Mirium stand you?” said Tyrric, but the question hadn’t come out as derisively as he meant it. Worse, Keelath seemed to take him seriously. He paused in his raking, propping chin and hands on it as if it was a sword and he was an old guard taking a break after a long day of service.
“She loves me,” Keelath said. “It allows her to see past my flaws.”
“And you?” He also meant that to be derisive, but it didn’t stop Keelath.
“I don’t love her as a mortal does, no,” said Keelath. “I want the world for her, though. She holds me close when otherwise I’d be alone.”
The words were poignant, and Keelath started raking again in the silence that followed.
“I am sorry, you know,” Keelath said after a moment. “I had thought Alelsa to be a bitter, corrupted, and selfish woman, but watching her tend to you, I’ve seen the other side to her.”
“I let her down,” said Tyrric miserably.
“Aye,” said Keelath, “as Mirium has let me down, and I have let her down. You have to forgive the scrapes and bruises, brother. The Light never made a perfect elf or man.”
“How do you know, though?” pressed Tyrric. “How do you know it’s only normal scrapes and bruises, and not some slow-winding abuse?”
Keelath paused again, reaching down to pull the straggle of an old weedy root from the flowerbed. Tyrric winced, for it belonged to no weed, but then it was already gone, tossed over the hedge into the compost pile. “I feel stronger for it, I think,” said Keelath. “In learning to forgive her, I learn to forgive me, and I see the good I can nurture in us both.”
“I can see that in anyone,” said Tyrric testily. “It’s nothing special. Just seeing someone as smarter, stronger, and wiser doesn’t mean they’ll become so.”
“No,” Keelath admitted. “It is a kind of journey, I suppose. She carries me through the rough patches, as I carry her. It has to be, hmm, mutual.”
Tyrric swallowed dryly. “And if she drops you?”
Keelath barked a laugh. “Oh, she will! That’s the point, brother. We can’t grow if we don’t make mistakes sometimes. It is like, hmm, pruning this hedge. You have to cut it back so it will grow out, yes?”
Tyrric grunted. “That’s not really how it works.”
“Well, it does in love.” Keelath shrugged. “I feel stronger for her presence. There. That’s about as simply as I can put it. Stronger, and I know when she scolds me, it is to challenge me to grow even stronger.”
“I see,” said Tyrric, though he really didn’t.
After a few more minutes of fruitless raking, Keelath set down his hoe and announced he’d be assisting Mirium in the stables the rest of the day. Tyrric waved him off, saying something about not wanting the noisy lout about so he could think.
He really hated that knowing laugh.
An hour later, Tyrric peeled himself from the chair and went to find Alelsa.
He found her in her lab, in the basement. She had been down there a lot recently, claiming she needed to recalibrate the wards after all that had happened with the Void, but Tyrric suspected she was avoiding him.
She snapped at him testily to stay back when he entered, hunched over her alchemy bench as she was, painstakingly measuring in herbs in clinical amounts. Tyrric eyed her back and thought it was a beautiful shape.
Idiot, he then thought of himself, and he swallowed.
The last sprig was added, and the potion began to give off a greasy blue smoke when Alelsa straightened with a sigh of relief. She rolled her back, and Tyrric stepped forward to rub the knot under her shoulderblade that she could never quite reach.
“Alelsa…” he said after she groaned and sighed and considered pressing against him, but didn’t actually do so. “How… do you feel when you’re around me?”
She glanced at him out of the corner of her eyes. “Hot and bothered, a lot of the time.” She smirked.
“I’m being serious.”
She stepped away to give the potion a few stirs, but Tyrric could tell they weren’t necessary stirs by the slow, thoughtful way in which she did them. “I don’t know,” she admitted a moment later. “You’re always getting into trouble, but that’s also what’s so… cute about you.”
“Cute,” Tyrric muttered.
“Cute,” Alelsa agreed with another cheeky smirk.
“Well, you’re cute when you–”
“Don’t touch the stove!” Alelsa cried.
Tyrric had. In reaching over to give her side a playful tweak, he has brushed his ribs against the alchemy bench. Now his shirt was smoldering, and his side hurt. Oh, and he was pretty sure his skin was turning blue.
“Oh no, oh no, oh no.” Alelsa kept up a chorus of oh no’s as she pulled a jar from the shelf and slapped the goo on his burn. The stinging stopped immediately, and his skin turned a normal color — or so he thought, in the red magelight she kept cocked over the bench. It helped bring out the potency in the herbs from Outland, she said, and she never turned it off. “See? That’s exactly what I mean! Tyrric, defined as ‘a specimen of trouble that never entirely abates’!”
“Oh? Is that from your books?”
“I made it up,” said Alelsa flatly.
He lifted his arm as she continued to work the goo into the burn, moving up as far as his armpit and down again to his hip. Tyrric thought she had smeared quite enough on him finally, and grabbed her wrist.
“Alelsa,” and he took a deep breath, “do you love me?”
She paused in smearing the ointment on, looking up into his eyes. As usual, he tried to spot the human in them: the fainter glow, the speck of color that no elf iris possessed. As usual, he couldn’t tell.
“I’m very fond of you,” she said haltingly, “and… afraid of losing you, if I’m honest.”
He took her other hand, gooey fingers and all. “But do you love me?”
She looked up at him, and it wasn’t as awkward as he feared. For all they had both changed and kept secrets from one another, there was a familiarity there, like toeprints in an old shoe.
“Do I love you?” she echoed, half tease and half voiced thought.
He drew a little closer.
“When I think of you… you’re the constancy of a storm, Tyrric. Loud and chaotic and… sometimes up to frightening things. But I also know, every time you blow yourself out, the grass will be growing just a little greener, just a little…thicker.”
“So I’m green and thick, is that it?”
Alelsa snorted and smeared green goo down his shirt front. “Yes, yes you are.”
They clasped hands again, but Alelsa’s eyes dropped from his to the floor, and his own followed.
“I will be loyal to you,” said Tyrric.
“Far be it from me to expect such from my lawfully wedded husband–”
“The passion might not come back. In a large way it was only due to Talthan’s manipulations, because I am not attracted to — “ He swallowed. “ — humans. And I may never be the same as I was. I still do not know who was really me.”
“I know you,” said Alelsa softly, “and you haven’t changed. Not in the core of you. I don’t believe you ever could.”
Tyrric hesitated. “I hope you are right.”
She looked up at him, with a tiny smile, set to grow into a grin of mischief. Light! He had trouble resisting her when she was like that. “As far as passion goes, you needn’t worry about that,” she said coyly.
She picked up the potion she had been working on and twiddled it up front of his nose.
“… you’ve got to be kidding me.”
She set it down with a laugh, and the grin of mischief broke free. “Of course I am! Do you know how hard it is to make a stable love potion, Tyrric? Let alone one without serious adverse side effects in both users?”
“I can guess,” said Tyrric.
“Besides,” said Alelsa, and gave him a smile from the corner of her eye. “It did the trick anyway, didn’t it?”
“It got you to talk to me.”
“I was doing that anyway, wasn’t I?”
“And hold me.”
“I was doing that too.”
“And–” She stopped. They both went still, looking into each other’s eyes. Was it the light, or did he finally see the dull colors of a human’s irises in there now?
“And… remind you it’ll soon be dinner time,” Tyrric finished for her, a bit lamely.
“Quite,” Alelsa agreed, breaking away to smooth the front of her robes. Tyrric watched her, then turned away.
“I feel stronger knowing you’re here beside me,” Tyrric said quietly, just as she was looking up, and then he had to add, “but perhaps that is only because you were so stiff last night while I was–”
Her eyes flashed green, and he was sure to be halfway up the stairs before her shadow bolt could hit him.