When writing for a character who’s very “out of it”, you run the risk of making the writing an indecipherable muddle for the reader, as well. I can’t quite tell with this one.Author’s Note
Keelath let him up — it has been he whom Tyrric had been grappling with. Alelsa had hurried inside, perhaps to get more medicine, and Tyrric was left outside alone with his brother and his sister-in-law. It didn’t make him feel any better.
Though the lies he had told them had been lesser than that he’d told Alelsa, the pain he had inflicted wasn’t. Mirium sat beside him and held his hand, but he couldn’t look at her. After a long moment of regarding them both in silence, Keelath swept in with a gesture long-remembered from their childhood together — a tight hug made tighter by the fact Keelath was undead and couldn’t know how hard he was squeezing.
For a moment, Tyrric considered not telling him, letting him squeeze him into breathlessness and eventually, hopefully, a quiet dark that would last — but then Keelath let go, and the thought withered away as air rushed back into Tyrric’s lungs.
At least the near strangulation had stopped his desire to cry.
“You’re home now,” said Mirium gently. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
She didn’t know how wrong she was.
“Why are you here?” he asked, and his voice came out hoarse again. “I thought I banished you.”
“Alelsa overturned it,” Mirium answered.
“This place is a state,” said Keelath. “No servants, no squires? Did your paranoia drive you this far, brother?”
“No,” said Tyrric past the lump in his throat. He didn’t want to answer, and Keelath obligingly pinched him.
“Stop that!” Tyrric cried. “I’m awake. You hear me? I’ve been awake. You’ve been hurting me all along…”
“We didn’t know what else to do to rouse you,” said Mirium quietly.
Tyrric shook his head wordlessly. He had wanted to crawl into dreams to escape the horror. In some ways, he still did now.
The horror… of telling them the truth…
“It’s been in me all along,” he said in a small voice.
“It?” asked Keelath. “What’s ‘it’?”
“Since that day… that day, Mirium. When you gave birth…”
“What?” said Mirium, alarmed now. Tyrric felt Keelath’s arm wrap about her, leaving him exposed on that side.
“Talthan.” Was it really that simple? “Took me aside, when I came to see you. Did something. Put it in my head.”
“The Void,” said Keelath.
“As he did to me,” Mirium whispered, and she clung to Keelath, too.
“Who did what?” Alelsa was back. Tyrric felt terrible looking at her. Her normally sleek hair was bushy and bent, and though she had changed into a new gown recently, evidenced by the neat folds in the sleeves and collar, her eyes were red from crying and lack of sleep.
Keelath released Tyrric into her arms, and she seized his head first thing, looking into his eyes searchingly.
“Tyrric Sunwalker… is it you? Or am I speaking to another l-lump of vegetable?”
He couldn’t smile at her sarcasm. He has betrayed her too much. He had to speak of it soon, he knew, but in the meantime, he let his eyes slip shut.
“Tyrric!” Alelsa shook him viciously, rousing a cry of protest from Mirium. A large hand — Keelath’s — gripped his shoulder and held him steady.
“I should like to sit up in the parlor, please,” Tyrric said, and it wasn’t a lie.
“Of course you would,” said Alelsa, her voice gravelly. Between the three of them, he was lifted to his feet. He stumbled sideways as they began to walk from weakness, but he was also ashamed. A shame so deep…
He must have blacked out along the way, slipping into the space with the tree and the sun reflexively.
“I don’t know what to do for him!” Alelsa was crying over him. Her fingers grasped and pinched his chest, his arms, tugged at his collar, almost spasmodically.
Tyrric didn’t know what to do either, and he slipped away again.
Next he found himself propped up in his armchair in the parlor, just as he has asked. Alelsa was gone, but Mirium was quietly pouring tea for two, and Keelath was standing by the door, stiff and silent as a sentry. Tyrric found relief in that he was spared from saying the hateful words to Alelsa, but then another stab of shame accompanied the thought. He bowed his head.
“Now,” said Mirium, coming to him with a full cup of tea. He jerked his head away, reflexively expecting a force-feeding, but she only set it by his hand.
“Now what?” he asked groggily when she didn’t continue.
“I don’t know,” Mirium answered, and she glanced up at Keelath.
Keelath sighed, leaving a puff of frost in midair. “We can’t leave them in this state,” he said reluctantly, then, “Light knows they couldn’t be trusted not to burn the manor down around their own ears,” as if he needed a better reason.
“It’s close to burning down on its own,” said Tyrric dully.
They both gazed at him in silence.
“I’m so–brother, I’m sorry,” said Tyrric, and he leaned forward to cup his face in his palms. “I’ve done… horrible things.”
“Join the crowd,” muttered Keelath.
Tyrric was about to answer with just how he had manipulated Alelsa, but could he betray her like that? She deserved to know from him first, directly.
Mirium sat beside him, watching him quietly. He wordlessly reached for her hand, and she took it, with a reassuring smile.
It racked another breathy sob out of him. “I’ve wronged you.”
“It is alright. The worst has been undone.”
“I should’ve never… treated… f-family… like that.”
“We’ve all been pretty rough on one another,” said Mirium wirh a glance at Keelath. Tyrric’s brother just looked uncomfortable.
“Can you ever forgive me?”
“Yes,” said Mirium. “Though things may never… be the same.”
A rush of defensiveness and anger rose up in his heart, and Tyrric shied away from it. Such feelings had gotten him in trouble before, and he had hoped being cleansed of the Void had removed it. Was he never to be free of it? He blinked several times as he waited for Mirium to say something else.
“We’ll stay long enough to help get the manor back in order,” said Keelath.
“You should take it,” said Tyrric.
“You should take it. The manor. The title…”
“What would I do with a dusty house far from the front?” Keelath asked sardonically. “I am still officially deployed, and the place is best left to the living…”
“You’re still the best man for it.”
He was sinking into darkness again. As he didn’t trust himself with the sword earlier, so he didn’t trust himself with the command of the manor, now.
The tea cup was pressed into his hands as Mirium shifted herself closer, as if to offer comfort. She wasn’t helping. Pain and shame wracked Tyrric, and he thought he would scream if it would have done any good. The weight was in the past. The weight was in an unfixable present. If he could just spiral down, down to oblivion, he would be better off for it. They would be better off for it.
“The pain will pass,” said Mirium, and she gave him a squeeze of her hand.
He shook his hand. Mountains and chasms spanned between him and any kind of salvation. A bog clutched greedily at his feet.
“Your wife needs you,” said Keelath. “She’s alone except for you. If you can’t lead for yourself, then lead for her.”
He had probably meant the remark to be bolstering, but it ripped Tyrric open anew. I can’t! he wanted to shout. I have already betrayed her. She can take the manor. She can lead. Oh, that all of you were far away from me and the suffering I inflict!
Mirium was looking at him oddly, and he dully realized he had said it aloud.
“How did you betray her?” asked Keelath
“I don’t love her,” said Tyrric. “I married her… for power. To get back at Mirium, and you. To prove you all… false.”
There was a hitch of breath from the hallway. Oh.
Tyrric felt his inner reserves collapsing as he leaned forward over his knees and willed darkness to close over his head again. Mirium was running down the hallway with a clatter, crying, “Alelsa! Wait!” Keelath just looked at him long and hard, shaking his head in disappointment.
Somehow, that hurt worst of all. This time, instead of dreaming of a tree, Tyrric dreamed of death.
Keelath swept from the room as Mirium’s cries intensified.