Rose for a Thorn

The next day, he got out of her when the troupe was due to return to that town so he could send a message, then rode for home. His brief meeting with her that morning has allowed him a glance into her wagon, and what he saw seemed to corroborate her story: the starkness of poverty and the faint, sour smell of lingering sickness.

Keelath was so overjoyed to have news that he broke away from the possessive arms of another suitor to hug Tyrric.

“Maybe it’s your loyalty I should be worried about,” grunted Tyrric.

Keelath shook his head, as the woman sighed and called for another tray of refreshments from their single servant. “So? How was she? Where is she?”

Uncomfortably pulling him out of earshot of the frowning suitor, Tyrric told his brother Miri’s story. Keelath grew grim as he listened. “I know that sickness. It’s true the priests of Silvermoon can cure it, but they usually ask for a pretty copper for it. It’s likely her father will die.”

“Well, at least she isn’t cheating on you,” said Tyrric stiffly, gamely keeping the shame out of his face. “I made sure of that.”

Keelath didn’t notice his discomfort and nodded. He returned to entertain the lady, but he went on thinking, in that slow but steady way of his.

Later, after dinner, he spoke up, “We would have the money for it.”

His father and mother looked up at him. Tyrric’s blood ran cold, and he paused at the door, since Keelath’s eyes were on him, not his parents. “Barely,” he said uncomfortably. “It would likely put us into debt.”

“What would?” asked their mother, and everyone instinctually stilled and leaned towards her to catch her breathy words.

Keelath gave Tyrric a distrustful look, given what had happened the last time he had spoken about Miri up front of their parents. Tyrric sucked in a breath. He still disapproved of Miri, was still inordinately jealous, but he found his brother’s happiness was more important to him in the end.

So he lied. “It’s a charity case,” he said. “One of the elders in the next village over has taken ill. He was a hero in the wars, and his treatment is ever too expensive for his allowance to cover. My brother was thinking we should chip in.”

“I haven’t heard of any war veteran living in Goldenmist,” said Keelon. Their father considered for a moment. “Yet it would dishonor me to not step up when a comrade is in need. How much is the treatment?”

Keelath looked at his brother, stars shining in his eyes. Tyrric gave him a stern look, warning him not to get excited yet; the priests’ tribute was still very steep. Tyrric told his parents the sum.

Keelon let out a low whistle, brushing a hand across his brow, furrowed and troubled. Their mother eyed the floor anxiously. “We cannot possibly afford that,” he said. “Half of it, perhaps, but little more. Are there others that can contribute?”

Keelath and Tyrric looked at each other. “I’m afraid their local community has been tapped out,” said Tyrric.

“The Light will find a way,” said their mother suddenly, but her normally pious words did nothing to ease Keelon.

“I will look into it,” their father said abruptly. “Perhaps there are others here who can help. Thalas’talah is a strong community.”

“And a poor one,” muttered Tyrric.

“We will pray for them,” said his mother, and she waved at their servant to help her stand. Keelon rushed to her side instead, tenderly taking her up in his arms and carrying her to her room.

“She’s not looking well, either,” said Tyrric with a sigh. “Honestly, brother, when you took up with a troubadour woman, I didn’t expect she’d be more expensive than all your noble suitors put together!”

Keelath said nothing in reply to the joke, and he didn’t smile. Tyrric hesitantly touched his brother’s shoulder, than he left the dining room after their parents, shaking his head.

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