Thorn of the Rose

“O Scourge of the Sea! Though long you have stalked me, no more shall you withhold your truth from me…

“…O Scourge of the Sea! I see the curtain has parted, your true form at last revealed to me.”

Tyrric set out the following morning. It was no secret where the theater troupe was bound, as they posted fliers in hopes of getting more of an audience in each village they passed through. It seemed as though their schedule was a packed one this year, and he arrived in each village just as the troupe was packing up to head to the next. He didn’t get a chance to find and corner Miri until they were almost into Yohon’nai.

The air was damp from the caldera lake being so close, and Tyrric could just hear the soft rushing of Lake Ta’hiki’s waves over the tramp of feet and the buzzing of so many travel discs. He found the troupe’s wagons neatly circled in an empty lot near the Yohon’nai ferries. Mirium dropped a bundle of what appeared to be clothing on seeing him, just as he rounded the corner of her cheery little wagon, almost tripping himself on the wagon’s stairs.

“Hey!” he exclaimed. He wasn’t sure if she heard him; carefully avoiding his gaze, she quickly snatched the bundle up again and fled into town. Suspicions whirling down a thousand possibilities, Tyrric dashed after her.

She went down both main streets and side-streets, always just barely in his line of sight. They dodged past merchants and pilgrims and even a long train of travel discs being pulled by a huge elk, and then she ducked into a tavern.

It was an upscale kind of place, with magical ice rimming the door frame and giving off a refreshing coolness for each wuyon’mar who passed through it. Tyrric ducked inside, his green eyes darting, to find Mirium speaking with a wuyon’mar man near the back of the establishment.

Tyrric steered himself quickly into a seat and nudged a potted plant between him and his quarry. He waved off a waitress and then peered through the leaves, watching surreptitiously. The stranger’s clothing was cut like a Northerner’s, with a jaunty fringe along the collar, mimicking a white wolf’s ruff. Tyrric felt his lip curling: he had never much cared for the Northerners: those wuyon’mari who came from the Shey Lands, living half-wild and painting their white cheeks with fanciful designs in blue and green ink. It reminded Tyrric of the Yeni humans: positively barbaric. He certainly seemed Miri’s type, though.

He carefully pulled down another leaf to have a clearer view of her. Miri seemed to be crying, and the Northerner seemed to be exasperated. They leaned their heads together, and Tyrric leaned forward, expecting a cheating kiss, but they were only looking at the bundle in Miri’s hands. There was a flash of gold, and Miri’s voice just barely carried across the crowd.

“It’s all I have left… Please, can’t you–?”

But what the Northerner could or couldn’t do, Tyrric didn’t hear, as one of the drunken patrons banged into him on her confused way to the backroom.

The crowd grew louder as a fresh batch of travelers clumped into the tavern, and Tyrric had to argue with the waitress to keep his solitary table. By the time that was over and he had a grudgingly-bought drink in one hand to patronize the establishment, he caught sight of Miri heading for the exit. He quickly jumped up, reaching her just as she reached the door, now bereft the bundle and of the Northerner.

Tyrric maneuvered himself into the doorway and turned so she’d have to run into him to get by. One of the other patrons trying to exit behind them gave an impatient cough, but Tyrric paid him no heed.

“What was that all about?” he asked sourly.

Miri looked up at him, stricken like a doe catching sight of a hunter. “…I don’t know what you mean.”

“Are you cheating on him? Do you have no shame?” Tyrric snapped.

Miri stared at him until Tyrric’s meaning clicked into place. The other patron gave a snort and moved back to the bar for another round. “I–no. Y-you’re Keelath’s brother, right? Is he well?”

“Hardly!” said Tyrric accusingly, crossing his arms.

He wasn’t expecting Miri to then break into tears up front of him and lean into his arms.

The rest of the tavern was beginning to take notice of their spat, and Tyrric’s cheeks burned. Feigning that this was all part of the plan, he hugged her to him and folded both of them out of the way and back off to his hard-won table. “Here, now, what’s the matter?” he said gruffly as he sat her down. “Yes, Keelath is well, though he’s been pining after you. You’ll cause him to lose half his weight at this rate, you know.”

“I’m so sorry,” Miri said between hiccups. Tyrric hesitated. There was a story there, but he wasn’t sure if he’d get it out of her in this state. He called the waitress over to fill them a couple glasses of scotch, and Miri did seem better for it as her hiccups died and her tears dried — and the waitress seemed less likely to bother Tyrric for a second tip.

“It’s my father,” she said when she could talk again, “he’s ill, and Thalas’talah doesn’t pay nearly well enough for us to take the trip while I’m so low on money. Th-that was my mother’s necklace you saw there; she died from the same illness, and I had to sell it. I don’t know what else to do for the money!”

“Oh,” said Tyrric, feeling rather stupid now. He watched her blankly as she leaned over her cup, dabbing ineffectually at renewed tears. “So, ah, is this disease very contagious?” he asked.

“No, no. It’s an old ‘mar’s disease. The priests in Yohon’nai can do something about it, but only if you pay them exorbitant amounts.”

“That is a shame,” Tyrric said blandly.

Miri hiccuped again and took another drink. “I can’t go to Keelath now. I’m so sorry. I really wish… but I can’t.”

“I could take a message for you,” Tyrric said, stirring from dark thoughts and pushing another glass towards her. “You just… drink up and calm yourself down. You’re sure to feel better if you give it a rest and a think. And don’t worry about paying; the tab’s on me tonight,” he added reluctantly.

Miri gave him a wavering smile. “Th-thank you,” she said.

He had some vague idea to get her so drunk she’d come babbling out with the truth, but it didn’t work out that way in practice. She would drink a little, then he would drink a little to encourage her, then they would both drink a little, and–

He hadn’t meant to drink nearly so much, and his head was throbbing in time with his pulse. Miri had cried on his shoulder again, and he had reached out to rock her. It had seemed a gentlemanly thing to do, but now that she was clinging to him, the scent of her stage makeup was strong in his nostrils, and he was very uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable, yet intrigued. He squinted at her face, even chanced rubbing a bit of the makeup off when he was pretending at helping her dry the tears. The skin underneath was still a pale beige, but not so pale as to be a Northerner — nor so dark as to have ilph’mar blood. Perhaps she wasn’t as ill-bred as Keelon had feared.

Tyrric found his gaze dipping closer, but then Miri sat up suddenly. Tyrric rubbed his chest, urging his heart to stop jumping around so obscenely; Miri only sat apart from him, spending a few minutes painstakingly rubbing the tears — and the rest of her makeup — from her cheeks.

“I miss him,” she murmured. Then she leaned back against Tyrric, as if mistaking him for the back of her chair.

“He’s miss-able,” he muttered, gritting his teeth against the discomfort of her bony shoulder pressed into his chest.

“What?” said Miri, looking back, though the movement seemed to make her head spin, and she slouched back down with a wince.

“He’s — look, maybe we shouldn’t be talking like this,” said Tyrric.

“About Keelath?” Her voice was thick and confused.

“About him, behind his back,” corrected Tyrric.

Miri only murmured a muzzy agreement. Tyrric’s lip curled.

He thought back to the Northerner and the supposed necklace. Was it really an exchange for Miri’s father’s medicine? Or was it like how Tyrric had warned Keelath: a favor for a simple roll in the sheets? The troubadours did that kind of thing, and the way she was inhaling the drink made him think she was was a common frequenter of places like this one. He would have to prove it Keelath though… somehow…

She turned again to grope at her glass, and Tyrric found himself inches away from her face. They stared at one another. Maybe it was the drink, or maybe it was that Miri was a beautiful woman, or maybe it was that jealousy and suspicion only seeking an outlet…

He kissed her.

She continued to stare at him, and didn’t seem to know what to do about it. Tyrric added another kiss, daring her silently to return it, to confirm in his mind his suspicions of her dallying with other men besides his brother. Her lips opened slightly to his, and he couldn’t tell if it was inviting or in fatigue. He ran his hands down her back.

“No,” Miri murmured, but she was too out of it to pull away.

Tyrric did, though. It was how he had been schooled, and it was the right thing to do, even as the unfairness of it beat him around the head. Then, as the moment passed, and Miri weakly pushed off of him, shame curdled in his gut.

He sat quietly for a moment, avoiding her gaze, and when the waitress next came around, he persuaded Miri to only drink water. When she could finally stand, he escorted her back to her wagon, not speaking.

“You’re a gentleman, Tyrric,” said Miri after she stumbled up her wagon’s steps, in such a haphazard fashion he was afraid she’d fall. Her natural dancer’s grace kept her on her feet, though. “You’re a good brother to Keel. If I ever had any doubts about his… his courting me, well, they’re settled now. I know you would both take care of me.”

She then stumbled inside, leaving him standing there and feeling positively rotten.

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