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.”

The noises of the village barely carried out here. Mirium breathed in a deep sigh, then settled on the grass. She ran a hand over the pale bark of the tree reaching over her, peering through its leaves to look at the stars above. The forests this close to Yohon’nai were beautiful, not like the scraggly things closer to the old caldera’s rim. She almost dozed off into a meditation or sleep, but then a branch snapped nearby, and she sat up quickly, to see Keelath shamefacedly taking his foot away off it.

“Oh no,” groaned Mirium. “You again? What now, Keelath? Didn’t you embarrass me enough already on the stage tonight?”

Keelath paused, but he didn’t hesitate. He was much more comfortable when not wearing Hre’lod’s flashy costume, she noticed.

“I’m sorry to have bothered you,” he said.

“Well, you did.”

“Yes,” said Keelath, and the frankness with which he said it startled her. “And I apologize for that. You’re right. I’m no Hre’lod, and it was foolish of me to think presenting myself to you in such a fashion would gain me any of your respect.”

“You just now thought of that, did you?” Her remark didn’t have much energy behind it. The folktale of Hre’lod and Remira was a long one, and her back still ached despite the walk.

Keelath gave his head a little shake, apparently agreeing with her. “And you’re right, too, that I barely know you. I’ve seen you play a handful of roles, always as different people — characters. I always thought you were very skillful, making those people seem very real, and your voice is… well, it is beautiful.” He went quiet, though more wistful than broody.

Mirium said nothing, not even a thank you; she had heard it all before.

Yet Keelath was gamely plunging on. “It never occurred to me at the time that there would be a lot more to you, behind your mask… like Hre’lod. And maybe I thought… we shared that in some way, too.”

“What?” said Mirium, a bit nonplussed. “You’re not still thinking you’re Hre’lod, are you?”

“No,” said Keelath. “Can I sit?” he asked awkwardly instead.

“You can, but may you?” Mirium replied sarcastically. Keelath stared at her a moment, then sat down anyway, a few paces off, but not so far it was difficult to hear him speak.

“It was what you said about nobles,” he went on. “A lot of them — a lot of us — have to wear masks, you know. At the courts it’s as scandalous as forgetting your lines if you dress the wrong way or admire the wrong people. No one is themselves. And I… hate it.”

And he really did seem to. Mirium faltered. “So now you have a crush on a professional actor instead of a noble one,” she said slowly.

Keelath colored. “Yes,” he admitted. He put his chin on his knees. “It was all Tyrric’s — my brother’s — idea, you know. He always had the head for that kind of thing. If he had played Hre’lod, he wouldn’t have been forgetting any of his lines like I did, I’m sure.”

“And then I’d have kissed him instead of you.”

Keelath nodded, but with a vague air that Mirium wasn’t sure if he had heard her. “He would have made a much better baron than I, too. I didn’t just do this for you, you know. I did it because I’m going to have to be that actor someday, in the Council of Heads. And I will likely fail at it just as miserably as I did trying to court you.”

“Well. Maybe next time you should open with the courting, instead of cornering me like some common stalker!” Despite her words, Mirium felt sympathy creep into her heart. She stroked the end of her braid, and the ribbons there, giving herself time to think. The green ribbons, looking more yellow in the twilight, reminded her of something…

“No,” she continued. “You definitely shouldn’t try acting ever again. Not just because you’re terrible at it, but because the world doesn’t need more dishonest noblemen in it.” He looked up at her, but she kept focusing on her braid, closing her eyes. “Those were always my most favorite stories, you know,” she murmured.

“Stories about dishonest nobles?” said Keelath in confusion.

“No,” said Mirium, and now it was her turn to blush. “The ones about… the honest and brave ones. They call them knights, or–or paladins, among the humans. They are always brave and do the right thing, riding the countryside on their noble steeds…”

“There’s rinaani living in our backwoods,” Keelath suddenly offered. “They’re noble too, or they’re supposed to be. I have always wondered what it was like to tame one. My father only keeps a breezerider…”

“Rinaani? Oh, you don’t tame them,” said Mirium, enthusiastic despite herself. “They… accept you. You befriend them. In fact, there’s this one story of–” She broke off, realizing what she was doing. “Well, I don’t know for certain,” she said. “I’ve never actually seen one. I could only pretend to tame one, not actually do it.”

“Either way sounds amazing,” Keelath agreed softly. “You could drop by to see ours, if you wanted.”

They looked at one another, and in the dying light, it was hard to tell who was blushing harder.

“They only come out at dusk though,” said Keelath quickly. “Dusk and dawn. But I know you have other shows…”

“Maybe this once I could make an exception,” said Mirium, though she wasn’t certain she had any intention of following through.

“I would like that,” said Keelath. Then, before she could deny him — or thank him — the tall wuyon’mar had stood up and was striding swiftly back to the village. Mirium sighed and fiddled with the hem of her robe, trying not to let herself smile.

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