Amaris tried subduing her cough which bothered her so much that Sion offered her water before continuing his barrage of questions. She answered with as much grace as Sion’s tone would allow. Each time she said a topic would be explained later, Sion became less bearable. Amaris developed a headache, and Sion even seemed tired from his emotions. Amaris suggested they leave the thing alone for a time, but Sion persisted until Amaris protested. Then he only glared while she tried to relax for a few moments. She shut her eyes, but could feel Sion’s boring into her, still. “I think I have changed my mind. I will see your father.”
Amaris opened her eyes, and looked back at the man. His face exhausted her. “Just for the satisfaction of lecturing his every parenting skill in raising so rude a son.” Amaris shook her head. “How you can be his offspring at all, amazes me.”
“I am not.”
“What?” Amaris’s heart skipped a beat; had she been duped? Sion did not respond beyond a sigh. Amaris pressed her palms against the table. “Explain this lie to me.”
“No lie, Amaris. You just never asked if I was his child by birth.” The man now lacked any of the emotion which had flared moments before.
“Oh,” Amaris’s eyes strayed across the room onto nothing. What did that mean?
“My father did not give up on you for twelve years. And as soon as my mother died, his heart strayed right back to you. That is why I had to find you, it is not fair —” Sion cut himself off and studied Amaris. “Though, now I do not see how he ever loved such a woman. You lie like poison, and your crudeness is unsettling at to say the least.”
“Thank you, I need the added blame on my conscience.” Amaris turned away; so that was the story. After losing his wife, who probably served him faithfully, Valmier fell in love with Amaris once more, as she had been. Now she lacked the desire to ever bring back in herself the woman she had been.
Sion sighed. “I suppose I will tell you, anyway. Since you clearly are the woman my father always went on about.” The man paused, and waited until Amaris gave him her full attention. “Valmier passed several years ago, I thought you should know, in person, from someone else he cared for.”
Amaris blinked, but nothing of Sion’s words sank in. Sion said more, but it sounded more like the rushing sound which surrounds someone submerged in water than words. Amaris put her palm up to Sion, and he ceased. She stared, and neither spoke for a long moment. “Are you saying Valmier is dead?” The man sighed, and nodded. Amaris’s eyes glazed over, and then began watering. She excused herself and closed the door behind her. She leaned against the house for several minutes while the news sunk into place. First it made sense, and then it seeped into her thoughts until the reality planted itself in her heart beside the hope she had held back, even from her conscious mind, that she might see Valmier again. Memories and desires for the past to repeat swept over her. Her hand in his. His fingers brushing through her hair as she smiled like she had not done since. Their words running together like a flowing river of perfect sense.
When Amaris’s came to her conscious self, face soaked from tears, she began wandering through the forest. She walked in circles, and then zig zags until her sense of direction blurred like her wet eyes. Her focus slipped, and she found herself sobbing on a wet patch of moss. Her hair damp and tangled, and she pulled out clumps of the sponge-like greenery in her frustration, until muddy dirt loosened for her tears to mix with. Sion found her, hours later, and forced her to let him guide her stiff, cold form back to the house in the dell. She lay, number in the warmth than the cold, and stared at the ceiling above her bed, unable to bring so much as a syllable to her lips. She drifted, and felt herself slip into a pool of aimless travel to her deeper pain where Valmier resided, now only in her memory.
Light hurt. Amaris’s eyes flickered open and then a few seconds of pain forced them shut again. Her head ached, and smothering it with her hand did not help. She knew Sion was somewhere in the room. Mostly she neglected him and hoped he would do the same for her. Her stomach announced noon’s nearing, but Amaris could not make herself rise. Eventually, she slept again.
When she managed to heave herself out of bed, over twenty-four hours after hearing the news about Valmier, her stomach and sides ached from being curled up for hours without moving, hoping she would stop breathing if she froze still long enough. She cringed when she saw Sion, because now he could see her as she really was. She knew her hair was matted, and the only water her face had seen in two days came from tears. Amaris felt naked in her exposure while she and Sion watched each other.
“I will let you change.” Sion said at last, leaving the door closed behind him when he left the house.
“Gracious man,” Amaris mumbled before finding clothes to put on.
Amaris’s shaky hands struggled with her corset strings, so she left them looser than usual. Sion’s courtesy usually kept him away for much longer than any female needed to change. So Amaris pulled on her boots and then sank back onto her bed. She had nothing more to tell this man, but as much as Amaris tried to skirt the truth, she knew she had gone too far this time with her lies. Which heaped difficulty onto mending the fragile acquaintance she and Valmier’s son had forged. If she could not, then Sion would probably leave and have anything to do with Amaris, again. For whatever odd reason, the possibility bothered her. Half truths had mucked up the air — they usually did — but a fuller unveiling might repair the damage. Worth a try, and honestly, the only weapon Amaris had left.
A tap on the door made Amaris’s plans drop and shatter before she finished forming them. She had had a sound mind only a moment ago, but it withered quick, leaving Amaris grasping for sanity again. She stood up and straightened her plain dress, then realized she had done nothing to her nested hair. “Come in.” Amaris grabbed a clip and began pulling back the crown of her hair. Sion remained quiet after stepping inside, leaving the door open.
“You seem much improved.” Sion said.
“Another facade.” Amaris worked at her hair. Sion huffed, almost chuckling, and Amaris glared out the corner of her eye.
“Arian,”Sion shook his head. Amaris hoped it would be the last time she heard the name. “I cannot believe you did this to me, but I am not the first. You do it to so many people, am I right? Anyone who can lie so effortlessly ought not be trusted.”
“Effortlessly!” Amaris bit her lips and took a deep breath before saying anything else. “This has been more torture to me than for you.”
Sion shook his head.
“You can believe me or not.”
“I probably never will.”
Amaris felt a quick and sharp pain which withered fast. She should not care. “Fine.”
“That is it? Fine. You will give no more effort to make amends?”
“I acted wrongfully to you. And I have done the same to dozens before. What should I say to change the matter?” Amaris shook off the dismal feeling, and focused on Sion. “I did not want to deceive you, Sion. But what else I could I have done?”
“I have no answer for you, Amaris. But I never thought of you this way in all the years since I have known about you.”
“Good. No one needs to view me like this. Actually,I prefer no see me at all.”
“Now I think I never have. Nothing of you is true, now.”
“I assure you there is more truth than lie. I just have to clean up what I have told you.”
“I am too exhausted with you to hear a word.”
“Good.” Amaris looked away, finishing with her hair. “I need some time. I am going to see Illuma.”
“She called you Arian to your face.”
“I know. She listens to her friend, maybe too much. Please know I am sorry for how far this went.”
“You still will not repent your first deceptions, even though you know who I was.”
Amaris opened her mouth —
Amaris glared. She left because she wanted space as much as Sion did. When hours of pointless wandering, without Fleecel, only further tangled things, leaving Amaris’s thoughts drifting to Valmer, she went to Illuma’s.
Amaris’s hand trembled, and she heard nothing. She knocked again.
“Sorry,” Amaris struggled to hear her own timid voice.
The door flung open like the woman might hit Amaris. The latter tried to harden herself. But Illuma’s wrath withered upon seeing Amaris. Amaris felt warm hands wrap around her chilly palms and hold them from shaking. She looked at the floor, unable to explain. Her mouth seemed a deathtrap for creating trouble. She had treated Illuma unjustly the last month, with her actions, stiff manners, and sliding tongue. Now, she had no way to answer for herself. Illuma tugged Amaris’s hands and the latter looked up. Her mentor looked concerned. Amaris knew the expression too well; Illuma’s firm posture, brows close together on her pale face that leaned just a little bit closer than usual, and no words beginning to form. The image blurred behind the newest coat of liquid encasing Amaris’s eyes. She pushed passed the hard shell she had tried to form and pressed against Illuma who held the crying woman.
Sitting in a familiar chair further displaced clear thoughts. The Safrima tea scent that wafted toward Amaris, and the dark feeling from an empty hearth lead Amaris deeper into directionless mind wandering. Only Amaris’s mind had nowhere to go. The blanket of grief distanced what remained in her world. Illuma’s hand should have comforted, but Amaris could hardly feel the touch.
Amaris gave a blurry and disjointed explanation, and realized her friend’s grip on her hand tightening. And as Illuma held tighter, Amaris felt her whole world loosen and begin to slip.“I do not know what to do.” When she lifted her face, she saw Illuma’s strewn in tears. Perhaps with someone else crying, Amaris could manage with less. She went numb, and Illuma wrapped her in a close embrace. Amaris could not lift her hands from the couch in return. And then she sat, the stinted story laying dead on the air. Tea went cold, and the room grew dark with the dusk. Illuma rubbed Amaris’s hands between her own.
“I should have seen this before.” Amaris stared passed her friend. “Why did I think Valmier could go on living? We should all die eventually?”
“Yes, but some of us live as well. He did that, because of you.”
“He would have lived without me,” Amaris refrained from shouting. Haughty lies could not sooth her pain. Amaris never would have loved someone like she did Valmier if he was dependent on her for life.
“I need answers, not consolation, Illuma. I need to—” she stood ans looked around. Should she go home?
“Where are you heading?”
Amaris bit her lip.
“Until you have an answer,” when Illuma stood, she seemed to tower over Amaris, “Come with me.” Illuma started pulling Amaris’s hand.
“Wait, where am I going?” Amaris stumbled a few steps. Illuma steadied Amaris, and kept on toward the spare bedroom.
Amaris could not resist without an alternative. Pouring out her soul in tears for another three hours alone in the woods would be pointless. She wanted to avoid Sion. And Amaris did not want to walk home; she might turn aside and end up in the woods, unarmed, at night. Ending up at Illuma’s without her sense of direction had been miracle enough. Life did not afford too many blessings for the Tempths; Amaris should take this one.
[I like what follows, but if it’s not pertinent, it can be pulled.]
Illuma opened the door, prepared to settle the day’s next crisis; Sion.
“Is Arian here?” Sion evaded Illuma’s eye contact.
“She told me you already know.”
Sion’s jaw tightened visibly. “But is she still here?”
“Yes, she is.”
“I need to talk to her. Sheltering her will do no good.”
Illuma crinkled her face. Amaris was not a child to be protected, but a friend to be looked after. “Not today.”
“Excuse me?” The man’s eyebrows shot up and he leaned against the door posts.
“She’s too sick to function. I have confined her until this grief subsides some. She is staying in bed and there will be no further discussion about the matter.”
Sion’s face reddened, and he breaths became audible.
“If you want a truthful and understandable explanation from Amaris, wait until she can complete a sentence.”
“Her condition cannot have deteriorated that fast. She was shouting at me yesterday.”
“Of that I am sure. She is good at defenses, but not always the calm conversations needed. Now, I suggest you take some time and simmer down before you and Amaris see each other again. Otherwise you will slam her with words that shorten her fuse and we will be repeating this conversation several times over.”
Sion locked his eyes on Illuma. Intimidation would not have worked if Sion was even half Illuma’s age.
“Try and remember why you have searched Amaris out.” Illuma softened her tone into what she thought might be maternal. “The last few weeks have been rough, I know.” She set her hand on Sion’s arm. He looked at it, but did not otherwise respond. “When Amaris has recovered some, her business is solely with you. I promise.”
Sion’s silence screamed discontentment, and Illuma prepared for the volume to meet emotion. It did not. “Just tell me when that woman has settled herself.”
Illuma locked her tongue behind her teeth.
“She will tell you herself.”
Sion huffed. “I suppose I am supposed to thank you for your time?”
“My pleasure, Sion.” Illuma counted the seconds until Sion stomped off with the immaturity Amaris kept in frequent practice. Illuma knew these spells well.
“Thanks.” Nothing but sarcasm. Sion left angrier, and with less flair than Amaris would have displayed. If Illuma could survive the next week without her friend crumpling or this man causing catastrophe, she could call herself a success. But the two in civilized conversation could not be imagined.
After her two day convalescence, Amaris worried Sion might quit the forest without so much as a word to her. Illuma told Amaris she had sent Sion away once already, when he had inquired about her, demanding a decent conversation. Amaris thought 48 hours would prove a test enough for this man’s determination, so she headed home. The long walk gave her time to think, but she still struggled to focus.
Sion had not left. After the usual minutes of silence, Amaris made her only request. “Sion, we can talk, but I do not need a lecture.”
“When did I ask what you need?”
Amaris mumbled that he had not,, took off her cape and tried to set it down before the tremble made it fall. She managed to catch it, but Sion stared, shaking his head. “Your friend informs me you cannot give a decent conversation justice until you have had ample time to grieve my father. There is no point in your falling ill. I can wait.”
“I will never finish grieving your father.” She watched Sion, waiting for his next gesture, word, anything for her to follow.
“You need to rest.” He said.
She nodded but refused to break eye contact. “What are you going to do once my strength is returned?”
Sion’s eyes narrowed. “I am not exactly sure yet.”
“Do you want to know what I will do?”
Sion’s mouth began to open and then he pressed his lips together. “Entirely up to you.” Sion exited the house. Good. It should be up to her.
Amaris changed into lighter clothes, and sat by a new fire, staring until the flames burned outlines into her eyes. Sion’s insistence on Amaris’s health, his protecting her, even from fatigue, had a familiar feel on the receiving end. Almost like her rest and recuperation was part of her duty to others. She could care about her own health without being told. Her location alone should have made clear her desire to remain in relative safety. Perhaps time would tell if Sion could respect as well as he spouted off.
Amaris struggled for a week over a chest cold she had succumbed to shortly after returning home from Illuma’s. Sion said less than necessary, as if his words would singe the air and stint Amaris’s recovery. Amaris felt him watching her, though. His observance of her every moment made her so nervous that sleep felt like a chore and she avoided waking lest she fall under his watchful eyes again. Her finicky cough made resting her mind more difficult, and whenever she felt at ease, she remembered Sion, and it peace slipped away.
Her mind strayed often to the spare room at Illuma’s. Asking Sion to remove himself there seemed rude, but assuming favor from her friend would be worse. How, though, could Amaris right herself with this man lingering about? She had taken the man in willingly — although under the pressure of rain and guilt — but nothing inside her wanted to keep Sion under her roof. Even when she had masqueraded as Arian, the man’s presence unnerved her. Perhaps all along his eyes had not strayed from her, and yet she just not perceived it. But she had taken him in under a guise and pried into his business. Since most secrets were now open, all reasons — besides courtesy, which both Amaris and Sion lacked — for concealing gazes and quiet listening disappeared. Only because of her own spying did Amaris let Sion remain.
Three days passed and Sion seemed intent upon watching Amaris like a timer, waiting for her health to return so he could continue with a half-finished thought. Amaris decided she could not breath normally with such sensory. She needed space, and so did Sion, whether he liked the suggestion or not. Illuma reluctantly agreed, and Sion practically spewed silent flames at Amaris when she made the arrangement known. Only when she made clear the demand was not a request did the man pack his things and leave, promising to return. The door closed, and Amaris exhaled. “I know you are not leaving.” Amaris dropped into an uncomfortable chair. “Maybe I should go before you come back.” He would probably track her through the forest and across the plains until he had finished their conversation. In place of fleeing, Amaris slept, feeling nearer ease than she had for more than a month. She seemed able to do little more than feed herself between naps, and she never wanted to climb out of bed to accomplish even that. She wished her old love would stop by and give her a hand in crawling out of the pain his absence caused. But reality had to sink in. She grew in acceptance that Valmier had passed away, letting the tears and burning pain sweep over her.
Four days passed passed before Amaris could surface from that emotional barrage. No, five? Amaris splashed water onto her face. She had woken up feeling anxious and unsettled. She fetched water from the stream, sloshed some into her wash basin and began cleaning everything her dress did not cover, ending up soaked anyway. Clothes were changed, and the dirty ones stowed in the box housing her small but growing pile of unwashed laundry. Restlessness stopped her from taking time to amend the mess. Could not she relax for more than a day or two without growing panicky and agitated? Others could. Dressed and minimally armed, Amaris threw open her door. Then she waited.
Something seemed out of place. That. She closed her eyes before looking over her shoulder into her house, knowing what made her uneasy about leaving. It could go unsupervised; had for years, hidden. Her feet froze though, so she turned back into her home to get the thing. The object had caused all her current grief and strife, it make sense she could not set anything right without it. She climbed onto the bed and pulled her feet under herself. Her fingers slid along the wood grains and dug into the wall, pulling a crack loose until her small box separated from the wood around it. She pulled it out, and set it on her lap, taking a deep breath. She did not want it open, she pulled her knees up and leaned her head against the little wooden cage. Her fingers let go and the box fell, dumping its treasure onto her. Amaris opened her eyes, and stared at the smooth stone. She had neglected it since Sion’s appearance, but knew how it would feel in her hand. Like water and gemstone combined, as the flashy colors swirled to her touch. Purple and burnt red hues glowed in her shadow. She picked it up, and clipped the broach beneath her chin. The heavy power sunk her to her back, and she laid, helpless, and filling with strength. She had not used the clip for a decade, but it held fast when she stood up. Now she could leave.
Her eyes seemed dry from tears, but she still had a few to wipe away as she called and waited for Fleecel. She remembered the uncanny danger mixed with joy when she wore this haunting device. Drawing death to herself with the one thing which could thrust it away permanently. Only with this piece of her life could Amaris reconcile herself with Valmier’s death. After a few minutes, she gained the courage to rub her thumb over the stone. She felt guilty for hiding it for so many years, but what else could she have done? When she kept her grudge against the heirloom, she seemed to keep these messes at bay. The strange passion and life which filled her, overtaking intelligence, mixing with everything inside her, would force her into action again. Never had good come of this. With this jewel, only a matter of time separated her from the determination Valmier had treasured in her. The drive she feared.