“He is safe.”
“What?” Amaris paid attention to finishing her letter to her father, and lost Fraiton’s voice amid the task.
Fraiton took Amaris hands in his, and she looked up. “Sion. I said he is safe. He is exactly who he claims to be.”
“You are certain?”
“Would I tell you this answer without having confidence in its truth?”
Amaris sighed, and pushed the paper away.
“It is all yours to decide, now, Arian.”
“Oh, come now, where is the fiery girl with attitude fiery enough to match her hair who will pick a bone with anyone?” Fraiton mouth widened into a great smile.
“I’m not 16 anymore.”
“I was talking about last year. You can handle him just fine.”
Amaris mocked Fraiton’s comment, but felt sick in her stomach with nervs.
“What report should I take to your father?”
Amaris looked at her half-written letter and frowned. She crumpled it, and stared. “Whatever you please.”
“Amaris, I have to tell your father something.”
“Tell him I am well, and anything else you find — pertinent.”
Fraiton chuckled. “I only wish I could stay and watch this game play out.”
Amaris forced a smirk, eyes staring blank at the floorboards. “Thank you for visiting me. Forgive the circumstances.”
In the morning, Fraiton left, and Sion’s persistence about Amaris intensified.
Amaris tried to act cordially toward Sion, but guest or not, the man pushed her every nerve. Even in silence, she loathed his presence. Relocating back to her home, away from Illuma, her only block from Sion, was too much.
Sion raised his eyebrows. “What is your livelihood?”
“Excuse me?” She was confused by the sudden shift of topic away from Amaris towards her alias.
“I saw what you sent for trade, but, as wonderful as it is,” he rushed to explain, “I do not see how you make the winter through.”
“You asked me to pay more attention to you and less to Amaris.” Sion explained.
She had requested such. “I asked you that a week ago, and you are only now going to listen?” Amaris dropped her eyes, and tried ignoring the fact that anyone’s paying attention to her meant they learned more about Amaris. She sorted through the plethora of occupations she half employed. “I do bits of half a dozen trades.”
Sion nodded her on.
“What is yours?” Amaris asked, and then mumbled, “meanwhile I’ll find a better way to explain mine.”
“Well, for the last year I have been preoccupied.”
Amaris nodded. “And before, you were . . .” She watched the expressionless man.
“Generally, yes, that is what I mean when I ask a question.”
Sion actually smiled. “I do not know whether to follow my father’s position at the guard, so I came looking for Amaris while I make up my mind.”
“And you? Have you decided a way to explain your specialties? Besides making this forest beautiful by your nature.”
Amaris smirked. “I wondered if you would pick up on that small trait of mine.”
“Arian, had I not recognized your ethnicity, I never would have mentioned Amaris’s name.”
Relief at some consideration to her privacy and safe keeping calmed Amaris. “You understand, then, that Illuma is also my kind.”
Sion nodded. “Of that she told me. But you are both unmistakable.”
“So much for hiding.”
Sion’s eyes narrowed.
“Ask me later.”
“Fine. Your occupation would be . . .?”
“I am a doctor of sorts. It doesn’t pay well, but it can bring some satisfaction.” Amaris leaned her elbows on her table and looked at her shelves filled with medicines, knives, bandages and such. “I can live off the land well enough. The forest is full of game. And my father has and always will provide well for me. Not that I always needed it. Amaris and I got into a few blunders which happily proved more than beneficial for our purses. That lasted me quite a while.” Amaris looked away and said under her breath, “not entirely spent yet.”
“Wait, there are enough funds from a venture years ago, I assume years? —” Amaris nodded. “—To support you even now?”
Amaris tilted her head back and forth. “Sort of. It helps, anyway.”
“I never believed that lifestyle could succeed. What did you and Amaris do?”
Amaris shook her head. “No. Not going there boy.”
Sion pressed his lips together.
Amaris shook her head. “It has too much to do with Amaris. I am sorry.” Amaris believed her own kind tone. Though she might enjoy telling this man about her adventures. She had not spoken about them in so long. They would seem like child’s play to Illuma, and Amaris did not speak to anyone else. Sion might not have heard about the two young liars who started the venture, Captain Jaws pet dragon, or the countless blunders that beget success. He would never know how much Amaris wanted that mess to continue forever to give her excuses to stay with Valmier. She sighed, letting the moment slide. It would hurt too much to have said it all aloud. Maybe she would try to find others from that motley group; it would beat living the same events every year. Trying to hide longer, meant getting used to lonelier. Sion’s voice broke her stupor.
“How can all your life have to do so much with Amaris?”
“Ask your father.” Amaris looked away, and bit the inside of her mouth.
“Wait, wait, wait,” Sion put up his hand, as if a large entourage of thought was assaulting him. “You know Valmier?”
“Knew.” Amaris nodded to herself until she could accept the word. The man who left, and found another woman, that person was foreign to her.
“You thought this unimportant to tell me?” Sion studied Amaris with confusion. “I do not understand you, Arian. If my father is your friend, how could you not ask after him, for three weeks?”
“I did not say we are friends. The man barely recognized me next to Amaris.”
Sion’s eyes lit up. “Ah, that is the venture of which you spoke. The silly treasure hunt Amaris dragged my father into.”
“Dragged? She mentioned her intention, and he followed like a tamed pet.” Amaris smiled. “You should have seen those two, like children, they never would have left each other.”
“But they did.”
Amaris nodded. “Indeed.” Her thoughts went to the old blue eyes of this boy’s father that caught her attention off any other source. Had she commanded Valmier, or the other way around?
“How they did so though, I will never quite understand.” Sion looked disappointed.
“Leave it, then. And think of something better. Leave Amaris and Valmier to their own demise, the one which they designed.”
Sion shrugged, but he did drop the topic. And Amaris was pleased to have only one other question to answer for the day; Sion flattered her by asking about Arian. He wanted to know her age, which Amaris had long since stopped blushing about. Sixty-eight. She had the pleasure of bragging that Illuma had two decades on her. Telling Sion anything about the Alaquendi, herself especially, seemed odd, though, because Amaris had not spoken about her race in over a decade. Why would she? Illuma and Fraiton, both being Alaquendi, already knew their lifespan would stretch to a hundred years at least, if not twenty years longer. Before they died, their life would start seeping out at rapid speed, bleeding gold or silver — or both — into their hair, spilling out onto the ground, and draining for several years before their heart stopped beating. Until then, no one would see them as different than a human, unless they watched how their steps changed the earth.
Amaris could lie down on dirt, and make a puddle of grass and flowers from her weight. The blessing and curse of her kind. Vessels carrying life without the choice of distribution. It slipped from them in a thousand unconscious ways, and they could not control the visibility. So they hid, because, like their legendary ancestors, the Alaquendi had enemies who would hunt them. No one could truly poison a land, or destroy its people while an entire race held onto life just by staying alive. Compromise the Alaquendi, and a foothold could be established. They scattered into cities, where barren ground repelled any visible growth (so long as an Alaquendi did not linger in a spot, until greenery appeared.) Many more escaped to the highlands where snow pack hid the earth. Humans hated the cold that didn’t phase the Alaquendi, adding an extra protective layer against an entire race of tale tellers.Other Alaquendi, like Amaris and Illuma, lived nomadic, or solitary lives. The forest absorbed most of Amaris’s troublesome life energy, and only looked more natural for the effort. Only fools let themselves meet exposure to the public.
Learned people, like Sion, would find the Alaquendi regardless. Amaris tried to pretend such people did not exist. Knowing the contrary truth kept her up at night, stomach in knots, praying in silence that she might not be found. Her pleas always failed, as they had once again. Then she had to temper even half truths to keep strangers or acquaintances from the darker reality. Amaris, if not murdered first, would outlive Illuma, Fraiton, and any Alaquendi less than thirty years younger than she. Some in her family line had lived past one hundred forty years. The thought tormented Amaris, almost more than knowing thousands of the most dangerous people wanted to cut her time line short. The thought killed the remainder of Amaris’s day, and numbed her to sleep that night. Unlike usual bouts of trepidation, this time, Amaris’s plague did not diminish, and her stomach ached so much she hardly ate. She had no mirror to check how colorless her skin would look, and her speech slowed under the weight pf worry.
Illuma visited Amaris after having been told by Sion of Amaris’s weakened health. But Amaris had no illness from which to be cured, and so her friend gave pity and company, and then left. Nothing improved Amaris’s condition, and Sion being near unnerved her more than before. She could hardly stay alert enough to answer any questions, and the man asked fewer now. One day, with Sion absent, Amaris broke into tears over the matter. Sion found her weeping by the fireplace when he returned in the evening with game.
“Arain, what happened?” Sion sat in the second seat in front of the hearth. Amaris shook her head, and continued crying.Then Sion asked the unforeseen question. “Do you want me to leave? Because there has to be some way to find Amaris without bringing such pain to you.”
Amaris bit her lips together, and tears spilled from her eyes anew. Sion said nothing more, and Amaris’s head cluttered with answers she could not give. Finally, she decided another half truth. “If you leave, you will never find her.” Sion did well to not scream at Amaris, but the latter knew it took great self-control. “Trust me,” she said. “You are very near her — and yet far — now.”
“Will I ever meet her?”
Amaris opened her mouth, but all words clogged at the back of her throat.
“Arian. Be honest with me. If it were just your choice, would you tell me who she is?”
She nodded, and her heart skipped a beat. How could she, in honest safety, tell Sion anything?
“Then why do you not? If you are her friend, I am related to the man she loved — what is stopping you from telling me?”
Amaris panicked and spit out a new facade. “I am her cousin.”
Sion’s jaw dropped. Then he said, with delicacy, “what is your last name?”
“Not — the same as hers.” Then she mumbled, “no one wants that target on their head.”
Amaris filled the silence with tears, and Sion showed no signs of understanding comfort. “Are you going to be alright?”
“Not as long as she is alive.” Her voice squeezed out the words passed the choke in her throat.
“Arian, why did you not tell me this before?” Sion’s soft voice made him sound almost trustworthy. But weakness on Amaris’s part did not merit speaking without a filter.
“Amaris has me around for a reason.”
“That is why you live in a dell.” Sion nodded, thinking he understood. “Amaris keeps you here so you will guard her.”
“Not quite. I live by my own decisions. She has no sisters. No brothers. And her father is useless. I am all she has. So I have given up all I had for her.”
“You do not have to do that, Arian. I know you so little, but trust me, we can find another way, for both of you.”
Amaris did not know whether to cry harder, or laugh aloud. “So many have tried. That is why we resorted to this option.”
“She might not have other options, but you do.” Amaris tried to halt Sion, but he continued as she cried harder. “I see where you are coming from, but things are just different for her than for you. She has to live a difficult life, although I pity her for that, but you do not. She can obviously stay hidden without your help, so let her. Visit, but do not live like this.”
“Sion . . .” Amaris’s breaths shook between her tear-less sobs, “you have to stop this, now. Trust me . . .” She held up her hand while she caught her words, “sometime I will tell you why. . . I cannot leave this dell.” Sion stayed quiet in his defeat. Amaris calmed down, and laid in bed awake and trembling.
Amaris did not sleep, so Sion’s leaving the house early did not escape her attention. Exhausted, Amaris spilled from bed, shaking and feeling ill all throughout her unrested muscles. She squinted her sore eyes, and viewed her empty home. Slow moments stretched into minutes, and Amaris’s line of sight drooped, landing on the table top. A letter, written and folded in yellow parchment. It had not been there before. She stepped closer and saw the name of her alias printed across it in what she guessed would be Sion’s writing. The short contents scared Amaris. Sion decided to leave, no longer wanting to plague Arian about her cousin. Amaris slammed her fist down on the table. “No!” She rushed out the door, but Sion had already gone beyond sight. She screamed his name three times with no answer. She whistled for Fleecel and returned inside. Belting her sword onto her side, and buckling a cape around her neck. Sion had to be found.
Fleecel and Amaris had not long tracked Sion when they found the man. She rode up beside him, and startled his mount with her speed. Sion calmed the horse, and looked at Amaris. “Arian, what are you doing?”
“I need to tell you something before you leave.”
“Fine. Then I will be no more trouble.”
Amaris bit her lip, and felt her throat swell. Sion waited while Amaris struggled. Amaris had constructed lives for Arian and herself, filled with truths and lies that belonged only to herself. How could she untangle that so fast? She thought hard, and came up with something thin that might pass for a few minutes while she thought. Her plan might not be seamless, but Amaris had to try. “Amaris has returned to the area, I spoke to her yesterday.”
Sion’s attention heightened, his horse jerked under the tension. “Did you tell her about me?”
“That is why you were upset last night?”
She nodded again, hoping for help in the unbearable topic.
“Well, what did she decide?”
“She trusts my judgment, and she has only one problem with meeting you.” Amaris paused, “your father.”
“He is the only reason you let me stay, is he not?”
Amaris nodded. “Ironic. She is nervous about a reunion with Valmier. Or else she would be willing to see you this day.” Valmier’s name burned Amaris’s lips and she winced. Sion narrowed his eyes at the expression.
“Well, I have some things to discuss with her, whether or not she wants to meet my father in person, again.”
“You could write Amaris a letter, and I will deliver it sealed. I promise.”
Sion shook his head. “She has to hear it from me, face to face.”
“Hear what?”Amaris listened so closely, that when Sion shouted, her ears rang and her stomach lurched.
“No! I did not come all this way to give my news to Amaris’s cousin.”
Amaris trembled from not sleeping. Sion apologized, but Amaris no longer wanted to talk about herself. “Never mind.” Amaris shook her head, and turned Fleecel toward home. He begged forgiveness for yelling, and he followed her. A few minutes of Sion’s persistence, and Amaris shouted back. The conversation bled into an argument, and Amaris promised Sion would get no where near her cousin. Then Sion lost his temper. Amaris had yet to see him scream so loud. Her emotions collapsed into a wall, behind which she watched Sion. She heard nothing he said, but observed his face as it pinched in pain, or exploded in words blurred as noise. Amaris spurred on Fleecel and rode for several minutes, Sion still beside her, until she had almost reached home. Then, Sion’s voice, all strength already exerted, quietly asked why. Amaris stopped her mare, and turned to Sion. She shook her head. Why had she given him the idea of finding her? Amaris searched Sion’s face. So like a lost boy. The child of another woman, one she could never face, whose husband had come as near killing Amaris with pain as could any blade. “You would not understand. My cousin is more vulnerable of heart than many give her credit. She heard your father’s name and turned pale. She vowed to never see him again. And hearing of you brought her to pieces. She loved Valmier, and has never turned to another, but your father moved passed her within a few years.” Sion promised his father would not come within thirty miles of the place where he would meet Amaris. This disquieted Amaris more. She wanted Valmier to find her again. Just not with his child and wife. Everything between them had spoiled.
“Seeing you might harm her, as well.”
“Then we will have to risk that.”
Amaris mouth hung open, she felt exposed.
“I need to see Amaris. Today.”
“Maybe you will see her. But not today. Please leave me alone now.” Amaris’s voice broke again, and she dismounted to descend the dell, just a few more seconds and she would be inside. Sion cut her off, and held her arm.
“What is wrong with you?” Sion looked confused.
“Nothing.” Amaris cried.
“Why do you care so much about Amaris, she does not seem to care about you.”
“I am all she has.” Amaris was two seconds short of wailing, and pulled away from Sion. She rushed to the house, and closed the door behind her. She sobbed on her bed. How could she see Valmier? How could she not see him? The door opened slow. Sion waited, and then spoke with discretion.
“I just want to help your cousin. There is something she needs to know.”
Amaris’s heart pattered on faster. She pushed herself away from the bed and made herself sit up. “What?”
He smiled. “It is for her, not you.” He narrowed his eyes. “Although you might want to know as well. So tell me where she is and I will tell you, too.”
“What could I want to know about Amaris?”
Sion raised his eyebrows. Yes. She wanted to know everything.
“Promise,” Amaris held up her hand. “That Valmier will not find her.” She wept again. Sion said nothing for a long time.
“I have been so blinded by you.”
Amaris looked up. “Why?”
Amaris gasped, and then bit her lip until it almost bled. No, not like this.
“You lied to me the moment we met. Am I wrong?”
Amaris dropped her eyes and shook her head.
“You have no cousins. You have no other reason than yourself to be hiding. You are completely terrified” — Amaris acknowledged answers with head movements, feeling the shame heaped upon her with each phrase as her garment of lies she’d hid under unraveled — “Illuma and Fraiton both know who you are. And you are the only one who has the right to divulge your identity.”
Amaris stared at Sion. “All true.”
“Is it?” Sion huffed.
“I hope so.” Amaris’s lip trembled as she spoke.
“How am I supposed to trust you, now? How can I tell you why I am even here?”
Amaris had no answers, but the ball of guilt in her gut melted some with each rebuke. Sion floundered with words for sometime, trying to sort out lie from truth. Amaris sat still, and answered his minimal questions. It became clear in minutes why Valmier had neglected any mention of Arian, the nonexistent woman. And Amaris grew weary as the man went on and on over what he had believed as truth. She slumped back across the bed, leaning on the wall like a sick child without a mother. She mentioned her fatigue, and Sion stared at her, taking in all her pathetic lack of stamina. He said they would finish the conversation tomorrow, and then went to find his horse. Before he returned, Amaris had fallen asleep, still wearing her clothes and boots.