Talagol

Lotus: My Only Friend

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“Can we go again?”

“Again? But we just got back!”

“Not now, but someday. Someday after you beat the bad men in the west.”

“Someday, yes.”

“Promise?”

“I promise.”

“Cross your heart? And we can visit with the man who owns the water?”

“Liked the place? Yes, sweetheart. You can stay with him.”

“… Where are we going?”

“To get you your last present.”

“But you already got me a present in Can….”

“Khand, sweetheart. And it’s better than the trinkets and robes.”

“Really? Thank you, Daddy!”

“Thank me in a few years, little tiger.”

“Is… Is it a tiger?!”

“No, Inaris. It is better than a tiger.”

Oh….”

“Look. See, up there? It’s your mother.”

“I see her!”

“You should wave to her.”

“Is she coming with us?”

“Good girl. No, she will not be.”

“But I want to show her my present.”

“She already knows what it is.”

“Is it something I can share? Then I could share it with her and my friends.”

“Yes and no. Here we are.”

“But… I’m not allowed in this door… Did I say something wrong?”

“No, little tiger. Before we go in, you need to listen to me.”

“Yes, Daddy.”

“Remember what I told you before?”

“You told me a lot of things.”

“About friends.”

“That you’re my only friend?”

“That’s it. People will be nice to you only as long as they need to use you. Never have any other friends. They will always betray you.”

“… O-okay, Daddy.”

“Good, Inaris. Now, let’s get your present.”

“Are… you sure? Do I have to go in there? The Mistress said –”

“You trust me, yes?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Now, go in.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The brand behind her ear was hot and raw to the touch. The ache kept her migraine from subsiding, and each throb of pain felt like iron nails scraping against her skull. Thankfully the haze of the past few hours had finally begun to lift. With a soft grunt in effort, Jade righted herself to lean back against the bookshelf.

“I was beginning to wonder if he’d gone too far and finally beaten you.”

Jade tested opening her eyes ever so carefully, only to find that the world was still tinted red, and warm pools of moisture lazily began coursing down over the sides of her pallid cheeks. Then it all came flooding back. Talagol relaxing in a chair in the little, empty apartment as Eglathor drug her in. Why she was there. Why she hurt everywhere.

“Hold still,” said Talagol as he crouched down beside her and removed the wad of cloth that served as a gag from her mouth. While years had seen his olive skin grow darker and heavy from wind and sun, they had done little to soften the man’s angular jaw and high cheekbones. How long has he been in Bree?

Don’t touch me,” Jade hissed, her mouth unbearably dry, jerking her head away. The sharp motion served only to make her headache worse. After a decade of wishing for just one chance to meet him again so she could see the life drain from his eyes he was here, and by the cords that bound her wrists she wondered if he knew just how much she hated him.

Talagol slapped her across the face, and the room spun. “Hold still,” he repeated, his voice no more severe than before as he pulled out a kerchief. “You will heal soon enough but it won’t do to have people see you with blood in those lovely eyes.”

You watched. Watched and did nothing! You vile bastard, you — “Where is the sorcerer?”

Talagol’s stern expression shifted into a dangerous glare as he carefully wiped the crimson tears from the corners of her eyes. “Eglathor has gone to collect his things from the inn. But I want to know something.”

Jade glared right back at him, not responding, nor drawing back again.

“Why did you betray our people?”

“‘Our people” is a very broad term to you, isn’t it?”

Talagol frowned. He was angry, yes, but it seem to be driven more out of disappointment than anything else. “In an hour you will be putting this pitiful place behind you. You should thank Eglathor for making sure you will not be executed upon our return.”

“Well, isn’t he the sweetest,” she cooed, voice dripping with sarcasm. “Don’t expect to get too far.”

Talagol’s harsh features illuminated by the firelight were accentuated by a wry smirk not all that dissimilar from his daughter’s. “We will see. Do you think this Breeish husband of yours will come? If he cannot be satisfied by being reimbursed, well…. Farmers and peasants are fodder for our friend, dear daughter.”

Jade sneered. You had better hope I get free and deal with you before he catches up. “Eglathor may be yours, but as far as you are concerned, I have no friends, remember?”

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Lotus: Soft Spot

“Need me to come by again some evening?”

Jade sat on the middle beam of the fence, arms and chin resting on the top. “No… Thanks, though, Tom. I don’t wanna risk you getting caught and into trouble with the Mistress at this point, but I think things should work out now.”

The young man raked aside a bit of soiled straw, looking a tad disappointed. “‘Course Miss Jade…. Ya know, it was kinda fun sneakin’ in and all, pretendin’ to be the gravedigger. Didn’t know there were so many card games, either!”

“There are more, but you’re too nice for me to teach ’em to you,” she responded with a playful wink.

Tom’s cheeks flushed, and he gave a sheepish shrug. “Well… Ann really liked the flowers. Helped a lot in explainin’ that we weren’t doin’ anything.”

“I’m glad she did. And I don’t solicit cute things like you, Tom, you know that.”

He gave her a curious look. “Why not? I mean, you wouldn’t — well, you probably would believe all the boys who talk big like they are gonna go hire one of you girls. Ann… well, she said if I wanted to try it once… with you it’d be all right.”

Jade scoffed. “Shit, Tom. You believed her?”

By the look on the young man’s face, he had.

“She’s just saying that because she’s nice. You take her up on it and you’ll break the poor girl’s heart.”

“Oh…”Tom replied softly, and Jade could see the light come on. “Oh! Well, why in the  — Why are you females all so damned complicated?”

“Because you wouldn’t like us half as much if we weren’t,” she responded with a grin. “Men can be just as complicated, you know.” Jade gave her feathery bangs a toss and added, “And so we’re clear, I’m not doing this for me. He asked me to.”

Tom forked another pitch-fork full of dirty straw into the wheelbarrow. “Then why you lie to your friend?”

Jade frowned. “Because it was the best way to get it done.”

“Was it a good friend?” The young man stopped working for a moment to study her. “Ain’t never seen that look on your face before. You’re really sorry you told him all that, aren’t ya?”

Jade hesitated for a moment before nodding. “If I’d had a traditional wedding he was one of two people I’d thought about asking to walk me.”

Tom gave a low whistle and shook his head. After a moment he gave her a curious look and stabbed his pitchfork into another clump of old straw. “Why didn’t you have one?”

“Because I wanted to be Mrs. Drewett Harlowe,”she said, her grin somewhat sheepish. It was nice to let that out once in a while, and it was easier than she cared to admit for her feelings on the matter — for the man to slip out.

“Hah!” Tom exclaimed, grinning as he worked. “You’ve got a soft spot!”

Jade smirked and threw a shoot of straw at the young man, sending it sailing out to bounce off of his shoulder. “Shut it. I got several, so don’t rat on me.”

“But he’s the biggest one. Why you still workin’ if you’re married? Thought you quit.”

“Because I got bored and hot ‘n bothered,” she replied with a shrug. “Sure he wouldn’t mind sometimes, but Drew’s got too many important things to do than entertaining me all of the time. Besides, our entertainment comes at –”

“Ah, ah! Nuh-uh! Just — No! I don’ wanna know that!”

“What?! You’re the one with all the questions!”

~ ~ ~

Elgathor glanced over his shoulder to where Talagol rode a dozen yards back. The war-lord had not been pleased about having to leave his armour behind, but neither of them would have survived half a day into The Mark if they had remained in their Easterling attire. Now night was once more upon them, and they had had the fortune of joining up with a caravan making it’s way north up the Greenway.

“Who did you say you were looking for?”

He looked back to the … brigand? Mercenary? Eglathor did not like him, whatever he was, and had not taken care to remember his name. “My daughter,” he responded easily, a perfectly convincing look of concern on his face. “She had become separated from us when the enemy made a push south.”

The mercenary grumbled. “Bloody gits. Comin’ out of every nook and cranny –“

“What part of the north you from?” came the sudden question from the commander leading the column up the ruined road. He looked back at Eglathor with a wary, watchful gaze that said he did not miss much, if anything.

Eglathor reined back a glare at the man the men escorting their caravan called ‘Vrax’. Something about him made the sorcerer want to coil up and strike, but even at the other man’s greying age he dared not risk such a fight. “Trestlebridge.” By the gods, it’s the only other town I know of in this forsaken corner of the world.

His answer seemed to suffice, though, and Vrax nodded curtly. “No one coming south by that description. If the lads had seen her they would have talked about it.”

“Oh? Well, I suppose I cannot blame them, so long as it’s just talk,” said Eglathor with a chuckle and a shrug. “She gets her good looks from her mother.”

“Lucky man! I sure hope ya find ‘er,” said the first man who’s name had been forgotten. “Good to see a concerned father with a soft spot for their daughter.”

Eglathor grinned into the growing dark, and nodded. “Yes, yes I suppose I do.”