Bits and Pieces. Chapter 5.

He was blessedly drunk. Recently his mood grew worse and the fact that the only person–as much as he was reluctant to admit that–who made him feel relaxed and at ease was out of town for almost three weeks for now didn’t help to improve it at all. 

“Two weeks and three days,” he mumbled, turning to lie on his back. Why would I even count?

Lian looked at the slowly swirling ceiling. The last straw that transformed his mood from insufferable into purely foul was a letter from his parents–he had yielded to his sister’s pleas and decided to read one of the letters that kept arriving. Oh, that was a big, big mistake. His mother’s “concerns,” as Tharawen put it, turned out to be absolute conviction that he had been spending his time “performing all sorts of inappropriate and indecent acts,” and his father made it clear that either “the son of his” stopfooling around and return to Alinor or he was going to stop paying his studying expenses. Studying expenses! It seemed his parents hadn’t even realized he was paying for everything he needed all by himself since he finished his apprenticeship.

Just reading all this made him skip the late dinner, instead going to the tavern to get a bottle of brandy and drink it almost to the bottom in the gloomy solitude of his room in attempt to just be able to stop thinking about his parents and their letter. He shouldn’t fall asleep, he thought, knowing too well what sorts of dreams are waiting for him on the other side of consciousness. Do not. Fall. Asleep. . .
He was back in the room he spent all his childhood in. Curling in a tight ball, knees to his chest and hands over his ears, trying to shut out the sounds of his mother shouting at Tharawen about her being good-for-nothing mage and complete parents’ disappointment. How he hated that! He would eventually stop trying, instead rushing to the study to convince his mother to stop, to plead her to stop–just to witness his father slapping his older sister across her face– 

Lian whimpered in his sleep, dragging his knees closer to his chest.

“Shh . . . shh . . . everything’s gonna be all right. I promise you. Just relax. It’s gonna be ok.” Yes. Those were exactly the words Thara would say afterwards, hugging him. The voice was different, but he didn’t care. Someone warm and soft had embraced him, holding him tightly. And the visions from the past were gone, chased away by this warmth and quiet, gentle voice, letting him slip further into the dreamless sleep. 

* * *

Lian woke with a start. The warmth that lulled him into sleep was gone, his head hurt from all brandy he drank, and though it was at least an hour past midnight, a dimmed light still lit his room. He blinked and sat up with a groan, trying to adjust his eyes to the light in the room–he didn’t remember leaving it when he fell asleep. He blinked several more times, not ready to believe the sight that came into his view. 

Gwilwering was sitting in the armchair, her legs hanging over the armrest, reading.

“I might get used to the sight of you reading in my room, you know?” His voice was hoarse.

Rin took her eyes from the book and smiled. “You’re awake! Sit there, I’ll get you some stamina potion.” She reached for her backpack, taking a small bottle with a bright green liquid out of it. “You drank pretty much yesterday, didn’t you? It will drive away the hangover.” She crossed the room and sat next to him on the bed, giving a bottle to him. 
Spotting his suspicious expression, Rin laughed softly. “Drink it. I’m most sure I don’t want to poison you and as much Ragi’s tongue is venomous; she is pretty good at alchemy. You’ll feel better, I promise.”

Lian closed his eyes and downed the bottle in one gulp. “It’s sweet!” he exclaimed with a surprise.

Rin’s smile became wider. “Ragi likes sweet things, and so do I. And the potions from the local alchemist taste really bad. It’s her “special recipe,” and I can’t tell you the secret; don’t even try to ask! Please, don’t make such a face, it’s nothing illegal or life-threatening.” 

Lian just shook his head. At the moment he couldn’t care less–he felt less drowsy with every passing minute, his head hurt less, and he was awake and out of his unpleasant reverie.

“How long have you been here?”

“A couple of hours, a bit more maybe. I was back into town about an hour before sunset and came to see you about an hour after that. Got you another book!”

“Plundered another burial site, you mean?” he asked, trying to hide the warm, pleasurable feeling suddenly blooming in the middle of his chest when he realized she came to visit almost immediately after returning to Vulkhel Guard.

“You were having a nightmare,” Rin’s voice was laced with concern as she ignored his jab. “I tried to wake you up but to no avail, so I just hugged you and told you it was going to be okay. You relaxed after that and stopped thrashing, so I guess it worked.”

“You hugged me?”

“Yes, you know, it’s when one person puts their hands around the other–”

“I know, what hugging is!”

“Why are you looking scandalized, then? It’s not like I injured your innocence!”

“Must you joke over every single matter?” Lian pursed his lips.

“Oh, Y’ffre! I haven’t really, have I?” Rin’s eyes were wide, and he couldn’t tell for sure–was she still teasing him or was she being serious?

“No! Of course not! It’s just . . . no one has hugged me just like that since my adolescence.”

“Huh? But that is terrible!” The Bosmer was deadly serious. “Everyone needs a good hug once in a while! Come here!” Rin reached out for him, making him almost jump off the bed to keep the distance between them.

“That is . . . unnecessary,” he said stiffly. I’m not sure I’ll be able to control myself, came an unbidden thought.

“Oh, okay.” Rin looked hurt and a little puzzled. 

Lian ran his fingers through his tousled hair, trying to make it look more or less decent.
“I would offer you a drink, but I’m afraid I don’t have anything left.”

“I can make some tea, if you like.”

“Tea sounds great, thank you. I hope it won’t be too much trouble.”

* * *

In a dozen more minutes, the Bosmer was humming happily, stirring some leaves and herbs in a small kettle of boiling water. “This fire magic of yours is sure useful!” She turned to look at Lian. “In a practical sense, I mean.”

Lian chuckled. “It has other uses, you know.”

“Oh, I’m sure it does. Here you go!” 

Gratefully taking the cup from her hands, Lian carefully inhaled a spicy smell. “What’s in that? I thought Bosmeri do not use vegetative components.”

“It’s a little bit more complicated; we’re prohibited to harm the plants of Valenwood.” Gwilwering lightly brushed her thumb across the rim of the cup. “We can use the components that the Forest gives us–like fallen leaves–and we can also use those plants and other vegetatives that were brought here by merchants, as a trade. Some of us don’t use even that, though, but others do–mostly those who live in close contact with other races.”

“What about you?”

“I made you this tea, didn’t I” she smiled slightly.

“Tell me about your family.” The words slipped out before he could stop himself.

Rin looked curiously at the Altmer sitting across the table. “My family? Why?”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.” Lian avoided her gaze, silently scolding himself. 

“No, it’s okay. What to tell? I grew up at Woodhearth, in Greenshade. My Ma is a trader, Da is a hunter, one of the best hunters I know! He taught me everything I know. His approval is hard to get, but I have some ideas how I can impress him. Ma’s approval wasn’t the easiest thing to gain either, though in general she was happy enough if I hadn’t ran away into the wilderness and found some adventures to my own harm.”

“Any siblings?”

“Two brothers.” The girl’s smile became warmer. “Geldor is a couple decades older, and Ryn, Rynion, is a couple of minutes younger. We’re twins–when we were kids we sometimes thought that we were a single person in two bodies. We still sometimes may think the same things at the same time and finish sentences for each other; isn’t that amazing? And Geldor is always acting like a big, wise, protective brother who knows everything. He doesn’t bother himself with stupid childish games, and is always there for you–but he isn’t boring, no, just . . . grown-up.” Rin giggled. “I guess it happens with most males when they get the kids of their own; my nephew is three summers old.” She paused for a moment, then said, “Gel would like you, you know?”

“Oh?”

“The two of you would just sit there and talk about the books you’ve read, the stories you’ve heard, and other stuff all night long. And he’s fascinated with magic too.”

He envied her, Lian realized. The way she practically lit from inside while speaking of her parents, her cheeky smile when telling him of her twin brother, the warmth in her eyes when she mentioned her small nephew. The mage nearly jumped,when he felt her fingers lightly touching his hand, his attention snapping back to the Bosmer hunter.

“You were somewhere else. I asked you twice and you were just staring into vacancy.”

“I’m sorry. What was that?”

“I asked, what about you? What’s your family like?”

Lian felt his face petrify. “It’s complicated.” He fell silent for a moment. “I don’t get along with my parents. I have a sister. She’s older than me, and she’s married. I’m sorry, I don’t know what else to add.”

He stood up abruptly. The visions from his dream, his thoughts about the letter, everything was back in his mind, ruining the lightness he had felt from the moment he saw Rin in his room earlier that night. 

“It was about them?”

“Huh?” He blinked, trying to focus his attention back at his guest. 

“Your nightmare. It was somehow connected to your parents, wasn’t it?”

He didn’t answer, and suddenly her hands were around him, pulling him into a tight hug.

“Yes.” He whispered, not even trying to push away from the Bosmer this time.

“You don’t need to tell if you don’t want to.” Rin rested her cheek on his chest, listening to the frantic pace of his heart. “But it may make it easier, you know.”

Lian hesitated for a moment but then slowly raised his arms, returning the hug. “It’s complicated, as I said. They made me the mage I am now trained me, drilled knowledge into me, and for that I am grateful. But they were . . . they were not . . . particularly gentle with that.”

He felt her arms around him tighten slightly, then relax as one of her hands started to move in small circles between his shoulder-blades.

“Thara–Tharawen–my sister, she doesn’t have any aptitude to magic. When my parents found that out, they didn’t take it very well. They are too proud of being Altmer and being mages to admit that someone who can not use the arcane power was born into their family. They saw it . . . as a flaw. And, as I said, they are not particularly gentle in their parenting practices.”

Lian fell silent again, closing his eyes for a heartbeat and relishing Rin’s warmth against him. Feeling her gaze, he opened his eyes and looked at her. Merciful Auri-El, she was so beautiful. The Altmer swallowed, feeling the burning urge to bend down and kiss her senseless. Hastily breaking the embrace, he stepped back, instantly regretting the loss of her warmth.

“I . . . I am sorry for spoiling the evening. The night.”

A soft gentle smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. “We can talk about it later, if you feel like it.”

“Maybe. I am not sure.” 

“We won’t if you don’t want.” She smiled again. “Oh! The book! I completely forgot about the book!” Rin rushed to her backpack.

Lian knew what she was doing, pretending not to notice his haunted eyes, trying to shift his attention to something entirely not connected to their previous talk. And he was grateful for that.

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