AR 1212-01 04-06 Every New Beginning Comes from Some Other Beginning's End
A low growl rumbled, and piece of wood cracked in the fire. The two noises, coming from near the same spot in the common room to all four caves, held no correlation between them. The latter was what happened when hearth fires were recently lit; the former was what happened when teenage boys skipped lunch. Yari was sprawled on a cushion in front of the hearth, staring into the noisy flames, oblivious to the complaints of his stomach, lost in thought.
He had been distracted all morning, which was never a good thing when running combat drills with Oxley. The great half-orc had been more than apologetic for smashing Yari several times square-in-the-face with his practice sword. After the stars had cleared from his vision, Yari was able to wave Ox away, assuring him it was no bother and that it was his own fault for letting down his guard. Ox was reassured by that the first half-dozen times or so, but eventually even he began to wonder if something else was going on with Yari.
In fact, there was something else going on, but Yari dismissed all attempts at prying as politely as he could. As soon as morning classes were over, he came straight to his flop-spot to think in front of the fire by himself. The dancing tongues of heat and light were the next best thing to staring at the stars, which the young cleric was not able to do, thanks to it being the middle of the day.
“Your eyes’re doing that thing again.”
Yari blinked hard, then glanced around. Sardi was standing nearby, holding two trays of food. He smiled awkwardly, then extended one of the trays to Yari. “Didn’t see you at lunch; figured I’d find you here.”
“Thanks,” smiled Yari, reaching up to accept Sardi’s gift. The older boy sat down on the same cushion and bumped Yari’s head with his own in a sign of affection. Yari smiled. Sardi always could make him feel better, even at his lowest. He didn’t know it, but the physical contact had also caused his eyes to return from jet black to their normal white and sapphire.
“So,” Sardi began, after biting off half-a-slice of sandwich. “You gonna tell me what’s been eating ya on your own, or am I going to have t’tickle it out of you?”
“If you’re gonna tickle me, at least wait ‘til I’m done eating!” Yari found he could no longer ignore the protestations of his stomach, and the idea of ceasing to cram food into his mouth for any reason was just about the worst thing he was able to imagine.
“I make no such promise. Now, talk!”
Cheeks puffed with food like a squirrel, Yari did his best to scowl Sardi away. Instead, Sardi just laughed and flicked Yari’s nose. “You look hilariously adorable right now.”
Trying desperately to insist, “No, I don’t!” what Yari actually said sounded more like, “Nngyo, ah’dohnff!” This had the unfortunate effect of making Sardi laugh even harder, but he did allow Yari to pout in peace while he finished chewing and swallowed.
It was clear Yari did not want to discuss what was on his mind, but it was equally clear Sardi was earnest in his threat of torture to make his friend talk. With a great sigh, Yari reached into his pocket and produced a folded piece of paper, which he handed over to Sardi.
Written using the block letter-stamps from Professor Stonethrow’s classroom were the words:
|TELL HER SOON|
|SHE DESERVES TO KNOW|
|BEFORE SHE HEARS IT|
|FROM SOMEONE ELSE|
Sardi gave a sharp laugh. “Hah! Kid, this’s nothing! Whoever wrote this clearly doesn’t know Verona is already aware you’re dating Elsie. You just took her to the dance as friends. Nothin’ t’worry about!”
“Don’t call me ‘kid.’ I’m less-than-a-year younger than you.”
“And, half-a-head shorter!”
Yari stuck out his tongue at Sardi. Sardi flicked Yari’s nose again and smiled impishly. Yari glared angrily for a moment, then decided food was more important and shoved more of it into his face.
“Seriously, though,” continued Sardi, “what’s got you so distracted? I don’t get it.”
Swallowing, Yari glanced sideways at his friend, then quickly away. Looking studiously at the floor, he said, “It’s… not quite that simple.”
“Okay. Go on?”
Yari bit his lip before doing so. “I… kinda sorta made out with Verona last night after the dance. And… it was kind of… a lot… really, really nice.”
Sardi whistled in amazement. “Dang, kid. Your sister was right: You gotta learn to keep it in your pants!”
“Really?” responded Yari scornfully. “That’s your takeaway? I basically cheat on my girlfriend, whom I haven’t seen in months, and some unknown stalker leaves me a note calling me out on it, and the best you got is: Keep it in your pants?!”
“Hey, calm down, dude,” Sardi said firmly. “This is me, remember? I’m not the enemy, here.”
Yari sighed, and scrunched up his nose in embarrassment. “Yeah, I know. Sorry.”
Sardi set his tray aside, and put his arm around Yari for comfort. The younger boy felt all his muscles relax, which surprised him, as he hadn’t realized he had been so tense. Yari sighed once again, and stuffed the rest of his sandwich in his mouth. Then, putting his own arm around Sardi, he leaned back and chewed quietly while watching the flames some more.
“Being a teenager is hard!” Sardi said after a while.
“I think it’s supposed t’be. Sort of like a chrysalis state, before becoming butterflies.”
“Some cocoons become moths.”
“Moths are fine, too. They’re just different.”
“They eat holes in our clothes.”
The two boys fell into silence again. Silence seemed to be the cornerstone of their friendship. Not for the first time, Yari marveled at how comfortable he was just sitting quietly with Sardi. Growing up with his father, Yari had learned early on that words were often irrelevant; but, it hadn’t been until coming to school at Golden Eagle that he began to realize the full extent of it. Volumes of information could be exchanged with a look, a touch, a soft exhale.
A sharp inhale. Oh, Yari was learning very well what that might mean! Between Elsie and Verona, the boy was figuring out all sorts of new and exciting ways people communicated without talking.
Sardi inhaled sharply, snapping Yari out of his thoughts. “Oh, that’s it!” he exclaimed.
“What?” asked Yari.
“You could ask to go with the next rotation of guards!” Yari’s confused looked spurred Sardi on. “Look, obviously you need to go figure things out with Elsie, right?”
“But, we’re on lockdown here right now, right?”
“Well, the dwarves’re keeping a fairly regular rotation of guards patrolling the valley, and the next set’s scheduled to go out tomorrow. You could ask to go out with them! That way, you won’t be on your own.”
“Sardi, that’s genius! I could kiss you!” Yari exclaimed jubilantly.
“Well, if you must, you must,” Sardi said stoically. “But, I will totally tell your sister about it.”
They left the next morning. Yari was familiar enough with what he would need for the trip, impressing his dwarven escorts. Making good time, the troupe arrived at Dean’s inn shortly after dark. The plan was to wait there until the returning patrol showed up, hopefully sometime in the morning.
Dean greeted the dwarves with warmth and hospitality, but glared as soon as he saw Yari. “Where’ve you been, boy?” he demanded. Yari couldn’t tell if the man was glad to see him or not, though that seemed to be the norm.
“At the academy, sir,” he answered, respectful as ever. “We’ve been on lockdown on account of the increase in orcs lately. I came as soon as I could manage.”
The large innkeeper narrowed his eyes at Yari, then said, “Elsie’s in the kitchen,” and stalked away. Yari took that as in invitation and pressed his way through the crowded tavern room to the back where the kitchen was. The smell of dozens and dozens of unwashed and fearful bodies assaulted his nose, reminding the boy that life outside the dwarven keep was not quite as cozy.
All his life, Yari had lived in privilege. He knew that, but he often forgot exactly what it meant. Things he took for granted, like daily bathes, and the assurance of safety, were not as constant for others as they were for him. Yari offered a thankful prayer to Odin for all he had been given. The boy also added a polite request for guidance in how to best handle the uncomfortable situation he was walking himself directly into.
In the kitchen, Ida, Dean’s wife, was bustling about the main cooking fire. A large pot hung above the flames, and delicious smells wafted from it to envelope the whole of the small room. Beside the cooking fire, sharing the same fuel, was a modestly-sized oven. In it, four large loaves of bread were baking, adding further to the wonderful scents, and fully canceling out the stench from the tavern area.
Ida looked up from stirring her stew as Yari entered, and made a valiant effort not to scowl. Yari could almost hear her think, “I thought we were done with you!” but what she said was nothing. Digging deep, and finding a cordial smile, Ida nodded to the back of the room where Elsie was busy washing dishes.
The noise from the other room masked the sounds of his movement as Yari walked over to his girlfriend. He unslung his shield from his back, balanced his spear next to it, and rolled up his sleeves. Without saying a word, Yari started helping Elsie with her chore, and in what seemed like no time at all, the huge stack of tableware had moved from the dirty side of the wash basin to the clean side. It wasn’t until then that she actually registered who was next to her.
“Yari!” she exulted, wrapping him up in a passionate, soapy hug, and kissing him on his lips. She held the kiss for a long while, and when she broke away, Yari leaned in to kiss her again. The young girl happily indulged her long-absent boyfriend. Finally, she put a finger between them and whispered, “I’m all done here. Let’s go somewhere private.”
Elsie glanced around, and seeing her mother had left to check on their customers, led Yari by the hand through a side door, around the tavern room, into the common room, and up the stairs to her room. It was a path Yari knew well. Once there, she looked nervously to both sides of the hall, then closed the door behind them.
Yari was intimately acquainted with Elsie’s room. If the girl’s parents knew how much time he had actually spent there, they likely would not be as friendly to him as they were. Not that Dean and Ida were exactly friendly to him to begin with. Shoving those thoughts away and trying to focus on his reason for coming, Yari began making himself at home.
Almost instinctively, he kicked off his boots and removed his shirt. Flopping, arms wide, on her bed, Yari looked up at Elsie and smiled. Whatever was about to happen, it was still good to see her again.
“We need to talk,” she said, flopping down next to him, and taking the words right out of his mouth. She folded herself into the crook of his arm, and placed on hand on his stomach.
It was almost too much for the boy. This was not the first time they had been in such a position, but each time before, there hadn’t been anything between them. Now, despite the intimacy of their closeness, Yari felt there was a large wall separating them; a wall of his creation.
“Yeah,” he answered. “I think we do.”
“I’m sorry!” they both said at once.
“Okay, wait,” Yari said quickly. “This seems serious.”
“Yeah,” conceded Elsie.
“Then,” he said, rolling over to look at her, mischievous grin flying, “we should pro’lly make out a bit more first. I haven’t seen you in months, and I miss my girlfriend!”
“I’ve missed my boyfriend,” Elsie said, grinning equally so. She caressed his cheek, and he leaned in to meet her.
The hour candle burned itself down merrily, and the lovers eventually found themselves in darkness. The final sputtering of the candle brought them back to reality, and with one final, lingering kiss, Yari moved off of Elsie, and the two snuggled into each other.
“It’s been a while since we did that,” Yari breathed. He wasn’t sure, but the young man thought he heard her whisper, “Yeah.”
Yari allowed himself to enjoy laying with Elsie for as long as he could. When his eyes started to drop, he roused himself and said with a sigh, “Okay, so…”
Elsie sighed herself, and sleepily answered, “… so…”
“What’s up?” asked Yari, rubbing Elsie’s shoulder with his thumb.
“I don’t want you to hate me.”
“How could I ever? I don’t know what the future holds, Elsie, but I know I will always love you.”
“Don’t say that.”
“Why not? It’s true.”
“Just… don’t say that.”
“It’s said. Can’t un-ring a bell.”
“I don’t want you to ever become a liar.” Elsie had been fondling his hair for a while, but as she spoke, she moved her hand down to embrace Yari under his arm. She kissed his cheek as gently as she could, so as not to rekindle the desires she knew they both still shared.
Yari chuckled, a bit of nervousness coming out. “’T’s a good thing, I s’ppose: I’m a terrible liar.”
“You’re so bad at it, I don’t think you’re even capable of lying!” teased Elsie. Yari nuzzled her with his nose. She breathed in sharply.
“C’mon now,” the boy whispered. “What’s both’rin’ you?”
“Why were you gone for so long?” she asked. Yari got the sense she was still stalling, but that was okay. He was stalling, too, and it was a valid question to ask.
“We were on lockdown again, only worse than last time. I tried several times to sneak out and see you, but even with my friends’ help, I got caught.”
“So, is the lockdown lifted? Will you be coming ‘round more often again?”
“No, it’s not lifted. The keep’s increased patrols into the valley, though, and Sardi had the idea that I ask to go with one of the groups to see you.”
“Sardi’s seemed like a really good friend to you. How’s he doing?”
“He’s fine. Now, tell me what’s bothering you.”
If Yari could have seen Elsie’s pout, he wouldn’t have been able to stop himself from kissing her again. Perhaps, then, it was lucky that they continued to lay in near-total darkness as the girl quietly harrumphed at having her stall-tactics called out. She waited another moment to gather her thoughts before finally answering. “Do you remember Brog?” she asked.
“That’s a silly question!” complained Yari. “I saw him downstairs, helping wait tables.”
“Right…” Elsie grew quiet again, and Yari allowed her the time she needed to keep going. “Ever since… since we both were captured by the witch…” she sniffed, and her voice caught.
Yari’s heart broke again, for the pain she must have gone through back then. “I can never understand what that must have like, Elsie. I am so sorry it happened to you.”
“I know,” she said, sniffing once more, and trying to reign in her emotions. “I know. You’ve always been there for me… when you’re here…”
“And, well… so’s Brog.”
“… oh!” Every single upsetting image that was possible for Yari imagine, involving his girlfriend and Brog alone together, ran through his head in the space of a sharp breath. Elsie seemed to understand, and she kissed his chest several times, softly.
“It’s not like that, honest!” she insisted. “It’s just… Brog actually knows what that was like, and you’ve been gone so long, and…”
“Elsie!” whispered Yari, cutting the girl’s rambling short. “I understand.”
“… oh… oh!”
They continued to talk into the night. Yari told Elsie all about his conflicted feelings for Verona; Elsie told Yari all about her conflicted feelings for Brog. They both shared their conflicted feelings for each other.
“You know,” Elsie said, shortly before they fell asleep in each other’s arms, “no one ever said we had to be exclusive.”
Yari stuttered intelligibly, before managing, “But, I just figured that, after we, you know, that it was kind of, and, well… well…”
When the morning sun danced through her window onto their faces, they awoke to a bittersweet day. They dressed in silence, and Elsie led Yari by the hand again, back through to the kitchen to collect his shield and spear. Yari said he wasn’t hungry, so they waited on the front steps for the returning dwarven patrol. It arrived roughly on time, and Yari helped Elsie and her parents serve breakfast to everyone. Once all were fed and ready to leave in their respective directions, Yari took Elsie aside one last time.
“We’re not breaking up,” he said.
“No, we’re just,” she trailed off, searching for the right words.
“We’re just allowing that we’re young, and curious; and, that that should be okay,” offered Yari.
“I’ll be back to see you as soon as the lockdown is lifted. I promise!”
“You always do keep your promises, don’t you, Yari?”
“I do lot of things from time to time that I’m not proud of,” he answered, smiling, “but, yeah: Somehow, breaking a promise has never been one of them.” They kissed one last time. It was a sad kiss, as goodbye kisses always were, but this time it felt a little sadder. He said again, “I will always love you. I promise.”
Then, he turned and left.
The returning patrol made better time than their replacements, and the whole group somehow made it back to the keep before everyone had gone to bed. Yari’s stomach was rumbling, and he poked his head into the kitchen and found Tizzy doing some last-minute tidying up. All it took was a look of puppy-dog-eyes, and the human boy had himself a cold slab of chicken breast for his dinner. Munching happily on the cooked bird, Yari stumbled into Sardi on his way to his bunk. The two boys shared a look that expressed all that needed expressing, clasped arms, then went their separate ways.