Don’t Be Such a Fright
The sun bore down on the marketplace, thrown off by the white stone it was like an oven here and the cowl probably did his cousin no favors. The overlong strands of Sellion’s hair were plastered to his face. It was August, 3018 and it was too hot to be carrying supplies up and down this damned city.
“Stop. This way,” she said and turned on her heel, long strides on long legs guiding her and her cousin (currently carrying a crate of bandaging) inside the cool tavern. It was dark and pleasant, free from the sun’s ghastly rays and for the first time Sellion felt like he could breathe. It was agony outside. She set her basket along a wall and pointed to it. “Just set it down there. This is absurd.”
“Are we allowed to just stop doing things?” Sellion asked nervously, mopping the sweat away from his forehead with his hand.
“What? We are allowed to do whatever I say we are allowed to do,” she replied confidently, sweeping off her cowl and shaking out her long hair. Sellion wanted to argue because he was almost certain he wasn’t allowed to be here and that he was supposed to be doing something. But, of course, he wasn’t the sort of person who argued with his cousin or with anyone and it was too hot to be doing anything outside.
“Right… But…” He began slowly. Alduial held up a hand.
“No. I am going to get us drinks. Go sit down.”
Sellion sighed and wandered off to find a table. He was the oldest of his own siblings but that barely mattered to be honest. He’d been Bregdur’s page so long he felt more like the baby brother of House Eluiel than the firstborn son of House Anessen. Bregdur said this was normal, it was supposed to make him humble and build family ties and a bunch of other things that Sellion mostly didn’t understand. It had mostly just netted him a bunch of older siblings who were in turn horrid, terrifying, mad, or demanding… Or dead, he supposed, as was the case with Thalion who had died when he was young.
But he would admit that the cool tavern interior was a welcomed respite from the late-summer and he set his forehead against the stone table while he waited for Alduial to return with two pitchers and two cups.
“Water first,”she said firmly and poured poured out equal measures. Sellion didn’t have to be told twice, he drank three cups almost without breathing. Then it was cool wine, poured in silence, and they both sat reveling in the cool air of the tavern.
“Allie?” He asked after a long while in blissful silence. His cousin was sitting with her chin propped on her palm, smiling over at some man in a doublet at the bar.
“Hm?” She asked, without looking up.
“He’s, uh, married,” Sellion ventured, squinting to ensure he was correct about the man he was staring at.
“What?” She asked, startled out of some reverie, casting a suspicious glance at Sellion.
“I had to run a present up to his house last month. He’s married to some woman from Lossarnach. I think she owns an orchard or something.”
He watched his cousin’s face shift with absolute fascination. She glowered at the man and turned abruptly away, leaving him completely confused.
“How disgusting,” she hissed into her goblet and Sellion struggled to conceal a snicker.
“You were flirting with him,” Sellion countered as innocently as possible.
“I did not know he was married. He knew he was married. That makes him disgusting,” she countered. “Men are awful.”
“Whatever you say Allie,” he offered and reached into the forgotten pitcher of water to wet his hand and rub at the spot where his collar had chafed.
“I do not even believe in monogamy but if you are going to take a vow in front of the gods you ought to keep it.”
“I mean for that. Specifically.”
“Hmph. How are the… you know… the great…” She gestured vaguely in a manner Sellion took to mean ballistae. Despite the history of the entire family being entwined in engineers, despite the entire household being covered in decorative tapestries depicting the deployment of siege weaponry, despite there being miniature, functioning models of weapons inside every room of the house (!) Sellion was almost entirely sure no one else had ever bothered to learn what they were. Even Thalion had been more interested in the boring parts of being a knight, riding horses and trying to stab people. Sellion silently swore, for the millionth time, that he was never even going to pick up a sword.
“Yes. Those. How are they?”
“Er… Well fine I suppose,” he offered and added on inside his head that they were, in fact, improved significantly since the battle. Explaining the intricacies of the weapons to his cousins was as useful as explaining them to a horse. It wasn’t their fault. They were just lazy.
“Good, good…” she said slowly, nodding along.
“Allie?” He began again, now reminded of the adventure two months previous. Not that it had been much of an adventure for him, staying back and helping to devise the blast charges to destroy the bridge. But they had been delivered and set by infantrymen, engineers couldn’t be risked so near the fighting.
“What… What was it like… nearer the fighting?” He asked slowly and watched his cousin’s face contort once more. But this was something else, like some illness had come on and then passed immediately, she shrugged.
“Ugly. Unpleasant. You are better off being away from it. So is everyone. But it does not matter. Now that the bridges are destroyed it shall not be an issue,” she said confidently.
“Lord Bregdur says that this is just the start of things. That… That there is going to be something horrible that-”
“Sellion?” She interjected. He paused dutifully in place. “Do you want something bad to happen?”
He frowned at her and shook his head. She nodded in turn over her goblet.
“Good. So stop talking about it. There was no war ten years ago. Or twenty. There has been no war for centuries. Why are we so important that we should live to break the trend?”
He considered this, finding the idea almost comforting. He was a cog, a piece of machinery in a ballista. He wasn’t a hero and heroes… heroes were from stories anyway and those had all been written already. He nodded and Allie smiled and leaned over the table to rough up his hair.
“Alright, finish your wine. Come on.”
“That is fucking great,” Mallios declared and then immediately lowered his voice, clapping Sellion on the shoulder. “Holding a goblet and everything! Good for you!” His voice was low but excited.
Around them servants circulated with food and the sunlight poured down through the open space in the roof and down onto the garden of the Houses of Healing. It was late summer and twice a year they had a great party to show everyone how nice it would be if they would consider donating more money. Only they hadn’t had one in the spring. It was only just now that they had emptied sufficiently to have the space. All the people who were dying a few months ago were dead by now and the ones that weren’t were up.
Sellion hung near a corner, dragged here against his will by his father who was telling some lewd joke to a Captain in armor. Sellion silently wished he could sink into the pillar. Or die. Mostly the pillar though.
“Yeah… I suppose,” he said, frowning a little. He didn’t want to talk about his arm. He just wanted to go back to the barracks and read his book.
“Come on? Aren’t you a little excited? You’re holding things! You might have lost the arm, you know.”
“Yes, I know, you’d said,” he replied tersely… Or as tersely as he could manage. Sellion had never been a naturally terse person.
“Well I think it’s great! Great work on someone’s part anyway,” Mallios agreed and trailed off thoughtfully. “Oh, I got Allie’s letter. ‘Prescription for fresh air’? What does she think I am, some kind of… hundred year old physician? I’m quite beyond miasmas, thank you very much.”
Sellion had no idea what that meant but just nodded along.
“I assume she’s bored. She’s just bored, isn’t she? And she’s making me write something stupid to spite me.”
Sellion shrugged silently.
“Fine, fine. It’s stupid though. I want to be on record now saying it’s stupid. But I’ll write one up tomorrow. Do you want to pick it up?”
Sellion shrugged again, moving his wine to the other hand. “I guess. It’ll keep me off the wall for the afternoon I suppose…”
“Good, no place to be out. Fucking sun is- Good afternoon, sir,” Mallios said, catching himself as one of the Masters passed by and waving with an embarrassed smile. Sellion tried to make himself sink back into the pillar and get away from this whole nonsense.
But he supposed he was going to run away, which really was the next best thing.