Tobih didn’t skip a beat as he stood up from his chair and walked to Angel’s side of the table, “My old man taught me. Said I’d need it when we took Ascalon back.” That sheepish smile came over his face like always. He wore it well. He brought her arm down and gently took the letter from her hands. She reluctantly gave it up. From there, it made its way to a table and Tobih parted with it long enough to find his bag and pull a book from it. It was leather-bound in blue and gold leafed. A matching ribbon dangled from between a few pages at the bottom. Taking the letter from the table again, he nestled it between the pages of his book and closed it. “If it’s important to you, then let’s keep it safe,” He set the book down onto the table.
Angel hadn’t moved an inch. It was obvious that she didn’t know what to do at this point. The color had drained from her face completely and I kept trying to read her but to no avail.
“I’m sorry, we shouldn’t have gone through your personal belongings,” his voice was soothing and he moved more slowly than he had earlier as he approached Angel.
She exhaled and looked around the room before focusing on Tobih, “No, humans are curious creatures. I can hardly blame you for what I left around.”
Tobih had quelled the beast.
“I don’t want to hear anything more on the topic, though.” Her voice became stern again. Tobih gave an understanding nod.
As if on cue, Ragnvaldr changed the subject, “So, we have a cart and Dolyak, we can carry more supplies with us now.”
“We have a cart?” Tobih blinked.
“Angel won it,” I answered and tilted my head towards her.
He turned to face her, “That’s terrific! It’ll be just like traveling with the other guild members!”
“Hey, if I don’t have to change the wheel after every mountain, I don’t mind getting off my feet for a bit. Even if it means riding with you nosy bunch,” Angel retorted.
I turned to the window, examining what was left after the storm. Small sticks and leaves littered the beach but the blue in the distance provided the hope of a sunny day yet.
“Welcome to the Western Ward,” Angel delighted.
Western Ward? I knew that name but something wasn’t quite connecting in my mind. Angel began to approach me at the window.
“I know that name,” I whispered to myself, but she had picked it up as well. Just as she was about to respond, I knew why I knew that name. I sprinted to my bag, sitting next to Ragnvaldr’s, and pulled out my notebook. Flipping between the pages of things I had studied, I found a map I had copied from a history book in Divinity’s Reach. It was current, the same one used in schools to teach geography. A present day map of Lion’s Arch filled my eyes, but on it I had drawn a faint outline of another map, one I remembered but never knew why. Directly south of Western Ward was the Lion’s Arch my past self had known. It lay sunken under the water not too far from where we were now. I took my book, still opened, and ran to the window again. I held the book up next to the window and visually made my path. I knew then what I wanted to do that day.
“I have to see it,” I turned to everyone, my book held in the air as I pointed to a circle on the map.
Ragnvaldr stepped closer, as did everyone else, but he was the first to say it out loud, “Old Lion’s Arch?”
“It’s all underwater, though,” Tobih chimed in.
“That’s why I want to go diving. Today.” Making sure my voice was just as stern as Angel’s, I needed to show that it was necessary for me to do this.
“I’ll go get the aquabreathers,” Angel groaned and opened the door, “You… You all just stay put.” The door shut behind her for only a moment before she shouted, “And no snooping!”
I snickered and turned to Tobih and Ragnvaldr, “How did you stop her rampage?”
Tobih ran his fingers through his black hair, “I, uh, I just know her. That’s really all there is to it.” That’s the truth he believed and it had proven so useful for him. I couldn’t help but feel sorry that he didn’t really know her as much as he thought.
I smiled at him, “You’ll surely teach me a thing or two about it, right?”
“Now that I have you two alone, I’d like to ask a few questions about last night,” Ragnvaldr, his face serious, told us with his arms folded.
I thought back to last night and wondered but for a moment about what he could have questions about. I sighed, “Because I went to share the bed with Tobih, right?”
“You two have been alone a little more frequently and Angel tells me that she stumbled into you two holding hands at one time. I took it as one of her tricks at the time,” Ragnvaldr confessed. There couldn’t have been a more terrible feeling over a misunderstanding. I had promised not to tell.
Tobih paced around and even scratched his head before approaching Ragnvaldr. He barely reached Ragnvaldr’s chest in height and it made him seem so small and weak.
“I don’t want to come in between you and Claire. I’m not trying to. She’s been a great friend to me and she’s growing on me every day, but as a friend only.” He paused and struggled for words. I knew he was thinking about telling Ragnvaldr the truth. Finally, he sighed and turned to me, “Claire has been graciously keeping my secret for me, hiding it even from you because it was an accident that she ever even found out. She did keep it out of good intentions because she has been that good of a friend to me. She’s just worried about me.”
I looked to Ragnvaldr, pleading with my eyes to him, hoping he wouldn’t make Tobih go on to spill something he didn’t want to for my sake.
Tobih paused again. His hand went right back through his hair, resting at the side of his head, “I’m-”
Ragnvaldr shook his head, “I know that innocent pleading in your eyes, Claire.” His eyes met mine, “You are my lover and you, Tobih, are my friend. I should learn to trust you more.”
I knew that we hadn’t exactly given him the best set of situations to trust us in, but I breathed a sigh of relief that Tobih wasn’t forced into saying anything because Ragnvaldr thought we weren’t being faithful. Yet here I was still wishing that Tobih had come out and said it.
My friend was also relieved but he didn’t look well. “Tobih?” I called to him. His gaze shot to mine and I looked quickly for an excuse to send him upstairs, “You should put your book on the desk upstairs. We don’t want it too close to the food later on.”
“Oh, yes, I hadn’t thought about that.” He quickly grabbed the book and made his way upstairs, slowly and composed. I knew he was trying his best not to have a coughing fit. With Ragnvaldr’s understanding I didn’t feel it to be as pressing for him to tell everyone until he was ready.
“You’ll tell me one day?” Ragnvaldr asked, taking my hands in each of his. I nodded and stepped closer to him, leaning my head against his stomach.
“I was so scared.” I cried, “I was so afraid that you thought ill of me over a misunderstanding.”
“No, no, come on don’t cry.” He sunk to the floor, making himself eye level with me. His fingers wiped the tears from my eyes. After that moment, his lips met mine and we shared a kiss. Once we stopped, he looked towards the stairs and then back to me, “Make sure Tobih has a good place to put that book.” I think deep down, he knew about Tobih.
I nodded and visited my friend upstairs. He was crouched again, his head hidden in the pillow with the handkerchief nestled in between. I sat on my knees and rubbed his back, just like I had the first time I had witnessed this. When his coughing stopped, he sat down on the floor and stared at the pillow.
“How long has it been this way?” Tobih looked up to me when I asked this. He seemed to be deep in thought.
He finally replied after several minutes, “I’ve been this way ever since I was a boy. I was confined to bed when I should have been out learning swords with other kids my age.” He shook his head, “My old man wanted me to become something great, to bring our family name back to honor.” The blue book was the next subject of his gaze, “He wanted me to become a commander; it’s why he gave me that compendium there. Said I would learn everything I needed to know to impress the guard. I’ll never be the man he wanted me to be.”
“Where is he now?”
“Back at home in the Western Commons. He spends most of his time at the Flaggon.” So he was also from Divinity’s Reach, as was his father. The Flaggon referred to a local bar called The Busted Flaggon in the Western Commons, known throughout the town for its brew and brawls. “Can I tell you another secret?”
My heart was instantly torn on how to answer. If it were anything like this sickness, something he needed to slow down for, to tell someone.
But he was telling someone. He was telling me. I bobbed my head up and down.
“He’s nothing more than a drunk now. A ghost of his former self. He used to be a military man, my father. Never became more than a soldier and we never knew why. Supposed that someone above him didn’t care for him very much. Just as well, though. He was injured in a battle with centaurs. One of the Tamini cut his left hand off. He insisted on staying to fight, but they sent him home. At first, they were still paying him, but eventually the money stopped coming in. No one would give him any answers as to why. He was using the pay to have doctors try and find out more about my condition. After that my family split up. I was left with my father. He blamed it all on me.” Tears formed in his eyes and he used his sleeve to blot them away. “I’m sorry, I’ve never told anyone this.” His sheepish smile formed across his lips but it felt more… pathetic.
“Please go on.” I urged. My hands were still on his back and I was grateful that they were. Tobih’s pain for this showed more than any pain his cough had brought him.
“He spent the rest of his money on drinks. He’d spend all day at the Flaggon and when he’d come home… He was the scariest man I had ever met. He wasn’t my father any more. No one should ever have to go through what I did.” The tears were streaming down his face now and I wouldn’t even have been able to stop them if I had tried. Knowing what he was going to say but still fearing it, I let him continue. “He would pull me out of bed by my shirt, drunkenly shouting at me. He would tell me I wasn’t worth his time, he would still have his hand if it weren’t for me. His words were terrible; telling me I shouldn’t even be alive, shouldn’t have even been born. And as if none of that was enough, he would resort to physical violence, to ‘show me’ that no one in the world even cared enough about me to save me any more, especially not him.”
“He’s wrong, you know.” I tucked his hair away from his tear-stained face as I reassured him.
“I know that now. I have a guild of friends who love me, who need me. But that sort of hurt never goes away. I’ll never forget it because it came from someone I love.” He took my hand, the one I had used to tuck his hair with. He held it firmly. “I know Ragnvaldr wouldn’t approve, but please lend me your hand to hold, as a friend.” I peered around the room and then nodded in a sort of defeat. It wasn’t like I could deny him; he was so emotional right now and I felt it was best to give him this.
“You once told me you were born in Ebonhawke and became a runaway. That’s not true is it?” I asked, recalling from the days we had first met.
“No, it’s true. I was born in Ebonhawke. We eventually moved to Divinity’s Reach for my father’s job. He was so disappointed in me,” His voice cracked at those words, “I decided to become strong enough to hold a sword. I joined the Ebon Vanguard like my father wanted. I just wanted to show him I was worth his time. It wasn’t worth it though. The fighting between everyone. I just couldn’t understand why it was necessary. I was too young to fight, I was only training then, but I couldn’t train for that cause when there was so much more at stake. I ran away a few weeks after joining the Ebon Vanguard, abandoning my training.
“I visited my father for the first time since I ran away recently. He was too drunk to even recognize me. That’s the last I’ve seen of him. I have no plans to go back and try again.”
“I’m so sorry to hear all of this.” No, I needed something better to say but words weren’t forming at my lips nor my mind.
He shook his head again and the hair fell right back across his face. My hand was held tight between his though and I couldn’t move it away this time. A rattling through the house denoted that Angel had finally come back, closing the door behind her.
“You’ll show him one day. Ventari’s Refugees will take on an elder dragon and bring it down. You’ll be thirty times the man your honest to goodness real father wanted you to be.” As I boldly claimed this, his sheepish smile came back. He released my hands and tossed his hair back. Despite our talk, he couldn’t have looked happier.
“You’re absolutely right, Claire.” We both stood, grinning like mad – as though we had just triumphantly returned from a successful battle. It happened quickly, but his lips brushed across my cheek. By the time I had time to think about it, he was already descending the stairs.