Thursday, December 17, 2020

Ruin Twiceborn: Old Friends 2

"I heard about what happened to Ilora," Amaranth said, just above a whisper. "I'm sorry. We came to the funeral, but I didn't get the chance to tell you in person."

Ruin, who had instinctively braced for a fresh stab of heartache at the mention of his sister's name, was surprised to find that the old grief had lost something of its sting. Maybe he was finally coming to terms with it, or maybe it was simply that there were so many larger issues in the world now that his personal tragedy paled in comparison. So he simply said, "Thank you," and squeezed her hand where it lay on his arm. 

They walked a bit farther, and he asked: "So what have you been doing, these past few years?" 

"Bladecraft," said Amaranth. "A bit of practice fighting, a bit of magic, and a lot of smithing. My mother doesn't like me to talk about it; someone of my status shouldn't be working in a trade, it reflects badly on my upbringing. But that's what I do. I was apprenticed to Blackthorn for a decade -- cranky old bastard, but he knew his work -- and now I have my own shop." She smiled proudly. "About a quarter of the double-scimitars the King's Own use come from me."

Ruin grunted in surprise. "I wonder if Darvinin is using one."

Amaranth pursed her lips and looked away, then looked back. "He is. Came to me before he went to join."

Ruin turned a look at her. 

"Come on," she said, leaning into him just enough to nudge him off course. "A fine young man of his station isn't going to depend on our taxes and the King's coffers for resources he can provide himself. And Darvinin was always a fine young man." She sounded amused. "Plus, I'm fairly certain that he knew it would annoy my mother."

Ruin wondered. He hadn't heard from his twin since his resurrection; nobody seemed to be entirely certain just where Darvinin was, or what he was doing. He didn't say anything, though; instead, he nudged her back. "Any apprentices?" 

"Not yet. Maybe someday." She paused, then touched his arm with her free hand. "Here. The Silver Stag. They usually have good whiskeys." 

Ruin nodded and turned, passing through the simple doorway into deliberately rustic interior. It was still an Elvish sort of rustic, though: the ironwork delicately braided around the lamps, the crude wooden tables were carved with pastoral motifs, and the simple wooden chairs were inlaid with flowers and vines. 

A silver-haired moon elf stood behind the bar, rag in hand, wiping it down as they approached. "What can I get you?" 

"Whiskey," said Amaranth. "Something good. Two and two." 

The woman nodded slowly. "How about the Twinwaters '14, Amaranth? Will that suit your friend?"

"We'll trust your judgement," Amaranth told her. "Revira, this is Ruin-- of the Twiceborn. Ruin, Revira of the Silver Stag." 

The barkeep stopped, studied him, then nodded. Then she looked around the nearly-empty room. "You've not come here to show him off." 

Amaranth shook her head. "No." 

"Why don't you take him up to the balcony, then? I'll be up in a minute with your drinks." She looked at Ruin. "And I won't mention that you're here."

Ruin nodded. "Thank you."

They climbed the stairs and slid into chairs on opposite sides of a small wooden table. The balcony overlooked the main room, at least up near the railing; here, near the back wall, it was discreetly tucked away. And in the middle of the afternoon, the public house was almost empty. 

They just sat for a minute, comfortably quiet, and Ruin found himself admiring the soft curves and sharper angles of Amaranth's face. He remembered her as a child, and saw that younger face refined and perfected in her now.

"Old friends," she said, "catching up. Except that contrary to the tale that Mother wants to tell now, we were never that close."

That matched his memories. "Or that far. We knew each other, but we moved in different circles. I don't recall that we ever particularly disliked each other." 

She nodded, then fell silent as Revira appeared at the top of the stairs, carrying a tray with small glasses and a large bottle. She laid the glasses out deftly, two in front of each of them, then plucked the bottle from the tray. A moment later the tray was resting on a nearby table and she had the cork out of the bottle; she filled all four glasses, looked at Amaranth and tilted her head... and then set the bottle on the table and left, collecting the tray as she departed. 

Ruin raised his eyebrows. "I like her," he said, then reached forward and picked up one of the small glasses and raised it towards Amaranth. 

She lifted one of her own, clinked it against his, and poured it down her throat while he followed suit. It was good whiskey; it burned all the way down but left a pleasant taste in his mouth. He tapped a finger against his second glass, considering, then looked up at Amaranth. "I remember you kept company with Talitha and Sanima," he said after a moment, "but you never seemed entirely happy around them." 

Amaranth shrugged. "I managed. We did have some good times. And they were very much part of our set, with parents who had very definite social plans and very definite ideas about how we should fit into those plans." She raised her second glass and drained it. "Talitha dug in. She's married to one of the High Provost's up-and-coming young political proteges, very proper, very busy. She doesn't speak to me anymore, though she will at least acknowledge me when we meet. Sanima was always a lot more interested in fencing than she admitted; she picked up with one of the Hierophant An'Drow's people, and left Duendewood entirely. Her father disowned her, but I think her mother's secretly pleased."

Ruin considered that, nodded, and finished his second drink. He didn't remember either girl well, just that the three of them had been... distant from? uninterested in? ...anyone outside their circle. And Ruin himself had been a strange child already, not terribly interested in much of anybody, so he hadn't minded that. "I hope they're happy," he said. 

Amaranth nodded slowly, then looked over at the bottle. Ruin reached for it, then refilled all four glasses. 

"You know what I remember about you?" asked Amaranth as he poured. "You always seemed so completely at home, wherever you were. Do you remember when the druids took us down into the caves? We could barely see, and everybody was half-terrified that wraiths and shadows were going to come out of the walls and eat us all. And then we reached the deep cavern, and the druids pointed to that opening and told us that it led down deeper than anyone knew, that there were strange things down there, and ways of life that we of the surface knew nothing about. And I was just standing there with everybody else, digesting that, when you walked over there, looked into the darkness, and asked if that meant we weren't going any farther. You sounded vaguely disappointed." 

Ruin nodded slowly. He did remember that trip, and he had been disappointed. He hadn't thought about it in nearly a decade, but evidently it had left an impression. He'd never thought of himself as strange; strange was everybody else. "I'd forgotten about that." 

She shrugged. "I had too, until I saw you today." She studied him for a long moment, then tilted her head. "Would you like to come share a bed for a couple of hours? No commitments. Honestly, I just want the chance to do some of the things I fantasized about in early adolescence."

Ruin pursed his lips. "Your idea, or your mother's?" He was fairly sure he knew the answer, but...

Amaranth offered a smile. "My mother never really understood that what she wanted me to do -- teasing, enticing, drawing people in -- wasn't something I had in me. I doubt she ever really understood that she didn't have it in her, either. No, this is just me asking." Her expression turned mischievous. "No, if I wanted to lure you in I'd invite you back to my shop to look at blades, maybe offer to spar with you. Not at all what my mother envisions, but far more likely to work." 

Ruin laughed. "It would be, yes. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to, so why not?"

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