Monday, May 17, 2021

Duendewood vs. Solari: Apologies

Ruin had taken shelter in the small stone room that the monastery had provided for him. It seemed like the only safe place to be at the moment. If the paladins of Amun were going to come and lock him up, he could at least protest that he was trying to stay out of trouble, and -- if all else failed -- that he was working alone. He didn't think it would come to that, but people could turn vicious when unexpectedly embarrassed -- especially people with authority. He'd seen it before, and not just from humans. 

For a few minutes he considered leaving the temple and meeting the others on the road later. It would be easy enough to do, and he doubted anyone in the temple would think to stop him. It would be safer... but the priestess Aesa would probably be sad if he did. 

And why exactly would you care? asked the voice of his worse-if-wiser self. Are you really willing to risk your freedom to avoid disappointing a nearly-human worshiper of a human god?

...But that wasn't fair either, he decided. It wasn't that much of a risk. For one thing, he didn't really think the paladin would try to get him in trouble. For another... Even if a troop of paladins came to capture him, he could probably escape without bloodshed. Still, he kept his blade and his pack beside him as he settled back on the narrow bed. 

The rooms here were small, just long enough for a bed and a small writing desk and just wide enough to move past them to the door. The halfling priest Birno, who'd showed them to their rooms, had said that these were exactly the sort of cells that everybody in the temple slept in, up to and including the Abbess herself. It wasn't anything like the sort of place that Ruin would have preferred to live in, but it wasn't uncomfortable either. There was a sort of unassuming asceticism here that he could appreciate, a focus on necessities rather than luxuries. 

He was once again surprised to find that he actually liked this place. And he supposed that part of the reason he didn't want to disappoint Aesa was that he liked her, too. It was kind of nice to meet someone who didn't find him off-putting, or at least wanted to get to know him anyway. Well, fine, he told himself. If nobody's tried to lock me up by tomorrow morning, I'll go find her and talk to her some more.

Someone rapped sharply on his door: three solid, precise knocks. 

He stirred, sat up, and called: "Who is it?" 

The voice was muffled by the heavy wood of the door, but clear and firm enough to carry through it anyway. "Anica." 

...So maybe they were going to try to lock him up.  Well, no point in putting it off. He stood, took his sword, and crossed to the door. There was a small privacy latch, but no lock or bar; he supposed that in a place where nearly everyone could force people to tell the truth, petty theft wasn't much of a problem. He slid the latch aside and opened the door, half-expecting to find the corridor outside filled with armed warriors. 

Instead it was just the human paladin, and she'd even discarded her armor -- though she still wore her longsword on a wide black belt. She was a handswidth taller than Ruin, and was holding a bottle in her left hand and a pair of glasses in her right. "I came to apologize."

"Did you?" asked Ruin, blinking. Then: "Do you always apologize with brandy?"

She shrugged. "I came looking for you after I sorted things out with Aesa, and ran into your friend the gnome. He told me where to find you and made some suggestions for how to properly apologize." 

Exasperated, Ruin started to say, "He's not--" and then cut himself off and said, "Huh." He was realizing -- late as usual -- that despite the constant stream of talk and music and activity and noise, he did rather like Geddy. It was an odd mirror of his reaction to Aesa...

...And the human paladin didn't need to know any of that. "Very well, he said. "Come in, if you like." 

Anica followed him as he backed into the cell, and nudged the door shut behind her with her heel. She set the glasses on the small wooden writing desk, and wrenched the cork out of the bottle with an easy movement. She filled both glasses, and Ruin laid his sword back on the bed as she handed him one. 

She must have read his expression then, because she raised her own glass to her lips and took a long swallow. "Not poisoned," she said. "I promise." 

Ruin chuckled and took a sip. It was decent brandy, though not spectacular, and he took a moment to enjoy the flavor. 

Anica set her glass down and stood looking at him. "First of all, I owe you an apology. I'm sorry. I should not have attacked you, and I regret my mistake. In my defense, I came around the corner just as Aesa hit the ground, so that was all I saw... and it was Aesa. One of our friends asked me to watch over her before he left." 

Ruin cocked his head. "This would be Tavros?" 

Anica nodded, and her expression went a little funny. "You actually remind me of him, a bit. It's the self-possession, I think. That and your choice of weapons." 

Ruin shrugged; he wasn't sure how he felt about being compared to a half-dragon paladin who used a sword approximately the size of a wizard's tower. He took another sip of the brandy to cover whatever his expression might have been. 

"That's the second thing," Anica continued. "Thank you. I don't think it would have occurred to me to try for a disarm if someone had attacked me like that. We could have ended with someone badly wounded, and none of us need that. Especially right now, with--" She gestured vaguely at the world around them. "--everything."

Ruin nodded slowly. He was still angry about having been attacked, and he very much wanted to find fault with her apology, but... Damn it. She seemed sincere. And he could understand her wanting to protect her friends, and wanting to protect Aesa in particular: the half-elf seemed so damned innocent. It was easy to picture her getting in over her head. 

So he finished his glass, and held it out for a refill; Anica drained hers as well and refilled them both. She watched him a moment longer and then said, "You're still angry, aren't you?" 

He looked away. "I'm always angry." He looked back at her. "I'm trying not to be, about this."

"Oh," she said. "Well, your friend had another suggestion, for the second half of my apology." 

Puzzled, Ruin said: "I thought the brandy was the second half of the apology." 

Anica shook her head. "He said the brandy was just to smooth things over, make it easier for us to talk." She reached out, and when Ruin didn't move away she put her hand on his shoulder. "The second half of the apology..." She moved her hand forward, and cupped it under his chin. "...was this." Then she leaned down and kissed him. 

Ruin felt himself respond even before he realized that yes, he didn't mind this. Geddy, you little bardic bastard... He wasn't sure if he should thank his gnomish friend, or strangle him. Possibly both. 

Anica drew back, breathing heavily, and her eyes searched his face. "Was that... I didn't...?" 

Ruin shook his head and chuckled. Then he asked. "Are you allowed to do this? Are you sure you want to?"

She grinned. "The Order of the Invincible Sun takes vows of chastity. I can't even imagine how that would work, with some of the things we come up against. The Order of the Titan King, on the other hand... not so much." She paused, looking him over. "And yes, I want to do this."

Ruin smiled and shook his head, surprised and half-disbelieving. "Then I suppose... I'm just going to have to forgive you."

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