Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Tavros: Aftershocks

"Tavros?" asked Aesa gently.

There was a balcony high on the western wall of the citadel that was the Temple of Amun -- not a large balcony, but large enough to hold a wide wooden bench, and placed so that it overlooked Caristhium itself and offered a brilliant view of the sunset. Tavros was seated on one side of the bench, his battered sword leaning against it in easy reach, a bottle in his right hand. He didn't glance back, but he lifted the bottle and used it to motion her forward. 

The setting sun had turned the clouds into a painter's pallet, and nobody else was around. Aesa came forward and matched him, taking a seat on the far side of the bench and placing her new falchion -- his former weapon -- so that it leaned against the outside arm of the bench. "Are you all right?" she asked quietly. 

Tavros shrugged and took a long drink from the bottle. He hesitated, then took another drink, and finally said: "I don't know. I think so. But this..." he waved his free arm around vaguely, " a lot to take in."

"How so?" asked Aesa. She thought she could guess, but maybe Tavros needed someone to talk to about it. He and Ruin seemed to be friends, which had come as a profound relief to her, but Ruin was busy coming to terms with being the parent of two young children; his mind was elsewhere. And Martini, Marshall, Ruin, and Leira all had their own concerns as well. 

"My mother is dead," said Tavros. "Start with that. Even if we can bring her back, it's a shock. I never imagined her being... mortal. And Ruin told me something of what happened between him, and you, and Anica... but learning that you both had his children was nearly as big a shock for me as it was for him -- or for you, I've little doubt."

"It was certainly something," Aesa said, glancing sardonically up at the sky. "But go on." 

Tavros shrugged and took another long drink. "I'm not the only one in mourning," he said. "Ruin's mother, Martini's brother... I knew him. I didn't entirely trust him, but I liked him." Something sharp and metallic flashed past his head, and Aesa flinched away; but Tavros didn't react. "Sol Povos is overrun with demons, and flooded with the same sort of perpetual storm that plagued Fanaxia, and I might be the sole heir to its throne... if we can somehow defeat this werebear barbarian that Vigo tells me occupies it now, possibly along with her allies the necromancer and the vampiric sorcerer. And Vigo and Dante are here... those are two worlds I never expected to collide." 

He paused, took another pull from the bottle. "Should I keep going?"

"I think," said Aesa, "that you should hand me that bottle." 

He shrugged and passed it over, and she poured a bit down her throat before passing it back. The stuff was like liquid fire -- gnomish whiskey, she thought. It was a good flavor, but Tavros was drinking it like it was water. But then, Tavros was half-dragon. I'll know he's had too much when the stuff makes him breathe fire instead of ice. "Yes," she said, and wiped her lips. "I think you should keep going."

"As you wish," he said, and paused. "The Silver Fox, an outlaw famous for rescuing elves from under the noses of the King's Archons, turns out to be one of Geddy's former companions from Fort Dedo, an elvish scout named Vendril from a border clan loyal to the throne. But, of course, he vanished before we reached Caristhium, possibly because he knows Vigo and Dante are here and he doesn't want to talk to them. Or possibly because he has other business elsewhere." He took a long drink, then added: "Geddy is suddenly elderly, and Eva -- who was described to me as a little girl -- is full grown."

Aesa nodded sympathetically. 

"And you," he said, turning his head to look at her and offering the bottle again, "are now a battle priest -- in part, I'm told, because of Ruin." 

Aesa nodded. "I don't think he was any less surprised than you are, for all that he made the suggestion."

"Anyway..." said Tavros, and then trailed off. After a moment he asked, "Shouldn't you be looking after Rose?" 

Aesa watched the sunset. "She'll be fine," she said. "Ruin has her."

"Does he?" asked Tavros, and found that he was oddly satisfied by this turn of events. "Good."

"...And we both thought I should come and check on you."

She watched Tavros' eyes flutter closed at that, but couldn't read the emotion behind the gesture. "Yes, well..." he made a vague gesture with the bottle in his hand. "It's been a lot."

"So what are you going to do about it?" Aesa asked. 

Tavros tilted his head, watching the sunset thoughtfully. "Become the King in the East," he said. "I hate it, I don't want the title or the throne, and I'm desperately afraid that if we do somehow pull this off I'll bugger the politics of it seven ways from swordspoint... but there's nobody else, and no other way to restore order. We do what we can with what we have, and hold to the faith that it's all for the best."

"Yes." Aesa nodded encouragingly. "You want some advice?" 

"I am prepared," said Tavros, with a sort of half-drunk gravitas, "to listen to anything you have to offer."

"Sleep it off," Aesa said. "Sleep as long as you need. Not so much for the whiskey, as for everything else. Then go back to the chapel, and spend a while in prayer and contemplation. Center yourself. Then visit the Chapel of All, and offer your prayers to Demeter as well."

Tavros nodded slowly. "That... that is well-taken."

Aesa smiled. "And more than anything else, don't forget that you have friends and allies, people who care about you. You, Tavros -- not the throne, not the kingdom, not some role you might be forced to play or some power and wealth you might inherit. We might not be able to help you against the Solari Hunters, but there are things we can do. And Vigo isn't the only schemer here: the Abbess is sharp and subtle, and doubtless a great deal more principled. Let her counsel you as well."

Tavros nodded and rose from the bench, collecting his sword and buckling it onto his belt. The sun was almost down, the bottle almost empty, and he felt drained of emotion... but in a good way. Yes. Time to settle in, and begin again. "You've grown," he told Aesa. "As a woman, and as a cleric. It's good to see it."

"Do you know," she asked, "that this bench is where I first met you and Ruin both? It's a good place. Almost sacred, for me."

"It is a good place," said Tavros. "Good night."

"Good night," returned Aesa. 

She watched the last sliver of sun slip below the horizon, and the clouds darken into reds and purples. 

Behind her, a deep, gravelly voice grumbled: "I didn't vanish. Your Tavros just hasn't realized that I'm still around."

Aesa started. Then, without turning, she asked: "Vendril?"

A moment later the legendary elf was sitting beside her on the bench. "It's good to meet you," he said.

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