Beloved Imperfections

Taking to the Blackroad.

K. Ryan, 2005.


Note: '"You will not go alone," Maruman responded. "The oldOne has promised." I received a vague mental picture from Maruman of what looked like many dogs. One, I knew.

'"Darga?" I whispered.

'"He will come, and when he returns, it will be time. Best to forget until then," he sent.'The Farseekers


Of course, the dog was the end of everything.

It was the youngest of the Empath novices who first gave any sign of what lay beneath the still, pale faces of the Master of Obernewtyn and his bondmate. Tears and night terrors the result of imperfect shields buckling under the onslaught of festering wounds and naked, gibbering anguish. One by one, they crumpled, until even the Ward took to his bed. It infected dreams; slid away from healing probes. On the farms, every animal-nerve quivered. Expectant.

Silent, as the small, mismatched canine—badly burned and limping—that had belonged to the boy Jik trailed the Farseeker Guildmistress.

"When do you leave?"

Elspeth whirled around unsteadily, facing the familiar man and voice. "Dameon," she said.

"You are leaving." It was not a question. The blind Empath Guildmaster gently grasped the smaller woman's forearms, his well-modulated voice faint.

"I must."

"Of course you must. You are at the centre of things."

Elspeth flinched, glaring with wounded eyes. "That…that was cruel." She was stunned, even more so by the waves of remorse which were then projected towards her, crossing the shield she had felt in him for years now, gentle and beyond sincere.

"I am sorry," he said, face turned towards her, words oddly stilted, and Elspeth had to smile faintly, knowing he would feel it.

"You don't need to tell me that."

"You should tell him."

The smile vanished. "I can't. I need you to understand—"

"Elspeth. I do."

"Then why can't he—?"

"Because I am not Rushton and the pain will kill him."

Elspeth jerked back, breaking contact, but did not pull away a second time when Dameon allowed a hand to cup her cheek.

"My dear girl, I know."

The woman laughed, shuddering and feeling the edge of his palm against the corner of her mouth. "I don't know how you can, with your shield up."

"I will not share his fate, or that of my novices."

Elspeth blinked, bewildered. "Dameon?"

He laughed now, but it was mirthless. "Truly, Elspeth, you do not know how you hurt them." His hand lingered at her face.

"I will leave soon, and…I will have something to tell Rushton."

"Something."

The two stood silent, Elspeth shivering slightly, Dameon utterly still. Slow tears began to build in her eyes, kept in check through a clenched jaw and savage blinks. "You promised you'd never leave me again, and now it is I who will leave," she said at last, voice raw.

"My dar…Elspeth," he murmured, serious. "I could not have it any other way for you."

Hesitantly, still bewildered, the woman reached up to brush the top of his cheek with a finger. "You're… crying?"

He gave her a brilliant smile and then, slowly at first, but soon as if it were a pile of dust in the wind, a shield dissolved. Leaving Elspeth gasping under the weight of the thousand emotions that enveloped her—loving and despairing and infinitely subtle and yet somehow immense all at once. Patience, pain and sheer truth that overwhelmed insidious flickerings of jealousy and shame that had crept to the edges.

Only there were no edges. His love was vast, and she was laid open to it, just as she knew Dameon was now open to her, and that what he would find would hurt him even though somehow a part of her could only feel joy, in spite of Rushton. In spite of everything.

"Please…"

The wall was rebuilt with fluid ease, leaving Elspeth somehow in the circle of his arms. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

"Shush. Now you know I know."

"I…"

"Enough."

Unerring as always, he leant down and kissed her. His tears brushed her face.

"We will not," he said tenderly, pulling back from her unresisting form until his forehead was against hers, "see each other again unchanged, I think."

Dameon drew back and away, leaving Elspeth mute and still in the doorway of her tower room, a dog at her feet and warmth on her lips.

The Guildmaster's steps faded away.

"Farewell."