Aaagh! Another chapter? And it's only been a few days? Who am I and what have I done with WolfMusic?
Anyway, I'm really glad that everyone seems to be enjoying the last chapter, and gladder still that a few already saw all of this coming! I have to say, though, I'm not quite done with the revelations. Sal and Pellam might now know – or in their cases, think they know – what's going on, but Ari has no idea. Until now, that is. *insert evil grin…here* And I can't just let the two of them bring her in and tell her, now can I? That would be too simple a resolution. I like for my characters to at least try to tiptoe around things like this. I'm like a Companion that way – I want them to figure it out for themselves without outside help. ;)
Twigon Halolover: It wasn't revealing for Pellam or Sal, but I said nothing about it being revealing for Ari, as you'll see in this chapter :)
Angelnot: Thanks for the compliment! And Ari's and Sal's relationship did develop from Ari's comfort with him. Originally, Sal was just an older friend of Ari's. I didn't want him as a romantic interest, but I wanted him central in her life, and I wasn't sure quite how to do that. Then one day (I even remember where I was) I sat down and announced to Adica Finch that I'd had a revelation and now knew how to tie them together. Brother and sister just worked for them. It took a while to get to this point, but it's been well worth it!
To everyone: Anything I don't specifically mention in the story or my author's notes (the why's, where's, how's of things), please feel free to ask questions – I can send you a message back, and if it looks like it might be something others are curious about, I'll post the info before or after the following chapter.
One last note – in this chapter, like the last, Ari's accent is making a comeback for the time being. I explained why for the last chapter, and I may as well for this one, but outright. Ari is extremely stressed out. And I once said that it'd come back in moments of stress.
At least I'm consistent with this sort of thing :)
Now – time for Ari to figure things out!
Chapter 14: My Blood
In answer to Sal's question, Danny Mindspoke to him, :Her ma came back af'er all these years, scared 'er t' death. Th' old bat's in Healer's, no idea why. Found Ari when she went t' look f'r Lael.:
Not waiting for a response, Danny nodded to Sal, steering Ari towards Heraldic.
Sal let them go on their way, unable to form words to respond had Danny waited. For several moments, he stood in place. And then he sprinted towards his father's rooms.
Ari had barely made it through her classes that day, and had been asked by more than one person if she was alright. She'd said she was under the weather. She didn't like lying, but it would take too much energy to explain the whole damned situation, and Ari didn't want to have to deal with it at all, or involve her friends. Not only that, she would feel embarrassed if she had to talk about her mother, and the condition that she was in.
She was immensely glad that she had several of her classes with Danny, who practically growled at anyone too persistent in asking questions.
Now that she was back in her own room, she lay sprawled on the bed, the window open to admit the snap from hot weather of previous days. But as she lie there, she felt itchy – not on the outside where she could scratch, but in the inside where she couldn't. She twitched in discomfort, and immediately stood up and began pacing around the room. Crick and Flame watched curiously from their cooled spots on the wood floor. After several minutes, she decided that she couldn't stand it anymore and left, leaving the door open in case the dogs decided to follow her.
Once outside, the feeling began to really abate, and Ari decided to speed up the process and raced herself to one of the larger trees past Companion's Field. As she sprinted, she felt the last little bit of the edge give way to relief, and plopped down, resting against the tree as she reached the predetermined spot.
Huffing only slightly, she grinned for the first time in days; she'd definitely gotten faster. Sitting back, she pushed away her tail-chasing thoughts as best she could and watched the clouds swivel, still hours away from dusk.
But the clouds weren't entertaining enough. She began playing with her horse-tail, still wet from her earlier bath, and remembered the way her mother used to take care of it. She would braid it, twist it, put it up, anything. And though she'd still been young when her mother had done this, she could recall the little trinket box of bows and ribbons her mother had used. There was nothing too expensive-looking, but all were nice and colorful and clean. Twisting the ends of her hair, Ari remembered her favorite ribbon, the dark blue one that her ma had always said looked perfectly princess-like in Ari's hair. And even with a mother as scatter-brained and loony as hers (made more so, it seemed, by the passage of time), those few times she would put up Ari's hair, Ari felt like a normal little girl who was the pride and joy of her mother.
Remaining droplets leaked from between her fingers, and Ari let go of the tail, wiping her hand on her knee-length breeches.
From a distance, she could see someone cutting an angled but nearly-direct path to her. She squinted to try and see who it was. As Sal came closer to her, Ari hoped that he, too, would not inquire if she was feeling well.
"'Lo," she said, trying to sound casual. Sal's head whipped towards her, his eyes displaying shock, as though he honestly hadn't seen her until that moment. Ari lifted an eyebrow. And she thought she was bothered lately.
As if pulled against his will by strings, Sal came to stand right in front of Ari. She had to look up to see his face, and when she did she frowned. Against her better judgment, she asked, "Sal, are you alright?"
He took a deep breath, and moved to sit down beside her. Ari grimaced as Sal practically slid down the tree to sit next to her. She felt sad for the poor tunic he'd probably just ruined.
Not noticing that anything was amiss, he sat next to her as he had in times past, though he was much quieter than he'd ever been before (Lael having once accused him of being one of the most talkative people in the Collegium).
Not wanting to ask him again whether or not he was feeling well, Ari kept silent; though she'd rather he let her know if something was on his mind, she understood and respected his right to privacy – after all, that's what she'd been desperately craving of late. So they sat in silence.
Ari began toying with her hair again, and Sal took out his dagger and began to fiddle with it, something still clearly on his mind. Ari was about to break her silent promise to herself not to ask again when she noticed the design of the blade in his hands.
"C'n I see that, Sal?" Ari asked cautiously.
"Hmm? Oh, sure." He relented the object carefully, just as Ari had done when letting Tanbal and Devissa see hers several days before.
"Is this a Companion?" she choked. Sal looked at her very seriously, but Ari couldn't place the look; for all she knew, he was thinking about how pronounced the dark circles were under her eyes.
"Where – where'd ya get it from?" she asked, intensely studying the dagger. She itched to pull out her own and compare the two. In many ways, they were almost identical. But Ari knew every inch of hers, and some of the swirl patters near the Companion in hers weren't in the right place in Sal's. Free-formed was the phrase Devissa had used.
"Father made it for me 'round about the time Mother died when I was seven. Took up making weapons for a bit, to get his mind off it, I suppose."
Sal rested his head against the tree and closed his eyes. Ari felt 'Nori paying very close attention to what was happening, not speaking a word.
Ari did what she could to control her shaking hand as she nudged Sal to take his weapon back.
"Did he ev'r make more? I wouldn' mind havin' somethin' so special-lookin'," she explained hastily.
Sal, having put up the dagger, looked at Ari again, thoughts playing through his head that she doubted he'd share with her. She looked away, unable to look him in the eye with her own heavy thoughts in her head.
"He said he only ever made two. One, he gave to me. The other…well, he never told me what did happen to it. Said he must have lost it."
Ari's heart thudded painfully in her chest.
"Guess he wouldn' wanna try t' make a new one for me, eh?" she asked weakly.
"You should ask him," he told her rather emphatically. Ari nodded noncommittally, too disturbed to notice his jumpier tone. In the distance, the bell tolled the hour for dinner. Sal rose, and Ari followed suit.
"Join Father and me in his rooms for dinner?" Sal asked in an almost-strangled voice. Ari began nervously tapping on her own blade at her left side, her gaze never straying to the man standing beside her.
"Maybe t'morrow? I gotta see t' Danny 'bout somethin' first, an' it might take a bit." She didn't look Sal in the eye as she said this, already "looking" for her coz with her mind.
"Sure, sure," Sal relented easily. Awkwardly, he put his hand on her shoulder. He'd made the same gesture hundreds of times before, but Ari felt as though his hand sat more heavily than it normally did, squeezed a little tighter.
And then he was off, jogging to Pellam's rooms, the back of his shirt a little worse for wear.
Ari backed up the few inches to the tree and leaned heavily against it. Her breath hitched as she sighed.
She spent several minutes replaying the information she'd gotten from Sal.
There was only one conclusion she could come to.
Ari speed-walked into the dining hall, spotting Danny's tall form easily among her group of friends. He looked up as she walked over, concern on his features.
"Ari?" he asked.
She tugged on his shirt, trying to get him to come with her without actually asking him. She thought that if she had to ask, she'd either burst into tears or do something else equally as embarrassing. Their friends looked at Ari as though she might be ill or upset, as they had been doing for several days. They'd all outright asked what was wrong, but Ari refused to relent and tell them anything just yet.
Feeling the tension surrounding her, Danny stood, saluting the others as he let Ari tow him out of the room. But she didn't let go, even when they had passed through the doors leading outside, headed towards Companion's Field. There they met up with Nienori, who automatically gestured to Ari to let Danny go, and Ari did so without looking at either of them.
"Lass? Wha's goin' on?"
Nienori nudged Ari, still not commenting on what had happened with Sal. And just as it had been too much to explain what had happened with her ma, it was too hard to explain what had just occurred. Taking Danny's hand, she replayed everything, pulling away when the memory finished.
Danny's eyes were wide.
"D'ya know wha' this means?" he whispered.
Ari leaned against the fence post, gripping the wood tightly.
"Yeah," she said, looking straight ahead. "Means my ma stole th' other dagger from Her'ld Pellam an' then said she got it from my da. Prob'ly ov'rheard him talkin' with a friend 'bout the one he made for his son, an' thought it a good story to pull ov'r on her own kid to try an' confuse her when she got t' be older."
Danny looked at Ari incredulously. For the first time she could remember, Danny asked, "Are ye thick in the head, lass?"
'Nori tucked Ari's shoulder between her head and neck, still silent and listening.
"What?" she asked in surprise, turning her head to look over Nienori's skull and at her cousin.
"Ye heard me. There ain't no way tha' that's wha' happ'ned. Ev'n afore ye was born, I doubt yer ma had any sense 'bout her. Ain't no way she coulda come up wit' such a gran' plan. An' why would she?"
Letting go of the fence, Ari began running her hands over Nienori's nose to soothe herself. What Danny was suggesting, the thing Ari had kept herself from suspecting, was impossible. Because he was ultimately hinting that…
…that Herald Pellam was her father.
And that just couldn't be true.
She shook her head violently, focusing on 'Nori's pristine coat, and the pattern she was tracing down it – forehead to nose tip, back again; forehead to nose tip, back again. If she lost focus of that for even a moment, the pressure that was waiting just behind her eyes would flood everything.
"It's not true," she told him in as monotone a voice as she could scrounge up.
"Well, why not?" Danny asked her logically.
And that was the question. Why not? Why couldn't it be? Why couldn't Pellam, the man whom Ari had secretly regarded as her father since that first game of Ship and Shore, be Ari's father?
Flashes of comparison between Ari's life before being Chosen and Pellam's probable life before Ari's birth played out in her head. Things didn't add up, they couldn't add up. Ari wasn't that great with sums, but even she knew this simple math equation. A well-off Herald with a son, and a deceased wife whom he'd been absolutely faithful to just goes off and couples with her ma, a woman with about as much sense as a cooking pot?
Of everything she could have said, all the reasoning she had gone through, there was only one thought that came out:
"It's too good to be true," she whispered.
Danny looked at her sadly, in total understanding.
"Ye can't allow yerself t' hope, can ye?"
Ari's pattern on 'Nori's nose was broken, and now she wrapped her arms around the Companion's head, taking a deep breath.
The answer was that, no, she couldn't allow herself to hope. What if she did, and it turned out to be naught? What if she built everything up only to find out her father wasn't Pellam, and was just someone less than him – someone who couldn't cook, and someone who didn't care about how her classes were going, and someone who thought that she was worthless, Companion or no Companion?
If she allowed herself to hope, and then that hope turned around to bite her, she would never want to look at Pellam as a father again. And it didn't make sense to her, but that was how she felt; that if the illusion was broken, even for a brief moment, it could never be repaired.
After hours without a word, Nienori broke her listening silence. And for the first time since Ari's birthday the previous year, she allowed someone other than Ari to listen to her.
:Several months ago, I was in the stables when Pellam and his old friend came in talking. At one point, the other man asked Pellam if you were his daughter, the way Pellam always goes on about you. He even said that the two of you looked just alike – same crow-black hair, same shape and color of your eyes…:
Ari listened in wonder, and began to think. She and Pellam really did look similar. And it wasn't just those things. It was the way they both sat in a chair, relaxed but ready to spring up for whatever reason. It was the way they both ate their bread, tearing off the crust to eat first, and the softer middle for last. And it was the way he'd said "either that or she's a prodigy, like your old man over here" the first time she, Pellam, and Sal had played Ship and Shore together.
She tried to clamp down on the hopes forcing their way through her system. Where arrows won't kill you, hope will, she'd once read.
"'Nori?" Ari asked her Companion. "Do you know somethin' we don't?"
Ari had pulled away from Nienori's neck, and now looked her in one of her bright blue eyes.
:No,: she told them both, :but I've had my suspicions for a while now. I've waited to see if you would come to the same conclusions I have.:
"Why?" Ari asked plaintively.
:I like you to figure these things out for yourself. What if you didn't have me?:
Danny stepped around to Ari's other side and put an arm over her shoulders.
None of them spoke after that.
Following the solemn rendezvous, Ari told Danny that she really wasn't hungry, and that he should go on and eat without her. Knowing that their friends would ask what had gone on, she told Danny to say that she would talk about it in her own time. That would suffice for the time being.
With every step, she came shakily closer to Pellam's rooms. Nienori thought she was being a tad bit ridiculous with what she had planned, but Ari ignored her, focusing instead on what she was going to say.
She didn't know how long it took her to figure out that she was already in front of the door. Her heart sped up, and she almost turned around. Before she could, she knocked on the door, not giving herself enough time to back down.
Pellam answered, and upon seeing her, gave her the same sort of heavy look Sal had earlier.
"Ari!" he said, his voice even sounding surprised. From within, she could hear Sal quiet in whatever he'd been doing. "Come in, come in."
"Er…" she tried to protest smartly. But Pellam was gesticulating so wildly, that Ari felt it might be safer to be inside the room for this.
Sal stood stock-still behind one of the couches in the sitting room, his hands grasping the back of it viciously.
"So what brings you by?" Pellam asked, gesturing for her to take a seat on the couch Sal was at. Ari did so, but sat along the edge nervously, not allowing herself to get comfortable. She also sat so that she could see Sal more easily, as he had refused to sit down as Pellam had on the couch across from Ari.
"I…I'm here t' return somethin'," she said, and she began rubbing her hands along her breeches. From the corner of her eye, she saw Sal pale, but couldn't imagine why.
"What do you mean?"
Taking a deep breath, Ari slid the knife, still in its sheath, from her belt. Grasping it tightly one last time, she handed it over to Pellam, who took the weapon quietly.
"Where did you get this?" he asked in a voice just as subdued as his actions.
"I think…" Ari had to swallow before getting the rest of the thought out of her mind. "I think my ma stole this from ya before I was born. An' I'm returnin' it now."
Sal finally moved from his spot behind the sofa, towards Pellam and the blade. Pellam was staring at the dagger as though it had answered a fatal question for him.
Sal, still looking at the dagger wondrously said, "You had that with you the day you came here."
Ari nodded even though the two weren't looking at her.
"Ari," Pellam said. She said straighter in her seat, ready for him to tell her he didn't associate with the children of thieves. "Why do you think your mother stole this from me?"
Ari licked her lips, a trait so uncommon to her she momentarily forgot the question. Regaining her mental footing, she answered belatedly, "Because I saw Sal's dagger today, an' I asked him 'bout it. He said that you'd made two, years ago. An' seein' as how he has one, an' I have th' other, I realized my ma musta stolen it."
"And why would she do something like that?" Pellam asked her pointedly.
Ari sighed. "She ain't right in the head, never was, I think. I wouldn' put it past her t' steal somethin' an' then say…things."
"What sort of things?" Sal asked before Pellam could. Ari looked at her hands, her face flushing.
"She tol' me b'fore she left that my da'd given that t' her as a gift. But th' way I see it, she prob'ly ov'rheard ya, Pellam, talkin' t' someone 'bout giving the other t' Sal, and knicked the one I have…had…an' tol' the same story 'bout givin' it."
"When you say 'not right in the head,' how do you mean?" Sal pressed.
Shame chased through Ari, and she decided to make these two the next to know about what had happened.
"She used ta just be loopy, but…a few days ago, I was havin' a visit with Lael an'…an' she was in th' room, jus' like that. After all these years, she came back, babblin' worse than b'fore about bein' a family, and other such nonsense. She's worse'n when she left."
Ari looked up, and both of them were staring at her, faces shocked. Thinking it was because of her revelation, she said, "Like I said, I'm sorry, Pellam."
Swiftly, Ari stood, and was halfway to the door before Pellam rose to stop her.
"Ari." She'd reached the door, and her hand rested on the handle. She didn't look back, afraid both of them would try to comfort her, or apologize for her mother being the way she was.
"Ari," Pellam said again. This time, she turned, keeping her hand on the handle, her back against the door. Pellam held the dagger out to her.
"It's yours," he said decisively.
She shook her head. He sighed, and took her free hand, her left, placing the sheathed knife into her palm and closing her fingers over it.
"It's yours by right," he said huskily. Ari frowned, looking away and to Sal, who was looking directly at Ari.
"Whaddya mean?" she asked Pellam.
"Several days ago, one of the Healers wrote to me, telling me that a woman had come in asking for me."
Turning her head, Ari looked at Pellam. Some deep well of emotion stirred in Ari, but she forced it quiet.
"When I saw her, I didn't recognize her at first. I hadn't seen her in fifteen years."
Ari wished she could turn her head away, but she couldn't, and Pellam's eyes focused intensely on her.
"I hadn't heard the name Vercy Mechmala in a very long time." With that, Ari closed her eyes and began chanting to herself, he knew her, but he ain't my da, she still stole the knife or he gave it to her as a friend.
"The last time I saw her," he said gently, "I had to leave for the border. And I was very afraid that she wouldn't take it well. So, I left her a note…and the dagger you're holding."
Ari bowed her head, her eyes beginning to burn. He'll tell me they were only friends, they weren' involved, only friends, nothin' more.
"If I'd known she was with child, my child, I would never have left."
The hand that was on the doorknob became flew quickly to the dagger she held, and she began twisting at the sheath desperately. She shook her head, fighting back tears. She was forever crying over something, she thought. But this couldn't be true, it could never be true.
Only when Sal asked "Why's it not true?" did Ari realize that she'd said anything aloud at all.
She couldn't bear to look up at either of them, and shut her eyes tightly. And just as she'd told Danny earlier, she told the both of them now:
"It's too good to be true."
She felt hands on her shoulders. She felt Nienori, a quiet presence this entire time, make herself known.
:Look up, Ari, just look up!:
Breathing in sharply, Ari looked up at Pellam.
"You'd have to be duller than this old man not to see how alike you and I – and Sal – are. Ari… you're my blood."
And then the well of emotion that had been boiling and threatening to rise up overflowed, and Ari put her hands over Pellam's on her shoulders, her left done so awkwardly, as she still had the dagger in hand.
She finally accepted it, the hope she had suppressed. She was about to say something, but as she opened her mouth, all that came out was a humiliating sort of mewling.
Laughing, Pellam lifted Ari into a lighter version of the bear hug she had seen him give Sal the day she met him. After what seemed like minutes, he put her down, only for her to be swept up by Sal, who had been waiting patiently for his turn.
"Now I have the right to torment someone!" he told her teasingly, and she laughed though still crying.
Thinking back, Ari remembered the wish she'd made on her birthday the year before; she'd had no idea of what to wish for, having everything already. So she's asked for something impossible.
Who knew that wishing for a da – in spite of having nothing to wish for – would come true?
Ari felt Nienori lift her hooves in celebration, and she laughed again.
:This year, you should wish for a handsome Companion for me!:
AN: Sort of a cheesy ending for this chapter, but it seems deserved!
I can't believe I typed this one up so fast. Hopefully I can do the same for tomorrow. And since I'm on a roll, it seems only right that I should continue to do so, school be damned.
Also, thank goodness for chapter summaries! (Even though the one I had for this one doesn't match up at all with the end product, but there you have it.)
Well, this is embarrassing. I don't really have a playlist for this chapter :S So, for lack of much I suggest:
"Signal Fire" – Snow Patrol
And, to give you two, if you're seriously desperate for music for this, pretend I suggested
"Daughters" – John Mayer
^Doesn't quite match up (and I think that while the song is okay, the artist isn't my favorite person; at least it's something)