Candlelight Lament —by Bone White Butterfly
The overdue death of a character we all know and hate. At long last our poor, lonely Brother lover gets the girl, his revenge, and the last, rasping laugh. …We hope.
PG-13…or more: Contains an…interesting conversation. Not recommended for little boys, but I know some females who would get a kick out of it. Also, just plain cruel stuff that I won't mention to keep it a surprise.
Disclaimer: In my opinion, Ashe should have been his own character, perhaps a non-evil split off of the Rakshas, while Gwydion suffered eternal damnation in that handy Vault. Also, I'm rather ticked off at Rhapsody's character at this point and would have made Grunthor secretly female for comic purposes…hmm… Um, anyway, Achmed would have gotten the girl in the confines of the trilogy if I had my way, and then I wouldn't be forced to write this fiction on a fan-site.
…Sigh. Does it seem like I wrote this stuff? Would I accept Elizabeth Haydon's credit and a boatload of money for such shi-ite? …uh...the answer to the first question is "No."
Rhapsody sat at her husband's bedside, just watching him breathe like she had once done with her children. They were gone now, through one way or another. Only Gwydion remained. His eyes were closed, yet she could see them perfectly in her mind. She knew those eyes better than her own. Time had bleached his lashes white and crow's feet had been growing in the corners for centuries, but the eyes themselves still looked young. The catlike pupils that betrayed his wyrm blood made him seem more innocent, unlikely though it sounded. His irises were a blue more brilliant than water crystal.
She believed that shade of blue would die when he finally left her. Hoping to gaze into his eyes just once more, always once more, she had stayed by Gwydion through the weeks of his unending delirium. She had sung to him, even as his heart and breathing slowed and he fell into fitful dreams. She reached forward and brushed the stubborn locks of snowy hair from his face. Soon he would enter a deeper sleep from which there was no waking.
The thought saddened her, but she had resigned herself to his death four hundred years ago. It was then that Meridion, her eldest, had watched his goddaughter die. He left the deathbed adamant that he would become a dragon before his human body failed him as well. He begged her to help him. She couldn't refuse. He was given the same sleeping poison that had felled Llauron, and she had burned him while Gwydion held her hand. As the ashes drifted away in an unnatural wind, she had given her husband an ultimatum: become a dragon and leave her when his health failed, or stay with her until the end and then die. She wouldn't go through both the pain of watching him waste away and of killing him. Faced with such a choice, he had gone into a rage, to put it lightly. After he cooled down, though, he had decided to die in her arms.
She laid a hand on his heart and felt its soft rhythm. It wouldn't be long. She had waited for this moment for centuries. Despite that, her throat seized when his chest failed to rise. She bit her lip and told her eyes not to cry. After all, it was forbidden.
With a sigh, she announced, "You can come out now. Gwydion is dead."
A figure detached from the shadows and came forward. The dark shape hesitated before entering the sphere of warm light cast from the lone candle burning atop the bed's headboard. Clothed in gray of the blackest sort, only his eyes were visible. They glittered, a garnet and a smaller, paler sapphire. Their owner tentatively grasped her shoulder. Finding no resistance, he pulled her into his chest and put himself between her and the corpse in the bed.
"You knew this would happen," he told her.
"I know. I just…wanted to talk with him, one more time."
He sighed, "It's always just one more time. And then one more." He stroked her hair. "One last dance, one last heartbeat, nothing more. It's not too much to ask, but he can't give it you, Rhapsody. Always one more time, that's immortality…the one thing he didn't have." One gloved hand tilted up her chin, and he gazed at her coolly. "Didn't I forbid you to cry?" he asked softly.
A stubborn look entered her teary eyes. "And what if I am, your Majesty?"
He gestured at the door and replied, "Then I order you to get out of my sight. Grunthor is spooking the horses in the stable. You can go and beg him to let you have Elysian back. He's been using it as a summer home." She hid her eyes behind one hand and groaned. "I hear you left an amazing number of underthings lying about," he prodded.
"Please excuse me while I go make a woman out of Grunthor. Literally," she chirped, drawing her belt knife. She was out the door a moment later, off to hack a certain Bolgish giant's eleventh finger into pieces.
He watched her go, knowing she would continue to act flighty and foolish—and alarmingly vicious—until the burning and then long after, until her grief faded. It was another thing to blame Gwydion for. He gave the man a scornful glare and stalked to the open door, then stopped. The doorway was clear, but the space in the frame may as well have been a brick wall. "Why is this harder for me than her?" he muttered and slammed the door shut.
Achmed walked back to the bed. He removed his headscarf. The candle on the headboard cast a quivering glow on his pale face's scar-like pattern of dark veins. His dour expression was set in stone but his eyes wandered, or at least one did. The larger, fiery orange one stared thoughtfully at a goblet half filled with medicine resting on the bedside table. The left eye, however, heavy lidded and blue, flitted anxiously between the man's creased face and the thick candle dripping wax onto the headboard. "Did she light this for you?" he asked softly. He sighed and focused all his attention on the goblet. His finger traced the silvery rim slowly as the wheels in his head turned, caught in the same circular rut.
He had never been able to stand Gwydion; it was a wonder he hadn't slit the man's throat in a back alley after Rhapsody first introduced them. The dragon had called himself Ashe then. Achmed had been unable to kill him, just as he had failed to get rid of Rhapsody' lover, the probable Rakshas, Llauron's pawn, and Lord Gwydion. Always, stabbing the man had been the best option, but the assassin's hand had been stayed by the thought that he would make a useful pawn. Coming to the Cymerian lands had been like stumbling through the dark past pits of daggers. A man like Ashe knew those pitfalls, and the political climate, even the terrain; he could go anywhere without raising eyebrows. A perfect pawn, but Achmed had played his cards wrong and lost his hand to the dragon. He had dreamt of an empire, yet he scraped by with a mountain while Gwydion held all the Cymerian lands. He had lost Rhapsody. He hated himself for that mistake, but he hated the Lord Cymerian more. He couldn't stand him. He never had.
He glanced at the corpse in the bed. Age had suited Gwydion, making him look the part of a king. Now age had gone too far and he lay dead at last. Achmed shook his head and murmured, "You weren't supposed to live this long. You outlived your children, and them almost immortals. Dead or dragon now. Was it greed that kept you alive?" he asked. "You wasted away for centuries, unable to grant her one act of kindness and die. Her family is dead. She wanted to move on, but you kept her shackled to you. She wanted out when she offered to make you a true dragon. You refused. Was making her suffer for another four hundred years worth ending up here, like this?"
He frowned at the unmoving form. "After you won, we both knew that I would outlast you, that everything that was yours would eventually fall into my hands. That makes me a cowardly grave robber. I hate you for that; I should have taken it all away from you, when you were still alive to see me walk away." He glanced up at the candlelight. "…Rot in Hell, Gwydion."
He turned away, but even out of sight, the candle burned in his vision. Desolate, he murmured, "She lit it for you." He spoke with a voice he used rarely, if ever. Smooth, even beautiful, it betrayed his every caged emotion. Sorrow, resentment, and self-doubt escaped from his throat. His exhaustion and pain echoed through the small room. In the shadows, his mismatched eyes stared at nothing together. Then the one sharpened and blazed fiery red as he turned into the light and stalked to the candle. He smothered it with his hand. The room went black. He spat in the dragon's face and left.
The door unlatched and shut again with a distinct click. The only movement in the blackened room was the unseen undulations of the smoke from the guttered candle. Then a chill came upon the air, and the tiny light flared into being. Invisible yet present, the insubstantial form of a dragon watched as two water crystal eyes opened in the near-dark and a corpse sat up in bed and wiped the spittle from his face. A gnarled, claw-like hand curled around the nearby goblet. With great effort, the cup was lifted and raised to cold, cracked lips.
"It's a dirty trick," a rasping voice muttered just before the sound of labored swallows. He put the emptied cup back on the table and sighed, "Tomorrow she burns me, and then…dragon, like you. ….Why did I let you talk me into this?" Cool air stroked his sunken cheek, and he closed his eyes. "I'm so tired, Meridion," he whispered.
The coolness wrapped about his shoulders tightly. Gwydion returned the odd embrace as well as he could. Soon the night grew deeper around them. The drug in the goblet took hold, and he sank back into the bed, entering a sleep that looked like death.
Achmed walked along the stone court, winding his headscarf around his face. The breeze reeked of brine, and he breathed through his mouth and the layers of dark cloth to avoid the stench of the sea. As he went, he found his thoughts drifting back to his very first encounter with Rhapsody.
When he had felt the frantic hammering of a tiny heart barrel towards him in that back alley so many centuries ago, he had thought her a small child. He had hardly expected a full-grown, yet diminutive woman to all but crash into him. Then, instead of running back the way she had come—like any person without a death wish would have done—she had foolishly asked him to step aside. When that failed, she proceeded to adopt him, change his name, free him, and cause his heart to beat a damn lot faster than he would have liked with just a simple smile—and all in under two minutes.
He shook his head. He should have known life with her would be interesting.
He softened his step as he reached the stables and so came upon his life companions without them noticing. Rhapsody stood caught up in Grunthor's monstrous grasp, her face buried in his shirt. They were a picture, the most bizarre pair that had ever existed. For all that the giant talked about eating her—and Rhapsody returned fire with dismemberment threats—they loved each other dearly. If Achmed hadn't known theirs was the simple, trusting love of siblings, seeing the two of them together would have caused Grunthor's lifespan to shorten considerably. Even so, when the two strayed too close, Rhapsody threat's to unman the giant became very popular in his mind. He even considered helping. But he soon decided the satisfaction wouldn't be worth the loss of his friend for millennia—who might divide the loyalties of the Firbolg army if crossed. So he settled for making a conspicuous sound.
Grunthor's gaze jerked to him. "Wimmin," he muttered after a short pause. Shaking his head, he pulled far away enough from the "wimman" to mollify his King. He continued, "Th' Duchess an' Oi were havin' a grand ole talk 'bout the best way to unman a feller, then the lass gets all sentimental. Roight at the best part, too." He tweaked Rhapsody's nose. "Now, what yeh want to do is set a candle to the ends of all those little pins; makes 'em burnin' hot. Moight drip wax someplace nasty, but at this point the feller won't be noticin'."
Achmed shook his head and leaned against a wooden support post while he half-listened to Grunthor's grisly procedure. The rest of his attention was on her heartbeat. Some people listened to the rhythmic crashing of the sea's waves. They said it calmed and soothed them. He hated the sea, but he knew what they meant. The steady double beat smoothed the last traces of hate from his face.
"Comes roight off. Yeh let the man recover, now. All that work was fer nothin'if he dies from th' pain."
Rhapsody, paying rapt attention, nodded. Her instructor explained the next step.
"So you get some more pins—helps if yer mum's a seamstress—an' don't forget to sterilize 'em first! Yeh get the pins an' do it all over again and again 'till there's none left. How long it takes depends on how big uv a prick he is. …Now, which feller were you lookin' to try this on?"
Rhapsody smiled brightly. "I hear you've been holing up in Elysian," she said conversationally, seeming to change the subject. Grunthor looked down at her in confusion, his fuzzy caterpillar eyebrows crawling up into his hairline. Then his eyes clouded for a moment in thought.
Rhapsody suddenly found herself held back at arm's length. Given Grunthor's size, that constituted a good five feet of arm and three off the ground.
Off to the side, Achmed heaved a rasping breath that sounded like laughter. Scratch sounded like; it was laughter. Simple laughter that wasn't pointed to be condescending or belittle anyone. The other two stared at him, unable to believe that Achmed the Sarcastic was taking honest amusement in something. They lasted only a few moments after that before breaking out into their own laughing fits.
Rhapsody laughed the longest. It was a good quarter-hour before she dissolved into tears.
The funeral pyre of the Second Lord Cymerian was laid on the cliff top overlooking the sea, and only the double incentive of being a comfort to Rhapsody and getting to watch the deceased burn got the Bolgish King to come and suffer from the overwhelming stink of brine. No one dared to point out that he was attired for hard travel and not a venerable ruler's funeral.
Rhapsody was tastefully dressed, and she was radiant, and little more could be said as both rarities had already been duly noted in great detail over the centuries by chroniclers of great skill—and in even greater detail by those with no skill to speak of. Only her ring was worth mentioning, gone from her hand and retired to a fragile chain about her neck, as the Lady worried it in her fingers when she turned to the visiting Bolgish dignitary and asked, "Did you bring it?"
His nod was solemn. "I did." His gaze strayed to the same ring. "I wondered, at times, why you brought it to me, so desperate to have it repaired, and then never returned for it. And I wondered, too. You never told me how it broke." She said nothing, but he tilted his head when she closed her hand about the small band of gold and looked to her husband's pyre. "Ah. It was a grievous blow, indeed, that did it in. It's never ceases to amaze me, Rhapsody, the lengths you'll go to preserve innocence. But I suppose that's one of things that make us love you," he added quietly before the procession reached them. "And it makes us sad," he continued in the royal we when they were no longer alone, "to tell you that, in the reforging, something…unexpected happened. We do not know why, but, perhaps you should see for yourself."
At his wave, the long wooden case was opened by two Bolgish warriors of strong human descent. A chill usurped the summer breeze, and Rhapsody folded her arms about herself as she stepped forward. The gleaming, translucent blade nestled in the box reflected her pensive face. Her hand reached forward to hover over the hilt. "It's so cold," she breathed. A cloud of chilled vapor spilled from her lips with each syllable. She tentatively touched the remade sword, only to jerk back as though burned.
The Bolgish king wrapped a gloved hand around hers, allowing his warmth to ease away the bone deep chill. He stayed silent when she murmured, "It's not mine anymore. It hasn't been for four hundred years, has it? I've just been deluding myself into thinking nothing had changed. Why didn't you tell me?"
He glanced at the ring but told her, "Would you have wanted to know? We are sorry that the rites may not proceed as planned, and have an offering to show our regret." A woman bearing a guttered, ornamental torch came forward. "We cannot give you a flame from the stars, but this dead fire came from Elysian. If you rekindle that flame, and use that to light the pyre, then your marriage will end where it began."
"A circle," she said, "for eternity."
Neither of them looked to the ring.
"If that is what you wish to believe, my Lady," he replied dutifully and smiled behind his headscarf at her nod.
She took the torch from the Bolgish woman before bowing her head. "I would do this alone," she told the assemblage, but when she opened her eyes several minutes later to find a deserted bluff with the Bolgish King and General backed away only ten paces, she made no complaint.
The kindling of the Lord Cymerian's pyre was piled high at the back and sides but shallow at the fore where the Lady came to stroke her husband's brow in the same she had her children's as they lay in cradles of similar shape. In a faltering voice, she sang the words to make the dead torch come back to life. The flames, almost cherry, twisted merrily in her grasp. She stared blankly at them until two reedlike hands lightly wrapped about her arms. "It shouldn't be this hard," she whispered.
"Take as long as you need. We have eternity."
Rhapsody shook her head. "No, I need do this now, or I never will, and where would that leave him?" The last was posed as a question, but there came no answer. She finally swallowed, took a step forward and away from the King, and dropped the torch onto the pyre. She watched it set the first tiny twigs aflame, then took a faltering step back before throwing herself into Achmed's arms. His hand moved to turn her head from the building blaze as she murmured, "I can't watch."
"I'll watch for you," he replied, stroking her hair. "Go." She ran back towards the horses tethered further down the bluff. After a time of watching her frantic flight, he looked to Grunthor, ordering, "Get her on her horse and headed towards Ylorc. I'll follow when I'm done here."
The Bolgish giant's eyes narrowed, and he looked from Achmed to the burning pyre.
Out to sea, a twining breeze faltered. It turned to the cliff face in the distance and hissed a sibilant query, only to receive no reply. In a moment of almost human clarity, it realized that something had just gone horribly wrong. The corpse was not supposed to be awake.
Surrounded by fire, the dragon gulped in air and tried to rise. His head didn't make it off the board. "Rha…" he began in the faintest of whispers but dissolved into weak coughs.
"She's gone," Achmed informed him as he came forward. His terrifying face was hard as he regarded the Cymerian Lord like a child caught stealing the pie from the windowsill. "Never trust a dragon," the Bolg king sneered. He pulled the goblet Gwydion had drunken from out of his pack and considered it a moment before tossing it into the blaze.
"I don't waste my time chatting up corpses," the assassin informed him. "I do draw men's attentions away from what they should be paying attention to, like the counter-poison in their medicine cups. You should have done the same to me. If I had been distracted, I wouldn't have noticed that you suddenly decided to be burned after death instead of being laid to rest beneath Sagia—right after you'd received news that I had repaired the Daystar Clarion. That was suspicious, considering that burning was how your father and son became dragons." Mismatched eyes met water crystal across the rising smoke and flame. "Shall I go on naming your mistakes?" he asked, "Or will it suffice to say that I've known you were planning this from the start?"
"Yes, it always was about her, wasn't it? I don't think either of us would have cared if we only had the stars for a roof over our heads, as long as we had her in our beds, to spite the other with. But you had everything. Except time." He stepped back and tilted his head. "But now you just have these last few thoughts as you die. I know you are hating me with all your insignificant might, but you should be thinking on your love. Rhapsody, milord, do you remember her? Remember her hair. Her smiles. Remember how, in her innocent eyes, you could do no wrong, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Remember how she danced with me on her wedding day. Remember how she ran to me when you destroyed something she held most dear.
"Remember that I'm taking her to Ylorc." He paused. "In fact, do more than remember: Imagine. She'll be alive again, adopting a dozen Bolg children a day. Imagine her lullabies echoing through the Mountain. Imagine tender moments in Elysian, an Elysian with every memory of you erased. Winter will come, and with it, cold, long nights. Just…imagine."
He turned away. "Most of all, think of this over and over as you burn. Your Aria killed you, with a fire of baser beginnings that I won't sully myself by naming. She left you to die. She has already forgotten you, Gwydion. Or should I call you Ashe? It's fitting. You were Ashe when we first met, and now you are ash again, as our acquaintance finally ends."
The flames piled higher. A hissing wind blew up from nowhere, but it only served to strengthen the blaze. The king traced a ring in the air. "A circle. It's supposed to stand for eternity but doesn't. It's a tying off of loose ends.
"It's the end."
Whoa. After three…oh GOD, four years, I finally finished this thing. Who knew Gwydion would be so bloody hard to kill? My main problem was getting Achmed to monologue while still sounding like his razor-sharp Brotherly self. I also grew up during the writing (and rewriting and corrupting of hard drives and yet more exhilarating rewriting), which afforded me the valuable life lesson that all guys are jerks, just some more than others and it's the some that really deserve to get theirs; hence my penchant for castration jokes. I also came to hate Rhapsody with her perfect tiny breasts and utter cluelessness. Less the heroine, more the prize to be won, which, hey, works if you're Achmed, but the more I think about it, the more I wish Joe had survived. When the plot device is more real than the title character, that's usually a bad sign.
Anyway, here it is. Complete. And, as for what happens next, well. Just…imagine.