Circling Lake Qurin
Warnings/notes: pre-novels, Seregil, Micum, drabble-ish.
Disclaimer: The wondrous world of the Nightrunner-trilogy was created by Lynn Flewelling.
written at 29th november 2006, by Misura. For Lara, who sent me a postcard from Ruqin Lake, and 'greetings from a country far, far away'.
When Seregil first mentioned their goal for the day, Micum recalls thinking 'fish'. It's been a while since he's eaten any, and a bit of a change in their diet sounded welcome, even if he may not be quite the epicurist Seregil is - or pretends to be, at any rate, because Micum's seen him eat things that most people wouldn't ever consider food, and some of them weren't even the results of Seregil's enthusiastic attempts at cooking something new.
He also recalls thinking 'water'. It's autumn, so the last river he skinny-dipped in was full of orange and yellow and red leaves, and they stuck to his skin as if someone'd glued them on. He had to ask Seregil's help to pluck off some of the ones on harder-to-reach places, which was a little embarrassing and quite possibly more than a little cruel, now that he's getting married come spring, but Micum assured himself that he and Seregil were both adults and friends to boot, so it'd have to be okay.
Thirdly and lastly, he recalls thinking 'bed'. The past week, they've been traveling at high speed, making long days, turning in late and rising early, and with one of them awake and guarding the other at all times. Micum felt a good night's sleep would be very welcome, especially in a nice, warm room, with no fir-cones and small rocks having gotten under his blanket somehow, to keep him from falling asleep.
For some reason, it never occured to Micum that Seregil might get them lost. They're headed for a lake, after all. How hard can it possibly be to find a lake? It's not like it's some small hamlet, consisting of three houses, six inhabitants and about a dozen chickens, cows and pigs. Lake Qurin is the largest body of water around here, fed by several rivers, all of which are impossible to cross or pass without noticing. Even if Seregil's been guiding them north-east instead of north-west, they should have run into some kind of flowing water by now, and Micum doesn't really think Seregil'd mix up his directions that badly. Seregil can be broody, especially when there's no immediate threat to their lives, but Micum's never known him to be so absent-minded as to confuse east with west.
Still, Micum has to face the bare facts. Which are that, firstly, it's getting dark, while they should have reached the shores of Lake Qurin hours ago if not one of the many villages surrounding it, and secondly, Seregil hasn't spoken for hours, and is probably just going to keep on staying silent, either too distracted or too proud to admit he's made a mistake somewhere.
Micum sighs, gently nudging his horse to catch up with Seregil's. It responds slowly and reluctantly, clearly as exhausted as its rider.
"Shouldn't we have seen the lake by now?" Micum asks. Seregil is touchy, has been touchy since Micum introduced him to Kari, and Micum feels that an argument is absolutely the last thing either of them needs. Better for everyone if Seregil sees the problem for himself, and fixes it. Micum's perfectly content to never speak the word 'lost', if it means keeping the peace -and- reaching their destination at a slightly reasonable hour. "Seregil?"
After a brief hesitation, Micum reaches out, grasping Seregil's shoulder and shaking him softly. Seregil blinks and stares at him, obviously having been completely unaware of his surroundings for a long while. Micum curses inwardly, although he's not sure if he's angry with Seregil, for letting his mind wander off like that, or with himself, for not noticing something sooner.
Seregil stares at Micum's hand on his shoulder as if wondering what it's doing there. Micum withdraws it quickly, annoyed with himself for his sense of awkwardness. Touching Seregil never used to be a problem before; why should it, with them both male, and good friends? Things have changed after Kari though - and Micum still has no idea whose fault that is. Not Kari's, at any rate.
"What is it?" Seregil inquires, his voice sounding hoarse.
"The lake. Shouldn't we have seen it by now?" Micum repeats his question.
"Maybe." Seregil shrugs, turning his head to make it clear he doesn't consider the subject worthy of further discussion. Micum's glad Seregil's horse is as tired as his own; otherwise, he feels that Seregil might well have put some more distance between them, to make it clear he doesn't want Micum's company, or Micum's conversation.
"You said this morning that we'd reach it during the afternoon, possibly even at noon," Micum points out, making an effort to sound reasonable and not like he's annoyed at Seregil's behavior and lack of interest. "We haven't run into any trouble; we should have made good time. So where's the lake?"
"Are you accusing me of getting us lost?" Seregil frowns at him. Micum'd like to believe it's because he's managed to get through to Seregil by calling on his pride, but he's afraid Seregil's just in a bad mood because Micum dragged him out of his reveries.
"I'm only repeating what you told me," Micum reminds him. "You said you'd been here before."
"We're not lost," Seregil states, raising his chin and daring Micum to contradict him.
"I'm not saying that we are." Not explicitly, at any rate. Micum's been hanging around Seregil long enough to be able to tell half-truths and not-quite-lies with a straight face. He's not quite as good as Seregil, which might make Seregil the better Watcher, but then again, Seregil's so sneaky that some people distrust him at first sight, regardless of his disguise. In those cases, Micum's honest face and reluctance to lie comes in handy.
"Then what are you complaining about?" Seregil snaps.
"I'm not complaining!" Micum bursts out. "I should be, because you're acting like a spoilt child who's sulking over not getting things his way all the time, but I'm not!"
"A spoilt child?" Seregil sounds incredulous, like he can't believe his ears.
"Yes." Micum reflects that perhaps, he should have broached the subject sooner. Talking about this now isn't going to get them any closer to Lake Qurin, and hot dinner, and pine-cone free beds. "You've barely spoken half a dozen words since this morning, you've been wriggling out of cooking-duty, and you act like you're barely even alive. What's your problem?"
That last question, Micum decides sourly, was a mistake. He knows what Seregil's problem is, after all; he simply can't believe it's enough to put years of friendship down the drain, like they meant nothing at all. Kari's the love of his life, but Seregil's his best friend. He doesn't want to have to choose between them. He didn't think he'd have to, either.
"As if you don't know!" Seregil glares at Micum.
Micum sags in his saddle. "Kari doesn't think it's a problem. She doesn't like the way my work forces me to be away from home for weeks, but she understands. She - "
"Well, of course she understands!" Seregil spits. "Of course she doesn't think it's a problem! She's won, after all. She's got you, and I've got nothing!"
"That's ... not true," Micum protests. It's hard to get angry, hard to sound convincing when he can see the hurt in Seregil's eyes, and feels the guilt gnawing at him. "I'll always be your friend."
"But never more than that," Seregil finishes.
Micum fidgets. He's seen Seregil dressed up as a woman; he's felt a hint of attraction on those occasions - sometimes, not always. He's never felt it when Seregil was dressed as a man though, nor when he's seen any other male, no matter how handsome or feminine.
"If you had to choose between me and her, you'd choose her!" Seregil adds. It sounds like an accusation. Seregil probably intends for it to be one.
"Are you telling me I have to choose?" Micum asks, his voice barely a whisper. "Are you saying our friendship's over if I marry Kari?"
"What if I am?" Seregil's eyes are cold and hard. Micum can remember the last time he's seen Seregil like this. It scared him then, and it scares him now, even if there's nobody else around here, no Pleminarans for Seregil to cut to pieces as easy and dispassionately as if he's peeling an apple.
Micum isn't squeamish about killing people, but he only does it when there's a need, and tries to make it quick and clean. Pleminarans are human, after all, even if they don't always act like it. He doesn't know if Seregil's darker side exists because he's 'faie or because of something that happened in his past, but he does know that Seregil is capable of a ruthless, merciless kind of cruelty that scares the hell out of him, as well as anyone who happens to be facing Seregil when he gets like that.
"I don't know," Micum says. "I don't know."
Seregil says nothing, but the darkness seems to slowly vanish from his eyes, until there's only the hurt left, and after a few heartbeats, that too is covered up again, and Seregil looks the way he's always looked, calm and controlled.
"We've probably wandered off the right track because of the fog," Seregil comments, as if they're still talking about the question whether or not he's gotten them lost. "Lake Qurin is famous for it. The philosopher Scaramander wrote a whole book about it, you know. He named it 'Thought I Had While Watching Mist' or something like that."
"Sounds like a fascinating read," Micum manages. He's not quite unused to Seregil's mood-swings, and he's relieved to see a spark of humor again, but he has the sinking feeling that the last word about him and Kari and Seregil has not yet been spoken.
"It is. I've got a copy of it on my nightstand. Perfect for when you can't sleep." Seregil grins.
"Somehow, I don't think that will be much of a problem tonight," Micum says, suppressing a yawn.
"No, I guess not." Seregil nods, then halts, looking first at the trees around them, then at the sky above them. "Uh-oh."
"Uh-oh?" Micum doesn't like the sound of that.
"I'm afraid so, yes." Seregil squints at the sky some more. "Yup. Definitely 'uh-oh'."
"Don't tell me you've gotten us lost," Micum groans.
"Okay, then I won't tell you." Seregil's smile is full of innocence. "I don't think we're going to see Lake Qurin today anymore though, so we'd better make camp sometime soon."