Action and Consequence Part II
It could never be her fault, so I always got the blame.
Whenever anything went wrong, it was never Sheila's fault (or even Diana's). Hank was always too protective, looking for someone else to accuse. And it was usually me; I'd always been the easy target for him, for all of them.
I knew something was wrong, but it was easier to ignore the problem rather than help, I'd never been very good at helping people, especially people I cared about. She's crying because you teased her. She cried, and it was my fault. She's not talking because of you. She's not happy because of you, you, YOU!
Hank couldn't see what I could, and he refused to even consider it. I might not have understood the source, but I recognised the symptoms: Diana and Kosar; Bobby and Terri; Presto and Varla. Oh, yes, I recognised the symptoms, all right! You would have to have been blind, or too wrapped up in your own world to notice. But I think that Hank just didn't want to see, he kept hoping that it was an act, or a passing phase. And when that didn't work, he would take his frustration out on me.
The day she went missing, it was me who got the blame, predictably enough. Hank assumed that I should have sensed that something was wrong, just because I was the last one to see her; I'd woken her for the early watch. The fact that she'd waited until I was asleep, then gone off on her own seemed obvious, but Hank was convinced something was wrong. I thought something was wrong as well, but he wasn't going to listen to me, and my "insinuations"!
Hank lectured (or maybe "shouted at" is more appropriate) me for about an hour, ignoring my suggestion that we should go to look for her. We did search, eventually, when it suited our exalted Ranger, but there was no sign of her anywhere, not a crushed leaf, a bent blade of grass or a partial footprint! And this time Dungeonmaster didn't appear, with a redundant riddle and the outdated hope of home.
So there was nothing better to do but wait in icy and resentful silence to see if she returned.
Much, much later (after an afternoon of wordless blame and cold-shouldering), as the suns set, she walked into our camp with her head held high, and I finally understood something had changed permanently. She ignored our questions, she barely seemed aware of us at all.
'I'm not your friend anymore,' she said.
There was no inflection in her tone, and the look on her face as she spoke was as bland as if she'd asked for a drink of water. There were more demands for answers from the others, especially Hank and Bobby, but it was all just a distraction.
A moment later he was there towering protectively over her, his hand resting on her shoulder; Venger the great Arch-Mage of the Realm, and behind him his legions of Orcs. Only then did she smile.
There was nowhere to run. We were too horrified to even try.
I'd thought he would have killed us without hesitation. But the Orcs just took our weapons and kept us under guard. And perhaps that was worse as, instead, the two lovers kissed as we watched.
The others turned away. But I didn't, not until the spectacle was over, as if that was going to help us or reveal the hidden answers.
I saw clearly the look of utter revulsion on Hank's face, as the Thief entwined with her lover in a fiery embrace. They thought she'd been tricked or enchanted, seduced against her will. But I saw what the others didn't; the glint of wicked pleasure in Sheila's eyes as they stepped apart. And I remember wondering who had trapped who, and how.
I didn't understand then, of course. Even if I had, I don't think it would have helped. I could never have told the others, they wouldn't have believed me. Certainly Hank blamed me for turning her against them; until the day he died he didn't speak a single word to me, not even in our darkest hours when Presto died and Bobby was spirited away.
I know now that Venger wasn't destined to last long with her at his side, as her passion was only matched by her relentless fury. But even that did us no good, when the siblings rose against Dungeonmaster they were as formidable as the Arch-Mage himself. And once they had decided on destruction, nothing stood in their way.
You might call it skill, or even be disparaging and call it "luck" (I would agree with either) but I survived it all; from that first day to the bitterest ending of all when everything had gone, and I was alone in a cursed Realm with no way home.
No one escaped her wrath. No one, that is, except me.
Perhaps I was not such an easy target after all.
Or perhaps that was my punishment for not helping a friend.