A/N: Before we begin the story I would like to thank the generous reviews that I have received already. Your support is truly inspiring! Second, I'd really like to thank Thor and Penny4him for the wonderful beta reading on this chapter. The help was greatly appreciated!
Chapter 3: Matters of the Heart
She'd always called them matters of the heart; thoughts and feelings Zarthaen Ken'lyl had never had, had never experienced, had never been inspired to understand. They were weaknesses, emotions that brought about little to no gain. Perhaps Zarthaen had missed out on some of his earlier teachings, or somewhere along the way he'd been dropped on his head quite brutally as a child, but he was almost sure that the stuff leaking from his eyes was the pain Aeirlyth spoke of, and that it wasn't very becoming of a drow.
As he sat there, at the edge of his bed, dressed in the finest things the servants could find to fit him, he wondered why he would want to go out into the brutal sunlight and stare at her cold, dead, and lifeless form with everyone else in the village. It was his chance to run, to get away, to go home, to be free. He was free. And yet, he couldn't seem to will himself to move.
Was it because when the Lady had been alive, filling his mind and heart with weakness, that it was the first time that he'd ever truly felt free? It was never about integrity, it was never about righteousness or rules or justice. She'd accepted him as a conniving and unlawful cretin and let him be, all the while uttering stories and wanting to know his own. Now, he would step outside to a sea of faces filled with sorrow and hate and judgment. He couldn't begin to hate her the way he'd been taught to. He couldn't begin to rid himself of the hollow place her leaving had placed in him. Why had she left so soon anyways? She surely had many more years left! Surely the illness should have passed. The disbelief only served to make him angry for some reason he couldn't fathom, and what made it worse was that she wasn't there to explain it to him.
Decided, the young drow stood, wiped his face with his sleeve, gathered some resolve, and took the bravest step of his young life out the door and into a living lesson on matters of the heart.
Outside it was quite bright, being the peak of the day. Zar squinted terribly, trying to make out the blurry forms of people bustling in their nicest clothes to congregate around the local center of worship. Zar had never stood in public since the day he'd been found laying in the street. People stopped and stared, their minds taken from their great sorrow momentarily at the odd and unwelcome sight of a drow standing at their Lady's doorstep. Children pointed, mothers hushed their questions, but eventually, they all began their proceedings once more. Zar shifted uncomfortably, standing under the cover and in the shade of the porch. This was going to be a lot harder than he thought. The idea of running was becoming more tempting with each passing second.
What this odd feeling of responsibility he felt was, he could not identify. However, he was becoming more and more used to odd emotions he couldn't name when it came to his feelings about his deceased hostess.
Looking at his boots the same way he'd been forced to for the first ten years of his life, he took a deep and thoughtful breath. Holding it, he rolled his shoulders back and looked up once more towards the place he'd been told to go, and then let that breath go as he stepped out into the sunlit street.
It was awkward, and Zar felt like he stuck out like a sore thumb. As though he had the plague, there was plenty of room between him and everyone else. In fact, he had an entire pew all to his lonesome. It worked quite fine for Zar, except that every time he shifted or made a slight movement of any sort, dozens of pairs of eyes were on him, scrutinizing him. Vaguely, he pondered if it were at all blasphemy to sit in a church not belonging to his own deity. When it occurred to him that the next possible worst thing that Lolth could do to him at this point was turn him into a drider, which was pretty awful, he settled into his seat and observed the processions comfortably.
Mourning the dead and celebrating their passing with communal sorrow was an odd concept to Zar. It was quite simply something that didn't happen in the Underdark. Bodies were often thrown to the drider pits, thrown to thewilds, left to rot, or burned, but never dressed up and buried. So when it was his opportunity to look down upon the Lady in her last resting place, it shook him to see her so utterly perfect. She looked younger almost, and paints adorned her eyes and lips, dressing her face up as he'd never seen it. Her clothes were immaculate and not what she'd passed away in at the dining table. Zarthaen the drow had seen bodies utterly mutilated beyond recognition; he'd seen the intestines ripped out of the gut of his uncle and strewn across the temple floor. He'd seen a child thrown against the wall mercilessly, a slave's skull mashed with a hammer until it was a grey pulp, and yet none of those experiences had disturbed him within a fraction of an inch like seeing the Lady so perfect in her death, ready to be placed in the earth. He backed away, his eyes not leaving what shook him so. He couldn't control the expression of disgust that crossed his features, nor could he bring himself to control the hasty direction he took away from her casket, down the church aisle, out the door and back to her house.
He wasn't sure what he'd do there, but at least it would be away from all of those people, all of those watching, staring, scrutinizing eyes, and her. Away from the Lady who lay in a casket, no longer breathing and gone forever. It disturbed him and he wasn't comfortable with being disturbed over the loss of someone else's life. Back in the house, in his room where he knew he wouldn't be bothered with the servants, he sat on the edge of his bed and thought. He let his mind travel over the hazy beginnings in which he'd been quite ill, to the many months he spent learning about the world around him and the common tongue. The months he'd spent learning and swapping stories had made him grow soft towards the old she-elf. He'd gathered a weakness for her and he had harbored it. He stared at his obsidian colored hands for a long time, his mind elsewhere but not in reverie. Perhaps in shock, perhaps waiting for an answer to come that he knew never would.
When there was a knock at his door he didn't jump, but rather looked up slowly, his eyes tired. There was a second knock after awhile, and Zar grunted ascent. It opened to reveal a timid and bashful looking but all too familiar young elf. Zar's face immediately adopted a glare. He made to yell at her and banish her from the house, but she held up her hand and effectively silenced the words on his tongue. There was sorrow in her eyes. He knew it because it was the same expression that had adorned everyone in town. He wondered if they could tell that he was sad, but settled all too quickly with the belief that they hated him too much to care, and that he wouldn't want them to know anyways. It wasn't far from the forefront of his mind that every soul in the town would have killed him if the Lady hadn't taken him under her wing. Zar heaved a heavy sigh, looking grudgingly at his hands as she entered and closed the door behind her. He wanted to issue her another violent stare when she settled her weight onto the bed next to him, but didn't have the heart to. He kept his eyes on his hands, clearly avoiding her and everything else. It was silent for a long while, the stillness nearly overwhelming as though each dared the other to move or speak first.
"I'm going to miss her," the girl said suddenly, her voice filled with caged tears as she dropped her face into her hands. Zar looked at her, unsure how to act, how to treat this odd occurrence. Here was a near sworn enemy of his blubbering into her hands over a dead person. In his chest he felt a strange twinge and he looked away, his face contorted with confusion. All he wanted was to go home where people, his people, were predictable. Perhaps not predictable, but they sure behaved in ways he could understand. At least he knew how to react to them. At least they didn't cry over dead people.
"Don't you… miss her?!" She turned on him, sniffling pitifully, her face strained between sorrow and frustration. Zarthaen's jaw dropped with words he didn't have, and he found himself opening and closing his mouth several times, dumbly attempting to force an explanation past his lips.
"What the hell does it matter to you?!" he fought back when he couldn't seem to get himself to admit that yes, he did miss the Lady greatly. So much that it actually seemed to hurt. But he didn't understand it. He didn't understand loss because he'd been raised to take, not to understand losing. The only thing worth mourning was the loss of one's own life; that, Zar understood. Yet these emotions stormed upon him mercilessly whether he could control and understand them or not, and he couldn't seem to banish them either. He watched her shake, her eyes searching his face for something she could understand. Zar's frustrated glare began to melt into indifference. He couldn't offer her clues to something he didn't understand himself; he didn't want to.
"Look…" she began, her voice cracking as she worked to gather herself together once more, "I didn't come here to fight with you," she explained quietly, her voice a whisper. "I came to offer you a place to stay. The Lady had asked my mother that her family be available to give you such on our farm." She spoke grudgingly, as though she hated the idea. Zar stared at her flatly.
"I'm going home," he said stubbornly in response.
"Then go home!" she yelled, standing upright and heading towards the door. "Go back to whatever cave you belong in you… you… you ugly, mean, spider worshipping freak!" she spat as she slammed the door behind her. Zar's eyebrows lifted in surprise, not expecting her to know anything about his people, concerning spiders, and certainly not expecting the stream of insults.
It was a fib. Zar had no idea how to get home. The more he realized that he might be stuck here forever the more he began to fret about something he knew he had no control over. It wasn't as though he could walk up to the tavern and holler for an adventurer who knew the nearest route to the upper tunnels. He'd be lucky not to get his head lopped off. Young and inexperienced, Zar was smart enough to know he held little to no chance trying to find his way home on his own, even if he did find the upperdark. To survive the wilds of the subterranean caverns was a feat bested by few; very few.
Exhausted and not sure why, as he knew he hadn't done anything all day worth being exhausted over, he turned in for reverie, his confusing emotions so unsettling that eventually even sleep claimed him.
He was groggy the next morning when one of the older servants roughly poked him with a wooden stick. He waved it aside feebly, rolling over and attempting to orient himself from the throes of slumber. He remembered again why he hated the idea of sleeping and how much more wonderful reverie was. The intolerable old woman kept jabbing him with the stick as though he were a lazy dog, and he attempted to bat it away several times, all to no avail.
"Alright!" he screamed finally, snatching the stick and throwing it across the room. The woman screeched and another servant rushed into the room.
"He tried to kill me! Oh word, he threw that stick at me!" she gasped at the other servant, who turned a glare on him. He returned the glare, knowing that the old woman was lying terribly but not caring in the least. Let them think he was crude and bad tempered, all the better to keep them away.
"It's a good thing you're leaving today," the newer servant spat as she slapped his things onto his desk. They were his old weapons and armor. It was a bit of a shock to see it so well intact. The Lady must have placed it in the cellar, for the sun must not have seen it since the day he'd been laying in the street. Zar went to them like a mother seeing their child for the first time, lifting the gently curved long daggers in their sheaths to inspect them reverently. It felt like he hadn't held them in his hands in years.
"You'll be heading to the Valen's farmhouse in a few short hours, so you better be ready soon," the servant ordered, eyeing him warily, and rightfully so now that the drow had his weapons in hand.
"How… how come you've returned these to me?" Zar asked, turning his face away from her to hide his obvious bewilderment.
The servant shrugged noncommittally. "We are carrying out our Lady's will whether we believe her wishes to be truly wise or not," the servant answered, her voice softening by only a very small degree, but noticeable enough. She stood in the middle of his room, folded linens in hand and watching him with an expression of obvious curiosity.
"What?" he asked defensively and looked up at her when she had yet to leave. She sighed, looking at the floor and biting her lip, before turning on her heel and leaving. Zar watched her retreat, his expression filled with his confusion. He just couldn't understand these people for the life of him.
Zar lightly padded down the hallway, silent in his well-worn boots he'd been missing for so long. As he rounded the corner he quickly slowed. A gruff looking elf was standing there, quietly talking to the servant who'd brought his things in. They didn't take notice to his presence, and it wasn't hard to listen in on their conversation.
"She was rather upset but I told her we'd made a promise we couldn't back out of," the man said, and the servant nodded.
"He's got to go somewhere," the servant said, and looked over to see Zar watching them. She quickly left the two men standing in the entryway, eyeing each other. The other looked as though he were about to approach, his right arm twitching slightly before he thought better and remained where he was.
"The name is Flarien Valen," the auburn-haired elf stated, keeping his eyes warily on the drow.
"Zarthaen," the dark elf stated flatly. They were the only words spoken between the two before they began their trek to the Valen household.
Zar sat at the kitchen table, watching his food grow cold. All around him was the horrible sound of chewing and chattering and laughter. 'They must be pretending I don't exist', he speculated as he poked the food with his utensil. When the dark elf had refused to eat dinner with them, the mother, Shentie, had given him such a murderous glare and pointed to his seat that it reminded him of his own mother.
He quickly obliged.
At least that was one thing he could understand, even if it did make his blood boil. Vengeance was bred into him keenly well, and he poked the food like it was a dead rat sitting on his plate. He refused to eat it. Eating with fairies; Lolth must be laughing at him. His weapons were only inches from reach where they lay strapped at his lower back and they were likely unskilled fighters. Yet, here he was, throwing a silent tantrum, protesting with a fork instead of his swords.
"Not good enough for you, eh?" The table grew quiet after Simon made his remark, clearly aimed at the dark elf scooted to the farthest corner of the table. Zar slowly looked up, his eyes locking with the eldest boy sitting next to his sister, Alhandrea. Every pair of eyes turned towards Zar as the drow flinched, his wrist snapping in a sharp and swift movement, sending a piece of silver flying by the boy's face. Shentie didn't get a chance to scream as the butter knife imbedded deep into the wall behind the boy whose expression was filled with a mixture of shock and outrage. Zar stood and made to leave, but Flarien cleared his throat. Their silence must have required them some great resolve, Zar decided as he inwardly cackled at their attempts to hide their own shock. Flarien, the father, stood and trudged towards the front door, obviously expecting Zar to follow. The dark elf decided it would be better than being in here amongst the awkward and shocked silence hanging in the air.
As Zar stood, he crossed his arms over his chest and glared indignantly at Simon. He followed silently behind the father, closing the door behind them and welcoming the cool, crisp darkness of the nightly hour. The dark elf almost ran into Flarien when the man suddenly stopped and spun around, jabbing a finger into Zar's face.
"I swear to the gods if you harm one member of my family I will not hesitate to have your head put on display in the town court." Flarien's words were vicious, rising up from a deep reserve of well learned and well earned hate towards everything Zar was. He could hear it in the man's voice, and knew that he'd better watch his step around the man. The older elf wasn't bluffing. Nevertheless, the drow was too prideful, and his indignant glare remained set in his expression. Flarien seemed to wait for Zar to argue, and honestly, the drow was tiring of the staring contest but didn't have any argument to give. He knew a threat when he heard it and wasn't dumb enough to push the point. When it was obvious that he wouldn't, Flarien pushed past him and into the house, leaving Zar standing outside like a dog that had just been kicked out the back door.
There was only one cure for the frustration that Zar felt, and it was quite simply the death or pain of something else. Zar settled for a tree, seeing as how he had no idea how to hunt on the surface. Picking up the nearest sturdy stick he could find, he took to abandoning any skill and mercilessly wailed on the nearest tree until he was too tired to feel anything. His hands numb from hitting something quite solid, he dropped the third stick he'd broken and unsheathed his daggers. He went to quick work at the very air itself, practicing form and technique. It was a sort of meditation for him, and he quickly fell into an imaginary battle with an invisible opponent. Reveling on the heightened sense he felt, he closed his eyes and became absorbed.
"Where'd you learn to fight like that?" a familiar voice asked, and Zar nearly flew into the tree tops in fright. Spinning around, his eyebrows lost in his hair, he saw Alhandrea leaning against the tree he'd been attempting to make firewood out of. He opened his mouth to make a snide retort, and she seemed to notice as she held up her hand. "I know… I know. 'What business is it of mine, right?'" She looked at her feet as she said this, and Zar's face dropped its mask of irritation.
"We're taught to fight at as young an age as possible," Zar said finally, aware of his accent and just how strange he must seem. It hit him quite suddenly and he did his best to dismiss it. Alhandrea perked up, looking at him with obvious curiosity. She wanted him to continue. Zar didn't. Sheathing his daggers and sighing audibly, he started slowly back towards the house.
"Could you teach me?" she asked, following him mercilessly. Zar shook his head and it elicited a frown from her. "Why not?"
"Because I don't want to," he spat at her, anger rising into his tone without restraint.
"I don't want you in my house, but we can't have everything we want." There was the threat Zar knew would come for as long as he stayed here.
"Look," he said, stopping to look her in the eye, "I don't want to be here anymore than you want me here. So stay away from me long enough for me to get the nine hells out of here and I'll figure it out as fast as I can," he explained, a bitterness in his voice.
"Why can't you cooperate? Why do you have to be so mean?" Alhandrea asked, her voice rising with disbelief. "All you do is prove everything they've said about you!" She was yelling now, pointing a finger at him just as her father had.
"And whatever they say, they're probably right," he growled, snatching her finger and holding it tight. "I don't want to have anything to do with you or your family. If I wasn't here I'd be graduating from the Academy right now. But instead I'm somehow stuck on this gods-forsaken place dealing with brats like you that'd I'd rather--!" Zar's voice rose so high in volume that he didn't take notice of the growling issuing from the mouth of his soon-to-be attacker. Both drow and dog went down in a heap, the beast ripping into his calf with all the intent to permanently maim him.
"Seer! No!" he heard Alhandrea yell while he fought to get the animal off of him. Smacking it in the head only seemed to make the creature more ferocious, but he was getting desperate. They weren't far from the house and it was mere seconds before the family was out the door to see what all the commotion was about. Zar lay on the ground panting as the dog was ripped from him by a strong command issued by Flarien. His daggers had been thrown when the dog had attacked, and Zar lay completely open and defenseless on the ground, cursing in his native tongue.
"Don't move," he heard Shentie say as the woman bustled forth to check his wounds.
"Don't touch my weapons," Zar snarled when he heard someone's curious hands pick them up. Whoever picked them up didn't listen, but rather fled to the house on some rather quick feet.
"Is he alright?" Alhandrea asked, and Zar was surprised to hear very obvious worry in her voice.
"I need more light," Shentie said. "Can you stand?" she asked, and Zar moved to get up with much help. It was then that the burning sensation in his leg and arm hit him, and he knew where his wounds would be.
They hobbled him into the house where he was set on his cot. Alhandrea hurried to place several things around him while he watched her, silently cursing under his breath. She hurried out of the room when Shentie entered, telling her daughter to get some liquor. All the while, she kept the men out of the room. Shentie went to quick work pulling off his leather pieces of armor and stripping the right side of his shirt away. There was the thick odor of blood, and it assaulted his senses. He hadn't smelled blood in a long time, he realized. It was just another thing one got used to and didn't notice until it didn't occur for a long time.
A movement to his left caught his eye, and he looked over to see Salena, the youngest daughter, setting his weapons next to him on the cot. He eyed her angrily, and she returned the stare with wide, frightened eyes. Just as she set them down she spun on her heel and ran. He didn't get a chance to laugh, though, for Shentie chose that moment to stick a heated needle through his skin. Yelping, he stared at the wound in horror. Alhandrea held a light over the wound, watching it with a great intensity. Shentie sewed quickly as Zar fought not to pass out. He lodged the leather end of the gauntlet she stripped from him between his teeth and moaned in pain. It seemed to last forever but Shentie appeared to be a skilled healer and went as quick as possibly. Once she'd tied the end she poured more liquor over the wound.
"Zarthaen, you were limping. Do I need to look at your leg?" Shentie asked, but didn't seem to be waiting for an answer as she was already poking at the obvious wound.
"No," he said weakly, falling against the cot and trying to draw his leg away.
"It will get worse if you don't let me treat it." Shentie spoke softly, and the tone of her voice reminded him of the Lady. Zar froze long enough for her to pull his boots off.
"Take off your pants," she ordered. Zar lay limp on the cot, daring her to repeat herself.
"Don't make this difficult, drow," someone spat in the doorway. Zar looked up blearily to see Simon standing there, a sneer on his face. Zar attempted to return the hostile look, but he was sure it was pitiful.
"Get out!" Shentie yelled, and Zar watched him flee, gleefully enjoying the sound of the door slamming behind the boy.
"Maybe he wanted to see me without my pants on," Zar chuckled and coughed, and Alhandrea giggled secretly until her mother glared at the both of them. His sudden humor surely lifted at least a fraction of the tension, though. Shentie reached up to untie his breeches as she ordered Alhandrea to hold his legs. He fought her the second he realized her intent, wrestling with her to keep his pants. Attempting to aim a kick at Shentie, he found the move impossible as her daughter was quick to do as instructed.
"Why am I always at the mercy of you people?!" he screeched, his voice rather high with panic.
"Just hold still or you'll make it worse!" Alhandrea said through gritted teeth, holding his leg in place. Zar yelped in pain, attempting to snatch it back. It was too late though, as Shentie made quick work of ridding him of his pants. Zar seethed, laying there in his shorts and feeling utterly taken advantage of. Nudity didn't bother him in the least, but having two faerie elven women winning in a physical stand off to keep his pants really made him glad no one else was here to see it. When he heard Alhandrea hiss at the sight of his wound, however, his mind quickly went towards the real problem. Shentie was heating the cleansed needle and dipping the thread in liquor as Alhandrea inspected the wound. She looked up at him, her eyes quite serious and worried.
"Don't look at me like that!" Zar squeaked, his voice still quite an octave high. Alhandrea smiled humorlessly at him, shaking her head in disbelief. She didn't elaborate at her thoughts, though, for Shentie had come near to organize the wound and sew it shut. It took a lot longer, and halfway through, Shentie began to mutter something about how it probably wasn't going to work.
"I'm not an experiment here. If you don't know what you're doing, I'd rather you not do it," Zar said between bites on the edge of his discarded armor.
"My mother is the town's healer," Alhandrea said with a snort, as though that should make Zar feel all the better.
"I'm just thinking that we may need to burn it shut," she whispered after a long silence in which Zar stared at the ceiling, paling noticeably and twitching each time the needle entered flesh and drew the string through. He groaned at her explanation but didn't argue, for once. There wasn't much energy left in him.
"I hope this holds," she said an hour or so later. She wiped the sweat from her brow and poured more liquor over the wound. "You're going to have to remain in bed Zarthaen," she said wearily. Alhandrea handed her the bandages and then went to cleaning up the blood.
"You can just call me Zar," he said vaguely, looking up at the ceiling. Alhandrea and Shentie froze and stared at him, trying to figure out if he'd been swapped out for someone else.
"So you do know how to be kind," Shentie said, obvious glee touching the corners of her words. Alhandrea giggled.
"Well, I, it's…" Zar fought, and then gave up rather quickly. He sighed, wanting to roll over and go to sleep rather than reverie, but Shentie was still wrapping his leg. When she'd finished with his leg, she made quick work of wrapping his arm. His eyes were closed and he did not see her pause to stare tenderly down at him, but did know that she lingered rather unnecessarily. When everything had been cleaned up and put away, Shentie left the room on silent feet, leaving Alhandrea hovering over the wounded dark elf.
"Do you want your pants back?" she asked, humor lacing her tones. Zar feebly shook his head, remaining in the awkward half on the cot, half off, laying down position Shentie had left him in while she'd tended his wounds. The door opened and the boys entered to take to sleep. Zar was going to be sharing the room with Simon, the oldest, Evan the middle, and Stephanien the youngest. He gathered some strength to roll himself all the way into bed for fear Alhandrea would make him appear all the weaker in her attempts to help. She tossed his breeches onto his cot and left, bidding her brothers goodnight.
He lay there, listening to the boys fall to sleep, unable to let himself rest now that they were there. It was reverie tonight then, he figured. He pulled the blanket folded at the end of his bed over himself, careful not to tear any of the carefully placed stitches. He tucked his weapons under the cot with the rest of his discarded armor before stretching out. It hurt, he had to admit. So did the rush of confusion that overcame him as he lay there thinking. Alhandrea's worry for him when he'd been lying on the ground wounded. Her worry as she and her mother treated those wounds. Was it a trick to make him soft towards her? No, it seemed so genuine. More real than anyone could fake. And Shentie's tone, so much like the Lady that it made him pause, made his heart pang in his chest in a way so abnormal that he couldn't begin to understand it. Salena also, her eyes wide with obvious fear; her fear had seemed so out of place and yet the only thing he could understand. Everyone else had treated him like he was a nuisance and little else, which was probably true. What fear was to be had in a lone, young dark elf completely and utterly stranded and at the mercy of their choices?
When three sets of lungs were breathing at an even pace, Zar let reverie take him. It wasn't an easy feat to set his mind at ease, but his fatigue was far too great. Besides, there was no use trying to figure these people out, he decided. Either he found his place or he perished. Station. Rule number one.
How could he have forgotten so easily?