Standard Disclaimer: Obviously, I don't own anything del Toro does. Or that Dark Horse Comics does. Nor am I trying to infringe on any movie rights.
Note: WATCH THE MOVIE FIRST.
I had hoped—prayed, even—that the twinling was wrong, that it was some other troll the red demon killed. Often Wink's kind were presumed dead too soon, the stony skin and shallow breath hiding signs of life.
But I could see from a glance that he was beyond any healing arts that I possessed or knew of. It would have been kinder to leave him where he lay, kinder still to drive my spear through his heart and end the pain, but I could not.
I knelt beside him. Part of his face had survived, the coarse hair burned to stubble, and he reached for me with the bloody stump of his good hand. I took it, letting the sticky blood run down my arm and drip off my elbow.
His neck shook as he tried to lift his head, coughing a few words— his fierce trill now a gargling whisper.
"Hush now, true friend. Don't try to speak," I said. "Help is coming. Did I not promise you that when all this was finished we would walk free beneath the savannah sun and see the great gray beasts whose pictures you loved so well? Did I not promise you that we would find the bones of your family, and dress their graves with the royal seal of all those faithful to the end? Did I not—"
The words began to choke me, and gold dripped onto his mangled hand. I felt Nuala trying to blink back the sorrow. And Wink, for the first and only time, disobeyed me, and spent the last of his strength on a mumble.
My prince . . . all I have asked in life is the chance to die in your service. You have been my honor, my faith, my true king. Forgive me, I pray you, for perishing so poorly--
"Enough. I will hear no more of this. You will—" But even as I spoke, he shuddered . . . and lay still.
"Mr. Wink?" The question was a whisper, for I knew the answer already. "My friend?"
A memory struck so hard that my breath left me in a shuddering gasp.
When we were young, Father tried to split his children into two separate souls and sent me to foster with the cave troll lord, where I gained the reputation of being a petulant child, prone to long sulks, because I missed my home and my sister. She tried to cheer me over the distance by making up a game in which we annoyed everyone around us by only answering questions put to the other. She told all her ladies-in-waiting that it would be the javelin today, not swordplay, and I told my entourage that I wanted to try the Besteni-stitch in my embroidery.
After a few days, our servants and lordlings realized that Nuala did not really know which end of the spear to hold, and that I was not really a budding homophile, so it was simply a matter of going through the exasperating task of finding a looking-eye or message mirror to find out what the other had answered.
The bond was stronger then. Even over a hundred hundred leagues, I could see with her eyes, feel with her heart.
On that particular day, though, I knew Nuala was pulling away from me. We had lost our connection-- only for an hour, while we were asleep, but she woke after a vague vision of arguing with her steward over a seating arrangement, and I woke to the knowledge that she had dreamed a dream without me. I was in no mood for tutors, or the other foster children, and was hunched in the corner of the empty practice yard, licking the wound, when Wink burst in.
I knew him as another foster boy-- the stammering younger son of a lesser noble, whom I tried to speak with once, but he bowed and fled and I did not see him again for a week. He was in tears now, running from a pack of other children: goblins and fey and even a few fellow trolls, jeering and hooting at him. Someone had set a seneloid on him, and the the wide, flat teethmarks were already becoming welts on his thick arm.
Anger flashed through me so suddenly that I was on my feet, spear in hand, before I knew what I was doing. In the chamber hall at home, Nuala screamed in fury and shattered a china cup against a wall, so all I had to do was concentrate on the adversaries in front of me.
"Are you humans," I demanded, "that you would condemn someone for not being your own reflection?" I still remember the crunch of the spear butt connecting with a vidarin's ribs, and the flat of my spearhead coming down on fey wings.
Afterward, I found Wink hiding behind me, even though he was nearly twice as tall as I was. I learned that he was one of the old cave troll nobility, impoverished and motherless because of the war with the humans, as Nuala and I were. I tried to show him how to defend himself and, to both of our surprise, found I enjoyed sparring with him. He was not swift, but he was strong, which meant I had to be agile and lightning-quick if I meant to beat him. He remained painfully shy and always spoke with a lisp and a stutter, but he could forget himself and fight like an avalanche if he put his mind to it.
One day, after losing to him rather badly, I realized that this must be the way other people learn to love. People who are not born with a sister whose heartbeats echo their own must find friendship based on imperfect similarities, must find that they trust the other implicitly without knowing the other's thoughts. The way I did with Wink.
When I named him bodyguard, he almost broke down and cried in front of the whole court. I hoped he would grow into the title, the way I was growing into the title of "Prince and Protector of Bethmoora." And he did.
More fool I, not to see what his loyalty would win him. To think us safe in our own strongholds. There will never be safety; there will never be peace so long as hollow, grasping, slavering beasts prowl the world above.
I got to my feet slowly, feeling the world diminish with his loss, and screamed. "Treachery!" Each syllable rang off the walls, and the little gathering of sympathetic spectators hobbled, glided, and scuttled back. "Treachery and murder!"
Look! I bent all my will to whisper to Nuala's mind. See, Sister, what you are protecting!
She was somewhere close, hidden in the crowd, and I called to her to feel my rage and sorrow.
Betrayal is their seal and Death is the sigil of their house! They have killed the one more faithful to me than I was to myself, here— here— on our very doorstep! And you would have me sit idly by?
The thought answered me softly.
Beloved Brother . . .
Our heartbeats faltered, then picked up again, quicker. How long had it been since she called me that? Not since the day I returned from the trolls, and found her on the palace steps wearing blue-- her best color-- which she had chosen because she knew she would see me. I knew to expect the blue, but I had not realized what she had not realized, that she was now a woman grown. A woman I could hear and feel in deeper ways than I had the Red Courtesans, or the few flirtatious courtiers eager to be a prince's mistress. Nuala was as close to me as the singers said Mother was to Father after centuries of love. A virtual stranger compared to what she had been, but still the bright star to my night, as I was the shading cloud to her day.
I felt her startle when I embraced her, but it never occurred to me, then, that she might not feel as I did. She was Nuala. The other half of me. What I wanted, she must want, too. If she had not wished for me to hold her, at least in some secret part of herself, I never would have thought to do it.
In that instant, all my long-harbored resentment at being sent away evaporated. If Father had not tried so hard to make us other than what we were— one single essence in two bodies— then I could never have seen her this way. And the world would never have seen Nuala in all her beauty. For where I have purity of purpose and will, she has purity of soul and heart. Only separate could we become our selves, but only together are we complete, and in time we will share only a single purpose, and a single heart.
Beloved Brother, she said again. Do not do this thing. Do not war with them.
This crime must go answered, Sister. As must all their crimes for ten thousand generations.
No, Brother. Forgive. Find it in yourself to live peacefully, even with the one who has cost you so dearly. Do not war with them, win them.
I felt her voice in my mind, cool and sweet as a breeze ruffling still water.
Sister, this human pawn has murdered the gentler part of my own soul, my faithful servant and friend of my youth. The one who taught me strength where others could only teach me laws and histories and javelin tricks . . . But for you—and only for you—I will speak with the one who did this, since he is not truly one of them. I will invite him to leave the festering darkness of the world above, and I will not kill him myself—not this night. Is it enough?
She did not answer; something clammy was distracting her, but she felt no danger, so I did not press the point.
Wink lay at my feet, tongue lolling from the ragged hole of his mouth, a pool of entrails and dark blood widening around him and soaking through my boots. I had betrayed his memory before his corpse cooled, all because Nuala could not see what any cave troll would: that sometimes it is more noble to retaliate than to perish.
I bent to close his one remaining eye, now glazed and fixed on nothing.
I am to blame for this, truest of friends. I waited too long, kept faith too long, trusted in my father's wisdom and in forgotten promises.
Do you make a treaty with a wildfire not to burn your home? It is in their nature to consume without thought or remorse. And now they have taken you-- my one ally, my only support, the one who shared my exile and my loneliness.
Wink . . . you knew, didn't you, that nothing of mine was so precious to me that I would have paid this price? I never would have rebelled if only my right to rule were at stake. Would I care if my sister sat the Throne of Souls and wore the Antler Crown? No crown in the world was worth the sound of your stuttering laughter, or the proud jut of your tusks, or a single strand of your bristled hair.
No crown save the one that means no more of our people will mourn as I do now.
"Toth ashtar, ish loquendi torvinay solan," I said, murmuring the words that would send him easily beyond the veil of stars, then added, "Ish nothae ashtari Nuadar, lodt."
We die, and the world is poorer for it. And part of my soul dies, too. I straightened and turned away, leaving behind the sound of children's laughter ringing in the cave troll hall, rare smiles shared through centuries of grim patience, and a hundred thousand practice sessions. Only in your eyes, Wink, more twin to me than my own sister, only in your eyes was I ever—not a monster.