A/N: I'd just like to say how incredibly sorry I am for taking such a long time. It's been ages since the last update! I hope this is worth the wait... Or at least worth reading? Never alone. God loves you.
Disclaimer: I own nothing that you recognize.
"Mallik!" I shouted as Tal and I went to him. "Praise to the King, you're alive!"
The tall warrior stepped into the room. He looked tired, bruised and weary, like most of the other soldiers who had returned from the battle. But what startled me was the great sadness that shone behind his glinting blue eyes. I had never seen the boisterous, strong warrior look so pained. The very sight of him filled me with dread. But for the moment, I couldn't care. Mallik was safe; I didn't want to think about why he might be sad.
Tal and I took turns embracing him. I stood back, holding him at arms' length.
"It is very good to see you, my friend," I said, feeling a great relief.
Mallik gave a small smile. "And you, Kaliam," he said sincerely.
Tal grinned, looking almost like he was fit to make one of his trademark bets with Matthias. "And what about me?" He asked, mock offended, his dark curls bouncing with a measure of renewed hope. "Am I but another swordsman?"
"And a short one at that!" Mallik quipped, and they laughed together.
Tal and Mallik may not have known it, but their familiar joshing did great good to me. It was something out of place, maybe, in that battlefield. But sometimes, that is necessary. That small laugh alleviated some of the misery and terror that had settled on my heart, and allowed me to think more clearly. It calmed and collected me.
After a minute, Tal's smile faded as he looked at Mallik. "Mallik, some of those wounds need tending!"
"Nonsense!" Mallik said at once. "Just a scratch, that's all. I'm quite alright."
"Ha! Of course you are!" I scoffed, trying to cover my worry. "Mallik, come."
Tal and I led a loudly protesting Mallik over to one of the bedrolls that had been brought out for the injured. He plopped onto the bed, scowling, and muttering something about "perfectly fine" and "foreign medicines" and "worry too much". Tal and I only exchanged smiles as I began to clean and wrap a particularly nasty gash on Mallik's arm. We knew how stubborn Mallik could be.
It was quiet for a moment.
"What news, Kaliam?" the short respite was over at Mallik's quiet question.
I sighed, wondering where to start. "King Ravelle just arrived," I said. "He came back with a kid around Aiden's age. He was largely uninjured, just weary.
"Farix, Nock, and Bolt are still missing. And Gwenne... she was taken captive. Aiden went after her and the captured Mithegardians. The rest..." I swallowed hard. I concentrated on pinning the bandage around Mallik's arm. "The rest fell."
Mallik gasped, and then it was completely quiet. The silence was dreadful. It was filled with the pain that Tal and I had been trying to suppress, and Mallik's shock at the news. The air seemed to be filled with the ghostly images of our friends who had fallen. I could almost see them in the blurred, wavy lines of my tears and in the folded gauze on Mallik's forearm.
Tears were running smoothly down Tal's too pale face, and Mallik also seemed to be crying softly. I knew it was close to inevitable, that I would cry too. But right now, I wasn't going to make it an option. I couldn't break down now. I had to be strong. I was the leader. I had to be strong. I had to...
At that moment, I was spared attempting to put on a brave face. Because in that moment, a formidable, clean-shaven, long-sleeved warrior entered the hall.
A warrior very dear to us.
"...And Mama said that all my tooths are taken by a really special G'impse that gives you stuff and steals your tooths. Is that right, F'rix?"
The girl in Farix's arms quickly fell silent when she saw us. Everything was still for a moment as Farix stared at us and we at him.
Mallik was the first to move. "Farix!" he called and crossed the room to him.
Mallik went to hug Farix, but seeing the terrified look in the girl's eyes, quickly thought better of it.
Farix smiled. "Mallik, I'd like you to meet Aimee. Aimee, this is a very dear friend of mine, Sir Mallik."
"Well, it's very good to meet you, Little Miss," Mallik said, his usual blunt charm taking over the tears for a moment.
The talkative girl we had glimpsed when Farix first entered the hall vanished as she blushed with a bashful smile and turned her face slightly into Farix's shoulder. I didn't know what I expected Farix to do, but I certainly didn't anticipate what happened. Even from where I stood several feet away, I could see Farix circle his arms more securely around her. I've always known that Farix had a kind heart under his hard warrior's shell. However, I had never seen him look so openly emotional. His obvious liking of Aimee grew his happiness and allowed it to spill out. I swallowed a smile while simultaneously holding back tears of joy that Farix was alive and safe.
Tal walked up and stood next to Mallik, and swept into a deep bow.
"M'lady," Tal said. "I am called Sir Tal." He carefully took her hand and kissed it gallantly, causing Aimee to giggle and blush furiously. "It is an honor to make your acquaintance."
It amazed me how quickly Tal and Mallik were able to switch gears. A few minutes ago, we had been devastated. We still were, but my two friends were able to put most of the anguish away and out of their faces for the time being. I quickly struggled to follow their example.
"Farix," I said, wincing slightly as my voice shook. What in the Realm sort of leader was I supposed to be anyway? "Come. You look awful."
I laid a hand lightly on his shoulder and steered him toward one of the cots that remained in the hall. I picked up a clay jug and poured a cup of water for each Farix, little Aimee, and Mallik.
Tal sat on the cot across from Farix and Aimee, who was curled adorably in his lap and gulping thirstily from her cup. "Are either of you injured?" he asked.
"No," Farix said. "But I think Aimee could use some water to wash up...?"
Farix glanced meaningfully at Tal, who hurriedly left the room for the supplies.
"Yeah." Aimee answered his indirect question. After a moment she added, "I'm hungry too."
Farix laughed softly. Mallik and I exchanged amused and somewhat confused looks. "I guess a half-loaf of Frostlandian sweetbread is not enough for this Little One."
Aimee's head bobbed up and down in confirmation. "I eat more than bread F'rix," she stated patiently. "I hafta eat lots a' good things." She paused, apparently in thought. "I eat lots a' foods. But blackhornes and unicorns only eat grass. F'rix, don't they like other things?"
I bit back a laugh and could tell Mallik was doing the same. Farix smiled warmly. "No, I think they just like grass."
"Well, if I was a unicorn, I sure wouldn't eat grass," Aimee said with a small shudder. "I would def-nitly eat something else. Def-nitly," she proudly repeated the large, albeit mispronounced, word.
"What would you eat if you were a unicorn, Aimee?" Farix asked, still smiling in a way that I doubted I had ever seen him smile.
She thought for a moment. "Oatmeal," she said decidedly.
Mallik and I burst out laughing. Maybe it was the relief, or the worry, or the stress, or the spontaneous nature of an innocent child; but once we started laughing, we couldn't seem to stop. Even when Tal came back with a washbowl, cloth and soap for Aimee, we cried tears of slightly hysterical laughter. And when Tal looked at us like we were crazy, Mallik fell to his knees and I held my stomach in an attempt to contain my slightly delirious euphoria.
Only did we stop laughing when the double doors reopened. Nock carried a irrefutably familiar body into the hall.
A/N: Hey, I almost wrote a... sorta happy chapter, right? Almost? Until that darn last line popped out of nowhere.
This story writes itself. It doesn't bother to ask my opinion. :)
So, anybody catch the 'glimpse' pun? I didn't even think about it when I wrote it. I was gonna take it out, but, what the heck, right? You guys need some, um, humor. Plus it instigated this lovely little conversation I'm having with myself right now.
To keep me from going completely insane, REVIEW, so I know I'm not just talking to my computer screen. ;)
Seriously, though, this and the next chapter are going to maybe be the climax. I'm not totally sure because I've only written what you've seen. But please, if you're going to review, I would love to see it for these chapters. If nothing else, to tell me how I can improve my writing. Especially if you think the story's getting boring; I'm not bored with writing it at all, but I feel like it might be a bit uneventful to read about.
Thank you for reading. What do you think?