The Drum

Gavin and Iain had their talk in the middle of the night.

Iain woke to someone shaking his shoulder roughly. He'd felt the movement and confused it with the roll of the ship in rough weather. When someone called his name, "Iain," the quiet and familiar voice cut through the scream of the wind, which he'd just realised didn't sound like wind at all, but voices...

His eyes opened and he started, sitting up with a wordless cry. The dream refused to let go for a moment and he flinched and twisted before the memory of fists and batons connecting with his body, two or three at a time.

"Iain." A pair of cool hands cupped his cheeks. "It's alright, lad. Look at me."

Reaching up, Iain plucked at the fingers on his cheeks and jerked his head out of their hold. He flew backwards and his head connected with the wall behind him with a soft thump. Blinking, he looked at the face looming over him and prepared to defend himself again.

The man spoke again. "Iain, stop, please."

Iain finally recognised his grandfather's voice and drew in a shaky breath. "Grandpa?"

The old man sat back down on the edge of the bed and let out a heavy sigh. "Maker's breath, lad." He shook his head slowly, sadly. "Where were you?"

In the dungeon...

Always, it was the dungeon. Iain looked away, his pulse erratic and panic still confusing his thoughts. He saw his wrist and tugged at shirt sleeve before checking his pajamas and sheets hadn't slipped of his hips or his ribs...

"I've seen them, you don't need to cover them up."

"Yes, I do," Iain murmured. "I don't like to look at them." Not at night, not after a dream. During the day the marks didn't bother him so much, they were just there. At night, they itched and burned.

A soft, throaty trill announced Socks' arrival and Iain scooped up his cat and fussed over him for a minute while he waited for his heart beat to slow down and the dream to fade.

After allowing him that moment to gather himself, his grandfather said quietly, "I only woke you this time because I feared you might wake your parents. Do you... want to talk about it?"

"This time?" Iain glanced up at his grandfather, brows drawn together in confusion. He'd only had one other dream since being here and the old man seemed to have slept through that.

In the dim light of the small lamp in the corner, Iain could just make out Gavin's face. His grandfather looked old, and sad and concerned. After taking in a deep breath and letting it out Gavin looked at the wall that faced the other side of the house, towards the other bedrooms. "Callum used to have nightmares," he said, lifting his chin towards the wall and the distant bedroom where his parents lay sleeping. "After the war. Woke the whole house up a couple of times with his yelling."

Iain felt his mouth open in surprise.

Gavin turned back to look at him. "He used to get in fights too. Often for the very same reason." His grandfather reached out and patted the side of his head, his blonde curls. "For all that you look like your mother, Iain, you are your father's boy, through and through. It's why he holds you to such a high standard you know. Just as he does himself."

"The dreams," Iain began, a question in his tone. "Did he... tell you about them?"

"About as much as you are probably going to say," Gavin answered, one brow raised sardonically.

"I don't dream often, not anymore."

"Often enough, lad. This is not the first time you've woke me up."

Frowning, Iain asked, "How many..."

"Twice a week since you've been back, or thereabouts. You don't always yell, sometimes you throw things, a couple of times you've talked in your sleep, hummed something. You toss and turn." The old man gripped his arm. "I've seen the marks, lad, when I put your blankets back on and pick your pillow up. I saw them that night you stood in the rain. What are they, burns?"

Iain flinched and looked away from his grandfather's face. The languor of sleep had left him fully now and he felt aware and awake. Oddly, he did not feel as distressed as he might, being confronted by his grandfather. He felt almost relieved. He loved his grandfather, he trusted him, and in this situation, the old man had the advantage of being one step removed. Gavin was not his father or his twin. He wasn't so close that the idea of revealing secrets felt suffocating.

Reaching down, Iain pulled the sleeve away from his right wrist and held out his arm. "It's a brand," he explained quietly. "A bear's head." He tensed as his grandfather's thumb passed over the ridge of scar tissue along the lower edge of the deep mark. "I... I have nine of them."

The old man hissed and his face pinched in anger. He gripped Iain's wrist. "Oh, Iain..." and then his grandfather did something Iain had never before witnessed. He swore. "That fucking bastard, Howe..."

He sounded furious and Iain felt the anger sweep through him again, and the accompanying sense of futility that had always followed with it, in the dungeon and afterwards, when he had no appropriate target for his rage.

"I'm alright, grandpa." Iain felt as if he needed to reassure the old man suddenly, to calm the rage he knew would be utterly useless now.

Gavin let go of his wrists and gripped both of his shoulders instead. "Yes, you are, lad. Though Maker knows how."

Iain remembered the conversation he'd had with his father, the day they went to the mill. "It's like dad says, I kept going. I didn't give up." He'd wanted to, sometimes...

"How long were you down there?"

Iain hesitated here, not wanting to upset his grandfather again. He studied the lined face and saw hints of himself, his mother and his sister. Gavin had not had an easy life. He and Catriona had lost their son, Aaron, in the war. Iain had heard tales of the uncle he'd never met, his mother's brother, his father's brother-in-arms and firm friend. When Callum returned from the battle of White River, without Aaron, life had still been hard for all of them. Ten years passed before he and Theresa managed to conceive. Iain had heard those stories too, of how the village gossiped and his mother cried and his father prayed for ten long years.

They kept going, all four of them, and then it happened and Theresa had her children at last; twins, he and his sister. The following years had been full of more hard work and sacrifice for his family, though. They had put all of their resources into sending Iain and Serafina to Highever properly equipped and they had kept them clothed and armoured and armed throughout the years, with the very best they could afford.

Compared to all of that, six months of horror felt like a small sacrifice.

His grandfather studied him in return and at the point where the old man looked ready to withdraw his question, Iain spoke up.

"Six months," he said. "Don't tell dad, please. Or mum. She'd..."

"I know, lad, I know." Gavin winced and drew in a breath. "Andraste's ass, I can't imagine..."

No, you can't.

"Thank the Maker Catriona passed before the Blight."

"Aye," Iain agreed softly. His grandmother had been a strong woman, Serafina resembled her in more than looks, but after losing a son, to have thought both grandchildren gone too...

Gavin took a deep breath then, and drew his shoulders back. He looked Iain square in the eye. "From the beginning then..."

"No, grandpa..." Maker, it was so tempting to let it all out, to share it, to unburden himself. It was too much though, one person shouldn't... a shudder passed through his shoulders and Iain let out a choked breath.

"Trust me, lad. These old ears have heard tales..."

And so Iain told him everything. Gavin grimaced and paced and swore. He hugged his grandson fiercely and, more than once, he threatened death upon a dead man. At the end, his grandfather held him close and though Iain could feel the tremble in the old man's shoulders, he could also feel the strength of a man who had held his family together for decades. A man who lived defiantly.

The sun peeked through the shutters and dawn stole over the household, his mother rising to make breakfast, his father talking quietly to her as she worked. Iain and Gavin stepped into the kitchen, still awake and weary with the hours spent talking. Theresa looked at the bruise on the side of her son's face and frowned before glancing at her husband. Iain squared his shoulders and stepped before his father.

"Dad, I'm sorry. I'll mind my manners in future."

A second of silence greeted his apology before Callum answered in gruff tone. "See that you do, son."

Exhausted as he was, from the evening, the dreams and the conversation with his grandfather, Iain took the brusque response as his due and stepped back. A hand landed on his shoulder.

"I know you meant well, Iain. But..."

"I know, dad, I... he..." Iain shook his head. "I can't believe I swore at you like that," he said suddenly, looking up. "That's the worst part. I didn't know it was you, but that's no excuse."

"No, it's not."

"I won't do it again."

"Ah, son..."

"I'll try not to," Iain amended.

An amused grunt greeted his comment and they sat to breakfast. Halfway through the meal, Gavin said, "Iain and I have some business to take care of today, Callum. We'll see you this evening."

Callum looked from one to the other and then at his wife. Theresa shrugged, her expression clearly saying, 'I have as little idea what they're up to as you.'

Iain did not hear his father leave, he'd fallen asleep on the couch set along the kitchen window. When he woke up, the sun had risen towards midday and the house lay quiet around him. Then his grandfather appeared at his side, a bulging satchel in each hand. He handed the larger to Iain.

"Don't peek inside until we're there."


Iain set the pack down and went to wash his face and pull on some proper pants and boots. He collected a sweater and jacket and rejoined his grandfather in the kitchen.

"Let's go, lad."

"Where are we doing?"

"The beach."

They walked the forty minutes or so to the low cliffs and rolling dunes and made their way towards the water. They sat and Gavin pulled out some sandwiches. Iain eyed the bulky satchel he'd been carrying, an idea of what lay within forming in his head. The pack had been suspiciously light. After they finished eating, Gavin nodded towards it.

"You can open it now."

Iain unfastened the straps and pulled back the heavy canvas flap. He saw the top curve of a small, flat drum and his breath caught.

"Well, don't just stare at it, pull it out, boy, tune it up."

Gingerly, Iain pulled the circle of wood, twine and hide out of the satchel and set it across his lap. He stroked the stretched surface of the drum with his gnarled left hand and then reached to tug at the rope. His fingers were too stiff and he flexed them a little, then laid his sore hand on top of the drum and used his right hand instead. He plucked at the twisted cord here and there, adjusting the tension. He rapped at the hide, listening to the note, then adjusted the tension again. He repeated this exercise a few times until the drum sounded just as he liked. Then he reached into the satchel for the drum sticks and fine tuned his instrument.

Gavin pulled out his recorder and blew a few notes, then started a song.

Iain joined in, hesitantly at first, a little awkwardly with his left hand. He couldn't grip the stick properly and so gave it up and just used his fingers and palms, as he often did anyway. They played together, one song blending into the next, neither of them singing, both of them simply enjoying the music and the rhythm.

Gavin couldn't sing anyway, he needed his breath for the flute. Iain couldn't have sung if he wanted to, he had no breath for it beneath his tears. He put his anger and his pain into his drumming and Gavin seemed to know which he needed most, and guided the music from tone to tone and mood to mood. Iain became one with the beat and floated on the rhythm, he left the beach and the dungeon behind. He found something he'd been missing for over two years, something he'd needed, desperately. A safe retreat that was all his, replete with movement and noise and a beat that resounded through him, full of life.