The Dark Tide, Part Two

The day passed oddly. He'd not used the herbs to push the bleakness away before. Shy'danu had never suggested it and the thought had never occurred. He usually waited it out instead. This time, however, he cheated the hours with sleep, the deep and dreamless kind. He surfaced once or twice, but always found it easier to roll over and give in again rather than actually get up. When he finally woke up properly he smelled food. It did not entice his belly, he rarely ate when depressed, but it told him the hour of the day better than the grey light outside the small, shuttered window.

Iain rolled out of bed, dislodging the heavy lump at his side, Socks, and turned to look at the disarray behind him. The mud had dried leaving the sheets dirty and wrinkled. The bed clothes looked twisted, yet somehow still inviting. Only the press of his bladder deterred him from crawling back within the warm curl of blankets. As he reached for his socks, Iain noted his clothes had been folded, his belongings tidied. His mother had been in here while he slept. Likely she had sat there watching him as she had done throughout their childhood when either he or Rafi had been sick. The thought both comforted and irritated.

He had to pass through the kitchen and as his shadow fell through the doorway, three faces looked up from the table. The crew of La Stella Cadente had never regarded him with that particular mixture of fondness, sympathy and concern. One might occasionally lift his chin and ask if he was alive. One might clasp his shoulder and encourage him to stay the course. One might ignore his pain completely because he had his own.

Without talking, he went to relieve himself and then steeled his nerve to walk back into the kitchen. Tempting as it was to pass back through and find his bed, Iain resolved to try and connect. He could not spend days wallowing in bottomless and unreasonable sadness. Not now. He was supposed to be home.

"How are you feeling?" his mother asked, as if he'd merely spent the day sleeping off an illness.

Iain decided to play along. "Alright." A vague answer. He sat and she leaned over to feel at his forehead. He tried not to flinch at her touch.

"Eat up, lad. Rain's passed; we'll be back at the house tomorrow." His father passed over a plate and Iain looked at it dispassionately.

"All done at the mill, then, Callum?"

"Aye."

The conversation picked up around him. As he stared at the food, Iain tried to think of something to say, of a way to enter the chatter. He could not. He wanted to be a part of the warmth that connected these people, feel the reassurance of their acceptance. He could not. Detachment rose between him and them like an impossible wall, one he could never climb, and sadness dragged him under the sound of their voices, muffling his ears.

After a while he got up and left. In the wake of the odd silence that followed him from the kitchen he felt their surprise and concern. He did not look back to see the evidence of it in their faces. He crawled back into his bed, pulled the blankets over his head and drifted.

The next time he became aware, the room lay quiet and dark around him but he could hear voices.

"You shouldn't have asked!" His mother's voice, with a slightly hysterical note.

"If I hadn't, you would have, Tessa." His father's voice, more reserved, but with a hint of exasperation.

"About his plans, yes, but not the battle. You never wanted to talk about the war, Cal, I remember that."

A moment of silence followed this, then his father's deep voice sounded again, this time tinged with regret. "I should have, sooner. I thought it would help..."

"It's not the battle that haunts him." A third voice. His grandfather.

Despite himself, Iain strained to hear what the old man would say next.

His mother spoke instead. "The ship then?" She sounded uncertain. "He speaks so fondly of the crew..."

Iain remembered another overheard conversation, one from the ship, between Shy and Captain Idowu.

"He was down there for months, not weeks, months," Shy had whispered. "That is why his hand is so badly set." Her voice caught and when she spoke again her words were hesitant. "I have to break the bones again, if there is to be any hope of him using it. Will you hold him still?"

Shy had asked him earlier, but she'd not done it then and there, she had drugged him first in an attempt to deaden the pain. He'd not reacted well to pain in those first weeks; it sent him into panicked rages. He'd not reacted well then either, to them breaking his hand again.

Iain massaged the prominent knuckles and the odd crook of the bones, he flexed the fingers, feeling the familiar stiffness and tightening of tendons that inhibited the full range of movement.

His grandfather continued. "Not the ship, Howe's dungeon. I think he was down there longer than he lets on."

A sob drifted out, then another. The third sounded choked and quiet, and Iain knew his father had pulled his mother into his arms. Their collective sadness pervaded the air, cloying and intense. It deepened his own sorrow. Not wanting to hear anymore, he pulled the pillow over his head and hummed until he drifted again, back into the dark well of sleep.

Sometime in the night he woke again and he lay blinking into the darkness. Beside him, his grandfather breathed, over his head, Socks stretched. Iain stared at nothing for a while, wondering why he was awake. He thought about the conversation he had overheard and sadness plucked at him. Telling them what had happened in the dungeon would only invite them to share his horror; it would not relieve him of it. He could not bear the idea of his mother having that knowledge in her head. He would strive to pull free of this darkness for her, so that he did not have to look at him with such worry. He fell asleep with that thought in the forefront of his mind.

Four haunted faces greeted the following dawn, his and theirs. Iain felt the questions in their eyes, as if the words themselves crawled along his skin. None of them reached to touch him though he could feel they all wanted to. They were afraid of him, of breaking him.

"I feel better today," he announced quietly.

He did, sort of. He could feel the tide receding. His resolve of the night before appeared to be working. If he kept himself occupied today, quiet, but busy, it would roll back completely.

Relief washed the other three faces in the room and his mother, father and grandfather seemed to jostle amongst themselves as if deciding which one would be the first to touch him. Theresa broke ranks first and hugged him and Iain let himself be hugged.

He couldn't labour as hard that day as he wanted to. He'd not really eaten for two days and the excessive sleep left him too disoriented for delicate work. He hammered for a while, as directed by his father. When he faltered, his grandfather set him smaller tasks, the fetching and carrying he'd done as a child. He held the end of something steady, something that didn't need to be held. He rearranged wood that did not need to be rearranged. He collected the sandwiches at lunch and handed them out. Despite the bare utility of his tasks he felt useful.

Just after the sun had passed its zenith, his father called him over. "How are you doing, son?"

"Alright." The sadness had receded, leaving him wearied but oddly content.

"I saw you packed your sketchbook this morning."

Iain regarded his father curiously. He had packed his drawing things. He'd intended to go down to the beach after work, to draw. He did not want to spend the evening sitting beneath the worried scrutiny of his family, he wanted to further restore himself. He wondered why his father had mentioned the sketchbook. As a child, he'd been encouraged in his drawings, as Rafi had been with her hobbies. It seemed an odd time to talk about it now, though.

When he didn't answer right away, his father frowned and Iain cleared his throat. "I did. I thought I'd go to the beach, later."

"Would you like to go now?" His father sounded so hesitant, so gentle.

"No," Iain answered, surprising both himself and the older man. Suddenly, he didn't want to go, he didn't want to be alone. He wanted to stay and be with people. With his father and his grandfather. He needed to hear their voices and feel their presence. "Would you mind if I stayed, and drew here?"

His father smiled. "Not at all."

So he stayed. He sat on the pile of timber he'd restacked and he sketched the house. Iain usually preferred to draw people, but sometimes other subjects spoke to him – birds, the ocean, the ship. He'd drawn a lot of La Stella Cadente, he'd been fascinated by the angles and curves of the deck, the shape of the sails and the shadows cast by the wheel, masts and rails. Now he sketched the Darrow house, but instead of drawing exactly what he saw, he drew it as it would look when finished. He would give it to Clinton as a wedding present, he decided.

The drawing took him the rest of the afternoon and he'd not quite finished it when the men packed up. Following his father and grandfather home, he participated in their easy conversation. They did not remark upon his improved mood, they simply allowed him to be a part of their kinship. At dinner, he ate ravenously, his mother remarking more than once he should slow down or risk making himself sick. The exasperated tone in her voice made him smile, she sounded so normal and it made him feel normal, again. He shared a whiskey with the men after dinner and, when his turn arrived, he told a story about the market place in Kont-arr where he'd first earned a coin for one of his sketches.

Iain felt a part of his family again and it was a relief. Always he worried that one day the dark tide would carry him too far away, drag him down too deeply, and that he'd not find his way back. This time it had not.

If his mother was surprised by his rough hug that night, she said nothing. She merely hugged him fondly in return. "Sleep well," she murmured softly.

He did sleep well, his softly furred companion held close in his arms. He knew, however, as he drifted off, that his grandfather would approach him again, regarding his scars and the dungeon. It would only be a matter of time.