Days had passed since Carnelian was issued the challenge to find the man that had caused him such grief and injury. His "boss" as the bartender had put it was the object of more than Carnelian's fear; he was also the object of his desire and admiration. Carnelian refused to believe it, but at the same time the idea intrigued him. He couldn't deny that Berthie was running through his mind like a wild animal and he didn't know why. All day and all night the only thing on Carnelian's mind was Berthie.
"That horrible man..." Carnelian whispered to himself one day. He had once again been walking aimlessly. There were no clues as to Berthie's whereabouts. No one had seem him or had heard of him at all. After searching only two towns Carnelian was ready to give up the search. He had looked for Berthie a bit more on his way back to the town the bar was in, but he had no luck. He was conflicted as to whether he really wanted to see Berthie or not, but if he couldn't be found then he didn't have much of a choice.
"I'm so tired."
Carnelian hadn't eaten for at least a day. He had focused on getting back to the town where his challenge had originated so he could find the bartender and tell him he gave up. He managed to make it back, but he was exhausted and hungry and disappointed with the results of his task. Berthie was no where to be found. He knew more than anyone that if Berthie didn't want to be found then it would be impossible to find him, though that was assuming Berthie was even still alive.
"Maybe the bartender will feed me if he sees how famished I am," Carnelian whispered to himself. He felt terrible for once again relying on someone else, but it seemed to be in his nature to never be in command and to always be the one being commanded. It was as if he couldn't take care of himself. Now that he was finally free from all of his bounds, he was useless.
"Maybe I could just work there," he said, sitting under a tree. His exhaustion and hunger finally got the better of him and he could barely continue to walk. However, the idea of working at the bar excited him. He had been a wanderer since the guignol threat ended and had no place to call home. He liked the town the bar was in and could see himself settling down there and working happily at the bar. Perhaps his destiny has taken him to this place and this was where his new life would begin.
"Maybe this is where it all starts for me."
A small ray of hope shined in front of Carnelian. Maybe life wasn't as hard as he was making it out to be. Maybe he could be independent and not rely on other people to tell him what to do just so he could feel useful. This could be the beginning of his life, the beginning he had been waiting for and wanting so desperately.
He looked above him and noticed the tree he was sitting under was actually an apple tree. He didn't know how he had missed it especially considering how hungry he was, but he didn't question it. The apples were a bright and vibrant red color, calling to him, almost as if saying his resolve was true. Life wasn't that hard and he could live however he wanted.
He stood and reached up to pick an apple off of the tree, examining it and shining it on his shirt before sitting back down. He stared at it, transfixed by the blood red color of the apple. He had never seen an apple with that type of color before. He probably would have stared at it longer if his stomach wasn't screaming at him. He was about to take a bite when...
Out of nowhere he felt intense pain in his hand. He dropped the apple due to the pain and stared at his hand which was covered in blood. He realized it was his wrist which had been cut.
"What the hell?" he screamed. His eyes moved from his hand to a body in front of him, a body he was all too familiar with.
"It's been a while, Bat! I barely recognized you since you aren't wearing a nun's dress!" Berthie stared down at Carnelian, his shrill voice ringing through his ears just like it did in the past. Carnelian stared back at him, though it wasn't his eyes he was looking into. The cracks on the side of Berthie's face were unmistakable. He had somehow been revived and those scars were representing what he had to go through to come back.
"Why did you cut me?" Carnelian asked, his voice shaking just like it used to when Berthie was around. "I'm really hurt! The bleeding won't stop!"
"I don't like apples!" Berthie replied with a grin.
"You don't like..." Carnelian drifted off, simply due to the shock of Berthie's answer. He should have expected it though. That's just how Berthie was. However, there was another matter to be dealt with.
"You're alive," Carnelian said, taking a few gasps. "You're really alive."
"I would think the nice cut I gave you would be enough proof."
Carnelian just shook his head. "I always believed you were still alive, but seeing you here in front of me...I don't know what to say. How?"
Berthie didn't say anything as he sat down next to Carnelian and picked up the apple that had fallen. He examined it, a sour expression on his face. "I hate apples. So nasty. And the apples from this particular tree upset me."
"Upset you? Berthie, please-"
Carnelian hissed sharply as Berthie interrupted him by roughly grabbing his arm right where he had cut him. Berthie's nails were as sharp as talons and Carnelian screamed as he felt them dig into his cut.
"I think you should get this looked at."
Carnelian writhed under Berthie's grasp, and though he had been told to get the cut checked Berthie had refused to let go. Tears stung the sides of Carnelian's eyes and he smacked his free hand against the trunk of the tree, doing anything he could to distract himself from the immense pain.
"Berthie, let me go! Let me go!"
A snicker came from the other man, but he didn't let up on Carnelian's wound. "Are you still searching for Lucille? Are you still trying to get revenge on him? What was it he did to you again? I can't remember."
At the sound of Lucille's name Carnelian wanted to choke Berthie and he might have actually attempted it if the pain in his arm wasn't getting more and more unbearable by the minute. He didn't answer Berthie's question, but instead yanked his arm, trying to free it. He screamed as he felt nails dig even deeper into the cut.
"You've given up your search?" Berthie asked mockingly. "That's good. You couldn't lay a finger on Lucille. I could give you a shot gun and you would miss! At point blank range and with a shot gun you would still miss your target, Bat. Though, I suppose that's the story of your life."
Something finally snapped in Carnelian and he screamed as he forced his arm out of Berthie's grasp, being able to crawl away from him to examine the damage. The sharp nails had torn the cut open even wider and he was bleeding profusely. He wanted to scream, but not due to the pain. The mere mention of Lucille was enough to put Carnelian over the edge. Everything was over, the guignol threat had ended, and Lucille was no longer the singer he once was, making Carnelian's pain and suffering all for naught. He no longer felt a desire to get revenge on Lucille, but he was still bitter and angry and Berthie had hit a sore spot within the other man.
However, Berthie was laughing as if he had accomplished something great by hurting Carnelian. So many things were running through Carnelian's mind and yet he could say nothing. He could only stare as Berthie laughed at him, cackling like a mad man.
"You really ought to get that looked at. Why don't you go to that bar with the man who told you to look for me? He might be able to help you."
"How do you know about that?"
"Go!" Berthie yelled, seeming to get aggravated. He stretched his long body under the tree, getting comfortable. "I promise not to leave. I know you want to speak with me so I'll stay here and when you're all patched up you can come back!"
Carnelian didn't know what kind of game Berthie was playing with him. First he had cut his arm, damaged the wound even more, insulted him, and now he was saying he was going to wait for him to get treatment so they could talk? Saying Carnelian was confused was an understatement, but he had learned from previous travels with Berthie not to question him. Carnelian's anger and confusion would have to be put aside. He stood while holding onto his arm and began to walk away. He knew the route to the bar and he could only hope that when he got there someone would be willing to help him.
The more he walked the more his anger began to dissipate. He didn't know if his mind was getting cloudy due to the wound, but what he was sure of was that he needed to talk to Berthie. He needed to sort out his feelings and figure out why the evil man had been on his mind for so long. He had finally found Berthie and he would do anything, even lose his arm, to get the chance to talk to him just one more time.
"Sweet Jesus, boy! What did you do to yourself?"
The bartender's voice boomed throughout the entire bar. The few patrons who remained before closing nearly choked on their drinks from the loud noise. It was only after they turned to the door where the bartender was staring did they understand why he was so shocked.
"I found him." Carnelian said in a low voice.
The bartender looked at the blood trickling down Carnelian's arm onto the floor before finally staring the young man in the face. His pained expression was to be expected, but the look of exhaustion was not.
"You walked here? In that condition?" The bartender came from behind the bar, shaking his head all the while. "Come on, kid, let's get you fixed up. I swear young people think they're invincible nowadays."
Carnelian slumped into a chair by the door and watched the bartender start kicking people out. A few drunkards put up a bit of a fight, but it was relatively easy to get everyone out the door. When everyone was finally gone the bartender kneeled down to get a better look at Carnelian's wound.
"What did you do?"
"I found him." Carnelian said breathlessly. "I found him and I need to get back to him. He's waiting for me."
"Yeah well, you're not going anywhere until we patch you up. Come on into the back so the missus can take a look at you. Can you stand?"
Carnelian nodded though he felt like his body was being held down by weights. It had been easy to get to the bar. His resolve to stay alive and see Berthie again had overpowered his exhaustion, but now that he had reached his destination he felt as if he was going to pass out. The distance hadn't been that great, only a bit more than a mile, but with a bleeding arm and exhaustion from the combination of Berthie and not eating it felt like he had crossed a desert.
The bartender could see that standing was putting a lot of strain on Carnelian so he easily lifted the man into his arms and carried him into a back room.
"A bird weighs more than you!" the bartender said. "You need to eat more, kid. You should try my wife's beef stew. Out of this world I tell you!"
Carnelian remembered how hungry he had been before Berthie appeared. It was because of his hunger that he had been cut. He wished he had never tried to eat that damned apple, though he was sure Berthie would have hurt him regardless. He wanted to say more, but it didn't take long for the world around him to turn completely black.
"Who did this to you, sweetie?"
Carnelian blinked a few times, though his vision was still blurry. He managed to make out the outline of a woman. Where had this woman come from? He remembered being carried by the bartender, but everything after that was a blank. The pain in his arm let him know that it hadn't been treated or at least not completely treated. He assumed he had passed out and had woken up again in just a short amount of time.
"Are you his wife?" Carnelian asked.
"If by 'him' you mean the bartender then yes! It's rare my husband takes such a liking to specific customer. You should consider yourself lucky! Though, I think I know why he became so fond of you."
Carnelian was finally coming around and he rubbed his eyes with his free hand to try and clear his vision. He understood what the wife meant by saying her husband took a liking to him.
"You look just like me."
The wife let out a laugh. "Actually, sweetie, you look like me. I promise you I came first. I don't look it, but I'm old enough to be your mother. I aged very nicely."
"And I couldn't be happier!"
The bartender's loud voice once again rang through the small building. It hit Carnelian's ear like a bullet and he felt a sudden headache come on.
"Really, can't you be a little quieter? Have some consideration for our guest. He's quite exhausted and needs his rest."
"You still never told us how you got this cut. You get into some trouble or something?" the husband said, ignoring his wife.
"No, no I..." Carnelian rubbed the bridge of his nose, the headache becoming more painful than the cut. "I tried to eat an apple off of an apple tree not far from here, but he apparently doesn't like apples."
"Apple tree?" the bartender and the wife said in unison.
"Yes. I was hungry and tried to eat one of the apples, but Berthie doesn't like apples. He cut my arm with his sword. He stopped me from eating it."
The bartender began talking, but Carnelian couldn't hear a word. The ringing his ears was much too loud and he felt as if his whole body was going to explode. It didn't take him long to pass out again, this time staying asleep for a bit longer than the first time.
"You must really like this Berthie guy!"
Carnelian heard a voice, a voice that seemed a bit familiar. He didn't want to open his eyes. He wanted to keep them shut and stay sleeping, but he couldn't control his lids as they began to feel less heavy. The pain in his arm had dwindled to a light stinging sensation; it was nothing he couldn't handle.
His eyes darted about before finally settling on a form just a few feet away from him. It turned around and he remembered the bartender's wife who had tended to his arm. He stared into her face, a reflection of his own, as she made her way back over to him.
"Oh, you're awake!" she said excitedly. "I was keeping you company and talking to you as you slept. You kept mentioning Berthie in your sleep! You said his name over and over again. Anyway, you've only been out for a day, sweetie, so you don't need to worry! Your arm wasn't as bad as it looked. Your real problem was that you exhausted yourself trying to get over here with no one to help you! At least you got plenty of sleep so you'll be right as rain. Why didn't that Berthie man help you over here? He could have carried you if he was fit enough! Hell, I think even I could carry you, considering you weight about the same as a twelve year old!"
The wife went on and on, though Carnelian didn't mind it too much. He had been alone for far too long and having company was something he welcomed with open arms. He did his best to sit up and received some assistance from the wife, who was still chatting up a storm. As she spoke she fed him some soup and described to him the exact details of his wound.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself though! Eating off that apple tree. I almost want to say you deserved that cut!"
"Excuse me?" Carnelian asked.
"You didn't hear us before you passed out last night!"
The bartender's voice once again was heard throughout the entire building. He leaned against the doorway of the room his wife and Carnelian were in, inhaling the scent of his wife's cooking and staring dead at his guest.
"You really are new to town if you don't know about that tree."
Carnelian looked from the wife to the bartender, wondering when one of them was going to explain what they were talking about. The bartender just smirked before entering the room and sitting down in a chair next to Carnelian's bed.
"There's only one apple tree here and it's very famous. It's pretty dangerous, but we don't cut it down cause it attracts tourists and tourists keep this town going! It's a very rare type of tree that grows apples with a chemical inside of them that makes them poisonous to humans. If you had taken even one bite of an apple from that tree you would have died. Your boss may have given you an ugly cut, but he saved your life!"
"Poison?" Carnelian barely registered what was being said. He almost ate a poison apple? Berthie had saved him? That horrible, foul, disturbing excuse for a man had actually saved his life?
"He knew it was poison," Carnelian said as realization finally began to dawn on him. "He mentioned how that particular tree bothered him, but it wouldn't annoy him for no reason. He knew."
The bartender stood and started to head back to the front of the bar. "Well then, you owe him a mighty big thank you! This Berthie seems like a good boss to me!"
"Me too," the wife said. "He's definitely a good man if he saved your life like that! His method was a little odd, but at least he saved you! I think I would like to meet him!"
"He saved me. He really saved me," Carnelian said in a low voice.
"Well yes," the wife said. "Good man! You ow him your life!"
"I have to see him again!"
Carnelian jumped out of the bed he was in and looked around for his shoes and coat. The wife quickly rushed to his side, but he brushed her off as he began to tie his laces.
"You really shouldn't be running out like that. You'll exhaust yourself again! There's no point in seeing this man if you're going to pass out again!"
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but I can't hold off any longer. He said he would wait for me, but I know him and I know how impatient he is. I have to see him again. I can't let him escape me again!"
Carnelian ran outside, ignoring the call of the wife who followed him to the door and the bartender who was shocked to see him even walking around. This was the moment Carnelian had been waiting for. His confused feelings finally made sense and he knew what he wanted. Carnelian, for some odd and sick reason, loved Berthie. He loved the man who hurt him and teased him, but who also gave him all the attention in the world. And in his own strange way Berthie had told Carnelian that he cared. Instead of sitting there and watching Carnelian eat the poison apple, Berthie had saved him.
"He wouldn't save anyone unless..."
Carnelian didn't want to jump to any conclusions, but his hopes were already rising. If there was even a small possibility that Berthie would love him, then Carnelian would risk everything to see it come true.