Chapter 11: Tears and Tears
Rhoelyn smiled and watched Alensyr clamber after the little white and red saber kitten, his laughter echoing softly between the trellises as the two of them played and Ryni trailed in their wake. Her hand in Leothir’s, she sniffled as they walked down the pebbled garden path, rubbing her thumb at her red eyes to catch another tear before it fell. The mage stopped her with a chuckle, tugging out a handkerchief that was already slightly damp and pressing it into her hand.
“My flower, really. You must stop crying about the kitten, now. He is not so magnificent a gift as to be worth making yourself ill.” The golden blood elf smirked and kissed her cheek, tasting the salt of her tears still on her skin.
“Perhaps not, ilais’surfal, but I fear I have little control over my tears at the best of times,” Rhoelyn admitted softly as he straightened, and she dabbed at her eyes.
She continued at a rambling pace, gesturing with one graceful hand. “The kitten is beautiful and special and so sweet to Alen. And I am so honored that you thought to bring him to me. I have so missed the cats of home.
“And… and here, with you, in the gardens that sing with life, healthy and fragrant, a saber kitten capering about, and our beautiful little boy and Ryni and – well, wherever Faeroh has gotten off to – It is only… it all reminds me of a h-… home.”
Though she caught on the word, the little priestess finished her authentic thought, lowering her eyes as she admitted, “I am happy, Leothir.”
She didn’t voice the ‘almost’ that she thought, nor admit to him that some of the tears that welled in her eyes were born out of longing as she imagined that missing piece of her joy: her brother, lurking off the edge of the garden path as a sleek, silver saber, his tail twitching playfully.
Instead she just nuzzled against Leo’s palm when he cupped her cheek, her smile tremulous and watery.
“My flower, I’ve waited to hear you say that. I’ve wanted it since before you came here, to make you happy.” Smiling brightly enough to rival the midday sun, the mage wrapped his arms around her waist and leaned in for a lingering, tender kiss. The night elf laid her palms on his chest by the end of it, resting her head against his shoulder and closing her eyes to enjoy the comfort of him as he whispered by her ear, “I know you miss where you came from, but this is your home, Rhoelyn. Our home. Our family’s home.”
“Our… family…?” The little priestess’ eyes widened at the thought, at the promise of one of her most precious dreams. Here? With Leothir? Without Rhese? The thought was bitter, but also so very sweet. The priestess ran fingers over the collar around her neck as she weighed which won in her heart and found herself neatly torn.
She sniffled once more and managed to choke out a husky laugh through another swelling of tears. “Oh, my dawn. If you wanted me to stop crying, I think you’ve swung wide of the mark.”
As Leothir sighed, she buried her face against his shoulder and cried in earnest for the second time in an hour.
“Why are you crying now?” he asked in amused exasperation, his pale hands soothing up and down her back and hers clutched in the soft fabric of his tunic.
“Min’da sad?” Leo looked down at Alensyr’s high-pitched voice, freeing one hand to hold it out and invite him into the embrace.
“No, little plum,” he said with a reassuring smile, resting his palm on the back of the boy’s head as he stepped up and wrapped his free arm around Rhoelyn’s skirts. The other was occupied with clutching an uncomfortable kitten against his chest. “At least… I don’t think so?” Leo sighed softly and focused back on the child. “Min’da is so happy that she’s crying. An’neil Faeroh did try to warn us…”
“An’nu, no. Cries’re when we’re sad.” The child looked up and frowned at him. “You maked min’da sad??”
“No!” The mage chuckled and nudged his mate, muttering near her ear, “My flower, I fear your son is going to get quite stern with me if you don’t reassure him. Come, now. No more tears. Smile for us both.”
Rhoelyn nodded against his shoulder before taking a long, calming breath and forcing herself to straighten. She dried her eyes with Leo’s handkerchief before she stepped back out of his arms and knelt down to Alen, forcing a wavering smile.
“Truly, alei, I am not sad. You and an’nu and our new ala’delar and Ryni and even Faeroh have made me feel so loved and happy that it fills my heart and leaks out,” she said it softly, speaking Thalassian slowly enough to help him understand as she rescued the kitten from his grasp, tucking him into her own arms.
“Leaks?” Alen inquired, looking wide-eyed at the handkerchief in her hand.
The little priestess just laughed softly and kissed his little cheek. “Do not worry yourself about it, darling boy. I promise… I am not sad.”
“Miiin’da…” A frown and a childish whine preceded Alen as he squirmed forward and wiggled his way into his adoptive mother’s arms beside the kitten, forcing her to juggle them both a bit before they were settled together in her lap. “No more cries!”
The tearful woman smiled and brushed his hair back, bowing her head to him. “Anything you say, Alen.”
Satisfied with her obedience, the boy stuck one thumb in his mouth, leaving his other little hand free to stroke the feline’s head.
“Oh, so if the child asks, you obey?” Leothir grinned, crouching down to their level. “I see how it is, my flower. I worry about my authority, here.”
“Well, he did not say anything to earn more tears,” she laughed softly in response, her gaze tender.
With a smirk, her mate brushed her hair back, tucking it behind her ear. “I’m quite uncertain that I did, either.”
When Rhoelyn just blushed and looked away with a little smile, his grin turned knowing. But he said nothing, instead resting his hand on Alen’s shoulder. “Come, little plum. Let’s let your mother get up off the ground, shall we?”
Alen considered him thoughtfully, his bright eyes so light a silver as to appear almost white. That gaze darted to the kitten under his little hand before it went back to Leothir, and he raised his arms to the blood elf, imperious. “Up!”
Leo tucked his hands under the child’s arms and lifted him into his embrace, grinning, and the little priestess at his feet giggled. “Perhaps you should worry about your authority, my dawn. I think the darling boy has bested us both.”
He made a face as she slipped lithely to her feet, brushing one-handed at her skirts while the kitten leapt down. Rather than respond to her teasing, he changed the subject as he tucked the boy against his shoulder, patting his thin back. “I’ll need to go in soon, Rhoelyn. I’m expected to make an appearance at mother’s dinner party, tonight.”
The priestess nodded, walking beside him as he resumed their meander down the garden path, Alen cuddling against him. “Of course. You wouldn’t wish to disappoint your mother and her guests, Leothir. I am sure you will have a lovely time.”
Wincing, the mage pondered that, wondering at his sense of ennui about the affair. He often enjoyed his mother’s dinner parties, and yet tonight’s sounded… droll. It didn’t compare to spending the rest of the afternoon with his lover and their little collection. Starch-shirted old guard lords and spoiled, self-indulgent ladies of the better houses talking about the only things they ever talked about – Silvermoon city and the glory of the old days before Quel’thalas was ravaged by the demons – weren’t the people he wanted to have a lovely, ornate dinner with. They weren’t the one he wanted to talk to over good wine and better food.
Leothir watched Rhoelyn’s profile as they strolled, knowing just who he wanted at the dinner table by his side, and yet… He could see the whole moment with a disappointed certainty: The night elf, beautiful and ethereal and every bit as regal as his smaller mother in the colors of House Duskfall, slightly modified to suit her. She would gleam in the gorgeous gown of silver satin and scarlet and cream velvet that he’d already gotten for his darling but not yet given her. Every titled man would envy him, and every highborn lady would pale in beauty beside her.
And they would all gasp at the audacity of her presence. They would eye the collar at her neck, even the new one – ermine fur with a large inferno ruby concealing the chain clasp – with disdain. They would eye her with disdain. And Rhoelyn, his strong, sensitive Rhoelyn, would bear it all with the same polite grace and quiet pride that she’d held onto even in Lordaeron’s dungeons while her heart broke a little bit with every hostile look and biting comment. She would weep behind her smile, and, later, behind closed doors.
The blood elf quietly reached over and claimed her hand, his brow furrowing. It was impossible. What he wanted and what he could have were entirely different things, and he had no way to bring them together without hurting her. Perhaps both of them.
“Leothir?” she asked softly, giving his fingers a squeeze. “What troubles you?”
He shook his head, forcing a smile. “How can anything trouble me when I’m at your side, my flower?”
The little priestess smiled, amused, and paused to turn to him, lifting her free hand to soothe her fingers across the wrinkled skin between his brows. He closed his eyes, enjoying her touch and her tenderness, and let her smooth away his thoughts of the dinner party. “Perhaps that should be my question, then, because I can see that you are, regardless.” She leaned close, kissing him softly.
“Miiiiin’da, an’nu don’s squish me!” Alensyr whined and squirmed in his arms, reminding them both of his presence. Leo chuckled and leaned down, settling the boy on his feet.
“My most humble apologies, little plum.” He bowed with a flourish, earning himself a giggle. “You got in the way of my kiss. It’s always a risky business, getting in the way of a man’s kiss, young elf.”
The boy wrinkled his nose and shook his head, little amethyst locks swinging. “Ugh! Big boys doesn’t wike kisses, an’nu!”
With his emerald gaze shifting back to Rhoelyn, the mage smiled and asserted, “Oh, this one most certainly does.” She giggled as he slid his arms around her waist and tugged her close, lowering his voice. “I will miss you while I suffer through dinner, my flower.”
“You will not,” she said with a gentle grin, reaching up to tuck a lock of his long hair back into his ponytail. “You will laugh and charm your mother and her friends, and you will have a glorious time eating overly complicated foods, drinking, and being the pampered lord you are.”
Leothir raised his brows. “Pampered… lord? My savage priestess, this lord will caution you to watch your tongue, lest I watch it for you.” His gaze went to her sunset-violet lips, and he edged closer.
“Ah. My tongue does seem to need a keeper. It is sometimes unruly.” The little night elf leaned forward, cupping her hands at the corners of his jaw as she kissed him, the kind of kiss that went well beyond the surface and gave him a chance to carry through on his threat. They didn’t part for long minutes until one of Relare’s paladins approached, clearing his throat politely.
“Apologies, Master Leothir. Mistress Rhoelyn.” The two of them separated with obvious reluctance, and the soldier was struck by the collective beauty of the pair as one pale and one darker face turned toward him, expectant and perhaps a bit flushed.
“The commander wanted me to remind you that it’s time to prepare for her Ladyship’s dinner, milord. He politely requested, and I quote, ‘that my big brother not leave me to suffer through the stilted conversation alone’.” The man, only his ears visible in his shining armor, still managed to convey an amused grin.
Leo sighed, growling as Rhoelyn giggled and slid her hands down his arms. “My dawn, you’d best go and do your brother this kindness.”
“It seems familial duty calls,” he acknowledged, giving her one last quick kiss. “Enjoy your evening, my flower.” The mage waited for her nod and smile before he turned to the paladin. “Let’s be off.”
Rhoelyn watched as the two trudged toward the manor. She lifted her hand to give him a little wave goodbye before Leothir turned out of sight, and then she sighed and turned back, “Come, Alen, w-”
The little priestess stilled, her heart hammering with sudden panic as she looked around the path, the space beneath the trellises empty and too still. “Alen? R… Ryni?”
She took a few steps, peering around the bend of one of the side paths and trying to gather in her rising fear. But she thought of the story she’d come to build in her head, remembered the pain of a vase shattering against her head, and she couldn’t stop the flash of a fearful image of the scarred young woman with her hands around Alen’s throat.
“N-no…” Rhoelyn whispered the word to herself without much conviction, clasping her shaking hands together. She took a deep, calming breath before she continued, “… she would never harm him. Elune knows… she loves him. S-she… she’d never…”
But the fear was planted and took root, leaving the priestess standing in the center of the path, trembling. Rather than louder, her voice became softer, more choked as she paled and called out, again. “Alensyr? Ryni?”
“G-goddess…” Rhoelyn whispered, breaking into a run deeper into the garden that had Relare’s guards, watching her from the distance of the veranda, straightening with alarm.
Ryni decided, watching Alen splash in the shallows of the little fish pond, that the child had to have Elune’s blessings, despite his tender, young age. Watching him smile, she wasn’t sure how she’d never realized it before: he had the moon in his gaze, there in his near-white eyes, always wide and welcoming like Elune’s gleaming face in the sky. A lost little boy, a miraculous survivor of the massacre at Astranaar. Found and claimed by Leothir, of all the horrible blood elves, who could give him to their beautiful, kind priestess. Still bright and happy and unscarred by what his short little life has contained. It could all have been… so much worse for him. He was definitely blessed, infinitely fortunate.
And he was a blessing, as well. Albeit a loud blessing, at the moment.
“Is’thowfawa tos, Ryni! Eyiiiiiisa’mil, enfawa mo’iros ala’delar,” the child’s excited shout filled the little sheltered grotto they’d found, ringing off the lovely, straight maple that grew at her back and landing softly on the large-leaved ferns shielding them from the garden path.
“No, Alen,” the young woman smirked, “It’s not a lake. It’s just a little pond, and I’m betting there aren’t any sea monsters for ala’delar to slay.” She glanced over at the kitten, napping in a small patch of dappled sunlight. “I think you already tuckered him out, anyway.”
The boy grabbed a handful of water and threw it up in the air, giggling as it rained down on him. “Den you slays tos! Tuh’mon, Ryni, tuh’mon!”
Snorting, she pulled her knees up and wrapped her arms around them. “Nothing doing, little elf. You’re going to get in so much trouble when Rhoe sees the mess you’ve made of your clothes. I’m not interested in joining you!”
Alensyr giggled and switched to splashing water toward her, water that got nowhere near the young woman, while he chanted, “Tuh’mon, Rynifalore! Tuh’mon pway!”
She held out for as long as she could manage before his enthusiasm infected her, and the young thief scampered to her feet. Her smile was playful, if a little twisted by the tight scars on her cheek.
“You sure, trouble child? I’m definitely gonna win this fight.” The sweet boy just giggled and splashed water in her general direction, leaving her no choice but to stride toward him, growling and holding her hands in threatening claws. “You’ve earned a tickle!”
The boy, far from looking frightened, just grinned mischievously and redoubled his efforts, slapping at the pond and squealing with excitement as she rushed forward, grabbing him around the waist and tickling mercilessly across his round little belly. She couldn’t help but join in as he dissolved into peals of laughter, gasping around squeaks and shoving at her hands until they both toppled over in the water. Within seconds, they were muddy, sputtering, and wiping water and algae from their faces, all the while grinning at each other like fools.
“There,” Ryni laughed, tugging something green and fibrous from where it wrapped across his neck, “didn’t I tell you you’d get it? You’re a little scamp, Alen.”
The look he gave her made it clear that he had no idea what the word meant, but he also didn’t seem overly concerned as he tried to tickle her back, his little fingers stabby and awkward. It was the young woman’s turn to squirm away, dodging deftly back from his painful attempts and catching his little wrists in her hands. “Ah-ah! No tickles for me. Only you!”
She leaned down with a wicked sneer, earning herself an excited screech as he tried to yank himself free.
“No!” The pair of them blinked, two smaller faces swiveling up toward the edge of the grotto, where Rhoelyn stood gripping the tree trunk and watching them with wide, frightened eyes. “Ryni, let go! Don’t harm him!”
Ryni gasped, taken aback, and reflexively released his wrists, which had the unfortunate side-effect of leaving the child to tumble backward into the water. His surprised screech was cut off when his head submerged, and the young woman scrambled, grabbing his little body and tugging him back up as he sputtered and choked.
“Goddess…!” Rhoelyn was beside her in a heartbeat, heedless of her beautiful gown getting as wet and muddy as their own clothes as she grabbed the child away from the smaller thief. Ryni stared in amazement, watching her simultaneously tuck him against her shoulder, pat his back while he coughed, murmur soothing sounds against his ear, and make her way back to the grass without missing a step. She couldn’t tell if the drops of water on the lovely priestess’ pale face were from splashing or from tears, but she could see the way her hands trembled as they worked across his shoulders gently. She saw her flinch in the way her fingers clenched in the fabric of his tunic as he drew a clear breath and wailed.
“Now, now, dalah’alei. Shush, shush. You are safe, Alen. I have you.” Rhoelyn’s voice was soft as she murmured to him, stroking him, a lie compared to the tension in her, the rounding of her shoulders, and the nervous way she paced through the dappled clearing of the little grotto.
Fear, Ryni realized. So much fear that the radiant priestess was dull with it, despite how she tried to hide that from them both. The revelation made something in her chest wobble uncomfortably, and the scarred young woman frowned, pressing a hand to her sternum.
“I wouldn’t,” the young woman said to Rhoelyn’s back, her voice sharp. “I wouldn’t hurt Alen, Rhoe.”
The priestess heard, but she didn’t answer at first. She merely bowed her head, shuddering while Alen sniffed and subsided to a soft cry on her shoulder, scared by his dunking and worried by his mother’s palpable upset. It was a few long heartbeats before she managed to turn back and face her charge, and even then, she was too silent.
Ryni watched the other woman’s face as she struggled with what to say in response, noting the furrows in her dusky brow and how they warped the scrolling tattoos on her temple. From so close, it was clear that there were tears in her expressive blue eyes, but she blinked them back.
“I… do not know what to believe, Ryni.” The little healer stammered only those few words before she turned her face away, biting her lip. “W-we should go in. We are all thoroughly soaked and dirty.”
Frowning, the girl spoke softly, repeating herself, “I mean it. I wouldn’t hurt Alensyr.”
Rhoe opened her mouth, but a new voice interrupted before she could say anything.
“Rhoelyn. So this is where you’ve gotten off to.” Fayrial strode through the ferns, leading a pair of plate-clad paladins, Relare’s assigned guards. She sighed and half-turned back to them. “These two have been a bit frantic, trying to find where you’d gone. Apparently their ears don’t work under all that metal.” Her pointed glare was distinctly unamused. “They called me away from my work to help track you down.”
The human grimaced beneath his helm, muttering, “Well, not all of us have ears for miles, Miss Faye.” His blood elven companion snorted, slapping a hand over his mouth to suppress his laughter. The night elf only glared harder, folding her arms across her breast.
“I apologize, Fayrial,” the priestess said softly. “I know you are quite busy.”
Sighing, the other woman nodded. “Well. At least it’s a lovely day for a saunter around the garden,” she admitted, her tone grudging. “Now, if we haven’t misplaced anything else…?”
The pair of men in their gleaming armor looked sheepish as they both shook their heads.
“Good.” Faye sighed and strode for the edge of the grotto. “Then, if you’ll excuse m- OH!”
Faeroh landed in her path with a thud, catching himself lithely on the balls of his feet and immediately ducking under the fist she swung at his face. He chuckled as she staggered back into a warrior’s stance, vicious for a moment until her thoughts caught up with her instincts.
“Faeroh Moonreign!” Faye exclaimed, straightening as the others watched, wide-eyed, “I will not be held responsible for the seven ways I injure you if you try that trick again! Climb down from the tree like a normal elf!”
The ancient druid grinned, fisting his hand on his hip. “Why, mistress Fayrial. Isn’t it pleasant to see you? And still in top form, no less. If a few injuries are the price to pay to see the sentinel within, I think I can afford it.” He leaned closer, winking and adding more softly, “Besides, I’ve been known to heal when properly motivated by my own pain.”
Growling, the headwoman shook a finger at him. “Oh, I can motivate you, you moon-mad old-…” She stopped herself, taking a deep, anger-cleansing breath before she grumbled, “What do you want, Faeroh?”
He waved a hand toward the priestess who cradled a sniffly, wet boy in her arms, saying, “I’m here for the littlest elf, actually. I thought I might take him in for his bath.”
Rhoelyn blinked at the grey-bearded man, her gaze darting to Ryni. “You… ah, Faeroh, I can t-”
“No, ridiculous little girl.” It was all he said, but it quieted her immediately, and she bowed her head in acquiescence. Faye’s brows rose in surprise at the exalted consort’s instant deference.
“I-If… if you wish, dori’delar,” the priestess muttered, approaching him. When Alen sniffled and whined, clinging to her wet dress, she nuzzled his hair. “Come now, alei. You mustn’t catch a chill, and if you are very well behaved, perhaps an’neil Faeroh will let you play with some of that bubble potion an’nu got.”
His ears perked up at that, his dripping little head lifting to look at her. “Bubbews?”
Smiling softly, she kissed his temple. “Perhaps, Alen. If you are a good boy for an’neil.” When she glanced up at Faeroh, he nodded and held out his hands.
“Uppies, Alen. We’ve places to go and little bodies to bathe!” The child giggled as he released his mother and reached over, settling into the bigger man’s embrace.
“Do kittehs fow me, an’neil!” he demanded.
“After bath, my young prince. I’ll do kitties for you when you’re less likely to muddy my fur.” Faeroh chuckled as he turned toward the ferns, beckoning Relare’s guards. “Come along, benevolent tin cans. The ladies need to talk.”
“We do?” Faye blinked at him before glancing between Rhoelyn and Ryni. The former wouldn’t meet her eyes, and the latter clenched one elbow in the other hand, her body language a confused mix of things, not the least of which was defiant anger. She sighed. “Yes, it seems we do. Get going.”
The two guards exchanged a rather mystified look before they bowed to Rhoelyn. “We won’t be far if ya need us, ma’am,” the older said.
“Thank you, Rannick,” the priestess acknowledged softly, offering them a kal’dorei style bow in return, her hand over her heart. “I will call if so.”
Ryni waited impatiently for them to leave, her grey gaze traveling down the former sentinel’s thick, teal braid before it returned to her stoic face. She didn’t speak, just looked over Emeria’s headwoman with her veins cold with disdain and a vague nausea sitting in her stomach. Sin’dorei lapdog. Obedient little pet.
“Ryni, enough.” She didn’t realize she’d spoken aloud until she looked over to find Rhoelyn watching her sadly, her hair no less gleaming for all that it was wet and unkempt, sticking to her violet cheeks. “Fayrial is our sister, and she has helped me even at great risk to herself. You are wrong to look only on the surface of what she does to survive this place.”
The little thief grit her teeth, glancing away. “We don’t need her here, Rhoe.”
“No. No, I suppose we don’t,” the priestess said softly, stepping closer to her, close enough that Ryni could smell the damp and mud on her. “But she is here, and I, for one, am grateful to have her be a part of the conversation we must have.”
The look she slanted the confused former sentinel was filled with a kind of needy gratitude that the little thief hated. That jealousy, again. As if Rhoelyn should belong to her instead of to Elune or the rot-hearted sin’dorei who kept her or the wonderful little boy who deserved her or… the captured former sentinel who watched her thoughtfully.
“What conversation must we have, exactly?” Faye asked, frowning as she glanced from the priestess to her scarred companion.
“It’s none of y-” She stopped short when Rhoelyn claimed her hand, looking with wide eyes from where the other woman’s long fingers entwined with her own to her profile as she looked away at the headwoman.
“Come. We’ll sit in the sun as we talk and dry.” It wasn’t a request, and Ryni wasn’t inclined to argue, anyway, her palm busy feeling the chill in the other woman’s skin. She looked down once more at their hands together, her brow furrowing.
“You’re cold, Rhoe.”
The priestess did not look at her, only tugged her forward. “Yes. Hence, I would like to sit in the sun.”
Faye raised a brow at them both as they strode past her through the ferns, watching thoughtfully until they had nearly disappeared on the far side of the leaves, a little snowy kitten trundling after them.
“Elune’s grace,” she commented to herself. The slave sighed as she rubbed at her temple and turned to follow. “I may throttle one or both of you if you don’t find a place to settle quickly and explain everything to me.”
“Oh!” Rhoelyn’s surprised cry was nearly drowned out by the cacophony of the snapping trellis and ripping vines that preceded Ryni and Faye tumbling onto the garden’s main path, the sentinel landing atop the little woman with a purposeful twist and a vicious growl, her weight braced through her arm across the thief’s collarbone and leveraged to slam her head into the pebbles. “No, Faye! You mustn’t!”
The priestess scrambled to her feet, rushing after them. “Faye!”
Ryni coughed, winded, and tugged futilely at the other woman’s grip, looking up into the face of a warrior, a champion of the night elven people who currently glared at her as if she were the most worthy prey. “G-get off, you crazy b-!”
Fayrial shut her up by slipping her arm upward, smashing closed her windpipe with a vicious snarl. “You ungrateful, murderous little monster! How dare you even call yourself kal’dorei!”
“No. No!” The priestess skidded to a stop beside them both, tugging frantically at her friend’s shoulder. “F-faye, stop. Please! Oh, please.” Frustrated tears pressed against her eyes as she felt her own helpless lack of strength. Again. She sniffled them back. “Faye, don’t hurt her!”
Fayrial couldn’t hear, didn’t budge. She couldn’t see anything except her rage and the woman under her that scrabbled, sending pebbles skittering around them, her eyes wide as her lips blued.
Spots swam at the edges of her vision by the time Ryni bucked violently, shoving space between them with the force needed to get her knees up and brace her feet against the former sentinel’s strong belly. She kicked the woman away, gasping in a badly needed breath even as she rolled to her side and back to her feet, dancing on a desperate thief’s instinct.
“You don’t get to judge, lapdog!” Faye’s eyes widened in the instant before Ryni surged forward, reaching back behind her somewhere and pulling out a small, thin dagger. The scarred young woman knew how to wield it, too, which was obvious enough when her bigger opponent took two quick, vicious slashes across her upper arm as she dodged away.
Rhoelyn gasped, her voice choked as she whispered, ”Elune’s grace… n-not a weapon…” She darted toward her young friend only to be dragged up short when Faye grabbed her arm and yanked her back.
“Stay out of the way, priestess,” the former sentinel growled quietly, watching her opponent with a wary glare, “and if you value her life, don’t make a fuss. Even Relare’s guards will be honor-bound to report this violation if they come here.”
The silver-haired night elf shuddered, her blood running cold. With panic and tears choking her, it was easy to keep her voice low. “R-ryni, please… drop the dagger. They’ll execute you if th-”
“Like fel I will,” the young woman snarled, her glare on Faye. “You wanted a fight, lackey. Come and g-”
Fayrial didn’t let her finish her taunt, rushing forward with little seeming concern for the vicious weapon in her opponent’s tight fist. The little thief shifted her feet with the sktch of scattering pebbles, ready to slash across her path, but at the last moment, the sentinel dropped and rolled. Her booted feet kicked upward into Ryni’s wrist with a wet, sloppy crunch, and the younger woman cried out in pain, the dagger dropping from fingers made suddenly nerveless and numb.
Back on her feet just as quickly as she left them, Faye pressed the advantage, clenching her fists together and slamming them into the small girl’s ribs. Rhoelyn caught her as she staggered to the side, wrapping her arms around the scarred young woman and throwing herself between them both as she shouted, “Stop!”
Sniffling, red-eyed, the silver-haired night elf clutched Ryni against her as the younger woman coughed and hacked, trying to force air back into her lungs. Her egg-shell blue gaze was wide-eyed and wounded when she peered at Fayrial.
“Don’t you give me that look, priestess.” Faye snapped as she frowned, her brows drawing down. “That woman you clutch to your breast like a wayward child is a viper, instead. She has already tried to murder you once. Are you really going to give her a chance to finish the job?
“I know,” the priestess interrupted, her voice soft. She looked down at her hand against Ryni’s side, pretending the need to concentrate on the healing magic that glowed there so that she wouldn’t have to meet either of her companions’ gazes.
“I know that she hates me, Faye, but that doesn’t change the fact that I love her. Ryni is family, now, and I don’t want you to hurt her. I don’t want anyone to hurt her.” Her voice devolved to a thready whisper as she sniffled and pressed her temple against the smaller woman’s. “She has been hurt enough for a lifetime.”
The teal-haired sentinel pressed her lips together, once again torn between frustration and admiration for her tender-hearted friend.
“Please,” Rhoelyn said softly. “Please, Ryni. I know… I know you hate me, but please throw the dagger away and never touch it again.”
“Hate you?” The little thief grunted, shoving at the other woman’s embrace. Her injured wrist was still tender from recent healing. “No, I love you. You’re everything amazing, Rhoe, like a mother should be. O-or a true sister. That’s why I had to protect you.”
It was Faye that spoke up, incredulous, “Protect her? By leaving her to bleed to death, alone and unconscious?!”
Ryni shook her head, brushing a hand through her short, pink hair. “No. No, I messed that up.”
She paused to lean back, finally extricating herself from the priestess’ hug. Her grey eyes searched the little healer’s face. “I’m sorry, Rhoe. I left you… I … I should have stayed until you were safe in Elune’s arms, but … I was sad for myself. I should have defended you! I could have stopped Leothir from taking you to Relare. There was enough glass that I could have sliced that pretty face and fended off those unclean hands he touches you with. I should have! You’d have been free…”
Rhoelyn’s eyes went wide and shocked, and this time it was she who tried to pull away, shuddering and pale. “R… Ryni. I d-”
“No, I know.” Ryni interrupted, her grip on the priestess’ upper arms tightening enough to draw a wince from the other woman. “You can’t understand. You haven’t seen it. You’re too sweet and innocent to i-imagine it… but… trust me, Rhoe. The… the things those fel-cursed, rot-hearted sin’dorei say about you… It’s just the same. It’ll turn just as awful. Let me protect you! Let Elune protect you!”
“Bright goddess,” Faye growled, stepping forward and yanking Ryni’s hands off of Rhoelyn’s arms.The priestess staggered back, stunned, as the headwoman tugged her behind her. “I’ve heard enough. Are you foolish or stupid or insane, child?”
The young woman’s answer was a growl, and her fists clenched at her side as she glared at Faye. “I don’t answer to you, Fayrial the Lackey, and I don’t expect you to understand. Everyone knows whose boots you kiss.”
Her expression gentled when she looked at Rhoelyn, and she held out a hand, her brow furrowing in entreaty. “Death will save you, Rhoe. Elune will embrace you and protect you from what’s coming.”
The madness in Ryni’s grey eyes tore at Rhoelyn’s heart, and a tear slipped free. She tried to push forward, but Faye gripped her arm and refused to relent, holding her back.
“Oh, Ryni,” she said softly, shaking her head. “I wish…” The priestess choked on the words, wiping a hand across her face. “I wish Leothir had found you so much sooner.”
The little thief’s eyes widened, and she jerked as if struck. “N-no! You don’t… d-don’t… It wasn’t thanks to him, Rhoe. It wasn’t!”
Faye pressed her lips together, her brow furrowed deeply. “Who do you think was at the auction, Ryni? It most certainly wasn’t Rhoelyn; you know she was awaiting Leothir’s return at the manse. He went alone. He chose to bring you here when he saw how your former… master…” Her lip curled with disgust at the word, but still she forced it out. The truth of the market. “… was treating you. Leothir told me that he had to convince the man to put you on the block, that day. Why would a… “rot-hearted sin’dorei” do something like that?”
Ryni shuddered, crossing her arms and grasping her elbows tightly. “You’re lying.”
“I never lie, girl,” the older woman said it gently, but the conviction in her voice made the words as unyielding as diamond. “I am a sentinel. I am a guardian of our people and our pride.”
“You’re LYING!” The young thief’s denial rose to a scream, and she surged forward, grasping the front of Faye’s vest. “You can’t fool me! They’re all hateful, cr-”
She cut off when Rhoelyn wrapped her warm, gentle hands around her fists, looking down at the contact. Her brow furrowed in confusion as she gaped into the priestess’ tear-streaked face.
“My girl… my little sister,” Rhoe whispered, teasing Ryni’s grip off of Faye’s tunic and further into her palms. “You’ve become so lost in your pain, so twisted up by the scars cruelty has left on your heart. All your fear and hurt thinks it should be anger, but it isn’t.”
Ryni was too stunned to protest when the priestess wrapped her arms around her, pressing her head against her shoulder. “Those bad things… those dark times… they are your past, sister. Those cruel people are gone from your life. Elune saw you into our hands so that you could be free of all of it. She knew you would be safe in my household; she asks me to do what I must to help you heal.”
The priestess ignored her tears to hold the young woman tighter, snuffling. “You’re safe, now. I know you are afraid to see it, but Leothir is a good man. Imperfect, yes. He makes mistakes, loses his good intentions in misguided ideas, but I see the brightness of his soul when I look at him. I knew him to be a worthwhile person even as he kidnapped me from all I knew and dragged me into his world.
“And his brother is every bit as bright. They are points of Light in this dark world, this awful war and the system of slavery it has created.”
“Rot, Rhoe!” the little thief gasped, squirming against her embrace. “You don’t fool me! I saw what Leothir did, how he hurt you behind closed doors. ‘A good man’?”
Faye jerked, her brow furrowing as she turned her pale, blue gaze on the priestess. “So he does force you? I knew it! Tha-”
“No, Faye. Ryni.” Though the little woman’s skin darkened from her cheeks to the tips of her ears, Rhoelyn shook her head and answered calmly. “You are both mistaken. Leothir is… I-I have chosen him as my mate. I love him, and he likewise loves me. We share a bough because we both wish to, not because the slave system calls me his ‘consort’. A-and my chain is no longer enchanted because he was horrified when he accidentally triggered it during a … misunderstanding.
“Oh,” the healer lamented, releasing Ryni long enough to press her hands against her burning cheeks. “Must we discuss this?”
“I don’t believe you,” Ryni groused, sullen and worried. “I saw it.”
“Then you saw how he held me, after. How he apologized until there were no words left,” Rhoelyn said softly, soothing her hands along Ryni’s arms. “I would not lie to you, dalah’falore. Not to either of you.” Her luminous blue gaze sought Faye’s as well, and she managed to choke out a weak laugh. “I am so abysmal at it, anyway; you would know if I tried.”
The former sentinel regarded her stoically, her arms folding across her chest, until finally she nodded, a quiet acceptance. Her attention swung back to Ryni. “It doesn’t sound so bad, now, does it? You cannot deny that Leothir and Relare both are a more redeemable sort than most.”
The little thief grit her teeth, loathe to admit but also unable to deny the truth in the elder woman’s words. Her short, pink hair flopped as she suddenly turned away, stalking a comfortable distance between herself and the other two. “That may be, but it could change in an instant. The only safe place for any of us is within Elune’s grace.”
Faye nodded, glancing at the healer beside her as the smaller woman’s gaze followed Ryni. “We agree on the words, child, but not the meaning. Death is not the answer the goddess wishes us to pursue. Is that not so, priestess?”
Rhoelyn held her hands out in invitation to her young charge. “She is right, falore. Elune asks us to persist, to shine as she does on the dark places of the world. It is why her priesthood is given Light to wield and a message of love and care and balance in all things. I don’t wish to die, Ryni, even to protect myself from hurt. Even if I was not loathe to leave Alensyr and Leothir and my brother and you and so many others, Elune does not call on me so that I may give up. She would not thank me for succumbing to such darkness as that for selfish reasons.”
Ryni threw her hands up, snapping, “No! There’s no shining when you’re so stained! I don’t want to imagine the ways your light would die when.. w-when… They… t-took everything…” Her voice cracked, her eyes filling with tears, and suddenly she staggered, her face crumpling.
Rushing forward, the little silver-haired healer caught her up in her embrace and sank with her to the loose stones of the garden path, holding the scarred young woman as she burst into sobs. Rhoelyn’s soft hands soothed along her back and arms, and she murmured softly, “Dear Ryni. We’ll help you bear it… Cry all you like. You are loved, falore.”
Faye sighed softly, watching them with a furrowed brow for a long moment before she leaned down and snagged the discarded dagger, tossing it into the wreckage of the trellis. Then the former sentinel strode over to the priestess and her wounded patient, kneeling and wrapping her arms around them both. “You are loved, Ryni. Andu-falah-dor, falore…”
Around the three night elves, the day slowly ended, and between them, the healing slowly began.