Heat radiated from the welt rising on Relthor’s cheek. He’d heard the slap before the pain caught up.
“I didn’t mean to call you old,” he said.
Tirna’s eyes—little more than blue slits—glared at the half-elf. The jingling of the silver bells around her ankle hung in the air. She was dressed in her flowing crimson skirt and black, bell-sleeve blouse, perfectly cropped to expose her still-toned midriff. Her fury enhanced her already striking beauty.
At half a foot taller, Relthor towered over her. Still, he inhaled deeply and shifted back, putting a few steps between them. Tirna responded by throwing her shoe at him.
The afternoon sun shone on the dark hickory wood floor, but the house felt cold. Relthor was fully dressed in traditional Varisian wedding attire—black trousers with red whorls, white shirt, and his kapenia—yet he felt naked under her glare. On the opposite side of the room he glimpsed their refection in a mirror. It reminded him of a scene from ‘The Tailor and his Sister.’ The story was a comedy, but Relthor knew better than to laugh. With the exception of him, no one in Sandpoint knew how deadly Tirna could be when angry.
“Say something, Tirna. Anything,” he pleaded. “Don’t just stand there.”
“I never imagined you a coward.” Her words stung worse than the slap.
“…call you that?” She sighed as she stepped toward him. “It’s the only word that fits. You, Relthor, ‘Hero of Sandpoint’, are acting like a spoiled whelp.” Clinking bracelets accentuated each word as she poked the center of his chest. “Though, perhaps I’m wrong. Please explain the phrases ‘not meant to be Nita’s husband,’ ’biggest mistake I made,’ and ‘my sword’s rusty from lack of use’ to me.”
His heart pounded in his chest. Fire spread across his cheeks, reddening even the tips of his pointed ears. He forced his arms down and stretched.
“Sure it sounds bad when you say it…like that. But how does that make me spineless?”
“Do I need to spell it out for you?”
He rubbed the back of his neck, pausing at the hairline. He pulled at his short blonde hair.
“I still can’t believe Nita talked me into cutting it.”
“Don’t change the subject. If you were planning to run out on your wedding day then you should’ve refused her proposal.”
Relthor’s lips tightened and he swallowed hard. “If you weren’t my best friend, we’d have words. I asked you to be my best man because you know me better than anyone. I meant I still had a thirst for adventure. Something I thought you’d understand.”
“Then help me understand,” Tirna said. “All I see is a half-elf who got drunk with my husband and chased the other rowdy patrons from the Dragon.”
His head pounded as he tried to find the words. “Last night reminded me I need the thrill that comes from seeing what’s over the next hill, raiding another tomb. I won’t be able to get that here.”
He glanced around the room, his hand twitching. “Look at all this junk you and Julian have collected. Did you ever think it’s because you settled down too early? If we have the money to do whatever we want, how’d we end up back at Sandpoint?”
“Because it’s what we wanted. And these scraps,” she patted a couch cushion, “are from every place we ever visited; something from our past to comfort our future.”
“That’s my point,” he strode to the wall and pulled down a delicate curved blade. “This is who we are, this is what we do. How do I become just a husband?” He clutched the blade and swung it over his head.
Tirna crossed the length of the room before Relthor had finished the motion and caught the weapon’s hilt. “You know better than to touch that! We swore never again…. Or did you forget about the Runeforge.” Her voice became a whisper. “About Mhar Massif?”
The words hung in the air. Relthor’s emerald eyes trembled. He closed them and thrust the blade into her hands. “How could I forget?”
He walked past her, his jaw set, and flung himself onto the couch, sending a small cloud of dust into the streaming light. He balled his hands into fists, glaring at Tirna. Her eyes widened. She returned the weapon to its place.
“You never did want to talk about that day.”
“Tirna, stop. Please,” he begged. His fingers traced the line running from his left eye to his upper lip. Sweat beaded on Relthor’s brow.
A patient smile crossed her lips. “Even tides ebb with time.”
Relthor’s breathing quickened. He recoiled from her touch as her cool hands brushed his shoulder. “I can’t settle down… I need more time… why does my head feel like it’s going to explode? I can’t just turn my back on their memory! I need to protect the rest of the world. Not sit around here.”
“Sitting? I’ve never known Nita to sit a day in my life.”
“And she won’t,” he snapped. “What can I do? It’s dangerous out there. I couldn’t keep Euridius and Nicolai safe, how am I going to keep her safe? How can I live with myself if something happens to her?”
Relthor’s mouth hung open. Realization flashed in his eyes before his hands clapped over his face.
“Now we see the heart of it. Sometimes you’re easier to read than the Harrow.”
Tears flowed down Relthor’s face. With each tremulous gasp, the fear evaporated. “I thought if I could just go out one more time–one more big adventure– I’d quell the quaking inside. Getting married was so easy for you and Julian. How did you do it?”
“Would you like me to lie and say that marriage is a far more satisfying adventure?”
“No. Maybe. I don’t know.”
“Well it’s not the same as saving a town, but it has its own rewards.” She pointed to the scar running across her stomach. “It’s less disfiguring that’s for sure. You think my wedding…. Relthor, can you keep one more secret?”
His brow furrowed. “You have to ask?”
“You remember walking in to get me that afternoon, when you found me sitting and staring out the window?” She licked her lips and exhaled. “I was planning on running. I was terrified. If it wasn’t for you holding my hand and telling me how you knew Julian and I would end up together the moment he saved me from that merchant … well, I’d probably be halfway to Alkenstar by now.”
Relthor sighed. “So is it worth it? You always said fear guides us to keep our bodies intact. If I’m more scared of this than anything, why do it? Why not go back to being a sellsword?”
“Because you aren’t a coward, and I’ve never known you to take the easy path.”
“How’s risking my life every day easy?”
Tirna sat down next to him and took his hand. “Because there’s a certain comfort in death. If we’d failed, we wouldn’t have been there to see the results. The Lady of Graves could hardly blame us for trying our best. We’d be off to our eternal reward while the rest of the world dealt with our mess. We’d never have to see those we let down.”
Relthor tried to speak, but his tongue caught on the roof of his mouth. There was nothing to argue.
“Living,” she continued. “That’s the frightening part. Knowing that the person you disappoint is still there in the morning, waiting for you to fix it. Understanding that your life’s no longer just your own—that it matters to someone if you live or die. It makes you fight harder to see each sunset and sunrise.”
“What if I let her down?”
“You will from time to time. But each failure brings new opportunity for success. That’s living. It won’t be perfect; you’ll hurt her feelings and fight. If you get lucky, there’ll be no deaths. But I’ve seen Nita wield a frying pan.”
In his mind, Relthor saw Nita, red hair tied back from her face, swinging her pan from fire to table and back. She maneuvered the heavy skillet as if it weighed nothing. He smiled. “One of the things I love about her.”
“Love. Can’t ask for a more dangerous pursuit. Speaking of,” Tirna reached under the sofa and handed Relthor a mahogany box. “Julian and I thought you two might enjoy this tonight.”
Inside, two vials glinted in the waning sunlight. Relthor’s eyebrows arched.
“Calistria’s Kiss.” A wicked grin spread across Tirna’s face. “Julian got them for our honeymoon, too. You and Nita are in for quite a night.”
Relthor leaned back on the comfortable cushions. “Well, then, you’d better finish getting me ready. Hate to be late to my own wedding, and you’re not getting any younger.”
He threw his hands up to deflect the pillow before it crashed into his face.