HEARTS OF PAIN
A faint fire crackled coarsely, swayed by a gentle, nightly breeze, golden and crimson hue interwoven in the eternal dance of dominion. Cold, humid walls surrounded a small enclosure, barely taller than a person and wider than three, while heavy breathing echoed out and joined the rhythmic orchestra of flames. Covered by a thin, white sheet, Lino lied at the corner of a small cave, his face startlingly red, beads of sweat falling down his forehead ceaselessly. Grimacing expression claimed pain as he repeatedly bit his lower lip with his teeth, grunting in his sleep, occasionally shaking.
“Why don’t you come out for a while?” Eggor’s voice burned through the small hallways and directly into the cave, startling Freya who was sitting next to Lino, crossing her arms over her knees.
“I am fine here. It is better I stay in case he wakes up.” she replied meekly.
“He’ll wake up when he wakes up,” Eggor said. “And he’ll let us know, don’t worry. Come out here. It’s a great night to be missing.”
“...” taking another glance at Lino, Freya stood up unwillingly walked out, reaching the flat, rectangular edge of a cliff leading to a nearly mile long drop. Eggor sat on the edge, his legs dropping down, with a gourd of wine in his hand. “Thank you for rescuing me... again...”
“Don’t sweat it,” Eggor said, chuckling lightly. “The boy nearly died to protect you and I figured there was a reason for that.”
“... would it be rude of me to ask who are you? And who is he?” Freya asked, sitting down next to Eggor.
“Just a young blacksmith prodigy and his Master,” Eggor replied. “Eternal vagabonds.”
“Blacksmiths I know certainly cannot do the things the two of you have done.”
“Then you ought to meet more blacksmiths.”
“... it is fine if you do not wish to tell me the truth,” Freya said. “I was just curious.”
“... sometimes... truth isn’t worth the pain of knowing.” Eggor said, sighing faintly. “What happened yesterday... it’s best if you choose to forget it.”
“Forget it?” Freya scoffed. “You really overestimate my capacity for forgetfulness.”
“... we’ve saved you yesterday,” Eggor said. “But we may not be here tomorrow. And there’ll certainly be tomorrow if you insist on tackling this world down.”
“... my brother sold an entire Kingdom to... somethings...” Freya said. “And I simply wish to know why.”
“Why? Heh, take your pick,” Eggor said. “He got scared, he was given an offer he couldn’t refuse, he was simply manipulated... it’s not the first time ordinary people have been bewitched by the darkness, and it certainly won’t be the last.”
“... what do you think I should do now?” Freya asked.
“I don’t know,” Eggor shrugged his shoulders. “The kid saved ya’, so he must’ve had the reason. We wait for him to wake up and tell us. After that, we plan.”
“... he certainly does not seem like someone who will wake up... at all.”
“He will,” Eggor said, taking a sip of wine. “He must.”
“You really care about him, do you not?”
“... I do,” Eggor said, sighing. “He seems like a distasteful, arrogant, egoistic prick at first... but, deep down, he’s a good kid who’s been given all the wrong paths throughout his life.”
“He grew up in an orphanage, huh.”
“Yeah. How’d you know?”
“... I have seen it,” Freya said, startling Eggor as he glanced sideways at her. “With my own eyes. I have been seeing it for years upon years now. Isolation... beatings... pain... sometimes - no, all the time - I wonder how he endured it.”
“... he’s a tough son of a bitch, that’s how.” Eggor said, growing slightly more alert.
“No, he was not,” Freya said, looking up at the sky as her eyes grew moist and her voice began cracking. “I have seen him break down many times over. More than once he had held a knife to his throat. More than once he had stood at the edge of a cliff and gazed down the abyss. To me, at the very least, that does not sound like someone being strong.”
“...” Eggor looked deeply at her for a moment and sighed. “Maybe it’s hard for you to understand, but that’s exactly what someone strong sounds like. When you have every reason and one more to end your life, but still choose not to in the end, you come out stronger out of it, however little that may be. He’s been through things neither you nor I can imagine, but he endured. That’s all that matters in the end.”
“... both of you have led difficult lives, I can tell.” Freya said, looking at Eggor. “Both you and him carry deep melancholy in your eyes. It pains me, deeply, that I cannot help you.”
“... you don’t have to help us kiddo,” Eggor said, chuckling. “You just have to help yourself.”
“Well said, bearded fuck,” a slightly coarse voice coming from behind startled the two as they turned around. “Good thinking, you know, leaving the dying person inside alone while you two flirt out here. You have a wife for god’s sake. And you’re like... a lot, a lot older than her. Get a grip.”
“... yup, you’re just fine.” Eggor said, handing the gourd over to him.
“...” Lino gulped the contents immediately and wiped his lips before burping in satisfaction. “Fine? Fine your ass. I’ve still got sky-high fever while half my bones have holes drilled in them.”
“You should lie down,” Freya said, driven out of her temporary stupor. She quickly got up and wrapped her arm around Lino’s waist, trying to pull him back into the cave. “For someone who claims to be incredibly injured, you are certainly strong.”
“Nah, you’re just weak,” Lino said, chuckling lightly as he slowly sat down. “Bearded one, go take a nap.”
“... just give me a heads up so I can clog my ears if anything happens.” Eggor groaned as he withdrew into the cave.
“What does he mean?” Freya asked, sitting next to Lino.
“Don’t mind him, he’s completely nuts.”
“He seems fine to me.”
“Of course he does,” Lino said. “His expertise lies in bewitching young, naive girls. He’s actually kind of terrifying.”
“Alright, I made that up. But, it’s true you shouldn’t mind what he says,” Lino said, sighing lightly. “How are you feeling?”
“... I am well. Far better than you, anyway.” Freya replied.
“That’s good,” Lino said. “I figured you’d snap a bone or two with how I tossed you.”
“... I have not.” Freya smiled, blushing faintly.
“You must be full of questions,” Lino said, looking deeply into her eyes. “But... I can’t give you any answers, at the very least not yet. Even I’m very much confused over who you are and what saving you did for the future, let alone trying to describe it all to you. I--”
“It does not matter,” Freya interrupted him, placing her hand on his shoulder softly. “All I know is that you have risked your life to save me whereas you had no reason to do so. My life is yours from henceforth till the end of time.”
“... yeah, sorry, that’s the kind of commitment I don’t need,” Lino said after blanking out for a moment. “But, I can use a lifelong friend. Besides, you’ve yet to act out your part in this story.”
“Oh? I am?”
“Every person in the world, one way or another, has a story to tell, however brief or insignificant it may be,” Lino said. “And, trust me, yours is neither. You may have lost your home for a moment, but you’ll have it back. I can’t tell you why yet... but, it’s integral you sit on that throne one day.”
“... sounds exhausting.” Freya said.
“It will be,” Lino said, chuckling. “But, you’re a big girl, you’ll handle it.”
“Hey, I am not big! I am very much in shape!”
“... yeah, commoner or a princess, you are all the same.” Lino sighed. “Tell me, how’d that guy save us?”
“... you don’t remember?”
“... I passed out from pain. Pardon me from being weak, but I was kind of riddled with bone-deep holes and bleeding like a fucking maple tree back then. Not exactly a recipe for staying conscious.”
“I did not see much myself as I was some ways off from you,” Freya said, sighing. “I have only seen a brilliant flash of cyan light burst out at where you stood followed by a magical beam... something that should not be possible... pierce at the sky like a sword. The next thing I knew, he was standing next to me, holding you over his shoulder. You two are really something else.”
“... he is,” Lino said, reaching into his void world and taking out another gourd of wine. “I’m just a straggler.”
“Hardly,” Freya said with emphasis and a chuckle. “You are a brave knight who rode to rescue a princess from the claws of a villain.”
“Yeah, yeah, that I certainly am,” Lino said. “Kind of proud of that one, actually. Years down the line, I’ll be the drunken guy in the local tavern spitting out about how I rescued a princess while everyone’ll be thinking I’m a grown man reading fairy tales.”
“I will believe you, no matter what you say.”
“... yeah, I’ll be brutal here, because I believe in honesty,” Lino said, sighing lightly and looking at her. “You and I will part ways rather quickly. There’s a high chance that we won’t see each other for years, if not decades. Whatever feelings you’re starting to develop for me - which I completely understand, by the way; after all, it is me - it’s best you... let them go.”
“... you are right.” Freya said, backing away slightly. “That was brutal.”
“I’m just a guy you’ve met thrice and spoken to twice, Princess,” Lino said, chuckling. “Don’t be so downcast.”
“... you are still keeping everyone at a distance,” Freya said after short silence, turning toward Lino while a moon cast brilliant light against her silver hair, causing glittering radiance to ensue. “One day, you will have to let someone completely in. Living inside of your own head... can be suffocating.”
“... ditto.” Lino said, smiling vaguely.
“Maybe you’re right, maybe you’re completely wrong,” Lino said, grunting as he slowly got up on his feet. “Either way, it doesn’t matter. Whether you want to believe me or not, there are some things that I’ll never be able to tell another soul,” he added. “Maybe I’m just destined to be a lonesome vagabond. Has a cool ring to it, don’t you think?”
“... has a lonely ring to it, to me. It is your life,” Freya said. “Do with it what you will. But, Lyonel, I have lived almost all of my life hiding inside of my own head, and it has nearly broken me. I am certain you know exactly what I mean. After you are done here, perhaps you should go and search for her. She is the only person in your life you have ever been completely honest with.”
“... how do you know about Ally?” Lino asked, frowning.
“... the same way I know you feel guilt over what happened to her,” Freya said, looking at him. “But, we both know it was not your fault, Lyonel. You were a kid. It is already a miracle you did what you did. I am certain she understands it the same way.”
“... one more word, and I’ll shove a sword right through your fucking heart.” Lino’s voice turned harsh and low as he crouched, ignoring the pain pulsating through his body, and grabbed Freya’s neck, forcing her to look him in the eyes. “You don’t know fucking nothing about what I felt, or what happened or what she meant to me. She’s not someone you can put in your mouth, understand?”
“Good.” he shoved her lightly, walking away in large strides, leaving behind Freya’s moist eyes looking at his back.
“... I know,” she mumbled weakly, averting her gaze at the scaling moon in the sky. “For her... you did everything... and she still has a hold of you... the sooner you let go of her, the sooner you will understand your happiness is not tied to her, Lyonel...” a faint whisks of hazy, night’s wind blew past, carrying the faint words spoken in whisper through the sky, embedding them eternally in eons of time, forever to remain etched someplace where they cannot be heard by anyone or anything but the memory of the one who’s spoken them to her own jaw.