The Unicorn's Gift - Part 3


I see your face before me,
my friend of many years.
It’s distant, and looks strangely
through the shimmer of my tears

Your face, so sad in anger.
Our lives so many lies.
Your features look familiar,
but you have a strangers eyes.

I can not hide the me inside
for what I need to be.
It’s who I am, mistake or plan,
that’s all there is to me.

by


Sarah Lynn Morgan
The Unicorn's Gift
 
     The_Unicorn_s_Gift.pngPart Three

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     As Bryan watched his son, he could see a fear and sorrow in his eyes, that seemed to grow with every moment that Bryan could not find the words he was seeking. Finally, Dyre said once again, in a quiet and broken voice. “I’m sorry, father.” Then clutching his arms about his stomach, turned to go.

Bryan could see that in only moments he would soon be running in full flight and tears back to the cottage, if he did not stop him.

“Syna?” he asked, a little loudly.

Dyre jumping as if he had heard thunder, but stopped and slowly turned back to look at his father. He had never called him that.

Bryan sat himself, pausing too reached to the other side of the cloth, and patted his hand on the ground to indicate that he should sit. He also tried to smile, to reassure the child, but Syna’s eyes never rose above the ground..

Bryan continued to watch, as Dyre came slowly to the cloth. He still hesitated for a moment, but then carefully smoothed his skirt around his legs, and placing his hand on the ground first as he squatted down, and then daintily sat on the other side. It was almost macabre, to see his behavior exactly mimic the woman who he had never seen at this age. Bryan was dumbstruck, not only by his son’s appearance, but he was struck even more by how well his image now seemed to fit his behavior and mannerisms.

‘I always thought it was because he is so young,’ popped into the man’s head suddenly, as he felt he was seeing Dyre for the first time. Or perhaps he was seeing Syna for the first time.

For long moments Dyre just sat there, until he drew his knees up toward his chest, tucking his skirt tightly around his legs, and wrapped his arms around them as he finally looked soulfully at his father.

His father, who had in fact sat down because his knees were still so weak from the shock of seeing Dyre, could have laughed at the expression had he felt any less frightened himself. Instead, he watched his son and tried to decide the best way to draw the story out of him; but, the vision of him sitting there, stole his words right out of his mind.

He stole many glances at the boy, even as he stole a little time by reaching down to find out what Dyre had brought for his lunch, and to take a swallow or two of water.

The food was only one thing that Jada was correct about, he thought as he rearranged the food in preparation of eating. If anything, Dyre was even a better cook than his mother, who was considered an excellent cook by all around. He had no intention of telling him that though, for many reasons. Jada was correct about something else, though, he thought looking up at his son, this time with considerable consternation and awe. He was beautiful.

Obviously, Dyre could no longer take the pressure of his father’s silent scrutiny. Slowly the boy’s face sunk down to his knees, even as his arms clinched more tightly about them. For a time, the only movement was that of the large green bow that crowned his head, as it moved slightly in the gentle breeze. Then Dyre began to rock gently back and forth.

Bryan, heartsick at the thought that Dyre might think he was making fun of him by smiling, reached out to rest his hand on his shoulder. The boy was using one hand to clinch the edge of his maiden’s armor to his eyes. Bryan, realizing the time for talk had not quite come, and reached out to place his arm over the boy’s shoulders, where his hand patted him affectionately.

He never cried, even when he was much younger. It spoke volumes of the torment he had been going through to Bryan that he’d done so twice in two days
.

Dyre had not expected his father’s touch and couldn’t help that he flinched slightly, before he let his own shoulders sag. He began to sob more openly, if still very quietly.

His father just waited.

Years before when Bryan had married Aria, many of the villagers had been silently amazed by her choice. Some spoke quietly amongst themselves that she had had her choice of anyone for many leagues around, including many who were far wealthier and better looking than Bryan was. To such as they, the choice, at first, seemed strange.

However, the common sight of the two walking hand in hand together, about the valley on some errand or another on any fine evening quickly dispelled such thoughts. In the end, their love for each other was too obvious to be questioned. What too few realized, in fact, was that Aria had seen through his quiet way, and had found one of the smartest and most gentle men she had ever met. Never harsh, and always understanding, he had been a source of constant amazement to Aria, even as he had been an object of constant love.

Finally, Bryan began to speak. “Why are you crying, Dyre?”

Dyre’s head rose, his red eyes staring somewhere around his father’s chest.

“Here.” Bryan said, as he poured a little water on the cloth that lay beside his meal, and handed it to him. “Wipe your eyes, and don’t cry any more. Nothing is as bad as all that. I just want you to talk to me, Dyre. We talk with each other every day, so it shouldn’t be as hard as all that. Just tell me what this is all about.”

Dyre’s eyes blinked several times, threatening to begin tearing once more, but somehow he did not. “I’m sorry, father.” the boy husked softly. “I’m afraid that I really don’t know what it is all about. I can’t…,” he paused, his head threatening to sink down to his knees again. His father was not about to let that happen, so he gently reached out to lift his chin, causing Dyre’s eyes to meet his.

“Then you’ll have to just try; and for the love of all that’s holy, stop apologizing like you’ve done something terrible. I don’t ever remember telling you not to wear your mother’s clothes. But then again…,” a look of concern darkened his face just when he would have preferred to smile, “I never thought I’d need to.” Then, letting go of Dyre’s chin, he asked as pleasantly as he could. “Have you ever seen me wear your mother’s things?”

Bryan could almost see the suggestion of a smile at the corners of his lips, as the boy shook his head in answer.

“No, you haven’t.” Bryan’s smile actually reached his lips this time. “Now why don’t you start by telling me what happened. Don’t worry if you are not sure how to say it. If I hear something that sounds out of place, you know that I will tell you.”

Thus it was that Dyre nodded slightly, and did so - leaving very little out. He began softly, to tell of the laundry, and how he had changed into the top, while staring off into nothingness. He even recounted how he had found the clothes strangely compelling and even comforting; and, of his being drawn to the mirror as he pondered the vision he beheld in there. He told him of the surprise and shock when Jada had appeared behind him, and how he had struggled to extricate himself with good courtesy and all kindness from Jada’s company, but had only fallen deeper and deeper into his predicament. He also told his father of the many jests Jada had shared, and how funny they all had seemed.

This last disturbed Bryan perhaps the most, but he did not at first question too closely what he had seen too clearly for himself. The boy in his ignorance had all too obviously been badly smitten with Syna. Syna had all too obviously been anything but averse to his kindness, and attentions. The possibility that it might possibly be anything more, and that he might have so badly misjudged his son’s problems, disturbed Bryan badly. He chose to push that aside and begin his questions with the more obvious.

“Well,” Bryan sighed, but still smiled slightly, “Then I’ll ask my question again. Have you ever seen me wearing your mother’s things on laundry day?” Not he was thinking, that he might look anything like the 'boy', or present quite the same image that Dyre did. He could not forget that the clothes looked very befitting on his son, nor could he even deny to himself that the image was profoundly attractive. He could never tell him that, though. He could point out that he himself would simply look the buffoon.

The question was not quite what he expected, so Dyre even laughed a little at the silly image, never guessing that his father’s inner thoughts mirrored his own as closely. “No, father.”

“Then what made you think of it?” the man asked quietly.

“I don’t know. I was cold…,” he frowned as he seemingly ordered his thoughts, “and, I only had the two shirts, and I really wanted to get the blood out.” He paused, not willing to analyze any further, and looked to see his father nodding at him to continue. “I know father, that I sound the very fool in my reasons, but…”

His father interrupted him for the first time. “Dyre. Allow me to tell you when I think you are being a fool. I saw the back of your shirt last night. It was one of the things that made me so angry with that foolish woman. I knew that she had done you greater harm than you knew. It’s not foolish to put your clothes in the wash. I also knew that you had outgrown many of your clothes. That’s not your fault either. I was planning on selling a pig or two from the new litter as soon as they get old enough, to pay the woman in the village to make you some new clothes.” He said, shaking his head slightly at the boy. “If you were so much in need, you should have told me. I’m sorry, but I did not notice on my own. I should have.”

Dyre began to speak rapidly. “I just didn’t want to bother you, father. You’ve been working so hard to extend the field…” His father stopped him.

“Working hard or not, I’m still your father, and we could have done something sooner. In fact, I think we have more than enough money left to be able to buy you a few proper clothes right away.” Bryan paused. “But that’s not what I’m asking. I think that there is more to your story…, and so do you.”

For one of the very first times he could remember, Dyre tried to avoid answering his father immediately. “Sir?” he said softly.

Bryan sighed slightly, and began again. “I want to know more about how you felt when you decided to put on all your mothers clothes, and about how you said it made you feel.” He said this and then on impulse reached out to gently lift one side of the large green bow that crowned the top of his head. “I think, Dyre, that there is much more to this that you are telling me yet.”

Dyre could feel the color rising in his cheeks.

“Dyre. You didn’t just put the clothes on to stay warm. You like the way they make you feel, don’t you?”

Dyre hesitated for only a few moments before nodding. His eyes were again drifting repeatedly back to the ground several feet in front of him.

“And, you took so much time and trouble in putting them on, you obviously spent quite a long time in front of the mirror. You like the way they look, too, don’t you?”

Dyre closed his eyes, and prayed to be able to lie to his father just this once, but in the end, he nodded his head in a clear affirmative, even though his lower lip was actually trembling ever-so-slightly. Dyre could not help but think that these were not the questions he had expected. They were simply the ones he feared the most.

“What did you do when you finished looking in the mirror?” Bryan asked gently.

“I cleaned the cottage and fed the animals.” Dyre answered in a voice so dry, that his father took a moment to hand him a sip of the water.

“Did you get a lot done?” his father asked.

Dyre wondered why he had asked such a seeming silly question, but answered in truth, “Yes. I did. I finished the chores.”

“And were you just working the whole time?” His father asked further.

“Yes, father. Just working. It’s been such a pleasant day, I was singing and humming to myself, and doing what I needed to do, so that I could go into the village tonight.”

“You were singing?” his father asked calmly, but still with obvious surprise.

“Yes.” Dyre said, worried at the seemingly pointless questions, that his father obviously thought were important.

“In other words, you were enjoying yourself, and it made you feel good?”

Dyre just nodded now.

“Tell me how it made you feel good, Dyre.” Bryn said, and trying to be as casual as possible, he reached down to begin eating his rolls.

Dyre did, he was sure. He closed his eyes, and laid the side of his head on his knees, and simply told him how he had felt. When he opened them, he could see that his father had finished eating, and was now looking down at the ground himself. Dyre tried to remember what he had said, but he found he could not. He had been feeling so sleepy, that he had just talked…, for a long time.

Dyre lifted his head, and bit his lip fearfully. “Father? He asked, the tremor returning strongly to his voice. “Are you angry with me?”

Bryan had talked with Dara. He had told her that he was sure that Dyre had been through too much, and that he also was worried about his heart and soul. The act of smashing the flowerpot had been so out of his usual character. On top of that, he had been so easily overtaken by a fearsome sadness at the least provocation of late. It had worried them both, which was one of the reasons they had tried to find things to keep him occupied. Unfortunately, that had only brought Dyre more of the same.

The boy had seen far too much sadness, and had suffered far too much at the hands of the villagers over this Syna thing. Bryan had confirmed that he also had expectations that Dyre could no longer suffer in silence, and that he was ready for something. Bryan had just thought that when it came, it would be something that he could do something about. The worst part was that now it had come, and he was sickened at how apparent it should have been, and how uncertain he was of what he might be able to do.

Dyre was terrified when he saw his father rise to his feet. His father’s face was full of hurt and worry, even though he tried to smile down at him. Dyre felt utterly lost.

“No,” his father said finally. “Perhaps I should be, but I don’t think you’ve done anything to do hurt or mischief. I find it hard to be angry with you, because of something that neither we, nor anyone else, seems to understand. I’m not happy about this, but no, I’m not mad. I love you too much to ever blame you for something that’s never been your fault.”

Syna was off her feet, her arms flung around his neck before he could move. His arms went reflexively about the soft suede leather of the bodice, and the small, almost frail figure clutching to him.

Bryan could not hear Syna sobbing, as he half expected, but the trembling he could feel was very real. After several minutes, Bryan looked at the sun, and gently pushed Dyre away so that he could talk to him. “Now. It’s time you went to take care of Arlen and Maleah as you promised. If it were just the Inn, I’d just send you home, but they are children needing to be fed, and they can’t wait.”

Dyre answered excitedly. “I’ll run home, and change. I’ll run both ways, father, so I won’t be late. You’ll see.” Dyre said, feeling much of the burden and fear lifted from his young shoulders.

“Change into what? You had nothing else to wear.” His father asked flatly.

Then it hit Dyre. His father was right. He had not even pulled his shirt out of the water, as he’d fully intended. Then it hit him at what his father was suggesting… Dyre was suddenly shocked, and terrified, all over again.

Bryan hated himself for tormenting the boy further, but he had to see if he could in fact do what he was suggesting. He realized it was a terrible risk. Oh, no harm could come to the boy today. He would see to that, but the harm that could come from further taunting was a far bigger worry. That might be terrible, but he conceded that it was probably unavoidable. Even so, Chandi was away, and he had every intention of not allowing Dyre to go further than Ladd’s farm.

“Father.” Dyre said, in shock. “I can’t go…”

“I don’t see a choice. If you do, you need to tell me what it is. You need to go and find the children, and feed them lunch. Just don’t go any further. I’ll walk up to the cabin, and collect my purse, so that we can get you some proper clothes. But! you stay at Ladd’s farm until I get there. Do you understand?”

Dyre nodded.

“Then go, now, and be very careful who you talk to.” His father said.

Bryan watched as Dyre collected the things from lunch, and repacked the basked so that the children’s meals were on top. Then without another word, Dyre, unconsciously straightened his skirt and blouse, and ran his hands over his bodice to smooth the edges, before picking up the basket and beginning to walk slowly toward the path.

Behind him, his father watched him go. He was about to call him back, when he saw Dyre had suddenly picked up his pace. By the time the boy reached the path, his father was already following along in the woods. His father had planned to go into the village that afternoon anyway, so he already had his purse in the pocket of his breeches.

 
 

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     Finding the exact location of the Inn turned out to be even easier than had been predicted, Jada thought as he rode into the center of the village. The dirt track had spread out to encompass a village square, about which were several small shops. Jada had seen many of these villages that had sprung up in the more prosperous areas that were beginning to support merchants, and other people who made their living not on the land, but by buying and selling to others. The Inn was the largest, and certainly one of the more obvious of these little concerns.

It was his intention to stop at the Inn and eat first before presenting himself to the elders. It was a kind of self-defense regimen he had learned over the years. Once everyone found out that he was a royal messenger, a herald of the king, he would have no peace. The curious, the self-aggrandized, and every other self-absorbed idiot who had ever had the least bit of success; along with every other poor soul with any grievance what-so-ever, would be crawling on his back.

This was not even counting the inevitable young women, and their mothers who thought their daughters beautiful enough to win a place at court simply by virtue of their looks. Sadly, very few were ever so beautiful as they supposed, and for those that had the physical beauty - well no village life could ever prepare anyone for a royal court. Very few indeed were even half so pretty..., but there had been a very few.

No one back there in the halls of power ever guessed that was why he preferred to spend his days riding about the kingdom, usually as far away from the affairs of court as he could get. Too few outsiders ever realized, that true beauty and innocence could be as great a curse as honesty back at the center of the universe.

These thoughts occupied but a small part of his mind as he rode into any town. On this day, the majority of his consciousness was held firmly by a pair of green eyes that held both kindness and innocence, and flashed as bright and as clear as the evening star in Autumn sky. It was almost too much to bear, save that you could not bear to look away. Jada knew that there were many who thought themselves too special; and, only a very few who were. Oddly, they were usually the very ones who never seemed to notice this, or if they did, to care.

“Come on, Mr. Balderdash.” He said, leaning forward to pat his horse affectionately on the neck. “Let us at least secure lodging for both you and me before we strike flint to tinder. I’ll ask if they have a pasture full of nice green grass, that they will let you loose in for a few hours before you have to stay in yet another strange stall for the night.”

The amazing animal then turned and began to head toward the inn on his own, without any further prompting from Jada. It would have been an amazing feat for a supposedly dumb animal, had Jada’s thoughts not been too far away to notice.

 
 

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     Syna’s pace had been good and steady, almost as steady as the thoughts that followed one after the other quietly through his mind. It was as if it was those very thoughts which were driving his soft steady paces. Even so, his present arrival at the road was something of a surprise.

Those first steps that he had taken had been among the hardest in a young life that seemed far too full of too many hard steps. Several times, he had all but turned and run back to the cottage, or to his father; but, he had seen so much disappointment and hurt in his father’s eyes, that he simply had not the heart left in him to add more. He simply could not disappoint either his father, or the children, who were precious and sweet, and for whom he cared for very deeply.

That having been realized, he began to think of other things that he might do to help to heal his father’s heart from the hurt that he had surly placed there. Not for the first time, he dreamed how he would have cherished having Chandi’s children live with them, in answer to the fondest hope of both his missing mother and father. Sadly with his mother gone, it would now never be; but, had they been more fortunate, he was sure that he would have loved his little brothers and sisters; and, found no great burden in caring for them in his mother’s stead. Even though he was too young to appreciate all the reasons why, he was also sure that more happy voices were a thing that would have pleased his father well.

Syna paused to watch the road, and to listen to see if there was anyone there who might see him. He smiled at the thought; for it was the first time since reaching the path that he consciously remembered that he wore the beautiful skirt and bodice. Now moving consciously, he used his free hand to smooth his clothes, and then to reach up to check to see that some branch had not snagged his bow unnoticed.

It began to dawn on him that because he was so comfortable now; that in all his worries none had been for how he was dressed. He’d had no thought to change, which surprised him profoundly, now that the thought had sprung again into his mind.

If there had been anyone close enough, they might have seen that he actually shook a little, as a sudden thrill raced up his insides. The truth was that he loved these clothes, more than anything else he could remember, save for his family and friends of course. He didn’t want to be rid of the warmth and comfort they gave to him. He suddenly realized that made him feel more confident, because when he gazed so long in the mirror, that it was as much what he did not see that held him there.

Gone had been the frail boy, too thin, with hair to bright and long, with features too soft and delicate to be taken in with only kindness in the heart. Too often humor or contempt would lie close to the surface at the sight of such and image. He realized, for the first time, that even though he would never have been cruel, he too would have had some of the same feelings had he been looking at another instead of himself. In his place, he had seen a confident and pleasant looking young woman, who just seemed to…, belong in a way that he never had.

He also remembered that as he spoke to Jada, and also to his father, that he had only been nervous about how he was dressed at the very beginning. In truth, he felt that the way he was dressed, made him look much more normal, and pleasant, and better. He had never before had the courage to tease someone like Jada back; or, to voice his innermost feeling to his father. He wondered if he would have even been able to try, had it not been for the comfort he felt pressing in all around him.

Syna then laughed out loud.

He did feel better, and began to step once more down to the margin of the road. He looked first toward the village where the road was un-traveled, and then back toward the head of the valley, where He could see in the far distance a family walking with a cart toward Him. It had been his intention to cross over, and into the fields, but instead he began to walk down the road toward the path that lead to Chandi and Ladd’s farm, now very conscious of the swing of his skirt around his legs.

The breeze in his hair, and the sun on his shoulders filled him with the desire to hum a merry but nameless tune to himself, even as he began to glance about at the trees and the leaves, and the animals that he had always loved seeing there.

 

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          His father was not close enough to see the boy shaking as the thrill of self-realization race through him as a physical shock, having made his way down to the road via a game path in the wood. He was, however, close enough to hear him laugh, and to see him stride purposefully onto the road, swinging the basket and singing to himself. His father’s eyes were a little sad, but even more so, they were amazed at the carefree and joyful image of a beautiful young woman.

His joy was so unlike the sadness that had hung about his son as if it had been a part of the clothes he had worn, as unlike the way he went now without care or worry, save that which he held in the joy of a beautiful day.

Bryan stood quietly beside a tree, and watched him go, but his own thoughts were not quiet. His pain at the image of his first and only love, and the fear of what might happen were too powerful for that. Only his desire to see the child safe, and to understand that he was doing what was right, were all that allowed him to move to the edge of the road to continue to watch over him. He watched a long time, before he quickly crossed the road, and entered the trees on the other side…

 
 

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     Jada had to allow his eyes to adjust. The common room was well lighted, but even thought it was, the sun had been very bright outside, and he still needed to adjust. Quickly, however, he could see standing behind a small counter that stood at the back of the room, a very large man who was smiling and talking with two young boys who looked like stable hands.

The common room was empty at this hour, with only three of the tables occupied. To his left, he could see a group of four men, and two women, dressed like farmers, who seemed to be travelers, stopped for a meal at a convenient inn. A little behind them, was an older woman who was nursing a baby while picking at a meat roll of her own, and trying to get the baby to sleep. To his right, beside a door that obviously lead to the kitchen, was a young dark haired girl, who seemed to be eating some kind of soup for lunch, while another much older woman was sitting facing both her and the door, and seemed to be explaining some point to her with a parchment and pen.

When he blocked the sun in the open doorway, the woman looked up to see him standing there, but took a few extra moments to hand the paper and quill to the younger woman, before stepping up to say hello to him.

“Good Day, Sir. I’m Dara, and my husband and I keep the Inn. Can I get you anything?”

Jada could see that she was pretty, and had a kind, but wise face. He could also see that she was the kind of woman he liked to deal with. Honest, open, and one who would be highly unlikely to brook any nonsense. Jada had not yet had a chance to answer, when one of the boys appeared at Dara’s side, ready to take her orders.

“Hello,” Jada began. “I think you can, and I thank you. I am looking for lodging for the night, and possibly tomorrow as well. I’ve just eaten an excellent lunch, provided by a generous family near the head of the valley, who were kind enough to give me directions to your Inn.” Jada took a moment to wipe his brow. “I would, however, be grateful for a cool drink, for me and for my horse. I’d like to pasture him for the rest of the day, assuming you have a suitable place for him. He’s had a long hard journey, and if you’ve someone who could give him a rub, some water, and a bag of grain, he’ll be as grateful as I am.”

Dara smiled at the odd choice of words. Never the less, she was all business, and looking behind her, called the other boy. “Bo, come and take this gentlemen’s things to the little room in the back, at the top of the stairs.” she said this before turning back to Jada. “That room is small, but the bed is comfortable and the room is quiet. It also gets good air at night. I’ve slept in it myself more than once.” She smiled, and began to lead him to the side.

The boy at Dara’s Side then spoke. “Beg pardon, Sir. Which horse is yours, and is he good with strangers?” The boy asked quietly, but as if he knew his business.

“He is very good, and gentle. He’s the mottled gray, standing just outside.” He made to say more, but the boy was already moving off.

Over his shoulder, the boy said. “I understand. Don’t worry. If he’s still sweaty, I’ll walk him and rub him before I feed him. I’ll send Bo up with any bags, as soon as I get him unsaddled.” The boy then paused, as if he were trying to think of something that he had forgotten. “Oh!” He finally said out loud, with a smile. “What’s his name?” the boy smiled a little at being so absentminded.

“Sir Balderdash.” Jada answered, “and if you need him to do anything he doesn’t want to, he loves carrots, and apples.”

The boy smiled, “All horses like apples, and carrots.” and was gone.

Turning back, he could see the woman had walked over to the right, and pulled out a chair, before calling out. “Keely! Would you please get this man a cool drink and then make sure he has all that he needs?”

At this, the young woman looked up from the parchment she had been studying, and placing the quill on the table. She stood and quickly came to him. Jada’s first thought was that this valley seemed to be particularly blessed with beautiful woman. He had seen three who would be considered beautiful anywhere. Keely was a dark haired beauty, with blue eyes and a friendly smile; and, he thought a little sadly, the daughter of the innkeeper, and more importantly - the innkeeper’s wife.

Jada gave the girl his order; and she smiled at him again, before rushing off to bring him some cool beer from a cask that still lay in the cellar. Then he sat, to go over in his mind what he needed to say to the village elders privately, before he began to ask directions to them of the good people running the inn. That is, in those brief periods when his thoughts did not turn of themselves back to a certain pair of green eyes…

 
 

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     Syna had almost reached the break in the fence, where the little road leads down into Chandi’s farm. Looking back, for the first time, he could see that the group that followed him down the road were still well behind him. He half expected the children to be waiting at the road, and was relieved that they were not. Looking back one last time, he started down the short road, and over the little rise that would lead him to the cottage.

He began looking for the children as he topped the little rise that hid the cottage from sight. He did not have long to wait. Off to his right, in a little shallow that was one of the children’s favorite places to hide, he could hear soft giggling. Smiling at the adorable giggles, and the constant and very loud attempts to shush each other up, Syna began to talk to himself loudly to amuse the children.

“I wonder where those two can be.” Syna said loudly. Out of the corner of his eye, he could now see the little blond head of Maleah bobbing up to the top of the tall grass, which was only slightly more revealing than their little giggles.

“I hope I can find them. I’d hate to think that they were kidnapped by pirates, or brigands, and taken to a far away land.” Syna giggled a little to himself at the squeals.

Walking close to where they were hiding, Syna turned his back and called out: “Arlen! Maleah! Where on earth are you children?” Smiling to himself, “Oh, I do hope that they were not eaten by some passing wolf, or a great hungry bear!” He continued loudly, in a dramatically worried tone somehow, even though he had to stifle giggles of his own.

Suddenly, with only a soft rustle of grasses for warning, the two madly giggling little imps tackled his legs from behind. Syna also squealed loudly, to their obvious pleasure, and reached down to tickle the little ones who were rolling merrily at his feet.

As usual, Maleah spoke first. “Oh Syna, Syna! You came like you promised! Papa said you would!”

“I had to make sure my two little mountain trolls had their lunch!” He said, as he squatted down to place the basket on the ground, before hugging both of the children dearly to himself as he stood them up.

“You smell beautiful today, Syna!” Maleah said, breathing deeply in his hair, even as her little arms gave him a powerful squeeze.

Syna’s face held a smile as he briefly pressed his cheek to the top of her head, and squeeze her a little more firmly in return. “Thank you, Maleah.” He said softly.

He did smile, but his insides were beginning to turn. Slowly he released the children, as much from the weak burning that he was feeling in all the muscles of his upper body, caused by his fear. He was glad for their comfort, as he did truly love it when they hugged him like this. This time however, there was also regret having mostly to do with the dread for the inevitable questions that were surely coming once the children realized.

With a very soft sigh, and a very deep breath, he released the children, and spoke as normally as he could. “Come now, and help me spread the cloth I’ve brought for us to eat on. I brought you some meat pies, and I have some sweet berry tarts for you, but only if you eat them all up.”

Maleah, ever the most carefree child, scooped up the cloth and began to move toward a flat spot even as she said “You look very pretty today, Syna! I’ve never seen those clothes before.”

“Thank you, little one. You look very pretty every day.” Syna said softly, the burning in his chest compounded by the stagnant air that was building up there as he fought to breath normally.

“Why are you wearing a skirt?” Arlen, the elder of the two, spoke from behind him, in a flat tone that made the burning in Dyre’s chest instantly transform itself into a hot flash of pain, as the hairs on the back of his neck began to rise.

Turning around, Dyre could see that Arlen had not moved. He was standing now, several paces away, looking slowly from the top of Syna’s head, to his feet, and back again.

“I was washing…”

Dyre began to explain without taking the time to think. He had arrived with every intention to recount some of the explanations to the children that he had used with his father, but the words just hung in his throat. Arlen was older by a year, and well possessed of the keen wisdom that is often so admired by adults who have too little experience with young children. Dyre knew in his heart that the question Arlen was asking was not something he could explain away by recounting an odd string of improbable circumstances.

In that instant, Dyre could already see the hundreds of unanswerable questions that would lead to, as his mind fought to lay out a believable set of circumstances that might make his appearance seem somehow normal, when it was not.

Dyre could feel his own body sag a little. Unable to speak, he knelt down, and motioned to beckon for Arlen to come closer. The boy took a step forward, but only one. He paused not in fear, but rather in an attempt to understand the unusual he saw before him.

Dyre’s heart felt like it stopped, even as the child hesitated to come closer.

Arlen then suddenly, with eyes growing wide and a face still fraught with worry, stepped forward again to place his hand on Dyre’s shoulder.

“Do you feel unwell, Syna?” He asked softly.

The boy’s sudden concern for Syna was so unlike what he had come to expect from others, that it shocked him almost as much as the cool air that was finally rushing into his lungs with his indrawn breath. The child was as worried about him, as he was with his odd appearance.

Dyre took another deliberate breath before he spoke. “I was doing laundry, and I made a mistake…, but mostly, I just wanted to wear these clothes instead. I like the way they feel. Do you mind?”

He paused to wonder when he would run out of air again.

Arlen thought for a very long moment before saying, “No. I don’t. It just looks strange at first.”

“Oh.” Dyre said sadly. “I’m sorry Arlen. I never meant to upset you two.” Dyre paused, as the boys eyes slowly began to expand into a look of surprised worry.

“Oh! No, Syna!” Arlen said quickly, realizing he had mistakenly hurt Syna’s feelings. “I didn’t mean you looked strange. You look very…” Arlen paused, knowing that it was an ever stranger thing to say. “I think you look very pretty, Syna. I just didn’t know you wore dresses. I’ve never seen you wear one before.”

“You think…?” Dyre started to say, before he had to breath once more. “Thank you, Arlen. That means…”

“You look very Beautiful Syna!” Maleah said cheerily, as she also moved to Syna’s other side. “I like your bow. I think you should wear dresses all the time. Where did you get it?”

“Thank you.” Dyre said in surprise. “It was my mothers. We keep her things in a chest.”

“Oh,” the girl said, as all questions were answered, and began to turn back to finish spreading the cloth out some more.

Looking back at Arlen, Dyre could see in his eyes that he was still waiting for his answer.

“I was looking at the clothes, Arlen, and I really just wanted to wear them.” Dyre said softly. “I guess I was missing my mother, and I’ve been feeling really sad lately. Somehow, I just knew that they would make me feel better. I don’t know why. I can’t explain it to myself, but it’s just what I felt inside. Before I knew it, I had…”

Dyre paused, in shock, because he had no idea where the words he was speaking were coming from; but, even as he did speak them, he could feel the sense of calm once more beginning to spread inside.

“Besides,” he continued rubbing his free hand down the front of his bodice, and skirt, “I really like these clothes much more than I like my own, because I think they are very pretty too. Just like my, Mother was.”

Arlen lifted his hand briefly to play with the large bow in Dyre’s hair, before gently patting his hair. “But, I didn’t think that boys wore girl’s clothes.

Dyre sighed. “They don’t, Arlen. At least they are not supposed to. I guess I’m not very much like most of the other boys.”

“That’s what my mother says, but she also said you look like your mother, and that she was the most beautiful women she had ever seen.” Arlen said, completely flooring Dyre.

“Did she really say that, Arlen?” Dyre said in wonder, only to have the boy slowly nod his head.

“Then, you don’t mind if I dress like this?” Dyre said, holding his breath once more.

Arlen shook his head softly, and suddenly leaned forward to kiss Dyre’s cheek.

“No, Syna. I didn’t mean to upset you. You look very pretty. My mother always says you are different, and that no one should be surprised if you act different than anyone else. She doesn’t like you very much but we do. Did you bring a lot of sweet berry tarts?”

Syna grinned at the non sequitur, and at the thought that it was probably more to the point than anything either had said so far. He still grinned as he nodded his head.

“Does wearing this,” the Maleah asked, while running his hand gently over Dyre’s midriff and hip to both feel and indicate the fabrics there, “really make you happy?”

Dyre nodded his head, and said. “Very happy, Maleah. More happy than I can even remember. It’s like my old clothes didn’t fit me, and these feel like they do”

“That’s good, then.” Arlen said, matter-of -factly, and with a little pat on Dyre’s shoulder, moved to help Maleah drag the basket over to the cloth.

Dyre stood on shaky knees. But somehow he felt he could breath almost normally.
His relief at having answered the children’s questions was shaded by his sense of wonder at the answers he himself had given.

Arlen ran for some fresh water, while Dyre set out the meal for the children, with a little for himself. Then they all sat together, the children eagerly eating the delicious meat pies and joking around as normal happy children do. Maleah had already finished, and Dyre had wiped her face, only to have her scoot herself over to lean against him with a deep sigh.

“Those were wonderful, Syna. You make the best pies.” She said, a picture of contentment. She watched Arlen bravely finish a third tart, as he mouthed his appreciation for the Sweet Berry tarts as well, which he could hardly do since he had a considerable portion of one in his mouth at the time.

Syna just enjoyed sitting there with the little girl next to him, as he questioned them about the games they had been playing. Maleah entertained herself, by plucking some nearby flowers, and arranging then artfully in his hair. Full from a good meal, and sitting quietly, the children seemed contented to rest and grow sleepy. Dyre had just begun to think that he might get them to lie down for a long afternoon nap.

Softly, Maleah asked him. “Do you think your bow is pretty, Syna?”

Syna smiled, feeling restful himself. “Yes, little one. I think it is very pretty.” He admitted simply. “That’s why I like it.

Then as if some long forgotten memory had surfaced in the girl, Maleah added. “Oh. Syna, I think your father was here last night. I saw him talking to momma.”

Dyre was just about to tell her that he knew when the voice behind them startled him so badly that his heart quaked.

“Her father is here again, now”

Instantly, Dyre snapped around to see Ladd, Chandi’s husband, and the children’s father looking oddly down at him from no more than two paces away.

Dyre only managed to say “Ladd.”

“Hello.” The man said, looking over the children, seeing instantly that they were as well, and as well cared for as any father might wish for his children. Except of course, for a trace of berry tart that still resided on Arlen’s face.

“I was looking over from the rise; to check and make sure that you had come bye, when I saw your father coming along the road. I was worried that something might be wrong when I saw him, so I came down to check.” Ladd said, his eyes now fixed on Dyre, as the boy gently extracted himself from the children, and properly stood to face the man.

Both the children rose to hug their father warmly, and excitedly invite him to join them.

“There are still a few more Pies.” Dyre managed to say, although somehow his nervousness seemed to be far less severe than it had been before. He was still nervous, but his realizations had made him much stronger.

“They’re the best Pies I’ve ever had.” Arlen said enthusiastically, making his father smile.

“Thank you, Dyre. I guess I will have to try them then.” Ladd, said.

Ladd only stood there looking at Dyre.

“I’m very sorry.” Dyre said softly, but still, the man did not move or say anything.

Once more beginning to feel helpless, Dyre instinctively reached out to the children, who came to cluster about him without hesitation, as he gathered them to press them into his skirt and bodice.

“Did you really like the pies?” He asked them affectionately, as he instinctively produced a cloth with which he began to now clean Arlen’s face, only to have the boy take it from him to finish the job.

“Oh, yes!” Maleah enthused. “You make the best pies in the kingdom!”

“Can we have some more tarts?” Arlen asked brightly.

“No!” Dyre giggled weakly at his enthusiasm, even though he felt very weak indeed.

“Why don’t you two go and play down by the stream, and rest for a while. That was a big lunch, and I don’t want your tummies to hurt, so just play quietly for a while, and if you want to take a nap then you can. Okay?”

“Okay!” Both children answered.

“Doesn’t Syna look beautiful today father?” Maleah asked with tired eyes, and an appreciable enthusiasm.

“Yes he does.” Ladd answered softly, his eyes slipping to the children, and back to Dyre, but this time he seemed to be smiling slightly.

“She said that it makes her very happy! That makes me happy too.” Maleah decided, and then with a quick hug, tottered off after Arlen toward the cool trees, and the play area they had by the shallow stream.

Dyre watched them go for a moment, before her eyes once again found Ladd’s face.

“Well. When your father came over last night, he said that you would work things out in the end. I guess it looks like you did.”

“I’m sorry, Ladd. I…” Dyre had no words, but would have stopped speaking regardless when Ladd shook his head, and moved to sit down.

“Is what Maleah said true?” He asked, as he took his seat, and reached into the basket for a pie.

“Yes. It is.” Dyre said, quickly reaching to wipe out a cup, and retrieve the bottle of water for the man. He poured it and placed it beside him, before once more sitting himself down.

“Do you dress like this at home?” Ladd asked.

Dyre shook his head. “I…” Still he could not speak easily. “I’ve never done this before really. I’ve only worn my mother’s clothes once or twice, just to try them on. I made a mistake with the laundry, and I had nothing else to wear.”

Ladd’s eyebrows began to rise as he chewed a small piece of the pie. For a moment, he looked as if he might speak. The comment that must have been some mistake with the laundry was clearly on his face, which suddenly Dyre would have done anything to prevent hearing voiced out loud.

Dyre continued quickly “But, that’s not the only reason I’m wearing them.”

Lad’s frown and raised brows slowly turned into a nod as Ladd took another bite in favor of making a comment. Over the years, he’d used Syna to run errands and such, and he’d never known the child to tell even a half truth.

“As I told the children, I guess that I was missing my mother, and when the idea of using these clothes…” Dyre struggled only a little, and the explanation just began to come out as it had done before. “I guess it was because I was missing her, but also because I do feel better this way. I was soaking the blood out of my shirt, when I accidentally put all my clothes in the tub. Even so, the truth is, I wanted to wear these clothes. I guess I have for a very long time. I don’t know why.”

“I’m sorry that Chandi hit you with the rock, Dyre.” Ladd said. “I can promise she won’t do that again, although I can’t think what she’ll say when she sees you like that.” Ladd Considered before continuing. “Did your father know of this?” He finally asked.

Dyre shook his head. “No. It all happened so suddenly. There was a traveler who came by the farm. I had to take him to see my father.”

Ladd waited for a moment before he was sure that he would have to prompt Dyre to continue. “And what did he say.”

Dyre looked at lad now, his eyes wide. “Not very much really. I’m afraid he might have been too hurt and surprised to say very much.”

“Do the clothes make you feel as good as you look?” Ladd asked, watching the boy wring his delicate hands, and then subconsciously running them over the front of the bodice, and down to smooth out the skirt yet again. Ladd could not help but notice how often he was doing that.

“I’m sorry, Ladd.” Syna spoke, dropping his eyes to the ground. “I know I’ve caused you much trouble with Chandi. I’m so very sorry.”

Ladd could see in the feminine gestures, all that Dyre could not say in words. Suddenly, his own confusion at finding Dyre dressed like this with his children, and all the strife from Chandi seemed unimportant. Ladd could see, with a father’s eyes, that the boy was better, and he could hear the change in the tone of his voice with a father’s ears. Bryan had been truthful. There was no harm in the boy, nor any desire for trouble. He just was…

“You did not cause the trouble in my home, Syna. The trouble began long ago, before you were born. You’ve no concern for Chandi and I.”

Syna was surprised to hear him say this, but it was obvious that Ladd had no intention of explaining further.

“These meat pies are very good, Syna.” Ladd said, finally. “Every bit as good as Dara’s or the Smith’s wife.”

“Thank you, Ladd.” Dyre said softly. “I’m really very sorry. I’ll be going. The children will probably go to sleep, because they ate so much. If you take them to the house, and then you can get back to work.”

“No need to apologize.” Ladd nodded to himself. “You really are very beautiful, too, Syna. I didn’t mean to sneak up on you like that; it’s just that I thought that… Well, what I thought isn’t really important, but it took me a while to realize who you were. You look just like your mother.” He finished. Then looking over Syna’s shoulder, said. “Hello, Bryan.”

“Hello, Ladd.” Bryan said, from just behind Dyre.

“Father?” Dyre gasped in surprise again, because he had not realized, even though Ladd had told him quite plainly that he was coming. It was one shock too many for Dyre. Suddenly he could only put his head in his hand.

“I remembered I had my purse with me after all, and I told you I’d be along.” Bryan said. Then looking at Ladd. “I hope She’s not been any trouble.”

Ladd’s eyes widened slightly at his long time neighbors use of the feminine pronoun, but looking back at the top of the ‘young woman’s’ head, decorated with a large elaborate bow, he could understand what he meant. Bryan was one of the steadiest and best men he knew. That was one of the reasons he had chosen to move to this part of the valley, away from the town where Chandi had wanted to live.

“No, Bryan. Not at all.” Ladd said. “In fact, he took wonderful care of the children, and was nice enough to bring an extra pie along in case I was around. He was in no way any trouble. I was just about to say thank you.”

Bryan just nodded, before looking down at Dyre’s head.

“How long have you been here father?” Dyre asked, in complete defeat.

“Long enough, Dyre” Bryan said. “I wanted to give you the coins for Needa. She…” Bryan paused, having been touched by his son’s honesty, even as his worry and fear remained unabated. It inspired him to continue, “And also, to make sure you were all right.”

Dyre looked up at his father, and smiled at him in an understanding way, which caused Bryan’s heart to skip this time. Dyre was, quite simply, beautiful. Just like his mother.

“Thank you, Father.” The boy said. “I’m sorry, and I’m sorry to you too Ladd.” Then rising up, he began to collect his things, and place them in the basket.. He said to Ladd, “And it’s getting late.”

“I’m told that you are serving in the in tonight.” Ladd said, the information having been important to the conversation last night. “You had better hurry. I’m afraid I’ve delayed you.” He said this to Syna, but he was looking at Bryan.

“I’ll take the basket back with me, Dyre.” Bryan said. “Here, take this, and give it to Dara, so that she can take it to the seamstress for you.”

Dyre held out his hand to receive the purse, and then quickly tied the string of it to his hip, somewhere under the suede vest. Then, he yet again subconsciously smoothed his clothes about him, to remove any wrinkles before he once more prepared to renew his journey into the village.

“Thank you, father. I’ll go myself.” He said softly, looking up at him.

Bryan nodded and said. “Take the path that leads along the south meadows to the inn, rather than going along the main road for me. I’d like you to ask Dara to go with you at least. I’d planned on going along to the Inn also. I may see you there.”

The whole time Ladd looked like he wanted to speak, but he said nothing as both men watched Syna quickly step toward his father and embrace him very briefly before turning back to Ladd. “Thank you too, Ladd, and please tell the children I said goodbye.”

On seeing Ladd nod, he quickly stepped off along path, and back to the village road. Behind him, Ladd and his Father watched until long after Syna crested the little rise.

“You plan on letting him walk into town like that.”

Bryan just nodded his head.

“I’m not sure if it’s a good Idea, Bryan, his walking to the village. I’ve heard that the Smith had to talk to some of those boys about Syna just the other day.”

Bryan’s eyes spoke more eloquently than his words. “I’m not sure if it’s a good idea either.”

“You’re going to follow him, though.”

Bryan nodded.

“Still,” Ladd said, “it might be just as well to let him go. He seems to…” Ladd paused to collect his thoughts in a way that was least likely to offend his lifelong friend. “It seems as if he’s found the marrow of the problem, Bryan. It seems as if he’s made up his own mind on how to deal with it.”

Bryan nodded, think about what Ladd said in the hope he might be thinking more clearly. It was an exceptionally long speech for Ladd.

“If I could, I would go with you, Bryan.”

“I know that, Ladd. I appreciate it.” Bryan sighed. “I’m not afraid that anyone will bother him now. I’m more worried about where this all might lead.”

It was Ladd’s turn to Nod his head.

As Bryan made to leave, Lad reached out for the basket. “I’ll put it behind the stump at the bottom of the path.”

Bryan Nodded in thank you, and headed toward the road.

 

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         Syna found it easy to make his way on the road, making good time in the warm afternoon. At this time of day, the rode was very lightly traveled, even this close to the village. In a short time, many of the farmers who had business in the village would be making their way up the valley, and then home, but for now it was quiet.

At first he thought of nothing but the words that had formed on their own in his mouth. No one was there to see him subconsciously smoothing his clothes.

Syna had never been one to worry too much about reasons for things. Some things were right, and some were wrong, and he always knew the difference. Till now.

He knew what he’d done was wrong, but he couldn’t remember why, because it didn’t feel that way. He had always spent such energies more profitably worrying about what others might do, or why, and how to stay out of harm’s way. Given how they treated him, it was a better use of his time. It helped in avoiding as many of the otherwise unavoidable problems as he could. He just always seemed to know what he should do, which mostly meant, when to remain silent, and when to remain unseen.

Today was different though. As he walked, his mind flashed a procession of the images of these last hours, each coming uncalled for and uncontrolled into his mind’s eye. The calm understanding of what he should do now, simply would not come. He felt as if he no longer had control of even the simplest things in his life. Strangely, it was this thought above all others that occupied his mind, even as he reached the path that lead behind the trees, and to the small pasture, back of the Inn.

 
 

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     -S.L.M.
[email protected]

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