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Caspian returns to Sunberth.

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A Third Love

Postby Caspian on March 11th, 2022, 12:29 am

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2 Spring 522

On New Year’s Eve, Caspian ends up on the starboard side of the ship, which pitches like a great creaking cradle on the dark waves. Ten minutes before midnight, someone hands him a tin cup of whatever’s been in that barrel the crew has been judiciously keeping under lock and key; when the clock strikes the hour, a woman grabs him by the wrist and tries to kiss him, to the wild ringing of a bell. He lets it happen, but he imagines, with the salt spray across his face and the wind whipping through his hair, that it’s about as exciting as romping with a dead fish. But the woman’s already too drunk to know, and when he finds his breaking point – coming sooner these days, it seems – he shuts his eyes tightly and worms his way out of her grasp. Normally he’d just roll with this sort of thing; normally it wouldn’t matter. It might even make him feel better about himself, allow him to believe he’s still got it – whatever it is, and whoever he’s becoming now that he’s –

Alone.

Towards the bow, Taalviel is socializing. The phenomenon is worth comment, because – and they’d already talked about this at length, determined they were both on the same page by the third day – there’s nothing substantial to be gained from befriending anyone here, not any of the other passengers or the crew or even, really, the captain. Over the wind and light drizzle he catches snippets of his sister’s conversation. She’s talking; laughing, even. Maybe even the dourest of Kelvic Ravens are susceptible, on occasion, to the sentimentalities of stepping into a new year.

It’s a lot quieter below deck, though a pair of someones in the corner – the only two teenagers onboard, who naturally had sought each other out quicker than a dog to marrow – is loudly necking. Caspian heaves himself into his hammock, collapses and allows his limbs to crumple. His body feels terribly heavy these days, all his joints one dull ache. But even heavier is the box pressed against his chest, tucked into his inner coat pocket.

Without thinking he draws it out. It fits snugly in his fist, and he runs his thumb along the seam, the hinge, the clasp holding it shut.

Keep it, he’d said, after she’d said no, when she’d tried to give the contents back.

But she’d been insistent, and here he lies now, the golden ring in its mahogany box weighing him down like granite.

For 16 days they’ve been at sea, and he’s no closer to extricating himself from the fog of thoughts that had encased him on Zeltiva’s shores.

It’s not the first time someone’s said no to him. Far from it. And after a while, all in due course of getting older and learning, to some degree, from his mistakes, he’d stopped counting on things that were unrealistic. Stopped writing checks that couldn’t be cashed. So had he been that sure of himself, of them, when he’d asked Rohka to marry him?

The fog is upon him again. It’s with him always, even when the sun shines about the waves and deck.

It doesn’t help, but he can’t help it – can’t stop himself from running over every moment, momentous or miniscule, leading up to her final answer. Was there a magic combination of words, of tones and syllables, that would have changed her mind?

And, something he’ll perhaps wonder until he dies – that day they’d met in Ravok, when she’d read his fortune –

Had she known, even by an inkling, that they were hurtling towards that moment all along?

The teenagers in the corner are whispering to each other. Furtively, with so much light. Gritting his teeth, Caspian rolls over in his hammock. Stares into the dark, at the knotted wooden wall an inch away from his nose.

But she’d been insistent. He shouldn’t have been surprised – that was one of the things he’d always liked about her. She always did the right thing, even if it was painful. The right thing for her, and for that he could never fault her.

The ship docks in Baroque Bay the next morning. Caspian casts his eyes across a city he hasn’t seen in what seems like a lifetime – and feels, finally, something other than the dull pit in his heart, a break in the numbing grayness that had kept him near mute for almost the entirety of the voyage.

It’s fear, settling in him. A spike slotting into place.

Taalviel, halfway down the gangplank, looks back at him. Already she seems poised to take flight.

There’s no going back, he knows. He could, but –

There’s nothing for him there.

How lucky he is, he thinks, as he steps beside his sister onto Sunberth stones.

Not everyone has the luxury of receiving straight answers to their questions. Not everyone can say, for certain, that they know.

And in case he ever forgets –

There’s the golden ring in its lacquered box, perhaps, at the end of all things, meant for him and him alone.
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A Third Love

Postby Caspian on March 12th, 2022, 2:36 pm

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“Don’t do this to yourself again.”

Caspian blinks, looks from the cracked paint on the window ledge to Taalviel.

“Do what again? Can’t say we’ve ever been Sunberth-posh before.”

At this, she frowns. At him, the scorch marks in the upholstered furniture, the dining table that though reassuringly still in possession of all four legs, yet maintains a persistent wobble. There was a floral pattern on that chair on the left, until whoever had been careless with their cigar had crossed its path. The blooms and vines on the one on the right don’t match, but evidently someone had tried. So that’s nice.

He thinks of the moment in time, that surely must have happened no matter how fleeting, where everything in this room was shiny and vibrant and new. Who had enjoyed it? Where were they now, how long gone?

“Remember when this would have impressed us?” he goes on blithely, dropping his bag in the corner and settling on the bed. It’s more than big enough for both of them, but it creaks loudly. Luckily he and Taalviel both sleep as cold and still as corpses, though he can already foresee irritating her if he drags himself home late from a tavern. “I forgot elegant can mean something different across state lines.”

They’re in some of the better lodgings Sunberth has to offer, the nicest room he could find in the Sunset Quarters. It’s not a matter of funds, but of scarcity and sustainability and the fact that if they seek anywhere nicer, they’ll just be painting a target on their backs for anyone passing by.

“Don’t do that either,” she says flatly.

“Again, what am I doing wrong? You’re getting older, you know. One day those frown lines are going to stick.”

The silence hangs between them, as silent as it can get in Sunberth in the afternoon, with the sounds of a window breaking and a pack of teenagers whooping and hollering on the floor below.

“When we left Ravok, I lost you,” she finally says. “For months. A year, almost. And that’s - okay. Given everything that happened. But it also isn’t. Do you know how hard it was to watch?”

A lump settles in Caspian’s throat as he tries to stammer a reply, but she cuts him off.

“I’m sorry she didn’t come with us. I’m sorry you lost her, and found her, and lost her all over again. But these things - they happen, Caspian. And you can’t stop living just because things didn’t go the way you wanted them to.”

“I just got on a ship and rented an apartment. That’s about as living as living gets.”

“That’s the other thing you need to stop doing. Dodging me with what you pass for humor.”

“You don’t want me to have feelings, but then you have a problem with me trying to do exactly that by covering it up with the only way I know. What the petch am I supposed to do, then, in your perfect world?”

“Just move on!” Taalviel exclaims, and the volume is enough to shutter his next jab. It’s not often at all that she raises her voice; she’s always known how to slice with an undertone. “I -“ She’s even surprised herself with the outburst. “I know it’s easier said than done. But you need to, one way or another, sooner rather than later. Don’t turn this into Zeltiva again.”

Has his sister ever been in love before?

That’s what he wants to ask her. Because it’s insurmountable, the demand she’s making of him. Something as cold and calculating as only a Kelvic Raven could conjure.

But -

Hadn’t someone once told him that when Ravens took mates, they were usually for life?

Is there something about his sister he doesn’t know?

“It doesn’t have to be today or tomorrow,” she says, softer now. “But soon. You were someone before her, and you’ll be someone after. Don’t forget that.”

The same sun shines here, as it did in Ravok, as it does in Zeltiva. As it did all the way back in Avanthal. As he crosses his arms, gazing out the window at the cobbled streets, he senses his sister slip out, the door closing behind her.
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A Third Love

Postby Caspian on March 15th, 2022, 11:55 am

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“Are you coming to bed?”

At face value, yes, he knows exactly what that sounds and looks like; it’s been conveyed to him by more than one person over the years that the relationship he has with sister might be a touch too familiar. It’s both funny and at this point, not worth mentioning; it depends on who you ask. When your sister is a Kelvic Raven, who despite displaying a marked effort over the years to attend to social convention, is still at the end of all things, Kelvic and a bird – to her a bed is just a horizontal thing on which one sleeps, and if the surface area is large enough to accommodate one or both parties, it doesn’t particularly matter who that other party might be.

That’s not the question he knows she’s waiting to ask, though.

“I thought I’d be more tired, after two and a half weeks at sea,” he replies. The window’s open, and he’s propped up on the ledge, watching the foot traffic on the street below, the smoke from his pipe curling out into the night air. There’s a healthy amount of it. By another city’s standards, perhaps it’s too hectic, a little too noisy, and all of it so constant – but in Sunberth one likes having at least a few witnesses.

“Thought you’d be more hungry too.” The food she’d brought him earlier that afternoon rests on the table, mostly unpicked.

It hadn’t occurred to him until today, the power of scent. It’s been – the arithmetic swims by him – eight years.

Eight years since he’d left Sunberth for Ravok. Eight years, and yet the smell of that particular food, fried cod on mash, wrapped up in crinkled parchment paper, the oil seeping through the paper and rendering it translucent – he had never forgotten. They’d used to have to split that between them, when they were younger and couldn’t afford to buy one each. And those days it had still felt like a bounty; he had imagined, that were he a king, in his banquet hall there would be cod on mash on a dozen golden platters.

The cod had probably been flimsy, half-blind, undergrown. Possibly already half-dead when it had been fished out of the bay. And the mash was – well, that was what you were signing up for. The mystery of what happens to constitute it on that particular day, ratios of grain to weeds to burnt scrapings from the grill unknown.

But the consideration of those facts weren’t necessarily what had kept him from digging in. A person needs food, water, shelter – but he doesn’t feel particularly like one right now. He’s hollowed out, connected at all the limbs and joints, that bend and creak how they’re supposed to, that keep him upright, and – that’s enough. For now. He’s empty but he’s whole. It’s freeing, in a way. He doesn’t hate it; wishes, though he knows tomorrow he’ll feel differently, that he could bottle up parts of what he’s going through right now, call upon it when he needs it. It’s a neutrality. A manageable chill. Not wanting, not needing, a steadiness to simply be – it’s a power of its own.
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A Third Love

Postby Caspian on April 28th, 2022, 1:25 pm

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Taalviel is still asleep when he wakes.

This is unusual. She’s not of the species to sound an alarm at sunrise, but she usually beats him all the same. For a moment he watches her, looking for any sign that she’s merely pretending. But the rise and fall of her chest, near imperceptible but still steady, suggests this is a truthful scene he’s stumbled upon, one where his sister was more weary from the journey than he was, and hadn’t let on.

Silently he slips out of bed. There’s a floorboard or two or – three, as it announces itself beneath him, that will be unsolvable bothers. Taalviel rolls over at the sound but still, somehow, doesn’t wake.

Out on the streets, the sun is already near blinding. From its position in the sky it’s mid-morning, but it blares down at him slantwise all the same. If it’s this much of a glare in spring, how will summer treat him? When he thinks back he can only remember being uncomfortable, scampering about in ragged linen shirts several sizes too large, a belt hopefully but unhelpfully knotted around his waist. The alleys were some respite, the taller ones offering whole aisles of shade, made even better if a gale was somehow trapped between them and whistled right through. But all the other children were just as aware, and those alleys became prime real estate, screamed and scrapped over until one’s problem wasn’t the sun anymore, but getting home in one piece.

He’s not really thinking as he walks. He doesn’t have to. The sights come back to him easily, slip out of where he’d tucked them in his memories and to the forefront, to the present, to the touchable, breathable present. It’s to the docks he goes again. It’s not good, is it, to keep finding himself in a place made for transit, for movement, for leaving. If he squints, will he see some other land on the horizon? Impossible, he knows, but like his childhood self he does it all the same.

He can feel eyes on him; he can feel all the more that aren’t, too many people preoccupied with bustling about their business. Already someone’s pulling in on a small dinghy with a net of frantically flopping mackerel; a few yards away a pair of someones are loudly arguing in a language he doesn’t know. He settles on a railing, on a part of the dock where he can angle himself so that any interference he poses to others is minimal.

Someone might have made a certain series of assumptions about what he’s thinking now. It’s not too much of a reach; they would have all the pieces of him, all the demonstrated evidence, and wonder if he’s here because he’s fantasizing about hopping on another ship and running far away. He couldn’t fault them for doing so. They’d be half-right – it’s fantasy he’s wrapped up in, but for once, the kind where he confronts exactly what he’s been dreading.

The lacquered mahogany box gleams in his hand. It had fit so perfectly in his palm when he’d bought it; still fits there so snugly now. The weight is comforting, the craftsmanship modest but undeniably skillful. Full of intent. He remembers, when he’d bought it, that he hoped Rohka would be just as impressed with the box as with the ring itself. She was good at that, seeing things in wholes instead of their pieces. Knowing their full value, measuring the net positivity, instead of isolating the rot.

It’s a nice box. A nice ring. And a shame that he’s going to throw it into the sea.

He settles back, draws his arm back. He’s going to lob it as far as he can. One could just let it slip from his fingers, he knows, and cause much less of a scene. There are still all those watching eyes to contend with, after all. He wonders how many would throw themselves into the bay just to fish out what he’s about to throw.

But the wind is upon his face, and the silvery-grayness of Baroque Bay is broken up by patches of deepest blue. Water can be so many things, take so many shapes. Confirm and fill the spaces it’s in. Spill over if it needs to. Even freeze.

Can he be water?

Until now he had been convinced things are either one or the other – he’s either the person who lives in Sunberth, or doesn’t. The old him who had been raised here – he knows that person distinctly, had itemized all the parts he had loathed and done his damnedest, once he had escaped, to mold himself into something new. He drew his own lines, his barricades, had done all he could to split himself in two and hold both identities as far apart as his arms could reach. And in deciding, finally, to come back here, he had tried to make peace with the idea that this was a return to that old version of himself, all the scum and rot.

But maybe he’d been wrong about all that. Maybe it’s not all black and white. Perhaps there is no friend, no enemy, no opposition that can be so easily defined.

Maybe he can be someone new.

He lowers his arm. Opens the box, as if he’s afraid that in his own indecision the ring might somehow cease to be. It’s still there, still just as golden as when he’d first clapped eyes upon it.

On his way back home he lingers in a plaza, by rows of vendors with pottery and tanned hides, blotched fruit and books hastily stitched at the spines. There’s one in particular that has his attention. An older woman selling bits and odds and ends, as if she scrapes through her house every now and then and indiscriminately dumps its contents on the table. There’s a kid with one worn sandal shuffling by, the other foot bare. He snags the kid by the wrist, hands him a copper. Jerks his head at the older woman.

“Steal her scarf and scuttle off. I only need a minute. Meet me six blocks south of here after you do it, and there’s another copper in it for you.”

The kid wrinkles his nose. Smells horrible, teeth already yellowing and cracked. But money talks, and the kid does as he’s bid, wrenching himself out of Caspian’s grasp as if he’s the one desperately in need of a shower.

With the diversion underway, Caspian slips forward, snags a chain from the table, the links slim and simple but strong. He shoves it into his pocket, winds it idly around his finger and keeps on walking. The kid is still breathing heavily when they reconvene, snatching the second copper from Caspian’s hand as if he’s worried about springing a steel trap.

Taalviel doesn’t ask him where he’s been, though her eyes linger on the ring hanging from the chain around his neck.

A golden ring on a silver chain. A mix and meld. A life accepting of incongruity.

And a functioning, breathing life all the same.

“Let’s go,” he says, before he loses his mettle. “Let’s go see Dad.”
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Caspian
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Posts: 576
Words: 718261
Joined roleplay: August 12th, 2018, 11:26 pm
Location: Sunberth
Race: Human, Mixed
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