Love in the House of the Ravens – Part Two

Cartoon-style illustration of shrubs, roses and grasses growing against a grey stone wall. Scene is overlaid with the dark green/light green/white/yellow/gold stripes of the allo-aro pride flag. The text Marchverse sits across the image in a white, fantasy-style type.

After seven years in Rajad, Darius has fallen out of love with the unattainable and failed to fall in love with the companionate. When the right person offers a romantic relationship and he doesn’t understand why yes won’t grace his tongue, the only thing an autistic man can do is ask the Ravens–and hope he can survive the word they give him in return.

Content Advisory: Descriptions of fantasy violence, wounds and blood magic along with an exceedingly obvious metaphor for real-world capitalism.

Length: 940 words.

Links: Beginning | Next

He froze at Harlow’s question. What if the Ravens can’t tell him why?

“People, again?” Mair pauses; Darius tries not to grit his teeth. “They’re working, but not yet engaged.” She offers a slight smile, perhaps meant to be reassuring, before glancing down the hallway in search of a target. “Lia! Water to Ila’s room, and tell them that Dari wants them tonight. Have you eaten?”

He’s early enough that this doesn’t surprise him; he still sighs in relief before reaching into his hip pocket. He cut a slit behind the seam, one leading into a second pocket held tight against Darius’s calf by a tall pair of stockings. He fights to tweezer his fingers around the topmost coin and tug it free, tossing it at Mair. “Thank you. I hope they don’t, uh, mind—”

Without looking at him, she catches his wide throw with a one-handed finesse he doesn’t possess on a good day. “A meal, too. Move, Lia.” Mair turns back towards Darius, her fingers curling inwards in a beckoning gesture, her brown eyes cast downwards. “If you prefer to talk to me about people, I’m not expecting company in better need of my time.”

She avoids looking him too much in the face, and while it only sometimes seems as though she creeps up on a nervous animal, he still feels like a flighty foal. He may appear adult now that he’s worked for a year as a mercenary, but he comes here when that appearance falls apart and the Ravens know it.

Darius straightens and drops the saddlebag containing the belt onto the closest bench. “Leave this one down here. Please?”

Nobody will steal it, even if the musician leaves it unattended: Darius copied and modified his ward and protection spells from those guarding a dragon’s hoard. Besides, who’d want to steal the belt?

Mair nods, repeating the finger curl until Darius follows her into the hallway. “Would you rather talk to me?”

Dim strings of witchlights and gauzy curtains shroud the tiled walls; the musician resumes a droning, elegiac tune. He breathes out long and slow. Mair has helped him more than he had reason to imagine when the Master first sent him over the road to fix a friend’s lighting spells, but talking to her feels too leaden with memories and seriousness. It’s different with Akash and Ila, even though Darius still has awkwardness in common with both, so he flaps his left hand, no.

He froze at Harlow’s question. What if the Ravens can’t tell him why?

“I notice you’re alone today.”

He nods as they pass a trio of workers on their way to the salon. Mair notices everything, including the absence of the belt he usually wears thrice-wrapped over his shirt or tunic. A belt now occupying a canvas drawstring bag wrapped in a second shirt, all shoved in the middle of his saddlebag and left downstairs where Darius hopes his shroud spells and the Ravens’ musicians will keep it from overhearing. The belt, a verbose eldritch entity who claimed Darius seven years ago, gave this a grudging consent because of their long association and despite its habit of thinking to teach Darius all it knows, but its annoyance at this treatment seems the lesser of two problems. A future difficulty, yes, but not one now.

While the belt excels in tutoring swordsmanship and history, for an ageless strip of sapient leather, it doesn’t know as much as it thinks it does on human relationships.

Especially when one of those humans is divergent.

“What happened?” Mair waves him up the stairs, but her eyes track his limp as he passes iron brackets and trailing cords holding witchlights of his own spelling. “Cut, slash, shot, puncture wound or burn?”

A smiling man of middle years bounces down the steps; Darius, trying not to pant or groan, waits until he passes before speaking. “Stab. I was trying to flash the attackers on the other side of the wagons. I didn’t see him come at my horse.” He stops at the top and leans against the wall, the ache in his leg bordering on fierce. “His stabbing a blood witch was better for me than him. I got him stopped after that.”

It’s just a wound, deep enough to make a mess, not deep enough to kill or maim. One wound, a parting gift from his last skirmish–not even the worst fight this crossing. Inconvenient at best, nothing compared to the earlier horrors of watching good people massacred by Arvel’s incompetence. Not like witnessing, again, the truth that nix seed outvalues human life. The wealthy treat people as expendable in the process of accumulating more, a truth worsened by the knowledge that Arvel, for all his crimes of disregard, gained little from the safe arrival of the seed in Rajad. Only the Greensward benefits, distant elves who’ll never step outside their enclave to watch their mules bleed and die, who’ll never see mercenaries burying bodies and whispering words over a trackside grave. Elves who’ll never acknowledge how Arvel became less human in defending the will of those who don’t care that their cargo is reckoned in blood as well as coin.

His leg is difficult but comprehendible. Yet Darius can’t help feeling that there’s something wrong in him, something twisted and damaged beyond repair, when he’s aching hardest over words unanswered, not his or his companions’ death and blood.

Maybe it’s just that the Ravens may explain and justify Harlow’s question and his reaction to it; nobody can explain and justify combat and death for casks of seed.

Perhaps it’s easier not to ache too deeply over something lacking all hope of fairness and reason.

K. A. Cook is an abrosexual, aromantic, genderless, autistic, queer adult who experiences chronic pain and mental illness. Ze writes creative non-fiction, personal essays and novels about the above on the philosophy that if the universe is going to make life interesting, ze may as well make interesting art. Ze can be found online at Queer Without Gender and @aroworlds.

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