Since there’s a lot, I think I’m gonna go about this like, if I REALLY don’t have an answer, I’m not gonna try, because I’d rather answer everything I can and not answer what I can’t rather than try to think about it and oh look it’s been two years and I never answered any of them at all.
Emotional Outbursts: He absolutely likes to think of himself as someone not prone to outbursts. For the most part, he’s right. Except Keira learned early on how to provoke him and hasn’t stopped since and it annoys him to no end. She knows exactly how to make him raise his voice.
Walking/Sitting Posture: He would consider himself a Soldier’s Soldier, so his standing posture is very proper, very straight. However he tends to slouch forward when he’s sitting.
Verbal Tics: I don’t… think he has any verbal tics.
Articulation: He’s capable of articulating himself well, he definitely speaks clearly and with purpose, that being said he probably keeps things vague with most people, out of desires for privacy or secrecy, or simply because he thinks people he doesn’t particularly respect are too stupid to understand details.
Laughter: He’s not big on laughter. When he does it’s kind of a subtle snicker. And then, only among friends.
Philosophy: I don’t think he comes from a background that prioritizes finding religious or philosophical beliefs. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a personal code for him, but nothing so formalized.
Best day of their life: I will let you know when I come up with a day when this man has been happy.
Accent: While I can’t see her with an accent, I’m still trying to determine how exactly she grew up, and this question made me realize, all the different colonies ought to have different accents. I never realized that before. Not sure how much that’ll affect her, but it could affect other characters. Hmm.
Verbal Tics: Also not sure she has any.
Comforts: She honestly loves calmness and simple pleasures. A quiet moment of napping on the couch with a cozy blanket and someone she trusts nearby is all she really needs.
Philosophy: Not sure she’s really got any, similarly to Skyler. In fact, I wonder if her mother’s side had more attachments to those kinds of belief or conduct systems, and that’s driven Keira away from them.
Lessons: I’ve kind of projected onto her my own journey with developing her character, she’s really matured and has begun to grow out of her childish ways and even though she might not seem like it, she’s really learned a lot about respect and noticing and acknowledging her impulses.
Empathy: … unless she reeeeeeally cares about someone, she’s really not gonna try very hard to see things from their perspective.
Criticism: As she’s matured, she’s kinda become a person who externally balks at criticism - that is to say, she hates hearing it - but actually does kinda take it to heart. She’ll think about it later like ‘AM I like that?’ And then she’ll have to pick and choose whether that bothers her or not.
Honesty: She does tend to speak her mind. She doesn’t tend to do it with much tact. But she doesn’t actually like to speak honestly when she doesn’t have to. She won’t go out of her way to speak like that when she’s around people who get her. She wouldn’t feel the need to clarify, she doesn’t speak just for the sake of hearing her own voice.
Skyler told me her story today.
There was a dwarf family ice skating on the pond, so we sat out of view and ate the lunch I had brought. It was the children’s first time out on the ice. As they struggled to keep their balance, as they fell and got back up again, their laughter bounced off the ice. Their parents were out there with them, patiently showing them how and holding their hands when they needed it.
Even from our perch, we could tell the parents were tired. Dad moved a little slower than he wanted, Mom would correct her slouch and stand a little straighter. They were stiff, tired, and sore from a hard week’s work, but they were here now because this is what was important to them. This is what they lived for. This is why they worked so hard.
“I never knew my father,” I said, then quickly corrected, “well, I mean, I can count on one hand how many times we’ve been in the same room.”
Skyler produced a flask from a satchel. “This was given to me by …” She scrunched her nose as she tried to remember, “Sadgen Doz, a hunter out of Velen.” She poured me a cup and then one for her. As she crammed the cork back into the flask, smacking it with the palm of her hand, she warned, “it’s a spice whiskey. It’ll warm you up, loosen you up and clear your sinuses.” We toasted Sadgen, thanking him for the drink, and burned ourselves from the inside out.
I could barely hear her laughing over my coughing.
“You tried to warn me!” I laughed.
“I did at that.”
“I grew up in a tavern, you’d think I could handle just about anything!” My cheeks were red, my entire face was pulsing.
“Your mom run a tavern?”
I nodded, “The Salty Dog’s Pollucks, in Tulmene.”
“I think I’ve heard of that.”
“It’s a nothing hole in the wall.”
“You’ve just described all of Tulmene.”
It mas my turn to laugh, “I did at that.”
“That means,” she sipped her whiskey, “your father was … a merchant – no, a sailor! No, a pirate!”
“We have a winner!” I cheered a little too loudly.
She shushed me, shooting a glance down to the pond. The dwarves hadn’t heard us – or didn’t care.
“The son of a pirate!” Skyler marveled. “Anyone I know? Anyone I heard of? Someone infamous? Wait!” She held up a finger. “What did you say your name was? Ó Cuinn?”
“Ó Cuinn, Ó Cuinn, Ó Cuinn …” A dreadful wave of recognition washed over her face. “Not Captain Ó Cuinn!”
“Cruel Captain Coin was your father!?”
“Still is,” I nodded, “I think. Haven’t heard one way or the other in a couple of years now. And,” I added, suddenly feeling defensive, “he wasn’t always ‘Cruel’ Captain Coin.”
I don’t know why I felt defensive. I don’t know why I felt like I had to explain him to her, but I did.
“He was a good guy.”
“Oh,” her eyes widened mockingly, “he was one of the good pirates.”
“Hoarding wealth was not the game he started out playing, but …” I trailed off. We both knew where that thought ended.
“Freedom for the wolves,” Skyler said, softly breaking the silence, “often means death for the sheep.” She sipped her whiskey. “It’s the sheep’s job to clothe the wolf. If they can’t do that, they feed the wolf. If the sheep finds a way to live and keep its wool, keep its skin, the wolf says the sheep is cheating. The sheep says, ‘but I’m just doing what you’re doing,’ and the wolf says ‘know your place,’ and sics the pack on it.” She gave a quick shrug and a smile. “But what do I know? I’ve have rejected human society and live alone in the forest.”
“Do pineys have the same problems as humans?”
“We’re all the same,” Skyler said with disgust. “Elves, dwarves, orcs, humans or pineys. Everyone wants to be on top and in order for there to be a top, there has to be a bottom.”
“I think,” I nodded, “I mean, I don’t know, but I think that’s what made my dad set sail. There’s different stories I’ve heard, how he stowed away on his first boat, how he became a cabin boy and how he took over his first ship. The one thing they all agree on, though, is that he wanted to help others. He targeted ships from kingdoms that could handle being robbed. If he could do it without spilling blood, he would. He paid his crew well, took care of his ship, squirreled a little away for a rainy day and when he came into port, he would just give the rest away. At some point … At some point he began to believe everybody owed him something. He was changing their lives, saving them and what was he getting return? Shouldn’t every port celebrate his arrival? Shouldn’t the taverns give him a place to stay, food to eat, ale to drink? Forget brothels charging him and his crew, what woman dare say ‘no’ to him?”
I don’t often talk about my father. It always leaves me in a fouler mood than when I began.
“You carry so much with you,” Skyler prodded, “don’t you?”
“I guess so.”
“You measure yourself to him.”
“Again, it’s so different with pineys. In the traditional human sense of the words, I know who my mother and father are and they loved me very much but I was raised by village. I was everyone’s child and everyone was my family. There were far fewer specific roles anyone played. It was by looking at everyone, and comparing myself to all my surroundings, I was able to learn who I was. I didn’t measure myself to someone, I measured myself to everyone.” Then with a smile and a flare she said, “and this is who I decided I am.”
“It’s a good choice.”
“Less of a choice and more of a discovery.”
“But you chose this,” I said, “this form.”
“Because it’s who I am.” She tapped her heart. “Inside and out.”
“So,” I prodded back, “if pineys are so great, why are you out here? By yourself?”
“Ugh,” Skyler’s face soured. “It’s a long story.”
The dwarf family was still skating. “I’ve got time.”
“I met a boy. Human boy. Dark hair and dark eyes. Loved him. Fell madly, deeply, uncontrollably and foolishly in love with him. The village didn’t like him, he was human. Can’t trust a human. He tried to win them over but they weren’t having it. They rejected him. So I appealed to the magic of the forest and became a woman for him.” Skyler winced. “Not for him but things might be different if I had met a girl. Humans let all these organs and things define them way too much but – I will say – when I saw my reflection for the first time, it was like I was seeing me for the first time. This is who I was born to be. We ran away, he and I. Married under the full moon. Got pregnant.” Skyler stared into the bottom of her cup. “Lost the baby. Tried again and again and it never happened. Then one night he left me a note and I never saw him again.” Her laugh was a mocking laugh. “It was too much for him and I never saw him again – well, that’s not true. About a year later I found a gnawed up skeleton wearing his cloak, so …” She looked at me. Her eyes swirled with melancholy conflict. “That’s me.”
“Wow,” I said, eager to lighten the mood but profoundly appreciative that Skyler would share this with me, “he just became my absolute least favorite person.”
“Did he have a name?”
“No! You fell in love with someone named Alec? Alec! Really?”
“Rubbish name for a rubbish human being.”
“I think it’s partly why they won’t take me back, why they cut me off.” Skyler theorized. “They tried to tell me. They saw him for what he was and I turned my back on them.”
“Wait. Does that make your Skyler McQuillan?”
“Fuck no.” Skyler almost did a spit take. “The night he left me, he lost every part of me. I pruned him out of me.”
“Well, speaking for humans … and for men, I’m sorry.”
“He ruined me for both. Never again.”
Then she gave me a look, a testing glance, that said that might not be entirely true. Neither of us lingered on it.
“You don’t have to sit up there!” A big, surly voice boomed off the ice. We looked over the dead, leafless bush we sat behind. The dwarf family was waving at us. “You can come down here and skate with us!”
So we did.
Skyler just being a cute bean.
“It was as if she granted me the ability to see music.”
I hadn’t mean to fall asleep. I hadn’t planned on it. But I must have, because I was suddenly and surprisingly waking up. I was leaning against a tree and sitting cross-legged on a rock to my right was The Piney.
I cleared my throat, “I’m, ah …” I was embarrassed. As much as any writer wants the world to read their work, we don’t actually think the world will – and, should the world actually choose to read it, we do not want to be present when it happens. “I’m not a poet.”
The piney did not look up. “But is that how I made you feel?”
I wanted to be clever, I wanted to be casual, but the truth just clumsily tripped out of my mouth. “You were magnificent.”
There was a tilt of the head, a flick of the eyebrows and a dimpled little smile that said this was something the piney already knew. “Thank-you. And these are me?”
My sketches never looked cruder, more elementary, than they did in that moment.
“Yeah, I’m …”
“They’re good.” The piney was being kind.
Closing the journal and tossing it back to me the piney asked, “you’ve been here every day this week. What do you want?”
“I wanted to apologize.”
“You already did that.”
“Yes, but … I wanted to see you again.” I sat up, pulling my legs closer. “I wanted to talk to you.”
The piney nodded. “I saw that in your book. I don’t think …”
I could see where that thought was going. If I didn’t hurry, if I didn’t stick my foot in the way, this door was going to be closed to me forever. I quickly blurted, “What’s your name?”
The piney paused. It was rude and unexpected of me to interrupt, but it worked.
“It’s nice to meet you Skyler. My name’s Gareth Ó Cuinn.”
Skyler nodded. “I remember.”
“And I’m nobody, really. I help run the inn in Tulmene – The Salty’s Dog’s Pollucks?” I floated the name out there to see if there was a reaction. There wasn’t. “I work nights. So …”
“So you can spend your days stalking girls in the woods?”
I wanted to clarify that I was not stalking her and I would leave her alone if she asked me to. I would be disappointed, but I would. But instead, what I heard myself saying was, “are you a girl?”
“What the fuck do you think I am?” Skyler shot back, eyes ablaze.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I don’t know! I read about pineys and …” I could feel my mouth moving, my lips trying to form words, but nothing but absolute silence coming out.
I saw Skyler stiffen and then soften. “Sorry. I … It’s tiring, explaining it over and over. Every traveller, every merchant, every lost boy in the woods has to know and …” Skyler shrugged, “it’s something we are going to need to keep talking about. It’s one of the reasons the pineys have secluded themselves but it is becoming one of the reasons we need to come out of the wood.”
I remained silent. She was warming to me. Her icy demeanor was thawing. And me speaking up now would only ruin that.
“We,” Skyler motioned back and forth between us, “come from the same people. From long, long ago. One day, a group of humans went into the woods and never came back. They discovered something there. The forest embraced them, made them its own and the magic of the forest changed them. We pineys are descendants of those humans. Our nails are wood, are joints creak in the cold and in the springtime flowers grow in our hair.” Skyler smiled a beautiful, unguarded smile. “Our eyes are bigger are our limbs are longer. We’re often mistaken for dryads or elves. And our skin …” She held out her hand.
I could see what she was showing me. It almost looked like wood, like the bark of a tree. If she stood still, one might think she was a carving. Skyler leaned forward, extending her hand closer. I reached out and touched it, running my fingers down the length of hers and resting them in the palm of her hand. Her fingers were cold but her palm was warm – just like mine.
“It’s gotten us into trouble. We look sturdier, like we’re made of harder stuff but …” Skyler pulled away, rubbing her fingers together. “Turn a page too quickly and I’m still going to get a paper cut.”
“And,” she added, “I am a woman. I was not born a woman, but I am a woman now. Inside and out.”
“And …” I could tell this was a conversation she wasn’t entirely comfortable with, so I added, “we don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to, is that a choice you made?”
Skyler nodded. “We don’t have genders. We’ve grown past that. We don’t see ourselves as men and women, male or female – not just us, but also things. Humans need everything to fit inside a box and that box needs a label other humans can see from a mile away and … it’s so unnecessary.”
It’s an idea I’m still trying to understand.
Skyler could see I was struggling and offered an example. “You met someone in the woods. What else matters? How they treated you? How you treated them? What extra, pertinent information is gained by saying that the person you met in the woods was a man or a woman? It only matters because in your society you treat different labels differently. Depending on what box that person is in and what label they have, you expect different things from them.”
This is true. There is no arguing that. However, I had to ask, “how does piney society work then?”
“We expect the same things from everybody.” Skyler said simply. “Everybody is expected to pitch in. Everybody is expected to help. We don’t change our standards because of a label someone made for us centuries ago.”
Seeing where I was going, Skyler pointed at me and agreed. “Yes. People are born different, with different temperaments and personalities and skillsets. We don’t expect our engineers to be musicians or our teachers to be soldiers. We find what you are good at and then we help you find your place. Why anyone would be destined or predestined to do or be anything based on their genitalia is …“ Skyler laughed.
It instantly became my quest to make her laugh again. I shook my head. I couldn’t explain it. It doesn’t make sense and the sooner we as a society except that, the sooner we can move on and become something stronger, mightier.
“Which,” Skyler took in a deep breath and let out a slow, curling stream of steam before continuing, “takes us to procreation. When I said we don’t have genders? I meant it. We are all born the same. Inside and out, we don’t have any of the things humans like to call men’s things and women’s things. When it comes time for us to reproduce, we are able to choose which role we want to fulfill. There is a ceremony. It is private, between you and the forest. And afterwards you emerge with … the parts you need to play your part.”
“Are you able to change back, if you wanted to?”
“Many do.” Skyler nodded. “Once the deed is done, once the child is born, these parts no longer serve a purpose. Not for us.”
“Why did you keep it?”
She pulled her coat closed and looked away. I made her feel uncomfortable.
“The short of it is I’ve been cut off. I am allowed in the woods but I am not granted access to the woods. I can see its magic but I can no longer feel it or use it. I must remain this.” Skyler laughed and shrugged, obviously wanting to move away from this as quickly as possible. “There are far worse things.”
The sun was sinking in the sky. I needed to get back to Tulmene.
“I have to go but I’d love to see you again.”
Skyler spotted the sun’s position. “I have to get to work.”
“Can I see you again?” I asked, gathering my things.
Skyler stood. “I’m sure our paths will cross again.” She picked up her ice skates and then, before sliding down the snowy hill, gave me a kind look of warning. “I know you’ve been coming here unarmed on purpose but stop doing that. These aren’t the woods you grew up in. It’s not safe.”
Then she slid away, disappearing into the trees.
I dont regret not having some people here. The people that I love and care for, I hope, know that with time and patience my doors are never closed to them. Some people need time out of each other’s lives.
And I certainly stand by those I’ve condemned. Wish them the best and all, but may they continue down their own paths.
Well then. This took way too long to write, and it’s not as long as I wanted, but it’s out here, right? Have at it!
The video starts with Starr’s smiling face, as usual. Skyler is sitting next to her with a piece of paper in his hands, but Tyler is nowhere to be seen.
“Hey guys! Welcome back to This Or That, where we compare to see what really works! Today, I decided to do something just a little bit different, so we’re here with Skyler, and we’re gonna give you guys a tour of the boy’s bedroom! How cool is that!”
Starr had a big smile, and Skyler was watching her, glancing down at his piece of paper and then back to her as she spoke. He had a small smile on his face as well.
“Sooooo, I figured I’d just let Skyler do trial by fire, so he’s gonna take you through this himself!”
Skyler’s smile disappeared, replaced by a nervous, scared look. Starr looks towards him and he looks back. “A-alone?” His eyes were wide, and his voice was soft.
Starr smiles, giving him a side-hug. “Oh, don’t worry! I’m sure you’ll be fantastic. Besides, it’s just a quick jaunt into your room, you can do that, can’t you?”
Skyler still looked nervous, but nodded. Starr smiled, then waved at the camera. “Don’t forget to comment, like and subscribe to see more videos, and here we go!” She snapped her fingers, ‘disappearing’ in an explosion of stars.
Realizing they like the other lol