The Raven Brothers - 2 - Better Late Than Never
CW: Magical whump, implied fantasy bigotry, blood, arson mention, self-blaming whumpee. I’ve also seen some people tag food as a trigger warning so that does get mentioned a few times.
Barnaby arrived at the Sword and Stein Inn fashionably late. He hadn’t had a choice; he had a composition due tomorrow morning and the only work he’d done was write the word “allegro” on the first page because he knew Mistress Meryan wanted something lively this time. She seemed to have picked up on his reliance on slow, sad music to sound good without putting in too much effort. So, gritting his teeth, Barnaby pulled out his lute, opened a new ink bottle, and set to work. Without Casimir to help him it was nine o’clock before he was done.
Fortunately a lot of the other students were either better prepared or didn’t care about their grades, and they were partying up a storm when he arrived. It was standing room only, the sounds of conversation almost drowning out the music. Barnaby spotted several familiar faces, paused to say hello and exchange small talk, but he kept the conversations brief. He hadn’t had dinner yet and he wanted to see if he could eat an entire peach pie in less than fifteen minutes.
As Barnaby wove his way through the crowd, he heard a strange squawk somewhere behind him. He recognized the sound at once; he’d produced it many times in his childhood struggling to force music out of a violin. He winced sympathetically, heard some laughter and heckling from the people around him. One would think that student bards of all people would be understanding, but he’d found that usually they were the worst. Well, a good performer needed to develop a thick skin, one way or another. Maybe he could buy the guy a drink afterwards. It sounded like a soloist, too, very gutsy move.
Barnaby pushed on, his thoughts turning to pie, but something nagged at the back of his mind. The music seemed oddly familiar—not the song, but the way it was being played. This was going to bother him all night if he didn’t figure it out, so Barnaby stopped and popped up on tiptoe to see over the crowd. There on the tavern’s small stage was Casimir, his disguise gone, struggling through a rendition of The Dragon God’s Goddaughter. He sagged towards the floor, eyes glazed with exhaustion, sawing mechanically at his violin. The hand holding it in place was streaked with bright red blood. His bow slipped, hit the wrong note, and he flinched as if he’d been slapped.
Barnaby forgot about food, homework, partying and everything else. He shoved through the crowd, not even noticing the glares, yelps and curses, and sprang up onto the stage next to his brother. Up close he looked even worse. His left-hand fingertips were raw and bleeding. One of his bowstrings had snapped, leaving a gently bobbing spiral of catgut dangling from the violin and a whiplike cut across his face. Hastily Barnaby put himself between Casimir and his audience.
“Cas! What’s happening?”
Casimir blinked, recognized his brother’s voice and gave him a hopeful, desperate look. He let out a single, hoarse “Geas.” Then he slipped again and his face twisted in pain.
“What? Is that magic?” That was the only explanation for this that Barnaby could think of, but he wasn’t much of a study and he didn’t recognize the name of the spell. Not that it did him any good; the most he could do was detect the type of magic being used, he couldn’t dispel it. He turned and scanned the crowd, not even sure what he was looking for, until he saw it. Or rather, her. A high elf near the foot of the stage, smirking up at him.
“Are you doing this?” He demanded, raising his voice to be heard. Her smile widened. Barnaby took a step toward her, wondering if wringing her neck would stop the spell, but then Casimir let out another grunt of pain behind him. No, revenge later. For now he just needed to get Cas out. Deescalate, get the crowd on his side. He kept his voice raised, but tried to inject a little levity into it, addressing everyone in earshot. “I think we’ve all had enough of this awful racket, right?”
He made eye contact with a couple of the other onlookers who seemed receptive. “How about we let someone else take a turn? Morden, that’s your new shawm, isn’t it? Why don’t you show us what it can do?”
Morden was a fairly popular half-elf, and as Barnaby had hoped his cluster of friends latched onto the suggestion, started urging him to take the stage. The room seemed to pick up a little; Barnaby caught phrases like ‘about time’ and ‘stupid prank anyway.’ The she-elf’s smile turned into a pout. In one swift gesture she raised and clenched a fist, like she was crushing something. Guessing what it meant, Barnaby spun around and caught Casimir as he sagged forward. Bow and violin slipped out of his limp fingers and clattered to the stage.
“Easy, easy. We’re getting out of here,” Barnaby said softly. “Can you walk?”
Casimir groaned in relief. He cleared his throat and spoke in a shaky but clear voice. “I-I think if you help I can manage.” He looked down. “I dropped—”
“Don’t worry about your stuff, let’s just go.”
Morden was coming up, so Barnaby shifted around until he had his shoulder under Casimir’s arm, supporting him, and helped his brother through the back curtain. Despite barely being able to stand Casimir seemed to want to leave as quickly as possible, and he kept stumbling. Barnaby didn’t blame him. He looked around, but the only exit he could see was a side door that opened right back into the common room. Reluctantly he took Casimir out through it.
Just as he’d feared, the little scene had gotten people’s attention, and they swooped in now, full of questions.
“Are you two really brothers?”
“Why does he look like that? I thought tieflings were, like, lobster-red all over.”
“What happened to his horns? Tieflings have horns, right? Does he have a tail too?”
One human girl cast a Dispel Magic on the two of them; it didn’t do anything but give Barnaby goosebumps. She looked disappointed, but he just grinned at her.
“No, sweetheart, this is my real face, no magical enhancements required. Now, I’d love to stay and tell you the whole crazy story, but my brother needs a healer, so if you don’t mind. Actually, Mama Arlyn?” He waved to get the attention of the half-orc woman working behind the bar. “Could you grab Casimir’s stuff and keep it behind the bar until I get back? Thanks, you’re a gem.”
With more excuses and as much fake friendliness as he could muster, Barnaby made his way through the room and out into the darkened streets. There were other people wandering around, evening revelers and night watchmen making sure they didn’t get up to mischief. The sounds of the tavern faded behind them.
“I don’t need a healer,” Casimir mumbled.
“You’re bleeding and I don’t know how to do that Song of Rest thing, so yes, you need a healer,” Barnaby said. “Then you’re going to tell me who did this to you.”
“Please don’t be angry.”
“Why would I be angry? This wasn’t your fault,” Barnaby said. “You don’t deserve this.”
“I don’t want you to hurt anyone because of me.”
Barnaby scowled and looked down at the road. Of course Casimir wouldn’t want revenge. He was too nice for his own good—or too beaten down. Probably thought he’d done something wrong to earn this. That was a wound deeper than the ones on Casimir’s hand. He decided to try a different tack.
“Well, then, silver lining, our secret’s out and the worst part’s over now. And I didn’t see or hear a single person calling you a demon or a monster. Did you?”
“I couldn’t really hear people talking.”
“Did anyone throw anything at you? Pull out torches and pitchforks?”
Casimir sighed. “I’m tired, Barnaby. Can we just go back to our room?”
Barnaby saw that he wasn’t making any headway here either. “First the healer, just to make sure we don’t miss anything. Please? It won’t take long.”
Barnaby didn’t try to engage him in conversation after that point, just took him to the school’s healer, a cleric of Lliira. She was much more familiar with Geas and seemed appropriately horrified by the ‘prank.’ To her Casimir admitted that he’d been forced to play for four hours straight, and Barnaby seriously considered going back and burning the Sword and Stein to the ground. But he still had Casimir to look after, and by the time he’d gotten his brother back to their room and settled comfortably he’d calmed down. He had to be smart about this. Sure, he could just attack the pranksters or challenge them to a duel, but they were clearly stronger and more experienced than he was. Besides, doing that would make him the aggressor in the eyes of the school, so he’d be the one who got punished for any fight that broke out. He had to take a subtler approach. Someone nasty enough to execute this prank had to have skeletons in their closet, he just needed to find a way to open the door.
The Sword and Stein was quieter than before, the atmosphere more relaxed. Barnaby put on his cheerful face and headed in. He didn’t see the she-elf, but Mama Arlyn spotted him and waved him over to the bar.
“I’ve got your brother’s stuff like you asked. Is he all right?” She asked, producing the violin case.
“Been better, been worse,” Barnaby said. He opened up the case to check its contents. Everything seemed to be there, bow, violin, headrest. The blood was gone and the broken string had been replaced with a fresh one.
“It isn’t tuned but I did what I could,” Mama Arlyn said. In a lower, abashed voice, she added, “I’m sorry about what happened. He was playing with a band at first, then the dinner rush started and I was too busy to even notice what was going on until you showed up. If there’s anything I can do to make it up to you two just name it.”
“I’ll let him know,” Barnaby said, closing the case up again. He gave Arlyn a brief, sincere smile. “Thank you for apologizing. You mentioned a band, do you know which one? Or even what they looked like?”
“I’ll do you one better,” Arlyn said, and reaching under the counter, she produced a hefty book, which she began flipping through. “I’ve been letting you Ettins kids play here for decades, and whenever a new group wants to join I have them all sign in this book, that way if you make it big I can post it up and tell everyone that this was their very first gig. This particular band’s been playing here for a few months now, but the first time was…yes, here.”
She set the book down and turned it to face Barnaby. “The Beguilers” was written at the top of the page and beneath that a set of names, each in a different hand. Barnaby studied them. Orras, Jasmine De Gray, Galinde Cromviel, Nenles Uhmalvath. He didn’t know any of them personally, but they were in their fifth or sixth year of schooling, all reasonably talented. He’d have to do some digging.
“I’m showing you this because I trust you not to do anything stupid,” Arlyn warned him.
Barnaby closed the book and slid it back, fixing her with his most earnest look. “I’m not going to lay a finger on them, I’ll promise you that right now. I’m going to submit a complaint to the school and make sure this is dealt with appropriately.”
“Oh. Well, then, I hope the school listens to you,” Arlyn said, seeming faintly disappointed. “For my part I won’t be hosting them here anymore. Not interested in that kind of performance.”
“I appreciate it. Now,” Barnaby said, with his most winning smile, “You wouldn’t happen to have any uneaten pies laying around, would you? Because I’m famished.”
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Stupid green leaves.
Nota Bene: processing my history; this is a heavier, darker writing surrounding child sexual abuse.
Write it out, sit in it, accept what you cannot change, forgive and love yourself, heal.
Tears, pain, anticipating, anxiety. Memories, built into this body since childhood -- a dirt smeared and ragged feeling imprinted on my heart, staining my soul.
Older boy-child, younger girl-child; ten and nearly five. How? Why? But surely it’s not possible.
Groomed and abused, turned into a groomer and abuser before he could understand.
Me, his clay to mold.
It was a perfect time for his artistry, really -- mommy and daddy were distracted.
Dahlia had blossomed and wilted before birth; God called her to be an angel, I was told.
I had to be good, not bother anyone: ‘Be a good girl and pray every day’.
I was a good Catholic girl. Until I became sin filled..
The ‘Little King’. He had a stutter. His younger siblings, closer to my age, were my friends.
‘You can be my girlfriend!’ I don’t know what this means, but I’m the chosen one.
‘Have this M&M, this color means kisses, okay?’ Red. Blue. Green. Each M&M is for a special kiss, special hug, and this many M&M’s means fingers which are for… (Colors and numbers; maybe that’s why I like black and dislike math).
Color coded messages at play time for later -- cryptography, but no crying because, shhh! -- when he snuck into my bedroom. He knew where my window was, it was under the deck; easy to get in. He snuck in often. I was a good M&M kisser apparently.
‘I’ll take her to get her bathing suit’; I remember the babysitter debating if it was okay. ‘We’ll be fast!’ She decided it would be okay. Down our road, down the hill. There’s my house! There’s my favorite tree! Well… it was my favorite tree… He picked that tree for special things that we can’t tell mommy or daddy. He’s older, I have to listen.
It was my favorite tree. But I hated it’s leaves; they were too bright, too green. I wanted them to change colors, fall down, and die.I stared at the leaves and kept silent. White was around my ankles; my sun dress was up. I hated those leaves.
‘Do you want to…’ ‘No, thank you. I feel dirty.’ I pushed my dress down, pulled the white up. I was uncomfortable, I walked weirdly. I wanted to change into my bathing suit and swim. Maybe I could baptize myself again. Would God like that?
I was glad when my new brother was born and mommy and daddy decided we were moving; three years of M&M’s and green leaves. Stupid green leaves. ...did they block God’s view?
Stupid, stupid green leaves.