I walked with Liandros towards the sickroom, avoiding his smug and smirking look. I knew he was, at heart, a good man who would never harm me or any other without due cause, but on the outside he was loyal in a strange way that made sense to only those he was loyal to, he was sarcastic, swift to anger, and at oftentimes a bit too crude for the liking of many of those on board. But all of that was tempered with a deep and enduring affection and love for those he cared for, and while I knew he cared for me I did not know the extent to which he cared for me, nor in what way.
As I walked beside him, his arm slung restfully ‘cross my shoulders, his expression making the gesture seem concerned but what I knew of him made the gesture seem loving.
At that moment, I felt an urge I could feel rebounding through my every limb and nerve: An urge to escape from my best friend in the world.
I fought that urge away, but Liandros felt my shoulders stiffen, and le let me go and walked along beside me, his expression shifting from one of smug concern to one of exhaustion and sorrowful understanding. “Did I frighten you?” he asks, soft as the wind drifting against the bare skin of our arms and calves.
I halt, and he turns to regard me a step later, sidestepping so we were looking eye-to-eye, even though he was bent at the knees so he was almost kneeling to make up for the height difference between us.
Unable to form an answer, I turned and gazed out. We were standing on a cliff now, the trees around us, the birds singing, as if mocking us for our grim silence. I stared at the rough waves of the ocean; a storm would arrive at the island soon. Liandros turned as well, giving me a moment of silence and accepting peace.
Which was not his usual behavior.
Turning again to regard him, I saw him fighting a wave of anger at my failure to answer. When I met his eyes, he flinched back visibly, a look of shame crossing his face. Rarely has he lost his temper around me, and never, ever was the anger he failed to control directed at me.
And then I thought of the tales the crew had woven about what Liandros was like before we met: Angry and with a sharp tongue, even the Captain was afraid to deal with him. He was a fierce fighter, one that had everyone on the sea wary of his sash of daggers forever slung over his torso from his right shoulder to his left hip, and even more frightened of the rapier he wears at his waist.
And then I arrived, and when no other cabins were available and (as Akalioa had been his lover for many nights to secure his place on the ship) Akalioa refused to allow me to share hers, Captain Arrisandos had given me a dagger to place underneath my pillow and told me to sleep with one eye open, and arranged to have someone wander by the cabin every few hours, listening for signs of anger within.
After two nights spent in the cabin with Liandros, these precautions were no longer needed, as on the first night we spent as roommates he had drawn his rapier while I slept, and stood at my bedside and waited for me to awake. He looked at me, and I at him, and an understanding passed between us as he raised his rapier to his own throat. Then, he sheathed it, and returned to his bed.
I knew the message he had given me: I would rather kill myself than kill you.
I never understood the reason why he had not treated me the way he treated the others, but ever since that first night I knew I would never be any place safer.
And so slowly, over the passage of weeks that turned to months, Liandros and I spent many nights out on watch together, listening to the sounds of the waves and trading stories. I would tell him of Jerrivia Forest, the last great citadel of the elves. My kind was swiftly retreating from the world that was swiftly transferring from one of spells and magic to one of modern times, and even though our world was far from over parents were halting their children from leaving the forest, seeking to save their children from the pain of letting go of the world they had known.
I told him also of the merchants I had lived with for most of my life, a kind human family who had taken me in, unquestioning, doing their very best to fill my need for love.
Liandros’ tales were of his small village east of Graceling, one of only fifty inhabitants, so small it does not even appear on the map. He told me of school, one of his better memories, for during those long difficult years Liandros has taught himself how to fight, and fight better than anyone else in the area. He told me of the girl he had known there, but his tales of her were always incomplete—there was no end to them. He always refused to tell me why he had left his home to go off to be a sailor hunting pirates on the Sea of Tears, and after a few attempts at getting the story out of him I resigned myself to a state of faint distrust and more than faint curiosity.
No secrets did I hide from him—every painful memory, every shameful secret from my past was known to him.
Why, you ask?
The answer is simple: I do not wish to go into the dark without a record of my life to leave behind. I do not wish to leave this world without ways to tell my family where I had gone, what I had done, and how I had died.
But, now, as I stood and looked into the eyes of the man I had come to know as my greatest friend—my legacy if I was to fall, and my death if danger was to come to him and I was to take the killing blow in his stead—I wondered if the trust I had placed in him had been misplaced.
If I had done wrong in baring my soul to him, and commanding him that he judge it.
But then I remembered the weeks of work it had taken me to trust him so fully, the conversations that slowly turned from awkwardness to familiarity and finally to the ease of friendship, free of judgment.
And now I was judging him unworthy.
What was I doing?
Fighting back the thoughts, the tide of doubt, I told him simply, “You did not frighten me, my friend. You never did, and you never will.”
Liandros smiled then, and the anger disappeared.
It was then that I realized that the thought of my willingly dying in his stead changed to one of: Not only would I lie down my life for him, but he would do the same for me.
How deeply did he care for me?
It was only when his face changed, his smile dimming faintly, that I realized I had spoken these words aloud. “Very deeply,” he murmured, more to himself than to me. “More than I care for my own life.”
Then, he smiled again, and lightly grabbed my shoulder.
“Come on, elf boy. Let’s go meet your brother.”
Walking along the edge of the rocky cliffs, my best friend in all the world and I loped our easy way in companionable silence, our every thought, if not our every secret, known.
Still the birds sang overheard, chirping and whistling, their songs rendered silent compared to the silent communication that passed between Liandros and I as we walked off to meet my fate.
Just as we were nearing the sickroom, from her side of the island Akalioa sent a single spell soaring into the sky, striking down a seagull as it soared high with its friend, sending it to fall to land at our feet.Feeling as if someone had just danced their way across our graves, my friend and I skirt the smoking corpse of the bird, Liandros’ hand tightening its grasp on my shoulder, as if he was praying he would never have to let go.