I have lain down another burden, though in truth, I can find no joy in this. While it may relieve an ache in my back, it does not relieve any ache in my heart. And in laying that burden down, or rather having it lain down for me, I fear a friendship may be lost forever.
I came by the tavern during the early evening, having tired of my own company at last. Inside, I found Vedis curled around Aoibheann, asking her to tell a story. Aoibheann babbled some nonsense about two brothers and a chicken, while the long-haired man I have seen drinking at the bar before shouted at Vedis to unhand her. His attitude was understandable, I guess, not knowing Vedis, but to my eye, no physical harm seemed intended. While I did not know Vedis intimately, I felt that I knew her well enough to recognise this as one of her games. I double-checked by asking Aoibheann if she was well, which provoked an outburst from the other man there, and then addressed Vedis. I kept my tone and words mild, but my intent of warning was, I think, clear, saying “I do hope you aren’t frightening my friend there.” I felt that the warning and request implied therein would be sufficient. It may well have been for Vedis, for she shortly thereafter released her hold on Aoibheann. Vedis gave me what, for her, was almost a smile, but to the other man, her address was definitely a warning. She started to depart, promising that she would return some time to hear Aoibheann’s other stories. I thanked her for releasing my friend, adding that it was good that I could still rely on her. Again, I think that the request and warning implicit in that statement was clear enough. The subtlety, I fear, was wasted on Aoibheann. Even as I complimented her for remaining calm, she glared at me, addressing me only as Ballard, asking how I dared praise her when a demon was threatening to devour her, and then accused me of having never been her friend.
That, I have to say, stung deep. I can understand that she does not know Vedis, does not know her games, but she was released unharmed. But then, knowing Aoibheann, I am sure she would have been just as annoyed if I had come in wielding my sword to rescue her. I have come to terms with the fact that I cannot, and very likely will never win when it comes to Aoibheann, but this time, I felt I had given enough. It is not my nature to shout, or to attack. I just agreed with her, saying something along the lines of “I’m sure you’re right, Aoibheann, I’m sure you’re right. I never encouraged you or helped you with your reading or writing, or understanding of poetry. I never tended bar or managed your accounts for almost no pay. I never risked my own life to protect you from the huntsman. I never visited you in hospital. I never did any of those things, or if I did, I did them for purely selfish reasons. If that’s what you want to think, then that’s up to you. I know there is no point in arguing. Go get your thread and needle, Aoibheann Healaighthe, mend your pretty dress. I am sure you can do that, as you have done everything else without any help from anybody.”
I am afraid my sarcasm was wasted on her, much as most things are that aren’t expressed in words of one syllable. She made as if to reply, but we were interrupted by a strange, cloaked figure that appeared, attacked Aoibheann’s erstwhile defender with some sort of magical bolt of lightning from his staff and promptly disappeared. Whatever Aoibheann might have been about to say was forgotten as she screamed no, and then bent down to attend to him. I could see that he was still breathing, so made no immediate move, guessing correctly that Aoibheann would not appreciate the help. She dragged the man to one of the beds, all the while accusing me, effectively, of being in league with the Unseelie, vampires and demons, since I seemed to get along so well with them. It was obvious, she said, since I had lied to her from the start. By now I was beyond caring and just wished her a good day and told her to be safe, because a bad guy like me would never bother to help. She stalked out, hissing “liar” as her last word to me. I did make some comment about the humans and Seelie never doing anything bad to anybody, and how it must be nice to have everything so clear cut, but I don’t think she heard. I doubt she would have understood anyway.
So, I guess my secret is out. With other people, such as Cristofr and Nadya, knowing what I am, I suppose it was inevitable. I resent her last word to me though, since technically, I have never lied. Prevaricated, yes, answered questions with partial truths, yes, but I never actually lied to her about my nature. Never mind all the kindnesses I have shown her, the times I have defended her person and her honour, or that I have never done her harm. In a way, I almost envy her simplistic outlook, being so sure of who the good guys and bad guys are. Some day, she’s going to learn that it ain’t so clear-cut, and that lesson is going to hurt. Will I be there to help? I don’t know. It would be nice to say that I am through with her foolishness and foolhardiness, to give her up as a hopeless case, but I know me. I will not stand idly by and let her get hurt. I will do what I can, and if she does not appreciate, then that is her affair. I will do what is right regardless.
I feel the need for something to do with my hands that does not involve a pen. At Cristof’s suggestions, I have made friends with the carpenters and masons that maintain the castle. The timbers I selected should be dry enough to work with and I did promise that I would make some crutches for Jada.
Oh, somewhere in the middle of all this, my recent feline acquaintance appeared, cut my hair-band, kissed me, and promptly vanished again. She may look different, but seems to still be the same Valene that I loved. Perhaps I shall seek her company tonight. At least she understands me.