For Alexis, who is quite wonderful!
It was amazing to see him after all this time!
Valeria couldn’t contain her relief and joy at the unexpected pleasure, and a smile grew on her face. Her pace quickened, and she caught up to the tall man walking ahead of her on the street.
“Keldrin?” she asked, her hand reaching out for the broad shoulder.
The man stopped and turned. Valeria’s smile faltered. It was definitely him, but there was something off. He eyes were duller, the face tired and blank. Valeria noticed that his coat was threadbare, and his clothes needed patching. He was thinner, his belt barely able to keep his pants up.
“Keldrin?” Valeria asked again, her voice hesitant.
He searched her face with a frown, and finally a small spark lit his eyes, and brought this shadow of the man closer to her memory. “Valeria. It’s been so long.”
“Yes, too long,” she agreed. “Where did you go off to?”
He was silent for a long time. “Not where, but when.”
She blinked. “What do you mean?”
“I broke it.” Keldrin’s voice was so soft she had to strain to hear it.
Valeria didn’t know what to say to that. She didn’t really know what to do, but she couldn’t stand there and do nothing, so she took his arm and led him along the street. He didn’t say anything, and he wouldn’t look at her, not even when they were seated at a small table in a tavern, surrounded by the warm sound of chatter and laughter, and the smells of meat and bread.
Valeria smiled at the young man who brought them plates of food and tankards of ale, twisting her skirt through her fingers. A terrible fear turned her mouth sour, a fear of what Keldrin might say. What on earth could he mean, he broke everthing?
Keldrin didn’t seem to notice there was food, though it appeared he had not eaten regularly for some time. Valeria pushed the plate towards him, and his eyes flicked to it. Again, it took him some time to really see what was in front of him. When he did, life sparked to life, and he dug in enthusiastically. Valeria had no appetite whatsoever so she just watch him demolish his plate, then hers, without stopping for breath.
When both plates were cleaned, Keldrin leaned back, and a small smile played on his chapped lips.
“That was mighty fine,” he murmured. “Almost like it was before.”
“What happened?” she asked.
He sighed. “I went to the Raladam, and fell through. It was so dark, but the bindings got easier and easier to find, and I pulled myself back. But the cracks followed me, and there was nothing I could do to stop them. The bindings were coming loose, and I don’t know how to tie them up. I don’t think I have much time.”
Valeria was lost. She didn’t understand anything after Raladam, and even that she didn’t think she fully understood what he was talking about. The Raladam was an area, and also the people who lived there, but little was known about them.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to stay long,” Keldrin continued, the regret in his voice made her flesh crawl.
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t know. The cracks never tell me.”
He chuckled at a private joke, but it was hard for Valeria to do more than breathe. Something inside her was desperately trying to understand something she instinctively knew was more than she could handle.
“Goodybye Valeria. I’m glad I got the chance to see you again.”
He held something out. She looked down, and his fingers uncurled to reveal a single flower with wilted petals. It looked like nothing she had ever seen, and though it was hard for Valeria to believe it, she knew it was from a land that she would never go to.
She looked up just in time to see Keldrin walk into the tavern and stop just inside the door. His left leg dragged a little, and a white scar closed his one eye. Wild brown hair was knotted around bones and feathers. The staff he carried was topped by the skull of a creature with two mouths full of fangs.
Valeria looked at Keldrin, who sat at the table with her, and her eyes widened as he faded until just the hint of his smile remained, and then that too disappeared totally.
A heavy thunk on the other side of the table made her look up, and Keldrin glared at her with his one good eye, his hair rattling as he looked from side to side. She didn’t know what to do, but she couldn’t do nothing, so she waved over the serving boy for more food.