First mainline event as Vitória Barossa.
I know that something’s wrong just by the sheer amount of people in the tent. I don’t know most of them, and no one is telling me what’s going on and I’m not able to push past people to find out.
“Is something wrong, Rodrigo? Is there any more bad news?” Someone asks, I cannot tell who. I remain silent as I fight my way through, slipping through people the minute a gap appears.
“No… news…. For you.” My brother’s rasping voice makes me start; the growl to my left makes me turn to where he sits, glowering, snarling and inwardly fighting with something.
A flash of red behind and I look up to see Nora looking concerned. “Vitória…” She looks as lost as I feel, as I try to approach; I don’t know whether it’s bodies in the way, or how distant his eyes seem with internal struggles, but I can sense the gulf between my brother and I, and feel it hurt my soul.
I turn, looking around for the Reaper present that I had given him an hour or so before. My hands pick up the tray of building blocks that are nearly as old as I am, and my hands hover, turning, trying to pick the right block for the moment. The ring? The rune? His initial? The fox?
I hear a snarl behind and pick one quickly, turning and pushing it into his hand, closing his fist around it with a squeeze. I can only hope he remembers. I can only hope it helps. I watch as he clings to it, then I pull him closer to the light, set the tray in his lap.
“I’m sorry I don’t remember the order you like them in. You’ll have to set it right.” His eyes focus in on it, his hands moving in practised motions, familiar rhythms, moving the pieces around.
I leave him to it, with people I don’t know and some woman doing something with a glowstone lantern, but his hands continue to build and rebuild, and that is something to hold on to. I don’t know what’s wrong, and I think all I’ve done is buy some time. Fighting panic, I look around. I need someone to find Gabrielle, and I need to get more liao.
I have done this before, I have done this a hundred times, but this time it is different. This time it is not me drawing the picture with the liao in my soul, I am drawn into the picture. And where one face should be, there are three.
The first. A tall lanky man in robes and red armour, dark and short hair, though his back is turned and he is walking away, a greatsword in hand that looks taller than I would be, drawn to light that casts a shadow on the form he leaves. But in the darkness behind, there is a sense of danger about the Shade, the Beast, that seems to superimpose itself over my brother.
Two where one should be, I cannot separate them. I see my brother; Rodrigo at his forge: focused and determined, creating, building, shaping. I can see the Beast’s frustration, and I know this to be my brother’s curse. It has no interest in this, in these blocks; it rails at them. It is something the Beast cannot understand. It wants only to lash out, to destroy.
The only other thing here is me, and I realize that I have made a terrible mistake. And as it lashes out at me I hear its whispers in my head and its claws digging into my soul. I hear all the things it wants to do if let free, what it would do to family, do to me. I hear it’s name for me, the role I am to perform in this play.
The next thing I know is that I am outside, and I could only be outside if I had fled. Gabrielle is there, holding my shoulders as I cover my eyes, cover my ears, and tell myself that I am not afraid of my brother.
But I am a horrible liar, and the damage is done, and I cannot look upon him for fear that it will not be his face looking back at me.
I cannot face this yet.
Your hands are so assured; mine tremble. Your fingers are steady as they tie the mask over my arm, securing it better than I could myself. You don’t ask questions which usually means you’ve already worked things out and I don’t know how that is possible because I HAVEN’T WORKED THIS OUT YET AND–
The masks we wear hide who we are, they are the faces we present to the world. I think there’s more symbolism in this act, this fox mask tied to cover the bandage underneath, than I am ready to confront yet.
And I think that I need to take my banner, and my fox mask, and my problem, and I need to run. Because if I stay any longer, this will not be a problem that is mine to confront. I need it to be mine just a little while longer.
Just until I gather my thoughts.
You’ve been there
For FUCKS sake, Roberto, I don’t think I am asking for a theological debate or anything. I am asking for HELP. You’ve been there, been through this, you’ve had more than 4 HOURS to cope with, come to terms with, whatever the fuck one has to do with… THIS!
My voice is raising because yours is; I take a quick look out the door and there’s Nora and I wish I knew her better to be able to couch this in anything more polite than a hand gesture and a look that says ‘NOT. NOW.’
“WELL IS IT A PROBLEM OR ISN’T IT??” Your voice snaps me back and cuts through everything else. Is it a problem or isn’t it.
“I DON’T KNOW!” Because I don’t think it’s a problem for those I love. But, others?
“THEN FIND OUT!”
“FINE! I WILL!” And I storm out, because if I’m in that tent any longer I’ll probably swing at you, Robbie.
But I feel better. Thanks for helping.
I cannot stop smiling at the dramacrawl, at my family, at the scenes and songs and laughter that has surrounded us tonight; For a moment I cannot believe that I am finally home, that we all came back from Reikos alive, and that this bar has good drinks and I have a full purse.
I turn to laugh at Tino’s conversation on masks and mud and there’s the flashing steel of a blade an inch from his throat. “You calling me a briar?” The Marcher asks.
And I can’t move. Frozen like the depths of winter, I can’t tear my eyes away from the steel edge of the blade that is nearly caressing Tino’s neck. There’s only about 6 inches that blade would have to move, and it would be pointed at the right target—my neck.
All I can see is the blade, but I know Cive’s the first on her feet from Tino’s other side and that hers is the next blade drawn. The Marcher turns to his side, to Serena, on the opposite side of the table that was full of laughter a few seconds ago, an age ago. His voice sounds clearer; I can only suppose it’s the settling of this tense silence over the family. “This is where you draw your sword and point it at her.”
“That’s not how it works.” Her voice matches the ice in my blood, and carries with it the promise of something darker. It carries with it the fact that this man has just underestimated what this family will do to protect their own. Then the blade is moved, the challenge thrown down, the family taking leave of the Nissed Pewt to finish this outside.
And I am still frozen, still sitting and staring at a now empty table. I don’t know where to look, until my eyes meet Serena’s. Like floodgates in spring, my face is falling and my eyes are wet and I can’t stop it, my mask can’t stop it, and she’s there to hold me and hug me, until we both must go stand with family and see this comedy-turned-drama to its conclusion.
Leash (or What you are in the dark)
It’s dark and clear and cold. I pull my shawl up and cover my head in the futile attempt to further hide my face from those around me until I can find a new mask to hide these conflicting emotions.
I know we are headed back to the League camp, and I lead in an anxious bid to return to safe ground, but a familiar tune catches my ear, echoes and remnants of lyrics from the morning stopping me in my tracks. I turn, and cannot breathe while the sight and sound overwhelms and my heart skips a beat.
It has been so long since I have seen a leash of Foxes. My leash of Foxes. And though this isn’t a battlefield, we have just come from a fight.
It is Civetta that takes my breath away, as she burns with restrained fury, resplendent in her mask, blood dripping from her nose. It is her voice that binds us together, her anger held in that drives us onwards. And the Camorra joins their voices to hers as we walk. Foxes don’t usually walk alone.
She looks at me, and without forethought I’m asking for her hand with mine, outstretched, and as she takes it and squeezes it tight, the leash is around me, encircling me as we walk. For tonight, for the first time in years, I am not alone. Thought you, my lord, that I had no kin?
I’m stumbling over my words and it’s frustrating me to no end. I look at your calmer, questioning, unflustered gaze and it’s making it worse. Heart beat is rising. My knees are shaking. Time to run.
You don’t need me to explain Loyalty to you. I know you can look around this family and see it in every single Fox. Or is this a test? Is this to force me to put into words what is going through my head, when ALL I want to do is put what is in my head and heart into ACTION.
I’m sorry, Cousin. Today, I don’t have words for Loyalty. I have to go.
I am learning more about you each minute I spend in your company. You are making me question everything I knew about Pride, as you search out your own answers with, let’s be honest, not as much help on my part as you think I’m giving.
I was intrigued by you, before. Then afraid. Nothing can convince me that I was not justified in my fears, but there you went, destroying them under the most… well, it takes something special to surprise a cicisbeo. I think you handled the situation with more dignity, understanding and grace than I could have ever hoped, and it left me…
You can’t shake my Loyalty dedication, but damn if you have not made me consider things I never would have before, and in doing so, solved problems I wasn’t yet ready to face, was still deciding whether they were problems.
There’s another debt to be repaid.