Warning for Find-Out-In-Play headspace.
There has been a shift in my perception, so subtle and so unobtrusive that I am unaware of its happening, of when it began and how it proceeds more and more with time.
I try to think back, map out and chart our interactions, our passings, our conversations. Such slight things. So small, unobtrusive, that now I look back in wonder: where and how and why and when?
When did we meet? I don’t rightly know, cannot remember a moment where we were formally introduced. I remember I played you, in the performance you commissioned for Wassail, when you were grieving, when you had a story to tell about your love now lost. I played your role in the tale: the Dawnish lover, the surviving lover. I didn’t even know you. I didn’t understand the depth of love, then, but I still cried for your loss, after removing the mask.
I think the first time I sought you out, was to ask you, afterwards, if you had liked the play, whether we had succeeded in fulfilling the commission. You didn’t really meet my eyes. It was a short conversation, awkward, and you left soon after. You were a patron, I did not take offence.
When did you learn my name? Was it for myself, or was I just another Barossa, therefore a name worth knowing. Did we pass each other in Anvil for a while afterwards, were there glances, did we say hello?
I remember… though I don’t like to think of it, I remember the time spent in the Barrens. I remember the flashes of knives, and the searing of brands; I remember the torture and the slavery and the fighting for freedom– and I don’t think I even really knew you then, but, you came with the others to save me. And I even now don’t know why you did it, whether to right the wrongs of your brethren, or whether you came to help Serena free me, or you did it because it was the right thing to do. But it couldn’t be for me, myself.
Afterwards, I should have thanked you. I don’t think I did. But I was in shock, I was ungrateful and scared and hurting. I should have thanked you.
I think, from this moment, we were aware of each other. I knew little of you. I knew your name, and that you were a friend of Serena’s.
There’s a brief, vague memory of you and your sister, your fearful, trembling sister; I remember trying to help, trying to calm Eleanor’s soul and ease her fears with an anointing. I remembered the same fear, that twice-instilled fear, still shake from it even now — of course I would help her. Did you ask me to help? Did I ask to help?
I learned that you were a priest of Loyalty, sometime after this; I thought of you as a rival, and I was jealous. Such a stupid thing — Gabrielle, then Robbie, mentioning talking to you about issues of Loyalty, as if I hadn’t always been the family’s priest, that my life’s work, that all my ambition in life –to always be theirs, and support them, and remind and reinforce our family’s loyalty– was for naught because they were going elsewhere with their problems. That hurt, stung bitterly. I felt as nothing, not good enough. I didn’t know then, as I do now; now I only have gratitude that they had such as you to go to.
I remember, the second time I met your sister, and could still see the fear in her. And I bit my lip, and I hid my own fear, and I tried to be as gentle as I could in discussing it with her, with you standing at her side. I hated myself so much during that conversation, as one faced with one’s own hypocrisy. I think… I think I helped her. She seemed to confront… something, in those discussions.
Then, we were discussing theology. Were we colleagues, by this point? There’s no chance that I impressed with my mighty verbose skills. But, you didn’t dismiss my questions, my hypotheticals, you actually listened and heard what I was trying to say. And you didn’t make me feel like a failure, or a fool, for my brain working along lines that not everyone understands.
I didn’t know what to say, the next day, when you were suddenly before me, and giving me a pendant. Beyond the fog of a Winterskin tonic, I was so doubting of my merit that when I learned it was a favour– for the thought that anyone would ever value me to bestow anything like that– I don’t remember what I said. I really hope I thanked you. I turned to Gabrielle then, and asked what it meant. She reassured, she smiled; I think she was stunned too. Was this when we became friends?
But I survived, that battle. Broken, yes, in agony at each step, yes — but I was alive. I think, then — I think, then, for the first time in how long? Ever?–I think then, I felt hope. It was faint, it was suppressed, but it was there. You helped carry me back to camp. I grabbed at my chest, only reassured that your favour was still there protecting me. Gosh, but then Sylvia was dead and I was in shock and the tonic made me numb, and you found me another priest to Testimony her soul, because I couldn’t move. I had forgotten this.
I was not used to such kindness, unbribed. I think it was then, I began to make an account of your kindnesses, and the tally was long.
In each stitch, in every bead that I thread onto my needle, in each curve of embroidery and each twist of thread, I am tallying every change in our relationship. Then the favour –when did it become a favour?– is finished and I am placing it in its box, and tying the ribbon around it, and placing it into my travel sack. And I’m still wondering, when and how and why and when.
I don’t know what we are now. But I want to find out.