This is something of an “in medias res” post, the beginning of which isn’t actually written, and probably won’t be (at least Aely’s part, Annalea’s is written). The original idea was conceived by Falconesse over at WTT:RP (the creator of Annalea) and we wrote it together. Yes, she’s also an Anna, and since we have the same RL name as well, it proves to be VERY confusing sometimes!
The noise from upstairs thinned as the Pig’s patrons drifted off to their beds. The cats padded out, plated boots thumped away, all of them leaving in ones and twos until the only sounds coming from above were the click of dog claws on the wooden floor and the occasional clink of a glass being refilled.
Annalea closed the ledger and stacked her leftover mail into a pile. It would still be there in the morning. Not like Tarq’s going to amble in and have a sudden urge to open letters and mess up my system. She stood and stretched, her back groaning in protest after the hours she’d spent down here, hunched over the desk, or out in the lab, bent over her vials. It felt good to get up, to climb the stairs and emerge from the gloom of the cellar into the kitchen’s warmth.
“Trying again, eh?” Stephen sat on a low stool, sharpening his knives. He’d been puttering around earlier tonight, prepping for breakfast, when she’d cloaked herself in shadows and peeked out the door to see who was in the main room.
“It’s quieter now. I don’t suppose you can leave out a loaf of bread and some cheese before you go, can you? I have a feeling we’re going to need it.”
He followed her gaze up the short flight of stairs, to where they could just see Aelflaed’s hand curled around her glass. “She’s got a head start on you.”
“I know where Reese keeps the good bourbon. I’ll catch up.”
He grunted. “I’ll leave a pot of coffee ready to go, too, in case either of you decide to sober up ‘fore dawn.”
“Good man.” Anna patted him on the shoulder as she passed. She paused a moment in the doorway, watching Aely lift her glass to her lips and frown as she discovered a distinct lack of alcohol in its depths. It was as good a cue as any. Anna strode up the last couple of steps and reached behind the bar, feeling far into the back until her hand closed around the bottle she sought.
Aely looked up as she rummaged around, blinking muzzily at her. “Evenin’, Annie. I dinnae ken ye were still here.”
“It’s a good thing I am,” she said, snatching two glasses from where David Langston had left them to dry before he left for the night. “Looks like you need a refill.” The bottle made a satisfying [i]thunk[/i] as she slammed it down on the table and took a seat across from the red-haired paladin.
“Wha’s ‘at, then?” Aely tilted her head and squinted at the faded label.
“This bottle’s probably about fifty years old, out of Tyr’s Hand from before the wars. Back when they liked us. I figure, this is as good an occasion to drink it as any.”
“An’ Reese willnae min’?”
“If he yells, I’ll pay him double its worth.” She uncorked it and poured two generous glasses. Aely took hers and raised it in a mock toast. Both women drained their glasses and spent a moment wincing as it burned down their throats.
Then they grinned the grins of people realizing just how fine the liquor in their glasses must be, and Aely reached forward to pour two more.
“I’ll go halfsies wi’ ye if he sees fit t’scream an’ screech. Though,” she paused and peered at Anna. “I dinnae think I caught wha’ we’re breakin’ owt th’good stuff f’r, precisely?”
“I couldn’t help overhearing a bit of the conversation from earlier tonight. Seems you and I have something in common these days,” said Anna. Then she sat back, looked pointedly at Aely’s hands, devoid of their rings, and waited.
The paladin arched an eyebrow, taking another sip of the bourbon. “Oi…’sat so? I’d nae heard owt – bu’ I’ve nae been ’round much eyther. Sommat happen twixt ye twa, air jus… naught?”
Anna shook her head. “More the latter, really. It might be easier if we’d fought.”
“‘s truth – an’ I’ll drink t’ tha’. Naught like embracin’ th’ slow an’ inevitable t’ shake up a min’, ayeh?” She tipped her glass towards Anna’s before taking another swallow. “Tyr’s Hand, eh? Who’d ay ken distillin’ would sae suit th’ Scarlets. Still burns like th’ normal stuff, bu’ smooth’s silks after. Tha’s a fair bottle.”
Anna tipped her glass as well. “Yep – you’d never know it for the crackpots they turned out to be, but the old stuff they bottled is pretty wonderful.” She swirled the amber liquid, watching it cling to the edges of the glass. “How long then?”
“Friday. An’ I’ve left everythin’ yet bu’ nae wearin’ th’ bloody ring. Tha’s vaulted, ’till I c’n think on th’ proper thing t’ do. Ye?” Aely drained out the last of her glass as Anna reached to pour them both another round.
“Couple of weeks. I kept talking myself out of it, then back into it, then out again. I’m still not sure it was the right thing to do. I mean, it was, but…” She trailed off a moment, then shrugged. “I’ll be thinking that way a while yet. How’d you tell him?”
Color rose in Aelflaed’s cheeks. “Cannae say ‘m fair proud t’ admit, bu’ w’s all I could do, really. Sent a letter. Been our only way t’ talk f’r awhile, so I s’pose ‘s nae so far off. Wrote it ’bout a week ago, an’ finally go’ th’ stones t’ mail it; figured it’d go wi’ nae response, bu’ I heard back th’ next morn.” She looked down at her hands again, as if searching for something that wasn’t there. “Nae bu’ a simple farewell. ‘S truth – pissed me off. Bu’ I cannae blame ‘im eyther. He’s nae been ’round in months, an’ dinnae have much t’ lay ’round anyroad, an’ wha’ did, I’ll get Bess Cross t’ keep packed f’r ‘im.”
“Now, ‘s jus’ t’ keep myself to wha’ I said, y’ ken? Like, I’m nae sure I’d be fair sighted ‘f he appeared here t’morrow. ‘m still – like ye said – nae sure w’s righ’. Certainly dinnae feel any better f’r doin’ it, thow there’s sommat t’ certainty. Still, I cannae sleep righ’, knowin’ f’r sure he’ll nae be there when I wake, an’ knowin’ I’m like t’ ne’er see ‘im again.”
Another sip, smaller this time. “Ye’ve told ‘im then, I s’pose? Sommat mentioned ye’d moved stuff.”
Anna nodded, turning her glass around in a slow circle. “I took my things back to my apartment in pieces. When there wasn’t anything left, it just seemed… final, I guess. ‘Decided’ might be the better word. Then I sat on it for another day, just in case.” She took a sip.
When she spoke again, her voice was hushed. “I went up there, asked if he could take the night. Even when I was saying it, I kept thinking, Take it back. But I didn’t. I pressed on with it. I almost wish he’d yelled, or thrown me out of the room. Anything. But it’s Fin. He’d never. Made it all the harder.”
Aelflaed sighed. “Dinnae think’s e’er easy. Bu’ sure seems t’ be easier ‘f ye c’n say tha’ ye dinnae love, than t’ say love dinnae make th’ difference f’r livin’ like this.”