Whittide was a quiet place, with a few mud-walled houses, a little jetty for launching boats, and some open-fronted barns where the fish were sorted. It would have been a quaint location for a relaxing getaway if not for the circumstance – and the smell. The arrival of two strangers had caused enough of a stir in the tiny population, and when the rest of the crew showed up weary and bedraggled, all hell broke loose.
Alwyn had talked with the village’s elders about their predicament. There was nowhere for them to stay save for sheltering in one of the barns; for the airship crew that was probably sufficient, for Alwyn it wasn’t an issue as he’d prefer resting under the open sky, but Dain with his airs and graces would probably balk at the notion of either of those options.
Where had he gotten off to, anyway? Alwyn cast his gaze about the buildings, and then further out, to the shore, and spotted the familiar figure ambling across the shale beach. They hadn’t spoken for the rest of the trek to the village. Whenever Alwyn looked at him Dain would be staring intently at the ground, his jaw clenched, his expression sour. Myriad emotions had wound through Alwyn’s head, keeping him too busy to strike up any kind of conversation. Had he overreacted? Had he ruined their friendship? Was he right to feel affronted?
Well, he had no choice but to speak to him now to update him about their situation. With a resigned sigh, Alwyn wandered down to the beachfront and caught up with Dain. The brisk sea breeze whipped Dain’s ginger hair around his neck, and Alwyn noted that he’d taken off his jacket and carried it folded over his arm, despite the chill.
“Hey,” Alwyn offered timidly, and then worried that the wind had caught his voice and carried it off when Dain didn’t immediately answer.
After several long moments, Dain gave Alwyn a sidelong glance, his expression unreadable.
“There’s no inn at the village, no spare lodgings save for the barn, which reeks of fish.”
“So if you wanted to rest before we continue, that’s one option, though not particularly to your…” He paused, re-thank his words. “Well, I can make a pretty decent camp, and I’d be happy to…” He paused again, frowning, aware of how much he was agonizing over the right choice of words now, what to say and what not to say, what might carry more meaning than he intended, what might be misconstrued. “Alternatively, there’s a town some four hours walk away where we can properly recoup and make another plan for getting to Kinehold.”
“My jacket is ripped,” Dain said, looking out across the grey waves that foamed and frothed white as they curled onto the shingle.
“I had noticed,” Alwyn arched a concerned brow. “May I see it?” He held out his hand, and Dain passed the jacket to him without taking his eyes from the horizon.
Alwyn unfolded the longcoat and examined the tear. It was maybe two hands in length, right down the middle of the left breast. It was a clean cut, though. The harpy’s claws had been sharp. He looked around him, scanning the surface of the beach, and his eyes landed on a patch of washed up kelp nearby, its long, dark fronds splayed across the rocks.
Approaching the kelp, he knelt down, and touched his hand to the pebbles underfoot. He reached out his awareness, sent tendrils of inquiring energy from pebble to pebble until he found the kale, and then deeper, smaller, until he found the fibrous filaments that formed the fabric of the plant. Carefully, concentrating, he coaxed a length of fiber from the slippery leaf, outwards, longer, unraveling from the kelp and into his hand. From there, he maneuvered the loose end of the almost invisibly thin filament to the tear in the jacket, weaving intricately through the two cut sides of the fabric, pulling them together neatly.
When he was finished, he stood and inspected his handiwork. He wasn’t much of a seamstress, but his ability to see how nature bound itself, how leaves and petals and bark formed itself from finer components into a cohesive mass, granted him a different perspective into forming a whole from halves. The tear was visible, but had been neatly patched so that the fabric looked just a little creased in that one spot. At the very least, it was wearable again without a gaping hole.
“Here,” Alwyn stood and handed the jacket back to Dain who lurked nearby. “It’s not permanent, you’ll still need to have it properly tailored. But it should last a little while.”
Alwyn noticed that Dain’s hand was trembling as he took the jacket from him. He watched him closely as he held the jacket up to the light, saw his expression change from that empty blankness to confusion, then realization, and then sorrow.
“I’m sorry,” Dain sighed heavily. “As you may have noticed, I’m not quite as perfect as I undoubtedly appear to be.”
His words were the usual flippant Dain-esque comments, but Alwyn noted the tremor in his voice when he delivered them. Hiding behind bravado? Alwyn could relate.
“It’s an unusual situation,” Alwyn led them to the edge of the beach and sat down on the shallow grassy embankment. “Nothing can really prepare you for… what happened back there.” He felt it best not to mention the specifics, with Dain finally appearing to have freed himself from the fog of the enchantment. “And I shouldn’t judge you for how you choose to process that.”
Dain had put his jacket back on and pulled the collar up high, and sat with his arms wrapped tightly around him and his knees pulled up to his chest.
“No, you were right to be angry. I took something that should have been sacred and sullied it with my own bad coping mechanisms.”
Alwyn’s lip twitched into a brief smile, but his heart pained that Dain needed to have such coping mechanisms in the first place.
“I like you,” Dain continued, his blue eyes pale as they flicked between the blades of long grass that grew around them. “I want you to know that. I *do* like you, that wasn’t the drink talking.”
His smile grew beyond his control, and he felt his cheeks flushing, noticing that Dain’s pale skin was also dabbed with a hint of rose.
“But I understand why you’d be angry. I would be too. Hells, I *am* angry. I’m furious at myself for the possibility that I’ve ruined any chance that I might have had at winning you over.”
“Oh, you won me over long ago,” Alwyn nudged his shoulder into Dain’s, and for the briefest of moments, their eyes locked and they exchanged nervous smiles. “We deserve more than drink-fueled affections, Dain. *You* deserve more. I know we haven’t known each other very long, but I like and respect you enough to want to give you something wholesome, and I like and respect myself enough to want that for me, too.”
“Thank you,” Dain said quietly. “I would say that you’re far too good for me, but that’s terribly trite, don’t you think?”
“It is a little,” Alwyn chuckled, “But I appreciate the sentiment.”
“Hey,” Dain dug into his jacket’s inside pocket and pulled out his trusty flask, handing it to Alwyn. “Hold on to this for me, would you?”
Alwyn took the flask, ran his thumb over the polished silver inlaid with intricate leafy patterns.
“I will,” he replied, “But I won’t be the gatekeeper of your vices. If you ask for it back, I’ll return it.”
Dain frowned, but then nodded his acquiescence.
“Fair. So,” He stood and stretched his arms to the sky, his movements looser and more relaxed. “As appealing as a night under the stars with you sounds, I do feel we would be behaving with impropriety if we were to neglect to pursue our royal duty with utmost haste, and so I say we embark upon this four hour walk immediately, perchance to arrive at this fabled town before sunset.”
Alwyn smiled and pulled himself to his feet. “I think you’d be surprised at what the King considers my royal duty.”
“Hmm?” Dain arched a curious ginger brow, but Alwyn pretended not to notice.
“The town’s called Rostall. I’m familiar with it in passing, but have never been. If memory serves, they sell seafood caught from the surrounding coastal settlements, Whittide included, as well as various fish-related produce.”
” ‘Fish-related produce’ has never sounded so enthralling as when you say it,” Dain winked at him. “Lead on, then. Can you mend boots, too? I wager my soles will be threadbare by the time we’re done. Do soles have threads?”
Alwyn blushed furiously, but was glad that Dain was back to his usual chipper self.