Elaine 12: "The Weight of Circumstances"

       We returned to the tavern, things a bit more settled between us, but I was still uneasy with the revelations in my heart, and the revelations spoken between us. It seemed that circumstances were determined to make our relationship as difficult as possible.
        I settled in the only open seat, which happened to be next to the redhead I'd noticed earlier. She looked me up and down for a long moment, with a scrutiny far more intent than one would expect of a casual meeting in a tavern.
       Her eyes passed over the blade at my side once, twice, then studiously ignored it. That alone gave me the impression that there may be something more to Gillian, as she later introduced herself, than a young apprentice sorceress. Settled in its fairly nondescript scabbard, Weirwindl is not something that draws the eye. Granted, that a woman who looks not the type to wield such a weapon carries it may be something to note, but her continued diligence in not noticing it after that fist inspection made me wary.
       We both told each other more by what we didn't say than what we did. I made no mention of my connection to the royal family, and she spun a story that seemed initially awkward, though she seemed to gain some confidence in it as it gained momentum.
       We parted with standard pleasantries when it came time to haul the again inebriated Harlan home. My curiosity about Gillian would have to wait.
       I sent Baron, who had come to fetch Harlan, on his way and escorted my drunken companion home myself. A comical sight we must have been, but I managed to get him back to his room with little incident. He collapsed on his bed, and stared mournfully at his boots. "They're so far away...."
       I removed his boots, and tucked him into bed. I was about to leave when he mumbled something about his pillow not being soft. Supressing a chuckle, I fluffed it for him, and saw from the somewhat sour expression on his face that that wasn't quite what he'd had in mind. "Man's about to die," he muttered.
       I sat on the edge of the bed. "You had best not die," I admonished him, "or I am going to be quite cross with you." I leaned over to kiss him, and he grabbed my hand, tucking it under his cheek with what I think would have been a sly smile had he more control of his motor functions.
       "Harlan, it's not going to be at all comfortable with you sleeping on my arm like that."
       "Then you'd best lie down," he said with perfect drunken logic, holding my hand firmly.
       I watched him for a long moment before kicking off my shoes, and curling up against him, smiling softly as he began to quietly snore.

       It was still dark when a discrete pounding woke me. My arm was by this time almost numb, and I had to pry it out from under Harlan, who was still snoring contentedly.
       Smoothing my skirts and hair, I made my way out to the parlor and opened the door to a very startled young knight.
       "Yes?" I asked, as if nothing were out of the ordinary, the best route I have found for dealing with possibly compromising circumstances.
       "Uh... um... I'm here for Harlan..."
       I stepped aside and gestured for him to enter. "He's sleeping."
       Trying not to stare, he quickly made his way to Harlan's room, and they both emerged a short time later, Harlan looking at startled as the young knight had upon seeing me. He shooed the knight out. "Why are you still here?"
       "You fell asleep on my arm," I reminded him wryly.
       "Oh." He stood there, looking at me for a long moment. "It's a strange thing..." he finally said, "I'm being sent to face my greatest fears... and I don't think the Chamber will hold any surprises for me."
        "Because you think you've already faced them?" I said lamely, for lack of anything more profound to say.
        He laughed slightly. "I said it wouldn't hold any surprises-- I didn't say it wouldn't be difficult. I think I know what my fears are."
       "And what are your fears, Harlan?" I said, even as I realized I was somehwat afraid of the answer.
        "They're all about losing what I have..."
        I moved over to stand before him, and reached up to touch his cheek. "Some things are not so easily lost."
        He smiled tenderly down at me. "And one has to have something to lose it, right?"
        Unsure of how to respond, I could only stare up at him. He took me into his arms, and rested his chin on my head. "You're so independent," he said musingly, as if trying to further explain his coment "It's hard for me. I think I need you so much... but I don't think you need me at all."
        I settled my head against his chest. "'Need' perhaps isn't quite the right word, Harlan. I've had to make sure I didn't 'need' anyone, just to survive in the political atmosphere of Glorethien. I mean, I don't 'need' Jero, but I can't imagine my life without him. And you... well, I was so angry because I was so afraid I wouldn't have you in my life anymore, either."
        His arms tightened around me and he stood still, just holding me, for a long moment. "Thank you."
        "For what?"
        "For what you said. It means much to me." He dropped his arms, slowly. "I need to go."
        "I know," I said quietly. "Just... come back."
        "I'll give it a shot," he said with such an attempt at bravado, I couldn't help but smile and reached up to kiss him. Eventually, I pulled away, with great reluctance. Taking my handkercheif from my sleeve, I tucked it into his pocket. "A lady always sends a favor with her knight, when he goes off."
        He looked vaguely mystified. "So, if I need to wipe up a spill?"
        I chuckled. "No, silly. It's a token, a remembrance... A reminder of my affections for you."
       "Oh." He tucked it in his sleeve with a sheepish smile.
       "Now, go," I said firmly, and handed him off to the knight, watching him round the corner before I left to return to my own rooms.

        The note from Keir took some of my attention away from worrying over Harlan, and I soon found myself even more distracted as he detailed the events that were to take place in Lirandahl.
        I found Jero a short time later, having lunch, with of all people, Gillian. She quickly took her leave, and I filled him in.
        "Actually, I have a small favor. "I'd like you to keep an eye on Raphael while I'm gone."
        "Keep him away from certain redheaded sorceresses?" He said with a sly smile, and then it was his turn to fill me in. "This Gillian is quite interested in you, and him. I told her all lies of course, but the interesting thing was is she seemed to know I was lying, but didn't care..."
        I left him with instructions to find out what he could, and returned to meet up with Christoph and Eve, the possible repurcussions of Gillian and her motives weighing heavy on my mind.

        Shortly after our arrival in Lindahl, Eve and I were shown to a two room suite. The inner room held three beds, the one closest to th window already bearing what appeared to be Desire's belongings. And, I noted, she'd taken most of the closet as well.
       I took the farthest bed, leaving Eve with the one in the middle. Given my interactions with Desire of late, that was probably for the best. I settled my bag on the bed, and leaned my bow against the wall nearby, then began to unpack. "Well," I said, "This should be interesting."
       Eve only nodded as she peered out the window for a moment before turning to the closet. She uncerimoniously shoved Desire's belongings there to one side, leaving space for her own, and as she indicated, mine. Trying not to chuckle, I hung the one nice kirtle and overdress I'd brought. "Somehow I'm glad I grew up as an only child," I remarked with dry amusement.
       "That might be our downfall. We all grew up as only children." Eve smiled.
       An interesting notion, and one that might prove eerily close to the mark...