Obviously, he saw her again. He had never been one to often visit the Temple, not even as a boy, but for some reason there was always some new errand to run, or some favor to pay back involving Seer Karole. He just seemed to find a chance to go help. And with the start of Spring, business resumed, the town populated once again – amidst the scores of Venexian merchants, Bittersea sailors and personnel from the Vestal Order, he always managed to find something to do, if only get a glimpse of green eyes and dark hair in the distance. A ghost of a smile when their gazes tripped over each other.
“Nothing good will come out it,” muttered old man Salix, drawing another breath from his pipe. The side of his face that wasn’t covered by shiny burns distended into a frown and he hit his chin with his long, thing cane. “Look up, eyes to the sky. Straighten your back, even your breath. You’re playing with fire, son.”
He nodded, trying to go back to his training. Outside of the town walls, old man Salix’s shack had always been his home and for the longest time he had never felt the need to go inside and mingle with people. But if it mean getting another chance to meet her, maybe share a word or two…
Something hit his cheek.
He blinked and came back to the present moment.
“Now that’s a nice one. Any Eerie worth its tar would be already munching on your heart, boy. Keep your mind to the task at hand.”
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
“You are not,” he huffed, letting out a ribbon of white smoke. The rest of his body was covered in the same ornamental scars that would, one day, spread all over his torso, turning his skin weird and leather-like. “Mind up in the clouds, running after a pretty girl. And not any ordinary wench, innit?”
“Pick up the stylus, Son. Draw the third protective charm over your chest while you speak. See if you can use your hands for something more productive than jerking off.”
He turned redder than the Generator’s flames, but did as he was told. By now, he knew the signs and symbols very well, had been tracing them with his fingers ever since he was little more than a toddler… or for at least as long as he had serving memory. But half his mind was already after those green eyes, and he had to go slow and steady, lest the stylus slipped and he drew a wrong symbol.
Which would mean another whack from Salix’ stick… and a beast slurping on his intestines if he ever got it wrong during winter.
“Well… you know, don’t you?”
Salix snorted through his nose.
“Boy, it’s not difficult to see. You’re about as covert as the Queen of Thorns coming to dance for midsummer festival… redraw that sign. That one. That’s important, links heart and soul. Good.”
He nodded and completed his task.
“She’s just… I know I’m supposed to forget all about her, but she’s…” he shook his head. Words failed him. He had no idea how to express his feelings.
“She’s a Vestal. Most importantly, she’s the future Augur of the town. You better put your head in icy water and forget all about it. Besides, if you won’t, the hags themselves will do something about it… oh and then you’ll have some fun, indeed!”
It did make sense. Salix and those of his lot dealt in a different kind of trade than the holy water and prayers of the Order. The ink he was covering his body with would soon be exchanged for blood, and that would be the moment when he became a true Venator, able to protect his town from the encroaching darkness. They had different jobs, but they worked for the same lofty goal. There was little love lost between the two groups, especially because not even the most skilled Venator could get his body turned inside out by an average Augur. There just wasn’t competition.
If he kept at it, the hags would end up knowing about it (they probably already knew about it!) and they’d come for him.
Dealing with them felt like having your wrists tied behind your back all the time.
“Keep your mind busy, boy,” Salix said, standing up and going inside to refill his pipe. “As for your body, I might pay you a night in a brothel. That will ease you up.”
Another flash of red peppered his cheeks, but beyond the novelty of having Salix paying for something like that, he did not feel particularly excited about it. In fact, his heart was beating faster at the thought of just passing his hand through her dark locks and getting lost in those eyes that seemed to look onto an infinite field of reeds.
Still, for the following days, he did try to keep his distance (emphasis on try). It helped (and hindered) that the blonde one, the Verna girl, was coming and going from the forest, caring little for her safety and he was appointed by Seer Karole to escort her during her hiking.
She did not talk much and if she did was to ask questions about a particular ruin or a blasted bridge, or a pit leading into some underground bunker he couldn’t care less about. She was also prone to going on a tirade about her hate of Fae and the future of mankind, so from time he just tuned her out and went to think about the other girl. Lenora. Lenora. The name sounded so good on his lips as he whispered it every night.
And the day of the ceremony slithered ever-closer.
The two old Seers would go back to Venexia, and Lenora would be the town’s new official Augur. From then on, he could go near to her only during the annual sharing of water, before wintertime. What was worse, by that time he’d likely be deep in the forest slitting Eerie throats. Not exactly ideal as a first date.
So he tried to pry some information from Verna – they seemed to be friends, and he found out that, as long as he pretended to be into the blonde’s obsessions about history and the Fae war, she’d let him get a morsel or two about the girl who made his heart skip a bit.
All she asked for in return was, after all, to accompany her on a hike to some dusty forgotten remnant of the Eretimes. And shovel away a lot of dirt to check if anything could be saved.
She’d do her thing gathering old notes and studying blasted bones while his mind was lost on the ways he could use this knowledge (however little Verna let through, such as how she liked to keep notes on pretty much everything and how her skills as an Augur were quite mediocre, but she’d been put there as a sign of political goodwill).
Bit by bit, pile of dirt after pile of dirt, he stopped finding the blonde’s hyper-focused mannerism off-putting and started to appreciate her passion. They’d probably never be friends. But he felt like he’d found an ally.
And then the day of Lenora’s consecration came, too soon to really avoid the incoming disaster.
Pic by hiveworkshop.comAuthor’s Notes: writing with a fever is no fun. I got my booster shot yesterday and I believed I had got off free of consequences, but evidently I was a tad too optimistic. I’m sorry for the likely poor quality of this chapter – this challenge being what it is, some things can’t really be changed. I still hope you’re having fun with this little escapade into the past. I like to explore their lost days a little bit, and especially how they changed. All in all, while I try to provide some levity from time to time, I don’t envision Patina as a happy story, at least not in the sense there must be a happy ending for everyone. I suppose we’ll cross that bridge where we’ll get there. In the meantime, thanks again for reading.