Chapter (III): Fireside Fights (Part 4)

Varlaine let that comment sit for a moment, unsure of what to say. She started to look away from him and towards the fire once more, so he piped up to keep her attention, shifting his legs to sit up straighter. “I appreciate your help more than I can express, Naz.” He said. “When we get to Skyvlan, I’ll ask the lord there to compensate you more properly for your efforts.”

“If we get to Skyvlan without issues, you can consider pay. Don’t spend money you don’t have.” Naz replied. Her voice cracked near the end of her sentence and she frowned, reaching for the leather-wrapped canteen she’d drank from before and taking another hefty swig from it. She had a habit of doing so, ‘Laine had noticed.

“Are you alright?” He asked. “If you’re ill, I’ve read on a few treatments. Your throat sounds… very sore.”

Putting the drink back down, she shook her head slowly. “I’m not sick. It’s… hmm.” Naz stopped to think, for a moment. Opting not to interrupt, Varlaine tilted his head, straight silvery hair shifting as he did. “It’s a scar. Permanent.”

He pursed his lips in response, tightening them into a thin line, as he looked her over once more. Scars were something he was sure the woman had plenty of; he could see several where he sat. One curved across her cheek, from near her left ear until nearly the cleft of her chin. Two more raked down the chin itself, and now that he was staring more intently, he thought perhaps the trio held joint significance. They followed the same curvature, swooping down across her visage. Her bangs, as well: on her right side they hung down, nearly in her eye, the longest hairs tickling against her cheeks. The left, however, she kept tucked neatly behind her ear, leaving the dark lines without cover to hide behind. Surely, she had them etched across her body like paint on a canvas, or perhaps more accurately charcoal on paper.

Her brow quirked when he failed to respond in any reasonable time, and then she cleared her throat. “Is there something wrong with my face?” Naz asked, crossing one of her arms over her chest. With her armor put away for the night, she was dressed in a plain, earthen brown button-down top, the clothing she wore beneath her gear, and he was suddenly aware of how much more vulnerable she looked that way.

When he realized she was addressing him, his eyes stopped searching her and instead found her own. “N-no, I’m sorry.” He relented, trying to still his suddenly quickened heart. It took him several moments to find his normal pace again, staggering into a headshake. “I just… didn’t see a scar on your neck, is all.”

She sized him up with scrutiny, then, and he averted his eyes; it was only fair. Then both of her hands rose to her chest, and she undid the top button of her shirt, lifting her chin to show him the whole of her neck—not a single mark or mar. He supposed that was for the better; in her line of work, a neck injury probably wasn’t something that she would walk away from. After making sure he’d seen, she redid the button and placed her hands in her lap.

“It’s inside,” She said, and he tilted his head in confusion. “The scar. It’s in my throat.” When she clarified, he nodded in appreciation. While he at least understood a little better what was wrong with her voice, it only raised more questions.

“If you don’t mind me asking… how did that happen?” He’d never heard of a scar on the inside of someone’s throat. It looked to cause her enough pain that she didn’t talk more than she needed to, and when she did, it was as efficient as she could make it.

At his question, though, Naz frowned. “Another time, perhaps.” She dismissed. “It’s a long story and the road has exhausted me.” Sensing that she did not want the issue pressed, he bowed his head deeply, and let a silence fall between them. The quiet lasted longer than their talk, but he felt informed by it just as much as the conversation, as if she had trusted him with some precious secret. When she accepted his silence as consent to busy herself, she pulled the leather-bound book and robust jar of ink from her bag, setting the two out in front of her.

He watched her open the front cover, removing a quill pen, and then saw her pry the lid from her ink. By the time she’d started to write, he had shifted, to lay out in the grass on his back. His hands tucked behind his head and he looked up at the clouds shifting over their heads, peaceful and colorful with their setting sun, and listened. Listened to the fire crackle, and the soft scratch of her ink in the journal.

(Part 5 is up, and can be found here!)


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