Chapter 46: Say Nothing (END)

Keenin could not think of another day. He found himself lying in bed, feeling the softness of furs underneath him, eyes fixated on the taught beige cloth of the tent over his head. In a way he was lying on his death bed. To one side was the helmet with the plume of feathers. To the other, a crumpled piece of paper, an attempt to explain to Dia. It had been his only chance to apologize. Now he just had to die. He continued to feel that there would be this right time, that given one more minute he would be ready. Honestly, ready.

Keenin heard a soft knock against one of the tent poles. The cloth over the entrance was pulled aside before he could make an argument to be left alone. And there stood Nadia in her practical clothes. She let the door close behind her.

“I thought that you would be here,” she said.

“This is my tent,” Keenin said.

Nadia smiled at his cynicism.

“I mean, I knew you would be awake,” Nadia corrected herself. “I know that Iscara spoke to you.”

“So what? I’m sure he talks to people all the time.”

“Keenin,” Nadia said. “I want you to stop sulking and go see that girl.”

Seriously.

“Do you think your helping? I can’t see her and I can’t seem to go against what Iscara says,” Keenin replied irritably. “You already knew that.”

“I am sorry it turned out this way for you,” Nadia said. “This war is not what it should have been, but it is. When our country’s king and Iscara’s father betrayed the trust of Septose, she took with her the blessing placed on the city and Iscara’s trust in others. And this was all he could do to save us. We of the fallen city may not be able to look away or desert the cause now, but we can still speak the truth of how we feel. And so should you.”

“Listen lady. What part of I cannot see her wasn’t clear.”

“Do I have to spell it out for you.”

Nadia pulled a black strip of cloth from her pocket. “If you cannot see her, then you must have no such intention.”

“Is that…a blindfold.”

Could the answer be so easy.

“There is no reason that you can’t see her with this,” Nadia explained. “She’s in one of the carts. Put this on when you get there.”

Keen stood and accepted the blindfold.

“Thank you,” Keenin said.

After Nadia left, Keenin pulled on the black turtleneck shirt that he had bought with his friends. He was disappointed to find a rip in the side and considered wearing something different, but this is what Dia was waiting for. He had to be that person. Thinking of it, he dug his old pair of lizard skin pant from his bag and pulled those on too. He slid a hand down the smooth scales that Bodwin had helped him skin off some angry lizards. He had been so childishly ill during the process. That backstabber, Keenin wished that he was finding a better life for himself. The last thing Keenin pulled on where his army boots. Though he had walked mostly barefoot his entire life, he couldn’t part from this luxury.

He crumpled the blindfold in his fist and tossed back the cloth in front of the door. In the open night air crickets chirped in chorus, fires crackled, and soldiers lazily moved around their temporary camp. In the small tented camp it was easy to find the grouping of carts that they had brought with them. He just needed to locate the right one.

He saw a standard guard equipped with a pike stationed at the area as he got closer. Keenin paused to consider and listened to the laughter of a group that roasted corn over a fire. He pushed the blindfold into his pocket and approached the happy bunch.

“Do you mind if I take a cob of corn to my friend?” Keenin asked them. 

“Take two,” one of them offered. “There’s nothing better.”

“Thanks.”

Keenin smiled and accepted the two cobs smeared with butter and salt. He happily ate one while he continued his way over to the guard. Keenin offered it over wordlessly as he continued to eat.

“Thanks,” the guard said. 

Keenin swallowed. 

“I know how it feels only being able to watch,” Keenin said. 

He saw the keys hanging on the guard’s belt. He needed an isolated spot to make a move.

“Do you know where the salt is kept? We’re running low,” Keenin said, feeling that he might get lucky.

Salt was usually a limited supply, especially if it was used to ward away ghosts.

“Oh, sure,” the guard replied.

He left his corn on the edge of the cart and lifted and shifted though the key ring to find the correct one. Then he idly moved to the cart holding salt while Keenin followed him out of sight from the main camp. The guard fiddled to undo the padlock.

“Just a second,” the guard said.

While he was busy Keenin aimed a hand at the guys hand to give direction to his magic and the man collapsed wordlessly. Hopefully, he had only applied enough heat to his brain to cause a blackout. If there was other damage, then it was too bad. He left the guard as he lay half over the back of the supply cart and took the ring of keys for himself.

He wasn’t yet sure where Dia was, but he had an idea. Keenin sniffed the air for the sour and fowl stench of death, then moved up to one of the carts and tried the keys in the lock. He finally got one to fit. Keenin remembered that he had to follow the rules and pulled the blindfold from his pocket to cover over his eyes.

Preparations done, he turned the key in the lock and pulled open the door. A strong stench of rot plugged his nose and it was quiet. But then he heard the scrambled sound of scattering bones before two thin warm arms wrapped themselves around him. She felt taller and softer.

“Keenin,” Dia said. “I didn’t think you would come. I’m sorry that I got captured. I didn’t know he would use me against you.”

It was odd not to see her. Keenin wondered how long Dia had been here. It was just like Iscara. It was almost ironic that she had been thrown in with the corpses. 

Keenin felt for her arms and gently pushed her away. He felt her hand touch the blindfold and closed his eyes tight in case she pulled it off. She didn’t.

“Did Iscara do something?” she asked.

“Sorry. He told me not to see you,” Keenin replied honestly. “I had to listen.”

“Then, his words. That’s how he had been doing this.”

“Ya.”

“And you couldn’t come back,” Dia said.

He took hold of her hand that had rested on the blindfold.

“Dia I have to know. Why did you come here?” Keenin asked.

“Don’t you know,” she said hurt. “I didn’t want to let them have you.”

So she had felt that way. He had just wanted to make sure.

“Listen…” Keenin said, lifting a free hand to gently touch the side of her face.

She was so warm and she must have been beautiful. Even in this place. He removed his hand in embarrassment. Being blind, it wasn’t easy to be subtle.

“I…I’m sorry if I said anything that upset you in the meeting.”

“But it’s ok now right,” Dia said. “We can go. This curse will wear off.”

She took his hand.

“Not yet,” Keenin said.

“Meladona can win this war on their own, Keenin,” Dia protested.

“I mean…my friends are going to prepare our escape in the early morning,” Keenin said.

“But we could just go. Every time you-

Keenin put a finger over her lips.

“They’re important friends to me,” he said. “So can you wait just a bit longer.”

“If you really say so, but don’t I stand out.”

Keenin smiled.

“I wouldn’t know. Do you stand out?” he teased.

“You invalid,” Dia insulted him. “You wouldn’t know good clothes when I saw them. Everything I own is tattered.”

Not a bad image, Keenin thought.

“And who said I wanted you in clothes,” he said snidely.

“You. You. You!” Dia fumed.

“What?” Keenin said innocently.

“This is not the place,” she stated.

In the end, Dia had him wear the helmet of the guard he had knocked out so that his shut eyes wouldn’t stand out while she put on his boots and pulled her grey cloak around herself. They walked close with arms linked so that Keenin could describe where to go and she could guide him, looking very much like a drunken pair of secret lovers. 

“This is embarrassing,” Dia whispered. “Are you sure that you can’t open your eyes if I walk behind you?”

“I did try,” Keenin said.

But since his mind had changed the meaning of Iscara’s words to eyesight and he knew she was there, it was like his eyes were glued shut. At least his friends might not recognize him like this. Dia halted and Keenin heard her pull back a tent flap.

“Is this it?” she questioned.

“Is there an ugly feather crested helmet on the floor?” 

And that scrap of paper with his notes that he had to hide. 

“Yup,” she said.

“Good.”

Keenin took three steps forward and the paper crumpled under his bare foot. He picked it up unconcerned.

“By the way,” Keenin said as Dia came closer. “What were you planning to do if it was the wrong tent?”

“I think they would have understood.”

He felt her pass by and heard her sit down on the furs, setting her booted feet out in front of her. He turned away.

“You, uh, wouldn’t happen to have food, would you?” Dia asked. “Hey, is this a sword?”

The paper crumpled further in Keenin’s hand.

“Dia,” he said.

He knew that she was watching him.

“I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“For not saying it sooner. I… I like you.”

Gods, he couldn’t even say it clearly. 

“I know,” Dia said quietly.

When he realized that the silence was her answer, Keenin was almost glad that she didn’t say it.

***

Dia lay asleep in his bed. He had brought in a food tray and they had stayed inside all night, talking, laughing, remembering. There had been nobody to disturb them. Now he pulled his shirt back over his head and stepped outside into the cold air. Letting the door fall shut behind him he leaned back against a tent pole. A headache that he suspected had been induced by the earlier battle was creeping up his temples and the cold felt nice. He listened to the rustle and clink of materials being moved around camp, and pulled the blindfold from over his eyes to gaze up at the stars above. The moon was so large in the sky that it threatened to crash down, cold and crushing.

“It’s a ghost moon,” Tess explained beside him.

Her pale blue form rested coldly against his shoulder. He absently ran his fingers through her silken hair. 

“It’s pretty,” he responded.

“Did leaving me hurt like this?” she asked peering up to him.

Keenin closed his eyes.

“Tell the death god, there is one more thing I want.”

 

END

Chapter 45: Splinter