Chapter 72: Gaelhal

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The quintessential Alberic fishing town. A cold sea, fish markets with fresh fish, friendly, simple people. That was what I learned from novels. Unfortunately, such a thing is a myth; Alberic fishing towns, as a rule, are smelly, brine-stained collections of hovels that reek of fish guts.

-Nicolette de Alvreine, Journeys of a Leyons Lady

***

When Laidu awoke, it was still raining.

It didn't pour down in the deluge before, but it fell in steady grey sheets. He sighed, and felt the two people snuggled up to him shift in their sleep. He smiled for a moment, and held them close.

There was Thaen, small and wiry compared to Laidu. He curled up against Laidu, his head resting on the dragon Changed's chest, arms wrapped around his stomach. Laidu's hand rested on Thaen's back, and with every rise and fall of the Vesperati's chest, he could feel the soft fur shift underneath his fingers.

He remembered those nights when Thaen had stayed with him, when the snow had turned everything cold and made the air freezing. Laidu had never felt it, but Thaen had. He had always curled up against Laidu, always called him Thaen's "big brother." 

He knew his mother and father loved him. He knew that. He knew -from all the times they got in trouble together, all the times they pranked another monk or broke the rules- that Po Shun loved him as a friend. But he knew at an even deeper level that Thaen loved him as a brother. He knew that every night for a year when Thaen snuggled up to him and fell asleep, calling him "brother."

And then there was Kyra.

She laid on his chest, breathing evenly. Laidu held her closer, wrapped his arm around her a bit tighter. He wanted to do more, wanted to wrap his arms around her, shelter her, guard her and keep her warm and promise her she'd never be hurt or taken again. 

But he remembered the words she had said, the things she had called him. "Friend." That was what he was to her. A friend. Laidu had hoped for more, had hoped she reciprocated his feelings, but that was probably too much to ask for. Too much, definitely.

Why had he gotten his hopes up? He could see his body, covered in scales, in ugly, filthy scales. It didn't matter if he polished them until they shone like gems, they were still ugly. They were sickening to look at. It was a wonder Kyra could abide to be touched by them.

You're a friend, Kasran said. She thinks they're an affliction. She can only stand it because she pities you. That is how she sees you. She pities you, like you're a wretch.

Laidu shifted his arm away, so he wasn't holding Kyra as tightly. She shifted, and groggily, still asleep, pulled his arm back, hugging it close to herself. You're wrong, Kasran, Laidu said. He gently stroked Kyra's hair, smoothing out the tangles as she slept against him. You lie. All you do is lie. And I'm done believing it. 

He gave her a soft and gentle whisper of a kiss on the forehead, and settled down, back to sleep. The last thing he remembered was Thaen shift slightly, and then lay still. And then, everything evaporated into the mist of dreams.

***

The rain had stopped just before dawn, Karik'ar said.

Mist rose from the rocky earth, and Kyra kept close to Laidu to keep warm. They had left the ruin an hour ago, and although there were a few stone altars that jutted out of the mountain, the path returned to nature. Trees had sprouted up, and although there were enough to be counted as a forest, they were sparse, few and far-between.

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