Teller of fortunes is a serial work of Fantasy Fiction, at times surreal, at times slice-of-life. No eldritch horrors were unleashed upon the realm in the creation of this work.
“I am called Thelorn.”
Thelorn, the lorn, Ane thinks to herself grimly, Well, that’ll make it easy to remember, at least.
As Ane talks to him, Vasht walks up beside the man and kneels down beside one of his arms. At first sight of the joint, his eye widens and he nearly tips back with surprise. It’s not a look of disgust, nor horror, just sheer disbelief — and this is from a man who’s lived with the rest of the troupe for so long.
The man’s condition is simply impossible. Arms, flesh, bones aren’t supposed to be have this way. Perhaps it’d be normal for two tree-trunks to twist into a helix, wrapping over-under until they merge at the end into a misshapen club. Even small, gnarled out-branches wouldn’t be out of place… but on a person? Thelorn has clearly been suffering for quite some time.
Still, as stoic as Vasht often is, he manages to contain most of the reaction.
“This may hurt a bit at first, but I’ll be careful. Just remain still until that passes,” he says in a calm, easing tone.
Thelorn offers his silence as agreement. Without raising his gaze, he speaks to Ane.
“I am Ane. This is Vasht. The one who just left is… A monk. Where did you come from, Thelorn?”
The klorr nods, though occasionally winces as Vasht makes first contact. Working with his joints requires working past that initial pain, as well as the discomfort that comes with loosening the scar tissue binding his muscles into knots.
“Came from Seilina. Small place… Town.” Thelorn grunts, shifting his shoulders, then adds, “Field farmer… Slave.”
Slave. So Jarrik probably did buy him.
“A field farmer? That must have been very painful for you.”
“Not before…” He answers, his voice rasping. “Before this.”
He doesn’t indicate his arms directly, but he doesn’t have to. The implication weighs in his tone like lead.
As cooperative as he’s being, especially considering the fact that Vasht is manipulating his aching joints, Ane decides not to press her luck.
“Do you ever get bored here alone, Thelorn?”
“Doesn’t matter,” he rumbles, wincing again. While Vasht is making some headway, it’s against a rather absurd knot of flesh and bone. It’s like a combination of a Paakopondese cube puzzle and a grievous injury. Nonetheless, there’s plenty to be done.
“Not my place,” Thelorn adds, in a beaten-down tone.
“Sure it matters,” Ane urges him gently, “You don’t have to sit here alone all day if you don’t want to.”
“I should not want,” he states once more. “It is only pain.”
It’s a confusing statement, as bluntly worded as it is.
“Well,” Ane says, as she tries to sort through the tangle of Thelorn’s words, “You are allowed to not-want.”
Vasht looks up from his task, a look of concern on his brow. He speaks up in a soft, mollifying tone,
“If you don’t mind me asking… why is it bad to want?”
The klorr makes a slight murmur in his mouth, as if mulling around some words.
“Want gave me these arms.”
Ane frowns, though she tries to hide the expression behind her knees. So, in addition to not being very communicative about his needs, he’s genuinely afraid. Was he punished for taking something he wanted? Cursed to feel pain every time he desired something? She doesn’t know. She isn’t sure she wants to know.
“Well… Someone will come tomorrow, with a book. If you can read, it is yours to read. If you can’t, they’ll read it to you. You don’t have to want it — but, if you think they should go away, just say so and they will. Is this alright?”
“Cannot read,” he answers.
By now, Vasht has moved to the other arm. As slow as the klorr may be to respond, talking with him tends to take longer than it feels. At least one arm seems to move a little more easily; it doesn’t change the fact of his condition, but the knot of bone and flesh looks a little less painful.
Then a few moments later, Thelorn continues.
“… Can listen.”
Well that’s something, at least…
“Then you can listen. If it bothers you, they will leave.”
“No light, not bothered,” Thelorn replies, his voice thick and ungainly.
Light, again. Ane chooses her words carefully, lest she hit a stone wall of woeful silence for her trouble.
“Did… light always bother you?”
At first, it seems he might be going quiet again. But then his voice starts up, creaking underneath the weight of emotion. He stammers a couple of times, choking on his words.
“Not… Not until I tried… Tried to touch it.”
He flexes what must have once been his hands, and his face becomes a rocky crag of pain, his mouth and eyes bunching up while tears gleam at the edges. Vasht has to step back a moment to let this pass, lest the mess of tendons cause him to misstep in his work.
“I saw it, was… like nothing else,” Thelorn continues, chest heaving. “Flying over, while heat burnt my back, my hands full of dirt.” He shakes his head. “A light… Magic,” he sobs, voice tinged with horror and wonder. “I cried, change me! Free me! And grasped for it…”
He heaves a deep breath.
A soft whistle passes Ane’s lips. Her swirls are wide with horror and surprise as she listens, and, when he finishes his tale, she doesn’t know how to respond. What could be said in the face of such desperate longing? What could comfort someone so punished?
“That sounds awful,” she says eventually, her voice small and aching with the inadequacy of the words, “I’m sorry.”
Thelorn slowly regains his composure, until only tear-streaked cheeks remain. He rubs them dry against his thin shoulder.
Even Vasht is left dabbing his eye and under his face-wing with a sleeve. He draws in a breath, then kneels back down and continues his work. He’s almost finished for now, and intends to soldier on with it until he’s done. Had Ane the tears to cry with, she’d probably be wiping them away, too.
“Yes,” he replies. “In light, there is… cruelty.”
She’s tempted to argue with him, however gently. Not all light is cruel, and lessening his fear of it would make it easier to make him more comfortable… But not like this. Not after that. Helping Thelorn to leave his wagon is a battle that won’t be won in a day. Maybe not ever.
“Sometimes,” she agrees, tentatively, “But only sometimes.”
The klorr draws in his lips, unable to answer. This might be the closest one can come to his acceptance in this matter. Progress with this is gradual. If he does emerge again, it will likely be due in part to the darkness of the tunnels. Still, this silence itself may be progress.
A few moments later, Vasht leans back from the klorr’s arm, taking a last moment to look it over. He takes in a breath, lets it out, then nods. He looks over towards Ane, indicating that he’s done all that can be done for today.
Ane nods to Vasht in return.
“I may not be able to come tomorrow,” she explains to Thelorn, “But someone will. You won’t be alone all day.”
Granted, “alone” is a very particular thing here. While he may not be willing — or even able — to leave his wagon, Jarrik has still probably been raking in the bits by charging visitors to peer through Thelorn’s windows. It gives Ane a feeling of very complicated rage.
Performers like Vila, Wila, and Zila are just that: Performers. Nobody, them included, has ever made any bones about the fact that visitors come to watch the spectacle of a singing, dancing trio of fraternal conjoined triplets, with their six carefully-arranged arms and ombre skin shifting subtly in color from one woman to the next. There’s still an enormous difference between watching an unusual person who is trying to entertain you, and gawking at someone else’s suffering.
The triplets may be exotic, even bizarre or horrifying by some people’s reckoning, but they still earn their money performing in a way they choose. This, though… Ane doesn’t have words for it.
Thelorn, oblivious to this rage, nods.
“Alright. That is… good, that someone will,” he says, as the tightness in his voice eases.
“I’ll make sure someone does,” she assures him, as she rises from the hay bale. Even covered, she can feel it itching her skin. Still, if there’s going to be hay here, she’s just going to have to endure it. “I’ll see if there are other things that can be done. You don’t have to want it or ask for it,” she hastens to add, “And if you are hurt or bothered by any of them, they will stop.”
It feels like she’s repeating herself a lot. Unfortunately, with Thelorn afraid to voice any requests for what he needs, her only recourse is to try. There have not been many times in her life when it was better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission, but this, unfortunately, might be one of them.
There’s a grateful air about the klorr, though he doesn’t say it outright. It seems his mindset is set deeply enough that he doesn’t want to acknowledge relief openly. In any case, this is probably all the progress that can be made in one day. He nods again, in his gloomy, silent way of bidding her farewell.
Vasht rises to his feet and dusts the hay off of his knees. He stands prepared to accompany Ane out the door, with a parting nod to Thelorn.
Ane gives the klorr a wave as she steps out into the fresher air of the camp.
“See?” She mutters to Vasht, hopefully low enough that Thelorn can’t overhear the way the rage rattles her voice, “It’s like Jarrik brought him in and just left him here… And this is after his hair’s been cut and his wagon’s been cleaned a little. He needs help, and he seems to know that, but he’s terrified to ask.”
The knife thrower takes a few more steps with her away from the wagon, just to be safe. He nods in agreement, his lips forming a grim line.
“Yeah… I’ll have to teach one of the camp followers to treat his arms,” Vasht figures. “But you’re right. That’s a bit much, even for Jarrik,” he continues, running a hand along his cropped hair. “What’s even stranger, is that Jarrik hasn’t tried to get any coin off of him… Like put him out for show, like his pet Faceless. During the shows, no one’s been shown to his wagon. Right now, he’s riding free.”
Ane’s brow furrows in perplexity.
“Really? That doesn’t make any sense… Why would he do that? Did he just kind of hope someone else would decide to take care of him, and then parade him out afterward? Void,” she shakes her head in disbelief, “Even when I was tiny, it was just assumed that Dynkala would teach me her craft, and I was at least able to help wash and brush the trumbas.”
Vasht shrugs one shoulder, looking back towards the old wagon.
“You’re right, it doesn’t make sense… Even under his father, I was set to juggling before I’d even gotten a meal.” He squints his eye for a moment. “I have two guesses… One, he might be scared of the klorr, and waiting until he comes out on his own. Two, he might be up to something else. Though I can’t imagine what.”
“Me neither. It’s not like Jarrik’s ever really been one for a long con.” Fantasizing about them, maybe. Planning and executing them? Not so much. “Maybe he’s scared of him, though Thelorn doesn’t even seem like he’d swat a fly if one landed on him.” Granted, he could probably splinter a stout beam if he really wanted to, but…
“We’ll just have to keep an eye on it, as usual. Maybe it will become more clear with time.” He lets out a labored sigh. “I bet if we asked, he’d give us some rehearsed spiel about helping the less fortunate, or whatever. It’d be about as believable as a flying sailwhale, but not something you could easily argue against.”
“Of course,” Ane sighs, “ At any rate, I’ve got to go through some of Cerine’s books, maybe see if there’s anything else that might make him more comfortable. He doesn’t like light, but I have no idea what to do about that.” She waves a hand in front of her swirls for emphasis. Shasii can perceive light, albeit not the way eyed races do. Ane has even seen light, just generally only through animal eyes. Neither are conducive to figuring out how to help him function without ever having to come in contact with light.
“Sure, sounds like a good idea,” he agrees, his expression lightening. “Anyway, you’ve done a good thing by bringing this to everyone’s attention… Regardless of why he’s here, it’s good that something is being done for him.” His single, sharp eye regards her warmly for a moment, his gaze cast in a rare, sincere light. “So, yeah. Books. I’ll go teach someone about messy elbows,” he says with a slight smile.
Ane shakes her head firmly.
“No, it’s all Nelea. She’s been bringing him food since he got here. I only went to see him after she came to my wagon to see if I could get him to open up a little bit and figure out why he’s holed up in there. But, anyway… if you see that monk around, ask him to stop by. He can read and he seems to have the time, so he might be able to spare part of the day to read to Thelorn a bit. Maybe even teach him a little.”
“Nelea, and you. First steps, next steps,” he agrees. “But yeah, sure. I think that monk will be floating by soon enough anyway…” He scratches the back of his head, and smirks. “Pft, ‘that monk.’ We don’t know his name, and he’s already doing half the odd jobs around camp.”
“I don’t think he’s being paid, either. He asked for a reading, I told him his next step in life should be to do something ‘that challenges his spirit’,” Ane explains, with requisite wiggly fingers, “And, next thing I knew, he was doing dishes here. He washed a chamberpot yesterday. He,” she concludes, “Has strange ideas about challenges. So long as he’s willing to help with Thelorn, though, I’m not gonna complain.”
Vasht grins knowingly.
“So you’re why we have a monk!” He declares, immediately amused.
She stills her hum, sighing.
“And a hundred pounds of appohs and puffroot. I know. I know.”
“You’ve been very industrious lately,” he appraises, placing his hands on his hips. “The Shards must be aligned towards you or something.” The knife-thrower, of course, is oblivious to most principles of geonomy and fortunes, though he still makes his own pass at being superstitious, as many travellers do.
“What can I say,” Ane retorts flatly, “Paakoponde was just a big old event for me.”
“And S’varga. Hot sauce and body paint,” he reminds, pointedly raising one brow. “And we’ve only just begun in this city.”
“Yeah… Reminds me, I still need to check their market,” Ane murmurs thoughtfully, “At any rate, I’m going to go see what books I can find for him. See if you can find a caravan follower who can work on his arms more, and don’t forget to sent that monk my way if you spot him. And… Thank you for coming to help.”
Vasht smiles modestly for a moment, scratching the back of his head and averting his gaze. He seems more abashed about being thanked by Ane than by being falsely led to the wagon.
“Yeah, you’re welcome,” he replies in an airy tone, rough with his usual edge of gruffness. “I’ll go do that. If you run into anything else, I’m around.” He then gives her a nod, and starts to head off on his way. Given his mood, it’s almost a surprise to see he’s still wearing his usual leathers and belt of knives; though it doesn’t seem to crimp the lightness in his step at all.
“Sure,” she agrees, nodding to him before she turns to head back to her wagon.
Once she’s there, she becomes a flurry of activity. Here are Cerine’s old books, there are a few she can spare for a time. They’ll fit nicely in a basket with the green dress-turned-shirt, too. Oh, and sightwort can relieve pain, at least a little, but would it be too much? Would he end up with visions, and hallucinate seeing the wicked light again? Better leave that out — she can ask Vaidna for help, or see what the S’vargan market can provide…
By the time she’s through, she has a small care package assembled. Three books of varying length, the ribbon-tied shirt that she’d dyed, and an extra pillow. Hopefully he doesn’t object, though she doesn’t think he will.
A short time later, the monk appears at her wagon once more with a knock on the door. Since he’s already agreed to help, it’s a trivial matter to have him deliver the items.
Ane lets the basket go with a pang of anxiety. She won’t be there to see how it’s received, but hopefully the monk won’t forget to let her know. It’s distracting enough, even, to keep her awake long after she should’ve been sleeping, even after a cup of geltsear leaf tea and a pinch of dried sightwort root under her tongue. When she does eventually nod off, it’s only a few hours before she’s expected to be back in her tent.
Jarrik is going to have a lot to answer for.