The next morning, Teresa noticed a raised welt on Casidhe’s back, just above the left shoulder blade. “What is that?” she asked when he caught her looking.
“An old burn scar,” Casidhe replied. “My father’s patron came to the house in the middle of the night, and asked him to escort a woman out of the city. Less than an hour after they left, Templars came to the house, demanding to know where they’d gone. I swore I had no idea, but they didn’t believe me until they’d done this to me” – he turned so she could see the scar – “with a poker.”
She reached out to touch it, a bit surprised that she missed it during the night. “How old were you?” was all she could think to say.
“Eight. Father’s boss – Segonal – came back later on and took me to have it treated. I never told Father about it, though. He never told me why he’d left that night; it seemed only fair.”
Sensing his bitterness, she said “He must have had his reasons.”
“I suppose. I never understood him, you know. Brandeouf Fionnlagh was a man who could have been somebody – could have guarded the king all by himself – but he was content to work for some merchant.”
“Why do you think that was?” she asked, feeling the same way about Casidhe.
“I’m not sure. Segonal told me that Father was never the same after my mother died. I was only three weeks old when that happened, though, so I wouldn’t know.”
“Did you love your father?”
“No,” He said with a sigh. “I wanted to – I tried to – but that was one hard man to love. Loving my father was like trying to love a sword. You can respect the talent and discipline that went into making it. You can admire how it’s so perfectly suited for its purpose. But you can’t use it for anything else. And it’ll never love you back.”
“I’m sorry, Casidhe.” Teresa wondered if anyone had ever loved Casidhe, then wondered what it would mean for her if she became the first.
“Don’t be; there’s no need.” When he resumed dressing; Teresa decided to do the same.
“The woman,” she asked, “who was she?”
“No idea. I thought she was my mother. I hoped she was. When I asked Segonal about her, all he told me was that she wasn’t my mother, and that Father felt responsible for losing her. That’s why he demanded to be freed from Segonal’s service.”
She laid a hand on his shoulder, and Casidhe closed his fingers over it. “We lost my mother, too,” she said. “When I was five. My father endured because of his faith, Casidhe. He believes that he’ll see her again when he dies.” And so will I, she thought, but chose not to say, given Casidhe’s problems with matters of faith.
Casidhe took up his sword belt, but stopped before belting it on. “She loved you?” he asked, looking at Teresa with quiet desperation.
“Very much. She was wonderful, Casidhe; I love her with all my heart, even now that she’s gone.”
Casidhe let go of her hand and turned to face her. “I can’t love a Maker who lets things like that happen to His devout.”
“I won’t ask you to. But you’ve got to accept that my father and I don’t feel that way.”
She couldn’t divine much from his nod, or the kiss that followed, but was quite surprised when Casidhe accompanied the Corwins to worship on the next holy day.
- – - – -
Casidhe saw little of Teresa that week. Her work kept her busy, sometimes long into the night. Despite his frustration – and his own obligations – Casidhe made the most of their time together…
Seven weeks ago
Casidhe smiled as he saw Teresa crossing the field, joining her in a kiss near the gymnasium. “I got you something,” he announced, presenting her with a duelist’s sword.
“Casidhe?!” Teresa gaped at the sword and didn’t take it from him.
I knew this would happen, he thought. The Corwins were people of modest means, but too proud to accept anything that resembled charity. “It’s not much to look at, sure, but it’s well-made, and much better suited to your size and build than what you’ve got.”
“I couldn’t possibly take that,” Teresa announced, moving her gaze from the sword to Casidhe’s eyes.
“I insist.” He took one of her hands in his and clasped it to the sword’s hilt. To his relief, Teresa didn’t fight him – not yet, at least. “It’s a gift, Teresa.”
“You’ve given me so much already,” she said. “It’s not fair; I can’t give you anything in return.”
“It’ll keep you safe. It’ll remind you of me, and keep your heart close to mine. Think of it as my gift to myself, if it helps.”
She seemed placated by that; once she tied the sword to her belt, they began the lesson.
Casidhe found his mind fraught with worry the entire time. What manner of sellsword was Teresa, to vanish for hours at a time? To leave in the middle of the night? She always evaded his gentle questioning, changing the subject or telling half-truths. The doubtful part of his mind – the part that sounded like Sim – reminded Casidhe that he didn’t deserve Teresa. If she wasn’t duping him, it was only a matter of time before she realized he wasn’t good enough for her. It was all he could do to spar despite those thoughts.
When the lesson ended, Teresa nearly left before taking a goodbye kiss. Casidhe was so wound up that he nearly sprained his next student’s wrist, and ended up refunding the poor man’s money. He went back to the Blue Bottle to wait for her, but she didn’t return that night – or the following morning….
- – - – -
For five days, Casidhe had very little word of Teresa. Afraid that he was losing her, he devoted himself to wild, romantic gestures which brought some light to whatever darkness she was enduring…
Six weeks ago
They met at the Blue Bottle one evening and made love as the last of the summer storms rolled into Lothering. Not long after Casidhe fell asleep, Teresa slipped out of bed, got dressed, and crept into the night.
A short time later, the inn shook with a violent clap of thunder, jolting Casidhe awake. He reached for Teresa to find her side of the bed empty, still bearing traces of her warmth. Realizing that she couldn’t have gotten far, he threw on his clothes and charged down the stairs. He asked Bakrum, who said that he’d just missed her.
He searched the dark, crowded street until he saw her turning a corner, and he waded through the mud to follow at a distance. She led him through the rain toward the chantry, but crossed the road before reaching it to duck into a narrow alley. Casidhe moved to a spot where he could watch without getting any closer.
Four figures emerged from the shadows, half-surrounding Teresa. Her hand hovered near the hilt of the sword he’d given her. Realizing that he’d left his own blades at the inn, Casidhe cursed his luck under his breath. Teresa was on her own.
One of the men (at least, they looked like men from here), his red cloak too small for his tall, broad frame, stepped forward. Casidhe couldn’t see his face, or hear what he said, but everyone relaxed. Teresa spoke to him, turning to point east, back the way she’d come. The man in the red cloak nodded and handed her a small bag – a coin purse, perhaps.
A sudden flash of lightning illuminated the scene, allowing Casidhe to glimpse one detail – the man’s wooden leg, which ended in a clawed foot like a piece of furniture – before all went dark again.
I know him, Casidhe realized. When the man came to speak to Luthias MacDaer about Black Torin’s “business opportunity,” his two associates had to wait outside. This was one of those men. Casidhe would know that leg anywhere.
What was Black Torin’s man doing in Lothering? Why was Teresa talking to him? Taking money from him? Pointing him east to…
Face it, Casidhe, he thought. Teresa’s selling you out to the pirates.
He refused to believe it, even as Teresa led the men back onto the street and east. He headed west, mindless of his soaked clothes, trying to understand what he’d just seen.
She cared about you, he thought. She might even love you. So? Sim was your friend your whole life, and you saw what a little pirate gold did to him. He remembered the last thing his father ever said to him: A woman with her fingers around your heart is the most dangerous of foes.
I was wrong to forget your words, Father. But I remember the second thing you told me: there’s more pretty girls than one.
The lessons were all he had left of his father, now that he’d forgotten the swords. Serves you right, he could imagine Brandeouf saying. That’ll remind you to listen to me next time.
He persuaded the guards at the gate to let him leave the city in the middle of the night, and he followed the river west. By the time the rain stopped, just after sunrise, Casidhe knew he’d come down with fever, but he kept walking. A song came to him, one that Sim was fond of, and he sang until he started to believe it:
So honey, look down that old lonesome road
Hang down your pretty head and cry
‘Cause I’m thinkin’ all about them pretty little girls
And a-hopin’ that I never die…