As cold as the Banncreag’s courtyard was, the high walls sheltered it from the worst of the wind. The sky was clear, but Teresa saw no sign of the moon. She scanned the heavens, not noticing the other woman until she drew within six feet – the elf who’d watched her and Casidhe before, the one who’d told Casidhe “She’s pretty” as they left. She stood with her arms crossed, the look on her face hard to read.
“Oh,” Teresa said, meekly. “Pardon me.”
The elf shrugged, saying “I’d have thought you of all people would be more aware of your surroundings.”
Teresa found relief in laughter, a slight release of all her nervous energy. “I seem to be paying attention to all the wrong things of late. Is the moon not out tonight?”
The elf’s expression took on a suspicious cast, bringing out her wild, hungry aspect. “It came. It went. Bit like -” She cut herself off.
“Right,” Teresa sighed. “Damn it. I just can’t count on anyone anymore. Too bad; I had something to ask her.” When the elf’s suspicion seemed to deepen, she said “My mother, I mean, not the moon. Stupid, I know.”
The elf looked around, as if trying to see who else Teresa could talk to. “Your mother?”
“Yes. When I was a little girl, and I couldn’t sleep, she used to sing a song to me…” The elf was openly staring now, but it seemed born of curiosity, not rudeness. Teresa was also curious about Casidhe’s… friend?... and decided the best way to learn about her was to sing, hesitantly at first:
“Though all lives must Fade, one law is obeyed
By mothers with daughters in plight:
Sing this song to the moon, and I promise soon
That together we’ll dance in her light.
“Stupid, like I said. But it’s about all I have left of her now.”
The elf tore her eyes away from Teresa and looked skyward. “It’s nice. It’s better than…” She stopped, and shook her head. She’s lost someone, too. “It’s nice. Wh-uh… How did she…?”
“Fever. I was five.” Though Teresa had made her peace with her mother’s death, thinking about it now, in light of everything that had happened tonight, was just too much. She looked around and sat on a cold stone bench, returning her gaze to the elf. “Have you ever known someone who always knew just what to say? She was like that.”
She nodded, her mind clearly going to someone. “I guess she… loved you?” The word seemed to catch in her throat, foreign to her. It was hard enough for the elf to express interest in Teresa, let alone talk about herself; she knew it’d be wiser to answer the questions, and not ask them…
“She did. She still does. People don’t stop loving you just because they’re gone.”
The elf nodded noncommittally. “What about your father?”
“He loves me, certainly, but he’s different. An old soldier. You know what they say, ‘Once a Templar…’”
“Oh, right. Templar.” The elf cleared her throat and took a short step back. “I almost forgot.”
The same hatred that Casidhe bore, Teresa thought. Is that what they had in common? She turned her head to one side and asked, as innocuously as she could, “Have you known Casidhe long?”
“No. A few weeks at best.” The elf started looking around again, as if looking for an avenue of escape, then half-mumbled: “He talks about you all the time.”
“Really?” She tried to hide her surprise, but to no avail. “I, um… I thought he was dead, you know. And I hate to say this, but I think my life would have been less confusing if I’d been right.”
The elf snorted, an unladylike gesture that instantly endeared her to Teresa. “It’s probably true. The man makes things difficult. But…” She focused on Teresa, her brow crinkling. “It’s not for lack of trying. I think… I know he is – was – afraid.”
“Afraid of what?” she asked, hoping she was right about the answer.
“Of you.” She shook her head. “Uh, that is… not of you-you. But of…”
“Of falling in love, sure.” Teresa smiled. “I know the feeling, really. I can hardly think for all the feeling. Do you know, an hour ago I was crying? Me, crying! That’s not my way. I don’t weep, or faint… or wear makeup, or put on dresses… and I damn sure don’t need some fool duelist to rescue me. And yet… and yet some part of me wants that. And I hate myself for it…”
Clearly flummoxed by this outburst, the elf sighed and plunked down beside her. “I don’t understand. I’m told it is supposed to be a good thing, but why is everyone so afraid of it, then?” She folded her arms again and stuck out her chin. “What is it for, anyway?”
“I couldn’t tell you what it’s for. I’m afraid…” Teresa felt surprised – and relieved – to say it. “I’m afraid because I’ve never felt this way. More than that, though: I’m afraid that, if I forgive him, he’s just going to hurt me again. You heard him. He left me. He ‘tried to find comfort in another woman’s arms.’” And for all I know, she thought, it was you.
“No,” the elf said at once, grabbing Teresa’s wrist. Though Teresa scarcely noticed, the elf realized what she’d done and quickly let go. The elf shook her head. “No,” she said again, with conviction. “He left because of fear. He’s not afraid. Not anymore. He loves you, and he knows it.”
“Are you sure?” Teresa scanned the elf’s eyes for the truth.
She thrust out her chin again. “I’m a lot of things, but a liar isn’t one of them. Yes, I’m sure.”
Teresa pondered this. “When Casidhe was… talking to me, were any of the other… adventurers listening? Or was it just you?”
The elf shrugged. “Just me. Does it matter?”
“It might. I want to ask him to come back to Lothering with me… if you care about him the most, then you’re the one I should ask.”
The elf bristled. “I don’t care,” she said, a bit too loud. “He’ll go back with you, though. That’s what he came with us for. To try to find a way to convince you to take him back, the deadbeat.”
Teresa thought about what Casidhe had said earlier that night: “I’d go back with you if I could, but this… thing I’m part of. I need to see it through to the end.” Those green eyes of his had drifted down to her belt, and he’d added “Still wearing the sword I gave you. If you still have my father’s blades, I hope to be worthy of those – and of you – when I see you next.”
I can’t think of any reason this woman could have to lie to me, Teresa thought. Her earnestness had lent weight to Casidhe’s claims about the Templar-Commander. Maybe Casidhe was serious about becoming a better man, too.
“Oh,” she said. “I should… I should get going, then.”
As Teresa put her hands on the bench to stand, the elf said “Teresa, wait. He’s a slimy, weedy, air-headed man-rat and an absolute misery to be around when you’re not with him. Don’t let him go, and don’t leave him. Or if you do, have the decency to send him to me.”
Teresa blinked. “I… I see. You know, I never got your name.”
She fidgeted, shrugged, and looked away from Teresa before looking back. “Not that it matters, but… Gheris.”
“Of course it matters. You’ve helped me, Gheris. More than you know.” She threw a sudden hug around Gheris, surprising herself at least as much as she surprised the elf.
“Uh… sure. Just…” She wriggled, patted Teresa lightly a few times, and endured the scene with a grimace.
“Thank you.” Teresa said as she finally released Gheris. “Do you know where I can find him?”
“They put us up in the guest rooms down there.” She pointed south. “Cas is first one on your right.”
“All right. Goodbye, Gheris. I hope to see you again soon. Under happier circumstances.”
Gheris offered a small, wavering grin. “Unlikely.”
- – - – -
The relentless knocking at the door pulled Casidhe out of his uneasy slumber. He stumbled to the door, and opened it to find Teresa out in the hall.
“I’m going back to Lothering,” she said, “right now. I want you to come with me.”
“If you’re right – if the Templars have somehow been infiltrated – then there’s no telling what I’m walking into. I want someone watching my back. Someone good, someone I can… “
“Trust?” he offered.
“No. I’m not ready for that, Casidhe. This is not me forgiving you. This is… I could use your help, is all.”
Casidhe rubbed his eyes and squinted at Teresa. “I don’t want you facing the mirror-man alone,”” he sighed. “But I told you before, I need to see this thing through.”
“But the mirror-man is part of your ‘thing.’ Don’t you see that? Your friends will be fine without you. I… I might not be so lucky.” She looked down at her boots. “You must understand that I don’t ask this lightly, Casidhe… please.”