Chapter Seventeen: The Whisper and The Worm

Khal searched the mantle with a hollow gaze for a long moment, while the fire churned amidst the logs and hovered low, burning deep and quiet. Ashes whispered about the base of the flames and threatened to spill out onto the floorboards, but Édara kicked them back with a dustpan and knelt again beside Khal’s seat. He looked to her and then to me.

There is still beauty here, he said. I know it can be so hard to find. I met a man, much later, who said that the leaves had gone grey and the sea spoiled to ink. He said the world had lost its beauty. But it is still there. Tell me, Mávben….

It was beautiful, yes, I said. But I don’t quite follow.

My father came from Mávben. Khal’s voice lilted upon the first syllable of the name, the sort of thing that would mark one as a native speaker. Spent some time with the druids, up in Keirigan. That is an old name, you know. Not of our tongue.

This Dema…. I leaned forward, propping my elbows on my knees. You said she spoke a strange language, not of Alvyria. Do you know what it was?

Khal flicked a hand towards the flame. We’ll get there. We’ll get there. But now it is time to rest. Tomorrow, I intend to leave you where another leg of my journey ends, but for now that will have to wait. Then, closing his lips to whisper, he flicked his hand again. Rarakii.

Khal watched the hearth. He dragged his hands down the armrests of his chair. And then, with a long breath, he stood and made his way to the stairs. I expected Édara to follow after him, to help him up the stairs, but he managed on his own, going up in much better shape than he had come down, until at last he slipped out of sight, up into the third floor. Édara fell into the seat beside me. Her eyes were narrowed. Not in a menacing fashion, simply tired—the sort of half-closed look one gets when they should sleep but have one last matter to tend to.

Thank you, she said. I waited for more, but she leaned on her armrest, watching the last of the logs crumble and the flame sputter out into ash. Embers twirled about the grate, and a few floated on uncertain drafts, up and about the beams above.

No, thank you, I said. I’m glad to have gotten the chance to hear this.

He needs it, you know. For all that he avoids talking about that whisper in his chest, he is always better after having spoken about it. He won’t. Not unless you ask him to. But it helps. I can see it.

I don’t understand then, why were you opposed to my coming here?

It’s like any other wound. Édara drew a circle in the air over her chest, and her gaze drifted up from the hearth to the mantle. It’s easier to bandage it, to hide it. But then it doesn’t heal. It just festers there. It rots. But opening it up, cleaning it out, letting others see it—that is sometimes even more painful. I just worry that it’s been too long now. At what point is the wound too deep? What if trying to open up would only make it worse? I don’t know, chronicler. I wish I did. But I love him more than anything, and the thought of losing him to that…. How am I supposed to help?

I tried to muster some words for her, but in truth, I did not know.

You come from Nychiour, no? Do you have anything like this there?

This whisper, Édara said. Yes, chronicler, we do. And I know it well. With Khal, I mean, with Sóro… She shook her head and let out a small laugh. Khal believes his gift and his curse are one and the same. But I know better. In Nychiour, we call it ‘red.’ Her voice arced over the word, as if in song. She fixed her gaze on her hands, inspecting the wrinkles and scars carved across the back of her palms. ‘Nyi rede henntun.’ I have dealt with this weight my entire life. How do I put it to words? There are some things you know so long that they become difficult to explain. How do you describe seeing? Or hearing? This whisper…. She laid her hands upon her armrests, palms up. I’ve never been one for poetry. It is more a worm than a whisper. The sort of thing that you feel gnawing in your chest. But the hour is getting late, and I should let you sleep. Khal will want to tell you himself.

Again, I must thank you, I said as she rose. For all of this.

You bring hope, chronicler. Édara stepped away. A dangerous and beautiful thing.

And with that, she strolled to the stairway and out of sight. I lingered a while longer by the hearth, glimpsing starlight through the window overhead. Two beams cut the sky into four quarters, segmenting constellations, partitioning the veil—I wondered whether, out there, there was still beauty. Were there places in the vast world where Khal’s words rang true? Where there was still green in the leaves and wine-hue in the waves? There had to be. As I packed up my belongings and slung my bag over my shoulder, I repeated this line again and again, until night swept over the Eonóll Inn and the world was bathed in silence.