Essenin’s morning started with one of the three most unpleasant sounds one could hear upon waking—someone being violently sick. They rolled over and saw with relief that at least Rolli was heaving into the chamber pot.
“Well, good morning to you, too,” Essenin offered at their driest when Rolli had finished.
“Oh no.” Rolli groaned as he replaced the lid with shaking hands. “You’re still here. You weren’t a dream and you’re seeing me like this. If you ever loved me, kill me now.”
“Since I never loved you, I suppose I can abstain from murder today.” Essenin began to climb out of bed, realized they were in only their small clothes, and wrapped a sheet around first.
Rolli clutched his chest. “Ow. Heart torn to shreds already. It’s all right. I can just die on my own.” He curled up on the floor with his head buried in his arms.
“No sympathy from me. You did this to yourself.” While Essenin tried to sound stern, they still poured a cup of water and set it by Rolli’s elbow. “Drink that. Slowly. Give me a moment and I’ll go down for morning-after necessities.”
The ragged moan might have been gratitude. Essenin chose to pretend it was. The contortions they performed while getting dressed behind the sheet might have been interesting under other circumstances. Right then, it was annoying. Dressed and braids untied from their night scarf, Essenin hurried to the kitchen and procured bitter root for the headache, tea for the near-death feeling, and some thinly sliced, buttered tubers that would soak up the worst of the nausea.
Playing nursemaid to a drunk. This is part of the reason we didn’t work.
Still, Essenin reminded themself that they needed information. All for a good cause. They sat with Rolli while he pulled his sorry self back from the brink, then marched him down to the bathhouse to get him presentable. Maybe not for high society, but at least for Essenin’s poor nose.
His clothes…Essenin was tempted to have them burned, but they sent them to the inn’s laundry instead and let Rolli sulk in the room wrapped in a blanket. If he had belongings, and therefore a change of clothes, goddesses only knew where those were.
“So why are you here?” Rolli finally managed coherently and almost civilly.
“It’s a bit of a story, and not all mine to tell.” Essenin went to the window to stare at the view of the mountains, lit up in gold and blue on this bright, clear day. “Do you know where the sylvas are?”
“Yes.” Essenin turned, narrowing their eyes. “Small, dark-haired people. Generally pale. Lovely, tufted ears.”
“I know who they are, Ess. But why in all watery hells would you be looking for them?”
“No, no, no. You’re very bad at this. You answer my question first.”
Rolli twisted the blanket in both hands, exposing an expanse of lean leg. “On your side of the ocean, they live in the northlands. Here, they live in the mountains. Everyone knows that, generally.”
“Uh-huh. And do you know anything more specifically about the sylvas here?”
“Ah, you haven’t come to rescue me at all.” Rolli pulled his feet up onto the bed and rested his head on his knees. “Not even a hint of, Rolli, how have you been? or, Rolli, why are you in such a sorry state? Lovely. Everyone just wants to use me.”
“Will you please stop feeling sorry for yourself? It won’t work and it’s irritating. I happened to see you in a sorry state and I did help you.” Essenin rolled their eyes when Rolli sniffled. “But I have more important things to do than to keep babysitting you.”
“I don’t give out information for nothing, you know,” Rolli said to his knees, all wounded sulk. “Part of the job. Though I’m willing to negotiate.”
“If you have real information, and you’re not just angling for sex, I’ll pay you as a guide.”
The promise of coin lifted Rolli’s head, sure enough, though his eyes were red rimmed and swimming. Hard to tell what was an act sometimes. Bards.
“All right. I do know where some of the sylvas compounds are. I’ve visited several.”
“And are they going to shoot you full of arrows if they see you again?”
“What? No! What a mean thing to say.” The wide-eyed affront was well done. “There’s only one where I’m not welcome back. That was not my fault.”
“Oh, Rolls.” Essenin rubbed the center of their forehead where the hint of a headache had started. “What did you do?”
“I didn’t know!” Rolli protested. “No one told me you have to clear propositions with the older siblings first! She was an adult, a lovely bit of delicate ferocity. How was I to know?”
Essenin had to bite their bottom lip to keep from laughing. “You could try not going after every single person who takes your fancy? Maybe?”
“That’s not a fair characterization at all. I only proposition the most exquisite people. The most astoundingly beautiful.” Rolli flashed his brightest smile.
“Don’t start. We will not be picking up where we were before and you know why. The suggestions, the pestering, the heartfelt confessions—no more.” Essenin turned and held a hand out. “You take me to the sylvas. I pay you for your time. Done?”
“I get paid and get to look at you along the way?” There. The familiar mischievous sparkle had returned to Rolli’s eyes. That was better. He grasped Essenin’s forearm to seal the agreement. “Done.”
This is probably a mistake, but at least I know he won’t lead me off into the mountains to murder me and he does play the sewa beautifully. If Rolli managed not to be too annoying, Essenin would definitely feel better not traveling alone.
Angel writes (mostly) Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around queer heroes. Currently living part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware and full time inside her head, she has one husband, one son, two cats, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.