When dinner ended, Sharwyn asked Aramis to stay and talk. To her relief, the cleric agreed, saying she needed to hear what he had to say, too. He followed her up the stairs and out onto the second story deck, where they could see the sinking sun, take in the cool air of early evening, and stay out of everyone’s way.
She took a chair next to the railing, and Aramis pulled another chair close to hers before sitting in it. He leaned forward and locked his eyes on her, saying “What’s on your mind?” in that calm, smooth voice she knew so well.
That won’t do, she thought, and said “You go first.”
“All right. Azal is in love with your brother.” That was always his way, to get right to the point. “I just found out this morning, and we don’t know if Talgen feels the same way… but some of the villagers don’t like tieflings, and I don’t know your own thoughts on them. I just thought you should know.”
Sharwyn didn’t know Azal yet, but wasn’t one to judge based on things like race. Talgen had mentioned his tiefling friend before; if Azal was anything more than that to her brother, she’d missed it. But Talgen had always been a private person, and there was no asking him now… “It’s not a problem.” she said. “And even if it was, it’s none of my business. Talgen’s old enough to chase whomever he likes.”
Aramis leaned back in his chair. “I’m glad to hear you say that. Azal’s like family to me, and anyone who has a problem with her has a problem with me.”
Azal’s like family to me. Sharwyn had known at once that Aramis was close to the tiefling, but hadn’t been able to fathom the relationship’s depth. He didn’t seem jealous of Azal’s feelings for another man, so they weren’t together, after all. Aramis wore a wedding ring, true, but it was the old silver one – the one Celeine had given him.
She took a deep breath. This is it, she told herself. You’ve been waiting for this since you were ten years old…
“What did you want to talk about, Sharwyn?” Aramis asked.
“Before I tell you,” she began, “thank you for saving me.” He nodded, and closed his eyes for a moment. He’s blaming himself for not reaching Talgen in time. Pull him out of it. “I was sure I was going to die today, Aramis.” Maybe not die – Talgen wasn’t really dead – but she nearly lost who she was, which would have been just as bad, if not worse. “There’s so much I have to say – things I’ve never told anyone, things that you, alone, need to hear – and who else should save me but you?”
The cleric simply said “You’re welcome. Please, go on.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice rising in the intensity of his undivided attention. “I’ve had years to think about how to tell you this, but I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance, and now you’re here and I’m losing my nerve and – “
Suddenly his hand reached out for hers, warm in the cool evening. Hot, even. “It’s all right,” he assured her, and she wanted to believe him. Maybe she could make it through this without crying after all. “You can tell me anything.”
“It’s my fault that Celeine died,” she blurted out, and Aramis’s fingers raised for a split second before closing back down on her hand.
“What?” Whatever was going on behind the cleric’s deep blue eyes, Sharwyn couldn’t tell. He’s hiding his pain, she thought. If I didn’t already know it was there, I might never know…
“Gerabaldi… it was my first year at the school, and I wanted the apprenticeship so badly! I told him about the apple and he went to bid on it – he won it when Celeine needed it…” Her tears flowed freely now; she didn’t care any more. If that was the price for finally telling him, then she would pay it. “It’s all my fault. I’m sorry, Aramis. I am SO sorry.”
He left his chair without hesitation and put an arm around her, allowing her to melt into his embrace. She loathed herself for the thrill it gave her. “I know how much you loved her,” she cried. “And if it wasn’t for me, you’d still be together. You must hate me.”
“I don’t hate you.” His calm would have been unnerving, but for the compassion in his voice. “I don’t blame you.”
“You can’t mean that,” she sniffed. clawing her way back to composure. She searched his face for any sign of falsehood, but he truly seemed at peace with this revelation.
“I do. Fate wills what it will. You couldn’t have known what would happen.” His fingertips brushed the tears from her eyes, her cheeks burning at his touch.
“I guess not,” she said. “But I’ve always felt terrible about what happened.”
“Foolishness doesn’t become you. You have no reason to feel guilty.”
“You’re wrong. You’re so wrong, Aramis.”
Feeling his chest stop in mid-breath, Sharwyn sat up and faced him. “I don’t understand,” the cleric said.
“I love you, Aramis.” There. It was finally out. “I’ve loved you since the first time I saw you.”
“What?” he said. It sounded exactly like the response to her first confession.
“And that’s the problem, right there! You have no clue. You’ve never known – because you only had eyes for the servant girl.”
“Sharwyn, I – “
“Please, just listen to me. I was always so jealous of her.” She was weeping again. “She was a good woman, and I know she made you happy, but I wanted to do that. And then she died while I was at the academy… and you left for Brindinford before I got back… I tried to leave you behind, Aramis, I really did. But there’s no one else for me. No one else but you.”
He stared at her in disbelief. Sharwyn might as well have told him that she was really a gnome. “I had no idea,” he said. “You were always so quiet… I thought you didn’t like me.”
Her laugh caught her by surprise. “No. Believe me, that wasn’t the reason. I didn’t want to come between you and Celeine… and I was shy back then, of course. I grew out of that in school.” At least, I thought I did… you have no idea how hard this is for me, shepherd.
“I’m not a child anymore,” she said. “I want the same thing I’ve always wanted…” Sharwyn reached behind his head, fingers in his unruly blond hair. “And now it’s finally in my reach.” She leaned forward, holding her desire in check to place a tentative kiss on his mouth.
“I’m not the shepherd’s son you used to know,” he whispered, his breath warm on her lips.
“I know.” If anything, she wanted him even more now. He was stronger now, and confident… and his air of mystery intrigued her. She wanted to take his pain away, to lose her own in him.
“I’ll need time,” he said, returning her kiss at last. “I don’t know that I’m ready for this sort of thing.”
“I haven’t touched a woman since she died,” he said, though his hands had found her now.
“Sharwyn, I’m afraid.”
“There’s no need. Foolishness doesn’t become you.”
She took his hand and led him to her bedroom, where they kindled a spark of light amidst their darkness.
. . .
Adell listened to their conversation – and everything that followed – and was shocked by Aramis’s thunderous finish. That man’s been holding it ALL in, she thought.
. . .
When he woke her the next morning, Aramis was already dressed.
“I’m going back to the farm,” he said, “for a couple of days. I need to tell them what’s happened, and I have some rituals to learn.”
“Right,” she said, pulling the sheets up to cover herself. “That… that might be best.”
“You’re welcome to come with me. I just thought you’d prefer to stay with your family…”
“No, you’re right.”
“I’ll see you when I get back.”
“Sure,” she said, casting her eyes away from him. “When you get back.”
He placed a kiss on her forehead, another on her lips, then turned to leave. “Aramis?”
“Don’t say anything to my mother. Please.”
“Just please. Don’t.”
He nodded and slipped out the door, leaving Sharwyn as alone as she’d ever felt.