I was struggling heavily to stay awake as I staggered out of the woods. “Hey, you alright, bud?” Aabraham asked, putting his arm around me. His touch caused my eyelids to rip open as I claimed that I was fine. “Just a bit tired…” I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, nearly cutting myself with my dagger. Aabraham moved the blade away from my other eye and brought a hand to my forehead. “You’re not sick, I don’t think.” He said, and I brushed his hand away. “Yeah…” I slurred tiredly. “Just a bit sleep deprived.” “Well, you can go home and get some rest if you need to.” I nodded, then paused and looked up at him. “Before I do, can we talk?” I asked, and he nodded. “I’ll walk with you to the town.” “Okay…” I mumbled.
I yawned deeply as I thought of the words to use. “When I left home…” I began. “I wasn’t exactly wanting to be grounded by any home or anything. I wasn’t even originally planning on forming bonds with people. You saw how silent I was when I entered the tavern at the beginning of spring. I only really spoke with Loki. Now, knowing you, Lucia, and other people we’ve helped out, I kinda realized something…” I glanced up at Aabraham, who was staring at me intently. I glanced back down at my feet and continued, “I don’t want to rely on others. I want to learn to be independent and go around the world, helping other people outside of Cullfield.”
We had just entered the town as I finished, “So I may be leaving by the end of spring.” Aabraham was quiet as we kept walking, so much so I had to look up to see if he was still there. Sure enough, he was; his face was much less happy than what I had grown used to. “End of spring?” He asked. I nodded, and he insisted, “You should stay until the end of fall. Winter is terrible, but the fall is amazing in Cullfield.” From my experiences in the past, autumn was actually amazing for me. It was a time where there was more food at the bazaar, it was easier to get fabrics, and it was generally beautiful with the outstretched reds, oranges, yellows and browns. I fell silent as I thought while he ranted about how much would be going on and how spring was a lazy season for everyone.
“Okay…” I said, and he finally went quiet, looking down at me. “Okay, I’ll stay until the start of winter. But no later.” I saw his face light up, and he squeezed me tightly in his arm so it felt as though I was bruising. “Owww…” I cried out, relatively quietly, and he sighed. “With how much work we do, you’d think you’d be beefier.” He wrapped his large hand around my entire arm, and he asked how I wasn’t gaining muscle. I sighed and shrugged. “Sir Lawrence Valentine, you are absolutely impossible.” He smacked my back again, and I winced in pain. “Well, I have something else to take care of, so you take care.” He didn’t wait for me to respond as he spun on his heel and left.
I sighed and continued to walk, rubbing my eyes again, this time with my dagger in it’s sheathe. My eyelashes lightly brushed against my fingers as I tried to clear my eyes of it’s blurriness. I nearly shoved my entire hands into my sockets as I bumped into something, and I instinctively brought out my hands to catch myself in case I fell. Feeling a person’s clothes, I apologized, looking up at them. I noticed that it was a bard, almost as tall as Aabraham. Before I could even register what I was looking at, I heard several squeals from a few yards away. We both glanced over and saw two girls, relatively young, staring at us. One of them whispered to the other, giggling like children. I stepped away from the man, bringing my hands down, and thought about what they could be whispering.
“I apologize.” I heard the bard say. I looked over at him as he tucked his extensive white hair behind his ear. He had the same kind of face “Prince Charming” had in the fairy tales I had read, and it seemed as though a disgusting feeling was forming in the pit of my stomach. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I didn’t like this guy. “I recognize that same reaction.” He then looked at me with icy blue eyes as he said, “I hope you weren’t a fan of the ladies, because they may not flirt with you anymore.” I raised a brow, wondering what he meant before I realized that they would finally leave me alone. I sighed and claimed that I was fine with that. “They’ve been bothering me ever since I came to this town.” “Ah, yes. You’re the new heart breaker in town.”
“Well, I never intended to be. I never was to begin with, so I didn’t assume any real change.” I claimed. “I never did either.” He shrugged. “When I didn’t find my love here like I anticipated, I was swarmed with fans. At least I get money from them.” “Well, I better leave.” I said, hoping to leave, but he instead added, “Therefore, I ought to appease them, regardless of what I think. So, I better walk you home.” I frowned and insisted that I was fine. “I know you are.” He claimed, beginning to walk. I shadowed behind him as he said, “In fact, I know you are perfectly capable. But I wouldn’t be a gentleman if I didn’t walk you home.” As we approached the tavern, I stated, “But you don’t need to be a gentleman for another man. Just the women.” As we stepped in, I was appalled to see him turn his head and look at me with a large smirk across his face.
I felt my face grow pale as he stepped up the stairs, and I followed, not paying attention to Loki as he was at my heels. The second we made it to my room, I shoved him as roughly as I could into the bathroom and slammed the door behind me. “HOW THE HELL DID YOU KNOW?!” I whispered loudly in his face, no longer disguising my voice. He smirked as he said, “I simply notice things. Like how you walk, talk, eat, and even breathe.” I scowled deeply, shuddering at his odd statement. “Well, you’ve been around too many women to know that.” I hissed. “But I know your little secret, so who is the real winner?” He said, smiling his perfect smile. I gritted my teeth and mumbled through my teeth, “owuchoeprthut…?” He smirked wider as he asked in a teasing voice, “Whaaaat~?” I tried my best to try not to pull out my dagger and slit his throat. With how popular he is, people would notice. “How much to keep your mouth shut?” I asked in a hushed voice. “Oh. I don’t want money.” I felt a lump form in my throat as I asked what he wanted. He brought his face close to me, and I seriously contemplated murdering him, then fleeing town. “Your expression was payment enough.” He whispered, and I felt the pit in my stomach grow in intensity. “What?” I asked, raising my voice. He smiled and backed away. “I did that purely to mess with you. I honestly don’t care.” I felt my hands contorting into fists as I stared up at him, my face twisting into one of pure hatred. “You… YOU…!” I smacked him hard against the face so a red mark formed on his pale cheek. The resounding smack echoed off the bathroom walls as I flung open the door, nearly hitting Loki, who was scratching at my leg, as if to ask me what happened. I reached in and grabbed him by the ear, pulling him out. “ow, Ow, OWWWWW…!” He cried out as I practically threw him down the stairs. He looked up at me, but I glanced away, not wanting to look him in the eye. He walked down to the door at the foot of the stairs, tipped his feathered hat, and said, “We shall see each other again, little kitten.” I hissed, “Dirty-Beau…” and he simply smiled at me. “What a pure delight you’ll be.” He then opened the door, and stepped out. I looked down at Loki, who was now jumping up in attempts to get my attention. I picked him up, my face being engulfed in his fur. I kissed his belly and asked him why he let the bard into my room. “You need to defend our fortress!” I told him, but he licked my face instead. I set him down on the bed, where he began scurrying around, wanting to play.
I began jumping back and forth for a bit before remembering just how exhausted I was. I threw off my armor and plopped onto the bed, now covered in his dog hair. He rested his head on my stomach, and I asked him if he thought the guy was going to tell anyone. He was silent, as usual, and I responded, “I don’t know… He didn’t seem like he was lying, but then again, he’s such a–” I forced myself to stop so I wouldn’t go on a rant. I sighed and thought, “If he does tell anyone, I can leave. Before, I wasn’t able to because of my father, but now, I have the abilities to go anywhere I want. “Yeah…” I thought. “Yeah, go ahead, guy!” I shouted. “Go ahead and tell someone! I’m still doing better than the other women here! SO COME ON! BRING IT!”
The next afternoon, I kept my head rested on a table as I stared at the bard as he played. He had began playing here, and Lucia and the other wenches were fine with it, since it brings more women, therefore more men, then more sales. As he played on his Celtic harp, I thought to myself, “Any second, he could cry out, ‘Valentine is a girl‘. Any. Second.” I narrowed my eyes every time he finished a song and waited for applause to finish. I waited for him to say, “This next song, I wrote about your town’s mercenary: OH, SHE’S A LADY~!” But he never did. He just kept playing his stupid songs with his stupid face and his stupid voice. I hated him so much. That feeling in my stomach just grew more and more until whenever I saw him, I am the physical embodiment of hatred.
Eventually, he finished and stepped aside to get a drink. “Oh, need to make a toast to your amazingness?” I seethed silently to myself. “Need to make a big deal of it? Of course you of all people would with your big head and even bigger ego… I’m pretty sure you only have a big head to hold all of that pretentiousness… I bet if you were to get a paper cut, it would come bursting out like a geyser–” “Sir Lawrence?” I whipped my head around to look over at one of the wenches. She was a bit short with brown hair and light freckles. Her round face turned red as she asked if I want another drink. “No.” I hissed. “But can you tell me about that bard?” She looked over at the man and asked, “Oh him? He apparently was the king’s ex-bard. He was lucky enough to escape without being executed. Now, he plays for us, but he spends most of his time in the brothels.” I narrowed my eyes as I glared at him from across the room. “Playboy?” I asked. “A bit, but between you and me, he’s been having a bit of a rough patch ever since you came.” I looked over at her, and I could see her face was red. Sometimes, I considered going back to being a girl, but in the end, I’m grateful I made my choice.
“Lawrence~” I heard, and I physically winced as I looked up to see the man beckoning for me to come up to where he was. “No.” I stated bluntly, not wanting to deal with him, and he gave a jokingly pouty face. “Come on…~!” He taunted. “Is the brave knight really…” He smirked deeply as he exemplified: “a girl?” I was up there within five seconds, about to beat his face in when he thanked me for volunteering. I quickly regretted my decision as he shoved clothes into my hands. “Alright then, you’ll be Juliet.” I scowled deeply, but I could feel the fiery eyes of the women watching, anticipating to see me in a dress. I pulled the dress on over my armor as he plopped another hat on top of his own. People let out little chuckles as he got down on a knee and urged me to deliver the famous line. I sighed and rubbed the arch of my nose as I improvised, “Romeo, oh romeo. Why are you being like this? Why can’t you just leave me alone?”
Before he continued with the actual line, I could hear a hitch in his voice. I hid my smirk as best I could as he delivered the line professionally. “Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?” He asked, and I responded, “Look, it was just a quick fling at the ball. I told you I’m like thirteen.” People began to laugh, and I could see the bard’s once confidently arrogant smile turn into one of hidden frustration. He stumbled over his words a bit more as he struggled to maintain his composure. “Plus, it’s been almost a hundred years since Shakespeare wrote this play. So that makes you…” I held out my fingers and counted as best I could before giving up. “Like, over a hundred years old! I think I’d get more liveliness from a corpse.” People began to burst out laughing as I watched the bard’s face grow red. He finally broke character about as much as his voice cracked as he asserted, “Speak for yourself! At least I’m doing something. You’re like a dead fish at night.” I forced myself to not laugh as I claimed, “That’s because I felt sorry for you. I mean, you just broke up with Rosaline, and– Oh wait. She broke up with you because you kept trying to sleep with her, you pig.” He then bit his thumb, to which I responded by grabbing an empty chair and raising it over my head. “GET OUT OF HERE!” I shrieked, my voice breaking for a moment to sound more like a woman. People lost it, slamming on their tables as “Romeo” attempted to move past the chair. I jabbed at him with the chairs, and he exclaimed: “FINE! FINE, I’LL LEAVE!” He then stepped away, mumbling, “Jeez…”
People began clapping, but I was thinking more about how the bard was now in the corner of the room, clapping with them while giving me a smile. What scared me about it was that it seemed so much more sincere than it had been before. It caused a chill to run up my spine that made me feel as though he were plotting something. The claps seemed to be muffled as I stared him down. A thought then quickly popped into my head. “Maybe he’s just trying to psyche me out?!” I then smiled and bowed an extremely long, drawn out bow as I stared at him. He stopped clapping, but didn’t remove the stupid smile from his face.
“Loki…” I said, holding his jowls in my palms as he panted. “I don’t want this to be like last night, letting people in to the room because you’re drunk. Besides, you promised you’d get off the stuff.” He stared at me with big brown eyes as I joked, “Don’t speak to me like that. It wasn’t my fault your wife left you!” He licked his lips, and I sighed. “I’m sorry…” I pecked his nose, and he licked my face. “Just make sure nobody gets in.”
I then stood up and felt my eyes staring at the dagger on my dresser, the blade glistening in the light. I could hear my heart tapping against my chest as I stared at it. There was a brief pause before I finally thought that I didn’t need it. I pet Loki one more time before stepping down the stairs. It was the point of the night where people had become the depressing kind of drunk. Some people were ranting about their wives or children that died or left them, while others talked about betrayal or other kinds of things I tried to avoid listening to. I stepped over a stain on the floor in front of the door. I stepped out, instantly with a cold front. I shuddered and pulled on my cloak over my head. I began to step towards the forest when I noticed a familiar jumble of figures leaning against one of the lights. Another, much older man was speaking to one of them while reaching into his coat and handing them money. I rolled my eyes and kept walking past them, hoping they were too preoccupied with them.
The journey up the mountain was quiet, save for the chirping crickets or hooting owls. I kept moving, my feet scaring away the occasional rodent or insect. I eventually made it to the brook, where I plopped down onto my bottom. “Kai?” I called out in a soft whisper in case there were anyone around, human or animal. “Kai?!” I repeated, slightly louder. A glop of weeds and algae popped up from under the water, and I recognized it instantly. “Why do you wear that?” I asked him as his glowing eyes stared at me. “My skin is sensitive to light.” He claimed. “I can only remove it at night.” He then drifted over to one of the rocks and climbed on. He pulled off the covering to reveal his actual form as he had the previous night. “That is why I retreated before.” I blinked and asked if he ever slept. “I never had a need to.” He set the covering in the water, and it dispersed as though it weren’t a single piece of clothing, but instead a compilation of everything in the brook. “So what do you do?” “Eat.” I frowned and was about to ask something before he interrupted, “You ask a lot of questions.” My face shifted to a slightly pink color as I apologized. “It’s just that I’ve never seen anything like you before.”
“Well, I am like sea foam. Simply drifting wherever, though I cannot leave this damned spot anymore. And I cannot leave the water long enough to find a new channel.” He claimed. I frowned and asked, “Well, have you ever tried?” “You think I haven’t?” He asked, raising a brow. I shrugged as he asked, “But I still know little about you.” “There’s not much to know about me. I ran away from my last life and became a mercenary.” I explained. “Why though? Why must you be a man to do it?” “Because nobody would have taken me seriously. Plus, I was the town’s punching bag.” He stared at me and tilted his head. “I do not understand humans.” “Neither do I.” I joked, smiling to myself. “The second I change genders, I’m like the complete opposite. I guess I make a better man than I do a woman.” I shrugged and said, “Well, I’m planning on leaving anyways, so I’ll be away from all the desperate women and their fan club.” He seemed to pause as he asked where I was going. “Anywhere.” I said. “I just can’t stand this town anymore.”
Just then, I heard the sound of a branch crunching from several feet away. I whipped my head around and saw a familiar explosion of blonde hair and makeup that made my heart drop into my bowels. “S-Sofia?” I asked helplessly in my “Lawrence” voice. Her face turned pale as she responded, “The little rat? You’re–?” Her face then turned into one of a mixture of disgust, hatred, and fear. Within a moment, she was now dashing away, and I bolted after her, crying out that I could explain. My pants caught several times on the stickers and thorns as I ran as fast as I could. Her hair bobbing around was like a marker as to where she was, but as she got further away, I felt myself starting to grit my teeth. I sprinted past the trees, hoping I had enough stamina to keep up with her. Suddenly, my foot slipped on a wet patch of leaves, causing me to fling forward, my head slamming onto a rock. I felt blood trickling down my face as I blacked out, all of my muscles going limp.
I woke up in a puddle of my own slobber and blood, the sun beating down heavily on me. I shot up and instantly regretted it as I felt a thousand knives stabbing into my head. I clenched my teeth and brought my hand up to my bloody wound. I felt myself shaking due to the trauma, and a million thoughts were rushing through my head, wondering what happened. “All I remember was leaving the tavern, then everything is just…” I frowned as I stood up with the assistance of the tree. “I think my best bet is to just go home…” My blood seeped through my fingers as I stumbled out of the woods. My vision started to fade again as I focused on my feet, trying to not trip. By the time I had made it to the town, I was practically blind and with a bubbling feeling in my gut that made me feel as though I were about to throw up. I could even feel myself starting to do so before I fell forward, everything going numb once more.
This time, when I woke up, I was no longer in a pool of my own bodily fluids, but instead on a bed so soft I was barely able to see the ceiling. Learning my lesson, I slowly sat up; the pain was like that of a wrench tightening its grip on my head. I brought my hand decorated with my own dried blood to feel a bandage around my head. I pulled my hand away in surprise as I looked around the room. It was easily recognizable as a log cabin lit up by lanterns hanging from the ceiling by rope. I was a bit confused at this as I stood from the bed. My bare feet hit the cold wooden floor, and I only then looked down to see I was no longer in my previous clothing. Instead, I was in a dress that looked relatively new. I wasn’t sure if it was the fabric or the idea of how expensive it appeared, but it was extremely comforting.
I stepped in front of the mirror and looked at myself. If my hair were put up inside of a hat, I could look like one of those American women. I readjusted the dress as I tried to think of what had happened. After about five minutes, I still remembered nothing, so I stopped, because all of the thinking was making my head pains worsen. I heard the door open, and I glanced over to see none other than the bard with a tray in hand. I blinked and narrowed my eyes, asking where I was. “Yes, because that’s how you respond to your savior.” “SAVIOR?!” I hissed violently, and he nodded. “Yes. You were stumbling and bleeding out heavily before you collapsed in my arms.” He sounded like he was joking, but his expression said otherwise. “You’re exaggerating.” I claimed. “No, actually, I’m not.” he responded as he bent down to set the tray on the table. “You actually came towards me and fell against me, so of course I wasn’t going to leave you.” He then looked up at me. “Bad for publicity.” I scowled and seethed, “I never asked you to save me.” “Well, I honestly don’t care what you have to say. You’re here now.” He stood up and told me to eat. “I’ll be downstairs if you need me.” “Which I won’t.” I insisted, crossing my arms over my chest. “AND WHY DID YOU PUT ME IN A DRESS?” He looked over and gave his award-winning smile. “You’re beautiful as a woman.” He then closed the door before I could successfully throw one of the pillows at him.
I scowled deeply as I mumbled, “I hate him so much…” I then picked up the pillow as feathers fluttered down. I tossed it back onto the bed and stared at the food on the table. My stomach grumbled as I realized that I don’t remember the last time I ate. I ate the food, trying and failing to act like I didn’t enjoy it, and I brought the tray outside of the room. I walked down the hall and into the kitchen, where he was tuning his harp. I placed the tray down onto the table, and there was a short silence. “Does anyone know?”
He stopped for a moment before asking what I meant. “Does anyone know who I am?” I asked. “I do.” “Shut up, I mean anyone but you.” “You know who you–” “I’M BEING SERIOUS.” I snapped. He looked up at me and answered, “No, nobody knows.” “You sure? One of the women working at the brothel saw me last night and ran back into town.” He gave me a confused look and said, “I didn’t hear anything about that. Plus, nobody is trying to burn down my house right now, so…” I looked out the window, and sure enough, nothing seemed out of place. “Huh…” I mumbled. I eventually walked outside, and everyone seemed to be acting just as they had been before. Happy, close knit, and just as proud as they had been before. I wasn’t sure why, but it scared me.