Lem looked out of the window of the high tower, letting out a long sigh. The thick books on Nacre’s legal system covered the desk in front of him, and were far denser and far less interesting that he had initially hoped. The trial was sure to be rough, but something he could handle, obviously. He felt sure of his ability to convince people, even if he didn’t feel completely convinced of Hella’s innocence.
A flash of golden-brown feathers caught his eye, drawing his gaze down to the street below. Fero. He couldn’t always tell, especially if Fero was trying to be sneaky, but there were some tell-tale movements, the flick of wings or a tail that felt more like Fero’s twitchy nature than the quick movement of an ordinary animal. He followed Fero’s fluttering path downwards as Fero’s wings caught the breeze, gliding down towards a figure on the street.
Lem’s breath caught in his throat. Emmanuel .
Emmanuel had passed by a few times while Lem had been preparing for the trial. Making deliveries, Lem supposed. The basket over the crook of his arm seemed smaller and lighter than his earlier loads. Perhaps he was on his way home now, his day’s work done. Lem pictured him puttering around some small, hazily-imagined kitchen, the ocean in the background, the smell of cooking drifting through the warm night air. Lem let out a sigh. How lovely.
He looked back down, wanting to catch one last sight of Emmanuel before his disappeared around the corner. Instead of disappearing, however, Emmanuel had stopped just under Lem’s window. Lem frowned, leaning a little further out to get a better look at what had caught Emmanuel’s attention.
Fero was perched on Emmanuel’s palm, his head tilting this way and that. Lem was just close enough that he could catch the tiny snatched of Fero’s birdsong, melodic and sweet.
Emmanuel laughed, the sound just as musical to Lem’s ears. “Are all men from Hieron as charming as you two?”
“Hey,” said Lem, his voice carried away by the wind.
Fero chirped his song again, hopping along Emmanuel’s forearm. Emmanuel laughed again, reaching into his basket and bringing out a small bread roll. He tore some off, offering it to Fero who snapped it up, rather rudely Lem thought.
“He doesn’t even need to eat,” muttered Lem, “He’s just showing off.”
“I would invite you for a more substantial dinner,” he heard Emmanuel say, “But I think it is probably against the rules. Perhaps another night.”
Fero fluttered up and away, drifting on the wind above Emmanuel’s head, letting out a trill of music. Emmanuel smiled, waving as Fero flew into the sky and out of sight, towards wherever it was that he was making his own trial preparations. Lem scowled at the blue sky where Fero had been, letting out an annoyed huff before he glared back down at the books in front of him.
“I can play music too,” Lem said aloud to himself.
The room, too small to have much of an echo, said nothing.
Hella’s friends were weird. Hadrian was bad enough, but the two new ones she’d picked up since Adaire had last seen her were just as bad in their own way. Especially the one that had insisted on sitting next to her at the crepe place, waving to her as soon as she and Adaire had walked in, talking to Hella non-stop as Hella laughed along and asked questions over the top of him.
It was just weird . Hadrian she at least sort of got, with their whole comrades in arms thing, but this little guy, Fero, was clearly not the same kind of comrade , bouncing in his seat as he threw out case theories and praise of the crepes they were eating with equal enthusiasm.
“So,” said Adaire quietly, as Fero’s attention turned back to their waiter, “How exactly do you know these guys again?”
“We did this mission together, sort of,” said Hella, “I don’t know them super well.”
“It seems like you do,” said Adaire.
“I guess it was kind of an intense mission,” said Hella, “Pirates and ghosts and stuff. I got put on trial, Fero was the defence team.”
At the sound of his name, Fero’s attention snapped back to Hella. “Yeah! And I won!”
“You did,” said Hella, grinning.
She bumped their shoulders together, the way she might do with Hadrian but always seemed to avoid doing with Adaire. Fero bumped back, jumping up a little so their shoulders were more level. Hella laughed again and Adaire took a sip of her tea to hide her expression.
- Red Jack
Throndir followed the sound of Red Jack’s booming laugh into the forest, grinning at the sound. Things had been rushed ever since they’d gotten to Rosemerrow, and it was good to have a moment of rest. Hopefully, the quiet would afford them the to chance to finish what they’d started in Twinbrook.
He peeked through the brushes to the clearing beyond. Red Jack was easy to spot amongst the green, laughing, his body as animated as if he were in the middle of one of his tall tales. Throndir took half a step forward, his greeting dying on his lips as there was a flash of brown at Red Jack’s side.
Throndir frowned, stopping, still mostly hidden behind the bushes. He was too far away still to make out their words, but it looked as though Fero and Red Jack were deep in conversation, matching grins on their faces. Fero stepped forward, going up on tiptoes to work a pair of small axes free from a tree trunk. Red Jack reached over the top of him, easily pulling the both free. Fero gave a squawk of indignation that quickly melted into a laugh, matching Red Jack’s.
Red Jack handed one of the axes to Fero. To Throndir’s eye, the touch between them seemed to linger. An excuse for hands to touch, perhaps. He'd certainly tried that, with Red Jack.
They took an axe each, talking companionably as they walked to the other end of the small clearing, standing side by side to take aim. Throndir pressed the toes of his boots into earth, feeling the soft dirt give way. Red Jack was obviously busy. Maybe he’d go check on how the others were going with their travel preparations instead, and speak to Red Jack later.
Samot gazed out the window towards the river, letting out a sigh. He’d always hated being bedridden, especially when there was so much to do. The Last University reminded him quite a bit of the old days of Marielda in that way, always something to pull together or apart, some new problem that required a creative solution, doubly so now that reconfiguration wasn’t really an option.
He shook himself out of his thoughts, sitting up a little to better see out of the tower window. Below him he could make out the figures below working outside the University walls, their expressions focussed as they pulled Fero’s Outhouse together. Not a bad idea, to help relieve tensions within the community by giving them a place to be outside of its walls. How often had he himself roamed far from Marielda, enjoying the freedoms outside of the city?
Samot leaned against the windowsill, taking a deep breath in. Ah, there was Fero himself, as hard at work as any of the others. As Samot watched, another figure moved to help Fero hold the beams of a wall support in place, bare skin shining in the sun. Samot’s mouth felt a little dry, watching the light catch the sweat between Hadrian’s shoulderblades.
Fero finished nailing that section, he and Hadrian giving the support beams a careful test push before they let go, grinning at each other as the structure stayed standing. Fero said something that Samot was far too far away to hear, patting Hadrian on the side. Hadrian laughed, clapping a hand on Fero’s shoulder.
It might have been the angle from which he was looking, but it seemed to Samot that Fero leant in a little closer. Samot swallowed, looking away and then back towards them. So often he had reached out to Hadrian, only for Hadrian to fall out of reach, and yet there was Hadrian below, bare in the late autumn sun, close enough for Fero to touch.
Samot flopped back, letting out a sigh. “Such is my fate, for my heart to belong to those whose true love is the act of creation.”
“Hadrian’s comin’ by in an hour to check on you,” said Samol, not looking up from the old tome he was reading.
Samot huffed a breath. “Yes. Well. He’s only doing that as a medical courtesy, clearly.”
“That man absolutely does not know what that is,” said Samol, “But if it makes you feel better, I’ll go down and prod him back up here.”
Samot felt himself flush “Do not -”
“It’s no bother,” said Samol, “Got a mind to speak to Fero about something at any rate.”
“I am perfectly capable of speaking to men I- to my physicians,” said Samot.
Samol hummed. “And I can be a great deal subtler than you give me credit for.”
Samot huffed a breath. “Fine.”
The corners of Samol’s lips quirked upwards for a moment. “Alright then. Now, lie back and get some rest before your doctor comes courting.”
Throndir frowned at Ephrim’s empty office. It was late, sure, but he could count on one hand the number of early nights he’d seen Ephrim take since they arrived. Even though things were a little easier now that winter was finally beginning to end, Ephrim hadn’t exactly slowed down. Throndir pressed his lips together. It probably wasn’t anything serious. He might just be tired, he did work himself hard - that was the reason he’d stopped by, after all.
Well. Throndir felt his face flush as he looked down at the dusty bottle of something Uklan had assured him was wine. That was part of the reason.
Maybe he’d just leave it in Ephrim’s office, with a note. Something casual, something to suggest that Ephrim think of him when he felt like opening the bottle, maybe. He took a tentative step into the room.
“You looking for Ephrim?” said Highwater, from behind him.
Throndir suppressed a flinch. “Ah, yeah, is he… out?”
“Yeah, he went down to see Fero,” said Highwater.
Throndir frowned. “Fero? Why?”
Highwater shrugged. “I don’t know, that’s just where he is sometimes where he’s not here. Probably checking on how everything’s going down there, you know how he is.”
Throndir remembered Ephrim’s relief at Fero’s appearance, his quiet defence of Fero’s choice to leave them again, the ease at which he let Fero close during mealtimes and the few strategy meetings Fero chose to attend.
“Yeah,” said Throndir, “I’m sure he’s just checking up on things. I’ll catch up with him tomorrow.”
He took the wine with him. A gift for another time.
+1 Lem and Emmanuel
Fero carefully made his way up the twisting path to Lem and Emmanuel’s doorstep, shifting the pack on his back. It was weighed down with all sorts of odds and ends - letters for Lem, a pie from Rosana, herbs from Ephrim’s garden, pressed flowers from the mouth of his cave.
His stomach squirmed a little at the thought of the flowers. Lem and Emmanuel had more than enough flowers in their garden already, and living ones at that, but he’d wanted to bring them something from him for once, instead of just gifts from everybody else down the line. The pressed flowers would last longer too. They could keep them in the books that took up permanent residence on Lem’s bedside table, so that he and Emmanuel could catch a glimpse of their colours before they went to bed each night.
Fero shook himself. Or they could use them in tea, or to decorate cakes, or whatever. He wasn’t the boss of how they used the stupid dried flowers.
He knocked on the door, pushing it open as Emmanuel called out to him. The smell of cooking wafted out immediately, curls of apple and spices in the air. Lem’s head popped up over the high-backed couch he favoured, smiling at the sight of Fero. Fero smiled back. It felt easier to, these days.
“Fero!” said Lem, “You made it!”
“The walk here isn’t that difficult,” said Fero.
“What Lem means,” said Emmauel, stepping out of the kitchen to greet Fero, “is that it’s good to see you.”
Fero smiled up at him. “It’s good to see you too.” He paused. “And Lem too, I guess.”
Lem gave a huff and Fero laughed. Emmanuel’s smile widened and he pulled Fero into a hug. Fero hugged back, his cheeks warming a little as he felt Lem’s eyes on them.
“I, uh, I have a bunch of stuff for you from everyone,” said Fero.
“And I have things for you to take back in return,” said Emmanuel.
Fero groaned, opening his pack. “I’m not a messenger service you know.”
“Yes,” said Emmanuel, “You are much more reliable.”
Fero’s toes curled, a warm-pleased feeling in his chest at the sincerity of Emmanuel’s words.
“Oh,” said Lem, “Letters- oh, good, Adaire returned my book.”
“ Devar’s book,” said Fero.
Lem huffed. “Yes, well. Technically.”
He stepped closer, leaning over Fero to reach for the book of poetry. Fero put his hand down on it, pinning the book to the table.
“I’ll just take it back to Devar on my way out,” said Fero.
“Oh, but we- I can do that later,” said Lem.
“Yeah,” said Fero, “But I can do that now.”
“You won’t stay?” said Emmanuel, “I have something that’s just about to come out of the oven.”
It was an old trick, well-used at this point in Fero’s journey back and forth and back again, but Fero felt himself leaning towards giving in to it anyway. His cave was only a few branches away, but he had to take a winding path to reach them, and it was good to rest his feet inside Lem and Emmanuel’s little cottage.
“Sure,” said Fero, “I guess I can stay.”
“Perhaps this time you’d like to rest a little with us afterwards too,” said Emmanuel.
“If you have time,” said Lem, his finger plucking at the tablecloth. “I know you- Well. I know you prefer to be- to be at home.”
“Yeah,” said Fero.
Lem’s shoulder slumped. “I- yes, of course.”
Fero made a face. “I’ll just go then.”
“What?” said Lem.
“I mean,” continued Fero, “Why bother offering if you don’t want me to- whatever.”
Emmanuel put a hand on his shoulder, making Fero go still. He looked up, meeting Emmanuel’s eyes and feeling Lem’s gaze on him, Lem’s fingers still twitching in the fabric of the tablecloth.
“I think,” said Emmanuel carefully, “That Lem was disappointed that you would be leaving us so soon.”
Fero frowned. “But I said I’d stay.”
“No you didn’t,” said Lem.
Fero frowned at him. “ Yeah I did .”
Emmanuel put his other hand on Lem’s shoulder, making Lem stutter to a stop. Lem swallowed. Fero pressed his lips together, his eyes studying Lem’s downcast expression.
“I-” Fero bit his lip. “I mean, I see you all the time, you can’t really be that sad that I’m leaving.”
“Yes but you never stay ,” said Lem.
Fero blinked. “You never asked.”
“I never-” Lem made a sound of frustration. “I always ask!”
“No you don’t,” said Fero, “you ask if I need anything before I go, which, I don’t, usually. I mean, I don’t need to eat and I can sleep anywhere, so.”
Lem made a face and Fero felt the familiar prickle of irritation under his skin. Emmanuel’s hand flexed on his shoulder, followed by the rich sound of Emmanuel’s chuckle, chasing away the irritation like a cool breeze.
“Well,” said Emmanuel, “This time, we are asking. Fero, would you like to stay, for a little while?”
Fero hummed. “How long is a little while?”
“However long you’d like it to be,” said Emmanuel. “A night or two, if you’d like. Longer, if you’d like.”
“Okay,” said Fero. He paused, feeling as though he was in the form of a cat, delicate paws picking his way over a stony path. “I mean, like I said, I can sleep anywhere.”
“Yes,” said Emmanuel, “You can.”
He squeezed Fero’s shoulder, stepping away back towards the kitchen. Fero ducked his head, busying himself to pulling the other packages out of his pack.
“Oh,” said Lem, “I don’t remember lending out this book.” He paused. “This isn’t mine.”
Fero swallowed, careful to keep his voice at its usual level. “Yeah, no, it’s- I made it. I thought you might want to- I mean, Devar writes books, so I thought you might want to write books. Or Emmanuel can use it for recipe stuff. Or whatever, it’s your gift, you can do what you like with it.”
“Oh,” said Lem quietly. Fero could hear him flip through the pages, letting out a sound of surprise. “Oh, there’s- are these yours?”
Fero looked up. Lem was holding one of the pressed flowers carefully in his hand, the pink petals of the Camellia standing out against the deep green of his skin.
“Well, they’re kind of yours now, because they’re part of the gift,” said Fero.
“They’re beautiful,” said Lem, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” said Fero quickly.
Lem huffed a laugh, looking back down at the pressed flowers. He tapped his fingers on the back of the notebook Fero had given him.
“I suppose I’ll have to think of something to write now,” said Lem, “You know, figure out which part of our adventures were the most important and start there.”
“Nacre, probably,” said Fero.
Lem hummed. “Maybe. Or the violin, perhaps. Or, before that. When you tripped me in the forest.”
“I didn’t trip you, I was a badger and you fell over me,” said Fero, “And I don’t think you can call your sprained ankle an adventure .”
“It was the start of things though,” said Lem, “The start of- well. The start of my life. The important part of it, anyway.”
Fero felt his face flush, curling his toes to steel himself enough not to look away. It was only because he kept his eyes up that he noticed that the flush on Lem’s cheeks matched his own.
He cleared his throat. “Well. Good, I guess.”
“What is?” said Emmanuel, from the kitchen.
“That Lem knows what he’s going to write,” said Fero.
“Finally,” said Emmanuel, “I feel like I have been asking forever for him to put the tales he tells me down on paper for others to enjoy. Perhaps you can remind him of the parts he has forgotten, while you are here.”
Fero looked at Lem. Lem gave him a small smile.
“Yeah,” said Fero, as casually as he could manage, “Yeah, I guess I could do that.”
Lem’s tentative smile grew warmer as Fero smiled back.
Maybe he would stay, for a little while. Just until Lem's story was done.