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 The Price of Friendship

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King Azreth
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PostSubject: The Price of Friendship   Sat Aug 24, 2013 9:00 pm

Azreth rode slumped in his saddle, the rain beating down hard on his back. Drops of water beaded on the cowl of his cloak, drenching his once-fine -- but now straggly -- blonde hair, dripping down onto the horse beneath him. His clothes were caked with mud, some blood here and there, torn from a head-long rush through brambles while outrunning some bandits -- thank the Gods for his pure-bred horse. His legs, rump, and back ached, and he hadn't had a proper meal or a decent bed for days. He'd been riding for weeks, heading west to the mountains in search for his one-time adviser and closest friend, Zel. The man had simply left without a word, but Azreth knew what had sent him away.

During the last two years, the boy -- he still thought of himself as a boy, but he was now 24, old enough, he supposed, to finally grow the fuck up and take responsibility for his actions -- hadn't had any time to spare for the man -- no, that's not right. He chose not to spend time with him, choosing whirlwind relationships and the company of a Demon over his old friend. The young man clenched his jaw, fingers balling into fists on the reins. Damn him. Damn his own foolish exaggerated sense of self, damn him for abandoning the man who had held his heart together too many times to count. What had he been thinking? Sure, Valdien had died, and then Morpheus left him, but he should have went to Zel, not lost himself in the pleasures of liquor and flesh and the games of intrigue in Court.

What sort of hypocritical King was he, anyway, to say he put his people before everything else, but fail to keep the one person that mattered close? A sound of frustration fell from his lips, and he blinked rain -- tears? -- out of his green eyes. Whatever the case, he had left Avandere three weeks ago, pointing his horse's nose towards Nodd, Zel's hometown. Varian was away in the South, rallying the morale of his troops, and Azreth had been meaning to go see Zel for a long time. But you were scared. He thought as he rode through Nodd's great gates, big enough to admit their mammoths. He looked up at the grey-leaden sky. You were scared of him rejecting you. Not wanting to see you. Scared of him not screaming, no, but just looking at you and shaking his head. You let your pride get in the way, and look where it got you. Fool. Azreth snarled and dug his heels into his stallion's flanks, the hot-blooded horse snorting and kicking its hooves up into a trot.

The King kept the hood of his cloak pulled low over his face as he traveled down the main street of Nobb; not that anyone would recognize him, half-drowned and looking about as royal as a rabid rat. Azreth snorted to himself in derision. Well, at least Zel might get a good laugh from his appearance. The boy felt the ghost of a smile tug his lips, remembering his mentor's laugh from better days, though he sobered quickly at seeing a lone figure on the sheep-covered hill ahead. He felt a thrill of fear go through him, and pulled back on the reins, letting his horse drop to a walk, then a complete stop.

Did he really want to do this? What good would come of it? There was a poison between him and Zel, and it wasn't as simple as saying 'I'm sorry.' Not this time. What could he do even, besides apologize? Tell him what a fool he'd been? Zel already knew that. Beg him to come home, that he couldn't function without him? Zel would laugh in his face. The King swallowed, his heart heavy and filled with dread. Why had he wasted those three weeks coming here, anyway? He'd been a fool, thinking he could make this right somehow.

But then he remembered the day he and Zel had met. When he was lost, about to lose control over his raw, untrained Skill, half-suicidal, and his world knocked out from underneath him. And an unassuming, twenty-three year old apprentice had just happened to walk by, turned around in the halls of Avandere castle, and catch the falling Prince. He'd held the young man while Azreth had waxed eternally on the unfairness of the world, and how he hated everyone for not being able to help his father, and he'd even asked Zel to turn back time. A small smile graced his lips. He remembered how Zel's empathy had caused him to tear up when confronted with Azreth's own indignation, and the realization that his father wasn't, in fact, immortal.

The young man closed his eyes, a lance of pain jolting through his heart. Where did we go wrong? In the beginning years, you couldn't separate Azreth and Zel with a knife. And then Azreth had summoned Morpheus. It all started to go south from there. He'd hidden it from Zel, and then Zel, of course, found out. And the distance between them only widened further, Azreth hanging on to his foolish pride, both of their hearts shattered by the loss of their Azrein. He'd stopped sending for Zel except when he needed something from the Alchemist. But why? Why didn't he remember then that Zel had always been the one to pick him up when he fell down? That the Alchemist was the person who would listen to Azreth, no matter what, and counsel him, no matter what idiotic choice the young King had made.

How could I just throw that away?

...So why come all this way without even trying? He heard a small whimper and glanced around, looking for its source, before he realized it had come from him. He grit his teeth. Son of a bitch. Come on, you coward.

Almost against his will, he set his heels to his stallion's sides again, and felt his nails bite deeply into the skin of his palms. When he was within earshot of the figure, the King reached up and lowered his hood slowly, taking a deep breath as he caught his old friend's hazel gaze. He offered the man a twisted, self-depricating smile. "Hello, Zel."


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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Friendship   Sat Aug 24, 2013 9:57 pm

The Adviser had left. He had given notice, in the form of his quarters at the palace suddenly clearing, leaving nothing more than a simple piece of paper saying that he was of no longer any use to the kingdom. He had told his wife he would be going back to Nodd, and she was free to join him if she so chose. But she had other obligations, and they did keep in close contact. As best they could with the kingdom's situation and the derelict leadership that had swallowed it hole.  The Alchemist had tried to rationalize staying, but after so many months, years even, of having to scream ( figurativly) to be heard only to be brushed aside or avoided...  He had had enough.

Nodd was a sleepy town. A quiet town. A town that didn't care that he was one of the most powerful people on the isle, nor that he was one of the most learned, nor of any of his friends that still kept in contact.  The only thing they cared about was the income brought from the livestock his fields yielded, and the praise and fame it brought to the little haven. They barely thought about how safe it was to live there with both a Magus and an Alchemist residing there.  Here, here... He could work with his hands, worry not about politics, and live simply with the worry that the old ewe was going to try to gut check him every time he didn't bring her treats.

And enjoy the rain.

His large, straw hat sheltered him from the worst of it as he sat simply on the hill overlooking his sleepy little town.  His beard had grown, speckling the red with silver streaks.  The Alchemist chewed on the end of his pipe, the tobacco smoke drifting slowly in the cool wet air.  And the man looked happy. Not a crease in his eye was in disappointment...he was free from that horrible destructive cage that Avandare became.  How he had failed in oaths made to a great King, how the young King had slapped his hand away when he offered to help several times, how the King's lust for victory brought him loss most unimaginable...  Zel held that grudge highest above all. He had lost Zeddler, his beloved Azrein. A soul that reminded him to laugh, to sing, to enjoy himself, and to remember that there was always a silver lining in that choking haze of War.  

The large dog, a heavy set shepherd with a thick coat and warm brown eyes sat up suddenly from where it had been laying beside the Alchemist. Its gaze was fixed upon the approaching cloaked man.  A low growl, and a whine was all the great dog did before a reassuring hand came up to pet the beast's head and neck.  "We have a guest, it seems. ," Zel grumbled kindly, getting an almost excited whimper from the animal that glanced to its master.  A click and a soft whistle sent the dog off towards the flock of Nodd Red-Tipped woolies.  The pup could watch the sheep better than he did any day.

Eyes of emerald stayed trained on this approaching cloaked man. But when that hair was revealed, and that face... Zel grunted and chewed on the end of his pipe.  Go figure. And when he was addressed, the Alchemist simply looked up and frowned from beneath that wide hat to look at his old... 'Friend? No. Not any more. Aquaintance?  Even worse.  King. '  ... "Azr'th.", he drawled, as though the name spoken brought a bad taste to his mouth.  "W'at ye need. "
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Friendship   Sat Aug 24, 2013 10:33 pm

Azreth blew out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. He slowly dismounted from his horse -- without any flourishes -- and stood, wearily holding the creature's reins in limp fingers. At least Zel was speaking to him. But what could he say? He thought for a few moments, running through all the excuses he had planned to give the man, all the apologies, all of the stories he wanted to tell, even some of the lies, excuses for his behavior. "I...I don't know." His shoulders sagged, but his words rang with truth. What did he need?

He took a good look at Zel, and some of the lines disappeared from his face. His mentor looked. . .happy. Unburdened. At peace with his life. What the hell was he thinking, trying to pull Zel away from all that? What right did he have? The King sighed and leaned back against his stallion's ribs, fingernail picking absently at a stray thread on the reins. "I don't know, Zel. Originally, I was going to come here and tell you how sorry I was, that I was a fool, and that I wanted you to come back to Avandere." Azreth dropped Bal's reins on the ground, murmuring for him to stand, and took a few steps toward the Alchemist, reaching out a hand as if to touch the crow's feet on his mentor's face, before dropping has hand back down before he made contact. "But you look happy here, Zel. And I haven't seen you like that since the first year we met."

The young man turned his head, gazing at the Alchemist's flock. Was this simple life really enough to erase the pain Azreth had caused his once-friend? What could Azreth even offer that could beat this? More heartache? Reading the tallies of the dead each week? Fighting with pompous fools in dark, stale rooms? Walking the grounds where they used to walk side by side, their Azrein at their shoulders? The King grit his teeth. Who would ever want to go back to that? At least Zel had a choice, and it seemed he had made the right one. Hell, he had a wife back in Avandere, a family, and a livelihood here. How could he ask him to just throw all that away for the sake of such an abstract concept as a kingdom or a lost friendship?

Azreth turned back to Zel, his expression unreadable. "I really don't know what to say, Zel. It's not meant to be like this. Not what I planned at all. I don't want to feel like this, but I'm making it harder than it already is." The King lifted a shoulder in a half-shrug, his words subdued, all the joy leeched out of him. "But all of this, everything that's happened between us, the fault lies with me alone, and I guess I just needed to own up to that. Not with a letter, or a messenger, but to your face." He laughed, but the sound lacked mirth. "I don't even know what I was expecting. But this..." Azreth looked around at the calm little hamlet, with its rolling green hills dotted with sheep, with the quaint houses and most importantly, the peace in his mentor's eyes. "This is something I never could have given you. All I have to offer you is more pain, more sadness, and the weight of the kingdom on your shoulders."

Azreth ran a hand through his wet hair, his mouth a sad line. "But no more excuses, and no more lies. I know I can't make amends for what I did to you, to us, and that was my original intention for coming all the way out here." The King turned his green eyes to the cloudy skies. "But if I had a chance at something like this, at finding peace, at throwing away all the hurt and responsibility and the countless mistakes, I'd do it in a heartbeat."

The young man returned his gaze to the Alchemist. "So I won't beg you to forgive me, or tell you that the kingdom and the people need you. Just...hold on to this, Zel. You've been through so much because of me, and you really, really deserve a chance at something like this." The King felt his throat grow tight and cleared it, reaching out to grip Zel's shoulder. The older man tensed when Azreth touched him. "I'm just sorry I let you down, Zel." Not wanting to push his luck, the King released his mentor's shoulder and stooped to gather up the reins from the lush wet grass.

"I'll stay the night in the main part of town, but I'll stay out of your hair." Azreth took a last look behind him at the peaceful fields, a bittersweet taste in his mouth. "Savor this, Zel." The King stood for a moment and listened to the falling rain whispering quiet lamentations in his ears, praying Zel would at least say goodbye.


Last edited by King Azreth on Sun Aug 25, 2013 12:07 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Friendship   Sat Aug 24, 2013 11:28 pm

He simply stared up at this....person talking and rambling about failing. A few rings of smoke were puffed up to the sky, but that cold gaze fell heavily upon the king once more. This man was apologizing for every fail that was caused on Zel, for every damned lie said, every avoided conversation...

What a whiny brat. What a pathetic soul. He snorted, and looked back to his sheep. At least until a hand touched him. Zel snarled, reached out, and grabbed that hand, throwing the offending thing onto the ground. He was on his feet, and large dog had temporarily abandoned the flock. It had returned to it's shephard's side...glowering down at this man that offenned his master with large teeth bared just above Azreth's head. With a hand on the bowl of the pipe, Zel released the grip of his teeth, and spoke softly. "Hold on to this? To this?" The pipe was pointed to the rolling hills, the fleece walking on the greens, the large mammoth herd being led down by a few keepers from the colder fields. Zel was frowning and stared down at Azreth. "Because of your war, we have only enough food to feed ourselves for a month...for the next year. Our wool? We cannot sell it for it is too fine for your coarse uniforms, and no one here would dare sell to that warmachine. Our options are to seek out other settlements. Bargain with bandits. Peace... " The Alchemist spat on the ground, trying to get that foul taste that wouldn't leave out. "There is no peace, and never will be. Not now. "

The dog whimpered and stepped back, unsure of it's master rage radiating. But Zel stared down at Azreth, replaced the pipe and exhaled smoke through his nose in a finite snort. "The Inn has been closed for two months because of your war. If you need to rest for the evening, go to my hut and stay there. " The sheppherd snorted once more, walked a few ways off, and sat back down. The dog whimpered, looking between this person on the ground and its master before loping back to watch the sheep.
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Friendship   Sun Aug 25, 2013 12:02 am


The King winced as he was thrown to the ground, but didn't try to get up. Not just because of the dog, but because of the hate, the anger in his old friend's words. He cringed at the Alchemist's accusations, knowing them to be true. But it wasn't as if he had asked for the Six to come and destroy the peace. No point in reminding Zel of that, though. In his eyes, everything was the young King's fault. Azreth slowly got to his feet when the dog moved away, and Zel turned his back on the boy, walking several yards before sitting down.

"Zel, I..." The King groped for words. What could he even say? He moved to mount his horse, but the Alchemist's words said he'd find no shelter back in Nodd proper. With a sigh, he dropped the reins to the ground once more, green eyes lowered. Azreth took a slow step forward, then another, and went to where Zel was seated, folding himself down to the ground gracelessly beside the older man, though he kept a foot of distance between them. He listened to the rain beating down on the earth for several minutes, not wanting to break the silence.

He'd known the war affected every part of the Isle, but what could he do? Wave the white flag of surrender and cede it to the Six? They'd kill even more Bonded, and the humans who were Chosen, and there would be no need for any trade whatsoever. The man chewed on his lower lip, the taste of rain on his tongue. "I don't know how to fix this, Zel. I can't surrender, and I can't expend any more resources without putting even more strain on the economy. I'm doing my best to keep morale up, but I'm fighting a losing battle. As much as I wish I could, I can't save everyone." He picked absently at a stalk of grass beneath him. "Dad would know what to do, you know. He'd know how to keep people's spirits up, and he was a far better tactician than I'll ever be." The King pulled his knees to his chest, resting his chin atop them. "I wish he were still here, Zel. He was such a great man. I remember that he never broke his promises, to me or anyone else. He always listened to his counselors, and he never turned his back on anyone in need."

Azreth glanced over at Zel, but the man's face was expressionless. "If I had known how little time I had left with him back when I was younger, I would've listened to him more. He had so much to teach me about being a good King, and I felt I was doing well until Valdien died. After that, I just let the whole kingdom fall apart because of me." At this point, Azreth was just talking to fill the silence, but the young man closed his eyes and wound the clock back three years, back to when he could speak to his mentor about this kind of thing. Zel had always known what to say, and Azreth never appreciated that until he'd lost it. "If Dad knew what I had done to this Isle, he'd drag me through the streets by my ear and rip me a new one." A small, sad smile curved the King's lips. "As weird as it is, that's what I miss the most about him, Zel. He was never afraid to confront me and tell me what a stupid brat I was being, then show me exactly how my actions had affected others. He led by example." The man's voice trailed off as he became lost in thought for several minutes, a peal of thunder filling the void.

He stretched out his legs, watching Zel's dog nip at the heels of a few wandering ewes. "I wasn't always like this. Remember? I always used to know the right choice, back when things were simpler. After Morpheus, and then losing Valdien and you as well, I sort of forgot how to balance the responsibility and duty of everything. Now, there's a terrible weakness in me, but I can't for the life of me tell you what it is. Fear, probably. Fear of letting everyone down again, of losing more Azrein, more people than we already have." Azreth plucked three stalks of grazz from the damp earth and began braiding them together, giving his hands something to do while he spoke, occasionally casting glances at Zel, praying the older man would at least listen. "I'm terrified of failing everyone, Zel. I know I'm whining, but I really am. With each decision I make, will a hundred or a thousand lives be lost? Will I make my army starve for a few days, or will I make a place like Nodd suffer because of the economy?"

Azreth pulled another three stalks of grass, and began braiding them into the one he'd just completed. "Remember when we met? Back then, I was scared of failing, too. Failing my father, failing to be a good King when Dad passed on. And then when we found out he'd been poisoned, without hesitation, you were right by my side while I was hunting the bastards who'd killed him." The King's tone was strained. "But every time I thought I would lose myself, you kept me together. You made sure I didn't let the fear of failure rule me. And I took that for granted, really. But before it all fell apart, we had some good times." The King sighed and ran a hand through his hair, setting the double-braided bracelet he'd made between the two men.

"How do I even begin to fix this, Zel?" His voice was barely audible, as if he were speaking to himself. "I've taken responsibility for the choices I've made, and someday people are going to hate me for it. But all I want is to keep them safe, Zel." The King's knuckles were white, his nails biting crescents in his palms. "I need to keep them safe, and for the life of me, I don't see away out of this that doesn't end in failure." Azreth tipped his chin up, closing his eyes and letting the rain wash over his face, falling into silence. For right now, he was simply thankful that he could sit here beside Zel for just a few minutes longer and pretend that everything was alright in the world again.
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Friendship   Sun Aug 25, 2013 12:49 am

He snorted, and listened.  If the child wanted to just talk, fine. It wasn't like Zel could do anything about it. He frowned once more and glared coldly at the King who sat down nearby.  The boy decided to bring up old memories. Painful memories. Memories that brought the man to snarl with a glare.  

But Zel did listen and observe in silence.  His eyes fell back to the flock, and for the rest he simply dismissed it as a child asking for forgivness and guidance.  There was so much he could say, but the Alchemist simply settled for being silent in his deep seeded mistrust of the man.  Azreth now understood he had taken everything for granted. And he realized it far too late.  There was a part of him that was absolutely satisfied.  Another part was saying that it wasn't enough.  He wanted to watch this man--this child--that he had given almost everything for, suffer as he had. Did this make him a bad person?  

It was a curious question.

A few more puffs on the pipe and Zel finally inclined his head to speak, letting the rain water pool off his hat.  He reached out, picking up that delicate looking grass bracelet, examining it for the time being.  It was incredibly primitive, and lacked...anything.  He let the ring of grass drop back to the earth. And his eyes fell hard on to the boy he had once considered a friend.

"The trench you dug in these past years is deep, and it is wide. " he said, softly.  "You, now, admit failure? "   The alchemist fell silent for a long time, puffing on his pipe.  The boy was an emotional wreck.  "I told you to find a wife. You do not, say that it is too dangerous. Always. Then you make bad choice after bad choice... Until I knew not the person that stared back at me as they sat on the throne. "  Another puff of smoke rose to the sky.  "I have no advice for a stranger. I can feed this stranger, lend him clean water, tend to his animal, and send him on his way.  The king is not loved in these parts. "
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Friendship   Sun Aug 25, 2013 1:47 am


The young King clenched his jaw so hard it ached. How could Zel say these things? Yeah, he'd made some bad decisions, but he wasn't the one who'd started this damned war. The man levelled a cool green glare on the Alchemist, his face a mix of pain and rage. "Yeah, I admit it. I even take responsibility for it. But you know what, Zel? This war isn't my fucking fault. I didn't kill Valdien. I didn't kill Zeddler." He heard a sharp inhalation from Zel at his Bonded's name, but went on. "In fact, our Bonded gave their lives so we could live and continue fighting, Zel." Azreth's voice was hard, his words ruthless. "Or do you think all the Fallen would have been happy watching their Chosen rot in inaction, fighting with each other?"

The King shook his head. "Why should I take a wife and bring a kid into this world right now, Zel? odds are, the day of my wedding, assassins will be sent to kill my wife. I just don't have the resources to protect anyone else right now. And yeah, there's a fucking canyon between us, Zel, but I'm trying to build a bridge here. If you don't want to span it, then fine. But I'll tell you this." Azreth turned his head to meet Zel's gaze. "Not all the fault lies with me. Yes, I fucked up. I get that. And believe it or not, I actually am sorry for what I've done, not only to you, but to everyone else. But you're the one who walked away, Zel. You walked away from us and decided that I wasn't worth your time anymore. And maybe you're right, Althos. Maybe I'm just some spoiled little brat with a crown, whining and trying to win a war that's just about hopeless. But at least I'm trying, not sitting in the middle of some hills watching sheep shit all day."

Azreth spat venom from his lips, all the anger and hurt from the last year coloring his words."If you want to call me 'stranger', fine. Do it. If you want to revel in the hurt you've caused me, for no reason save pure spite, fine. But don't you dare lay everything at my feet, old man." His lips pulled back in a snarl. "You didn't even want to let me attempt to repair the damage between us. You left Avandere, you left me without a fucking word. Just packed up your things and cleared out. No warning, no reason, no note, nothing." The King's hands were clenched, his eyes boring holes into the ground between his feet. "You left when we needed each other the most, Zel. I get it. I really do. Losing your Bonded hurts worse than anything, anything else in this entire world, but a few weeks after that, you picked up and left. I stayed, even though I wanted to run away, and I stuck it out. I didn't do the best job, but at least I was doing something."

Tears of frustration stung the corners of Azreth's eyes and he jerked his head to the side, flinging them angrily away. "And you know what? I don't even hold that against you. Yeah, it hurt, but if I wasn't forced to remain in Avandere because of that thrice-damned crown, I would've left too. Which was half the reason I came all the way out here, putting everything on hold, was so that I could apologize and tell you that I bear you no ill will for picking up and clearing out." He turned and looked at Zel, grief written clearly on his fine features.

"You call me stranger, you call me King, but right here, right now, I am neither of those. I'm just Azreth." The man's words were strained, his throat tight, and his tone was filled with exhaustion, weariness. "I'll always be 'just Azreth' to you, Zel. Can't you see that? You're the only person that knows that I'm not some King with all the answers, that I'm some man who wears the crown with pride. You know I'm an insecure, terrified boy who misses his father, who misses his best friend, and who wishes more than anything that he didn't have to hold the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people in his hands." Azreth glanced at Zel, his eyes pleading.

"You've known that from the day you met me, snot-nosed and afraid. And to me, Zel, you're the person who took my heart when it was shattered, broken into a hundred sharp fragments and put it back together, over and over and over again. You're the grouchy old Alchemist who would make shapes out of smoke and sparkles just for a laugh. You're the guy who would come to me with half-burned eyebrows, torn robes, reeking of acid and would pretend to be mad while I laughed and laughed before calling for a tailor." The young man brought a fist to his lips, his shoulders hunched against his tears.

"Everybody says that time heals everything, but it only makes things worse. If I could turn it back, I would, and I'd do everything differently, but not even you can do that. What happened to us, Zel? How did we go to being a snot-nosed little brat and an awkward apprentice making their way in the world to this?" Azreth shook his head and buried his fingers in his wet hair, closing his eyes. "Zel, I am so, so sorry about Zeddler. And I hate this war and everything it's done to the Isle, to my people. But I didn't start it. I didn't kill the Fallen. All I ever tried to do was keep my subjects safe. But you know what hurts worse than knowing I'm fighting a losing war? Worse than looking at the lists of dead every three days? Worse than hearing whole villages are starving because of raids?"

Azreth took a deep breath to calm himself. He straightened his shoulders, turned his head, and met Zel's gaze evenly, for the first time in his life looking older than his years. "The fact that my mentor, my counselor, my best friend hates me. Not for the things I did do, but for the ones I didn't."
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Friendship   Sun Aug 25, 2013 2:55 am

He did not, at all, regret those choice words. They were simple. They were easy. The didn't mend the scars from this battle that was still going on, but they made the Alchem---shepherd feel better. A hand ran through his beard, scratching his chin as the water soaked whiskers began to itch. And were there small beads of water in the corners of the man's eyes? Probably.

Memories like those spoken so vehemently brought emotions of regret to the forefront of his mind. Failure. The boy--King was speaking of failure. And that hiss was from biting his lip at the name of his dearest soul being ripped from him. The trickster himself, jovially prancing off to battle, reassuring Zel that he would come back and that no barrel of apples would ever be safe. Then the next day when Zel awoke screaming as his worst nightmare, second at the time, became a reality. In a serene calm, the man just closed his eyes and pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose.

Snapping back at Azreth would cause no respite from that failure. Regret... Oh how he regretted letting Zeddler charge into that battle... that filled his heart more than anything. He didn't mourn when it had happened. No. Oh, how Zel remembered that hole in his chest the weeks after. Paining him as he ordered more troops down south, ordering recovery scouts to retrieve those equine bodies for proper burial, having to pretend that he wasn't clawing his own eyes out in agony when he explained to the crusaders the latest technology to slay the equines that did that to his little bit of light. The Chancellor had to work through his agony, while the King instead wallowed in the pain. Azreth knew better than to bring that breaking point of their working relationship up, and yet he did it anyways.

The Alchemist snarled, taking a moment to bind the rain to his will, and brushing it off his own arms casually. "For three weeks after they fell, Your Majesty, I swallowed my agony to make sure the Kingdom continued to run. Three whole weeks I did not allow myself to mourn the death of the creature that saved me from leaping off the island all those years ago. You stayed in bed, wallowing in the agony of it all, and had to be dragged to your senses, by me. and those I ordered. " Still, despite the display of anger, he was calm as he could be on the outside. He continued to flick globs of water off him, almost as though he had grown bored.

It was the same conversation. It was always the same conversation. This time it was blunt and to the point. It was many months too late. These words should have been said so many months ago, perhaps years ago before he had lost so much and given himself over to a country that was being led to its disaster. And as for that note? Hadn't he left a clear note in his former quarters stating that he was leaving? Hadn't it said the exact date? Did no one read notes?

And did he just insult his sheep?

That was the last of it. Zel snarled and bellowed at the 'child', causing the sheep to startle and run a good distance away from their docile two legged keeper in alarm. "You come here. You ask for forgiveness for shoving all my help aside every time I tried to help you. Every time. You go behind my back. You summon demons to get your way without even asking if I could help you when that was what I swore to you father to do. I swore it on my life and on my practice. You. You.... You never understood that. Not even after I had to yell it in your face in front of your precious flock of subjects. I have nearly died more times than I can count gathering information for your Kingdom, and this war that you are fighting.

"T[/b]hen, when I call you someone I do not know, Azreth, you are offended. Yet...did I know you? Not as well I thought I did. As soon as I was serious, focused, and attentive I was suddenly ignored when my concerns were presented professionally. But when I acted like a loon, suddenly you wanted to talk to Alchemist Althos to cheer you up. Suddenly, when things weren't going your way, you wanted to summon another demon instead of coming to your adviser, your friend who had to deny all rumors even though it was killing him. Did you ever stop to ask how I felt about that, or how it made me lean so hard on Zeddler those last few weeks before he died a 'hero?' "


He had to steady himself. Althos had to consciously relax the clenched fist and crack his neck with a lazy motion. Did he hate the boy? Yes. ... In a way. He stared at the crying king, glowering down with almost all his hatred and pointed a finger at him. Smoke drifted from his snarling mouth, and he snorted again. "You abandoned me long before I left the castle. Through your actions, through your words. You were there, physically, but not at all there when the Kingdom, and I, needed you to lead us when we were just as frightened as you. I was done trying to pretend that everything was okay, that despite losing almost everything the Kingdom would flourish and we would overcome everything. I left. My heart couldn't take it anymore. "

"And now, here you are -- telling me that I am wrong for placing the blame on you, for holding a grudge against you, for not saying a word to you that I was no long going to be around. That I am wrong for leaving when you finally need me. I don't know what to think of you and your city anymore. You say you are sorry... A few months ago, I could forgive you. Now? " Zel shook his head, and let out a whistle. The dog moved the sheep further away to a dryer spot on the field. "I would be lying if seeing the person that brought so much pain to me in pain didn't satisfy a part of me. I would have accepted your apology... until you insulted my livestock. Contact the Arcanium. Have them send someone just as qualified to advise you. And never --NEVER-- insult Nodd sheep in Nodd if you want to see the moon that night. "
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Friendship   Sun Aug 25, 2013 3:48 am


The King clenched his fists. He was upset about his sheep? The fucking sheep? Talk about priorities. But what else could he say? There was blame on both sides. He couldn't fault Zel, not really. all his points were valid. "Sorry for insulting your sheep, but that's beside the point. I was young, Zel. I was foolish and foolhardy. I made a lot of mistakes, and for that, I'm sorry. And I realize you kept the kingdom running while I was mourning Val, and I really do appreciate that. But if you want to throw what we had away, no matter what I have to say, no matter how much I want to show you that I've finally grown up..." All the anger had left Azreth. He was simply drained. Exhausted of fighting with everyone he loved.

A part of him hated Zel for abandoning him, even if he deserved it to some degree, for tossing aside the past as if it didn't even matter. But mostly, he simply loved the man. Zel had been a surrogate older brother to him when he was young, as well as a mentor and friend, and he would always, always care about him. But it sounded like Zel just...couldn't be bothered. "Zel, this kingdom would have fallen years ago if it wasn't for you. I'm just sorry I never thanked you properly for that." The King sighed and visibly sagged. Why was there so much conflict? He'd lost the support of Zel, four of his Kingsguard had left, the nobles were all fighting amongst each other, and his Counselors were all stabbing each other in the back. Weather, bandits, low morale, and disease were blocking Azreth at every turn, the Six were winning, he'd lost far, far too many friends to this accursed war. Humans, Azrein, it didn't matter; all of them he'd cherished, and they were gone. Now, it seemed like he would lose Zel, too.

"I wish I could turn back time. You were always there for me, and I turned my back on you, didn't listen, and played around with a forbidden Art, which will get me hanged when it finally comes out. If I could do it all over, I never would've trifled with Demons or sought revenge against the men that killed my mom and dad. But you only get one shot, no do-overs." The King rubbed his eyes. "And now I keep falling in the future from tripping on the past, and not a damn thing I say or do seems to make any difference."

Azreth shook his head. "I wish I could've been a better son to my Dad, and I wish I would've let you keep your promise to him, Zel. You're both good men; better than this world deserves, really." The King stood up, numb. "What would you have me do, Zel?" He looked down at his oldest friend with nothing but sorrow and regret in his eyes. "What is there even left to do?" The King turned his gaze to the skies. What was left? All of those in his closest circle had left or been killed, save one or two. Varian was really the only thing he had left now, the only one who stilled loved and trusted him unconditionally. And even with his support, Azreth didn't know how he was going to make it through the next year. What was left to do? Go back home. Pick up that gods-damned crown, put it on his head, bear the weight of its responsibility with his shoulders square, and try to keep as many people on the Isle from any more suffering. He bit back a curse. He'd never felt so alone in his life.

He looked down at Zel and took a deep breath, composing himself and forcing a smile onto his lips, though it didn't reach his eyes. "No matter how hard I look within the Arcanium, I'll never find anyone who could even come close to you, Zel. Nor one who could do even a fraction of what you've done for both me personally and for the Isle. And for all that you've done, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Just wish I would've done it sooner." A self-mocking smile curved his lips, though his words were sincere. "I'm sorry, old man. I really, really am, Zel. I didn't come here with the intention of hurting you or wasting your time."
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Friendship   Sun Aug 25, 2013 4:42 am

A long silence fell. Zel stared up at this man who had finally realized the cost of everything they had done to this point. He could see the toll of leadership finally coming to light. He wanted to laugh right in the boy's face and tell him that he had told him so. And he had done so many months before. But right now, he was reveling in this defeated soul.

The rain was falling harder now, as he could feel it soaking into his scalp and drip down his back. Chewing on his pipe, Zel soon spat on the ground before heaving himself upright. The pipe was knocked clean, stowed, and the Alchemist stared hard at the taller boy. "Go home. " he said, his own anger drained away in his voice. Still, he held onto that magick as he shoved his hands into his pockets after giving one final shrill whistle to call the flock home. Though at this point, it was to keep out the chill of the rain, that magick.

Shaking his head from side to side, the shepherder headed for his own simple hut. The reins of the horse were taken in hand, as the beast needed to get out of the rain and rest after a long journey like the one it had. Soft clucking and cooing sounds came from the now gentle man's lips, all while calling the beast sweetly and tell it it was a good horse and deserved a dryer place for the night.

That's right. Zel was taking the horse too.

With the Inn now temporarily closed until the trade routes were freed from bandits, and the war effort eased up just enough to allow merriment, he had to take up the slack as the home for the weary traveler. Even if they were people he would rather never see again.

"Stay in the rain if y' want your bones to rot. " he called back to the King. There was nothing left to be said unless there was more that needed to be. [/size]
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Friendship   Tue Aug 27, 2013 12:58 am



Azreth's green eyes widened as Zel took Bel's reins in hand and headed off in the direction of his cottage, the heavy rain pelting the King as he swallowed a lump in his throat and nodded, following the man at a sedate walk. They walked in silence, Azreth terrified of breaking it and saying something to bring his mentor's fiery anger back to the surface. Clearly, Zel had resigned himself to giving Azreth a place to sleep for the night, which was more than the young man had even hoped for.

But whether he did it out of necessity or some other reason was left unsaid. Which suited Azreth fine. If Zel still refused his friendship, then maybe they could have just one last night of subdued reminiscing; that alone would've made this trip worth its hours and hardships. The blonde pulled his hood up over his face as they walked past an elderly man, slouching and shoving his hands into the pockets of his riding breeches. No reason to draw undue attention to himself, even though hardly anyone out here would recognize him. All it took was one person saying something to the wrong crowd, and Azreth could wake up with a knife to his throat. He felt a smile curve his lips. He was positive Zel wouldn't appreciate having to clean the blood off his floors from the King's assassination. In fact, Zel might just bring him back to life just to kill him again. He wouldn't put it past the older man.

Azreth let out a weary sigh as Zel turned down a short walk to a cozy-looking cottage, and Bel perked his eats up, nickering as he smelled grain. The younger man trotted forward and gently pulled the reins from Zel's grip, nodding to the red-haired man. "Go on ahead. I'll untack and rub him down. I'll meet you inside when he's stabled. I assume the barn's around back?"

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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Friendship   Thu Aug 29, 2013 2:24 am

With a grunt, and a narrowing of gaze, Zel allowed the reins to be taken from his hand. Gently patting the stallion on the neck, he grunted again at the King's assumption. In there he would find it dry, warm, and a good supply of grain for the animal. Not to mention a few herding horses, an old plow behemoth, and the lambs too young to go out in the rain. "Go ahead. " he consented before he continued his lazy walk to the small cottage shack, shook off the water on his overcoat and hat, hung them up on the coat rack at the door. ( Kinley had insisted upon it, though now that he figured out he could move it close to the hearth to dry things quicker, he was absolutely not opposed to having a standing coat rack.) With a few more tired creaking stretches, he checked the pot of stew that had been brewing all day.

Shame he had to share it.

A few grunts, he pulled a bowl down for his guest, and a large mug for himself before filling them with the sweet lamb, barley and root stew. Local bread was also provided, but that was a serve yourself kind of thing as bread was still prominent in this isolated community. ( AND IT WOULD STAY THAT WAY IF OLD NAM HAD A SAY! ) Finally, after that, and making sure he wasn't completely soaking wet, he settled into his worn chair, keeping an eye on the door that led to the barn walkway...that had a broken lock. Hmm, he should fix that one of these days.

*Sip*
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Friendship   Thu Aug 29, 2013 2:39 pm


Having dried, brushed, stabled, and fed Bel, Azreth trudged wearily to the back door of Zel's cottage, head hanging and shoulders sagging. He entered and immediately slipped out of his cloak, hanging it on an empty peg on the coat rack, and took off his riding boots, setting them on the woven mat to the side of the door to dry. The King let out a sigh and forced his heavy limbs to get him over to the table, and he sat down gracelessly in the chair he was offered, staring dumbly at the bowl of mutton stew in front of him. "Thanks, Zel." He waited for his host to take the first bit, then spooned some of the stew into his mouth. Azreth ate woodenly in the beginning, but soon the meal warmed him and he came out of his weary stupor long enough to taste the food, green eyes widening in appreciation. "This is utterly delicious, man. Even Cook would be hard-pressed to make even roots taste this good."

He tore off a small chunk of bread and used it to sop up the last of the juices in the bowl, licking his fingers after he was finished. Wordlessly, the King took his bowl in hand before picking up Zel's now-empty mug and carried them over to the small sink. He hand-washed the dishes and set them on the rack to dry, padding back over to the seat across from his mentor, half-falling into it. It was good to just sit there with the Alchemist, both lost in their thoughts, a comfortable silence between them. The King was weary to the bone, and the weight of responsibility that dragged him down every moment began to dissipate in the interior of the humble, homey little cottage, and for a while, Azreth allowed the burden of being King to slip from his shoulders. He hadn't been able to relax -- truly, seriously relax -- for the last six months at the very least, and sitting at the table, the sound of the fire crackling merrily in the hearth with the rain pattering against the roof eased the countless worries from his mind.

Forgetting due to weariness that Zel was still royally pissed at him, the young man stretched and drew his thighs to his chest, stockinged heels resting on the edge of the chair, wrapping his arms around them and resting his chin on a knee. "How're Nam and Kinley doing, Zel? I heard Grandlady Nam was living in Nodd with you. I know that Kinley's still living in Avandere; spoke to her for a minute a few months back when we passed each other on the streets, going about our business. She seemed to be happy enough, though she misses you." Azreth offered his mentor a small smile, green eyes glazed with utter, complete exhaustion. "An' b'lieve it or not, Zel," the man's words were slurred as he spoke, his eyes heavy, half-lidded. He rested his arms on the table, pillowing his forehead on his forearm, nose in the crook of his elbow, muffling his words."I really do want a wife someday. An' a son." The King blinked tiredly, looking more like the boy from five years ago than anything else at the moment. "I'd name 'im after Dad, f'course. But I can't bring a child into a world like this, Uncle Zel."

Azreth's head tilted to the side, his lips parted around deep, even breaths as he fell asleep, his fatigued, overworked, worried and wearied mind finally quieting down for the first time in months. The King murmured incoherently in sleep, his slender fingers twitching. These days, the only rings he wore were pale strips of flesh from where precious metals and jewels once circled his fingers, having sold off all of his own personal jewelry. The only ring that remained on his left hand was his Ring of Office, which had been left to him by Alec before the late King had passed. The once-flawless emerald get in gold was now cracked down the center, as Azreth had used it as a last resort, using it as a focus for his Skill. It was either damage the ring or allow a woman and her child to be killed by Agents of the Six, and that hadn't been a choice at all. Even most of Azreth's court finery was long-gone, sold to tailors and used finery stores to put money in the treasury, to buy his men rations and weapons.

Finally, after so many years of mistakes and failures, the King was just beginning to be worthy of his title.
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PostSubject: Re: The Price of Friendship   Fri Aug 30, 2013 4:03 am

The compliment of his simple stew made Zel raise an eyebrow. Had the boy not had a decent meal in months? This was peasant fare. Good, hearty, down to earth peasant fare that wouldn't be seen in palaces of kings and emperors. Ever. He snorted and continued to sip and chew on his meal.

Like hell would he give away his family recipe for mutton stew.


He listened to the sound of the rain pounding on the thatched roof, the fire crackling in the hearth, and allowed himself to relax for a moment. He thought of all the little experiments and creations he threw into the shed once he got fed up with the war and the internal politics. He thought of Nam's mildly amused look when he broke down her door when he got home and declared himself now a true neutral and would be herding sheep. ( ...her client, the Mayor of the village, just looked mildly perplexed... apparently his therepy session had been a revolving door since he got the first needle in him. ) And he remembered Kinley's warning of not getting into trouble while he was away. A heavy sigh escaped him, and the cup, empty, was pulled from his hand. He watched Azreth clean the dishes by hand ( ... what the... ), and made a mental note to go back and clean them again just to make sure nothing got missed.

A question was asked, and Zel simply shrugged and let the boy continue talking. He did get up with a groan and headed to the kitchen to make himself a cup of tea before bed. A few noncomittal grunts were had, while Zel watched the king fall asleep while he was talking. Dear gods... That table must be comfortable.

With a sigh, and a mug of hot tea, the alchemist threw a blanket over the boy. What was the boy thinking, coming all the way out here like this! He should be back at the castle, organizing everything the way it should be, and fighting a two front war. Not to mention there was Below to worry about. Catching himself with that disgusting train of political thought, Zel chuckled to himself and headed to bed.

He would be up before the sun, mucking the stalls, feeding the livestock, and letting the dog run the sheep around outside before the neighbor's kids would come by to milk the sheep and cows, ride the horses, and simply help out around the town before they were shooed off to school.
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