Once Upon a Nightmare
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Inside the Merry Brewer was a large common room with several tables and a hearth in the center. People scattered about the inn, trying to keep as warm as possible, but it was crowded tonight. There were four older men sitting nearest to her, passing a word quietly between one another now and then, and a larger, younger group of locals were gathered near the fire, holding tightly onto large pints of ale. Their cheery voices erupted in song occasionally, sometimes to the annoyance of other patrons.
Erestel started to frequent the inn at least once a week, and although she knew better than to make anything habit at this point in her life, Bryoeny had been tracking her for what seemed like an eternity. She thought it was time to put an end to that, and reward her for such exhausting work. So, after all these long years, she’d steeled herself to meet her oldest, dearest, and possibly only friend. After her return to the Druids she stalled, and then stalled some more, until it turned into pure evasion. How could she explain where she’d been for over a decade? After all that happened, how could they ever go back to how things were? The person—the child her friend had once known was gone. It broke her heart. It broke her to have to explain the person who replaced the one she used to know, and she didn’t want to. Without her, she learned about love, and about how much pain the human heart could endure and still continue to beat. Those hardships had forged her into something harder than steel, and she was only fearless because she had nothing left to lose but her life--and she was no longer afraid of losing it.
The nervous anticipation in deep in her gut twisted her insides into knots, and chased away her appetite. That didn’t mean she had to be sober for this meeting, though, and had paid for two of the tavern’s best bottles of wine. Erestel had taken one of the further tables from the door, and her legs were stretched out across the surface of it, showing high boots and supple leather that fitted well, but had seen much wear and were now caked with mud. A travel stained cloak of heavy dark grey cloth was drawn around her, and in spite of the heat in the room she wore a hood to overshadow her face; though the gleam of her eyes and the white of her long hair could be seen as she watched the crowded room, content to drown herself in a bottle while she waited.
Bryoeny was many things, but stealthy was never one of them.
At least another half hour passed before the red-head showed, searching the room, and distinctly out of her element. Erestel pretended not to notice as she found the table and approached, and continued to not notice as she hovered, the ire in her presence palpable in the air. She raised a thin brow, peering at the woman in a sidelong glance with due caution.
“You’re taller than I remember,” she mentioned, unable to suppress the wry hint in her tone.
You have no idea how much lord of the rings and narnia music I listened to for this. No idea.
Bryoeny stared at the heavy wooden door, sending a silent prayer to anyone who would listen—whatever good it would do. A horrible, sinking feeling was starting to form in the pit of her stomach with the realization her search might not end here. It would continue like every other time she stood somewhere, bracing herself to see her friend. It seemed as if this search might never come to an end.
No! She’s here…she has to be.
Minutes passed, and she was still standing, staring at the door without actually seeing it. Her heart pounded so anxiously, as if it were about to leap from her chest, and it was borderline painful. What if she isn’t here? What if this is just another lead that ends up being a little too late? The flood gate of what-if’s burst, and every moment she stood there added fuel to the fire. Then it slowly dawned on her; what if she was here?
So much time had passed; what would she do? Would she be able to talk to her, like she once had? Fear welled in her, and all this time searching, Bryoeny never took the time to think about what she would do when she actually found her. She spiraled, until fear swelled and consumed every fiber of her being, causing her to shake. And just as the ocean of her thoughts began to drown her, a giant hand dug into her shoulder and shoved her with such force she landed on the ground, and abruptly back into reality.
Bryoeny looked up, catching a man’s backside entering the door into the tavern, and muttering under his breath. She shook it off, refusing to let fear consume her again. Now is as good as a time as any, I suppose, she reasoned, and pulled herself up from the hard ground. Bryoeny sucked in a deep breath and felt the chill air burn her lungs, but it gave her much needed clarity. She straightened her shoulders and held her chin high with a new sense of determination, but still felt her apprehension bubbling under the surface. She clenched her fist tightly until her fingers dug into her palm and focused, knowing she would have to act fast. Before she could change her mind, she reached out her other hand and grasped the iron door handle and pulled.
The door was a lot heavier than it looked, and let’s face it, she wasn’t that strong. Feeling completely stupid, she put her other hand on the door handle and pulled with all her might.
This time the door effortlessly flew open, smacking her in the face, and the world momentarily went black.
“I’m so sorry miss, are you okay?!” A nice looking gentleman looked at her as if he expected her to cry or break, or both. “I’m fine, thank you,” Bryoeny reassured him, although she could already feel a bump forming on her forehead. She felt the heat growing in her face as it turned bright red with embarrassment. “Honestly, my pride is hurt, and that’s it.” He seemed to look at her in amazement and asked again. “You sure you’re okay?” Bryoeny nodded her head, and the gentleman patted her atop her head as if she were a child, and then walked away, clearly trying not to laugh.
She stood there, looking at that damn door again, but this time her head throbbed, and she was just pissed. I am going to kill her if she is inside. She just had to leave…
A new trail of thoughts entered her mind, and determinedly she grabbed the handle and flung the door open. Well, in her mind it flung open—in reality, it slowly opened. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust, but she could see that it was crowded, and her heart started to sink. She shouldn’t be here. This was no place for her, and yet, she could see Erestel coming here with no problem. Straightening up, she searched the room for any sign of her friend. Her eyes were eventually drawn to a cloaked figure in the corner, muddy boots up, and ale in hand, daring anyone to say anything. She couldn’t fully see the person’s face, but she knew. Bryoeny couldn’t tell you how she knew, but she did.
Erestel was here.
Relief that her childhood friend was alive washed over her, and her body relaxed. She ignored the rest of the room and made her way to the table, fully expecting Erestel to jump up and shout her name and give her a great big hug. Instead, she stood there staring at an unmoved figure. Erestel didn’t flinch.
What the hell! Her anger crashed back.
Erestel barely looked up, and broke the silence. “You’re taller than I remember.”
“Are you freaking kidding me?!” Her voice sounded shrill, even for her. A few people fell quiet; others looked up from their mugs.
Bryoeny pushed her friend’s muddy boots off the table and pulled her into a giant bear hug, tears streaming down her face. She said nothing, and could feel Erestel tense up, clearly not expecting her reaction. She hugged for more time than was really necessary, but she didn’t care. Erestel was alive, and from what she could tell, in one piece—which honestly, was a fear she didn’t even know she had. Stepping away, she could see her face now, the hood of her cloak had fallen from her head. Then, pulling at all the anxiety from the years searching, all the fear she might never find her again, and drawing on all the anger she built up inside her
—she slapped Erestel across the face with all her might, and sat down.
“I definitely deserved that,” she admitted, testing the spot for immediate soreness as she sat down. “Probably for more reasons than you realize,” she muttered under her breath, half hoping Bryoeny would ignore the second comment, but knew it was unlikely. Erestel crossed her feet back up on the table closer to the wall so she still had a good view of her friend, and took another casual swig of red wine straight from the bottle.
“Wine?” She offered, gesturing a hand to the extra bottle, and purposely stalling the conversation. Erestel watched Bryoeny’s face start to twist into a scowl.
“Didn’t know if you drank or not. I got you a bottle, for all that hard work. To take the edge off,” she explained. Erestel knew her comment would only open up a new set of questions, which is exactly why she did it. She’d rather have her frustrated and misdirected, than have her get to the heart of the topic. Frustration, anger, and even hate she could live with. Hell, she’s rather live with it over sentiment. Bryoeny started to stare like she was hoping Erestel might spontaneously combust.
“Well, aren’t you a wee horror,” she mused. Erestel was not in the least bit intimidated. “Hold on. If you’ll give me a minute, I think I can make this worse,” she proposed. A sly smile spread across her lips, and she wore it like a loaded gun. Everything had changed, and yet she was more her than she’d ever been. Bryoeny would learn her penchant for trouble had only increased in the years apart. Erestel put her feet back on the floor and straightened in her chair, setting the bottle on the table, and leaning forward.
“How long did you search?” Her tone sobered, and Erestel wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer. It reflected how much Bryoeny cared—a fact that made her uncomfortable. Bryoeny loved her in spite of all the unlovable pieces she had to pick up. She was like a river; cutting through rock not because of its power, but because of its persistence. “How many taverns? How many inns? How far did you look, before you realized I didn’t want to be found?”
Lots of LOTR music, once again.