“Do you love her? If there’s even a shadow of a doubt in your answer…”
It was a question he expected. And he had an answer, but the words stuck in his mouth as quizzical eyes surveyed him from across the room.
“You seem to mean well,” the other man continued, “Shae told me about the goblin raid. How you went and liberated her out of Thistletop.” He momentarily paused as he set an empty tankard aside.
“We did everything we could. We… even lost one of our group in the process. Thistletop was a lot more than expected,” Chesed responded with a sigh. “She mentioned that part right?”
“Yes,” Jakardos nodded, “But your group managed.”
The grizzled man’s gaze dropped the side as he contemplated the multiple stories he had heard, “Hell, you and your boys brought Kibb back to me after that… situation.” He nodded toward the ajar door of the inn room, “You brought Shae to me. I think you’ve earned an explanation, but heed my story after it’s said and done.”
Chesed nodded in response. He had been curious about Shalelu’s past. She rarely mentioned it and had only brought it up once or twice. Chesed hadn’t said much about his family either. Maybe they just didn’t know what to say. Until now.
“When I was younger and before I joined the Black Arrows, I spent a few years as an adventurer, much like your little group,” Jakardos grinned a little in the candlelight. A spark of adventurous glee still danced in his eyes, “My group eventually ended up in the region around the Mierani Forest. You know where that is? We, uh, helped a small village of elves defeat a group of murderous ettercaps. They were being led by a green dragon.”
“Mm, not what you expected I take it?” Chesed commented.
“No…” the smile died from Jakardos’s face, “We… Well… All said and done, my companions perished in the fight, giving their lives for the elven community of Crying Leaf.”
“I see…” Chesed flinched internally at the idea of losing companions. It was a small fear that lingered in the back of his mind. Gawadir had been the first to fall… but no one had followed since. There were close calls, but no one had died. And he hoped to keep it that way.
“I was nursed back to health by an elven priestess of Desna there, and we fell very much in love. Her name was Seanthia, Shalelu’s mother,” Jakardos continued a little slower now, his mind obviously wrapped up in a flurry of thoughts. “Those were the days…” he sighed, “I would have lived the rest of my life in Crying Leaf had not Seanthia herself perished when the village was attacked three years later. Someone resurrected that damned dragon… With my aid, the town put the beast down again, but I was too broken-hearted to remain…”
Chesed remained silent as he watched the other man. Several emotions flickered across Jakardos’s face as he fought to contain himself. Chesed didn’t know if any words of comfort would help. He was good with people younger than him, not the other way. And he really didn’t want to put his foot in his mouth here.
I gathered my belongings…” Jakardos continued with a hushed tone, “Within minutes of the dragon’s death, I left Crying Leaf behind me, along with the sorrowful task of attending to Seanthia’s funeral. I…”
He didn’t know the pain of loss like losing a lover, but Chesed could reflect the pain in a different way. His own mother, Taenth, had left. He had been seven years old. The settlement his family had been working to set up for five years was flourishing. The town guard was training for any sort of defensive against giants if they attacked again. The small village was slowly being militaristic. And Taenth had left, getting rid of the last source of opposition against his father’s ideals of training everyone to fight. For training children for battle.
Chesed hadn’t heard from his mother since… It was like she had died… but there was always the lingering hope and horror that she was still out there. Out there and not caring that her three children were being trained like dogs of war.
“My heart hardened,” Jakardos broke Chesed from his thoughts, “I… eventually heard of the Black Arrows and applied for membership. I hoped that service to the order would help me bury my damn broken heart. To a certain extent, my plan worked.”
Chesed met the other man’s hardened gaze. It was exactly what Chesed had done. He had left home. He had left his sisters in the hands of his war-like father. Some days the regret would creep in. It would eat away at his conscious. Other days he didn’t think of it. He understood the constant battle of will it took to not look back. To not consider a different timeline.
“The loss of Fort Rannick has wakened similar memories of Seanthia’s death and the torment of it all. I bitterly regret abandoning Crying Leaf, and between wishing I’d died in either the dragon attack or in the ogre attack… Son, I was ready to die to the Grauls. Would’ve put me out of my damned misery… Until I was reunited with my stepdaughter…”
The relief on Jakardos’s face was a welcomed sight, but it was quickly covered with a distant look of confusion and trepidation, “Our reunion’s been… complicated. Son, in the decades since last we met, she hasn’t aged a day, whereas I’ve become a grizzled old man. In her…” Jakardos’s voice grew quieter, “I see the specter of her mother…”
As if snapping himself out of a terrible memory, Jakardos shook his head, “But… Last night, Shalelu came into the church to confront me. She had to find out whether I was the man who loved her mother, or a monster who left her motherless.”
“I’m aware,” Chesed responded. Shalelu had been gone for a good length of time.
“I… I didn’t blame her for having an arrow trained on me before I woke. Stars above, I don’t know what broke me down harder, either her striking resemblance with Seanthia, or how she held the arrow to end me there with the bow technique I taught her. But it broke me.”
Chesed leaned on the chair arm and subconsciously rubbed the back of his thumb along the scales under his right eye. What would it be like to see his sister Sera now? Would she be as angry as Shalelu was? How would she react? How would he react?
“I sobbed like a damned fool, “Jakardos sighed, “When my blubbering woke the boys, they found Shae comforting me. She hadn’t expected my reaction… Nor did my men. Seeing me sob like that greatly unnerved Vale and amused Kaven. Neither had ever seen me bare even a shadow of my past… I just…”
“You understand, she forgave me last night,” Jakardos stated the words like he still couldn’t believe them.
“She has a big heart,” Chesed smiled a little behind the hand covering his face, “I’m impressed she overlooked… me for me.”
Jakardos let out a muted chuckle, “I’m a little surprised myself… but it seems she’s full of surprises for the two of us.”
Chesed traced a scale on his cheek with a smile. Shalelu may have presented a fairly cold exterior when the group had first met her, but after peeling away some of the layers she was just as kind-hearted as his own mother and sisters. Shalelu cared for the people around her, for Sandpoint, for her step-father… it was her unshakable devotion that had drawn Chesed in the first place. She was willing to put her life on the line for others that she didn’t even know, and that made a world of difference in his eyes. She truly cared for others.
“Said she wants to hear stories about Seanthia,” Jakardos breathed to himself mostly, “Stars above, never will I deserve having her for a daughter…”
“Never will I deserve her love,” Chesed commented quietly. He was a monster in every definition of the word. But if she could overlook the draconic side of his lineage… maybe it wasn’t as bad as he believed.
“Son…” Jakardos made him look up once more. His face was serious, “If you love her… don’t ever leave her side… Not for anything. Y’hear me?”
“I will stay by her side until the day I die…” Chesed put every sincerest thought into the words, but a shadow crept from the depths of his thoughts.
Or until she doesn’t want me anymore…
He shook the chilling thought away. He had had this battle before when considering telling Shalelu of his feelings. Of course it would always be a fear he would face, but every day buried the thought a little bit more.
He loved Shalelu. And nothing was going to stand in his way to be with her…
“Good,” Jakardos responded gruffly, “Now tell me. What is with the scales? Shae mentioned something about your mother.”
“I…” Chesed hesitated as he considered his words, “My mother was a half dragon.” He looked over at the other man’s skeptical look, “Gold dragon. If you couldn’t tell by the scales.”
“I can see the damned scales,” Jakardos rolled his eyes and leaned back in his chair, “Your family must be strange indeed.”
“It gets better,” Chesed felt the sarcasm dripping from his voice, “My father’s side has angelic blood as well. I obviously have not inherited it as my sister has.”
“Oh?” Jakardos seemed a little more interested in the information.
“She has wings…” Chesed felt a sudden lump in his throat. The burning animosity that he had buried from his childhood surfaced momentarily in his mind. Sera had always bested him when they were growing up. She had always been stronger, always been better at combat, always had the right bloodline bless her…
“Wouldn’t that be a sight to see?” Jakardos commented.
“It’s terrifying,” Chesed deadpanned. He could remember his teen years like it was yesterday. Sera flying in from the angle of the sun. Sera assaulting him from different sides. Sera beating him in spars. Sera flying away with a laugh.
“So what of your family now then?” Jakardos pushed the question through Chesed’s thoughts.
“I don’t know,” Chesed replied. Honestly, he didn’t know. He had left home in such a fury. So many things had pressed him to leave, and finally, he had done it. Without looking back.
Well… sort of not looking back.
“You didn’t leave on good terms either.”
It wasn’t a question. Chesed nodded slightly, “My father was a tyrant… and his questionable actions after my mother left did not sit well with me.”
“Your mother left?”
“Yes,” Chesed knew the other man wanted more of an explanation, but he really didn’t have one, “She… just left one day. Never returned. I was seven at the time. My sister Sera was nine. My younger sister Lyssandra was five. We were never told why.”
“Strange indeed,” Jakardos murmured, “Your father didn’t stop her?”
“No,” the bitterness burned Chesed’s tongue, “His actions after she left were deplorable. I… I have a lot of half-siblings. None from the same woman.”
“I see…” Jakardos went quiet for a few moments, “I apologize for surfacing any ill memories.”
It took a moment for Chesed to realize his fists were tightly clenched on the arms of the chair. He took a deep breath and relaxed his hands. The topic was a touchy one, but it needed to addressed at some point.
“No, you’re fine,” Chesed responded as coolly as possible, “I expected it to come up eventually… I’m just a little caught off guard is all.”
“Understandable,” Jakardos nodded, “Such things are not easy to discuss with just anyone.”
Footsteps approaching the door made them both look up.
“Are you two going to talk all day?” Shalelu threw the question out as she shoved the door open, “Weren’t we going to take back a fort?”
A grin split Chesed’s face at the sight of the elf, “Of course.”
She rolled her eyes and her gaze went to her step-father. Chesed noted her annoyed expression soften just a little.
“We will be ready shortly,” Jakardos stated as he got up from his chair. He crossed the room and paused as he passed Shalelu. Chesed raised an eyebrow as he whispered something to his step-daughter.
A fleeting smile crossed Shalelu’s face and then Jakardos was out the door. She turned to Chesed with hands on her hips, “Just what were you discussing?”
“A lot of things,” Chesed replied as he got up. He went over to his gear and started putting things together for the day ahead.
“And they were?”
“Now if I told you, we would be here for a while,” Chesed grinned back.
He received an annoyed look, but he could she the affection behind it, “Fine. We’ll discuss this after the fort is taken.”
“Agreed,” Chesed felt like it was a good decision. There was no use in boggling down their minds with super deep talk.
“Hey Shalelu,” Chesed commented as the elf gently picked up her favorite bow.
“Yes?” she asked over her shoulder.
“I love you,” Chesed stated.
Shalelu turned and looked at him. Her smile was genuine and gentle. The one he loved.
“You’re a dope.”