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Author: innbetween

Story Time: Tell Me A Story

Guess who missed Fina! It’s me. Some mentions of alcohol and drunkenness in this one friends. Please take care of yourselves.

*

“Tell me a story?”

Ioan Butterbuns looked up from mending his shirt to meet his little girl’s eyes. “A story, eh?”

Fina’s eyes were huger than normal. Ioan had once heard some human say there was nothing cuter than a halfling child, and although Ioan was of the opinion that said human had no children and knew few halflings, where his own daughter was concerned, he thought they might be right. She blinked those big old eyes at him winningly. “Pretty please?”

“Hm.” He faked solemnity and continued sewing. “How about a story about a monster?”

“What kind of monster?” Fina scooted up close to his chair from her seat on the floor.

“Oh, a fearsome one. A terrible one, that eats people alive.”

She grabbed his leg. “What did it look like?”

“It had a long, horrible horn,” Ioan intoned, sticking the needle into the seam so he could gesture safely and tracing the horn in the air in front of his forehead. “Imagine if a unicorn went horribly wrong.”

“Oh no!” Fina cried, and Ioan was unsure if she was playing along or genuinely scared.

“Oh yes!” he went on. “And only one horrible eye as well! And that’s not even talking about the wings.”

“It can fly?” Fina demanded in childlike disbelief.

“A truly fearsome creature.” Ioan nodded gravely. “In fact, the great bards of the past wrote a song about the beast, as a warning to all of us.”

“How does it go?” Fina asked.

“Oh, no, I couldn’t,” Ioan said, placing a demure hand on his chest.

“Sing!” Fina shouted, throwing her hands up in the air.

Ioan laughed. “All right, all right, I give in.” He reached for his old guitar, took a few seconds to tune it, and started to play. “It…was…a…one-eyed one-horned flying purple people eater…”

And Fina dissolved into giggles.

*

“I know you don’t like Aaron, I’m just asking you to not prank the wedding,” Ioan said, taking the shears to another sheep.

“Why are you asking me to be something I’m not?” Fina said blithely. She shook the worst of the dust out of the last fleece and threw it out over the pile on the cart.

Ioan sighed. “Fina…”

“And it would be so easy, too!” Fina opened the gate and took a handful of another sheep’s fleece, steering it out of the pen toward her father. “Aaron is so sensitive. Hair trigger for pranks.”

Ioan snipped the last shreds of fleece and patted the sheep’s flank. She bleated and wriggled out into the field. “I’m being serious,” he said, trading Fina the new sheep for the fleece.

Fina again shook it out and spread it on the cart. “In fact, if Tim wasn’t so boring, I would recruit him to help me. That’s what you do with brothers, right?”

Ioan didn’t answer, just focused on shearing this sheep.

“Dad, I’m joking.”

“Oh, I’m aware,” he said mildly, finishing up and giving the sheep a pat of dismissal.

Fina brought him another. “Gods, Aaron is such a bad influence on you. You’re getting so stiff.”

“I’m ready to have a serious conversation when you are,” Ioan said, meeting her eyes. “This is important to me.”

She pulled a face. “I know.

“So?”

“So I’m not going to prank your wedding.” She traded him sheep for fleece. “I’m not heartless.”

“Thank you,” Ioan said simply.

Beehhhh,” said the sheep.

They worked in silence for a moment.

“It’s not that I don’t like Aaron, okay?” Fina said finally. “He just doesn’t get me. Or us, for that matter. What he has with Tim is different than what we have.”

“You’re feeling misunderstood?” Ioan asked gently,

“A little,” Fina admitted, as if Ioan were dragging it out of her. “Look, I know you love him. I know things are going to be different now. I know you’ll be paying attention to him and Tim as well as me and you only have so much attention. I know that.”

“But?” Ioan prompted.

“I don’t want you to change,” she said, shrugging.

Ioan hummed in understanding and started on another sheep. “We all change, Fina. We have to. That’s life.”

Again, they worked in silence for a while, the sheep in the pen dwindling while the sheep in the field rolled around and pranced with newfound freedom.

“Tell me a story,” Fina said presently.

Ioan looked up in surprise. It was the first time she’d asked in a while. She usually, he realized, didn’t have to ask, but he’d been so occupied with the wedding plans and the merging of his and Aaron’s households…

“Once there was a father and a daughter, who were very happy together,” Ioan began, methodically snipping the shears. “The daughter was smart and beautiful and well-liked by everyone.”

“Ah, a true story,” Fina commented.

Ioan chuckled. “Not quite. For you see, the father remarried when the daughter was only just old enough to start thinking of herself as grown, and the man he married was a horrible, wicked man.”

“Real vote of confidence, dad,” laughed Fina, and Ioan laughed with her.

*

Ioan paced in the living room, in front of his daughter and stepson. Aaron had been so angry that he’d had to step out before he lost his temper properly, leaving Ioan alone to parent.

“You two are nearly adults,” Ioan said, taking care to keep his tone level. “You should know better. You should know far better. What were you thinking?”

“It wasssn’t—” Tim cleared his throat, clearly still drunk. “It wasn’t my idea.”

“Oh sure, blame it all on me!” said Fina, who evidently was much better at holding her liquor than her stepbrother. “Who’s the one who said we should take Aaron’s whiskey from the still?”

“Only after you sh-s-said we should sssteal it from someone else!” Tim attempted to snap back. He turned a penitent eye to Ioan. “I thought it’d be better if we borrowed s-some from dad.”

“So you planned to steal liquor,” Ioan said sternly. “And then what?”

“The fireworksss weren’t my idea either,” slurred Tim. “I didn’t—didn’t know the piggies were down there.”

“I didn’t either!” cried Fina.

“Enough,” sighed Ioan. “Tim, go…sleep it off. Your father will have words for you in the morning. Not to mention the village elders, after you caused that stampede.”

“Oh my gods,” Tim groaned, standing unsteadily. “I knew I shhouldn’t have listened to you.”

“When are you going to learn to have some actual fun, Tim?” Fina demanded.

Tim didn’t answer, just stumbled off to his room.

Ioan sat down across from his daughter. “I just…I just don’t understand.”

Fina crossed her arms. “I know you don’t.”

This was far from the first time they’d had this conversation. Things had been fine! For a few years! True, Fina seemed restless, but she always had before too, and that wasn’t new. And then all of a sudden, in the last few months…this. This and worse, but before today she hadn’t got Tim involved.

Ioan leaned back in his chair, massaging his forehead. He was out of tactics. He didn’t know any new parenting tricks. Maybe he could try an old one.

“Tell me a story,” he said.

Fina looked up, surprised and for a moment disarmed. Ioan tried to keep still, lest he give away his gambit.

Slowly, his daughter resituated in her chair. She thought for a bit before beginning. “Once upon a time there were two kings. They had a son and a daughter who they loved. Their kingdom was well taken care of and had plenty of everything they needed. Every subject was happy. Far away, there was a dragon, hiding in a cave in one corner of the kingdom, but the dragon hadn’t bothered anyone yet.”

Ioan nodded. “I’ve never heard this story.”

“Of course you have, it’s as old as the hills,” Fina scoffed.

Ioan smiled, just a little. “Oh, silly me.”

“Yeah,” Fina said, and paused. “One day, the daughter asked her fathers for permission to go speak to the dragon. They asked her why, and she didn’t have an answer, just that she wanted to. They told her no. And the daughter shrank, just a little, and lost a little of her color.”

Fina paused and swallowed. Ioan listened intently.

“Another day, she asked them again. Again, they told her no, for she didn’t have a reason, and she shrank a little more, and lost more of her color. Once more, another day, she asked them permission, and they said, ‘Are you not content here in the kingdom? Are you not happy helping us shepherd our people? Are you not our daughter, and should you not be like us?’ And they told her no.

It was many weeks before they realized how small and gray their daughter had become. ‘What is the matter with you? Why won’t you sing and laugh like your brother? What happened?’”

“What did she say?” Ioan asked quietly.

Fina looked like she might cry. “Nothing. She couldn’t give an answer.”

“You feel trapped here, Fina?” Ioan suggested.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Fina said, looking away. “This is just a story.”

Ioan took it as a good sign that she was still being glib. He swallowed, trying to choose his words carefully. “I never meant to make it seem like you couldn’t leave, if that’s what you want—”

“You didn’t have to,” she interrupted. “Aaron did.”

Ioan frowned. “He did?”

“He said you depend on me,” Fina said, as if it was an accusation. “He said this was all going to be mine one day, so I should get used to being responsible for it all.”

Oh. Ioan winced. He remembered that conversation with Aaron—Ioan had expressed some worries about how their children should inherit their land and herd. Aaron must have taken what action he thought he could on Ioan’s behalf.

“Do you want to leave?” Ioan asked, as gently as he could.

Fina’s eyes suddenly sparkled with tears. “Don’t you want me to stay?”

“Of course I do!” Ioan was starting to choke up too. “But I want you to be you more than anything. That’s what matters.”

Fina looked away, sniffing. Ioan did some of that himself.

“Look,” Ioan said finally, rubbing the back of his head, “whatever the village elders decide, you do what they say. Make up for what happened tonight. And then, if you want…go make your way.”

“What about the sheep?” Fina muttered.

“Tim can take care of them.” Ioan waved a hand. “He wants to anyway.”

Fina cleared her throat. “Dad?”

“Yeah?”

And she leapt forward and threw her arms around him.

Story Time: Friends Everywhere

Here’s a little story about real friendship, from everyone’s second favorite bard (after Fina of course). Enjoy!

*

Max has friends everywhere.

That was the first thing Killiker learned about Maximillian Allerus. It was a mutual friend who introduced them, a windblown storm cleric named Sunny.

“You’re gonna like this guy,” she’d told Killiker. “They’re seriously the best.”

“How do you know this Max fellow?” Killiker asked.

“Everyone knows Max!” she’d said. “He’s got friends everywhere.”

And then Max burst into the tavern, demanding a drink and slapping the other patrons on the back. They did know everyone, or so it seemed, and everyone was glad to see them.

“So, Killiker, you’re a bard!” Max said, once he had taken a perch on a stool with a companionable arm around Sunny. “What’s your medium of choice?”

“My voice,” said Killiker, projecting his most personable self, as he always did when he was trying to make a good first impression. And under normal circumstances, Killiker would watch in relish as his golden words settled on his audience like a dove, immediately endearing him to the listener.

But Max accepted the words with a smile that looked almost…hungry. “Incredible.”

And suddenly Killiker had an idea of what it was like to be drawn in by a handsome, charming stranger.

*

Max has friends everywhere.

It seemed that every stop meant a restructure of the party—a member bidding them farewell or joining up. Killiker had never met so many astounding adventurers in his life, and he’d been adventuring for a couple of centuries. Max drew them all in to himself, attracting them like planets to one of the suns, in the sort of social dance that would make a politician dizzy. Max was universally beloved, universally respected, and almost no one could say no to them. Killiker included.

“What is the point,” Max had demanded one day, waxing poetic, “of being out in the country with no city lights if you don’t take the time to look at the stars?”

Which was how, against Killiker’s better judgment, he and Max found themselves lying in an open field with no fire looking at the night sky, along with a wizard called Cybilene and a dragonborn fighter called Yak, who had been friends with Max for years.

“Look for shooting stars,” Max trilled. “I’m sure we could all use a little luck.”

“Except you, maybe,” Cybilene teased. “I swear, there’s no one as lucky as you.”

“Max has had their woes,” Yak scoffed.

“Is that so?” Killiker asked, ensuring that his tone was light even though he wanted the information very badly.

“It’s true,” Max said, with mock solemnity. “What a hard life I’ve had.”

Cybilene chuckled. “Yes, I’m sure it’s very difficult being friends with everyone you meet.”

“A curse!” Max declared, and the gathered party laughed along with him. “No, but Yak isn’t entirely wrong. There was a time when my life could have looked very different. So much more…boring.”

“It’s hard to imagine you being boring,” Killiker said, watching the stars twinkle in the heavens.

“Why would you choose that?” Cybilene asked.

“Ah, that’s the thing, isn’t it?” Max said, almost merrily. “It wouldn’t have been my choice. A family that claims to love you can build you a gilded cage.”

Despite the characteristic glibness, a silence fell on the four stargazers.

“How did you get out of that cage?” Killiker asked gently.

Max readjusted in the grass next to Killiker, sighing, but not discontentedly. “My dear Killiker, I realized the truth of things.”

“What’s the truth?” Cybilene asked.

Killiker could hear the glee in Max’s voice when he responded: “I can do whatever I want.”

*

“Max, please, listen to me,” Killiker said, and he didn’t bother trying to hide the magic in his voice when he put forth this request, despite the fact that he knew Max would hate him for it.

Max said nothing, only kept walking out into the dark of the night.

“Please don’t leave,” Killiker insisted to no avail. “Not like this.”

Max did stop now, abruptly, staring up at the stars. They were sharp and cold up here in the glacial mountains, like pinpricks. They seemed somehow farther away.

“I expected Cybilene to turn on me, you know that?” Max said.

The statement left Killiker baffled. “Turn on you?”

“Family is a gilded cage,” they went on, still looking only at the stars. “One Cybilene locked herself into weeks ago.”

Killiker stepped forward, in front of Max, to look him in the eye. “You think asking you to let this go means she’s betrayed you?”

“You don’t see it, do you?” snapped Max, finally meeting Killiker’s eye. “She’ll never be on our side again. She belongs to them now.”

Killiker was stunned. “She doesn’t—she never belonged to you.”

Max glared. Technically speaking, they were shorter than Killiker, but when they got like this, things like actual physical facts didn’t tend to matter. Killiker found himself afraid.

Finally, Max said, “Don’t make me lose you too.”

*

Rosie had put a drink in Killiker’s hand. Killiker had threatened her with a sword yesterday, and today she’d bought him a drink. And she wasn’t even flirting. It was a drink of camaraderie.

He watched the crew of adventurers that Cybilene had coaxed him into, for once at a loss for words. Cybilene and Tode didn’t so much converse as vibe—they weren’t making up for lost time, it was as if they’d never been apart. And the rest of them laughed, chatted, passed attention from one to another easily. No politics, no headgames, no cult of personality.

Killiker had forgotten what that was like.

The guilt from his last conversation with Max still hung heavy over his shoulders, but it was beginning to ebb. Maybe he had spent too long in the company of someone who really wasn’t a good person. Not that Killiker considered himself a good person, but he was beginning to wonder if he shouldn’t change tack.

As for Max…well. They’d be fine. They didn’t need Killiker.

Max had friends everywhere.

Story Time: How I Met Your Mother

Wow, I regret that title already.

Anyway, have a little Rashomon for your Thursday! Remember, if you have a story idea to suggest, you should definitely join our Patreon, and for a mere $20 a month you can bend my ear as much as you like.

*

KILLIKER
Ah, you want to know a tale about lost love? I have a sad story I can share, and unlike many of my stories, this one happened to me.

 

DARIA
Yes, I suppose it’s time I told you the rest of the truth. I won’t go into details, mind.

 

KILLIKER
You don’t want details? Ah, fine then, we will keep things…family friendly. It all began when I was traveling over hither and yon, seeking stories and fortune.

 

DARIA
It began much like any other day. Every day was the same at the time. Samuel was…particular about how the household was run, which meant that even in his absence, there was little for me to do. It was more than just boredom, I was…terribly lonely. And sad, I’m afraid.

 

KILLIKER
I entered Larkdale without a care in the world. Lovely little town, although the inn there didn’t look like much. It was odd, a local told me there was another one “sometimes.” Now I wasn’t sold on the inn that was permanent, but wouldn’t you know it, there was a beautiful castle up on the hill, the Castle Whitetower.

 

DARIA
The castle is lovely, but it didn’t feel like home to me. Not until you came along. How can a place feel like home when there’s nothing there for you?

 

KILLIKER
I could tell right away that this was the place for me. I’m no snob, you see, but it’s hard to pay money to stay somewhere mediocre when there is the possibility of staying in a beautiful castle for just the cost of my bardic services. So I set out up the hill.

 

DARIA
Reevis told me there was some sort of…I believe the exact words he used were “elvish clown.” Yes, there was an elvish clown who sought audience with the liegelords of the house.

 

KILLIKER
Would you believe I’ve actually been there before? It was years ago, though. Maybe three or four decades? I had heard there was a new lord and lady of the house, but I don’t usually have any trouble with first impressions.

 

DARIA
What can I say? It wasn’t as though I had plans.

 

KILLIKER
The butler—frightfully proper man, absolutely no fun at all—led me to a drawing room, where I had the honor of meeting Lady Daria Whitetower.

 

DARIA
Now Reevis is a bit fussy, so I knew “clown” had to be an exaggeration, but even so I wasn’t expecting—that is to say—he caught me off guard. He was…

 

KILLIKER
Never in my life had I encountered such beauty. She was immaculate, pristine…nearly fragile, as if she was porcelain you would be afraid to break. This was just at first glance, of course, her posture and bearing…but a second glance, deep into her eyes, showed her steel, her will. Such eyes. What a beauty.

 

DARIA
Well, after all, you take after him, don’t you? I don’t need to tell you that you’re handsome.
(beat)
I admit to being rather taken aback.

 

KILLIKER
She spoke immediately with such authority and confidence that I knew: this lady of so noble a bearing was unlike anyone I’d ever met before. I pledged my services to her immediately, without condition. I would have slept in the stables if she’d asked me to—it was a privilege just to be near her.

 

DARIA
You must understand, a handsome stranger promising me his undivided attention was not something I had experienced before. Samuel never lied to me, but he was also not what you’d call attentive. Or loving.

 

KILLIKER
Daria was kind enough to offer me proper lodging, but rather than stories asked for conversation. I got the impression that she wasn’t very intellectually challenged by that husband of hers. I was glad to oblige, of course. It was at this point she mentioned a crucial point: Lord Samuel Whitetower was not home.

 

DARIA
It was just good manners to say so.

 

KILLIKER
I don’t go out of my way to be a homewrecker, you understand. Whatever decisions people make with their lives are theirs, and it’s not my purpose to change their minds. But I will admit that I was glad.

 

DARIA
And so we talked. For a week or so. I liked him.
(beat)
Oh, don’t give me that face. I mean it. The…emotional crux of our time together was a consequence of several days’ worth of getting to know each other. My decision was neither impulsive nor rash.

 

KILLIKER
I could tell she was chewing on something while we talked, her mind working out a problem. Little did I know that the problem was me. Though she needn’t have worried, I would have done anything she asked me.

 

DARIA
When I actually made the decision…now what was the final tipping point?
(beat)
I remember. He made me laugh.

 

KILLIKER
And when she finally decided, I did everything she asked.
(beat)
What, too much?

 

DARIA
He left it up to me, you know. It was clear enough what he wanted, but he made no move until I let him. I was…unused to people not taking what they wanted, with little regard to the consequences. It was refreshing.

 

KILLIKER
Coerced? How dare you, sir, I would never use my magic to coerce someone into sex. What kind of a monster do you think I am?

 

DARIA
He didn’t need to convince me with magic. Not hardly.

 

KILLIKER
How fondly I remember those days. Our time together was short—we decided it would be wisest that I not cross paths with Lord Samuel, and I left before he came back.

 

DARIA
I admit I toyed with the idea of leaving Samuel and going with Killiker, but the political situation was still such that my family was counting on me to stay. I do wonder, sometimes, what might have become of us, if I had chosen to go.

 

KILLIKER
I thought of her often after that—I still do, though less so now. I did try to visit a few years later, but alas, she would not see me.

 

DARIA
I couldn’t have Samuel seeing you and seeing Killiker and making connections. Samuel had many faults, but he was not dense. I felt awful to do it, but the risk to all of us was too great. I couldn’t even write a note.

 

KILLIKER
The stories of our lives are winding and strange, and it is to be expected that some people would come and go. It is of course a matter for grief, but I wouldn’t want to avoid getting to know people on the off chance I might lose them. That course of action leads to such lonesomeness.

 

DARIA
No, I don’t regret it. Not at all. It’s the reason I have you, isn’t it?

 

KILLIKER
I do not regret it in the least. Say, why so interested in this story, young sir? Have we met before?