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Wig_Powder

Innterlude

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Wig_Powder

This fic is meant to be a tie-in to the story I'm writing over on the Adult Board, "A Mage and Her Warrior". I'm posting it here because a) there's no adult material, and b) I see it as a way to try to pique interest in the main story. Hopefully I've done a good enough job making it work as a relative stand-alone.

~~~

Baldric quickly closed the door to the inn, relieved to be back in its warmth. Despite being summer, there was still snow on the ground here in the mountains (although the innkeepers did what they could to keep the ground around the inn and the stables clear), and as night fell, the temperature would drop still further. There was also a sharp breeze blowing through this particular night, which wasn’t helping matters.

Even as he had the thought, his nose prickled, and he tugged his handkerchief from his collar. “Uhh…UPKISHHTTT!!

He heard faint clatters and creaks as people jumped in surprise at the sound, and while the innkeeper did toss out a “Gitsen.”, it was clear he was already exasperated by his guest’s sneezing. Baldric gave him an apologetic look and approached the bar. “What foods and drink would you recommend for a cold?”

The man continued to look him over sternly, then relented with a sigh. “I can get my wife to make you a stew that should have enough meat, vegetables, and spices to help a little. And a fruit tea with a splash of alcohol will help you stay warm, at the very least.”

“Thank you,” Baldric said, setting three gold pieces on the countertop, “Keep the rest. I’ll change out of my armor, then sit at the table nearest the fire.”

The man visibly brightened at Baldric’s generosity and nodded. Baldric removed his cloak and hung it up along the wall alongside those of the other guests, then crossed the room and made his way upstairs, where it didn’t take him long to change out of his armor and throw on a tunic. He was tempted to follow his usual routine of cleaning and polishing his sword and armor, but he didn’t want to risk the food getting cold. He did, however, wait until he’d sneezed again (“HERIKSHHH!!!”) before getting a fresh handkerchief and leaving his room. He might as well try to keep from startling other patrons.

The soup and tea were waiting at the table when he arrived. Raising a hand towards the bar in thanks, Baldric sat down and started eating. His cold was still new, and thus he could actually taste what was on offer. The stew was a little watery, but it was mostly masked by the spices mixed into it. And the tea was just a little too sweet, but he appreciated the warmth of it and the effort the innkeeper had gone to for him. So he ate without complaint, occasionally wiping his nose when the steam and spices caused it to run, and did what he could to muffle his sneezes whenever they appeared.

He was about halfway through the bowl when he happened to glance down at the handkerchief as he reached for it. It was only then that he realized that it wasn’t his; it was smaller and thinner, with a light grey “S” embroidered onto it, difficult to see unless you looked closely. He must have put it with his other handkerchiefs out of habit when he’d taken advantage of the opportunity to wash his things. Baldric’s heart gave a pang at the sight, remembering the circumstances in which he’d come to acquire it…

Siofe held out a handkerchief, weighed down with coin. “I hope you won’t need much of it,” she said, “Or that you end up making more than you spend.”

Baldric glanced at her as he accepted it. She seemed meek, timid. It wasn’t like her, and in other circumstances he might have felt ashamed. At the moment, however, all he felt was a cruel streak of satisfaction. But maintaining his civility, he turned away to not let the emotions show, busying himself with putting the money in his coin purse. “I transferred your share of supplies to your saddlebags,” he said, “Though you may want to organize them to your own liking.”

“Thanks for the warning.” Siofe responded, sounding like she was trying to smile.

When he tried to return the handkerchief, looking just over her shoulder to avoid meeting her eyes again, he saw her shake her head. “Keep it. I have others. Besides, I think they’re more useful for you than they are for me.”

He wondered if it was a ploy, a way to make him keep a memento of her and cause him to miss her. Still, while it wasn’t as thick as his normal handkerchiefs, it couldn’t hurt to have handy, and would save him from having to purchase another for a while. After a moment’s hesitation, he shrugged and tucked it in the saddlebag. “I suppose you’re right. Thank you.”

Baldric sighed and turned back to his meal, though he had even less of an appetite now. Siofe had always been on his mind in one form or another, but now that he was most likely days away from seeing her again, it was hard for him to think about anything else. The realization that he had a cold and his attempts to keep it from getting worse or bothering others was almost a relief in that regard, but it was clearly no longer going to be enough. And with the heartache came the return of anxiety. What would happen when they saw each other again? He’d run through half-a-dozen opening phrases—from pleasantries to apologies—and none of them seemed right. It didn’t help that he had no idea how she would respond to him. Would her eyes light up when she saw him, or would they be wary, uncertain if he was still angry? Or worse, would she be angry at how he’d acted, treating him politely but coldly? He’d deserve it, to a certain extent, but he wasn’t sure he could endure it.

His nose itched again, and he quickly brought the handkerchief to his face, grateful for the minor distraction. “ARKSHHHTTT!!!

The table creaked and his dishes rattled, and he grimaced and lowered his head back towards his stew. He was feeling awkward enough without everybody looking at him, no doubt both impressed and annoyed by just how powerful his sneezes could be. Would Siofe feel the same way? He’d do what he could to reduce his symptoms by the time he reached their meeting spot, but he was sure he’d still be sneezing, at the very least. Would the remnants of his cold arouse her sympathy, or would it be just one more reminder of his negative traits, a good excuse for her to turn him away?

Baldric grimaced and tried to push the thoughts away, picking up his spoon again. He had at least another two days to fret over this. For now, he could try to keep himself busy by eating, tending to his armor, and then doing what he could to get a good night’s sleep. Maybe he could even attempt to read; he knew this particular inn would loan you a book from their small collection.

A few minutes later, as Baldric was swallowing his last mouthful of stew, a sound caught his attention. It was an overall quiet sound, but it wasn’t hard to identify, especially given his own condition.

Hitchh! Tikshii!!

The sound appeared to be coming from one of the chairs near the fire. Curious and grateful for the distraction, Baldric shifted to the opposite seat to get a better look at the sneezer. It was easy to find them, since there were only two chairs and one was unoccupied (the locals seemed completely unperturbed by the colder temperatures). Given the volume and pitch of the sneezes, he’d expected to see a woman, but it was a man, dark-haired and slender, wearing robes that were a mix of blue-grey and purple. While the handkerchief in his lap indicated his awareness of his illness, all of his attention was on the book he was reading. He’d give his nose a quick rub when he lifted a hand to turn the page, but it seemed to be an unconscious habit rather than a deliberate choice. Baldric rather envied the man’s ability to ignore his symptoms.

Even as Baldric thought it, the man’s nose twitched. With a huff of frustration, he lowered the book and picked up his handkerchief again, eyes closing in preparation. “Eeishh! Ihshii!!” He sniffed, gave a soft blow, then set the handkerchief in his lap and resumed reading. He grimaced slightly as he did so, though Baldric wasn’t sure if it was due to general annoyance at his cold, annoyance at the break in his reading, or a distaste for the material.

Baldric hesitated, debating with himself. On the one hand, he hated to bother people unnecessarily. On the other, he didn’t feel tired enough to sleep yet, and conversation would be a much better distraction than attempting to read. Making up his mind, he picked up his tea and handkerchief and approached the fire. “It seems the air here has claimed another victim.” he said conversationally once he was level with the unoccupied chair.

The man looked up at him in slight surprise, allowing Baldric to get a better look at his face. He looked like he was a few years younger than Baldric, but there was something about him that made him seem older, or at least more experienced. Perhaps it was his eyes, which seemed to change with every flicker of firelight. One moment they seemed blue, the next grey. Or maybe it was his posture, back tall and proud, chin tilted up slightly as though he was ready to challenge anyone who questioned him on anything. But there was nothing in his demeanour at the moment that suggested he was inclined to do so with Baldric, which Baldric took as a good sign.

The man looked him over, then smiled wryly. “Is it safe to assume you’re the man who’s been making the glasses rattle every five minutes?”

Baldric reddened, but nodded sheepishly. “My apologies. I can’t restrain them very well.”

“I’m not surprised. Attempting to stifle one of those would probably burst your heart.”

Baldric chuckled. “It can feel that way. Yours seem much easier to handle.”

“And yet they’re still a nuisance,” the man answered with a chuckle of his own, “But I’m sure everyone feels that way, no matter how soft or powerful their sneezes are.”

“True,” Baldric said, before gesturing to the empty chair, “May I join you? I wouldn’t mind being closer to the fire, and, well…we share an ailment. We might as well commiserate.”

“I suppose so,” the man said, “My cold’s making it difficult to concentrate on my reading anyway.”

Baldric nodded his thanks and moved to sit down, sighing contentedly both at being off his feet and the warmth from the fire. Once he’d set his tea on the nearby side table, he held out his hand. “Baldric.”

The man hesitated, looking him over again. Then he took Baldric’s hand and shook briefly. “Prescott.”

“Good to meet you,” Baldric said with a smile, “I couldn’t help but notice your robes. Did you come from Obeis Tower?”

Prescott blinked in confusion. Then his expression changed slightly to one of understanding. “Ah, you mean the local Circle. No, I’m actually from the neighboring country. I’ve been exploring the area, and wanted to have a quick look at what the people who border us are like.”

“And?” Baldric prompted, curious to get an outsider’s opinion of Quaysit.

Prescott shrugged dismissively. “While I haven’t seen enough to truly get a sense of the place, it’s simultaneously similar to and different from my home. Though I will say that you seem much more peaceful than we’ve been of late.”

Baldric smiled faintly, thinking of the group of bandits he’d cleared out from Grobyn two weeks ago. “We do our be…oh, pardon me…”

Grabbing for the handkerchief, he brought it to his face. “Huh…HUTCHIKKK!!

“Swift healing.”

Now it was Baldric’s turn to blink. Prescott shrugged again. “It’s how we respond to a sneeze where I come from. An all-encompassing phrase, as it were.”

“I see. We normally just say ‘Gitsen’.”

Prescott paused for a moment, apparently digesting this information. Then he nodded. “Not a bad phrase. It flows off the tongue.” Then his nose twitched and he brought his handkerchief to his face. “Iptchh! Yishhh!

“Gitsen.” Baldric offered, smiling at the timing of it.

Prescott nodded his thanks. Then he lowered his handkerchief and made a face. “Ugh, this one’s done for the evening.”

Opening a pouch at his side, he tucked the cloth into the back of it and then withdrew a fresh one. “I see you come prepared.” Baldric said, nodding to the pouch.

“My body is particularly susceptible to cold air. I avoid it where possible, but sometimes I’m caught unawares. Best to have handkerchiefs handy.”

“Agreed,” Baldric said, “Especially in my case. They don’t do much to muffle the sound, unfortunately, but at least they prevent a mess. Though I can only keep one in my armor against my collarbone for easy access, and have to swap them out when I get the chance.”

His throat gave twinge from doing so much talking, and he let out a quick, rough cough. Prescott gestured to his cup. “I’d have a drink if I were you. We’re not going to get much of anywhere if you lose your voice.”

Prescott had a point, and Baldric sipped at the tea. It was lukewarm now, but still warm enough to be soothing. Unbidden, the thought came to his mind that he’d appreciate one of Siofe’s Condensing Draughts right about now. They burned your throat and chest, but it would cut down on his suffering significantly. Unfortunately, no one was qualified enough to make them here, and he probably wasn’t going to be running into any towns on his way back to the meeting spot. At least he knew what to ask for if he fell ill in the future. That is, assuming he and Siofe went their separate ways and she wouldn’t be able or willing to make it for him. Of course, thinking of Siofe brought his worries back to the fore, and he closed his eyes and shook his head in a vain attempt to drive them away.

He heard a soft throat clear next to him, and looked up to see Prescott watching him, leaning his cheek on his hand. “There’s something on your mind, and it isn’t your illness.”

Baldric sighed. “I’m sure it’s obvious. I’m not a subtle man.”

“I’d divined that from your sneezes,” Prescott said with a chuckle, “But your face gives it away as well. Would you like to commiserate about whatever’s bothering you?”

Baldric hesitated. “It’s…somewhat personal.”

“I’d have been surprised if it wasn’t,” Prescott responded, “I won’t pry if you don’t want me to, though I will point out that you were the one who struck up a conversation. And if you’re going to tell anybody what’s on your mind, why not someone from another country who you may well never see again? That way, you get an alternate perspective and someone who’s unlikely to spread rumors about you.”

It was a reasonable if slightly unorthodox way of looking at things, and talking through a problem was probably better than keeping it inside him. So Baldric took a deep breath and tried to explain.

“Before I came up here to deal with a group of bandits, I was travelling with someone. Someone I cared about.”

Prescott immediately leaned forward with renewed interest. “Go on…”

Baldric arched an eyebrow at the man’s eagerness for gossip, but continued nevertheless. “I decided to ask her to marry me, and she said no. I was devastated, of course, and angry. She suggested we separate and deal with two different problems in Quaysit to let tempers cool.”

“And?”

Baldric sighed again. “It’s been about three months since that argument. The anger has indeed faded. But I’m worried about what’s going to happen when I go back.”

He glanced at Prescott, prepared to change the subject if he seemed too interested in the potentially dramatic details. But Prescott’s expression was neutral, eyes bright but not showing any trace of amusement or malice. He nodded encouragingly, and Baldric decided to confide in his partner in illness.

“Before I’d proposed, we’d had an encounter with someone from my past, which brought up painful memories. Part of the reason she rejected my offer was she was afraid that those memories were clouding my judgment. I’ve realized she was right.”

“And you’re having trouble with the prospect of…” Prescott gave a half-smile, “Swallowing your pride?”

“Not at all,” Baldric said, “No one likes to admit they’re wrong, but I’m willing to do so. No, my concern is if I’ve damaged our relationship beyond repair. I still love her, and would even propose to her again if I thought she’d accept. But after our argument…I worry that I’ve not only ruined my chance of continuing our romance, but also our entire friendship. I can learn to live with the former, but…I’m scared of the latter. She was the first person to offer me help and encouragement after a difficult period in my life, and while it’s bad enough that I repaid her like this, I’d feel even worse if she wants nothing more to do with me. I…I…IHKISHHHH!!!” Baldric just managed to get the handkerchief to his face.

“Swi…Ikshew! Ekshh!” Prescott similarly had to make a grab for his handkerchief, giving a brief chuckle as he lowered it. “It seems our colds don’t like not being the center of attention.”

Baldric managed a laugh. “They’ll have plenty of time to assert themselves, so they should just shut up for now.”

“I doubt they’ll listen. But you were saying…?”

“There’s not much more to say. I should be seeing her again in a few days, since we agreed to meet up when we’d finished our business and talk things over. Besides worrying if she’ll even be there, I have no idea what to expect when I do see her again. What happens if she tells me she’d prefer to resume adventuring alone, like she did before she met me? What if my actions hurt her so deeply that she’d rather we never crossed paths again? My guilt would be immeasurable. And I just don’t know if I’m ready to face that rejection, or for the possibility that I’ll have to separate from her for good. I know I can handle travelling and fighting without her, but I don’t particularly want to.”

He’d delivered most of this speech while looking into the fire, preferring to focus on his own thoughts than trying to interpret whatever expression was on Prescott’s face. Now, however, he glanced over at the other man, and saw that his expression was sympathetic, which did take the edge off Baldric’s anxiety. Prescott considered Baldric for a moment, then leaned back in his chair, tenting his fingers. “I admit I don’t have much experience in this department. I prefer reading and a bit of fighting to romance. But I can try to offer you some advice, if you’ll take it.”

“It can’t hurt.”

“I’d say that depends on what the advice is, isn’t it? But I have no intention of trying to steer you wrong.” Prescott tapped his index fingers together and looked into the fire himself. After a few moments, he lowered his hands and started to turn towards Baldric, only to tense up and quickly grab for his handkerchief. “Chshk! Ipshh!

“Gitsen.”

Prescott nodded and finally managed to turn his gaze to Baldric. “My first piece of advice is a more general suggestion. It will do you well not to worry too much of what people think of you. Have confidence in yourself, your actions, and your decisions, and carry them out with that same boldness. That confidence will convince others, especially those with more hesitance, that you know what you’re doing. Yes, there are times when you shouldn’t make a grand show of your plans, and even times when you should ask for or listen to the advice of others, particularly if they have more experience than you. Overall, though, once you know what you want to do, I’d just do it. In this case, don’t dwell on what might happen; just proceed with what you want to say when you have your meeting.”

“But I’m not sure what to say.”

“Is your lover generally willing to listen to reason?”

Baldric bristled a little at the implication that Siofe was already his bedpartner, but given the information Prescott had, it was as reasonable a description as any. “Yes.”

“Then a sincere apology and confession—or perhaps re-confession—of your feelings would probably be enough.”

“And if it isn’t?”

Prescott waggled a finger. “You’re dwelling on the negative. Though you’re right that one should at least somewhat prepare for the worst. Before that, however, you should focus on making sure you succeed. Being sincere in your words will go a long way towards appealing to your lover’s heart. Convincing arguments as to why you should continue to work together are another. And flattery—in this case, complimenting her and her abilities—may make her more receptive to having you as a companion, even if she isn’t inclined to continue your romance.”

It all made sense to Baldric, even if the phrasing wasn’t quite the way he’d have said it himself. “I think I could do that. I still need to find the right words, but at least I have some idea how to find them now. Tha…ah…AH-HRISHKKKK!!” He managed to get the handkerchief to his face just in time.

Prescott had leaned away from Baldric to avoid getting hit by the sneeze, but his expression was satisfied rather than disgusted. “You’re welcome. Now then, if your best efforts aren’t enough to sway your lover, I’d accept that to the best of my ability. Perhaps she needs more time to let the anger fade. Ask her if you can at least keep in touch, and promise that you’ll come to her aid if she ever asks for it. Then, go out on your own. After a few more months, reach out to her again to see if she’s receptive to spending time with you. She may never see you as a lover again, but as long as you show you care for her while also respecting her wishes, she may agree to become your friend once more. And as long as you can live with that, then I’m sure you’ll be relatively content.”

Baldric nodded. “It’s worth trying.”

“Good. Now if you’ll excuse me…” Prescott got to his feet, tucking the handkerchief into his pouch.

“Where are you going?” Baldric asked, surprised.

“I believe I should follow my own advice,” Prescott responded with another wry smile, “And I might as well be on my way at once.”

“But the sun’s already set!” Baldric protested, getting up and following Baldric to the row of hanging cloaks, “I don’t think there are any bandits in the area, but there are other dangers to consider.”

“I’m not worried,” Prescott said, removing a thick brown cloak and throwing it around his shoulders, “But thank you for your concern.”

Just as he finished hooking the ends together, his hand dove inside the cloak and emerged with a new handkerchief. “Eptshh! Hiptchh!

“Gitsen,” Baldric said, “And there’s another reason to wait until morning. Travelling at night won’t help your cold.”

“Perhaps not,” Prescott said, wiping at his nose, “But I’ll take my chances.”

“Then at least let me travel with you,” Baldric said, “Then at least you’ll have some assistance if you run into trouble.”

Even as he said it, he half-regretted it. He didn’t much fancy travelling in the cold and the dark, especially since he’d already changed out of his armor. But looking after others had been his occupation all his life, and he would push through the discomfort and inconvenience if need be.

“I appreciate your offer,” Prescott said, pulling a few coins out of another pouch and placing them on the counter of the bar, “But I’ll be fine. Besides, I’m heading back across the border. All I’d do is unnecessarily delay your reunion.”

Before Baldric could come up with another argument for staying, Prescott had crossed over to the door and opened it. Both he and Baldric shuddered at the blast of cold air, but Prescott quickly recovered, giving his nose a quick wipe with the handkerchief before looking over at Baldric. “Good luck with your lover, Baldric. You’ll be in my thoughts.” And with that, he stepped outside and closed the door firmly.

Baldric hesitated for a moment. Then he grabbed his own cloak and left the inn to try to talk Prescott out of it. Perhaps he wouldn’t succeed, but it would always gnaw at his conscience if he didn’t make every effort to keep the man safe.

The whole area was shrouded in darkness now, though at least a combination of moonlight and lights from both the inn and the stables allowed him to somewhat get his bearings. He stood still for a moment despite the cold, but couldn’t see or hear any sign of Prescott. Pulling his cloak around him as tight as he could, he moved towards the stables, hoping he could catch Prescott before he’d finished preparing his horse. But when he reached the stables, he couldn’t tell one way or the other if a horse had recently left; there were empty stalls, but no fresh tracks or obviously displaced hay. Prescott must have travelled light—indeed, now that he thought about it, Baldric hadn’t seen him carrying any sort of pack.

Milburga snorted nearby, and he crossed over to stroke her nose. “It’s all right, girl. I was just looking for someone, but he seems to have already left.”

Another gust of wind blew in through the stable door, and despite being a fair distance away from it, the sharpness of it pricked Baldric’s nose and caused him to press the handkerchief to his face. “ARESHHHH!!!

Several horses whinnied in alarm, though Milburga just bumped him with her nose. He quickly rubbed behind her ears and started to make his way back to the inn. Just before he left the stable, he lowered the handkerchief and caught sight of the embroidered “S” again. While his heart did give a pang at the sight, this time it was accompanied by a certain steely resolve. He’d take Prescott’s advice and do all that he could to convince Siofe to let him remain as her companion. If all went well, they could eventually return to what they’d once been. And if not…well, at least he could console himself with the thought that he’d done all he could.

Baldric hurried back to the inn, pressing the handkerchief to his nose to try to ward off any more sneezes. Perhaps he’d ask if the innkeeper could arrange for a hot bath so he could try to drive off the worst of the chills. If not, he’d just have another cup of tea, then do his best to get some sleep. The more strength he could have when he saw Siofe again, the better.

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Coffee Mug
Posted (edited)

I loved it!!! Such good writing thank you for sharing 😍 

Edited by Coffee Mug

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QueenFrostine

Very sad I'm not yet approved for the adult forum, because this story is delightful! I love when I can taste the words, and this story does exactly that. Really excellent work!

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Wig_Powder

@Coffee Mug I'm so glad you liked it! I wasn't sure if it would work as a standalone, but it sounds like it did, which is always reassuring to hear.

@QueenFrostine That's so nice to hear! Feel free to drop a comment on the main fic when you do get validated and on the adult forum! Even if I've completed the fic by then, I'm always happy to get comments on my work!

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