Here’s a little something I wrote based on the following prompt: Your character receives a letter from someone s/he thought was dead, asking to meet with them. How does s/he respond?
(These are characters from my only work near novel status; this was not originally written for readers others than myself, so if anything is overly unclear, forgive me.)
It was a very small piece of paper, made smaller in its folding. The seal which constrained it was nearly as large as the letter itself. A very small letter, but one which carried so much weight that Kilacar’s hand dropped back onto the desk, the paper spread over her palm. Her ears were suddenly ringing, her fingers trembling against the age-scarred oak. It was a lie. The seal was false. There was no chance in any world or hell that the letter could be what it claimed, and she would be a fool to follow its direction. But she followed it anyway.
When she entered the inn, cloaked and troubled, she had to make her way through the crowded commonroom before she could reach the stairs. The press of sound and ale-heavy breath only deepened her unease. It was a trick, a trap; it was the simplest snare for an injured heart, and she was stepping into it as if eager to be undone. She climbed the stairs, telling herself at every step that if she had the wisdom of a child she would turn back. At the top of the staircase she hesitated a moment before venturing down the hall. The fifth door on the right was shut, but a thread of light showed above the floor. Kilacar passed a hand over her eyes to silence the last of her common sense before knocking.
She heard the latch click, and in a rush she set her shoulder against the door and shoved it inward. Someone inside made a startled exclamation and stumbled back as Kilacar came hurtling in. the voice – she knew the voice, even from a single distorted word. The person behind the door was so off-balance that when Kilacar threw herself upon him they both went over in a heap on the dusty floor.
“You were dead,” Kilacar kept saying, her hands tight around his wrists so she could feel his pulse through her fingertips, “you were dead, you were dead.”
“Are you crying, fire-eyes?” he asked. She wasn’t, and she knew he could see that – they were nose-to-nose; foreheads pressed together, gazes locked from inches away so that for each there was no world outside the other’s face.
Kilacar tightened her hold on him. “Tell me why you’re not dead.”
“It’s an undignified–”
“Why you’re not dead, and why you didn’t tell me you weren’t dead – why no one has told me you aren’t dead–” and then she dropped her mouth to his, waiving the explanation for a moment to reassure herself that this was real, that he was real and present and alive – and that he was the same as she remembered.
He was, and he remembered her, too, by the way he moved and murmured against her lips. Parting, they levered themselves half-upright in a nestled tangle of touch. Orth kicked the door shut, belatedly, and Kilacar muffled her laugh against his shoulder.
“Luck,” he said into her hair, very quietly. She could hear his smile. “That’s why I’m alive. Luck or the favor of the stars.”
“Tell the stars I’m grateful.” After a moment, she nudged him. “Don’t stop. You have to tell me how.”
He told her. The knife had driven in deep but turned – ducking a lung, diving aside before the heart – and he had fallen in his own blood, assumed dead by his opponent (“and by me,” whispered Kilacar). He’d thought he was dead, too, until he’d woken under the needle of an Agostan camp-follower.
“She didn’t know who I was, of course. Just another elf in muddy clothes. But she patched me up and found me a place in the village, which was empty except for those left after the battle – the old, the young, the worse-for-wear. I healed faster than the humans and helped where I could, keeping my ears open for news from the fronts. Everything was such a jumble – you and the king in one place, Cobalt in another, my father so far to the west we’d stopped hearing word of him at all. No one knew who was dead or alive. Someone said you’d gotten captured near Tiirvesh, that Streybur was taking you with him to Alaan H’rset, that you were to be executed…”
“That was true,” Kilacar said. She turned her hands to show him the marks of shackles on her wrists. Orth regarded them for a moment, the confirmation of a rumor he had tried very hard to disbelieve. He slipped his fingers between hers and brought her hands to his chest, kissing her scars in what seemed an attempt to hide how deep was his dismay. Kilacar curled closer to him, uncertain what she ought to say, and eventually he murmured, “But you’re alright, and I’m alright. It’s over.”
After another pause, Kilacar said, “It’s not.” Though she was desperately glad to find Orth, the weight of the war was still on her. There were too many battles yet to be planned and fought – too many further chances to lose the ones she loved, and yet she knew there was no way out but through.
“…no, it’s not over. But the part where we’re on opposite sides of a country, each thinking the other one’s dead – that part’s over. We’re alright for a little while.”
They remained that way, wrapped up in each other, for the rest of the night. When morning came, they left the inn on Kilacar’s horse and rode for the Qas’sef encampment. Rynon was there, and messengers could be sent to Braio and Marzo. “Time to tell them you’re here,” Kilacar had said as they departed. “Here and safe and mostly whole.”
“Mostly.” He’d touched his side, where the knife had left a pinched tuck between his ribs.
“Whole enough for me.”