Jarious stood near the foot of the bed, arms crossed in front of his chest. His chin angled down, pulled by the frown that dominated his face. His eyes focused into the distance, towards his compatriot Karshik who rested in the bed, but not really at the Mongrel. Jarious slowly chewed on his bottom lip, helping him concentrate through the little nervous habit, but also because the sharp pains gave him momentary distractions.
Arrious sat next to Karsh, in a wooden chair that he balanced on its back legs as he rocked back and forth. Arrious was in the throes of his own nervous ticks – he held his hands together and his thumbs rubbed at the other fingers and nearby skin. Arrious’ head hung low, forcing him to stare at the floor.
Karsh laid on the bed, a ghost of his former self. He was once the bruiser of the group, a huge monstrous Mongrel and physically dominated any room he walked into. His personality was just as large and combative as his body. He was big, vibrant, and quick to anger.
The Karsh on the bed in front of them was different. His eyes were sunk deep into his skull and ringed by moats of discolored skin. His flesh was taut against his bones and flabby elsewhere. His olive-green complexion was ashen. The coarse hair that dominated his arms and back had fallen out leaving him balding in unsightly patches. He moved slowly. He breathed deliberately. He blinked consciously.
There was no doubt that Karsh was dying.
Neither of the brothers could look the Mongrel in the eye.
Karsh refused to let them off easy. “The bar fight with Torrain and Morrow. You ah-member that? Was a good time. Killed a dorf, yes?”
Arrious looked up slowly. “Yeah. Yes you did. We still can’t step foot in the Pony because of that night. Jarious tried to stop you. You punched him in the gut.”
Karsh rolled his head towards Jarious. Jarious refocused his eyes to look at Karsh and smiled mirthlessly but said nothing.
“How does it feel?” Arrious asked slowly. Jarious twitched.
“Not good,” Karsh said in his slow drawl. “Weak. Tired. Yours mother is good to me. Her is patient. Her is kind, but her can’t stop the sick. The sick is too deep.” Karsh stopped and took a few very slow and thoughtful breaths. “I miss mine axe. How was the run? You kill Elf again, boss?”
“No,” Jarious said. Moments uncomfortably ticked away. “We got a few thralls, though. Liberated a bunch of humans. Stole a lot of goodies from Villandalaril. It was a good run.
“No one was hurt.” Jarious broke eye contact with Karsh and looked at the landscape painting over the headboard.
“Was one small arrow. Small poison, too.” Karsh tried to console the brothers. “Makes sense. Theys can’t kill me with swords and axes. Arrows?” He chuckled. “Arrows are for Arrious. For small ones. They no stop me. But poison? Poison like magic. It works without seeing it. It works inside me. Elves cheat to kill me.”
“Yeah,” Arrious squinted as he pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.
Tangean, the brothers’ mother and owner of the house, walked in. She carried a small towel, a cup of water, and a dirty piece of paper. She acknowledged the boys with a simple nod, having already shared long hugs when they first arrived and out of sight from Karsh. It was then Tangean told Jarious and Arrious of Karsh’s terminally deteriorating condition. They all were playing at being strong for the skeletal Orman Mongrel. They were all stalling for time.
She handed Karsh the towel, which he unwrapped carefully. Inside was a charcoal pencil. Karsh grinned comfortably. He took the paper and began to frantically color large sections, clearly continuing a process he had begun earlier.
“Karsh have no babies. Family is a bunch of ugly humans and a stuntie. Karsh want to leave you all something. You ah-member. Okay?”
Arrious, stone faced, nodded. “Yes, Karsh. How about we give it to Torrain for safekeeping?
“Good idea.” Karsh stopped coloring and leaned back into his pillows, exhausted. “Is done.” Tangean took the pencil and helped prop him up so that he could drink the water comfortably and with dignity in front of his friends cum family. When Karsh made a small gesture with his right hand, Tangean gently allowed Karsh to rest on his back.
Arrious reached out and gently took Karsh’s hand. Karsh, who normally hated being touched, did not resist. The brother then leaned forward, placed his elbows on the bed-side and held Karsh’s hands with both of his. Neither said anything. Neither looked at the other.
Arrious looked over to Jarious, who walked over to Karsh and took the paper. Jarious held the paper reverently as if it would deteriorate in his hands. He forced a smile to Karsh and began to carefully roll the paper up doing his best to not smudge the black dust. Karsh leaned back after sipping the water and let out a long sigh which trailed off into uncomfortable-sounding gurgling. Karsh, too tired to cough out whatever fluid had collected in his throat or lungs, just patiently let his breathing gradually open up his airway.
“You ah-member. Okay?” Wheezing. “You ah-member me and what I do. For your people. For mine. For Grawfn people. We did good. Yes?”
“Yes.” Arrious’ forearms tensed, but did not put any pressure on Karsh’s bony fingers. “We saved many lives. They live free now because of you.”
“You tell Torrain not be sad. Okay?”
“Of course.” Arrious responded flatly.
Karsh paused. “Torrain come?”
“You want him to?” Jarious asked.
“No. No think so.”
Jarious smiled out of the side of his mouth. “Probably for the best.”
It was time. No more delays.
Jarious looked at his mother, who met his gaze. Without comment, Tangean took a candle and lighted some nearby incense sticks. She walked over to the bed and waved the smoldering sticks over Karsh, covering the bed in the sickly-sweet scent of incense.
Arrious stood up and took a step back. He looked at Jarious who was making his way to the bedside. Next to the bed Karsh coughed, struggling with the thick, smoky air. Jarious stood motionless for a few moments, and then untied the flap that secured the dagger on his belt. The weight of the dagger was significant. He willed his arms to move. He could feel his emotions in turmoil. His stomach roiled.
He pushed his thoughts and feelings away, into the deep recesses of his mind. He acted on instinct, relying on route maneuver to guide his hands.
He held the dagger out to Arrious. Jarious stared at his brother.
Arrious looked into Jarious’ unfeeling eyes, then down to the dagger. He looked back at Jarious, and held up his hands defensively, waving them back and forth.
“No Jarious. Not me.”
“Yes, you.” Jarious responded before Arrious could utter a further objection. “It will be you.”
Arrious shook his head rapidly back and forth.
“This is not for me this time, Arrious. The old laws forbid it.” Jarious reached out and took Arrious’ right hand in his own. Arrious did not resist and allowed the hilt of the dagger to be placed in his opened palm.
“Do Karsh this honor.” Jarious said. He closed Arrious’ hand around the dagger.
“Honor,” Karsh responded in one labored breath. He looked at Arrious with desperation in his eyes.