The Forester

Tired as I was after spending all day scouring the clearing for evidence and examining Cyine's body, I wasn't granted any rest yet. Someone knocked on my door just as I finished washing up and changing my clothes. I regretted opening the door as soon as I saw Ianys standing on the other side, but I resisted slamming it closed.

"What do you want?" I asked, not caring how hostile I sounded.

After all this time, Ianys couldn't even look at me as he stood there, fidgeting with his tunic, eyes lowered to the ground.

Ianys was as gorgeous as he ever was. Brown, short cropped, messy hair, as if he had just risen from sleep, his muscles visible through the tight tunic. He was a tree elf, broad and more muscular than when we had been together, but as a smith that was to be expected; working the bellows was a pretty hefty workout in itself. I pushed down the memory of watching him work when we were together.

In all the turns since he'd left me, betrayed me, he had barely spoken two words to me. Instead, I had to watch from afar how he vowed himself to another, only to lose her to illness after their daughter, Atén, was born. I'd watched how hard he worked at being a good father, how he, finally, became a full-fledged smith. He'd never once approached me, but the hope lingering inside me could never be buried deep enough. How could I still want him? After eight turns, I should know better.

"I don't have time for this, Ianys. I am tired and I—"

"I need to talk to you."

"Can't it wait till morning?"

I had to bite my lip to keep from reacting when he finally looked up. His green eyes, filled with turmoil, drew me in the way they had always done. I loved him once. I shook my head. Who was I kidding? I never stopped.

Holding the door open, I stepped aside to let him in, staying in the small hallway until I managed to compose myself.

"He didn't do it, Kel."

Whatever whoever had or hadn't done was the furthest thing from my mind when Ianys called me by that name. I clenched my fists and turned my back to him, hoping he couldn't see how it affected me. "You have no right to call me that."

A long silence followed. I tried to school my features, but I was too drained. Instead, I kept my back to him and waited for him to break the silence. I heard him sigh.

"I heard they accuse him of killing Cyine, but he didn't do it," Ianys finally said.

"Who?" What could Ianys know about the murder?

"Taruif."

I froze. My first instinct was to tell Ianys he shouldn't be saying the name, shouldn't even think it, but there was something in Ianys' voice that made me stop. Something of a memory from long ago, when I didn't know how Ianys betrayed me, and we lay together in the dark, and he would whisper my name in that same way.

It could not be true. But when I finally turned around and looked at him, it was all too clear in Ianys' face. The one I loved—had loved—and the one I desired, joined in illicit relations.

I should arrest Ianys, should send him to face the elders and have him punished, shunned, shut out for his digression. But then I pictured Atén looking at me with those same green eyes, and I knew I could not rob her of a father as well.

"He didn't do it, Kelnaht. He couldn't have done it, for I—"

I shook my head and held my hand up to stop him. "Don't tell me, Ianys. I beg of you, do not confess to this... this abomination."

It hurt me to say it, having the same feelings myself, but if he told me, I could not help him. Being caught talking to the Forester was bad enough, though I had the right to pardon him for that, a first offence. But confessing to laying with a shunned, that would have to be reported to the elders; it was my duty. I would not be able to save him then.

"He saw someone outside, Kelnaht. He didn't see Cyine, but he noticed someone out in the dark in that clearing." His eyes begged me to understand, begged me to help him, but I was rooted to the floor.

I knew the Forester—I could not allow myself to think of him by name—knew he hadn't killed Cyine, even if the evidence was still inconclusive. I had no doubt in my mind, no matter how loud Olden proclaimed him guilty. And here Ianys was, confirming my belief in his innocence and giving me the best and worst witness I could ever have. No matter whether I believed Ianys or not, I could never use this information. The Forester was out of bounds.

"Kel, please, help us. Help him. I could have been out walking when I stumbled across the clearing. You know I don't always sleep well."

I bit my lip and clenched my fists. I didn't want him to bring our history up. I didn't want him to tell me about the Forester. I wanted him gone, wanted him to go back to his daughter and go back to not being part of my life. But I found myself unable to turn him out.

"You would perjure yourself, would risk losing your daughter?"

"No! No one but you knows the truth."

I laughed at that, flinching at the harsh sound. "I am the Truth Seeker, Ianys. I seek the truth; I do not bury lies."

"But I was in the forest."

"But you didn't see what he saw. One mistake and you will be shunned, just like him."

Ianys flinched then. He shook his head. "There has to be a way."

"Get him to talk to the Guide."

"Anything the Guide hears during those conversations is confidential. He can't reveal anything Taruif tells him."

"Please." The word left my mouth before I could stop it. I couldn't handle him speaking that name with such devotion. Not when I ached to be able to myself. "Remember who you are talking to, Ianys. Do not incriminate yourself any further." I leaned back against the wall, trying to keep upright and closed my eyes. "Go home, Ianys. I need to... I need to think."

I swatted away the hand touching my cheek and waited until I heard the door close before letting myself slide to the floor.