December 31, 2008

In Which Florian Makes a Last Promise

January 10, 1156

That baby, Florian couldn't have possibly failed to notice, had become some sort of fifth appendage to Electra over the past month. It was amazing how her entire anatomy had changed; two legs, two arms, one sniveling little hairless rodent...

In all honesty, Florian had grown grudgingly fond of Evera, but of course, he wasn't about to let Electra know that. Telling her he actually liked having the baby around would be like admitting she had won some sort of little subconscious game they were playing, and that was one thing he would rather not do.

"His lordship says she's bigger than her twin brother," Electra told him. "He was here a while ago, before you got up. I guess their poor mother doesn't get all the food she needs to nurse little Byrn."

"So the father's a lazy ass who can't feed his family?" ventured Florian, absent-mindedly gazing out the window on the opposite wall.

Electra sighed. "No. He's a horribly violent man who beats her for absolutely anything and takes the best of their food for himself. Honestly, Florian, I've told you a hundred times!"

He knew. He'd known when he asked her. Florian just had the constant need to reassure himself that he wasn't the only man in Naroni dragging his wife down; he had to know that some man was making some woman more miserable than he was making Electra.

"She's such an angel, though, isn't she?" cooed Electra as she began to gently bounce the little girl.

Florian rolled his eyes; what was it with women and babies?


Feeling slightly light-headed, he pulled himself to his feet. "I'm going to go get some work done in the field."

"You were just out there!" Electra scolded him. "You're ill; go lie down."

"I'm fine, Electra," he insisted.

She sighed. "You know as well as I do that you're not. Please, don't worry about the crops today, Florian. Just get some sleep."

There was nothing Florian hated more than discussing the subject of his health with Electra, but at the same time, he didn't want to take it lying down, so, as a compromise, he turned to the baby.

"What do you think, Evera?" he asked her in a whisper. "Should I go and make a living, so I can feed you and Electra, or should I get back in bed like a worthless lump of clay?"

Her tiny hand gestured toward the bedroom door.

"Well, at least the baby knows what's best for you," laughed Electra. "Two against one, Florian; get to bed."

Angrily, Florian bit his lip. "Fine then, starve."

Really, Electra should've been milking his labor for all it was worth while she had the chance, he figured as he made his way to the bed; there was no way she was going to be able to run the farm and raise a baby all on her own. If she was smart, she'd make him grow as many crops and earn as much money as he could in whatever time he had left.

Yes, he'd come to the realization that no matter what he said to Electra, he couldn't inwardly deny that he was dying. What a way to go, though, slowly, fully aware of the inevitable while not even knowing what was wrong with him. Here he was, his family dead, exiled from the only home he'd ever known, alone except for his wife, who might as well have been his sister, and a baby who wasn't either of theirs. This shouldn't have happened to him. Hadn't he once been a clever boy? Hadn't he had potential?

Well, there was no potential now, that was for sure.

He'd probably go right in the same uncomfortable bed he was pulling himself into, lying on, sleeping on. Florian had no need for a casket--this bed was already his tomb.

No sooner had Florian's head touched the pillow when he was woken by the persistent sound of a screaming baby. "Dammit, Evera!" he snarled as eased himself into a sitting position. "Didn't you want me to get some sleep?"

He sat on the bed for a moment, hoping Electra would tend to the kid, but judging by the continuing wails, she never did. "Damn you too, Electra," he muttered under his breath.

Florian stood, then made his way to the door and into the kitchen. "Electra! The baby!"

She was nowhere in sight.

If Electra wasn't there to check on Evera, that meant the kid was his responsibility. Grumbling incoherently to himself, Florian trudged into the baby's makeshift enclosure, wondering what on earth Evera could possibly want from him.

But the baby in the crib wasn't Evera. He couldn't even be sure it was a girl.


Surprisingly, and as from nowhere, she came, but she certainly wasn't the Electra of today. No, this slender young woman was much more reminiscent of the nineteen-year-old Electra Hamrick had married as opposed to the flustered, unkempt twenty-six-year-old she was now. Her blue dress was simple, but infinitely more flattering than the rags he had grown used to seeing her in, and her formerly unruly hair was held back in a tight bun, not unlike the way the baroness wore her hair; but while the baroness always gave the appearance of a stern woman of unrivaled severity, Electra simply looked like a girl who took time to invest in her appearance.

"You look... nice," he told her as she approached him. She didn't seem to hear him--in fact, she didn't even seem to see him.

Florian hastily ducked out of the way as she made her way to the side of the cradle and gazed lovingly at the infant. "Electra, whose baby is this?" he inquired; once again, she ignored him entirely.

She bent down and lifted the baby from the cradle. "Papa will be home soon, my angel. Now, let's go see Grandma."

Grandma? Florian repeated to himself as she carried the baby into the kitchen. Even if this was, somehow, Electra's baby, her mother had been dead for years; who on earth was "Grandma"?

He didn't have to wonder for very long; she was the first thing that caught his eye upon returning to the kitchen. She had never set foot in this house and Florian had always known she never would, yet here she was, as if it were her own home, her golden hair as she had always worn it and her familiar brown dress just as worn and tattered as he remembered. As impossible as it was, it could be none other.


"How's the baby, dear?" she asked as Electra drew nearer.

"Seems well enough," Electra replied. "Just missing Papa, I think."

His mother couldn't see him either, Florian concluded as she began to talk to the baby, not taking any notice of him at all. This had to be a dream--either that or he'd died and was now stuck in purgatory.

She always had wanted a grandchild; it had been all she could talk about when Hamrick got married. Even before Electra had ever come into the picture, she had always made a point to mention to her sons how many grandchildren she expected from each of them. But clearly, it had never been meant to be; her older son had died childless, and she herself had gone leaving only her second, who was dying himself and hated kids anyway. Dead or alive, Alyssin would never be a grandmother. Maybe it was for the best that she had died--now, she would never live to see both of her sons fail her.

Florian just couldn't get over young Electra's figure; now, he could finally see why Hamrick had ever been attracted to her. Sure, she wasn't exquisitely beautiful like Lady Alina or Mistress Indruion or Queen Geneva, but she was pretty enough, certainly not the plain, frazzled woman he himself had married.

The front door opened, and a man stepped inside. Like Alyssin, this man was someone Florian had never expected to see again.

"Hamrick!" exclaimed Electra. "You said you'd be home an hour ago!"

"I know. I'm sorry, Ellie," he apologized, using his pet name for her.

"Oh, never you mind me! The baby missed you, you know."

"Well, Papa's home now," Hamrick assured the child with a small wave. "I hope you were good for Mama and Grandma."

Florian chanced a quick glance at his mother. Her back was turned, but he was sure she was smiling.

Hamrick, meanwhile, had begun to tell his baby a story, complete with animated gestures, like Florian had never even considered doing for Evera. He would have been a good father; it was a shame he'd died before he'd ever had the chance to be one.

"So how'd you like another one, Ma?" inquired Hamrick of Alyssin. "I'm pretty sure we could start working on the next soon, right Ellie?"

Electra giggled; Electra never giggled. "We could."

Alyssin continued to gaze into the fire, her small smile in place. "That'd be wonderful, Hamrick."

"I'll say," her son agreed. "Anyway, where's Florian?"

Florian bit his lip; he'd forgotten about his own invisibility. He'd almost forgotten he was even a part of this dream at all. In some ways, he wished he wasn't.

Suddenly, the door flew open, and a new figment of the past barged into this house of the present as if he had been born and raised in it. Like Hamrick and Alyssin, he had once existed, been as real as he appeared now, but, also like Hamrick and Alyssin, he was no longer, and never again would be.

"Sorry I'm late, Ma. Had to return those books I borrowed from the bookseller."

The other three laughed. "The bookseller don't lend books, Florian!" scolded Alyssin, although her grin remained. "You been stealing."

"I returned them, though," thirteen-year-old Florian insisted, "so it's not stealing."

Alyssin shook her head. "I dunno how you even learned to read, you clever boy! Oh well; come give your mother a kiss, you naughty little child."

"Aw, Ma!" he groaned, but he obliged her all the same. Oh, how he had hated having to give his mother kisses... and how he would've given anything just to give her one more now.

He continued to watch as Hamrick approached his younger self. "Kiddo, you know it's not right to steal," his older brother told him, "even if you plan on returning whatever it is."

"I know," sighed Florian, "but we can't afford to buy his books, and he has lots, so I figure he won't miss a few if I take them for a few days."

"Well, why don't you try writing your own books?" suggested Hamrick; he'd tried to convince Florian to do this several times in real life too, he suddenly remembered. "Or at least, make up some stories to tell the baby."

Florian closed his eyes. "Well, I guess I could do that... maybe not write an actual book, but tell the baby something."

"I think the baby could use a good story now," Electra mused aloud. "Would you like Uncle Florian to tell you a story?"

Uncle Florian. Two words he thought he'd never hear, and doubtlessly would never hear again.

She gently placed the baby in his arms, her husband looking on with a grin all the while.

"All right. Once upon a time," young Florian began, closing his eyes as if to visualize the scene, "there was... an evil bookseller."

Hamrick laughed. "Evil bookseller!" he exclaimed as Electra wrapped her arms around his neck. "Hear that, Ellie? Wonder where he got that from, eh?"

Florian shifted uncomfortably, his story all but abandoned. "Get a room."

"Well, it isn't as if we don't have one..." Hamrick started to say, but trailed off as he took his wife by the hand and began to kiss her along the arm, from her wrist all the way to her shoulder.

"Hamrick!" Alyssin scolded, while Electra sighed contentedly and Florian rolled his eyes. Hamrick, however, paid her no attention.

Teenaged Florian looked his brother's child in the eye, then promptly informed the baby, "Your parents are disgusting."

Hamrick gave Electra a quick peck on the lips, then, suddenly, turned his head to face Florian of the present.

"You're looking a little worse for the wear, kiddo."

Florian merely watched as his former self began to fade away, Electra, the baby, and Alyssin accompanying him into thin air. "You did too, last I saw you."

Hamrick nodded, a somber expression taking over his features. "How's Ellie?"

"Er... she's all right, I guess," Florian answered sheepishly. "I mean, she's healthy and all; I can't make her happy like you did."

"Oh. Well, in that case, I'm not sure whether I should be sad or relieved."

"I don't know... maybe it's possible to be both?"

"Florian..." sighed Hamrick. "Do you even love her?"

"Like a sister," he insisted, "but not like a wife. I'm sorry, Hamrick."

Hamrick nodded. "You can't help what you don't feel, kiddo. But look... I never had any kids, and Ma died without all the grandchildren she wanted, and Ellie... well, don't get me wrong, she loves that little girl you're taking care of right now, but..."

"So... are you telling me to have sex with your wife?" Florian couldn't help but laugh slightly; it was one of those requests that he thought would never be asked of him once if he lived to be a hundred and fifty.

"Well, if you could find some way to impregnate her without having sex with her, that would be much appreciated," Hamrick admitted, "but if you must have sex with her, then I can't complain; she's your wife now, after all."

Florian sighed. "Hamrick... it might not be that simple. Realistically, I don't have much time left, and if you and our father both had some difficulties, then..."

"Florian, please!" his brother dismissed the idea. "Just look at us--living proof brothers don't have absolutely everything in common. You learn things when you're dead, kiddo; yes, Pa and me had our struggles, but you don't. You'll have her expecting before you need both hands to count the times you've slept with her."

"Hamrick..." Florian addressed him once more, leaning forward slightly. "Hamrick, what if she won't...?"

"She will," insisted Hamrick. "Promise me, Florian--for her, and for me, and for Ma."

Biting his lip, Florian took a moment to consider. The last thing Electra would need when he was gone was yet another baby to take care of... but maybe as little as she needed it, possibly that was what she wanted? And his mother... would she still want a grandchild after death? Would she even know she had one? And as for Hamrick himself... was he really that keen on the thought of Electra having a child that wasn't his, even if it was his niece or nephew?

"All right. I promise. I promise I'll have sex with your wife and keep having sex with her until she's pregnant."

"There's a good man!" Hamrick exclaimed happily as he wrapped Florian in a brotherly embrace. "Thanks, kiddo. You don't know how much this means to me... and Ma... and Ellie."

Florian didn't say anything; he didn't want to say anything. All he wanted to do was stay like this, in the arms of his beloved brother, in this world where he wasn't rotting away in a foreign country, married to his sister-in-law. Here, he was safe; life would not hurt him here.

Unfortunately, life has other ideas, he thought bitterly as he pulled himself out of bed. Damn dreams, always getting to the good part just when you're about to wake up...

Electra hadn't come to bed--not that she ever did. She was probably sleeping at the kitchen table, as usual.

Am I really that repulsive?

"Electra!" he hollered. "Electra, get in here!"

The door opened and she entered, a tired smile on her face. "Florian, please; you'll wake Evera."

He watched her as she caught sight of his clothes, thrown hastily to the floor. Shaking her head, she carefully gathered them up and placed them in the trunk in the corner.

"Florian, you should really start picking up after yourself," she scolded gently. "Now, what is it you wanted?"

"Electra," he began, slowly making his way toward her, "are you happy?"

"Well, I guess I can't say I'm unhappy," Electra answered with a rather false-looking grin. "Little Evera certainly has helped--I think babies must have some sort of power that makes people happy."

"Oh, really?" Florian pressed.

"Yes, in fact I--"

He didn't give her a chance to finish her sentence before grabbing her and shoving his tongue past her lips. At his age, Florian's experience was not limited to kissing, but there was something awkward and unnatural about kissing Electra--he might as well have been kissing his mother.

"What... what was..." she panted just as she managed to pull away. "Florian! What...?"

"You said you think babies make people happy," he explained. "What if you had two babies around? Sure, they might be a handful, but it isn't as if you couldn't have someone from the village come in and help you every once in a while--Lord Severin even said he'd pay for a nanny if you needed any help, remember?"

"Florian..." sighed Electra. "Florian, you're not well..."

Florian shook his head. "I know. But Electra, you and my mother were so close; you know she wanted a grandchild more than anything. And Hamrick! Any baby of ours will be the closest thing Hamrick can ever have to his own baby, and I know you want your own baby too. I wish your baby could be Hamrick's, but... you'd still love your baby if it was mine, wouldn't you?"

"Of course, but Florian..."

"Don't you 'Florian' me!" he snapped at her, climbing onto the bed and settling on his preferred side. "Now, we've been married for over a year and hadn't even so much as kissed until just a minute ago. A lot of husbands would have forced you to do more, and God knows I'm not one of them, but after a year... well, that's just pathetic. I'll tell you what I'm going to do; I'm going to sit here. I'm not going to eat, I'm not going to sleep, I'm not going to pull my sorry ass off this bed until we've slept together. You're in control now, Electra; you decide how long I'm going to be sitting here."

Sighing, she turned away from him, as if to walk away. Then, much to his surprise, she began to disrobe.

She was thinner than he had expected, Florian had to admit; perhaps the unflattering clothing she insisted on wearing was a more significant contributor to her girth than he'd realized. Still, try as he might, he could not call her beautiful, or even pretty. Maybe in some sense, he had failed Hamrick already.

"Now, that's a good girl," he chided as she set herself down on the bed beside him. He quickly removed his loincloth, then took her in his arms and lowered her to the mattress.

"I don't care what you think of me," he assured her as he leaned in to kiss her once more. "Lie back and think of Naroni. Scream Hamrick's name at the top of your lungs. I don't give a damn; let's just get this done with."