Kenian finally jerked his pillow out from beneath his head and sat up, a prolonged sigh bursting forth in the dark.
“Listen, mate,” came his sleepy voice in the shadows, “if you’re not going to sleep, that’s fine, but stop tossin’ and turnin’ about, will you.”
“Sorry,” mumbled Dar guiltily. He’d tried everything he could think of to lull his mind to sleep, but it persisted in badgering him. Even singing bawdy tavern songs backwards did not work.
A few moments passed as his eyes penetrated the darkness above his head.
Then, out of the blackness across the room came Kenian’s voice. “Out with it. Who is she?”
Dar blinked and turned his head. “Who is who?” he feigned ignorance.
“Whoever it is who’s keeping you awake these last three-four nights. It’s always a woman. And she better be beautiful as I’m losin’ sleep over her too, now, I’m telling you.”
Dar heard Kenian roll over, waiting. Groping, Dar fumbled mentally for a worthy reply and instead said, “No girl, honestly.”
Kenian snorted. “Expect me to believe it’s your academics that’s keepin’ you up nights, then?”
Dar winced. True enough. But nor was he going to explain his feelings to his roommate. While they had become close, it was true, this was just one set of circumstances he’d never be able to impart. They’d have him admitted to the Healers Wing indefinitely.
“If I were a gambling man – which I am – ” and Kenian paused to yawn – “I’d consider two possibilities. One, you’re right, you’re just new here, you’ve no one to have caught your fancy. And two: that some lass is eating you up from the inside out. As a gambling man, who’s trying to get some sleep, knowing you can’t bluff half as well as you think you can, I’d go with the latter.”
Grimly, Dar sighed with annoyance but said nothing.
“It’s not some brothel whore, is it? Got to be careful with them. Can really catch some foul things from them if you’re not careful, you can, and the Healers, they know just how to make you feel like a dog’s ass when they’re treating you for it,” yawned Kenian again.
Dar rolled his eyes and punched his pillow, waiting for his roommate to fall asleep. Then into the black stillness of the room, Kenian asked with complete nonchalance, “Ever been in love before?”
Dar turned and glanced in the general direction of his dormmate. “Why? Have you?”
“I’m noting now that you’re completely evading my question.” Kenian said nothing for a moment. Then, “Once.” His voice was serious for once. “Long straight blond hair and eyes like the lake with the sun shining on it.”
Surprised, Dar was silent in response to this disclosure. A few seconds passed and he heard rather than saw Kenian place his arms behind his head, lost in thought. And then suddenly, “But – she was destined for another man and I – well. My future has been coordinated for me since I was conceived. I feel some of Sedgewick’s pain but I at least know who I’m to wed. She’s still young yet, but by the time I return home a decorated war veteran of the Resistance, she’ll be a Lady of her House and an excellent match for me – or should I say my family,” he added wryly.
Dar took all this in. “So you’re actually already engaged?” He couldn’t fathom what that could possibly be like, much less to a girl several Cycles his junior whom his family had picked out for him.
“Betrothed,” corrected Kenian. “Since we were children essentially. All politics. And she’s a nice enough girl, nice looks, good breeding, all that. But being in love… that’s different.” He was quiet a moment and then said, “She’s affianced, their marriage set for this spring. I don’t plan on attending. Not that anyone really knew of our… affair, except my brother, but I don’t want to raise questions, dredge up old feelings of all nights on her wedding night.”
Dar assumed by that statement that Kenian and his young ladylove had gone further than a young lady ever ought to before marriage and so would have to resort to some of the commonly practiced ruses to make it appear as if she were a virgin, as undoubtedly her new husband would expect.
It also appeared that Kenian haled from a well-known family of some nobility if his marriage and life was planned at birth.
His musings on his friend’s situation were interrupted. “And you? Have you ever been in love?” Kenian inquired dryly.
Dar mulled over what he could say, his mind running over dalliances and past girlfriends from his old home, but he cautiously proceeded with as much as his own current circumstances would allow.
“Well… yes.” What else could he do after Kenian’s revelation?
Kenian snorted and rearranged the pillows under his head. “Knew it. What’s she like, then?”
Dar paused to reflect. “Stubborn.” It was the first word that popped into his head. It didn’t seem especially romantic. He frowned.
Kenian chuckled. “Aren’t they all.”
“Nice to everyone but me.” He paused again. “Completely independent. Fearless.”
“Hmm. Interesting. You’ve skipped over what she looks like, mate. She sounds a bit more like a mule than a girl.”
Snorting with laughter, Dar replied, “That would accurately describe her, though.” He took a deep breath as Kenian chortled. Trying to gloss over the most distinguishing details, he ticked off, “Incredible blue eyes, fantastic hair….” He trailed off.
“Was she back in your home village or is she here somewhere in Terruth City?”
Dar sighed, stuffing his pillow under his neck. “She’s here in Terruth City, but I hardly ever get a chance to see her. And when we do, see each other I mean, she always has… friends, and family about. And we always wind up fighting anyway. It’s hopeless.”
“And you two never… you know…” Kenian cleared his throat to indicate sexual activity.
Dar scoffed. “Can’t get close enough to her for even half that. She makes me so mad.”
Kenian gave a sound of sympathy from his bed on the other side of the room.
“And you know,” continued Dar on his tirade, “it’s probably better this way. This way, I’ll just never see her and get over her completely, pretend she never existed. You know?” Dar decided firmly.
“That, my friend, is why brothels were created. Why do you think I spend so much time at them, with other women? To replace the one I lost forever. If you have a chance, take it. Love works in mysterious ways.”
Dar grimaced and rolled over.