A Shield’s Resolve
Lily stared at Tate, mouth agape, blinking rapidly. She gulped down her surprise and spoke in a wavering voice.
Tate continued to speak, as if Lily had not spoken.
“I’ll go to Riasode. Roan would probably be willing to set me up with a home, maybe even a shop. I’ve saved up enough money to purchase a space big enough to put a forge. I’m going to need to bring along the forge you made for me – it’s amazing – but Prei shouldn’t have a problem carrying that weight. I can go find Roan to help me settle in, and I might even start personally selling my stuff. Cut off the retailers, reduce middleman costs. I always wanted to try being a shop merchant like my parents. I’ve already made a name for myself, anyway, so I won’t have to worry about having no customers. In fact, I might need to install a locked door to stop people from swarming my shop. Maybe a queue system.”
“Of course, I’ll send money back here. Most of our income still comes from me, after all, and you’re still the most important person to me. I probably won’t come home as often as Prei, since I’ll probably be swamped with work, but I’ll make it a point to come back at least once a month. I’ll get Prei to bring money back home, so you won’t need to worry about it. I’ll bring some nice groceries when I come home too, so we can cook up a feast.”
“Why? Tate, answer me. Why do you want to leave?”
“I won’t be here to cook for you all, but Iris has gotten pretty good recently, she’ll be able to do it in my stead. You’ll probably forget my cooking after a week. After all, love is the best seasoning. I’m sure you’ll love her cooking too, if only because she’s the one preparing it. She’s going to make a great wife. Though I suppose you’re a wife too, so that’s an unusual dynamic. Of course, both of you are pretty unusual in your own right, so there shouldn’t be a problem.”
Lily grabbed Tate by the shoulders and forced the shieldsmith to look into her eyes.
“Tate! Why! Why are you saying all this? Why are you leaving?!”
Tate looked at Lily with eyes which bore regret and resolve. She showed no signs of crying, a stark contrast to Lily, whose eyes were moistening with pained shock. Why now, why so suddenly? Was it something Lily had done? Had Lily somehow pushed away her close friend, who had given up so much for her? Why? Lily needed to know. Tate looked straight into Lily’s eyes, her regretful stare almost piercing in its resignation.
“…You know why.”
Those three words caused vines of guilt to grip Lily’s conscience. Her heart sank. She did know. She pulled Tate into a hug, the tears beginning to fall. Tate allowed herself to be held, but she remained silent and impassive. Lily knew why Tate was leaving. Tate had given so much to her. Tate had left her family behind to follow Lily. Tate did so much to support the family, to support their lives in this secluded mansion. Tate had given Lily so much, yet Lily had not given her anything in return. She had focused her attentions on Prei and Iris, rarely if ever paying heed to Tate’s needs. She wondered what had been the breaking point. What had finally caused Tate to decide that Lily’s unfair treatment had gone too far? Struck with regret and guilt, Lily tried in vain to justify her oversight.
“I-I’m sorry, Tate… After Prei joined us… I needed to raise her and take care of her. I paid more attention to her than to you. After she went to live in Riasode, I… I turned my attention to Iris. I love her, Tate. It was only natural for me to pay more attention to her. But… that doesn’t mean I should have neglected you. I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry.”
“Even after you did so much for me! After you did so much, working yourself to the bone, growing tired and exhausted, sleeping nights in the forge, all for my sake… After I tore you away from your home… You’ve given so much to me, and I’ve neglected you. I- I’m sorry! I’m such an ingrate, I’m such an idiot! I’m so sorry, Tate…”
“Lily, I understand…”
“I’m sorry, so sorry! I suppose its too late now… I should have noticed… I should have made more of an effort to make you feel like a part of us… I should have done more to show you how grateful I am… I should have done so much more… I’m sorry…”
“Lily! I said I understand!”
Tate pushed herself away from Lily’s hug and held her at arm’s length, anger burning in her eyes.
“I said, I understand. I understand why you weren’t able to pay attention to me, but I never said I was wanting for attention!” Her expression softened into one that was far more gentle. “All of you are my family. All of you have done so much to make me feel loved and included. When you tell me to rest, to stop working, you sound just like my mother. You’re the most important person to me, Lily. That hasn’t changed. I understand and I don’t hold it against you. I’m happy, Lily. I’m happy to be of use. I’m happy that I’m able to stay by your side. I’m happy that I’m able to immerse myself in my work every day. I enjoy working long hours, making each piece perfect. You have nothing to apologise for, Lily! I like my life here. I love our little family. I love that I’m able to use my abilities to help you, to make your lives easier. The only thing that makes me happier than finishing a piece is seeing that small, peaceful, contented smile of yours. I’m happy with our lives, Lily. I’m happy here.”
“Then why…? Why leave, why now…?”
Lily’s voice quivered with guilt and sadness. She could not bear to imagine her close friend leaving. The happiness of the afternoon, when she had proposed to Iris, had long since become a happy memory, fading with the light of day. What was left was regret and desperation, as she tried to understand Tate’s actions. Tate gazed into Lily’s eyes with a sorrowful look.
“It’s because you’re not happy.”
“What… do you mean?”
Confusion overtook Lily’s thoughts as she tried to understand what Tate meant. Tate sighed and clarified.
“I can feel it, you know. Your emotions. As your shield, I am magically bound to you. I’m sensitive to changes in your emotional state. When you feel happy, when you feel sad, when you feel guilty, like you do now, I can feel a bit of that. That’s how I know. Every time you see me, you feel sadness, and guilt. Every time you see me smile, you feel even more terrible. And I hate making you feel that way. I don’t want to make you feel that way. But that’s your personality. Every time you see me smile, every time you see me yawn, each time I return late from the forge, you feel guilty and that causes you pain.”
“…” Lily was unable to refute Tate: the girl was speaking the truth.
“My being here is a source of pain for you. I know you don’t want it, and I certainly don’t want it, but that’s a fact. That’s not going to change. As long as your personality remains the same way, I’m going to be a source of pain. But I love your personality. It’s what makes you so kind. So I don’t want you to change. However, I also don’t want you to be in pain.”
“Lily, I am a shield, and you are my owner. My role is to protect. My purpose in life is to keep you safe, to protect you. To shield you from harm, physical and emotional. And if I’m causing you harm, it’s only natural for me to remove myself from your presence. You have Iris here, and you’re amazingly strong too, so you should be more than capable of protecting yourself from physical harm. So it falls to me to shield you from emotional harm, and that involves leaving this house.”
Lily could only call out the girl’s name. Everything Tate said was true. If she were to take a step back and consider it logically, taking into account her own personality and Tate’s intentions, it was the best option. She had also promised to return once a month, so it would not be a permanent separation. Objectively, the path of action Tate was suggesting was the best choice.
But it hurt. It hurt so much to admit it, and Lily didn’t want to admit it. Tate, seeing this and feeling her pain, smiled in self-admonishment.
“I’m a terrible shield, aren’t I. Causing my owner to go through this much pain, leaving her side. I’m a poor excuse for a shield. What would my mother say?” Tate chuckled. “But this is the best course of action I could think of. Perhaps there’s a better one, but I’m not smart enough to puzzle it out. I’m leaving, Lily. I’m sorry for being such an unfaithful shield.”
Lily remained silent for a while, then pulled Tate into a hug again. She wiped the tears from her eyes. She forced down her guilt and remorse. That was just going to make Tate sadder. She forced a smile and whispered into Tate’s ear.
“Nonsense. You’re the best shield in the world. More than I deserve. I don’t know what I did to meet a shield as amazing as you, but I’m happy I did it. You’ve done so much to me, Tate, and I can never thank you enough. If you want to leave, I won’t stop you. This is not a cage; you are not bound here. But know that you will always be welcome here, in my house, and in my arms. I may not be able to love you as I do Iris, but you will always be family to me.”
Tate smiled and rested her head on Lily’s shoulder, a single tear, her first tear in a long time, falling from her eye.
When Lily pulled away, she was smiling. Tate saw her expression, and felt happiness bubble up from within. Finally, Lily was looking at her with an expression which did not bear pain or guilt. She spoke up, spurred on by this happiness.
“That’s the kind of expression I like seeing, Lily.”
“Shall we return to prepare? If you’re going to leave, it had better be soon – if we wait too long, I might be tempted to chain you up here.”
She turned back to the house and held out a hand, but Tate shook her head.
“No, I think I’ll stay here for a while. I think someone wants to talk to me.”
A rustling of the trees along the side of the lake caught Lily’s attention. Turning, she saw the figure of Prei standing some distance away, silently watching the conversation. Lily nodded to her, then to Tate, and walked back to the house. Prei had probably heard everything. Tate was like a sister to her, so she likely had many things that she wanted to say.
As Lily walked, she heard the sound of wings flapping behind her, but did not turn around. Instead, she continued walking, until she reached the house, and from there walked to her bedroom, where she found Iris sitting expectantly on the bed. Noting her subdued mood, Iris changed position, shifting her legs off the floor and onto the bed, taking up a kneeling position. Following her lead, Lily crawled on to the bed and laid her head on Iris’ thighs. Iris casually stroked Lily’s long hair, not saying a word. Lily sighed and closed her eyes, forcing down the regret that threatened to overwhelm her. She would not allow herself to feel sorrow over Tate’s decision – that would only cause Tate more pain. The best way to do that was to distract herself. She sat up, turned around, then pushed Iris down on to the bed, bringing their lips together, guiding her hand downward. With thoughts of Tate’s departure lying heavily on her mind, Lily lost herself in Iris’ love.