Antio woke with the now-familiar ache. Since the attack on the road, he had not slept well, and mornings had been especially difficult. His empty left eye socket was still tender, and he groped blearily for his patch. Sitting up in his rough bed, he swung his legs out and gently twisted his trunk to work out the night’s stiffness.
“Good morning,” said Lilliayn, sitting in what was now her usual chair. It was a big overstuffed thing from Cyrdyk’s prop store—almost a crude throne. She nestled in it with her feet tucked under her as was her way.
“We shall see,” Antio replied, working up spit in his night-dry mouth.
“It’s the swallowtail festival today,” said Lilliayn. “Shall we try and have some fun today? Forget what’s happened, at least for a little while?”
Antio smiled a grim smile. Forget? Lilliayn was dead, along with their four friends. He’d spent a week in bed recovering, and had only yesterday been back on his feet in any meaningful way. He looked at his hands as he slowly clenched and flexed his fingers.
Sensing his mood, Lilliayn moved fluidly to the bed beside him. He sagged into her arms, and she caressed his back as he sighed into her shoulder. He had no tears left, it seemed. No tears for this, the ghost of the woman he loved.
“It’s going to be better, my sweet Antio,” she whispered. “I’m here.”
“How long?” he murmured. He could feel her, but she had no scent. Her scent was gone. “How long before you fade into eternity? I don’t know if I can do this without you.”
“Of course you can,” she encouraged. “You’re stronger than you know. It’s why I’m back. You have it in you to do great things. I know it.”
He sighed again. Always sunny were things for Lilliayn. Except, of course, that she was dead and he was not. In the back of his mind, the question flickered again. His last memory of her alive was the sound of her screaming as the Skinsaws dragged her away. He could not ask how she died. He did not think he could bear the answer.
“Come,” she said, looking to move the subject forward into things of motion, “get dressed. I see you’ve picked some clothes out. Is this the best Cyrdyk had?”
“It suits me,” replied Antio, picking up the black trousers and wriggling into them.
“Good morning!” intoned Cyrdyk, bustling into the chamber with a breakfast tray. “How is our favorite invalid today?” he asked, more to Lilliayn. “It’s the festival. If ever there was a day for one to get onto one’s feet, this would be the day.”
“He’s fine,” Lilliayn answered for Antio. He simply nodded, reaching for his boots. “I’m still not sure about his color palette, though,”
“It does seem…” Cyrdyk searched for a word, “monochromatic.” If Antio had learned anything about Cyrdyk, it was that the man couldn’t use a small word when a large one would do.
“I’m a man in mourning,” Antio shrugged. “Black makes sense.”
“Perhaps,” Cyrdyk mused, setting the tray down and sharing a long look with Lilliayn as Antio laced his shirt. “May I make a suggestion, good Master Mattim?”
“I owe you, Cyrdyk,” said Antio, meaning it. “Make whatever suggestion you feel appropriate.”
“I understand your desire to wear the black, but may I suggest you consider a broader reason for such a somber tone?”
“Broader? What do you mean?”
“May I suggest you consider that there are troubles in the world that need attention. Wear the black, for instance, for the poor, the beaten down, the hopeless and hungry. Those who have never known love or charity.”
Antio frowned thoughtfully. Leave it to Cyrdyk to turn any instance into an opportunity for monologue. Lilliayn, though, clearly understood where Cyrdyk was going.
“Yes,” she put in, “don’t wear the black for me. Wear it for the sick and lonely old. Don’t mourn my life—mourn the lives that could have been.”
“Wear this dark color,” added Cyrdyk, waving a stage flourish to punctuate, “to remind you that there are troubles aplenty among those you will meet as time goes on. Wear it as a reminder to help. Wear it… I feel a couplet coming on.”
Antio and Lilliayn rolled their eyes in unision.
“Carry off a little darkness on your back,
that things be brighter, you’ll be the Man in Black.”
Cyrdyk struck a proper stage pose to punctuate the couplet. Lilliayn clapped politely. Antio pinched the bridge of his nose, and then shrugged with a wry smile.
“Well, how can I argue with that?”
“That’s the spirit,” Lilliayn nodded, holding up Antio’s doublet to help him don it. “Now then, eat your breakfast and let’s go to the festival.”