February’s short story contains a new cast of characters that randomly appeared in my head one day. I’ve only spent a little time with them so far, but I like their dynamic.
As with most of my writing, this four-part story explores themes of death and grief. I hope you enjoy it and thank you for reading.
Necromancy [Part One]
As the fireworks lit up the dark sky, the crowd cheered. They clapped. Laughing. Drinking. Enjoying the moment.
Rowan looked to her left and then to her right. She was surrounded by amazing people. The dwarf knocked back another pint with their gnome friend sitting upon his shoulder, gawking at the pretty lights in the sky. The only human in the group contentedly watched the sky while the orc’s gaze followed a lightning bug floating around his head.
The whole town was there celebrating. Rowan’s team had made it home after a two-year long journey. They had saved the world. It sounded arrogant and Rowan thought saving the entire “world” sounded a bit too much. Still, the threat had been defeated and the town wanted to celebrate the five of them.
The problem was not all of them had returned home.
Needless to say, Rowan wasn’t in a celebratory mood. It didn’t feel right. The town celebrated their return from their quest but they should have been celebrating Jasper and the young halfling’s sacrifice.
Another pop of the fireworks echoed through the air. Rowan jolted out of her thoughts, casting a somber gaze to the night sky above them. The twinkling lights faded, enveloping the sky into darkness once again. More cheering. More laughing. A stranger pat her on the back and Rowan flashed them a brief smile before they walked away.
In this moment, despite being surrounded by so many people, she had never felt so alone.
So, she slipped away.
Rowan entered the tavern on the other side of the street. It was the only place open during the party. However, the place was empty. The bartender must have been out enjoying the fireworks with everyone else.
The half-elf took it upon herself to pour herself a glass of… something. Rowan didn’t know anything about alcohol and certainly didn’t know her way around the bar. She grabbed an empty glass and an opened bottle of wine. She filled the glass to the top.
“You know, that’s not usually how people drink their wine.”
Rowan took a deep breath without turning around. She peered into the glass, taking a sip. She wasn’t in the mood to talk. Besides, she could barely taste the wine. She didn’t care how it was supposed to be drunk.
“There’s something beautiful about watching red wine splash down in a shallow crystal dome.”
Rowan narrowed her eyes at her drink. She looked over her shoulder. “And what’s wrong with it splashing down in a tall crystal cylinder?”
Her human travel companion sat down at the bar, smirking. “Nothing,” he said, “but it got you confused enough to look at me and speak.”
Rowan rolled her eyes. She took another sip, turning her body around to face him. There was no getting rid of him now. “Did you want some, Tristan?”
He shook his head. “I’m curious as to why you want some.”
“Then why are you drinking it?”
“It’s quiet in here.”
“Fascinating,” Tristan grinned again. “I didn’t realize red wine had such deafening properties.”
Rowan glared at him. “You know what I mean.”
The grin turned into a soft smile on the human’s face. “I know,” he replied quietly. “Is everything alright?”
She took another sip.
“I’ll take that as a no.”
“Everything’s fine,” Rowan replied with a shrug and a slight attitude. “Why are you in here and not enjoying the fireworks?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” Tristan retorted.
Tristan shifted his weight on the stool he sat on. “Ah, but of course, you asked me first so I shall answer first,” he said, resting his elbows on the counter. “I am not outside watching the fireworks because I noticed a dear friend of mine was unable to enjoy them.”
A gulp this time. Rowan swallowed hard, looking for the bottle to refill her glass.
“This party is for us. I’d like to celebrate with all of my friends,” Tristan continued.
Rowan snapped her head around, narrowing her eyes at her companion. “Then it’s too bad not all of us are here.”
Tristan straightened his posture, his expression turning mournful. “Ah. So that’s what this is about.”
“This is not about anything,” Rowan replied defensively. The last thing she wanted was a pep talk from Tristan.
Tristan stared into Rowan’s burning gaze. “Then when?” he asked.
“When will there ever be an appropriate time to talk about it?”
Rowan scrunched her face in confusion. “What does that mean?”
“It means you need to talk through your feelings. It’s the only way you’ll feel better,” Tristan explained.
Rowan shook her head, pouring more wine into her glass. “There’s nothing to talk about. Jasper did an amazing thing for us. Any of us would have done it, I think. Friends come and go. It’s the circle of life.”
“Well, that may be, but-”
“Do you know how old I am?” Rowan snapped.
Tristan’s eyes widened in surprise. “I would never ask a lady…”
“Too old for this to be new to me,” Rowan interrupted. “I’ve lost countless people over my many years in this world. Friends, family, you name it. I’m used to it.” She tilted her head back, chugging the rest of the wine from the bottle instead of her glass. She slammed the bottle down on the counter and Tristan reached over placing his hand over hers. She shot him a nasty look but immediately softened when she saw the sadness in his eyes.
“Just because you’ve seen death so many times in your life, doesn’t make it any easier,” Tristan explained gently. “Grief is difficult to grasp and when we do, it stays with us forever. Grief isn’t bad. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Grief is a reminder of all those we’ve loved and cherished. It’s the vault to the many memories we keep within ourselves. You are allowed to feel your feelings. You are allowed to miss him.”
“We all miss him,” Nordak stated.
Rowan recoiled her hand away from Tristan’s, looking up. She hadn’t noticed the rest of their travel party had entered the bar. She could still hear fireworks popping off outside, so it seemed as though no one knew they had all sneaked away.
The dwarf waddled toward the bar, sitting in the stool beside Tristan. The gnome, Silver, hopped off his shoulder, walking around to the other side of the bar. She hopped onto the counter, swinging her legs over the side.
“We definitely miss him, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate in his honor. Jasper would be proud. He’d want us to have a good time,” Silver said.
Rowan sighed. She knew her companions were right. For some reason, watching another friend meet their end never got easier for her.
“I have an idea,” Tristan exclaimed. “Why don’t we each take a turn and share a fun memory of Jasper? We’ll make a toast him.”
Nordak hopped off his stool. “I’ll get the drinks!”
Silver giggled, jumping to her feet. She took Rowan by the arm and pulled her back around the counter. “We should get out of his way.”
Rowan allowed the small gnome to lead her to the other side of the counter as Nordak passed them singing a song about booze.
Silver sat down on a stool, pointing to the seat in between her and Tristan. Rowan took the hint and sat between the two of them.
“Greeba?” Tristan said to the orc guarding the door. “Come join us.”
Greeba growled at him.
Tristan clicked his tongue. “Honestly, now. Come here. There is nothing to guard. We’re home, safe and sound.”
“I saved you a seat beside me!” Silver said sweetly.
Greeba grunted, but reluctantly left her post at the door. She sat down beside Silver and the four of them watched Nordak hum to himself while mixing drinks.
“Who would like to share a memory of Jasper first?” Tristan declared. “Rowan?”
Embarrassed, Rowan quickly shook her head. Silver didn’t seem to notice as she immediately shot her arm high in the air.
“Oh, me!” she exclaimed. Silver jumped off her stool, standing behind everyone as though she were going to perform on stage. “Do you all remember how self-conscious Jasper could be with his height? He always tried standing on his toes to be taller than me.”
“Which wasn’t that hard,” Greeba snorted. “You only had three inches on the guy.”
“And I don’t believe he necessarily wanted to be taller than you,” Tristan added, “but you continuously boasted that, as a gnome, you weren’t the smallest in the group.”
Silver giggled. “Right, well, anyway, do you remember that orchard we came across on our journey? There were apple trees and we both wanted a snack. The thing was, we couldn’t reach the apples. So, Jasper let me stand on his shoulders to give me a boost. I climbed onto the shortest branch and was able to pluck apples for the both of us.”
“Ah, yes, I remember that,” Tristan grinned. “Didn’t you get stuck on that branch?”
“I had to pluck her out of the tree,” Greeba added.
“That’s right.” Tristan snapped his fingers.
“I believe you also clocked Jasper in the head with an apple, right?” Nordak mentioned.
Silver pressed her lips together in a tight smile. “I dropped one by accident.”
Rowan couldn’t help but chuckle. She remembered that day. The group had stopped for a rest. Tristan and Nordak sat under a tree together for some shade. Nordak took a nap while Tristan wrote in his journal. Greeba kept watch, as she normally did, and Rowan remembered watching Silver and Jasper play tag, weaving in and out of the rows of fruit trees. It was a beautiful day. The sun was out and it was the first time they had a chance to rest in a while.
Rowan frowned. That day was a week before Jasper died.
“What about that time I stepped on him?” Greeba piped up.
Silver gawked at the orc. “Oh, my goodness, I had completely forgotten about that…”
Nordak snorted. “I’m still not convinced you didn’t step on him on purpose.”
Greeba shrugged. “He got under my foot.”
“We had to rush to see an emergency cleric that day,” Silver continued the story. “I wondered if Jasper would be able to walk again.”
“He recovered. He was fine,” Greeba stated.
“I wouldn’t exactly say that’s a fond memory of Jasper, but thank you for contributing to the conversation, Greeba,” Tristan said, cracking an awkward smile.
Rowan pinched the bridge of her nose. That was a brutal day. Greeba thought they were being attacked. In her mad dash to warn them all, she turned around and accidentally stepped on Jasper, who happened to be one step behind her. If Rowan remembered correctly, he had gotten distracted by a worm in the dirt. The little things had always fascinated him. He noticed them when others wouldn’t even know they existed.
The half-elf let out a tired sigh. That day was about a month into their journey. Maybe if Jasper’s legs didn’t recover the way they did, he’d still be with them.
“Rowan?” Tristan whispered. “Do you want to share a story?”
She shook her head, not able to look him in the eyes.
“I’ve got one,” Tristan said louder to the group. “It was the day we all got our mission and met for the first time. Greeba, I remember you were less than thrilled to be in our company.”
The orc let out a deep chuckle. “I still am sometimes.”
“Rowan, you were quiet. You barely spoke to any of us,” Tristan continued. Rowan still wouldn’t look at him.
“Nordak, you felt as though you were in charge,” Tristan said to the dwarf.
Nordak laughed. “You did too.”
“Probably why we butt heads so much in the beginning.”
“What about me?” Silver piped up.
“You were happy to be among new people and friends,” Tristan stated. “Jasper, he was so focused on the mission. But I remember he stood up from the table and looked at each and every one of us. Do you all remember what he said?”
The group grew quiet. Rowan certainly remembered and she had a feeling everyone else did as well.
“He said he had never been so proud to be included within such an honorable group. He knew the six of us would see our quest through to the end. He said we’d have hardships, we’d struggle, we might even drive each other a little bit crazy. But he also said we would protect each other, support each other’s weaknesses, boost each other’s strengths, and… overall, learn to love each other as a family,” Tristan explained. “I don’t know how, but Jasper knew. He was spot on.”
Rowan swallowed a hard lump in her throat. If he knew he would die, would he have felt the same way that day?
“We didn’t deserve Jasper,” Nordak said, passing tall glasses of something to everyone in the party.
Rowan took her glass, peering at the pale yellow liquid. Not that she was ever interested in drinking alcohol, but she had drunk Nordak’s concoctions before and they never failed to taste good.
Tristan held his glass up high. “To Jasper.”
“To Jasper!” Everyone followed suit, clinking their glasses together before taking sips.
Rowan too joined in, gulping her drink down. When she was done, she sighed into the empty glass.
Nordak, drink in hand, came around the counter. He swung his glass in the air, liquid spilling onto the ground, as he broke out into a lullaby.
Once upon a time begins the halfling’s tale…
He began swaying in the middle of the tavern. Silver jumped off her chair, joining in on the dance.
Listen to the story of his prevail…
Rowan watched as even Greeba turned around in her seat and tapped her feet on the ground, drinking in the words of Nordak’s new song.
Oh, unknown what he would become, but oh, what trouble did he overcome…
“Rowan?” Tristan whispered, watching Nordak and Silver sing and dance together.
“Hm?” Rowan replied absentmindedly.
Oh, oh… what a brave soul! Glorious triumph was his goal!
“There’s someone I want you to talk to,” Tristan said. He held up a hand as Rowan’s mouth gaped open to protest. “Before you say anything, I think now is the best time. We’ve just gotten home from a long journey and things are finally calm. But the quest was stressful and while we did have some good times, things were certainly rough at points. I want you to talk to someone about it all, not just what happened to Jasper. Although, that should be a point of discussion.”
Rowan sighed. She turned away, looking at her other friends. Silver was dancing with her eyes closed, moved by Nordak’s lyrics as he continued to boisterously sing about their late friend. Greeba, on the other hand, leaned back against the counter with her eyes closed. However, Rowan didn’t think the orc was as touched as Silver was, but rather she had fallen asleep.
“What do you say?” Tristan prompted gently.
Finally, Rowan nodded. She looked back at her friend. “Alright, fine. But I don’t make any promises.”
“I don’t expect you to.”
“Who is it you want me to talk to?”
“His name is Milo and he’s a cleric-“
Rowan scoffed. “You want me to go to cleric counseling?”
The two jumped at a loud thud. They looked over to see Nordak had fallen onto the ground. He burst out laughing, messing up his song, and Silver joined in on the laughter.
Tristan tapped Rowan on the arm gaining her attention again. “Don’t think of it as cleric counseling. Think of it as talking to a friend.”
“He’s not my friend, though. I don’t know who he is.”
“I do. So, he’s a friend of a friend.”
Rowan rolled her eyes.
“I’ll go with you, if you’d prefer,” Tristan prompted. “I don’t want to pressure you, of course, but please. Think about it?”
Silver laughed so loud it seemed to echo throughout the empty tavern. “Jasper would have loved that song about him!”
Nordak breathed in satisfaction. “Ah, yeah… he always enjoyed my songs.” He looked up at the ceiling, raising his empty glass. “Jasper, if you can hear this, I hope you approve of my tribute to you!”
It was then Rowan realized how much she didn’t understand. She had seen death more than any of her friends and yet, they all seemed to cope better than she did. Maybe she was missing something after all. She turned her head to look Tristan in the eyes. Somberly, she nodded.
“Alright,” she said defeated. “I’ll go.”
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Rachel Poli is a multi-genre author with a soft spot for mystery.
She often experiments with short stories and flash fiction, however, she's currently working on the first book of her detective fiction series.
When she's not writing, she's usually cleaning, reading, or playing video games. She currently resides in New England with her zoo.