reading halfway gone
Ringabel leaves her a wad of paper one day, misfit sheets bound together by string and covered with leather to become a makeshift book and be brought up with her morning tea and breakfast. Agnès eyes the book as she munches on plain toast, idly thinking of how she has been praying at the earth crystal too long. Though she also has the excuse of mending relations with the Duchy and reaching out to those of the faith who were isolated and persecuted in Eternia when the Duchy took over, it has still been too long. Other crystals, other vestalings, others of the faith need her attention. She cannot stay in this frozen country, praying for another miracle. Praying Tiz would wake and knock on the glass of the stasis chamber, asking to be let out, insisting he was fine even though he was obviously not and she is certain they will all ground him to bed rest for a month each if he says something like that after all the heartache he’s caused but it was such a thing he’d say. And he would be awake.
She just wants her friend to wake up. They say he should have by now. Nothing is wrong with his body. It’s something about his mind… she and Ringabel and Edea have already gone over the letters he had left with Karl, trying to figure out what exactly his condition is or at least how it was caused, but to Tiz it had been a fairly simple matter: he had apparently died at Norende and must have either forgotten or blocked it out, the Celestial had revived him as a measure against Ouroboros’ plan, and now that everything was done, the Celestial would go back to its own life, and he to his own death. To read his own words and ignore where drops of water had blotched the letters, it was a plain and simple matter, and he didn’t want any of them to feel sad over it because he was so glad to have had the chance to meet them and he was hopeful of seeing his family again.
Except he hadn’t died, only fallen unconscious, steadily breathing but never once stirring. They’re not even fully convinced he did die at Norende; his letters say nothing of how, and when he mentions forgetting once and nothing of remembering since, well. Is the Celestial itself at fault for Tiz’s condition, was he damaged somehow by being possessed? It still stands out in Agnès mind, the moment when Edea had said that they shouldn’t doubt too much, Tiz’s explanation could be all there was to it, Ringabel was proof that sometimes the mind blocked memories that were too traumatic, and Ringabel had burst out that in his personal opinion it made no sense at all, that Tiz had been traumatized by surviving his entire community, that, hell take it all, he probably would have found it comforting to know he was a dead man walking and would keel back over as soon as it didn’t inconvenience anyone too much.
Ringabel has not yet forgiven Tiz or the Celestial. Not completely. Tiz had been like a brother to him, and Agnès knows the fact that Tiz saw him off to take care of his own affairs with a smile and a cheerful goodbye, not admitting to having any troubles himself, eats at him. It eats at her too. How could it not? Tiz had always said she should share her burdens with him, but he had not trusted her the same way.
That thought breaks Agnès’ reverie as she catches the tears rising. She sighs while brushing them away—crying has happened too often lately, she can’t start this early in the day—and then reaches for the odd little book. Ringabel is angry and twisted up about the situation, and sometimes he goes a little strange, a little more like Alternis, unable to speak openly or sometimes even at all until Agnès and Edea have allowed him time to calm down, but he has always tried to be protective of them through this trial. He’s exchanged books with Agnès before: they both have some fondness for poetry, romantic novels (though sometimes their tastes differ greatly within the genre), and occasionally he’s given her more humorous books just to try and make her laugh. His last gift was such, and she wouldn’t be surprised if this was another such attempt. Although pieced together like this, she has to wonder if she’ll be sighing at his own idea of wit…
But the pages within the book don’t hold words, but pictures, and the slightly unfortunate condition of the book is completely understandable now that she’s cracked it open. All the pages are from Ringabel’s own journal—cut out and put together with the greatest care, and now Agnès' eyes are stinging again because she knows how dear Ringabel’s journal is to him, how great a sacrifice it must have been for him to ruin its integrity and a portion of its contents, and because the pictures—
The pictures are of Tiz when he was healthy and lively, not thin and pale with cords and needles tethering him within a chamber of fluid. One is from when Ringabel was Alternis, a drawing of Tiz as the warrior and force to be reckoned with, determined as he held sword and shield. Most are from when Ringabel was their companion, and these pictures of Tiz are gentler, idle sketches made simply because Ringabel was bored at the time. One of Tiz in his monk outfit, yawning in the early morning. A couple of him sparring, either alone or with her or with Edea (and though Agnès is still teary-eyed, she smiles a bit at how a then clearly jealous Ringabel had also doodled Tiz with a stupid-looking face in the corner, only for him to have later added a note, likely as he compiled the drawings, that she should ignore that little bit because it was obviously drawn by some rude prat far less mature than him). Tiz consulting a map. A beautifully detailed drawing of Tiz and her napping against each other, both tired but content; Ringabel had seized the opportunity of having still models. Some of these she has already seen before—Ringabel had in fact teased them with that last one after they’d woken up, telling Tiz that he’d only have to do a small favor if he wanted a copy—some of them must have been hidden away in margins, for if she has seen them before, they’ve escaped her memory until now. So many little pictures and memories of Tiz. She is so happy Ringabel took the time to give them to her, because this is how she wants to remember Tiz: as her friend and companion, with his love and his strength.
And she is crying, forced to shut the book before her tears splash on it, because this is clearly a gift for her to remember Tiz by. Because the physicians and healers have been saying for weeks now that he’s unlikely to ever wake, he should have already if he ever would, and now… now Ringabel thinks so, too.
She can’t keep praying to the earth crystal and watching her hope die. She needs to leave this country, before the grief fully sets in and her heart freezes like the land.