Morgan E. LaMonica
Raphael crept into the nursery. It was just around nine in the morning. Not too early as to make Griffon grumpy, but late enough that the young lord would have woken up on his own. Pulling a small stool from its comfortable corner, Raphael began dragging it to the edge of the crib. Little did he know that Lady Rakell had arranged for it to be made especially for his use, telling the nursery maids to always keep it nearby. She knew just how often the young boy snuck into the room to play with the baby, yet spoke nothing of the midnight intrusions. No harm was done, and Griffon seemed to always be happier with the little blond around.
Raphael peered over the side of the crib. Griffon blinked up at him, immediately recognizing his friend. “Ra Ra Ra!” he babbled happily, flopping onto his stomach and using the plats of the crib to pull himself upwards. He touched his nose to Raphael’s.
“Good morning, Griff!” Raphael smiled. He took the toddler under the arms and dragged him up and over the side of the crib. The weight was a little too much for the five year old, causing both to topple off the stool. Raphael rolled so that Griffon landed on top of him, knocking the wind out of the older boy.
Griffon touched Raphael’s cheeks, patting them. “Cookie?” he asked hopefully.
Raphael laughed, gently pushing the toddler off of him. “No cookie. Later,” he promised, taking Griffon’s pudgy hand and leading him out of the nursery.
“Mama, Papa?” Griffon tugged Raphael in the direction of the main sitting room, where his parents usually spent much of their time.
“We can check.”
“Mama, Papa!” Griffon repeated cheerfully. Going was slow on his toddling legs, but Raphael was very patient, going Griffon’s pace. They had to stop a few times to check on various potted plants, tug on a tapestry or two, and bang on a suit of armor. They ran away giggling after a maid flicked bubbles from her bucket of soapy water at them as they accidentally wandered onto the floor that she was scrubbing.
Finally they reached the sitting room. Rugs decorated the floor of the room, woven with simple enough designs but alive with bright scarlets, blues, and forest greens. Tall, floor-to-ceiling windows faced out to the vast estate, overseeing the grounds. Lake Faye could be see glistening in the distance. The walls were decorated with portraits of the family, the largest being over the mantle of a fireplace. A roaring fire was already going strong as the winter months were rather chilly in this providence of Verascass. Large, comfy sitting chairs surrounded the fireplace. Sitting in one was Lady Rakell, reading a rather large novel. She played with the tassels of her bookmark with one hand. Her husband was seated at a large oak desk in the corner. A hand was in his tangled auburn mane that matched his son’s. He flipped through a report, adding it to one of the many piles surrounding him. His hand left his hair to scribble a note with an ink pen before returning back to his forehead. He seemed unaware that he had just streaked black ink across his forehead and smeared it into his red locks.
They both glanced up as Raphael led Griffon into the room. “Mama!” Griffon squealed, running to his mother and colliding heavily with her legs.
“Hello, my love,” she smiled brightly down at him. She looked up at Raphael. “Good morning, Raphael.”
Raphael bowed, first to Lady Rakell and then to his lord. “Good morning, m’lady. M’lord.”
Lord Rakell beamed at him. “Morning, my boy. How is my sunspot doing?”
Raphael returned his smile. “He is happy today.”
“Good, good.” Lord Rakell glanced back down at his work then pushed it aside with a sigh. Raphael wandered over to his desk. Standing on his tiptoes, he peered at the documents, only being able to make out a few of the words. Lord Rakell laughed at the look on Raphael’s face. “I feel the same, Raph.”
“M’lord…” Raphael looked pointedly at the pen, and then pantomimed wiping his forehead.
Lord Rakell grimaced. “Again?” he asked exasperatedly, looking for his handkerchief. Raphael took it from its designated spot on the desk and silently handed it to him. Lord Rakell glanced over at his wife, who was distracted from her book by her babbling son. He turned his attention back to the small boy at his side and pressed his finger to his lips with a wink.
“She must never know.”
Raphael mimicked the gesture. “Do you want me to throw it away like the seven other ones, m’lord?”
“Yes, I think that will do quite nicely.” Lord Rakell paused. “Wait-are you keeping track?” Raphael just smiled and took the stained cloth, returning his finger to his lips. The lord laughed, and pressed his hand against Raphael’s back, nudging him back towards Griffon. “Go, and let me work, you cheeky one.”
Laughing, Raphael returned to Griffon and his mother. “Griffon, go play with Raphael.” Griffon looked up at her, his lips pursing into a pout. “I am right here, silly boy.” She rose from her chair, and picking up Griffon, placed him on the rug in the center of the room next to Raphael.
The morning passed like any other. The boy played, Raphael taking the lead in their imagined adventures as Griffon contributed with his one or two word sentences. The children did not need words, seemingly knowing exactly what the other wanted or was trying to say, especially in Griffon’s case. The lord and lady would occasionally look up from their work, and share a smile above the young ones’ heads, then return to what they were doing.
A few hours into the day, Lady Rakell finished her book. She set it beside her on the side table, and sat to watch the children. She rested her chin in her palm as she drew her legs up into the chair, her skirts bunching and not quite fitting into the seat. She watched, bemused as Raphael swooped down to tickle Griffon, flicking his nose, and tussling his hair before swooping down to blow raspberries on his stomach. They were so happy together. Noticing that she had dropped her bookmark, Lady Rakell stooped down to retrieve it. Tucking it back into her completed novel, she glanced up once more. The color drained from her face and her chest tightened.
Griffon’s hands were completely engulfed with roaring fire.
“Celestious!” Lady Rakell gasped, pressing her body against the back of the chair. Lord Rakell launched to his feet, his own chair crashing to the floor. The two parents stood with jaws dropped and looks of terror at their son, hands aflame. Griffon started to cry, just as frozen as his parents. With every wail, the flames grew bigger and hungrier, although not seeming to burn him. Raphael had scrambled backwards when Griffon’s hands had first burst into flames, but when the toddler started to sob hysterically, he crawled forward until he was directly in front of Griffon.
Raphael reached outward, ignoring the lord and lady’s cries of “Stop!” and “Raphael, don’t!” He took Griffon’s hands in his own. The flames quickly spread to his hands as well, engulfing them. Griffon looked up at him, terrified. Lord and Lady Rakell looked on in horror as Raphael continued to hold onto the toddler’s hands, refusing to let go even as he burned.
“Griffon. No,” Raphael spoke calmly, tears running down his cheeks, but even in the what must have been excruciating pain, he whispered as if telling a secret. “The fire needs to go bye bye, okay?”
Griffon shook his head frantically. “No,” he whimpered.
Raphael bit his lip, drawing blood. “You can’t make it stop?”
“No!” Griffon wailed, causing the fire to flair upwards with his cry.
“No more, Griff,” Raphael whispered and leaning forward, he blew on their adjoined hands as if blowing a candle. After a few puffs, the fire stopped as soon as it had started, leaving only wisps of smoke curling in the air above them. Raphael smiled at Griffon. “See? No more fire.” And with that, he collapsed.
Lord and Lady Rakell awoke from their stupor, surging forward. Lord Rakell snatched Griffon up into his strong arms, crushing the child to his chest. Lady Rakell moved to Raphael, letting her husband handle Griffon.
“Raphael!” Lady Rakell knelt before the small hunched figure, her billowing skirts sweeping the floor around her. “Darling, let me see,” she pressed gently. There was a moment’s pause and as she watched, tears trickled below the bouncy curls and landed on Raphael’s hands, which were held before him. She winced as they hit, but Raphael seemed to be unaware of the drops, as if…he could not even feel them. When he made no response, she took his tiny hands in her own, her long graceful fingers dwarfing his trembling ones.
The backs of Raphael’s hands were an angry, enflamed red. The smell of burning flesh drifted upwards, making the lady nauseous. Fighting the urge to gag, she flipped his hands over to assess the damage, and her breathe hitched at she witnessed the mess of flesh. The palms of the child’s hands were by far worse than the backs, since he was clasping Griffon’s hands in his own. They were covered with bubbling blisters, some having already bust and oozing pus. The entire area appear wet as the popped blisters wept and coated the red skin. Sections of the flesh had taken a whitish hue while the rest was stripped with lines. She peered closer and the nausea increased as the lines disturbingly resembled that of fingerprints.
“May the Ones help you,” she breathed before gathering the child against her chest. Rising to her feet, she turned to Lord Rakell. In a soft, yet urgent tone, she breathed, “Matthias, we must send for the doctor. Immediately.” He nodded solemnly, holding Griffon tighter in his arms. Griffon squirmed in his father’s grasp, making pathetic mewling noises as he tried to reach out to Raphael.
“Hush, sunspot. Raphael is sick right now,” Lord Rakell reprimanded, gentle but with a steel edge to his voice. The edge caused Griffon to cry out even more. He tried desperately to get to his mother, who was holding Raphael in her arms. Lord Rakell readjusted, trying to get a better grip on the squirming toddler.
Lady Rakell pursed her lips, thinking before saying, “Oh, let him down, Matthias. They seem to want to be together, even still.” Lord Rakell released his youngster with an exasperated sigh. The parents watched as Griffon toddled over to his friend, stumbling as fast as his unsteady legs could carry him. “Ra Ra Ra Ra,” he cried, falling into his mother’s skirts and tugging on them desperately, trying to reach Raphael.
Lady Rakell heard a noise and looked down. Raphael tried again. “I….I’m okay, m’lady.” He raised his head to look at her and smiled. Her heart broke at the watery smile and his next words: “It doesn’t hurt.” She hugged him tighter to her chest and begged her husband to go, using only her eyes. With a terse nod, he strode out of the room, appearing confident and calm as he left, but as soon as the door closed, she heard the pounding of heavy boots down the hall as he raced to find the family physician. She prayed that the doctor was in his quarters, helping to mend one of the guards and not on one of his many outside visits to the nearby town.
Griffon was now trying to climb up her skirts, so Lady Rakell settled back down on the floor of the sitting room. Her toddler immediately tried to join Raphael in her lap. “No, child,” she protested, holding him at bay with one hand. A gentle nudge was all it took to send Griffon backwards onto his bottom. He sat there, stunned, and then began to wail. Fat tears rolled down his cheek as he reached out, his hands clasping open and shut and stretching towards Raphael.
“Ra Ra Ra Ra!” he blubbered, refusing to be silenced as his mother tried to hush him. Raphael watched him from his view from his lady’s lap, his own eyes wet with tears. His head was tucked under her neck as she held him close, but he shifted so that he could look at her in the face.
“M’lady, Griff can sit with me. Can’t he?”
“I really do not think that is best right now, Raphael,” Lady Rakell tried to reason, “we are waiting for the doctor and we do not want your hands to get hurt.” More than the damage that is already done, she thought to herself before she could push away the feeling of dread.
“But he’s crying,” Raphael said simply, as if explaining something that she could not herself see. She looked down at his big doe eyes, wide and questioning and so innocent and forgiving. She could see that in his eyes, Griffon had done nothing wrong and could not understand why the two were being kept away from one another.
Lady Rakell tried to smile. “Alright, Raphael. If you would like.”
Before she had scarcely finished, Raphael outstretched his arms to his little friend. “C’mon, Griff! No crying!” Griffon immediately toddled forward, his face a mess of snot and tears. He quickly made himself comfortable in his mother’s lap, snuggled against her and Raphael. Lady Rakell held her breath as Griffon reached out to touch Raphael’s hand, fighting her urge to rip the boys apart.
But Griffon was strangely gentle as he felt one hand with the barest touch of one finger. “Hurt?” he asked as seriously as a two year old could.
“No,” Raphael answered just as solemnly. Griffon cocked his head to the side, exploring the damaged appendage with the one fingertip. His brow furrowed in deep concentration and then he looked at Lady Rakell. His gaze turned from her to Raphael’s hands and then to his face and then back to the hands. Griffon’s face seemed to crack as he began to cry once more.
“Hurt!” he insisted. “I hurt!”
Lady Rakell opened her mouth at his declaration, but was interrupted as Raphael surged forward in her lap. He gathered the smaller boy in his own small arms and crushed him in an impossibly tight hug. Griffon wrapped his chubby arms around Raphael’s neck and hung on for dear life, sobbing and slobbering all over the child’s shoulder. Lady Rakell held her breathe for as long as the children held each other, which seemed to be for hours, but could only have been a few moments. Soon, Raphael drew back and took Griffon’s hands in his own mangled ones. Burgundy eyes met sapphire ones in intense concentration.
Speaking slowly, Raphael began, “You didn’t mean to. Fire is good. Okay?”
Griffon sniffled before nodding. “No hurt,” he stated in wobbly yet serious voice, looking down at their clasped hands between them. Lady Rakell closed her eyes and let the tears fall, wondering at these two remarkable friends. She listened as Griffon repeated, “No hurt,” this time, in a tone that could only be described as determined. Her eyes flew open as Raphael gasped in pain.
“Raphael! What happened?” The boys were no longer holding hands, as Raphael had his clutched tightly to his chest. Tears ran down his cheeks and as Lord Rakell and the physician ran into the room, she could barely make out the whimpered response.
“It hurts so much.”
His words were forgotten as the physician came over. “Alright, let us see what is the trouble, Griffon, hmmm?” His voice was pleasant and kind but as he crouched down, he saw Raphael and his damaged hands laying in his lady’s lap and visibly recoiled. He rose stiffly and turned to Lord Rakell. “My lord, I was under the impression that your son was the one in dire need of my attentions, not a halfling.” His lip curled as he stated, “I will not treat that…thing.”
“You will do as such, if you value your position here in our home.” Startled, the doctor turned to Lady Rakell, who had risen to her full height (which was still not that much). However, combined with her icy command and the fact that she was holding two children in the air, her presence demanded attention. “This child is in need of your medical expertise, and under your oath, you will treat him, do you understand me, Doctor?” With each word, the physician shrank more and more into his billowing black robes.
“Y-yes, of course, my lady! Let me just collect my things-“ He turned to flee but was stopped by Lord Rakell, standing directly in his path. Although the thin doctor was taller than the councilman, Lord Rakell’s build made him an imposing figure.
“I do believe you had grabbed everything you needed when you thought our son was in danger.” The lord smiled without mirth and shoved the medical bag into the doctor’s arms. He clasped a hand on his shoulder and turned the flabbergasted man around none-to-gently, steering him back towards his wife. “You will treat this child as if he was our son, giving him the best treatment possible, yes?”
“Yes,” the doctor gulped, stealing quick glances up to Lady Rakell’s thunderous face. She sat stiffly as he worked, examining Raphael’s hands. With each touch, the child whimpered and made pitiful noises. Lady Rakell wondered at the changed state of the child. The doctor worked efficiently, and before long, both hands were bound in firm wrappings.
“There will be definite scarring but he appears to have no nerve damage, coming from the fact that he seems to be feeling every touch.” The physician hesitated, then half-heartedly rumpled Raphael’s blonde curls. The child was silent, taking this rather rough form of “endearment” without a word. Withdrawing his hand and wiping it inconspicuously on a cloth, the doctor turned to Lord Rakell. “I will be back every night to reapply the bandages. Send for me if anything changes.” He gathered up his things and moved towards the door. Pausing in the entry way, he turned back, as if remembering something. “If I may inquire, my lord, what caused those burns?”
Lord Rakell met his gaze. “You may not.”
The doctor blinked and after a moment, realization hit and his face flushed. “Ah I see,” he sputtered. “Good evening then.” Bowing deeply at the waist, he scurried off.
Lord Rakell went to the door and after peering down each passageway, shut the door and turned the key. He settled down on the floor before his wife. Both Griffon and Raphael had fallen asleep, wrapped in each other’s arms once more. The couple watched them for a few moments.
“What are we going to do, Elaina?”
“I do not know, Matthias,” Lady Rakell confessed, looking up at her husband with wondering eyes and tear stained cheeks. “I don’t know.”