197/366 – A Quiet Goodbye

Day 55 of 100 Word Prompts: Gift

“Don’t beat yourself up too much, Byron,” Dakis said, trying to get his friend to look up. “She’s done this to us before.”

“I appreciate your concern, my friend, but she was right there. She was on that balcony, and yet she slipped away once again,” Byron said, feeling his stomach tighten again as images of her smiling face flashed through his mind again. “She was right there, and I couldn’t get to her.”

“We haven’t heard any of your songs while we’ve been following her,” Dakis said. “She may not have the book anymore.”

“That doesn’t make me feel better, Dakis. That book is my life’s work. It has every song that I’ve ever written between its covers. If she did take it, I hope she has it still. I don’t know what I’d do if she had tossed it to the gutter because she thought it was worthless,” Byron admitted. “I’m afraid of what I’d do if she got rid of it.”

“I’ll be right back,” Dakis said as the door to the room opened and closed.

Byron sat on the edge of the bed. His mind was reeling from the idea that his book may be lost or destroyed. Though preferable to him than someone using his work to make money or become famous, he wanted nothing more than to have his book back so he could adequately protect it.

Dakis returned a short time later, finding Byron in the same state of despair in which he had left him. He walked up to his friend and held out a small, paper-wrapped bundle under his friend’s face.

“What’s this, then?” Byron asked, lifting his head.

“It’s a gift,” Dakis said. “I spent my last few coins on it, so you’d better like it.”

Though the words came out like a threat, Byron knew his friend well enough to not worry about it. Dakis rarely bought gifts for anyone, but when he did, they were usually wonderful things. He reached up and took the package, tearing the paper from the seam as he brought it to his lap.

Byron felt a nearly overwhelming sense of amazement as he saw the cover. It was a leatherbound tome, set with silver foil and accents around the edge. On the inside, the book featured some of the highest quality paper Byron had only ever seen in spellbooks and archives in the larger cities.

“This is too much,” Byron said, trying to protest.

“This is what you need, my friend. You know I’ll help you pursue this woman to the end of Poatia, but you need something else to focus on as well. You need an outlet for your creativity and a distraction from your gambling,” Dakis said, moving to the small desk chair that he dwarfed. “I need my friend back.”

Byron looked from the book to Dakis’ face. The man, usually full of mirth and optimism, had his jaw clenched, and stared at him with a fierce determination that Byron hadn’t seen.

“I really have been obsessed,” Byron said, “and you’ve stuck with me through hundreds of miles of travel, letting me call the shots the entire time.”

“Yes, you have, and I have,” Dakis replied with a nod.

“I’m sorry, my friend,” Byron said, looking back to his lap as shame washed over him.

“There’s nothing to be sorry about,” Dakis said, waving him off. “I just want what’s best for you, and I’m not sure that chasing this woman is the best thing for you at present.”

“What else am I supposed to do, Dakis? What other purpose do I have that is greater? All I have are my songs and my vices-”

“And your friends,” Dakis interrupted.

“And you,” Byron replied with a nod. “You have always been there.”

“Perhaps it’s time to try something new,” Dakis said. “Maybe you can begin your tour of the world now, sing your songs, make some gold, and live a happy life. Maybe you can find peace.”

Byron nodded in feigned agreement. He could see how much his friend had grown tired of their chase. Dakis, being his closest friend, was done chasing the girl who stole his book, but he knew, deep inside, that he would never stop pursuing her. He had very few principles as a vagrant bard, but he knew that finding this woman had to happen.

“We should go downstairs,” Byron said as he forced a broad smile across his face. He knew that Dakis had never been much for seeing through a fake smile, and he had a plan to make sure that his friend was able to move on with his life. “Perhaps we should celebrate the night. We could have some drinks, and play some cards. Maybe I’ll even play some music for the patrons of the inn. What do you think?”

“What are we celebrating?” Dakis asked, suddenly confused.

“A new beginning,” Byron said, this time the words were true.

Dakis stared at him for a long moment, trying to see through the practiced smile of his friend. Trying to see some seam in the armor that Byron wore as a scam artist, and resigned himself to accept the bard at his word as he stood from his seat.

“Alright then,” Dakis said, rubbing his hands together. “Let’s get moving.”

Byron was on his feet in a flash, making a show of tucking the book into his bag before picking up his lute and practically running to the door. Though Dakis couldn’t see it, Byron’s movements felt sluggish to him as he was not looking forward to what needed to be done.

“I’ll make sure the door is locked,” Dakis said, producing the iron key and turning it until the latch clicked loudly.

Byron winked at his friend, readied his lute, and began to play, singing loudly as he danced down the stairs to the common room of the inn. The Troublemaker, a song written by Alvaro Tarragona, a long-dead bard, came out in perfect clarity as he walked down the stairs. Every patron turned to follow the music, even the minstrel on the small stage.

Byron’s fingers flew through the chords of the song, his voice matching the rising and fall of the melody until he reached the center of the room, ignoring the dirty look the minstrel was giving him. When he finished the song with a flourish of quick finger-picking, the twenty-five people in the room clapped enthusiastically at the performance.

“Thank you! Thank you!” Byron called over the noise as he bowed. “I need a drink and a deck of cards, my friends.”

As though by magic, the drinks came, a dozen at least, and a deck of cards materialized on a soon to be full table. Dakis reached the bottom of the stairs, eyeing his friend skeptically as the other patrons patted his friend on the back and set drinks of ale and liquor before him at the table.

“Ah, Dakis!” Byron boomed, motioning for his friend. “What do you say to a quick game of cards, a handful of drinks, and a few more songs tonight? Perhaps we can stay for a week, or even a month? Who knows? Tymora herself may favor us in this town on our new journey.”

Dakis, seeing his friend’s cheer, felt a sense of relief wash over him. He knew in his gut that things would be alright. This was the Byron he had known for years, and it had pained him to see him locked away from the masses. He moved to the table, pulling out a chair as the three remaining chairs filled with random patrons.

“Who’s up for a game of Cannons and Spirits?” Byron asked as he slid a glass of liquor across the table to Dakis.

Byron scooped up the cards, shuffled them quickly, and dealt them with the skill of a professional casino dealer. He had played this game many times before, as had Dakis, and few could hold a candle to them.

The hours passed, bringing them well into the evening. Byron played a few songs to keep the drinks coming, though he barely touched his. Dakis didn’t notice how little his friend was drinking, though he continued to pound his boot on the floor to the rhythm of the music and played cards with an ever-changing group of people.

“Byron, I think we should call it a night soon,” Dakis said, the words catching in his mouth. He was as drunk as he had ever been and wasn’t sure he should drink anymore. “I think it’s time for us to get to bed.”

“You go ahead, Dakis,” Byron said, his lute in hand. “I’ll sing you lullabies from down here to help you sleep.”

Dakis stumbled up the stairs, turning to see his friend before he was out of sight. It was good to hear the laughter surrounding Byron and the attention on him. Things would get better now, he knew in his heart. Things would move forward the way Tymora wanted. There was no doubt about that.

Byron continued playing and gambling with the drunkards for an hour after Dakis had gone to the room. Byron collected his coin from the barkeep and the table before returning the cards from whence they had come. He said goodnight to the men and women that groaned and complained that they weren’t done with their night as he climbed the stairs.

Byron pushed through the door and found Dakis passed out and snoring loudly on one of the two beds. The smile vanished from his face as soon as the door was mostly closed behind him. He looked at his friend with a sad smile as he picked up his bag and walked back to the door.

“I’m sorry it had to be like this, Dakis,” Byron whispered. “But you have followed me longer than any others would. I thank you for your dedication and friendship for all this time, and may Tymora smile upon our chances of meeting one day again.”

Byron closed the door quietly behind him. The sound of the remaining patrons in the common room echoed up the stairwell as they sang some more songs off-key at deafening volume. He turned away from the stairs leading down and walked to the window at the end of the wall.

With a final glance back at the room in which his friend slept off his alcohol, Byron leapt from the window, landing in the dark ally below. He pulled his hood up, checked that his nearly full coin pouch was securely tied, and began the next leg of his journey alone. He would find the woman that stole his songbook, and he would do alone now.


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