Trkasu had grown very used to being alone in the dungeon. Dinner, when brought to him, was rarely accompanied by anything but silence. He’d always been used to being alone. But it was a little different surrounded by scorpions. Especially as the babies aged, curled in his hair and talked about finding new territories. He had settled for spreading the pillows across the floors for multiple dens. And for trying to watch them when he could. There wasn’t enough room for babies to live comfortably. It wasn’t as though he could explain to the insects what not to do. There was no real word for that in scorpion speak.
Which was why he was startled by a knock at his door, staring up blankly for a moment and trying to remember why anyone would knock on the basement door. Lifting a few of the scorpions off his sleeve, he pushed himself from that position he’d taken laying on the ground, moving his lame leg forward and tucking it into the first comfortable position he found. “You may come down.” It was just loud enough to be heard.
The door creaked loudly, as it always did. "Excellent!" came Roderick's unmistakable voice, as the lord stepped quickly downstairs. "I haven't come down in ages, Trkasu, and I'm sorry for taking so long... I've made artichokes. I do hope you like them." He reached the bottom and handed Trkasu the plate before sitting down on a wooden stool.
"I am sure they are fine." Trkasu nodded slightly, accepting the plate and placing it in front of him. Although he wasn't hungry, he knew better than to try and avoid it. Which was why he took the fork and ate a bit, nodding again. "It is not as though you may be in late in bringing me food. There is no need to apologize."
"Oh," Roderick laughed, "I've just spent too long among politicians."
Trkasu gave a small nod at that, taking another bite of the food. He was almost used to being apologized to like that by various people, although it always seemed odd. “You may simply remember that it is never needed to apologize to me.”
"Ah, right..." Roderick smiled warmly at him. "We've argued about this before, haven't we? No matter; we'll never agree and I'll still feel guilty for leaving you here all alone. How have you been?"
"I have been as well as I am." A small nod from Trkasu as he set the food down next to him, never hungry enough to eat the majority or really even the minority of the food. And he paused for a moment, trying to recall what a conversation tended to mean. "And you?" It was spoken in his typical monotone, though perhaps with a hint of apprehension, unsure if it was what was meant to be said.
Roderick shook his head slowly, still smiling. "You don't want to ask how I've been, really. In fact, lately I've just been wishing I were dead. Which is– no, never-mind. How are the scorpions?"
That was an unusual response and most certainly something Trkasu hadn't been expecting. It took a moment of staring at Roderick before he gathered one of the young scorpions into his hands. "They are comfortable and well, although they are somewhat crowded here."
"Oh, dear. Er... perhaps they'll do better when we're all forced out of the castle. You could give them a woodpile or something in that cottage I mentioned earlier– do you remember when I warned you about the armies?"
"The armies, yes." It took Trkasu a moment to consider any response to that. He had the feeling it wasn't something most people ever had to consider responding to, at least not really. His knowledge of normal might have been limited, but it was still there. "They may enjoy a woodpile, though I am unsure many would know what to within one."
"Er, I've been stung by a scorpion living in a woodpile before, so I do think they would enjoy living there." Roderick leaned forward on the stool, and rested his elbows on his knees. "At least, I hope so. They haven't much of a choice. Although you should be able to return to the castle after a while, when everything settles down again... I've no idea how it will turn out, but surely you'll be able to come back here, right? I mean, the scorpions won't be a threat to their dictatorship!"
And there was silence from Trkasu. Although he rarely had any idea what to say, it was only worse when he only had a vague idea of what Roderick was even saying. It was unnerving. And not something he enjoyed. "They will be very good then. I am sure they are no threat, though they will likely enjoy the outdoors." At the least he could try and respond to questions in his same and typically used monotone.
"Yes, yes. Well, I..." Roderick licked his lips and looked about the room, apparently on the verge of saying something. "Sorry, this is certainly not something you are wanting to deal with now! I've just been, er, rather lost lately. Entirely out of my depths, you could say, and it does me no good to be worrying about the rest of the province. See, I lead a far too exciting life; the sort of life not well suited for... raising scorpions, or living normally, or– do you know what I mean? By all the gods, I'm sitting here worrying about entire armies!"
Trkasu almost wished he could simply say that he had no idea what Roderick was talking about, which was wholly true. But he had promised himself that he would attempt to be better at what he wasn't. And that most certainly included conversation. "Perhaps you ought worry on those rather than upon speaking to me?" Which wasn't what he meant. It was all he could think to say, though. And he wasn't sure if it was right or wrong or simply something no one else would have said. "I have never known worries such as that."
Surprisingly, Roderick seemed to find this amusing. "I should hope you've never worried about that!" he laughed, "and, er, I came down to speak to you simply because I've been agonising about everything else. It's a welcome relief, talking to someone who isn't judging my every word."
Almost all human interaction went over Trkasu's head. It was only good because he knew it that and could accept occurances that made no sense to him with relative ease. "I do not judge people. There is no reason to do so." The scorpions were crawling up his arms and settling in his hair, though he whispered to one and that crawled to the stool with Roderick, managing to grip his foot and pant leg.
"My point exactly," Roderick said, and turned to watch the scorpion.
More silence from Trkasu, sometihng he was very good at. And the scorpions clicked around his ears, the one climbing Roderick attempting to climb higher and finally getting a grip. "That is..." He paused for a few clicks, speaking the name and trying to find a suitable translation. "Sweet-food."
"Yes! I remember." Roderick reached down and let the scorpion crawl up his hand. "He's very bold... I like his personality."
"He enjoys exploration." Trkasu nodded, stroking the back of one of the scorpions that was tugging on his hair to build a little nest. "And people. If you wish, he would likely enjoy to be taken for a tour of the castle with one who is not me."
Roderick held the little creature up to his face, where it began trying to crawl onto his shirt. "Perhaps I'll take him to my next meeting, then. Will he sting anyone?"
"There is little chance of that. Sweet-food is quite friendly and enjoys the company of people." Trkasu glanced up from his own scorpions then, almost smiling as the little scorpion crawled to a tradtional place onf Rodrick's shoulder and curled up.
"Blast," Roderick said, good-naturedly. "Perhaps I can train him to attack the Lady Consort, though?"
Trkasu paused for a moment, considering that for a long moment. "It is simple to explain who and how to attack. Sweet-food is quite intelligent."
"On second thought, that would be a horrendous idea. But it's still very tempting."
"If it is ever wished for or needed, it is a simple command." A pause from Trkasu as he glanced back at Sweet-food and Roderick again. And, softly, he clicked out instruction. Which was why the scorpion quite suddenly crawled onto Roderick's head.
Roderick started, before relaxing again with a nervous chuckle. "I... see. Very impressive, indeed! And they don't mind following your orders?"
"They know I am larger than them and able to give commands. They do not need more." More soft clicks and Sweet-food returned to Roderick's shoulder a bit slower than he'd scrambled up.
"I wish people were the same way," Roderick sighed. "You would think that simple logic would be good enough, but..."
"People may be, but the language twists." That was something Trkasu understood, stroking his fingers down a few of the scorpions' back.
"Er... 'twists'? What do you mean by that?"
"It is unclear." A pause, as Trkasu attempted to think it through. And not to think it in another language. "Humanity has taken language where animals do not."
"Beyond the more obvious practical uses, you mean? To include things like manipulation, and emotions, and honour?" Roderick stroked the scorpion's back, looking almost wistful. "Scorpions have it easy, don't they."
"Animals do not bring those into consideration." Trkasu nodded slightly, glancing up again and managing to take another small bite of the food he'd almost forgotten. "Here, the scorpions have no worries. It is perhaps very easy."
"There are differences in easy." Trkasu paused, considering the words. "They have little effort needed, but they have many disputes between territory and their food."
"But surely not as many as we do?" Roderick asked, looking thoughtful.
"These disputes here are small, as I am able to change their environment." Settling back against the wall slightly, Trkasu adjusted one of the scorpions on his shoulder to keep from being stung.
"And they trust you completely? You must have a lot of power in their eyes! How lucky they are, no?"
That actually made Trkasu almost blush, though with his control it was only a faint darkening on his cheeks. "I am able to move the cushions they consider their territories. I am unsure they are lucky."
Roderick waved a hand. "If you can change boundaries by moving pillows around, and they follow your orders, then I am certain they are lucky. Say, have you read any interesting books lately?"
"Perhaps I am lucky." But Trkasu blinked at the subject change. He had grown far too used to the scorpions. "I have not. I do not often remember that I am able to leave and enter the library freely."
"Oh. Well, you can, and please don't forget! My house is your house, as the saying goes, and it will quite literally become the case when... er, when I'm executed. Which is another sort of thing that normal people rarely have to deal with, right? I'd apologise for bringing it up again, only you said earlier that... never-mind." He rested his head on his hands, and returned to petting the scorpion.
And silence on Trkasu's part seemed like a good idea, at least for a few moments. "I do not believe it is best for the castle to come to me." He didn't want to think about the execution part, something that unnerved as much as his own utter lose for words and wish not to be lost. For one of the first times in his life, Trkasu truly wished he knew what people said or did in situations. Any kind of situation, he was sure, would have helped. "I do not believe most people need deal with that, unless it is execution by age." Which sounded awkward when he said it in the human tongue, but not as much in the other languages filling his mind.
"As I said," Roderick sighed, "the castle doesn't need to be yours if you don't want it. But I am going to die, almost certainly within the month. They– the other lords, that is– they told me I should flee to some other province while I still can. I should settle down somewhere and raise a family and forget that the commoners once considered me their greatest hope and that they are all being killed for my sake... but I can't leave, Trkasu! I can't just walk out, and leave such a tangled mess behind me!" He was on the verge of tears now, and his voice caught in his throat. Roderick closed his eyes for a moment and swallowed. "By execution, I mean hanging or beheading, if I'm lucky, but more likely they'll– Look, if you want me to stop, and pretend that this is a normal conversation about normal things, then please tell me now. I– I'm sorry for getting into all of this."
"I do not know what normal conversation is." Which was the truth and possibly not the best thing Trkasu had ever said. He was at a loss again. And had the feeling there was somethng he could do. But human social instincts were mostly missing from his mind, overruled by many different animals. But he paused for a long moment, staring down at his feet and the scorpions that had surrounded him. "But if you wish to speak, there is no need to stop. I am able to listen." That was the only thing he could think of to say as he warred with the different instincts in his head, trying to determine what was correct and what not.
"That is very kind of you, Trkasu. Thank you. And, thank you also for your honesty about not knowing about conversations and all that... I appreciate it very much." Roderick watched the scorpions at Trkasu's feet for a moment before suddenly hiding his face in his hands. "It's just that I can't– I've failed, with everything. I don't expect you to understand what I mean, but I'm... it's..." Roderick trailed off, his shoulders trembling, and Trkasu realised he was crying.
Trkasu turned to look at Roderick. It was a long moment he sat there, staring at him. And then he managed to try and shift to his feet, just getting into the standing position without grabbing for his cane. And he limped a few steps to beside Roderick. Not that he knew what to do then. He had only the vaguest idea of anything right then. But, after a moment, he set one hand on Roderick's shoulder. "I do not think you have failed." Not that he knew what Roderick had been trying to do.
"I have," Roderick whispered, his face still hidden. "I had an idea of what I wanted, this stupidly idealistic idea of disrupting the government that has served the world for centuries, and I thought it would be a feasible goal... I was almost killed in Jukkiss, you know, for much less. And when I arrived here, a group of rebels found me and then– I agreed to help! I had already failed once, I only knew what not to do!"
"But it is different. And perhaps people have... seen the difference." Trkasu hesitated as he spoke, voice growing slightly quieter even as he did. Because what he was saying likely meant nothing at all. It seemed to work that way often enough. But he kept his hand on Roderick's shoulder because he didn't know what else there was to do. And even in the animal kingdom physical contact could be used for something good. That he could work off, at least.
"What difference?" Roderick asked bitterly, "I was a fool then, and I'm even more of a fool now because I've already caused innocent deaths and now half the province is up in arms and they will not settle down even though they'll all be killed for it in the name of freedom... you're being very helpful, by the way, despite the fact that you have no idea what the hell I'm talking about. Thanks." He turned to grin at Trkasu, his face wet with tears.
Trkasu remained still for a moment, always astonished at the thought of being helpful. Or anything but useless, in truth. Which was why he paused nervously for a moment standing there, very still. "It my be a difference because they know what it is. And want it. Freedom is something..." And Trkasu had to pause then because he almost had something of an idea of what Roderick was taking about then. There was an idea of the verge of his mind, somewhere there. He almost continued the statement in bird, but stopped that after a chirp. "If they now know what freedom is, it is perhaps better than not knowing." He wasn't going to even touch on the idea of being helpful himself.
"Yes, I know what you mean. It's an excellent point, but... they're all going to be either miserable or dead as soon as they lose that freedom. And then what have we accomplished?"
"It's different to know." Trkasu spoke a bit softer than, staring at the wal in front of him. The scorpions had settled at his feet again, curled up comfortably there. He was trying to remember what Alidon had done when he was crying. Even if it had seemed unnatural to him, it seemed to be more normal to the others. "They may not have known it before, but they will not forget now."
Roderick wiped his face and calmed his breathing. "And so their children will rise up and wage the same pointless wars as their parents... no, it's better if everyone remains oppressed forever! Haven't you heard tales of the dog that tastes human flesh and can no longer survive without it?"
"That is untrue." Animals were something Trkasu could always speak on, even if he wasn't thinking about it. "It is a false analogy to assume such a thing. There is no animal who will, upon consuming on type of flesh, be unable to survive without it. Nor is human flesh something any animal will seek without training."
"It's not whether or not it's true, but... the training, that's what I mean. If people are, er, trained to go seek liberty and all that, then they can't go back. And if such liberty is impossible, we're all condemned to misery forever. As I said, it makes more sense to–" Roderick paused a moment, scowling. "Funny, isn't it, how I don't actually believe what I'm saying? Sorry, I am just so terribly confused."
"I am not sure that I one to know this. I have never known freedom." Trkasu stopped speaking, considering his next words carefully. It was hard to say the next words, the next thought really. Because Roderick was upset and Trkasu didn't know what he was saying, not wholly. It was all very confusing. "I believe that those who seek freedom and those that fight for it must have believe before, for I still fear the actions and ideas that may lead to it." It sounded awkward. But the thoughts he'd let go, that he'd tried to follow, had reminded him of what Alidon had done. Not that he was sure he could repeat the action.
"You fear... yes, well, that's reasonable." Roderick closed his eyes again, visibly trying to compose himself. "And you don't believe in freedom, not at all? At least, by your definition of the word..."
"I do believe in it. Simply, for other people." That was something Trkasu could do. And although he paused, nervous, hand almost shaking as he considered the action choices he had. He chose another still moment, hand still on Roderick's shoulder.
Roderick cleared his throat and briefly met Trkasu's eyes. "I'm frightening you, aren't I? Your hand is trembling, I didn't mean to confuse you like this– you needn't worry about all of this, really. You needn't even listen to me, as by all the gods there's no hope for either of us! Perhaps I should just go."
"It is not you that are frightening me." A short pause from Trkasu as he turned the options in his head again and again, looking away from Roderick's eyes quickly. "And it is not your words. I am glad to be trusted, though it is unusual" It was very difficult to think of options that he had never considered before. It made it far more complicated that he had not enjoyed it overly much. But Alidon had indeed implied it was commonly enjoyed. And the consideration meant he didn't act, though he did still his hand.
With a brisk laugh, Roderick asked, "Surely you don't expect me to believe you find this enjoyable? Listening to me rambling on about nothing in particular?"
Telling Roderick that he found almost nothing enjoyable would have been a bad idea and even Trkasu could guess that. Which was why he remained silent for a long moment as he considered his different options for what to say. "It is not that it is enjoyable or unenjoyable..." But he couldn't complete the sentence. Because he didn't understand it himself. And, after another moment that lasted longer in his head then it really did, he shifted on his feet and... gave Roderick a bit of a hug. It wasn't much of anything, just one arm around the other's shoulders and a small squeeze before he nervously fell very still. Things such as that did not come easily to the reticent young man.
It took several awkward seconds before Roderick returned the hug, wrapping his arms delicately around Trkasu and holding the embrace for a long moment. "Thank you, again," he whispered in Trkasu's ear before untangling his arms and rising to his feet. Roderick grinned, looking truly happy for the first time that night. "Now, I'd best get going. You ought to come upstairs more often, as I doubt I shall be able to come down again anytime soon."
"I will do my best to recall that at a later date." Even if Trkasu knew it was unlikely. He would do his best to remember because he had just the smallest of hopes that he had done something good, possibly something useful. And that was enough to put a bit of drive in him. "And you are welcome, though I have done nothing out of the ordinary." Trkasu's knowledge of normal was very limited, as was his opinion of himself.
Sweet-food crawled onto Roderick's hand, and he handed the scorpion back to Trkasu. "Considering that neither of us are anywhere near ordinary," Roderick laughed, "I would deem that an impressive feat! Good evening, Trkasu. Enjoy the rest of your meal."
Trkasu paused and nodded at that, accepted Sweet-food back and placing the scorpion lightly on his shoulder. "Good evening." He bowed his head slightly in acknowledgement of the rest, though he could think of nothing comparative to say to Roderick.
After bowing deeply, Roderick turned and walked upstairs.