Jurgen nailed the crudely painted sign above the door to The Salt and Bog, hoping it would steer the barflies away for a time. He was sick of turning the miscreants away personally, with their prying questions and pitiful looks. Jurgen supposed it was Nora’s doing that he hadn’t seen a single gnome all day, even if he’d sent her away in a huff the night before.
But the sanctity of a ‘gone fishing’ sign would surely be respected by the tavern’s mostly male customers. If it wasn’t… well perhaps a spell of fishing wouldn’t be a bad idea.
After barring the door behind him, Jurgan studiously ignored half-empty tankards as he made his way to the kitchen and up the stairs. The mess could wait until he cared. If he ever could care again.
His tousled bed sheets called to him, and kicking off his boots, Jurgen climbed back into bed with only a mind for seeking oblivion. Agelada. His kindred spirit forever lost to him.
The crumpled love letters on the nightstand—read and reread in a self indulgent pity party—were too tempting to rehash, so Jurgen crammed them into a drawer and dragged his hands over his face.
Then a bang on the front door sounded downstairs, and Jurgen bellowed in a wordless snarl. All he wanted was to be left alone. Tugging the blanket up over his head, Jurgen clenched his teeth and screwed his eyes shut in the hope they’d give up and go away.
But as the banging only became more insistent, Jurgen climbed out of bed with a mind to get away from The Salt and Bog and into the sheltering depths of the nearby forest. Grabbing a cloak, he pinned it around his shoulders and stuffed a bag with blankets should his travels take him further afield. His fishing pole and gear remained in the storeroom downstairs, and he snuck down to tie the equipment together with a stout leather belt.
Thankfully whoever was calling had the decency to knock on the front door, so Jurgen slipped out the back and over the fence toward the wall of trees across the field. He didn’t look back once, and nobody called out to stop him.
Spending time out in the wilds conjured mixed feelings for the enchanted troll. While he was sure he had no brethren nearby, there was something about being away from the reminders of everyday life that evoked a strange longing. It didn’t make sense—it wasn’t like he wanted to live like a beast under a bridge again—but the struggle to understand why and what he was only underlined one pertinent fact. As a talking troll who ran a tavern, he would only ever be a curiosity to others. He belonged nowhere and to no one. The only other soul who could understand that kind of loneliness was her.
The smell of damp earth filled Jurgen’s senses before the sounds of running water. The Solar River cut through the forest on its path to Edgewater, and at least upstream from the village the waters were clear and the fish in good supply. He settled onto an accommodating rock jutting from the sandy soil within angling distance, but didn’t reach for his fishing pole just yet.
Jurgen couldn’t decide if he believed in fate. If his path was guided by the hands of an intangible force, the lot he’d been given seemed all the more cruel. To find and lose someone who understood him completely—all in the blink of an eye—served no greater purpose as far as he could see. Though with the revelations of Agalada’s immortality, perhaps he’d been simply a vehicle for her enlightenment.
Jurgen reached into his pack for some bait, and a flash of light from his periphery caught his eye. Surging from the water was a glimmering lithe form, and Jurgen felt anger rise from his belly.
“Isn’t there anywhere I can go be alone?” he spat at the water nymph.
Her laughter was infuriatingly light—like the trickling of water through riverstones— and she propelled herself further from the water’s surface in a dazzling twirl. “Alone is dangerous for one in your condition. Your mood sours my landscape, and brings a heavy cloud over my domain.”
“Fine,” Jurgen grunted as he stood. “I’ll go fish someplace else.”
“I think not,” she chided. “For one who reaches through the veil would have your attention.”
Jurgen blinked at the Naiad, untrusting of her cryptic words.
“Water may not be her element, but nature is close enough.” The Naiad crooked her finger. “Come. Her spirit is roiling with turbulence. I’d not have my equilibrium disrupted much longer.”
Struck dumb, it took a moment for Jurgen to convince his feet to propel him forward. He kicked off his boots by the water and waded in upto to his knees, the Naiad meeting him half way.
“There,” she crooned, then her face took on a nasty scowl. “I’ll only suffer this intrusion once and fleetingly. If I see you near my waters again, I’ll make it my business to drown you.”
Her form swelled and morphed into something alarmingly familiar. Long curved horns sprouted from the side of her watery head and the shape of her eyes were an aching reminder of their deep brown color. He reached and stopped just short of stroking an ear which should have been velvet-soft, and felt his eyes clouding with tears.
“Jurgy,” her voice sounded off, but her pet name for him couldn’t have been conjured by a trickster nymph. “We didn’t have a proper goodbye. My soul has been restless since the explosion.”
“Agelada,” Jurgen breathed. He reached to cup her cheek, stopping just short of the swelling water. “But how?”
“I was perhaps not as truthful with you in life as I should have been. My age… and how I came to be bound to the island is something I prefer not to dwell on. But those are not secrets that consume me.” Her eyes welled with tears, strangely distinct with her watery features. “The look on your face when I destroyed the pillar. I felt no physical pain, only the tearing of my heart.”
“We could have found another way.” Jurgen shook his head and felt a tear slide down his cheek. “If Gretchen hadn’t—”
“Don’t blame her.” Agelada closed her eyes. “She was right, you know? I was so attached to this plane, I was willing to overlook the atrocities Locathil inflicted with my labyrinth. He had to be stopped, and the only way it could happen was… well, I did what was right.”
The words stung, and though they rang true, Jurgen wanted desperately not to believe them. “There’s no undoing it now. But if I… can we be together beyond the veil?”
“Don’t even think it.” The water holding Agelada’s form shuddered. “I will not welcome you there until you’re old and gray, Jurgy. You have life left to live, and I wouldn’t see your candle snuffed before time.”
The water continued to lurch, and fearful she would disappear, Jurgen abandoned the notion. “Stay. Don’t leave me again.”
“I must.” Agelada’s voice trembled. “The naiad grows impatient. But I came to tell you that I love you. And that one day, we’ll be together again. Your flame burns bright Jurgy, and you have much that lies ahead of you. Seek peace, and step forward again into the land of the living.”
Jurgen’s heart leaped into his throat as the column of water twisted, and he reached into it’s churning maelstrom as though he could pluck his beloved out. The water collapsed, and Jurgen sank to his knees in the river, the sandy bed giving under his weight. The Naiad must have thought better of returning to taunt him, as the river ‘s current once again flowed calm. Broken, Jurgen didn’t care about the water seeping into his coat or the tears flowing freely down his cheeks.
She was gone again, but he whispered the words all the same. “I love you too.”
As the author, I think I really need to make amends for his heartbreak! Falling in love with a Minotauress may have been a doomed proposition, but I just know there’s plenty of space in this guy’s big heart for happiness.