the wood-dwellers

“I assure you, we are sincere,” said Cosmodius. “These woods have been our home for a long time now.”

The lanky boy who bore too much of a resemblance to the drowned girl to be anything other than her older brother wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He looked ashamed, but mutinous, and Aramis stared at him, trying to deduce his character from his appearance.

“How long?” asked the boy, shrugging off Cosmodius’s hands, facing him. Aramis was thereby ignored. Used to being marginalised, she watched on, -she smiled at the thought- an apologetic deity. Gods didn’t apologise to mere mortals, not even when they wronged them in pursuit of their own revenge. She ought to know.

The boy’s hands curled into fists, but Aramis decided from her observation that he wouldn’t strike.

“Years” replied Cosmodius sagely; the corner of his lips twitching in what Aramis knew to be his interpretation of a wry smile. Unintentionally, hers did too, in tandem. Years indeed.

“Why has nobody seen you before, and made you leave?”

“People see what they want to see.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You certainly ask a lot of questions.”

Cosmodius’s voice was serene, his face an impassive mask. Even Aramis, who had known him all her life, could not always remove it to see the true emotions beneath the painted surface. She could only guess at her twin’s thoughts, and her guesses no longer seemed to make sense. Why would Cosmodius want to be seen by this boy when he was usually so concerned with secrecy? And why was he provoking an already troubled soul to anger? The boy’s hands were balled tighter now, and she wondered whether perhaps her assessment was wrong. But he had such a sensitive face… like his.

She flushed and the old familiar guilt stabbed her in the chest. Attempting to banish thoughts of him from her mind, she stepped forwards. She had been given a chance to meet someone she had wronged and she didn’t want it to degenerate into a brawl.

“Enough, Cosmodius,” she said then laid a hand on the stranger’s shoulder, soothingly. “Peace.”

“Get off me.” He said brusquely, but she could tell that he wasn’t as angry as he tried to appear. He turned to stare at both of them at once, sizing them up.

She laughed at the confusion appearing on his face at the disparity of appearance, only emphasised by their choice of apparel. She, in her oldest dress and with bare feet, was wild, Cosmodius, ugly but in starched shirt and breeches seemed a model of respectability. “Yes, I know. We aren’t a bit alike. Our mother always said that I took after her while Cosmodius is like our grandfather. In appearance that is, not character.”

Cosmodius stared at her, cheeks flaming, she was quiet, aware that she had perhaps said too much.  She tucked her hair behind her ears and chewed her lip.

The ice broken, the strange boy’s fists uncurled and he began to look much more relaxed then he had upon entering the park. ‘I’m Tobey,” he said, holding out a hand. The gesture puzzled her. It had been too long, she decided, since she had been in company, in the company of anyone other than her brother.

“I am pleased,” replied Cosmodius formally, bowing politely “to make your acquaintance.”

Aramis curtseyed, wondering why the boy looked so confused and mouthed “bow,” at him. Anna had never mentioned that her brother was a half-wit, but then nor had she ever mentioned his name throughout the course of their friendship. In fact, she didn’t often speak of her siblings only that they did not play with her much any more. Just as she was deciding that her assessment of his character was completely wrong, a flash of comprehension in his eyes replaced the confusion and he bowed clumsily in reply.

“Delighted,” he said. “But I’ve got to go. Parents, you know…”

“You may wish to clean your shoes first,” Cosmodius pulled his handkerchief from the pocket of his breeches with the air of a conjuror, holding out to Tobey. Tobey took it although seemed unsure about what to do with it. After hesitating for a few minutes, he walked over to the water and stood until it nearly covered the black leather, then wiped it with the handkerchief.

Cosmodius winced at how disgusting the white cloth became with the mud of the water and the vomit. “Please, keep it. I doubt any amount of cleaning could save it.”

Tobey held it at arm’s length, plainly unwilling to put it in his pocket, before hastily stuffing it in a nearby bin. “Thanks,” he said, walking over to where his things were-a long black box and a bag with two straps which was made of strange fabrics.  He picked them up then swung the bag onto his back and clutched the handle of the black box. “Maybe I’ll see you around sometime. At school perhaps. I guess you’re rehearsing for a play or something.”

Plainly Tobey still did not believe that they did in fact live there.

“Perhaps we will meet again. Farewell, Tobey.” was Cosmodius’s reply, a grave tone to his voice although Aramis knew that he was in fact  struggling not to laugh at the idea of either of them fitting into the world that he inhabited. He bowed again; Tobey looked less confused this time and replied in kind before walking off down the path in the direction of Saint Anthony’s Church.

When he was out of earshot, Cosmodius was first to break the silence. “You have spoken to him, are you now satisfied?”

“You believe that one conversation could be reparation for what we did?”

“Of course not, but I will take him under my wing. It has been a long time since I had company.”

Incredulous at his answer, Aramis returned to the woods without a word.

The End

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