It was raining
Aramis barely acknowledged the first droplets of rain that dotted her nose like freckles, so intent was she on picking mushrooms. Cosmodius’s words were still ringing in her ears. That morning, at breakfast, he had announced that Tobey was coming to visit and that she was to gather the fungi for him to eat- however, she was under no circumstances to speak with him or make a nuisance of herself. Then he had locked her out of the house to do whatever he did every day, alone in the dark rooms. Fuming at what seemed like unwarranted censure, she carried out her tasks distractedly, even taking little notice of the natural world with which she was usually so engaged. Why mayn’t I talk to him? Why should my presence be a nuisance? Why mayn’t I have friends?
She had been out for several hours now with her wicker basket; the sun had reached its highest point almost unseen in the blanket of light grey clouds and was beginning to sink into a September afternoon. These were the hours to be wary- when young children visited the play areas and older boys played football on the neatly-mowed lawns- although even then it was rare that a person would roam into the wilderness at the edge of the park, barely touched by human civilisation since Anna.
Aramis wondered whether this part of the park symbolised grief, in that in spite of the obviousness of its presence, nobody looked at it too closely. She wondered if, therefore, she too symbolised grief and laughed a bitter laugh. Two sparrows, alarmed at the sudden sound, alighted. As their small wings flapped and beat the air, a profound sense of ennui enveloped her, discontentment throbbing in her bones.
Suddenly, she heard footsteps on the wooden slats leading to the woods and turned to watch, invisible in the shadows. With the intense gaze of a wild creature, she scrutinised the stranger with his outlandish clothes. She recognised him as the boy of the previous day. Tobey, the brother.
“Cosmodius! Aramis!” he called out.
He gave no indication of having seen her- how could he have done? - and continued to walk along the path towards where she stood at the edge of the trees, hidden from his view, hidden in plain view. His strange garments, which were the same as he had been wearing the previous day, were dishevelled and he walked like a defeated man in spite of the nervous expression on his face. With a sudden jolt of empathy, she realised that something was hurting Anna’s brother. Compassion welled up in her eyes. I want to help.
Just about to step out into his line of sight, she remembered Cosmodius’s orders. She wasn’t to talk to him. Her hands unconsciously curled around an imaginary bow with frustration and she suppressed an exasperated shriek. Then she turned and disappeared into the woods and along the hidden paths, unperceived by Tobey.
“Cosmodius?” she knocked on the door with an urgency that surprised herself. Why do you take such a keen interest in the boy’s misfortunes? It didn’t seem to make sense, except out of some misguided sense of loyalty to her former friend. She knocked again, harder, but as she stood there, she could hear the notes of her brother’s lyre- sunshine pouring out into their dark abode and overspilling into the trees nearby- and knew, in the same way that she knew that the boy needed them, that he would not heed her.
What am I to do now?
She was alone
Except for the boy.
She returned equally swiftly to her basket in the grass and tried to concentrate on the task that she has set out to do, but found she had no interest in it. She looked up again. Tobey’s voice was quieter now, disappointment settling like a cloak on his bony shoulders. He was giving up, and he wouldn’t be back.
“Cosmodius!” he called, stopping where he was. As he shouted, the sound of a final attempt making his voice less definite, with his hands raised to his mouth to amplify the sound, she saw his sleeves roll up to reveal several lurid bruises. Livid seemed the best word to describe him, both the purple of the contusions and the white skin surrounding them, in fact, the stringy youth in his entirety. “Cosmodius?”
She was about to reveal herself, her compassion overcoming her loyalty to her brother, her desire to help greater than her desire for a quiet life, when she remembered what had happened last time. She remembered Anna. She remembered him, the sounds the sight, the feeling of her bow snapping in her hands as she had fallen to her knees and sobbed… then she turned away. It was better this way. What harm could it do? Plenty. Another laugh, bitterer still, and she tore a mushroom from the ground as if it had personally offended her.
“Aramis? Are you there?”
At the sound of her name, she turned to look again, as, to her surprise he sat down heavily on the path, head in his hands, and began to cry noisy sobs that echoed in the still September drizzle. Tentatively, silently, she emerged from the grass, the decision made for her. Surely Cosmodius could not object to her comforting the boy if the alternative was that he never came again? That is my reasoning, and I care nothing of whether he punishes me for it afterward so long as I can know that I have helped in some small way. So she walked towards him and sat herself beside him on the wooden path, her arm around his shoulder as he sobbed.