He smelled like the night, and she hated it.
Actually, if she was eig honest with herself, Lumi didn’t have the strength or endurance to hate for that long; but it wasn’t pleasant to associate the two.
Before she had met Sindri, the night was a solace – all witches liked the night. It was under the blanket of darkness they could do their work, and the sky was always richest without the blaring sun blotting out the stars. It was a comfort, the constant support from the skies above that there would always be a time and a place just for them.
The night smelled crisp and metallic as cold, clear river water running over copper, and she loved it. The night smelled subtle and refreshing.
So did he.
It was irritating when one night, she woke up and thought he was in her room somehow – in her half dazed state she awoke with a start, and blurted “Sindri?” to the darkness in confusion.
His voice came to her, startled and annoyed – but through her shadow cast by the moon. “What.”
She blinked and held her quilt up to her collarbone, realizing that he wasn’t here; not in the flesh, anyway. He was a night-thing, and the night was pure in him just as it was in the sky above her. Embarrassed, she muttered “Nothing,” and curled back up in her bed. Richmond had made a few mewls of concern before retreating back into his shell.
She couldn’t sleep, though, and Suul had flitted over to her and settled at the head of her bed, nestling against her pillow. “Problems?”
She whispered softly “He smells like the night.”
“He’s a night thing.” Lumi looked out her nearby window and sighed a little, curling in on herself tighter. “Aah, I see. Don’t fret about it. You’ll find differences soon enough, girlie.” Suul leaned forward and touched the tip of her beak to Lumi’s nose before hopping back up to her perch to sleep.
She had felt so vulnerable, those days.
Of course, she had found there was differences between Sindri’s scent and the night – for one, there was always the faint tingle of magic around him, and the smell of blood clung to his skin like spider-webs, stringy and subtle. The night was a place, a time, not a person, and she soon distinguished that.
It took many winters before she could take a deep breath, looking at the moon, and not think of him.
She hadn’t thought about him at all when she settled to sleep, into a long rest after such heartache. Witches weren’t creatures of the heart, that was a human’s job, and when they felt they felt everything.
She had faintly wondered why he hadn’t woken her up sooner, to be honest – Sindri was an impatient, cruel creature. It was uncharacteristic of him to give her solace.
He had thought about waking her earlier, as his hunger was never-ending; but she was in mourning.
That shouldn’t have mattered, but it did. She was a frail witch when it came to matters of the heart, and Suul was half of her. When Suul died, so did a piece of Lumi, and the thought of any part of her dying was surprisingly nettling.
So he let her sleep.
He wouldn’t let her go into the teens, though. A decade was long enough for any self-respecting witch, though it was often a question for debate among many if Lumi could be considered that – still, he clenched the wedding band tight around her ankle and she woke.
He could feel it from where he sat in his caverns – a sluggish, painful movement, her joints grinding stiffly as she began stretching. She was still hurting, but his stomach was a voracious master and he couldn’t just let the woman sleep her days away in a coma of mourning.
Many witches who loved their familiars, back in the ancient days, had passed away in such mourning. He hadn’t thought he had many emotions left, but concern and urgency butted against his ever expanding mind and he woke her.
It was because he was hungry, he thought to himself, and the answer was so easy he didn’t continue to think about it.
Lumi didn’t think about it either, not enough, anyway. He had woken her to eat, a simple and primal thing, and she accepted it.
Of course, the upcoming winter was different.
All winters were different, but Suul had been with Lumi for all of them, except this one. Now, Sindri wondered if she would act differently.
She was a little looser, a bit more exasperated with him, and he wasn’t sure if he liked the improvement. He didn’t like Tristan, but he couldn’t bring himself to dislike him either. Her new smelly familiar was a lot like Sisu, in a lighthearted way. Sisu might’ve had a few threads of conniving within him, but he was like his fathers – a day thing. Bright, and warm.
Tristan was in no way as charming as his youngest brother, but he was clever and observant, much like Sisu was when he was first learning. Sindri remembered the sandy skinned boy shadowing him, learning, asking questions – even when Sindri snapped to leave him alone, his littlest brother was still looking for knowledge.
Apparently, so was Tristan. Sindri had caught him snooping around and trying to read his books.
Well. Lumi needed a crutch, so the frog could stay, for now.
In a strange, twisted way, Lumi was what was most important – whether it was shown or not, she was his everything, everything he had and would ever be rested solely to her. His existence in history would surely ebb and fade as the snow melting outside if it weren’t for her. Her very presence was so soothing, at least, her footsteps echoing down the halls, her voice a quit murmur where silence slept, her scent a reminder that he was not a figment.
Her scent was very original, though, and he appreciated that. She smelled like toxins, sharp and sticky, enough to cling to the back of his throat like rot. It was a uniquely witch scent, and uniquely Lumi alone.
Eventually, that winter he found what that terrible nagging salty smell that followed Lumi around like the plague was, not her smell at all, so irritating, so invasive – a Dawn Soldier in disguise. He sliced the puppet apart, rendering it into bloody shreds.
At first, he was furious – Lumi, so clumsy as to bring one of those filthy vermin into his home – but she didn’t respond. Fear came off of her in ugly, sharp waves, and he called her name delicately. She didn’t reply, only went rigid and started to dig her fingernails into her arms.
Finally, he reached out to touch her, to brush her hair from her eyes or something that would be comforting, but she slapped his hand away shrieking “Don’t touch me!”
She left the room shivering, and he was more than confused. When he tried to track where she was, he found her out of reach, sitting in the snow outside the barrier.
He pressed his palms up against the barrier and listened – she was crying. He could hear her lungs trembling.
“Lumi,” he said aloud, and she cried harder.
She wept because she was afraid, and witches aren’t supposed to be afraid. They’re supposed to be mystical, and strong, yet she was so terrified. She was frozen stiff when she saw that sword split the air.
She was so certain she was going to die in that second.
“Lumi please,” he called gently, the voice of the night – “I would never hurt you.”
Those words were more painful that the sword would’ve been, because he said them as though he loved her, and neither of them understood such a thing. She sobbed harder, looking upwards and letting the snow hit her hot, damp face. Salty tears streaked down her thin cheeks in heavy tributaries, chemical burns smearing under her eyes, and she cried “You’re lying. You’re always lying,” and the slight shift of her feet where her wedding band lie wound around her ankle did not go unnoticed.
She couldn’t see him as he leaned his head down, thick black hair hitting the barrier. His hand slid down.
“Yes,” he said aloud – he couldn’t deny her this truth, at least. He turned to leave and heard Tristan murmur in worry “Please don’t cry…”
“I thought,” she cried, trembling and clutching herself desperately in the snow “I really thought – that sword was for me…”
He smelled like the night, and the night enveloped her fully, her hands aching from the cold.
“And I was afraid.”
Those words pierced Sindri bitterly. They blubbered from her so freely, and they shouldn’t have. Witches don’t admit when they’re scared, and he drove her to that, drove her to the snow to cry like the monster he knew he was.
He left and waited.
Hours passed, and she hadn’t entered his dwelling – a quick glance told him that she had fallen asleep in the snow. Though none could see it his mouth twisted in frustration and he gathered some furs from his room, carrying them in his spidery pitch black arms to the barrier.
Loyal, stinking Tristan. He was trying to sleep with her, a small comfort, and Sindri dumped the furs across them. He turned away instantly, bitter. “If she must sleep in the snow, then at least cover her in those furs.”
He wasn’t sure what he wanted from Lumi, but she was his. He wanted her to put up with his pranks and cruelty, but still trust him and stay with him. He had a vague idea that what he had in mind wasn’t how relationships usually worked, but witches were cut of a different cloth.
His mother had no love and managed to produce three sons, each a master in their own right – at least, he never received any love from her. Sisu might’ve gotten some from her, in quiet reprimands and worry, and Simo tried to wheedle it from her in politeness and charm, but Sindri never did. Perhaps that was why him and his mother got along; both of them would rather be alone than try to love.
Of course, then Lumi arrived, and he had to rethink some things. She was anything but an ordinary witch, which was oddly fitting for them to be married.
They were husband and wife in unholy matrimony, and for a moment he thought about how he never called her his wife. There was no love in this, and if there was he certainly couldn’t identify it, and he couldn’t stomach calling her something as sickeningly romantic as wife.
When she first came to the cave he called her darling simply to get under her skin, and it worked – but his stolen bride would get no love from him, not even if he wanted to give it to her. She probably wouldn’t accept any pet names he gave her anyway.
In their own right, though, there was a level of intimacy in their life.
The next morning, he watched her work, careful to keep his distance – he didn’t want to scare her again, and he was only thankful that she hadn’t frozen stiff outside in the cold.
She finally sighed and her shoulder’s dropped. “Stop hovering, Sindri.” He stepped out, and she looked over her shoulder, eyes dark from lack of sleep. “What do you want?”
He didn’t hesitate to say softly “Let me help you.”
She looked over to her books, biting her lower lip in thought – before she answered sharply “Fine.”
There was a certain amount of knowledge you had to memorize about a person to know what poisons worked best on them, and Sindri looked over her recipes with great curiosity. She had various concoctions set up specifically for him, and he found exchanging information with her was thought compelling – she knew her way around toxins and he wasn’t sure if his own experience could match hers.
He scoured over one of her books and quipped “Arsenic? You know that just makes me sneeze – you used it on me that winter you broke all my plates.” It took a good bit of magic to mend them, but he couldn’t recall the memory with any distain.
“That was a good winter,” She noted with a pang of nostalgia. He studied her expression for a moment.
“Two vials of hemlock, Lumi.” He might as well make the choice easy, but she spun around and sputtered in disbelief.
“Two-? Sindri, that’s too much!” Concern – what an unusual emotion to have directed at him.
“Honestly, must I poison myself?”
Her voice cracks and shrieks like bending metal when she snaps “I’m not trying to kill you!” She leaned forward to snap at him and he could smell the sunlight in her skin, the magic in her blood – it was refreshing to have her not be afraid of him.
From this angle, she could smell the night in him, the way it shrouded around him, the air around him cool and fresh.
“No? Simo is.” She flinched. “I see. You won’t help him, but you won’t help me, either.” When she looked away, finally, and ran her fingers down her sleeves in anxiety it only cemented what he thought. “So what are you trying to do?”
“I – I don’t …”
He needed her on his side, at least for a single ally. He needn’t any affection, that was smothering, he needn’t any of her lectures or other wifely things – but to just be on his side of things, that would be enough.
Perhaps that was all this “marriage” needed.
“Simo is getting impatient. If he has to go through you to get to me, he will.”
She finally sighed, exhaling through her nose. “Fine; what do you want me to do?”
Relief shivered through his form, but he wasn’t done – not yet. There was plans to be made and schemes to be fulfilled to protect his bride.
His plan wouldn’t be necessary, if she stayed. Flowers bloomed here too, there shouldn’t be a need for her to leave – but all witches hate being contained, especially Lumi. She lived in a snail, for pete’s sake, a creature that always moved from place to place.
“I wish you would stay,” he said aloud, reaching forward and caressing her cheek, feeling her skin and soft hair. “I could keep you safe here.”
Her shoulders rose a little in trepidation, and he already had his answer. He pulled away the same second she did, and he added “But you won’t.”
Finally, he could give her the work of the past decade she had slept through. The blood of the dead Dawn Guard gave it the last touches, to truly smell like the sky.
He handed over a faux head of his brother, blood spotted all over it as though he chopped it off himself. “Take this to my mother.”
She held it gingerly, sketching over it – the head was detailed perfectly.
“In the vague hope that she will keep you from harm.”
He focused on her reaction, large eyes blinking in bewilderment, the way she inclined her head ever so slightly like a curious cat, and he found the image to be familiar. He was getting used to her.
Was she getting used to him?
He couldn’t tell, not really – but when she passed by him, she brushed shoulders.
It felt natural.
Nothing about this was natural – a stolen bride, raised by a raven – a groom made of midnight and betrayal – but he found their exchanges to be relaxing, now.
She even dragged her feet leaving.
When she finally left for spring, the night sky was so fresh and endless – Lumi found she was reminded of Sindri once again.
What surprised her is that she didn’t hate it at all.