“Shit,” Nott swears, shaking out her hand. “Shit. Fuck.”
Luke would laugh if he could see her now. Laugh, and then get on her case for swearing. That’s one of the downsides of having a partner who never says anything fouler than darn. She loves Yeza, she really does, but some days she wishes he would spit out that glob of soap he keeps wedged underneath his tongue.
The acid skids off her skin and lands on the grass, sizzling faintly before eating away at the blades of grass by her foot and fading, content. Nott sighs, sucks on her finger until the pain ebbs, and bend over her shard of glass again.
“Fucking temperamental acid,” Nott mutters. “You see this? You see this, Caleb? Yeza says, Oh no, try distilled sulfuric acid instead, and I say, okay yes dear but hydrochloric has worked for as well as I’ve used it, and he says, but you keep burning yourself, like hydrochloric acid won’t work just as well! Idiot,” she adds fondly. “He’s an idiot. He’s my idiot. He made honey-almond bread yesterday. Beau brought honey for it. You’d have loved it.”
Nott bends over her work, hair tied tightly back, more careful this time as she drips acid onto the ruby-red piece of glass in her hands. The sun is high and bright overhead, and she has to be careful as the glass catches that light and shatters it around her, painting the grass and stone around her beautiful hues of scarlet.
Another few careful drips, and a thin, neat hole emerges from the glass. Nott lets out a pleased a-ha! and holds her work up to the light.
She gives it a few little spins, taking a moment to be pleased with her work. She’s gotten really good at these. She sold them one year, during their autumn markets, before realizing she wanted to keep these to herself, and switched over to selling bottlecap trinkets instead.
“Jester brought me this,” Nott says, placing the shard in the makeshift pile growing at her toes with the rest of its brothers and unspooling bright blue thread and wedging it between her teeth. One of the nice things about being halfling again is that she can stick things in her mouth without them tearing. Which, as Fjord is so fond of reminding her, isn’t normal halfling behavior, but Fjord can go eat it, honestly. She’s not green anymore anyway, so she has to listen to him even less than she did twenty years ago, back when she still was. “She wanted to come today, you know. But I told her she could come later. Or tomorrow.”
Nott lines up all the pieces of glass by the carefully-scratched holes of acid through their crystalline necks and begins, slowly, to weave the thread through.
Her skin itches a little with the heat of the sun. Not that she minds; she has a hard time minding anything about this physical form, really. She worked so hard and for so long to get here. She remembers very well how the feeling of sunlight was a faint, persistent burn along her skin, how her goblin teeth were only made for eating meat and how it sat, fatty and heavy, along her tongue for hours afterward, thick and unpleasant. It’s the little things, she’s found. Like the taste of honey from the Zemni fields, light and sweet.
“I bought Luke a little suit yesterday,” Nott says as she works, head still mindfully bent over her work, eyes keen for any remaining drips of acid, for the razor-sharp needle wielded in her right hand. “The wedding’s next week. He keeps worrying about the ceremony, poor boy, but Yeza and I tell him that’s normal, you know, to be worried before you marry. He doesn’t seem to take our words to heart, but then again, it’s one thing to hear it from someone and another to feel it for yourself.”
Nott holds up half of her work. In the beginning, each pattern had meaning. There are a couple here of one color, all in different shades of cobalt, in different shades of blue, of green, of purples-and-pinks, of grays-and-whites. Nott had meant to keep making them in that scheme until one day Jester visited with her and told her, rather offhandedly, that it looked sort of sad like this, without much color.
Now her patterns are random, and Jester is right — they’re much more lively for it. Reds and yellows and oranges, all strung together and gleaming happily in the sun. Nott likes it better. Those were more Caleb’s colors anyway.
“He was talking to me about the kids they want to have the other day,” Nott says absently, grunting as the thread snags between her teeth and she has to set everything down to pick it out. She doesn’t think Caleb would mind. He was pretty used to her being gross and disgusting as a goblin, and he would be used to her being gross and disgusting as a halfling, too. See, Yeza, Caleb wouldn’t mind.
“He was talking about names, and he was thinking — y’know, I don’t know if I ever got a chance to tell you this, but it’s customary to have four names. Halflings travel a lot, right? We’re sort of spread all over the place, so one of the ways we remember our, our family, is with names.”
The shards of glass spin gently in the air, pivoting around the bright blue thread Jester bought her just yesterday. They light the front of her dress with all the colors of the sun; all the colors of fire. She pauses for a moment, watching the patterns play off her button necklace. In this lighting, all the golds strung around her neck shine even more brightly.
“So apparently Luke and Betro were talking, and you know what Luke told me? He told me he was going to name his kid, his first one, he was going to name him — Caleb. At least one of the names. There’s four of them, so they’re sort of...easy to get shuffled around. I don’t think it’ll be his first name, sorry, Caleb, but it’ll be one of the kid’s four names. Just thought you would, uh...want to know that.”
Nott wipes her eyes, chuckling at herself. “Look at me,” she says quietly, and ties off the thread with a deft knot. “The wedding’s not for a week, and I’m already crying about it.”
Nott stands, and as she does, the trail of shards clink together gently. She holds it up experimentally to the wind and lets them sing.
The notes resolve into a melody she’s been trying to replicate for a long, long time.
It’s an old lullaby, that Caleb sang to her a couple of times, and then to Kiri, and then once to all of them, much later, after his wrappings had come off. An old Zemnian lullaby, one that isn’t known outside of the Fields.
When Nott came back, she sang it to Yeza, who spent days writing it down. And then Nott had taken that piece of paper and hid it in her room and didn’t look at it for twenty years.
Then she pulled it back out two seasons ago, when spring was mounting in the air, and thought that even though she could not play music, she could, after a fashion, make her own.
It had taken a lot of experimentation. She thought Yeza might have minded, but it turned out that he rather liked baking to a backdrop of music, so Nott whiled away long hours in their workshop just off the kitchen, testing the resonance of different glasses and the sounds that different shapes and thicknesses make when tapped together.
Now, her windchimes sing lullabies.
She hopes it helps him rest.
On her tiptoes, Nott fastens it carefully to the lowest bough that hangs over Caleb’s grave. There’s two of them; two trees, framing this grave in Felderwin, both grown by Caduceus, some twenty years ago.
They hadn’t really known what to bury him, or even what name to bury him under. They hadn’t known if he’d wanted to be buried back in the Zemni fields, under his birth name, or maybe in Zadash, or maybe, maybe in Felderwin —
It was Beau who had suggested it, in the end. Nott gave him his name, after all. It was Nott who, as best as she could, gave him a home.
It was only fitting he be buried there, under the name he picked, in the home he chose.
Now his grave stands peacefully atop a little hill, shrouded by two tall trees, branches weeping leaves. Hidden among the leaves, already, are dozens of windchimes, each gleaming with different colors, and singing different songs.
There. Now her most recent addition sits right above the patch of earth where he rests, and sings him to sleep.
Nott sits back down, right before the stone marker that bears his name. She’s come here every year and it’s never easier to read the inscription.
“I hope that sounds right,” she says softly, to the gravestone. “I hope it sounds like what your mother sang. I — I tried my best to get it from memory, you know, but it’s not perfect, and....” Nott trails off, tipping her head back to watch her creations sway vibrantly in the wind. The earth around his grave is alight with all colors and all the hues in between. She shrugs, a small motion. “I don’t know. I think you’d like it anyway.”
He probably would. He was always like that — supportive and kind, even of things he didn’t understand. Helped her steal, encouraged their cons, learned avidly about Jester’s god, about Caduceus’s magic.
They’re all coming to the wedding, all six of them. She has no idea how the halflings of Felderwin are going to react to a peaceful pink firbolg showing up at her son’s wedding, but after all, she is Veth the Brave, so at this point she thinks they’d be more shocked if something unusual didn’t roll up to Luke’s wedding in a tux.
At least, she thinks she shouted Fjord into buying a tux. She hopes she did. If that half-orc shows up in leathers and seawater-stained shirts, she’s going to kill him herself.
Jester nearly fought the cleric for the honor of officiating the wedding, because apparently the credos of the Traveler does expand to include attacking members of another clergy, so Nott had to pull her off and promise she could officiate something else, like a party, which was tempting enough for Jester’s eyes to light up with glee and for her to scramble off to start planning. To be honest, Nott is a little nervous about the afterparty, but Beau tells her it’s nothing too wild.
Which doesn’t say much, coming from Beau. Nott’s still not sure if Yasha will be there, because she hasn’t heard or seen from the barbarian in months, but Beau assured her with that quiet, patient smile of hers that yes, Yasha would be coming, so Nott takes her at her word.
“It’s crazy,” she murmurs after a while, “how, after stopping the end of the world, something like a wedding can be so stressful. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, Caleb. You really would.”
The grave doesn’t respond, of course. But high in the branches of the trees, dozens of windchimes sing back softly.
Nott watches them for a long moment. Watches the light of the falling sun play through the shards of glass, watch how they illuminate faded stone with pinks and blues and, always, bright oranges and reds and yellows. Watches how the light paints once-drab gray with life.
Nott packs away all her tools with care. Without the glass weighing down her bag, it’s light. She sets it carefully by the gravestone, then leans against it, resting her cheek against cool stone.
She stays there until the sun rests just over the horizon, eyes closed; listening to the chime of the trees, to the whisper of the wind around her.
And then, when the sky is the same pink as the grave, Nott shoulders her bag and stands.
For a long moment, she just looks. There are so many things she could say. There are so many things she wanted to say, but never took the chance.
“I hope they’re everything you thought they’d be,” she says softly, as light bleeds from the colorful chimes, murmuring with the quiet ambiance of twilight.
She turns and goes.
And behind her, on the stone, Nott’s own handwriting reads:
Who loved with all his heart.