Love is Patient
I met her when we were 10. Back then, she was just Alhana.
We were neighbors…or at least that’s how we referred to ourselves. I lived with my mother in a little hut on Spruce Lane, and Alhana lived with her father three miles away down the same lane. Not exactly close, but with no other houses in between, neighbors sounded good enough to us. She had moved to our little town in order to “get a taste of country life”, or at least that’s the line she gave me every time I asked. I never knew much about her past, save that she had been adopted by her father when she was 3 and had moved from somewhere in the vicinity of Terror Mountain. Other than that, she was quiet on her early life, and I wasn’t inclined to push her.
She wasn’t large at first either. In fact, for a Bori, she was relatively small and waif-like. I suspect she’d been one of those orphan miners you hear about, but…again, it wasn’t something I was going to pry into. She was sad enough as it was. Maybe sad isn’t the right word, but there was something of melancholy in her. Something of a memory of a life she never had but missed all the same. Her childhood had eluded her in Terror Mountain, and now her father had brought her to a place as far away from civilization as was possible without actually living in a cave. She might have preferred that, actually. She certainly does now. I think.
I remember her first words to me. “What are you attacking?” She had asked it so matter-of-factly that I really didn’t know how to respond. I’d expected either vicious sarcasm at my childlike play or, Fyora willing, an equally childish desire to join in. But instead, when Alhana saw me, a gangly Nimmo with arms too long for his body, swirling around in circles with a wooden sword, hacking at imaginary fiends in the middle of a dusty lane, she simply wanted to know what it was that I was fighting.
“Pirates,” I said. “Captain Dread’s crew.”
She looked at me for some time with a strange look in her eye. I considered starting my swings again, but something about her silence held me. “Captain Dread’s long gone,” she finally said. “If you’re going to fight, why not fight Captain Scarblade. My dad says he’s the new scoundrel of the seas.”
I don’t know what it was about her gentle rebuttal of my imaginary fight, but something fired up in me. At the time, I thought it was anger. With the wisdom of ages, I now know it was love. “Oh yeah? And what do you know about pirates?”
“Not much,” she admitted. “But I figured that if you wanted to fight, you’d at least want to fight something that might actually be real. For that matter…” She paused, seeming to weigh her next words more carefully than she should with a complete stranger. “If you want to fight something at all, you should probably learn how to, you know, fight.”
Thus started a long friendship and tutelage. Even though she was small, Alhana seemed to know more about swinging wooden swords than the fencing masters I would goggle at whenever the fairs came to town. She was eager to help me learn and seemed as interested in honing her own technique as she was in helping me progress. And what progress there was…was abysmal. It’s best to be honest at this point. I was terrible at swordfighting. Terrible at any sort of combat, really. When I was 10 and had no one to compare myself to, I had thought that my wild slashes would actually be effective. But when I watched Alhana…her grace with a polearm, her ferocity with a sword, her absolute brutality with a mace…
She was perfection incarnate, I thought. She had conquered a past that didn’t care about her, came to terms with a mediocre present, and lost herself in a passion that became a part of her. And, on top of everything, she stayed by my side. I was a lost cause, I will freely admit that. I’m sure she saw within minutes that I was hopelessly unteachable. Yet every day after school and chores, we would meet halfway down Spruce Lane and play at fighting pirates or soldiers or whatever else caught our fancy. I’d be awful, she’d be glorious, and we’d always end up sweaty and heaving, lying on the dirty path together.
“Have you ever thought about love, Rydin?” she asked me one evening, as the Greebles began their low croaking in the woods nearby. My heart nearly skipped a beat as I tried to process what she had said and come up with something even resembling a sane response. She’d grown a bit since we first met. She wasn’t quite as large as she’d be by the time she was more well-known, but still more formidable than she once was. More formidable and more perfect. I, however, had stayed the same, small Nimmo. What could I even say?
“Yes,” was what I eventually managed. “Well…sometimes.” I paused to steady my breathing before continuing. “W-why do you ask?”
She tousled her ginger hair and pulled it away from her face, wet with sweat from the hour of fighting. “I’m not sure. It’s something that’s been on my mind for a bit. You read in books about love and soulmates and things like that.” I changed a glance at her and saw that her eyes were solidly focused on the beautiful, bruised sky. “Do you believe that? That there’s only one person for you in the world and that you’ll eventually be with them no matter what?”
I don’t suppose I have to write that I almost had a heart attack when I heard that, but I somehow managed to stay calm enough to reply. “I think so, yeah. Like two puzzle pieces.”
Alahana giggled at that. I’ve always loved her giggle, a sweet girlish thing completely at odds with her imposing physique. It’s just another part of her beauty. “Two puzzle pieces, I like that.” She was silent for a long time after that, just watching the sky shift from pink to orange to navy blue. “Love is patient, I think,” she finally said. “My dad used to say that when…when we were moving.” Again, silence. I wasn’t going to break it. “If love is out there, be patient. It’ll come if it’s meant to be.”
She was done talking, then, but I stayed silent. Did I love her then? I think I did. But love was patient, and so was I. If she didn’t say anything, then neither would I. And I didn’t. And she didn’t.
It was after that, when we were blossoming at 18, that she became known locally as Alhana the Patient, in no small part thanks to me. Over the last 6 years, she had continued “training” with me, but we had moved from wooden swords in the street to real training weapons brought to town from Neopia Central, courtesy of the Defenders of Neopia. What had once been our secret was now done in the open for all the townsfolk to see. Not that there were many townsfolk and even less of note. But still, we had become public, and that was something I didn’t care for.
It might also be my imagination, and in hindsight, things seem colored differently, but I think another part of her moniker might have come from her willingness to deal with my not-so-subtle attraction to her. She had grown to full-size now, and I had only minorly increased in girth, while my arms and legs had fairly doubled (or so I thought). We were a strange pair, I don’t deny that. But I always thought of us as a couple, even though nothing had been spoken between us to that effect. But love is patient and I grinned at her new nickname, trained with her in town, and drove my heart down into my stomach.
When we were 20, Faerieland fell. At first, we only vaguely cared; the faeries were so far removed from our daily life in a small rural town that news of a cloud city crashing came as exciting gossip but nothing else. It wasn’t until the Wraiths came that we began to take note. Even then, being far away from any major population center, we never saw more than a passing glance of those dark specters. But Alhana saw what she’d evidently been waiting for these last ten years. She saw an enemy. An answer to that very first question she ever asked me.
I remember the question she asked me that day too. “Do you mind if I go? To fight the Wraiths?” She didn’t ask if I wanted to go. She knew that I was too weak, too unskilled, too…small to go and fight. She knew that I just wanted to pretend, that I didn’t really want the real thing. Maybe she even knew that I had only been training with her for ten years so that I could spend as much time as possible with her. Even though we were never together, she still asked if it was alright that she left. My heart broke, came together, and broke again probably a dozen times in the three seconds between her question and my answer. It was the longest three seconds of my life.
My answer sounded like it came from another pet’s mouth. “Of course not! It’s what you’ve always wanted to do!” This voice was cheerful and optimistic, not cracked and crying. It seemed absurdly happy. I knew it couldn’t have been mine. No words from inside my body could have possibly sounded like that. “Do you think you’ll be back any time soon?”
“No idea…Hopefully the Altadorian army will keep those Wraiths on the run. And with seemingly all of Neopia chipping in too, I feel like it’s not going to take much!” She smiled – but this time, the smile was different from the innocent one I knew – and giggled again, the same girlish giggle she’d had for half her life. “Now don’t you go anywhere in the meantime! I’m gonna need someone to keep me in shape when I come back.”
Love is patient. And so was I. I said yes.
She joined the Brute Squad after the war. She didn’t even come back to town to tell me. I got a letter one day in the mail, two years after she left. I wish I could say that I burned it or tore it up or crumpled it up in a fit of rage and threw it in the river. But I did none of those things. I saved it and copy it here:
It’s been so long, hasn’t it? I guess with the war and the distance, I forgot to write back. Have you been sending letters? I didn’t get anything, but I guess you didn’t either, so
Anyway, I just wanted to write and say that I’m not going to be coming back yet. My commander from the army, Flint, kept me on as a private bodyguard after things were over and he went into retirement. I learned so much from him, I just didn’t want to say no! But now…now he’s saying something about forming a new squad. A squad filled with “the sort of brutes that even trouble fears.” His words, not mine, but I’ll take the compliment!
I miss you, Rydin. I feel like I’ve changed so much since I last saw you, and I just know that you haven’t changed at all. It would be nice to see that. But I’ve already told Commander Flint that I’ll join his squad, whatever it is, and I don’t know when I’ll be back. If I can, I’ll ask him to take us through town on the way to…wherever it is that we’re going!
Anyway, it looks like I’m running out of paper, so I’m just going to end by saying that I miss you again. Stay well, Rydin.
Alhana (the Patient!)
My friend, Alhana, had finally talked to me after two years only to tell me that she wouldn’t be able to see me for some indeterminant amount of time. She had made a name for herself already in the war, and she would only continue to do so in the years that passed after that. The Brute Squad was hardly secretive, and it’s common knowledge that a mountain of a Bori did their recruiting in most every port of call. It could only have been her.
And then…then there came the Obelisk War. Given the chance to fight against the military might of five other secret societies, there was little doubt the Brute Squad would join the fray eventually. And join they did, as everyone knows. But the war rages on, day after day, with losses on every side. The last letter I ever got from Alhana was four years ago, a week after the Brute Squad arrived in Tyrannia. I…won’t record it here. It was short and personal and not meant for anyone’s eyes but my own. She still hadn’t seen me in the three years since she left, and again she didn’t know when she would. Or if she would.
But that’s for me. Her letter is for me and me alone.
It’s been four years now, and I do not know if my two dozen letters ever reached her. I do not know if she’s still sleeping in the squalid cave she once wrote about. I do not know if she’s still smiling at the newer recruits as she watches over their training in the candlelight.
But I do know one thing. I know that love is patient. She was, and so am I. And I will be until the next letter. And the next. And the next.