Beard, by Misha
It was just after supper when I joined Nalev on his balcony. I handed him a fresh bottle of wine.
"I received a note from Zbinka saying that you wanted to see me." I began.
"Still forging my name, is she?" Nalev replied.
"And to you, Misha. Citizenship in your third country. Quite the accomplishment. I'll get glasses."
"No need for the propriety." I said and we were both seated.
"I hear things are quiet under Tironik's watchful eye." Nalev commented.
"Until Neopar jerks your strings a little bit harder," Lev snapped.
"Neopar pays well for his protection."
"My men have become a band of mercenaries."
"We fight to protect the interests of Kanabulan and Eltesnia. We can not forget the depths of treachery of which Dophe is capable." I insisted.
"King Roarke has absolved her of her involvement in the coup."
"All the more reason for those of strong mind and sound judgment to share their influence in his court." I went to rub my beard out of habit and felt very naked in its absence.
Nalev took a long drink from the bottle. "Quite true, old friend." Nalev paused. "If Binky sent you to hasten the divorce, you shouldn't waste your time."
"Of course you must have your reasons," I said.
"Of course," Nalev replied curtly.
"I'd just hate to think that your dragging your heels to exercise some control over her."
"Don't be ridiculous. I have the utmost respect for the woman."
"So why not cut her free?" I asked.
"So she can run off with that reckless lout Eburgistraten? He'd only drain her of her inheritance and break her heart."
"Zbinka's a big girl, Lev. I don't think you need to worry about her." I took the bottle of wine from Nalev. "I can assure you this isn't about Eburgistraten."
"If it's not about him, then why is he spending so much with her?"
I smiled. "It's not really for me to say."
"Then how can I be convinced?"
"He's been asking about you."
"About me? What about me?" Nalev asked naively.
"Seems he fancies you."
"Don't be preposterous. The man's had as many wives as--"
"You've had prostitutes?" I retorted.
"You can't compare a member of the clergy to a philanderer like that."
"Step down from your tower, Lev. Let what's transpired in the line of duty slip quietly into the past and get on with your life." I paused for a moment. "Then, again I can just let him know that you're not interested."
"I don't like hasty decisions."
"You called the man a lout," I reminded him.
"I may have misjudged the man, but please don't tell me Zbinka wants a divorce on my account."
"She's many things, but not self-less. Neither one of us are."
"What's she after, Misha? Or should I say who? Is it her hunter beau?"
"The merchant trader from Belaurii?"
"No." I replied flatly.
"Do I know him?"
"Come now, Misha. If you tell me that it's you, I'll have to disagree with that statement wholeheartedly," Nalev's tone was joking.
"Certainly wouldn't be the first time we've disagreed."
"I know you had a little tryst to punish me and Binky doesn't take no for an answer." Nalev reasoned.
"You're not taking me seriously. I am Rad'en's father."
"But you're asking me to believe you've been bedding my wife all these years?" Nalev scoffed.
"One of us had to," Misha muttered.
"Why wouldn't you tell me?"
"There was too much at stake, until now."
Nalev took another drink.
"Will you sign?" I persisted.
"Good. Drink up," I slapped him on the shoulder. "I'll send Burgi over with the papers."
Rad'en' invited me to his quarters for lunch. he said he was getting tired of seeing my dejected demeanor and hoped that spending time with my grandson would do me some good. While Mand'er napped through our meal, Rad'en' told me of his plans to take the Prince with him to Belaurii and introduce him to some long-over due military training. There were minor rumblings from forces loyal to Queen Dophe, but nothing that posed real, imminent threat.
In a few days I would return to Gelassi equipped with supplies, horses and fresh recruits, all thanks mainly to his mother's efforts. We received word that Naeri had uncovered a plot to expose her affair with Tironik and had fled to for Belaurii. There really was no good way for that to work itself out. Hezason, though elated to be rid of her, now had more time on his hands to scheme to reclaim his lost Taisia.
"Can't we just tell him already?" Rad'en' fumed.
"She's your wife, you tell him," I retorted and rubbed my jaw. I was still feeling quite naked without my beard.
The nurse came out with Mand'er and handed him to me. It had been a long time since I held a baby and I was sure I was to blame for jostling him too much and making him throw up all over my shoulder. Rad'en' laughed at me and tried to clean the mess, insisting all the while that it was his fault for not warning me that he often does that right after eating.
"I remember how much I loved you when I was a child, both of you, really, even though I rarely saw you at the same time." Rad'en' commented. "No matter how much I acted out, you always seemed to listen to me. Slightest little thing and mother wouldn't speak to me for days."
"I was concerned about how you'd take the news," I said with some trepidation.
"About mother? After I thought about it a while I came to the absurd revelation that you were the glue that kept the whole damn arrangement from falling apart. It was always about a cause with mother, but I don't suspect it was the same with you and Nalev."
"Time to put all that to rest. We could all use a fresh start." I said anxious to end the discussion.
"When did any of you ever choose the easy path? Is this what you really want?"
"I don't believe you. I would go as far as to say that you were still letting mother speak for you." Rad'en' accused.
"No, hear me out. I've spend most of my life trying to get rid of you. Mother needs her freedom, but is that so important to you or Nalev?"
"We've both done and said unconscionable things." I muttered.
"What about trying to throw him to that insufferable kranch Eburgistraten? How was that supposed to help?" Rad'en' snapped.
"We thought it would--" I paused. "Yes, that was a terrible idea."
"My mother's terrible idea?"
"Yes," I admitted.
"He's lost without you, and he's hurting. I'd wager the only one feeling worse over this whole matter is you."
So I left son and grandson and decided it was time to speak with Lev. He opened the door and invited me in. I considered that act in itself no small victory.
"I'm sorry," I blurted out.
"Sorry? You've stolen my wife, my son and my trust. Are you sorry about all of those, or is it a more selective apology?" Nalev asked stoically.
"All of those," I responded meekly.
He contemplated my face. "Very well. Is there anything else? Would you like a drink?"
"No, thank you."
"You're sure?" Nalev persisted.
"About the drink," I felt I needed to clarify.
"I think I'd like something, just the same." He brought over a bottle and two glasses. "In case you change your mind." He poured and I thanked him. He waited. "Well, go on."
"I miss you."
"You miss me?" He repeated.
"What exactly do you miss about me?"
I got up and walked around the room. For so many years I needed to believe there was hope for Lev and me. If I opened my mouth and spoke the truth there would be no going back to pretending.
"I miss the way you say my name, having you snore in my ear like a little kitten. I miss the way you rub your foot against my leg until you fall asleep. I miss you knowing what I'm about to say before I say it. Watching you hide your vegetables or failing to achieve a meditative state because you start humming and break your concentration."
"And you laugh at me. You never were very supportive of my clerical endeavors."
"I'd laugh with you," I corrected. "Then we'd have the most absolutely unbelievable sex. I miss doing everything with you, and doing nothing."
Nalev took a drink and walked toward me.
"I love you, Misha."
"I never told you that and I'm sorry. I deluded myself into believing that it would somehow allow me to retain some level of control. I loved you from the first moment I saw you." Nalev paused for a brief moment and commented, "You've shaved."
"Yes, I did." Then I got back on point, "Lev, it was so easy for us in the beginning."
"Arguably too easy. Far to many sleepless nights and unending days."
"I don't know how to get back," I confessed.
"Don't you?" He began to smile as I studied his face.
"Of course I did. I despise those things. You shaved last week." Nalev replied.
"Do you?" I asked.
"You know I do. I found it most interesting that you'd shaved right before you came to tell me about your undying love for my wife."
"Ex-wife," I corrected.
"She's always had a terrible thing for beards."
"You bastard!" I exclaimed. Lev laughed at me then kissed me.