The three of us function best when we are together. Apart we are incomplete. Jointly our hearts beat as one.
Unexpected Inspiration Short Story - "Who Picked Whom"
I'll never really be sure who picked who because it wasn't supposed to happen. Not like this. Not with them. I wouldn't trade Etri or Blythe for anyone else in the world and I love them more than anything, but I'll admit that they probably shouldn't have become my muses.
An artist is supposed to spend years with their chosen pair, which are almost always another artist and a Protectorate. There are exceptions, like my first would-be-sentinel was Artisan born and later trained as a Protectorate, but... well, that worked out oh so beautifully after we broke up and he tried to sabotage my chance at becoming a master. Maybe there's something to it, why the usual choice is another artist and a Protectorate? That combination has worked since forever. Anyway, what was I saying? Oh, right. Time spent with this pair, if they're the right pair, leads to devotion, loyalty, and love. This way, when the artists reach the level of creativity and altruism needed to pass their criterion, everything is lined up. If it is, the test they're given elevates the artists to the rank of master and grants the triad their binding link. This is something all artists want and it's something all eventually get. Without our muses-- our bondmates-- an artist would be unbalanced. We'd lack our focus and we'd lose sight of who we are. The link keeps us whole and our muses keep our feet on the ground.
This all sounds so bookish and vague and distant and maybe that's why I wasn't paying close enough attention to notice when it went screwy. Me and my original pair had broken it off and I figured I had years before I would be ready to be a master. I wasn't even a journeyman yet! Fate or the Creators or something had other ideas. My art got stolen and with it my weaving. My power still connected the unfinished map to me, so I had to go after it. If someone gets their hands on another's active weaving… I found out the hard way when a thief stole mine why a sentinel is so important. Or, rather, why a lack of a sentinel was a total disaster.
The thief twisted my weaving, melding it with ones stolen from other Weavers. It hurt. I couldn't catch the thief on my own, not through the pain. Without my would-be-bodyguard, I had next to no chance of getting it back even if I could find it again. I was helpless, scared, and alone.
Until I wasn't alone. Two of the most unlikely people possible stepped in to fill the missing places at my side. Both were carnival performers, one a healer and an inactive Protectorate, the other a foreigner with weird weaving. Neither were of my class. Neither had any obligation to help me. Neither knew what they were getting themselves into by giving me harmless enough things: protection, support, and friendship. For that matter, I didn't realize until it was too late. All I knew was that those things felt right coming from them and I gladly gave the same in return. Well, maybe not so much the protection part. I made up for that by giving them food because an Artisan always feeds the people they care about. I know Blythe and Etri find this weird, yet they never complained.
Right, I was talking about who picked who, not food. Sorry! Protection, support, and friendship gradually slid into devotion, loyalty, and love. Without any of us realizing what happened, my latent link sparked. No official test was needed, no officials were around to decide that I was ready. It was my own heart and my own weaving that entwined the pair who had given me so much and bound them to me as well as to each other. My heart recognized who I needed long before my brain caught up and by then it was too late to retract what had formed.
Other than a few tiny problems getting there (okay, getting kidnapped was probably a little bigger than “tiny”), Blythe and Etri both accepted what happened. More than accepted! Both wanted to be my muse and sentinel. They're not conventional-- two sentinels are rare and two carny-sentinels are a first-- but that doesn't matter. They're mine and I'm theirs. Our hearts beat as one, always and forever.
I will never entirely be sure who picked whom because I wasn't supposed to be an Artisan. For the longest time I had no intention of picking anyone and at the top of the list of “people I'm not interested in” were Artisans, followed right behind by carnies. Or possibly carnies before Artisans. Carnies are flighty, ridiculous, and frankly impossible to deal with for longer than a few minutes at a time. From what I'd heard and seen of them, Artisans were even worse. Yes, I know I'm a carny. Technically. After I ran away from my aunt, who “graciously” took me in after my father died, the carnival troupe was my way back home. The knives and swords I loved served as an act and with the troupe I was finally taught how to use the healing ability my aunt tried her hardest to repress.
When the troupe returned to Concordia and I had the choice to go back to the Protectorates or stay with the carnies, I picked the performers. I often wonder if this was a mistake, but I felt like I owed them for taking me in and giving me training. Plus those numbskulls needed all the healers they could get. As much as they annoyed me, they had become my family. There was one other reason I stayed with the troupe, though, and it's a secret I don't tell anyone. I always feared I'd become a sentinel. Ever since my father passed his father's knife on to me, that feeling nagged at me like a sore tooth. The knife is a symbol all sentinels carry and once a Protectorate becomes a sentinel, inevitably one of their children follow. My father dodged this by leaving the Artisans as soon as he was of age and joining the Protectorates, cutting all ties to his family and, by association, the class he came from. I tried to do the same by staying with the carnies. If I went back to the Protectorates, there would be a chance I'd come into contact with artists since Protectorates protect art, albeit less directly than sentinels.
So I was caught between two lives, not really a carny and not really a Protectorate anymore. I knew, though, that these must be better than where my father came from. When Etri joined the troupe I found a kindred spirit, as cheesy as it sounds. His silence and stoicism were a welcome change from the annoyingly boisterous troupe. I recognized that he felt as out of place as I did, although he never said as much. Etri never says much.
Then my worst fear happened. An Artisan bumbled his way into our camp. He needed help and we were the only ones who could give it. Etri latched onto him immediately, which was something I didn't think was possible. As much as I tried to stay distant from Adair, I couldn't. He wasn't at all like I expected from an Artisan. Yeah, he could be flighty, but he had such a strong sense of honor and charismatic warmth that it was impossible to not accept the friendship he offered. It would have been like kicking a puppy. I found myself drawn to him just as strongly as Etri was-- and just as strongly as I was drawn to Etri. I wanted to help Adair and protect him. More than that, it made me recognize how I'd given Etri protection and support since we met.
I sensed our link before Adair did, but I was too afraid to admit it was there. Admitting it would concede that I was an Artisan, because what else could I be if I was bound to one? It took me weeks to grasp that while I was bound to Adair and Etri, I wasn't bound to anything else. I wasn't tied down to an Artisan's place in society because Adair wasn't a typical Artisan, which was something I knew from the beginning. Adair is a cartographer. A traveler. He has no steady home or a place he's required to be. Nothing would take me away from being a healer to those I want to help or prevent me from holding whatever career I want. Okay, as their sentinel I need to watch over them. That's something I've always done. It's something I'll always do.
Protecting the ones I love is where I belong. Adair says “our hearts beat as one” and I can tell this is true, even if it does creep me out a little. I was their healer before I was their muse so I know this wasn't always the case. At one point our heartbeats were different and our bodies were our own. Now our health is linked together just as much as our emotions. Ugh, emotions. Do you realize how hard it is to be linked to someone as mercurial as Adair? We'll figure it out, though. We always do. If I have to be linked forever to people, they're the only ones I'd want. Even if they do both drive me nuts. I leave them alone for five minutes and Etri's possessing Adair because he thought it was a good idea at the time. (Is “possessing” the right word? “Haunting”? “Inhabiting”? I don't know, it's some weird shadow thing he can do.) Or Adair's managed to turn himself orange. Or eat something poisoned. Or fall out a window. They're so freaking hopeless... it's no wonder sentinels always seem slightly exasperated.
I am unsure of who selected whom because there was never a choice. That is to say, the choice was both simultaneous and nonexistent; we are a trio because that is what we were from the onset. We picked each other: Adair, Blythe, and myself.
I am still amazed by this development because I always assumed I would remain unwanted. I am in no way desirable as a mate and I considered myself fortunate when Blythe wanted me as a friend. I have had so few of those. I am uncomfortable in this culture despite residing here for several years; everyone is exceedingly friendly, overly emotional, and too physical, which only exacerbates my dislike of social situations. I possess weaving vastly different from the standard artist variety and, while I choose to hide this as much as I can, it leaves my body temperature noticeably frigid. While normal in Montglace, this disturbs those overly friendly people of Concordia, and, excepting my brother, I look nothing like anyone in this country. This, too, adds to my discomfort around others.
Yet I am not as detached as people think. While I have always lacked attraction and find acts of specific affection off-putting if not disgusting, I still yearned for a connection with someone who could accept me. But always I was left wondering how. I failed to realize that, in her own way, Blythe already did. It was not until Adair entered our lives that this became clear.
Adair brought with him acceptance, understanding, and unquestionable loyalty. There was nothing about Blythe or myself that bothered him, not even when she tried to brush him off with her usual cynicism. After learning that my weaving shifts me into an incorporeal shadow, Adair showed only curiosity. My own brother never was so able to accept this. Adair gave me space until I felt safe enough to speak freely with him, then never pushed me for more than I was comfortable, in speaking or in touch. I discovered, however, that I enjoyed his genuine affection just as I enjoyed his company. He gave to me something only Blythe had done: a feeling of being home in a place where nothing feels like home. And when he gave this to me, he gave it to her, as well.
The three of us function best when we are together. Apart we are incomplete. Jointly our hearts beat as one. Quite literally. I am unsure of how this works physiologically when my form is not always human and does not always possess a heart. Yet always when I shift back, my heartbeat is aligned with that of Blythe and Adair. I have finally found acceptance and the place I belong.