Goodbye Old Friend (short story)

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This is a creative work set in the world of Elanthia, attributed to its original author(s). It does not necessarily represent the official lore of GemStone IV.

Title: Goodbye Old Friend

Author: Mirkk (prime)

Not all may last forever. We must leave that to the elves. And some have never really lived But die within themselves. So pray you live to old age - Memories and friends close keep - And in the gentle still of night Pass quiet as you sleep. -Bourthan Folk Poem

“He won’t come,” Mirkk quietly said over his shoulder while keeping his eyes fixed ahead. He was crouched along the bank of a river, downy flakes falling softly around him.

“He will come,” Bramlor calmly said standing by a nearby tree sagging under the weight of its snow-laden branches. At twenty-three years of age, and after years of mentorship, Bramlor believed Mirkk was ready to call upon an animal to become a lifelong companion. Mirkk was less confident.

He won’t come.

Mirkk cautiously watched the white tiger who was returning his gaze with equal wariness from across the flowing water. Still in adolescence and full of vibrant youth, the white tiger had wonderful deep grey markings and blue eyes that seemed to chill Mirkk to the bone. Dubiously, the tiger lowered his head to the ground. Mirkk thought for a moment the feline was going to turn and run, or worse, lunge at him.


Placing one large paw slowly forward, the young tiger raised his head slightly.

Come. Mirkk reached out his hand. He felt he could see his own reflection in the tiger’s icy blue eyes.

Another paw pressed forward onto the niveous powder. The tiger was at the narrow river’s edge. With a splosh the tiger stepped into the water and with a quickness crossed onto the near bank. The cat paused briefly, studying the man. Then, with a gentle confidence, he stepped forward and nudged his head into Mirkk’s hand, closing his eyes.

Mirkk’s outstretched hand scratched River’s head softly. The large cat, with his faded stripes and muzzle, opened his eyes and looked up. Then, as if lulled by the warmth of the fire, closed his eyes again and drifted back to sleep. He hadn’t roused from his place beside the fireplace since the evening before.

Mirkk stood and watched River shortly before retrieving a teacup from the heavy oak table. He turned and slowly took his seat next to Rohese on the wooden bench. She reached her hand over and placed it on his arm, giving a sympathetic squeeze. As the sun set, the last warm amber light of day shone through the window and he took in her beautiful, porcelain-like face.

As he stared into the violet liquid in his cup, Mirkk’s thoughts drifted back to 5104. He remembered standing on the docks by the gangplank of the Glaesen Star. He remembered telling River that Teras Isle wasn’t a place for tigers, but that he would return home soon.

Mirkk hurried away from the wharf and along North Ring Road. He was dingy, disheveled, and for want of proper clothes. He grabbed a street urchin by the arm and hastily asked, “What year is it?” The boy gave him a terrified look. “What year is it!?” he demanded. “5117,” the boy cried out as he pulled free and ran off.

Nearly thirteen years I’ve been gone. His time on the Krolvin ships and stranded on that forsaken island had left him with nothing but the clothes on his back and hope – hope that one day he would return to his friends who cared about him. Friends who would be overjoyed at his return. Friends that would help him rebuild his life.

He rushed past North Gate and its two towers and out into the open air. He stopped to breath in the air of the Lower Dragonsclaw. He closed his eyes and listened to the susurrus. Slowly, he turned and faced the Wayside Inn and recalled all those joyful times he had spent in the garret with friends. He took one deep breath, exhaled and walked in. He passed the bawdy laughter of the main room and its busy tables and made his way up the narrow staircase. At the top of the stairs, he took in the sight of that old garret and its smoky beams, its empty fireplace, and the soft throw tossed casually over in the corner. He searched the few faces he saw, with their suspicious leers, and saw not one that was familiar to him. He waited as if he were expecting Bramlor or Thralkin or Velianna – any of his old companions – to come up the stairs at any moment. Nothing. Only the watchful stares of strangers keeping a wary eye on him. Disheartened, he descended the stairs, stepped out of the inn, and headed southwest and into the Dragonsclaw.

A velnalin came romping in, bared his teeth, but having second thoughts, turned and scampered off.

I have no one. They are all gone.

He closed his eyes and whispered a phrase into the wind, calling out in desperation.

He won’t come. It has been far too long. After a moment, he sighed and hanged his head.

He stood there for a long while with his eyes closed, defeated. He knew life would never be the same. He began to wonder if there was anything left for him in this world and if he had a future there at all. Then, he felt a nudge at his leg. He opened his eyes and looked. The white tiger, now much older, stood there looking up at him. A feeling of hope began to creep up within him. He knelt and embraced River tightly. “Hello, old friend,” Mirkk said softly, tears beginning to form in his eyes.

“Hello, old friend,” Mirkk said as he knelt, holding a low-rimmed bowl of water next to River. The tiger opened his eyes briefly and attempted to raise his head to Mirkk’s call, but faltered. He gazed weakly at Mirkk with a longing look in his blue eyes before closing them again. Mirkk’s grip began to tighten on the bowl, the trembling causing the water to nearly spill.

Sensing her husband’s despair, Rohese moved to his side, knelt, and placed her hand on his. “Let me,” she said to him. Mirkk simply nodded and allowed her to take the bowl from his hand where she placed it next to the sleeping tiger. She wrapped her arms around Mirkk in a comforting embrace and held him as he slumped into her arms silently.

She sat, gently rocking him to try to comfort him. She knew Mirkk was losing the last of his oldest friends. She loved him more than anything, and knew that very soon she would be all he had. A tear began to form in her eye.

Seated on the trunk of a modwir pine and looking east, Mirkk cut with his knife a wedge from his apple and popped it into his mouth. After a thoughtful pause, he looked north before slicing another wedge off his apple and offering it to River, who turned his head slightly but continued to watch. Mirkk shrugged and tossed the apple slice into his mouth.

“The way I see it,” he said to the tiger, “we know the hunting up north. I think we’d fare better there.” The tiger shifted slightly in protest. Mirkk shot him an incredulous look.

“The Nations? The last time we hunted there, we had help, and a lot of it. We know what to expect up near Pinefar.” The tiger let out a short, low growl. Mirkk blinked at him.

Mirkk hopped down off the trunk and walked over to River, placing his hands on his hips and leaning forward, looking directly into the tiger’s blue eyes, and cynically asked, “Now why would I go to the Nations?” River twitched his whiskers and made a coughing sound.

“Look, up there are halflings,” Mirkk said both sarcastically and derisively as he gestured north, “and there can’t be any halflings that are that bad. Over there, though - those aren’t the elves we’re used to. Over there is the height of elven culture, learning... politics. You never know what you’re getting into with them.” The tiger’s tail twitched.

“That’s easy for you to say. You don’t have to deal with them. I have to buy, sell, ask for help. You’re just a cat,” he said in both a snarky and self-righteous tone. The tiger stood and started walking in the direction of the gap in the trees to the east. Mirkk watched to see if River would stop. He didn’t.

“River…” he called in frustration. “River! Wait.” The tiger kept walking slowly away. “Fine, I’m sorry,” he said in an unconvincing tone. River stopped, but didn’t turn his head.

“What? I said it. I said I’m sorry.” He threw his hands up in a gesture that seemed to suggest there was nothing more he had to say.

Alright,” he said, irritated, before continuing disingenuously. “I’m sorry for saying you’re just a cat.” River turned his head and looked back at Mirkk. Mirkk frowned.

“Fine,” he said exasperatedly. “You’re probably right about the hunting too,” this time with a hint of sincerity. Mirkk rolled his eyes and begrudgingly walked toward River until they were side by side. He glanced down at the tiger who looked back up at him.

“We’ll go,” he said flatly. “But if things don’t work out, we’re heading north. Fair?” River let out a soft growl. As the pair began walking, Mirkk mumbled, “I hope you know what you’re getting us into…”

River watched as Mirkk leaned against the pale limestone altar of the glade, silver-edged paper in hand, absently nibbling the tip of his quill as he thought of what to write. He suddenly realized he had ink all over his lips and he spluttered and wiped his face. He looked up to see if anyone noticed and saw the large cat observing him.

“What are you looking at?” Mirkk said indignantly. River’s tail swished back and forth along the grass.

“What? You think this is a silly idea? I don’t,” he huffed. “How would I get her attention otherwise?” He glanced down at his clothes. They looked and smelled as if they belonged in the woods, not in finer elven society. He looked as if he were about to say something, but paused, and then in an instant returned to his page, scribbling a few poetic lines in a flurry with his quill.

“What do you mean she’s bookish?” Mirkk asked, staring down at River. River only looked up at him as the two walked in the twilight of dusk through Sylvarraend. Mirkk frowned. “Well, I quite like her bookish-ness,” he said smugly. “Besides, that is of no consequence to you. Tigers can’t read books.”

They walked past the bank and the general store in a brief silence before Mirkk playfully teased, “I think you’re just jealous.” While they had been east of the DragonSpine for some time now, the tiger had been the only company Mirkk had really kept. Right now, he was floating in the clouds. He was captured by Rohese and no creature – not even River – would bring him down from his preoccupations.

Just before they entered the secret glade, the tiger abruptly glanced about, then wandered off. Mirkk watched curiously as River moved into the nearby woods. “Alright, go hunt then,” he said sarcastically. “I’ll just see you later tonight.” He smirked and walked down the concealed footpath.

“Mirkk Timbertree of Bourth,” a voice called from the shadows.

“I suppose it depends on who is asking,” Mirkk replied.

“Mirkk Timbertree of Bourth, our orders are to escort you back to your uncle Donnavan. Back to Gallardshold, where you will be kept as a … guest of the Greensmen of the Deep.”

Five shadows emerged from the surrounding trees. Mirkk let out a slow, deliberate breath. The five Greensmen moved closer toward him, and one had ropes in his hands.

“Guest of my uncle, I presume?” Mirkk asked flatly.

“A guest of your uncle, aye,” said the one with the ropes.

At that moment, River leapt from the shadows, gripping the arm of one of the longbowmen in his maw, shredding the longbowman’s arm. The man cried out in pain and fell to the ground. Two of the other men turned their bows toward the tiger. Mirkk gave River a glance and the tiger understood. The tiger complied with the request reluctantly and darted into the woods, but not before a bowman released an arrow, striking River’s front right paw.

Seated on the wood bench, Mirkk raised his head slightly and watched as Rohese attentively stroked River’s scarred paw with her delicate hand. She was sitting, her legs tucked beneath her, in front of the fireplace with the tiger’s large head resting in her lap. She looked so beautiful and heavenly. He knew he needed her. Sensing Mirkk’s gaze, she inclined her head and gave him an empathetic smile. Mirkk let out a sigh.

“I need some fresh air, I think.”

Rohese nodded, understanding his being unsettled. “I think that would do you well. I will stay with him,” she replied softly as she gazed down at the sleeping tiger. Mirkk walked over to her, leaned forward and closed his eyes as he kissed her on the forehead. He took one long, downcast look at River, turned, and walked out the door.

The tiger’s breathing was laboured as he slept, each exhalation slow and heavy. Rohese cradled his head in her lap and gently petted him, running her hand smoothly along his neck and side. She could feel his chest rattle with each inhalation.

“I never thanked you for saving my life,” she whispered down at the feline as a solitary tear rolled down her cheek.

“You never lost faith in his return either, did you? That’s more than I did.”

Rohese wiped away another tear.

“I promise to take care of him for you.” Rohese continued, leaning down to plant a tender kiss on the top of River’s grey muzzle. “And to comfort him too because he is going to miss you so much, even though we both know he won’t admit it.”

The tiger opened his eyes and tried to lift himself up to look at her but Rohese shook her head and shushed him gently. River lowered his head back into her lap with a gravelly purr and drifted off again.

The fire cracked from time-to-time as the logs shifted in the hearth. Rohese’s attention wandered towards the low flames licking hungrily at the wood and she stared into its golden depths. She wasn’t sure how long she had been distracted by it but her trance was broken by the feel of a rough tongue brushing against her hand. Lowering her gaze, her eyes locked with River’s and she simply smiled and nodded at him.

“Do you think animals have a soul?” Mirkk solemnly asked. He sat next to Rohese, who still had River’s head in her lap. She smiled sadly, knowing their time as a trio would soon end.

“I do,” she responded softly. “I believe all living things are bound together in the Palurin Fea.” She gazed down as she stroked River’s velvety ear, noticing the opal ring on her right hand. She continued, “and I think that spiritual realm keeps us all connected, through thoughts and memories, even beyond…” Her words tapered off.

River inhaled once, released a soft prusten, and ceased breathing. The two looked down at the tiger for a moment in silence. After a minute, Rohese gently lowered her head and gave River a soft kiss on his forehead, whispering “Goodbye dear friend.” She looked up at Mirkk. He opened his mouth to speak, but faltered, his lips beginning to tremble. She realized he was struggling against the tears he was refusing to let flow.

Beyond the Sylvanfair Manse and its courtyard, past the quiet pool, along a still path north through the trees, Mirkk stood next to an unmarked earthen mound at a place that only those who walk the forests truly know.

“My life would not be what it is if not for you. You’ve been the one constant for me. You taught me so many things, both when I was younger and even now. You never held back-” He stopped to regain his composure before continuing, “You taught me about loyalty and undying devotion. About sacrifice. You showed me how to be brave, even when things were terrifying. You had an indomitable spirit.” He paused again.

“I was never your master. I was your student.” A stiff breeze blew through the trees. “I’m sorry. I should have given you more credit.”

After a long moment, he turned and saw Rohese quietly standing there a few paces away. Without saying a word, she stretched out her hand and he took it, and the two walked back to the Manse in silence.