The smooth, deep grooves that had been carved into the lid of the box didn’t always seem clear at first. It was almost like the lines of the picture shifted and turned until it finally snapped to into the imagine of a stick-man being slain by an elven warrior protecting the body of a fallen wizard. I admit, I was feeling melodramatic when I commissioned it, but it’ll be a part of my legend some day.

“How do you do it? How do you love more than one at a time?”

It was the intoxication, wasn’t it? Did it put you to sleep? I should have said something less true. It was Gaius, for Christsakes! I could have told him that only the socially adroit can do it. I could have told him that they don’t know about each other and I deny outside involvement. I could have even told him that it doesn’t matter, he’s not me, and he should just pick one and leave the other to somebody capable of loving them the way they deserve.

I didn’t, damn him. I told him the truth. And now he’ll continue to ham-fistedly try to love either of them, but not be able to love both. And he’ll whine in his internal monologue, “Oh no, two women are in love with me and I can’t choose! What’s a stoic warrior to do?” It’s more than he deserves.

“Someday I’ll just be another brother-in-arms.”

No, Kalen, you won’t be. You’ll be stuck in this triangle forever while Gaius waffles. In battle you’d all be dead with decision-making skills like this.

I ran my hand over the lock, the weight of its steel core surprising under the gold and silver filigree work. The combination dials were hidden among the stylized leaves and vines, and it would almost be easier to open it blind, undistracted by its subtle beauty.

Again, I should have lied to Kalen, but I didn’t. I didn’ tell her to assert her claim or back down. I didn’t tell her to be subtle or manipulative. It wouldn’t have meant much, but it might have made a difference.

Edria. The only of that trio that didn’t talk to me that day. Even through spotty memories of Arcadia, I remember that it was once easy to talk to her. These days, it’s sometimes like I’ve forgotten how. I can’t seem to bridge the distance I’ve put up, nor can I understand why I did. How long has it been since we’ve had a friendly meal? Or a ride? I can hardly remember the last time I was on a horse.

I removed the lock and looked at it, turning it over in my hand. It made me think of Sophia and my heart began to fill. I thought of her grace and wit, her charm and kindness. Any other man could be happy living a life with her alone. Why not me?

“You should think about taking up surfing again.”

I do think about it. Every day. I miss the ocean, the swell beneath me, the slight uneasiness when you make a sharp turn and your body follows the board by a split second. It reminds me of you. But it would only get in the way right now, and it’s not worth the extra sacrifice if it means giving up…

I lifted the lid of the chest and was struck, as I always was, by the glimmer. A fortune in jewels and precious metals stared back at me with sparkling eyes. It was a pirate’s treasure filled out with dry twigs and palm fronds. I wondered for a second whether it was their potential happiness that bothered me, or the pain that I envied so much.

“Oh, Brian. All I did was show you the way home, didn’t I?”
I slammed the lid.