"I lost it," he set the bottle down, a few red drops pooling in the bottom of the glass.
"The word. Sweet and musty and bitter and acid, that bites the tip of your tongue and rolls around the back of your mouth, the last sip of that home-brewed cherry cola, not yet tart or syrup-sticky, but thicker and floating..."
"Dregs," the voice called out from the seat behind him. A bald head was buried in a book, never looking up.
"Dregs," he savored the word, rolling it around in his mouth, lips curling up at the corners.
"Dregs," he took the last sip.
Through the window, the world rushed by, green blurs of leaves, dark shadows in between where the light did not reach.
"When I attained my majority," he spoke loud enough for the bald head to hear, "my mother took me to the druid, who laid on me four geasa: Never to take strong drink between dawn and noon, never to leave the toilet unflushed, never to buy a dog from a puppy-mill, and never to love a red-haired witch. I did well to abide by these restrictions for many years, and then I met Angua."
"Was she a natural redhead?" The book wavered an inch.
"Bright as spun copper, with grey eyes. Stormcrow eyes, I called them." He stared at the glass. "For her, I forsook much. Yet I received much in return. I laid aside the blessings I had been granted, the favors of spirits of wood and heath, the taste of heather ale between night and morning beneath the earth, the speech of mutts...I got a job."
The book was laid down now, and he saw the bald head belonged to a woman, bespectacled and somewhat gaunt, with an unhealthy pallor.
"It's what she wanted. Not for her the dark woods-between-the-worlds, the barrowdowns, to sit with old kings at midnight and speak of long-ago battles. Oh, we wandered amid field and graveyard when courting, but she wanted to settle down. I had an idea to set up my own forge...to make a go of it, making blades and things. It was good for a while...a long while, yes...we had good days."
One brow raised - there was no eyebrow on it. "The dog?"
"Yes. I was akin to strays, but she said that wouldn't do. It had to be a white dog, without a spot of black on him, with a pedigree. Stupid fucking animal. Inbred. Bowlegged and mad, could hardly breathe...and I paid for it! I had never paid for a dog in my life. They would wander up to me and I would take them home, but no more of that, she said. So it was." His voice was as bitter as the word he had lost. "And I could not hear them, after that. I think...I think that was what began to drive us apart."
"Not the toilet seat."
"Well now, that was something else again. Dinner party. She loved dinner parties. Invite all these assholes over...one of them broke the toilet. I couldn't flush it. I was actually more upset about it than she was, because of the geas...but it was too late. Far, far too late."
"Who did the leaving?"
"Myself," he stared into the glass at the admission. "Although perhaps we had both left, some time before, and our bodies had simply not gotten around to doing the physical act of separation yet." His gaze fell once more outside the window. "I don't wonder if I might not go back...after I've taken the long way round, about the earth, through damp forest and tall grass, over seas and mountains. For it is a hard geas, to not love a red-haired witch."
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