The air was so much warmer tonight, thought Zihu. Flowers were blooming in the path, and though there was no torchlight or moonlight tonight, Zihu knew the way. It had been almost a month since he last visited, and he had much to share this time.
No one was in the streets of Vagrant’s Rest this late at night, save for the few guards that roamed and protected the town. Zihu tried to avoid them as best as he could. He was still a yuan-ti, no matter what had happened in the past. Most of the time, the guards saw him and ignored him. A few shouted slurs at him. Tonight, he only ran into one guard as he turned the corner towards the hill. The guard stopped and raised his torch, making Zihu’s scales easily visible in the light. Zihu wanted to shrink away, but had been told to not do so. He stood tall but nervous, and the guard just said, “Stay out of trouble, snake.”
Zihu continued onward, climbing the short hill’s worn path until he came to the cemetery. The gravestones were old and worn, smoothed from the years of snow and rain. But he found a newer one around the corner near an old oak tree.
Mother, Grandmother, and Friend
“Good evening, Grandmother,” he said, settling down next to the gravestone. “I am so sorry I have not visited in so long. I have been so very anxious lately. There is much to tell.”
But as soon as he said it, the words escaped him. He wanted to talk about how successful Nevrida’s Mercantile had been now that winter was finally over. He wanted to talk about his painting skills, but his frustration of not knowing from where to order new paints. He wanted to vent his frustrations about the townspeople of Vagrant’s Rest who still didn’t trust him, despite his assistance in rescuing those children when the river flooded last week. He wanted to talk about how he was supposed to leave Vagrant’s Rest and find the adventurers, but instead had stayed to work as a merchant.
Instead, he sat silently, reading over the name on the gravestone, over and over again. It was unfair. Cruel, even. How could someone as kind and gentle as Nevrida die, while a yuan-ti lives on in her place? He knew Arryn would be angry at him for allowing the thought into his head again. He couldn’t help it. Emotions shouldn’t come to the yuan-ti, but they came to him constantly. In fact, that was probably Arryn’s fault! She insisted he talk about things all the time, quizzing him on his emotions throughout the day, almost always leaving him frustrated because he couldn’t often put them into words.
He missed Nevrida. It left a hole in his chest, an indescribable feeling of loss.
“Zihu?” said Arryn, coming up behind him.
“Arryn!” he said, surprised. “I didn’t know you followed me.”
“I didn’t, actually,” she said. “I was coming to visit Grandmother, too. I didn’t know you would be here.”
“I can… I can go,” he stammered, standing up.
“No, please, stay!” said Arryn. “I don’t want to interrupt anything.”
Zihu sat beside Arryn, both staring at Nevrida’s gravestone. Again, he couldn’t think of the words. He certainly couldn’t vent his frustrations about Arryn to Nevrida now that Arryn was sitting here, too. But it was fine, as Arryn decided to speak.
“Grandmother, I’m quite upset right now,” she said. Zihu looked at her, wondering what she was going to say. She continued, “You never wrote anything down. Zihu and I are in a bind because of you, you know. He wants to get some new paints, but I don’t know where to order them from. I need to get more peppermint candies for the store, but you lost the contact information of that vendor, didn’t you? And now, how exactly did you calculate the price of the old potatoes? The magistrate’s wife came in today to buy the old potatoes and was so mad at the price I gave her, and…”
She rambled on like this for many minutes. Zihu was originally just watching and waiting nervously. But as she continued, he couldn’t help but laugh. It seemed so funny to complain about missing notes and paperwork. Arryn was smiling, too, giggling at her own ramblings. When she was done, they sat in silence again.
He wanted to say something to Nevrida, but the moment was gone. He wasn’t anxious anymore. He just stared at Arryn.
“It’s late,” she said, smiling to him and standing up. “Come on, let’s go to bed.”
Arryn was asleep, but her arms were still wrapped tightly around Zihu. Her steady breathing was a soothing rhythm. He always felt safer when he was close to her. He felt he could understand the emotions better when she was there. Sadness, anger, disgust, joy, and fear still came to him all the time, often when he did not expect them. But they were better now. Things improved every day.
Zihu thought back to his life with the yuan-ti, now more than a year ago. He used to feel such hatred for them, such disdain. Such a feeling was a sin according to the Night Serpent. They would beat Zihu when they found out he was feeling any kind of emotion. Looking back on that life now, he felt a new emotion for them. A sadness and a longing, but not a longing to return. Arryn had helped him identify it as pity. It was a kind of sorrow, similar to how he felt when he thought about Nevrida’s death. But it was different in that it was focused on the suffering of others. Was it possible that other yuan-ti were as miserable as he had been? Did the nameless god ever look at others like him with the same compassion? Could they be saved, too?
Zihu sighed, his mind full again. It was the same every night. He couldn’t sleep.
His stirring woke the woman in his bed. “You’re still awake? Is everything alright?” she asked, sleepily.
“I’m fine,” he lied. “Hard to sleep sometimes.”
Arryn pulled him close and kissed his neck. “Do you want me to make some tea?”
“No, thank you.”
He hated to think about his title again. It was the same thing he thought about every single day since he left the People. It was constantly in his mind, screaming at him, echoing the jeers of his People, over and over and over again. He couldn’t get the thought out, no matter how hard he tried. But every time it came back to him, he could embrace his wife, let himself sink into her arms, feel her around him. Maybe someday it would go away. Maybe it would get quieter, or he could learn to forget it. Ignore it. He was hopeful. But for now, he would struggle.
“I love you, Zihu.” Her voice was sleepy and sincere.
I am Worthless.