This text does not contain any common triggers.
Nell shrugs deeper into his sweater as he leaves the manse. The days are getting long now, and by all means it should be warm. But it isn't. A chill wind blows through the tall grass, turning the yellow heads of dandelions towards Nell. He smiles and kneels down to greet them.
"Good morning, my cheerful friends," he says. The wind howls an answer and ruffles Nell's thick hair. "I hope you're not planning to choke out our vegetable garden this year."
Nell pulls on his gardening gloves, which do nothing to warm his hands, but they do keep the dirt out from under his fingernails. It's time to plant carrot seeds, says Skunk. Nell thinks it's more likely that the field mice will eat their seeds than that anything will grow, but he plays along. He doesn't mind feeding the mice, and it's nice to be outside either way.
As he digs into the cold earth, trying to avoid killing the worms, a pair of vultures land on the railing nearby. He looks up at them, and for a long minute they stare back. When he turns back to his gardening, one of them hisses impatiently at him.
"I know, I know," he replies, not looking up at them. "I want to see him again, too."
They both make a terrible, condescending sound, and take wing. Nell sighs into the dirt. It's not that he doesn't want to bring their ruler back. He misses the Vulture King more than anyone. But he just doesn't have the knack for it.
Maybe he never did.
Nell gets through planting the carrots, and then plants some beets as well, and lastly the potatoes, since he doesn't much want to eat them. But Skunk paid good money for the seeds, and Nell won't take another one of his scoldings.
He runs out of seeds when the sun is just starting to fall out of the sky, its brilliant rays finally starting to warm the earth as the shadows grow longer. Nell pulls off his gloves, and sets to making a flower crown. The dandelions smile up at him as he plucks them, and he would almost feel bad for it, but he knows they'll pop back up in a couple days.
He makes one for himself, extra big to fit atop his big fluffy hair. And then, since Skunk isn't home yet, he makes one for Skunk, too.
Skunk shows up just as Nell is tucking the ends in on his flower crown. "Perfect timing!" Nell exclaims, and hops up from the ground. Dirt scatters from his clothing as he bounds towards his friend.
Skunk looks at him quizzically, and Nell places the crown atop his head, smiling widely. Skunk touches it, and then smiles back. "I'm back," he says, and he has to lean down to kiss Nell's forehead, which isn't very fair, since they were the same height at this time last year.
"Welcome home!" Nell replies.
"We caught a three thieves, today," Skunk tells him, as they both head into the manse.
"That's not very nice," Nell replies, thinking back to the days when they had to steal to get by.
"Don't be like that," Skunk scolds. Nell pouts at him. "We're making an honest living now, aren't we? They could, too."
They couldn't, Nell thinks, but doesn't say it. We got lucky-- No, Skunk got lucky. Nell is still a no-good street boy.
"The way they looked at me when we brought them to the holding cell," Skunk carries on. "I don't think I'll ever get used to it."
"What do you want for dinner?" Nell asks, because he thinks he might start looking at Skunk like that too, if he stays on about it.
"We still have stew, don't we?" Skunk says.
"Maybe," Nell replies. They do, but he had eaten some of it for lunch, and he doesn't want more for dinner. Even as thin as it is, there's a skin across the top now.
"What do you mean, maybe?" Skunk asks, and gives him a weird look. He opens the pot and sees it, and looks at Nell again.
Nell shrugs. "I might have salad," he says. The peas he harvested earlier in the week seem more appetizing than the stew anyway, and they've no shortage of dandelion leaves.
"You won't get any bigger if you don't eat well," Skunk tells him, spooning his own serving of stew into a bowl.
Nell huffs loudly. He knows that. He hates that Skunk knows how much it bothers him. "Fine," he says, and lets Skunk spoon out a bowl of stew for him as well. Skunk always gives Nell too much, but that's fine, because Skunk always wants his leftovers as seconds anyway.
They sit on the front stairs as they eat. The double doors into the manse don't close properly unless you put a chair against them, and Nell hates moving the furniture, so mostly they don't. The wide stairs to the second floor look out onto the overgrown lawn, giving them a good view of the sunset over Nell's freshly planted garden.
Skunk eats as though he's starved. He always does, now. He gets taller every month, and every inch to his height doubles his appetite. Nell doesn't realize he hadn't bothered to light the stove and reheat their meal until he puts some in his mouth, and by then Skunk is halfway through his bowl, and it feels like it's probably too late to bother with it.
Nell eats a few spoonfuls, chewing the tough meat slowly, and not bothering with the potatoes. Surely they've eaten enough potatoes by now. There must be a limit to how many potatoes one person can eat, and Nell is pretty sure he's approaching that limit.
When Skunk finishes his bowl, Nell hands his own over without speaking, and Skunk doesn't even scold him for not eating enough before tearing into it. A bad day at work, then. He's always hungry, but he's hungrier when he's stressed.
While he's eating, Nell goes to the servants' wing to light the firepit. There's no reason for them to stay in the servants' wing, really. The rest of the manse is much nicer, and it's only the two of them living in it. Skunk used to offer for his other friends to join them, but they complain that it smells of death, and there are vultures circling above it at all hours, waiting. Nell thinks that's why it's good.
As he gets the fire going, he hears Skunk go back outside, for a walk in the woods. Nell used to worry about him, but it hardly seems necessary now. Skunk is a guard now, after all. If he comes across a wolf in the dark, it's surely the wolf who will leave with regrets.
Nell doesn't much care for being outside at night, though. He pads up the front stairs, bare feet leaving dirt in the carpets. He tries to keep the manse clean, really. But it's a lot of work for one person, and well, lately it doesn't feel like there's much reason for it.
There's no reason for Nell to be reading everything in the library, either, straining his eyes by candlelight over tomes full of words he can just barely pronounce, much less understand. There's no reason for it, and yet. He can't give up.
After all, the Vulture King believed that Nell would bring him back. All his flock believe it, too, still nagging Nell about it every day. Nell has tried everything he can figure out. He has begged and bought and stolen ingredients so foul he dares not name them in the dark. He has taken from the grave in the back yard dirt and hair and fingernails, even though the vultures tear at his flesh every time he so much as steps too near it. He has at least halfway learned four different languages, stumbling over words in German, Latin, and Abyssal. But nothing works.
The words on the tome in front of Nell start to swim, and he thinks he must be very tired for a moment, until tears start hitting the pages. A small, deflated sound escapes his throat as he closes the book. Why can't he do it? Why had the Vulture King placed all his hopes on a worthless boy like him?
Why had he died so soon?