In southern Barceria, there is much beauty. The land is easy to tend, the streams run into strong rivers, and the foothills into broad valleys that run either into lake or sea. It felt good to sit there now in the small forest clearing, beneath a small, weather-beaten boulder. The familiar and beautiful smell of grass and creek soil were as abundant as they were pungent. The soft touch of the ground held him in his place, softly. The sun filtered through the green sheaves above with golden fire, setting ablaze everything that it touched.
One arm lay settled into the stream, an angry green tint showing on the base of his thumb. The young man mentally scolded himself. How hard was it to forget to wear a brace while flying arrows?
A trivial problem, nothing he wouldn’t survive. Everything was at peace now, everything calm, and as it should be. The season offered fruitful tides of a good year. His folly would give him a bruised hand for the time of maybe two weeks, forgiving him for not noticing the sting.
It could not be right. Of all the things to happen, this is not what he could imagine. For all of the things to have been seen, it was this that he witnessed now. All of the peace and all of the beauty, but still his mind was haunted by the terrors of what was lost; what horrid things that only a number of months ago had been set upon him. Though he had emerged relatively unscathed, many did not, and now he had to sit here and appreciate it all while others laid in graves.
On his right wrist were both the open ankh of His Holyness as well as the moonstar of the Sacred Wyrdden as small baubles. He did pray every night and hope that his thoughts would ease, that he could find the strength to breathe deeply and know joy again. He bowed his head and prayed to any of the goodly gods that dwelled in these lands. He did this hoping that laughter would again come deeply from his chest, wishing that the songs and sounds of lute and drums would interest his hours. The idea that he could return to running errands, fishing, farming, and herding happily both brought a smile to his face, and struck him nearly to tears.
More deeply still, the young man prayed to quell the horrors that shook him from his sleep, and tossed the meal from his stomach as he awoke in the night. Gulping, he would see departed friends in his dreams, and as much as that haunted him he would beg wordlessly for the chance to see those faces again – those that were returned to the earth. He would beg for a holy salve that could wipe away the blood from his hands. He wanted an answer that he could take into his hands and know for true; a way to accept why he had lived and so many did die.
Those questions tore him up inside, and even more than that was one other. What man could he hope to be, what had slain another man?
Suddenly, the fellow by his side shifted, and the young man looked up at him.
“Do you remember,” the voice said in its brusque tone, a tanned arm stretched out towards the rolling low foothills that were likely mountains to peoples of flatter lands, “I used to tell you that beyond that rise on the horizon is Lake Taebar. You would ask how long it would take us to go there, and I said not long at all. Now look at you. You have crossed the country and become a man, and I have done little for you.”
The young man gave a slight shake of his head, finding himself chuckling at the mention, a smile appearing on his face now, partially genuine. “That’s not true. I have learned much from you, and I would not have done anything had it not been for you.”
“Teachin’ is one thing of it, perhaps. I taught you to tie knots, learned you not to tarry, showed you how to work a sword into your hand,” The older fellow offered. “Such ain’t enough, Leoberht. I did those things, aye. Though, t’was you what knew what to do with it.”
The man was the sheriff, and his words struck young Leobehrt deeply. His sword belt weighed idly on him on the best days, most days. Though, in the past two seasons it had seen more use than he had ever hoped of it. The sleeveless gambeson that he wore over his long working tunic was shorter than most, but he managed to keep it tidy. The hobnails on the caligae he wore tapped as his feet shifted onto a piece of stone in the stream.
His voice carried the weight of recent troubles, but was able to shoulder them away. “I am proud of you, Leoberht. I know I have told you… I think of you like a little brother.”
A weight pooled behind Leoberht’s eyes, as pride and guilt battled in his mind for supremacy, forcing in himself a smile that managed to become real. “Thank you, Cenweald. You are as much a brother as I could hope to have in this world.”