Prologue: To Say Goodbye

Prologue: To Say Goodbye

A Chapter by The Scholar

Prologue: To Say Goodbye


This is the story of the greatest man I have ever met. It is the story of the only man I have known who truly understood the meaning of greatness; a man who lived in the shadows of kings and warriors and gods and heroes, and yet was himself all of these things in his own right, though he always would have denied it; a man who received no credit where credit was due, no praise where praise was deserved, no reward where reward was rightfully his, and yet who lived with a smile on his lips and a joy in his heart.

It is, before all other things, a story of love, as all stories truly are. However, it is not a story of romantic ideals, though traces may be found. It is instead a story of unconditional, unimaginable love of the humblest kind, at times undeserved and unwarranted, and yet never failing. And because it is a story of love, it is also a story of amaranthine beauty.

It is a story of something else as well though, of something so tightly bound in time and in beauty that often even the greatest of men fail to see, something that pulses through the very veins of the earth and runs through the blood of its inhabitants, but most strongly through the blood of the young man whose story this is. It is a story of magic.

It is also, however, not my story. Though I have some small part in it, I am only a vessel �" a deliverer �" of this great tale. It is both my duty and desire to pass it on to you, in the hopes that one day you too will pass it on to another so that it may long be remembered.


*           *           *


The dawn was cold and the wind swept through the trees. Light from the sunrise crept slowly over the endless mountain ranges of the North, washing the land in morning. Some of its earliest, quickest rays trickled over the mountains’ peaks and down their steep slopes until they rested at last upon a small village nestled in a valley.

The flowers bloomed now, for it was spring, and the little animals poked their furry noses out from under the ground to greet the sun. Grey rabbits nibbled at the budding flowers, and vibrant lizards basked contentedly on the rocks, unaware that summer had not yet come. Rain had fallen the night before, and wet clovers grew alongside a tumbling brook, replacing the old, heavy blanket of snow with a delicate sheet of green. Fish splashed in the brook, birds whistled in the sky, and squirrels scampered through the trees with an air of busyness about them. All was new at last, fresh and crisp after the rain, and even the sun still possessed the cool warmth of a winter sun.

In the houses of the valley, life stirred as well. The muddy streets were, even at the early hour, bustling with activity. Doors creaked on their hinges as their owners turned keys and pushed them open, preparing their shops for whatever business might come. Cart and wagon wheels clattered across the ground. Boots thudded or padded, depending on their owner, as they trod about the road, some sloshing through the mud and others lightly avoiding it. Grass was beginning to grow in the corners and cracks of the road here and there, though in the main road, too many otherwise innocuous footprints quelled its short life.

Through the windows of houses, one could smell early breakfasts being prepared �" bacon and eggs and soft bread, and warm cider for those who would go out to work on the first spring day. Inside one of these windows, in a room near the kitchen, a mother fussed over her son who, though he was indeed leaving home that morning, was not leaving to work.

The woman stuffed a few loaves of bread and some fruit into a saddlebag already containing two clean white shirts and a flask of water. She straightened the shirt her son was wearing, brushed its shoulders, and frowned at a small tear near the bottom that was beginning to turn into a hole.

“You should change that.” she said hurriedly, “Let me go get �" ”

“Mother,” the boy protested, “It’ll be fine. Here.” He put his hand over the place where the tear was. “Feolt.” he whispered, and the two pieces of cloth joined together as if the shirt had been sewn.

“That’s right.” his mother nibbled fretfully on her fingernails, “I forget sometimes you can . . . Oh well.” She ruffled his dark hair. “You’re leaving then?”

 He nodded.

“You don’t have to go, you know.” she told him, “You were only nine years old when you made that promise, and it’s been ten years. How much can it be worth?”

“She died, mother.” His fingers went involuntarily to a silver ring hanging from his neck by a bit of cord. “After I promised her. It was her last wish.”

“Oh Heaven, why couldn’t you just have forgotten about it? Nine year olds forget things all the time.” Her eyes were brimmed with tears.

“Please don’t cry.” He said, hugging her, “Mel will see.”

“What?” His mother turned around to see little Mel standing behind her in a yellow dress. She hurriedly wiped the tears from her eyes and scooped up her daughter. “Mel, what are you doing here?”

“Aiden going far away.” the little girl said.

The mother looked surprised. “How did you know, darling?”

“Daddy said!” she squeaked.

“Daddy said Aiden was �"”

Just then, a tall, middle-aged man stepped through the door.

“Aiden, my boy!” he said, smiling, “I suppose you’re off?”

Aiden nodded.

“Well, off with you then.” he said, “I see your mother’s kept you long enough.” He winked at his wife, then wrapped Aiden up in a hug. “Don’t get into too much trouble out there, son. You know how it is now.”

“We’ll see you again, right?” his mother asked, wiping her eyes, “Can you see that?”

“Yes.” Aiden lied.

She nodded firmly, as though trying to convince herself, and then hurried to the table to fetch Aiden his bags. His father patted him on the back, Mel waved goodbye from the door, and then Aiden left the little village in its sun-swept valley. He left the Northern mountains, the tumbling brooks, and the dripping clovers. He left the budding flowers and the muddy streets where grass was beginning to grow. He left the house, and he left home.


*           *           *


            Denith wrapped his scarf twice around his neck to keep the bitter wind from unraveling it. Again. They had been loitering outside the gate of these blasted castle walls for half the morning now, and though he was used to long hours on the job, his time spent in the army had not left him with a fondness for early mornings or bitter wind. What was the High Lord preoccupied with that was more important than venturing outside his walls so that Denith could kill him and then return to his warm room and a nice, steamy bowl of soup? Nobles were impeccably rude sometimes.

            To his left, his brother Dannin leaned with his back flat against the stone wall, his breath forming clouds of mist in front of him. At his feet crouched Mauribe, eyes alert and ears no doubt listening for the first sounds of footsteps or hooves heading towards them.

            “He’s not coming.” Denith whispered, stomping his boots on the ground to keep his feet warm.

               “Shh.” Mauribe waved him silent, “Of course he is. He’s traveling with an embassy to Larsai. To meet with the King.”

            Denith raised an eyebrow.

            “I have my informants.” Mauribe said haughtily.

            He nodded, only slightly surprised. Mauribe could find out anything, anywhere, at any time if she wanted. He doubted her “informants” were very willing however. In a mercenary’s line of work, one wasn’t exactly showered with obsequious friends. He hated to imagine all the lives she’d had to ruin in order to get this piece of information.

            Just so we can ruin another one. He thought, And all for a few coins. Lovely good fellows, we mercenaries.

            He had actually been considering leaving the job, going someplace new where he could build a home and start a family. The life of a mercenary to him seemed horribly wrong, and furthermore, though he was still skilled with a sword, he was getting too old for breaking down doors and dropping through windows on a daily basis. He wanted a settled house, a happy wife, and enough books to keep him entertained until he died. Preferably in a bed of old age or in some other uneventful manner.

            But Mauribe did not let her mercenaries go easily, if she ever let them go at all. Besides, she was engaged to be married to his brother �" gods help the man�"and so he thought he had a sort of familial obligation to her. Unfortunately. The woman could scare kings in her sleep.

Dannin stood up suddenly from where he had been resting against the wall.

“Listen.” he said.  

Denith held his breath. A sound of horseshoes against cobblestone could be heard faintly from inside the courtyard, but it seemed to be growing closer. 

“Alright, let’s go.” Mauribe stood as well, “I’ll stop the procession. You two know what to do. Denith, you have the High Lord.”

Denith turned with Dannin and walked a distance along the wall away from the gate. He watched Mauribe canter off to her position down the road, then listened for the sound of the horses as their hooves beat closer and closer. 

At last, the gate creaked open and a white carriage drawn by two white horses rolled through. Denith frowned. It was smaller than the carriages used by most High Lords, and the procession was smaller too. Only three guards accompanied it, and one manservant dressed in muddy brown �" nothing like the security and grandeur that should accompany a High Lord’s embassy.

The carriage continued a short ways down the road, and then stopped. That was his cue. Mauribe had halted the carriage by pretending to be seeking help from the High Lord of Arelin, and now he and Dannin would attack from behind. He hesitated, still perplexed by the carriage, but Dannin rushed forward, sword drawn, and so Denith followed him and drew his own sword as well.

It was a grand piece of workmanship, and he was reminded of the fact every time he unsheathed it. Silver steel with gold etchings and a sturdy grip, it was perfectly balanced, not too heavy, not too light, and it never needed sharpening. If he hadn’t bought it off a blind street beggar, he would have been convinced magic had gone into its crafting.

The fight lasted hardly three seconds. His sword moved on its own it seemed, cutting down the guards’ horses and then the guards. The manservant went down with nothing but a strangled protest. Mauribe released the horses’ reins, and Dannin severed the driver’s head.

Denith wiped his sword clean on a guard’s uniform and then sheathed it. He made his way over to the carriage where the High Lord would be, and tugged the door open. His breath caught.

Inside the carriage, a small sandy-haired boy of about nine or ten years sat petrified in the corner, one of his trembling hands clutching a child’s dagger.

“Please don’t.” the boy choked, holding the dagger out in front of him awkwardly, point towards Denith. He smudged tears off his cheeks with a fist. “I’m not anyone important, promise. I’m his nephew, that’s all.”

Denith put his hands up to show the boy he wielded no weapon and did not intend to kill him. As he did so though, the boy shrieked and dropped his dagger, pointing instead to the ground behind Denith, where the manservant whom Dannin had killed still lay.

“Elin!” he cried, his tears returning, “You killed Elin. Why? He didn’t do anything, did he?”

Denith’s heart fell.

“No,” he told him softly, “no he �"”

“Then why did you kill him?” The boy began to shake with sobs.

Denith didn’t know what to say to comfort him. Why had they killed him? For a few coins and a place to sleep for the night? Surely that was not reason enough to destroy another’s life.

The door on the side of the carriage next to the boy opened, and Mauribe stuck her head in. The boy screamed and jumped.

Denith panicked. Mauribe would never let the boy live if he did not do something to save him. But what could he do? She would never listen to him if he argued.

“Mauribe �"” he tried anyway.

“Of all the blasted, vile, ill-fated, lowlife . . .” she snarled, “This isn’t the High Lord. This is a boy!”

“He’s just his nephew, Mauribe.” Denith protested, “And only a boy. Don’t �"”

Her knife was out before he could stop her. The boy’s crying ceased and his eyes rolled back in his head.

Denith froze.

“We’d best go then.” Mauribe went on, pocketing her knife, “More guards will be out here shortly, I’m sure.” With that, she turned to find Dannin.

Denith was left standing dazed by the carriage.

“No.” he whispered. He leaned against the door to keep from fainting.

He was so small, such a little, frail boy, and he reminded Denith of when he had been a small boy as well, all alone in a great big world. Now this boy would never see any more of that great big world. Had he gone on adventures with his friends, pretending to be the infamous Woodsman? Had he caught frogs in the little creeks that sparkled like silver at night? Had he gotten into trouble for sneaking away from home after dark, or for pocketing food in order to feed his imaginary dragon? Had he done all the things a little boy of his age should do? But even if he had, now he would never grow up. His parents would never watch with proud smiles on their faces as he fell in love and married. He would never sip spiced wines, or learn the ways of the sword.

Denith looked down at his own sword in its sheath and hated it. Moreover, he hated what he had done with it �" the atrocities he had committed with such a beautiful tool. It was a travesty.

He would leave the life of a mercenary. He would get a job doing something ordinary and constructive �" mending shoes perhaps �" and he would never again take another life if he could help it. He did not care any longer about Mauribe or about what she would try to do to keep him in her service. Never again would he allow something this cruel and inhumane to be his responsibility. Never again.

He smoothed the boy’s sandy hair, looked once more at his freckled face, and then turned from the blood-stained carriage.

“I’m leaving, Mauribe.” he said. His voice sounded more certain that he had expected.

Mauribe turned from where she had been rifling through the contents of the driver’s pouches with Dannin.

“Great. Just meet us back at the tavern.” She returned to her looting.

Denith swallowed hard.

“No, I don’t think you understand.” He continued, “I’m not coming back. Ever. I’m over this.”

This time when Mauribe turned, she looked astonished.

“Ha!” she barked, “You can’t go. You don’t have anywhere to go.”  

Denith flinched. Despite the truth of her statement, he couldn’t remain a mercenary with her any longer. The time had come for him to leave.

“I’m not killing any more innocent people for you, Mauribe.” he told her.

“You can’t be serious?” she gawked.

“Denith,” his brother added, “we’ve been doing this for years. We’re a team.”

“Not anymore.” Denith said, “I’m sorry, Dannin.” He turned to leave.

“I’ll find you!” Mauribe called after him, her voice threatening, “We’ll see how long you last without me.”

Denith ignored her threats and walked on. He didn’t know exactly where he was going, but he would think of somewhere. For now, a place to spend the night sounded wonderful. He had a few coins in his pockets from previous expenditures, enough to buy a bed in a mean inn somewhere in the inner city. His legs felt heavy and his eyes weary just from the thought of a bed, or a few slices of cheese, a loaf of bread, a touch of cider. That steamy bowl of soup sounded even better than it had earlier.

His scarf unraveled again in the wind, and he wrapped it tighter around his neck. One of its ends was wet with blood, but the wind was too cold to permit him to discard it.

He would make a home for himself and find himself a woman at last. He would forget his years as a mercenary, and he would forget the years before, when he had been in the army. He would forget the merciless killing and the looting that so disgusted him. He would forget the tears and the little boy whose death he had caused and yet whose name he did not even know. He would forget it all, and move on. Gods help him, he would forget it.

© 2013 The Scholar

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Added on April 17, 2013
Last Updated on April 17, 2013
Tags: goodbye, before, honor, touch, magic


The Scholar
The Scholar

Esco., CA

“We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are MEMBERS OF THE HUMAN RACE. And the human race is filled with PASSION. And medicine, law, business, engi.. more..