Geol sighed. Their late Captain Melgard had lost men, too, in the long years of his service, old men and young men, and Geol remembered the names of those he’d known, those who’d died at his side when he had been a warrior among them. Since he’d become Captain himself more than two years ago people had been injured, but no one had died. Foftron had been the first and he’d been so very young…. Geol fought against the tears welling up. He was sure that given the choice again, Foftron wouldn’t change a thing. But he himself would. Oh, how he wished he could turn back time.
It still seemed unreal. He still expected him to appear from somewhere behind a tent or ride up over the ridge of a mountain. It couldn’t be that he was gone. He’d been so very… present.
Reality took no notice of his wishes though.
Reality was the harsh wind on this cold day, unusually cold for the end of July. Geol wiped his eyes and looked about. No, he couldn’t see Rulavan anywhere. In fact, he hadn’t seen him all day and Aerwald and Eagan, who usually kept track of where everyone was, didn’t have an answer for him. „Give him time to himself, Geol,“ advised Aerwald. „I wouldn’t go looking for him now.“ „Listen to the man, captain,“ agreed Eagan. „Best leave the chap alone. He’s been through rough days.“
And maybe they were right. But maybe they weren’t. Geol passed young Aswig on his way. He sat persuading his companion Haram to play a game of cards. It wasn’t that Aswig wasn’t effected by the loss of their friend, quite the contrary was the case. But Haram was a sullen creature when hurt and had fallen completely silent. Aswig had decided that he needed some distraction and when Haram said: „Allright, but only one game!“ and grabbed for the pile of cards Geol knew that Eagan’s frail pupil had probably had the right idea, for these were the first words Haram had uttered in days.
He furrowed his brows. It was definitely time to find Rulavan. The young swordsman had carried himself remarkably well up to now.
He’d not complained about riding although he was still wounded. He’d not dissolved into tears when they brought Tron’s body home and laid him in the ground. He’d held the speech at the mound, remembering and honouring the dead. He’d sat through the ceremony and talked to the others.
But now the stones lay cold and grey and heavy on the place where Tron would stay. And they would leave tomorrow.
A last wave of air carrying the fragrances of a hundred flowers swept by and then cold and foggy billows wafted up from the reeds along the river as dusk settled on the mountains.
Rulavan sat looking out on the water, unmoving. He didn’t feel the cold, for his mind was someplace else entirely.
He didn’t feel the tears coursing down his cheeks and he didn’t hear his captain approaching.
Geol watched him silently for a while, not sure if he should intrude.
‚He has got numerous sisters, more than anyone cares to count‘, he thought. ‚But Foftron had become the brother he’d always wished for. He’s lost family, not just a friend like the others. And worse, I have a feeling he takes the blame on himself.‘ So he stepped up to him, speaking his name softly so as not to startle him.
Rulavan did not respond and he didn’t look up as Geol sat down beside him. Both men watched the water run past a moment.
„There’s stones here in plenty, the river doesn’t need another one on its shore“, said Geol.
Rulavan closed his eyes and lowered his head. „I should never have let him go… I should never have followed…“
„You couldn’t have stopped him, not if he was determined. And you couldn’t abandon him, either. You aren’t to blame, Rulavan. Those who killed him are. And at least he knew you got home safe.“
Rulavan shivered. „I can’t forget, captain.“ And then he laid his hand on the big sword at his side that Geol hadn’t hitherto noticed.
„There is no one I could give it to…“ said Rulavan, speaking quietly. „Gerdan Reen died when Foftron was still a child and his mother passed away three years ago… at least I don’t have to present them with their only child’s sword and last words… I thought of leaving it here with him, but… it doesn’t seem right… he was a good swordsman but I don’t want people remembering him mostly for that… he preferred to solve problems otherwise… and he doesn’t need the sword’s protection now. I thought of taking it back to Gerdan, who valued it proudly, and lay it next to his stone, but… but I think I’d rather keep it. It is too good a sword never to be wielded again. Maybe one day someone will take it up again.“ „You won’t? I know you can handle it.“ Rulavan moaned in shock at that thought and shook his head. „I couldn’t.“
He sounded so miserable that Geol laid an arm round his shoulders. Rulavan stiffened up. „I… I don’t think… Captain, I handled everything up to now, everything that needed to be done… I can handle leaving him here… it…“ he broke off. „No, I can’t,“ he admitted. „Tomorrow I will have to face he’s gone.“
„Rulavan, you can always talk to me if you need to, I hope you know that. And it’s ‚Geol‘ then, not captain, allright?“
Rulavan nodded and leant on to the offered arm now. He wept silently and Geol sat with him through the night.
The world didn’t stop turning. Summer turned to autumn and autumn to winter. They had returned to Cliving. Everything seemed to be allright with Rulavan to those who saw him. But he had changed. Older, he seemed, especially compared to Aswig or Haram, who were only two or three years younger than Rulavan… Geol cringed inwardly. Their friendship wasn’t as among equals anymore, it was more like Rulavan was an elder brother watching over them, even frowning at their pranks instead of taking part himself. He had instead more and more taken to spending time with Geol and Aerwald. Which in itself was no problem, thought Geol, if only Rulavan had not forgotten how to laugh. Smile he did. But he hadn’t seen him jolly, not even at year’s end.
Then, come february, when Geol opened his door, everything changed.
Rulavan, as he held the baby, laughed. „This one’s big already! If he grows into anything the like of Foftron then you’ll have quite some fun coming up, Geol!“ Geol looked at them uncertainly. He’d decided to raise the child but wasn’t sure if the task wouldn’t prove too much of an experience for an unmarried warrior. ‚Fun‘ wasn’t what he was expecting at the moment, much as he’d loved the boy from first sight. ‚I’ll grow into it‘, he assured himself, and smiled as the little one grabbed hold of one of Rulavan’s fingers and didn’t let go. „He likes you“, he said.
sehr, sehr viel später: Sommer 3019, nach dem Krieg