The sun was quickly slipping behind the Lyran hillside as Chan Raife sat cross-legged on the floor of his tent, waiting, his scabbarded sword balanced across his knees. His decision was made. Unpleasant business lay ahead, things best finished quickly.
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As if sensing the general's impatience, the tent flap parted revealing the monk and Raife’s two aides, Gerad and Aed'n. Raife took a moment to size up the white robed healer. He was simply dressed, in a tightly belted robe that ended at mid calf. If he was carrying any weapons they were concealed in the voluminous sleeves of the robe. Even unarmed the man seemed formidable. He was tall and thin but judging from the tightly corded muscles of his forearms and calves he was surely more muscle than fat.
"You have made your decision I trust. The sun grows near to setting, we haven't much time," the monk addressed him, interrupting his assessment.
"I have," Raife replied nodding to his two compatriots.
At the prearranged signal, the two young soldiers sprung to restrain the unarmed monk. Gerad grabbed for one of the monk's wrists trying to force it behind his back while bringing a dagger against his throat with his other hand. The monk sensed the nearing blade and pivoted quickly, dropping under Gerad's encircling arm freeing himself. One swift jab of stiffened fingers into Gerad's forearm sent the blade spinning to the ground. Taking advantage of the monk's preoccupation Aed'n seized the monk from behind, his thickly corded arms encircling the smaller man in a powerful bear hug. Soon the monk was restrained with his feet off the ground, his arms pinned firmly to his sides.
Sensing the scuffle had ended Raife stood, using his sword to help him to his feet. "Don't hurt him unnecessarily, the healing will be permanent in only a few more minutes," he cautioned before addressing the captive monk. "After the sun sets, you will be allowed to leave. I have decided not to join you in your travels, as I am sure you have already guessed," he couldn't help but smile.
The words had hardly fallen from his lips before the monk exploded into motion. His head whipped back, crunching bone as it slammed into Aed'n's unprotected face. The soldier tried to maintain his grip, but the monk escaped ducking under and behind him. A kick to the back the knee sent Aed'n to the floor. Reacting swiftly to the brother's sudden escape, Gerad attempted to catch him unaware with a vicious haymaker. The attack proved futile, the monk simply ducked, driving the points of his fingers into Gerad's neck, leaving him on his knees gasping for breath.
"Breathe through your nose, the muscle spasms will pass," The monk instructed calmly rising from his crouch to face a now bewildered Raife.
"That was most ungratefully done, brother," he scolded, shaking his head. "You cannot cheat the Brotherhood. I could view this attack on my person as a refusal to begin your life anew. But instead I will leave the decision to you. Do you so cherish your warrior's life that you would rather die than lay your sword aside? I will have the truth of you, Chan Raife and I will have it now."
Raife wet his lips and contemplated. He had no faith in the glorious afterlife promoted by the church, so death was an uncertainty. Would he suffer in torment as the Lyrish believed murderers did, or would there be nothing? Strangely, the prospect of simply ceasing to exist frightened him more than endless torment at the hands of Lyrish gods. He had endured suffering before; it was something he knew, something familiar. The void held no such comfort for him. His thoughts turned outward leading to the monk awaiting his response for some clue as to what might lay ahead of him if he chose to start over as a member of the inscrutable Brotherhood.
Even after Raife's failed ambush, the monk seemed at ease. His eyes were the only thing that moved, drinking in every detail of his surroundings, yet Raife could detect no tension in his frame. He was unworried by the three soldiers surrounding him, confidant that he could meet any challenge. Raife remembered that feeling well. He had worn it like armor in countless battles from countless border skirmishes to the current Heyn-Lyran war. An unexpected hail of arrows had shattered that confidence, as had the ease at which this unarmed man had dealt with two of his best men. Raife felt the cold fingers of envy clutch at his heart and his mind was made up.
"I accept. I will join your Brotherhood," he stated flatly, much to the surprise of his battered aides.
"Gather your things," the monk replied heading for the door. "Have a care we travel light on foot. What you pack tonight you'll carry all day. I will await you outside brother," he counseled, adding the honorific with an almost invisible smile.
Raife gathered a few prized possessions quickly. A hunting knife given to him by Duke Leskar the day he was knighted went on his belt. A charcoal drawing of the family estate by his son and the copper iron circlet symbolizing his marriage to Elspeth were carefully packed around an ancient battle flag from his first campaign against Lyria. The bundle ending up in his belt pouch.
What would his wife think of this? He would likely never see her or his son Jakob again. It was better to let her believe him dead than serving some order whose odd beliefs and rituals she could never understand. He would miss her smile and the way the sunlight made her hair shine like burnished copper in the springtime. That had been his life, service and family at peacetime, a life that ended on the shaft of an arrow.
Aed'n and Gerad had yet to leave the tent. The larger solider held a sleeve to his broken nose as they watched him gather his things. He didn't have time for explanations. He would simply do what he had always done. He would give orders, and expect that they be carried out to the letter.
"Tell any that ask that I died on the field and that my body was burned to avoid desecration by the Lyrians. Not even my wife should know I'm alive. Do you understand? Tell no one of what you have seen here. I will not permit my family to suffer unnecessarily," he explained, his voice hard.
Both men nodded, and Raife headed for the door confidant that his final commands would be honored.
The monk was waiting outside, standing apart from the men at the cook fire. He seemed to be studying the pitch black battlefield for some sign of the journey ahead. He didn't move as Raife came to stand beside him.
"I am ready," Raife stated anxious to make a quick escape from the camp filled with so many eyes. He knew this was best done swiftly.
The monk's eyes took in the general, resting briefly on the sword still wrapped in the cloth torn from his own robe. Raife's eyes followed causing him to start. He hadn't realized he'd belted the blade on, it was a habit from a lifetime spent on battlefields.
"I should leave this," he said, noting the monk's lack of a weapon.
"On the contrary, brother. You will have need of it where we are going. Keep it."
Puzzled by the cryptic response, Raife followed his white robed companion into the waiting black.
Smile if you're stupid,
laugh if you understand.