Raife sat tending the fire, studying familiar patterns in the stars above. He spotted the ‘Maiden chasing the Fool’ around the pale orange disc of the moon, and the ‘Archer’ taking aim at the ‘Ice Witch,’ the tip of his arrow burning with the light of the ‘Guidestar.’ It had been years sine he had studied this closely, recalling the stories of his youth. His mother had been fond of those fanciful tales, full of chivalry and tragedy. As a boy, he had spent many a night listening to his mother speak in her lilting voice as she told those ancient tales. She had been a believer in the stars. A bit of rhyme bubbled to the surface of his memory and he mouthed the words, imagining the sing song cadence of his mother's voice.
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Archer, with your mighty bow
Keen of eye, all secrets know
Have care where your arrow flies,
For the fool who strikes in anger dies.
He'd been born when the ‘Archer’ was high in the skies. His mother had often told him that children born under the Archer's bow, were more alert and perceptive than other children. He'd not thought of it that way, but his skill with strategy and ability to react to the fluid nature of warfare might not be an accident. Uncomfortable with the thought of any more mystical forces affecting his destiny, Raife turned and studied his sleeping companion.
Niklos was sleeping not far off, his back to the campfire. Raife had to admire the monk's ability to fall instantly asleep. After eating a meal of berries and fruit the monk had bade Raife goodnight and settled immediately into a peaceful slumber. Raife hadn't been so lucky. He'd dreamt of his wife, her eyes wet with tears after hearing the news of his death. He'd remembered little except the vision of her pale green eyes brimming with tears as she knelt on the polished wood of their great hall. He'd thought he could start over, after all he had died. His sleeping mind reminded him that this was not another campaign he could return home from. If he kept his word, he'd never see his family again. Raife was a man of his word, and he had chosen to join the Brotherhood rather than die. He was beginning to wonder if keeping his honor was worth the price he was required to pay. Jabbing at the dying embers with his stick in frustration, Raife heard Niklos stir.
"We've a long road ahead of us tomorrow. You should sleep," Niklos suggested.
"I've tried. But my dreams, they trouble me tonight," Raife replied, hoping the monk might know some secret technique for dreamless sleep. If Niklos thought the road ahead was a long one then he would need all the rest he could get.
The monk eyed him coolly, seeming to look beyond his tired expression at something more private. "You dream of your past, your family." It was not a question, but an observation.
All Raife could do was nod. There was no use trying to deceive Niklos directly. He was far too perceptive to be fooled that easily. So Raife took another approach.
"Later, after I've passed all the tests and have become a true Brother of the White Rose, what's to stop me from visiting my family? Letting my wife know that I am alive, seeing my son once he's a man true." he barraged his companion with questions, hoping to distract him from seeing what he was really planning.
"Brother, once you allow yourself to let go of your former life you will see that to enter your former life again, even for a short time, would only bring pain and suffering upon both you and your loved ones. It is better for both you and them to move forward. Your path no longer crosses theirs. You will understand in time." Niklos explained patiently. It was obvious in his tone that he could empathize with his charge's plight but would not coddle him in these empty dreams.
“Was it so easy for you, Niklos?” he spat, suddenly outraged by the casual way the monk dismissed his problems as foolish. “What did you leave behind to join this Brotherhood?” The last word practically dripped with contempt. When the monk refused to respond to his question Raife pounced on his companion’s silence. “Just as I thought, it’s not as simple as that is it brother? Who is it that haunts you? A lover perhaps, or a dear brother or sister, or is it your parents? Tell me, Niklos. Prove you are just as much a man as I. That you still yearn for what you’ve left behind.”
Niklos stiffened under the force of Raife’s verbal assault. For a moment, Raife thought the monk might lash out and strike him, to halt his questions. After a moment of tense silence Niklos took a deep breath and loosened his hands, hands that had been clenched into fists so tight the monk’s knuckles remained white even after they were opened. Raife had come closer to pushing the monk to violence than he’d expected. Once he’d mastered his anger, Niklos spoke.
“Brother, my family was put to the sword by Lyrish soldiers almost a year after I took my final vows. I went back to see them, as it is not forbidden, only discouraged and I found my home burned to the ground and three shallow graves dug by some of the kinder town folk. I know the pain you are feeling better than you know. I could picture my father working in his inn while my mother bakes in the kitchen, but I have nothing to imagine but three lonely graves. So have a care when you speak of pain. It has long been an acquaintance of mine.” With that Niklos returned to his place by the fire, and closed his eyes. Raife doubted the monk would find sleep so easily now. Even though he couldn’t help but feel guilty for dredging up such painful memories from Niklos’ past, he was even more determined to not allow the same thing to happen to his family. He would find a way back to Elspeth and Jakob. He would find a way soon.
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