Chance let the rest of the warm sun tan his face.
The summer-like streak that stretched on through months about Destrea halted with a torrent of rain a couple nights ago. The Tywyll Forest was cold now, but the sun peeked through the damp leaves. It was just enough to create a warm patch where he laid.
His eyes were closed. His mind was screaming, meditating, but singing. One song replayed in his mind, making his tongue dance to it.
“Rain won't wash away the memories
And the wind won't hide her perfume
But it blows
I linger by the western sea
I hear the horseman riding past
Young dreams I dreamt are gone from me
Like summer whispers in the grass.”
Why was that what his mind saw as important? No, the important thing was that Breixo was a traitor to his word. He promised Sa’di payment, but gave him slavery. His stomach churned as he remembered Sa’di’s pitiful cries for help.
I owe Breixo. It’s just life now. He saved my life.
He opened his eyes and observed the dancing leaves was they twirled and bowed on the branches.
He tried to shrug it off, but his conscience was screaming at him. There was no way to ignore his integrity, no matter how much he wished he could. He wished he could be like the other mercenaries, but he wasn’t. He just wasn’t. He couldn’t bear using a blade imagining that his victim had a family, a life, and had people who would mourn their death. It sickened him.
“Rest for the weary is in store, I assume,” a rich but bitter voice pierced Chance’s thought.
He sat up and launched himself to his feet. “Breixo, I’ve been wondering about things…” He rubbed his neck awkwardly. “Since I’m not your slave…”
“You’re too lazy to be,” Breixo said plainly, his face stoic.
Chance rolled his eyes. “Har, har. No, I was wondering if you’d…”
“Yes?” Breixo rose an eyebrow.
“If you could…”
“Spit it out, Chance.”
“Let me leave the company,” he let in one breath.
Breixo let his face relax into a concerned expression. “Chance, rafiq, I thought you enjoyed our company. ‘Specially young Arlo’s. Nóe thinks highly of you, and I don’t find you intolerable.”
Chance should have found that as a compliment, but he didn’t and so he ignored it. “Brey, I just think the company’s not working out for me. Can’t stomach the thought of fighting, really, and your betrayal of Sa’di was less than encouraging.”
Breixo nodded slowly and dug his fists into his waist. “I’ll admit, selling off Sa’di wasn’t on my list of things to do this week, but just think: eleven drauffyrch isn’t usual payment. We struck rich.”
“At whose consequence?” snapped Chance.
The leader tried to form words, but his brow simply furrowed. “Since when did you have that sorta conscience?”
Chance pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Never mind. I’m simply leaving.” And that he did. Without asking for his payment, he turned his shoulder on Breixo and began walking away.
“You didn’t always have a problem with fighting,” retorted Breixo. “I remember. Two years ago, found you fighting like wildfire ‘gainst those Turbans!”
Chance stopped dead in his tracks.
“Ah, grabbed your attention, now, aye?” His voice was smug. “Y’want to remember more, aye? Need my help?”
“What do you remember?” Chance tried to hide his desperation by coolly turning back to face Breixo. “Do you remember everything?”
The man squinted. “Walk with me. ‘ll tell you.”
“I found you fighting like a wildfire for your life while Nóe and I were escaping our village. It was snowy on the border, and you and two Turbans were having at it. The waterfall you were by hadn’t frozen over yet, rushing as quickly as usual. I ordered Nóe to hide - he was only thirteen then and it wouldn’t do me good if he was killed - and I took a better vantage point by the waterfall. They managed to make you fall and you went with the tide. Nóe and I followed and we found you at the end of the current, docked on an icy bank.”
Chance nodded slowly. “I could’ve sworn there was more. It’s all hazy; it’s there, just hardly familiar.” He rubbed his temples and shook his head. “I just remembered waking up… my head hurt… your wife-” Chance stopped abruptly and sucked in his lips.
Breixo’s shoulders rolled as if he tried to look like he didn’t care. His face was tight but aloof, almost daring his friend to finish.
His wife Nadia and Yatie, his daughter, had been escaping along with Breixo and Nóe, but they weren’t so lucky as to make it to Destrea with the three men. Chance listened to the stories that both uncle and in-law and father and husband had about the two plucky and beautiful girls. Breixo had lost two parts of him when they had died, and their departures shaped him into what stood before the countryman.
“She nursed my wounds. You were there, only a little, and Yatie played around me when I could stand.” Chance shook his head and blinked.
“That’s as much,” mumbled the Údaen. He rubbed his face and sighed. “Dressed like a Destrean Solitary, you were, cloaked and hooded like those cowards we cut off at the coronation. Only, there was something different about you. You had this will to live, a will to return… it intrigued me, and Nadia found it precious. She told me it was the will of a lover.” He smirked and waggled an eyebrow at Chance. “Was she right?”
The young man shrugged. “Can’t say I’m so in love right now. Don’t know who’d love me.” He covered up his pitiful sentence with a nonchalant shake of the head. “Whoever she was, she’s been waiting a while.”
Breixo nodded. “Well, who knows?”
I don’t, that’s for sure.
The Solitaries waited right outside of the Tywyll Forest, as Sergeant instructed them. Queen Caislín felt her eyelids becoming heavier as the campfire flickered in front of her. Aloysius strummed quietly on his lute, while Niall sang absently a few ballads. She heard the slapstick in his words and smiled slightly. The carelessness in the shanties let her shoulders relax. Niall’s voice was like a jig in itself, wavering and twirling like a man wearing his clogs after a drink too many.
“Whack for the tru-a laddie, whack for the tru-a-lay. Whack for the tru-a laddie, whack for the tru-a-lay.”
Her head bobbed as if she were dancing. Aloysius strummed quicker as he noticed she was listening. Niall sang louder and two more Solitaries sang along. Soon enough, Niall, Cairbre, and Shay had sung the entire library of shanties and ballads ever composed.
“And what’s your fancy, My Queen?” asked Aloysius, playing a few chords.
Caislín stared into the fire, her cheek rested on her fist. “I don’t know if you know it,” she warned.
Aloysius shrugged. “We’ll soon find out.”
She sighed and smiled. “You’re a gentleman, my dear captain,” she said sleepily. “Play along with me. I don’t know the name of it.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
She started without ado.
“I went down by the riverside
That runs between the hazel'd halls
And on an apple-blossomed hill
I slept beside the golden falls
And as I wandered far in sleep
The fisher king flashed blue on gray
I heard a voice come from the deep
And call my name from far away
Rain won't wash away the memories
And the wind won't hide her perfume
But it blows.”
Aloysius hadn’t played. He just stared at her. Niall and the two brothers just watched in amazement. Her voice was that of a siren’s, and the tune haunted them. It sent them into a spell that froze them through. Her low singing was not weak, but soft and fit the lament. It was enough to draw tears from a child and solemnize a crazed horse.
“Where did you learn that?” Cairbre asked to break the awe-filled silence.
Caislín shook her head. “Finn sang it to me. I don’t know where he learned it, however. He just… he just knew it.”
Shay smiled at her. “Teach it to us.”