Seven Years
Bonnie E.

My trip back to Zexen had been relatively uneventful. It had taken almost half the year to return there from the small village that I'd settled in to the north. The entire time, I'd been going over what I was going to say when I finally saw Chris' family. I admit I wasn't looking forward to seeing Percival and the children again. I honestly didn't know how they would react to me. It had been seven years, and I was supposed to be dead. I thought back to the last time I'd seen the family, and it shocked me to realize that the children were probably so grown up now...

The house in Iksay was relatively small, set way back from the rest of the village. I'd been there once, a few days before Percival's wedding. It had been his family's home when he was young, and now he was raising his own children there. He'd left Vinay Del Zexay shortly after Lady Chris' demise, according to the old butler in the Lightfellow mansion. I could hardly blame him for leaving. It was so much quieter in Iksay, and so much better for raising a family. Besides, Percival had often talked about going home. There was nothing binding him to Vinay Del Zexay anymore.

A girl with brown hair was practicing with a sword outside the house, aiming for various targets on a straw dummy. I knew those graceful movements of hers, for she had inherited them from her mother. Clarissa had only been six years old when I last saw her, but she had grown so much. It appeared as if her dream to be a knight and follow in her mother's footsteps was coming true.

“Clarissa...” I said, speaking a little more suddenly than I should have, for she started and almost dropped her sword. When she regained her composure, she looked up at me with a bit of confusion, as if she were trying to place me.

“U - Uncle Louis?” she whispered and I nodded, acknowledging her.

She quickly sheathed her sword and ran into the house, shouting “Daddy!”

I sighed. Here was the moment I'd dreaded for so many years.

When Percival emerged from the house, dressed in commoner clothes and looking much older than I remember him, I almost didn't recognize him. I might not have entirely except that he still had the same stylish, upswept haircut. I was a bit relieved to see that some things hadn't changed.

For a moment he only stood in the doorway, looking at me with an expression I couldn't place. But it wasn't rampant anger, as I'd expected. That made me feel a bit at ease.

“'s...been a long time...” I said, deciding it was my place to break the silence.

“Louis...” Percival nodded. “Won't you come in for awhile?”

I nodded and followed him inside. I was a bit unnerved by his lack of a formal hello. I supposed that was what I should have expected from this visit. There was nothing to like about coming here and discussing Lady Chris' death.

He motioned to a chair in the small sitting room, next to a crackling fire. Another girl was in the adjacent kitchen, cooking something.

“Are you Uncle Louis?” she asked me. I knew it was Anna, the youngest daughter, named after Chris' mother. She had a more casual look about her, similar to her father. She'd been barely past infancy when I last saw her.

“Yes. I'm Louis.”

“Really? You don't look how I remember. But I was only a baby.”

They didn't speak either praise or scorn about me. Maybe I just wasn't talked about at all. Why did that seem worse than being spoken ill of?

“Anna, will dinner be spoiled if you leave for a few moments?” Percival asked.

“No, daddy. I'll go. But I can't stay away too long, or it'll burn.”

“I'll look after it. I'll call you when we're done.”

Anna nodded and curtseyed lightly. “Nice to see you again, Uncle Louis.”

I was left alone with Percival, who sat in another chair at the other side of the fire. I found my eyes wandering about, trying to find my nerve. When my sight fell upon a shiny, yet dented suit of armour on a stand in the corner of the room, my heart sunk a bit. The last time I'd seen that armour...

“We always assumed you'd survived,” Percival spoke, immediately drawing my attention back to him. “We didn't find a body in your armour and supposed you'd defected for some reason. Unfortunately, there was nobody left to tell us either way. But the one thing that never made sense to me was why. You were one of the most devoted knights. It didn't seem like you to abandon us.”

I wasn't quite sure what to say. After all, it had been like me. But that wasn't the entire reason. Where could I start?

“I - uh... Sorry, Percival. I came here thinking I'd know exactly what to say, but I find myself at a desperate loss for words.”

“ about you begin by telling me exactly what happened that day. We certainly couldn't piece together a large enough picture to know.”

I looked at my feet for a moment, not wanting to take my mind back, but knowing that I had to. Percival had a right to know everything that had happened that horrible day.

“As you know, a small group of us were detailed to patrol the Yaza Plains because of the rumours that enemy troops were active in that region... Regardless, it was my first time on active duty, and I admit, I was a bit nervous. We'd been wandering the Yaza Plains all day, deep in enemy territory.”

“Chris told me about the mission before she left. The council sent you all there because supposedly there was a lot of enemy activity there. They didn't give her much information beyond that.”

I nodded. ”I could tell she didn't like the situation. But she didn't let it show outwardly.”

“Break camp, but stay alert, everyone. Night is falling, and this is a precarious situation. You never know when to expect an ambush,” Lady Chris spoke from atop her horse. There was no fear in her voice, just a bit of caution that was mirrored in her expression.

“This is madness,” Sir Borus cursed under his breath. “Marching us into enemy territory with such a small battalion of men. Knowing the barbarians, this 'suspicious activity' is probably them preparing for a sneak attack on Zexen. If that's so, we should all be back defending the border at Brass Castle. Not wandering about here in the middle of nowhere.”

Borus' words were met with silence. We knew he was right, but what could we say?

I rode to Chris' side. “Lady Chris, I don't like this,” I whispered. “It's like... there's something in the air...”

“I know, Louis. Nonetheless, this is our mission.”

“But...if the Grasslanders are moving out here, then why would they compromise the upcoming treaty?” I asked.

Salome rode up beside us. “Sometimes things are more tense around times of impending peace. Rifts arise between factions that might oppose peace or not appreciate the deal they're getting. It's hard to say why that is, but it just is.”

I nodded. I trusted Salome's wisdom almost as much as I trusted Lady Chris. As the eldest surviving Zexen knight, and the group's strategist, Salome was relied upon by many.

“Lady Chris!” called a soldier from farther back in the formation. “To the west!”

I followed everyone's glance to the distant hills and saw a line of Karayan soldiers charging for us. I guessed there were about fifty or sixty of them. Compared to the near one hundred in our battalion, the barbarians were outnumbered. But I knew that the highly skilled Karayans could fight as if they were two.

“Don't underestimate them...” Chris spoke. “Stay alert and engage them. Move out!”

The Karayan warriors were advancing, and Lady Chris had given us the signal to go. There was no other choice but to move.

I marched with my fellow warriors into the fray, my sword low at my side. The battle began with an intensity that overwhelmed me. But I quickly put it aside and let the excitement consume me. I rode on into the fray, setting my sights on a distracted opponent that had just dropped his weapon. The adrenaline had begun to flow through me, and I lost all senses beyond my target. Metal struck bone, and the Karayan's blood rained from the wound, spilling on my face. The subtle scent of iron filled my nose. I knew it from other battles, but this was the first time that it had been spilt by my hand. It invigorated me, drove me onward. I lost myself completely in the moment, a blur of sights and sounds, of clashes with enemies.

“Lady Chris! To the east!” cried a voice filled with panic. Something about it called me back into reality.

“And to the south!”

“More enemies to the west! Lizards, Karayans, Ducks...hundreds of them!”

I washed over with panic and glanced out into the distance. It was true. So many Grasslanders from three sides. Now we were the ones who were outnumbered.

“Retreat! All men retreat!” Captain Lightfellow shouted, turning her horse to the south. I wasn't far behind her. I breathed a sigh of relief. It would have been madness to stay and fight.

We weren't able to ride far, however... for over the hillside to the south rose another thick line of Grasslanders. My heart threatened to break my rib cage. There was no escape now...

“We're wedged in!” Lady Chris shouted.

“If we can break through the thinnest point to the east, we might stand a chance,” Salome replied.

“But the east rides us deeper into the Grasslands! Do you have a plan?”

“Yes, but let's concentrate on fighting through first,” Salome spoke. Of course Salome's plan was good. If only we could actually get through...

Chris nodded. “Fight your way through! To the east! Do your best to escape!” Chris ordered her men.

Even with a plan, I filled with dread. This was impossible, right? The eastern flank might have been the thinnest, but that didn't mean it was thin by any means. Unless the Grasslanders showed mercy, there was no chance...

I hadn't even realized that I'd stopped my horse, leaving myself open to the enemy.

“Stay alert, Louis!” Salome said, having ridden up behind me. “You can do this!”

The battlefield became clearer and I felt I could move again.

“Thanks, Salome,” I replied and brandished my sword again. This wouldn't be easy, but somehow I had to believe it was possible.


It was a horrible sound, but I was drawn to it, for it came from right behind me. The only thing I saw was Salome's body slipping from his horse, limp, and crashing to the ground with a resounding clatter.

The dread completely consumed me. This was the end. There was no escape. Other soldiers fell around me, and the smell of blood was rank in the air as more and more of my colleagues fell. But I couldn't move. Frozen in fear, I could only focus on Salome's lifeless form, could only hear the screams of more knights falling around me.


Someone was calling my name... Lady... Chris..?

As I had thought it, Chris rode in front of me, but with an incredible force, she was violently thrown from her horse. She flew backwards into me, and we both fell to the ground.

I felt the pain in my arms and chest as the bones broke. I'd fallen awkwardly, with Chris atop me. The pain jarred me back into my surroundings, and I saw that Lady Chris was still pinning me to the ground under her weight, and bleeding from a deep wound on her head. She was unconscious, but alive. I could tell by her breath as it brushed my cheek.

My mind rushed to process everything. Lady Chris' shout - riding so quickly in front of me - a rough impact - her blood... I knew what it had meant. She had saved me. And...I had no idea why.

“Lady Chris...” I said, hoping to wake her. It was all I could do. My arms sent waves of pain throughout my entire body when I even tried to move and help. I was helpless... hopeless. Lady Chris' breath kissed my cheek. The sounds of battle slowly faded, allowing only the sound of the odd knight moaning or screaming in pain.

“Kill them all! Make SURE they're all dead! Some of them might have healing runes, and they won't have the chance to use them if they're dead! We can't let any of them live on to talk about what happened here.” The voice sounded distinctly reptilian, but I could never tell one Lizard Clan member's voice from another. Quickly, much of the moaning and screaming stopped, I suspected at the end of a weapon. It was only a matter of time until they found me. I couldn't watch. I closed my eyes, waiting for it.

There was a new sound that was difficult to ignore rising in the distance above the din. It was a human's voice, shouting in anger.

“I told you I wanted as few casualties as possible! This was a slaughter! What's happened here!?”

I thought the voice was familiar, but I was in no state to try and place it. In retrospect, I believe it was Hugo, the bearer of the True Fire Rune, and chief of the Karaya Clan.

“Retreat, all of you!” the voice called again. It was followed by the shuffle of armour and weapons withdrawing. The battle died into silence as the enemy's footsteps faded into the distance.

A shadow fell over me, and I kept my eyes closed. I didn't know what was causing it, so it was best to pretend I was dead.

“I'm sorry...Chris...” was all I heard, spoken by that earlier voice. But before long, the shadow disappeared and footsteps faded in the distance. We were all alone.

I dared to open my eyes. It shocked me a little when I saw that Chris was staring down at me, her eyes slightly distant, but her mouth curled into a smile.


I couldn't think of anything to say that quite matched how I felt. Instead, I merely blurted, “You...saved my life. Why?”

But she didn't respond. She closed her eyes again and her breath grew even weaker. I felt the tears hot on my cheeks. I knew I was losing her. The beloved woman who I'd considered a mentor and a friend, and admired for so many years. And it was my fault she was departing the world. If only I hadn't panicked. If only I'd been a better knight.

“I'm sorry... I'm so sorry... Please forgive me,” I cried, hoping that could jar her awake again. But her eyes remained closed.

Except... Chris began to mumble something faintly. Even with her face so close to mine, I could hardly hear it.


Mother Ocean... The True Water Rune's most powerful spell. One that could mend minor injuries, or seal major injuries long enough to get the wounded to a doctor. It could keep someone who was near death from falling into the depths of the afterlife.

For a brief moment, I wondered if Chris would be saved by her own spell. I prayed to the Goddess that it would work, and that my fair captain wouldn't leave me. But it had come too late for her, after all. The healing light emitted from her hand, but it hung in the air over her as I felt her take her final breath. Having nowhere else to go, the healing light showered me. I felt the pain in my arms and chest subside. But no healing spell could mend the ache in my heart. I had lost my honour as one of the Zexen Knights, and cursed the world. Why had it taken dear Lady Chris when she had so much to live for? She had a family. A husband and children who loved her and were waiting for her to come home to them. I was just a soldier whose destiny had been to lose my life on the battlefield to honour my country and my family. As it stood, I was a disgrace to both.

I found the strength to sit up and look around me. It was...horrible. The enemy had been very thorough in exterminating us. I really was the only one still alive. I've only begun to understand the Goddess' choice in that recently.”

“You were the one who left her in such a proud pose,” Percival spoke, staring into the fire, unable to look at me.

“Yes, that was me. I laid her gently on her back, placed her sword in her hand and her arm across her chest... so that she would be forever proud and dignified. It was all I could do for her.”

Percival continued to stare into the fire a couple moments before turning and looking at me frankly.

“I went with the scout crew to find them. I put my armour back on for the first time in years. We didn't know what we were going to encounter, but we knew the battalion was overdue. I saw the aftermath of the battle, Louis. I think it's the most horrible carnage I've ever seen, and you know I've seen plenty of battles before. We pieced together some things from what we saw, but we never did have a full picture.

“Louis, what became of the True Water Rune? I'm assuming when Chris passed on, the rune left her...but...”

“Oh!” I said, stopping him mid-sentence. “Well...I guess that's the last of my tale. I sat alone for a long time as the sun set over the Yaza Plains, engulfing me in darkness. My hands shook as I readied my sword at my chest. No, I didn't deserve to live. I could not go on with life having been dishonoured, and I was already dead inside.

The blue glow of the True Water Rune, having escaped from the shell of its former host, slowly floated around me, as if trying to keep me from taking my own life.

“You're thinking of making me your host? Well, I'll have none of that! I don't want to live, much less do so forever! So move on, and leave me alone!” I scolded, but the True Water Rune was not deterred.

Something made me hesitate as the rune buzzed around my head. In the Second Fire Bringer War, Lady Chris and the Zexen Knights had all worked so hard to protect the world and the true runes from evil's hands. Something deep in my mind knew that it was my duty to make sure that the True Water Rune would not fall into the wrong hands. If it did, then everything that we had suffered through all those years ago would be for naught.

My sword fell to my side. No, I couldn't end my life just yet. I had to remain alive to protect the rune. As much as my heart wanted to end my pain, I knew that for the time being, I'd have to be its host. But as I held out my hand, the rune flew away quickly.

“W-What the...? Where... are you going?”

I struggled to rise, but by the time I did, the True Rune was well out of sight. It had headed north.

I sunk down again. “It got away. But... I can't let it wander the world alone. I have to look for it. For Lady Chris and all we fought for...”

I travelled for six years, searching for the rune that always seemed to elude me. Just as I'd catch sight of it, it would fly off or fade away. I barely had time to worry about ending my life, though it always remained at the back of my mind. Until I caught up with the rune, there was no reason to even consider it.

My travels eventually led me to a small, isolated settlement at the edge of a large woodland. When I entered the small town, I felt that I was close to the end of my journey. I was tired - so tired. If I didn't find the rune soon...

“Deep in the woods, there's a mysterious village. It is said that people in despair, in search of salvation and a chance to heal their hearts gather there and are given a life anew.”

That was the tale that the elder of the village spun. The thought of salvation gave me a bit of hope. Maybe in that place, I'd finally find an end to my journey with some peace in my soul. I also saw the True Water Rune heading inside the forest. There was only one place I could go.

The elder had given the typical warnings - travelers heading inside never returning, not seeing the sun for days through the lush canopy of trees, air so thick it was hard to breathe...but I thought that was all a bunch of silly conjecture, as it usually is. Yet, the path had been far more arduous than I had expected. After a day of journeying, there were no more sounds of animals. I couldn't hunt something that didn't exist, and I hadn't judged how long I'd be able to save my food rations. Days went by. I'm not certain how many, because it was near impossible to tell. Every tree looked the same, and I felt I'd been going in circles. By the time I'd seen the glen ahead of me, I was starving and exhausted. What kept me going was the bright blue light of the True Water Rune shining in the centre of what looked like it could be a village.

“Now I have you...” I whispered. “If the Goddess is merciful, you won't run away from me again.”

I approached it slowly, as if being stealthful would keep it from knowing that I was coming. But just as I reached for it, it flew up six more feet in the air, well beyond my reach. Because I was weak and tired, I fell to the ground.

“Curse you! Come to me! Stop making me chase you!”

I expected the rune to disappear again, but it didn't. It floated down slowly and began to circle me, as it had that first day on the Yaza Plains.

“What...? Now that you've led me to this forsaken place to meet my doom, you finally decide to stop running?”

It continued to circle me, not even acknowledging my words. It was a rune, after all. It couldn't hear me. But I didn't seem to notice or care that my words were like that of a madman. All I noticed was that the legendary village where lost souls went to find salvation, what this glen had once been, had apparently been destroyed centuries ago, as was evidenced by the broken shells of buildings, clearly empty. And it might as well have taken with it whatever was left of my broken soul.

“You did all this to punish me. I know that now,” I muttered, deliriously speaking to the true rune. “You wanted to drag the life out of me for a few years as punishment before I took my own life. worked. Happy?”

The true rune was still circling me, almost happily. Yes, it really did want me to die. Fine, then.

“I know what you meant to Lady Chris...but... I can't chase you anymore. You're... on your own... This is the end for me... this broken village. I'm sorry, Lady Chris. I've failed you again.”

I could no longer sit up. I lied down near a small tree and closed my eyes, planning on never opening them again.

Little did I know, however, that the village was not entirely abandoned. The village's founder still visited regularly, despite her people being long dead. She's a true rune bearer, so she has an eternity to live. She healed me, and then told me the story of what had happened to her village to bring it to ruin. As she told her tale, I realized that I liked the place. There was something about it. It was as if I'd found home all over again.

Only then did the True Water Rune decide to accept me as its bearer. It hasn't been long since I've had it...but I've grown quite attached to it already.”

I removed the glove from my right hand, and the mark of the rune started glowing softly, almost as if it were saying hello to Percival.

“Well...I'm glad it's in good hands. Chris would have wanted to have someone trustworthy looking after it when she finally passed on. And I'm glad you found that little village, Louis. It seems that you've found your place in this world.”

I nodded. “It was as if the true rune guided me there. When I've done all I have to here in Zexen, I'm going to go back to that village. I'm going to help rebuild it for the founder and help her turn it into something again. But...I couldn't do that before I came here and apologized to you. Despite how that place is my path to salvation, I will never truly find peace without making amends.”

“'ve come to apologize. Is that it?”

“Percival, I blame myself entirely for Lady Chris' death. It was my weakness that caused her to risk her life to save me. Now you and Clarissa and Anna have lost her. Zexen has lost her. I know it's a lot to ask, but please find it in your heart to forgive me.”

“You wasn't entirely your mistake, ” Percival eventually said after a long stretch of silence. “Chris should also take some of the blame for her own fate.”

As Percival spoke, I thought I heard a new, small voice in my head. It was strange, and I wasn't quite sure where it had come from. But as it became clearer, I had a suspicion that it was coming from the rune, as if it was trying to tell me something.

“I'd think you'd be an old hand at this stuff, Chris.”

The voice was Percival's, but he hadn't spoken it at that moment while sitting across from me.

“I know I'm an old hand...but it has been a few years since I've seen battle. I hope I'm not too rusty.”

That voice belonged to a woman who I hadn't heard in seven years, and had wished never to stop hearing. Lady Chris. I almost teared up when I heard it, but I managed to keep my composure and just listen.

“I don't know why you're concerned,” Percival said in my head. “You whipped me yesterday. Either your skills haven't degraded, or mine completely have. If anyone's rusty, it's me. Of course, I don't have to keep my skills up like you do, so beating me probably doesn't really take much effort.”

“That's a FINE vote of confidence.”

“Look, don't have anything to worry about. This mission is probably nothing anyway. You'll be fine.”

I heard her sigh. “Actually, I'm not really worried for myself. I'm worried about Louis.”

“Why's that?” Percival asked.

“Well... I don't know of anyone more determined to succeed, to do well for Zexen. And I'm not debating his abilities, for sure. It's just... despite how talented, how enthusiastic, I'm not sure how he'll do in the heat of a really intense battle. Just because someone is good with a sword does not mean they are suited to combat.”

“Yeah, I think I see what you're getting at. You think he's too sensitive for it.”

“Well, I wouldn't say it like that, but that works. I've always felt that he wasn't suited to it. But I tried to put it out of my head and train him, as his father wished. I was hoping he'd be much older before he saw real combat, but... it's probably only a matter of time now and there's not much I can do about it.”

“You grew too attached, I guess. That's a woman thing.”

“Oh, don't even joke! You know very well how I tried to keep my feelings for Louis on a professional level at all times, wasn't easy. And I wasn't really fooling myself. He is very much like a son to me. And for that reason, I can't help but see him serving in my battalion as a hindrance. It's not his fault by any means. It's mine for allowing myself such weakness.”

“Oh, it'll be alright,” Percival said. “Louis is tough. He'll do fine. You're just worrying. Like a mother. Heh.”

“That isn't funny,” Chris spoke dryly, then laughed lightly herself. “I've been giving it a lot of thought, though and... I've decided that once this peace treaty is signed, I'm going to retire for good. Now that I'm going back, I realize my heart just isn't in it anymore. There are other ways I can serve Zexen. I'll just try to find something else.”

Percival smiled. “Well, in a way I'm relieved to hear that.”

“'In a way'?”

“Yeah. I know your service means a lot to you, and you'll be bored stiff if you quit. So it won't be completely good.”

“Hey, I said I'd find something else to do...”

“Oh, I trust you will. Eventually. But domestics never really appealed to you, so I know that's out of the picture.”

“Percival, you're making me sound like I'm only suited for knighthood. Is that what you think of me?” Chris spoke lightly.

“Hey, of course not. I didn't mean that at all. Besides, if you quit, then you'll be safe, at least. I've been there, remember. You never quite know when you might not come back.”

“Has that always been a large concern for you?”

“Nah. I knew what I was getting into when I began to woo you, Chris. I didn't really give it much thought. But it's still a thought.”

“I'll be fine, Percival. You know I can take care of myself.”

“Take care of yourself, me, your battalion, the entire nation of Zexen...I know you're capable.”

Chris laughed. “First you act as if I can't handle anything, and now you put the world in my hands.”

“It's nothing you haven't done before, right?”

“I suppose,” she said, chuckling again.

Her it pained me to hear it. Percival had always been able to make her laugh, if nobody else. The laughter faded into the crackling of the fire. Now there was nothing but quiet. I thought about what the rune had told me. Was it a true vision from when this rune had been in Chris' right hand? Regardless, I couldn't help but realize that conversation had at one time taken place.

“Lady Chris...didn't think I was suited to combat...” I whispered. “I suppose she was right...”

“Did she tell you that?”

“ I...I just heard...”

“The rune told you, then. I'm supposing so, anyway.”

I nodded. How had he known?

“That rune is a strange one. A couple times, Chris heard a conversation from the lives of the rune's other bearers. I don't know of any of the other true runes doing that. Of course, I haven't really had deep conversations with any other true rune bearers, so I suppose that might not be all that unusual, after all.”

“Lady Chris was that concerned about me being in her battalion?”

Percival nodded. “It wasn't that she didn't like you, Louis. She adored you. Perhaps a bit too much.”

“Oh, I know that. I heard that...”

“Then you probably heard that she was worried that she'd be compelled to save you if something happened to you.”

I nodded. I thought Percival was trying to make me feel better in the thought, but it didn't help. Actually, it made me feel worse.

“She was going to quit...she would have been safe if it hadn't been...for me...”

“She knew there was a possibility she wouldn't come back every time she marched into battle. But she put on her armour anyway and rode into battle knowing that. And... if it makes you feel better, Chris had her share of battle shock, as well. You remember when Sir Galahad died, don't you?”

“I...remember. But...I wasn't really up close in that battle. I don't remember everything.”

Percival nodded. “Well, when Sir Galahad was killed, she lost it. It almost cost Chris her life. Salome helped her get back on her feet, though. So what happened to you... happens, Louis.”

“What about you, Percival?”

Percival paused a moment, then nodded his head. “Yes. Even me. It happens to everyone. My worst one was also during my first battle. I hadn't prepared myself for seeing that amount of death. I just kept asking myself, “What am I doing here? I'm just a poor boy from the country! I can't do this!” But Salome snapped me out of it fairly quickly, too. If he hadn't, I'd probably have been killed. Anyway...I personally think Chris was wrong about you. You would have been a fine soldier, and you still will be if you come back to the knights.”

I hung my head. “I - I just can't go back. Sorry, Percival.”

“Well, whatever path you've chosen is what you should follow, I guess. I'd be one to talk about quitting, after all.” Percival looked to the sky for a moment. “I lost Borus in that battle too, remember. He...was my best friend. And Salome, my mentor. I lost much that day, least it didn't get worse in Zexen because of it. After that, we managed to successfully find peace with the Grasslands once and for all. Of course, tensions have recently risen again between Zexen and Tinto, but the peace here has held for almost seven years now, which is considerably longer than usual.”

I hadn't known that part. I'd left Zexen so quickly. “So the peace treaty that had been proposed before the battle ended up going through? Even after such a massacre?”

“I don't pretend to understand politics, but it was explained to me this way. The Council basically said that Zexen no longer benefited from a war with the Grasslands. I'm guessing it had probably planned on entering a more profitable war with Tinto. That didn't happen right away as they planned, but as I said, they're eventually going to get their way. Revenue from Tinto's mines would pay for the war tenfold if we conquered it.”

“But that battle... All those knights slaughtered. How could the Council just ignore that? Certainly it meant something...”

“The chief of Karaya...he...visited me secretly, not long after I returned. He had come to personally apologize to me, and he told me a bit more of what happened from what he'd been able to piece together on his end. But...he hadn't seen the entire thing, either. And he said that some of the Grasslanders were being secretive with him. The whole plan behind the attack went very badly. It wasn't supposed to become a massacre, or so Hugo told me. He ordered his soldiers to have as few casualties as possible. They were out to take hostages, not slaughter. All they wanted, according to him, was a fair deal in the treaty, and the hostages were going to be the bargaining chips they needed to get it. He described it as 'taking a page from Zexen's book' . Not really Grasslands' style, but to him it seemed like a good idea at the time. I'm not sure if I believe it or not, but it's the only explanation I have. But really, it doesn't really matter all that much anymore, does it? Zexen's war with the Grasslands is long over. We have other enemies to worry about now. Clarissa's going to be going off to train under Roland soon, and it won't be long before she's in real combat herself. Following in her mother's footsteps, as she wished. I don't really like the idea, but it's what she wants to do. And there is no other job more honourable, I suppose. As for quitting the knights...I have no regrets about it personally. It was my path for awhile, but as Chris said, there is more to life than being a knight. Isn't that right, Louis?”

I nodded.

Percival put a hand on my shoulder. “You don't really need to apologize, but I forgive you, regardless. It was Chris' choice to save you, after all. And we can't know if she would have even made it out of that battle, considering that nobody but yourself did in the first place. And that was only due to Chris' intervention. She accepted her duty, and she died knowing that her end could have come at any time. Her death was honourable. That's how she would have wanted it...” Percival nodded his head lightly and a small smile broke out on his lips. “All she was a amazing achievement for a man, but for a woman... unheard of. I'm proud of her, of everything she did, even to the end. She was certainly allowed a bit of softness, as much as she hated that side of herself. I don't regret wooing her for even a second. And you should be honored to have served under her - not ashamed, Louis.” Percival's expression changed and he sniffed the air with a look of distaste on his face. “Do you smell something burning?”

Anna ran down the stairs in a flurry, and went to the stove.

“Daddy, you let the potatoes burn!”

I tried to hold back laughter as Percival was scolded by his youngest daughter for forgetting entirely about the dinner that had been left cooking unattended. It was clear to me that despite Lady Chris' absence, the Fraulein family still lived a full and happy life. Perhaps I needed to see that to fully realize that it was going to be alright. And for the first time, I believed it would be.

“Say, about you stay for awhile? I'm certain that Iksay is much warmer than that village up north this time of year. There's a spare room upstairs.”

“Well, I do want to get back as soon as possible. There's a lot of work to be done to rebuild the village. But I can stay for dinner.”

“Great. We'll set a place. As long as you don't mind my special charred potatoes.”

I laughed for the first time in a long while. “I'm sure they're fine.”

Percival shook his head. “Don't be too sure about that.”

I awoke the next morning feeling as if a burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I'd finally faced my fear and gone to see Percival with the story I should have brought years ago.

“Are you sure you're going to be warm enough in that coat, Uncle Louis? You're going north, right?”

Anna doted about, making sure I had everything I'd come with, and then some.

“These clothes will be fine. It will still be mild when I get back, if all goes well.”

“Well...okay,” Anna spoke. “But don't forget that if you get hungry, I've packed you some leftovers.”

“Yes, I'll remember. And thank you.”

Clarissa curtseyed. “It's been a pleasure to see you again, Uncle Louis.”

“I'm glad I got to see you again, too. Fight hard for Zexen, okay?”

“I will!”

“Louis...” Percival said, standing in the doorway. “You really ought to find yourself a few good women to swoon over you. There's no better ego boost than that, and a man always needs an ego boost.”

I laughed. “I don't have time for that sort of thing.”

Percival blinked. “No time? There's ALWAYS time for womenfolk!”

I saw Clarissa roll her eyes, and Anna groaned. I smiled. “Will you feel the same way when the womenfolk in question are your lovely daughters, Percival?”

Percival's face paled slightly. “Don't joke about that.”

I laughed heartily, and it felt good. It had been so long since I'd felt like laughing.

Percival approached me. “Take care of yourself, Louis.”

“I will.”

“If you ever travel this way again, then you'll always have a place to stay.”

“Thanks, Percival.”

“And thank you, Louis. For coming and telling us exactly what happened. It doesn't change the fact that Chris is dead, but... finally we know how it came to pass. Believe's an incredible relief to know.”

At that moment, I wanted to just stay with the Frauleins forever. But I knew it wasn't my path. Soon I knew my aimless travels would be over, but I decided that I would have to return someday and see my friends again before they passed on. I didn't want to stay away forever. I vowed to myself that I'd see them again as I walked away from their homestead.

Seven years, I've wandered this world. Running from it. And also trying to find my place in it.

Lady Chris, I'll live on with you through this rune. You taught me so much, and meant so much to me. But it's time to lay you to rest in my heart. But you will never be forgotten.

The True Water Rune feels warm inside my right hand, but it's still a strange feeling for me. The very thought that my life can be eternal is something I still haven't fully fathomed. After all, how does one prepare for such a thing? I suppose it doesn't matter. I'll take life as it comes, and no longer worry that I've left things in this world undone. I have plenty of time to discover all that life can be.