When Snowe Vingerhut walks down the streets of Razril, the people always have a smile and a greeting for him. He is their hope and their hero, and they know he will be a great knight and captain. Snowe is so used to this that he hardly notices anymore, has even come to expect it. He has grown accustomed to carrying everyone else’s dreams on his shoulders.
It was no surprise at all that Snowe was chosen to perform the Kindling Ritual. After all, Snowe’s father owns the knights. Snowe accepted it respectfully and dutifully, and the people all knew he would carry out the task admirably.
When Snowe offers the torch to Lazlo, he thinks that he is both being kind and ridding himself of a small burden. Snowe has grown weary of the people watching him. No one much knows who Lazlo is, just that he is a friend of the young master’s. To carry the torch is a very special honor, and more so for Lazlo than for Snowe.
When Snowe passes the torch to Lazlo and Lazlo accepts it, Snowe does not realize that it might actually mean something.
Snowe thinks that Commander Glen has never treated him like he deserves. He has always gotten the impression that he is merely put up with because of his father and that Commander Glen actually has no faith in him. He feels as though, despite his captainship, the Commander has nothing but criticism and low expectations for him.
He really couldn’t move his arm, but somehow he knows the Commander didn’t believe him. It was probably the punch in the face that told him that.
But maybe Commander Glen did believe him, and he just didn’t care. What kind of a captain makes excuses and leaves his men? (Even if they did disobey his orders.)
When Lazlo looked at him with those wide innocent eyes and Snowe told him he hoped he believed him, Lazlo just nodded, and smiled a little. Snowe thinks Lazlo doesn’t believe him, either, and that hurts more than he’d care to admit.
He can’t help but feel almost betrayed by Lazlo. Hadn’t Lazlo been his best friend since childhood? Hadn’t they been like brothers? But Lazlo had led the men in Snowe’s stead, when all Snowe could do was whimper in fear.
But he had been thinking of the men! Of their safety, their lives. They had had no chance. Better to run and live than to fight and die because of silly things like honor and nobility.
And then there had been Lazlo. Lazlo, foolish and brave. How the men had looked to him with trust in their faces, ready to do as he told them. And they had all died… except for Lazlo.
Now he is a hero and Snowe a coward, ridiculed by his fellows and spurned by Commander Glen. But still Lazlo stands by his side.
Yet Snowe can’t help but feel the chasm growing between them.
Snowe knows that he needs to redeem himself. He needs to prove that he is not a coward, that he is a capable captain. He needs to show Commander Glen that just because he may not have had to work for things like the other knights have, he can still be worthy of the title he holds. He needs to quiet the mocking of his companions, and he needs Lazlo to… to see who he is.
So this time, he ordered his men to give chase to the pirates, though they were alone. That was brave and fearless, wasn’t it? The pirates could have been caught, and deserved to be caught.
But somehow that was the wrong thing to do.
So Snowe again takes his punishment while Lazlo receives his glory, and Snowe starts to think that maybe this is how things are supposed to be between them.
And despite the seriousness of the Commander’s injuries, he still punches just as hard.
Commander Glen is dead. Lazlo has been exiled and sent out to sea. The rumors are spreading, that Lazlo thought he deserved special treatment, that there had been an altercation. Snowe knows what he saw, and it did not look good for Lazlo.
Snowe wonders if it is possible to think you know a person and then find out you don’t know them at all. Maybe neither of them actually knew who the other was.
Snowe determines to forget Lazlo. Lazlo is gone, and to think of him only hurts. Snowe is Commander now, and he has more pressing matters to think on.
He doesn’t stop to ponder exactly why he is Commander, when he is so obviously a failed captain and Katarina was Glen’s second-in-command. After all, he is so used to getting what he wants (and what his father wants) that why would he notice the strangeness of it?
Somehow it seems that no matter what Snowe does, it is the wrong thing. He only had the best interests of Razril at heart, and yet they spat on him. They claimed he had betrayed them, sold them out, when all he had been trying to do was keep them alive and protected, keep them from becoming slaves. Didn’t they realize they could not have defeated Kooluk?
He hates to think of himself cowering on the deck as they shot flaming arrows at him. He knows he has only reinforced his image of a weak coward. Maybe he really is one.
And Lazlo… Snowe does not even recognize him anymore. He is a pirate, fraternizing with the very filth of the sea.
Yet so many follow him. They follow him, while they hate Snowe. Snowe thinks that he actually hates Lazlo now. He hates how good he is. He hates how he always does the right thing, and makes it look easy.
Most of all, Snowe hates how Lazlo looks at him even now with those huge, bright eyes, and spared his life.
Perhaps ‘hypocrite’ should be added to the list of words used to describe him, Snowe thinks. After all, he went from cleansing the ocean of pirates to becoming a pirate himself. He guesses that not all pirates must be bad, and thinks maybe he would have been a lot better off if he’d learned a long time ago to see the world in shades of grey.
Still, some things seem to never change. Because Snowe is paddling out to sea yet again, exiled, defeated (and spared) by Lazlo. Again. Perhaps he is doomed to inferiority, while Lazlo is meant for great things.
Snowe really hates Lazlo.
What is it about him that draws people to him so? Growing up, Lazlo never seemed like anything special. It was Snowe who got all the attention, after all. But there is a small voice in his head that reminds him the attention he received had nothing to do with him and everything to do with his father.
Out on the seas, Snowe has a lot of time to ponder things like this. He wonders, had their positions been reversed, had Snowe been the orphan and Lazlo the Vingerhut, would they still be in the same place now? Or would it be Snowe leading that army while Lazlo drifted under the scorching sun? Or maybe they would both be on that ship, together. Maybe they’d even still be knights of Razril, with Commander Glen alive, best friends as always.
Maybe not. Maybe it’s just Snowe that is the failure and he has nothing and no one to blame but himself for the mess he has made of his life, the life that seemed so promising such a very short while ago.
Snowe closes his eyes and rests his head against the damp boards, the welcome breeze wafting the smell of salt in the air. When he closes his eyes, all he can see is Lazlo’s face, the distress in his eyes, like he was the one hurting. The plea for everything to return to the way it was, despite everything that has happened.
Snowe hates Lazlo, and the chasm has never felt wider.
As if to prove that, yes, his life could get worse, Snowe’s boat sank. He’s not sure how long he spent drifting along with the waves, kept afloat by an old piece of wood. He hadn’t given up, exactly, but he hadn’t been actively trying to prolong his life, either. He took it as a sign from providence, and left it up to fate whether he lived or died.
He didn’t die, of course.
But when Snowe peered into the still innocent face of Lazlo and saw the worry he was trying to hide, even now…
Maybe he would’ve rather died.
He doesn’t really think that. Because he’s finally let go of his pride. Snowe had thought that all that was keeping him going was his pride, but he was wrong. His pride was what held him back, and it’s such a relief to admit it now. He made so many mistakes trying to do the right thing that it’s as though a weight has been lifted from his shoulders at the acknowledgement that so often he had been thinking more of what his actions would do for himself.
He can admit now to the excuses he made. He had been too frightened to lead his men into battle so he had told them to flee. His arm had been hurt, but his terror had frozen him. He understands why Commander Glen had had no faith in him as a captain. He deserves everything that has befallen him- except perhaps the gift of his life.
Or maybe he deserves that, too. Deserves the humiliation and the shame and the knowledge that every man, woman, and child aboard Lazlo’s ship is aware he is a fool and a coward and alive only through the mercy of their captain.
Snowe stares at his image in the mirror and does not recognize himself. His hair hangs limp and too long around his face, the pale blond color bleached from his time in the sun, to contrast with his skin, several shades darker than he’s used to. He’s thin, too, and the angles of his body stick out a bit more than when he had been a pampered noble. His face is drawn and his eyes shadowed, and he wonders if maybe humility doesn’t suit him. His clothes are horrendous, little more than rags, but he thinks he’ll keep them, despite the offers of new ones. He’s caused enough trouble and it was charity enough to even be granted a position on this vessel, and he’s not about to become a leach.
Snowe still hates Lazlo, a little. He hates his goodness and his forgiveness and his charisma. Hates his pity. But Snowe thinks now that the person he really hates is himself. He hates Lazlo for all the things Lazlo is but Snowe himself is not. He hates Lazlo for the mercy he showed so many times when they both know Snowe would not have done the same thing.
He has yet to speak to the other knights from Razril. He spent the afternoon above the deck, and he could see them darting glances up at him every now and then, and he knows that more often than not their conversation was about him. He doesn’t really care what they think.
But he does care what Lazlo thinks. He’s always cared what Lazlo thinks, even when he denied it to himself. The only thing is, he’s scared to hear it. Scared to approach him, scared to speak to him, scared to listen to him.
Snowe looks at himself hard in the mirror and turns abruptly, striding purposefully to the door. If he is to prove himself to be anything but a coward, he must face that which frightens him the most. The wide-eyed face of his best friend and his enemy. The face of perceived betrayal and his own incompetence.
Snowe closes his door softly behind him and sets off to the captain’s quarters. Chasms can be crossed.