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 Solitude by Nerva al'Thor

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PostSubject: Solitude by Nerva al'Thor   Sat Jun 07, 2008 8:27 pm

Dearest friend,

Some years ago, this picture I have tucked into your pages was taken in front of the statue of King Tristriam IV, about six years ago, when the Bardic College of Prontera had been newly erected and opened to admit its first batch of students. I am there in the picture, the one at the far left, wearing my nun’s scapulare. Beside me stands Alexander al’Thor, who had long since discarded his Priest’s robes for the armored clothing of the Crusader. Beside him stands Signy, who, I am happy to say, had retired by this time from her Huntership. She is wearing that flowered dress Lilian Thorne had given her for her sixty-fifth birthday. At the center of the picture, the obvious attraction, is a rosy-cheeked boy of fourteen, with a mop of sand-colored hair, vivid green eyes and a somewhat flat nose. Isn’t it somewhat shocking to hear that this boy, wearing the traditional khaki of the Acolyte uniform, is Signy’s grandson?

Yes, he is Signy’s grandson. His name is Raphael, and he, I am afraid, will be the last pupil I will have as signal to the end of my career. Sadly, though, he will not become a Priest like me. Much has been lost in the war of long ago, so much in fact, that our very job class is in its final breathing. I am one of the eighty Priests and Priestesses that remain in Midgard, and I think, that it does not bode well. Monks are very popular nowadays. Monks and their offensive attacks and skills. It saddens me that it remains to the remaining handful of us to practice the art of Healing and Supporting. Change has defeated us in the ever-eternal battle. But I, along with my remaining brothers and sisters, bear that loss with ease in our minds. We are like candles in the middle of a powerful gust, and change is the only permanent thing in this world.

You might have forgotten who I am. I am Wealthow Eyre, of the War of Emperium of long ago, then a woman in her prime—but now a woman ending her walk of life. I am seventy years of age, and I tell you, I have nothing now of my former look, except perhaps my lilac eyes, which people very kindly tell me has not changed at all. Midgard has aged too it seemed, aged and changed. You don’t see a Blacksmith along the streets now, I am sorry to say. And thinking of Blacksmiths always brings tears to my eyes, for always, I remember Altair. Altair, who died so young and so strong. Altair, who still had his future set before him in a clear path. Altair, who died in the War, last seen in Payon. Altair, my long-time friend, who started Firnheild beside me.

Assassins still exist, I know of rumors. But they rarely go out in broad daylight now. Last I saw of someone in this job class, he did not look too well. His clothes and weapons—everything about his person, really—looked worse for wear. It seems like the loss of their guild house proved far too much of a burden to bear. But it is well that the Assassin continues to live, for it reminds me foremost that Sibyl also lives on, wherever she is. Signy and I still talk about her, everytime we see each other. We simply cannot forget her witty comments, the way she would quarrel with Theodoric as if she were a man herself.

Theodoric. The last Knight died a week ago, aged fifty-eight. All the Crusaders were at this man’s burial, each one taking a solemn vow by his coffin that they in turn would continue to uphold and fight for the same principles the Knights had followed. By virtue, they aren’t really different, like what Alexander said, only that his people had the art of Healing and devotion to back them up. I still miss Theodoric; I always will. I especially miss the way his eyes would sparkle everytime he laughs. But it is not so sad now, as I think the time draws near that I should join them too. That is a comforting thought for a woman like me; a woman who had been alone most of her life.

There is still a picture here, but not among the ones I display at my desk, but that which I keep hidden most of the time except when I am alone, for that is the only time I can bring myself to look at it. But I do not fail in every day of my life since, to look at it before I go to bed. This portrait is quite…famous, funnily to say. One of the five copies ever taken. The subject of the photo did not very much enjoy to have his face printed out. But still…

This was a picture of him taken before we ever met him. There are two of them here, actually. The other person with him is a Priest, my mentor, the one who taught me everything that I knew. He is blonde, extremely handsome, with peculiar drowsy eyes that seem half-closed everytime you look at him. He has his arm around the neck of the red-haired Wizard whom this picture is the primary subject of. They are both laughing like crazy persons, their cheeks quite tinged with a faint hint of rose. Nerva and Isidore, one of the most important and influential persons in my life. Isidore certainly is influential. But Nerva’s purpose is quite twofold. He is a riddle I have not yet—and very likely will never—solved, and at the same time, half of my life’s misery was caused by him.

Last I saw him, I knew he had something important to tell me. I knew it from the fire in his eyes. But, as you may all remember, he died in the war even before I could know what this substantial message of his is. Everyday since then, as I withered away to old age and leaden limbs, I have not ceased to wonder at this tiny gnawing voice at the back of my head. What did he mean to tell me, really? I know a trifling matter should no longer bother me, but I cannot erase the fact that it is still haunting me. I have often prayed and wished that he could have somehow told me what it was before he turned his back upon me for the last time. But the power of Time is beyond a mortal such as me, a mortal nearing her final years.

A most peculiar thing happened to me last night. I went to bed after finishing my services at the altar, and I was quite tired, as old people normally are. I had finished giving my gray hair its regular hundred strokes of the wooden brush, and as I climbed into my bed and said my final prayers of thanksgiving and praise for that day, the thought of the un-given message suddenly shot into my mind. I think it is worthy of mention because it did come most unwillingly, when I usually would have summoned it up from the depths of my own failing mind. It was my thought until I fell asleep, and I was quite sure that I would have to dream something about it. And this indeed came true.

I was back in my old body, the body of my youth and beauty (forgive me, because for an old woman such as me, I can only take vanity again in my dreams. It has become cruel to fancy before a mirror, for instead of seeing the beauty and bloom you are daydreaming of, what greets you is a withered old husk, full of ugly wrinkles and lines around the eyes, perhaps a bulbous nose and a drooping mouth). My hair was the same lush tangle of dark brown I had always been fond of as a girl. I was wearing my uniform of course, and I myself was standing near the seashore, looking out to the vast expanse of blue and white foam. I had my stockings on, but not my shoes. How I dreamed myself without my shoes I can never know; perhaps the gods will explain it to me when I stand before them one day.

A voice called my name, a voice you all very well know. It was his voice; Nerva’s voice. I turned my head to see him, and he was standing not far from me, wearing his own traditional uniform, sans the eye-studded cape and shoes. He had his hands in his pockets, and I do not know why the first thing I noticed of him was the grisly scar of a burn on his right shoulder. It marred his otherwise perfect skin; the skin of a noble. And he had been a noble, of course. He threw it all away, but I shall not repeat the story you have heard lots of times before.

I walked toward him, letting my stockinged feet sink in the warm sand and the gentle water. I came to stand directly before him. I touched his face—he was remarkable solid, for a dream!—and smiled. He smiled back in that same old sarcastic way of his—the way the others and I remember it. But there were also noticeable marks on his body—marks that I was halfway sure were not there when I saw him last. He had a long, red gash that ran down the side of his neck, and two more down his left shoulder.

"You look fine," I said, not in the reedy, croaky voice that old age always gives. "Except for a few itches or so." I laughed.

"And you," he answered in the familiar clipped baritone. "You look…as beautiful as ever."

I did not remove my hand from his face, understand this. I looked into his eyes. There seemed to be more suffering in there than from what I could remember. By the gods, I hate to think his death had been a painful one. He has had enough pain, this person. "You are in pain," I said to him. "What is it that ails you?"

He didn’t answer me at first. "It is something nobody can heal, I am afraid. Please do not worry yourself about it. I did not visit you to discuss my…ailment…as you yourself has kindly put it." He smiled, that small, emotionless smile of his. He reached up and took my hand into his own. For a moment we stood there in silence, he staring at my hand, while I in turn kept my gaze onto his rather blank face. That was when he looked up again. His eyes were on fire. On fire in the exact manner when he had been about to give me his message.

"I must first apologize." Nerva spoke. "I am a man who always breaks his promises. I have neither honor nor pride in me left, and you must know this. But I also want you to know that not even Death can stop me here. I have come to give you the message you should have heard long ago. Pardon for the lateness, Wealthow."

I shook my head. "You have nothing to apologize for, Nerva. I understand. It is I who must do so. If you had died bearing this burden…then partly I must be a reason for your soul’s suffering. I am sorry I should trouble you so. Forgive me."

I saw something flicker in his eyes. Then, he tilted his head sideways in that strange manner, and looked at me through his long lashes. Oh, they were very pretty, I tell you. For once I could see why countless women threw their hearts to his feet. "Will you hear your message now, Wealthow?" he asked. "I cannot go to peace unless I tell it to you."

"Then please," I said. "you of all people deserve peace. You have been through a lot."

He took a step forward and touched my shoulders. He loomed above me. I was not a tall woman. I looked up at him, unblinking in the mask of calm I put on, when I knew that inside my heart was beating furiously fit to burst.

"I wanted to tell you that I love you." He said quietly, his voice so low I could not help to think it was meant for me alone. That he was afraid someone might hear in this distant dream. "I have loved you ever since I first saw you; when you released me in the Arcane Tower. You are always in my thoughts. Even in my dying thoughts, you are there, first foremost, always, my heart. I love you. I love you forever, until the Wolf rises from the abyss and claims back what is his."

I felt tears trickle down my cheeks. Sobs came from me before I could even stop myself. He lifted his hands from my shoulders and gently wrapped his arms around me. He was so warm, I forgot that he was a ghost. After a while I pulled away and wiped my tears clumsily.

"Did you ever wonder what it was?" he asked.

I nodded. "Every damn day of my life, Nerva al’Thor. Every damn day of my life."

He just stood there, his arms hanging limply by his sides as he surveyed me with his eyes. I finally had the strength to meet his gaze. I smiled at him. "Now we can both be at ease, Nerva. Rest in peace. I will never forget you, until the Wolf rises from the abyss and claims back what is his."

I waited for the dream to dissolve, but it did not. We stood staring at each other.

"I know I’m decades too late," he said. "But if I were able to…what would you have said…?"

I spread out my hands. I had to tell him the truth. I could never lie, you that very well. "I would have refused you, Nerva."

For a moment it seemed the dream rippled. Everything flickered into blackness before it all stabilized again. His face was still blank, but his eyes told me a thousand questions he could not put a voice to. I smiled sadly at him.

"I would have refused you." I said. I placed a hand above my breast. "This is what I have dreamt of all of my life, ever before I was the right age to enter the Novice Academy. I worked hard, and I am happy. This is a secret…but…you have a right to know…" my hand transferred to my womb. "After taking our vows, we are ridden of this. Forever. If I had to leave the church upon hearing you, I will not be able to raise your children. Isidore and I no longer have this ability. The moment I took the cross, it has gone from me. Which is why I would have refused you. One of the reasons why. And I love my dream before anything else."

He looked faint. But he nodded. "I…I understand." He whispered.

"I am sorry," I whispered back.

I saw his hands clench into fists. But he approached me nonetheless.

"You will not see me again." He said. "But before I go…"

He bent forward and kissed me. It was my first and last. His lips were warm and soft. It was only a moment…an inkling of Time…and he drew away…the dream fled along with him.

The next day I awoke, I could still fill his kiss lingering. As if he had been really there. I prayed to the gods. I had never felt this calm for such a long time the feeling is quite alien to me now. But I knew my miseries were over. I can know wait for the Valkyries in peace, at whatever time they wish to take me. And I must not forget to thank Nerva. I know he is at peace now too, with the others.

Ever yours,

No man chooses evil because it is evil, he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.
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