Eamonn trudged wearily up the steps of the lodge he shared with Aaren. He paused to wipe his feet on a mat at the side of the verandah and pushed open the door. He saw the figure of Aaren as emerged from his room. In recent weeks, they’d barely spoken an unnecessary word to each other. Eamonn had been hesitant to approach Aaren about what had been said in the aftermath of Blackden. He wasn’t altogether sure how his friend would react to his intrusion, which was exactly why he’d sought out some of his own field work, leaving behind Aaren to get himself back on track after their mission.
Aaren took in the features of the younger man, the trudging lope and the half closed eyes told him his pupil had gone without some sleep. Aaren himself had slept very little the past few days. In the darkened room, Eamonn couldn’t see the darks rings that circled Aaren’s eyes, he’d seemed a shadow of his former self, though Eamonn didn’t notice in his current state.
“Getting up to mischief I see.”
Aaren chuckled quietly as the boy sluggishly maneuvered his way over to one of the arm chairs by the fireplace, he sighed audibly as he took the seat, noticing for the first time, how tired the older man looked. “I was out doing some field work, thought I’d give you a few days to yourself, along the way we came across a wild cat that had been stealing come of the local famer’s animals. I managed to track it down.” he told his mentor.
Aaren looked curiously back at the youth waiting for him to continue, “And…?” he prompted.
Eamonn seemed to gather his thoughts again, groaning as he sat up straighter in the chair, “I couldn’t handle the situation, I couldn’t separate myself from the idea of killing such a beautiful animal and letting the local farmers starve. But I had to do something. So I to Damian for help.”
Aaren nodded, “A good idea too. What did you do with the wild cat?”
Eamonn didn’t move, couldn’t move was more accurate for him. “I got a sort of numbing fluid from the local apothecary. I attached it to the side of one of my arrows and used a thin arrowhead instead of the broader one. I shot the animal and it helped to administer the fluid. I used a heavy dosage and it actually knocked the animal out. Damian was on hand to help me move it to the next district, further into the woods. It’ll take some time before it realises where it is. It should be safe there.” he concluded, smiling briefly at the memory of it.
Aaren waited, one eyebrow raised as he thought over what the boy had said. When he judged the boy had taken the right precautions in his approach. He turned towards the table.
There were two heavily bound folders there, each had a clasp that latched across its front, Eamonn could see that one of the clasps had been moved as Aaren picked up the undisturbed folder and handed it to the boy.
“We’ve been summoned” he said simply.
Eamonn took the folder and removed the clasp from the latch that held it in place. Inside there were official looking documents, all which bared the signature of the Aylesburian King. Eamonn looked up at Aaren, a question in his eyes.
“We’re to report to the king’s meeting hall the day after tomorrow.” Aaren answered, preempting the boy’s question. “The castle grounds are two days ride from here. You look tired.” He said in an aside. Aaren pointed with his thumb towards Eamonn’s room, “You should grab a couple of hours sleep. I’ll come and get you afterwards. I want us mounted and ready to leave in an hour. We’ll hit the Argon forest just before nightfall, we’ll camp there tonight.”
Aaren moved away to get some breakfast sorted for himself. At the mention of sleep, Eamonn blearily got to his feet and staggered into his room and collapsed onto his bed. They’d only just managed to set free the cat late that morning. The beast was on the cusp of waking as Eamonn released it from his casters and left it to wake from its induced sleep.
They took the trail back to Faraday and Eamonn thanked Damian for his help and his guidance in the matter. The senior had clutched the boy fiercely by the shoulder and looked the student squarely in the eyes, “Look after Aaren, you trusting him is more important that you know.”
Eamonn mounted Dusty and ventured back home. His time with Damian seemed to fade from his memories as his head hit the pillow. He sank deeply into the sleep that was claiming him, he muttered incoherently and let himself give in to the dreams.
They ate a quick meal before they left. Aaren proceeded to travel towards the north-west along several of the main roads towards the King’s own castle. They kept to a comfortable pace, never forcing their horses to over-extend, they’d push harder a little later on in the evening when it was a little cooler and the horses could cope better with the faster pace. For now they were content with a loping canter.
They rode on in silence, they said little throughout the night other than the odd word to the other or a quick question, the rumbling and thudding sounds from the beating of their horses’ hooves into the ground gave no chance for idle chatter. Eamonn had grimaced under the light of afternoon sun as it beat down on him, the late morning nap had left him a little groggy and sluggish. The few hours of sleep left him feeling lethargic. Being out in the sun and the constant drumming from the horses didn’t help him either. As for the lack of conversation between them, Eamonn wasn’t concerned. He’d learnt quickly that Aaren was a fairly reserved person, rarely feeling it necessary to share his worries or concerns of the world. He would only speak when he wanted to teach Eamonn something new, or they were moving off from their current task.
Eamonn guessed that this was an important skill in the Commission. The ability to put your feelings aside and deal with what was before you or to never let on about your concerns could enable you to overcome whatever challenges were presented to you.
Eamonn then thought of the other side of things. Times where Aaren wouldn’t be able to hide and simply push his feelings aside, Aaren would need to be able to deal with them, not shy away and hide from them. Looking over at his mentor again made him question that last part. When it came to it, Eamonn would need to depend on Aaren to back him up. It would be just the same for Aaren, he would have to trust Eamonn that he would be there for him. If Aaren was keeping something from him, if it even slightly concerned Eamonn, he would have to be willing to share it with him. Aaren would hardly be doing himself any favours by keeping bottled up inside.
Over the course of the evening, and into the ensuing darkness that fell across them Eamonn could see Aaren’s mind pondering over things, and judging by the looks he saw on Aaren’s face, the signs were there that something sinister was at work here, and that decision rang alarms bells in Eamonn’s mind.
It was an hour after nightfall when they finally stopped. Eamonn slipped from the saddle and looked into the big eyes of Dusty. Like his master, Dusty was showing signs of fatigue. The horse’s head has started to drop and Eamonn thought it took a considerable effort for Dusty to raise it again. Eamonn held out his hand, touching the horse’s soft muzzle. Eamonn grinned as Dusty whiffled and snorted at the touch. Eamonn leaned over to one of the saddle bags and produced a succulent red apple, he held it out, within easy reach for Dusty.
There was nothing for a few moments then there was the hearty crunch as Dusty munched half of the apple in a single bite. When it was gone, Eamonn held out his hand straight, showing the horse there was nothing left. Dusty wasn’t taking it though and began searching the rest of Eamonn who, while he was stretching out his muscles, turned back to see Dusty nosing into his cartridge satchel.
“Away with you!” Eamonn said, swinging a half-hearted hand at the animal.
Eamonn’s muscles cried out for some form of relief. He stepped forward, taking a firm hold on the reins from where they rested on his saddle. He staggered slightly as he slowly stood erect, stretching his sore back muscles again groaning and sighing to himself, his only thoughts now on a hot meal and rolling into his bedroll. He felt the heavy butting of Dusty against his shoulder. What about me the look said. The reliable and loyal horse snorted at him, the look reminded Eamonn of his duties.
Grudgingly, pulled his horse across to the camp space Aaren had selected. He released the tension on the girth straps and removed the saddle, Eamonn let it drop with a heavy thud beside him. He searched through his saddle bag and grabbed a clean cloth and rubbed him down. Dusty snorted his thanks and Eamonn crouched to pick up the saddle. The movement caused his tired joints to ache in protest but he carried the saddle over to the soft grass where he would re-strap and ready it for when he needed it next. Eamonn found a selection of stones and piled them up to mark the area for their camp fire. It was a couple minutes before he saw Aaren approach from the darkness laden with firewood to prepare the fire. He too sat down on the soft grass and sighed contentedly.
“I’ve scouted the area for any signs of disturbance, we should be fine for the evening.” Aaren reported. It was usual practice for them to secure their surroundings, Eamonn was usually charged with that job, but since the events of Blackden and after the boy’s recent busy schedule, Aaren had decided on carrying out the task himself. There was a small part of him that thought that he owed the boy something
Eamonn smiled his thanks. He didn’t mind the task, it was always interesting looking for new tracks and discovering how the lands grew, and collecting the firewood gave him an unusual sense of accomplishment, it made him somehow think that he now stood amongst an elite company of those lucky enough to travel the world. Tonight, in his current state of mind, he would have found himself wondering and skipping over details, it was likely miss a vital piece of information.
Aaren himself looked fairly tired, a hint of his weariness slurred his speech, it wasn’t the easiest terrain to navigate, some of the rocky outcrops made for some uncomfortable riding, but in all, it was a fairly straightforward trek. Eamonn had started to prepare the evening meal, it was nothing special. They had some rations from the previous night consisting of braised rabbits with some thyme and rosemary accompanied by some twice cooked potatoes that Aaren had cook over the fire together. Eamonn threw everything into a pan and set it in the flames along with a dollop of wine.
After a few minutes, they could smell the fragrance of the wine coming through, the potatoes had softened a little more. Eamonn had his back leaning against a tree, sitting comfortably. He looked over at his mentor, and he knew that the time was right. He straightened his seating position to stir the flames with a stick and blew out the small flare that caught its end.
“Aaren,” he began, gaining the older man’s attention, “you’ve been down for several weeks now, I know that this isn’t you, something really got to you when we were in Blackden. I know that Blane was your mentor, I know that something had to have come between you both for you to be this way.”
Aaren’s eyes slid away from his apprentice, he knew the subject would come up eventually, and being such a huge part of each other’s lives now, he had to face the fact that there would be times where even the most painful experiences of his life would need to be shared with the young man sitting across from him. This sort of event was one that could have a large impact on himself and his young friend at some point in the future.
“Ok, I know that I need to let you know. You and I are a lot closer to each other than you know.”
Eamonn looked at him, his face screwed up in confusion. Aaren elaborated. “I fell in love with a girl when I was about your age. I had moved from my home farther north to Hailsham, near the great northern hills of Aylesbury. I had been studying with Blane for several months already and we’d been sent on a few different assignments during the summer, for the most part I was kept in the dark about his family. Blane insisted that we live apart from them, it was only when he accepted me that we first visited them. Up to that point, all I knew was that he had a daughter about my age and of his past dealings with his brother.”
“As the colder weather approached, we found ourselves spending more time at his home, and it was then that I spent some time with his family. I’d seen them as we came and went, that first winter I noticed her. His daughter and I became close. We enjoyed similar things and I got the feeling she was envious of my freedom to roam the world with her father. She begged him to mentor her alongside me. His answer was always the same. He was worried that she would be in constant danger and he couldn’t think of losing her. But she was resilient and strong willed. Eventually he relented. It was some time later that dawned on him that we had feelings for each other, by then it was too late to stop instructing her.”
Eamonn realised that Aaren was confiding in him some of the most secretive portions of his life. He kept silent, thinking that if he disrupted him, Aaren would shy away again.
“We spent a lot of time together. Blane had been hesitant on her coming along on my missions, just as he was unsure letting me go with them. We were at different stages in our development, but there was little he could do about it and he couldn’t deny that it gave us an ideal situation of communicating ideas and promoted a bit of competition between us to help continue improving. We’d reached our final year of study when we met Marlow, he was our age and in his final year too. He joined us and we became a little group after Marlow’s mentor was killed in a raiding mission with pirates. We became friends, and we went on a few journeys with Blane as a four, in the end the three of us graduated together.” He smiled fondly at the memory of his teenage years. Eamonn was surprised as his mentor’s face grew dark.
“They were my best friends, we had shared many journeys together, we’d overcome plenty of dangerous situations. Then came the first solo mission.”
Aaren took a moment to discuss the duties of graduate members and the excitement he felt. “As a graduate, receiving your first solo mission is one of the most daunting things you can think of. Marlow was the first one to be given one. He was tasked with tracking down the mutterings of an uprising in the eastern side of Azarowa, as his friends we naturally joined him as part in a group a dozen strong. Most were men at arms, it included a specialist tracker and of course the three of us. We spent three weeks searching for leads, looking for evidence when we caught the trail. As you would know, most folk are cautious in giving out information until we found one person, Dallin.”
Eamonn eyes rose at that, it was becoming clear about the history between those two. “He filled us in on everything that we needed to know, numbers, names, everything. He even agreed to lead us to the town where they were based. We were on the cusp on finding the truth behind the mystery. There was a battle, somehow word had spread about us and they had known we were coming. One of the other men was an alchemist, he loved mixing chemicals and such, and he created an explosive concoction that brought down a building. I was separated from the other two and was forced to find an alternate route, I could hear them fighting as I finally managed to catch up to them. I walked out into the opening, and that’s when I saw her.”
Aaren left the statement hanging in the air, he took a deep breath before continuing, “She was there, lying on her side, clutching at the wound in her chest. She’d been hit. I held her in my arms for what felt like an age. Marlow found us a few moments later. That’s when I saw Dallin. He was unconscious and injured, he was the only other one there.”
This wasn’t what Eamonn was expecting, he was expecting something…different. He thought over things and finally managed to piece everything together. “Is this why you were arguing with Blane? Because he thought you were responsible for her death?” Eamonn asked, Aaren licked his drying lips and cleared his eyes of the tears forming.
“Five days later I returned to tell him, he blamed me for her death. He said that he should have known something like this was going to happen. He felt like he had failed her and that we had betrayed her. Neither of us could face each other after that. Within a week I’d moved to Faraday and he’d retired from the commission, I’ve only ever seen him a couple of times. Being together again in Blackden brought up a lot of bad memories, I couldn’t bear to look him in the eyes again. I suppose I’ve gone into my shell a bit because of how I see you. I’ve been reminded of what happened every time I look at you. That’s the reason why I’ve been trying to avoid bringing this up with you.”
This piece of information was awkward for Eamonn to hear, he couldn’t see how this would involve him, he hadn’t been around at the time, and couldn’t be included in this problem. “So…” Eamonn tried, pushing for a little more information.
Aaren looked at the boy, “I mentioned that he had a brother, that brother lived away from him because of a previous feud, Blane hadn’t seen his brother for a couple of years at that point. Blane’s lifestyle had something to do with it. The death of Blane’s daughter tore the rest of the family apart, which is the reason of why you have no family anymore.”
Aaren looked deep into the eyes of Eamonn, his next words hit him like a thunderclap. “Blane’s brother is your father.”