The morning was cold. Xaine’s blankets were warm and his bed was so comfortable he wanted to lie there all day. He had already been there much longer than he usually would and even drifted off to sleep once or twice more. And though he had made progress accepting his father’s passing, it was still hard. Xaine wondered if it would ever stop being hard. He had at least begun to feel the pull back to normal life no matter how abnormal his life felt at the moment.
He was wide awake and staring at the ceiling. The sun had not yet fully risen and Xaine silently cursed his training for waking him this early. He tried to bring himself to get out of bed but still didn’t move. Xaine then heard a loud whinny, undoubtedly from Saber as if even his horse were calling him to action. A smile creased Xaine’s face and he chuckled.
“Fine! I’m up!” He shouted at the window in reply.
He heard the horse snort loudly in the distance.
Xaine sat up and swung his feet over the side of his bed. He sat for a moment more, then stood and began to dress. He put on his boots and tightened them but left them still somewhat unfastened. He headed out the door, grabbing a knife on the table, and strode to the small shed they used to house their feed. Xaine grabbed a large sack and moved over to feeding pans with it slung over his shoulder. The horses having seen him at the shed followed him from there to the pans. He cut the bag open and poured its contents in the pan.
He patted Saber’s thick neck as he chewed his food. Feeling good that he’d finally done something productive Xaine was about to talk to his horse as well, but his eyes fell upon Geranium. He wondered if horses could feel the remorse like humans could. Was she missing Barrek like he was? He reached out to pat her neck as well but something stopped him and he put his hand back on the fence rail.
Xaine then thought about the uncomfortable part of being up and doing something productive. He was clearly beginning to come back to himself, but that meant that the town’s mercy on his grief would soon end. Gaining back his ability to live life normally meant he was also going to have to accept what had happened. Xaine would soon be back here preparing Geranium for the ceremony of Barrek and to say goodbye.
Xaine checked that their water trough was full enough for them and walked slowly back to the house. Once he crossed over the threshold, his boots had become loose enough to step out of, and he left them by the door. Maybe he wasn’t ready to start the day after all. He went back to his room and back to his bed. Ailee or Torin would be back later to check on him anyway; he would get up then.
Xaine opened his eyes once more. He was lying on his bed again and something had woken him, but he couldn’t quite remember what. He looked out his open bedroom door and down the hall to the front door of the house. The knock on the door sounded again and Xaine groaned. He got out of bed and checked himself briefly to make sure he was presentable enough and moved to the front door.
He pulled the door open just as the visitor knocked again and light poured into his face and burned his eyes. He squinted as his eyes watered and he tried to see who was there.
“Morning Xaine! Ready to get back into training?” Torin asked brightly.
“No,” Xaine replied flatly. Every time Torin came to check up on him, he asked the same few questions. At first, this surprised Xaine as he expected Ailee to be the one constantly pushing pestering him. She was pestering him of course but not as directly as Torin.
“Well how about you come see the elders with me today?”
“No Torin I don’t think so.”
“Well have you fed the horses yet?”
“N-Yes actually I have,” Xaine said remembering getting up earlier in the day. “ And thank you for tending them.”
“No need to thank me it’s what yo- well no need to thank me,” Torin replied.
Xaine knew he was about to say ‘It’s what your father would have wanted’ but stopped himself mid-sentence to avoid hurting Xaine’s feelings. Xaine actually appreciated both Ailee and Torin. He may have been frustrated sometimes because he was tired but he appreciated the things they did for him to help him feel like someone still cared. And he especially appreciated the hope they brought each day that he would, in fact, feel better eventually.
“I brought some more supplies from the farm. He donated for you again.” Torin said, and Xaine realized he was still outside.
“Oh yeah, come in.” he moved out of the way and closed the door behind Torin. “It’s so bright out there.”
“Yeah, that typically happens in the day time. Especially when you lock yourself up in a dark house all day.” Torin replied sarcastically laying the food items on Xaine’s table.
“You at least going to get outside a little today?” Torin asked. And Xaine sighed.“You really need to ge-”
“I probably ought to.” They both spoke at almost the same time. Torin had been about to tell him he should get out like usual but was caught off guard by Xaine’s words.
“Well, that’s better!” Said Torin. “You’re making some progress. Before we know it, you’ll be back to assignments.”
“I wouldn’t count on that,” Xaine said with a chuckle. “Ya know I want to get back outside, but do you think they are going to push me to do the ceremony?” Xaine asked.
“Xaine, that ceremony is very important not only for us but for your father. I know this whole thing is hard, but it’s going to happen. You can’t stop that,” Torin said seriously.
“I know…” Xaine replied.
Xaine really did know that it had to happen. But he also just didn’t want to deal with it. Xaine had thought several times before he would have given anything to not have to deal with this. To just wake up one day and realize it was all a dream. But Xaine had slept and woken a lot now since then and it was still all the same. The truth had not changed. His father had died and sooner or later he was going to have to accept it.
For probably the first time after Torin left, Xaine ate fully but did not go back to sleep. Instead, he prepared himself to go out. The day was warm, but there was somewhat of a chilly breeze. Xaine thought it must almost be midday as he headed down the cobbled path leading through the town. Some people greeted him and others gave him furtive looks and Xaine ignored as much as we could.
He arrived at his destination not long after. He had asked the innkeeper if Ailee was in her room only to find she had been out all morning. He was hoping she would be able to accompany him and keep his mind off of things for a bit longer. Instead, he decided to settle for a solitary walk.
For all his valiant efforts, Xaine couldn’t keep his mind off the situation. What was he supposed to do now? What did the town expect of him? What did he expect of himself? He had never really thought he would be on his own already. He was barely of age. Most people lived with their parents until they were married or accomplished.
Was it those thoughts that made him not want to accept his father's death? Was he just selfish and not willing to grow up? No, he knew he had to, and he could accept having to live by himself now. It was really the absence that he didn’t want to accept. He missed his father and didn’t want to think of life without him whether that was living by himself or not.
After making his way through half the town, Xaine heard his name called and was pulled from his reverie. He looked back to find that had just passed his best friend Maez on the path and hadn't even noticed.
“Oh Hi Maez, how have you been?” Xaine asked.
“Good, I guess. Look I know I probably should have come and seen you already, but you didn’t have to ignore me completely ya know?”
Xaine was shocked for a moment then looked up to see Maez smiling. There may have been some truth to Maez’s words, but he clearly meant them mainly as a joke.
“No, I understand, I wouldn’t know what to say to me either.”
“Finally getting out and about? That’s really good. I’m glad to see you out here. I’m sorry about what happened,” Maez said earnestly.
“Thanks, and yeah I wanted to take a walk around and get some fresh air. I was going to bother Ailee, but she wasn’t at the inn.” Xaine replied.
“Yeah, everyone that came back has been meeting a lot with the elders. They’ve been holding counsels with the party members. At least, everyone, that’s able.”
“Ah I see, Torin has been bugging me to go see them. I wonder what it’s all about?”
“Well, from what I know they’ve had a lot to do with you. But I really don’t know much. Only that it seems like people are talking about the whole Phoenix incident again,” Said Maez.
Xaine wondered why he used the word ‘again’ to describe what he was talking about. Then he realized Maez probably didn’t know a Phoenix was involved again in what had happened this time. Not wanting to talk about the implications with Maez, Xaine let the conversation end gracefully under the guise of letting Maez get back to what he was doing.
Maez either understood that Xaine didn’t want to talk about it or wasn’t suspicious of the excuse to go and let him. Xaine left more confused than he was before. Everything seemed to be building up on him, determined to suffocate him. Xaine imagined himself stuck in the middle of the sea alone struggling to keep his head above the surface of the water which kept getting harder and harder.
It was then that Xaine could hear his father's voice in his head. Calling from his memory the same things he used to say to him. “There’s no way to deal with your struggles than to do exactly that, deal with them. Things will happen to you that you aren’t going to like and sometimes you won’t be able to change them. But you have to accept it and move on. After that first step, the rest come easier.”
Xaine never thought he’d have such a large first step. He had lost his mother, his brother, and now his father. And after each loss, he seemed to think it was impossible to lose anymore. Xaine took a deep breath and sighed heavily. I guess there really isn’t anything else I can do, Xaine thought. Dad was right. I just have to accept it and move on.
Xaine slowly made his way back to the inn. He asked the innkeeper if Ailee had come back yet and found that she hadn’t. He wasn’t sure when she would be back, so he paid for a meal and sat at the inn to eat. She didn’t get back until well after he had finished. The sun had already gone down and he was wondering where she could possibly be. She finally arrived coming from the direction of his house.
“There you are, I went by yer house and couldn’t find you. Finally decided to get out did ya?”
“Yeah I came by earlier, but you weren’t around either. Anyway, I waited for you here so I could tell you something.” Ailee looked somewhat surprised at his directness.
“What’s that?” She asked.
“I’m ready. I don’t want to meet with the elders until after the ceremony, but I’m at least ready for that.” He said, forcing it out.
“You sure yer really ready?”
“Well no, I’m not really ready, but I realize I’m not going to be. And the first step to getting better is just to accept it and move on. So I’m not ready, but I know I have to.”
“Good. I’ll relay the message and I’ll talk to you as soon as I have the word. I’m going to tell them you are ready as early as tomorrow for the ceremony.”
Xaine knew this meant that the ceremony would almost certainly be tomorrow. But he also knew that she was doing this for his own good. And that now he wanted to get it over with she was going to do her part to help.
“Thank you. I’ll let you get to sleep then. I have a feeling we are all going to be very busy tomorrow,” He replied.
She simply nodded goodnight and went straight to her room. Well, looks like she’s back to normal, he thought.
Xaine woke again the next morning, and this time didn’t sleep in. He got up fed the horses and waited at the table and had a meal himself. And though he didn’t do very much through the course of the day it seemed to speed by. Noon was already passing when Xaine was out grooming Saber and Geranium.
Ailee had already been by and given him the message that the ceremony was being held this afternoon. Xaine was nervous about what would happen. He had been through this two other times but never alone. This time, he would walk to the gravestone bearing his father’s runes, accompanied only by Geranium in her full tack.
The tack that Xaine was now cleaning and polishing so that it would look its best. The leather was well treated but not very well cleaned. Xaine polished and cleaned through several layers of old dirt that had built up over the time. He actually enjoyed essentially restoring it all to its original form. But at the same time every time he got closer to finishing it he also got closer to putting it on Geranium and closer to the ceremony.
Several times throughout the day and even during his cleaning the tack and grooming the horses, Xaine had fought back tears. A couple of times he failed but soon dried himself up after. This was probably the hardest thing he’d ever one he thought. And yet that very thought caused him, even more, grief that he somehow valued his father over his brother and mother. He then would have to tell himself that it was only because it was the last person he had and he cared just as much for his mother and his brother.
Xaine thought about how he could barely control himself here how would he be able to hold all this back at the ceremony? He knew he couldn’t and for a moment, he felt ashamed. But was this really something to feel ashamed about? He lost his last living relative, his father, and a dear friend. He was now alone, the last one in his line, and everything that his line stood for now rested on his shoulders alone.
It’s not shameful! Dad wouldn’t think so, and neither should I! Xaine fought with himself. He resolved to know that it was not shameful, he was mourning someone who deserved the respect to be mourned. Someone that would be sorely missed and to hide those emotions would be the true shameful act. But he also knew he needed to get past it and move on. To make his father proud and to do justice to him he would need to get passed this hardship and move forward.
So as Xaine began to prepare Geranium with the newly restored tack, he decided on a plan. He would allow himself the time it took to walk up to his father's stone to grieve. He would not hold back his emotions. He would let himself cry and openly mourn. But when he got to the stone he would need to accept it. It would be time to stop being sad and finally stand up.
Before he knew it, Geranium was in full gear and the two of them were walking alone through the quiet and seemingly empty town. Xaine walked along the path toward the burial grounds and guided Geranium by her reins. She walked along beside him occasionally rubbing her head on his shoulder to get an itch. Xaine looked mostly at his feet and stole glances above, to keep them going in the right direction.
Soon he saw the enormous group of people in the distance and knew that some of them saw him as well. He could feel his chest tighten and a knot in his throat. Finally, he knew he was close enough he stopped and looked up at the crowd. They all looked back with grief in their eyes and parted, leaving a path through the throng leading to the headstone.
When Xaine saw the stone, tears ran down his face and he started to walk forward again. He could see and hear the townspeople crying and grieving with him. I could see the concern on their faces for him as they watched him slowly walk Geranium to the center. It was hard, but Xaine kept to his plan and held nothing back. Several times he choked on his sobs as he down the lane and even stopped once or twice before he could continue.
Only about ten feet left, and he would be there. Was he really ready to accept this? Eight more feet. Could he ever really move on? Just about five feet left and he could barely bear the thought of letting go. He reached the small spot that encapsulated his father's grave and stone. And the crowd closed behind him.
He looked at his father’s stone and for the first time he saw it completely different. That stone was not only a monument for his father it showed the runes of his line. It showed the runes of his family. The stone stood for so much more than just Barrek. It stood for Xaine’s mother, his brother, his grandfather, great grandfather and even further. The stone stood for his family, and so did Barrek.
Xaine smiled at it. His face still wet with tears. The stone stood for everything his father stood for. And even though not all of the ancestors shown on this stone knew Xaine, Xaine knew that they all stood for him. Though, none of them were in this world with him anymore. They all supported him. Not one person in his family line had ever denied the help of their successors.
Xaine wiped his face on his shoulder and stood somewhat taller. He knew now that he could do it. He could move on and he could make his father proud. It was all his choice and he had the full support of all of his family behind him. He smiled and was about to take a step toward the stone when a heavy head hit him roughly on the shoulder making him stumble.
Xaine turned to Geranium, who snorted. Xaine chuckled and rubbed her nose.
“I get it, I was just about to go,” He said quietly to her and touched his head to hers.
Then he turned and walked to the stone. He could do this now. He would do it. He would keep his promise to his father. No more would he sit and let things happen. It was time to make things happen. It was time to take control of his life and make the hard choices on his own. Determination flooded through Xaine. He would make his father proud. He would make his entire line proud. Not only would he honor them in this way but he would be honored to be among them.
Xaine reached the stone and laid a hand on it. Warmth spread this his whole body as the runes on the stone lit up from the one on the top of the stone under his palm all the way down to his father's. And as he knew it would, his father’s rune lit. Barrek would also help his people. The crowd cheered and Xaine smiled and even cheered himself. As he took his hand off the stone, he saw the top rune on the stone once again.
The rune was of an ancient ancestor. The ancestor of greatest influence or farthest back that they could trace his line. He could never really remember looking at it. But at the same time, it seemed so familiar. The thought slipped from his mind as he joined the town in celebration for his father.