Remembering a Friend

by Christian O'Kane

To understand the actions in this one I suggest you first Burying a Friend which you can find here:
http://metamorkeep.com/story/Burying_a_Friend.php

The story takes place right after Matt's story Bidding Farewell which you can find here:
http://metamorkeep.com/story/Bidding_Farewell.php


Remembering a Friend

by Christian OKane

   Misha had tried to keep the meeting small but it had quickly grown. Not all the Long Scouts were present. Aside from Misha and Caroline there was Finbar and Danielle, Georgette, Kershaw, Jotham, Laura, Ralls., Meredith and Allart. Also present was Arla even though she had retired from the Longs. It made for a tight fit in Misha's office.

   Misha closed the door and turned to the group. "Thank you all for coming," Misha said solemnly. "Charles has just given me some important information," he paused for a moment. "About Baldwin."

   A loud roar filled the room as everyone talked all at once.

   Misha held up both hands. "QUIET!"

   The noise subsided to a low buzz before finally stopping and silence filled the room.

   "Charles told me this story and I'll repeat it as he told me." Talking in a clear, soft voice Misha described exactly the story Charles had told him.

   When he was finished there was a profound silence in the room. It was finally broken by Finbar muttering a curse in Lutin.

   "I thought we'd heard the last of him," Meredith muttered.

   "Some things refuse to stay buried," Arla commented.

   "I thought that by erasing him it would make it easier to deal with his betrayal," Misha commented out loud. "We could just forget him."

   "That didn't work," Georgette snapped.

   "No," Misha said. "No it didn't."

   "Good or bad he was one of us," Finbar said earnestly. "We can't keep denying that. He existed. He laughed with us, sweated with us and he fought at our side. We trusted him with our lives."

   "And how did he repay that trust?" Laura asked. "Betrayal."

   "How do we treat him?" Meredith asked. "Baldwin didn't die honorably like Craig and Llyn. He died trying to kill everyone. He betrayed Metamor."

   "He did repent," Danielle said in a soft voice. "At the end."

   "I'm grateful for that," Laura added.

   "We all are," Caroline said, speaking for the first time.

   Misha sighed loudly. "He was no hero but he was one of us. He always will be." The fox closed his eyes for a moment. "What I want to know is why did he do it? Was I so bad a leader?"

   "No," Finbar responded forcefully. "You're a good leader. He was just a bad follower."

   "We all have our weaknesses," Kershaw commented. "Nasoj found Baldwin's and played on it."

   "He was a good soldier and a good Long scout," Misha said in soft tones. "But he just wasn't ready for command. Was I wrong?"

   Lisa shook her head. "Leading isn't easy. He wasn't ready to lead. A year or two more perhaps he would have been."

   Misha slowly nodded his head. "And there are only a dozen of us. How many leaders can we have?" He was quiet a moment. "He failed us. I failed him."

   "You didn't know what he was doing," Finbar commented.

   "I should have," Misha countered. "It's part of being a leader. I should have seen the warning signs."

   "So what do we do?" Danielle asked.

   "We do not honor him but we do remember him," Kershaw answered solemnly.

   "What?" Meredith asked.

   "How do we remember him and not honor him?" Finbar asked.

   "What do we tell people?" Caroline asked.

   "Tell the truth. Good and bad," Kershaw said slowly. "And let people decide for themselves."

   "What will his legacy to the Longs and history be?"




   "Edmund!"

   The feline paladin stopped at the sound of his name. Turning in the direction of the voice he saw Misha walking up to him.

   The fox stepped up to Edmund striding boldly. He suddenly stopped and seemed to hesitate. Misha turned his head away for a moment and stared at the wall. He took a deep breath and looked Edmund square in the face. "Right after Winter Assault you attended a funeral of one of the Longs."

   It took Edmund a few moments to remember it. Shortly after the Winter Assault he had stumbled upon a strange, silent procession making its way through empty corridors of the Keep. In it the Longs were all dressed in black and bearing an unadorned coffin. They had placed the coffin in a fine, stone tomb but one bearing no name or inscription. The occupant of the coffin was Baldwin who had once been a Long scout.

   Misha had not explained what had happened. The scout had simply called Baldwin a traitor. The fox hadn't given him details and Edmund had not pressed for any. He also remembered how Misha had ordered the bird 'forgotten'. All records of him removed. All that remained of the dead traitor were whispered rumors. "I remember."

   "We have decided," the fox said in a voice filled with emotion. Edmund was unsure if that emotion was pain, grief or anger. Perhaps a little bit of them all. "To remember him. You were there when we laid his body to rest. I thought it appropriate for you to be there when we properly mark his tomb."

   Edmund nodded his head slowly. “I will be there.”

   Misha relaxed noticeably. "Twelve noon in Long Hall," he said in a whisper. "Thank you." And with that he turned and walked off.




   Upon Arriving in Long Hall at 11:55am Edmund found the Longs gathered together there. The massive room was empty except for the thirteen gathered by the door to Misha’s office. All of them were dressed in black and proudly embroidered on the front of their tabards was the crossed gold bow and axe symbol of the Long Scouts.

   He recognized all the people who had been at the first funeral. Also present was someone Edmund didn't recognize. The piebald pony stallion was wearing the rough, tough clothing of a worker. In one hand was a large denim hand bag that was filled with various tools. The stallion seemed ill at ease among the scouts in the black dress.

   Misha walked up to the paladin. The scout leader was dressed in full chainmail armor covered with a tabard. Like the rest of the scouts on the tabard both front and back was the crossed bow and axe. Last time Misha had even dyed his fur black in mourning. Now his fur was its natural coloring. "Thank you for coming," he said calmly. "We're keeping this low key. If you could fall in at the end of the group. That's where you were the last time."

   "I understand. Is there any way I can help?" The paladin asked.

   "I'm not sure," Misha admitted sheepishly. "I'm just roughing it. No real deep planning and I'm honestly not sure how this will go."

   Edmund patted Misha on the back. "It will go fine. Never fear."

   The scout seemed to relax. "I hope so."

   Misha walked up to the stallion and shook his hand. "Thank you for coming Stephan. You just follow at the end of the group till I ask you to come up. Then you can do carving. That all right?"

   "That's fine." Stephan answered.

   "Will it take long to carve?"

   Stephan shook his head and his mane flipped back and forth. "No. Just a few minutes. I'm not sure about touching the monument," he asked nervously.

   Misha patted Stephan on the shoulder. "Never fear. I have permission. Besides Kyia herself created it. If she didn't want us to do it, we won't be able to get near it."

   The stallion seemed to cheer up. "I'm ready."

   "Good. Please just follow along at the rear," Misha ordered. "With Edmund."

   Misha walked to the front of the group and halted. He came to a stiff, upright position of attention. "FALL IN!"

   The scouts all moved together and came to a position of attention in two, neat lines.

   "Right face! Forward march!" The scout Commander ordered.

   The group of Long Scouts turned in unison and marched across Long Hall. Edmund motioned to the pony and the two followed at a polite distance.

   A few moments marching took them through a door and into a brightly lit corridor. The corridor seemed to stretch onward forever. As they moved the group saw no one and passed nothing. Not even a closed door or window. Time seemed to drag on and Edmund could not tell how long they moved. It was as if they moved in a different world where time didn't matter.

   Suddenly the corridor ended and they stepped into bright sunlight. They were in the large open area that lay before the gates leading to the inner ward of the fortress. In good times it was a place of celebrations and meetings. And it was here that many of the Duke's proclamations were often read out loud. Nearby a beautiful fountain burbled and bubbled lightening the mood and atmosphere.

   In the center of the area was a four sided, stone column whose tapered form rose some twelve feet above the pavement. The stone was of the same gray as all of Metamor but was new and bore no weathering. Potent magic protected it and the monument would be the same in a thousand years.

   Carved into the gray stone sides of the monument were over a thousand names each incised carefully by a master stone carver. One thousand, four hundred and thirty-seven names to be exact all arraigned in neat rows running from the tip to the base. They listed the names of citizens of Metamor, young and old, male and female.

   Scattered around the base were flowers and a large bouquet of ribbons, bows and colored cloth. Resting against each of the four sides of the stone was a large wreath made of pine boughs.

   Misha had already arraigned things with the Watch and a score of them had surrounded the monument keeping crowds at a distance. So they had the monument to themselves for the moment.

   The group was gathered on the east side, facing the monument.

   "There it is," Misha said and pointed up the pillar to a spot about a third of the way up. Above that spot was the name Philip Barquez and below it was Cassandra Philips. Both had the names carefully chiseled into the stone. But in between was different. It was blank. It wasn’t that the lettering had been removed or worn off. That one line had been deliberately left empty, only the smooth, gray stone where a name should have been.

   "I always wondered about that blank space," Stephan commented in a whisper. "I never expected to find out."

   The Longs formed a half circle around one side of the monument. Locking arms and looking toward the pillar. Next to the pillar was Stephan. The pony fumbled nervously with a large step ladder before setting it up in the right place.

   They ignored the crowd that was starting to form and the Longs fixed their attention on the stone carver.

   Stephan climbed the ladder slowly and examined the blank space carefully. He gently ran his hand along the stone getting a feel for its texture. In his mind he was judging the shape and placement of each letter.

   The artist took out a chisel and mallet and slowly began to carve.

   Traffic through plaza had come to a halt as people watched the carver at work. Soon a good sized crowd had formed and grew with each passing moment.

   "What are you doing?" A voice from the crowd asked. "You're adding a name?"

   "We forgot one," Meredith said out loud. "Now we're remembering him."




   The world around him faded from his attention. All that mattered was the stone in front of him and his tools.

   Stephan took only a few minutes to finish his task. The stone yielded easily to his tools and his skills. Once done he used a fine brush made from hair from his own mane to remove the last chips and dust. Finally satisfied with his work the carver climbed down from the ladder. He stepped back and examined his handiwork.

   The name "Baldwin Gryphus" had been carved into the stone in neat and precise lettering.

   Misha patted Stephan on the back. "Nicely done. Thank you."

   The Long Scout leader walked up to the Watch Lieutenant. They talked for a moment and then he shook the woman's hand.

   Misha spun about and took three steps then stopped. He came to a stiff, upright position of attention. "FALL IN!"

   The scouts all moved together and came to a position of attention in two neat lines.

   "Right face! Forward march!" The scout Commander ordered.

   The group of Long Scouts turned in unison and marched away with Edmund and the pony trailing along at the back. Behind them the crowd quietly gathered around the monument and examined the latest addition to it.




   Long Hall was remarkably quiet at this hour of the day. The vast hall that is at the heart of Long House should have been filled with various scouts moving about or training. But the newer Long scouts or those hoping to be Longs had all been sent elsewhere by their Leader. What had happened would be explained to them later. Misha had made sure the hall was empty except for thirteen including George.

   The group was standing at attention in the middle of the hall close to one side. Misha stepped into his office for a moment. When the fox returned he had a green bundle under one arm and two other smaller bundles in each hand. These bundles were colored a dark brown. The fox handed one brown bundle to Caroline and the other to George.

   The Long Scout leader took place at the head of the group. "Left face. Forward march."

   A door on one side of the vast hall led to a set of broad stairs leading downward. Without breaking stride, the group made its way through the doorway and downward.

   To Edmund the corridor hadn't changed. The stone walls looked the same as before. And yet the atmosphere felt lighter, nowhere near as oppressive.

   Edmund heard soft footsteps behind him. At first he thought it was just echoes of their own footfalls. Suddenly he realized that he was hearing just one set of footsteps and not many. The paladin paused and looked behind him. Back in the shadows he glimpsed a figure that seemed to be made of wisps of smoke and glimmers of light. Even so he recognized the figure. The paladin didn't speak but just nodded his head in acknowledgement.

   The ghostly figure seemed to smile and nod a barely visible head in response.

   He wasn't sure what to do at first. But the group of living mourners kept moving. So Edmund and his ghostly companion followed after it. Both moving a quietly as death itself.

   The trip continued deeper into the bowels of the keep as the Longs Kept walking. Their two guests; one living and one dead trailed along behind.

   The stone blocks of the keep gave way to natural stone as they made their way into the tunnels hewn from the living rock itself. Suddenly the tunnel ended in a blank, stone face. Set into the wall on the left was an archway. Through that lay the tomb of Baldwin. Edmund remembered the doorway being plain, bearing only the words "Here lies one of our own," and nothing else. Beyond it the room had also been unadorned except for an equally plain sarcophagus.

   But things had changed. The sides of the doorframe bore a modest decoration of birds flying. Over the door the words had changed as well. "Here lies Baldwin Gryphus. One of our own."

   Misha held up the green bundle he was carrying. Finbar took one edge of the and slowly walked backwards. The bundle unraveled into a very large green banner bearing the white crossed bow and axe. The symbol of the Long Scouts.

   Moving slowly and carefully they placed the flag over the coffin. It was large enough that it completely covered the coffin leaving only the ends exposed.

   He walked to the end of the sarcophagus at the foot of which lay a sword and a bow. Both broken into pieces. Misha leaned over and picked up the parts of the bow.

   Caroline came forward. In her hands was an unstrung long bow.

   Misha took the bow from his fiancé and handed her the broken pieces. The scout gingerly placed the intact weapon onto the coffin atop the banner. Then he picked up the two parts of the ruined sword.

   Caroline stepped back and George stepped forward. In his hands was a sword.

   Misha gently took the intact sword and gave George the broken one.

   "With this act I restore you to our ranks Baldwin Gryphus." And then he placed the sword on the coffin, on top of the banner.

   Misha gently laid a hand on the end of the sarcophagus. "Rest in peace Baldwin."

   He stepped back two paces and turned to the assembled scouts. "Long Scouts. Dismissed."

   Slowly the group filed out moving past their leader. George lingered as he passed. "Don't stay here brooding too long. I'm buying at the Mule."

   The fox gave a yip of laughter. "We won't."

   The old scout stared at him for a moment than nodded and walked away.

   The rest had left and only Misha, Edmund and Caroline remained.

   Edmund walked up to Misha and stood next to him. "That was nicely done at the monument. Simple and yet solemn."

   "Thank you," was the scout's answer.

   "One question," the paladin asked. "Why in the middle of the day? You could have done that at night and no one would have known. By night fall the entire Keep will be talking about it."

   "And what will they be saying?" the fox asked enigmatically without taking his eyes off of the tomb.

   "They'll remember his name and that he was a Long who died in the Yuletide attack," The paladin responded.

   Misha glanced at the paladin. "And?"

   Edmund pondered that for a moment. Few outside the Long Scouts knew about Baldwin's betrayal. If he had not happened upon the funeral procession the paladin himself wouldn't know either. "And nothing else."

   "They'll assume he died a hero," Misha said. "Like all the others on the monument. They'll remember his name but not his deeds. Both good and bad."

   "The truth has a way of revealing itself," the feline commented. "His betrayal will be discovered."

   "Eventually," Misha answered. "But no time soon."

   "Did he have a family?" Edmund asked. Changing the subject.

   "Parents, brother and two sisters," Misha answered. "But he was estranged from them for a long time."

   "Do they know?" Edmund asked.

   "No, we never told them or anyone for that matter," Misha paused. "But they probably suspected what happened to him."

   "What happened to his family."

   Misha shrugged. "We were never in touch. He lost a brother in law in Winter Assault."

   "Sad," the paladin said. "How is the widow doing?"

   "We've taken care of her and the two children," the fox responded.

   "Why?" Edmund asked without taking his eyes off the tomb.

   Misha looked at the paladin and tilted his head to one side. "What?"

   Edmund looked at the fox. "Why are you taking care of the family of a traitor?"

   "Because we promised to take care of his family," Misha answered, "No matter what happened."

   "So," Edmund said slowly and calmly. "Even as you were trying to forget him you were remembering him. In a sense."

   Misha didn't speak at first but just looked at Edmund for a long moment. "So many questions. So many things I'd like to say to him."

   "Why don't you tell him yourself," Edmund said. "He's behind you."

   Misha spun around. His eyes grew wide and his fur stood out. He stared at the figure with a mixture fear, confusion and excitement.

   The bird seemed no different than when Misha had last laid eyes on his body. He looked as if he was still alive. The feathers were still visible, neatly arranged as always. Except on his chest where the spear that had killed him had penetrated past the rib cage onto right into the heart.

   His mind drifted back to all the times they had been together. All the good and bad times. How often had they gone out to the north. Facing the dangers together. How often had they spent the night relaxing and having fun? How many drinks had they shared? How often had they shared meals? For months he had thought of only Baldwin the traitor. Now he thought of Baldwin the friend.

   The ghostly Baldwin came to attention and brought his hand up slowly in a salute. "Sir," came a whisper.

   The air grew noticeably colder and he shivered uncontrollably for a moment. His breath came in short gulps that misted into small clouds when it hit the cool air.

   Dazed. Misha returned the salute.

   "I'm sorry," the shade said in a voice as soft as a night breeze.

   A thousand different things that had been going through his mind vanished. Gone were the questions along with the anger. They just didn't seem to matter anymore. It didn't matter why he did it. All that remained was regret at the loss of a good friend and compatriot. "We all do things that we later regret," Misha said slowly. "Things that felt right but turned out all wrong. I should have treated you better."

   "We're both sorry," the spirit answered. "So much I should have done and so much I should have said."

   "The past is the past," Misha said quietly. "It will do us no good to worry about it."

   The fox wrapped his arms gently around Baldwin. The figure felt cold but real. He felt the cold limbs wrap around him as well. "I wish you well and that the Great One grant you the peace and happiness you deserve."

   "May the Great One grant you a long and happy life," the spirit responded. And with those words Baldwin vanished leaving Misha holding empty air. As his last words faintly echoed in his ears.

   "Now perhaps we can both rest easy," Misha said softly.

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"Remembering a Friend", copyright Christian O'Kane