A Friend and Brother
“Rexus.” The knocking on the door woke him slowly, and Rexus blearily glanced around. It was still dark out, but he could see the hint of the sun wanting to rise. With a groan, he rolled to the side, finding his feet as the knocking continued. “Rexus, open the door, come on. We need to talk.” Rexus opened the door slowly, his gaze taking its time before locking eyes with an alarmingly sober looking Corthos. “By the gods, do you ever sleep?” Corthos grinned and pushed his way into the room before turning to face Rexus and speaking. “So, I went and talked to her again.” Rexus felt himself roll his eyes. “Please tell me this isn’t about Sonarra again, Corthos. Please, for your own sake…” Corthos tilted his head, then laughed. “Wrong, Rexus. I went and talked to Merry. And what I am about to share with you must stay between us, please.” Corthos reached out, grasping his friends arm, his tone suddenly serious. “Please. At least for now.” Rexus swallowed hard, closing his eyes before shrugging his shoulders with a sigh. “Very well. What have you done now?” Corthos took a long moment to reply.
“I’ve….well, I asked her. To be….to be my wife, Rexus.” Rexus stopped in his tracks, his mouth hanging agape. “You. You asked a…for your wife, you wanted someone who was a….” He paused, closing his eyes for a moment to find the best term. “Corthos, I will never pretend to understand you. But if this is what makes you happy, then I will share that happiness with you. I know you are not ignorant – you may be a romantic idiot, and you may believe that the world works differently than I do, but I will not walk away from you. Is this what you want in life? Knowing her past, knowing what is to come?” Corthos nodded slowly, determinedly. “Then let us drink to it.” Corthos broke into a grin as Rexus went to the desk, taking out a personal hidden bottle of fine scotch. He poured two cups. “To the future Lady Mondragon, may she be blessed to know the troubles she has gotten herself into!” The two cups clinked, and Rexus downed his rapidly. “Why now, Corthos? Why when it is the most dangerous? Don’t you fear for her safety if she becomes known as your bride, don’t you fear for what people may think?” Corthos seemed to pause, pouring another shot. “Why then, Rexus? Why wait?” He sipped at his drink, speaking calmly.
“Why should I wait any longer? We face a foe beyond our own measure, and we speak every day in blunt terms but we still fail to accept it. We could all die doing this, Rexus – down to the last man. So why should we die with regrets in our hearts? Why should we fall with things unsaid when all we wanted was to desperately say them?” Corthos downed his drink. “I know why I am in the position that I’m in, Rexus. I feed the creature in my mind with the rage and frustration and regret that I carry. I lived for years after Sonarra with things unsaid, waiting and imagining a life where things had been different. I thought of the family I could have had, of the world that could have been….but it was never going to happen. And I shut myself away from the world to keep this version that I longed for. And when I met Merrigold, she was the first person in a long time that seemed to genuinely enjoy my company. And as time went on, I found myself realizing that I would do almost anything for her.” Corthos leaned in, his eyes locked with Rexus, his voice impassioned. “I fought in a duel for this woman, I paid an ungodly sum for this womans freedom, all because I wanted her to be happy. Not to be mine, just to be happy.”
He leaned back. “When was the last time that you saw that from me, Rexus? I know what will be said. I know what will be assumed, and I am prepared for it – let them drag my name through the mud, I can take it. My actions will speak louder than anything that can be thrown at us. Rexus….I am a better man with her. I feel like I can achieve so much more, like I can be more than I was ever meant for previously.” Rexus poured two new drinks, speaking softly. “Corthos, there is no man closer in my life. You are a brother, nearer than blood to me. If this is what you want, then I will never allow anyone to blaspheme it around me. I will not doubt the feeling of your soul – far be it for a poet to question the ideas of a romantic. To Corthos and Merrigold Mondragon.” “To Corthos and Merrigold Mondragon.” The drinks clicked together as Corthos spoke again. “We are so close, Rexus. So close to all of it. To the revolution, to the fight, to the new reality. I regret that your family was not here to see it.” Rexus smiled sadly as he replied. “As do I. But they would be proud, and I suppose that the Ravens make a capable and welcoming second family. We couldn’t have done all of this without you.”
Corthos shook his head. “You could have. You’re a more resourceful and clever man than you give yourself credit for, Rexus. The Ravens would never have returned without your help. I would have continued to be the man I was without your interference. And….I’m sorry.” Rexus raised an eyebrow. “I have not always been the best of friends to you. I did not even attempt to find you after the Night of Ashes, I was so focused on my own problems. I treated your traumas as something in the background of my own, and did not provide the brotherhood to you that you so warmly gave me. You are a patient man – exceedingly so – and I am a stubborn man in equal measure. Yet you still welcomed me as a brother, even after years of silence, and you listened to my ideas. You stood beside me in battle and in diplomacy, and you listened as I tried to lead. And when I attempted to step away, you still had faith in me – even while I was the same scoundrel that so many believed existed. You are a far better man than I deserve to have as a friend, and I apologize for my failings.” Rexus laughed. “She has changed you, hasn’t she?” He sipped his drink, putting an arm over Corthos’ shoulders.
“My mother always told me that you would get us arrested or shipped to a boarding academy or some fate equally awful. But she also told me that every poet needed an ally who could turn the emotion of the page into action. Do you recall when we were at the Academy? There were times that I could not believe your arrogance, but I still smiled as you debated every teacher that made a mistake of engaging you. And when I wrote a letter that attacked the entirety of the faculty, that raised every point that it could about the noble houses, that angered them so much that they went on a witch hunt for the author – you insisted that you had written it. Even went so far as to imitate my script and style, knowing the consequence. You were removed from the Academy for ‘your’ dissident letters, and you refused to state that they were mine. You told me that I could not give up my studies, because change could not come from emotion alone. And I watched as you were humiliated, dragged away from the campus, pushed into a meaningless office job by your family to hide your embarrassing behavior – and you never mentioned me. Ever to this day.” The two exchanged a glance before Rexus continued.
“I learned to not turn my back on my friends, Corthos. On the people who did not turn their back on me. There is nothing to apologize for. After all, didn’t you say that we should not face death with regret? It is an honor to serve alongside you.” Corthos embraced him, downing his drink and standing, an honest smile showing on his face. “We might actually do this, Rexus. We might actually be able to get this done.” Rexus smiled. “We can, Cor. And we will. Remember, as you wrote it – Death itself fears the righteous and the pure, for it has no power over the free soul.” Corthos nodded, walking for the door. “Rexus….for all of it, after all these years, I cannot thank you enough.” “There is no thanks that are necessary, Cor. But I would like to return to bed. And…congratulations.” Corthos nodded, leaving the room. The door had hardly closed before Rexus had sat back down, sipping at the refilled glass. He mused to himself quietly.
“If we could all die in this, why should we waste the time and regret what we were too hesitant to say? There is nothing left to be lost in speaking your mind. After all, as they said, a poet silenced is a man deprived of air.” He drank deeply, looking at the quill on his desk and letting out a long sigh.