A Chance Encounter: Haunted Souls
Chapter 8: Pirates and Cowboys
Location: The deck
Timeline: Day 6 from arrival
Pushing a piece of hair behind her ear as the wind picked up, Melisande smiled. She changed positions from kneeling to sitting with her arms hugging her knees. It was nice to talk to someone with beliefs that were at least theoretically similar to her own. Is a kindred spirit possible?
"You said you were looking for your saint's body," Melisande thought back to earlier in the conversation, changing the topic slightly, "Why were you on such a search?"
Her question surprised him.
"Many people do it as a journey with high spiritual significance. Usually, to ask for a special favour or for the forgiveness of their sins. I was merely accompanying a noble man, as his guard, but I loved being given the opportunity. For me, it was a personal connection with my patron saint. And the fact that I met that old monk who had helped me through my spiritual quest was an added, unexpected bonus. Do you have such quests too?"
She looked at him almost as if he grew two heads, "No. I do not quite see why they are necessary. If one lives a virtuous life, one is rewarded. There is no need for special favors because that would be unfair. I do not understand. What was your personal quest and did you ever find that body, or is that too personal to ask?"
There were certain points they could agree on.
"Of course those who live a virtuous life are rewarded. But these are few. Humans, in general, are sinful. Still, through repentance, charity and other kinds of devotion, they try to get their sins forgiven. And... what is unfair, for example, if one goes on a pilgrimage to ask for good health for a sick relative?" he asked, as he knew many pilgrims had health reasons. "And yes, I found the body - it is not about searching for it as you would search for a missing something. The body is there, in the cathedral, buried in a silver casket with a transparent ceiling, so one can see it hadn't decayed. This is one of the signs of sanctity, the remains not decayed," Chago tried to explain to his best ability.
Melisande just sat there contemplating his words. She found the prospect of 'sins' or wrong actions could somehow be erased or eased appalling. The thought of begging the gods to allow a loved one to live felt very selfish. It was more noble to suffer in silence. She also found it strange that one would need signs that one was virtuous in life by looking at someone's dead body to be deemed a hero. She simply smiled and nodded, pretending she understood, fearing otherwise would offend him.
Yes, it was too personal to ask about his personal quest... but he would tell her. Only that it needed a stimulant...
"This story doesn't work on empty," he smiled wearily. "I know where Master Brem had hidden some bottles of liquor, do you want to share one with me?"
She looked at him intensely as the wind blew harder causing her hair to dance wildly. He clearly wanted to tell her something important, but she was undercover in the most transparent and unorthodox manner. It didn't help that in Lekly alcohol was demonized as a toxic substance only foolish outsiders partook in, and the religious scriptures weren't much kinder. Seeing all the alcoholics, occasionally homeless, at the Iron Buffalo Saloon in town when she stayed there seemed to confirm it. She could simply pretend to drink with him, but if he found out it would certainly ruin any friendship, besides it was unbecoming to be a voyeur anyway.
"I apologize. I cannot partake in that. My religion and nation ban alcohol in all but a few instances. You are free to drink if you wish," Melisande smiled sweetly. She was becoming incredibly curious about his personal quest. It seemed like the reason was very important to him.
The answer disappointed Chago, however he made no move to the hiding place.
"If you aren't drinking because of your religion, then I won't do it either in front of you. It is a matter of respect, first and foremost," he said, then he continued with giving her the answer she was curious about.
"People are usually happy when they have the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage. It is something important, and many people don't have this opportunity in their lives. If that saint happens to be one's patron saint, the better. So, yes, I was happy when that lord announced me I'll accompany his children to Santiago. It’s a difficult, mountainous route. Besides pilgrims, bandits might wait in the forests too. Especially when hired by enemies. It can be dangerous…”
It actually was dangerous. He had to defend the young nobleman’s life… and it got to them becoming friends.
“But I had a reason to want my sins forgiven. I told you I have been in the army. I have killed in my youth, and I am not talking about the men, usual targets of any war. I have killed innocent women, children and priests, and the fact that I was following orders doesn't make me less guilty. I had to live with the burden of my sin until it got the absolution during the pilgrimage to Santiago.”
She stared at him completely stunned. If someone tapped her, she would have been confident it would cause her to fall over, "You...you too? I was in an...exchange program if you will. I was assigned in another nation to help improve weaponry and just serve. I was promised if ethnic tensions got out of hand, I would go back home. That did not happen. I stopped counting how many people I killed after I got to five and that was in the lead up to the actual battle. I participated in the genocide of innocents and once their militia arrived, my side fired an experimental weapon and killed about one hundred from both sides. I barely survived."
Tears started forming in Melisande's eyes as she remembered Syntyche setting fire to house after house, Elphins running out only to be killed in a hail of Xanthippe's gunfire, then it changed to Elpis desperately trying to breath with that arrow that severed her windpipe, to herself lying helplessly as an angry Elphin soldier began to open her armor to flay her alive when that bright light flashed.
Chago took her hands in a silent attempt to comfort her. He knew that if he interrupted her now, she would never tell what weighed on her soul, and what possible gave her nightmares. He let her continue her confession.
"Still, my religion and nation allow provisions. Our word is our bond, so if another party is deceitful and entraps us, we are forgiven for actions as it was not our fault. Not that I could run away if it was not dishonorable, this nation had a law to kill any soldier for leaving the battlefield. B--but it does not make it less painful."
"I know," the mercenary said simply.
Feeling her words becoming harder to come out, she stood up in silence, refusing to look at the man in front of her until she could regain her composure. She quickly turned to him, her green eyes looking into his hazel ones, pleading, "That...that was two years ago this month. It is why I woke up. Please, t--tell me it gets better...please?"
Melisande's eyes seemed to suddenly explode tears and she covered her eyes from the embarrassment. She tried to run from Chago, but quickly realized she didn't know the layout of the deck and her vision was too blurred anyway.
Chago caught her when she was ready to run and stumble. His reflexes of a trained swordsman came handy. He held her in his arms, not as tight as to be disrespectful or to seem suffocating, but enough for her to feel protected and comforted.
"It gets better, with the time, indeed. Praying helps. And don't you have wise men... holy men like our monks to confess to one and find help?" he asked, while trying to remember what the old monk had told him.
She just shook her head. His touch felt like a cross between her father's and Gaston, her betrothed. Thinking of all the times Gaston tried to help her when she cried like this only for it to feel awkward and painful just made her cry harder.
The scene was intense, each of the two former army people was trapped in reminiscing their own personal ordeal, while finding a kinship with the other. This was what, usually, the expression "brothers in arms" defined. And both of them were oblivious to the fact that their comforting hug and a little part of the conversation before had a witness.
Nate Winters padded onto the deck to smoke a cigarette and sighed. It was just like Herring to ask him to come back to the ship to help with some of the remaining heavy objects after Dottie talked about a nice formal bed earlier in the day. Trying to work his lighter only for the fire to go out each time, he looked idly into the wind's direction and saw a man and woman hugging. He was tempted to get closer to hear what was being said, but doubted he could hear anything unless he was right next to them.
He squinted adjusting his goggles and thought to himself, "Is that Chago and the new girl? Chago you ol' dog! Can't blame him completely, she is hot, but I doubt he bothered telling her about Miyra. Poor Miyra. I told her not to trust him. He seems to be hiding something. They have a right to know about each other, and hey, maybe one of his losses will be be my gain."
He smiled as he went back to the crew deck to figure out how he was going to break it to both women.