Endon was buried under a large hollow tree before the palace gates. The late afternoon sun burned brighter than it had any right to on such a sorrowful occasion. Lief stood beside his mother, clutching her hand tightly. Sharn's head was raised high, even as silent tears streamed down her face. Doom stood on her left side, and when Endon was settled in his grave, he raised his face to the tree, lost to distant memories. Barda stood on Lief's right side with this head bowed, and Jasmine stood a little behind, unsure of her place.
When the funeral was over, Lief kissed his mother's tear-streaked cheek, and slowly walked away. He could feel all their eyes upon him. He waited until he had turned out of their sight and then broke into a frantic run down the hill and through the twisting alleys of the city, where no one would see him. He reached the forge and stumbled through the gate— still marked by the Shadowlord's evil brand—and fumbled his way inside the cottage. Finally alone, he fell to his knees and sobbed loud and painful tears. He wept for his father; for the burden that he had not been prepared for; for all that he had lost; and for all who had been lost to the Enemy. He cried until his stomach ached and his throat felt raw, and when he had shed the last of his tears, he bowed his head and stayed upon the floor, unwilling or unable to rise. The home that had once protected him brought him little comfort now.
An hour seemed to pass before the squeal of the broken hinge on the door roused him from his daze.
"You must rest," Doom's voiced reverberated in the tiny house.
Lief did not turn, yet Doom drew nearer. Lief had no choice but to look up, squinting through red and swollen eyes. Doom's head was bandaged, but Lief knew the injury that lay underneath. He thought of Dain, and dull pain pulsed from his blistered sword-hand all the way to his heart.
"When did you last sleep?" Doom's words were hollow: his own face was drawn and he bore the tell-tale bruises of sleepless nights under his own eyes. But Lief could not remember, and so he shook his head.
The rickety wooden chairs that usually stood by the fireplace were still overturned by their haste to find Doom a place to recover when they had sought refuge in the forge. Lief watched as Doom reached out to pick one up by the bar that rested upon the back. He thought for a moment of warning the man not to grasp it by that bar, which fell out with ease, but Doom paused for a moment and righted it by the legs instead. Lief stared at him intently as he took a seat. Doom had sat in that chair before, and often.
This was never meant to be my home, he thought, with a stirring sense of bitter jealousy. It was always supposed to be his. It came to him then that he might never live in the forge again; no doubt he would be expected to move to the palace.
Lief felt as sudden spike of rage as he looked up at Doom's emotionless face. He had witnessed Doom's horrific agony as he clutched Jasmine's hand on that very floor. Where had that pain gone? He had watched his best friend die; he had been forced to relive the death of his wife and the loss of his daughter; and had been betrayed by someone he had loved. Where was his anger? Did he not suffer? The wound on Lief's palm burned again. He wanted Doom to feel the pain, too.
"When we thought that Ichabod had taken Dain," he said slowly, choosing his words carefully, "it was the first time I had ever seen you look truly afraid."
Doom's face was of stone.
"He told me once that he thought of you as he would his own father."
"It was not true," Doom said through gritted teeth.
"No," Lief agreed. The poison of his own soft words tasted bitter on his tongue. "But you did think of him as a son."
Doom went silent once more.
"I know you cared for him; I know you trusted him in a way that you do not trust many. I know you loved him."
"Enough," Doom said tightly. A muscle worked angrily in his jaw. "I did my best to protect him. I saved his life, over and over. When I thought that Tora was lost, I had hoped to spare him from finding out for as long as I possibly could. Would you like me to admit that I grieve for him, even though he would have been happy to see me dead? I do. Does this please you to hear?"
"No," Lief whispered and bowed his head. His rage faded as quickly as it had come, and instead he burned with shame. "I am sorry."
When he lifted his head, Doom's eyes were upon him, but his anger was gone. He looked older than he had, and his eyes held a deep sorrow. He stood and offered his hand, which Lief took with his uninjured one, allowing himself to be hauled to his feet. Doom took his seat again, and Lief righted a chair of his own. They sat in silence for a while, staring at the place they had both called home.
"It was a moonless night, and the farmhouse burned like a beacon," Doom said after a moment. Lief looked at him, puzzled, but Doom's eyes were very far away as he spoke. "I should have seen it for the warning it was, and yet I was drawn to investigate. He was lying on the ground with a terrible wound on his brow, dangerously close to fire. I carried him away and treated his wounds. When he awoke he told me his tale. He was so eager to join the Resistance; to recover his family. I wonder now: who were the people that lived on the farm? Did he grant them the mercy of a quick death, or did he set their home alight as they slept?"
Lief swallowed hard, and thought of the skeletons they had found in the terrible stone hut, yet another decoy. The man and the woman had been so close, and the woman still clutched the baby in her arms, as if she could shield it even in death. So many people had been killed with such ease. Had bodies been placed in such a way to complete the cruel trick? Or had they held each other as they died?
"The first thought I had when I believed he was the heir," Lief admitted, "was of how proud I would be to serve him. I was a fool."
"We were all fooled," Doom told him. "Do not put all of the blame upon yourself."
Lief raised his right hand so that Doom could see the injury, and stared at it dully. "He used some sort of magic on my sword. It burnt my hand."
Doom laughed humourlessly and rolled up his sleeve, extending his open palm. His hands were calloused and rough, but Lief could make out a faded pink scar on the fleshiest part of his palm. "Ols seem to wield a power over some metals. Yet the Belt remains their weakness, as with all of the Shadowlord's evil."
Lief recalled the way Dain had recoiled from the Belt when he had first seen it the very first time. Lief had taken the action to be born of shock, but no doubt it was fear, for he had known of the power it would possess against him. Doom curled his fingers back. He was right: the Belt had proven that even the kindest of friends could be false, and the roughest of strangers could be true.
"I miss him," Lief whispered.
Doom's face was tight. "As do I."
Lief was not quite sure of whom they spoke, but knew that— in any case— it was the truth.
"I do not know how I am supposed to bear it all," he admitted softly. "How do you do it?"
"You will do it because you must," Doom told him bluntly. "There have always been people relying on me, no matter where I go, or who I have been. You must learn this now, too. But you will not bear any of it alone."
Lief looked hard at the scarred man, and thought of the story of Jarred's bravery that his father had told him on his birthday, nearly a year ago. It was always you, he thought. You have been my friend since before I was born.
Jasmine's voice echoed in his mind. For, certainly, you need me. As your father needed my father. To get things done.
As I need your father still, Lief realized.
"Will you stay in the city?" He asked, suddenly anxious. The charge of a kingdom seemed to loom like an abyss before him. One misstep and he would surely fall and be lost. "I know that it is not your way, but Jasmine has already said that she would, and I think it is in part—."
"It has been a long time since I have settled in one place," Doom smiled wryly, "and longer since that place has been Del. I see no reason for me to leave just yet."
Lief returned his smile, heartily relieved.
"Sleep, Lief," Doom said. "We need your strength, and you will be of no use dead on your feet."
Lief frowned. "Here?"
Doom smiled wryly. "Where else?"
He rose to his feet. As Lief watched, he let his eyes linger across the cottage, something akin to a smile tugging at his lips. Then he nodded, and took his leave. When the door closed, Lief stumbled to his bed. The sheets had been torn from the bed, but Lief collapsed upon the hard mattress, still clothed and booted. The heartache had not left, and he knew that it would last. But everything would be brighter in the morning.