The sliver of the moon shone with all her weakened might through the large, second story window in Oleander Castle. The room's single occupant shifted on his bed, trying to sleep despite the thoughts chasing each other in his head.
"My mother was killed by Grassland bandits, shortly before I came here."
That's what Thomas had told him, and now he, Hugo, was unable to sleep. The first night in days where he felt safe enough to let himself totally succumb to slumber, and he couldn't. And the conversation had been over two weeks ago, so why was he thinking about it now?
The newly proclaimed Flame Champion turned on his side, looking at the moon as she seemed to smile sadly at him in sympathy. Looking at him through the window in his room...the room Thomas had given up for him. Hugo growled a little in frustration and flung his arm over his eyes.
"Why do I keep thinking about him!?" he muttered to the empty room. "...why does he have to be so generous?" Hugo sighed and pushed himself up. It was no use, he'd been trying to sleep for nearly an hour, and it just wasn't happening. He rubbed tiredly at his eyes. He hated being tired without being sleepy. It was damn frustrating.
The sounds of Oleander Lake reached his ears, and he felt a little of the tension leave his shoulders. Its waves sounded almost like the tall grasses in the wind, a sound that had always eased his heart. A gentle reminder that the wind spirits had not forsaken him.
Suddenly he wanted to be outside, in the cool night breeze, to smell the calm waters of the lake, and be closer to the spirits of the wind and the earth. The young Karayan grinned.
He'd get to make a game of it, since he wasn't supposed to be out by himself at night. The committee was worried about assassination attempts, now that he was officially the leader of their joined armies. Which was ridiculous in Hugo's opinion.
True he was young, and not the best of warriors, but he was quite a decent one, even without the True Fire Rune. And Cecile was serious about her duties; security was...well, secure. No one came into the castle without one of her volunteer guards knowing about it. Still, that meant that Hugo had to avoid them himself. If he were caught out of bed, well...he didn't know what Salome or Dupa's lectures were like, but just the thought of getting one from his mother and Sgt. Joe was enough to make him pause and think carefully about how he was going to sneak out.
A shimmer of light outside his window caught his eye and he went over to it to peer out curiously. "Oh, it's the moonlight on the leaves," he murmured, recognizing the thick climbing vines surrounding his window. The vines grew down the wall to the roof of Anne's tavern, near the edge where some crates were stacked against the back of the building. Hugo laughed quietly to himself. He'd found his way down to the grounds.
With a quiet agility only a born Grasslander could muster, Hugo climbed down and landed with a small thump on the roof. He stilled, listening intently. It was late, but not late enough for Anne's more devoted customers to leave their ale and sleep it off. Laughing voices reached him, but no one had seemed to notice his slight noise. Satisfied that he was undetected, he crept over to the crates and climbed carefully down, sighing a little once his bare feet touched the dewy grass.
The ship was to his right, but Maime's restraunt was under the small cliff he was standing on. If I can slip past the ship, I should be able to get a spot to myself north of it, he thought to himself.
Continuing with his stealth, Hugo headed north-easterly, ducking under the walkway between ship and castle and easily slipping by. He glanced up at the bow of the ship as he crept away, and saw Aila standing beside the blonde archer from the SFDF. Hugo shook his head and kept going. He wasn't sure what Aila saw in the silent warrior, but if he made her happy, so be it.
It wasn't too long after that that he found a small pinnacle, just the right size for two people to sit on and gaze at the beautiful lake below. He sat down, one leg dangling carelessly over the edge, the other knee drawn up to serve as an arm rest. As he listened to the soothing sound of the water lapping at the cliff base below him, his mind drifted back to the topic of his unrest.
"I just don't understand him," he murmured to the light breeze that ruffled his bangs. Hugo fell silent again, frowning as his thoughts only chased each other in circles. So lost in thought was he, that he didn't notice the other person until they spoke.
"Lord Hugo? I thought you'd be asleep by now." It was a gentle voice; a soft, mild and quiet voice that could only belong to one person.
"It's just Hugo, Lord Thomas," Hugo said, turning to the other youth. Thomas blinked and frowned slightly in confusion, an expression that gave him an air of sweet innocence.
"But, you're the Flame Champion, and the son of the Karayn Cheif besides. To call you anything less would be disrespectful," the young man protested.
Hugo shook his head. "In my clan, we have no titles besides Cheif, and thankfully I am not Cheif yet. It feels odd to be called 'Lord' or 'Sir', especially by someone older than me, Lord Thomas," he explained.
Thomas smiled and nodded. "Very well, Hugo. And, please, call me Thomas. To be honest, I feel the same as you."
Hugo smiled back, feeling an odd yet pleasant warmth inside of him. He couldn't help but notice how the slight moonlight seemed to make the gentle youth's face glow enchantingly, and this thought made him feel odd inside and he turned his gaze back to the lake to hide his momentary confusion.
"I see you found my spot...it's a good view, isn't it?"
Hugo nodded, enjoying the soft carress of the gentle breeze across his cheek.
"May I sit with you? Or would you prefer to be alone with your thoughts?"
This time the Karayan shook his head. "Being alone with my thought is what drove me out here in the first place." He tried to ignore Thomas's warm, but intent gaze as the young master sat next to him.
"Ah...perhaps you'd like to talk about it?"
Hugo was quiet for a moment before asking, "How do you do it?"
"Do what?" Thomas responded in mild surprise.
"Forgive so easily," Hugo replied, glancing at the brunette.
"Well, I think a good part of it is just my nature..." Thomas said uncertainly. "I just can't hold a grudge." He laughed a little.
Hugo threw his head back, closing his eyes. "I just don't understand...why don't you hate Grasslanders?"
Thomas sat back in surprise, brown eyes wide like a child's. "Why would I hate Grasslanders?"
"You said your mother was killed by Grassland bandits," Hugo said, watching his companion's face carefully.
Thomas frowned. "yes, but they had nothing to do with your people, or the people of the other clans really. Every culture has its own criminals and villans, there's no reason to hold an entire people responsible for a few bad ones."
Hugo had never thought of it like that before, and it was irritatingly reasonable. "But still, didn't you want revenge for what they did?"
The brunette drew his knees in and wrapped his arms around them as he gazed out across the lake. "Justice perhaps...the criminals held accountable to the law...To be honest, I don't see the point of revenge. All it does is cause more revenge."
Hugo turned sideways a little so he was facing more towards the other youth. "How?"
Thomas rocked a bit. "Well...if you killed Lady Chris to avenge your friend, wouldn't the other Zexen knights have to kill you to avenge her?"
Hugo fidigted with the beads around his neck. "I guess so..."
"And then Sgt. Joe would have to avenge you...it's never ending. All those deaths...it just all seems very hollow to me." Thomas's voice had grown quiet and he seemed to curl in on himself as if the warm breeze were instead chillly. Hugo watched him, his heart feeling tight in his chest.
"...you have a very kind heart, Thomas."
Thomas turned his head to look at him with a small smile. "You think so?"
The Karayan nodded earnestly. "Yes. You care so much, and not just about your friends, but people you haven't even met...I-I think if there were more people like you in the Grasslands and Zexen, we wouldn't fight so much."
"You're kind-hearted too, hugo. You wouldn't be the Flame Champion if you weren't."
Hugo chuckled and shook his head. "How'd you get so wise?" he said slyly.
Thomas laughed. "I'm not so wise, I'm only sixteen."
Hugo shrugged. "Still older than me."
Thomas stared at him. "Seriously?"
Hugo nodded and drew his own legs up to wrap his arms around. "Turned fifteen last winter."
Thomas shook his head. "I'm glad I don't have the responsibility you have, I think I'd collapse."
"You seemed to be doing okay with Oleander. And it's not like I'm alone in this. Everyone's been helping a lot."
"As it should be."
"Hmm? What for?"
"For talking with me."
"Of course. Let me know if you ever want to talk again." Thomas smiled earnestly at him. Hugo smiled back at his friend. "I will."