This is a bit rough, but I couldn't back down from a challenge. Sort of a weird amalgamation of the old Calendar Challenge from ladycordelia17's forum The Moogle Nest. For January... two years later!
But more importantly, the reason I finally took that measly paragraph I wrote two years ago and wrote the rest of this tonight was for Angelic Sword's birthday! Happy Birthday, Ange! Sorry this is a bit depressing.
For background info, I'm basing this off the idea that Leon Esla was too young to understand what his father was doing before he disappeared, so he assumed he was a caravanner.
Transcription of the Black Knight's death is all thanks to NotMeagain! Check out The Myrrh Tree forum if you want to see other transcripted scenes.
Neither Swift Nor Sudden
The truth ain't like puppies, a bunch of 'em running around and you get to pick your favorite.
He was three. His father brought him back a present from his travels. It was a beret, dark green, with a hole cut in the top through which he threaded the stiff spikes of his hair. Pa said it came from a place where the mushrooms grew taller than him, taller than this house even! Leon listened in wonder, and dreamed for months of giant spotted mushrooms that he built homes in. He wore the beret proudly for a few months before it was pushed to the back of a drawer and forgotten.
When he was four, Pa left with the customary pat on the head for him and long kiss for his mother. He smiled at both of them. "I'll be back next year."
"Promise?" asked Leon, voice tinged with a whine.
"Only if you promise to take care of your Ma for me," Pa said, blue eyes serious as he looked down from his great height. "It's a man's job, but I think you're up to it."
"I will!" he said, puffing his chest like the guards did when they stood near the castle.
His father laughed, patted his head once more, and said, "It's a promise, then."
He turned five, but Pa didn't come home. Another guard came in his place.
He had a dog, and was a nice enough man to let Leon play with the puppy. Leon dutifully thanked him at his mother's prompting, then set to a fierce match of tug o' war with the hound. Occasionally words would drift from the kitchen to where he played on the plain blue rug in the next room.
"Gone-nothing-black lacquer armor, unmistakable-scholar too-truthfully and gently."
"But-impossible-you're sure, then-friend?-how do I-too young."
The nice man and his dog left eventually, but Pa never came home.
When he was seven, the nice man with the dog came to visit again, this time to talk about some crazy knight who had killed a lot of people. He called himself the Black Knight and said he had no memory.
Leon remembered the conversation from years before, the part he heard about the black lacquer armor leaping into his mind. His Ma had said she didn't know how Pa was killed, but suddenly Leon knew. It was the Black Knight. It had to be. No one else was strong enough to kill Pa.
That night he swore on his father's old spear that he would slay the Black Knight and avenge his father.
A pretty Clavat lady with a brown coat and short blonde hair stopped to talk with him a few days after his eighth birthday. She asked him why he practiced so much with his spear.
"The Black Knight killed my father!" he told her, clumsily executing the stop thrust he'd seen the guards practicing a few days ago. "I'm going to avenge his death."
She had brown eyes, he noticed, and a small, constantly smiling mouth. The smile disappeared when he said this. "I'm sorry for your loss," she told him. "But don't leave your mother behind to feel sad for you too."
He had been ten for half a year when the pretty Clavat lady stopped by again. She looked tired, and had a livid red scar that scored her cheek, but she still smiled at him.
"Training for the guard?" she asked, noting his more advanced spear thrusts and the junior cadet badges his mother had sewn to his jacket.
"Yes," he said, drawing the word out. A truth was not always the truth, he had learned, and used it to omit information to his mother constantly. Something about the lady, however, told him she could be trusted. "The Black Knight still lives," he told her. "I swore to kill him."
She shook her head, roughly cut blonde hair swaying about her ears. "He's mad," she said flatly. "Mad, but not a killer. I don't know who slew your father, but I've met him several times, and I don't think he could kill anybody."
"You don't understand!" Leon cried. "I promised! I swore on his spear! Someday I'll carry that spear! I...I have to be...I have to be good enough for it!"
Her smile was gone but her expression was still gentle. "You will be," she told him. "You will be when you realize that a man is not held to the promises he made as a boy."
"I promised," he reiterated, and only after she had finally left did he realize what she'd said. He vowed to ask her for tactical advice the next time she visited, if she'd met the Black Knight and lived.
When he was twelve, Ma decided they would move down to Marr's Pass. She'd been offered an apprentice-ship to a tailor there. He couldn't help but giggle when he realized he'd be the higher ranked Lilty in the house!
The caravan was heading south anyway, and Sol Racht offered to take them along. At last, at long last, he finally got his chance.
The Black Knight was truly mad, dancing about the roadway, swinging his mighty lance as if it weighed nothing. Leon shrank behind the Lilty warriors of the caravan and instantly felt ashamed. He was no coward! His father, for his father, he had to do this.
She was there, the pretty Clavat lady, trying to stop the Alfitarians, trying to calm them all down. At one point she even caught the Black Knight by the arm, something that drew a gasp from the Lilties present. It seemed not to matter to the devil, he whirled away, shouting something about defending against a light.
For a moment, they stood on a frozen tableau. The lady was near her caravan, the Alfitarians stood in formation on the other side of the road. His mother, her handkerchief pressed to her mouth, was standing next to Sol Racht. In that instant, the Black Knight paused in his attacks at nothing, close to him, right there.
"Eh?" the Black Knight asked, confused. "A little boy?"
He was right there. The man who had slain his father, the man all of Alfitaria feared, was right there.
The spear was heavy in his grip, yet when he tried to lift it, it rose too quickly. His grip was slick, he bit the inside of his cheek. Step forward, thrust. Step forward, thrust. Just the drill, the drill he'd practiced over and over, picturing this man within his reach. Finally, finally. Leon Esla drew the spear back, stepped forward, and thrust the sharp blade right into the crack between breast and side plate, right between his ribs. "For my father!" he cried.
The frozen tableau broke as the Black Knight fell to his knees. His mother screamed, Sol Racht yanked her back from the road. The Clavat lady started forward, then stopped, one hand rubbing desperately along her Cure Ring, then falling away.
"What! What?" The madman asked, staring down at the spear protruding from his chest. He raised his gauntleted hands up to it, then seemed to forget what he had wanted them to do. "Ungh…no! Not yet!" he cried, Not without my memories! I will die a hollow man… where will my spirit go? Is this the end? Light, answer me!"
Quivering with emotion-rage, fear, adrenaline, desperation- Leon shouted, "I'm no light! My name is Leon Esla!"
"Leon Esla? Le…Leon?" The Black Knight's helmed head tilted, he seemed to be peering at him. "Yes! I've found it! Leon Esla….My memory…. And Jona…my…" the knight sagged, then fell to the dusty road, never to speak again.
In the sudden silence that followed his mother broke free of Sol Racht's grip with a sob, rushing down into the road and falling to her knees beside the knight. Blinking, he watched as she beat at the knight's chest plate, weeping.
Then the Clavat lady, suddenly looking older and more tired than ever before, was standing in front of him. Bending down, she lifted his chin and looked him closely in the eye. "Boy, you're in shock," she said casually, then turned to one of the Lilty caravanners who had walked up beside her. "Best get him in the wagon," she advised. "Keep him warm, keep him hydrated."
The caravanners nodded and guided him back to the wagon. Climbing in, he took one last look at the man he had spent years training to kill.
His mother had yanked the Black Knight's helm off and was bending down beside him, practically laying across his chest. Without a helm he was only another Lilty, red-orange skinned like himself, blue eyes staring sightlessly at the sky. She was saying something, whispering in his ear. Sol Racht stood over her. He, too, appeared to have aged in those scant minutes.
Leon closed the wagon flap with satisfaction. He had done what he had set out to do. He had slain the Black Knight, and avenged his father at last.
The day he turned sixteen he joined the caravan. Sol Racht had decided to retire, leaving a much coveted spot open. However, the caravanners had recalled his heroic actions despite the years, and happily took him on.
Ma didn't have much to say about it. They'd ended up staying in Alfitaria. She'd decided to keep the Black Knight's armor. He wasn't sure why, given that all it seemed to do was make her cry, but he'd learned not to ask questions, lest he be the one who made her cry.
They walked many roads, but never quite made it down toward Tipa until a few years later. He was nineteen the first time he stood on the cliff of the peninsula town and admired the vast expanse of rolling, seafoam capped turquoise waves.
"I thought I might find you here," a feminine voice said behind him. He turned, and was surprised to see a face he hadn't for years. The pretty Clavat lady stood there, a little older, but no less beautiful for all the scars that marked her as a veteran of their profession. "So you did become a caravanner."
"My father was a caravanner," he explained with a shrug. "And after all that training, I didn't have much of a choice in professions."
She nodded, though she did not smile at his little joke. "Lad, you don't have to follow in his footsteps all your life."
"I promised him I'd take care of my mother," he said, knowing it sounded a little foolish and hating both her and himself for it. "Being a caravanner's a good way to do that."
With a decisive jerk of her head, the lady took a seat on a log and gestured for him to do the same on a nearby rock. "You seem good at keeping promises, so I'm going to ask you to make me one."
Nodding cautiously, he sat and faced her, his bright blue eyes meeting her serious brown ones. She drew a breath and continued. "Promise me you'll let it end here. Don't go hunting Raem."
"Raem?" he asked, and she raised her eyebrows.
"The one who made your father what he was. The one who made the Black Knight."
"Who made the Black Knight what?" he asked. She snapped her fingers sharply, he looked up at her stern expression.
Her eyes seemed to bore into him. "Raem is mine. Promise me you won't go hunting him."
"No," he said recklessly. "Tell me what he made the Black Knight!"
The sternness faded and was replaced by consternation, and was that confusion? Dismay? "You mean you don't know?" she asked slowly. "Your mother never told you?"
"Told me what?" he demanded.
She shook her head slowly. "It isn't my place. I'm sorry. But you must promise me."
"I promise," he said sullenly. But she was right, Leon Esla always kept his promises. She would have to hunt this Raem alone.
They had just finished gathering myrrh for the first time from the tree hidden deep in the Mushroom Forest when Aleit Midd came skipping back with the treasure. "Since it's the Chief's birthday, he gets to pick first!" she announced in a singsong tone.
Leon Esla blinked, then grinned. How could he have missed his twenty-third birthday? Thanking his subordinate, he moved to the pile and began to sift through it, when the soft touch of cloth distracted him.
It was a green beret, probably dropped by some long ago caravanner or possibly even a moogle. Feeling the soft knitted material, he was surprised to find a large hole at the top. He idly poked his fingers through, and chuckled to himself about how they looked like the spikes of a young Lilty...
He'd had a hat like this, once, as a child. He remembered wearing it with pride, bragging about how his Pa had brought it back with him from his adventures. Smoothing his hands over the material, he recalled the way Pa had first worn it himself, then fit it over his head, working his spiked hair through the hole until it was a perfect fit. With a smile, he put it on his own head, ignoring the cheerful catcalls of his crew.
"Anybody got something the Chief can admire himself in?" Aleit called, and quickly a shiny pot was produced. Leon admired his distorted reflection for a moment with a sad smile. He looked like his father that way. He set the beret aside, nostalgia warm in his heart. He picked up the next artifact, a black hood, and slid it on over his head. He went to check his reflection and froze.
Distorted as it was, the image was unmistakable. Orange skin, blue eyes, hard lines and scars across his face, dark gear, he could have been the Black Knight's younger brother. He stared, transfixed, then ripped the hood off and quickly placed it back in the pile. He didn't want to think about the Knight, dead all these years.
But seeing the hood and the beret sitting next to each other put something together that he had been unconsciously mulling over for years.
That half remembered conversation between his mother and Sir Knocfelna.
How he had come to the conclusion that the Black Knight killed his father.
What the Black Knight had said as he knelt there, dying of an amateur's spear thrust in the middle of a dusty road.
How his mother had cried, laying across the knight's chest and whispering in his ear.
What the pretty Clavat lady made him promise on that cliff above the sea.
And now, sitting here, one moment so like his father, the next so like his hated foe.
Leon Esla picked up the green beret again, ignoring the concerned whispers of his comrades, clutched it tightly to his chest, and began to cry.
He was twenty-three. They left him at Tipa a few days after the peninsula's Rejuvenation Ceremony like a recalcitrant child. They didn't know what to do with the strange, silent man he'd become in that instant, deep in the Mushroom Forest. Though he knew Aleit waved at him as their wagon pulled away from the village, he didn't look back.
She found him at the cliff again, took one look at the tear tracks that seemed permanently carved into his face, and sat heavily upon the log. "You know," she said.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he rasped out around the lump in his throat that never left anymore. He stood in front of her, fists clenched, wishing he could somehow blame this all on her, throw all this horrible guilt at her and walk away. "You knew."
"Only at the end, when it was too late," she said quietly, voice nearly carried away by the distant sound of crashing waves. "Oh, Leon, you were only a boy."
"How did I not know?" he asked, not expecting an answer and not receiving one. He sank to his knees before her as if praying for forgiveness. Perhaps he was. "He was my father. How could I not know?"
She leaned forward, stroking a gentle hand through his spikes, and he leaned into the soothing gesture, too tired to fight. She had only ever seen him at his worst, first as a foolish child, now as a beaten man. He was not ashamed to weep in front of her.
"You helped him learn who he was, in the end," she said, some time later. "He died a man with an identity."
"I killed him," Leon said.
"You saved him," she replied.
They remained there, silent, until the sun set in the western sky behind them and dusk fell heavily over the town. Then she led him to her home, where she prepared a bed for him. For the first night in a long time, Leon Esla dreamed of his father. He was smiling, and wearing a green beret, waving goodbye to his beloved wife and son as he left home again.