Campaign Stories: Wiliken 15

When Wiliken had desired the company of his wife, the sun on his face, the fresh air in his nose, and the conversation of a friend, he was locked away. Naturally, as soon as he had contented himself with solitude, he began getting visits from one of his captors.

It was not as if the githzerai had been left completely alone. There were the people who brought his meals, three times daily, and more ample than the dinners his own wife prepared for him. His trays were picked up shortly after he had finished, and his latrine was emptied often. He had been put up not in a dungeon but in a fairly nice barracks room. His was more the life of a soldier than the life of a prisoner, and he’d never had much difficulty with the life of a soldier in his youth. His bed was supportive but not too comfortable, and the people of Felshore were keen on making sure he had clean bedding as well. He always had a candle for light, and if he’d asked Wiliken had no doubt he’d be granted scrolls to read or a quill and parchment to write on. People shuffled in and out of his room, but when Jean-Baptiste arrived, it was the first time anyone had spoken with him.

Wiliken remembered the first time the old man had visited him. The first thing he said was, “How many means of escape have you figured out?”

With the heightened focus the githzerai had gained from his peaceful meditation, Wiliken had learned to see the room for what it actually was. While most would be fooled into believing that the linens from a bed are meant to keep you warm in the night, Wiliken understood that the true purpose of his bedding was to be twisted into rope. Everything had a different purpose, from the utensils he used to eat to the bucket he emptied his bowels into, but the names and the familiar uses disguised these things from the mind. After six weeks of solitary confinement, Wiliken wondered how many people had lit a candle without considering the utter devastation that can be caused by its flame.

“Thirteen,” Wiliken responded. Jean-Baptiste smirked. The others were intelligent, but the gristly man of the wilderness who stood before him was wise. “Eighteen, if you decide to let your guard down.”

The githzerai and the human laughed together.

“You seem more… attuned than previously,” Jean-Baptiste said.

“A githzerai is measured by the calm of his mind,” Wiliken said. “I have lived as a man for many years, concerned with wages and possessions, with bantering for the sake of alliances and pandering for power. I cannot remember the last time I put my distractions aside and retired to my inner dwelling.”

“Your awareness has expanded.”

“You are keen to notice,” Wiliken responded, somewhat disturbed by how well Jean-Baptiste could read him. “For the last few days I’ve had the sense that my bow is located in the next room over, leaning against our shared wall, near the doorway.”

Jean-Baptiste looked over as the githzerai pointed to the approximate location of his weapon. “Indeed. That is the case.”

When Wiliken worried about nothing more than the ease of his morning commute to work, he would see elderly men gathering together in parks in order to play simple games or share a hot beverage. For these men, there was nothing else to life. Their meetings helped them to keep a schedule, to remember to get up in the morning and shave, to remember how to be human. Wiliken had viewed these rituals as foreign, and yet it seemed that this is exactly what his relationship with Jean-Baptiste had transformed into. Over time, the githzerai wasn’t quite as sicked by this insight about their meetings. The familiarity was warm. It was refreshing. Jean-Baptiste brought news of the outside world, or at least the small time-displaced portion of it that his battle allies occupied in the Shining City. He told of Jurgen disappearing shortly after they escaped from Valgaman’s Menagerie, of Morgan building an orphanage for the would-be sacrifice victims, of Grace’s Pelorite church and its unexpected growth.

Jean-Baptiste never mentioned Douglas, and Wiliken never asked.

One evening, Jean-Baptiste arrived with a dark look in his eyes. Some beast was eating away at him, asking questions that he did not want to be entertaining. Wiliken had sensed it building, despite his kind manner during their get-togethers, and he expected that it was only a matter of time before this secret got the best of Jean-Baptiste.

“I know who you are,” Jean-Baptiste said, grimly.

Wiliken had often suspected that their interchanges were not quite so light as they had seemed, but this was the first time he’d felt frightened by his friend.

“If you are referring to the Iuzian greys I wear, I assure you that not every citizen of the empire is a villain like Valgaman,” Wiliken said.

“It’s not your clothes,” Jean-Baptiste responded, irritated.

“Then my son – ”

“Stop,” Jean-Baptiste said. “I know who you are. I have not told the others. We’re old soldiers, yes, but you and I fought on opposite sides when the big terror went down. If rumors have value, and in this case I think they do, then you weren’t just a spectator. You had a role to play in the would-be-destruction of this city. A role bigger than most.”

Wiliken was quiet. Not only was he in a make-shift prison, but he was caught, and that was worse. Baseless mistrust was one thing, but certain guilt – that was something else. There was no sense playing games with Jean-Baptiste. From here on out, things were serious. Neither the human nor the githzerai spoke for some time, and it was Wiliken who finally decided to break the silence.

“Where do we go from here?” Wiliken said, because he honestly did not know.

Campaign Stories continues in Waiting for the One Who Comes.

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