Lanu didn’t see who it was, but it wasn’t one of the villagers, so she opened the door to see Santor on the doorstep, alone. “Come in,” she said, sickened suddenly.
“I’ve got really bad news,” responded Santor shakily.
She had some idea why Santor was there and her son wasn’t. “I know. Come in.” He followed her in and sat at the table. Lanu lifted a kettle from the fire and began pouring hot water into mugs. Santor sat in nervous silence, but she put the kettle down and dropped into a chair without making the tea. “We were trying to free the quarry workers at Haithek. Dylas fought well but he was attacked by two men and…and there was nothing we could do.”
Lanu sat in silence. Her son, attacked by brutal swords. Ever since she’d let him go – over three years now – she had dreaded it. Now it was almost a relief to let go; she need never worry again. But to be killed by those swords…
“I’m so sorry,” Santor repeated desperately. “I never thought this would happen, or I wouldn’t have asked him to come.”
She shook her head. “It was bound to happen. I should not have let him go.”
“You can hardly blame yourself.” But she didn’t blame herself – she blamed him, of course. The whole village would. The outsider, the recruiter, who’d sweet-talked their boy into a harsh – and apparently short - life in the resistance.
She rose and found a woven box of tea leaves, which she stirred into the mugs. “Please,” she set one in front of him. “Was it…was it quick?”
“Yes,” he said hastily, not knowing if it was true, “but he hardly had time to say anything.”
“You…you buried him?”
“At the quarry,” Santor admitted reluctantly. “We couldn’t afford to take them back, the others said. I wish there’d been some way…I brought his sabre.” He bent and removed the cloth-wrapped blade and dagger from his pack but Lanu, although she reached out to touch, didn’t take them. “You can have them.”
He’d rehearsed something while walking into the village, to tell Lanu that her son had been his best friend, that the friendship had kept him sane and human; but what came out was: “They’re all saying he was a real martyr...”
Because he took on the captain, who’d only been doing his job too.
“Oh,” said Lanu softly and it occurred to Santor that she didn’t want to hear it.
At his village, they’d sat around talking the day after it happened – Santor sunk in misery and not ready to do anything apart from huddle in a corner.
“Crazy, taking on their captain when he was already injured,” said Revan, who’d seen it too, with a mixture of admiration and confusion.
“Would we have been able to get out if he hadn’t?”
Santor thought they would have, but he didn’t say it. The others hadn’t talked to Dylas beforehand; they hadn’t heard the frustration in his voice, or the guilt at the violence the resistance perpetrated.
“No, it was definitely the best thing to do, but he never struck me as the all-or-nothing martyr type,” Revan pointed out. “Too shy...too thoughtful... not crazy enough.”
What if they realised Dylas hadn’t done it for them, but for himself?
Why couldn’t he have waited another hour or two until it was over, and taken the straightforward option of saying, “Santor, I’m going back to the peace mission”? But he’d tried already, and got Santor’s ‘It’s worth sacrificing your conscience’ routine.
“Hate to be the one saying it, but before we turn him into a martyr, isn’t it possible he just got impulsive and did something stupid? Maybe he was caught up in the moment and didn’t realise how dangerous it was.”
“You needn’t feel bad,” Lanu added, breaking into Santor’s reflections. “Dylas knew what he was doing. You aren’t responsible for him.”
Santor regained his composure enough to stand. “I should be going.”
“You’re welcome to stay here for the night.”
“No, I should go,” Santor insisted firmly, desperate to leave, finding his way out the door with a mumbled goodbye and an apology.
Lanu shut it behind him and sat back at the table, staring numbly at the mug still steaming on the table. She rubbed her eyes in bewilderment, about to get up to clear it away; then pushed it aside, unable to believe herself. She didn’t care whether it had been quick or if he’d said anything. It didn’t change much. She should have been upset – she was – but underneath it she could feel a slow, dreadful relief surfacing; her resilient will already recovering and being grateful that at least she would never have to worry again. Because, after three years, at least it was all over. As the warm sun crept down her back, Lanu fumbled for something unbreakable to throw, just to hear it thudding against the wall. She rubbed her eyes again, then, resigned, laid her head down on her arms.