I know, I know, it’s been a while. Sorry about that. I’d go ahead and complain that things have been busy or give some other excuse, but the truth is, I’ve been avoiding writing in you. It’s like, if I put it in writing, if I finish this thought, then it’s really done. I don’t know if that’s what I really want…but here we are, and here I go.
Ursundova is saved. Variel’s crazy plan seems to have worked. Nyrissa has vanished, and with her, the all-consuming threat that has menaced Ursundova for so many weeks, months, and years. It seems that restoring the great and terrible beauty’s love from Briar put her in a charitable mood. So she left us in peace…or at least, she spared us any further attacks.
But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a price. Before the King’s party could find their way to her in the first world, there was another bloom, this time just outside of New Light. With Kifu’s help, I was there within minutes of the first assault, but by that time the city’s gates had already been breached. New Light’s militia did what they could to stop the attackers—but the abominations they faced were hardly slowed by their attacks. The garrison started the day with a thousand men. By the end of the day, they had barely a hundred.
I saw a lot of blood that day…mostly that of people who couldn’t run fast enough—women and children—common people who tried to defend their homes. I made the monsters pay for what they did, but not without cost of my own.
Journal, I lost Shay in New Light. We were in an alley, pinned in by two of the brutes. I focused fire on one, while Shay drew the attention of the other. Shay gave me my chance, he saved my life, as he had a hundred times before. And then he was gone. A single swipe was all it took.
I buried Shay with the other honored dead after the battle. I know he deserved something else, something greater…but I didn’t know how to give it to him. I try not to regret how he died. I try to think that it was sudden and painless. But it doesn’t help much.
Journal, I see him everywhere. On his old perches, moving against the clouds, out of the corner of my eye when I think I’m alone. Maybe it’s his spirit still watching over me. The tears come at times when I least expect them. I know it won’t feel like this forever. But sometimes I wish it would…because I don’t want to forget him. I don’t want him to be far from me.
But these are selfish thoughts and I push them away. I know Shay is flying in a clearer sky now. He soars on warmer winds. I’m happy we had as much time as we did.
What else Journal? Well, I tried to resign again. I went to Jacek, cape in hand, ready to renounce my vows. But the thing about vows is that there’s two parties involved. Jacek said no…again. He refused to release me from my service, citing the need for stability in “this time of changes.” I learned later that both Variel and Eoghan had disappeared right after Nyrissa. Jacek hinted that they were not the only ones that he expected would be moving on. As conflicted as I am, I won’t abandon my duty.
Who knows, maybe Variel, Eoghan, and Nyrissa are all living it up together somewhere. Wherever they my old poker buddies are, they did their parts. I wish them the best.
So Journal, I guess I’ll be Champion for some months more. Gods know, there’s work to do. We’ve got to rebuild the defenses at New Light for one. We also owe Pitax a couple battalions as part of the mutual defense pact Isadora just talked them into. Jacek says that he’ll need me to go West to oversee the integration of the two forces, as apparently, Ulgar can’t be trusted to stay diplomatic. Maybe while I’m there I’ll see the Silver Beast again. I’ll buy him a drink if he’ll let me.
I saw Mom and Dad yesterday. They came to see the kids, their second trip in as many years. While they were here my Mom met my Mother for the first time. I was worried that they’d be oil and water given how different they came up and their vastly different visions of me. Turns out they were more like beer and crackers. Ellia and Chessa were fast friends in minutes. Now if I could just find a way to keep Nina from making that face…
Speaking of family, Marcelina and Gideon came to see the kids as well. I know it was at Aeda’s insistence, and the visit was clearly uncomfortable for her, but I give Marcy credit for trying. I can’t imagine what the last few years have been like for her, given the constant threat of war with Brevoy and the fall of the house of Lebeda. I want Marcy to see that her future is here, but I know it’s not as simple as that. She carries a lot of guilt with her. I know that’s not something easily shed.
At least our kids got along. Elora loves teaching other kids how to get properly dirty and Sasha taught them how to throw rocks at each other. Can’t say the Marcy was thrilled about that either.
While he was here, Dad offered a home for me and mine back in the valley, and again I told him I couldn’t take him up on it. As much as I would love to have my kids grow up with their grandparents right around the corner, our place is here…our home is here. At this point, Nina’s as much a part of the Greenbelt as Tyg-Titter Tut, Pervilash, or Tiressia. My beautiful wife is constantly called away to negotiate disputes between the fey and the mortals that surround them. She is as much diplomat as she is protector. She can do it all.
And then there’s me. As busy as I am, I still end up with surprising time on my hands, time to think and time to reflect. When I started this journal, it was meant to remind me to stop and think from time to time. Now, strangely, it seems that’s almost all I do.
I find that as I walk the countryside, there’s hardly a tree or stone that doesn’t hold some memory for me. I remember battles won and friends lost, laughter shared and tears shed. I’ve been back and forth across the Kingdom a hundred times. I’ve see what it was and what it’s become.
Journal, there are ghosts everywhere I look. I see Daargan lurking in his tower. Anton practicing in the square. Herodes praying in the Cathedral. Gaeren smiling beneath swaying trees. Dyimi drinking at the Wench. Sasha patrolling the battlements.
But why shouldn’t there be ghosts? We all fought for this country. We all bled and sacrificed for it. The ghosts deserve this as much as we do. Let them stay, lest we forget what they did for us.
I’m sorry if I sound morose Journal. I’ve just had a lot of time to think since Shay died. I keep asking myself, what was this all for? We tamed the Stolen Lands and defended them from evil, but to what end?
I know the answer of course. I see it on every street, at every farm, atop every wagon on the King’s road. We did it for the people, the hopeful masses who came here to start new lives and put their faith in us to protect their dreams.
And now, with the peace finally won, I wonder if I can join them. There was a time that I wanted to be a hero, but I know now that heroes can’t live forever. They either die…or they become ordinary men. I think I’d be happy being ordinary for a while.
It’s strange journal…to think back on all my memories of this place…to see the Kingdom rise again in my mind’s eye. And in my memories are the faces of my friends and companions, so many who gave so much. All had their own stories to tell, all had their own reasons for service. We were a strange lot to be sure…but we did great things together. For all the weight of my regrets, I find the buoyancy of my pride to be greater. Because I was a part of it…I mattered.
So Journal, with the story as it is, I think I’m going to put you away. Gods know, I’ve added way too many pages to you already. But before I sign off, know that I’m grateful. I said things to you that I didn’t know I had to say. You helped me more than you can ever know…
…because you’re just a book, and you don’t know things, even if I write you like you do.
But to my reader, whoever you are, in whatever state you’ve found this journal, I ask a favor. Tell this story for me. Forget the legends, bury the myths. Tell the truth. Remember my friends as they were.
Remember Sasha for the vision and voice that started this all.
Remember Dyimi for his endless bravery (and amazing hats).
Remember Gar as the Kingdom’s most steadfast and loyal defender.
Remember Kaydee and Neddar for the buoyant spirit they passed to so many others.
Remember Akiros for his redemption story.
Remember Eoghan for his good works in spite of himself.
Remember Katya as Ursundova’s mother, the loving foundation upon which the Kingdom was built.
Remember Anton for his courage when standing in the shadow of death.
Remember Ulgar as a grumpy old sod who wielded the hammer that vanquished the Kingdom’s greatest foes.
Remember Leilania for keeping us laughing, keeping us grounded, and keeping us alive.
Remember Nibbs as the giant white moon chicken of doom.
Remember Gideon as the soul of the nation, the speaker for the Gods and the shepherd of the people.
Remember Daargan for his ambition, his power, and his fire.
Remember Gaeren as our chief contrarian, a man that was too smart to be clever, who found honor despite the crimes of his family.
Remember Isadora as the everblooming rose of Tuskendale with the noblest heart of any of us.
Remember Herodes for his tireless devotion to Iomedae and his countless stands against evil.
Remember Kifu as our master of the arcane, the all-seeing eye that showed us the path to victory.
Remember Ibram as a consummate scholar, an unwavering idealist, and an utter bore at parties.
Remember the Silver Beast and his company for the strength they lent us when we needed it most.
Remember Ray as the diplomat who didn’t know he was a diplomat, the schemer savior of Boggard tribes.
Remember Anameade as the woman who stood up for her people when she could have looked away.
Remember Nina as the voice of the wilds and the light that brought me out of the darkness.
Remember Nyrissa for her crimes, but also for her change at the end.
Remember Variel as our truth teller, our realist, and the man who saved the Stolen Lands.
Remember Jacek for his leadership through the brightest days and the darkest shadows.
Remember my little buddy Shay, the best friend of a fool who never learned to look behind him.
And I guess, remember me as well, a boy who went looking for adventure and found a nation of heroes.
This was our story. May it never be forgotten.