I came home today from Fort Drelev. On my return I kissed my wife and hugged my daughter. Then I gathered my courage to go tell Herodes’s family that he wasn’t coming home.
Herodes’s wife seemed to know immediately why I was there. She offered me a seat in her living room and then sent the children out to play. Before I could find the words to speak, she said plainly, “I know my husband is dead.”
There was shock for a moment, then I began to speak, faster and more emotionally than I would have liked. I recounted the circumstances of Herodes’s fall as clearly as I could remember them. I described the battle against the Tigerlords and how Herodes’s charge had taken our vanguard into their midst even as I and the others fought from afar. I told her how we had entered the cave, defeated further foes, and then discovered a hidden door off the main chamber. Then I told her how the demons had come up out of the darkness like a hideous black storm of claws and teeth, how swarms of insects had poured from the ceiling and walls, and how Herodes had stood as a bulwark against them despite grievous wounds and insurmountable odds. I told her that his sacrifice gave Nibbs the opportunity to pull Gaeren’s body free from the melee. And I told her that I stayed to the last with him, that I had seen him fall, and that I had been powerless to stop them. I apologized to her…and then I wept.
Herodes’s wife had no such breakdown. Instead she crossed the room to me and placed a comforting hand on my shoulder. She offered me a smile and told me there was nothing to be sad for.
She told me then that she had been expecting my visit for the last two days, since the very moment Herodes had fallen. She said that she had felt his pain when he was lost and had been visited by his spirit in her dreams that night. Herodes had told her then that he was going on to greater service. She told me that she was happy for him.
I stayed with her as she gathered her children and told them the news. I told the story again for them, this time in clearer tones and without losing my composure. They too seemed resigned to their father’s loss and kept brave faces throughout the tale despite tears forming in their eyes. I saw Herodes’s bravery in their expressions as they took the news. His strength is clearly their strength.
When the children had been sent away again I tried to talk to Herodes’s wife about recovery of the body for the purposes of resurrection, but she would hear none of it. “He died in Iomedae’s service,” she said to me, “He died protecting his friends. There is no greater honor. Don’t think that you will take that from him.”
So instead I swore to her that I would return to the demons’ lair and put them down. I swore on my honor that they would never harm another soul. This almost made her laugh. She said to me, “Herodes would expect no less.”
We parted company as the sun was setting, and I wandered to the waterfront to linger a while beneath the monuments to Sasha and Dyimi. I found myself talking to them as twilight fell, recounting the story again for their stone ears. I told them that I would make sure Herodes’s children were well taken care of, and in so doing I would make sure their father’s legacy in Ursundova lived on through them. That made me feel a little better…but the hollow feeling in my gut remained.
Journal, I know that a call to service would mean nothing without the sacrifices that come with it. Bravery is not bravery without the need to overcome fear. Honor is not honor unless you are willing to pay the price to keep it. I know that Iomedae calls on souls such as Herodes to fight not just to defeat evil, but to serve as examples to the rest of us, to bring her light to the world. And I know that Herodes’s loss, though great, is not the end of his spirit and the good it will do the world. I know all these things as surely as I know my name and the beating of my heart.
But standing beneath the stars that night, I wish I had had more time with my friend. Iomedae teaches that life is a precious gift because we are given so little of it to live. I have never known the truth of this teaching so well as I did that night.
When the moon dipped below the horizon, I came back to the castle and sat with my daughter for a time as she slept. I watched her tiny chest rise and fall and told myself to remember every moment of it. Then I fell into bed to hold my wife in my arms. We embraced one another without words until the dawn.
Soon Iomedae will call me back to service and I will answer. There is still evil to be faced and trials to be overcome. For now though, I will be grateful for the life I have and the example Herodes has left for me. Herodes would expect no less.