I N M E M O R I A M M E I : V I
Completed January 26, 2021 (♒)
Wiegraf did not think of that evening when he saw Zalbag again, racing towards him with a drawn blade. Wiegraf thought about his dead sister and how he had to commit to either joining or avenging her. The sky was all smoke and snow, and all the noise of the world seemed to have fallen away into shouting. He knew—like as not—that this was the end of things—that he would die here and that the Death Corps would sink into the abyss of history alongside every other failed revolution. He tried to remember how sure of himself he’d sounded when he’d told Levine to take as many nobles as he could with him.
When Zalbag finally met him with a lunge, he had no idea how he’d managed to parry. His shoulder felt like it had a shard of hot glass in it. The potion hadn’t been enough. Tansa yelled something as one of the riders shot past him, and he lurched backwards as Zalbag made another swing for him.
It was barely a fight. Zalbag kept pressing forward, and Wiegraf kept stumbling about trying not to be run through. He wondered if it wasn’t a piece of theater that they should be pitted against one another now—if Zalbag had told his men to leave off so that he could have the glory of cutting down the leader of the Death Corps and saving Ivalice all over again. He thought of a great many bitter things he might say to him, but they could only serve to make his final moments all the more pathetic. When he met Zalbag’s gaze, there seemed little continuity between him and the boy he had known at Riovanes.
Wiegraf fought as best he could, and he knew he fought badly. Zalbag kept pushing him back, and he kept retreating, until he was pinned against a steep section of the hill with no recourse but to try something desperate or to die. Someone screamed as he made a fumbling thrust towards Zalbag and felt his sword topple into the snow.
There was a long moment in which nothing happened.
Zalbag did not run him through, for all that Wiegraf stood there in silence daring him to do so. The little cloud of his rasping breath seemed ill-fitted somehow to the frenzy of the battle around them. He saw his sword arm tense hard for a moment before Zalbag dropped his blade alongside his own.
Wiegraf fell to his knees. Zalbag knelt as if to meet him there. When they looked at one another now, it was clear where their thoughts lay.
“Go,” Zalbag whispered harshly, closing his eyes. “Please, just—”
Wiegraf didn’t let him finish.
The snow had begun to stick, and the blotch of red that fell from Zalbag’s gaping mouth was bright upon the ground for a moment before it dissolved. Wiegraf staggered backwards at the sight of it.
He did not try to retrieve his blade from where it was now lodged in the man’s ribs. Neither did he have the presence of mind to scramble after the sword Zalbag had dropped. He ran, and when he heard a general clamor of the Hokuten crowding around their fallen general, he hoped wildly that he might just do as Zalbag had bid him and escape them all.
When Zalbag was finally carried home, he did not hesitate in telling Dycedarg the most basic facts of the botched mission. The little girl who had persisted so long as Alma’s shadow was slain. Ramza and his own shadow had disappeared. There would need to be some accounting made to the March of Limberry. He claimed responsibility for all this and for Wiegraf Folles’ escape, although on that last point he offered only the explanation that the man had fled after wounding him.
Dycedarg was very quiet in his anger. He did not need to say much to make it felt. Alma was far more direct. Zalbag resolved—quite rightly, he thought—to not to feel sorry for himself.
He did not—however—do as he surely ought do, and confess his lapse elsewhere. After having sought to free himself from the burden of bedding Wiegraf all those years prior, he could not bring himself to seek reconciliation for having spared him. He could undertake penance and pilgrimage for having murdered an innocent girl and ordered a foolish youth to his end; he could not atone for staying his sword from the man he hunted—for having betrayed those very deaths the instant his prize was in sight. If it was any consolation to Tietra Hyral, he had quite determined to let that sin drag him down to hell.
He nearly went there too, in those first few days back at Igros. The injury had struck near to the heart, and it took a very accomplished chirurgeon to patch him back together. He fell into a fever soon after, and seemed to drift for several days into a stupor that made no distinctions between present and past. The domestics spoke in hushed tones as to what was to become of House Beoulve with all of its sons thus fallen, and Zalbag asked more than once after things which should no longer concern him: of the Grand Duke, of his father’s messengers, of Elidibus come out from the southlands like one of the Braves descending from paradise. Even as he began to recover his wits, all his dreams each night still turned to Riovanes.
One, in particular, beset him more than once in the long month that followed. He found himself awakening back on the hard oaken floor of a munitions tower, flung alongside so many emptied crates and cobwebs like a thing discarded. As he disentangled himself from the grip of the boy next to him, he recognized that he was being watched.
He sat up, and it happened in all his dreams as it had happened in the past. A slender child with dirt-flecked features and gold-red hair peered out at him from the crack of the door, her face sullen and pale in the growing daylight.
He had never really known what to make of Wiegraf’s sister all those years ago. He certainly hadn’t known what to make of her having discovered them thus.
When she walked into the room, she barely seemed to acknowledge him. She sank to her knees beside Wiegraf sometimes when he recalled her, at other times she merely stood over her brother with a tired look ill-fitted to her years.
Zalbag, whether in memories or in dreams, never knew what to do then.
She might have declared that she didn’t care what they did or did not do with one another. She might not have acknowledged her brother’s predilections at all. She might have said something withering or nonsensical or commented as to how they were daft to still be unaccounted for at this hour. Zalbag never offered any response, regardless of her words.
Always, however, when she finally turned to him, it was to make the same plea.
“Please be kind to him if you can,” she’d say wearily. “It would be good if one of us knew a little kindness before the end.”
Wiegraf did not find space to rest until he was many leagues north, well into the Fovoham brushlands and skirting the southern edge of the Yuguewood. When he finally collapsed, exhausted and aching, he lay in the low ditch into which he had fallen for a great long while.
The next morning, when some farmer’s daughter came upon him, she took him for a corpse at first and quite nearly ran off in a stark terror before she saw his eyes were open and his face damp with weeping.