Written on October 10, 2020 (♎)

It was not yet dawn, and Cid was watching the last of the stars fade away into the reddening sky. He had become used to waking up long in advance of sunrise: the result of a life lived out under the rule of martial discipline and of a son perpetually eager to track out the morning course of the planets. He was well accustomed to the pensive bitter-sweetness that comes from being awake before the rest of humanity, particularly during all those dawns that opened onto the uncertainty of an impending battlefield.

This day, he supposed, was no different that the one he'd passed in that regard. The mist was fading from the valley, and the rustling shadows of animals cast their ripples through the brush. Somewhere the chatter of wrens and robins sounded from the patches of trees. Cid considered that there were still impending battlefield's aplenty and their outcomes uncertain beyond his reckoning. In so many ways, the moment could have been one lived thirty years prior. The golden-haired boy coiled against his arm certainly seemed the exact replica of the one whom he had found in his tent again and again on the road to Viura. If they were heading west instead of east now, it was a middling detail. They were in those blank stretches of hills before one hit the crags of Mandalia. Nobody need tell him that he was carrying a Beoulve back to Igros and not away from it.

Cid felt the featherweight of Ramza's breath quicken its pace, and he thought for a moment to fling his cloak around him as if to snare him back into sleep—to wrest him from the possibility that he might wake and shatter the illusion. Most of those mornings in which Balbanes had awakened under his tent had either been preceded by painful conversations or followed by painful hangovers. It was almost maddening to know that this moment could not stay: a stilly, perfect pause after the first evening in which his desire was met with desire.

He supposed he should feel guiltier, despoiling—or rather being despoiled by—the son of his oldest friend. He reckoned, of course, that the mutual sin of heresy overshadowed any of the lesser crimes they might have committed; if he was to feel pained over Ramza's affections, it could not be on account of the threat of hell. The evening played itself through his mind in the broadest of strokes now; Ramza had brought him from so many varied reminiscences to dwell on his one singular regret, and from there he had led him to unmake it. He had bade him—with a careless innocence—to take him in arms. He had requested all that Cid had spent the best part of his life fearing to ask of another man.

The oft-mentioned resemblance was perfect to the degree that he had wondered if time had undone itself: if one of those strange specialists out of Gariland had finally found a way not only to adjust its current but to divert its flow and course. It was as though Balbanes was come back to him in the full flush of youth, and it made the fact that he was so many years out of his own youth all the more apparent.

It was different though. Had he been young again, he would have had to contend with the self-evident fact that the boy he adored would not adore him back. He would have to contend with the aching progression of watching him pass from an unhappy husband to an unhappy father to an unhappy widower, and he would have to maintain that perpetual silence that comes with wanting something beyond what friends might speak about. He would have to wait until they had sunk more than half their lives into an unrelenting war to see him experience that first thrill of love for a new family so many wild leagues away from the cold groves of Zeltennia.

"It's a terrible thing to love one child above others Cid, but you have no idea what it is to go to that castle and to hear laughter in its halls: to have a son who lets himself be loved..."

Ramza, whether his birth was fair to his brothers, was the harbinger of that late come summer of Balbanes' life. Beyond being the image of his father, he carried with him the singular shift Cid had seen in which Balbanes came to cease his fears of Igros. It seemed the inevitable course of fate that Cid must love him: love him for being Balbanes’ likeness, love him for loving him where Balbanes’ could not, love him for having been a part of that bright moment when Balbanes had found some joy in the confines of House Beoulve. Ramza was the embodiment of a thousand little threads in Cid’s life suddenly plaited together and knotted around themselves, and it still baffled him that they had only met a month prior.

When the boy finally blinked open his eyes, Cid felt a chill run though him, as if something in him would ebb away once his reverie were interrupted by a conversation. Perhaps it was merely the cool of the early spring. He cupped Ramza’s chin in his hand and kissed him before the boy could bid him good morning.

Balbanes' spirit and Balbanes' face: he could imagine him a ghost come back to him to deliver Balbanes' kiss. In a way it was fitting, he thought. He himself had been "executed" last month and his lands seized up by the remnants of the senate. Perhaps, in that moment before the kiss broke, he should wonder if he were not a ghost himself. If this was just a passing nothing between two shades, what wrongness could lie in it?

It was almost a shame that when Ramza returned his embrace, the boy's heart beat too quick and too wild to allow for such fantasies.