Only the Warrior: A Parable

(For the earlier piece of the Brothers’ tale, start with The Youth, the Writer and the Warrior, Here)

Once there must have lived some wizened scholar or noble matron who could recount the true end of the three Brothers’ tale in full, but it has been lost. Of the Youth’s death by heartbreak, all bards sing the same, all sages intone alike. Thus do we know its truth. It came to pass in time that a younger scholar, a highborn woman with her own bright dream, set forth along the ancient paths which legend said the Brothers walked.

Her name was Eorwyda, and never yet was there a scholar keener or more earnest. Yet her will was steely, and if she had not a warrior’s skills in her own right, she knew how to judge them, and to choose the mightiest retainers for her guardians. Her spirit burned for a single purpose: to sift truth from antiquity’s mists, and restore to all people those stories lost, stories of lonely souls forgotten by the wide world. Though it took her years, she found the creeper-strangled remnants of the brothers’ old hometown at last.

A dour forest, midnight-leaves and black trunks streaked bronze, enclosed a mossed-over marble highway where austere bastions cut into jagged stone kept watch for legions long since vanished from the world. Stranger sights too, she saw: great whirling arrays of copper chimes hanging from iron frames which hinted only vaguely at buildings, multicolored smoke in whose depths there rippled glimpses of other places altogether, and many an otherworldly beast and spirit did her guardians drive off.

At last, though partly collapsed when ancient boulders fell from the bleak cliffs above, Eorwyda found the Brothers’ family home. It remained as if preserved by some forlorn god or spirit who wished to save the tales of others where it could not save its own. Deep within the crumbling dark stones, with water dripping down blood-red roots to feed glowing blue-green lichens, she found a few of the Writer’s ancient scribblings. Time treated them ill, as time always does when writing is not guarded well enough, as if to mock the vain-hearted fool who believes words could possibly deserve immortality if their maker does not. What little she understood, she adored, and a young mage at her side she bid to preserve the tatters; so it was done.

From thence the trail wound and broke many a time, but the more Eorwyda learned, the more easily she found it anew. So at last she reached the high mountain pass looking down upon the golden meadows and tough flowers, and after weeks one of her retainers rode into camp, his horse lathered by sweat. He led the way to the Youth’s cairn. Fragmented offerings in obsidian, jet, and semiprecious gems peeked through ancient grime about its base–the world trying in its weathering way to bury even these memories of remembrance.

Thus did the Lady Eorwyda mark the cairn for future pilgrims, and from her neck she took the surpassing-fine brooch of silver, black spell-metal, and gold symbols, with an amethyst for its core, and with the mage’s aid she worked it into the cairn that her offering would not fall prey to scavengers and vagrants. For a few days more she held camp there in meditation and sadness for the long-dead Youth, and then she led her riders on.

For years yet she searched, and chanced even to meet a bright priestess with her own fondness for stories. Her name too has been saved; it was Saeliss. Eorwyda was smitten by her from the first, and Saeliss with her, and thus in one of its few flickering justices, idle chance spared Eorwyda of choosing between a full life and a quest completed. In those happier days the will of gods had not yet been obscured by conniving wretches, and there was no reason at all that a priestess and a noblewoman should not wed, and so they did, and had much joy of it. This delayed their journey but a few days, and thenceforth they kept each other’s spirits brighter.

This was well, for the trail went cold after the cairn, and for several years they despaired of finding it again. In the end, visiting a crack-walled shrine atop what had once been an islet in a dried lake’s bowl, where bones and arms from some desperate and dissipated battle poked from the turf, they found a spell-preserved tome. It purported to have been written by the Writer in his last days, and thereafter–so a lonely copper placard said–kept by a brief cult which clearly found no wider voice than had its icon.

With Saeliss at her side and her retainers gathered ’round, Lady Eorwyda compared those fragments found at her quest’s start, and those acquired along the way, and so she decided at last that the tome’s handwriting and its voice were the Writer’s, or else written by someone so close to him as to imitate him to perfection, and Saeliss seconded this. They knew they would find no likelier account. Some little way from the tome’s end a different hand wrote–more measured and deliberate, with a sterner voice, and it was not until they read the full tale that they understood.

It was not the tale Eorwyda hoped to find, but in her spirit’s depths she knew it must be true. A story invented could not have been half so bitter, so unsatisfying.

After the Youth’s death, the Brothers’ fortunes fared no better than before. The Warrior sought the honest warriors he had heard of, but the band was fallen into a tyrant’s service–a fell malicious idiot who wrought more harm than the most cunning warlock. To his shame, so great was his desperation for purpose–and darker yet, to reek vengeance on the world which so cruelly ruined the Youth–the Warrior still offered his sword.

Yet the fallen warriors had heard tales of him–of his temper and the madness he’d often been whispered to hide by those who knew him in his hometown. Even when serving a fool, they felt they couldn’t trust a lunatic by their sides in battle. Thus they sent him away, saying they would consider his offer, and it was only when many months passed that he realized they never considered him at all. He despaired for a time, his disgrace complete, and for the first time his resolve broke. Thus it was the writer who fought to offer what hope he could to his brother.

“I swear to you, with each new attempt my tale becomes the greater,” the Writer said, and truly he believed it did. “It’s true that the first lord I sought had no interest in it, but there are many dozens I may send word to–one must surely take it before our coin runs out!” And thus he sent many a letter offering his tale up for patronage, and at first he met the blows with almost a warrior’s discipline himself. He was hopeful, for nary a letter told him that the story he described seemed unworthy–it simply wasn’t what they sought at the moment.

Yet the months ground by, and the brothers’ coin dwindled, and each letter the Writer received had the same thing to say–his story might be skillful, yet interested no one. As his brother would fight to his last gasp to keep a dagger from piercing his heart as he grappled with a mortal enemy, so did the Writer fight to keep his story alive in hopes it would save them as well. Finally, on a beautiful spring day with birds chirping and a pitcher of wine between them, he sent his final letter.
“It must be this one, brother,” he said. “It’ll be fitting, you’ll see–just how I’d have written it myself! It must be the last possible chance. What better drama to ensure my own tale is worthy of the tales I write?”

But the Warrior’s trade required that he could read the subtlest hints of voice and body, and the Writer knew the torment in his eyes was no subtlety at all. And so they waited, and the Writer distracted himself with other stories, and slowly the Warrior’s will returned as he came to accept his disgrace. He returned to his drills, and if his endurance was lessened, his skill seemed the greater–his time out of practice let his bad habits rot from his memory, and a blend of technique and power which evaded him for years seemed suddenly as easy as a breath.

It was well, or rather they at first thought it well, that the Warrior’s zeal redoubled, for the Writer’s drive ebbed. He took to muttering, no longer acting out moments from his stories, but instead questioning the world which brought him to this pass.
“Why?” he said, and though a man grown he spoke like a child left beaten by bullies in a wilderness full of wolves. “Why don’t they want my stories? I do not claim they are the best, but surely they are good enough! I know I have much to learn, but others succeed and they write far worse than I! Why am I ignored? Why am I discarded?”

Worse was yet to come, for as the days ground on and the brothers were forced to fall back upon whatever stipend their parents would provide–and in this account Eorwyda found that the Brothers’ family was not simply well-to-do, but low nobility on the verge of wealthiness, and she was baffled and saddened further still to wonder how it had gone so wrong–as time passed, the Writer began to suspect an answer so simple and dreadful that he shied from it. By chance he acquired work at a printer’s guild, and for a time the work seemed to bolster him.

“It’s a blessing, really, that none would take the story sooner,” he told his brother, and truly he believed it. “Now I read so many other stories, and I must learn to write far better so I can explain to them what’s lacking. With this new skill I’ll fix all my tale’s faults, and then patrons will fall on their bellies to beg forgiveness of me!” Perhaps he was arrogant, but the Warrior saw him smiling again, and could not bring himself to discourage the Writer’s high hopes.

Thus again did the Writer try to find a patron, but when at last he finished sending his letters, months passed and again there came only rejection or silence. He hid it as best he could, but the Warrior saw that his wounds weighed upon him. Finally all hope of a patron faded, and thus too did the Writer’s drive. He slept but poorly, and became more miserable in his work every day.
“Who am I to judge their stories?” he asked of a pile of tales sent from the printer. “I am nothing. No one will read or love my tales. How can a failure like me tell others how to succeed?”
“You must keep faith, brother!” the Warrior told him. “Even I can see how well you write. I swear to you, your tales will be loved! It is only that the right people do not know you yet!”
“And how will I make them know me except by the stories they refuse to read until they know me?” the writer asked, and the Warrior could not answer this.

The long struggle continued for months, as time and again the Writer put forward this project or that. The printer even took up his tale for a brief time, but none cared to read it, and so they told him regretfully that he should just wait a little while until his renown spread, and then they would take up the tale anew. Yet the Writer had waited all his life, and saw no signs that his wait was approaching an end, and so at last his spirit broke.

“It will always be someone else’s turn first, brother,” the Writer told the Warrior one day, slumped at his desk, already drunk. “They will keep finding someone else, and tell me they shall make it my turn next, but it never will be.”
“I swear to you it cannot be much longer, brother,” the Warrior said, but the Writer only smiled sadly and shook his head.
“Can you not see, brother?” the Writer asked. “It is never one single, brilliant moment, but a building tide. If I were ever to ride that tide, we would see its first wave-crests by now. Do not tell me to wait for my zenith. I have already reached it.”

The Warrior was much distraught, and could say only, “Your stories are beautiful, brother. even I can see this.”
“Only you will see it,” the Writer said, “and I tell you this truly: it does not matter how elegant a phrase or complex a character. It does not matter how vibrant my scenes, how musical my style. If I become the best in the world at wielding the written word, but no one cares to read my words, then I am still the worst and most useless of all writers, for a story’s only purpose is to be read, and no one wishes to read mine.”

The Writer’s heartbreak resisted the Warrior’s every effort to cure it, and weeks went by until at last the Writer said, “Brother, please, we must make an end.”
“You cannot ask me to do this,” the Warrior said. “I will not.”
“Would you have me fade, then, as our bright young brother did?” the Writer said, and they both remembered how much the Youth had suffered ere his end, though he died without a drop of blood. “You know better than any peaceable man that a wound of the soul remains a wound, and if too dire can kill as surely as any blade. Mine has gone now beyond healing, for only my dream mended it, and now my dream too has died.”

“Help me,” the Writer begged then, “to pass easily, brother.”
And though it grieved him worse than anything, the Warrior nodded. “I have heard of an herb which may help,” he said. And he ventured forth, and with his newfound skill he cut a path through wilderness and sorcery to find this herb, a fragrant blue-white flower with an iridescent brassy stem. When he returned with it, he gave it to his brother at once.
Then, the Writer recorded in the tome, he decided to write this very account, for the herb was a slow and euphoric thing. Over two weeks he wrote feverishly even as his appetite waned and all his senses but sight and touch became numbed. Now, at least, he felt the end close, and would lie down, and banter with the Warrior until darkness took him home.

Here, for the tome’s last few pages, Eorwyda and Saeliss read the Warrior’s closing of the account. He wrote that his brother was happy again at the end–the joy of a man who will finally be freed of a disappointing life. This eased the Warrior’s loss. Then the careful handwriting grew blacker, quill carving parchment with fury, and the Warrior wrote that he had never been the kind to cower from harsh truths, and as the truth he must now write could speak ill of him depending on one’s view, he felt doubly honor-bound to record it.

He missed his brothers, the Warrior wrote, and always would–and yet, after years helpless and ever more miserable as first one, then the other, dwindled before him, he felt light now. He had hidden so many things from them and others because those truths would harm his brothers’ chances, and worse, hurt them directly. Now he needn’t protect them. Now he was free.

The Warrior had no intention to write an account of his own life; he judged that the world had decided not to care about himself or his brothers no matter what they tried, and thus that words written to make them care must surely be folly. Besides, he hated them all, and was loathe to give them any enjoyment from his own tale–he left this tome only because his brothers had wanted to be remembered.

So, the Warrior wrote in closing, he would return to battle wherever he found it, and revel in witnessing and causing destruction as in truth he always had. Or perhaps he would take his own life, for he was free to do so–he owed his breaths to no one now that his brothers were dead, and was free to die if he liked!

Thus the Warrior closed his account, and thus the tome ended. Perhaps the Warrior had been unfair, for even if the world did not care, Eorwyda and Saeliss swore to keep this account alive, and were much distraught by its miseries. It took weeks before the pall cast by the tale had left them, and they could never again look on the world the same way–every village might hide a reprise of the Writer’s futile tale, every inn might house a reincarnation of the Warrior in his bitter abandonment.

For some years thence did Eorwyda and Saeliss seek the end of the Brothers’ tale even as they collected other stories, but it seemed the Warrior wrote truly that he would write no account of himself, and no other record of his lonely path had survived. In time the Lady and her priestess grew out of their youth, and so they gathered what clues they found and retired to Eorwyda’s estate, and adopted children. Their tale comes to us only by the version they wrote themselves, and it promises they were happy until their last days.

To this day, no chronicle can agree what became of the Warrior, except perhaps that his spirit remained a fierce one until the end. The clues which were gathered remain in the estate’s library. One day, perhaps, another quest may find the truth–but then, the Warrior would be wroth to know it had.

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