Jaxon sits at the top of one of the watchtowers standing along the canyon’s edge. He’s relieved the watchers and taken their place, alone. He plays a melancholic tune on a stringed instrument he’s made. His eyes stare out across the silent plains as his fingers move effortlessly across the strings.
Three days have passed since Seera’s arrival. The army continues to grow as men and women arrive from cities and villages who’ve heard of the army opposing the Blood King. The camps at the top of the canyon cover both sides, rows of tents stretching far into the distance. The fires from the army camps glow below. Many are asleep, but a few sit around the campfires talking or thinking. Others walk up and down the rows unable to sleep.
The full moon above covers the rest of the land in light. The cooling air gives a peaceful feeling to the night, a sense of calm similar to the calm before a storm.
A breeze moves through Jaxon’s hair and he closes his eyes as his fingers strum quickly. He leans back in his chair and adds flourishes to the music. He breathes with the rising and falling volume and uses his heartbeat as a way to keep time.
Thoughts fill his mind. He remembers the past and imagines the future. His fingers move faster and faster, increasing his concentration. His breathing quickens and one strong thought echoes over and over in his mind, bringing with it a sinking feeling in his chest and the beginnings of tears to his eyes.
“Jaxon?” a soft voice rises from behind.
The music stops and he opens his eyes. After a moment of silence, he plays again, softer and with careful precision. “It’s very late, Meah. You should be sleeping.”
Sitting next to him on the stone floor, Meah leans her back against the wall of the watchtower so she can face him. She pulls her knees up and wraps her arms around them.
“There’s an empty chair over there.”
“How’d you know I was here?”
“If I tell you, you’ll freak out.”
Raising an eyebrow at her, Jaxon laughs. “I doubt I’ll freak out.”
She hesitates for a moment, debating whether to tell him to the truth or not. “I used my magic. I’ve healed you before and lately, I’ve found I can find those I’ve healed before like a…I don’t really know. It’s like I can feel your magic and follow it to you.”
Jaxon’s breath catches in his throat. “I’m not going to freak out, but I do have to ask, why come to me?”
Her eyes fill with worry. “I can’t sleep and I needed some fresh air.”
“So you decided to take a stroll all the way up here?” Jaxon eyes her curiously.
“I’m worried about Ime. And between you, Daniil, and Kylii…well, you know.”
“I’m the voice of reason?” He smiles at her, a strange warmth filling him knowing she specifically came to speak with him. “Why are you worried about Ime?”
A dark shadow passes over the watchtower. Meah leans her head back to look at the sky and sees a black bird circling above, searching for food in the dark. She sighs. “He stands strong in front of the others, but when we’re alone he struggles with self doubt. He starting to say he never wanted to start a war.”
“Most who start wars never mean to.” Jaxon adjusts the tuning of one string and plays slowly, listening to the adjusted sounds. “But he is strong and those who are here to fight believe in him. And you.”
“Why? Because I’m a Life Healer?”
“Because you’re a Healer with the heart of a warrior. While Ime was away training with Kiphy, you took up the duties of preparing the armies for him.”
“Gathering the armies,” Meah corrects.
“Gathering the armies. You arranged messages to be sent out to our allies. Without your work we’d be many days behind in preparations.” He pauses a moment. “You give Ime something else to fight for, as well.”
Meah glances at him, a strange light flashing in her eyes, before returning her gaze to the night sky. The stars fill the inky blackness like thousands of insects. The moon watches over the land surrounded by the tiny lights. She’s never realized how beautiful it truly is with no mountains or tall trees to block it.
“What are you thinking?” Jaxon asks.
“I remember looking at the night sky through the trees of my home, but it never looked like this.” Her eyebrows lower. “Or maybe I never noticed because I never truly understood how easily everything can change.”
Jaxon gazes up at the stars. “It’s said Morda, our Mother God, places the souls of those who are good and righteous in the night sky so they can watch over their loved ones and the world. She started doing so as a way to turn the night from something of fear to one of peace.”
“I hope that’s true.”
Lowering his gaze back to his instrument, Jaxon’s eyes darken, filling with a painful sadness. “There are things those we love and lost shouldn’t be forced to see from their place in the sky. Sometimes those they leave behind aren’t as good and righteous as they remember or chose to remember.”
The dark tone of his words confuses Meah and she studies his face. “What do you mean?”
Instantly, his expression changes back to his calm and lighthearted attitude. He waves his hand at her before beginning a new song, a lullaby. “Never mind.” His eyes grow distant as a thought passes through his mind. “Do you believe all people should be forgiven for past wrongs?”
“If they’re able to prove themselves truly remorseful for their wrongs and work to amend them, yes.” She pauses and moves closer to Jaxon, placing a hand on his knee. “You’ve already been forgiven for your wrongs, Jaxon.”
Jaxon’s fingers stop playing at her touch. He stares into her eyes, a small laugh sitting in his throat. “What about future wrongs?” He asks the question softly, as an afterthought. The confusion on Meah’s face forces Jaxon to look away. “I’m sorry. I’ve had many thoughts reflect through my head tonight. I haven’t had the chance to clear them away.”
The shadow of the night bird moves across the top of the watchtower again, its shadow only casting over Jaxon and not Meah.
Jaxon continues playing the soothing lullaby. “You should get back to sleep. Ime will panic if he wakes up and finds you gone at this time of night.”
The flush on her cheeks and smile on her lips causes Jaxon’s heart to skip a beat. It’s a strange feeling and he immediately dismisses it.
Standing, Meah walks to him. “You should sleep, too. You’re as important to the fight as Ime or I.”
A sly smile spreads across his lips. “Old habits.”
Meah leans down and kisses him on the cheek. “Good night.”
Jaxon’s eyes widen with surprise and he gapes at her. The uncharacteristic reaction makes her laugh and she leaves. He watches her disappear down to the lower level of the watchtower.
Placing his instrument to the side, Jaxon stands and walks to the edge of the tower. He waits for her small figure to appear, heading for the city. Her hair hangs down her back and her pale skin is bright in the moonlight. He waits until she’s disappeared into the canyon before turning around.
Sitting on the back of his unoccupied chair is the night bird. It stares at him with large golden eyes, cocking its head to the side. It primps its feathers, stopping only to lock its eyes on Jaxon. It yelps at him and stretches its large wings. Tied on its leg is a black ribbon.
Jaxon’s eyes stare at the black ribbon. He takes a deep breath, releasing it on a sad laugh.