Hospitality (A dialogue between Irekus and Gylfanon)

Gylfanon grimaced as the fire started to smoke. Rummaging through a crumbling sack, he found only a few onions and rock-hard bread.

‘My hospitality is poor. Forgive me old friend.’

Irekus smiled, learning his birchwood staff against the uneven wall. ‘Think little of it. This hardy stone keeps out the wind, and bread fills my stomach as well as meat.’

‘I think you humour me. Ah I am ashamed here, to share my room with the wretched. To serve poor fare to esteemed guests, to have not even a room for holding court.’

‘I thought you despised pomp and grandiosity?’

‘Aye I do – in other people!’

‘Ha, perhaps it threatens you. Modest Gylfanon, not so’ said the old wizard, with a knowing smile.

‘No mentor, modest Gylfanon is not. Not at heart. I ought to be, but cannot. My heart still yearns for place, and the power to come. Maybe that is why I feel so deeply troubled here, though there be not troll nor raider in sight.’

‘It is natural. That was the rhythm you used to live by. Your conscious mind is now, but your body is trailing behind.’

‘These mercenaries I surround myself with, they know not the glory I led House Gylfanis. They know nothing of the Battle of Darkfel, nor my rallying cry at the river sern. The respect I did command, the triumphs laid upon me. To them, I am a mere paymaster, without history.’

‘Oh friend.’

‘Nor do they know of my atrocities, the beast inside me.’

‘Time will forgive those.’

‘I cannot forget them.’

‘Gylfanon, this is a passing phase. A mere road upon a greater destiny. This path may lead you away from that you long for, but it cuts through the silent land. You will not be ronin for-ever.’

‘Yet it feels like an eternity. This prison, these desperate faces. I cannot take it much longer! I once kissed the necks of star-lit nymphs in the Sacred Glades. Now I lie beside snoring old men.’

‘By the looks of things, you have done well by these people. Even at your worst, I heard tell of your finding a lost  clan of Gylfans. Grateful townsfolk told me how your took and held SIlmootil and Corsk with a small band of men. You restored the chapter of the Serpent Brother knights, and took many bandit claws off the roads, bringing safety to many.’

‘Then why does it feel like I am weak, powerless and constantly insulted? That every day is the same, with no promise or future. How easily I can be separated from the love of my friends and allies.’

‘Mayhap you forget that you stand not alone. This Winter has been harsh on many. All share a common destiny.’

‘To Hades with such notions!’

‘Pray, my black prince, push not against Fate; for it has brought you to this. Your loyal knights have grown scarce, yet much have you achieved and learned about yourself. You cannot always rely on providence to give you great deeds. Often times, you must seek among the mud and the roots for sustenance.’

‘But why me! I was happy. After a hard life, I found something. We were growing, expanding.’

‘It seems old friend that you long for a still world, where one cannot be found. Does not the sea weather the greatest cliff? Does not the Great Moon circle the world, growing and shrinking? Does not the dragon awaken from its slumber-spell of centuries?  All things change, my friend. They grow, wither and die – but it is never certain in which order.’

‘Then we are a doomed race. For we will live in misery and think it eternal, or be excited into joy, only to lose it. For what? Why bother living for anything if Fate will come and take it all away from us.’

The old wizard stroked his wispy beard, pondered, then continued; ‘Why but for these things mean something in the moment they occur. And who is to say that your deeds will come to naught, or whether history will maintain you for a thousand years. And who is to say that when Gylfanon or Irekus perishes, another will not take up our souls.’

‘Rebirth…’

‘Aye. When you consider that nothing is ever wholly destroyed, it seems logical. Infinite, yet not eternal.’

Gylfanon nodded. ‘So that is why you accept my meagre hospitality now? This is all one big metaphor for you is it not old man!’

Irekus grinned, wickedly; ‘I know that you do all you can to keep me warm and fed. That is enough. When reborn, with your castles restored and your land at your feet and your maiden eager and your foes routed, your hospitality will be greater, and yet no greater, than it is now.’

Gylfanon smiled at this, his heavy, weary face unused to the gesture. It was the last and most splendid act of hospitality that night.

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