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Evening (By Elfstone) (Non-Canon)


The sun sinking slowly behind the rain clouds let slip a spill of light . He closed his eyes against the brilliance and felt the warmth of it, even this late in the season. The sensual feeling of sunlight on his face was still inordinately pleasing, a by-product of all those days, months - was it years? - spent underground away from sunlight and fresh air. For a while he sat there, just basking, with nothing to disturb him beyond the incessant chatter of the begyombies in the cyanozamia trees.

Opening his eyes he caught the shimmering of the late afternoon light on his sword, lying where he had left it on the little table. The daily polishing, no longer strictly necessary, had become a kind of ritual. The sword would never be used again in his lifetime, but the act of grinding and oiling the cutting edge, one of the first lessons he had learnt a lifetime ago as a young apprentice, had become as important to him now as it had ever been when his life depended on the sharpness of that blade and his youthful reflexes.

The light of the afternoon sun gave the blade a golden glow and he found his thoughts drifting back into that recurring, bittersweet reverie; the softness of her hair; the depth of those wonderful eyes . . .

“Beethro! Halph and Margoncia and the kids will be here any time now. Do you want to come inside?”

His sister’s voice had mellowed, along with her character, over the years, but there was still that hint of stridency and disapproval about both.

“No. I’ll just sit out in the sun until they get here.“

The absence of eye contact made it easier to refuse her almost-demands and once again he tilted his face and shut his eyes against the sunlight and the mildly disapproving look he knew was directed at him.

It was strange, how the memories of long ago seemed most fresh, most immediate. He had difficulty remembering what he had eaten for dinner last night but he could see Rashonwê’s face as clearly as if she was sitting beside him. The words of the old song drifted into his mind:

“A perfect vision she appears;
To win her heart, my only goal.
Her look, her smile, some happy tears
Would fill my world, would flood my soul -

With warmth, with joy, with quiet peace
With gentleness and kindly glance.
To share, to care, to hold, to please,
To have a partner through life’s dance.”

Ah, but the songsmith did not provide a happy ending; the ballad was of love lost, of love never won:

“No words, no pretty schemes, no game,
No dream, no poem can atone
For all the silent, inward pain,
The emptiness of being alone.“

A life spent clearing dungeons - a respectable, and respected, profession whatever Vonnifa said about it - had brought him much that was good. He had earned his fair share of greckles and then some and of course the spin-off restaurant business was doing better than ever. People seemed to feel that there was a certain kudos gained in dining at the restaurant of such a famous man, even if that man rarely put in an appearance these days. Whatever Vonnifa’s shortcomings, she was an accomplished cook and Beethro knew it. He ate as well here as anyone in the Roasted Roach Grill despite his having employed one of the best chefs in the Eighth there.

He had taken on the task of clearing Gerwensteele’s dungeon entirely because of the huge amount of money that the aristocrat had offered him. The fact that Gerwensteele’s daughter, Rashonwê, was suspected of being lost somewhere in that dungeon mattered not a whit to Beethro. Some stupid young girl who had wandered off in a fit of pique, or as a foolish dare, was really not his concern. If he found her along the way fair enough; if he didn’t, well, he had earned his greckles clearing out the monsters. Even when he tricked and trapped and then killed the Slayer - one of his finer achievements - he had no idea that the girl was there. She was still alive, having been held captive by the Slayer for some reason Beethro could never fathom. If he hadn’t heard her faint cries in the hollow silence of that deepest pit, he would unknowingly have left her to a miserable death.

It was her smile that bowled him over. She had looked straight at him with those wonderful big dark eyes and just smiled at him with her whole being. Beethro had never encountered anything like it. The feeling of constriction in his chest, the change in his breathing, the sense of wanting to see that smile forever, of wanting to immerse his soul in its warmth, was overwhelming. His heart beat too fast and he felt a rush of gentleness and longing the like of which he had never known.

“Hiya Unk!” Halph’s voice had deepened over the years, but had never lost that boyish cheekiness, which used to drive Beethro to distraction.

“Hello yourself! You’re late; again!” grumped Beethro in mock anger.

Margoncia kissed his forehead and whispered, “. . but worth waiting for!” with a mischievous wink. Not for the first time Beethro found himself thinking, “That woman’s a handful, in more ways than one”, but dismissed the thought as unworthy, while he hugged his Grand niece and nephew. Halph’s children were growing into fine young people and Beethro found himself looking on them almost as the grandchildren he would never have now. They certainly doted on him.

“Dinner’s ready” Vonnifa called from the kitchen window. Halph undid the brake on the wheelchair and trundled Beethro up the garden path and ramp into the house. The conversation during the meal wandered through many topics, much of them to do with the Smitemasters’ Guild. Halph was heavily involved in the modernisation of the Guild and its practices and when he could spare the time to visit his mother and uncle, he would keep Beethro up to date with all the intrigues and internal politics which always seem to bedevil such organisations. There was much laughter at the reported discussions of a suitable monument to Beethro’s legendary career and in particular to his last job, which he had survived against all the odds and which had cost him the use of his legs.

After the meal was over Halph and Beethro continued the conversation while the two women cleared away with the help of the children. Beethro was interested in Halph’s work and wise enough to realise that the old order had to change and yield place to new ideas. Part of him despaired at the changes in training of apprentices, but times move on and he knew he was rapidly becoming a relic from another age; to be admired and respected for what he was, what he had done, but not to be emulated.

Later on, as the long twilight slowly stretched its purple fingers towards the creeping indigo of night, Beethro looked through the open doors to the garden. The sound of the begyombies was fading as one by one the birds fell silent at the onset of night. He saw Halph and Margoncia strolling down the garden towards the cyanozamias. They were lost in quiet conversation and Beethro saw Halph place his arm gently around Margoncia’s shoulders. There was a sudden pang of regret that was almost a physical pain. For all his achievements, for all his successes, for all the respect and admiration he had earned from far and wide, that one thing he had never had; never would have now. He had never walked down a twilight garden with his arm round a beloved woman.

As the two of them walked back up towards the house, they passed the little table where Beethro had been sitting in the afternoon. Halph picked up the famous old sword and held it in front of him for a moment. The last rays of the sun caught the blade and it burst into a fiery golden red. For a moment Beethro was moved by the beauty of the thing. It was more than likely that the old sword would end up in a museum somewhere, gathering dust, when he was gone to the Nine Heavens. Technology was changing the whole approach to dungeon clearing. Newer, more efficient weapons were being developed all the time and Beethro knew that his techniques and skills and knowledge were already a dying art.

After Halph and his family had left, Beethro returned to the garden doors, which still stood open. The last of the begyombies stopped its chattering as though surprised to find its fellows already asleep. The last tints of colour from the vanished sun sprinkled across a deepening sky. Evening - the quietening of the day into comfortable darkness, the time of fading, the time of softening shades, the time of wistfulness. Beethro picked up his sword from the side-table and looked fondly at the gentle glimmering of the old blade and sighed. “Rashonwe”, he murmured to the gathering darkness.