It was a nice-looking farmhouse, fairly big, lovely garden. Behind the house there was an orchard full of cherry trees – blooming, pink cherry trees that went on for miles against a clear mountain sky.
David got off the horse and went to the gate. He leaned on it, checked the name on the mailbox – this was a well-to-do family – and then called out to the woman who was coming around the corner of the house, basket of laundry under one arm. "Hello! Is this the Tacquerd farm?"
The woman came up to the gate and eyed him in his uniform nervously. "Yes? What do you want?"
"I'm looking for Myria," said David.
Realization came to the woman's eyes, and she gripped the handles of the laundry basket tighter. "Is it – "
David nodded soberly. "It is."
The woman bit her lip. She put down the basket of laundry and opened the gate for him, gesturing wordlessly to a winding path.
David followed the path through the garden, till he came to a second low gate leading into the orchard. It was very quiet in the orchard. Fallen blossoms littered the path like a shell pink tissue sea.
There was a girl at the end of the flower-littered avenue. Her face was turned away from him, but her hair was done up in a loose bun, with a pair of gilt top pins protruding from it. She had a pocketknife in her hand, and she was carving a name on the trunk of a cherry tree – a tree with names carved into every available space, spreading out across bark, wood, days, months, years.
"Myria?" he said aloud.
She turned, and she must have seen the uniform first because she leapt up, a joyous cry on her lips that died when she saw his face.
"No," she said, and the word fell between them, floated to the ground like a falling cherry blossom.
"He never stopped thinking of you." David took out the sheaf of letters from inside his jacket and handed them to her. "He died with your name on his lips."
She took the bundle from him, thumbed through them, reading the dates, the addresses, the Dearest Myrias. Then she looked up at him again. Her eyes were beautiful and unspeakably sorrowful. "How?"
"He was shot. He died to save his king."
Myria nodded. There was a bitter twist to her beautiful mouth. "He would have wanted that."
"I'm sorry," he said.
"It's all right," she whispered. "Thank you."
He left her in the midst of the floating flowers, clutching a knife and the letters of a dead man, crying so quietly that he would not have heard it if he had not known.
David walked back through the garden and let himself out. He rode the horse back to the main mountain road, where Katalin and Tiffany were waiting.
"How is she?" asked Tiffany.
David nodded. "She's taking it well. I think."
They rode on up the mountain without speaking. When they came to the path that led up to David's farm, they reined in their horses.
"I'm not sure I want to do this," said David.
"Well," said Katalin languidly,"whether you do or not, we'll be waiting for you here."
David sighed, passed the reins of his horse to her, dismounted and began to walk up the slope.
The farmhouse came into view. David leapt over the ditch and followed the dirt path through the fields of rippling wheat.
At this time of the day they would be out in the fields. As he crossed the slight rise in the fields, he saw his brothers and his father amidst the wheat. It was Fred who spotted him first, Frederick the youngest, and his ten-year-old brother screamed his name and came pelting through the wheat towards him, followed by the other two and, at a distance, his father.
Fred flung his arms around him, and David forgot everything but the sheer pleasure of hugging his little brother again. Then Thomas was before him, and John.
David released Fred and looked up at John. "Hello, John. How're you?"
"All right," said John, looking at him searchingly. Then, "I'm glad you made it back."
David laughed, and they embraced.
Their mother had emerged onto the front porch, wiping her hands on her apron, and with a scream of delight she ran out into the fields and caught David up in another embrace. "My son! You're back home safe and sound!"
"Yes, Mother, I am," said David, a little painfully. Then, as she released him, he saw his father standing behind John.
"So," said his father. "Did we win?"
David stared at his father. Then, he said, curtly, "Yes. We did."
His father smiled. "You're a war hero now, son."
"No," said David. "Maybe, but on your terms, no."
His father stopped, and gazed at him sharply.
"Well," said his mother, attempting to diffuse the hostility between father and son, "won't you come in for some lunch, David? It's rather late, of course, but you'll have travelled a long way and you'll be – "
"I'm not staying," said David.
This time, everyone gazed at him sharply. David felt compelled to repeat himself. "I'm not staying."
"But…where are you going?" queried his mother finally.
"I don't know," said David. "Somewhere. But I'm not staying here. I just came back to let you know I was all right."
"But wh – " began his father.
"Things have changed," said David, ignoring him. "I don't belong here any more." He didn't feel like explaining the vampire situation to them, either. "I'm going now."
He started off down the dirt path. He heard footsteps after him, John's voice. "Wait – David – "
David spun round. "Listen, John. Don't ever join the army. Be a farmer. Stay out of war. Don't ever join up." He made sure his voice was loud enough for his father to hear him. "Do you hear?"
John stared at him. Then, slowly, he nodded.
"Goodbye," said David, and left his brother standing on the dirt track.
He walked back through the rippling wheat, aware of his family watching his back. He reached the road, aware that part of him ached and was sorry and that his arms hurt, and another part of him felt as free and empty as the sky.
Katalin and Tiffany were still waiting for him at the main road. David swung himself onto his horse as Katalin handed him his reins, and then she smiled quickly at him and led the way down the mountain.
"To the village, then?" said Tiffany brightly.
"To the village," said David.
"Well then, Depphoe it is," said Katalin, breaking into a trot. "And where after that?"
David didn't know. "We'll think about that later," he said, nonchalantly. "Let's be aimless for now, shall we?"
Katalin laughed, her old supercilious laugh.
And even though it wasn't sunset, they rode off in the rough direction thereof.
End of Chapter
According to my logbook, this fic was begun on the 21st of August 2005 and completed on the 2nd of September 2006. Which is a little over a year.
And now it is time for post-essay-reflection.
(clears throat) Regimental Blues was…a good fic. Occasionally. Some parts. Most of the time it embarrassed me, but so does everything I write. I believe on a whole it helped me improve. Stuff like characterization, and plot twisting. I don't think I've ever written anything with quite as many plot twists as this.
And now to the part I like: acknowledgments!
Fire-breathing-kitten, the only person who actually guessed Eric's real identity.
Lack thereof, who liked my story so much that they recommended it to Unusual Fish (see below)
Unusual Fish, who gave me some very constructive remarks.
Falqwin, to whom I owe one duck joke and appended explanation.
Rachel, who provided me with somewhat clueless reviews that kept me from spiralling off into elitist incoherency.
Nat, who has her own kela.
Yongquan, who arrived late, but said it was worth coming anyway.
Victoria Tan, whose sister regularly regales me with tales of how she printed out sixteen chapters in one shot.
Claire, who reviewed only once but bugged me regularly for updates, and who gave me hell in a public place for killing Tak off.
Lintong, who reviewed concisely but consistently, and who paid me the extravagant compliment of being better than Monstrous Regiment (a fallacious compliment, I might add)
The above would not have been possible without:
Terry Pratchett, author of Monstrous Regiment, without which this whole affair would never have been inspired in the first place.
Michelle the Miniature Muse, who unfailingly supports every ficcing endeavour I engage in, and who has been my muse, my inspiration, and my squishy since before I can remember.
The erstwhile Rukuelle Mendiant, who has been here and there but always with me.
Jack, who went through thirty thousand makeovers but came out as lovable as ever; Cunningham, who was never lovable but always reliable; Eric, who was totally unpredictable in his/her own quirky way; Tiffany, who never failed to cheer me up when I was writer's-blocking; Jacob, who was everyone's favourite and who never failed to bring out the comic potential in every scene; Oscar, who simply deserves hugs; Tom, the bestest cat ever lived; Tak, whom it will never be the same without ever again; Katalin, whose sword-fighting snark-spouting kela-swigging jugular-ripping personality I have always longed to emulate; David, who has been the most endearing/difficult/all-encompassing/infuriating/wonderful main character. He needs some sense knocked into him, but I love him.
Bye, you guys; it's been fun. We'll meet up again some time in the near future, perhaps. In the meantime, Laiqualaurelote is going on a paper holiday. And when that's over – you'll know when it's over.
End (of everything)