The Last Sunrise
A small tale of a grand friendship
As the sundown rushed to greet us from over the hills much like a giant wave rushes to the shore, my dear friend Jiroux and I sat on a side of the valley, half hidden in the shadows of the trees, and observed yet another rebirth of the stars.
In the smoke of my pipe and the reddish golden light of the flaming orb falling from the sky, my dear friend Jiroux was smiling to himself, his profile sharp and black against the vivid heavens. He lay back with his hands under his head and closed his eyes like a lazy lizard, basking in the last traces of warmth of this fine summer's day.
"Tell me, my friend," he spoke, taking a smoke from my pipe, blowing a perfect ring and returning it into my hands. "What will you think of me if I die?"
I sat and thought, yet the beauty of the sight in front of me did a fine job encouraging laziness of the mind. There he was, my dear friend Jiroux, a lonely black figure as he was from the first day we met, with another one of his questions and a magnificent scenery dangerously delaying my answer to it.
Jiroux opened one eye and smiled his familiar crooked smile, the one I never knew if it was aimed at me, himself or some fleeting thought that just crossed his perpetually ironic mind. "What is the matter? Sundown got your tongue?"
I shrugged. "Why not? It has its beauty."
Jiroux yawned and that was clearly all he had to say on the subject. But the previous one still lingered in his mind and, just like the other things he had hidden up there, he did not let it go.
"I will say you were a good person," I said slowly after he stared at me like a cat for a decent amount of time. My hesitation was not unreasonable, for Jiroux had the unfortunate habit of turning everything into a joke. "I will say you were like a brother to me."
He waved it off with a snort. "Yes, yes, but what will you think?"
I said nothing, and Jiroux laughed, his voice somewhere between a bird's chirp and hoarse.
"Hah! A weakling is what we have here!"
"You mustn't speak ill of the dead," I rebelled.
"But you can think, can't you? And besides, I am not dead yet, am I?"
We sank into silence, I for I was musing, Jiroux simply because he felt like it. After a while I blew off a puff of smoke and Jiroux opened his eyes again.
"I will say you were a good person. Hard to bear at times, but good in the end. But I always thought..."
"Yes? Spit it out, will you!"
I had to smile at his feline impatience, but the thought of his near death promptly made me serious again.
"I'd say you were running away. Always, fleeing from the things you didn't recognize yourself but still felt you don't want to meet them."
"You think well, friend. What else is hiding in that peculiar mind of yours?" His words were mocking, yet his tone suggested true curiosity. Accepting his game and noticing an opening meant I could take advantage of it freely, according to his rules. Thus I feigned a solemn nod of my head.
"It is our belief you always loved. Everything and everybody, liquor especially. You would joke, say you were not capable with pride, but I claim you were simply afraid of the plague of all novels. Getting a heart broken, I believe was the term?"
"Spoken in the voice of a true minister," his teeth gleamed in the dark. "True, all true. Anything else you wish to teach us, wise father?"
I clicked the pipe against my teeth, frowning. "You were fleeing. But I wonder, why didn't you stop? Sought salvation in friends? "
Jiroux laughed again, the golden ring in his ear glistening like a firefly gone mad. "Oh, such a sour face you've got there, my friend. Cheer up! Rejoice, for your brain is working better than I would ever care to admit. Shall I clarify my choices to you? "
So rarely did Jiroux and I in our little philosophical conversations touch the subject of his life I felt like a malnourished child in a candy shop. Aside with the stories of his love conquers, I knew so little every bit of information was like a river to a barren land. "Please do. "
He smiled absentmindedly, and stretched in his grassy bed. "One of the reasons I never stop," he raised a long finger. "Is the fact I will never die of old age. My, if I ever stopped to make friends, I would spend the rest of eternity visiting graves! "
Smirking, I averted my gaze. "You are indeed very practical. "
He rested his chin on his hand and arched a thin eyebrow. "Is that... sarcasm? My dear friend, never have I thought you capable of such a low deed in such high quality. "
"Digression is against the rules," I warned. "You never thought us mortals would want you as a friend, did you not?"
"Oh, shed the language of Homer," he mocked, but he was a liar. I raised an eyebrow and crossed my hands, holding my ground in the discussion.
My dear friend Jiroux fell silent in confusion for what was probably the first time in his long, long life. The gilded coin faded some time ago but its light stayed behind in the dark of Jiroux's eyes and the golden ring in his ear.
"Well, now," he cleared his throat. "You are right. Who in their right mind would want to be bound to a stray dog? "
"Yet again you fail to include me in your calculations," I remarked.
"Never, my friend. And besides," he grinned. "When did I ever say you were in your right mind? "
Even in my mood, 'sour' as Jiroux decided to put it, I had to laugh. Everything was almost alright again, our bickers being our bickers and Jiroux being... well, Jiroux.
In the valley below us a thriving but nameless town lit up in candlelight from many windows. The men were coming back from the fields and women greeted them with either song or scorn. The children whined as they were chased in the bath, then to bed. Gentle sounds of various lullabies entwined with the rough songs the men brought to the taverns. Only the castle on the other hill remained dark and silent, staring down at the life before its feet much like a queen would look at a beggar tugging at her skirts.
I turned around as I realised Jiroux was humming. He winked at my confusion and continued, bringing memories of wooden toys, climbing trees, falling into rivers and falling into mud back to my mind. I smiled to myself and the song changed as if on cue. It spoke of music boxes and fairytales and paper wings set on fire. Then it became even more ominous, and monsters stared at me from the dark, side to side with witches and horrors of the night.
I should have been prepared for such a twist.
"Stop!" I breathed in a child's terror. Sleepy moans of village infants rang in my ear, yet they were oddly muffled. "You and your magic! What did you do now?"
Jiroux smiled again, but sadly. „There is no magic, my friend, at least not one I am creating. This is a simple lullaby a friend of questionable sanity… and humour… composed somewhere long in the past."
"It was not real," I hopefully stated.
"What you saw were the images from your own mind, old fears and wishes. Nothing more, nothing less," he confirmed with a nod. "The lunacy is all yours, my friend."
I was still shivering, but not of cold. It was summer, and the air would flow like warm honey, filled with scent of wild flowers and wheat growing ripe in the sunlight. Fireflies danced over the fields and the sky was a pale blue, like summer skies usually are. Jiroux started humming again, but no images came this time, nor the times that followed. He sang without words the whole night.
Suddenly, a thought struck me. I realised he was saying goodbye.
He placed a comforting hand on my shoulder and I stared at him wide eyed in this warm summer night. As Jiroux was saying his final farewell, I could not bear to return it.
"Goodness, man! Come now, will you truly let a good old me get to you?"
I blinked in rapid succession and nodded with vigour, filled with such grief I could not speak. My dear friend Jiroux sat there at the end of the world and smiled. He raised his voice in a futile tune again and I listened intently, even though I did not know any of the songs he sang. This was his eulogy.
And he sang the entire night, poor old Jiroux, gathering strength to face the day and what we knew was to come. And the blood drop of heavens shone once again and the stars died with a sigh, drowning in sheer beauty of the golden sky.
Jiroux stood then, his dark clothes smudged with grass and dew, and helped me get on my feet with an offered hand. Together we ascended higher up the hill and made the short journey through the birch grove before pausing in the ominous shadow of the castle.
We found the bridge lowered and a woman standing there. She was small and bore a striking resemblance to her brother, with Jiroux's dark curls and laughing eyes, yet without his smile. She moved like a dancer as she approached, swaying gently from side to side. When she was almost on our side, she stopped and slightly moved her hand as if refraining from reaching for Jiroux.
His voice did not tremble as he turned around to face me. „What good times we had, didn't we, friend?" He was always the taller one, making me mistake the daring glint in his eye for a mere fabrication of my mind. Jiroux shook my hand firmly and looked over his shoulder to his sister. She smiled for the first time, and raised her arms as if for an embrace.
Jiroux winked again and swiftly placed something in my hand. He then turned his back on me and crossed the bridge with brisk strides. And as the iron bars lowered, and the small figure of Jiroux's sister drew a dagger, and proceeded to swiftly bury it into Jiroux's chest, I could not help but to stand there, petrified. I gasped when her feral eyes met mine and ran as fast as I could.
When I collapsed in the grass I was on verge of weeping. I failed to perceive it was the same place where I spent the night, the mourning of a nightingale on the branch above me passed unnoticed, even how the whole surrounding nature turned a bit darker now Jiroux was gone. Of his whole mysterious, cursed family, he was the only one who tried and managed to escape their grasping desires and became acquainted with the world of mortals. Now that same world was grieving.
The clouds pulled in and a cold wind began to blow, carrying leaves and icy prickles of rain. I huddled close to a tree and breathed into my numb fingers. I suddenly remembered the last gift Jiroux gave me. I opened my hand and squinted, trying to see in the darkness.
Never did I notice Jiroux taking it off, but it was there, one of his eccentrics, just like the laced collars and dramatic black and his hair hanging down to his shoulders, an item which in my eyes held the very essence of Jiroux. Only now did I notice the barely visible inscriptions running around the smooth gold and quivering turquoise pendants.
You can do pretty much anything if you have a good storm, I was told once. I found myself confronted with a surprising lack of surprise as Jiroux's voice suddenly made itself heard in my head. You need an item of great value or age and a strong emotion, and then you can move mountains with a thought.
It was hoarse and cold, his favourite luxury burning off the jest and the smiles. He was sprawled in the corner of a tavern then, frowning, too drunk to even look at me. Another personality entirely would spring into life after enough drink has passed through him.
Hah! What a joke! Is it not pouring this very moment? I myself am over three centuries old and the damned pain erupting in my head is bringing out a whole palette of rage, yet I can barely lift a finger! What a joke of it all...
I put the little fragment of gold on my finger in fear of foolishly losing it and ran back to the castle, my heart pounding deafeningly in my ears and the inspiring revelation bright before my blinded eyes.
The storm raged around me, slashing at the darkness with lightning and thunder. The castle, with its black spires and cruel iron spikes in the moat, towered above me in the manner of a mountain, and sprawled in the inner yard was Jiroux. Left outside like a stray dog.
I crossed the bridge before pausing and eyeing the guard towers carefully. A tentative foot was placed on the threshold yet no divine vengeance came to strike me down.
Some kind of miracle must have occurred then, for even Jiroux was very thin, he was tall, and I could never have lifted him on a regularly chaotic day. But now it was nearly as simple as carrying a child, with only a few stumbles caused by flailing limbs and my clumsiness paired up with added weight of a dead man. We were still quick to leave the haunted shadow of the castle, though.
When we were far enough for my taste, I put Jiroux down and stared at him for a moment. Soaked to the bone, shivering like a half drowned cat, almost deaf for the constant rumbling of thunder, I stood there in the forest and watched the corpse of my dear friend Jiroux.
And not a single sensible notion could I manage about what to do next.
Toying with the earring on my finger in a panic, I thought until my head hurt. Never did Jiroux say any magic words fit for a situation like this, not a memory or a snippet of a legend did he mention, and I felt disappointment filling me up to the brim, for now Jiroux would have to stay dead. Perhaps he could have moved the mountains, but I can't even think of what to do with the life line he put so confidently in my hands!
As I searched my mind for answers in haste, I cut myself on a shard of turquoise and the earring was swift to slip off my finger. I scrambled for it in terror until I heard it land on Jiroux's chest with a clink. And, apparently, that was enough.
There was no great flash of lightning or ominous crack of thunder. There was just Jiroux, alive and well, staring straight up to the sky, with rain soaking him so thoroughly he was almost one with the water himself. Then his gaze shifted to where I fell on my knees.
"Hello, my friend," he said, his face the colour and expression of a stone in the dim light. "I was afraid you forgot about that night."
"A drunken Jiroux is not a sight to be forgotten," I said as if some other force put words in my mouth. "How are you feeling?"
"Wet. And cold. And like a herd of wild horses merrily pranced over me." He raised his hand and felt his bloodied shirt, the discovery of the hole in it bringing a sad expression to his face. "Shame. It was a good shirt."
I laughed through my tears, too shocked to say anything. And so we stayed as the rain grew weaker and finally stopped. The world glistened in a new coat of diamonds, and a whole new sunrise painted the sky in colours of victory.
"You know, they can't harm me anymore. Authority finds a way of accepting defeat from ridiculous paradoxes such as this one. "
"Liar." I pointed an accusing finger at his ruined shirt and the would-be wound under it. "Could it mean you will not die again?"
"Who knows? I am most determined on making this a unique experience. Then there is your blood on the earring." He grinned. "There are many things that need considering."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, there is a good chance you became immortal yourself!" He flailed his hands about with a ridicule of surprise written over his features. He laughed from where he lay on the damp soil as he lowered his palms under his head. „Just think of the time you will have to read all those dusty books you are so fond of."
Yes, it was Jiroux, starting a scrap over books. I shook my head and heaved myself up. "Come on, you stubborn immortal. I think we should go and find some food in that village."
He groaned as he got up and stuck a finger through the hole in his shirt. "And a seamstress, if possible."
He laughed and I joined him. It was hard not to, all things considered.
We started to descend the hill, I lighting my pipe and Jiroux humming again. His earring, the fortunate deus ex machina of this adventure, swayed on his ear, the turquoise still red. But from the sundown or my blood, one would find impossible to tell.
"Where in the world are we going after this?"