It’s my birthday today. I read this passage from “The Steel Remains” a couple of days earlier. It left me thinking but I didn’t completely get it. Then my birthday comes, and now I DO get it. Deeply.
It’s like if it’s talking to me.
‘But you didn’t die.’
‘No.’ Egar thought he heard something that was almost disappointment in the other man’s tone. ‘I didn’t. Not even at Gallows Gap, and Urann knows we came close enough there. Now that was a perfect place for a good death, if ever I saw one.’
And now it was Egar’s turn to chuckle. But it was a grim sound he made, not much humour in it.
Marnak’s lips bent in silent echo. ‘Instead of which, we all become heroes. You, me, even that fucking faggot friend of yours.’
‘Look, he wasn’t exactly my-‘
‘And next thing you know we’re back to fighting humans again. And that’s fine, you know, like I said, but …’ Another helpless gesture. ‘ It got old. Felt like some kind of massive wheel coming right the way back round to start. There were all these new Majak kids flooding into Yhelteth on the recruiting wagon, looking up to fill the gaps in the ranks, no fucking clue what it was all about-‘
‘Yeah, I remember.’ Mostly, what Egar remembered was wanting to break their shiny, enthusiastic faces for them. The fact they reminded him so much of himself a decade earlier only made it worse. ‘Weird times, huh?’
‘You know what it felt like?’ Marnak slipped off his cap, scrubbed vigorously at his scalp with the nails of a half-clenched fist. ‘You remember those round-and-round-about machines the Kiriath put into the tea gardens at Ynval. The ones with the wooden horses?’
‘Yeah. Been on them a couple of times.’
‘Yeah, well, you know what it’s like when the ride’s finished, then. Everything comes to a halt, you’re sitting there, getting used to the whole world not spinning around you, and you’ve got a whole new set of people, mostly kids, all swarming to get on. You don’t know whether you want to give up your seat or not, and then it suddenly hits you.’ He slipped his cap back on again, shot Egar a sidelong glance. ‘You realise you don’t want to go round again. In fact, you’re not even fucking sure any more whether you really enjoyed it the first time around.’
They both laughed this time, and loud. Quick bark of tension released, then the looser, more reflective stretch of genuine amusement, shared under the massive sky. The small, human sounds it made held briefly against the landscape, then soaked away into the vast quiet and the wind, like piss into the ground.