Chapter 20 - Guilt

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Eirek looked down to the bottle of pills in his hands. Adored Isaac Amiti, dressed in a golden shirt that had a crimson-heart-shaped pocket, had given it to him and told him to take one a day with water for a week to relieve the ache in his ribs. But what about the tremble in my hands? When Eirek told him of what he had done in the labyrinth, the old man tried to relate it to a story about his time studying the adored arts, but it helped Eirek little. He wondered if anyone else was going through what he was.

Before Eirek left the apothecary, he took time to visit Cain. While walking from the back of the apothecary to his bedside, Eirek noticed female clerics wearing gold visors and crimson dresses with golden hearts around the sleeves checking Zain and Gabrielle. Both of them were asleep already. Cadmar and Hydro had already been checked and cleared to leave.  

Once at Cain's beside, Eirek whispered, "How are your wounds?"

"They are healing. I can flex my arm again." Cain clenched his fist and moved it toward his body. "It hurts though when I do it."

"I'm . . . I'm sorry we didn't win. I let you down."

"We survived to see another trial. That is a success in itself. I owe my life twice to you."

Eirek nodded, lost in deep thought. "What does Adored Amiti have you on?"

"A mixture of Angelica Root with a dose of isolated protein. Rebuilds the tissues that were sliced open when . . ."

The blood splattering onto his face. How easy the sword slid through the man. And retrieving his sword. Pretend it's a book on a shelf. . . . If only it had been. Then Eirek's hands wouldn't be shaking even now, nor would they have through the whole ride back from Agrost.

Cain placed his hand on top of Eirek's shaking one, steadying his but also causing Eirek to look into his forest-green eyes. "Guilt is only natural. My father would tell me that a guilty man is his own executioner."

"What did he mean by that?"

Cain took his hands off Eirek's and placed them on his lap. "If you let the past dictate your future, you end up killing your future." Cain glanced toward Zain and Gabrielle and then back at Eirek. "There is a city called Lorian on the outskirts of Epoch, near the land of Kane. For seasons, it was pillaged by savages from Kane, and my father one day sent guards to safely secure the village. When I was twelve, he received word that they captured some five savages, so my father brought me and three of his own royal guards, and we rode out to Lorian. We took the captives, who each had ginger hair and red skin, to a bluff that overlooked the firelands of Kane. On the bluff, there was a massive stump of what used to be a yggdrasil tree, where we all took a turn slicing off each one of the captive's heads.

"When . . . when it came time for me to do it, my father placed his axe in my hand and had his guards hold the man's head. That man looked at me . . . he said something to me. . . . 'You cannot kill me, Brother.' I . . . I still remember it. . . . But he was no kin of mine, and my father urged me. He said, 'Come on, Cain, swing the axe. Help the villagers.' I did. It took me three swings to completely sever his head, and when he was dead, one of the guards threw his head over the bluff with the others while the other two guards tied rope to their legs and then around the stump. We let them hang there for all of Kane to see so that no one else would pillage that city anymore. . . ."

To help villagers, he had to kill. Is the guardian any different? Am I even cut out to be guardian? Eirek's gaze wandered to his hands. "Did it work?"

"Yes . . . I am not sure if they still hang there. . . . I have never been back to Lorian since, but my point is . . . is that if . . . if I continued to live with the guilt of that day . . . well, I would be one of those hanging captives, never seeing the morrow's sun. My mother did not speak with my father for months after the incident. Why? I do not know—probably because of the gruesome act of violence it was . . . but so was the pillage the savages did. . . . It helped to justify what I did, but there were times then after that too. And that is when I started finding other ways to deal with killing until I eventually became numb to it."

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