I was young and unafraid, heart aflame with the sort of righteousness that cast out all shadows of doubt, on the day I first met 2 Barrett Buvelle.
He watched from beside the throne of the young 7 King Jarvan III, crowned only a fortnight earlier, as I marched into the Hall of Valor as soon as my name had left the crier’s lips. Both young men seemed interested, briefly—I know I was attractive at that age, though I did everything in my power to quiet that beauty—but the young king seemed mostly bored and tired of dealing with discontent noble families.
Jarvan waited for Barrett to whisper something in his ear before he continued. I could only see Barrett in silhouette on his left side, as his body was angled toward the king. As then, as always. “Lestara Demoisier,” Jarvan said, his voice strong and clear, echoing through the vast hall of petricite and marble. “What brings you here today?”
That got their attention, as I recall. Jarvan raised his eyebrows until they disappeared beneath his crown. Barrett, eyes wide, put his hand around his liege’s shoulder in a tight grip.
“My failure?” Jarvan asked with a mixture of confusion and amusement. “My failure in what? Not a fortnight ago was my coronation, what could I have possibly failed at since then?”
“You have been king for a whole two weeks and you have not yet addressed the plight of those beneath you.”
He rolled his eyes, thinking he knew my mind. I am sure there were many girls in those days who petitioned the king, in the hopes of elevating their own status and that of their families, and he must have tired of it. “I cannot further ennoble the Demoisiers without cause, as I have told countless other petitioners this day If you serve your country well in battle—”
“I do not speak of the nobles.”
Barrett turned to face me full for the first time with astonishment writ across his face. I still remember the gleam of his armor, stamped with the prestigious Buvelle seal right in the center of his chest. It shone like diamonds. Like his eyes.
“Then of whom,” Jarvan asked, curious, “do you speak?”
That was the opening I had been waiting for. I cleared my throat before continuing, as I knew I had much to say. I began by untucking my necklace from my blouse, revealing the lit-candle symbol of the Illuminators. “Your subjects,” I said, my tongue full of acid. “There are those in Demacia with neither home nor livelihood, and you have failed them in neglecting to provide it, even as you broker peace between the feuding nobility. There are good people, honest people who live in the streets, or slip into barns to get out of the rain at night, or go hungry for days on end because every scrap of food they collect goes to their children. If you truly seek what’s best for your kingdom, you will make them your priority... not those who already have more than enough.”
There was only a moment of dumbfounded silence from both men before Barrett let out a full belly laugh that bounced off the walls and echoed through the throne room, finally settling into my burning red ears. The embarrassment sat in the pit of my stomach like a stone.
He moved toward me then. I stepped back, wary, but he was fast. He took my hand in his and said...
Well. Regretfully, I can’t recall exactly what he said. My memory can be so clear about certain moments in my life, and so hazy with regard to others. The essence of it was that he would do what he could to personally oversee a project to house every ailing Demacian. Jarvan III gaped at his friend, as he had obviously not approved a single word of this man’s promises to me.
But Barrett never said he would do something unless he meant to commit himself to doing it properly. So he merely looked at his childhood friend until the king nodded his assent. “There should have been assistance offered to these people long ago,” the king said, looking at me with new respect. “Thank you for bringing this discrepancy to my attention. Lord Buvelle and I will get started on these plans posthaste.”
Flushed, I stared at my hand in Barrett’s, his fingers gently encircling mine. I knew who he was, of course, even then. The young king’s right hand. The man who knew the king’s heart better than any other. The man for whom the king would kill, and the man for whom the king would gladly die.
“It only pains me that it has taken us so long,” Barrett Buvelle said with a smile, “to do what was so obvious to you, Lestara Demoisier.”
That was the first time I heard him speak my name.
The last time was just over six weeks ago.And I will never hear him speak it again.
I have been three weeks a widow, but still it has not felt... real.
Barrett’s absences, when he is called to minister to the soldiers, have always been long. Three months, usually. Kahina and I would sometimes visit him at the front, helping him distribute food and supplies and good cheer to the Demacians risking their lives on our behalf. But not often.
This time, it still feels as though he could walk back into our home at any moment, sorrow lacing his brow for what those young soldiers must go through, for the families they will leave to mourn them when they lay down their lives for their country.
He was a chaplain. He was never supposed to die in battle.
Barrett was not the only person to lose their life, of course. I am told that the battle was unwinnable. Even the Dauntless Vanguard fell before the might of Demacia’s enemies. Unthinkable, until it happened. How fitting that the place my husband and so many others died is known as the Gates of Mourning.
He wanted to hold the funeral as soon as Barrett’s body was returned to us. I told Jarvan that he needed to honor the late High Marshal first, that he could not let his love for my husband cloud his duty to those who served him with their swords and souls. Truly, though, it is because I could not bear how dreadfully real it would all become.But funerals cannot be put aside forever. Today, I must find the strength to say goodbye.
The first four times Barrett asked me to marry him, I had said no.
“Why,” I asked, pained for him, “would you keep asking when my answer remains the same?”
“It is precisely because your answer remains the same that I must keep asking,” Barrett said with that patient smile I had come to love so deeply in the years since we had first met. He had led me to the gardens beside the palace, with the clear sky and the lilies dancing in his eyes. A more romantic setting than the first three, I admit.
“You know why I cannot accept.” I had promised myself from a young age that I would join the order of the Illuminators to help those in need, giving them shelter, providing food and work, listening to their stories, perhaps even learning some of the healing arts to help ease their pain. The Illuminators seemed to truly embody the values I had been taught as a Demacian, and all of my time spent with them had opened my eyes and my heart to the idea of a lifetime of service. And while there were lay Illuminators who were able to balance their good works with the needs of a family, those who dedicated their lives fully to the order lived a monastic existence and did not marry. This had been my intention.
“Indeed I do.” Barrett understood this about me, through our many conversations about injustice and how it could be corrected. But he had never given up on the idea that love could conquer all, even a stubborn girl’s desire to do good.
And his persistence, not just in asking for my hand but in consistently showing me through his deeds that his love for me was true, was beginning to wear on my determination. For I had come to love him as well—accidentally on my part, though through no small effort on his—and each refusal I made weighed heavily on my heart. It was all too easy to see the beautiful life I could lead with this man if only I allowed it.
My hands shook and my eyes burned as I turned from him. “You need to start looking elsewhere for a wife, Barrett, or all the kind women will have made their match already.”
“I will not marry if it cannot be to you.”
“Your family will never allow that to happen,” I said with a mirthless laugh. There was no future I could foresee in which the Buvelles did not force Barrett to marry, if only to sire an heir.
“Do you love me?”
“Of course I do.”
“And do you trust that I love you?”
“Yes. You have made that quite clear.”
“Then let me be clear about something else.” He paused. “I would appreciate if we could speak on this while... looking at one another. If that would be all right.”
I shook my head, knowing that if I looked at him right now, I would burst into tears.
“Very well.” I could hear him take a few deep breaths, presumably rolling his shoulders and attempting to relax. “My family has amassed a great deal of wealth and influence over the centuries. If you were to ask it of me... I would dedicate all of it to the good works you wish to do. To support the people of Demacia. All of them.”
My breath caught in my throat. The entire Buvelle fortune, dedicated to the benefit of the less fortunate? That would go far beyond anything I could hope to achieve with the Illuminators.
I wheeled around, suddenly incensed that he would put a price on my acceptance. “But you would not do this if I refuse to marry you? That does not make you an honorable man, Barrett, it makes you a conniver.”
Barrett blinked at me in confusion. “When did I say that you would have to marry me for such a thing? All I require to do it, is that you ask it of me. That you guide my hand, help me to understand where I could do the most good. ”
I stared at him, all of my anger dissipating like smoke. Barrett had just committed his life to me, while requiring nothing from me. And his word was truly his bond—if he said it, he meant to do it.
How could any man be like this?
He smiled again, gentle, with love in his eyes. “But I admit that I would enjoy it better with you in my life.”
And so he asked a fifth time.And this time, I said yes.
At my request, Jarvan III had held a funeral for the High Marshal first, with citizens and soldiers coming in from all across Demacia to watch the late Purcivell Bronz be interred with the other heroes in the Hall of Valor. The streets had been lined with mourners, and Bronz had been sent off with much respect from the people he had served.
The city is not large enough to contain all the people who have come to mourn my husband.
The inns are filled. There are thousands of tents outside the walls, filled with those whose lives have been touched in some way by my husband’s good works. The funerary march has changed routes twice, winding through the streets and around the walls, so that all have the chance to touch his casket and weep.
The only thing keeping me grounded are the hands of my girls, one on each side, gripping mine steadily. I can feel their heartbeats through their palms, reassuring me that they are both alive and well and here.
Usually the throne room is filled with all of the mourners who have come to pay tribute to the fallen, but the king has had to be selective with those allowed in today. He has generously offered that the Hall of Valor be open to the public for the next week, but today it is a smaller crowd within. I recognize nearly all the faces, though I would not call most of them friends.
Nobles. Highborn. Important political figures.
Jarvan has allowed, at my behest, an Illuminator to lead the service. Mistress Myrtille, a renowned healer and a mentor to my daughter Kahina, recites out the familiar poesy:
A flame that once burned brightly has been doused.
We mourn its light, the warmth it gave us.
But though all we see is the smoke,
Remember that no light ever truly goes out.
Not when it has enkindled others
To shine brightly, to burn with passion.
Their warmth is in others, and their light still burns
As long as we honor their spark that we each hold.
The words do not bring comfort, but they are easy to say after decades of repetition, and so I say them.
I must admit, I do not pay close attention to the service. Instead, my eyes continue to wander to the cinerarium. Barrett’s armor has been refashioned to hold his ashes, as is the custom for all those who die in battle. I can picture him in those gleaming pauldrons, though I cannot imagine him inhabiting it now. It appears far too small to hold the man I knew, now. Perhaps he is not in there at all.
It feels as though no time has passed, yet it is time for the eulogies.
“Lord Buvelle was a great Demacian.”
“A skilled warrior.”
“Humble servant of the crown.”
“A safeguard of tradition.”
My face flushes red with anger. Barrett hadn’t fought in a battle in nearly thirty years, and he was more interested in aiding the Demacian people than in “safeguarding” the traditions of the noble families. Most of the people who stand to speak, do so as if they have never met Barrett, only heard of him from afar, even though I know many of them saw him nearly every day. How could they know him so little?
Yet none of these accolades feel more false than those offered by Eldred of the Mageseekers.
“Lord Buvelle was, at his core, dedicated to ridding Demacia of its worst ills.”
Eldred was no friend to my husband in life, yet he speaks as though he knew Barrett’s heart. And even though I know Barrett was indeed committed to improving Demacia, it is not in the way that Eldred means to imply.
My husband was never fearful of mages. Indeed, we both unknowingly welcomed one into our home and our family, and we would never allow her to be taken from us., our adoptive daughter, sits beside me today, her tears falling silently as she averts her gaze from the Mageseeker.
“He saw the horrors that threaten to devour Demacia from within, and he dedicated his time and efforts to supporting organizations that would eat away at that rot,” Eldred says with an eelish smile. “And his support meant the world to those of us whose lives revolve around securing Demacia’s future.”
It stings to hear my husband so misrepresented.
Jarvan III is the last to speak before the family. He catches my eye from the dais, still clutching Barrett’s ragged blue tabard, and speaks his words directly to me.
“Barrett Buvelle was as a brother to me. Without him... I would not be the man I am today. The leader I am today. I am not ashamed to say that I would be a more thoughtless man. A more reckless man. A man who could love deeply but struggled to put that love into word or deed. But his friendship changed me, helped me be the husband and father and king that I am today. Barrett touched the soul of every person he met, and made them better for it.”
“Finally,” Sona signs to me, “someone is speaking of Father as he actually was.”
It’s true. I knew that if anyone would do so today, it would be Jarvan.
“That he has been ripped away from us, when he had so much more to give this world, is simply unbearable. He was not a man for whom war was easy, but he was a man who made war easier by giving freely of his time and love to the Demacians who fought for their country. And for it... for this love, for our country and our countrymen, he was stolen from us.
“So I swear, by the swords of the, that I will hold responsible those who took him from me. From all of us. If it takes me a lifetime, so be it, for my love for him did not die with him. It will die with me.”
It feels as though my heart has been plunged into ice water. The king stares at me for another moment before nodding very slightly, the way Barrett used to when he made a promise. I realize that he believes this is what I want, too.
Applause rocks through the room, echoing and echoing and growing louder. The whole hall is filled with bloodthirsty people, willing to send more Demacians to die for... for what? Revenge? False justice?
This is not what Barrett would have wanted.
Before I know it, Kahina is helping me stand, gesturing toward the dais. She looks at me with those same piercing eyes her father had and offers a quick smile. “You can do this, Mother,” she signs to me. “I am here for you.”
“We both are,” signs Sona. My sweet girls. Two gifts that my husband and I were able to give each other, and the world.
My throat is raw, and my voice comes out as a ragged whisper. I cough and try again to limited success, but the din of the room has quieted.
“I do not have the words to tell you about how much my husband cared for the people of Demacia,” I say, willing my voice to remain steady. “Instead, I will do as he would have done, and show you.” I look around at the highborn people surrounding me, with the same fire in my words that I had the first time I had stood in this room. “I am donating the Buvelle residence within the Great City to the people of Demacia, in my husband’s honor. It will become a library, populated with our own private collection, for any Demacian to use at any time.”
A ripple of murmured shock spreads throughout the room. Other nobles do not allow the ordinary citizenry to peruse their book collections. Indeed, I imagine the thought that anyone could educate themselves to be distasteful to some. Barrett and I, however, first discussed the library years ago, and he loved the idea of providing for the Demacian people beyond the basics for survival.
It is the least I could do to honor him, especially when others tried to honor him so poorly.
“Our daughter Sona has composed a song in memory of her father that she would like to play. Sona?”
Sona stands, her etwahl strung across her back, and trades places with me at the dais, where the etwahl’s wooden stand is already in place. As I sit beside Kahina once again, my husband’s cinerarium now in my arms, Kahina whispers in my ear, “He would have loved this. It is the right thing to do.”
“I know it is,” I say, and squeeze her hand as Sona plays the first few notes on her instrument.It takes only six measures before her song has moved everyone within the Hall of Valor to tears.
“It would only be for a few months,” the Illuminator finished breathlessly. “Would you be able to help sponsor the welfare of these children while they are in our care?”
Barrett and I looked at one another. “I think we can do a bit more than that,” Barrett said with a smile. “How many of these war orphans are there?”
“We are caring for nine, though two of them are ill and they might not last the week.of them also doesn’t speak, and we aren’t sure yet if that’s something we can heal.”
“Can you spare one of your healers until they are well again?”
“Well... yes, that should be doable.”
“Then bring them all here,” Barrett said, nodding. “We have the room and the resources to help these children, and you’ll be able to focus on finding them families to stay with long-term.”
The Illuminator thanked us profusely for opening our home. We had never housed so many children before, and never from outside Demacia. But Demacians are not the only people in the world, which means they are not the only people worth helping when they are in need.
I remember Kahina became terribly excited, and she spent time researching Ionia with her tutors to see if there was any way we could make the children more comfortable. Any holidays we could celebrate together, things like that. Barrett and I did what we could to ready the rooms, and worked together to prepare an enormous first meal for them all.
When the children arrived, we realized that none of them spoke Demacian. So Barrett and Kahina took it upon themselves to find another way to communicate, one that involved a lot of pointing and hand gestures and facial expressions. I heard the house ring with laughter that evening.
But I wandered away when I heard music. I couldn’t think of where it could be coming from, so I followed it throughout the house, checking room by room to see what I could find.
Then, I saw her. Sona. Her face so serious, playing an instrument three times her size, swaying in time with her own music. She started when I entered the room, but she didn’t stop playing.
It was the most beautiful music I had ever heard.
Barrett found me there, leaning back against the doorframe, sometime later in the evening. “Lestara? Is everything...” He lost his train of thought as soon as the music hit him.
All too soon, the small girl stopped playing and stared back at us with enormous eyes. Barrett and I exchanged glances. Then, he waved at the girl. Just a little wave, to say hello.
She smiled, and her smile was as bright as the moon. She waved back shyly, then walked over and sat just in front of us.
“I think this is the girl they said couldn’t speak,” Barrett said gently.
“I don’t think she needs to.” I remember feeling like I knew everything about her, just from listening to her play. It had felt like a conversation, one that went deeper than words.
Barrett looked back at me. After a moment, he smiled and gave me a small nod.
We hosted those nine orphaned children for about three months. Eight of them left.
The funeral reception is held in the gardens beside the Citadel of Dawn, among the lilies where I had said yes to Barrett’s offer of marriage and where we had finally sworn ourselves to one another as husband and wife. It feels like that was so long ago. It feels like it was yesterday.
My daughters sit beside me as we receive endless noble mourners. They keep me from drifting off too far into my own memories, though it is hard to stay rooted to the present.
A young woman with a trained azurite eagle perched on her shoulder approaches. I immediately recognize her as the one who saved Barrett’s life a couple years ago, and lost her own brother in the battle. I stand and grasp her hands tightly between my own. “Thank you,,” I whisper, “for giving me two more years with him.”
She blushes, embarrassed. “I... It was nothing.”
“It was not nothing. It was everything. Please, if there is anything I can do for you, you only have to let me know.” I wait for her while she wrestles with whether she would like to tell me, if this is the appropriate time. “Please. I want to help you, any way that I can.”
It takes some coaxing, but finally Quinn comes to her point. She aspires to become a knight, and asks haltingly if I would speak to the newly appointed High Marshal on her behalf. “Of course,” I tell her as I stand. She and my daughters both begin to say that I do not need to go right now, but I am quietly happy to have something else to think about today. Something to do.
Tianna Crownguard has not approached me and my daughters yet. Instead, she stands beside her betrothed and listens to him speak with nobles from other houses about his hopes for expanding the Mageseekers. None of them look particularly interested, but a Crownguard’s presence makes Eldred’s words worth listening to, I suppose.
Both Crownguard and Eldred turn as I approach and offer their own condolences. She even embraces me, as though she is not part of the reason my husband is dead. “Tianna,” I say after she has let go of me, “there is a young woman over there, Quinn, who wishes to speak with you.”
“My dearest Lestara, today of all days you should not have to worry about serving others,” she says. “Let others serve you, for once.”
“If you are offering, then I would like to suggest that the best way you could serve me would be by speaking to the young woman. She saved Barrett’s life, once.”
Crownguard purses her lips, shamed. She had been the sword-captain of the Dauntless Vanguard during the battle of the Gates of Mourning three weeks earlier, but she’d had to resign in order to stand any chance of being named the next High Marshal. It was her Vanguard who had failed to keep my husband safe, failed to keep Purcivell Bronz safe. How she had been given a higher command, I cannot pretend to understand.
“We will speak of business another day,” she says coolly.
I am not so easily deterred. “Certainly, Tianna. When?” She mumbles something about returning to the front within the week. “Then I shall have to pay you a visit in the next few days, my dear. Tea?”
To her good fortune and visible relief, one of her polished warriors pulls her away to discuss strategy or some other convenient matter. In her absence, Eldred sidles up beside me. “A library is such a generous offer to make to the Great City,” he says with a light smile.
“Yes, my husband was a generous man.”
“I am interested in seeing what your collection holds.”
I roll my eyes. “The Mageseekers will not find any book of magic within my estate, of that I can assure you.”
“Ah, but descriptions of magic can be dangerous, too, Lady Lestara.” His smile is gone now, replaced with a stony expression meant to distract from the fanaticism in his eyes. “And some books tend to reference magic with a... shall we say, a treacherous lack of judgment. Sorcery deemed morally gray, instead of the evil we know it to be. And we can’t let that corrupt the minds of the Demacian people into believing that magic is... some sort of neutral force.”
“Are you suggesting that the Mageseekers audit my collection before the library opens?” I cannot believe the gall of this man. The Mageseekers do not have the power to make those sorts of demands, especially not of the nobility. “Because I am still Lady Lestara Buvelle, head of the Buvelle family until my daughter claims the title. With all the history behind that name, I don’t believe the king would—”
“Necessitate it? Oh, but didn’t you hear?” His smile is back, and I just want to slap it off his face. “It was Noxian mages that brought down the Gates of Mourning. Who is it that you think the king wants to punish?”
“The Noxians.” I say it firmly, but doubt creeps into my mind.Eldred confirms these doubts with a shake of his head. “The mages.”
I had wondered for some time about Sona’s instrument, but it became clear after a few years that there was more to it than beautiful music.
And I did not know how best to tell Barrett.
We had never kept anything from one another, and I knew he did not fear and hate mages the way that some others in the nobility did. But I did not know how he would react if I told him that I suspected our daughter used magic.
It took months before I felt like I knew what to say. It was before bed, a week or so before spring would become summer, on a warm and peony-scented night.
“Hm?” He was paging through the Illuminators poesy book, as he often did when it seemed like he would need to go speak with soldiers at the front soon.
“I need you to know that, as much as I love you, I would leave you if you ever did anything to hurt our daughters.”
Barrett dropped his book on the floor. “What?” he asked, astounded. “What have I done to make you think that I would ever—”
“I just need you to know it,” I said. “You would never see me or our daughters again, for the rest of your life.”
He frowned. “Has something happened?”
I remember leaning over and lifting his book off the floor, smoothing the pages out where they had bent. I needed something to do with my hands, and somewhere to look that was not my husband’s face.
“I believe that Sona uses magic.”
His face, when I glanced up at him, was unreadable.
What had I done? Had I endangered my daughter’s life? Had I destroyed my marriage?
He turned to me, a look of wild fear in his eyes. I had never seen him afraid like this before, and I did not yet know what it meant.
“How...” he asked, his voice breaking. “How can we keep her safe?”I had never loved my husband more than I did in that moment.
The entire day has left me drained, and my daughters help me to my feet as the last of the noble guests trickle out of the gardens.
“Should we take you home?” Sona asks. I can tell she’s worried about me, she’s been doting on me all day, but I know the grief has been taking its toll on her as well.
I shake my head. “No. I... I want us to say goodbye. Just the three of us. Before we leave.” Before the throne room is opened to the public tomorrow and the throngs of mourners crowd the space too much for any semblance of privacy.
Kahina nods and goes off to find the king. Jarvan, of course, says that we can have as much time as we need. “I’ll be just outside the doors if you need me,” he says. I’m touched by this offer—the king has only ever offered to stand guard for one man, and now that man is ash. His love for Barrett, it would seem, extends to Barrett’s family as well.
I kneel beside the carving that seals his resting place. On the outside is a detailed relief of his face in profile, his name, and the Buvelle family crest. The official images, the ones that commemorate him to all of Demacia forever. But I know that on the inside, facing his ashes, is a picture Kahina scribbled out when she was a child. It is Barrett, beside two men on horseback, giving them each a water cask and a new pair of boots. A child’s drawing of a man she loved very much.
Kahina kneels beside me and kisses my cheek. “I have been thinking of how I want to honor him.”
“You honor him by living as the wonderful woman you’ve grown to be,” I say, pressing my lips to her forehead.
But she pulls back from me and lets her hands fall to her lap. “I’m serious, Mother.”
Frowning, I gesture for her to continue. I don’t know what I expect her to say, but it’s clear that she does not expect me to be happy about it.
With a long look at her father’s tomb, Kahina says, “Father’s commission needs to be filled.”
“...He was a chaplain.”
“And so shall I be. Sort of.”
“I don’t understand, Kahina.”
She takes a deep breath, which does not calm the worry in my stomach. But then she smiles, radiant. “I have decided to join the Illuminators as a knight.”
I gasp. I can’t help it.
Knightly Illuminators may do their good works in battle, coming to the aid of Demacia when they are needed. In times of peace, they are devoted entirely to the cause of bettering the kingdom.
So devoted that they neither marry nor hold titles. Not a problem for most who join, but for Kahina, the intended inheritor of the Buvelle name...
“That... is wonderful, my love. Wonderful news.” I hug her tightly and try not to let her see the worry I know has settled onto my face. “Your father would be so proud of you, as I am.”
It is true. He would be.
Sona touches the petricite seal to Barrett’s tomb, and I see that she is shaken by this news as well. Kahina joining the Illuminators would mean that Sona is the only remaining heir.
And as an adopted child, especially one of Ionian rather than Demacian blood, that could prove difficult for her.
Especially if the Mageseekers gain the sort of power Eldred seems to be anticipating.
What would happen if things got too dangerous for her to remain within Demacia? Barrett and I discussed the possibility while he was still alive, but neither of us ever thought it would truly come to be an issue. The Mageseekers have never been well-loved or admired, but with Eldred wedded to Tianna Crownguard, that might not matter for long.
I don’t know how long I sit there considering both of my daughters’ futures, but all too soon they are ready to leave. I tell them that I will stay behind, to go home without me.
I am still not ready to say goodbye.
Jarvan III steps into the hall, and I cannot tell if I am annoyed or relieved. “Lestara? Are you still here?”
Quietly, he comes to kneel beside me. He is a tall man, but the weight of his grief has bent his shoulders. I have never looked at Jarvan and thought of him as old, but now I can see his age clearly.
“I remember,” he says, breaking the silence, “the first time I met Barrett. As a boy.”
I have heard this story many times over the years, but always from Barrett’s perspective. I wonder how the king’s account will differ.
“I was angry at another child, a boy who worked in the stables. I think perhaps I had lost in some game or another, something of no real importance, and I was throwing a tantrum the way small children do. I was yelling so fervently that I’m told my face was turning purple.” He laughs at this, though there is still no joy on his face. “And Barrett came up to me and started in on me, asking me what made me think this poor stable boy deserved my abuse, with that damned smile of his.”
“The one where he’s being so patient with you.”
“Exactly. The worst sort of thing for a six year old to see, when he’s crying so hard he can’t breathe. So I start shouting at him instead. ‘Do you know who I am?’ And he just patiently answers that of course he does, and he would have expected better of me than that.” He shakes his head, and I swear I can see tears on his cheeks. “He impressed me then. Didn’t care that I was a prince, just thought that I should have been better. That calmed me down, and when the tears stopped I asked him his name.” This smile is real, full of the love for this boy in a memory. “As I said before, he made me a better man.”
I can feel my own tears starting again, hot behind my eyes. “Did he?”
“What do you—”
“Barrett would not want his death avenged.”
Jarvan knows I’m right. I can tell because his face loses every bit of color. “Not everything we do is what the dead would have wanted from us,” he says, voice tinged with sadness and steel. “But the living have to go on finding ways to live. Ways to move forward.”
I know there are things I could say to him, but none that would get him to change his mind. Jarvan III is a man who, like my husband was, is as good as his word. He will do what he chooses once he has decided to do it, and nothing can stop him from it.
So we sit there together in silence for a little while longer. I stand, wishing that I could have had more time alone with my beloved, but the king shows no sign of moving and I don’t care to sit beside him any longer.
As I start toward the doorway, though, I hear Jarvan speak again. “You made him a better man, Lestara. I hope you know that.”
“I do. He never failed to tell me so.”
Suddenly, the King of Demacia stands and wraps me in a tight hug. I can feel him start to shake as he tries to hold back more sobs.
This is the moment it hits me.
Barrett is gone. He’s really gone.
My own tears start to fall, and soon I’m gasping for air, unable to breathe. It feels as though all of the breath has been wrung from my body, and all I have left is burning tears.
We cry in each other’s arms, unable to speak for the hideous grief that chokes us both. I cannot let go or I would fall to the floor.
I don’t know how long we stay like that. Seconds, minutes, hours. But eventually my breath comes back to me, and I stand there and breathe, feeling Jarvan calm as well.
“I’m having trouble remembering things about him,” Jarvan whispered. “It’s like my mind always trusted that he’d be there, so there was no reason to... to catalogue his laughter, or remember the exact way he’d say something profound. But I... I need some of his words, Lestara. Something that will allow his voice to echo in my mind again. Please.”
I think for a moment, but... the things I remember best about him are not memories I want to share with Jarvan III. They are mine, moments between Barrett and me that are my own treasures.So I shake my head. “I don’t remember his words, not exactly.” Then, for the first time in three weeks, I feel myself start to smile. It feels foreign to me now, but I still remember how to do it somehow. “But I remember what he did, and how he made me feel. And that’s all anyone can hope to leave behind. It’s the only legacy that matters.”
Far from the Citadel of Dawn, Sona dragged her trunk out from beneath her bed, trying to keep from waking her sister sleeping down the hall, and began emptying her closet. Almost all of it was the things she would wear when performing, and very little of it was particularly practical. Certainly it was not the usual attire for a runaway teenager. But if she was going to support herself away from home, she would need her music and her performance skills to do it.
In the three weeks since her father had died, things already felt so different in Demacia.
She knew that the war the king wanted to wage would not be against the Noxians. It would be against people like her... and Sona was all too aware that her mother could not protect her the way that her father could, as the king’s best friend.
So she was leaving. Leaving before anything else could go wrong. Leaving before anyone could stop her.
Or so she had hoped. Sona heard the front door open—that would be her mother, finally returning home. She can’t stop me, she thought as she ran her hand along the side of her etwahl. I can make sure she doesn’t.
Lestara took one look through Sona’s door and nodded, her hands settling comfortably and easily into the signs as she told her daughter in no uncertain terms, “I’m coming with you.”
Sona chased after her mother as she strode toward her own bedroom. “Mother, you don’t even know where I’m going!” she signed frantically as soon as Lestara could see her hands.
“It doesn’t matter. I’m going with you. I’ll pack my things now, we’ll leave within the week.”
Lestara gave her daughter a sad smile. “Sona. When have you been able to talk me out of anything once I’ve set my mind to it?”
And with that, she walked away.
Sona didn’t realize she was crying until she looked out her window and felt the cold night air across her face.
This isn’t fair, she thought. I don’t want to leave. This is my home.
But was it? Was it still? With her father gone, could it ever be again?
As she often did when she did not know what else to do, Sona sat down at her etwahl and began to play.
The mournful melody drifted out through her window echoing down the streets of the Great City, through the Citadel, even past the walls. Those who heard it did not know why they began to weep.
But Sona knew.
They cried for the death of a man without equal.
And they cried for the country he had once bettered with his presence, now forever changed in his absence.Sona knew. And so she wept, and she played.