“—and now, we can all but pray that his soul finds, in his passing, the peace he sought through life.”
The words were met with an obscure murmur of approval, as he placed a flower on the nondescript grave by the side of an old tavern.
The two soldiers, standing towards the end of the crowd, looked at one another, wondering if attending this particular funeral had been a good idea. Despite the many reasons to not come, they had inadvertently ended up here. The ceremony had been brief, and the words earnest, and it was almost time for them to leave.
“Hullo, gentlemen,” a young man greeted them, his face lips into a weak smile. “How did you know Uncle Arnold, pray tell. I had not expected any soldiers here, today.”
“Ah, well,” Carlos begun, trying to piece together an answer, “we were just passing by—”
“You are not on duty, then?” he enquired, as the realisation dawned on his face. “You! You were the ones who arrested him! How dare—”
“Calm down, Reiner,” a slightly elder man interjected, running his fingers through his friend’s unusually blond hair. The soldiers recognised him as the last man to speak, in the funeral. He looked much younger than his words would suggest.
“I am Leon,” he continued, extending his arm for a shake. “Forgive my friend. He is in grief, as are we all. As long as you come to share our grief, you are welcome here.”
“Thank you, Leon,” the taller of the soldiers replied sincerely. “I am Rolf, and this is Carlos… And yes, we were the ones who had the misfortune of arresting Arnold. I have never felt more hatred for myself, than when we were escorting him to the gallows. I just HAD to come here and pay my respects.”
“Then why did you get him killed!” Reiner yelled, causing the entire gathering to turn and stare at them.
“It was an order, kid,” Carlos responded, his voice completely nonchalant, though he gave Rolf a long glare. “Even if we hate it, we have to follow orders.”
Sensing the precarious situation, Leon led the two men closer to the tavern, leaving Reiner and the rest of the crowd behind. The small building’s wooden door was hardly visible behind the overgrown shrubbery, and the months’ worth of cobwebs and dust.
“It has been a while,” Leon said, his brown eyes growing misty. “I cannot imagine the scrubbing it will take, to reopen it anytime soon.”
“It cannot reopen, kid,” Carlos replied, leaving him astounded.
“He was executed for a very major crime, Leon,” Rolf explained. “All his property, including the tavern, has been seized. I am sorry.”
“But he was innocent!” protested Leon, his calm exterior finally showing cracks. “You know that, do you not? The priest was lying. He could never hurt a fly, let alone burning down a cathedral.”
“But he was found guilty,” Carlos stated, “and that is all that matters.”
Leon made his way to the window; its glass had turned opaque. A puff of dust rose into the air, as he placed his palm on the windowpane, reminiscing the happy days he spent inside.
“What about the kids?” Leon asked. “I cannot let them go back to begging on the streets. The younger ones… They will not last long, without a roof over their heads…”
Carlos took a deep breath. He had heard quite often, over the past few weeks, how Arnold took homeless children into his home, and how he looked after them. Leon, the youngest among them, was already a man, but with no land, there was no way he could look after a dozen young children.
“There is one thing you can do,” he spoke, after letting out a huge sigh. “Yes, you cannot claim ownership of the tavern, but you can live inside an abandoned building. Just, be discreet, and you could survive.”
Leon replied with a dismissive grunt, returning to the deep confines of his warm memories. The soldiers took his leave, and started walking away.
“You lied to him,” Rolf muttered, presuming Leon was out of earshot. “That is not all that matters, does it?”
“I needed to know the truth,” Carlos replied, “but he did not. And now that I do…”
“So a noble did pressure the magistrate… Did you find out who?”
“Yes, I did… It was Sir Marley.”
In the distance, a young man’s brown eyes narrowed…