Chapter 17
Lingering Shades

Eagle, Gladius; Gladian Year 602

"The promised day has finally come. When my cowardly grandson ended the feud, I feared my revenge was lost, but I've found a light in the next generation and he will surely deal House Aran the blow it deserves."
- Excerpt from the journal of Percival the Defender

Percival sat in one of the exterior rooms with a view of the garden. He usually remained cooped up within his own chamber, but today he brought his brooding outside the normal confines. Outside, in the garden, the sister of his granddaughter-in-law was playing with two little children.
Some men his age might have been delighted at the sight of such happy innocence, but it brought him no joy. One was the daughter of his worthless grandson and the other was the son of that accursed Aran. He ran his finger down the length of the scar given to him by the boy's father. Unforgivable.
Even though it was unforgivable, he was too old to do anything himself and he had lost his authority over the servants, so no one would act in his stead. A wound without redress only festers and this wound had festered for far too long.
He heard a knock at the door but ignored it. He did not want to be disturbed. The door opened anyway.
He was ready to curse at whoever was bold enough to enter without permission, but then he saw who it was. His great-grandson knelt before him as if he were a king. He could feel the pride swelling within him. Though his son and grandson had been of no use to him, he had finally found a generation that saw things as he did.
"Great-grandfather," the boy said in a deferential tone, "I will go forward with the plan tonight. Do I have your blessing?"
The words charged his old bones. Percival found no pleasure in the sight of children playing, but such cunning calculation in a mere twelve-year-old almost made him euphoric. He did not smile often, but this was one of those rare occasions.
"Go forth," he said. "I pray for your victory."
"Glory to House Leon!" the boy declared in a voice loud enough to show his feeling, but soft enough not to be heard outside the room. Sheer brilliance.
As the boy left the room, Percival scooted his chair close to the window and cracked it open. He could hear the boy talking to his mother.
"Mother, may Sonia and I stay at Aunt Nyssa's tonight?"
Anyone would have believed his innocence. Perfect.
"Oh, I do not know," the mother said dubiously. "It is rude to impose."
"It's no problem," her sister insisted.
"Let them go," Percival's grandson said. He smiled as he patted his son on the head. "You make your father happy, my boy. I was afraid you didn't like your Uncle Luther."
Percival could hardly contain his mirth. His grandson had put the nails in the Aran's coffin. He could not ask for a better scenario. He rang the bell for a servant to come. This called for a celebration. What better time to open a vintage wine?

* * *

It was well into the night when Leonard began to creep through the Aran manor. The reports had been proven correct. Ever since the end of the feud, there were no guards inside the manor and only a couple outside.
Since his goal was to blame the household servants, he stole a knife from the kitchen, a distinctive one belonging to the head chef.
As he made his way through the corridors, he found his cousin's room. Of course, he was claim any relation to the hated child. It was the heir to House Aran, the enemy.
He had to be especially quiet upon entering the room, for the parents were sleeping next-door. He tiptoed to the edge of the child's crib and peered in at his prey. The child was sound asleep and completely defenseless, curled next to Leonard's younger sister for warmth. It was too easy. He would kill the child and allow despair to overcome the father. If he did not take his own life, Leonard would do it for him.
It was a perfect plan. After all these decades, House Leon would finally be avenged. He set himself into position. One stab should suffice, but he did not intend to stop there. He raised the knife high. The moment of triumph had finally come!
Or it would have if an ear-piercing shriek had not filled the room. Leonard turned to see a middle-aged maidservant little taller than himself. She must have come in to check on the child. She had to be silenced first.
He ran at her, putting all his weight in an upward slash that missed the mark. The momentum caused him to fall. The servant continued to scream for help and started to run. He got back on his feet and raised his knife, ready to pursue when a large, strong hand wrapped around his wrist. A single squeeze was all it took to force him to drop the knife. Leonard turned to see the child's father, the accursed Aran.
"What the hell do you think you're doing!?" the Aran demanded.
His plan had failed. His only option left was to escape. He twisted his arm free of the Aran's grasp and ran for all he was worth. He did not hear the footsteps of the Aran pursuing him, nor an alarm to stop him. The Aran had no doubt thought only of ensuring his son's well-being. How naive.
Leonard burst out the main door.
"What the--?"
The guard did not even finish his question, much less follow. His escape would succeed, but he could not afford to go home. He would have to figure out his plan on the fly. He had not anticipated failure.
He cursed the servant for interfering. He cursed the Aran for stopping him. Most of all, he cursed himself for ruining the perfect opportunity to avenge his family.

* * *

Julian had spent days looking for his son. As soon as he heard what happened, he dispatched every able-bodied member of the household to search Eagle. Luther had volunteered to help with his own people, but Julian declined the offer. After what he tried to do, Leonard no doubt feared retaliation from the men of House Aran. It would be hard enough to get Leonard to respond to the people of his own household, much less those he probably believed were out for his blood.
Julian learned from the north gatehouse that a boy had broken in and opened the gate. The Defender then headed north to Cruz. After asking around, he learned that an unfamiliar boy had passed through and exited through the north there as well. Julian was now moving further north to Sandstone, hoping Leonard had not changed his direction to shake off pursuers.
Julian wanted to believe it was all a misunderstanding, but a sinking feeling overcame him the more he thought about it. He did not want it to be true, but Leonard's flight left little doubt.
Sandstone was finally coming into view. Fortunately, boats taking passengers to foreign countries had stopped running ages ago. He hoped against hope that he would find Leonard there. As he came closer, something appeared odd about the city.
It was then that he noticed large breaks in the city wall and the charred ruins inside. Julian could not believe what he saw. Sandstone had been completely ravaged.

* * *

Julian had been gone a week by the time he returned to Eagle. Two days of that time had been spent searching the ruins of Sandstone. Whoever attacked the town was incredibly thorough. There were no survivors and hardly a single building remained standing.
He searched through all the bodies until he found one that seemed to be about Leonard's size, but it was too badly burnt to recognize. The only reason he suspected it to be his son was the metal band fused to its finger. It had to be the family signet. He wrapped up the body and brought it back for burial.
The funeral was set for the next day. In the meantime, Julian sought the source of Leonard's attack, the man who drove his son to attempt such an unspeakable act. He burst into his grandfather's chamber and was greeted by a hail of curses for his impropriety. He ignored it completely. The old man's words no longer had any effect on him.
"It was you, wasn't it!?" he shouted. "Wasn't it!?"
"I don't know what you're talking about." Percival replied in feigned ignorance.
"Leonard... It was you! You put all those damnable thoughts in his head... those... those lies!"
Percival slammed his meaty hands on his table.
"That boy showed the backbone you never did! Of course I encouraged him!"
Julian clutched his face with his hand. The words he did not want to be true stung like poisoned barbs.
"Leonard... Leonard is dead now... He's dead because of you! What can you possibly have to say for yourself!?"
"My only regret is that he wasn't able to finish the job!" Percival screamed in red-faced rage. "You're such a damned coward! I had to send a boy to do a man's job, your job! If you weren't such a... such a..."
Percival shouts broke down into muted gasps. He clutched his chest with one hand and reached out toward Julian with the other. His eyes bulged from deep within the sockets. Sweat beaded on his forehead. His mouth hung open, but no words would come out. His whole body shook violently for a moment before going limp. Julian looked in shock.
"Grandfather?"
He got no response. He waved his hand over Percival's mouth. No breath. Julian stumbled backwards a few steps and hit the wall. He slowly slid to the floor. Tears began to pour down his cheeks.
He had always resented his grandfather, but he was still family. To lose two family members at once... It was too much for him. His lonely wailing echoed down the empty corridors.