An Early Fall

AZ 1453 - Early Autumn
Aelian Sea, between Zephyr and Notos

The journey from Hesperia to Kalonis, the westernmost port in Notos, took a little more than two months' time. That time had not been kind to Solon. For the past three weeks, he lay bedridden in his stateroom. The rapid decline of his health was kept under the strictest secrecy. Only Xanthe, Aristides and the King's personal physician knew of it, and for the sake of morale, the news could spread no further.
Only last winter the King boasted to the council of being healthier than men twenty years his junior. Though he was indeed haler than many men much younger than him, his years were catching up to him and the stresses of the war preparations only sped his decline. Sea travel seemed to make things all the worse, but perhaps it would be no different if he was still at the palace.
Xanthe scarcely left his side. Even now she sat by his bedside, holding his withered hand. Nearly fifty years had passed since they first met, after he sent the first envoys to make peace with Goldleaf. She remained unchanged, but he had gotten so old. In these fifty years, what had he accomplished?
His struggles with the Church resulted in a brief reconciliation when his friend Ieremias became Archbishop, but all that was lost after his death. Humans and Xotika were as far apart as ever and the Nanoi had been driven out of the land because they would not make peace. Notos was falling into the hands of wild rebels and the renewed power of the Dominion threatened to consume them all.
Worst of all, his son, his heir, had betrayed him. The hope of Zephyr's future was lost. The words Archbishop Mikaelos told him all those years ago rang in his ears.
A cursed birth, a cursed life, a curse on us all.
"What was it all for?" Solon asked weakly.
"You dreamed a dream," Xanthe replied, "a bold dream, of a better tomorrow for one and all. Such a dream is not easily born into the world. You should not despair at these times. They are but the labor pangs that come before birth. Soon the weeping of these travails will be changed to gladness. I only wish you could see it."
Solon could feel his heart sink. At this point he knew his death was inevitable, but it was still disheartening to think on it.
"So I am dying after all..."
Xanthe gave his hand a gentle squeeze.
"The candle of your life has burned brightly as light to those walking in darkness, but now it flickers and will soon fade. You are reaching end of your natural life. My arts can do nothing for you now except ease your pain."
"I wanted to lead them... I wanted to be with them to the end..."
"And so you will be. Your spirit will guide them to victory."
"My spirit..."
Xanthe's words were meant to comfort him in his last moments, but Solon could find little in them. It was not enough for him to continue on as a mere shade when there was still so much of his life's work left unfulfilled. Still, it was not the greatest regret that clung to him at the moment.
"I wish, I wish I could see Carpos..." Solon said weakly, barely more than a whisper. "I want to ask him, to ask him why... Why did he betray us?"
"Perhaps it was inevitable," Xanthe said mournfully. "Unlike Daphne, he could not accept his twin natures as both human and Xotika. His heart was weak, and so he let himself be led astray by anger, fear, jealousy, and greed. You have grieved enough over him. There is nothing more you can do. His fate is in his own hands."
Although it was a cold thing for a mother to say of her own son, Solon knew there was reason in her words. Carpos would reap what he had sown, but would he have turned out the same way if Solon had been a better father? Where did he go wrong?
As if to silence his thoughts, Xanthe leaned forward to kiss him on the forehead. Still holding his hand in her own, she folded his arm over his chest and touched his heart.
"Let go of you cares, my love," she whispered. "You have done all that you can and you have done well. Your dreams will outlive you. Let that thought comfort you as you go to sleep."
Solon could feel the power proceeding from Xanthe's hand, filling his chest with warmth. All his worries slowly began to melt away. Doubt gave way to hope and it was in the hope that his dreams for the future would be fulfilled one day soon that the King went to sleep.