Kain pushed open the heavy wooden door that led to the tower roof and breathed deep of the crisp fall night. After all the open space and silence of Mount Ordeals, the closeness and clamor of a formal dinner in the castle beat on his mind like a drum, leaving a painful echo inside his ears that smothered all other sound until he could scarcely comprehend the words spoken to him. The tower roof was a retreat, a welcome place where he heard only his own thoughts.
They had not been particularly cheery company as of late.
Still, he preferred the sadness and resignation of his own thoughts to the crush below, so he perched on the crenellation and looked down at the lights of the castle and the town.
He knew he was going to have to leave Baron; the only question remaining was when he would go. He knew it would break Rosa's heart, and that Cecil was very likely to refuse to forgive him this time (and in all honesty he would not blame Cecil in the slightest), but he could not stay here, where every sideways glance and snide remark reminded him of his dishonour.
The stars were less clear here than on the mountaintop. He had not thought to miss the silence and isolation, but the longer he was here, the more he missed it. He suspected that he did not miss the mountain, per se, but he missed rather being judged by no one save himself, and he already knew he had been found wanting.
The hinges of the door creaked and he swallowed a curse. Moonlight gleamed off Rosa's fair hair.
"It gets so loud in there, one can scarcely hear oneself think," she said by way of greeting.
"It is as though they have naught to do but hear themselves talk, and the louder they do so, the louder they must compete with each other." He would not look at her outline in the moonlight. He would not think such thoughts.
She walked closer, and with some difficulty settled herself among the crenellations as well. Her formal gown made maneuvering difficult. "Must we lose you again so soon?"
She knew; of course she knew. He strove to keep his voice casual. "Lose me?"
"You may lie to nearly anyone else, Kain, but don't lie to me." The verbal slap was all the more effective for the quiet and neutral tone in which it was delivered. "I can see that your heart is not in Baron, and I will not keep you here against your will. Nor will Cecil."
His hands clenched into fists. He rested them on the cool stone. "I cannot stay here, Rosa. I have not earned it."
Her opinion of that was short and pungent, so unlike her usual language that he reached for a spear he wasn't wearing, thinking that something was attacking them.
"You are the only one who thinks you haven't," she said. "We already forgave you."
Kain found he couldn't meet her unflinching gaze, and looked instead to the town spread out beyond the castle walls. His heart felt tight, constricted, as his mind had under Golbez's control. "I do not understand," he said at last. "The things I have done..."
"Were largely not of your own will," Rosa reminded him. "Why, then, did you fight with us after Zot? After Bab-il?"
He opened his mouth to give the answer—to expiate his sins—and then closed it again. The question chased itself in circles in his mind restlessly. "It was the right thing to do," he said eventually. King Odin would have expected no less, and Kain had failed his adoptive father quite sufficiently otherwise.
He saw movement out of the corner of his eye—Rosa spreading her hands as if to say "Just so." He turned to look at her, against his better judgment, and saw her smile.
"Is that enough?" he asked.
"Is it enough for you?" She shook her head. "You are the one who has to answer, Kain. We already have."
Kain stared down at his hands. They, like the rest of him, were scarred and battered by years on a battlefield. It was true that he had fought to end the one who had controlled him. He still doubted Cecil's wisdom in letting Golbez live, but it had been Cecil's choice to make. He still had amends to make in Damcyan, Fabul, and Troia for what he had done in pursuit of their Crystals. Did his actions until now earn him the right to make those reparations?
"What would I do?" he asked her, finally giving voice to the nagging thought at the base of his mind. "I am a soldier, and there are no wars to be fought."
She shrugged. "Learn a trade. Keep the roads safe for travelers. Help administer the kingdom." She paused. "Live."
He appreciated her mercy in not suggesting he find a nice girl to marry and settle down, though he did not deserve it.
He looked to the southeast, where somewhere over the horizon, Mount Ordeals rose amid a dense forest, tallest in an already tall mountain range. It no longer felt right; he would be running away, not taking prudent time to atone.
"Will you stay?" Rosa asked, very softly.
He reached out without looking, sure her hand would close around his, and it did. Her hand was warm against his, with an archer's calluses. "I will."