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If Griffith had to name his lowest point, it would probably be the point when he realized that he no longer had the strength even to end his own life. He remembers the water soaking his bandages and the old, jagged driftwood digging into his shoulder. He remembers blood. He remembers trying to move, so that wood would piece his throat and not the gauze, translucent skin and beleaguered bone of his shoulder. And he remembers failing in that venture, failing miserably.

Guts had fished him out of the lake, saying things that Griffith can't remember anymore; something about needing to be more careful, and how he shouldn't be so reckless. All Griffith had wanted was to put his hands about Guts' sinewy throat to silence him, architect of all his suffering, and he couldn't even do that. He couldn't raise his voice to tell him to shut up, please shut up. In those days, he constantly seesawed between wanting to embrace Guts and wanting to kill him.

In that moment, if Griffith could have brought an end to his own pathetic existence, bereft of all hope for the future he once saw himself living in, he would have done so. If he could have destroyed the whole world, he would have done so.

Griffith's not sure how long it's been since then. He doesn't pay mind to much anymore. He certainly doesn't pay attention to the passage of time. As such, he doesn't remember when Guts and Casca parted company with him and the others. He doesn't remember their parting words or faces. All he remembers is that he refused to look at them, resenting their happiness, their able bodies, their ability to walk away from the life of a mercenary. In the past, if someone important tried to leave him he would rather have struck them down than watched them go. As he could not do the former, all he could do was the latter. Casca might have tried to hug him. Guts might have tried to say something reassuring. Griffith just remembers that he stared at the canvas wall of the covered wagon, mouth set, and didn't look at them.

Judeau has taken what's left of the Band of the Hawk and turned it into a fairly successful roving thieves gang. He seemed to fall into leadership naturally; of the inner circle, Guts and Casca were gone, Rickert still hadn't caught up with them yet, Pippin's not assertive enough and not enough people actually listen to Corkus for him to be able to assume leadership. As of right now, they are somewhere beyond the border of Midland, in a land whose name Griffith was never told when they crossed over. Griffith is towed along in their journeys, lying down in a covered wagon or in a tent, depending on whether they're on the move. He feels far more like a pet whose grown too old to walk but finds itself kept alive out of pity than he does the former leader of this ragged band.

Griffith pays no attention to what goes on beyond the canvas walls. The world does not exist beyond the canvas walls. He whiles out the days flinching at bumps in the road. Watching as the flayed bits of skin on his body heal patchily. Hearing, but rarely listening to, snatches of conversation that filter in through the canvas. Accepting food when it's given to him, in silence. Accepting care that's given to him, in silence. Remembering the old days, and wanting only to go back to them.

-0-0-0-

"And then I said to Beata, I said—"

Those are the words that wake Griffith from a light sleep one afternoon—well, he thinks it's afternoon, from the light filtering in through the gap in the tent flaps. After a moment, he lets his head droop back down onto the pallet. People talking outside the tent again, no need to be irritated or alarmed.

"Ooh, that's just awful!"

Pale blue eyes shoot open at the realization that these two voices, distinctly feminine, are not coming from outside the tent, but within. Without moving (or, rather, without attempting to move) or making a sound, or giving any signal at all that he's awake, Griffith stares around the tent until he finds the source of the chattering.

Oh, that again.

Since his attempted flight, it's apparently not been considered prudent to leave him by himself. Griffith is rarely allowed to be alone during the daytime hours; during cold weather or storms, he's not allowed to be alone at night either. Usually, it's a couple of the camp followers who are sent to check up on him, keep the tent where he stays clean and see to his needs, if need be.

They often try to talk to him, these young women (it's always women who're sent) who've attached themselves to the Hawks. Whether or not they know that he can't answer them with anything resembling what would pass for language, they smile and blush and try to exchange pleasantries with him. Griffith isn't even sure that they expect him to talk back to them anymore; they just chatter away, with their perfect, undamaged mouths, as if he was fully capable of speech. He hates them for it. Perhaps another would be relieved to be treated normally, but not him. He often feigns sleep to evade their attentions.

The moments seep by. Those two young girls are still there, and Griffith has shut his eyes, blocking them out as best he can.

It's… funny. It's really quite hilarious. Before the dungeon, he would have welcomed the attention of girls like these. Griffith used to like having attention paid to him, used to like being the center of every room, the name on everyone's tongues. He loved it when starry-eyed young women flocked towards him, asking endless questions about the battles he's fought in and the enemies he's slain. It was always reassuring to have the assurance that everyone around him either loved him or was unambiguously his enemy. He… misses that world, where everything was so cut and dry.

Nowadays, Griffith can only assume that if these two girls want to talk to him, want to act exactly the way women had in the castles and ballrooms of Midland, it's out of pity. Out of pity for the has-been, the fallen star. All they see is the body that, despite having regained most of its lost weight, still looks frail and wizened. All they see is the scars that have healed patchily, the face that has been loosed from its mask (Judeau insisted; "You look much better," he had said earnestly) to reveal hollow cheeks, feverishly burning eyes, sunken eye sockets, and the patches on his skull where his hair never grew back. That's all they see. He knows that. They're talking to him out of pity. He knows that.

It's in moments like these that Griffith misses women like Casca, and realizes over and over again just how rare women like her are. He misses the rough women who don't flinch at scars and don't react to the sight of a ruined body with sickening pity. Then again, he only ever really knew one woman like that.

Just one.

-0-0-0-

In his dreams, or at least the dreams that haunt his mind tonight, he can walk again, and speak again. All is as it was before the dungeon. But this grants him no comfort, for the things about which Griffith dreams come from this time as well, memories dredged up from the dark abyss.

The cold winters of his childhood, huddled alone, begging for his bread, pierces through his bones as his body morphs to its juvenile state. The boy with long, white hair, he's a pretty child. Those with means like pretty children, even those without lecherous intent. They're more likely to take pity on them, grant them small favors. Griffith finds himself handed a warm loaf of bread, except that the moment the stranger who bestowed it upon him walks away, he has to fight to keep it. There are plenty of older boys and girls here, children bigger than him, they're hungry too, and they don't care if the younger kids starve. He manages to get away, only to find that the loaf's turned stale and wormy in his hands, writhing with the sick squirming of a thousand maggots.

Then, Griffith's staring into the pale, flat eyes of a dead fish, except it's not a fish, but a child who brought a doll onto the battlefield. He can feel foreign hands roving all over his skin and a gross, slimy tongue going down his throat, and more still after that. Griffith fakes a smile, fakes moans and groans and little trills of laughter, reminds himself how badly he and his men need the money, and blesses God in his heart when the old man finally goes to sleep. He scourges his skin with his fingernails the next morning, but oh, he feels as though he'll never be clean again, not after that.

It's snowing now, snowflakes catching on his eyelashes, as he watches Guts walk away from him. No, he… he shouldn't be… Why is he leaving? Doesn't he know that he belongs here, and only here? Griffith tries to call out after him, tries to tell him that he needs to stay. Surely Guts would stay, if only he heard for himself confirmation that he does belong here, that he needs to stay here. Wouldn't he?

But then Griffith remembers.

He has no tongue.

It's quiet when he wakes up. Must be after midnight; everybody seems to have gone to sleep and put out their fires. Outside the tent, the wind blows, a faint, plaintive howl in the distance. Or maybe that's a wolf, and a pack of the creatures is encroaching on the campsite. No, no, that can't be it. In all his time as a traveling mercenary, Griffith's never known wolves to be bold enough to go sniffing through an encampment this large for food; they'll go after a single person, or small groups, but not a band of nearly fifty.

The wind, then.

Griffith lies awake, listening to the one voice in the whole world that doesn't want him to respond to it. Over the time that he's been out of the dungeon a meager amount of strength has returned to his arms, and he lifts one of those thin, half-wasted limbs and rests his hand upon his chest. His heart's still beating. That reality fills him with ambivalence.

His thoughts turn to that man.

He left twice.

Why did he have to leave at all?

-0-0-0-

One day, Griffith came to a realization. One of the camp followers looks like Princess Charlotte.

When he first realized it, he stared at her, bathed in naked shock, for what seemed like an eternity. For a moment, Griffith saw a slim, small girl with long, dark curls and a porcelain doll's face and thought that Charlotte had joined them. That she had run away from her comfortable life in the heart of Midland and somehow gotten all the way over here without contracting some illness or being gang-raped by some thugs and left for dead in a muddy ditch somewhere.

But as he looked at her, he realized that no, this couldn't be Charlotte. She was too tall, too old. Her eyes were green, not brown. She had too many moles, and in the wrong places. And Griffith doubts to this day that young Princess Charlotte would have ever allowed her hands to become so callused.

Today, it's the Charlotte look-a-like who's straightening things up in his tent, pinning the flaps open for some fresh air, making herself useful with her deeds and a nuisance with her presence.

"It's very nice outside today," she says shyly, staring at his feet instead of at his face. "Do you want to see?"

Griffith, sitting in a chair someone brought with them from the last town the band was near, gives her no answer either way, and she says no more, going back to her cleaning. She tries to ignore his presence the way he tries to ignore the presence of everyone who has ever looked at him in this state.

When he had first laid eyes upon Midland's only princess, he had, until he heard the voice with which she spoke, thought her to be much younger than she actually was. He'd not realize until she had spoken that this was a girl standing on the cusp of womanhood. The look in her eyes when he saved her from falling flat on her face on the stone stairs only confirmed her near-adult state.

That look, romantic and starry-eyed, set the cogs whirling in Griffith's mind. He was determined to climb to the very top of Midland's hierarchy. Knight, baron, viscount, count, general, none of this was enough to feed his ambition. Others might have scoffed or whispered of treason at his ambitions, but he had an eye on the very throne of Midland. He could be king; he knew he could.

But what Griffith also knew was that if he was to be king of Midland, he could not become king via conquest. If he became king that way, there would always be those who saw him as no true successor and only as a usurper. The nobility were going to think of him as an upstart commoner no matter what he did; they always looked down on anyone they perceived as beneath them, no matter how hard that person worked to get where he was, and there was no avoiding that. But it was far more important to have the support of the peasantry and the merchant class than it was to get the fleeting, never-won approval of the gentry and the aristocracy. There are, after all, far more peasants and merchants in Midland than there are nobles, and the former are the ones who grow the crops and care for the livestock.

Eventually marrying Princess Charlotte, the King's only legitimate child, would give Griffith the legitimacy he needed. That was why he wasn't exactly upset when he learned that in the assassination of the King's brother, Guts had accidentally killed Julius's son and Charlotte's intended, young Adonis, as well. That was why he was very pleased to realize that Charlotte was far from averse to the idea of marrying him.

Everything was set.

And then, Guts left.

The next thing Griffith knew, he was throwing it all away in a fit of despondent madness. He didn't love Charlotte, but he loved the idea of what she could do for him and he knew she was one of the only people who would see the sudden despair that had stolen over him without calculation. She wasn't one of his subordinates, who would comfort him because they felt obligated to. She wasn't one of the nobles who would use this opportunity to twist a knife in through his ribs. He'd just wanted to talk, but then, he'd wanted more out of her, and no appeal to reason could have brought him back to sanity.

"Are you scared?" Water beads slide off the ends of his hair, wetting the bed sheets beneath them. "Sad and scary things… If they arouse you, then…"

Seemingly in the blink of an eye, he was hanging by his wrists in Midland's darkest, dankest, deepest dungeon. He was looking into the eyes of a mad king and realizing something that left him stunned, derisive, darkly amusing. That king… He had all the power in the world. He was the most powerful man in the kingdom. He had wealth and splendor and military might. But what that man wanted more than anything was to bed his adolescent daughter. How disgusting. How hilarious.

Griffith didn't have much time after that to find it amusing.

The Charlotte look-a-like doesn't notice, but he starts to shake, starts to quake and tremble, at the memory of what came after that. Sometimes, when his arms are bare, he count his scars to pass the time, trying to recall what stroke of the whip, what burning of the brand, what stab of the knife, what lick of the flame put that mark there. Before the dungeon, Griffith had been so careful about injuries and scars; he would immediately treat his wounds so as to prevent scarring as best he could. But now, it's easier to count patches of unscarred flesh than it is to do the opposite.

No longer can Griffith recall exactly at what point his tongue was slowly prised from his mouth. He's lost count of how many times his fingers and thumbs were broken in the thumbscrew, or of how many nights (days? He's never been able to keep track of time since then) he was kept from sleep by the prongs of the heretic's fork. He tries to forget how many times he was put to the rack, stretched far enough to leave him howling but not far enough to kill him, never enough to kill him. He still has nightmares about the rats swarming at all sides, just waiting for him to die, some of them not even waiting that long before they took experimental bites out of his flesh, and had to be kicked or knocked away by his tormentor.

"You know why this is happening, don't you?" the misshapen lump of a man croons, as he heats his poker over a sooty, guttering fire. "Oh, you just begged for this, didn't you?"

Griffith watches as the girl who resembles Charlotte but is not her departs from the tent, her long broadcloth skirt rustling behind her. A breath of wind finds its way in, sweet, fresh air, filling his nostrils up. He opens his mouth and breathes deeply, closing his eyes, feeling something hot and hard rise in his throat.

Of all the things he missed when he was in that cell, this he missed, most of all.

-0-0-0-

"I think you should try to learn how to write again."

When Griffith recruited Judeau into his then-tiny (of all of the inner circle, only Pippin's been with him longer) band, he was a very young boy, barely older than Rickert was when he was recruited, with rosy cheeks and twinkling eyes; combined with his then unbroken voice, Griffith almost thought it was a girl who was looking to join. Now, so many years later, he still looks much the same, still has rosy cheeks and twinkling eyes, but nowadays Judeau wears a far more serious, weighty look on his face than he ever used to before.

Maybe that's the weight of leadership telling on him. From what little Griffith has seen, Judeau seems to be doing reasonably well as leader of the Hawks, though he's not nearly so charismatic as Griffith or Casca or even Guts. He's always been level-headed, always been capable of keeping his composure even under the most trying circumstances and making snap judgments in the heat of battle. That was why Griffith kept him close; he needed as many people near the top of the Hawk's hierarchy who were capable of inspiring calm in others as he could get.

But for all that Judeau's always been close to the leaders of the Band of the Hawk, that doesn't necessarily mean he was prepared the rigors of sole leadership of the Hawks. Why exactly doesn't matter much to Griffith; if he had to guess, he'd say that it probably has something to do with Judeau being entirely too easygoing for the task of keeping nearly fifty people in line. And the only reason he's noticing at all is because of the bags under those twinkling eyes, and the tiredness that seems to make his shoulders stiff.

This afternoon, Griffith finds himself seated in front of a table, provided with a stack of parchment and a quill pen, the inkpot open and full. Judeau stands at his left shoulder, earnestness shining in those eyes of his. "You've been getting better," he asserts. "A lot better."

Oh, really?

"I think you should try learning how to write again. I know you're right-handed, but the damage in your left arm doesn't seem as bad, so if you wanted to do it, you'd probably have to with the left."

He keeps trying this. Keeps trying to cajole Griffith into putting more effort into gaining his strength back. It could be walking, or lifting objects, or just grasping his own eating utensils so he doesn't have to be spoon-fed stew. None of those endeavors have ever worked out. And now, Judeau's graduated to wanting him to relearn how to write.

Griffith can't see this as anything but an exercise in futility. How, he wonders bitterly, is he supposed to write out letters with a quill pen if he can't even feed himself with a spoon? How can Judeau still think that one day he'll be able to do all these things again? How can he possibly think that?

He's been fixing his former subordinate with a cold stare, but suddenly, against all reason (usually when Griffith glares at people they're reduced to trembling wrecks), Judeau smiles. He smiles that wide, friendly smile that, as a young lad with rosy cheeks and twinkling eyes, had promised the future personality of a steady, reliable man. "Think of it as a challenge. A far greater challenge than any battle you've ever faced. Possibly the biggest challenge of your life."

Before Judeau can say anything more, someone calls for him from beyond the confines of the tent. "I'm coming!" he responds, hurrying towards the tent flap. Framed in the afternoon sun, sunlight catching on his golden hair, he turns back, eyebrows drawn up, looking tired as usual and even a touch melancholy. "Just… Just think about it, okay?"

Then, he's gone.

Griffith stares at the parchment. He stares at the quill, at the ink pot.

This all seems so futile.

But he's sick of having nothing to do all day and night but stare at a canvas wall.

He grimaces as he reaches for the pen with his left hand. Years ago, Griffith flirted with the idea of learning to write with his left hand. His reasoning had been thus: he already knew how to hold a sword left-handed, so how hard could it be to learn to write with his left hand as well? Well, very hard, as Griffith had quickly learned. He had in fact fast decided that it wasn't worth the time, effort and frustration he was putting into it, and that his energies would be better off directed elsewhere. Now, however, if he ever wants to write again, there's just no avoiding it.

It hurts even to grip with his fingers, but eventually, Griffith manages it. His ruined fingers tremble, his arm screaming with pain as he lifts the pen up off the table. Slowly, agonizingly, he guides the pen, nib down, towards the ink pot.

Contact doesn't go quite the way he'd hoped it would. Instead of delicately dipping the pen in the pot and getting just the right amount of ink, all he can manage is a splash that sends little drops of ink flying in all directions, splattering the parchment and dotting his sleeve cuff black.

Trying to ignore the irritation rising in his chest, Griffith guides his pen towards the parchment. He tries to write a single, straight line.

He rips the parchment and loses his grip on the pen.

Clearly, this is going to take a while.

-0-0-0-

They're moving camp again. No one's told Griffith why, and he doesn't care to find out. Maybe Midland's army is after them again. Maybe the pickings have just grown slim here, and they're moving on to greener pastures. He can't really be motivated to care.

The weather's growing cold. One of the camp followers thought it prudent to drape a woolen cloak about his shoulders. The wool's scratchy and Griffith will never appreciated condescension, but he's glad of it right now, even if he is shielded from the wind by the covered wagon he's been deposited in. They've been traveling since yesterday—didn't even bother to stop for the night—and everyone, Griffith especially, feels cold, stiff and sore.

Suddenly, the wagon comes to a halt. Griffith frowns, wondering why they've stopped. They can't have found a new campsite; this he infers from the rising sound of complaints out of the people who were behind the wagon. Likewise, he'd likely have felt it if something went wrong with one (or more than one) of the wheels. Maybe one of the horses (or both of the horses) has fallen ill or been injured. That could easily be it.

No longer facing the obstacle of being jostled awake by bumps in the muddy road, Griffith starts to fall into a state of half-sleep. He's not slept since sometime before they started moving yesterday; he feels exhausted…

"Rickert?!"

That shout jolts Griffith out of his nearly-napping state. His eyes swivel towards the origin of the sound of Pippin, Corkus and Judeau's voices, and where a new voice has joined them.

"Where have you guys been?"

That new voice… It's Rickert's.

So he's caught up with them at last, and what's more, he doesn't seem to have died after all. That was the conclusion almost everyone came to, when months and months went by and the unit Rickert had been with still hadn't regrouped with the others. They must have died, everyone decided. Griffith had greeted the news with apathy. The man who would once have willingly whored himself out to get funds that would help keep his men from dying no longer cared one way or another if all those who had once been under his command deserted or died.

And what is Rickert to the Band of the Hawks, anyway? He was not a great warrior, nor was he a skilled strategist. He was simply one of those children who rushed eagerly towards the battlefield, who never properly understood what 'battle' meant until he was holding a sword and trembling after his first kill. The only reason he became a part of the inner circle was because of the bond he formed with Pippin and, slowly, with Casca, Judeau and the others as well.

But regardless of Griffith's indifference towards the boy's life or death or Rickert's own lack of experience and strength, the boy has survived long enough to finally catch up with what's left of his old comrades.

For a few moments, there's a conversation held in low voices outside of the wagon. Rickert and whoever he's talking to seem to have lowered their voices to discourage eavesdropping. Despite himself, Griffith strains to try to hear what they're saying, feeling distinctly peeved when he realizes that he just can't hear what's going on. He's got the nagging suspicion that this conversation's got something to do with him; he's never liked it when people talk about him behind his back.

"So can I?" Rickert's voice emanates from just outside the wagon, tense with barely-restrained excitement.

"Yeah." Judeau answers him, amusement bubbling up in his voice. "Just be careful."

After that, Rickert promptly throws back the canvas flap sequestering the back of the wagon off from the rest of the world and all but throws himself on top of Griffith, his arms latched around Griffith's neck. "Hey, I said careful!" Judeau exclaims.

Rickert blithely ignores him. As he hugs Griffith, words coming out of his mouth a mile a minute about how happy he is that Griffith's back, how scared he was, and goes on and on and on, Griffith just sits there, letting him hug him, not trying to lift his arms to shake the boy away.

It doesn't really feel real.

-0-0-0-

He needs something to drink.

That's the thought that's been running through Griffith's mind for the past two and a half hours. The roof of his mouth is dry and his throat feels cracked and sore. His eyes drift towards the earthenware jug of cider sitting, tantalizing and untouched, on the ground. He's tried to lift himself out of his chair, but can't manage that much. He can't even rock the chair enough that it would fall, allowing him to crawl over to the jug. The worst part is that even if he could do all of that, he doesn't know if the jug's so full that it would be too heavy for him to tip the spout downwards towards his mouth.

Relief floods him when one of the camp followers, the Charlotte look-a-like again, slips in through the tent flaps. "Do you need anything?" she asks brightly.

Too desperate to do something so simple as just staring in the direction of the jug or attempt to lift his hand and point, Griffith opens his mouth and, for one moment forgetting what he's lost, tries to put his request into words.

"Aah… Aah… Aah…"

She stares at him uncomprehendingly, until she follows Griffith's gaze and spies the jug of cider he's desperately staring at. "Oh, you want something to drink?" In a flash, the Charlotte look-a-like sets the jug on the table, produces practically out of thin air a crude wooden cup, and pours it full of cider. "Here you go," she chirps, bringing the rim of the cup to his lips and tipping it into his open mouth.

The girl may be cheery and glad, but Griffith, even as he's given relief from the thirst burning in his mouth and throat, is increasingly tempted to tip his head up and howl.

With this mouth, he commanded armies. He led men into battle and moved through the corridors of power like a wraith; no one could touch him. With this mouth, he climbed the ladder of his own destiny, climbing ever higher and higher. With this mouth, he wove conspiracies and pulled apart others; he toppled the pillars of Midland's nobility, and with each thread of the old tapestry he unraveled, the closer he came to prevailing over them all. Griffith could almost imagine the weight of a crown upon his head.

And now, with this mouth, he can't even do so much as ask for a drink to quench his thirst.

He can't do anything at all.

-0-0-0-

He has these thoughts sometimes, when bundled up in his cloak and blankets, staring into the small fire set in the tent to keep him warm. The girl who was sent to keep it going and keep it from burning too high has long since fallen asleep, curled up on the hard-packed earth beneath her own shawl. Her whistling breaths, low and steady, not quite snores, have grown constant and rhythmic.

If Griffith strains to hear, he can still pick up the faint sounds of men drinking and reveling after a successful raid. That's probably what's triggered these thoughts, here and now, drifting to the surface of his consciousness. Here is he now, thinking about all these people, and how they came to be his.

Pippin, Griffith had met in the earliest days of his climb up the top of the ladder. The man, tall, huge, and often silent, had a sword and no home, and saw in Griffith a better way of life. In those days, Griffith still had very few who listened to him or followed him. Pippin was strong and capable. He was useful.

Judeau was a young lad fresh from a traveling circus. The jack of all trades, he served as soldier, physician, entertainer, assassin. People liked him, liked his open, friendly manner, but no one ever looked at him and thought he might be dangerous. That made him useful.

Corkus… Corkus was not useful, not especially useful anyway. He brought to Griffith the remnants of his routed band of thieves, ensuring their loyalty as well as his own. He was not a distinguished soldier, nor a prodigiously killed warrior, nor even a great leader of men. But he was a warm body willing to hold a sword and go into battle, and in those days the Hawks needed all the warm bodies willing to hold swords they could get.

Normally, no mercenary band leader would ever have dreamt of recruiting a young woman into their ranks, especially not a twelve-year-old girl who had no experience with the sword or other weapons. Under any other band leader, Casca likely would have found herself living out her life as a camp follower, attending to the sick and wounded, or, under the worst circumstances, living as nothing more than an unpaid prostitute. Griffith, however, understood a few things. He understood that though there were few who took women seriously as warriors, women warriors had a certain mystique about them that could be powerful indeed; take from history the examples of Joanna, Mechtilde, and Edith, warrior women of old. And Casca was fiercely loyal as well. She was useful.

Rickert was not useful in his capacity for battle. He was a child with little practical experience who saw the world through entirely too naïve a lens. He was, however, useful in that other people liked him. They took heart from his idealism and in battle fought harder in order to win, all for the purpose of protecting him. He helped keep others alive.

Guts was different.

Guts was darkness. Guts was strength incarnate. Guts was sinew and great muscle and that twitching, half-hearted smile. Guts was possibly the only person Griffith ever considered a friend and not a tool to be used. He was useful, extraordinarily useful, but Griffith never considered that about him. All he thought about was how much he wanted Guts to be there when he rose to the top. All he thoughts about was how much he wanted Guts to stay by his side, and never leave.

The fire pops and crackles. Griffith watches, but does not flinch, as a spark flies out of the fire and lands on the grass in front of him, fizzling out harmlessly in the grass. He feels like his dreams fizzled out the same way. Once, he was riding so high; how could it all come to this?

Well, Griffith decides, we just can't always have what we want.

He'd never have accepted that as truth five years ago.

-0-0-0-

Now, he finds himself dreaming again.

Griffith sees himself as he once was. A gleaming figure wreathed in a halo of light. His armor glows. His eyes glitter icily. His past self throws down a sword in front of him, that high, cold look never budging from his face. "With this sword, you promised salvation and security for thousands. Where is their salvation now?"

His past self watches, distant and impassive, as Griffith, collapsed on an earthless stage, finds himself confronted with corpses. Corpses on top of corpses. Corpses with swords, with crossbows, corpses with spears. Corpses caught in a rictus of agony. Corpses struck with rage. Corpses with hideous grins affixed to their lifeless faces. Corpses with dolls in their hands. They all look at him, their silent eyes all asking the same question. "Where are all the things you told us we'd have? Where's the salvation you promised us?"

These peoples were tools. Yes, tools, that's all they were, and all they ever will be. But Griffith still wants nothing more than to wrest his eyes from their dead gazes. He can try all he likes to defend himself from their accusations, but, he remembers too late, he has no tongue with which to answer them. They do not know this. The bodies pile up, more and more and more, crowding, pressing against Griffith's flesh. Dead hands clutch at his tunic and trousers.

Then, this image fades away, and is replaced by something new. By the sensation of a breastplate being slipped over his chest.

"On the battlefield, if you don't have armor, you can't do anything."

Griffith awakes with a jolt.

He is lying awake in his chair, still draped in cloaks and blankets. The girl who was meant to tend the fire is still asleep on the ground, and the fire has long since burned down, leaving behind nothing but bleached wood and cold embers.

It's still dark out, very dark outside; he can't have been asleep any longer than an hour or so. There's a hole in the roof of the tent. There's… There's the moon. Griffith can see it, white and full and far away. It casts a weak, watery light over all lying beneath it. He stares up at it, feeling his roughly beating heart slow down to a steady throb.

All is not well.

All will never be well again.

But the moon is beautiful tonight.

Maybe he'll just watch it, 'til morning comes.