For a long time, Jord can’t face it.
He tells himself there’s no time. He tells himself there are pressing things to attend to. He tells himself he wouldn’t be welcome. He even tries telling himself that he’s moved on.
It’s all rubbish.
Aimeric lingers in the back of his mind all the time, no matter what he’s doing, no matter where he is. And when the war is over and he doesn’t have a life-and-death situation to keep him busy at every turn, the reality crashes over him. He has to face it. Lying was never something Jord was good at, not even with himself. Especially with himself.
It seems he ought to forget Aimeric. It seems he ought to feel hurt and betrayed – and in a lot of ways he does. It seems what he ought to be mourning is the death of a fantasy, not a boy.
But he thinks of Aimeric’s note, three words written out with deliberate care, black ink stark against the white page. It tells Jord the fantasy was real. At least a little bit.
So, he is mourning a boy after all.
His mother had told him, when he had been young, that the way to get closure for someone you never got a proper chance to mourn was to go to their grave, to lay a bouquet of flowers there, to stay and think a while, let the memories tide over, cry if needed, and then leave to face the rest of your life.
Jord still thinks he wouldn’t be welcome, but it’s the only excuse he has left now. And he has to try. For Aimeric’s sake.
Jord feels odd and out of place standing in the middle of Lady Loyse’s sitting room. He bows his head when she enters and has to force himself to look up and meet her eyes. She probably doesn’t know what Aimeric meant to him. She probably doesn’t want to.
Loyse is in mourning. This is a recent development, so Jord figures it must be for her husband. Something about that rankles him – that she would go into mourning for a man she gave up to the Council to begin with, but not for her youngest son, in whose name she, allegedly, did so. But he has no right to judge. It’s not his place.
“I’m sorry to disturb you,” he says, ignoring Loyse’s confusion on seeing a common soldier in her parlor. She is eyeing the flowers in his hand with suspicion. “I was—My name is Jord. I was Aimeric’s…friend. We were rather close but right after he died I had to go South with the Prince—King—and…I just wanted…” He falters, holds up the flowers. “It’s a private cemetery so…I would need your permission.”
Loyse’s expression is unreadable as she says, “I’ll come with you.”
Most families opt for a crypt, but the Lords of Fortaine had, from their earliest days, chosen to bury family members in an outdoor cemetery. It is quaint and quiet, fenced off but outside the fortress’ inner walls. Jord thinks it is nicer when done this way – at least, a little less morbid than a crypt.
He hadn’t imagined it being like this when he went to visit Aimeric’s grave. He isn’t prepared for the overwhelming wrongness of seeing Aimeric’s name engraved into cold stone. He isn’t prepared for being watched by Lady Loyse. She doesn’t say anything but he can feel her eyes on his back as he puts down the flowers and smooths a hand over the headstone, as though if he touched it he could somehow reach Aimeric even though the veil of death. He steps back and stays very still, wondering what he ought to do next. It seems foolish to linger around a grave but a large part of him doesn’t want to leave.
“Did you meet in the Prince’s Guard?” Loyse asks. Jord isn’t prepared for that either.
“Yes. I was Captain there for a while. Aimeric…made a good soldier. He was unaccustomed to the rigor but he did his best. Always.”
“He was like that as a boy, too. Never naturally good enough to be noticed, always overshadowed by his brothers, but so very determined to not let anyone down.”
Jord chances a glance at Loyse. Her expression is pinched, pained, but she is at that stage of grief when talking is easiest, even necessary. So Jord says, “Sounds like him. Made me think of a flower – he’d blossom under encouragement and praise. Did he compete in any of the regional tournaments?”
“Oh, yes. Anything to get his father’s attention. But fighting wasn’t what Aimeric loved naturally.”
“What was? He never struck me as bookish.”
A small, sad smile tugs at the corners of Loyse’s mouth. “Drawing. He was always drawing as a child. I wanted to get him a painting master but my husband…didn’t approve. Said there was no use in it – Aimeric was neither a girl nor an artisan’s son.”
“I never saw him draw,” Jord says. Now he wonders if perhaps, if things had gone differently, he would have gotten a chance to see.
“He seemed to lose interest as he got older. Not all of it though – I certainly received a couple of letters with doodles on the margins.”
“Would you mind,” Jord bings, feeling terribly like he is intruding and being presumptuous but unable to help himself. “Do you have any of his drawings left?”
Loyse gives him a long, searching look. “If you would stay for tea,” she says finally, “I think I can find some.”
Jord says, “I’d like that.”