He could feel himself fading. The promise of eternal oblivion called to him irresistibly, pulling him towards a sleep that he knew he wouldn’t wake from. It offered him an end to thought, suffering, and most of all the pain of regret. In his last moments, it was the latter of these that predominated- the accumulation of the mistakes that he had made in his life seem to flash before him almost tauntingly. He had wasted so much precious time on futile quests and petty feuds, all of which now seemed so pointless, but the damage had already been done.
He was dimly aware of the sound of crying and of a hand gripping his. It was not his wife, the thought suddenly occurred to him, she had died a few months past. Only his children were left to mourn him. As if in response to that thought, the grip on his hand tightened. He attempted a squeeze in response to comfort whichever one of his children was currently at his side, but found that he was too weak to do so. As darkness overcame him, his only consolation was that, if there was an afterlife, at least he would be reunited with his wife.
Ross awoke with a start, his hands immediately going to the throbbing leg that was the cause of his abrupt awakening. He was surprised to find that the region was covered in tightly wrapped bandages, he could not recall any recent leg injury that might require such treatment. Looking up from the bed he was lying in, he was equally confused to see an unfamiliar ceiling instead of the familiar canopy of his four-poster bed in Nampara. Where was he?
Looking around the room to try to solve the mystery, he noted its plain appearance. It was sparsely furnished and did not look particularly lived-in, a far cry from his home. It was not totally unfamiliar though, he had the strangest sense that he had been to this place before. Putting aside such thoughts, Ross tried to make sense of why he was not in his death bed as he had been when he had fallen asleep. Only two explanations came to mind- either he was dead and this was an afterlife that was not the pearly gates or eternal hellfire that had been preached to him his whole life, or he was dreaming. Although why he would be dreaming of an insignificant room that he was likely to have visited at some point of his life, he did not know, but a dream seemed like the more likely explanation.
Pushing himself up into a seated position proved itself to be far less of a challenge than he was expecting considering how weak he had been the last few months. Examining his arms, he noticed that these were not the weak arms of an old man, but rather resembled those that he had in his youth. Wondering if the rest of him had also changed, he left the bed and limped over to a basin of water on the lone table in the room. The reflection that stared back at him confirmed his suspicions. No longer grey-haired and wrinkled as he had been the last time he faced a mirror, instead he looked as he had in his mid-twenties. Post-war mid-twenties, he amended as he noticed the scar next to his eye.
Assembling together what he had learned since arriving in this dream, he suddenly remembered when he had last been in this room. It was an inn that he had stopped at on his way back to Nampara after he had mostly recovered from his war injury. This was before he had learned of his father’s death and of Elizabeth’s engagement to Francis. What an odd thing to dream about, he couldn’t help but think. If he were to choose a setting he would have picked a moment of greater relevance to his life, a moment that had made him happy. Perhaps his wedding, or the birth of one of his children.
Shrugging off the strange location of the dream, Ross decided to explore further. He found his military uniform on the table next to the basin and quickly donned it. As he dressed, he caught a glint of silver out of the corner of his eye on his hand. The ring he had taken from Elizabeth before he had left for the war was on his finger. Unwilling for it to remain there any longer, he pulled it off immediately and considered discarding it. He hesitated though, as some strange feeling within him told him it was important that he keep it, so instead of tossing it aside as he was so tempted to do, he pocketed it.
As before, when he left the inn there was a carriage waiting to transport him and a few others. With little else to do, Ross climbed into the carriage and settled in for the long drive, wondering how long it would be until he woke up from this dream.