But for now, all the tents and banners swayed grey against a grey sky, and all the different clans their lords beneath, invisible. He could almost forget that war was upon them all. His hands, calloused yet from training and no real bloodshed, gripped the cool stone of the wall, and his ears listened to the chord of query, expectation, tension. The next dusk would hold the answers to its day’s questions and ask more: who still stands? is it over? what comes after? He breathed deep and lifted his eyes to the horizon.
Now, a thin film of doubt and nerves seemed to cover the insides of his throat and chest as he glanced at the grimmer faces of his elders; he was green as a sapling and he knew it. The battlefield was no practice ring, and he was not sure how to think of what would come.
Tonight, he ran one last lap and looked out beyond the walls. Tonight, he chewed the inside of his lips on the eve of his first battle, when every colour and sound would clash together. The day he donned full armor for the first time he swelled with pride and imagined himself invincible. He had drunk wine and thumped chests with his new brothers-in-arms and made japes about fighting and how the enemy would fall to his sword.
He always ran when the world started to lose its colour. The clamour of the more vibrant hues faded to just grey, black, and white — F, A, and C sharp. Together those notes hummed a question around him, an anticipation. It was the long upbeat before another day, for before light, there is always darkness. And in darkness, one’s eyes cannot discern one thing from another.
Dusk was the perfect greyscale picture. The grey stone of the wall grew blacker in front of him as it spiraled around the north tower like a giant stone snake. Grey armor clanked softly as the guards trudged to prepare for the night’s watch. The white sentinels of the Wyvern drank moonlight and watched him walk past, the grey sky peering between their branches.
Last night I dreamt of a man named Comfort. From beginning to end we were close and in love.
But when we woke up, his eyes were utterly sad. His hair was tousled and had a beard five hours grown, but he smelled of nothing and not enough.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Who are you?”
Somehow I ended up behind a family in the slower lane, judging from the pastel colours flashing from the back seat DVD player. The driver was either a mother or father, their children nodding off just within arms’ reach, warm and protected. I stayed where I was, just beyond a car’s length; I knew they would keep me safe, too.
Even on the road I sought solitude. I loved the country at night. Darkness in front of me, behind, and on either side. There was an oddly calming thrill to looking into that inky blackness with headlights like blinders, and the teetering sensation that if you drove too far to the sides, you would fall into a chasm and never be found. It kept me awake, alert, alive.
Everything is more vivid in darkness. Every sensation has a larger, heavier presence behind it. The groans on wood floors above, the flush of water through pipes, the fibres of the bed sheets being rubbed warm, the drip of water from the slow-leaking faucet. Plip. The chill wind outside, and the cars that follow with a metallic, imitation whoosh. They are never fast enough; they do not sing.
It is like ice from the bottom up, what I feel for you. It leaves me breathless, bloodless — and fearless, for that, you take from me as well. I am numb with your words and your glance and your footstep. At the very fantasy of you, I shudder like a warning, a tree about to burst with daggers of wood and winter.
The voice that sibilated in his inner ear and resonated behind his eyes was that of both child and man — the words were laced in layers of both wailing despair and dark determination, it was both plea and command.