Henry did not understand himself.   An hour ago, he had desired nothing more than to kill the Aechyed, and now he was feeling remorseful for being the cause of his concussion.  Was there something wrong with him?  Perhaps he was as mad as Simon.  Such maladies did run in his family, after all, thanks to inbreeding—as did hemophilia and extra digits.

                But no, Simon was different.   There were many areas in which one could draw the distinction, but one came into Henry’s mind foremost among them all. 

                Simon did not know how to be cruel.

                Henry did.

                It was that which he found to be the starkest contrast.  Not the fact that Simon carried on conversations with nonexistent entities, not the fact he spoke of impossible contraptions like metal flying machines operated without any need of magic.  No.  Henry defined his brother’s madness by his innocence.

                And yet, between the two of them, they had taken the lunatic instead of the nervous wreck.  Called him a murderer.  And Henry had let them.  He had recalled his father’s words, used them to excuse himself:  “Better a mage than a madman.”

                Better a murderer than a madman.

                He found that his feet had taken him to the top of the bluff once more.  He had been too lost in thought to notice where he had been going.  He supposed he had come here because it was the only route he had previously walked in the city.   Absentmindedly, he dug the toe of his boot into the dirt, kicking soil over the edge of the cliff.

                It was a moment before he realized that he was standing in the precise location where he had stood when Seymour had kissed him.

                He shuddered at the recollection and made to step away, but something had caught on his boot, preventing him from doing so.  Looking down, he saw that it was a thin, golden chain—like that of a necklace—that he had unknowingly uncovered whilst kicking off the topsoil.  He crouched and tugged at his find, but it was stuck fast, so he scrabbled in the dirt with his fingernails.  A few minutes later, he had unearthed the entirety of the object. 

               He held it up.  It was a pocket watch—that much he could make out in the dimness, but not much detail.  Conjuring another light, he was able to tell that it was very old.  It had stopped long ago, and dirt had gotten into its crevasses and stained the glass, but it was in good shape otherwise.  As several inches of ground had accumulated on top of it, it must have lain there for at least a few centuries—else someone had buried it.

               The mage turned it over in his palm.  There was an inscription of some sort on the back, but it was obscured with soil, so he rubbed it clean on his tunic before squinting upon it again.

                                                                   S. d.W.

               His first thought was that the initials belonged to Seymour de Winter.  It did indeed look rather like his pocket watch, and he could have dropped it there this evening.  But then how had it come to be aged and buried?  Unless the Aechyed had gone back in time and left it there, there was no way it could belong to him.  And this proposition too was unlikely.  Even the most powerful mage could not interfere in the flow of time; there was no way a nonmagical being could manage it.

               The wind picked up a bit.  As it gusted over the cliff and buffeted off the walls of the citadel castle, Henry could have sworn for a moment that it sounded exactly like a woman laughing.

              Perhaps he was going mad.

The End

19 comments about this story Feed