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Yellow-green buds were ready to burst forth in rainbow shades and birds chirped sweetly in the overhead branches. But the exhausted traveler did not take notice of these signs of spring. His body ached and his mind had been benumbed by the results of war.
Battle cries rang in his ears muting the birdsongs. Crimson veils clouded his sight dimming the thousand pinpoints of sunlight sparkling on the water. His memories were etched with bloody ground and the Crescent River being clogged with the bodies of men and horses. Those horrid visions were replayed nightly in vivid dreams and were constant companions even when the daylight chased away the darkness.
Now the war was over and a fragile peace had been declared. Now Captain Heero Yuy was going home but would he be welcomed or shunned?
When war began with the Northern Kingdom, Lord Odin Yuy, a wealthy merchant and landowner, decided that his only male heir would not answer the King's call-to-arms. Bribes were paid to local officials and favors owed by the gentry were called in to keep his son, Heero, safely at home.
"There are plenty of commoners," Odin declared to his colleagues as they shared pints at the Black Dog Tavern, "let them do the fighting."
But Heero did not agree with his father's opinions concerning the lower classes. He believed that wealth did not measure a man's soul nor did it define his station in life. He also believed that with privilege came responsibility to aid the poor and duty to defend the King Peacecraft.
When Heero expressed these beliefs and refused to bend to his father's wishes a heated argument ensued. Voiced were raised, hurtful words were shouted in anger. Heero dared to question his family values, to hold to an opinion contrary to his father's and this stubborn refusal was unacceptable.
"If you walk out that door," Odin screamed shaking his finger at Heero, "you will no longer be my son."
"Then I shall have no home and no name." Heero proclaimed before storming into his room.
He quickly gathered what personal possessions that his could carry, took up his sword and dagger, mounted his horse and never looked back. As much as it broke his heart, Heero could not deny his destiny. He could not in all good conscience compromise his beliefs no matter what the cost.
That fateful day, just a month before his seventeenth birthday, Heero Yuy threw off the nobleman's mantle and put on the soldier's attitude.
What had begun as a peaceable spring soon turned into a sweltering summer. Long days of training bruised Heero's body and restlessness nights robbed him of much needed sleep. Then the winter winds blew cold and the snow was stained with scarlet.
Captain Yuy was wounded and spent the last weeks of the war in the makeshift field infirmary. His stubborn streak was tested yet again when a high fever accompanied his injuries.
Vaguely Heero could recall a recurring dream of huge beasts with massive wings that blotted out the sun. He had dismissed these visions as fever-struck delirium but like a whoring bedmate an essence of those strange creatures still nagged at his mind and occasionally replaced his usual night terrors.
The arrow hole in his shoulder had healed over with a rough scar and the sword slash across his chest was an ever-present reminder of how close he came to dying. Now the seasons had come full circle but the promised rebirth of spring held a hollow meaning for Heero. The endless days of death and destruction had stunned his senses until no light touched his stoic heart.
As his recollections came crashing down once more Heero wrapped his black cape tighter to ward of the engulfing chill. The weary soldier pulled back on the reins. "Whoa Wing." he called to his faithful steed.
Leaving his horse to forage for tender grass Heero paused on the sandy creek bank. Shiny slips of water, sliding through the rocks like needles pulling iridescent threads, fashioned a natural tapestry rich in subtle sun-drenched colors.
Occasionally a playful breeze would engage the freshly unfurled leaves causing them to dance as if the wind's music possessed them completely. If Heero had allowed the wind, the forest itself, could have so bewitched him that he would have been content to dwell forever under its sway. But thoughts of war would not let his soul rest.
Squatting down he cupped his hands drawing cool water to his mouth. A second dipping splashed on his face in an attempt to wash the travel-worn film from his eyes. Soaking his tousled hair well passed the hairline Heero raked his fingers through the dark tresses. After smoothing a few unruly strands behind his ears his hands returned to retrieve another liquid offering.
His thirst satisfied Heero eased down on a cushion of feathery moss. Somewhere above him a songbird warbled, its tune joining the wind's melody to further enchant him but as hard as Heero tried he could not dispel his despondency.
"It is a miracle that I am still sane." he told Wing not thinking it odd at all to be talking to a horse.
Once more Heero dipped his hands letting the water trickle between his fingers. Absentmindedly he rubbed his thumb over his damp palm. It had become a habit, this ceremonial hand washing. The ritualistic cleansing, however, would not wash away the bloodstained tarnish that was pictured perfectly in Heero's mind.
The wind rose up again but this time there was a chilly touch in its invisible stroking. Gray cloudbanks had begun to build in the west foretelling of rain.
"Where to lay our heads tonight?" Heero muttered as he stood up and dried his hands on his trousers. Wing snorted and shook his head as if he understood his master's question.
"Let's see what lies at the forest's edge." he stated climbing back into his saddle. With a nudge of his heels Heero prodded Wing forward. "I hope we find suitable shelter." he added as the smell of moisture increased and the wind blew harder.