Judeau learns a bit more about Griffith's frame of mind than he was expecting.
"No, no, I'll be there as soon as I talk to Griffith...."
Unfortunately, true to Rickett's reply, Griffith wasn't in his tent. Probably off taking a bath. Not a bad idea, actually, Judeau thought. But he was too tired to go hunting down by the river for their commander, so he waited. After all, it wasn't as if Griffith wouldn't be coming back.
Judeau took off his helmet, easing his weapons down to the floor with a sigh. His throwing knives certainly weren't in the same league as Guts' huge sword, but a dozen of them worn all day weren't exactly light, either. He ran a hand through his hair as he wandered over to the map table, looking over it idly. The battle had gone well, at least. And Griffith would be pleased to hear what he'd seen, that the enemy WAS actually in full retreat. They wouldn't give the Hawks any more trouble. The camp was right to be celebrating--he cocked his head and smiled--and loudly. Hmm. Maybe Griffith's off with Caska and Guts, celebrating, he thought. He didn't think so,...Griffith had been so distant lately, but maybe....
Judeau's eyes froze in their slow crawl across the table. There was a book on the corner, still opened, a quill lying next to it, the tip still wet with ink. The book, a simply bound thing, looked almost like one of the ledgers he used to keep track of supplies. Maybe Griffith had been notating it while he was away and he should take it back....
The handwriting was neat, compact, and Judeau had no trouble reading it, any more than he had any of the hundreds of other times he'd read orders written in that hand. It was the handwriting that he and Rickett and who knew how many others modeled their own after. After all, in the beginning, drawn as they were from the peasants, the serfs, the outcasts, not many of them at all could read or write. It was Griffith that had learned, snatching lessons from kindly priests and scribes, and taught any of them that wanted to learn. He'd said that it was a valuable skill for officers.
The words that crawled across the page in regimented lines, however, were not supply lists.
"....Is that what this is? Is that why I lay awake at night, through the endless summer nights and tell myself it is because of the heat that I cannot sleep? Is that why I feel despair and restlessness every evening, when I see the sun set and realize another day is done? Is it because I feel some terrible weight descending upon me, the awful sense that the sand in the hourglass is sliding past, almost gone, almost through?"
Judeau's eyes widened. I shouldn't be reading this, this is personal, I shouldn't be reading Griffith's journal-- His eyes, however, were held by the quiet despair in the words, and scrolled across the neatly-spaced lines.
"...Why, as this summer wanes, do I have the terrible feeling that I am letting something precious slip through my fingers?
"Call me mad, call me delusional, but at the risk of sounding like a penny fortune-teller, I am becoming more and more convinced that something black and terrible is on the horizon. Something as ominous and unstoppable as a thunderstorm sweeping across the land. Sometimes I think that it will wash us all away.
"I am afraid. The sun descends. Another day has passed, and I am afraid and do not know of what."
"Ah, Judeau, there you are."
Judeau somehow managed not to jump at Griffith's voice as he entered the tent. Don't turn too fast, fool, or you'll look guilty. He ignored the small voice that said that, well, he SHOULD look guilty, now shouldn't he? He turned away from the table, and Griffith's hair was a fall of white against his doublet as he toweled it off. Even in the low light from the lantern, Griffith looked tired, and had, Judeau thought darkly, looked tired for months. Why was it that the more successful they were, the farther they advanced towards Griffith's mysterious goal, the more unhappy Griffith seemed to be?
"I followed the main retreat for several miles west, sir. They're scattered, and don't seem to be regrouping."
"Ah, good. Have they crossed the river?"
"In small groups, yes."
"Very good." Griffith tossed the towel over the chest at the foot of his cot and moved to the table, eyes already on the battle maps again. Judeau almost held his breath as Griffith's hands went to the journal, but that was only to close it and move it to the side, absently. "The King's men should deal with them there. Caska reported that casualties were lighter than expected. Everything went according to plan."
Judeau smiled. "Your plans always do, sir."
Griffith looked up at him, blue eyes catching the lanternlight, mouth quirked. "Not always. I distinctly remember Atherton."
Judeau winced. "All right, except that time."
Judeau's smile turned wry. "That was a long time ago, sir. You were--"
Griffith looked up again when he stopped. "I was...?"
"I was going to say--" Judeau flushed a bit "--that you were green then, sir."
Griffith laughed, and it lifted Judeau's heart to hear it. "Quite right. Yes, I was. Very green." He ran a hand lightly over the maps, absently, his smile fading. "We were all so young, then."
...the awful sense that the sand in the hourglass is sliding past, almost gone, almost through....
Griffith shook his head, smiling a small, polite smile completely different from the one he'd worn a few minutes ago. "Ah, but I'm keeping you. You've done well. You should be out celebrating. Dismissed."
Judeau saluted automatically. "Sir." He turned, grabbing his helmet and knives on the way to the door, but stopped at the tent flap, where the last rays of the sunset were staining the sky.
The sun descends. Another day has passed, and I am afraid and do not know of what....
He turned, hesitant. "Sir?"
"Hmmm?" Griffith's eyes were still on the maps, distracted. The lanternlight made him glow against the darkness. It was hard to remember, after seeing him in full armor all day, how slender Griffith really was. Judeau's eyes were caught by one pale hand, the faint trace of ink
dark against the side of one finger, defying soap and water.
I lay awake at night, through the endless summer nights and tell myself it is because of the heat that I cannot sleep.
Judeau half didn't believe his own voice when he heard himself say, "Why...why don't you come out by the fire, sir? Pippin's gotten ahold of a few bottles of Chuder red that we really shouldn't let him and Guts drink alone...."
Griffith looked up, the polite smile there, and Judeau bulled on before he could say no. "It's just that no one else but those two and you like the Chuder stuff, and if those two drink it all, Guts'll be hungover as hell tomorrow, and I'd hate to have Caska wake up half the camp when she starts yelling at him at sunrise about how he's a drunken pig...." Judeau forcibly stopped himself from babbling, feeling words choke in his throat. Finally, he said, "We just...we miss you, sir."
Griffith stared at him for a moment, surprised, and Judeau had to bite his lip to keep himself quiet. Don't you know? Don't you know that you can inspire with a few words the kind of trust and loyalty that most kings would kill for? Don't you know that most of the old Hawks would follow you to hell itself? The new recruits don't remember when you would teach us to read by the firelight, or when you'd give up a meal every day to make the rations last longer, or when you'd charge in yourself to save a knot of us that got cut off in battle. Of course we miss you. We would die for you, and we can all see that you're fading away before our eyes.
The silence in the tent was so deep for a moment that Judeau had the sudden wild fear that he'd actually said those words aloud. Griffith looked to the side thoughtfully, perhaps at the journal that was still sitting on the corner of the table. Finally he smiled, and it was the old Griffith, not the new, noble Griffith the General, with his platitudes and polite smiles, but the White Hawk that had taken so many of them under his wing. "Very well." He clapped a hand on Judeau's shoulder as he went out with him. "I would hate to give Caska anything ELSE to yell at Guts about. Did you see what he did on the northern flank today...?"
The cries of welcome from around Pippin's fire drowned out their conversation, and a place to sit opened for them like they'd never been gone.