It was far too big to be wielded by such a small child, its length nearly matching his. And yet, perhaps they had all found it amusing, to see this cursed child try and fight, to master the sword which out weighed him in all sense of the word. It was heavy, lengthy, and a suitable tool on the battlefield, a tool that could save one’s life. How could this meek boy do the same?
It was far too heavy.
It was not the first time he had killed, he had impaled someone on his sword and watched the life slowly drain from their eyes as blood dripped from the blade, so why did this guilt hang over him now? The weight of that guilt pressed him further into the earth, and it was there, he believed he would be welcomed—No, taken back to where he belonged. He would lay there dead and reclaimed.
It was far too rough.
He was like a sword that didn’t fit properly in its sheath—Lethal, but with no place to call his own. Or rather, a desire for his own place, a self-defined meaning. What was it? What was he looking for? Would he ever even find it? All of these questions loomed over him like dark clouds of thunder, possessing nothing but ill omens and misfortune.
It was far too elegant.
His sword gleamed in the light of the sun, like a shining talon against the snowy backdrop. It was a weapon that demanded precision and finesse. For the sabre, its power was not something raw and tangible. It was surgical and deliberate, the weapon of a man who lead and schemed, who could find a weakness and strike, but it was not a weapon that one could hide behind.
It was far too fragile.
The sabre was a weapon that could be easily broken, should one defy all reason and fate—Should they defy their masters. One blade laid shattered in the snow, broken beyond repair. The other, darkened and without a sheath remained, dragging its weight along the earth.
It was far too cursed.
More than a hunk of iron, the blood of lost and corrupt souls stained had changed it, malformed it into a mass of darkness. It was long, narrow, and blunt, more fit to run through and bring about more destruction than it was to form something more, something brighter. For now, its only purpose seemed to be to destroy, to chase down a fleeing bird like a mad dog—Aimlessly.
The remark has him grinning in turn, albeit a little helplessly. In much the same way as Guts, Griffith finds himself considering the restrictions of their company. He had been knighted, raised to the peerage as a viscount, but peasant blood coursed through his veins the same as the rest of the Hawks.
Neither he nor his men dare to upset the careful relationship he’s nurtured with the aristocracy of Midland. The watchful eyes upon them ensures that they cannot act without forethought. They have come far from the petty band of thieves of their youth. The future requires careful deliberation and calculated moves.
Stay in their good spirits, please them, do their bidding, gain power in the courts.
Guts poses another question and the White Hawk hums thoughtfully. To be immortalised one day is another notion that has often lingered in his head. The Great King Griffith…
“I don’t see why not,” he responds truthfully, taking a swig of water. It is cool, soothing his parched esophagus. “We already inspire as we are. You’ve seen them —— tiny Captains of the Hawks' Raiders, running around with wooden blades as long as their bodies.” They pass the village children from time to time, admirers of the esteemed Band of the Hawk, fitted in barrels of armour and wielding sticks as swords.
He finishes his own rations, watching as Guts makes the move to rise first. A hand is extended and Griffith accepts it in an instant, the blood returning to his legs. How long had they been sitting, chatting away the afternoon? Time seems to pass so quickly with Guts by his side.
And so they resume their dangerous endeavor, loading the horses with supplies and mounting them into the night once more.
Just as Griffith had anticipated, the change in his demeanor causes Guts to follow suit and find some peace of mind. The way the tension rolls off his broad shoulders and the way his muscles flex and relax is palpable as he settles back beside him. There is never any delay when answering his requests; Guts heeds him so earnestly and a whirlwind of emotion surges within his chest at the notion.
What’s your plan when we get back?
The Hawk finds himself smiling as his companion recounts his lively conversation with the raiders. However, he purses his lips slightly at the following remark, a dimple appearing in his cheek. Guts is right: Griffith does not excessively indulge in alcohol. For as well-kept and poised as he is, a few too many rounds will have him reeling from discomfort. The last thing he wants is to be vulnerable like that, especially in front of his men.
In front of Guts. A little late for that, though, is it not?
“I hope for their sake that you don’t get caught with more than you can handle. I’ll have a drink or two, but that’s all,” he dismisses the other man while chewing on a small portion of cured meat. “I suppose I would like to catch up on some reading. It’s not often we find ourselves with downtime, hm? Perhaps we can visit the royal archives after completing this mission.” A reward for their efforts, bestowed upon them by the seemingly generous King of Midland.
After feeding the horses, Griffith settles down in a pile of leaves beside Guts rather unceremoniously, hidden beneath the shade of several large trees. The hood on his head is tugged away, revealing a silver head of hair, mussed, curly fringe matted to his forehead. He produces the bag of rations to share between them.
“You look as though you’ve seen a ghost,” he muses at the other man’s apprehensive mien before the concerns are voiced. Zodd. He offers a watchful glance around, though he’s noticed no such presence. Still, a strange sensation brews in his belly. Not quite fear, but something similar, like paranoia at the image Guts has planted in his head.
The memories of facing the fantastic, monstrous Nosferatu Zodd are still fresh and vivid to his mind’s eye. He had acted on impulse, rushing forward, stomach lurching, prepared to stand between the creature and his favoured soldier. Guts had mentioned it to him for the second time, why such a level-headed leader would throw himself into danger for one of his men, and though Griffith had chided him for the question —— truthfully, it was not something he could articulate.
“I hadn’t considered it,” he admitted under his breath, idly gripping the crimson egg around his neck. Devil’s luck. The very item that had supposedly saved their lives that fateful day. “...It would certainly make our task more difficult to encounter that beast again.”
But as quickly as his expression darkened did it shift into something lighter, eyelids falling, comically fatigued; he deflates against the trunk with a deep sigh and stretches his legs out across the dirt, canting his head to one side.
“But somehow, I have a feeling that we’ll emerge in much the same way as before.” Alive, if nothing else. He roughly pats Guts’ thigh, adding, “Now, eat while there’s time.”
When Guts makes the remark and nudges him with his elbow, Griffith can’t help but offer a quiet laugh. “I have to agree. It’s not among my favourite things,” he laments while lifting his nose to the star-scattered firmament. He is a master at putting up fronts and portraying himself as someone of genteel caliber to the others. Someone deserving of a position at the top. However, in reality, it is foolish, pretentious, and draining. Griffith values these moments of respite in which he can be unabashedly honest.
That’s the thing about Guts, isn’t it? He is unlike their comrades —— a man who obeys, but does not worship, and Griffith turns to him for his opinions more often than he’s likely to admit. “But it is absolutely necessary to endure the hardships and rancor to further ourselves.” If it means gaining footing and paving a path to nobility in this kingdom, he is willing to do anything. Ambition comes first; comfort is a luxury.
Crickets chirp and the breeze tickles his face. Mounting his horse, he adds, “As long as we keep our heads low and cover our tracks, we should go unnoticed. I am counting on you, Guts.” Sitting upon his black steed, shrouded in dark leather and illuminated only by the somber glow of the moon, the Raiders captain exudes an ominous presence. He is briefly transfixed by the sight before he turns his gaze forward and tugs on the reigns.
As the sun begins to beat down on the backs of their necks, the White Hawk studies his map and compass. They have covered a good amount of distance and avoided most clearings to travel through the woods. Not only did this route take less time, but it offered more protection should anyone take notice of the two. After all, though ii's dubious that others might be wandering these dense forests, it’s also reckless to dismiss the possibility entirely.
His horse lets out a quiet whinny and he extends a hand to gently pat his side. “Let’s rest here,” Griffith suggests while coming to a stop. He alights from the animal, boots crunching against the grass and dirt.
When Guts makes the move to return, he simply nods and watches his back retreat with each step. A peculiar fear lingers on him, for just a moment, that this man may one day turn to dust like the others. Ephemeral, transient, as all lives on the battlefield inevitably are. But then so are these thoughts, nudged away as quickly as they’d come.
It doesn’t take long for Griffith’s reappearance at the camp, to which the Hawks cheer loudly and invite him to another toast. The rest of the night is spent in hearty celebration, music, and laughter.
Beneath her stalwart exterior and fighting prowess, Casca is still a woman. That much is evident as tender hands smear aloe across the cuts and nicks that litter his flesh. While she and Guts often butt heads, he’s discovered subtle changes in her demeanor over the last few years. After all, his favouritism for the Raiders captain does not go unnoticed by the Hawks —— Griffith has always been aware of this. But they do not question him and he understands this, too; his word is absolute and his rationale beyond their concern.
“Why not delay it? Until your wounds have healed,” she insists with a look of worry in her dark, doe eyes. He gives a light shake of the head, gently capturing her forearm to cease her ministrations.
“Thank you, Casca. Go on and get some sleep now.”
He doesn’t mind it, but he’ll do fine without the doting.
Three days are ample time to regain his feet, quite literally. Though his body still aches around the upper torso, he is able to stand upright and move without difficulty. Such is the will of a hardened soldier, evidenced especially by someone like Guts who manages to rise and run and fight after blows that would leave most men dead.
Griffith takes his leave after dusk and before dawn, waiting in the same spot as prior. The Band of the Hawk's camp lies close to the Midland border but aways to Doldrey and effectively, Tudor; the journey would take some time. When he catches sight of his companion in the distance, he lifts an arm in greeting. “There you are.”
His hair is gathered in a blue ribbon and he’s opted out of his emblematic armour for gear that permits mobility and stealth: riding boots, breeches, tunic, fastened beneath a layer of lightweight leather and a ranger’s hood. Like Guts, he has forgone his sabre for a knife and archery equipment; the quiver of arrows remains secured to his person. Their rations are good for a couple days. Should all go as planned, the weapons needn’t much use beyond hunting game.
“It feels wrong to see you without that sword, my friend,” Griffith muses in a manner reminiscent of their first meeting three years ago. Despite the darkness cloaking them both, he seems far more like himself than the other night. Their horses sway their tails, awaiting their lead. “Are you ready to go?”
Give the order. That’s right. Order him like always. When Guts meets his gaze and takes a step closer, the Hawk can feel the hairs on his nape stand up. Muscles tense, knuckles white with the grip on his crutch. He forcibly parts the murky, black clouds enveloping his head and there’s an earnest quality to the laughter that follows.
He doesn’t have the right to feel sorry for himself, or for the lives that are lost in the pursuit of his dreams. He must remind that sliver of boyhood within himself that they are here of their own volition, that they joined with their own desires.
All of them, but him.
“I trust you not to die,” Griffith admits. “We’ll be on enemy terrain, disadvantaged and outnumbered. And we can't be discovered.” Though he takes pride in his soldiers’ loyalty, tenacity, and quick wits, a group of them may bring attention upon themselves. He doesn’t want to sacrifice more men than necessary. But more than that, he doesn’t want to fail. It would be with great disdain that he’d allow the King of Midland and his haughty, insufferable, noble companions to obtain even a single reason to doubt him.
And Guts is not dispensable. Not so soon, he tells himself. To place such an intense confidence in the other might seem foolish, something that ought to backfire one day, but Griffith is of the notion that his right hand man could not disappoint him. He makes the command and Guts follows. Like a hound at his master’s beck and call —— the Raiders captain is a display of brute strength, a force to be reckoned with.
“We take our leave in three days.” There is no longer any pretense to his words. “Don’t fret, I will make the others aware,” he adds, idly rolling a lock of silver hair between his forefinger and thumb. Just not tonight. Perhaps a small part of him was aching to escape the festivities and noises to think, if just for a moment. He sucks in a breath and cold, fresh air fills his lungs.
He’ll never part with that sword of his. Words are not exchanged on the matter, but Griffith smiles to himself.
As they walk beyond the perimeter of the camp, one hand rises to pinch the corner of the washcloth, bringing it down around his neck. He supports half of his weight with the crutch; a sprained ankle and bruised ribs, par for the course. In most circumstances, the White Hawk, skilled and adept, escapes combat relatively unscathed. However, their last skirmish had been brutal, one in which many valuable lives were lost to heavy, swinging blades and stray arrows. Like black clouds, the thoughts mantle him.
Guts’ question coaxes a hushed sigh from his lips. While it is not strange for Griffith to indulge in private conversations with the stoic Raiders captain, the timing feels off. A celebration is about enjoying themselves, after all. Gaze turns skyward, their battered bodies aglow beneath the moonlight.
“It’s a beautiful night.” Not an answer; there’s a lull in his voice.
“...The Band of the Hawk has been tasked with observing enemy movement. Tudor troops,” he clarifies at last with a glance over his shoulder. A cool breeze whips past them as goosebumps prickle his skin. Not a single soul is nearby, that much is certain. “His Majesty’s orders... and undoubtedly a test.”
The mercenary band has made quite the name for themselves over the years, a strong and formidable opponent on any battlefront. But little is to be said of their experience in the art of espionage. His first instinct is to entrust the mission to someone like Corkus, whose expertise in thievery lends him some insight on stealth. Or Casca and Judeau, who work well with one another in high-stress situations. It would make the most sense, especially as they recover, and yet…
“Would you be willing to lend me your assistance?” Though he wears a pleasant disposition, his eyes are ever-piercing. “Not right away, but soon.”
The sound of Judeau’s lute surges over a hum of voices, laughter, and crackling, spitting flames. Drinks are passed around, bellies swell with food; comfort resides around the bonfire after a long, grueling endeavor. They could be broken and bruised or lose dozens of men to the horrors of war and even so their spirits float in the aftermath of each decisive victory. Minor as it may be. Futile as it may seem.
But that’s how it is, no? To gain status within the kingdom and climb the ranks of social class, the Band of the Hawk must push onwards in the face of adversity.
Griffith recognises the burden on his shoulders. On rare nights, it weighs on him with a painful, crushing force —— it grasps the back of his neck and shoves him face-down in the earth. Confiding in the others is inconceivable; he recalls doing so just once with Casca long ago, a short-lived display of weakness. To them, he is the White Hawk. He is a beacon of light and embodiment of the dreams they challenge their mortality for. Charisma seeps from his every pore. And with each day that passes, it becomes easier to ignore that lingering feeling of guilt, or doubt, or whatever else it wishes to manifest as in these moments of respite.
Guts tends to be the exception to the rules he has always forced himself to abide by. The same Guts that refused to take part in their celebrations almost two... ah, three years ago now leans against a tree, scuffed face illuminated by the flames, as Corkus drunkenly rants about another near-successful attempt at courting a woman.
Gentle chuffs of amusement pass Griffith’s lips at the sight. A wash cloth drapes his head akin to a veil and he is stripped of his gear, fitted in an off-white tunic, trousers, leggings, boots. He rakes digits along his scalp, allowing them to fall and untangle damp, curly strands of silver hair. At length, he rises from his seat on the log to make his way over, gripping the crutch at his side for purchase. With his injuries still on the mend, he wonders again how Guts manages to recover so quickly in comparison. The bandages that wind the other man’s body do little to hold him back from exerting himself.
“Will you accompany me on a walk?” His gaze is pointed and his words are deliberate, leaving no question as to whom he's addressing.