31 The Sincerest Apology*
The answer the villagers had come up with was to take Rassa to the Battalion Camp until further notice. He was placed on the edge of the camp closest the forest. Not because they had any sympathy for him, drinking his father's blood had pretty much set that ship sail. No, they put him on the edge of camp because they were terrified of him.
It became abundantly clear in the next few days however, that now they had caught the monster, they had no idea what to do with it. The Doctor, after seeing that Rassa was at least somewhat cooperative, want him for research. The Baron wanted to sell him to the highest bidder, if anything just to get rid of him. The Jameson wanted to take him to his superiors in Varkevia. That was what they were arguing about now.
They were in the centre square, a good kilometre away from where Rassa was being watched by torchlight. Rassa could hear them though. Usually he tuned out the sounds that travelled from far away, but now, when he couldn't roam anywhere, his senses were on high alert. The fact that he had sat so still for so long was starting to freak out those that watched him. Ever since his interaction with his father, Rassa hadn't moved at all. They hadn't offered him anything, much less a rag and water to wash himself, and Rassa didn't seem the least bit upset about it.
He was upset, but there was nothing he could do about it that would make him appear less of a monster to them. Now, much to Rassa's annoyance, even sitting still and minding his own business had become scary to them.
The Elves had come to, curious now that the Monster had been captured. Of course, everyone else was unaware of that fact, as the Elves were simply using their magic to observe him. He'd let them. He would not run now. It would do him no good. Besides the fact that his parents could face retribution should he leave, Rassa was only twelve years old. He had no way of making a living for himself, and even if he offered to be a farmer in another community far from this one, the result would be the same. If this was what they wanted him to be, then perhaps he should learn. Perhaps he should teach himself their fears and expectations so that when it came down to it, he could overcome them.
That was what he told himself at least. But he had no idea what they would do to him in the long run.
"He's a boy!"
Anna's shrill shout echoed through the square, silencing everyone.
"You talk of him as if he is property, or as if he is a beast, but he is merely a boy!" Anna stated, "Yes, my son went through a terrible accident of fate that left him with a different body, but that does not mean his soul is changed. He is still my son, and you shall have to kill me before I allow you to sell him like some lamb for slaughter".
"Good, you can be his next meal!" the Baron snapped, "Quiet you stupid woman, or you will be escorted away".
Phillip stepped forward, wrapping an arm around his wife, and the Baron's expression became more hesitant, he knew exactly who Phillip had been before he came here. Had hosted the boy in his previous life.
"You are out of line, Baron," Phillip warned. Then he held up his arm, which was clear of any mark or scar, "My son has control over his appetite, and the other day was the first time he'd ever fed on a human. I only offered my blood to him to show you that he can in fact stop. That he only takes what he needs. And after starving himself I guarantee he didn't even take that today".
Rassa sighed. Talking like that wasn't going to help. They were too far past reason to listen. Though Rassa appreciated the effort his father was going to. Despite all that was happening, or perhaps because this had happened, it was nice to know that there was at least someone who stood behind him. That there was someone who believed in him.
Rassa listened for a little longer, but realised that all he would get by listening is knowing that they were continuing to insult his parents. He already knew that Jameson had put his parents under watch to ensure they didn't break Rassa out.
As if he couldn't do it himself if he wanted to, but they didn't need to know that.
As Rassa went to try and get some sleep despite it being night, the time he enjoyed the most, he sensed someone which he didn't expect.
The guards were several metres away from the cage, further away than the forest line, and it was from the forest line his visitor was approaching. Though cautiously. He was a mere two metres away, just behind the closest tree, when Rassa spoke aloud.
"If you come any closer they'll spot you".
Diggory froze behind the tree, "You can hear me?"
Rassa breathed out, relieved that Diggory wasn't running away terrified.
"Technically, I smelled you before I heard you".
"You...are you saying I stink?"
Rassa couldn't help the smile that came to his lips, "Dig, I can smell the rotting fruit on the ground in the Orchard".
"But the Orchard is on the other side of...oh, oooh!" Diggory realised the power of Rassa's senses and frowned, silent once more for a moment before he spoke up again, "Is it always like that? With everything?"
"Yep," Rassa said, "Just another thing I got used to over the years".
Rassa sensed Diggory's unease, from his tense muscles to his stressed heart rate and breathing. It was silent for a long time, with just the two of them before Diggory spoke up, "I'm sorry".
Rassa lifted his head in surprise. The guards sensed movement, and Rassa looked at them for a moment, schooling his expression, before dripping his head back down again. He waited for them to resume their usual watch from a distance before he spoke.
"It's not your fault Dig," Rassa stated, "We were nine, it's not as if we knew what I'd encounter in that cave".
"What did you encounter?" asked Diggory.
Rassa hesitated, unsure of whether Diggory should hear about it or not. It wasn't exactly a fun story. After a moment, Rassa answered in what he had decided over the years was the best way to sum up the events in that cave.
"I encountered those born of Chaos, and they wouldn't let me leave unless I too became one of them".
Diggory was silent for a while longer, and Rassa smelt the saltiness of his tears as they began to fall. Diggory sniffed softly, "Oh god...Rassa, I'm so sorry".
"It's not your-"
"It is," Diggory corrected him, "You never would have gone in there without my stupid taunting".
"And then the cave would have remained to take somebody else," Rassa stated, "What happened to me isn't your fault, Diggory. Never forget that. I do not blame you, nor will I ever. This only became my burden to bear through coincidence, and I don't want you to think otherwise".
"What you do...it's not a fate I would wish on anyone," Diggory admitted, "Least of all a kind and gentle soul like yours. A true friend".
Rassa felt a tear of his own fall, and he didn't bother to wipe it away.
"Fate gives us many things. Love, hope, prosperity. In our little corner of the world, we seem to forget that Fate is not all good. It does not take sides. It doesn't favour any one life over another. It simply allows us to be, and then propels us in the direction of our end. Because, one way or another, we all must travel our journeys to our end. No shortcuts, no bypasses. If this is the life I am fated to lead...then so be it. But it is mine. And the one thing I have learned from this fate, is that if you cannot choose it, learn to own it. Because no one else will do that for you, just as no one else life your fate," Rassa finished, pausing for a moment, "If it had been you who had gone in that cave instead of me, I would feel guilty as well. I would blame myself. But in the end, there is nothing I could do about it. It is our past, and dwelling on it will only make us forget we have a future".
The two of them sat in a companionable silence for a while, before Rassa spoke again.
"The guards change soon, you should leave before they spot you".
"Face forward, Dig, not backward. We'll meet again one day, and hopefully I'll still be that friend with a kind and gentle soul. If not...well...I hope that day never comes".
Rassa would not see Diggory again for a very long time. After his father discovered he'd talked with Rassa, Diggory was sent away to the Knight Academy in Barday where he would remain for six years.