33 The Old Friend who comes bearing gifts*
While Rassa wasted away in the cage, fighting a losing internal battle with Red Eyes, and a hopeless external one with Jameson, Phillip and Anna did their best to appear normal.
In many eyes, they had failed epicly at doing so. Who would not suspect them after their son had been like this for three years? After Phillip had displayed knowledge that he had known about Rassa's condition before the rest of the town found out. They were, to say the least, outcast from their social circles.
Those who had once called themselves friends now paid the pair no mind. In their work they were held to unreachable standards, and shamed for their lack of results. In the grand scheme of things, the only thing that they were better off for than their son was that they were at least still allowed to eat.
It was in this poor condition that Knight General Turney found his old student in. He arrived in the evening, a single rider dressed in travelling clothes and carrying a broadsword. He'd asked a question to one of the men passing on the street, and the man had cautiously pointed him in the direction of Phillip and Anna's house. Turney arrived at the house, lit dimly from the inside by candlelight, and knocked on the door.
"Oh for the love of god, leave us be!"
Phillip snapped as he swiftly opened the door. Phillip's angry expression dropped instantly into that of shock. Turney looked older. Nearly seventeen years older, but it was still his old master. Phillip recognised him in an instant.
"I'm assuming that at least I am welcome then?" asked Turney, taken aback by Phillip's rage.
"Come inside," Phillip sighed, "I'll explain over dinner".
Turney was not going to refuse a meal. He tied his horse to one of the posts outside then followed Phillip inside. Their house was small, the main room hosted the kitchen and dining room in one, and the bedrooms through the doors to the rear of the house. Anna was busy at the stove. Turney had not ever had the pleasure of meeting Anna, he knew only that she was of common birth. Regardless of such circumstance though, she was very beautiful, more so than he had been led to believe. It was no wonder Phillip had fallen for her.
What amazed Turney more however, was the difference between the life Phillip was born into, and the one he led now. It was such a drastic change, and Turney couldn't help but question if it was some kind of joke. After all, what noble-born prince would want to choose such poor conditions over his lavish birthrite?
Then, it was Phillip. He'd never been one to follow the majority.
"Anna," Phillip spoke softly. Anna turned from the stove to look at the large man whom Phillip had brought inside. He was older than Phillip by at least two decades, his muscles and skin worn with age. Despite this however, the man looked strong, perhaps even on par with her husband in terms of skill, "Anna, this is Knight General Quince Turney of Fountain Ridge. He's an old friend".
Anna looked over the Knight General for a moment, and Turney had to admit there were few times where he'd felt such a discerning gaze before. Anna then turned her gaze to her husband.
"You contacted your family?" asked Anna.
Phillip sighed, "Not exactly".
"He's from Fountain Ridge, your family will know either way".
This woman was perceptive, and clever. It was rare Turney had ever seen Phillip struggling for an answer. Phillip sat down at the table.
"The Anthrite, I had no choice," Phillip said.
Anna turned away, back to the stove, "Come in, Knight General, take a seat".
"Quince is fine," Turney replied, "I'm not on duty".
He did as told, and there was silence in the room for a moment as Turney looked around, then he finally spoke.
"You mentioned you had a son?"
Phillip's expression turned grave, and Anna paused in her cooking, turning again to her husband.
"You told them about Rassa?!"
Phillip sighed, "I know my father, he wouldn't have wanted to cooperate with us for any other reason. He is too proud".
"But if he is dragged into-"
"He won't be...definitely not now," Phillip admitted. He looked at Turney, his expression grave, "I was not entirely truthful towards you in the letter. But understand I only did it so I could get what was needed".
Turney was silent as he waited for Phillip to explain, it was not as if he was not used to the troublemaking methods of the Duke's third son.
"The monster I talked of in my letter...the reason I know the Anthrite chains are the only way...the monster is Rassa," Phillip stated.
Turney was silent for a long time, his expression unchanging. This was what Phillip had disliked about his teacher. He was a brilliant teacher, but he was so good at keeping a poker face that Phillip oftentimes didn't know exactly how to react. Finally, after some thought, Turney spoke again.
"Then he is...adopted?"
"No," Phillip said, "He is my son, my blood. But an accident happened just over three years ago in Greenvale. He entered into a cave that had not been there the previous day, and was possessed by whatever evil lay within. It has changed him. He even has life lines now. Still, the changes are only physical, Rassa is still my son. He is still intelligent and kind-hearted. He has never touched any human, and I have spent years training him so that he knows his limits. But nobody else will see it that way".
"They captured him then?" asked Turney.
Phillip nodded, "Ten days ago. He's been in a cage in the Knight encampment on Greenvale's border the whole time. Though I know he is more than capable of escape, he hasn't attempted to break out. And even worse, they refuse to feed him anything. He will starve soon, and I honestly don't know in the end what will win out. His will to do no harm, or his hunger".
"Then the chains are for his hunger?" asked Turney.
Phillip nodded, "When the Curfew was enforced to hunt the monster, he admitted that Anthrite was the one weakness he had come across. He said I should use it should he not be able to control himself".
"And can he?" asked Turney, "Control himself I mean?"
"He hunts only what he needs from animals in the forest. After he is full, if he is given a certain amount a day he has no problems controlling himself," Phillip stated, "But the Hunger...it's unpredictable. So far he's held it in, but I don't know what will happen if it gets worse. I also cannot judge when it will get worse as they won't allow me to see him".
"Then can we-"
Another knock sounded on the door. Phillip held a finger to his lips as he stood and walked to the door. Then answered it with a frown.
When he met no one immediately in front of him, he looked down, and found Jane standing nervously in front of the door.
"Jane?" asked Phillip, his voice and expression softening as he stepped back to look at her better, "What are you doing here?"
"I..." Jane pasued, unsure how to go on.
"Look, you should get back to your parents, they won't like it if they find out you're-"
"I want to know," Jane said.
Phillip paused, "Sorry?"
"About Rassa," Jane clarified, "Please, tell me about him".
There was silence for a moment before Anna appeared at the doorway, looking down at the girl, "Come in, Jane".