The Year of Our Lord 1219
The screams of dying men echoed in his mind even now, hours after the battle's end, hidden in a cave away from the desert's cruel wind. He could still see the rivers of blood and the mangled bodies of Englishmen and Saracens alike, religious differences aside. Most in his position would be regretting leaving the wet, mild climate of England for the blood and sweat soaked Egyptian desert, but the last thing Lord Liam Borel of Dunmore wanted on his mind was England. The form ducking into the cave was enough to fill that purpose, at least for now.
"Rand, you had me beginning to wonder if I was going to see you alive again. How is it out there?" Liam said, standing and walking over to his friend. He put his hand over his eyes, moved the cloak away from the entrance and looked out to see the sandstorm that had driven them into the cave had only worsened. Liam shook his head and turned to look at his friend and fellow crusading knight, Lord Randolph Gallagher of Atworth. "Never mind, I can see it for myself. Sit down man, you look dead on your feet."
"Well, now that I have your permission, I just might do that." Rand said sarcastically, almost falling to the ground trying to sit down. Even exhausted and windblown he was still able to keep at least some of his humor. He leaned his head back against the wall, closing his eyes. He took a few deep breaths and Liam thought he had fallen asleep until Rand brushed his hair out his face and began speaking. "I didn't find anyone else out there, Liam, none that were alive at least. I think we're the only two left. We may have won the battle as a whole, but our men are gone."
Liam shook his head, not wanting to believe what he was hearing. He'd been fighting alongside most of those men for two years, sometimes not knowing what it was they were fighting for, and he had taken it upon himself to keep them safe and alive. There had been no one else do to the job, no one that cared enough to. "I can't believe it, after all of us staying alive for so long, to have everyone taken away in one battle. It doesn't make any sense that two of us would be the only survivors. What does that mean for us, what are we supposed to do now?" Liam thought about pacing the small cave, but knew it wouldn't serve to help the situation. He instead sat down next to his friend, pulled his knees up to his chest and put his head on top of them.
"There is no use in punishing yourself, Liam. You did everything you could to keep yourself alive and, honestly, in the heat of such a gruesome battle that is all anyone can ask of you." Rand stopped to take another deep breath, his voice raspy from trying to breathe out in the storm. "And all we can do right now is sleep and wait for the storm to pass. We can decide where we're going to go after that." He patted Liam on the shoulder, pulled his bag close to use as a pillow, and threw his cloak over his body. "Try and sleep old friend, you need it."
Liam nodded, moving to get his bag and cloak. He lay down on the opposite side of the cave from Rand and made sure his sword was within reach should anyone or anything come inside. Liam didn't want to close his eyes for fear of what he would see in the darkness. Though the cave was almost pitch black there was a difference when you were looking into the darkness of your own mind. He stared straight up above him, refusing to close his eyes, humming a children's song to keep his thoughts away from death.
* * * * *
With the rising of the sun the next morning came clear skies and the end of the sandstorm. Liam rolled over and groaned, not sure whether he slept at all the night before. He rubbed his eyes and felt how dry they were. No, I don't think I closed them at all. Great, traveling today is going to be an adventure, especially with Randolph trying to keep my spirits light. He looked over at his friend and could hear Rand's slow, heavy breathing. Reigning in the desire to throw something at Rand, Liam got up and went outside, hoping the sun would help to wake him up.
He had to put his hand over his eyes like a shade when he lifted the cloak, stepping out and letting it fall quickly so as not to wake Rand. After the darkness he suffered the previous few days the sun was brighter than he remembered. He took a deep breath, trying to calm his nerves, and trying to remind himself of a few things. "Rand is right, I did all that I could. More than that at times. So why can't I just accept that and let it go?"
"Because you're you, Liam, that's why." Liam turned at the voice and saw Rand coming out of the cave, yawning. “You can tell yourself it isn't your fault, and have everyone around you know that it isn't, but you still won't believe it. I'm telling you right now that you have to and I will repeat it as often as necessary.”
Liam laughed, choosing to lighten the mood as best he could. “You know Rand, I think you just told me why you had to survive the battle with me.” He slapped his friend on the back a little harder than necessary, “Who else would be able to torture me like you?”
Rand joined in Liam's laughter, slapping Liam's back just as hard. “No one, my friend, and that is why I am going to tell you that I think we should make our way to England and go home. It has been two years since I've stepped on English soil and that feels like a lifetime after all of this wind and sand. It's like this country doesn't know what rain is!” Rand laughed shakily, seeing Liam's face strained.
“I don't know if I'm ready for that yet, Rand. But I don't want to keep you from your home. We can leave here, but head for the continent, at least for now. You can go home whenever you want to.” Liam shook his head and walked back into the cave.
Rand followed behind him, vowing to himself to write Liam's sister as soon as he had a chance to alert her of their activities, so at least someone knew they were alive. “I will come with you Liam, I would never abandon you. And you and I both know that you are going to have to go back to England and face what you left behind sooner or later. You know I wish it to be sooner, but I won't rush you more than I think you deserve.”
Liam looked up from his bag and smiled at Rand. “I would expect nothing less from you.”