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The Silent Life
Some few centuries ago, a great village—that has by now lost its name in the pages of history—waged war against another similarly great village. Neither the result nor the cause of the war is known by me, though even a simpleton could gather that the cause lies in a desire for wealth, or love, power, or all three. Though the story of the war is lost to me, I can regale to you a story within that story of the war. If you will bear patience as I once did, I will allow you to stay as audience to the tale of Archer Tartarus.
Within one of the great villages previously mentioned, Archer was born and raised. Archer was handsome and kind, spiritual in a town of puritans, and had more money than a person could hope to spend in a lifetime. In short, Archer Tartarus was a lucky man and everyone—or rather every woman—in the village knew it. And though the women still flirted with Archer regularly, hoping to ensnare him and his wallet with their wit, within in time, they became confident that Archer would only ever love three things in his life: Elizabeth Gold, Thomas Grey, and this village. All of which would play major factors in the events of his life.
Elizabeth, Thomas, and Archer had known each other as long as any of them could remember. Their mothers had been best friends in childhood, had attended each other’s weddings, and had been present at the birth of all three children. So, it was without question that Elizabeth, Thomas, and Archer would find friendship with each other at an early age. And as the three left childhood, and Elizabeth grew into a beauty, it was expected that Thomas and Archer would vie for her attention. And as the three matured into a marriageable age, it was evident to everyone that Elizabeth would pick Archer as her mate for he was the richer, handsomer, and wittier of the two boys. And it was also apparent to everyone that Thomas’s love for Archer as brother and for Elizabeth as a friend would allow him to forgo and forget any romantic notions about having Elizabeth as his wife.
For many years, Thomas Grey lived that silent life. To everyone, he seemed like the same kind, good-tempered chap he’d always been. When he was chosen as Archer’s best man, Thomas graciously accepted. When he was asked to write a speech for the wedding, Thomas wrote one that was arguably the best heard in the village for years. And when Archer and Elizabeth had their first child, it was Thomas who held the beautiful boy, second only to Elizabeth. All through these years, Thomas silently watched as Archer lived Thomas’ dreams. And he would have continued to watch had it not been for a war that took the village by storm.
The unnamed war occurred overnight. Many villagers blamed it on trading disputes, others on land disagreements; some even produced a drawn-out story about the prince’s wife seducing a foreign royal just as Helen had thousands of years earlier. Regardless of the causation, the village was thrown into chaos, and within days, all the eligible men in town were suited in combat uniforms. Brave and foolhardy since childhood, Archer and Thomas were at the head of this assembly. By this time, Archer and Elizabeth had been married for five years.
As troops got ready for their first—and for some, final—march out of the village, Elizabeth broke away from the clusters of wailing women to seek out Thomas. As her cool fingers curled around his forearm, Thomas—who had through time managed to drown his love for Elizabeth with gallons of alcohol and bevies of women—was once again alighted with the passion and affection he felt for his best friend’s wife.
“Thomas, I must ask something of you,” said Elizabeth in the high soprano that had first attracted her to him.
As romantic notions of soliciting an affair crossed Tom’s mind, he said in a slightly gruff voice, “Anything for you Lizzie.”
“Will you look after Archer for me?” asked Elizabeth with a sad smile. “I wouldn’t dream of asking anyone else this. But me and Archer, we’re expecting a second child, Tommy. A girl. And I-I just know that you would lay down your life for Archer.”
Thomas agreed. Because in reality, how different was this from what Thomas had been doing all along? His entire life he’d been sacrificing his joy for that of Elizabeth and Archer. How would sacrificing a life as unhappy as his be any different?
The war waged for many months, and Archer did not go two or three days without receiving a correspondence from Elizabeth, his son, and eventually little Bethany Tartarus. All the while, Thomas— who slept in the cot opposite Archer—compared it to his own two letter stack, comprised of a letter from his mother and another from a past fling.
As fate would have it, there finally came a day for Thomas to fulfill his promise to Elizabeth. That morning, the soldiers got up with dim moods as they glanced around at the foliage of their newest camp.
“It’s dark out here,” one of them remarked. They all nodded their heads in agreement.
“It’s cold, too. Ten times colder than the coldest night we’ve seen in months,” sighed another.
“A man could die out here, and the snow would cover him up a good five feet before anyone noticed,” whispered a third.
As the crowds of men continued to express displeasure and fear for their situation, Archer and Thomas soundlessly grabbed their knives and equipment and headed into the wild to hunt for game. The two boys roamed the outback for hours, all the while remaining vigilant for any foreign soldier. After many hours of hunting with no signs of opposition, Thomas and Archer split up. They’d agreed that it would be faster this way.
By Twilight, Thomas felt worn-out and completely exhausted. As he began his walk towards the campsite, he caught sight of Archer. He thought about quickening his pace, and catching up with his friend, but then decided against it. Tonight at least, he was tired of pretending not to be envious.
As Archer continued to walk ahead, Thomas caught side of another man hiding behind the foliage of a great oak tree. By the color of his uniform, Thomas could tell that he was not a soldier of theirs. By his stance and the glint of the knife in his hands, Thomas could tell that within moments, Archer would be attacked.
As his voice began to sound out the first letters of Archer’s name, Thomas stopped himself. Let Archer die, his mind whispered to him. This is a chance for happiness, your only chance. And so, rather than screaming his best friend’s name, Thomas hid behind another grand oak tree, and wordlessly watched as a river of blood formed on the snowy forest floor.
Within weeks, Thomas, too, was dead. Many believed that he got lost in the forest or died of starvation, but I know the truth. Thomas Grey could not come to terms with the role he played in the murder of his best friend. Thomas Grey could not look himself or Elizabeth in the eye without remembering the events of one cold night. Thomas Grey thoroughly and completely believed that he was a monster. And so, Thomas Grey punished himself with death.