It can be difficult to see the stars here; the City of Gloom lives up to its name. I have failed to find a cure for the spectre that haunts me, but I have made some allies on the way here that, with luck, will make my passing bearable.
But it is the sudden glimpses of the stars that I now wait for every night, when the wind shifts the floating layer of dust and soot enough to see the sky.
They remind me of a time many years ago at university, and my fencing tutor James Garbett. We all called him the Turtle. 75 years old, an almost unprecedented age for a soldier, but he was still strong and fast. It occurs to me now we are almost entirely the opposite spectrum of a man; he lived to a grand old age, and I will in all likely-hood not see fifty.
I remember that last night better than some of the lessons we had; his few remaining students sitting around him while we waited for the dawn. Duels were illegal, of course, but the Turtle had a deeper sense of honour than any man I ever knew. His daughter, like my own, lay cold in the earth. Her killer had escaped justice through his bank, not the courts, and the Turtle had challenged him. An ancient challenging his own student. His best student.
The other men drifted away as the night wore on, but I remained with my teacher; I owed him that much at least. He was smiling now, the first smile I could ever remember, and the drinks I had consumed made me brave, or foolish, and I asked him why he had never smiled, but could do so now his daughter was in the dirt at the hands of a man he had loved like a son.
“I don’t think I was a melancholy man by nature, but life piles on a man the longer he sticks to it. Weighs him down. When you are a young man like yourself, life is full of wonders. Love, hope, oppotunity. But as the years roll on things become ordinary. colours lose their vibrance.”
Here he indicated the stars above us. "Stars lose their glitter. You become less in awe of the world. It loses its magic.
“I don’t see this as a painful thing. I think it is a mercy. I believe its just so its all so much easier to let it go when its our time to pass. But when you have lived as long as I have It can break you down, all the tarnished luster. And its hard to be alive and be so broken.”
I couldn’t say anything at the time. I’m not sure that I even understood it.
“But tonight the stars are gleaming like they did when I was a bairn, and tomorrow I will probably see my family again. It has been an awful long time.”
The Turtle didn’t defeat my former friend. He was toyed with; the muscle of his arm cut so he couldn’t lift his sword, and his nose and ear sliced off before his opponant finally had the decency to finish it with a thrust to the heart. He laughed then, the man with the name that I cannot even write down. Asked me if I would avenge our teacher, take up the sword to show his friends how good I was.
I shot him in the stomach and let him lay screaming as I murdered his friends that didn’t run from the field as the sun rose. Then, when we were alone amongst the remains of my teacher and his opponents friends, I told him how I had loved Turtles daughter, and had hoped to propose that Summer. We chatted, or I chatted, as he tried to reach his sword. It was a happy coincidence, but the round from my hidden revolver had passed through his guts and severed his spine. I had used much of my families money to ensure we would not be bothered by the authorities. But when I got tired of his crying and screaming, I took my master’s blade and slowly pushed it through the dying man’s eye.
Not a nice story, is it. My teacher would have been ashamed of me, for using a pistol and for cutting down surprised men from what was essentially an ambush. And I am certain that wherever the Turtle went to meet his family, I won’t be heading there when I pass.
But I am content, i think. I can see the end coming, but I still feel pleasure at the sight of a beautiful woman, and I can still stare at the stars.
I think I prefer to not know what it’s like not to be in awe of the stars.
Thank you, James, for being my teacher.