The wind blew gently through the grass on the edge of the long, winding river. The water flowed on for ever it seemed, far into the countryside. Solitary, quiet, strong, it flowed on.
Much like the man walking along its bank.
He was tall, tanned, ebony haired. Anyone would have told you the man was very handsome to behold, but there was a paleness beneath his skin of one who had suffered many horrors through his short life.
But here he was, still walking through a land he once knew in his childhood, still alive and strong.
The Great War was over. That war that should have been over the first Christmastime. He was the only one who made it out of C Regiment, but was it really worth it? He came out of it all in such a state, he would have gladly traded his life for that of one of those who died. They lost some good men out their—Hibbert, Trotter…Osborne…Raleigh…
He sighed, sitting by the river. “Oh, Dennis,” he muttered to himself, “what has gotten into you? No use thinking about the past…” He stared up into the sky, a frown on his lips. He remembered after the dreadful raid, after his closest companion had died, after his fight with Raleigh…
Raleigh had told him about the minutes leading up to the raid. Osborne had said they’d make it out alive…that, obviously, didn’t happen for the elder Officer. They had talked about this countryside, how the three of them would have to explore after the war was over. Just Osborne, Raleigh…and Stanhope.
Stanhope had never been able to imagine a world without those two, and here he was, living in it. Through the months that Osborne was with him in the army, suddenly life seemed like maybe it was worth living again. He had been at the point where he thought death would be a blessing when the silver-haired officer entered his company. That old queen seemed to be the only one who understood Stanhope. He became a mentor, a friend…he was his family. So much better than his father; his father who wanted him to have a nice country girl for a wife and a good life as the vicar’s son. Osborne knew what it was like though—after all, he was stuck with a wife at home that, though he loved her, he definitely wouldn’t be in love with her, or any member of her gender.
Because of this, Stanhope was always free to talk to his “uncle.” Their words, though coded from eavesdroppers, made perfect sense to one another, and Stanhope could take advice from the older man safely. No one had to know about how Stanhope’s lifestyle was…not exactly what one would expect of him. But Osborne never judged; no, Osborne knew what it was like to be in his place.
And Osborne was there to talk to when Raleigh showed up…young, beautiful Raleigh, the boy Stanhope had been with in his youth. When Raleigh showed up that day, he had no clue what to feel—he was excited that he was back, but didn’t want the boy to see what he had become. And there was such risk as well—if they were caught, well, he didn’t want to think about what would have happened.
He remembered happier times in their youth, when no one could discover what happened behind their closed doors. Though they were just children, they were adults when alone, doing things that would have killed his father if he ever found out. But oh, even risking being caught was ever so worth it.
Briefly, he’d feel flutters of what he had felt as a teen in those last few days, especially as he sat with Raleigh in those last moments. His beloved princess, giving out little moans that once would have been delicious to hear, now signaling that his body would soon grow still…a tear came to Stanhope’s eye as he stood up.
Enough of that, he thought to himself. They’d want you to move on, keep living. He smiled, looking up into the sky. They still lived on in his memories, that much was true. As long as he remembered them, they’d still be around.
In a way, the three of them were together forever.