by Alan Mittag
Once again we were gathered in the gardens, on a cool, brisk morning, to say goodbye to fallen comrades. This season’s playoff match was hard on Dignity.
First, the loss of Dauntless. The bravest elf ever to stand toe to toe with a whole Orc army, face to faces, unwavering.
And second, the loss of Dignity’s beloved leader, Tenacity. The backbone of the team. The true hero.
Every surviving member of Dignity stood at the foot of the two caskets. Royalty and Physique. Eccentric, Funny, Swift, and Arcane. Fortress and Ghoul. Lithe, the team’s new Apothecary stood to the side of Eccentric. And the High Mage Brothers, Teloran and Kelowan stood to the other side, nearest Royalty. And Tactician, the last assistant coach, stood at the front with his arms crossed, in the spot that Tenacity usually held. He had not spoken a single word all morning.
Music began to play from the stadium behind them.
Coach Sestonn approached, his steps slow, in pace with the music. He looked like he had not slept for weeks. His hair a mess, his clothes ruffled like he hasn’t changed them in days. As he approached, I saw the water in his eyes and the lines of restraint that carved into his face, damming that water before it could go wild.
He took his place at the head of the gathering and laid one hand on each of the caskets. The elves remained perfectly silent, watching him. A few eyes straining to hold their own emotion.
“Here we are again,” Coach Sestonn said. Even his voice was different. Sestonn was gone, his empty shell moving on its own accord, going through the motions. A single drop slipped from his right eye.
“We have said goodbye to so many this season…. Lost brothers. Fallen heroes. Those who will never be forgotten….”
The elves nodded their heads. Some of them moved closer together.
“We don’t know why we have been forsaken.” Coach Sestonn said. “That so many of our brothers have been lost to us, taken from us… Stolen, yes STOLEN from us.” For just a second, there was a spark of life in Coach Sestonn’s face. But that anger crumbled away just as quickly as it had formed. “He was so young, so full of life and spirit. A hero, killed by a rookie wood elf thrower.”
Eccentric wiped his eyes with his wrist.
Royalty closed his, taking in a deep breath.
Physique held his whole body clenched tight, from fist to face, so tight he couldn’t help but twitch.
Coach Sestonn continued. “The pain is real. The nightmares are true.”
Lithe whispered, half silence, “I’m so sorry. I couldn’t save him.”
Eccentric put an arm around his best friend.
“I know you did,” Coach Sestonn said. “No one is blaming you.”
Lithe shut his eyes hard as the team looked at him.
Coach Sestonn moved the hand that was on Tenacity’s coffin to join his other, on Dauntless’s coffin.
“Dauntless was the strongest of us. Not in size. Not in spirit. But in heart, and in bravery. He never turned away. He stood toe to toe with the Wrecking Kru, alone, without even an ounce of fear. He was the best of us. Something we could aspire to. I wish the fans had gotten to know him better…. It will be up to us to carry his memory.”
That comment struck me. I was the one responsible for sharing the player’s stories. I always thought I had more time to write about Dauntless and his unbreakable heart. An elf who had to face his own demons before he was ready to face those of others. His struggle was real. He was real. Perhaps, more real than any of the others. And I failed him.
Coach Sestonn rose his hands to the sky. “So this is where we must part ways with those who go on before us. We will miss them and we will remember them. Dauntless’s heart is part of us now. We will carry it for him. And Tenacity’s smile, a jewel so rare that is was a diamond in all its majesty, will be smiling down on us from up above, watching over us as the guardian. The Soldier… The Big Brother that he has always been.”
“We will honor our brothers’ sacrifices with intelligence and tactics. We will learn from our mistakes and we will carry on with their memories, taking them with us to the very bowels of victory.”