They were given five days in the year to themselves. One of those days was the festival of Saint Sulranion, the man who burned and whose flesh smoked with such a heady scent it made an emperor weep with regret. The cadets were released from their barracks and all duties on this midwinter day.
When in training all Joseph Thornston wanted was time. When he actually had it though he wasn’t sure how to spend it. Wrapped in his dark blue coat against the blowing snowflakes and the embers of Sulranion’s burning effigies that children twisted together from rosemary, lavender and mint he trudged through the streets of Osgheny. Bread in the windows of shops, silk gowns on racks, people everywhere with eyes to avoid.
Joseph stopped into a candy shop just for the sake of getting out of the wind for a moment. A pretty shopgirl gave him a caramel and wished him a happy Saint day. He ignored the look she gave him from under her dark lashes when he thanked her and popped it into his mouth to avoid the necessity of more words. He left quickly.
In the main square the largest effigy was being finished. Joseph stood and watched the perfumed wood and straw figure as a young man dressed as the weeping emperor climbed a ladder to place a wreath of winter roses on the effigies head. On decending the youth was handed a torch. Fine high cheek bones, shining chestnut hair, a full lower lip. Joseph looked away from those things and saw Captain Voltz with his wife and children. Voltz with his black hair streaked with grey, doe skin coat over broad shoulders- one of which had a scar running across it from a sabre, and blue eyes under thick eyebrows.
A different set of features to fuel his guilty want.
A low hymn in halting Far Ost started among the crowd and the youth touched the brand to the treated wood which caught and engulfed the memory of Saint Sulranion. The thick perfumes smoke billowed on the wind and swirled over granite roof tops. Across the square Joseph heard Voltz laugh at something his wife said. Voltz acknowledged Cadet Thornston as he pleased but had a set to his spine when he knew Joseph was there. Rigid, neck set deliberately away from him, an effigy of the attentive, loyal family man captains were supposed to be.
An emperor might shed tears in public but Joseph was no emperor so he set his own spine and walked away from the revelers in the smoke, to find a way to spend his remaining hours on something other than thoughts of handsome faces he couldn’t hold in his hands.