Chapter 438: Jerome
Hauteville was connected to Beauclair's lower city area, though it was closer to the outer ring of rural Beauclair. Hauteville might be a village, but its houses and streets were as clean as the ones in Beauclair.
The four of them followed the carnation's trail, and it led them to the west of Hauteville. The skies had turned orange, heralding the coming of dusk. Under an arch bridge slept a man on a thin haystack. His clothes were black and tattered, he reeked, and his body was gaunt.
The man was about five foot five, and his hair was unkempt, though the tips of his ears were subtly pointy. This man was part-elf. Grime and soil covered most of his face and body, covering him in natural camouflage. Still, it failed to hide the scars and calluses underneath. The man failed to notice the incoming group of four. He was sleeping soundly.
Roy cast Observe.
Age: One hundred and seventy-five years old
Status: Gryphon School witcher
HP: 150/260 (Weakened)
Witcher Signs Level 10, Alchemy Level 8, Meditation Level 8, Gryphon School Swordplay Level 7, Witcher Senses Level 8, Griffin Arts Level 5: Dual Signs and mutated Clamp, Blacksmithing Level 9
Second Mutation (Passive)’
Letho exchanged a look with everyone. He then crouched and hollered, "Hey, Jerome Moreau!"
His voice echoed like thunder, shocking everyone who heard it. Even those who were unconscious would wake if they heard Letho's shout, but this man remained still. His snores were still audible.
"Did we get the wrong guy?" Lytta pinched her nose in disgust. She looked at the witchers for a moment and turned her attention to him. "Is he really a Griffin?"
The man looked like a beggar, but he didn't even have a bowl with him. Even a tramp led a better life. He could have lived better if he would just take requests.
"The magic around him tells us the truth." Letho's eyes shone. "It's thicker than most witchers’ but weaker than spellcasters’. His magical talent lies somewhere between a regular human and spellcasters."
Coen crouched down beside Letho and pulled back the hair of the 'beggar.' It reached his chest, infested with fleas, tied up in clumps, and smelling rotten. And Coen froze.
He saw the griffin medallion hanging quietly before the man's chest. It still gleamed like the man regularly cleaned it. It was a stark difference compared to his gaunt body and dark complexion.
A long sigh of relief escaped Coen's lips. He fell back down, a silly smile hanging on his lips. Finally, he was no longer the only Griffin left on this land.
Oh, here's an idea. Letho lashed out at the medallion, but a hand blocked Letho's way.
The veins on the hands popped, and the hand was barely skin and bones. Roy could see the joints protruding from the skin as well as the calluses hanging from it.
The witcher pretending to be asleep opened his eyes. The pupils were vertical, though the irises were as blue as the sky. A dead sky. If Roy didn't know he was alive, he would have thought there was nothing behind those eyes. They spoke of despair and forlornness. Jerome smacked Letho's hand away and held his pendant, then he closed his eyes again.
The group exchanged a look.
"He's pretending to be asleep?"
"We know who you are, mate." Roy crouched down so he could see Jerome at eye level. He stared at Jerome's indifferent face. "You are the son of Tomas and Lydia Moreau."
The mention of Lydia made the witcher twitch.
"And you are also a witcher of the Griffin School." Roy announced, "A student of Erland. We're sorry about your traumatic experience. As a member of the brotherhood, we're willing to lend you any help you need. To lift you out of this squalor and change your life for the better."
Roy whipped out soft, bouncy bread from his inventory space and handed it to Jerome. "Eat something, then we'll talk. We'll listen to your troubles."
Jerome ignored the offer. He turned around, resting his cheek on one hand and putting the other one on his hip.
"Very well. But at least talk to a fellow Griffin." Roy shot Coen a look, and Coen quickly took off his medallion.
He stuffed it in Jerome's hand so he could feel the shape of it. "Jerome, I am Coen of the Griffin School. After tragedy struck Kaer Seren, for a long time, only Keldar and I remained in the ruins of our home." A bitter smile tugged at Coen's lips, lamentation filling his eyes.
Jerome's hand shivered.
"A few months ago, another tragedy struck, and Keldar passed. I thought I was the only Griffin left, but now I'm glad I met you." And then he started singing the hymn of the Griffins.
"Keldar survived? And you say he only passed recently?" a weak voice said. It sounded like the voice of someone dying from a terminal illness, though his frustration and shock were unmistakable. "Impossible. I saw his grave.""
Coen looked at his companions, and they seemed encouraged to see this stubborn man finally responding.
"Before I answer your question, can you answer ours? What happened to you in Mont Crane? And how did you escape?"
"Who are you people? How do you know about Mont Crane? And how did you find me?" His voice was dry, hoarse, and sounded like knives grating against a blackboard.
"By chance, we found Tomas Moreau's laboratory in the depths of a lake in Valley of the Nine. He left a journal, and we followed the clues left behind. And here we are," Roy explained. "The empty lab, the gravestones in Orlémurs, and the flower you left at your mother's grave told us everything we needed."
A sigh followed, and silence engulfed them. Then Jerome spoke.
"You wish to know how I escaped Mont Crane? Well, I assume you know what happened to me, so I'll spare you the details." Jerome stared at the top of the arch blankly. With a voice as quiet as a whisper, he said, "Tomas locked me in Mont Crane. I was alone for many years. If I got hungry, I hunted down roaches, mice, and lizards. If I got thirsty, I created ice-cold water with Clamp."
Oh, so that's how he managed to survive until someone came to his rescue.
"But I didn't run. I would’ve alerted that golem. I couldn't win in a fight against it, and humans can't endure as much as stone can. Even if I were to die and turn into a pile of bones, the golem would still guard that damn portal. So I meditated. It was all I could do. Boredom almost drove me insane."
Roy put himself in Jerome's shoes. If he were to be locked in a dark, claustrophobic place for years and could do nothing but meditate and train his body, he might go mad. It was a great challenge for the mind.
"I tethered myself to sanity with what good memories I had. The celebrations I had in Kaer Seren, my adventures across the continent, the expectations Erland had for me, and his words of encouragement. I thought I would die in that room. Thought my life would come to a bitter end."
It was a painful past, but Jerome looked like he was talking about a regular Tuesday. "I was going to provoke that golem and die in battle like most of my brethren. And yet I kept debating over that decision. Time passed. A long time. Just when I was about to go mad, a portal opened right beside me. On the wall. Could you imagine it? I swore even if the portal would lead me to a volcano or even the abyss of death, I would still jump into it."
"And that was what I did, so I escaped." Jerome paused. It was a long pause. Everyone could see he was trying to get into the flow of the story. "I found myself in a villa in Beauclair's lower city, and it was there I saw my savior. It was my mother—Lydia."
Everyone finally understood why the epitaph on Lydia's gravestone read, 'Just a little longer, child. Hold on. I am coming to save you…'
She had her wish fulfilled, and the group finally found out who saved Jerome.
"On the day we met, she told me I had been locked up for thirty-three years. I was sixty-seven then, and Lydia was eighty-five. She was just a regular woman. Old, hunched, and her hair was grey."
Roy cocked an eyebrow. If she was a regular old lady, how did she activate the portal and save Jerome?
"The moment Lydia hugged me, her life started to wilt." A sliver of emotion finally showed in Jerome's voice. He was still whispering, but there was sadness in his voice. "I've never gone back to her since I left home at six. I never knew she missed me dearly. Could never forget how she cried when she saw me. And she called my name. If I could turn back time, I would have gone back to see her more."
He suddenly took a deep breath. "And so I reflected on myself. I thought I might have been too cruel to my family."
Aside from Roy, everyone else was unfazed. They didn't feel too much about the story, Lytta included. Everyone left home when they were young children, and it had been decades since then. They had forgotten what their mothers looked like. Or they just refused to remember.
"But still, she asked me to forgive Tomas for his acts of evil. She claimed he did it so she could have a normal son. So I could return to the family. But witchers don't have a deep bond with their families."
"And you believe her?" Letho asked.
"Doesn't matter. No matter the reason Tomas did what he did to me, it still wouldn't erase his sins. He killed countless innocents."
"But he changed his mind before he died and assisted Lydia in aiding you." Roy still didn't forget that Tomas and Lydia died in the same year.
Jerome fell silent for a moment.
"Yes. Before his death, he finally told my mother about the second exit of my prison as well as the trigger for the portal. He never thought I'd still be alive after more than thirty years."
Everyone respected Jerome a bit more. Not everyone could last for more than thirty years in a hell like that.
"That's all for Tomas. After my escape, Lydia talked to me. For fifteen minutes. And she died in my arms. The reaper took her away from me, forever." A deep sorrow filled Jerome's voice. "I buried her in the cemetery, far, far away from that bastard. He doesn't deserve to stay by her side. Not after what he did."
The group listened to Jerome's tale intently. In the end, they finally sorted out Jerome's story. Everything started when Erland lent Tomas a hand, but the blame was not on the Law of Surprise alone.
If Erland hadn't helped Tomas in the forest, then the family would’ve lost a father and a husband instead of a son. This was an impossible dilemma, no matter the family member that could’ve been lost.
Roy took a deep breath and crossed his arms. He spared Jerome a look of sympathy. His father tricked him, and he watched his mother die. That's why he fell so far. He'd rather live a reclusive life. But I don't think that's the end of his share of tragedy.
Jerome finally turned around. He leaned on the wall and wriggled to sit up straight, mockery filling his eyes.
"After I laid my mother to rest, I followed my heart's desire and returned to the coast of Poviss. With longing in my heart, I entered Dragon Mountains and stepped on the snowy path that would lead me back to my true home—Kaer Seren. I wished to tell my brothers my tale." He forced a sad, crazed smile. "But when I got there, I saw nothing but a snow-capped landscape. The fortress was buried under layers of snow, and nothing was left of my brethren. Nothing but a row of gravestones. I searched and searched, but I found no survivors. And Erland was missing. So, Coen of the Gryphon School, now that I have answered your question, it's your turn to answer mine. What happened to Kaer Seren?"
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