- 3a (Argentum’s Song – PG)
Franklin coughed and moved away from the incinerating pyre. It seemed that no matter which direction he approached it from, the wind changed within a few moments and he was breathing smoke again. He pulled off the rag that was tied around his face and rubbed it in a snow drift to clean it. After rubbing three or four black smudges into the snow, he shook it, wrung it out and folded it triple instead of double this time before returning it to cover his mouth and nose. Franklin then hefted up another armload of wood and returned to the burning corpses. Then, with the last of their precut firewood thrown on the pyres, Franklin walked upwind between Thom and Elmo.
“What a putrid stench.”
Thom pulled off his own face rag and used it to blow his nose before answering.
“It’s nasty business and their ain’t two ways about it.”
Thom was uncouth but a decent warrior with a fair bit of experience which he had flaunted their first three matches. However the old man had used up all of his tricks within that first week of fencing and Franklin had bested him at every contest since then. About a week ago Franklin’s true skill level had finally penetrated Thom’s brain. Since then the mercenary had managed to weasel out of every combat request Franklin made.
“There’s no more wood.”
Franklin glanced at the huge thug standing beside him who was staring at the, now non existent, wood pile from which they had been retrieving wood. Elmo made Thom look like a Magi in comparative intelligence. He was slow as a tortoise and not much smarter. The one good thing about having him as a companion was he couldn’t come up with many excuses spur of the moment. This provided Franklin with at least one small way to show off his fencing skill.
“Aren’t we supposed to get more wood?”
Franklin stared at the oaf in disbelief.
“What on earth for?”
“Simon said to burn the corpses.”
“And they are burning … not that I understand what we’re doing taking orders from a barbarian in the first place.”
- 3b (Argentum’s Song – PG)
Thom spat and nodded his head.
“We should never ‘ave let the barbarians take first watch on their own. Should’ve forced them to split up. Then they couldn’t have stolen all the glory for themselves and gotten Ladin throwing silver at them and worshipping their feet.”
Franklin spat his assent. It wasn’t a habit he was planning to bring back to the capitol with him, but in his present company it helped him to fit in.
“If only the monsters had attacked from in front of the caravan instead of behind. Then he wouldn’t have been able to hog them both before we were able to get in on the action.”
“Aye. I wouldn’t doubt that the giant knew they were going to attack. Had scouted them and was lying at the ready instead of warning us.”
Franklin hadn’t thought of that.
“You’re right! He probably even baited them somehow and set the whole thing up. It’s the only way he could have been in the right place so quickly. Now the whole caravan is singing the barbarians’ praises and looking at us in disgust.”
“The Barbarians are prob’ly out there right now rounding up some more ‘monsters’ to try to extort Ladin out of ten times what he offered for return trip protection.”
Franklin had to grudgingly admit that he had underestimated the barbarians, they had just looked too stupid to attempt anything this clever. Well, looks can be deceiving.
“I thought we didn’t want to be on the same watch as them because they stunk.”
Then again sometimes stupid was just stupid.
“Elmo, we’ve already passed that topic and finished another.”
Usually that would be enough to keep him silent for the rest of the conversation. However, for some reason Elmo was unusually talkative today and tried again.
“I don’t think the fires are big enough. The arms and feet are outside the flames.”
Franklin was trying to figure out how he could convey, in simple enough terms, the concept that there was little to no risk of someone stumbling upon the remains of these weirs in the middle of nowhere. Even if they did, they would have to decide, for no apparent reason, to ingest them or do whatever was required to become infected. Certainly there was no justification for delaying the caravan so they could hunt up extra firewood. Franklin was saved the trouble of explaining by Thom’s response.
“Well that hardly matters now does it? You remember old Toras’ necklace don’t you?”
- 3c (Argentum’s Song – PG)
Franklin was saved the trouble of explaining by Thom’s response.
“Well that hardly matters now does it? You remember old Toras’ necklace don’t you.”
“You said that was fake.”
“Aye, and I thought it was. But then again we thought all weir stories were fake didn’t we.”
Elmo chewed on his bottom lip silently. Franklin was tempted to leave well enough alone now that Elmo had shut up, but his curiosity had been piqued.
“Who’s Toras and what’s this about his necklace?”
Thom stretched his arms behind his neck and leaned back against a redwood before answering.
“Toras was a no good thief we were forced to work with until he took a berth in one of yer pa’s ships as extra security.”
“Toras saved our lives.”
Thom sniffed and then nodded once at Elmo.
“He was fairly skilled with a glaive, I’ll give him that. And it was comforting to have him at yer back when trouble would break out. But I don’t care what he claimed, nobody is lucky enough to flip that many Baurs in a single night. And it doesn’t do much good to have protection at your back if that protection then jist goes and cheats you out of the silver you risked yer life for in the first place.”
“You shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.”
Thom barked a sharp laugh.
“I guarantee that my death won’t be keepin’ folks from speakin’ ill of old Thom. So I don’t see why I should have to curb my tongue ‘till that day comes. Still my debt to the theivin’ gambler did go down to the bottom of the sea with ‘im. I guess I should let my grudge fall too. Fair is fair.”
- 3d (Argentum’s Song – PG)
Franklin examined Thom’s lined face closely. If he were still at court he’d have assumed the reference to the merchant ship his father had lost to pirates was some sort of verbal sparring. A jockeying for position by reminding Franklin of his current predicament. However, Thom and Elmo were not nearly refined enough in court intrigue to pull off an insult that subtle. He doubted their words were meant to carry any more weight than the surface meaning of reflecting on a past companion.
Granted they were technically freemen, and Franklin was technically an indentured bodyguard, but all three of them were well aware that their relative positions would be reversed as soon as Father’s second ship came in and he paid off his debt to Ladin. So no, Thom didn’t intend to slight him with his word choice. That didn’t, however, mean Franklin had to forgive him for it or keep from taking some sort of revenge on him once he was restored to his rightful position.
“All that is very interesting. But it still doesn’t explain what his necklace has to do with anything.”
“ Toras had a weir’s preserved thumbclaw dangling from a chain around his neck. Or so he claimed. I always thought it must have just been off of some diseased corpse from when he’d been a grave robber. Now though, after seeing two weir corpses with me own eyes, and remembering the sort of respect that most Barbarians would give him when they saw it, I think I’ve changed me mind.”
“Ya, in fact some of them would pull out a similar necklace after buying him a drink and swap weirstories. Was quite entertaining, the whole pub would be in an uproar by the end of the evening. You could almost guarantee that the barbarian would pick a fight with the first patron to let their laughter escape their lips. Then before long the whole place would be one big brawl. The point though is that with that pointy thing hangin’ round his neck all the time, Toras must have been scratched from time to time and he certainly never turned. I don’t know what it does take to turn, but I figure it’s got to be more than what Simon was trying to scare us into thinking it took.”
Thom’s eyes twinkled as he looked up and into Franklin’s own.
“In fact, if I were a younger and braver man with the fencing skills to back up me bluff. I’d be tempted to bring a couple of them thumbs along and see if I couldn’t find a barbarian to teach me how to make me own trophy necklace once we arrived at Phoentown.”
Franklin stood up straighter and drew his sabre as he walked toward the flames. He might still be getting used to some of the cultural differences among this class, but he certainly still recognized a dare when he heard one.