- 25a (Argentum’s Song – PG)
Chapter Twenty Five
Argent ceased playing and stood up from where he was stooped over Martha’s helpless form. Bildad stopped clapping.
“Bravo! Well done brave young Warrior. I have seen a number of weir tortures in my day and yours equals any of them. Mind you I don’t think any Warrior I’ve ever met would sacrifice some of his precious Argentum by scraping it off their gift and forcing a weir to breath it. Seriously, what were you thinking? Didn’t Simon teach you to value Argentum more than that? I don’t even give any of it to my rangers! I might someday consider inoculating a descendent with it, like Simon inoculated you. But anyone else? Forget it.”
Argent didn’t know what to say. He hadn’t thought through his decision, he had just done it. It had hurt to put the scratch in his flute that was needed to make the Argentum dust, but it had seemed like the right thing to do. He had been afraid it might throw off the tune but, when he was playing it just now, if anything it had sounded more beautiful than before. Bildad gestured to the flute.
“To top it off you’ve got a small enough amount to begin with! Simon used to make fun of my sword for being too small. What happened? Did you lose your weapon while questing and that was the only metal you had on you when you finished?”
“I don’t exactly remember how it happened.”
Bildad looked at Argent quizzically and took a few steps closer.
“Well are you at least finished with whatever you were up to here? If so let’s finish the weir off and get going.”
“I … I don’t think she’s a weir anymore.”
“You’ve been taught better than that. Once a weir always a weir! Only townies are stupid enough to believe otherwise.”
Bildad’s voice softened somewhat.
“Now I can understand wanting to experiment and figure stuff out on your own. Especially with a weir running around out there who used to be your Ma. But this isn’t something you can play around with. You start playing around with witchcrafting and you loose the protection. It doesn’t matter how much Argentum you’ve sniffed. Believe me when I say there are times I’ve been tempted to witchcraft a bit myself. To get the upper hand for a good cause, but I’ve seen what it does first hand.
“Jabbed threw himself into vengeance on the weirs, using any weapon he could get his hands on, including witchcrafting. It corrupted him so much that when I returned from the desert I had to call a Warrior’s Assembly to discuss it. They ended up commissioning me and my rangers to end him. What we found once we tracked him down was not a pretty sight.
“ Finish the weir off yourself and this whole thing can stay between you and me. I think we both know that Simon would be somewhat less understanding.”
Argent was shocked. It had never occurred to him that he could have been witchcrafting. He knew nothing about it! If anything it had felt like he had been guided by Ferus himself. He stood, dagger in hand, looking Martha over in indecision. She sure didn’t seem to be a weir now. He had heard her say the oath, seen the change after she had breathed the Argentum and there was still the fact that he had promised to help her begin the quest.
“If you don’t do it soon, I’ll finish it off and tell your father the whole thing.”
“No please don’t. I’m not a weir anymore. I swear … it all burned away.”
Burned … of course.
- 25b (Argentum’s Song – PG)
“That’s it! Bildad that’s it. We just take her up to the Warren and send her in. If you’re right she’ll burn up and if not than Ferus can judge her himself. Regardless I’ll have fulfilled my oath to help her take the quest.”
“Look I like the idea of the light show put on by a burning weir as much as the next Warrior but we can’t do that for two reasons. One – she might be bait, there might be more weirs out there waiting for us to lead them to the Warren. Two, and most importantly, – I don’t have time for this stupid game. We can finish her now, easily or we drag her up to the Warren, toss her in, and watch her burn. She would burn. It’s not an if, it’s a fact. The end result would be the same, the only difference is that I would be delayed in finding the silver I’m looking for, and we may have risked the location of the Warren for nothing.”
Bildad unsheathed Crescent Flame, his Argentum Scimitar, and casually walked toward Martha.
“I ran into a mine owner after I left you and your father. He had been ambushed but got away on his horse. He was succumbing to infection fast, begging me to kill him before he turned. I did, but not before I learned he owned a silver mine up here and that his entire mine encampment was lost to weirs. This was a pity since one of my rangers was just infiltrating that camp so we could have inside information when bidding on his silver. However, it’s also an opportunity since now that Walter is dead there is no doubt a ton of silver ore just waiting to be claimed as treasure at his camp. With that silver I’ll be able to arm a dozen or more rangers, but it’s only a matter of time before other treasure seekers hear of his death and start their own expeditions. I can’t delay, I’m ending this now.”
“I know where the silver is. I have the key!”
Martha’s exclamation froze Bildad’s scimitar mid-swing.
“She’s telling the truth. I’ve seen the key.”
“Tell me where it is.”
The large man’s scimitar was at Martha’s throat. She looked confused. Argent felt confused himself. Weren’t True Warriors supposed to be protectors? How could Bildad be so sure he was doing the right thing? Martha stepped backward but Bildad moved the blade with her.
“I’ll take you there but you’ve got to take me to the Warren. Maybe I will burn up like you say, but I don’t think so. Besides it would be better than turning back into a weir anyhow.”
“Show me the key now!”
Martha slowly removed the hemp loop from her neck.
Bildad grabbed it with his left hand – the scimitar never wavering from her throat, it’s edge had already broken the skin and blood was starting to trickle down. Bildad held the key up to the light and examined it.
“How did you get your hands on this?”
“The silver belongs to me and my parents! I’m the last of the mining party and lay legal claim to it. Even if you kill me I will it to my parents to pay off their indenture. Argent you’re witness!”
Argent nodded more due to the intensity of her stare then because he understood what he was agreeing to. He didn’t know enough about towny law to fully understand what was going on, but Bildad’s eyes widened so there must have been something to her plan to cause him to think twice.
“Humph. Well, we’ll see about that. Doesn’t leave me much motivation for leaving you alive if you’re right though now does it?”
- 25c (Argentum’s Song – PG)
“I’ll split it with you. I only need five weight to free my parents, four more if I survive and any of Walt’s family try to lay claim to my contract. I only saw it once, but I heard them say there was at least twenty four weight raw ore in the chest. I’ll give you all the rest for your rangers in exchange for your safe escort to the Warren.”
Bildad looked at her with narrow eyes.
“Swear it Bildad. Swear it on your Argentum.”
Argent’s voice had surprised even himself in the firmness of his demand.
“I’ll do no such thing! I’ll not cheapen my Argentum like that for a dealing with a weir!”
“Don’t lead him anywhere unless he swears it Martha. Otherwise he’ll just kill you once he gets his silver.”
In a flash Bildad put the keys around his neck and then took off one of his leather bracers and tied it over Martha’s mouth like a muzzle. She could still breathe through her nose, but her mouth was effectively cut off from the outside world.
“You’ve gone too far boy! My rangers will do much more good with that silver in their scimitars than the rich townies who can afford to use it to line their pikes and you know it! Now you risk all that because you are smitten by a festering turned!”
“That’s not it at all! You can still have your silver. We just need to help Martha quest. I gave her my word and I’ll not go back on it.”
Bildad and Argent stared at each other for an eternity. Argent pleading with Ferus to help, afraid he wasn’t strong enough to stand up to the Warrior. Finally, Bildad barked a laugh.
“Well you’ve certainly inherited your father’s stubbornness. Fine. I disagree with you but you hold Argentum so I will treat you like the equal you are trying to be. Even if I don’t respect your decision I respect Ferus’ mercy in granting you his pure gift, however small and nearly useless your particular gift may be. This only happens once though. When I am proven right, you will respect my experience and fall in line with my judgements in the future. Are you sure you want to waste this marker now?”
Argent’s felt his face going pale as he nodded and held out his hand.
“If you are proven right, I will submit to being your apprentice until you see fit to release me.”
Bildad took his hand, shook it, and then turned his attention to Martha.
“Alright then unworthy cur. For the sake of the greater good I swear on this here Argentum at your throat that if you lead me to the silver and split it with me, keeping only as much as you need for your former family’s freedom, no more than nine weight, though I assuredly believe you will not live long enough to need the final four of it. If you do this, I will take you to the Warren and watch you burn as you try to ‘quest’. However, if you try to escape, attack or in any way hinder our progress along the way my Argentum will separate your head from your body and I will find and keep the silver on my own! This is my oath.”
Bildad wiped his blade off on Martha’s skirt and then sheathed it, tossing a length of cord to Argent.
“Tie her wrist to her belt. With that muzzle on her we should be safe enough. If we stay on our toes. I’ll take up the rear and you push her faster than you think she can go.”
Bildad’s confidence was starting to shake Argent’s resolve. Was this going to turn out to be yet another huge mess up on his part? At least he knew that if it was it would just end in what his father had suggested as a suitable career anyway. One of Bildad’s lapdogs. In the meantime he felt compelled to do what he could to help Martha in her suffering. Argent tied a loose knot around her wrist and attached the chord to her rope belt. The action brought him close enough to whisper to her.
“You don’t seem like a weir to me. But I want you to know, even if Bildad is right and you do burn up, I promise that part of that silver will buy your parent’s freedom. I’ll let them know how hard you fought the change.”
Martha’s eyes welled up and she nearly tripped the first time she tried to put weight on her wounded hip. Argent needed to support and half drag her in the direction she was pointing but they were soon under way. Bildad’s maintained a pace close behind. Argent glanced over his shoulder and saw him warily scanning the brush to either side.
“We’re going to regret this Argent. No good comes from making deals with an infected. Still, as long as you survive to learn that lesson, maybe it will save you from worse mistakes in the future.”