- 31a (Argentum’s Song – PG)
Chapter Thirty One
“For the glory of Ferus!”
A distant part of Argent regestered Bildad’s call and horn as help on the way, but he maintained his focus on trying to get Simon into the tree beside him. A brute grabbed onto Simon’s body, sinking it’s fangs into his calf and added it’s weight to the load. Simon grimaced but said nothing. He took a swing at the beast with his free hand and saw the other two closing in. Turning back to Argent his face softened and he released his grip on Argent’s arm. Argent redoubled his own grip and added his other hand as well, leaving only his legs to keep him anchored to the tree.
“It’s O.K. son, I got the messenger before he could talk. Separated me from Wolfripper .. but I stopped it.”
A weir sprung at Simon’s throat, the invincible warrior’s fist smashed it’s chin off target but it still got a claw swipe down his arm and teeth sunk into his hand. Argent could feel Simon slipping away. This couldn’t be happening.
“Let go. I’ve done my part. The Champion will escape. The prophesy …”
“Forget the festering prophesy! Don’t give up.”
“Forgetting the prophesy is giving up.”
Another brute latched onto Simon’s body and Argent would have toppled if his one hand hadn’t reflexively released and grabbed the branch. Simon kicked with his only unencumbered limb but had no leverage to do any real damage.
“Learn from Bildad.”
The weirs gave a concerted tug and Argent’s father tumbled from his grasp.
“Escape and end the Beast!”
Argent looked around desperately for a weapon, anything to arm himself with that would be substantial enough to allow him to jump into the fray without it being in direct disobedience to Simon’s order. There was nothing, nothing but the flute he had wasted his gift on. A horn sounded, but musically rather than any signal he knew. From his vantage point he could see it fall out of sight behind a tree slightly uphill. Looking back to the base of his tree he saw the brute move off to investigate while the two weirs stayed behind to keep him treed. Downhill, obscured by trees, it looked like Bildad had dropped one of his four, but the other three were keeping him busy.
Would you play your flute again?
Argent looked uphill at that. Martha backed away from the brute holding disappearing from view until all he could see was his dagger shaking in her hand. She had come after all. Why had she decided to listen to him now? Listened just long enough to get cornered and give up, it was the only way her request made any sense.
Play for me?
Argent wasn’t going to give up. If he really was the champion he could save them all. He just needed to time to think! If he timed it right he could use the momentum of launching himself from the tree to shove his flute through the rib cage of one of the weirs. If that killed it quickly enough he might be able to make it to Wolfripper before the other one caught him. Then if he could do some real damage as long as it didn’t revert and it hadn’t …. yet. It was flickering but where there was aura there was hope.
Hope. Play. Remember.
Argent looked at the aura glowing through his fist. That had not been Martha talking. Was he loosing his mind? Sentimentality was how he failed his father the first time, he wasn’t going to do that again. This situation required a Heroic Champion not a cracked musician.
A gust shook snow free from the needles above him. It covered him but also hit the ground heavily, distracting one of the weirs. Argent tensed to jump but a forgotten memory flashed, distracting him.
What if your Hero wants a Champion Musician?
The weir looked back at him, he had missed his chance. The other weir took another swipe at Simon, Wolfripper’s flickering quickened.
Play. With. Me.
The Brute leapt towards Martha.
- 31b (Argentum’s Song – PG)
Argent knelt in the warren. The walls were alight with the glow of Argentum. Veins of it latticed through the stone walls, roof and floor of the chamber. It was hard to draw breath through the the quiet sobbing of lungs. He had never felt such love!
Are you willing to sacrifice?
Do you want to be my champion?
“Yes! O Yes, my Lord. I do now. I want to do anything you ask.”
Do you want to be a Hero?
“Yes! The things I will do in your name … I will bring you such glory!”
Argent held Barwolfripper above his head. The blade naked on his palms.
Which do you want more?
Argent sniffed and glanced around the room.
“Don’t they kind of go together?”
I have many heroes. Each with their own story, willing to make both themselves and others sacrifice many things to bring me glory. Very few work with me regularly to actually bring me glory. None of them are champions.
“Then let me be your champion!”
Even if that means you can’t be a hero?
“What do you mean?”
I’m inviting you into my story. I am the Hero of my story.
Argent lowered his head and raised his arms higher. Nothing happened.
“Um … did I fail?”
Not yet. Put the sword away, I want to give you another gift.
“But the prophesy …”
What if your Hero wants a Champion Musician?
Argent furrowed his brow. Was this the test?
“Music is a waste of time, Simon …”
I invited your father to fight beside me, I’m inviting you to woo with me. Are you willing to sacrifice? Will you let me touch your flute?
- 31c (Argentum’s Song – PG)
Argent blinked the memories out of his eyes and half lowered the flute from his mouth.
“Don’t stop … for the love of Ferus don’t stop! I had almost worked up the nerve to end this thing, don’t let it recover.”
Argent drew a breath and picked up the song, fully present this time. Martha clumsily swung a flickering Wolfripper at a brute writhing on the ground in pain. It was only Argentum two out of every three heartbeats now but still made it two thirds of the way through its skull before getting stuck. The brute stopped writhing.
Bringing his eyes back to the base of his tree, two emancipated foreigners in rags were staring at him in amazement on their hands and knees. Between them Simon lay motionless. The man and woman scattered as Argent dropped to Simon’s side. He heard Martha calling out in a calming voice as he felt for a pulse. Bildad rushed up, a bloody Crescent Flame at the ready, and pushing Argent out of the way.
“Over here, quickly bring the horses.”
Two rangers trotted up that must have responded to the horns.
“Ahhr.. Narn’s always been better at treating the freeze. We’ve got to get him to headquarters. Now!”
“Marshal, he’s been bit … several times. The Ranger’s code makes it clear what we have to do.”
Bildad stood and glowered at the Ranger.
“He’s a Warrior, thus immune. The worst that will happen is he’ll lock up and then his lungs will stop working. Believe it or no, you will at least respect my order that we give him every chance to fight the infection off.”
The taller ranger looked unsure. Bildad turned to the other.
“Sven! Off your mount! Help me.”
Sven dismounted and helped Bildad and Argent lift Simon over his horse’s back.
“Come on friend, hold on. If anyone has the faith and purity to pull through this you do.”
Bildad’s hand fell across Simon’s empty scabbard and he creased his brow. Argent pointed uphill.
“He got separated from it but Martha used it to kill a brute up that way.”
As they approached the fir tree they heard coughing and saw Martha and the two from the base of the tree huddled around Wolfripper and mumbling something. Bildad picked up his pace.
“It’s not enough that you deceive Argent, you think I’ll stand for you desecrating Argentum?”
Martha turned as he pulled Wolfripper from her grasp.
“I wasn’t desecrating, I was just making a little dust and teaching these two the prayer Argent had taught me.”
“Is that so. You two, tell me the prayer.”
The man made a gesture that Argent didn’t understand and started talking in a different language. Bildad snorted.
“Babbling beasts. Sounds like weir speak to me.”
- 31d (Argentum’s Song – PG)
Martha shook her head.
“It’s just a different language. I heard it once in the capital with people who looked similar … their faces I mean. I think maybe they were originally turned far from here. They just don’t understand you.”
“Exactly! Turned beasts who don’t understand. The oath only works if you take it with your mouth and your heart. You can’t do that if you don’t understand.”
Argent brought his flute out.
“Actually, I think they might have understood this. I remembered what Ferus told me in the cave. He wanted me to w -”
“We don’t have time for this, your father is dying!”
Bildad turned his back on Argent, brandishing an Argentum Sword in each hand. Argent moved back into his line of sight.
“There is a difference between the weirs and the brutes. Martha is proof.”
Bildad snorted and Argent tried a different tact.
“Look we’ll know for sure once she quests but I really th -”
“We have no time!”
“I gave her my word.”
“She’s already gone. Your father isn’t.”
“She helped save his life.”
“You’re really going to choose this beast over the greatest man who’s ever lived? Argent, I’ve never seen anyone come back from anything this bad. You owe him to be with him if he passes. No more talking.”
Bildad swung both arms and the wide eyed man fell in three pieces.
The women scrambled to his remains and let out an undulating wail. Argent couldn’t believe what he had just seen. Bildad was a Warrior, a defender of the helpless how could he – the blades flashed again and the woman fell silent. Bildad turned on Martha who was just as frozen in shock as he was himself.
“In the presence of three True Warriors I call your actions in dispute Bildad …”
Argent’s words must have penetrated Martha’s shock as she dodged Bildads first swing. Argent sped up his words trying to get the whole formula out in time.
“As a Quorum of Warriors is already assembling within a cycle in Phenton …”
He lunged and clung to Bildad’s leg as he spoke, trying to slow him down. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Sven circling behind Martha.
“I demand a binding arbitration on this matter before either you execute Martha or I help her quest.”
Bildad roared in frustration and Argent let go. Either He would honour the ways or he wouldn’t. Acting like he didn’t trust him to would only make him less likely to. Bildad charged, and Martha stumbled as she backed away. Bildad brushed past her and slid to a stop by Sven’s horse. Slowing barely long enough to clean them, he put Crimson Blade and Wolfripper in their respective sheaths, and climbed up behind Simon. With one hand on Simon’s belt and the other on the reigns he whirled the horse back towards the trail.
- 31e (Argentum’s Song – PG)
Argent didn’t even try to stop the tears of relief that flowed steadily down his face. Sven looked questioningly to his commander.
“Claude, ride with me!”
The two horses rushed away. Soon their hooves could be heard galloping down the trail. Sven turned back to where Argent had inserted himself in front of Martha with uncertainly and some fear showing on his face.
“What just happened?”
“Ferus has a way for people to be restored. I’m just learning about it but -”
“No. Not your superstitious take on what happened metaphysically. What just happened politically? I’ve never seen the Marshal second guess himself or back down.”
Argent kept his eye on Sven, but bent to help Martha back up from the ground.
“I’m a Warrior too and there is a timely assembly already scheduled with word spread. I had the right to insist on a discussion and vote.”
Argent didn’t bother mentioning the consequences he would be facing if the Assembly decided his dispute was spurious or illegitimate. Or rather, from what he knew of the other Warriors, when they decided it was spurious and illegitimate. Now he had bound his honour to abide by their decision and he was honour bound to help her quest! What a mess.
“You know what, I’m not going to even pretend to understand why the Marshal would submit to that archaic system. He’s done more to help in the fight against the infected then all you other Warriors combined.”
Martha released his hand and walked behind him. Sven turned his attention to a dead tree nearby. Argent’s weak protests were soon drowned out by the sound of it being toppled. He didn’t really care, wasn’t even positive what he’d said. He’d just been talking out of a reflexive protection of Simon’s honour anyway. Unless it was now a reflexive protection of his father’s memory. Please Ferus, please let them find a way to save him. Sven shrugged.
“Look I’m not going to argue with you, it sure seemed to me like your Pa had fought his last battle and I’m not going to be one pick a fight over you honouring his memory. The Marshal was right to be ending infected, somehow you’ve convinced him not to end your girl friend. Fine. I don’t understand it. I don’t have to. I just have to keep my eyes open in case your wrong about her being infected. In the meantime we still have a job to do. Before anything else we need to burn the infected bodies.”
At the mention of the bodies, Argent glanced and saw Martha standing over the remains of the two foreigners. He had to come right up to her to be able to make out what she said.
“He just murdered them … just like that. And all you can think of to argue against his greatness is that Simon has murdered more? I’m not sure which are the greater monsters … the Beasts or the Warriors.”
For the first time in his life Argent wondered the same thing.