- 4a (Argentum’s Song)
“- reach its full potential to Ferus’ glory.”
Simon finished his prayer, removed his heavy hand from Argent’s head, and crushed the last of the coals of the previous night’s camp-fire with his sandalled foot. Within minutes the camp was packed up and they were once again hiking the goat trail winding up the mountain into the distance. Argent removed the sinew from his pouch and cut off one knot. It had been days since they had left the caravan but there were still plenty of knots left. They wouldn’t be arriving today. Argent found himself thinking about the pretty freckled girl who had made the number of knots match the number of days Franklin had said were in half a cycle. Then, remembering some of her harsh words, he shook his head and comforted himself that he didn’t miss any of the travellers specifically, just human interaction in general.
Now, when they woke, Simon would say his prayer and those would be the only words Argent would hear all day. In the past, treks would be broken up by lessons in tracking or warfare or scripture recitations. However this trek was different, and Simon wasn’t allowing such distractions to slow them down. They would be on the trail before sunrise, chewing a handful of dried meat and berries to break the night’s fast. Simon’s grunt would signal when it was time to stop and rest long enough to start a small fire, melt some snow to refill their water skins, and have another ration of food. Then they would be off again until sunset when they had dinner and made camp. Every day the same.
An icy blast of wind from behind caused Argent to hunch his shoulders even more and he reached to rearrange the shawl around his neck to more fully cover his ears. Then he stopped, pulled the shawl from his ears and listened intently.
“Sir, did you hear that?”
Simon stopped and turned around.
“I’m not sure, I thought I heard a voice on the wind.”
Simon cupped and turned an exposed ear to the wind. After a few more seconds Argent thought he heard something again though he couldn’t make out the details. Simon grimaced, shaded his eyes with his hand and peered down the mountain.
Simon’s huge finger jabbed in a direction and Argent spent the next four breaths staring before he was able to make out the tiny figure far below scrambling up a particularly slippery section of shale and loose gravel. Had the wind been going the opposite direction they never would have been able to hear his shouts. Well it looked like today might be slightly different after all. Bildad was another True Warrior, the closest thing his father had to a friend, and probably the only other man alive to know of this access to the Warren. Out of the six True Warriors Argent knew of, only Bildad had spent longer than one lunar cycle travelling with them during Argent’s lifetime. Simon stomped his feet impatiently.
“Well I’ll not stand around freezing while he takes his sweet time crawling up the mountain. We continue. If it’s important enough, he’ll catch up to us at camp tonight.”
So they continued plodding up the trail. Every once in a while Argent would take a peek behind him to check on Bildad’s progress. Usually he couldn’t spare enough time in his glance to pinpoint their tracker’s location, but the times he did see him caused him to smile. The man was definitely closing in. There would almost certainly be company for dinner this evening.
- 4b (Argentum’s Song – PG)
Argent wondered what Bildad wanted this time. The man had the reputation for being the greatest of the True Warriors, but Argent knew that whenever he was stumped, it was Simon he came to for help. He thought of the last time Bildad had found them, around a year ago. They had just finished hunting down the rare, sky-ore that would eventually become Barwolfripper, and were on their way to find Monroe, the only mastersmith Simon respected enough to forge it. Bildad’s appearance had caused a five lunar cycle delay, just long enough to add the additional challenge of convincing Monroe to come out of retirement. The delay had been caused by the fact that, while Jabbed was away scouting, a pack of weirs had assaulted and turned his entire household. The trail was too cold for anyone else to track and Bildad needed Simon’s help.
“I’ll not be part of some common posse. Travelling with you like one of your lapdogs.”
“Simon, Simon, Simon … from anyone else those words would require blood.”
“You’ve been spending too much time with your pets if you believe words alone justify shedding untainted blood.”
“They are warriors Simon, not pets. And good warriors at that.”
Simon spat on the ground.
“They aren’t True Warriors! And I’ll not remain in a conversation where you continue to tarnish the name. The Assembly made it clear you weren’t to apply it to your mercenaries.”
Argent remembered Bildad taking a deep breath, holding it and letting it out slowly before continuing.
“O.K. You’re right, I’m sorry. They aren’t True Warriors, but they aren’t mercenaries either. They are rangers. Good men who hate infected and fight for honour, not money. You’d like them if you gave them half a chance.”
“All the more reason to stay clear of them. I’ll not fight beside and befriend a man I’ll only have to slay the first time he makes a mistake and is turned into a dog.”
“Then help me train them so they don’t make mistakes!”
“Everyone makes mistakes.”
“I don’t, and you don’t. Not since Leah.”
“And I don’t plan to now by yoking together with men who would burst into flames if they tried to enter the Warren.”
“Festering Wounds! It’s not like I’m asking you to marry them! Tell me this Simon, how else are we supposed to field an army large enough to defeat the horde of weirs out there? They are growing in numbers. The number of True Believers is shrinking every day. Among those who do still say they serve Ferus, only a fraction could survive the Warren and earn his Lordship. These are all things you know. What else would you have me do?”
Simon looked up from the brook he had been staring at and finally locked eyes with Bildad.
“Trust the prophesy.”
“Have you considered that the fulfilment of that prophesy might require us to get off our rears and do something to make it happen?”
Simon returned his gaze to the brook and remained silent.
“Forget it, I didn’t come here to have this argument with you again. I knew you wouldn’t ride with the rangers, so I sent most of them up north, the rest are awaiting my return. I came alone with three of my fastest steeds. I hope you consider Jabbed’s loss dire enough that you would deign delivering justice to his attackers. Even if it means degrading yourself and riding on a saddle that was once polluted by a lapdog.”
“There was never any question of if I would take up the hunt. The only question was if I would take it up with you.”
And so they had rode.
- 4c (Argentum’s Song – PG)
And so they had rode.
It took almost two cycles for the three of them to track the pack to a hot spring oasis in the Baknar tundra. They were too late to save the travellers that had been camping there, but the initial scouting had determined that the horde was hibernating. Argent was left behind with the horses on a rise overlooking the oasis. His orders had been to look for signs of any that escaped the ambush and to flee should he be attacked. Then the two Warriors crept off to slaughter the weirs while they were in their stupor. As hard as he looked he only saw one attempt at escape. It was on the far side of a wall of ice and Argent couldn’t tell which warrior it was that threw their weapon and impaled the weir before it made even five strides.
Well before evening, Bildad and Simon were returning, laboured breaths fogging the air in front of them. Simon was bleeding from his head and arm and there was a stony silence between them. Simon broke it with his quiet authority.
“Choose your direction.”
“You stubborn fool. Look there was no way to have known that runt was actually a sentry or that it’s liege would have had the strength to break hibernation so quickly.”
“Choose your direction.”
“You had been bit for Ferus’ s-”
Simon’s voice boomed an interruption.
“You raised Argentum against a True Warrior!”
“I forgo- look I didn’t follow through did I? I said I was sorry.”
“We all make mistakes. Mine was going into battle with you at my back. Choose your direction.”
Bildad mumbled something unintelligible but probably crude and derogatory before shaking his head and climbing onto the back of his horse. He took the reins of the other two from Argent and looked him in the eye.
“Look I’m sorry kid, I’d offer you the horses but we both know your father would never allow it.”
And that was the last Argent had seen or heard from Bildad. It took over three cycles to get to the capitol from the tundra and then nearly half a year for Barwolfripper to be forged to Simon’s expectations. Finally, they had joined the caravan that brought them to these mountains. Argent was extremely curious what Bildad and his rangers had been up to in that time. Simon didn’t say anything but Argent figured enough time had passed that he had cooled off and would want to hear the news too. They went through the motions as if it were any other night but the fire was piled higher and Simon loaded extra provisions into the evening stew.
- 4d (Argentum’s Song – PG)
Shortly after Argent had crawled into his bedroll and started pretending to try to fall asleep, Bildad broke into the circle of light around their camp.
“Who goes there?”
Bildad ignored Simon’s challenge, threw his pack down by the fire and sat on it, rubbing his hands for warmth.
“You know festering well ‘who goes there’. I saw the boy checking my progress. You were purposefully ignoring me. I hope your hospitality shows less rudeness than that.”
Simon used his foot to push the bowl of leftover stew to his guest, from were he’d been keeping it warm by the fire. Bildad snapped it off the ground. It wasn’t long before he was polishing the inside of the bowl with his fingers and licking them clean. He sighed, stretched and pulled out a silver flask. After taking a swig he offered it to Simon who ignored the gesture. Bildad raised an eyebrow and pointed his chin toward Argent. Simon shook his head.
“Really? Surely he’s old enough to make up his own mind on something like this by now?”
“Ask him on the return trip and he can make his own decision. Until he’s finished his quest I’ll not have him polluted with the stuff.”
“Well that answers my first two questions without having to ask them. I guess that detour I asked of you last year caused you to miss taking the ‘youngest ever to complete a quest’ title from your pa. I do apologize Argent, maybe the extra time will make you feel a little more prepared though?”
“He needed extra time about as much as I needed your ‘help’ in the tundra.”
“With no one but you to train him, I’m not sure he couldn’t still use extra time. How about it Argent, do you want to join my rangers and get some real training? Mind you there will always be room in their ranks for you even if you fail the quest, you’ve got real potential.”
“If he fails, he’ll be dead. The prophesy clearly says that my heir will be a champion. If Ferus were to reject him then that would mean that instead of being a champion of light, he would be a champion of darkness. No son of my mine will grow up to be a champion of darkness. If he failed and for some reason Ferus chose not to burn him to a crisp, I would kill him myself. However, that is a moot point. Argent will not fail.”
“For the love of the Aura! What are you trying to do with those words? It was only a joke! I know the boy is less likely to fail than any candidate who has ever tried. There is no reason to throw words like that at him right before he quests.”
“There is nothing wrong with speaking truth.”
“Yes Simon, sometimes there is.”
The warriors’ bickering eventually gave way to trading news. Jabbed had fallen, Bildad knew of a massive horde gathering for an unknown purpose, he was trying to gather an assembly of True Warriors in Phoentown and Simon and Argent were requested to join him there soon. However, many of the details of the conversation escaped Argent as he pondered what the two men had said regarding his quest. What if he did fail? Maybe it would be better to burn in failure. Simon could start a new family to fulfil the prophesy. Another son would no doubt serve him better. Argent was sure he fell as far short of Simon in potential, as he did in stature. How could Argent ever hope to fulfil a destiny that had eluded such a giant of a man?
Argent shook his head to try to clear it of these types of thoughts. Simon had been training him for his destiny since before he could speak. All that remained was the transfiguration, he could not afford to think of failure.