Sunday, May 24, 2015

Last of the King's Men, Chapter 34

Sanna sat on the roof of the lodge, her Horselord dagger between her fingers. She passed it back and forth between each hand, each digit idly thumbing the blade, the edhel mentally measuring its weight, its balance, its size, and the smoothness of the metal. She occasionally looked out over the town before her, not looking at anything in particular.

It had been two days. Two days since the Dark One slipped through her fingers. Two days since their number, already a meager five, was reduced to three.

What were they supposed to do? How were they going to exact revenge on a king, backed by an army feared the world over, with three knights? Even if they were the best fighters in the world- as much as Sanna would have liked to believe it, she couldn’t make such a claim in good conscience- they still couldn’t accomplish what they needed to do. Even with five it would have been impossible. But at least with five, it felt more like a reachable dream than a fool’s fantasy.

Sanna put away her dagger and she shifted her gaze towards the fishing pond. Tarrow was sitting against the willow tree, his right arm still in a sling, with his journal open. He looked to be reading, rather than writing, with a wistful look in his eyes. Sanna had said barely a word to him or to Fru’al since the battle, and neither of them had done much more.

As Sanna stared, her body feeling drained of all emotion, she saw priestess Jael approach the trystborn’s reading spot, a covered basket in hand. The human sat down next to him, and they began talking. Sanna figured she could probably figure out what they were saying if she wanted. But she didn’t.

She sat up, taking a deep breath. She didn’t like sitting still in a time like this, but she had spent the previous day on the movie, riding Sorroweth around the countryside as fast as he could go, her bow in hand, ready to kill anything that came near her. But moving was no more therapeutic than sitting still.

As the day grew late, Sanna let her mind rest while she brushed Sorroweth, but then she kept seeing Artemis and Grash’s steeds, and it made the task difficult. She bid her loyal mount goodnight, rested her forehead against his for a moment, and headed back inside the lodge.

Fru’al and Tarrow were sitting in the common room, drinks nearby, though so far untouched. They sat in silence- neither looked up as she entered. She set herself down in her chair, and joined the quiet meeting. They each sat for some time, nobody making eye contact, and nobody speaking, until Sanna broke the silence.

“What do we do now?”

Her two companions lethargically turned their heads to face her, confused looks on their faces.

Fru’al replied, “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” said Sanna, “how do we advance? Our number is now down to three. How do we retake Eodon with only three Horselords?”

“You act,” said Tarrow, breaking his silence, “as if we could have retaken Eodon with five.”

Sanna kicked the table, perhaps a bit more forcefully than she intended. “You know what I mean. We’ve been trying to get revenge on Galex for the past three years, and our plight has only led to more and more wasted lives. What is our plan? How are we supposed to get revenge now?”

Fru’al, his eyes full of fearful tears, sat forward in his chair. “Maybe we aren’t meant to get revenge. Maybe we were supposed to die.”

Sanna rolled her eyes. “Some knight you are.”

“Well, what do you propose,” said the Marquis, “that we go charging into the seat of power and kill any that stand in our way? The rest of the Horselords tried that, and what did it get us? Tell me what it got us, Sanna.”

Sanna pursed her lips, folding her arms. “You know what it got us.”

Fru’al was standing, his voice raised. “Tell me what it got us. I want to hear it from you if you’re going to criticize my knighthood.”

“It got your loved ones killed,” said the edhel dryly.

“Yes. It got my loved ones killed. And Tarrow’s. And the families of every one of our companions. Not all of us were as ‘lucky’ as you were to have your family killed by someone else’s transgressions.”

Sanna’s eyes burned. “You think I consider that luck?” She stood up, slamming a fist down on the table. “My family was killed by the orc scourge, and you know that. And now you are proposing that we are to abandon our goal- which, in my mind, includes exterminating orcs once again. For all we know, Galex is the one behind their reappearance.”

“We don’t know anything about Galex’s connection, Sanna,” said Tarrow, shaking his head.

Sanna took a deep breath, and sat back down. “You’re right. We don’t. But we know that Galex is our enemy, and we know that he used their invasion to his advantage. And now, just days ago, we aided and abetted the one responsible for their resurgence. Where does that put us?”

Fru’al, also sitting, shook his head. “I don’t know. But we have to keep our goal as simple as we can. Either we try and stop Galex, or we try and stop orcs. Our numbers are so small right now, I don’t know how either is possible.”

“Then we need to figure out what allies we have,” pleaded Sanna. “If any.”

Tarrow shook his head too. “I don’t know if we have any. Kellonville is the first place we’ve come to that has taken us in, let alone been sympathetic to our cause. And at this point, I don’t even know if we can trust anyone, after… you know.”

“So you tell me,” she pointed at the trystborn, “How exactly are we supposed to move forward? Or would you rather play some songs and read some books? I’d suppose that might end this war.”

Tarrow’s mouth hung open, involuntarily speechless in the first time Sanna could remember. Fru’al interjected in his defense, the old man’s eyes wet.

“Sanna, how can you be this hostile? We just lost two of our own. Maybe we need some time to-“

“Some time?” She stood up, her hands flat on the surface before her. “All of the time in the world will mean us nothing if all we do is run. We have to attack. I couldn’t help but notice you did barely any of the sort during that battle. Did you squander your spells looking up girls’ dresses, or maybe you simply didn’t wish to burden yourself with dirtying your hands?”

Fru’al’s red face was one of absolute shock and embarrassment. “I- I never- How dare you!

“Or how about you, Master Strategist?” Her gaze was once upon the trystborn. “Did your days of carousing and making friends with the townsfolk help us once an actual threat was near? Where were you and your infinite plans when Artemis and Grash really needed you?”

Tarrow glared at her, once again silent. Sanna knew she was being too harsh. But it was too late- the floodgates had been opened.

“I have worked so hard to remain vigilant,” she said, holding back her own tears. “I have depended on both of you, and on Grash and Artemis, for my life many times over. And now, they are both dead, and the two of you are too spineless to know when to advance and when to run.”

She kicked her chair over, and turned around to leave. But the sound of Tarrow’s chair scraping against the floor made her halt.

“Hold your tongue, edhel,” came the trystborn’s voice, more commanding than she had heard it in a long time.

“You speak to a superior officer,” he continued.

Sanna turned to face him, her face red with anger. “What does it matter now? Eodon is finished. Galex has won. At least that’s what you two seem to think. It appears the sacrifice of our companions was for noth-”

Sanna was cut short when Tarrow, quick as lightning, leapt over the table and pinned her to the wall, his good arm against her throat.

I repeat,” he said through gritted teeth, “you speak to a superior officer. No subordinate of mine is going to accuse me of not caring about my king and my kingdom.”

Sanna tried to wrestle herself free, and Fru’al rushed over to break them up- but Tarrow, with an expression of pain on his face, held the old wizard away with his injured arm. Tarrow, locking eyes with her, released her, letting her fall to the ground.

As Sanna scrambled to right herself, Tarrow was beside her, kneeling, holding his hand out, tears streaming down his red cheeks.

“Sanna,” he said, helping her up, “you know that I cared about Artemis and Grash. I have cared about each and every one of our number that has been lost. If you honestly doubt that, then I accuse you of never having truly known me.”

Sanna rubbed her throat, feeling it difficult to speak. Of course she knew, and of course she trusted Tarrow to give his life for her like he would have done for any Horselord. When she was able, she choked out a few words.

“Is this all we do, Tarrow” she began, feeling burning tears on her own smooth face, “bring death and destruction to everyone who cares for us?”

He put his arms around her, and held her head to his chest. Fru’al put his hand on her shoulder. The three of them wept.

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