Sunday, May 24, 2015
Last of the King's Men, Chapter 37
Tarrow rode his steed, in the early light of the dawn’s rays, as hard and as fast as he could back to Kellonville. He had the biggest smile on his face- despite the cold wind whipping into his eyes and through his hair- and every so often he would break into laughter, feeling freezing tears being whisked away by the breeze.
There was finally hope! They could bring back Artemis, and Grash, and who knows- he didn’t really understand most of the text or how the ritual was performed- maybe even Lainen himself could be brought back as well, once they slew Galex! They could dance on top of the traitor’s grave and all of their lost friends and family could join in!
Tarrow steered his horse towards a rocky outcropping off the path, driving the steed into an unnecessarily dramatic leap as the rider cried out with joy. He reached the town in record time, and rode through all of the streets cheering himself on, oblivious to the bewildered townsfolk he passed. In his mind, they were cheering him on, tossing him fruit, and congratulating him on the miraculous find.
He leapt off his horse as soon as he arrived at the lodge, not even bothering to take it to the stables. It would find its way, he reassured himself. He burst through the door, and inside, Sanna was already awake, but she didn’t even look up when he entered, still laughing to himself.
“Sanna,” he said happily, “I’ve found it! I’ve found the answer!”
She looked up at him, puzzled, her grief-stricken face refusing to do anything but frown.
“Look, it’s- oh, nevermind. I’ll tell you later!” He shook his head, the huge smile still across his face, and he bounded into the barracks, calling out Fru’al’s name. The Marquis was already awake as well, but he was sitting with his thick, musty spellbook in his lap, his eyes closed as he silently chanted his prayers to his goddess, intermingled with the mechanics for his prepared spells.
“Fru’al! I know never to disturb you during your spell preparation, but trust me, it can wait. I’ve found it.”
The sage finished the phrase he was chanting, and his eyes opened. His face was slightly red- Tarrow wondered light-heartedly whether it was from crying or drinking. Probably both.
“And just what have you found,” said Fru’al, his voice dry, “that is this important?”
Tarrow danced across the room and held out the stack of papers, waiting for the praise and adoration to fall from the heavens. He imagined everyone in town crowding around, begging for the chance to touch his cloak, like some sort of modern-day messiah. He’d brush them off, tell them to form an orderly line, and he would be with them all in due time.
But Fru’al’s response was not immediately impressed.
“And what is this, exactly?”
Tarrow shoved the papers in his face again.
“Read it, o learned sage! I have, in my hand, instructions on how to bring back the dead.”
Fru’al took the papers and glanced down at them. His expression didn’t change at first. Then, his eyes opened wide, and his jaw dropped. Then, to Tarrow’s surprise, it turned to one of disgust.
“I sincerely hope that you are joking,” came the mage’s reply.
Tarrow was taken aback. “Excuse me? I have the answer to all of our problems- the ability to bring back our companions- and you tell me you hope I’m joking?”
Fru’al shook his head. “What, do you propose we turn our beloved friends into those un-dead horrors that rose from the river? I know that even at your most desperate you would not even suggest something like that.”
Tarrow snatched the papers back and glanced at them again, unsure, then back to Fru’al. “No, no. It’s not that at all. I mean… it does explain that too, I think, but no, it shows how to bring them back, exactly as they were in life. Body, soul, and animus.”
Tarrow didn’t know exactly what he was saying, considering he wasn’t able to read the ritual itself. But he knew it in his heart- it had to be what he was looking for.
Fru’al snorted. “And just where did you find these papers?”
The trystborn was about to proudly proclaim exactly where, and then he realized how it was going to sound. But he said it anyway. “In a hidden room where we fought the Dark One. It was his hidden lair or something. He took most of his notes, but these were left behind.”
The Marquis rolled his eyes. “Exactly what I thought. How do we know that this isn’t some sort of a trap left behind for us?”
Tarrow opened his mouth to speak, then closed it. Then opened it again. And closed it again. In the end, he came up with nothing he could say without sounding more foolish. So he spoke something foolish.
“I… I had a dream that led me to it.”
Fru’al stared at him with a deadpan expression.
Tarrow continued. “Look, you may not understand what I mean. If this is true, if this is real, we could actually bring back Artemis and Grash. It wouldn’t be hopeless anymore.”
Fru’al’s expression turned to one of disgust.
“And just what would that accomplish? Our friends died an honorable, heroic death fighting our enemy. You ask me to invalidate that completely. And besides- if such a thing were possible, which it isn’t- I refuse to even attempt such a thing.”
Tarrow couldn’t believe his ears. Was he the only one who cared about Artemis? About Grash? Did Fru’al care at all about stopping Galex?
“Tell me why,” he said in disbelief.
“You even have to ask why,” answered Fru’al incredulously. “Did you just meet me yesterday? Who is my goddess, Tarrow? Who do I owe all of my power and status to? Who watches over me every single day, and to whom do I pay tribute above all else?”
The trystborn pursed his lips. He didn’t even want to dignify that with an answer. He hadn’t even thought about Fru’al’s religious convictions- all he had thought about was bringing back Artemis and living as if he hadn’t gotten him killed.
Fru’al waited a moment for a reply, then continued on. “Even if that were possible, which, again, it isn’t, there is no way my goddess would view any such creation as anything but an abomination upon the earth. If I had any sense right now I would throw those papers in the fire and do all of us, Artemis and Grash included, a favor.”
Tarrow gritted his teeth, feeling anger rising from his feet to his face. He wanted to punch the old man right between his eyes right now. Maybe Fru’al wanted to punch him too. Maybe that’s what they needed- to beat each other nearly to death. Then they could go back to being friends again. Then Fru’al would realize that he was wrong and he’d read the stupid papers and bring Artemis and Grash to life.
Instead, he turned around and stormed out of the room. What was the foolish mage’s problem? He was just drunk. That had to be it. He was sneaking alcohol at every hour of the day lately. Later on he’d sober up, and then come crawling back and beg Tarrow to let him read the papers. Tarrow would even forgive him, of course. They would never again think back on the old man’s temporary insanity.
As he passed Sanna, still sitting in the common room, he paused, not facing her.
“Well,” he said to the air, “what do you think? Don’t even act like you didn’t hear.”
She didn’t appear to react. She was picking at her nails with her dagger.
“I don’t know,” came her response finally.
Tarrow shook his head, let out a frustrated grunt, and kicked the door open. He couldn’t stay here right now.
Before he knew was he was doing, he was at the temple of Azimuth. Luckily he had caught Jael before she had gone on her daily rounds. Ben Arons was out front, repairing a wooden shelf covered in flowers. He waved and greeted Tarrow, but the trystborn didn’t notice it soon enough to reply. As he barged into the temple, Jael was pulling on her warm cloak- she seemed surprised, but not at all bothered by his intrusion.
“Jael,” he said with a forced smile, trying to sound calm and collected. “Do you have a moment, or is the priestess busy?”
She looked around for a moment, then returned the smile, though hers was genuine. “Of course, Tarrow. What can I do for you?”
He pulled up a chair to the nearby table and gestured for her to sit with him. He took out the papers, and shuffled them in his hand, unsure of how to proceed.
“I know that, being a practitioner of faith, you are capable of performing… various… rituals beyond the scope of ordinary folk,” he said, hoping she knew what he meant, “right?”
She nodded uncertainly. “Azimuth does guide me in the ways of… what most people here would call miracles, but I am by no means as skilled as, say, your companion Fru’al.”
Tarrow resisted a sneer, and pushed the old doddard out of his mind. “Well, I wanted to show you something… and maybe… get your opinion on it. It’s a… magical ritual of considerable power.”
He handed her the bundle, and sat patiently as she read it. Her expression looked confused at first, then intrigued, then slightly terrified.
“Tarrow,” she began, her brow furrowed, “this can’t be real, can it?”
He leaned forward, nodding. “I believe it is. Tell me, can you perform this ritual?”
She opened her mouth to speak, then thought better of it. She shook her head. “Look, I don’t know. Bringing back the dead? Is such a thing really a good idea, even if it is possible? Doesn’t it go against the order of nature?”
Tarrow brushed the notion aside. “Tell me anything that man does that isn’t against the order of nature. If man went along with nature completely, he’d crawl on all fours and live in trees. Fire- steel- commerce- everything that heralds civilization is against the order of nature. Not to say,” he said, catching her look of disgust, “that nature isn’t important. Of course it is. You have to understand me. There are times when man has to go against nature to survive.”
She looked into his eyes, but said nothing. She continued to read. He waited for her until she finished, his arms crossed.
“Tarrow,” she said again, setting the papers down neatly. “Even if I could perform this- even if I wanted to, which I honestly don’t know I do- it’s incredibly complex. The most intricate rituals my father passed down to me were for helping slow diseases and halting poison for a short time to find an antidote. Even if I could perform something this difficult… there’s the cost to consider.”
Tarrow began to roll his eyes. “Please don’t talk to me about taking away a heroic death from my allies. Fru’al already went over that.”
“No,” she continued, “I mean the cost. Did you even read what sort of reagents this calls for?”
Tarrow stared down at the page. He hadn’t even gotten that far in the ritual itself.
“I suppose I didn’t. What, does it require bat guano or a wisp of smoke? Or maybe a pearl of exquisite value?”
She shook her head. “Tarrow, this is going to take money. Lots and lots of money.”
He grabbed the papers and tried to skim through them.
“Not exactly money,” she added. “It requires… valuable things. Gems, gold, silver, I think. I don’t quite understand it, but it looks like it can take anything of value, but the amount it requires is staggering.”
Tarrow’s expression fell. He kept shifting through the papers, hoping to find something else.
“The only other way,” she finally continued, “is through the blood of an innocent, sentient creature, given without consent. I know you better than to expect you to kill someone just to get what you want. So, like I said, lots and lots of money.”
His fist slammed down on the table, right in the middle of the papers. His anger- at himself, mostly- was so great he barely noticed Jael’s look of shock. He had felt like he was so close, so near to having hope for their future again, he could almost taste it. And now it was gone. No- it was never there to begin with.
He sat there, staring at the papers on the table, for a short while. The priestess stayed with him.
“Thank you, Jael. I’m sorry for taking your time. Please don’t think less of me because of how I have been acting.”
She shook her head, smiling. “I would do nothing of the sort. I know how much he meant to you.”
He took her hand and smiled back.
That night, Tarrow lay in his bunk, pretending to be asleep. He hadn’t spoken to either of the other Horselords all day, but as of late such an occurrence was not unusual. For a moment he found himself remembering the days right before the Dark One attacked- it seemed like everything was going so well. Now, it felt like no matter what happened, it would never be that way again.
Fru’al was sound asleep, snoring loudly. Sanna lay in her bunk as well. Tarrow doubted that she was asleep, but he couldn’t wait any longer. He quietly rose, already dressed. He pulled on his boots, and crept out of the room. If Sanna was awake, she didn’t betray it. As he left the building, he snuck out to the stables, quietly retrieving his mount. Hidden in a pile of hay, he grabbed a pack filled to almost bursting with books, and he stole away in the dark of night.
Before long he was at the false wall. He crept through, finding the room exactly as he left it, the pile of debris in the middle of the teleportation circle. Placing his torch in a sconce on the wall, he sat against the wall and pulled out the Dark One’s books.
If Fru’al wouldn’t learn this ritual, Tarrow promised, then he’d learn to do it himself.