Sunday, May 24, 2015
Last of the King's Men, Chapter 39
Tarrow gathered his things, prepared himself for the day, and considered making his rounds.
He hadn’t done his daily morning rounds since the attack. The morning after the Dark One escaped, in fact, he had felt so weak, so powerless, he couldn’t bring himself to even deliver the message to the people that everything was safe. Luckily, Telstedler had been kind enough to go in his stead, but he just couldn’t help but feel like he had failed everyone. He could barely stand to look any of the people in the face- he doubted any of them knew what happened, and it was unlikely that anyone of Kellonville blamed him in any way, but that didn’t stop him from feeling it.
And now, what did he have to do? He had to not only admit to everyone how he had failed, but he also had to ask them to give up their own well-earned money in order to make up for his mistakes? He wanted to simply forget about it all.
But he couldn’t.
He had let two of his men get killed. No, more than that- he had let his king die. He had failed his entire country. If there was any hope of stopping Galex, if there was going to be any chance of freeing the nation of Eodon from tyranny, he had to do this. He had to set aside his pride and do what his predecessors deserved of him.
The first thing he did was go straight to the Rusted Drake. He didn’t even bother with pleasantries, and was only vaguely aware of Primm’s greeting as he swept up the stairs to Telstedler’s office. He hoped the mayor was in.
After a short knock, he heard the half-elf’s voice welcoming him. He stepped inside, where the neatly dressed owner of the tavern was seated at his desk, idly thumbing through a book.
“Hello, mayor,” said Tarrow, seating himself.
“Good morning, Tarrow,” came his reply, setting his book aside. “I would ask how you’re doing, but your disheveled appearance likely answers my question.”
Tarrow nodded, trying to find the words to ask what he needed.
Noting the pause, Telstedler spoke again. “Once again, I’d like to offer my condolences on the loss of your companions. The town is, of course, thankful for your aid, and we wish to help in any way we can.”
Tarrow took a deep breath. He could feel his face turning red. Well, more red than usual.
“I need that help, mayor.”
The half-elf’s eyebrow shot up, not expecting such a statement to come from Tarrow’s mouth. Without a word, he got up, locked the door to his office, and returned to his seat. His voice was quiet, comforting.
“Please, Tarrow, tell me what it is you need.”
Tarrow opened his mouth, and before he could stop, he was telling everything he could- about how he had failed everyone, about how he had found the Dark One’s hidden spellbooks, about the ritual of raising the dead, about the cost, and about how much pain the loss of Artemis and Grash had left him feeling. He wasn’t even looking Telstedler in the eye anymore- he was just staring into his hands and letting the emotion flow through his voice. For once, he felt like he wasn’t putting up an act. He really, truly needed help.
The mayor listened, silently, and only when the trystborn was finished did he make any movements.
“Tarrow, that was a lot to take in, but there is something I need to make clear,” he said. “I will offer as much money from the town’s coffers as I can, though I fear that alone will not be enough from what you described. I can gather the townsfolk and speak to them as well, but… you need to understand. The people here don’t like magic. Before you arrived, I wouldn’t have even acknowledged that it existed. If we go around telling everyone that they are contributing to fund a magic ritual- let alone the fact that their money is being used to bring two people back from the dead- not only will they not offer any help at all, but I have the feeling you, me, and all of your companions are going to be hanging from the oak tree by the pond. Do you understand?”
Tarrow’s eyes were wet. He rubbed them with his sleeve, and nodded.
“But Charles,” he said, looking the half-elf in the eye, “we can’t keep this a secret forever. We need to bring them back. People are going to notice.”
Telstedler stood up, his arms folded, and began pacing. He walked to the window, opened it, and looked outside. He took a few breaths of the crisp morning air, and, tapping his foot on the floor, he nodded.
“Alright. I know what we can do,” he said, closing the window and turning back around. “We know that this… Dark Fellow you chased off is still out there, correct?”
“Well,” he continued, “we won’t tell them that. At least, not completely. We also won’t tell them that your companions are being brought back from the dead. We tell them that you defeated the Dark Man, and we faked their deaths to trick any allies he may still have into thinking that he had succeeded, and you had to keep up the ruse for some time. But now, of course, the ruse has worked and there is no need to keep it going any longer. Understand?”
The plan didn’t sit well with Tarrow. He wanted, for once, to be honest, not to hide behind excuses. But at the same time, he knew the problems that would cause with the town’s acceptance of magic.
“Is there anyone in town that would understand?”
Telstedler sighed. “Maybe a few. I have the feeling Tyffina would understand. Maybe Oliver. Beyond that, I don’t know.”
Tarrow stood up. “I will only accept money from those who know the truth. If I am going to accept help, I have to be honest.”
The mayor approached him, and held out his hand. “I’ll gather who I can. Meet me back here this afternoon, and we’ll see what we can do.”
The trystborn shook his hand, and smiled genuinely.
Tarrow sat, his leg tapping nervously, in the small farmhouse. The weathered homeowner pulled up a chair, his forehead already covered in sweat from the early morning’s work.
“Now,” Krym said, his expression already annoyed, “tell me what it is that was so important that you had to interrupt me. The crops aren’t going to pick themselves.”
Tarrow glanced around, then back to Krym. “Is… Persephone around?”
The man’s expression looked even more irritated. “No. Is this about her?”
He shook his head. “No, no. I’d rather she not be here. I need to tell you something- something that is likely to make you want to throw me out of your home. I know full well your misgivings about me and my companions, and I know that the only way to improve our status is to be perfectly honest with you. After I tell you, if you wish, I will never bother you again. I give you my word.”
Tarrow noticed the slightest softening of Krym’s expression. “Very well,” he said, making an impatient gesture with his hand.
“Mr. Valdoorn, I spoke to you a few days ago about the death of my squire, Artemis Redsleeves. Another of our number, the noble draconian Grash Vesuvix was killed as well. They were killed while fighting a powerful enemy we know only as ‘the Dark One’. He was in charge of the operation that tricked Ben Arons into luring the people of Kellonville into a trap, and he attempted to kidnap a woman named Sibyla for reasons of which we are still unsure. As of right now, the Dark One is still on the loose. I am embarrassed to say that we failed in defeating him, and he has escaped.”
Krym rolled his eyes, but, afterwards, Tarrow couldn’t help but notice that he was still paying full attention.
“I am confident,” continued the Horselord, “that he will not return, at least not for now.”
“So,” said Krym, “why are you telling me this? Why are you telling me about how you failed to protect our town?”
Tarrow took a deep breath. “Because very soon, you are going to hear otherwise from Telstedler, as well as the rest of your townsfolk. The Dark One is a powerful enemy, and we know, as I am sure you know, that it would not be good for most townsfolk to know that such a dangerous person is still at large.”
He expected the man to chastise him for not only lying, but admitting his falsehoods to someone who would easily be able to expose him. But Krym said nothing.
“As I said,” continued Tarrow, “I know of your dislike for me and I know that, deep down, you are a rational man. You deserve to know the truth. Of course, that is not all I am going to tell you.”
Tarrow watched his body movement closely. Krym acted disinterested, but his small actions showed that he was paying full attention.
“As I said, the townsfolk will not be told that the Dark One escaped, and they will also be told that my two companions were not killed. They will be told that their deaths were faked in order to keep up a ruse, which is now being dropped.”
Krym shook his head. “But won’t people be confused when your friends are still dead?”
Tarrow tried to choose his words wisely. “We have discovered a magical ritual that, if successful, can restore life to the dead.”
The weathered man’s dry eyes went wide, and his face began to contort into one of disgust. But, just as suddenly as it came, the expression went.
He spoke softly. “Is such a thing possible?”
Tarrow shrugged. “I sincerely hope so.”
Krym moved his jaw around a bit, chewing on his tongue for a moment. “I can’t say I’m surprised. I’ve seen enough magic in my early years to not be surprised by much.”
The trystborn breathed a sigh of relief. If he was going to be violently removed from a building, that would have been the time.
“The last thing I wanted to tell you about is the cost. The ritual is going to be extremely costly. If it’s even possible, it’s going to take everything of value that we can find in order to perform-“
Krym interrupted him, standing, his expression turning to one of rage. “I knew it. You adventurers and your scams, you’ve only come to take our money and run. You aren’t going to get one copper from me and-“
Tarrow stood up, holding a hand out. “Forgive me for interrupting, sir. But I have not come to ask any money of you. I only came to be honest with you- more honest than I am going to be with anyone else. I know your opinion of me and your assumptions about my purpose here. Every copper that I take I am going to repay tenfold whenever I am able. My word may not mean much to you, but after losing my home, my family, and my friends, I am afraid it is all I have.”
His last statement seemed to have struck a chord within Krym, because his glare softened, and let out a breath. The two of them stood in silence for a moment. Then, without speaking, Krym turned around and left the room. Tarrow could hear him doing something behind a closed door, so he assumed their visit was done. He began towards the door when he heard Krym’s footsteps.
In his right hand, the man held a polished axe, gleaming in what little light hit it. He hefted it in both hands, approaching Tarrow in a direct line.
Immediately, Tarrow’s eyes danced around the room, assessing the windows for possibly points of exit, the chairs for improvised weapon potential, and even looking for nearby sacks of grain or pots of hot water he could throw for a distraction. His legs tightened and he got ready to dive out of the way, and his hands poised to grab whatever was in reach. His Horselord dagger was in his boot, but he resisted the urge to draw it.
As he readied his feet to roll sideways, Krym stopped.
“What exactly does that spell of yours take to cast?”
Tarrow was confused. If Krym was going to attack, why wasn’t he doing it? The trystborn stood awkwardly, his feet in mid-leap position.
“Anything, as far as I can tell,” he said, still ready to dodge. “As long as it holds value in the eyes of its owner.”
“Take this,” said the man, offering the haft to the Horselord in front of him.
Tarrow stared at it, and at him, with a bewildered look on his face.
“This axe is magical,” the man explained. “I found it long, long ago. If there’s a way to break it down and use it to fuel this ritual, then do it.”
The trystborn’s mouth hung half-open, and he tried to shake his head, his feet still paused in stride.
“I… I really didn’t mean to ask you to-“
“I’m not offering,” interrupted the man. “I don’t want you to take this. This is the axe I intended to use to kill my lying cheating bastard father. I’m only giving it to you because if you take it, and I find out you’re lying to me, then that means I get to kill you too.”
Tarrow was about to laugh, except there was no joke. Krym stood there, more serious than he’d ever seen him, the axe still held in his hand.
His hands slightly shaking, the Horselord put his hands on the simple-looking axe’s finely polished handle. He opened his mouth to speak, but Krym interrupted him again.
“Don’t thank me. Just go. And don’t return.”
Tarrow returned to the Rusted Drake that afternoon, and found the door locked for the first time since they’d arrived in Kellonville. After a few knocks, Primm slid open a shutter that Tarrow didn’t even know was there. Recognizing the trystborn’s face, the barkeep unlocked the door, let him in, and shut the door again. A loud click indicated it was locked.
The room was dim for the time of day, and Tarrow noticed all of the windows were shuttered. The tables were all pushed aside except for one in the middle, at which were seated Telstedler, Jael, Oliver and Opal Oakenspring, Tyffina Dacek, Malleck Grett, and the trystborn blacksmith Darvan Grimes. Fru’al, Sanna, and Jabean were present, of course, and Sibyla and her baby were seated as well, near the bar. Primm hobbled around to the back and busied himself.
Telstedler greeted Tarrow as he entered, and called the meeting to order. He did most of the talking- he explained to the few people he had gathered about the decision that he had decided was best. He told the truth- with some bits Tarrow provided when he didn’t understand the whole story- about the Dark One, about the deaths, about the ritual, and about the cover-up. Of course some of them were upset- Malleck Grett just didn’t seem to understand how it was possible to bring someone back from the dead, and the Oakensprings both agreed that the town should be told the truth as well- but Telstedler did his best to stress the gravity of telling hundreds of people about magic and walking dead and expecting them to take it lightly.
Once he felt everyone understood and was in agreement, Telstedler asked Fru’al to explain what exactly would be needed to complete the ritual. Sanna placed a hand on Tarrow’s shoulder, and gave him a warm smile. He was so afraid that nobody would be willing to help- and he still didn’t want them to have to- but when Fru’al was done talking, everyone at the table offered to give as much as they could.
He could barely believe it. They adjourned, and that night Telstedler arrived at the lodge with all of the valuables the town had contributed. Tarrow went to each house to thank them personally while Fru’al and Jabean readied the lodge for performing the ritual. Sanna, ever restless, began digging up the bodies of their friends.
Tarrow was more nervous than he had ever been. Even with all of this preparation, he didn’t know if it would work.
But he had hope.
He knew it would be some time before the ritual would be finished. He told his friends he needed to be alone- to gather his thoughts. He mounted his horse and rode off into the night, his cloak wrapped tightly around him as the night’s chill crept up on him.
Before long, he was back at the cave. He pulled out the spellbooks and placed them on the hard floor, just around the corner from where the decaying orc bodies still lay. He had gotten so used to the smell by now that he barely even noticed them.
He pored over the books for what felt like all night. Even the books that appeared to be in foreign languages to him began to make sense. He closed the book before him, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes.
He held his fist in front of him. He opened his eyes, and his fist was glowing with crackling black electricity.
“My gods,” he said out loud, in shock and awe. “What have I done?”