Saturday, September 01, 2007
I'm a bit late tonight, which isn't surprising. What is a surprise is that I've found time to do this at all. I have Vision, the DAZ newsletter, two 2YN Classes to post, the updates to Forward Motion for September -- and all of them due right now. Oh, and out-of-town company. And our car died, so we had to go hunt down another one. I'm sure there's more, but I really don't want to think about it right now.
So here's another snippet from Paid in Gold and Blood. I hope by next week I'll have time to wander a bit more while reading all of the other great posts people are making. Right now, though, I just want to survive the weekend.
Sherina gradually retreated to the cliff's edge as Peralin pushed forward until it seemed that horse and rider would leap and take her over the edge with him. She howled with the wind one last time and then took to flight like a screaming banshee, flying off over the ocean. The fog and the night swallowed her and the world went silent -- the quiet of the dead who lay all around them.
Cork shivered again. He looked at Katashan with his face white, and then he looked to Peralin and his horse as they came closer. Cork started to stand, but he hadn't the strength left in his legs.
"Sir," Cork said and then bowed his head so deeply he nearly fell over. "My Lord."
"Peralin will do, Cork."
The fact the God knew his name didn't appear to help Cork much. He looked up with a start and shook his head, denying. . .something. Katashan put a hand to Cork's shoulder before he fell backward this time. Peralin leaned down from Night in a sweep of black, and a strange scent of spring, and pulled out the decanter and glass, pouring it full of the golden liquid and holding it down. Cork stared at the offered glass and Katashan finally took it in hand.
"Let him sip. You know how strong this is."
The scent alone gave Katashan strength again. He carefully put one glass to Cork's lips; his friend seemed nearly senseless and still very cold. Cork sipped, swayed, and sipped again. Color returned to his face, and his eyes blinked and focused once more. He looked at Peralin with his head tilted a little, and Katashan suspected he was probably half drunk already.
"Are they all dead, sir?" Cork said, waving a hand toward the camp.
"Yes, they are," Peralin said.
Cork took the goblet and sipped again. Katashan accepted another from Peralin with a nod of thanks sipped as well, grateful for the warmth, the power, the taste of life.
"Why didn't you come to save them?" Cork asked.
Katashan saw the God's face go very calm, and feared maybe Cork had stepped over the line. He took a longer drink of the damn wine -- if they were about to be chastised (or worse) by a God, he decided he might as well be drunk for it.
"There was a choice I had to make," Peralin said. "If I had come to save them, then Katashan would have been lost. I saved that which is more important --"
"No," Katashan said, shaking his head with more force than he had intended. The wine splashed out, dripped onto the ground-- and grass grew up in an eye blink where it had touched.
"In this battle, Katashan, it is true," Peralin said with unexpected gentleness. "You know this already. I had to make a choice, but because I did, they go to a good reward, having died to save another -- even if they were not aware of the sacrifice they made. Even Lord Arpan, though he little deserves such care."
Katashan, feeling the pains in his body even after the wine, tried not to give way to relief knowing the man had died, and that he would no longer be in Arpan's care. Then he realized it left Cork and him in a rather bad position, with everyone but the two of them dead.
"Where is Sherina now?" Katashan asked, trying to figure out what they could do next.
"Gone, but not far enough," Peralin said. He glanced out at the ocean and looked annoyed as he lifted his hand, as though to feel out the trouble. "I have tried to find what powers still tie her here, and why she's been gaining strength. I've not been able to find the link to the being that controls her. I chased her off for the moment, but being already dead, I can't kill her. And something I cannot quite grasp still ties her to the world of living."
"What will happen now?" Katashan asked, daring to look up at him again.
"Whatever you make of it."
It was the sort of answer Katashan would have expected from a priest -- the sort of answer, in fact, that had always annoyed him, and had been partially responsible for what drove him from the temple. Now he suspected the priests were not being purposely vague or facetious, but only following the true words of the Gods they served. He supposed that should worry him about the state of the world in general.
It would explain a lot of problems --
And then he realized he was trying to concentrate on anything except what he would make of it. The wine, at least had given him strength, if not clarity of mind. He looked at Cork, still pale and trembling as he held tight to the goblet in his hands. Cold? Shock? Fear? Katashan wondered if he, too, should tremble.
He looked back at Peralin, trying to get his thoughts focused again, and at the same time considering drinking more wine and maybe hoping everything would go away, at least for a while. Is that what he would make of it? "We can't go back to Salbay and tell them that their lord is dead, along with all this men, and only Cork and I survived."
Cork gave a little moan as he realized the implications. "They'd be certain you had your hand in this one, sir," he said. He looked stricken now, no doubt thinking about friends and family, and the lovely and brave Maylee whom he might never see again.
"I will fight your battle, my Lord," Katashan said looking up at Peralin, who seemed confused and uncertain by the statement. "But I will ask a boon. Find a way for Cork to go home, right now."
"No, sir!" Cork protested. The color came back then, and along with an unexpected fire. He held the goblet tight in one hand, but caught Katashan's arm with the other. "I will not abandon you in this battle, Katashan. No."
Katashan pulled away, lifting a hand and stilling him from further comment. "This is not your war --"
"Like hell it isn't!" Cork all but shouted, and then gave the God, watching with a little amusement, a look of apology. "Your pardon, my Lord. I did not mean --" Cork stopped, stared up at the waiting God for a long moment, and then apparently gave that conversation up as hopeless. He turned back to Katashan, his face set with a stubbornness Katashan didn't find really surprising. "Sir, you cannot fight this war alone. We've already seen that."
"Your home is important to you," Katashan said softly, hoping he kept the feelings about his own home, and all that he had lost, from his words.
"Yes it is -- important enough that I would fight and die for it, even if I could never go back there again. But you know what that's like, don't you, sir?" That one hit home. Katashan bowed his head, and only looked up when Cork put a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry. But I still won't go home --"
"Would either of you care to hear my thoughts on the matter?" Peralin asked.
They both looked up, startled. Katashan wasn't certain if he should feel hope or dread, but he nodded.
"Go back to the fort at Salbay. By the time you get there the others will have spread the tale of what happened here, and about the evil spirit that killed all the men."
"But you said they all died," Katashan replied and tried to quell a hint of frustration.
"I said all of them are dead." Peralin waved toward the camp. Katashan looked and turned away again so quickly that his head pounded. He didn't want to see the dead, and wonder if he could have saved them, or if he should even have tried. "However, a group of this sort is bound to draw the attention of others. There were some mountain people on the heights who thought this group might be easy to rob, since the guards were so lax. But then they saw the fog roll in, and the two of you escaping just as the evil fell upon the camp. They are even going to say that the troops deserved it, having watched how they treated their prisoner."
"Will they?" Cork said, startled.
"Certainly. They have already headed back to the fort."
"Why?" Cork said. "It's not that the mountain people are apt to bring us news in the past."
"Because they believe that there will be a reward for telling the commander of the fort that his Lord has been killed. However, they are going to be disappointed since they will be the second with the news. The first will be a party of ten soldiers who had followed some ways behind, in hopes that you could get Katashan free, and they could help spirit the two of you away. Their scouts saw what Sherina did. You and Cork will be assumed dead until you get back, and the Mountain People have told their part of the story. There will be suspicion, of course -- but nothing will be charged against you."
"Oh," Katashan said. His head started to spin. He held the goblet of wine back up to Peralin with some haste. Drunk enough after all. "So, it's safe for us to go back to the fort now."
"Safe? Did I say anything was safe?" Peralin asked with a shake of his head. "There is no safety, Katashan. Not until this matter is resolved. But you would be wise to head back to the fort and what allies you have in this world. And you would be wise to do so quickly. There are horses, still -- spooked, but better than walking. The dawn is coming. I cannot stay."