The Apostate Saint: Chapter 10 – A House with a Big Hole in it

The walk home brought about a sort of ambivalence to Alaric’s mind. Everything he had done today should have given him newfound confidence and a sense of great achievement, but something in the great mist of his mind nagged at him, limiting the upper range of his treble clef of satisfaction. It was as if the Nete string was broken on his harp. The song of victory ran through his ears, but something was certainly missing from the music – perhaps something that only a trained ear could hear. By the time he arrived home, that which was missing was all that Alaric could hear.

Alaric’s mother was waiting for him with a warm embrace at the door. The gentle kisses of the woman whom had given him life made his troubles melt away in an instant. Washed with the kindest words of praise and adoration for her beloved child, Alaric allowed his mother’s enthusiasm to drive his mind to a happier place. He wished he could hold onto her forever.

His father, on the other hand, gave him a less-than-cheery reception. Alaric never was good at reading his father’s emotions. He wore the same expression when he was ashamed of some imperfection in Alaric’s actions as well as when Alaric lived up to his father’s expectations. No matter how much Alaric gave, his father always expected him to give more. Alaric saw him through the corner of his eye as he embraced his mother, standing with arms folded just inside.

“I am so proud of you,” Alaric’s mother told him, as she noticed his attention was drawn away. She put her hands on his shoulders, directing his attention back to her. “You came home to me, safe and unharmed. That was all I could have asked, but on top of that you rose to the challenge and you won! Alaric, you won! My baby boy is a man grown today.” She brought him in for another teary-eyed hug, but it was short-lived.

“That’s enough coddling, Dacinia,” said Valoricus, Alaric’s father. “Get back inside before you draw any attention.” Alaric’s father scanned the streets to see if anyone had followed Alaric. He wasn’t entirely out of line being so cautious – the streets so overflowed with drunken revelers that Alaric had to avoid main streets on his way back to Caballarius Manor, their ancestral home.

Alaric’s mother released him and turned a cold shoulder to his father as she walked Alaric inside, still holding his hand in protest. Alaric could feel his father’s disapproving gaze upon him as he followed his mother inside.

“Be on your best behavior,” his father warned Alaric as he was led through the ostium and into the atrium, where the furniture had been arranged in a way that would enable the entertainment of a great many guests. Alaric tried to make sense of the scene, and dreaded the idea that soon, perhaps, many of his father’s political allies would be gathered here to compliment him as a way of groveling at his father’s feet. Alaric simply didn’t have the energy to deal with all of that tonight.

“Father,” Alaric said, too tired and perhaps too bold for his own good, “I would rather not entertain anyone tonight. I am a bit far into my cups, and the competition and the feast have taken a lot out of me already. I would much prefer to spend some time alone and get some rest.”

Alaric’s father looked at him as if he had just punched him square in the mouth; his disappointment with his son’s insubordination colored his face like a hot iron pulled from a forge. Alaric could tell that wrath was about to be upon him, but he almost didn’t care anymore. After all, it would only be a matter of a few days before he was free from his father’s tyrannical rule.

“Sit,” his father demanded. Alaric tried to meet his father’s eyes in protest, but he was no match for the man’s overflowing authority. Instead, Alaric hid his eyes, but still did not comply. He was determined to weather whatever storm was heading his way, fueled in part by the bravery offered by the fermented fruit of the vine.

His father approached Alaric, one slow step at a time. He never repeated himself, because Alaric had learned a long time ago what would happen if he did. Valoricus ruled his house through fear, the only tool he had ever used to keep his command. Alaric’s legs began to tremble as his father approached, one slow step at a time, each building to what Alaric was certain would be a painful end. Just as he got within striking range of Alaric, his mother interrupted.

“Oh!” she said, with sudden urgency. “It looks as if our guests have arrived! Come, Valoricus, we must greet them.”

Alaric saw his father’s face, full of anger, trained on him. Before his father turned away to go with his mother, he spoke to Alaric in a low voice. “I will attribute your behavior to the drinks, but I will not excuse it. Once this little charade has ended, you and I will be having a discussion.” With that, his father went with his mother, and Alaric was allowed to breathe.

Alaric quietly prepared himself to deal with the lot of Senators and their respective entourages who always accompanied them. He was not prepared for who had actually come to call.

Standing before him was the Son, followed by the swordsman Fridok and, to Alaric’s surprise, the Daoine Farraige man who was called Art. It shouldn’t have surprised Alaric to see that Art’s legs had been fully regrown, but it did so regardless of his expectations. His legs were indeed restored, but his gait was disastrous, the kindest possible description he could consider for how the man walked.

“Hello again, my champion,” said the Son. Alaric had not expected to see the Son again, especially not so soon. “What brings you to our home?” Alaric said, which earned him a spiteful glance from his father. He hadn’t meant it in a disrespectful way. “I mean, I didn’t know you would be here. I was just about to retire for the evening.” Alaric noticed both Fridok and Art looking around the home, gawking at all of the things that must have seemed so extravagant to men of their station.

The Son smiled at him, nodding knowingly. “And you have earned that rest, young man. But there are matters that still must be resolved tonight, and we must not tarry. There are rapidly growing voices crying out in this City that would quickly draw my focus away from our primary mission, if I were to heed their call.” Alaric shot a glance to Fridok, who shrugged his shoulders.

“Please, take a seat and rest your weary legs,” said Alaric’s mother, seeing her opportunity to assert her hospitality. “Especially you,” she added, under her breath, to Art, who wobbled a bit too close to a pedestal with an urn containing an ancient ancestor’s remains within it. Alaric was certain that an abundance of alcohol was absolutely a bad idea for anyone, especially if they were just learning to walk again. Thankfully, Art walked a safe distance away from the urn. Alaric would not be picking up any dead relatives this night.

Alaric, his parents, the Son and Fridok all found seats on the couches. Alaric looked over and saw his father, button-lipped and stoic, sitting solemnly by his mother. It must have been difficult for his father for anyone to challenge his authority, even if that someone was the son of a near deity.

“How can we be of service to you?” said Alaric’s mother. “Are you hungry? We can call the servants to get you anything you like. Would you like something to drink, or-?”

The Son raised his hand gently at her. “Thank you,” he said, “that would be wonderful. Perhaps some wine, and a bit of fruit to sate a dry mouth?”

“Right away,” she said, scurrying off to find the servants to relay her orders. Art looked at Fridok, mouthing something unintelligible, in disbelief. Fridok gave him a look as if to say, “just try to blend in.”

The Son turned his attention upon Alaric’s father, looking into his eyes for a time. For the first time ever, he watched as his father was the first to break the stare. His father’s face quickly turned beat red because of it. The Son’s eyes drew tighter as he studied Alaric’s father’s reaction, silently discovering something about him in the process.

Alaric’s mother returned and sat next to his father. She was just about to say something, but then noticed Valoricus’ facial expression and decided to just smile meekly instead.

“Lovely place you have here,” blurted Art, breaking the momentary silence. “Really nice atmosphere here. I’ve never been inside a nice house with a big hole in it before. You can be inside and under the open sky at the same time. Real nice effect.” Alaric’s mother just smiled brightly, far too much to be genuine. Alaric’s father continued to stare off into the distance, getting more uncomfortable by the moment as the servants arrived carrying the fresh fruits and wine for everyone.

“Thank you, so much,” the Son said, genuinely, to the servants as they presented the refreshments. It was not typical for anyone to actually thank the servants, so that drew odd looks from Alaric’s parents. It had never really occurred to Alaric to thank the servants for their service; he had always just seen them as performing an expected duty. The servant quarters were much nicer than most of the houses in which other Solumians lived and they were always well-fed and even were given allowances; these were not slaves who were treated poorly and beaten if they were out of line. Perhaps they should have been thanking Alaric’s family instead. Yet the Son thanked them.

As Alaric thought these things, he also considered Fridok and Art, and the kind of lives they led. He couldn’t imagine living like that. Even with an oppressive father and high expectations and not being able to spend enough time doing what he loved to do, it was still leaps and bounds better than whatever those two had to put up with in their stations. Alaric scooted over to Fridok as the Son was distracted by the help.

“Don’t feel like talking?” Alaric said to Fridok, trying to figure him out. “Not much to say,” Fridok responded, then looked at the ground. Alaric studied him for a moment, trying to find words to say to cut through the awkwardness. But then Art caused a distraction when he missed his step moving toward a display case holding several of the Caballarius family heirlooms. He toppled over, barely catching himself as he hit the ground a few inches away. Alaric and Fridok both rushed over to help him up, which was harder than it seemed. As they each took an arm and led him to the couch, Alaric could see the frustration boiling over with his father.

“Can we get on with it?” Valoricus said, forgetting himself. He hardly ever lost his composure at social events, but he never had to open up his home to the lower classes before today. The Son turned away from the servant, in whom he had found strange interest, and gave Alaric’s father the attention he had requested. Alaric’s mother held her hand over her mouth, shocked at her husband’s reaction.

“Certainly,” said the Son. “I can see that you are eager to enjoy your own limited company, so I’ll be brief.” The Son reached down and pulled from his sheath the glowing sword that he had revealed upon his entry to the City. He presented it to Alaric’s parents and allowed them to study it without touching it.

“As you can see, I do not carry an ordinary blade. So extraordinary is the weapon you see before you, that it was indeed not forged by normal means. No bladesmith cast it, nor did any hammer strike it in its creation. No, I tell you, this blade is not the work of any craftsman. It is a Soul-edge, and it is the only kind of weapon capable of destroying the demons that walk outside of the White Walls. If your son is to find success on this journey, he must also carry one of these.”

They all looked on in awe of the weapon and the shadows it made dance around the room as the Son handled it. Art swore a particularly bad obscenity as he watched the majestic thing lighting up the atrium, of which Alaric mentally agreed with the Farraige’s sentiment.

“Okay, but how?” Art said, after a time. “If no man can make one, how are they supposed to get them?” It was a fair question, though Alaric was glad Art was the one to ask it. The Son put his weapon back into its sheath and turned to Art, his eyes expressing something different, perhaps uncertain, to the life-long beggar.

“That is where we will need your help, Art.”

Everyone looked around the room, surprised, to say the least. Perhaps the most confused by the Son’s words was Art, who was not ashamed at all to look incredible clueless.

“What are you gettin’ on about?” Art said. “You expect me to know how to make something like that? Not even my mum told me that I was that special. And she was a real optimist, I tell ya.”

The Son smiled a kindly smile at Art. “It has to be you, Art. You are special because I call upon you now. There is no other who can do the thing I am to ask of you, for your friend here.” The Son motioned toward Fridok, who Alaric could tell was nervous about the whole thing.

“Alright then, if you say so. Kind of pathetic really, but that’s beside the point. What do you want me to do?”

“The bond you share with Fridok, though new, is stronger than any other connections he has in his life right now. Fridok will draw upon that bond and it will give him the strength he needs to create the blade. As he focuses on the shape he wants it to take, you must give yourself up to support him. Once the blade has formed, your only responsibility in life is to stay healthy and strong. I will not lie to you – when Fridok uses this blade, you will feel your energy wane. But your strength will return, and you will know that it is because of you that he is able to carry on the fight. Do you accept this important responsibility, knowing that it will be hard at times?”

Art looked around at the others, then shrugged. “Yeah, alright then. What do I have to lose? Let’s be on with it.” He turned to Fridok, whose eyes were trained on him, worry in the Solumian’s glare. “You’re going to owe me a lot of pints once you’re filthy rich, you understand that, right?”

The Son motioned for the two of them to come to him, and so they did. He placed one hand on Art’s shoulder and another on Fridok’s back. “Close your eyes and hold out your hands as if you are already holding a weapon. It can be any weapon you like, any size and shape you like, but I want you to firmly form it in your mind. Do not open your eyes until I say so.”

Fridok did as he was asked. Art turned toward Fridok nervously. “Is it going to hurt?” Art asked sheepishly. The Son looked at him with a hint of pity in his eyes. “Think about Fridok. Think about giving up your own strength, so that he may use it as he needs. Give yourself over in support of him, and that is all that needs concern you. Do not fight it.”

Art shook his head, muttering something unintelligible in the Farraige tongue. Then, he focused on Fridok just as the Son had instructed.

Nothing happened for quite some time, which made Alaric’s father give his mother a look of disapproval and distrust. Alaric could tell that his father was just about to say something when the room began to dim despite being well-lit by candlelight. The Son began to glow, and Art started to shake and convulse. The Son tightened his grip upon Art, so that he would not fall over. He looked as if the life was being drained right out of him, and every bit of the man’s liveliness fell away.

“You’re killing him!” Valoricus shouted, apparently at his breaking point. “Stop this this instant!”

“Focus, Fridok!” the Son said with forceful urgency. Fridok was obviously distracted and concerned about Art’s health, so he was failing at the task he had been assigned. Alaric could only watch as things began to spin more and more out of control. His father increased his protest and got louder and less patient by the second. Art continued to weaken and Fridok fretted and further faltered in his attempt to form a blade. Alaric turned to his mother, who looked back at him with tender, worried eyes. He suddenly got an idea: he began to sing a song his mother used to sing to him when he was a small child.

O child of the morning,
With your gentle eyes crying,
Sweet dew, sweet dew
Water my garden with my love of you

O child of the evening,
With your little voice calling,
Sweet tune, sweet tune
Fill all of these walls with the sound of you

Alaric’s voice echoed through the whole home, and his intuition was right. Even his father had apparently calmed down in his protest, and Fridok regained his focus. The faces of everyone present began to reflect the calm serenity of Alaric’s song. On the third verse, Alaric’s mother’s voice joined in harmony with his.

O child of the night time,
With your heavy head resting,
Sleep you, sleep you
May you rest til you’re woken by the morning dew

Together they sang the whole song again, their beautiful voices filling the home. As they finished the tune together, there in Fridok’s hands manifested a great glowing blade, a perfect fit for his muscular frame and magnificently shining above all else in the dark night. The Son held Art in his arms, gently bringing him to the couch to rest. He was certainly alive, just exhausted. Too exhausted, even, to react with colorful words. But he was alive, and Fridok had succeeded.

The look on Fridok’s face said it all: Finally, I have it. The sword that I have worked so hard to obtain is mine at last.

Alaric jumped into the air and shouted, celebrating with Fridok and admiring his new, wonderful weapon. Even Alaric’s mother joined in the celebration. The Son attended to Art and made certain that he was alright, but congratulated Fridok on his successful summoning of the blade. The only one not as enthused, was Alaric’s father.

The Son rose to his feet and met eyes with Alaric; it was Alaric’s turn now. Alaric looked around, considering what this meant for him, now that he would need to follow Fridok’s example. His eyes met his father’s, and he knew the disapproval instantly.

“Absolutely not,” Valoricus said to his son. Turning to the Son, he stood firmly in place to cast him out. “You have your warrior right there. That’s enough. You don’t need my son. He will be staying right here, completing his schooling and then he will succeed me in the Senate when I retire. You may very well be who you say you are, I am not the one to say. But we’ve gotten along well enough without you and your kind for this long. This republic isn’t perfect, but it’s better to have the order and safety that we have, than to open ourselves up to outsiders like you. We are a mighty City, a lone bastion of life in a world long dead. If death comes for us as you say, then we will greet it with dignity when that time comes. But there has never been a problem so big that we haven’t as a people been able to put aside our differences and solve it. We already have enough to solve here; we don’t need to go off searching for more work. So, speaking for my house and with the backing of the Senate, we officially reject your proposal and ask that you leave this City immediately. Tonight.”

The room grew quiet as the ocean of Alaric’s father’s words withdrew from the beach of that place. After a time, the first person to speak was Fridok.

“You speak from a place of great privilege,” he said. Before Valoricus could interject, Fridok continued. “This City is falling apart under your feet and you are so blinded from your high place that you cannot see it. This republic you mention speaks for the rich only. They care about the wealthy only. You are a politician that represents the needs of those who don’t need any representation. My people are nothing to you. You do not care about the Daoine Farraige dying in the alleys. To you, everything is fine because your people are thriving, lifted above the water by the drowning Solumian class. You saw the competition today as a means only of lifting your name further into glory. I saw it as my chance to finally break out of the chains you have placed upon me. And now, when your son has rightfully won his chance to be free to carve his own destiny, you would choose to take that right away from him? He is not a boy any longer. He has the right to choose what he will do with his own life and you cannot stop him.”

Alaric’s father stood red-faced and angry, clutching the hilt of his sword tightly. Fridok saw this, and tilted the blade of his new sword ever slightly downward, so that Valoricus could see that Fridok had the upper hand. Emboldened and finally ready to stand up to his father, Alaric walked over to the Son and placed the Son’s hand upon his shoulder.

“You are more than a disappointment to me, boy,” Valoricus said, with all the vitriol he had built for Alaric in the recent years. Alaric felt the sharp words pierce him. It shouldn’t have affected him as much as it did, but he still found himself shrinking back down to the dark place where only art and music could reach him.

“Piss off,” said Art, weakly, from the couch. Valoricus drew his blade in anger, prepared to dispatch the Farraige man right where he lay. In a heartbeat, Fridok stood in his way, wielding his Soul-edge in the defense of his friend. “He’s right,” Fridok said. “Piss off.”

“This is my house, and I will not be insulted in it. Certainly not by the likes of you. Come, Dacinia. We will have the servants throw the refuse to the street.”

Alaric’s mother did not follow him. Instead, she bravely went to Alaric’s side, grabbing the Son’s other hand and placing it on her back.

“I will always be by your side, Allie,” she said, stroking from top to bottom the loose strands of his long blond hair.

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