The Apostate Saint: Chapter 21 – In the Twinkling Stardust

The rush of adrenaline and otherworldly power, though waning, still coursed through Fridok’s body as he moved as one with the group to their new camp for the night. It took Fridok and Bulgar every ounce of their willpower to be able to reach the stonewall encampment and their companions. They cut through countless demons and stacked their bodies one atop the other so that they could ascend the wall and come to the aid of their brothers-in-arms, but their efforts had proven successful in the most grandiose fashion. Because of this, Fridok at last seemed to be on the cusp of gaining the one thing his heart had always longed for: acceptance.

As they lay down their unresponsive commander on his bedroll and gathered sticks and branches for a fire, the men of the Son’s company now found themselves taking orders from the most unlikely of lieutenants: Gailavira, the only woman chosen to join the excursion.

“Elevate his head,” she said. “Calix, Xanthus, you are to find fresh water and bring some back. Honorable Ervig, please accompany them for their protection. Bulgar and Euric, you two will perform sentry duties until you start to feel your eyesight return to normal. Retreat to camp right away when things go dark. Lord Isidore, as the most senior, I ask that you stay by my side and assist me with the Son and relay any information I may need to pass on.”

Fridok waited for his orders. Alaric at least seemed somewhat receptive of the idea of a woman giving him commands, but Geilamir was clearly less enthused. When the command didn’t come immediately, Fridok decided to ask.

“What about the three of us?” he said. Gailavira kept her attention upon the Son, laying a wet cloth upon his forehead and checking his vital signs. She didn’t even look up, but passed them their orders nonetheless. “Tend to the fire. Stay on hand and ready to protect him at all costs, should there be another raid.”

The location they had chosen as their new camp was an elevated mesa with favorable visibility. Ever since the power was infused within them, their senses had all improved well above normal levels. The most obvious facet of this power was the heightening of their eyesight, as they could see far better at night than they had been able to prior to the onslaught of demons they had fended off. When he closed his eyes, Fridok also realized how much more of the night’s elements he could hear. Had he and Bulgar been infused with this power prior to the attack, they would have easily spotted the creatures crawling in the night and perhaps could have warned the others ahead of the ambush. He would simply have to settle for knowing that they were better prepared now for any secondary skirmishes.

Geilamir turned to Alaric with eyes of disdain for the lady. Fridok could easily identify that look – it was the same gaze the nobles in the City gave when in close proximity to the poor. It emanated privilege, a feeling of haughty disdain for all things and people not deemed worthy of being in the presence of someone from such a high pedigree. It was that same look that Fridok hated, and though he felt closer to the rest of the company now after his success at the previous camp, he still despised that look. It only happened for a second, but it brought back all of those feelings in an instant. Fridok decided that when he returned to the City with all the glory and wealth that surely awaited him, he would do everything in his power to break down the barrier that enabled the Primisian men to feel so much more enlightened and special than everyone else. Geilamir’s apparent disdain for Gailavira’s commands simply because she was a woman made Fridok all the more determined to dismantle the social hierarchy of the City. He would even be the face of that change, if that was what he must do.

But for now, he would lie in wait like a snake in the grass and allow himself to enjoy a bit of his well-earned acclaim. Major societal change was a fight for another day. He would be ready to defend the lady if the opportunity arose, but for once in his life Fridok found himself at the heart of the social order and not on the outside looking in. He pulled a massive fallen tree closer to the fire with ease and, despite the others sharing that same supernatural strength, they both seemed rather amazed at just how easily he did so.

“I don’t know about you,” Fridok said. “But I’m hungry as all hell.” Sitting down, he opened his food bag and looked down in relative dismay at the limited selection of foods that would satisfy his increasingly hungry stomach. Being poor, his diet primarily consisted of various types of beans and grain, so that is what he brought with him. Normally, that wouldn’t bother him, but now he had achieved something great. It just felt like he deserved a little something… more. Not only that, he would have to wait until the boys returned before he could fill a pot to even begin to cook the damn stuff. Was he going to be able to survive long enough to prepare his late night dinner? His stomach sure didn’t seem to think so.

“Here, baldy.”

Fridok looked up just in time to catch a heavy satchel thrown at him with no degree of gentleness. He immediately caught the scent of something wonderfully savory wafting out with the air he had expelled from the bag while catching it. Opening it, he immediately found the treasure inside.

Inside the bag was the most delectable-looking leg of cured ham that Fridok had ever seen – the kind that Fridok could have saved up for six months and still not have been able to afford. It was fat and round and must have come off of the world’s biggest sow, judging by how big it remained even after undergoing the curing process. The blend of spices the butcher had used on this ham was like magic, it spoke directly to Fridok’s enhanced senses in their native tongue. He actually heard his stomach gurgle at the scent of the delectable treat that had just been given to him by… Geilamir?

“We can share,” Geilamir said, pulling out a small knife and approaching him with a kind of disarmed demeanor that he had never shown to Fridok before. “I’m pretty damn hungry myself, so we can all three eat some of this while we wait for the lackeys to get back with the water.”

Fridok was speechless. He couldn’t help but think that Geilamir was on to something, that there was no way he would have had such a sudden change of heart. Fridok waited to respond, but held up the ham nonetheless as Geilamir carved off a chunk and held it out for Fridok to accept. Geilamir shook it a bit in apparent urgency like one would do to make a cat approach them, making Fridok think he might actually be serious. Against his better judgment, Fridok in turn held out his hand – a gesture that just days before he knew would have meant falling into a cruel trap. When the slice of meat actually landed on his hand, however, he knew that Geilamir meant what he said.

Sniffing the meat, Fridok was hit with an even more powerful punch of the salty, spicy aroma. He simply couldn’t resist – he sunk his teeth right into that gesture of goodwill and could have died right then and there for how incredible the meat tasted. It lay upon his tongue and flooded his senses with a flavor so intense yet delicious that Fridok nearly lost his composure. Taking the bite down, he savored the feeling long enough to realize that his eyes were closed in bliss, an involuntary response to the most wonderful flavor he had ever experienced. And that was only the first bite.

Geilamir smirked, then tossed back a small bite himself, followed by another in short succession. It was the first moment since meeting Geilamir that he had felt any kind of connection with the senator’s spoiled brat. But in that moment, he felt as though the two of them might at last be able to work through their issues and act as the comrades which they were supposed to be. The two silently shared a few more bites, and then Geilamir turned his attention to Alaric.

“Come on,” Geilamir said, inviting his friend into the fold. To Fridok’s surprise, Alaric simply smiled back, then sat down on the log and faced the fire again. Fridok shot a glance at Geilamir and both of them understood that in no way was it possible for Alaric to not be hungry. Yet, in his resistance, Alaric persisted.

“You have to be hungry,” Geilamir said to him. “Come over and eat.”

Alaric said nothing, but looked down at the fire, closing his eyes.

“Suit yourself, Al,” Geilamir said, taking to the meat once again with his knife. Hungry though he still was, Fridok now felt concern toward Alaric as he recognized the telltale signs of shame and regret in the way the young man presented himself.

“He’s all off kilter because he got Isidore maimed and almost got us all killed to boot,” Geilamir said quietly, much softer than a normal whisper as Alaric was still likely to hear it if he spoke any louder. “He broke rank and went off on his own to kill the screamer without telling anyone. That really messed up our line. He probably thinks that the Stranger–the Son–would still be up and running if he didn’t have to spend so much of his energy getting the old bastard back on his feet. He’s probably right, but he still shouldn’t be a little ninny about it. Though, I have to ask, should we really be spending so much energy keeping someone alive who’s that close to the grave already?”

Fridok looked from Alaric over to Gailavira who was still fanning the Son’s head as the sweat ran down the Gifted man’s face. He had never seen Alaric so down before; it never even once occurred to him that the boy he held in such high regard might also be susceptible to a similar kind of self-loathing that Fridok was so used to experiencing as a facet of his social class. Alaric, the spritely and incredibly talented young noble, perhaps the only one of his class that Fridok held in any high regard prior to joining the Son’s company, was a normal human being after all. It shouldn’t have surprised Fridok to come to that conclusion, but it did.

“Let him sulk. He will come around eventually. He’ll either let it go naturally or he will write a song about his feelings and then that will be that. Oh – they’re back sooner than I thought!”

Geilamir stood up to take heed of Ervig and the two wards who had already returned with buckets of water in hand. Geilamir instinctively took the ham out of Fridok’s hands and stuffed it back into his bag. That surprised Fridok, as Geilamir had been so willing to share his expensive meat with a Solumian – one that he had until this moment held in particularly low regards. Oddly enough, it endeared Fridok to Geilamir ever so slightly. Still, it wasn’t right to withhold food from the others, so Fridok shot him a judgmental glance as he did it. Geilamir brushed it off.

“Bring a few of those buckets over here,” Geilamir said to the returning members of their party. “Fridok will cook up some lentil soup for everyone to share, maybe give us all a taste of Solum “fine cuisine”. We’re all slumming it tonight.”

Perhaps it was too soon to call whatever they had just experienced a “budding friendship.”

After the company ate their fill from Fridok’s bean and lentil soup, they again went about their assigned duties. Ervig, Calix and Xanthus joined Gailavira in assisting the still unconscious Son after fetching more water for the increasingly thirsty men of the party. Fridok became more and more concerned as Alaric ate and drank very little and socialized even less with everyone in his self-imposed isolation.

It didn’t come suddenly, like it had with the Son, but the light and energy they had stolen from their demonic adversaries did indeed leave each one of them, just as Lady Gailavira had warned them it would. Aside from the extreme hunger and thirst, the first major sensory change that Fridok noticed was that he could no longer see clearly in the dead of night. Along with that, he could hear less and less of the sounds of the night as the minutes went on, his infused power fading more rapidly by the second, like the last sands of an hourglass falling to their rest.

Geilamir was the first to succumb to the slumber that awaited all of them. One minute, he was recanting stories to Fridok from his childhood in lieu of Alaric’s company. The next minute, he was yawning and sliding onto his velvet bedroll. He was out and snoring faster than Fridok had ever seen.

Fridok may well have joined him in finding his own bedroll as he felt his eyelids grow heavy and the strength leave his muscles, but for one thing that still concerned him. Alaric. He decided to fight the oncoming sleep as long as he could manage though he started to build up a debt of exhaustion quickly. He even outlasted the lookouts Bulgar and Euric, who returned to camp with no energy or eyesight left to watch out for danger. They would have to trust their location and the two wards and the matron of the camp now, as not even Ervig could resist the tax collector of energy that had taken residence the camp.

The last to approach the camp was Isidore. He sat on the log next to Alaric and allowed the cracks and pops of a fresh log he placed on the fire to do all the leg work of bridging the gap between the two of them. Had the Son not been there to rescue him, Isidore would have been the first and probably not the only casualty in the battle. Both of them knew whose fault it was. Even though Isidore still played the role of Alaric’s greatest mentor, there were some things that needn’t be said. Instead of chastisement or throwing blame, as the older man certainly had rights to do, he showed mercy upon Alaric by appealing to his true nature.

“I would like to hear you sing,” Isidore said. Alaric didn’t respond right away, most likely filled with a whorl of emotions, particularly because of who had made the request. “Please,” he added.

In a voice that cracked with dehydration and disuse, Alaric responded meekly. “Which song?” Isidore rose, lay out his bedroll and sat upon it before answering. “Whichever one you are already singing in your heart.”

Alaric did not reach for any instrument, though he was adept with many and had even brought with him at least a lyre, that Fridok knew about. Instead, he turned his eyes toward the Great Band in the sky and allowed the pain of his soul to be carried out through a darker and raspier voice than Fridok had ever heard come from a singer before. His voice carried throughout the whole camp as he sang a rare song called “Just a Single Day with You” that Fridok had only heard a few times in his life, but would resonate with him forever after.

In the twinkling stardust
and the scattered ashes of the fallen day
In the fire waning
as the cinders smolder and crumble all away
In the sounds of the lovers
Reaching for all they discover
And in the lost sleep of me and all
of the broken hearted people
I see your eyes,
and then you’re gone.

If I had falls and fountains
And all the gold and silver
In the lakes and mountains
And the banks and rivers,
If I had all the treasures
And the homes to dwell in
And the greatest pleasures
And the Gifts of heaven
I’d trade them all for you
Just a single day with you.

In the days of my life,
I spent countless hours and minutes
In the pursuit of glory,
Or wealth or things that I already had in it.
In my narrow vision
I saw only the things that I lacked
And now in retrospection
I know I’d rather have you back.
I lost your smile,
how can I go on?

If I had a thousand lifetimes
And all the joy and laughter
Of an endless good time
For all the days hereafter,
If I had boundless harvests
And hearts of pure gold,
Any other lips to kiss
And any other hand to hold
I’d trade them all for you.
Just a single day with you.

You are gone
to the life beyond.
But I’m still here,
still waiting here.
And you’re still gone.

If I could choose a new life
Yes, a new beginning
Even one without strife
Where I’m always winning,
If I could be anyone
In the world’s long history
For another run
I would choose to be me.
I’d do it all again with you
Just to live my life with you.
Or just a single day with you.

By about halfway through Alaric’s ballad, Isidore had already fallen fast to sleep. By the time the young man had finished his song however, Fridok had fallen himself into something that he had never expected.

It was only after hearing him sing so beautifully that Fridok finally understood just what his longtime obsession with the young noble had really been about.

2 thoughts on “The Apostate Saint: Chapter 21 – In the Twinkling Stardust”

  1. That song is heartbreaking. I think it touches anyone who has loved and lost someone dear, no matter the occasion. I wish I had one more day with Matt, Alexa, or my friend Catherine. 💔

  2. That’s a poem with such beautiful lyrics, Andrew. I’d love to hear it sing and accompanied by string instruments.

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