The Apostate Saint: Chapter 28 – Departure

“What now?” said Euric, to his cousin Bulgar and Fridok who stood idly nearby. They were soldiers who suddenly found themselves without their commander. It was an honest question for Euric to ask, and Fridok was thinking the same thing. After all, the Son was the only one who knew the lay of the land and what dangers might lurk around every corner, and he had already put significant distance between himself and the others as he carried Gailavira’s unconscious body back to the City. Bulgar shrugged, offering no solutions. Fridok wanted to follow the Son, and thought very much borrowing one of the horses to ride off and catch up to him. At least that would put some distance in between him and Alaric, so he could focus on the things that really mattered.

“We really should follow him,” Alaric said, seemingly just as surprised as Fridok had been that everyone else was just letting him go without packing up and following him. “He didn’t tell us to stay here, right? I would think he would expect us to go back and meet him back at the City.”

“He wouldn’t want that,” Fridok said, betraying his own desire. “If we all go back, especially so soon, then the whole City will think we failed. If he goes by himself, then he’s just riding back to save the lady. As soon as he gets her illness straightened out, both of them will come right back to continue the campaign as originally planned.” The more he talked, the more he second-guessed his own line of reasoning. He needed to focus his mind, and he was doing a very poor job of it.

“You really think she’s coming back?” Geilamir said, doubt oozing from every word. “She used a Soularm on herself. Maybe for a regular knife that would have been a mere cut, but these weapons are made to destroy – not just kill. How much can one soul be wounded before it’s broken beyond repair?”

“Enough,” said Ervig. “Speak no evil. Consider the young ears and choose softer words.”

“Soft?” spat Geilamir. “Since when were you ever soft on us when we were their age? In case you forgot, we’re not out on holiday here. Being soft just means it’s easier for one of them to rip you open.”

“He wouldn’t leave us so quickly if he didn’t think it would save her,” Calix said, teetering on shaky emotional footing. “He’s right,” Alaric added.

“I hope the kid is right,” Geilamir said. “But that’s not our battle to fight right now. If he wanted us to come with him, he would have simply said so. I agree with Fridok-“

“That’s a first,” Alaric said, interrupting. Geilamir continued. “He’s right, though. We signed up to do this thing, and we’re not done yet. We go back now and what have we gained? It would be a Rorlic victory.”

“Not really,” Alaric said. “We have proven that the demons can be stopped. I don’t know about you but I think that’s good news worth celebrating.”

“It’s absolutely Rorlic,” Geilamir insisted. Fridok turned to Bulgar and, at the risk of sounding stupid, asked, “what does that mean?” Bulgar nodded, eager to clue Fridok in without judgment. “Rorlizs was an enemy of the City in the Second Age. He won many battles against the Toriad forces but didn’t win any land or anything else meaningful, so he had nothing to show for the trouble. He was eventually defeated after overextending his legions because he caught wind of people mocking his victories.” “Oh,” Fridok said. “Thanks.” Bulgar nodded.

“People will be ecstatic once they find out how many we’ve killed,” Alaric insisted. “We’ve always assumed they were unbeatable and now we have definitive proof that we can turn the tide.”

“But we haven’t turned the tide yet,” Geilamir reminded him. “In fact, we have no idea how many of them there are out here. For all we know, we could have only put down a small raiding party. We have done little reconnaissance, and don’t really know much else about them aside from the fact that they go down easily when we use our Soularms. We could spend the rest of our lives out here killing demons and still not make any meaningful progress. We don’t know if and how often they reproduce. We don’t know how they organize-“

“I disagree,” Alaric said. “We know the screamer commanded the ones we killed.”

Geilamir was quick to disagree yet again. “We don’t even know that for sure. They could have simply been reacting to the sound. Hell, I’m just a regular guy and that shrieking would have driven me to start attacking anything moving, too. At any point in that onslaught, did you once hear them actually communicating with one another? Were there any actual tactics involved that you noticed? From my point of view, they were simply throwing themselves at us without any sign of intelligence. And I hate to say it, but the thought that they most likely have no organizational structure or minds of their own makes them sound a lot less beatable than if they did have commanders and ranks. At least then, they could surrender.”

Alaric looked defeated, an optimist facing his first real taste of reality with all the ugly truths that go along with it. Fridok felt bad for him. Alaric had been nothing but kind to him, and just a day ago Fridok would have jumped at the opportunity to defend him in one way or another. Now, because of what scared Fridok about himself, he found himself resisting the urge to protect Alaric, even as a friend. He couldn’t let anyone know the truth about what he felt for the young noble because it would mean opening himself up in a way that he had sworn to never embrace with another person. Besides, the boy was too far above his station – even if Fridok was allowed to explore these newfound feelings for Alaric, there was no way that he would ever be permitted to be the dominant partner to the son of a Senator – that alone would invite death upon him. So, Fridok kept his mouth shut and allowed Geilamir to berate Alaric, even though Fridok felt he was betraying him by doing so.

“I still think the people would appreciate some good news,” Alaric said, weakly.

“I hate to say it, but this time I agree with Geilamir,” said Ervig. Alaric looked even further defeated once the older man aligned himself against him. “Triumphs and titles were always won when land was secured – when a whole people were defeated. Maybe if we can capture and fortify a strategic location we might be able to return in glory, but not after just one battle.”

“But what if the Son runs into trouble on the way back?” said Xanthus, who quickly regretted speaking up as Ervig shot him a raised eyebrow. Being Ervig’s ward, he should have known better than to challenge his lord. “I just think he could probably use some support, is all…”

“He’s fully capable of handling himself,” Ervig said, after non-verbally chastising the boy for a short time. “If we follow, we will only slow him down. We hold the camp until he gets back.”

“The boy has a point,” said Isidore, who, until this point, had remained silent. “Sure, he can handle himself in a fight. There’s no question about that. But what if he’s surrounded? He’s already not alone – he’s got the lady. He will avoid a fight where he can, but what if he can’t? You think he can protect her and himself at the same time? Even the Gifts have their limits – we should understand that now better than ever.”

Ervig didn’t look pleased. “We are not leaving. We haven’t earned anything yet.”

Isidore ignored him and instead began to pack up his things.

“He would have told us to come if he wanted us to come,” Ervig echoed Geilamir’s sentiment. “But it seems as though, once again, you’re going to do whatever you want to do. Just like you always have.”

Isidore met Alaric’s eyes, smiling at him. He winked.

“I think we’re both right,” Isidore said as he rolled up his bedroll. “A few of us will follow after and make sure they make it back to the City. He may be able to handle himself against demons, but I’m not so sure he’s ready for a fight against the entirety of the Astrum Order. We’ve both seen what those monks can do.”

“I’m going, too,” said Alaric, without hesitating. “He might need my father’s help, if the Senate tries to throw the law at him.”

“Me too,” insisted Calix, already gathering his things. “If you all pass out again, I can watch over you. The lady told me how to help.”

Ervig was perturbed at the sudden challenges to what probably seemed like the only wise plan of action. When Euric quietly tiptoed past Ervig on his way to join Isidore’s crew, Ervig gave Xanthus a stern look, reminding him that it was in his best interest to stay put. Xanthus remained seated, as did the others who remained at the camp.

“Well then,” Isidore said. “It’s settled. You lot will hold the camp, and we will return to the City to make sure the Son has the support he needs. We will be back as soon as the lady is on her feet again.” He walked up next to Ervig to assure him. “I promise that we will celebrate no triumphs until we’ve come back for you and we’ve captured something worth celebrating.”

Just like that, the group splintered. Fridok found himself second guessing his actions as he was left alone with Geilamir, Bulgar, Xanthus and Ervig. As he looked around, he considered what it all meant.

He was able to come to peace with all of it when he realized how significantly more beautiful the world outside was, when compared with the run-down tenement housing in which he had spent his whole life. It was suddenly funny to him how he had almost forgotten to appreciate the beauty of the land amidst the carnage and carnal desire that had clouded his mind until this point.

He breathed deeply and settled in for a long wait. Maybe now he could sort through his feelings, or, more likely, bury them amongst the wreckage of every vehicle of hope he had ever dared to pursue, his sword being the one exception.

Stay well, Alaric.

6 thoughts on “The Apostate Saint: Chapter 28 – Departure”

    1. We are starting to draw nearer to the beginning of “Part I” of this series. I know how it will all end – we see in some of the “future” chapters that things fall through with the characters but not how or why. Part I will continue to focus on the “first crusade” and will likely be wrapping up by the end of November. When I start Part II it will pick up at the next logical spot and we will start to see more of all of that play out where we leave it in Part I. The final arcs of the story will deal almost exclusively with the “future” and what ultimately happens to these characters. I’ve got a lot planned, but I’m leaving the story more “free-form” than I typically write so that my characters all have the chance to grow.

    1. Yes, he is. Much like the real world history of Rome, it wasn’t necessarily looked down upon in society to have a male lover if you were a male, but it was considered disgraceful if you were the higher ranking male and also the passive partner in the relationship. Thus, Fridok knows that things would never work out with Alaric as he has a much lower status, so that will be a major factor in Fridok’s story going forward.

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