I told you I had more of the story on my hard drive didn’t I? Sure I did. I wasn’t even lying! Here I give you the continuation of Les’s short story, in the immediate aftermath of Forsaken Lands Book I: Tragedy.
It seemed that all at once that everyone, myself included, sought out Adreth. Only he and those placating the horses stood amidst a sea of crouched and fallen Justices, prisoners, and civilians. We waited.
Shouldn’t that be me up there, standing for everyone to see? If I am a leader, too, shouldn’t I be there with him?
He scanned the faces of the fallen in such a way that it felt like he looked at each of us individually, if only for a second. He could have kept us waiting for years, just like that.
“I have no answers,” he started, his voice clear, unshaken. I couldn’t help but envy his resolve. “I only know that each of you here today are my comrades – my brothers and sisters in arms – and none of you will be alone. Stand,” he motioned widely with his arms, “collect your things and ready yourselves. Wherever we go, it will be far from here.”
It was perfect. He made a point to try to unite everyone, the prisoners and guards alike. I could never be sure how much of that was evident to other people – I have to assume that often the public does not realize what the words are supposed to be doing to them, yet at the same time it is so very painfully obvious to me. On a deeper level, I wanted to believe him, too. I suppose that would be the whole point; even if you know it’s a trick, you still want to play into it.
Many people rose, as Adreth requested. I just made myself more comfortable on the ground. Everything I traveled with from Pelle was in my bag already. I had very little to gather.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the damned spire. It shouldn’t have hurt me as much as it did – just like Adreth’s speech, the spire was built with the intention of making people care about it. It was a trick. A symbol. Artificial.
I loved that damned spire.
Wherever we go, it will be far from here; that’s what Adreth said. It seemed unlikely that he was planning to go towards Pelle. Feya was the only major city out that direction, and it had also been decimated by a quake just recently. No, he wouldn’t be headed east. He was much more likely to go north or west.
I wondered if my wife, Cadde, had any inkling about the unrest in Nivenea. She was taking care of business matters in my stead. I needed to be back with her, needed to know she was safe. My friends, my mother and father, all of them were out there in the wilderness, too. Finding Aia and Teveres…I wanted to do that, as well.
“Les?” Kyren looked at me, puzzled. “Are you alright?”
I half-snorted-half-chuckled. Alright. How long had it been since I was alright? “I assume you’re asking that question but looking for another answer entirely,” I answered dryly. I just couldn’t help myself.
The remark hardly miffed him. We might yet become good friends. “You look like you’re thinking about something. I was going to go see if I could help the others…” he hesitated, “but you look…”
“Go,” I told him. I didn’t turn my head, didn’t look him in the eye. “Nevermind me. Do what you need to do.”
Kyren waited a few more seconds, and seeing that I was not volunteering anything else, walked back towards the farmhouse. He had things on his mind too, I was sure – grief over Aia among them. Like any good Healer, he was drawn to his duty first.
I had no purpose here, just like I had no purpose with Aia, Teveres, and Garren. Looking back on the past few weeks I had to wonder why I bothered to go with them at all – and why they tolerated me for so long. I was a drain on resources and not fast enough to make pace. So why…?
“Baron Les?” I didn’t hear Adreth approach me from behind. His deep bass voice seemed to rattle in my chest, startling me. Instinctively, I scrambled to stand.
“Don’t,” Adreth said, his voice lowered. Perhaps he noticed how startled I really was. I watched in some measure of awe as the man (who was something like two stories taller than me) sat on the grass beside me, one knee bent on which to rest his arm. He stared out at the spire just as I did.
Slowly, I resumed my position. I didn’t look at him – seemed fitting, since he wasn’t looking at me. I might be slow to run, but I liked to think I was quick to pick up on cues. In that moment I wished I had Aia’s power of mind-reading, because no matter how hard I tried, I could not come up with a reason why the Lieutenant had come to sit beside me when there were more important tasks at hand.
“Wouldn’t object to knowing your intentions,” I said, casual, like I wasn’t concerned or interested at all. “Also wouldn’t mind helping you and the others out, if there’s something that needs doing.”
“I have a favor to ask,” he told the spire, “but first I’d like to know that you are coming with us.”
I smirked and shook my head. Adreth, too? Surely he noticed how little I brought to a good fight. “I wasn’t thinking you wanted me.”
“I don’t know you,” he spoke quickly, like he hadn’t even heard me. “What I know is that I have fifty-seven men and women who followed me out of a prison, and more promised to gather their friends and meet us in Seldat. Half of these fine people are civilian criminals.”
Reasons started clicking in my head. I eyed him sidelong. “So you’re saying…”
“Over the years I’ve found that prisoners rarely get along with the people making the arrests.”
“And you think I’m the solution to that problem, somehow.”
“You’re a Baron, aren’t you? You represented your citizens when they were brought to trial in Nivenea.”
“Twice,” I found myself sounding much more defensive than I would have planned. “I’ve been Baron for little over 8 months.”
“They don’t know that,” Adreth finally turned to look at me, one eyebrow raised. “All they see is a Baron who was elected to protect citizens. You might not be as good as one of them, but you have a hell of a lot more credibility that I do.”
“Even though you were locked up with them for – what was it, a year? Longer than I’ve been in office. Surely that bought you some trust.”
Adreth stretched out his left arm. It was smudged with sweat-caked dirt, but the bright red triple diamond tattoo still stood out, spanning his inner forearm from elbow to wrist. The mark of Justice-hood was branded on all of the Justices.
“Old divisions,” I reflected.
“You see my problem.”
“I see it, but I don’t know that I’m the right man for your job. Once you get to Seldat there will most likely be a Baron of a larger city, or even one from a guild somewhere. They will outrank me any day.”
“I’m not willing to put my faith in a person I can’t even confirm is alive.”
I shut my mouth, pressed my lips together. The man had a point.
“Can I count on you?” Adreth pressed.
“I should go back to Pelle,” I said slowly. “My wife and my people need me. I don’t belong out here.”
He took a moment to process the words before he began again. “I don’t think you’d make it out there on your own, and I don’t mean that as an insult. I think you and I could both get what we want.”
I hadn’t even begun to think about what it would be like to try to navigate myself all the way back to Pelle with no one to help me. Adreth was right – I’d be dead within a week. “I’m listening.”
“I can promise you that when we reach a safe base of operations I will see that a messenger is sent back to Pelle. They can find out what has happened to your town and bring your wife back with them.”
“You really want this, don’t you?”
He stared me down. A man like him wasn’t likely to expound on his needs for others.
“I…will do whatever I can. I won’t promise that it will help.”
“It will help,” Adreth rose, dusting off his pants. “Mareth wouldn’t send just anyone to find me.”
Gods, not that again. Mareth and his predictions. Mareth was a fair part of the reason I came to Nivenea in the first place. If we Deldri were supposed to be so blessed by the gods, how could something like this happen with us present?
“See here,” Adreth called out, stepping up on the fence to gain height on everyone. Eyes drew up on him automatically at his command – maybe because we all needed to believe in something with all of this going on. I scrambled to standing next to him, sensing an introduction coming on. I was getting the impression that Adreth was the kind to take action without warning. “We have Baron among us who has volunteered to follow us to Seldat.”
I caught his rhythm in time to follow it. I didn’t bother standing up on the fence as he did – I was fine with Adreth standing above me in more ways than one. “My name is Les, of Pelle. I don’t have any answers for you yet – if I had them, I’d give them. I want to help in any way I can.”
Feeble. Dull. Basic. The blankness staring back at me from the crowd mirrored my own internal blankness, and threatened to turn my face blood-red.
Adreth terminated the scrutiny by jumping off the fence. He almost smiled at me.
“Thank you,” he said, and by the way it sounded he didn’t often thank people for anything.
“Thank fate,” I parried, the words unsaid: Don’t thank me for something that wasn’t my choice.
Adreth struck me as a man of strategy and intelligence – like as not, he got that extra meaning. He didn’t look back at me when he walked away. I didn’t look back at the spire, not once, before we started on our journey to Seldat.