Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Siege of the White Mountain, (Volume 1: Raise the Black Banner)--Part 24

The edges of Nitre’s tent were fluttering as if blown by a strong wind, even though the Archon knew it was a calm day.

But then, he also knew it was day, and yet the Stylite’s tent was dark as night. That robed figure, face hidden beneath the elaborate mask, stood before a little table, playing some strange card game that the Eremite couldn’t fathom. This annoyed Septimus Seraphim, for he’d come at the Knight of the Tower’s insistence, called by…

It occurred to Septimus that he’d been about to think ‘a messenger’, and yet he knew that had to be wrong--Nitre kept no servants. He rode no horse. Indeed, he never seemed to be among those traveling in the army by day, only appearing when the tents were set up, in his little strange tent set up on the edge of camp…

“So the Dark Lords of Plains and Marsh are here…” said Nitre suddenly, flipping a card over--one showing a young girl prying open the jaws of a lion--eyeing it with a satisfied gaze, and then flopping it on down over another card that showed a man about to walk over the edge of a cliff.

“Indeed, Nitre,” said Septimus, his voice rough. His cold seemed almost gone now, but in its place he now had a sore throat that made speaking for any length of time rather painful.

The Stylite made a sudden convulsion, that looked to the Archon’s eyes like a thing that wasn’t a human trying to impersonate a human shuddering. “Hmmmph. Irritating.” He clicked his tongue--or at least tried to--and flipped over another card. This one he liked less, and after a moment’s consideration, deposited in a pile of discards. “They will have… to be dealt with.”

“I thought that was your job!” spat out Septimus.

The manner in which Nitre’s eyes turned on him made the Archon regret that. “Many brothers of my order were on hand to deal with these Dark Lords of yours, when they assaulted Joyeuse… full brothers, with many acolytes behind them. And there it was not enough to prevent their escape. Now, you expect lonesome myself to face off against them?” And then he made that awful coughing sound, that sound Septimus had finally realized was laughter. “No. No. I will aid in subtle ways, but I will not exert myself overmuch. That would be folly. Dangerous folly.”

Septimus nodded. “I see.” He coughed slightly.

Nitre flipped another card. It showed the dead, rising from their graves. He placed it on top of card showing a knight with a coin on his shield, and gave a satisfied nod. “I am glad that we have reached this understanding. The Prince is back in Joyeuse. And other good news! The Easter King has agreed to peace, if he is allowed to keep Precieuse. So Amfortas now has a clear way before him to deal with the Great War, and all the insidious enemies that have gathered against him.”

Septimus Seraphim recalled vaguely that Ilarion Skarvsky had supposedly been the reason that the Prince had let his order into Leonais proper. But then, there hadn’t been Dark Lords involved then. They changed everything, Nightfolk did. Septimus remembered Mansemat Cthonique cutting through his men and winced. “Nitre… As you say these people are… terrible in their unnatural power…” He bit his lip. “I… I do not know…”

“Leave the worrying to my order, Eremite,” said Nitre. “Your concern is taking the city.” He flipped another card then gave a grunt of frustration. “A loss.” With a sort of unpleasant gasp that was apparently a sigh, he pulled a small sack onto the table, and opened it. As the Archon watched, the cards drew together into a pile, shuffled themselves until they were neat, then tucked themselves into the sack. As Nitre went to put the bag away, he glanced at the gaping Septimus. “You are still here?”

Septimus scurried from the tent.

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