Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Siege of the White Mountain; Volume 2: Fields Running Red--Part 2

Archon Septimus Seraphim lay in his cot, his blanket tight across his shoulders, and regarded the young man before him. “So… you are all they can spare?”

Squire Sylvester Khi--Erelim, he was now Sylvester Erelim, an Eremite in good standing now, and the Archon would have to remember it--shrugged. “We’re spread thin, sir. I… I fear few us realized how your health had declined until we were told.”

Septimus nodded, and then started to say something, only to begin coughing. The Archon had coughed before in his life, but the cough he had developed in these last few weeks was exceptionally painful, one that made his throat raw and his sides ache. He had hoped it would fade quickly, at first, but as the second week of it began, he realized that he was truly--perhaps fatally--ill.

Another man might have wondered what he had done to deserve this, but the Archon had always prided himself for his ability to discern the will of the Seven. He knew. Indeed, he couldn’t help but know, and had half-expected something of this nature to happen.

As the coughing fit ended, Septimus felt something warm on his shirt, and began to wonder, in idle, abstract way, if he had coughed up blood. But then he realized that young Sylvester was applying a hot compress to his chest. He nodded thankfully, and motioned for him to stop. “I… how is the camp?”

Sylvester looked away awkwardly. “I… don’t have much experience in these things, sir, but… it seems to me be…”

“It is that…” Septimus began to cough again, though this fit was mercifully brief. “That bad,” he finished.

“It’s the cold snap,” said Sylvester. “We weren’t prepared for this We thought we had a few more weeks of good campaign weather. Enough time to…”

“I can imagine,” muttered Septimus. He stared ahead grimly. “I… we must trust to the Seven. They will not let us fail in this task. They cannot.” He took a deep breath, and immediately wished he had not. “Men may fail. I may fail. But this--this siege will be victorious. This war will be victorious. Light will be all. And all will be light.”

Sylvester gave a nod. “Of course. Of course, sir. You should see the siege towers the armigers are building. They’re making excellent progress.”

Septimus smiled softly. “Well… that is good. I--I have had my doubts about them, but… they cannot be faulted for their enthusiasm in this war. And perhaps--perhaps that is exactly what we will need to win it.” The Archon shut his eyes. “Have… have you been to see the Stylite?”

“The… Stylite, sir?” asked Sylvester.

Septimus pulled his blankets around him tighter. “No then. Well… you must. He calls me to him… but I cannot come. My feet are lead. You must speak to him. You must tell him that all things are going well. Do so, and he will stop calling me. He will stop fixing me with his great and terrible eye. And then--then perhaps I will be able to rest.” He squirmed uncomfortably in his cot. “I must rest. Rest and make myself hale and whole.”

Sylvester prepared to leave, but suddenly Septimus sat up. His eyes snapped open and he regarded Sylvester fixedly. “Understand, squire… I hate the weakness of my flesh that has brought me to this. I wish I could offer the Seven a perfect service. But I am mortal.” With that, he fell back into his cot. “I am mortal, and they have chosen to remind me of that fact. As--as I deserve to be… reminded. This is my scourging and I accept it, for it comes from the hands of my masters. That… is what it means to serve the Holy Light.” Septimus felt a comforting warmth engulf him. “Now… now… go to the Stylite, if he lets you find him. And explain things. So I may rest.” Septimus heard the young squire leave his tent and hoped that Nitre would leave him alone.

A few minutes later, just as he was starting to rest, the Stylite fixed him with his great and terrible eye.

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