Jacques’ hands were covered with blisters, and ached. He was resting right now, and his eyes were closed, so he couldn’t see his hands, but they still ached, ached so much that he could see them in his mind. His back also ached, ached to the point where he thought he could feel every bone in his spine, and feel them ache. And he’d had a distressing idea that some of his teeth were loosening. He’d push them with his tongue, and feel them wiggle.
He opened his eyes, and stared at the latest siege engine he’d built, and willed it to burst into flame. The armigers said such thought was treasonous now, but by now he knew that this was the destiny of anything that this army built. The Badb would burn it. They were building these in secret, far away from the Badb’s prying eyes. And yet Jacques knew that every now and then one of these hidden construction sites would see its catapults and scorpions burst into flame of its own accord.
Because the Badb was watching them, he realized, as he shut his eyes, watching them through arcane measures he didn’t understand. They were doomed. The armigers had lead them to their deaths, facing an opponent whose power they could not hope to equal. They would die here, in this opening round of the Great War, their lives wasted
And the worst part was the horrible sensation that that was as it should be. That they deserved to lose. That whatever the glories of its past, Leonais had become something horrible, some hideous farce of the land it had been, a bloodthirsty idol that demanded endless blood sacrifices comprised of its own people to quench its thirst.
And that Jacques was one of these.
“Best get up, Jacques,” said the old-timer. “The Bloody Flower’s like to be here soon.”
“Just a little longer,” muttered Jacques, eyes remaining firmly shut.
“You may not have a little longer,” replied the old-timer, voice full of sympathy.
“But I might,” said Jacques, taking a deep breath.
“But you might,” agreed the old-timer, before walking away. Jacques heard him humming that strange song of his, and then heard him no longer.
Jacques lay there, trying to rest, and then he heard the sound of a horse. He knew who it was. And he knew he should have gotten up. But he didn’t want to.
So he didn’t.
“You there!” came Gautier de Fleur Rouge’s harsh voice. “Get up.”
It occurred to Jacques he was being given a second chance here, a chance to avoid the armiger’s wrath before it happened. And then he realized that he didn’t care. So he said the only thing he could.
Jacques heard the man dismount, and felt him stride forwards, and then he opened his eyes, and saw the tall man looming over him, his expression disdainful. “Are you defying me?” asked Gautier, regarding Jacques as if he was some sort of disgusting insect.
Jacques considered that. “I guess I am.”
Gautier nodded, then clapped his hands. “You! And you there! Get this man up, and bind him. We have an insubordinate shirker to bring to the Flagellants.”
Jacques heard two men approach him, and begin to pick him up. He considered resisting, but frankly didn’t see the point. And so he was dragged up, limp as a rag doll. “Sorry about this,” said a familiar voice.
Jacques turned to regard Pierre, looking at him with haunted eyes. “It’s all right.”
“I… you… you should have done you’re duty to the Holy Light!” said Pierre, with a gulp.
“I said it was all right,” whispered Jacques. And as they dragged him forward, and bound his hands, he realized he felt… relieved. He was probably going to die. And die horribly. But that had always been the case. And now--this way--he had made sure that he’d die by his own decision.
And that--that was a rare thing here. A very rare thing.