Sylvester regarded the pale, bedraggled man before him. “I hope, Sir Georges, that your trip was… successful,” he said, as he lead him into the Archon’s tent.
“Successful?” snapped the senior Eremite. “I lost half my men fleeing Monleone. That damned bastard Agrivain is coming--with troops! And when I arrive--instead of a well-maintained war machine, I find this… monstrosity!” He whirled on Sylvester, eyes wide. “And what are YOU doing in control, you… little upstart!” Georges waved his hand at him. “I know your past! You were a Sacristan!”
“Who has become an Eremite,” explained Sylvester, as he lead him. “And I am not in control, sir. The Archon remains in command. I simply… assist him… as…”
A hideous racking cough emerged from the bundle of blankets in the middle of the tent. “Sylvester…” came the weak croak from their center, as a pair of emaciated arms emerged. “Sylvester, who is there…?”
“It is Sir Georges Kerabim, sir,” said Sylvester. “The… present commander of the Monleone forces…”
The hollow skull of a face that Archon Septimus Seraphim now showed the word gradually came into view as he unsteadily rose. “What…?” he muttered, staring at Georges, baffled. “But… but… Archon Archimedes Seraphim is…” And then came another coughing fit.
“Your brother Archon is… dead, sir,” said Sylvester. “He caught a spear as they fled Monleone.”
Septimus blinked several times. “No,” he whispered. “Not Archimedes… He… he was one of our best…. He…”
Georges glanced at Sylvester, his anger turning to shock, and by degrees, to sympathy. “Well, sir, that may be,” said Sylvester quietly, “but the fact remains that he is passed, and Sir Georges is presently in command of the men.” Septimus stared blankly into space. Sylvester gave a polite cough. “Would--would you like some tea, sir?”
It took a long time, but eventually, Septimus nodded at this. Sylvester gave a polite little bow, and headed into a corner, where he began to boil some water. Georges sat before the Archon, who began to cough. As it turned into another lengthy coughing fit, Georges shifted uncomfortably, and began to scratch his shoulder. “Sir…,” he began at last, as the Archon’s fit seemed to lessen.
Septimus continued to cough.
Georges glanced at Sylvester. “How’s the tea coming?”
Sylvester poured the kettle into a cup. “Almost ready.”
The senior Eremite nodded. “Good. Good.” He regarded the Archon, whose fit finally seemed to be ending. “Sir, I have… grave news for you. Agrismont is now firmly in the hands of the enemy. The Duke is already preparing his own army to come and assist the Montalbanese. I worry, sir, that…”
Sylvester stepped forward with his cup of tea, which the Archon quickly guzzled down. As soon as he was finished, he took several wheezing breaths, and regarded Sir Georges. “Now then, Sir Kerabim--where is Archon Archimedes?”
Sylvester and Georges looked at each other for a long moment. “You know, sir,” said Sylvester, “you seem tired. Perhaps you should rest.”
The Archon nodded, his eyes weighing shut. “Yes. Yes. Rest would be good. Rest is what I need. Rest… rest will make me whole.” He sank back into the blankets, disappearing into them.
The other two Eremites left the tent. “You are not in command,” said Sir Georges quietly.
“He has good days,” answered Sylvester. “And I seem to be the only person he trusts, for some… strange reason.” A sudden scream came from the tent. “Oh, yes, did I mention the nightmares? He has nightmares. Terrible nightmares.”
Sir Kerabim took a deep breath. “Sir Erelim, is there any objection to my taking command of this siege?”
“The armigers wouldn’t listen to you,” said Sylvester. “They were barely listening to him, and he has the Prince’s writ.”
Georges sighed. “So then, we work together to get the Archon to do something that will let us get this mess under control.”
Sylvester nodded. “That… sounds like a plan.” He peered at the older man. “Sir… if I may ask… how bad was it in Monleone?”
“Worse than you can imagine,” said Sir Kerabim.