“This is madness!” muttered the Archon from his cot. “Sheer madness! Sheer contrary-minded madness!”
Sylvester regarded the frail form of his superior with a mixture of concern and wonder, as he worked on making some more tea for the man. Concern that Septimus would do himself an injury, the man’s health still being astonishingly poor, and wonder that the mention of a duel with Mansemat Cthonique could clarify the man’s mind so.
“How could Archimedes even consider this?” asked Septimus, shivering in his blankets. “He is hardly a great swordsman, or even a noteworthy one.”
Well, to a certain level of clarity, it had to be admitted.
“It is Sir Georges who is going to fight the duel, Archon,” explained Sylvester.
Septimus blinked several times. “Who?”
“Sir Georges Kerabim,” said Sylvester. “Commander of the Montleone contingent.”
“No, no,” muttered Septimus. “That is Archon Archimedes.” He looked deeply puzzled. “I do not know what Sir Georges is.”
“A mistake on my part,” said Sylvester tiredly. “Now, drink your tea.”
The Archon grabbed the cup and sucked it down eagerly. “He ought not to have done that, though,” he said, after finishing his long swallow. “He has not seen the Dark Lord fight. I have. Lord Cthonique’s skill with the blade is extraordinary--a cursed gift from Douma Dalkiel herself. I have seen him, you see. Seen him cut down men like wheat.” The Archon stopped at that, and stared ahead bleakly.
Sylvester felt an urge to say something. “Still, you crossed swords with him, sir,” he noted. “Crossed swords with him and lived.”
The Archon continued to stare ahead bleakly. “Tell me, young Sylvester, what lives in a man when honor is dead? Honor, and courage, and all… dignity. Take those away, leave only their bare shadows, and ask yourself, ‘is that life’?”
Sylvester blinked. “Sir?”
“I… I am a failure,” muttered Septimus. “I should have killed Mansemat Cthonique. Or died trying. That is what a knight of the Hermitage should have done. Not… survived and gone on in this… living death. I should have faced the Dark Lord, armed with my faith and either triumphed or died a martyr.”
“Sir, the Porphryiad itself notes we should not pretend to know the full will of the Seven,” said Sylvester. “We cannot dictate to them what should happen, and what should have happened. We can only accept what they have allowed to happen, and live our lives by their precepts in the world that results.” Sylvester noted that Septimus’ face seemed to brighten at that. “Besides, sir, I would say that the important part is not whether you slew the Dark Lord, or was slain by him, but the mere fact that you tried. That unlike many of my former brothers who have been seduced by the words of Douma Dalkiel, you remained resolute and true to your duties.”
Any trace of brightness had vanished from the Archon’s face. “I… yes… I tried. Yes, that is what is important.” Septimus fell back into his cot. “I… I am tired, Sylvester. Very tired. I must rest. Rest for a long time. Rest and think.” He pulled the blankets around himself. “Tell… tell everyone that I will not be seeing them. Not for a long while.”
Sylvester nodded, and left the tent. The sad part was that the Archon wasn’t getting visitors anyway. Not anymore.
They’d just… stopped coming.