The ground was frozen solid when the Archon Septimus Seraphim died, which meant that he could not be buried on that day. And so his body was wrapped in a blanket, the grim, gaunt face with its beak of a nose vanishing under the folds . Sylvester Erelim watched his brothers--who he still could not help but compare to the brothers of his old order--do this duty, marvelling at how small the man he'd cared for these past few weeks had become.
And how few the Eremites were now.
This wasn't a total surprise. The Eremites had always been a rather small and exclusive group, trusting in mobility and training in fast strikes over numbers. A handy strategy for bandits and rebels--but less so in a long-term war. And then, the Eremites were prone to fasts, to self-denial, to forced hardship. Things that could weaken a man's health, and make it brittle enough to shatter in conditions like this.
There were under a hundred left here, beseiging Montalban. That was less than half the number they'd started with--and worse, they'd been reinforced with the Montleone Eremites since then. This war has been the ruin of the Eremites, he thought. And it was supposed to be their moment of glory.
"Oh, Holy Light, accept now our brother and let him not fall into shadow..." said Sir Bleys Chashmallim. Sylvester found his mind going back to the Archon's last few days, when he babbled endlessly about an eye... a bright, shining eye.
It had not been pleasant talk. Somehow, Sylvester felt if given a choice between Douma Dalkiel and the eye, Septimus would have chosen the former.
Sir Georges approached him quietly. Sylvester bowed. "Acting Archon..." he began.
Georges shook his head. "No need for titles at the moment, Sylvester." He gestured out at the small crowd. "Look who's here." Sylvester followed Sir Georges' finger, then blinked in astonishment.
"The Stylite?" he hissed, his eyes remaining fixed on the cloaked figure.
"He does not come to our meetings, nor when called," muttered Sir Georges, "but he comes to our funerals." He snarled quietly. "I have never held much love for the Knights of the Tower. But now... They have always admitted thatwhat they offer the Faith is a fiend's bargain. We have always thought it was the better choice. Now..." He shook his head. "Now I am certain it is not."
"We could..." began Sylvester.
"What? Confront him?" Georges shook his head. "It will not win us this siege. Even if I am sure that is not what he is here for." He glanced at Sylvester. "How goes the Flagellants' work?"
"They've managed to get many men into warm tents, and are working at feeding them," muttered Sylvester. "Still--we've lost many men, and are still losing them." He shook his head. "We've gone from having a glut of food to a scarcity, we've..."
"Had a botched campaign from beginning to end," muttered Sir Georges. "I'd break the siege, and head back to Joyeuse, if not for the fact that I doubt the army would survive the trip." He glanced at the white walls, where the standard of the Cthoniques still flew. "The Dark Lords have won this round. All that's left is the due to the dead."
"So what will we do?" asked Sylvester quietly.
"Our duty," answered Georges. "No matter how grim and futile it may be."