Debts and Tragedy (Part 2)
Pratt had been with Father Mazeon for most of his young life. In the time that the boy had served as the Councilman’s student, Pratt had seen many horrors. He was always so inspired by the unwavering resolve and courage that his teacher showed. Pratt had watched Father Mazeon come courageously face to face with things that would have made hardened knights in armor flee the field. This fact was the reason that Pratt was now in such mortal terror. He had never once seen Father Mazeon so wounded. As they helplessly watched the Grand Abbey burn in the night, it was impossible for Pratt to get any more than a murmur out of his teacher. The glassy look in the Councilman’s eyes told the whole story of the tragic theater that played out in his heart.
The hottest flames were now long extinguished. There was little more that the blaze could consume for fuel. The Grand Abbey had been reduced to a burned out shell of ash and rubble. The building looked nothing like the resplendent beacon of knowledge, reason and diplomacy that it used to be. The thick black plumes of smoke that rose up from the smoldering ruins were beginning to thin out. The heat of the recent fire was diminished enough that the members of the Councilman’s group could think about entering what remained of the Grand Abbey.
Pratt carefully approached the place where Father Mazeon was kneeling. The boy looked at his grief stricken instructor and tried to think of how best to breach the deathly silence that blanketed the ruins. “I think…I…uh…” stammered the Councilman’s student. Pratt lost his will to speak when he saw his teacher begin to acknowledge the waking world once more.
Father Mazeon slowly turned his head and regarded Pratt but the man said nothing. His teary eyes only continued to swell with sorrow. His lips quivered like he was about to speak but no words came forth. Father Mazeon seemed more a statue than a man save for his shoulders that heaved greatly with each heavy breath that he took.
After bearing several more long moments of his mentor’s anguish Pratt summoned enough sense to continue speaking, all be it with grave ineloquence. “Do you suppose…maybe we…do you…it could be safe enough…maybe we could go in…maybe some of them survived…” sputtered the boy. He hoped that Father Mazeon would soon return to his ever fearless self and take control of such an uncertain situation. It was not to be the Councilman who would be the voice of duty in the moments to follow but The Helm Breaker.
Pratt felt the powerful foot falls of Sir Liam before he saw the massive Rayward man coming from the wagon. Pratt looked back over his shoulder to see the approach of the battle hardened knight. The boy also noted that Tinaca looked on with marked curiosity from her perch on the wagon’s driver seat.
Sir Liam walked by Pratt but gave the boy something that could pass for a smile as he did. The hulking man knelt down beside the grieving Councilman as he spoke. “The boy is right, I think it may be safe to go inside now.”
Father Mazeon looked at the Rayward man with eyes that suddenly became hard and cold. “Are you so anxious to scavenge among the dead for your wages? I suspect that you will want to be released from our agreement.”
Sir Liam quelled the urge he felt to crush the red robed man’s head under his boot. The Helm Breaker had stood by the side of enough men who had survived the heat of battle to know that it was the grief talking more than anything else when Father Mazeon spoke. The Rayward man could not help but look over his shoulder at the miniscule form of Tinaca. The image of confusion and fear that blanketed the young girls face nearly crushed The Helm Breakers well-honed iron clad emotional detachment. “Pay me later, I will see this through. I do not feel like abandoning my duty a second time. I’ve had enough disgrace for this life,” grumbled Sir Liam.
Father Mazeon did not responded but the expression on his face seemed to indicate that The Helm Breaker’s words helped to lift the man’s fallen sprit.
“Could it have an accident?” Pratt queried aloud.
“Perhaps. Sad to say that a dramatic rouge catastrophe would be the best thing to hope for,” said the Councilman as he returned to his feet.
“We will not know anything for certain if we stay out here. The best hope of any answers lay inside,” Sir Liam said gruffly.
“Agreed. Pratt you stay with Tinaca out here while we go inside. I suspect that we will not be long…there is not much left to see,” said the Councilman with a sorrow laden voice.
Pratt was silent but he nodded in comprehension before he returned to the wagon and engaged in children’s talk with the young girl.
“Well then, let us get to it,” said Sir Liam as he hefted his great maul in his hands and sauntered into the burnt-out structure.
Father Mazeon followed the Rayward man into the remnants of the Grand Abbey. This homecoming was just as emotionally difficult for Father Mazeon as his recent return to Blackcloud but for much different reasons. While the journey to his long forgotten homestead brought back painful memories and feelings that he had worked hard to bury Father Mazeon tour of the decimated Abbey carried the fear of the unknown. As the Councilman walked where the fire had blazed not long before he knew that it was fantasy to think that all of his brethren had managed to escape. The scent of burned flesh and blood wafting about the corridors of the abbey were evidence to the loss of life. Sir Liam and Father Mazeon continued to work deeper into the heart of the building, looking for any who might have survived or clues to the origin of the fire.
The Councilman nearly blacked out from shock when he saw the first one. It had once been a man but that was all that Sir Liam and Father Mazeon were able to determine from the charred mass of black meat and bone. The Councilman loathed himself for how poorly he was handling the spectacle in front of him. He had stared down murderers, the vilest sort of men that humanity had to offer and assorted nightmare creatures without flinching. Now in the wake of this destruction he was scarcely better composed than a hysterical widow at her husband’s funeral. He reasoned that the cause for his fragility was the fact that many of those he held dear had perished gruesomely this time.
The two men found little to proffer any sort of explanation to the story behind the burning of the Grand Abbey. That all changed when Sir Liam and Father Mazeon entered the central courtyard. It was in that place that any lingering questions the Councilman had were provided with the most horrific of answers. Tied to steaks driven into the earth were the remains of innumerable brothers of the Vermillion Council. It looked like the conclave had turned into a mass execution.
“Nearly every ranking Councilman…” started Father Mazeon as his face paled and he looked over the aftermath of the massacre.
“How can you be so sure?” Asked Sir Liam as he regarded the indistinguishable features of the charred husks that once used to be human.
“Look there,” responded Father Mazeon as he pointed to a pile of red cloaks in the middle of the courtyard.
The Councilman and the Rayward knight went to the collection of robes. It was impossible to tell exactly how many were there but the size of the mound itself was indication enough that the number of men who had lost their lives here were vast in number. The pair of men scanned the top of the heap and moved their eyes down until they came to rest on the unmistakable cloak of the Father Abbot at the base of the mountain of robes. Unlike the rest of the garments the Father Abbot’s robe seemed to be wrapped around something.
With much trepidation Father Mazeon crouched down and investigated the curiosity of the Father Abbots robe. The Councilman hesitated for a moment as he considered what might lay within the folds of red cloth. Father Mazeon mentally prepared himself to face any sort of horror that he might unmask and then he set about unveiling the object that the Father Abbot’s robe had concealed.
The Councilman’s anticipation and fear mounted as he respectfully lay the scarlet cloth on the ash covered cobblestone and regarded the strongbox that he has just revealed. It was a simple container used for storing coin and other currency, not an extraordinary distinctive element could be seen on the object. This strongbox had a latch that could be secured with a padlock but there was no lock in place. It was clear that the strongbox was intended to be opened. The Councilman held his breath as he pushed back the lid of the container.
Inside the strongbox was something so innocently terrifying. A simple letter sealed with red wax waited on the dusty bottom of the box’s interior. There was no crest embossed on the wax and the parchment the letter was penned upon was of pedestrian stock. The Councilman broke the wax seal and began to read the letter. After a fleeting moment staring at the single line of text on the page Father Mazeon doubled over and vomited on the stones of the courtyard.
The letter fell from the Councilman’s grasp. Sir Liam went to try and aid Father Mazeon but the red clad man waived off The Helm Breaker. Sir Liam endured a slightly perplexed moment and then picked up the fallen letter. He read aloud the single line of text that had been scrawled in soot. “He who serves, witness as your debt that is owed bears interest.”
“This was my doing…” sobbed the Councilman.
Sir Liam was no expert a consolation but he had seen many a warrior with a broken spirit before. “Did you put the torch to timber?” asked Sir Liam as he helped the Councilman to his feet.
“No…but…” started Father Mazeon but was cut short by The Helm Breaker’s interruption.
“Then this was not your doing and that will be the last bit of self-pity nonsense you are going to allow yourself. Nothing more to be done here,” came the ever practical words of Sir Liam. He took the weight of the heartbroken Councilman on his shoulder as he helped Father Mazeon leave the gruesome sight behind.
Sir Liam and Father Mazeon left through the way in which they had come. The sight of Pratt and Tinaca talking innocently at the wagon helped to lift the mood of both men. The Helm Breaker’s moment of levity was quickly dashed when a haunting question intruded upon his thoughts. “The thing that did this, it is after her as well?” asked Sir Liam as he gestured to the blackened crumbing stones of the Grand Abbey before he nodded towards Tinaca in the distance.
“Yes it is. I understand if you wish to be done with the lot of us,” Said Father Mazeon coldly.
“Forget the payment. If I walk away from her now I may as well crush her neck and leave her dead,” blurted The Helm Breaker faster than he expected to say. He realized in that moment that he had become strikingly fond of the damaged little child.
Father Mazeon scoffed as he responded to the Rayward knight’s statement. “Your logic seems to carry a bit of hypocrisy considering what you just told me about responsibility in the courtyard.”
“Do not muddy things with your games and words. It is simple, you are not responsible for this tragedy and I will not abandon a helpless child,” said The Helm Breaker as he let Father Mazeon stand on his own.
“You are a good man Sir Liam Broadcliff,” said the Councilman with reverence.
“Now I think you are talking nonsense,” said Sir Liam with a chuckle from deep inside his belly.