The Greatest Fools
“I would have thought that I would be used to getting laughed at by now but it still sings every time,” Brother Pratt lamented. He fussed and twirled with the long strands of scarlet fabric that hung from around his waist. He picked at the dirt with the toe of his boot and distracted himself from the lasting marks of the verbal tongue lashing he and his companions had received just moments ago.
“At least we are still being granted audiences with the powers that be. I would have thought by now that word would have spread about us and that any great city would have turned us away on sight,” Sir Liam Broadcliff said as he thumped the red clad young man on the shoulder with a treelike arm. While the blow was obviously intended in a supportive fashion it missed the desired effect and nearly sent Pratt sprawling to the ground.
“I would think that any time we are granted with the nobility these days is simply a courtesy and formality offered up for the red cloak,” Tinaca said with a sour lilt and empty eyes. “At least people still hold some reverence for the Vermillion Council,” she continued while reaching over her shoulder and counting the arrows in her quiver by feel.
“I think you are right. It all has to be for show at this point. I knew we would face lots of rejection but I did not expect total refusal. I thought that once we got one city to agree that it would become easier to rally people to the cause. It is just trying to get the first one to agree,” Pratt grumbled dejectedly as he returned his attention to trying to dislodge a pebble for the packed earth of the stable’s grounds.
“Of all cities I would have thought that the Evermist Valley would have been agreeable…or at least not have laughed us out of court,” Tinaca said while shaking her head in frustration. She began to saddle her horse and check the waning provisions tucked away in her saddle bags. Her sullen and dour countenance only deepened as she accessed the limited supply of remaining food and water.
“Aye the people in this realm are among the most tolerant and accepting folk I know of but they are not much for fighting. Can not imagine they would want to be the first to sign on for a campaign against the chimera,” Sir Liam stated while running his thick fingers through his tangled grey beard.
“Well there is little for us left in the city. We found out what we came to find out,” Pratt said with bitter cold in his speech. He finally succeeded in freeing a flat stone form the dirt and kicked it into an empty horse stall.
“But we did not get what we came to get,” Tinaca mused softly.
“I do not know if there is anywhere left that can give us what we need at this point. At this stage we will need a miracle if we are to start raising an army that will have a chance at turning back the chimera,” Pratt said mournfully.
“That is simply not true…” Sir Liam started with a sly grin on his face. “We needed a miracle from the start. What else would you call a united army of the best warriors from all corners of Argaia?” he continued with wry inflection.
“Amurai,” Pratt said without missing a moment.
“A fine name for an army that will never march,” Sir Liam said under his breath.
“Never,” Pratt responded with a concerned tilt of his head in the direction of the former Rayward Master of Arms. “Please do not tell me that you have started to lose hope as well?”
“Apologies. Skepticism is a hard trait to let go of, especially when it has kept me alive for so many years. Hope gets too may good fools killed,” Sir Liam said with a softening of his stern features.
“So does fear,” Pratt responded, once again with lightning speed.
“Aye lad you do not know the whole truth of that wisdom,” Sir Liam said with a deferential nod of his head and downward glance. He turned his attention back to their wagon and began hitching up a pair of horses to the cart. “I will say that of the two, fear is the easier choice.”
“How is that?” Tinaca interjected with lifted infection and piqued interest as she peered around her stallions flank.
“Hope demands that someone do something. With fear all a person has to do is nothing. Fear, easiest choice any fool can make, she is.” Sir Liam said nonchalantly.
Pratt stopped his fiddling and fussing to regard the Rayward veteran with wide thoughtful eyes. “I know Fathers and even some Abbots in the Council who could not put a lesson like that so succinctly,” Pratt said with the trappings of a bow to Sir Liam.
The Helm Breaker laughed loud and long. His resonating voice filled the stables with some painfully well overdue cheer. Tinaca and Pratt looked at each other with perplexed expressions.
“What is so funny?” Pratt finally inquired as Sir Liam’s infectious laughter defeated the lurking frown on the young brother’s lips and replaced it with a faint smile.
“You feel I missed my calling? Do you? Like to see me in a red cloak? Would you my boy?” chuckled the Helm Breaker.
Both the Councilman and Sir Liam’s surrogate daughter broke out chortling after a fleeting moment of stunned silence. The only image that anyone in the stables could picture at this time was the most ludicrous portrait of Sir Liam Boradcliff absent his armor, draped in the deep red robes of a Vermillion Councilman and trading in his great maul for a collection of tomes, scrolls and parchment.
“No, I can not see you as anything but what you are,” Pratt said once he had enough mental wherewithal to proffer a response.
“That is good. I do not think that red is my color anyway,” said the grey haired man. “So now that were have been laughed out of Evermist, where are we off to next?”
“Wherever we go, I hope it is not far. We have little food and even less coin to resupply,” Tinaca quickly input as she showed the two men her near depleted saddlebags. She the pointed at the wagon and indicated the glaring absence of provisions in its bed.
“We will figure something out on the way. It will be quite a journey and we best stick to merchant caravans and wagon trains when we can. I will say that starving enroute will be the least of our concerns, though,” Pratt said with an uncertain air. He wiped his face and rubbed at his eyes while he chewed over the next words he had prepared. “In fact chimera, the wilds and highwaymen might all be lesser concerns.”
“What are you on about boy? Where are you taking us?” Sir Liam growled.
“I had been putting this port of call off as long as I could but I think it is the last domain we can try before we have to leave the main continent and cross the Bone Sea,” Pratt said nervously. He stopped his words and fought to quell the burning heat in his ears and fingertips as a perilous future loomed before him. “We need to go to the Bloodwoods,” he blurted out as fast as he could before his resolve to say the words vanished.
“I knew we were desperate but…” Tinaca trailed.
“If I am to die, I would rather it be on the battlefield and not as supper for some tree in a swamp,” Sir Liam belted out as he folded his massive arms over his wide chest.
“I would have hoped that a personal venture into the Bloodwoods could have been avoided but we are desperate indeed and the clansmen in that region are the finest hunters and archers in all the land. Any army that faces the chimera will need them,” Pratt responded with determination tempered with realism.
“Well I supposed at the very least, if we live long enough to be received by the Bloodwoods Clan elders, we will not have to worry about being laughed out of their swamp,” Sir Liam said with a humorously morbid shake of his head.
“Why is that?” queried Tinaca
“I am sure that they would rather kill us, cook us and eat us,” laughed the Helm Breaker.