Father Mazeon and the two children stared at Sir Liam, awestruck. The tale he just told of how he had bested the Iron Lord only elevated the man’s already formidable reputation. The Helm Breaker twisted and grumbled in his bed as he cursed the wounds on his body. Father Mazeon glanced back and forth from Pratt to Tinaca. The thing that caught the Councilman’s attention most of all was the look of utter amazement that was set on the small girls face. A flash of inspiration stuck in the back of Father Mazeon’s head. He came to realize that perhaps trying to hide the girl from the chimera was not the best course. Maybe there was another way.
“That is quite the story,” said the Councilman to The Helm Breaker. His words were those of a skeptic but his voice was laden with a complimentary tone. Sir Liam glared at the Councilman but Father Mazeon continued to speak before the Rayward man could say anything. “Pratt, would you please take Tinaca and see if my robes have been washed and dried?” Father Mazeon asked his disciple but the boy knew that the Councilman’s words were a clear directive and not a suggestion.
Pratt got off of the bench where he was sat beside Father Mazeon. He started for the door to the room. Pratt noticed that Tinaca was not following as he had expected. Pratt turned his attention back towards where he had been siting and saw that Tinica’s attention was still totally honed in of the massive form of Sir Liam. “Come on,” Pratt said to the girl with a measure of irritation in his words. The harsh edge on the boy’s statement broke the spell that The Helm Breaker’s story had worked on Tinaca. Her eyes snapped to Pratt and she fell in line behind the Councilman’s apprentice. The pair stepped thru the door and left Father Mazeon and Sir Liam alone in the dingy room.
The Councilman was the first to break the awkward silence that ensued after the departure of the children. “I have not yet had the chance to properly thank you for what you did for me the other night. I am ever grateful for your courage Sir,” said Father Mazeon.
“Courage played little part. I just stepped into the wrong alley was all. I do not remember much but my apologies for…for…” Sir Liam trailed off as he tried to express the humiliation of vomiting on the Councilman with a series of clumsy gestures.
“No matter. Nothing that can not be washed away,” Said the Councilman.
“I do not wish to seem ungrateful either. You seem to know your way with a thread and bandage. I am indebted for your care but I loathe ending a man without knowing proper reason for it. I would like to know what happened,” queried The Helm Breaker with a strangely sheepish quality about his speech.
The Councilman simply smiled and spread his hands wide as he spoke. “It was after dark on the streets of Blackcloud.”
“Fair enough but even the dumbest cut purses in this place would not dare attack a sworn member of the Vermillion Council,” rebutted the Rayward man.
The coy smile quickly disappeared from the Councilman’s face as he recalled the reason for the attempt on his life. Father Mazeon battled to push images of his lost love, Marcus, back down into the place of his spirt that he kept locked and private. He thought of the most delicate way he could express the situation to the brutish man lying on the bed. “I was born of Blackcloud. In the life I knew before I wore the red of the council I loved…I loved someone that the world said I was not allowed to love…” Father Mazeon tried to continue speaking but had difficulty choosing the right words. Mercifully Sir Liam ended the painful memories.
“You need not speak any more on the matter,” said The Helm Breaker with a wave of his hand. A kindred moment passed between the two men. It was clear to both of them that they each had their fair portion of personal history that they wished could be forgotten. A sudden question pulled Sir Liam from his own reminiscing. “How did you know it was me?”
The Councilman cleared his throat and played at wiping some dust from his eye before the traces of any minor tears broke free. “You have the sigil of Rayward embossed on your bracers,” said Father Mazeon as he pointed at the worn and battered pieces of armor that were lying on a small shelf with most of Sir Liam’s other possessions. “Your age fits as well as your size and I did see firsthand what you are capable of when it comes to warcraft. It was a safe guess at that point. When I saw the hammer I was absolutely certain.” Continued the Councilman as he nodded to the great-maul next to the bed. “I will admit that, like the rest of Argaia, I thought that The Helm Breaker had ceased to be.”
“You…and the rest of Argaia, are not so wrong. That is a name that nobody has called me in near a decade or more. Certainly not since I…since I was dismissed as Master of Arms,” Sir Liam said with heavy regret.
“I had thought you left Rayward of your own accord?” puzzled the Councilman.
“I did in a way. It is no great mystery. I was…I am…fond of drinking and revelry. I began to choose those things over my duty and well when I chose them too much and too often…” Liam stopped talking and grimaced as the pain flared up from the sewn cut on his hip. “…At least they sent me on my way before I became a total disgrace to my station. So, nobody had to see the great fall of Sir Liam Boradcliff, The Helm Breaker,” continued the large Rayward man as he chucked with inward mockery and self-hatred.
“What are you doing in Blackcloud of all places?” asked the Councilman after the sting of Liam’s words had left the air.
“Continuing to drink and revel when I can. Mostly waiting to hit the bottom though,” Responded The Helm Breaker with continued self-loathing.
Father Mazeon wondered the best way to pose the offer he was about to make. He squinted his eyes and rubbed his chin as he spoke cautiously. “What if you did not have to continue your decline?”
“I have become quite accustom to losing my last slivers of decency and honor day after day,” Liam grunted.
“And you like scraping from coin and enough scraps to fill your belly?” responded the Councilman with a small provocative glint in his eyes.
Liam said nothing and only stared at Father Mazeon with extreme disdain.
“I see. Well then, I have a proposition that you might like to hear?” offered the Councilman as he folded his arms across his chest.
“What purpose could you possibly want a drunken ruin for? I’m fit for very little these days,” said Liam with an evident measure of shame in his voice.
“I have no interest in a drunken ruin. I wish to retain the service of the one of the greatest fighting men ever to walk the face of Argaia,” said Father Mazeon with an air of adulation.
“I think you are asking the wrong man,” retorted The Helm Breaker.
The Councilman took a moment to summon his resolve because he knew his next words were going to be quite the gambit. “I thought that you were without fear. I did not realize that you such a coward when you were without the courage of drink.”
Sir Liam growled and sprang up from his bed. The Councilman was alarmed at how quickly the large man was able to move as well as how intensely the Rayward man had taken the goading. Father Mazeon felt a sense of relief take him when the bigger man clutched at the stitches on his hip and fell to his knees.
“I did not save you so you could insult me,” Liam spat at the other man.
“I would say the same to you,” retorted Father Mazeon. His curios words seemed to disarm The Helm Breaker. “You might have chosen to spend your time after service swimming in the bottom of a cask but surely you have noticed the times have begun to change,” continued the Councilman as he pointed to the bloody rain that fell outside of the window.
The Councilman slowly approached Sir Liam and attempted to help the man to his feet. The enormous brute pushed the Councilman away at first but after a couple of failed attempts to stand Liam accepted Father Mazeon’s arm and sat back on the edge of his bed. “Strange times, yes. Nothing that I could claim to have seen before. Make your point, Red Clock,” said The Helm Breaker thru the shooting pain that was running up and down his legs.
“You may have not seen it fully yet but the red rains have brought a sickness to our land. I fear it will only grow. I have already seen some of the horrors that these storms have conjured. In the days to come Argaia will need men of your quality,” said the Councilman.
“You have the fighting sort of work in mind for me?” Asked Sir Liam?
“With any luck, no. I was curious if I could persuade you to offer your service as protector?” Responded the Councilman.
“The Vermillion Council can not afford to give you a proper escort, can they?” Laughed The Helm Breaker.
“Not for me. I want you to protect the girl who was just here. The rain took everything from her and the longer she stays with me the greater danger she is in. If you agree to watch over her until the Council can find a way to restore Argaia to the way it was before the red rains began to fall, I will personally bring you to the Grand Abby and see you paid enough coin so that your cups will never run empty again,” Said Father Mazeon in his most convincing tone.
“A king’s fortune to protect a girl. Protect her from what?” questioned the Rayward Man.
“Anything and everything,” responded the Councilman abruptly.
“What’s to say I just take you coin and abandon the wee thing…or worse?” posed Sir Liam with an arched eyebrow and menacing words.
“It that what you plan to do?” retorted Father Mazeon.
“No,” Sir Liam said flatly after a moment.
“I believe you. Will you do it or do you prefer to stay and bleed in Blackcloud?” pressed the Councilman with his words.
“I’ll do it as long as deliver what you promised. What is the name of my charge to be?” responded Sir Liam.
“Would you like to introduce yourself?” the Councilman asked the girl who had silently crept back into the room and now stood next to Pratt who was holding Father Mazeon’s red cloak.
Sir Liam quickly diverted his eyes from the Councilman and regarded the pair of children. The Rayward man was irked by the fact that he had been unaware of the two as they came back into the room.
Shyly the small girl went and stood before Sir Liam. “I am Tinaca. I liked your story,” she said with a voice that was a soft and delicate as the rest of her.
“It is my honor to meet you,” Sir Liam said to the child as he leaned down and cast a looming shadow over her. He could not help but notice how Tiniaca did not shirk back from his intimidating physicality like most children often had when they stood before him. As he looked into her dark and troubled eyes The Helm Breaker sensed a kindred spirit in the child and with it a measure of untold strength lying within her.
“Thank you,” Father Mazeon said to Pratt as he took his garment from the boy. The Councilman subtly checked the collar of the robe for any deep embedded stains and managed an unseen whiff of the cloak. Any sight or smell of the defilement that Sir Liam had visited upon the robe was now fully removed. Silently, the Councilman rejoiced. Father Mazeon looked to the window and noted the increased ferocity of the storm outside, “It looks as though we will not be leaving the city for quite some time. I supposed that this shall allow us a chance to all become better acquainted.”
There was a collective dejected groan that came from the other three inhabitants of the room. Clearly, the notion of being trapped in close quarters with each other while a rain of blood fell outside was not a call for excitement. Sir Liam returned to sitting on his bed while Pratt and Tinaca each tried to find a little piece of the small room for themselves. The Councilman remained in the center of the depressed party.
A notion of how to quickly increase morale struck Father Mazeon. “I am famished. Is anyone else hungry?” asked the Councilman.
Everyone else in the room erupted in a chorus of approval.