Finale, Part 2
“Look at you, lad! Still a slip of a boy but you wear that scarlet well,” Sir Liam exclaimed as Pratt halted his horse. The boy grown to a mature brother Councilman presented an inspiring visage. “I suppose it is Brother Pratt now?” continued Sir Liam with a grin showing through his bushy whiskers.
Pratt nodded and smiled at The Helm Breaker as he spoke, “Brother, Councilman or Pratt. You may call me as you please,” said the young man in red. Pratt shifted his eyes to Tinaca, who in turn averted her gaze.
Tinaca wanted to speak a greeting but somehow she was nearly struck mute by the reappearance of the boy. She was at least able to form the shape of the words with her mouth but Tinaca was fairly certain that no sound had escaped from her lips. Seeing Pratt after a decade of separation brought her back to being that young damaged child that she was when they first met. Tinaca knew that she was still broken in a way but time had seen her mental trauma turn to scars. The return of Pratt made the young woman feel like her wounds were freshly bleeding. It was a cruel trick that nostalgia played upon her. On the one hand she was overjoyed to see one of the few familiar faces that she could call a friend in this world. On the other hand Tinaca was confronted with the circumstances of her first meeting with the boy, who had grown into what looked like a fine Vermillion Councilman. Remembering the death of her family and the horrific pursuit by Koin that ensued cut straight through the armor that Tinaca and Sir Liam had spent the last ten years constructing around her grieving heart.
“I hoped to find both of you here at Rayward’s Gate. I am happy to see that I was not going to have to turn the city on her head in a taxing search,” Pratt said with a voice that had grown to command a power and aura of strength that harkened back to the likes of Father Mazeon. “It is truly a joy beyond description to see you both alive and well,” Pratt continued as he dismounted. He took note of the age that had left it’s traces upon Sir Liam, but more so the fact that the man still radiated a tangible sense of power that was as profound as the first moment they had met. Pratt’s eyes returned to Tinaca and the young man felt a hearty sensation of wonderment as he regarded the imposing physical specimen that she had been crafted into. Her legs were lean and had a runners shape but her upper body was well muscled boasted wide shoulders that would be the envy of most seasoned warriors. If Pratt had not known the contrary to be true he likely would have supposed that Sir Liam and Tinca were of blood relation, with the way that their physiques favored each other.
“I will admit that I did not expect to see you or your mentor since our last parting though I hoped that our paths might cross once again. Is Father Mazeon near or have you grown enough that the Red Cloaks feel you do not need a chaperone any longer?” inquired Sir Liam and as he patted the boy on his back with enough force that in nearly sent the Councilman sprawling.
Pratt swallowed hard as he heard the name of his departed and beloved teacher. He knew it was a certainty that his long lost traveling companions would inquire about Father Mazeon. Pratt, being able to emotionally prepare for that eventuality made it no easier to handle when it was manifested before him. “Like many in during the time of the red rains, Father Mazeon did not survive. He became another victim of the chimera,” Pratt said mournfully.
After a few moments of stunned reflective silence, Tinaca was the one to break the mood. “I am sorry to hear that. I cared for him,” said the young woman with a flicker of the sullen child that she used to be dancing in her eyes.
“I feel the same. He was a man of quality,” Sir Liam stated flatly.
“A man of great quality indeed. In fact he gave his life so that I could reach the safety of Viros,” Pratt said with an air of remorse permeating his words. The young Councilman pulled himself from the reminiscing that was rapidly leading into despair and scanned the scene at the bottom of the hill where the reunion was set. His eyes passed from The Helm Breaker and Tinaca to the lifeless body of the stag they had hunted, and then to the copses of the two slain woodsmen. “What happened here?” Pratt asked as he nodded at the bodies.
“Desperate men doing desperate things,” Sir Liam responded in his distinctively gruff fashion. The large Rayward man turned his nose up at the husks of the men who had raised arms against him.
“Their hunger spurred them to try and lay claim to the deer we were hunting. The Helm Breaker tried to advise them of the folly in that course of action but, as he said, desperate men,” Tinaca said in a tone that slightly emulated that of Sir Liam. She reached down and scooped up the arrow she had dropped in surprise when she first recognized Pratt. The young woman returned the arrow to the quiver across her back and then set about unstringing her bow and stowing it as well.
Pratt reflected on the words and gave a thoughtful nod of his head before speaking. “I understand the desperation of these times quite well. I will confess that I have seen men do worse for less in my travels from Viros. I imagine that you both can say the same. Even though the storm has passed Argaia still feels the mark of the red rains to this day,” said the Councilman with a wistful melody and furrow of his brow.
“We have seen men do much to keep alive in these days when food is scarce and fear is rampant. The rains may have gone but men are still at each other’s throats, cities are the safest place and I would hardly call them safe,” Sir Liam said with a twist of his waist and flex of his shoulders that proffered several loud pops and cracks of old bones being stretched. “I hear stories about the people who try and make a way for themselves out in the wilds being ended in gruesome fashion. Most claim bandits are the cause of settler’s demise but others speak of the chimera returning to light. I even hear tales of some cults of folk who have begun to worship the twisted beasts now that the rains have gone.”
“I have also heard those tales of cults and chimera worshipers sweeping through the circles of the Council. I will say that is in large part why I left Viros and sought you out,” Pratt said as he met Sir Liam’s stare. The Councilman’s eyes drifted to Tinaca and he noted that the subject of the conversation seemed to be unnerving the young woman as she held herself around her midsection like a chill had come over her.
Sir Liam tilted his head to the side and scratched the tip of his nose as he puzzled over the meaning behind Pratt’s statement. “What could make you want to come and find us? Not that I mind your company but I feel you have me at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding your motives,” said the befuddled Rayward warrior.
“First I must ask you something,” Pratt said as he lowered the hood of his scarlet robes and returned his undivided attention to The Helm Breaker. “Many people feel they chimera are no longer a threat, that we, Argaia, has seen the last of them as well as the red rains. Do you feel this way?” Pratt asked with strength weighted in his words.
Sir Liam grunted and gave out a heavy breath as he readied his response. “I would like to believe that those people are right. I have not seen the beasts with my own eyes, all I know of them are the stories…” Sir Liam trailed off as his eyes seemed to take a glassy sheen as he tuned his focus inward. It was clear that the large man was vastly unaccustomed to speaking from the heart. “But I feel something in my bones. It’s like when you know someone is following you, is the best way I can put it. No, I do not think the chimera are done for. I have nothing but that feeling as reason but it is enough for me to have a care.”
Pratt nodded respectfully at Sir Liam’s admission. The Councilman suddenly broke his focus on the veteran Rayward fighting man and looked to Tinaca. He saw that she maintained a cold and distant quality about her, as he recalled was the way of her youth. Pratt could tell that the young woman had still been attentive to the ongoing conversation despite her understandable struggles with memories of the past being dredged up. “And what of you? Do you believe the chimera are still a threat to us?” Pratt asked the woman with as kind a voice as he was able.
Tinaca said nothing and her eyes remained a dark storm of angst but she slowly nodded her head in affirmation.
“What are you on about boy? Make your point,” said the Sir Liam with a measure of impatience evident in his words.
Pratt wiped his travel worn face with his hands before he began speaking. “I believe that the chimera are still a danger to Argaia, even greater than they were in the time of the rains. I do not think that we have even seen a fraction of the power that they possess. I believe that as soon as the beasts feel it is there time they will sweep across our world and leave nothing behind but the dead,” said the Councilman with grim foreboding. He found himself looking at the two dead woodsmen and the body of the stag as if they were a precursor to the coming destruction. He could see that Sir Liam was straining to keep himself from interrupting and making a willful attempt at allowing Pratt to finish his preamble. “When the chimera choose to strike there is no army in all they know world that will be able to oppose them. This is the reason that I have come to Rayward and sought you out.”
“I am sorry lad but I still do not see your purpose. Sir Eric Greyhand led Rayward against the bests ten years ago and was soundly defeated. As you say there is no army that will stand against the chimera. We best trust in high towers and thick walls,” said The Helm Breaker with what could pass for the trappings of defeat hanging from his words.
Pratt took the words of Sir Liam and gauged the skepticism of the other man. The red robed scholar could tell The Helm Breaker was going to require was a gentle push in the right direction. Pratt glanced to Tinaca, who was the greater unknown variable in his equation. He could see the young woman fighting some kind of savage inner battle with his past, though her face remained a mask of indifference. “Towers and walls will work against the chimera, until they do not. There is no army that can defeat the beasts that were birthed by the red rains. I am proposing that we create one,” Pratt said with self-assured clarity.
Both Sir Liam and Tinaca balked at the statement made by the Councilman. It was clear to see that they both had a floodgate of doubts and objections that had just been opened in their minds. Before either one of the pair could voice one of their points of contention Pratt lifted a soothing hand and continued speaking his plan.
“During my years spent in study at the Viros achieves, I hoped I might find some weakness or a weapon that could be used against the chimera. Unfortunately, I did not. I fact I do not think there was even a single recorded instance of the chimera in all the books and tomes that I read,” Pratt said with a strange sort of a smile gracing his lips and pausing his thoughts. He could see that he was on the verge of losing both his audience members so he quickly returned to his speech. “What I did discover in the endless catalogs and libraries, was the impressive history of some of Argia’s greatest warriors and military accounts. I gathered a new appreciation for the expertise used in the forges of Rustwatch. I discovered accounts of archers from the swaps of the Bloodwoods who can strike any target in total darkness. I learned of one assassin trained in Blackcloud who killed a monarch of Lighthouse Bay at the high table, during a grand ball and escaped the territory before anyone knew of the murder. The mountaineers of Northfell can survive any weather known to man with nothing more than the cloths on their back. Of course there were innumerable texts on the military brilliance of Rayward. The story of Argaia’s strength goes on and on. You even had a book or two written of your exploits,” Pratt said with a beaming smile and a modest bow to Sir Liam.
After a several long breaths spent gawking at the young man Sir Liam found the wits to speak. “You want to build the greatest army that Argia has ever known from the best that each nation has to offer? I suppose you want me to serve in this army of yours?” Sir Liam said as he held back laughter. Both Pratt and Tinaca could see that The Helm Breaker felt the notion was absurd.
“I do not want you to serve in the army. I want you to train it and lead it,” Pratt said with a grin that would not be defeated. He saw that Sir Liam was on the verge of a total comedic outburst but he continued speaking. “And I want you to help me build this army.”
Sir Liam could not contain himself any longer and let loose with a hearty belly laugh. He tried to gather his composure and signal to the Councilman that he meant no disrespect but he was too overcome with the preposterous scale of what Pratt had just said. “I mean you no slight boy but what you are asking is…I do not know what it is,” said The Helm Breaker with an astonished disbelief. “You want to raise the greatest army that this world has ever seen to fight against a foe that can not be beaten. This it to say nothing of the task of uniting nations and fighting men that have generations of bad blood and grudges to stand on. And you want a broken down old man to lead these brave fools to their doom. Walls and towers lad, they are the way that men will outlast the chimera,” Sir Liam said with a scoff and shake of his head.
Pratt was reeling from Sir Liam’s refusal and rapidly assembling a counter argument to The Helm Breakers staunch refusal. Before Pratt could voice his rebuttal, Tinaca finally broke her eerie silence.
“You do not need to laugh at him like that. I do not think that Pratt came all the way across dangerous country to find a broken down old man. He came here to call Sir Liam Broadcliff, The Helm Breaker, Master of Arms and Hero of Rayward’s Gate to fight for all of Argaia once more,” Tinaca said to Sir Liam with a stare that pierced the man to the bone. She turned her stormy eyes to the red clad man as she spoke next. “Am I correct in that assumption?” she asked Pratt with confidence.
“Indeed I did,” responded the Councilman softly with a modest nod of his head towards the woman who had so passionately come to his aid in the conversation.
Sir Liam was moved from his disgracefully insulting laughter to his usual stoic demeanor by Tinaca’s fierce stare. “I am sorry lass. I should not have exhibited so poorly in front of you. My thanks for reminding me that I used to be someone,” Sir Liam said to the young woman that he had protected from harm for the last ten years.
Tinaca said nothing but nodded gently in acceptance of The Helm Breaker’s remorse.
Sir Liam turned his attention to the Councilman and gave the man the faintest of deferential bows as he spoke next. “My apologies for being so crude but you have to admit the plan sounds of implausible fantasy,” said the knight with a greater sense of diplomacy in his words than moments previous.
“I admit with all of my spirit that my plan is against all odds. The margin for success is slim. As you mentioned I struggle to fathom even uniting such an army let alone seeing them led to victory against the chimera. I have no warriors yet rallied to the cause and even my elder brethren in the Vermillion Council are unaware of my intentions,” Pratt said with a heavy sigh.
“So why come to him first?” Tinaca asked the question quickly before Sir Liam could inquire himself.
“The army I am proposing needs to have the best and bravest as its face. Sir Liam is the only acceptable choice. If we are to have the faintest hope of victory this army needs to march behind him. Without The Helm Breaker there can be no hope,” Pratt responded in earnest. He turned his gaze to meet Sir Liam in the eye and made himself stand as tall and proud as he could before saying anything else. “Sir Liam, I would ask you the smallest kindness. Think of it as a courtesy to the sacrifices that my teacher has made on behalf of each of us, if you will. Before you give your final answer, please look deep inside your own thoughts and conscience. If you truly believe the notion of a united Argaian army is a total fool’s errand, that walls and towers will be enough or that the chimera do not pose a dire threat then simply say so. I will return to Viros and never bother you again,” Pratt said, imbued with all the poise and class of the man who had raised him. In that moment the boy was Father Mazeon reborn.
After Pratt had finished speaking there was nothing but the sound of the breeze rolling across the hills outside of Rayward’s Gate. Both Pratt and Tinaca could see that Sir Liam had taken the Councilman’s words to heart and was mulling them around in his mind. It was a slow process to witness. The ever sour and downtrodden expression that The Helm Breaker wore began to fade. After many heartbeats had passed Sir Liam’s face was set in an unmistakable look of acceptance, all be it a reluctant one. Sir Liam returned his eyes to meet Pratt’s and spoke with the surety only befitting a magnificent leader of men. “Damn you, lad. Damn you. I suppose that the only thing left to sort before we all set out on this madness, is what you would like to name the greatest army to ever grace Argaian soil,” Sir Liam said with strength and a steely gaze.
“You would lead them. I think it is only fitting that you would name them,” Pratt said with a tangible measure of hope in his voice.
Before Sir Liam could say a word Tinca instantly spoke up. “Amurai. If they are to be a greater army then ever seen before, we should name them Amurai,” said the young woman with unwavering resolve.
Sir Liam turned to the west so that Pratt and Tinaca would not see his eyes become tearful. The hardened warrior looked off into the distant horizon in the direction where Blackcloud stood several nations away. “That sounds like a perfect name,” Sir Liam said as he wiped the corner of his eye.