Friday, October 9, 2009

Paladin-Part 7

Torquil thrilled both the men of the garrison as well as his own comrades with his skill at throwing knives, hawks and spears. Slim-bladed knives, balanced for throwing, stick out from the walls and tables of the feasting chamber. Long-hafted spears skewered targets improbable in size. Hawks, small one-handed axes forged and balanced for throwing, buried into walls and tables elsewhere about the chamber with severed ropes, braids and other things below them in heaps great and small alike- all of these demonstrated the young scouts keen eyes, deft hands and explosive throwing arm.

Cavil competed for the accolades offered by engaging in a series of grappling and strength contests. He wrestled with several men, either in full grappling contests on the floor of the hall or in simple arm-strength contests at various tables. These, in turn, endeared him to several such men of the garrison—men who knew his father, a similarly-empowered man—and so began an evening’s discourse on affairs current and pending.

As the elder men of the garrison expected, the younger warriors of the company asked of them what news there was of this region of the realm- and what stalked it. The men, many of which lived nearby on farms as settlers, told the youths of raids by bands of beasts led by their mutant masters. They told of witches and sorcerers wield powers both like and unlike those of the wizards of the White Tower, and of supernatural creatures held in thrall to them. This and more turned the mood from joyful to tense, as the tales told by the men of the land resembled much the stories that the boys’ families told to them as children or by their elders while in training.

Naturally, the youths responded as they did then: with queries and challenges.

Grateful for their own chance to show their mettle, the men gladly answered all questions as best they could. The mutants and beasts, though sometimes tough-skinned like hard leather, cut and bled like men when pierced by steel and struck by stone. Those wielding magic sometimes proofed their bodies against iron, steel and stone; for that, the men called upon one of the Tower to fight magic with magic- and when not available, used cunning to undo these foes instead. As for the demons and others summoned from beyond and bound to the wills of their summoners, those encounters are—to date—rare and often led to encounters requiring the attention of the Tower.

Cavil challenged the men most, questioning their decisions and pressing for answers to their motivations. “You saw this party of a dozen raiders riding openly across the plain, yet you did not stand forth and confront them?” he said at one time.

One of those men would take up the challenge as a man of some age and perspective would: “And make a widow of my wife, or leave my children without a father, without need? Young Cavil, you are hot for glory, as too many men are at your age, so you know not the value of life- you would toss it aside casually, like Torquil tosses knives. True, I withdrew, for the enemy had superior power before us and we served no purpose in dying so foolishly. Better to pull away, to regroup and come again- this time as the superior power, and then smash the raiders utterly.”

Torquil turned to Cavil, and saw in the latter’s eyes that indeed he did not value life- for in Cavil’s eyes Torquil saw only utter contempt for the elder man’s discretion and consideration.

“If not for the pacification of the land here,” Cavil said, whispering, “I would think these men both liars and cowards; as it is, I think them merely cowards and fools.”

Torquil looked over to the Hamilton twins and nodded them over. “Cavil’s temper burns short, friends.” he said, “Quickly, draw him outside before he brings shame to us.”

The twins agreed, and one ran outside the hall for a moment. Torquil kept an eye on Cavil, wary of an untimely outburst, when the other went to the hall’s entrance and talked with his brother. Then, approaching, he whispered into Torquil’s ear.
Torquil turned to Cavil and passed the message to him, whispering “Cavil, the twins require your aid. A horse seems upset, and they need you to hold him steady as they calm him.”

The hot-headed warrior grumbled, but relented and followed the twin outside. As told, he heard a horse panicking in the stable, and as told he did as bidden. Inside, Torquil quickly assured those inside that Cavil’s taking care of an errand suitable to his strengths, literally, and all suspicion subsided.

The night wound down soon, with the garrison men leaving to take up watches or—for those finished with their regular obligation—leaving the tower for their homes nearby. Some other men, living likewise, arrived to replace those leaving; this cycling of men on and off duty was now a common site to the young war band, and some of them now realized that they too would come into such arrangements some few years into the future.

But Cavil still thought poorly of these men, and those like them, for they did not seek out the enemies of the People of the Tower. They did not seek to strike these monsters in their lairs and exterminate them utterly; Cavil found their protests, while understandable, to be signs of weakness- and Cavil spat at weakness.

The feast, and the evening, ended with men finding their sleeping spaces or assuming watch positions. The young warriors of the company slept in the hall proper, and Cavil came to join them. Still steaming, Cavil made himself a suitable space on the floor, but did not lay down; sitting, he looked at his comrades, and then spoke.

“If this is what we have to look forward to, then it would be better to die in battle now—while free and unfettered by women and children—because it seems that marriage and children make men into weaklings that fear death.”

“Yet,” Torquil said, “is it not those very things that made our lives possible?”
Cavil shot forth an angry glare at the scout. “I am not surprised to see a scout find their behavior sympathetic, for do you not also skulk about and avoid facing our enemies as true men do- openly and directly?”

“I do.” Torquil said, “As does my father. We have our duties, which is to seek out the enemy and keep him within our view once found. It is yours to smite them, but without us you not eyes to see or ears to hear- you are blind and dumb, and that makes all your steel and strength useless, which makes you weak as a baby.”

Cavil stood instantly, his temper burned short at the barb—despite its truth—and moved to seize the scout, but Torquil—knowing what he’s doing—avoided his grasp.

“So quick to fight! So eager for blood and glory that you’d quarrel with a comrade! Your name is as we’ve heard, indeed!”

Again the attempt to grapple, and again avoided, Torquil sensed his advantage. “It’s no surprise anymore as to why James, and not you, lead this band of warriors. You charge like a mad bull, headless and senseless, thinking that might and steel will see you through. You may win fights, but never a war, and neither a mission. You’re too weak to be the leader you think yourself entitled to be!”

Then Torquil laughed, and this further insensed Cavil- who charged him, exactly as a bull would, and exactly as the Matadors of old would Torquil dodged Cavil. Taunting him further, Torquil jabbed him with the pommel of a knife as he passed and tripped him- causing Cavil to crash headlong into the far wall.

Instantly, Torquil leapt upon Cavil, with a rag in hand. Cupping Cavil’s mouth, he forced the bull-headed man to breathe in the salve upon the rag. Moments later, Cavil slumped down and fell into a deep sleep.

The others, astounded at the speed of it all, looked up at Torquil. The Hamilton twins approached, shaking his hand.

“James and Thomas should be told.” Torquil said, “This will complicate things if not dealt with immediately. It’s quite clear that Cavil’s weak mind will prove to be a liability to our cause if the enemy gets a sense of how easy it is to play on his lust for glory and bait him into combat.”

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