CRILLON’S TALE : The Old Soldier
A fragment of the Cousins’ Tale of Crillon and Rauph which in itself is a part of the story of The Casting.
CRILLON’S TALE: The Old Soldier
It wasn’t that the two kinsmen had squeamish stomachs: they had seen enough of burning and slaughter during the war; had even been responsible for inflicting their own share of such miseries. But to hear the tales of it so close to home was not what they had expected to return to and now to see the evidence of it was more than unsettling. It ignited their anger and disgust as nothing had done. Not even the worst ravagings of hell jacks on the poor folk of the eastern Jewels.
Today they had come upon a tree on which were hung the bodies of what they took to be a smallholder and his family. A week dead they had been mutilated and were now rotting. The cousins cut them down and began the grim work of burying them. When done Crillon said a Blessing over them and commended their souls to the Good God. With heavy hearts they rode on. This last evidence of the miscreant soldiers wore greatly on them both but in particular on Crillon.
“This was helljack work or I’ve never seen it. We are still behind them, cuz, but closer now. The forest should end soon and we will be in a more settled country where they will have to be more cautious with their misdeeds. And when we catch them we’ll send them back to hell where they belong. By the Good God I swear it!”
“Aye, Crill, so too swear I,” declared Rauph as he drew out his blade and kissed the blade thereof.
Riding slowly, Rauph remained grim and uncharacteristicly silent. Crillon, too, seemed to smoulder in quiet anger over the atrocity of the murdered family. The warmth of the day was now beginning to turn hot when they passed out of the dark tunnel of trees over-arching the road and into a small clearing and bright sunshine. To the left of the road, across the clearing, under the shade of an ancient yew tree they could see a small hut the thatch of which was burnt off, the white wash of the walls blackened by a fire. Next to the hut was a crudely fenced garden. Part of the fence had been knocked down and the ground trampled. An old graybeard with his hoe stood staring at them. The man moved quickly two steps, bent over and rose with an arbalest pointing at them. He stood without fear and faced them as they approached and spat. A yellow cat disappeared behind the tree as they approached.
Hallo, Grandfather,” called Crillon, raising his open hand in a gesture of peace, “How far is it to where a couple of travelers can find a mug of ale and a good meal?”
“Should ha’ stayed away!” shouted back the old man angrily, “Go back, y’ scum! Off with ye!”
“All we need is some infor…,” began Rauph but the codger pointed the crossbow and shook it menacingly.
“I know what ye be. I know the look o’ ye, crusaders! I ought t’ know, shouldn’t I? Carried one o’ these for the Church for nigh to fifteen years back and forth across the damned desert, didn’t I?” he growled raising the crossbow slightly to emphasize his point.
“The color of a man who’s marched under the cursed sun of the Sakht Rahmin don’t never fade away! Aye, I knows the look o’ ye! Go back where ye were; ye ain’t wanted hereabouts ye murdering bastards!”
Surprised, they backed off slightly and Rauph addressed the old soldier gently. “Then you know what it’s like to return home after years of hard service away in foreign parts. We’re but a brace o’ weary jades returnin’ home, Grandfather, not wishin’ for a quarrel with none.”
Crillon continued, “C’mon, Rauph. Let’s go. Leave the gaffer in peace, cuz.”
The old man tensed further as Rauph dismounted, “That’ll be close enough there boyo!” he warned.
“Trouble, aye. There’s been trouble and it won’t be soon forgot! Blood spilled ain’t soon forgot! Fire and murder ain’t soon forgot! Thievery and cruelty ain’t soon forgot! Red brands from the Church’s irons you’ll have on yer arms, same as the one I’m damned with, and them cursed marks ain’t soon forgot! No,sir! It’ll take a mighty big pile o’ years afore what’s been done is forgot!” he declared angrily.
Crillon sat his horse silently and frowned. The old man spat once more and went swiftly to his hut slamming the door behind him with a shouted “Go!”.
“Well, good day to you too, granddad!” sputtered Rauph as the old man disappeared behind the door. Crillon said not a word but continued frowning in thought. He turned and returned to the road and their journey. Rauph shook his head and followed him.
The oldster crouched at his window, muttering curses and clutching his loaded crossbow as the two disappeared down the road. Removing the quarrel from the flight groove he frowned and kissed his old companion. He sat himself wearily on a stool beside the remains of his broken door and began to weep.
Once back under the trees Crillon turned to Rauph who could see that the other’s face was flushed red and his anger mounting and said, “I’ll find them, I will cousin; these brigands who defame us and shame our service!” Drawing his sword and raising it to Heaven he vowed angrily. “By Mathos I will!”
Then, to the utter surprise and shock of Rauph, began to loudly chant, emphasizing each word:
“By my Sword,
By my Blood,
By the Mark that I bear,
By the God who made me!”
Aghast, Rauph made the sign of Mathos and shivered. His stomach turned over and a darkness clouded his vision for the briefest moment. An owl screamed three times from the forest beyond the road. He made the sign of Mathos again. The Holy Vow! The God would not ignore that!
“Crill! Crill, by all the damned whores in Ilkarmand, what have you bound us to, cousin? Finding these assholes and slaughtering them we can do and I’m with you. They deserve killing but what have you done? Now we have no choice!”
Crillon turned swiftly and shouted, “I am bound! You’re free to go on, cousin.
But I will find these oath breaking heretics and send them to Hell! To Hell!”