Greater of Two Evils, part 2

Friday, September 26, 2008 - 10:47 AM

Tain hated Tristan, but he did so quietly.

From the smoky shadows of the Crimson Boar hall, Tain watched the dark-haired man, lounging next to the priests of the demon cult. Around them, the other cultists were enjoying the spoils of their furtive labor; they'd sacked a caravan earlier that night, and had dragged what remained to their lair.

And of course, there had been whispers about Tristan. It was Tristan who found the route, Tristan who convinced the caravan master to hire certain guards, Tristan who discovered the opportunity. Tain was thankful they'd looted a lot of fine wine; the whispering had since faded, replaced by far more raucous activity as the cult started abusing the surviving caravaners or each other.

This bothered Tain also, but it was a small, gnat-like bother. He'd joined the cult to get away from banditry. The Crimson Boar cult had terrorized the region for well over two years now. No one went into the dripping, mossy forest where they met, and no one dared to come against them now. He'd wanted that power, to belong to something greater. That drive had made him a captain in the cult, but the priests called him too weak to be ordained.

This rankled him considerably, particularly when it was Cena who said so.

She sat next to Tristan, with her lover Naul to the other side, and Tain tried to stave off the brackish envy rising in him by taking a long drink of wine. She was everything Tain wanted. His fingers ached to touch the little scar that hung from one corner of her mouth, or to breathe hot words in her ear. But Naul was a fierce and jealous man, and a sorcerer besides.

And yet, there Tristan lounged, and Naul seemed content with it, glutted though he was on wine. Even a light touch from Tristan to Cena's hand went unnoticed... but Tain saw. Even through the dim haze of the hall, he could see the softening of Cena's eyes, and wondered how Naul could possibly miss it.

You have them deceived, thought Tain, but I am not.

It hadn't take long for Tristan to win the admiration and envy of the others. He was vastly clever, eloquent, handsome and only threatening to the cult's enemies. His many blessings were offset by a sliver of need in him, the the need to be accepted and approved of. It made him vulnerable, just enough to be safe, to make friends with for the bloody-handed cultists.
No, Tain had never trusted him, but he'd wanted to.

Maybe, said his bitter inner voice, Naul doesn't care if Tristan sleeps with Cena. Maybe he lets it happen, because he trusts thrice-bedamned Tristan.

Tain took another long drink of wine, and did not feel it.

Something changed at that point, and he was surprised to realize that he could hear Tristan speaking. There was a confused mumble from the hall as others realized it too.

“Without me,” said Tristan in an even, clear voice. “Without me, you'd all just be thugs paying lip service to some demon. And I don't have any interest in your petty demon, either, considering he's content with drunkards and base violence.”

Naul blinked fully awake, his face reddening, and then his face went white because Cena stabbed him.

Suddenly, Tain was in the middle of frantic murder. Stunned by the cudgel of incomprehension, he scrabbled backwards to put his back to a corner, and tried to remember where he'd left his sword. There was nothing clean or elegant about what was happening; wine-soggy heads were smashed in by firewood, wine-numbed hands slapped ineffectually against the knives that found their mark again and again. Panicked, Tain managed to find his dagger, but he realized that no one was attacking him.

He saw Tristan standing, unhurried and quite unmoved, studying the bloody ruin that the hall had become. The ones who had killed their own were either watching him or making sure of the wounded. Tristan smiled, then, and the smile froze Tain into the corner where he crouched. He could only watch as Tristan turned and offered a hand to Cena, who breathlessly took it and stood, only to have her throat cut from behind.

There was a horrible moment when Tristan looked straight at Tain, but he turned away again and faced the altar near the hearth. Tain did not understand the words that came from Tristan, but they slipped through his ears and rooted in his bones like threads of ice water. He dimly understood that the others were kneeling now, and his instincts told him that to stand was death, and worse than death. Tristan's words became comprehensible, delivered with iron-clad courtesy.

“Hear me, Kingmaker, Iron-Crown, Overlord of the Ruby Scepter. I do not acknowledge greatness other than yours and mine. I invite you now to my court, taken by my hand from a petty Baron who is not worth your regard. Recognize a new peer, a master over humanity and a possessor of hearts. With our alliance, you shall grant me power over your realm, and I shall in turn grant you power over mine.”

The hall timbers groaned. The blood-stained altar stone split with a resounding crack, and with a sudden chill, Tain realized that Tristan had been heard, and not by the Boar.

“Leave us,” said Tristan in a voice so inevitable that he and the others would have run to the door if they'd had the strength to stand. As it was, they crawled.

Later, Tristan found Tain not far from the hall, shivering not entirely from the cold. Tain saw no sign at all of the vulnerability everyone had seen in Tristan before, and Tain knew in his heart it had all been lies.

“I never trusted you,” said Tain, after a moment. He knew Tristan's traitors were watching, waiting. “Why did you not kill me, too?”

Tristan smiled slowly. “Because you are not a fool, and I have a need for wise men. Come with us; you will never be a mere bandit again. Lead my men for me, Tain.”

Labels: , ,


Links to this post:

Create a Link