The Other Side, 5

Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - 4:37 PM

Though Fidelity was gigantic, there was something more than his mere size that made Avar feel small. It was true that Fidelity was impressive to witness, but his monolithic presence touched some primal root in a person's soul. Avar had seen strong-hearted men struck dumb by Fidelity's presence before, rendered barely able to speak as if in terrified awe.

For Avar, whose soul was gnawed hollow, Fidelity was not so impressive, and he knew that was why Leoric had sent Avar to Fidelity's grove.

“Revered Disciple,” he pronounced. “My liege, Leoric, bids that you send him answer.”

Branches groaning faintly, Fidelity's trunk twisted slightly, sending ruddy flakes drifting to the thick black earth like petrified leaves. In general appearance, Fidelity was a massive tree, with long tendrils like a willow but with the stocky, gnarled shape of an oak. His branches and roots looked like huge, distorted arthritic limbs, and the heavy, mossy bark looked as if it covered over contorted masses of people. Avar knew that occasionally, another sacrifice would find its way underneath bark. Judging from the empty, smiling eyes of the Obedient around them, he did not think there would a lack of volunteers.

Fidelity lowered one of his many faces closer to Avar. Hanging from a branch, the head seemed to grow directly from the branch, dangling by its rather tangled black hair. It did look quite human, albeit pale and slightly malformed, as if it were imperfect clay. But the maroon eyes peered at him with deep intelligence, matching the deep, bellows-heavy voice that emitted from the trunk itself.

“We do not serve your liege,” replied Fidelity.

“...of course not,” sighed Avar. “Yet, you and he serve the same great patron. Your father and teacher.”

Fidelity's leaves hissed and whispered, and the head hanging before Avar lifted slightly. Several of the other heads turned to peer at him with a severe expression.
“We,” announced all of the heads in various voices, as well as the wind-thunder voice from below, “do not serve your liege. We are beholden only to Harrow. Hope may play her games, but we are above them.”

Avar folded his arms, looking up at the closest of the heads. A light rain had started, adding another whisper to the constant, soft chorus among Fidelity's branches, and Avar pulled his hood up. The Obedient, a scattered mass of rustics wrapped in threadbare cloaks, simply ignored the weather. Generations of being subject to Fidelity's will had ensured they would cheerfully die of exposure if Fidelity wished it. The purplish stains of Fidelity's fruit remained on some of their complacently smiling lips.

“My liege does not follow Hope's ambitions, though he reveres her as he reveres all of your kind,” said Avar carefully, remembering what Leoric told him to say. “You are a creature of omens and portents; my liege follows them as well, and he knows that his actions follow in Harrow's vision. That you understand Harrow's will better than he, my liege understands, but he also sees that the signs are plain. He has the Citadel's wisdom, and the words of a prophet of the Worm, as well as his own ordeal in the Wound to show him. You have already dedicated some of your people to our cause; he merely asks for more, in order to spearhead the eventual attack south.”

As Fidelity's multitude of cold eyes watched him, Avar had a faint sense of irritation at Leoric. Avar was not a diplomat, though he felt well-spoken enough. Sending him to negotiate was not generally what Avar was directed to do. Most people found Avar's presence uncomfortable. He had a deadly serenity around him, long having been resigned to the slow deterioration of his inner being. But even as he made others fearful of him, fear was dead to Avar. Fidelity might have made him over-conscious of being small, but Avar was not afraid of the Disciples.

Of course, even with his experience, Avar knew he could not hope to relate to Fidelity. He wondered if the creature even perceived time the same way as humans did. Fidelity was ancient beyond Avar's understanding, having been changed by Harrow hundreds of years ago. What was a year to Fidelity? A clutter of memories that only recalled what might have happened, but not when? Were all years the same? Avar did not know.

Now, watching Fidelity consider in silence, Avar understood that he couldn't even guess what thoughts the monstrous tree had.

“And what do our children have to gain from this,” asked one of the heads in a low, skeptical voice.

“The Wound will lengthen, revered Disciple, and my liege does not intend to slaughter everyone who opposes him. He promises that one portion of captives will come to you.”

“Leoric intends to take the convent of the Green Veil.”

“Yes,” replied Avar, frowning slightly.

“All clergy and contemplatives,” announced Fidelity. “All of them who do not die will be secured there, at the convent. For this, we give half of the Obedient to serve your liege.”

This is not what Leoric thought Fidelity would say, thought Avar, and he realized that he would have felt cold if his soul were intact. Leoric originally intended to let the healers flee south, carrying word of the world to come. He knew the knight protectors of the Green Veil had made many a foray against Fidelity's cult in the past, and it seemed the Disciple had a taste for vengeance. “... you do not wish them brought to you?”

“Nay,” thundered Fidelity, with every voice in his branches. “For we intend to come to the convent ourselves, and root there when the conquest is done. Yes, we shall bring them faith, and it will begin with the blood offerings of our children.”

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