Stephan stood with arms crossed listening to the reaver. His indignation was palpable when Bors compared himself to Stephan. “I assure you, laddie, none of the Ring are soldiers like me.”
Bors cowered at Stephan’s ire. He avoided eye contact with Stephan and instead focused on Miklos, whom he hoped to endear.
“Once of the Ring, always of the Ring. We can’t trust him,” Stephan opined to his mates.
Feldard too was unmoved by the reaver’s pleading. He was ready to finish what he’d begun, once Miklos was done questioning the man. Mind you, there was no guarantee that the youthful mage might not fall to the ‘just a fighter’-man’s plea. Humans often didn’t have stomach for such things.
Maruc sighed. “Mercy you seek? I wonder were the tables turned that you would be so generous? You and Gothar presume much of us that is wrong. A Master of the Iron Ring you say? That would explain his influence, but what Miklos says is correct, you are unlikely to know the plans of the Sons of Night. It would not surprise me to learn that the Iron Ring is a front for them. Albeit an unknowing one. Bors, if that is your name, you are a rogue and as such your word cannot be trusted but you don’t have the wit to lie now, for that reason I don’t think you have anything more to say. Stephan’s assessment is right, you are as as a slave to the Ring as the slaves you capture. You and your kin seek to undermine the law of Halav Reincarnate. You are an affront to the Lord Stefan on his throne. You exercise slavery on his lands.” Maruc’s tone was deceptively calm. Too calm.
“Bors, you chose your path long ago. There is only one ending to such a path. I judge you evil and in retribution for all the lives you and you kin have destroyed your life is forfeit. I give you a greater mercy than you have given others.” The captives eyes widened and his head jerked sideways with a sickening crack. Maruc lowered his flail and turned from the corpse. “Search them for instructions from the Ring. Then burn them. If they have any money we’ll give it to the next village we come across. At least that way they have given something back.”
Maruc held no pleasure in his actions. He was frustrated that fate had forced his hand to such a deed. Perhaps this was another test? He wondered if he had passed.
Ludo watched the interrogation of Bors with calm detachment, but could sense where the interrogation was going to end—in blood. As Maruc voiced his statement, Ludo listened and was about to voice his opinion that Bors should be handed over to the Duke’s men for trial when he saw Maruc’s strike Bors striking him down in a savage temper that he had never before come from Maruc.
Ludo in anger turned to Maruc. “That was excessive and final—is that the way you would treat all rogues? I have to ask, what gives you the right to execute this man for his deeds? This man was our enemy, someone that would kill us without a thought but your actions today bought you down to his level, it made you no better than he. Halav will judge you on this act, of that I am sure. Remember Maruc, every action brings consequences.” With that Ludo got up and went to see to the horses, inwardly he was depressed- a priest had committed an evil act, what salvation was available for anyone if a priest could commit such an act.
Stephan raised his eyebrow at Ludo’s harsh words. “A priest preached to by a rogue. Now I’ve seen it all.”
Maruc turned away from Ludo. He didn’t want the young man to have seen this, but this was a harsh world. Lived in by harsh men. Perhaps he was right? What right did he have to meet out justice? All he felt at the time was disgust at an organization that had to torture their slaves into servitude. Such an organization was abhorrent, Maruc would not, could not, allow it to go unpunished.
“Who else then Ludo?” he said at last, softly. “Who else has the authority amongst us to deliver the Duke’s Justice? You feel affinity for this misguided soul because you dwell on the outskirts of his world? You think I would treat you the same? I am a Cannon of my order, I have the authority to excommunicate, to judge. Out here in the wilderness the Duke’s power is exercised by men such as I. I have not moved beyond my remit. Yes, this is an evil act. I would rather he had settled like the Sukiskyn had and forged civilization rather than undermine it. Yes, if we were in a city I would have dragged him to the courts. But we are not. Look around you. Would you allow Golthar to succeed in his plans as we take every man he sends us to Specularum?” Maruc sighed. “Halav will judge me, but I will not give succor to those men who manipulate the weak to evil ends. I am their protector. Would you unman me for that? Would you rather I asked Stefan or Feldard to slay him? It is not my position to place such a moral burden on them so I accept it myself and all that goes with it.”
“I am not an evil man, even Prince Hasan who has turned his gaze from me would attest to that. I have shocked you by exercising the power of my position in society and for that I am sorry. I am far more saddened that this man chose the path that led him here.”
They mounted up as the coils of greasy smoke from the pyre wound through the tree tops.
Hasan joined Ludo with the horses, sickened by the healer’s action despite the priest’s words. At this moment, Hasan wanted nothing to do with slavers or Sons of Night. Nothing but a walk with Rahasia.
Stephan said the Ferry was about a day away. Maruc kicked his heels and rode on.
Miklos pulled in beside Maruc, neither of them were expert horsemen but with Stephan in the lead the horses seemed content to follow.
“Interesting theory, Maruc. The feared Iron Ring an arm of the Sons of Night? Can you see the likes of Sevastian having anything to do with the Ring?” he asked.
“He might have when he was alive.” said Maruc.
“Would the Ring have been in existence for that long?”
“You heard what Bors said, Gothar is after ‘ancient riches and dark magicks’—its the latter comment that disturbs me.”
“An ancient civilization that pray to Jackal-Gods doesn’t fill me with thoughts of purity and light.”
“Me neither Miklos, but not do be too quick to cast judgment.” Maruc turned his heavy gaze on the mage. “It is a hard burden.”
Miklos said nothing. There was nothing to say.
* * * * *
The group reached the gnomes’ ferry the next afternoon. Next to the jetty, there was a stone building, which functioned as a hostelry containing bedrooms, a bar and a kitchen, as well as some stables nearby.