OF GODS AND MEN
Chapter 25: Full Circle
Tarsus ducked, narrowly avoiding the KingsGuard knight’s incoming sword swing and keeping his head intact. This conflict was quickly turning from the one-upsmanship of wounded pride to something more lethal; or the knight taking swings at him was far more drunk than he had let on. Either way, Tarsus found himself giving a small, grim smile as he watched Finnian dash by him, turn to face another oncoming knight and offer a vocal raspberry in further insult.
Tarsus turned back to face his own courtly adversary. The brute gave a good thrust, which Tarsus easily deflected with his own sword. Following through on the momentum of that deflection, Tarsus raised his blade up over his head in an arc, and then brought it down atop the knight's conical helm, connecting the flat of the blade to gleaming silver. The knight of the KingsGuard fell backward, tripping over his own feet and landing on his rear as the din of a stroke well struck rang though the drinking room of the White Light Tavern.
"Finnian, why did you have to insult one of their long dead sisters?" Tarsus asked, trying to reprimand his friend even as he chuckled asking such an absurd question aloud.
"Because he insulted my mother first!" Finnian yelled back with a defensive pride as he managed to sneak around the back of the knight in question, who had been giving him chase. Finnian kicked the backs of that knight's knees out from under him, sending the soldier toppling forward. “And I didn’t know she was dead at first!”
“Finding out certainly didn’t abate your tongue. And now we're running away from the KingsGuard because you had to get creative and offer a great many tits for a single tat?" Tarsus clarified sarcastically.
"Doesn't seem like we're running to me," Finnian offered, jumping onto the top of a table and then up into the rafters of the drinking room, safely out of reach of two knights stabbing at the air to get at him. "I'd say we're holding our own in our very first tavern brawl in Malthanon. We've come a long way from our humble shepherd's village, haven't we?"
"I suppose now at least everyone will know that the Briarden boys really love their mothers," Tarsus added, charging his body into the two knights who were swiping for Finnian and knocking them to the ground.
"Attaboy Tarsus," Finnian chortled, as he dropped down from the rafters beside his friend and clapped the sunsword on the back. "After all, what's more important in this world than our living relatives?"
The two of them laughed out loud amid the bodies of at least five KingsGuard knights who littered the floor around them.
Their laughter cut off sharply at the reprimanding voice that boomed throughout the drinking room. All attention was drawn to the door of the White Light. Standing there, looking ominously all around the place, was the captain of the KingsGuard himself.
"Hello Drake," Finnian said, offering a mischievous grin.
Drake walked into the center of the drinking room and stopped a few short paces away from where Tarsus and Finnian stood. He surveyed the scene, taking in the repercussions of this scuffle: broken dishes and tankards, overturned chairs and battered tables, frightened patrons huddling in the corners of the place.
"Someone explain to me why my knights are a part of such a scene," he commanded, addressing no one in particular.
"It was the little one, captain," one of the taller knights said, getting to his feet and removing his helm. He put a hand to his still aching head and walked quickly past Tarsus and Finnian to address Drake directly. "He insulted my dearly departed sister."
"And you are a child, is that it?" Drake reprimanded. "To allow such an insult to goad you into attacking a civilian, and then to enlist the help of your fellow knights; knights of the highest order in the land? Indeed, you all must be children."
“Well, we just put her in the ground not five days ago my lord. And he was very...explicit," the knight began to pout.
"I believe the word you're looking for is imaginative," Finnian chimed in. "Also, there may have been some, slight, drunkenness involved," Finnian finished, teetering where he stood as though saying it out loud also made him realize how true it was.
"Obviously," Drake glowered at Finnian. "Men!"
The soldiers of the KingsGuard all got to their feet and stood at attention.
"You will find the owner of this bar. Pay your bill, and leave whatever gold you have leftover for damages. You will report back here everyday for as long as it takes, offering your coin and your backs, to help the owner repair or replace what you have broken. When this tavern is restored to the way it was before this humiliating night, you will leave it with your blessings, never to return. Is that understood?" Drake bellowed.
"Yes captain!" the men replied as one. They broke from their salute and, together, walked to the bar to do as Drake had commanded.
"As for the two of you..." Drake said, turning hateful eyes onto Finnian.
Drake shifted his gaze to Tarsus, his incredulous frustration turning to mild surprise. Finnian, stunned, also turned to look up at Tarsus, but along with his shock he also wore the widest smile he had ever donned in his life.
"Excuse me?" Drake asked slowly, purposefully. He was a snake in the grass; momentarily mystified by its prey, waiting to see which way it would move before launching its lethal strike.
"You heard me just fine," Tarsus spoke confidently, looking back at Drake with an assured smirk. "We are not your soldiers anymore."
"We're not even his friends anymore," Finnian added lightly.
"It's true," Tarsus agreed, "you have no right to give us orders."
"Do you understand who it is you are talking to?" Drake asked patronizingly. "I am captain of the KingsGuard. I serve the GodKing Malthus more directly than even many of his own priests. I live in his palace, in his city; the greatest city in all of Arden. I am everything the two of you have ever wanted to be."
"No. You're not," Tarsus declared. "I thought you were, once upon a time. But seeing what this achievement has done to you. Learning who you have become because of it...there is nothing about you I wish to be anymore."
Tarsus raised his sword, its point touching the breastplate of Drake's armor. The scared patrons of the tavern let out a collective gasp as Tarsus stood his ground wearing that confident smile.
"Are you challenging me?" Drake asked, offering the sunsword his own rebellious smirk.
"Are you insane?" Tarsus chortled. "You are the better swordsman, the better fighter and the more disciplined soldier. You are a perfect fit for the post you hold, and truly, a great man. But you sit at the top of the mountain, and you are utterly alone. I do not wish to be alone. I have seen now what the price of greatness is. I thought I could pay it...truth be told, I thought I had paid it. But I was sent back and given the chance to let it go. And I stand before you now, happy, that I chose rightly.”
The two of them stared at each other, unblinking; their points of view fighting for them, yet neither one of them would back down.
"Perhaps you are right Tarsus," Drake relented, stepping back so that the point of Tarsus's sword no longer rested against his breastplate. "We have both made our choices. Now, all that is left is to live with them."
"Tarsus's eyebrows shot up as his smile grew wider. "You know, that is the smartest thing I have heard you say in a long time Sir Captain of the KingsGuard. You are absolutely right!"
"He is?" Finnian asked.
"He is," Tarsus confirmed, looking down at Finnian and gripping his smaller friend tightly by the shoulder. "We have to go!"
"Where?" Finnian asked, though he thought he already knew the answer.
"To help a friend see her quest through," Tarsus confirmed. "We're not done here yet, my friend." He grabbed Finnian's arm and led him briskly to the door of the White Light. Before leaving, though, he turned the pair of them around back to Drake, and with a strong wave said, "Goodbye forever I hope."
Finnian could not resist, "Drake, I just want to say, sincerely, from the bottom of my heart...I hope we never see you again."
Arm in arm, Tarsus and Finnian turned back to the entrance of the tavern and strode out before Drake could reply. They had large smiles on their faces, and a fire in their eyes.