Vol.4, Ch.1, P.4
Such was their last exchange: Arno, walking away alongside his father and waving back to Sig, whose bruising bluntness had dealt nary a dent in the boy’s enduring grin. He’ll be all right, this Arno. That a stranger had gone to extraordinary lengths to save his little life was sure to serve a bright beacon for the boy through his many coming years.
But with him gone for the day, what was left in Sig’s home was silence. I looked to the man, finding him already looking back with a sore stare.
“Peh!” he spat with a scowl.
“What’s soured your milk asudden?” I returned.
Sig stuck forth his chin. “Us duel ain’t done,” he answered. “An’ don’t ya forget it!”
A rather abrupt remembrance on his part. Arno I had no worries for, but Sig? With a mood as blustery as his, a bomb ready to blow warrants less worry than he.
“Let’s have it done someday, sure,” I humoured him, “but before then: a proper introduction. I’m Rolf.”
“Yea, yea. Rolf Bog-monster, innit?” Sig waved off, walking back and slumping down upon a mat.
“Nay, I’m but ‘Rolf’ now,” I corrected him. “I’ve cast the Buckmann name.”
“Hah!” Sig exclaimed with delight. “Spat out your silver spoon, ya did, eh? Got ballocks there, ain’t ya!”
There seemed a chip on his shoulder about nobles; truly a rebel, this man, in both appearance and spirit.
“Sig,” I broached gravely as I sat back down aface him. “We’ll be busy from hereon out. I’ve been given host and banner—and under both shall you wield your sword.”
“Aye, I’ve got an earful o’ that ‘ready, mate,” he remarked. “But fine. I minds that li’l. Giz a battle an’ I’m proper chuff’d, I am.”
“Then nor will you mind a few questions, I take it?” I asked him. Indeed, there was more I wished to learn of him—namely, as to why he’d chosen the same thorny path as mine. “A Nafílim child—nigh-executed. Such made you wroth, and at the end of your rage did you find yourself a fresh foe of the kingdom. What was it, Sig? What’s moved you?”
A howl then leapt from his lips, as though my words were a worm attacking his ears. “The same shite wot’s moved you, innit!?” he seemed to dispute. His voice throbbed red with anger. But for why, I did not know. Having a word with him was as handling a wild hound.
“Fair point,” I conceded. “Indeed I brook no violence meted upon the meek, not least upon the Nafílim innocent. But such thought is heresy amongst Men, Sig. Their swords ever seek Nafílim flesh, that you ought know well. Whether of the benign or belligerent, elderly… or infant.”
“Sorry, mate. Can’t be arsed with your prissy ponderin’,” Sig replied, shaking his head in disinterest. “If it grinds me gears, then I gets it gone. That’s me motto.”
One seemingly shallow, but deep despite. Nay, perhaps it really was just shallow? Never mind—more pressing was the principle behind his betrayal. I must needs know it, and immediately, if I’m to count on his sword henceforth.
“Sig,” I said anew. “You’ve received the rites, haven’t you?”
“Wot—the Roun? Aye,” he answered. “‘Ad got it done by one ‘o ‘em, eh… defrocks, we calls ‘em.”
To this, I narrowed my eyes. “…A defrocked?”
Sig scoffed, as though recalling some ruesome reality. “Aye, Tallien’s that sort o’ a shite-’ole shire. Litter’d with li’l waifs, unwanted an’ wand’rin’ ev’ry which road. I were one o’ them, sure ‘nough. Though, wot’s the use in puttin’ ‘em through the rites, then, aye? Not like ‘em lot’s long for this world, innit?” He shook his head again. “Not me. Nah. I wanted to live. I wanted to fight. So, I search’d out one o’ ‘em defrocks; ‘ad the rites done in the dark, if ya gets me meanin’.”
I see. Sounds square enough. Performing the Rounic rites not out of piety, but—for whatever reason—a need for profit. Such was the way of the defrocked: lectors, acolytes, and other like laities providing clerical services under the table… or expelled priests looking to fill their purses.
“Must’ve cost a pretty coin,” I noted.
Sig smirked. “Plenty o’ them in nobles’ pocketses. Heh.”
The Roun of Orisons—in all likelihood was it but a covenantal magick beneath its consecrated cloak. If so, then it must be as any other magick: at the mercy of its incanter’s skill. An ill-learned laity, then, was not like to be handing out the Aureolae anytime soon, nor producing born-again fanatics, for that matter.
Nay… perhaps not? Thinking on it, Rounic rites officiated in alleyways rather than the aisle must be passing common. Yet Sig was the only soul I’ve seen that had so readily rejected Church and Crown for his own constancy, despite having already received the faith-hardening rites.
Then so it must be as Alban and I had discussed: the strength of the Roun’s shepherding of thought was, indeed, much at the mercy of the recipient’s selfhood—that is, the native heart, born from and nurtured through childhood. Being receipt of a sullied Roun might’ve fracted his faith to some extent—one factor of many, I’m sure—but all things considered, there was little mistaking that, from the outset, Sig’s disposition for defiance was most fierce. Too fierce, in fact, to be swayed by the Roun.
Seeing him now in the flesh afore me was confirmation enough: Sig had spurned Yoná, and by his own will, no less.
But just to make certain: “Yoná,” I said to him, “you yet walk with Her, Sig?”
“Mm? Nah. Not ‘nymore,” he answered flat-out. “When I were a sprog, sure. But now?” He shook his head.
Such a sight was a solace to me. “I see.”
He then looked to me grimly. “So,” he said.
“…Them two,” Sig slowly began, “‘ow was ‘em?”
There was a shift in him. A sudden, but distant sullenness, from the way his eyes were low and his voice sunken. Doubtless he meant the Östberg siblings—comrades with whom he’d cut ties with the sword of treachery. Though to be sure, it was a weapon swung rightwise, his sole answer against the cruelty that was the execution of an innocent child.
Still, that diminished not the many winters spent alongside the siblings. The struggles shared, the achievements, the feats and falls—to him, all were treasures still, I’m sure. Thus was Sig sullen. He had yet to colden his comrades’ memory. An inconvenience of the human heart, for certain.
“Strong,” I answered him. “Viola with her spear of storm; Theodor with his thundering speed. But above it all was their bond. The perfect pair they were. Might’ve well been my final moment had the scales tipped a tithe more in their favour.”
Sig listened on, silent.
“Viola I managed to unmake first. Thought it’d be smooth sailing from there, but… nay,” I went on. “Her death… it shook Theodor, it did. Down to his core. Down below despair. And that’s where he found it: his final flash of strength.”
“Hmph…” Sig huffed softly. A corner of his lips lifted up. “…That babyface grew some ballocks, did ‘e.”
I nodded. “Losing his sister left him fraught and furious. But even then, his wits failed him little. His speed, his sharpness—it all left me ablood and gashed at the flank. I was cornered, to tell the truth. But at the last, my sword found him. Victory was mine, if only by the skin of my teeth.”
Sig looked to a window, quiet again.
“And with what remained in him, Theodor dragged himself to Viola,” I began concluding, “and there, he passed. Right beside his sister.”
“…Lovin’ till the last, ‘em two, eh?” he remarked under his breath.
A hush fell between us for a while, in which course Sig’s rough face fretted faintly, here and there, as he mulled over the memory of the fallen. I understood then that, however much a howling beast of a battler he might be, Sig was yet a man of honour. Enduring, undauntable honour.
“An’ you…” he said at last, “…don’t ya go forgettin’ the graves you’ve dug. You ‘ear me?”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
My simple answer, given along with a nod. For naught more was needed.
───────── ∵ ─────────