Seventeen

How not good?”

“I…I don’t know. How do you feel?”

“Like a rock jammed itself halfway through my side.”

“But not like you’re dying?”

Garridan coughed, and it was sputtering and sodden. Isaac feared it was blood that made it wet. “I’d wager,” the assassin said weakly, “they’re pretty similar feelings.” He felt the wound himself and groaned at the stabbing pain. “How…how far are we from…”

“A day’s travel. I have supplies. I can suture it but…”

“You’ve never done this before.”

“…yes.”

Garridan turned and looked at him with surprising clarity. “There’s a first time for everything.”

Isaac fumbled through his rucksack. He felt the thread and the thin bone needle, but hesitated. He turned back and stared at the limp man. “I–I don’t even know if I should help you.”

“You didn’t think Gerard should take me in. Now you want to let me die?”

“But you’re a…”

Garridan pushed himself up and roared in pain. He pointed to Isaac’s bag. “Give it to me. I’ll do it if you can’t. If you won’t.”

Isaac took the thread and needle over and gently took Garridan’s shoulders and laid him back down, trembling. “No. I’ll do it. But then you talk.”

Garridan nodded and Isaac set quickly to work. The first pull of the needle made him wince. He could feel the the texture of the thread vibrating as he pulled it through the flesh. Garridan inhaled sharply, gritted his teeth, but stayed mostly silent. Looping through and through, the skin came back together in a ragged seam. A last trickle of blood dripped out and Isaac cleaned the wound with antiseptic and wrapped Garridan’s whole waist in gauze bandaging.

“Did it hurt?”

“Would have hurt less if you weren’t shaking so much.”

“I’m sorry.”

Garridan waved him off and rolled over onto his good side. “Don’t mind me,” he said, his voice faint. “Think I’m just gonna rest m’eyes for a minute.”

Isaac set up a small camp as night fell. When everything was prepared, he tapped Garridan, trying to stir him so he could move him into the tent. Once they were resituated, Garridan again rolled on his side, ready to fall back asleep.

“Wait,” Isaac said.

“What?”

“You said you would talk.”

Garridan laid flat on his back and stared at the fabric of the tent, which sagged very close to his face. He lifted his good arm and batted at the falling roof. “Not good at much besides lyrics are you?”

“You know I’m a bard?”

“I know who you are. I know Gerard.”

“That’s what I want to know–how do you know Gerard?”

“Just…crossed paths before.”

“You were just protecting the orc. Why would he take you in? He wouldn’t tell me.”

“What happened to the orc?” Garridan stopped his rhythmic punching of the fabric and turned to Isaac, his eyes wide with genuine concern.

Isaac shook his head. “I’m not sure. Sorry. But why did Gerard take you in?”

“Gerard knows what I do.”

“But not what you are. He didn’t know you were a weredragon.”

“No, he didn’t.”

“So that’s not it. What do you do?”

Gerard rolled away from Isaac and laid his head on his bicep, closing his eyes. “Contract work.”

“The mark near your eye. Some were saying it’s the mark of the Dread Dragon.”

“People say a lot things that are bullshit.”

“Then how did you become a weredragon?”

“Long story.”

“We’ve got all night.”

With great effort, Garridan pulled himself upright. The lids of his eyes were heavy, his whites glassy, reflecting the light of the fire just outside the tent. He hunched over, one hand braced against the soft ground, the other holding his stomach. He looked beaten, but his voice was steadier now, and he spoke with care. “Not a story I feel like telling right now.”

Isaac scooted closer to him, careful, afraid. “Then…at least tell me how you know Gerard. Him taking you in–it was out of character.”

Garridan tried to laugh, but it came out a seizing cough. “Was it really?”

“Yes.”

“Or are you just buying into your own stories?”

“What do you mean?”

Garridan said nothing at first. He let the silence sag on Isaac like the dilapidated tent. When he finally spoke, he said only, “You know, I have a favorite of yours.”

“What do you mean?”

“‘The Brigands of Whisperlight Falls.’”

“Oh…why that one?”

“Recite it for me.”

Shrinking back–“I don’t want to.”

“C’mon,” the assassin urged.

But the bard wouldn’t; he turned his head away, couldn’t even look Garridan in the eye.

“Alright. I’ll do it,” Garridan said. “I have it memorized.” He inhaled deeply, and then started, slow and quiet, with menace, almost snarling it out, like a cur through bared teeth–

“There were whispers in the nearby village
Louder than the falls,
Whispers of a band of brigands
Barbarous cabal

There were thieves thought they found a haunt,
Pickings ripe for plunder
Thieves who thought they’d shirk the law
Tear decency asunder

There were victims that had their goods
Taken from their hands,
Victims who had their hands taken–”

Garridan’s rhythm was interrupted by a cough, and when he tried to refind it, his voice had been made raspy again, flecked with phlegm.

Isaac reluctantly finished it for him. “Cut by brigands brands.

There were heroes–plenty–and they said
‘No more the villains take!’
Heroes who left and ne’er came back
But for their own wake.

But then there was a sword–Gerard’s–
That cut the bandits down
A sword that blitzed and cleansed the stain,
Restored hope to the town

And now there are no frightened whispers
Only joyous songs abound
Now there are no thieves or victims
Only a new hero crowned

…Why that one?”

“Personal connection.”

“Would you speak plainly?” Isaac pleaded.

“Because it shows what a fraud he is. He didn’t save that village.”

“But he did,” Isaac insisted. “I was there.”

“When he actually raided the camp?”

“Well…no. I was at the village.”

“Wasn’t very thorough. Maybe he actually took care of some. I don’t know. But as soon as you two rode off into the sunset, some of ‘em came right back.”

“How do you know?”

Garridan’s hand clutched, digging into the soft peat. “Because I’m the one the village finally hired to take them out.” His breathing was labored and his side ached, but he barely noticed. “Seven men that day. Seven men I had to kill, because Gerard couldn’t do the job. And he has poems written about him. You need to quit buying into the shit you peddle. Your friend is no hero.” He surrendered his iron grip on the clotted  earth and laid back down. “I’m going to sleep now. I trust I’ll wake unharmed?”

Isaac made no reply but gently placed a blanket over him and handed him a second, still rolled, to use as a pillow.

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