1867-10-07: All That Is Right And Proper
All That Is Right And Proper
Summary: Vorian sees to the memory of his recently lost men.
Date: 1867-10-07
Related: The Bandits Rising Plot

Vorian stands in the hallway outside his men's barracks, visibly steeling himself. The stitches itch like fire — he knows that means they're healing, but it's all he can do to not to scratch. Like many things, picking at it will only make it worse. He can hear his men in there, drinking and telling stories. Celebrating their friends. And he needs to be in there with them. So, drawing in a painful breath, the knight advances.

"Sir Vorian! Vorian!" The greetings come fast and Vorian moves among his friends, squeezing hands and shoulders, smiling. It's an act — he's never felt less friendly, less outgoing. But they expect it of him, especially at a time like this. So he takes an offered bottle and swallows a few mouthfuls of wine. "Hello, lads."

Rickard and Antonius are on their feet. Rickard's fat, Antonius skinny. No matter how often they train, they remain fat and skinny. Fallon sprawls, not bothering to rise for his superior, as ever. Over in a cluster, playing dice, are the others. Tevrin, Porter, Jerome, Daniel, and the dice-finnicker among them, Delos. Vorian wonders every time why the others even bother to roll when Delos enters a game. He's been wondering for six years.

In the center of the barracks are two plain cots, dragged out from their places against the wall and covered with simple sheets. Piled atop them are the possessions of Taggett and Talbot — a tiny pile on each, their spare clothing, their weapons, the letters that Vorian had read to them over the years, tied up in faded silk ribbons. Tokens of valor, small memories of past battlefields — a chunk of stone from Valetta, an arrowhead from some forgotten battlefield in the North.

Everyone stops what they're doing when Vorian stares at these piles. Everyone turns to him. It's time for him to say something. He hates these moments — has had too many of them over the years. And these are his last ten. The last men he was entrusted. He killed them by bringing them to this place; he knows that deep in his bones, down where he keeps the other losses. He imagines a glass jar, filled with stones, one for each man he's seen burned. And the stones keep filling that fucking jar. How long before it's full? Before they're all gone? He needs to say something.

"Talbot was the meanest, craziest, sonofamother who ever lived," he says after a moment. And there's a murmur of agreement. Vorian thinks of Bloodfield, of Talbot beating a man's head into the floor again and again for the sheer drunken pleasure of it. "He never backed down, even when he should. Never turned his back on a friend. Never ran from an enemy. He took three arrows shielding Lord Gabriel, and he died with blood on his teeth." A roar of approval for the man who was known to bite off ears in close combat. "We drink to Talbot. Gutter scum and vicious bastard!" Another roar, even louder, "Vicious bastard!" Vorian leans down and picks up the chunk of stone.

And then he turns to the other cot. The other empty place. Taggett. A memory swims up — Taggett's disembodied arse pumping, pumping, just visible out of an alcove. And Vorian can't help but laugh. "Taggett loved women." General agreement now, big smiles. "He had a heart like a damn cistern. Just kept dumping more love into it. Never met a woman he didn't love. Taggett told me once.." Here he trails off, forced to clear his throat. Esyld's face flashes in front of his eyes, the tears as she looked down at golden spurs. "That the best way to win a girl's heart was to give'r something she didn't need. Taggett died with a sword-blade through his throat, and his sword in a man's belly. We drink to Taggett. Gutter scum and jigolo!" And a roar goes up. "Jigolo!" Vorian leans down and lifts the stack of letters from the cot.

The others line up, one by one, to lift a piece of memory from each cot. Small things — clothing, a sketch of a woman, a cheap brass ring. The knicknacks accumulated in a life of soldiering. The things these men had valued enough to carry on their backs from one battlefield to another. Vorian thinks of the rooms above, where the nobility sleep in lavish comfort even now, and it breaks his heart. Esyld sometimes reminds him that he is not common-born, not really one of these men. That he belongs upstairs with the other knights and lords. Not down here, drinking cheap blackstrap. Well, bugger that.

Ceremony complete, all that is right and proper having been done, the drinking begins in earnest. Each man has contributed what he could to the common pool, and the nine veterans — Vorian amongst them as naturally as a birth — begin to get drunk. Story after story is told of the dead men, adventures and legends and classic bumbles. Talbot and his twin brother constantly switching places, before Ian died at Valetta. Taggett and the fourteen-stone woman he'd found in some unlikely whorehouse and swore to marry.

Vorian lets himself drift into the background as the others celebrate. He sees an opening, is about to slip out of the room, when Fallon lays a heavy hand on his shoulder. "Where we headed, sir?" Fallon's voice is low, a whisper into the knight's ear. "I'm hurt and I'm tired, Fallon. I want to go sleep." The grizzled sergeant smiles lazily. "Nah. Y'want to go see her and remind yourself you're not dead."

"And if so? What of it, you old maid?" It's a fond argument, but no less fierce for that. Fallon's smile is mirthless now. "What of it? What of it, my old son? Nothin'. Nothin' at all. Except mebbe remember that we just lost two men. We can't afford to lose a third. Be swift an' sure, Sir Vorian, or go the fuck away from her."

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