The boy talked endlessly. About everything. Renfry supposed if he had spent six years not speaking, then possibly he would talk for hours just to hear the sound of his own voice as well, but Renfry could not keep up. After a while, he just tuned out. Birds. Clouds. Grass. Do you think this? Do you think that? Why bears hibernated. The stars. The best way to press parchment.
The gods had sent this boy as a true test of Renfry’s patience. He could not wait to get to Roarden North, if only to rid himself of the incessant yammering….
What was that?
Renfry heard something, and for once, it was not his young companion.
“You. Shut your mouth and do not utter another word.”
Ari looked at Renfry, his mouth frozen in mid-stream of whatever he had been discussing.
Renfry rolled his eyes. “I said, do not speak another word. Listen, but do not speak.”
He saw the boy swallow as he nodded. Renfry kept forgetting that technically, if found, Ari, or whatever his known name was, could be executed where he stood.
Yes, the boy had been a Silent Brother, but to Renfry’s way of thinking, he was no longer a Silent Brother. Nor certainly silent. He’d really forgotten about the boy being a member of the Order. Well, Renfry wasn’t going to turn him in. Everyone deserved a second chance, after all.
Renfry adopted a casual expression and continued walking down the dirt road. The terrain had changed, and only grasses and meadowland swept the side of the road to Roarden North, so they walked the road now.
Soon, three men showed around the bend in the road. Renfry cracked his knuckles.
Instead of passing and just tipping a head in civility on their way past, they stopped, causing the dust in the road to cloud up around their boots. They were walking in a triangular formation.
“Where you headed?” asked the first.
“Wherever the road takes us. Where are you headed?” Renfry asked in a tone just short of defiance.
“What’s your name?” asked the first with narrowed brown eyes.
“Ren,” Renfry told him. Soldiers. More and more of them. Where were they going?
“Yeah? Who’s he?”
“My kid brother.”
“He don’t look like your brother.”
Renfry spit on the dirt road. “He hears that a lot.”
One of the others opined, “What, he don’t speak for himself?”
Renfry scoffed. “Most days, I can’t shut him up. But he’s got a real good recipe for brewing beer. Want to hear it?”
The three soldiers suddenly grinned, jostling each other.
“Go ahead, tell them.” Renfry nodded at Ari, who looked confused, for this was going against the directions he’d just been given.
He drew in a breath. “Well, you see, what you need first is – oh my – what – what – did you! Holy God above!”
“Relax, boy. It’s all over.” Renfry planted his swords into the dirt road.
The three soldiers’ heads were lying askance, staring sightlessly, bleeding into the dust. Renfry walked over and nudged them away from the bodies. Then he looked up at the boy.
His arms were clasped behind his head and he was pacing back and forth across the road.
“What did you – what did you do that for!”
“Simple. They would have killed us.”
“You don’t know that. How do you know that!”
Renfry looked at the boy. “It’s been my experience that they would have.” He nudged the heads away over a little further so that their blood wouldn’t spill onto their uniforms. The second soldier’s head spun around in a full circle and bumped into the third soldier’s head, causing it to wobble a bit more. Beheading was almost more trouble than it was worth.
“Well, come over here and be of some use,” called Renfry. So far, the boy had not wretched. Renfry was impressed. He kneeled down next to one of the bodies.
Slowly, the boy approached, an accusatory expression all over his face.
“You don’t know that they would have killed us. You could have let them go.”
Renfry shaded his eyes against the sun as he squinted up at Ari from his kneeling position. “I could have. And they could have mentioned us – you, especially – to someone. Who might pass it on to another someone. Who might pass it on to someone else. I don’t care to be in that position, do you?”
The boy stared at him stubbornly. “We need to bury them.”
Renfry scoffed. “Bury them! I’m not burying men who wouldn’t have the decency to bury me. You bury men you love, serve with, and respect. I don’t give a kick of shit for these assholes, nor did they for me. Or you, and you think about that before that guilt sets in.
“Now I’m going to be bone-picking and you can turn around and pretend it’s not happening, or you can get to it with me, and we’ll be on our way quicker, and eliminate the amount of time that anyone can connect them to us.
“Or you can go retch in the field there. As you like.”
“I have a strong stomach,” Ari retorted. “I’ve helped butcher animals before.”
“Well, these men were animals dressed in clothing, so you think on that. Now here –
” and Renfry tossed the soldier’s coin purse to him. “Count it.”
By the time they had taken all they needed off the soldiers’ bodies, including two shirts for the boy – which he had immediately recoiled at the idea of – they had amassed a fair number of items.
Renfry generously gave the boy half of the money, which for a boy who had never had money before, was a great deal indeed. Now he had money and two shirts as well, for they were in a city style rather than those rough-spun country shirts that would mark him surely as a country boy in the big city of Roarden North. Eventually, the boy accepted the shirts, however gingerly, mainly because he recognized the logic behind the idea, not because he wanted the shirts themselves.
A few more items Renfry kept himself – a fine compass that he was certain the officer had stolen, a knife, and another cloak, for his own was ragged now. And they both had new rations, though Roarden North was only a two-day walk now at most.
Once they set out again, the boy asked him, “Why do you carry two swords?”
Renfry looked out over the vast grasslands, searching, though for what, he wasn’t sure yet. “Because I’m good at using them both,” he said. It was his usual reply for that question.
He watched as the boy took off his rough-spun shirt and bagged it into his rucksack. Renfry was surprised to see a fair muscle tone. The boy held out of one of the shirts with clear distaste but pulled it over his frame. After he rolled up its sleeves, he threw his rucksack over his shoulder and strode forward.
“You can stop calling me “boy” and “Ari.” My real name is ‘Topher.’”