The trip from the Anupa Marshes to the Sikhara Mountains was blessedly uneventful, but Ga’briyel was worried that the men were getting too complacent. They had been traveling for almost two sennights, passing through small villages of twenty houses and larger towns of a hundred or more and forests wider and thicker than any he had ever seen. In all that time, Ga’briyel felt nothing of the evil he knew was out there, and that bothered him greatly. It bothered him all the more because he assumed that if it wasn’t following them, it was waiting for them. He had hoped to rid the world of several more Hellspawn before reaching the volcano, or at least the Sikharas, but it was not to be, and it only made Ga’briyel’s mood blacker as the days progressed. Everyone noticed, and they gave him space. A lot of space. Everyone except Dinton, that is. Ga’briyel’s best friend refused to leave him alone.
“Not going to happen, Mistri,” Dinton said one day about a sennight after leaving the marshes in answer to Ga’briyel’s request to move away from him.
“Why not?” Ga’briyel answered with a growl and a glare.
“Because I am not going to let you push everyone away. Someone has to make sure you do not retreat into yourself, and that someone is me.”
With a deeper growl that came from deep within himself, Ga’briyel just dug his heels into Kumar’s flank and bolted ahead to the front of the company. Dinton followed him, and Ga’briyel whipped Kumar around to face him.
“Snakes and trolls, Dinton! Leave me alone! That’s an order!” the Anmah yelled, and the men around him stared as they passed by.
“No, Ga’briyel. As your friend, I cannot obey that order. I will not obey that order!”
Ga’briyel’s eyes narrowed, and he snapped, “Captain Kajal!”
The man rode up beside the Anmah. “Yes, sir?”
“Take Captain Sekara into custody immediately. The charge is disobeying a superior officer.”
“Ga’briyel—“ Dinton began as Kajal’s jaw dropped.
“Now, Captain Kajal, unless you want to suffer the same fate!”
With a heavy sigh, Kajal answered, “Yes, sir.” Then he turned to Dinton. “Captain Sekara, come with me, please.”
Glaring at Ga’briyel as the Anmah turned Kumar away, Dinton said, “I am coming, Kajal.”
“I am sorry, Captain, but I must bind your hands. I will bind them in front of you so that you can continue to ride,” Kajal said as they moved away from the company.
“I know, Kajal. Do not be sorry. Just do your duty. I do not want you to get in trouble with him, too.” Dinton held out his hands, and Kajal hesitated before pulling a length of rope from his saddlebags and tying Dinton’s wrists to the pommel of his saddle. Shala sidestepped once as Kajal took in the reins and placed them in Dinton’s hands. Then he rode off toward the men who were staring at Dinton as they passed. It was as if they thought he was some bizarre creature, but Dinton did not take it personally. Everyone knew he and Ga’briyel were friends, and to see his hands bound to his saddle had to be shocking. Dinton stayed where he was until Tero came up even with him, and then he kicked Shala into motion. He said nothing, but Tero’s face was red with rage when he saw his hands.
“You are joking, Dinton. What happened?”
“I disobeyed a superior officer’s order, Tero,” Dinton spat out, his own rage building. “I am under arrest.”
“What was the order?”
“He ordered me to leave him alone. I refused, and he placed me in Kajal’s custody.” He glanced down at his hands. “This is the result.”
“Where is Kajal?”
“Up there somewhere.” Dinton gestured with his chin toward the front of the company. “Apparently, he does not consider me dangerous or apt to run away.”
“This is pure foolishness,” Tero scowled. “What is that goat-brained idiot thinking?”
“He is not thinking,” Dinton replied. “He is feeling, and that is dangerous for us all, Tero. I would ask you to talk to him, but I am afraid you will end up in my situation.”
“Nevertheless, I will talk to him when we stop at last light. Perhaps we can talk him into tying us both to the same tree while in camp.”
Dinton could not help but grin slightly at that last comment, and Tero did the same until Dinton said, “Do you really think he will bind me to a tree, Tero? He will not go that far, will he?”
“I do not know,” Tero replied, his grin vanishing in an instant. “If he is angry enough, he probably will, but I will talk to him. Perhaps I can get him to see how foolish he is being.”
“Good luck with that, my friend. I do not think he is in the mood to talk.”
“In the mood or not, we will talk.”
Nothing more was said between the two captains until just before last light when the company halted. When Dinton saw Kajal headed his way with a deep frown, he knew Ga’briyel was going to treat his disobedience as a serious offense. Kajal stopped his horse next to Shala and untied the rope from the pommel but kept Dinton’s hands bound.
“Can you dismount without your hands, Captain?” Kajal asked quietly. In answer, Dinton swung his right leg over the pommel and jumped to the ground. He glared at Kajal without speaking as the other man also dismounted. “I am truly sorry, Dinton,” Kajal said in an almost-whisper, “but Captain Mistri insists that you are bound to a tree. Hand and foot.”
“Do not worry about it, Kajal. Captain Mistri will soon come to his senses. I hope. Just do what you must.”
“Yes, Captain,” Kajal answered, his frown deepening. “He also insists that I put a guardsman on you. To make sure you do not try to run, he says.”
“Fine. Just do it.”
Kajal shook his head, but he grabbed the rope around Dinton’s wrists and led him to a tree near the center of camp.
“The middle, Kajal? Not the outside?”
“The middle, Dinton. Captain Mistri wants to make an example of you. I do not know why.”
“It is all right. I know why.”
“Will you tell me?” Kajal asked as he pushed Dinton to the ground and wrapped the rope around the tree. He tied it tightly and then took a second rope and tied Dinton’s ankles together.
“He is angry, Kajal. At what I am not sure, but he is taking his anger out on me. Do not worry. Hopefully he will see how foolish this is soon.” As Kajal pulled the knot tight, Dinton sighed. “If he does not, this will be a very uncomfortable journey for me.”
“That it will, Captain.” With a final frown, Kajal left Dinton, but soon a guardsman took up position to the captive’s right. The guardsman looked uneasy as he glanced down at Dinton.
“I am sorry for this, Captain Sekara,” he said quietly, “but do not let Captain Mistri know I said that, please, sir. I do not wish to join you.”
Dinton chuckled and rested his head against the tree. “I will say nothing, Guardsman, but thank you. When you are relieved, would you please tell Captain Mistri that I would like to talk to him?”
“No, sir, I cannot do that. Captain Mistri has already told the entire company that you are to talk to no one. Not even Captain Rabina, sir. And no one is to talk to him about you, sir.”
“Son of a troll!” Dinton muttered. “He has lost his mind!” He closed his eyes and tried to calm the anger that flowed through him, but he had no luck. He was still in that position when the next guardsman came and the next. He spoke to neither of them. At one point, when he felt the temperature drop, he took a deep breath and opened them. It was dark all around him, and he could barely see the guardsman to his right. He shivered when a bitter wind whipped around him, and he growled when he could not do more than pull his knees to his chest in an attempt to stay warm. When the wind did not stop, he finally called out, “Ga’briyel Mistri el’Adama! Get over here now!” There was no response he could hear, but within moments Ga’briyel stood in front of him, violet eyes blazing down at him and arms folded over his chest.
“Do not glare at me, Mistri,” Dinton snarled, his eyes narrowing. “You are being a goat-brained idiot! Are you hoping I freeze to death out here? Because that is what will happen if you leave me like this. There is snow in that wind, and you need to untie me. Unless, of course, you do not care what happens to me.”
Ga’briyel stared at Dinton for a moment longer, and then he looked at the guardsman. “Untie him,” he said tightly, and then he brought his gaze back to Dinton as the guardsman hurried to obey. “Do not think you are free, Sekara. You are still under arrest for insubordination, but I do not want you to die.” His eyes flashed brightly once as something akin to regret passed over his face, but then his expression hardened, and he turned on his heel and walked away. Dinton stood up once the guardsman loosened the last knot, and he rubbed his wrists as he watched his friend leave.
“Goat-brained idiot,” he mumbled. The guardsman was still standing near him, and Dinton whirled on him. “Go away, Guardsman. Leave me be.”
“Yes, Captain,” the man said as he saluted. When he was gone, Dinton walked to the horselines and found Shala. He reached into his saddlebags, pulled out his oiled cloak, and wrapped it around his shoulders.
“Better,” he said to himself and then leaned against his horse, slowly stroking her neck. “What is going on, girl? Everything is wrong.” He sighed heavily and lost himself in his thoughts. Eventually, he heard footsteps approaching him, and he looked up. Tero was moving toward him, disapproval etched in every furrow of his face.
“You are no longer under arrest, Dinton,” he said quietly, but his expression did not change. “I talked to Ga’briyel, and he agreed to dispense with this foolish charade. He still does not want to see you, however, and he is off in the forest training again. I asked him what he would do if anything showed up, and he just stared at me and said, ‘Die, Tero, what else? I am cursed to die over and over and over, and I might as well get some of it out of the way.’ He is killing himself, Dinton,” Tero’s eyes narrowed, “and I do not know what to do about it. If he keeps on like this, he will go insane, and the world will belong to Sayatan.”
Dinton pushed himself off Shala. “Whether he wants to see me or not, I will talk to him. Perhaps I can get him to see reason.”
“I doubt it, my friend. He seems determined to push everyone away. He is out there with his sword, so be careful, Dinton. If he is angry enough, he may hurt you.” With a shrug, Dinton pulled his sword belt from his saddle and strapped it to his waist. He held out his hand to Tero who clasped his forearm tightly. “Yisu be with you, Dinton Sekara, and Yisu be with him, too.”
“Thank you, Tero,” Dinton replied, and then he walked to the nearest guardsman on watch. “Where is Captain Mistri?” he asked softly, and the man pointed into the forest.
“About two hundred paces in that direction, sir.”
Nodding, Dinton set off to find his friend. It did not take long before he heard the distinct sound of a sword whistling through the air, and from the sound, Dinton knew that Ga’briyel Mistri was furious at something. He could only pray that it was not Dinton Sekara his friend was angry at. He crept through the trees silently until he reached a large clearing, nearly twenty paces in diameter. Ga’briyel was in the middle, but he was not performing any pattern that Dinton could see. Instead, he was violently slashing at invisible and imaginary opponents. Twisting and twirling and rolling and leaping, Ga’briyel made even this violence look like a dance, and Dinton sat down, his back against a tree on the edge of the clearing, to watch and marvel at the beauty in the angry movements before him. Ga’briyel did not stop for more than an hour, and then he dropped to his knees with a howl directed at the sky. His sword fell from his hand and landed in the grass.
“Why are you here, Dinton?” he asked as he hung his head and clenched his fists.
Dinton did not move or say anything. He just stared at his friend with a critical eye. Ga’briyel was scowling, but that seemed to be his normal expression lately. His eyes were shut tight, and his fists were shaking.
“Well? Why are you here?” Ga’briyel yelled as his head came up and his eyes opened.
Never before had Dinton seen such agony in the Anmah’s eyes, and he frowned. “I am worried about you, Ga’briyel,” he said quietly.
Ga’briyel spat out a bitter laugh. “Do you honestly think I do not know that? Of course I know you are worried, and I know you think I have been acting like an idiot!” His eyes dimmed a bit, and then they filled with tears. “I am sorry, Dinton,” he said. “You are right about me being an goat-brained idiot. I know you were just trying to be my friend, but I do not want or need a friend right now. I need and want to be left alone!” His eyes blazed, and he hung his head again.
“You do need a friend, Mistri,” Dinton said as he stood up, “and when you realize that, I will be here for you as will Tero. Until then, we will leave you alone as you request.”
Ga’briyel nodded once, and Dinton turned back toward the camp. He had not taken three steps before he heard Ga’briyel’s sword slicing through enemies that were not there yet again.