But a Day from Home – Part 8
Brassica had tried. She had really tried, as Percy had dragged her up the stairs of the ruin, to where his gang of robbers had assembled, six or seven abreast, three rows deep, to keep from breaking down into sobs of fear. She had thought him fierce when he had roared at her at his own little camp. It was nothing compared to what he became, a raving, raging figure, stalking before his men, his great cloak billowing behind him. He snarled and growled and when one of the women flinched away when he came too close, he had slapped her sharply across the face, and bellowed all the louder when she wept, wretched and wailing on her knees.
Then he had seized Brassica and dragged her to the first of the men on the forward corner of the assembly. He had glowered down at her, “Is this the spy?”
Tears pouring from her eyes, it was all Brassica could do to shake her head. And then he hauled her to the next robber in line. No. No, none of them are spies. I lied. It was just a story to keep me safe. And I can’t even…I can’t even say they are. Not even to lie, not even just one of them.They might be wicked, but oh, they’re just as scared of him as I am. He’ll do worse than just kill them. So I can’t say.
They were in the middle of the company and Brassica was beginning to despair utterly, when the horn sounded. As it crescendoed into a sky-breaking note, a volley of arrows hissed through the air, and the company of robbers dissolved, some falling dead, others falling over each other for weapons. It was chaos and panic and disorder and brilliant, blazing hope. The Rangers!
And this was all that Brassica saw, for Percy still had her arm in a vice grip, and suddenly her world was swallowed by a choking, reeking swath of fabric, bundled about her and bound tighter than she would have thought possible in such a brief moment. Then she was hauled off the ground, as Percy ran. She didn’t know where. His feet pounded on the stone, and once they crashed into another body, someone else running. Up more stairs, against a stone wall, and then somehow the sounds of fighting seemed to fade slightly behind them, as though blocked by something. There was a sudden dizzying vertigo of falling, and then as Percy’s feet thudded on the ground, he slung Brassica bodily over his shoulder and ran again, splashing through the water.
Brassica was crying. Even as choked by the horridness of the rusty red cloak as she was, she gasped for breath and sobbed. Percy’s face was right next to her ear, and he was muttering to himself, a torrent of foulness and evil and curses. He was taking her to Angmar, he said. And he’d get the truth from her, whatever truth she’d lied to keep from him.
There’s only one thing that’s true anymore, and I couldn’t lie about it if I wanted to. I want to go home. I want to go home, I want to go home, I wish I’d never left, oh, I want to go home.
She was swung down from his shoulder, and even just the breath of the nighttime breeze seemed to blast right through her as he tumbled her free of his cloak to land in the dirt once again. And Brassica buried her head in her arms and cried like her heart would break. Abandoning his cloak on the ground, Percy stalked across the empty campsite, and still spewing forth his threats and ravings, knelt at the entrance of his tent, and began to shove things into a sack.
When she would think back on the moment, Brassica would only be able to recall through the haze of tears and the litany inside her head, hearing the softest crunch of the sand reach her ears, and lifting her head and seeing the heels of somebody’s boots. When she would tell the story (for it’s very important that stories be done up properly in the way that everybody expects to hear them), she would say that she saw Celebarad standing as tall as the sky itself and that he looked lit up with starlight and that it was like every story anybody had ever heard of any Elven warrior anywhere–she would say those things, or at least things like that, for another important feature of stories is that they never be told quite the same way twice.
But really what she saw first was the back of his boots, and then the swirl of his cloak in the wind as it fell away from his shoulders, as he dropped into a ready stance, lifting his blade, cocking his elbow back and holding it horizontal, leveled at Percy. Though in her heart she’d known the second she lifted her eyes from the dirt who she would see, she still couldn’t believe that Celebarad had appeared before her now, seemingly from nowhere at all. His off-hand crossed behind his back, and loosened Brassica’s silver sword from where it had been tucked in his swordbelt. Without looking behind him, he dropped it, point down, into the sandy dirt.
Brassica hiccuped and pushed herself up on one elbow. And Percy turned around to look at the elf who’d come from nowhere.
It was the little Colewort voice that had been chanting in the back of her mind, I want to go home, I want to go home, I want to go home. But it was the Tookish voice that took up the refrain now, and it had only one wish: I want to see my friend’s face. I want to see what that horrible, evil man’s seeing, because he’s looking at who he’s got to answer to for hurting me. She had to settle for just the look on the brigand’s face. And the mask of sheer terror that flickered on it for just a moment, before hardening back into bright eyed madness, was something that would surface sometimes in her dreams for years to come.
The blood-freezing scream of pure fury that erupted from the brigand captain, however, would wake her sweating for decades. It seemed even to shake Celebarad, who stepped back and let the tip of his sword fall just a few degrees from horizontal as Percy’s greatsword came over his shoulder and arced downwards in a wild slash.
Brassica grabbed the hilt of her knife, scrambled up and away from the fight, pressing her back to the curved wall of a crumbled tower and sinking to the ground, exhausted by the emotions that flowed through her. Celebarad had danced nimbly backward, well away from the arc of the sword, but it had only been the first overture as Percy began to press his attack, and Brassica felt a scream struggling like a trapped bird in the back of her throat.
This was nothing like the goblin-fight; the only fight from which Brassica could draw reference. Percy was a match for Celebarad in size and strength, and drove at him hard; heavy, impossible blows ringing off the elf’s own blade as he parried and dodged and circled his opponent, drawing him further away from Brassica and keeping him turned away from her. She saw the elf’s face now, and it had shades of the same grimness that reminded her of Beldrieth. But where Beldrieth’s eyes were smoky grey agates that betrayed nothing, Celebarad’s blazed blue in the firelight, and were pools of anger. The brigand’s strokes seemed to come from every quarter, and Brassica’s heart jumped with every clash of steel. How Celebarad could fend off the blows from the greatsword with only a one-handed weapon seemed beyond her grasp.
The elf was certainly the quicker of the pair, though, and when Percy overextended on a particularly vicious thrust, Celebarad drew the first blood of the fight, his own swordpoint darting beneath Percy’s arms and stinging deeply him in the upper thigh. He paid for the wound almost immediately, as the greatsword reversed, and then swung upward at an angle towards the elf’s side, and the flat of it crunched against the enameled steel mail.
Almost in the same moment, Brassica cried out in one voice with her friend, knowing that Percy’s blade had struck him in the exact same place where a goblin spear had pierced his side, not more than two days ago. The shock of the pain, rather than the force of the blow had caused Celebarad to stagger sideways, and now a tuft of grass slid beneath his feet and he lost purchase as he brought his sword up again, to ward off another of the brigand’s strokes.
This time the force of the blow was more than he could quite handle and sent him to one knee, and a kick from Percy, aimed with wicked precision at the same place where the greatsword had impacted, sent Celebarad sprawling in the dirt and ashes of the old fire. And inside Brassica, Bullroarer’s blood ignited once again. Her sword seemed to come alive in her hand, and she covered the distance between her and Percy in the same moments that it took the brigand to lift and aim his own blade. Something Llythne had said, jokingly, when they had first set out from Dwaling rang in her mind again, “Hamstring my enemies and harry their ankles.” Brassica didn’t know what hamstrings were, but she knew plenty about ankles, so it was there that she struck, swinging her blade like an axe.
Percy howled in rage and pain, and even though there were sounds of battle echoing all around from the Rangers in the ruin, it was as though silence fell around the scream. Stumbling, he whirled on Brassica, slavering with fury and pain and madness, and the greatsword swung upward again, high above his head, the whole of its purpose in the world reduced to cleaving her in half.
But before the stroke fell, the point of Celebarad’s blade burst through Percy’s chest, and the scream ceased, cut off almost literally, and a frothy rush of blood erupted from the brigand’s throat in its place. Brassica squeezed her eyes shut and crumpled into a heap on the ground, covering her head. She couldn’t block her ears, though, as the greatsword hit the ground with a solid thud, and Percy noisily finished dying, with a final bubbling gasp and then a soft flump in the sandy grass as the body slid from Celebarad’s sword.
It wasn’t silence that descended then, but a hazy eternity of darkness, filled with the far off sounds of the Rangers’ dwindling battle and her own thundering heartbeat. It felt like everything must have melted away around her by the time she opened her eyes and lifted her head, but it had really only been a few moments. Percy lay mercifully face-down, but disturbingly near to Brassica. Celebarad was leaning heavily on his sword, the bloodied length of it a quarter buried in the soft earth, and his free arm wrapped tight across his chest, hand pressed against his side, bloodied again, seeping through the tightly linked rings of his mail shirt like dark red rust. When he saw her open her eyes and deliberately avert her gaze from the corpse before her, he took a few moments to collect himself before removing his hand from his sword hilt, to limp a few feet away and gather Percy’s fallen cloak. Half-dragging and half-tossing it, he let it fall over the brigand’s body. This achieved, he managed a few more halting steps towards a crumbled wall, and then sat down himself with a shuddering sigh.
Brassica needed a few more minutes, but eventually she got shakily to her feet. How strange she felt, somehow miles away from herself, and how queerly similar the night was to the one on the banks of the Brandy, bathed in starlight, the sound of water on the shore around her, and her friend, her very dear friend, bleeding and wounded again. Taking a deep breath, Brassica picked up her sword and slipped it through her belt. She stepped gingerly away from Percy, and went to gather Celebarad’s cloak. She was abstracted for a moment by just how much fabric it took to cover a Big Person. She could have quite comfortably made a tent from the garment, or turned the thing into cloaks for her entire family, with enough left over for handkerchiefs. Eventually she managed a way to handle the lot of it. Dumping this bundled armload into the elf’s lap, Brassica then retrieved his sword, which she had to pull down like a lever to get free from the earth, and then drag behind her to lean it against the crumbled wall beside him. This small measure of tidiness achieved, Brassica allowed herself a heavy sigh of her own, and then settled down to sit with her friend. It was in this way that the Rangers found them, Brassica having pulled a corner of the cloak about herself as a ward against the shock of the whole encounter, and Celebarad, staring up at the stars overhead, for once with nothing to say.