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Hero's Song - Chapter Eight

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She stood behind the podium, Sand slightly behind her, occasionally speaking in her ear. Her fingers gripped it's edges until her knuckles were white. Her chin was high and her eyes burned like quick-silver, meeting the gaze of everyone in the room. Her blood-grass colored hair fell in long, slow curls down her back and when she tossed her head it flew behind her like a banner, waving victory. Sand had told her to leave it down for the trial. Now, he understood why the wizard had counseled so. She looked softer, feminine, smaller somehow. A lot less like a sacker of villages and more just a pretty elven girl.

But that voice of hers, no one could escape. There had been pretty women before, true. Maybe a few prettier than her; not many, though, but a few. Some had even hung around for a bit of time, had distracted him until he had gotten a hold of himself and left. Yet her voice, clear as a bell, struck him down to the base of his spine, echoed through his head, and left his rib-cage shaking. It was that damn bardic magic. It had to be, or else he was losing his mind. Or losing something else...

Even now, as she passionately recited her harrowing tale in her own defense (even he was starting to believe it, and he knew half of what she was saying was bull-shite), he found himself watching her lips move, her voice peircing him until he felt that he would bleed from it. The sympathetic murmers and nearby, muffled weeping told him that the crowd, at least, was buying it; Lord Nasher's face seemed impassive as always.

He recalled when she had burst into song in the githyanki cave, and how the urge to fight on! press harder! be victorious! had been so irresistable that he had been swept along with the tide without even realizing it...

Witch woman, he thought. She was doing something to him, she had to be. He had never been affected like this by anyone, let alone an elf-wench. The most disturbing thing, is that there seemed to be a voice in his mind; a changeling that told him to help her. To protect her. That making her happy was important. Where the hell was this coming from? It was like a persistant itch that wouldn't go away. He had made apoint to ensure that nothing ever became even slightly important to him, besides survival. He had shut the doors on those feelings long ago, left them burning in the long-buried memory of a village. He'd had to, else he'd go mad.

His mind snapped back to the present when the dwarf nudged him. "Nasher's giving the verdict," he whispered.

The self-styled Lord of Neverwinter stood, and everyone in the room was completely silent. He glanced back down at her; she leaned forward over the podium slightly, her eyes fixed on Nasher, lips slightly parted; the muscles in her arms stood out like chords, she was gripping the wooden frame so tightly. Justiciar Oleff went through some religious posturing about the trial, and then formally asked Lord Nasher for the verdict.

"I think it's clear who the culprit is after these proceedings," announced Nasher, and for a moment Torio's face flickered in triumph.

Nasher looked across the room, and after a pause, said "Sir Nevalle, I want the Luskan Ambassador, and every member of the Luskan Brotherhood out of the city by nightfall." People exploded; arguing, cheering, shouting, shaking hands, patting backs...the dwarf almost knocked him over the edge of the balcony. He saw Harper deflate with relief, stepping back from the podium into a feirce hug from Shandra.

"Lord Nasher! Surely you can't think the Brotherhood.." Torio was desperately trying to get Nasher's attention again.

"I have given my verdict, Claven!" Nasher turned away to speak with Oleff, and already seemed to be forgetting the Ambassador was there. Nevalle, however, had not...he had taken three menacing steps towards her, motioning to the guards, when Torio marched into the center of the room, and screamed above the chaos.

"I claim my right to trial by combat!"

o o o o o o

Everyone shut up fast.

Sand was whispering faster than lightening in my ear, explaining the implications to me even as Nasher narrowed his eyes at the Luskan Ambassador. "I don't have time for this, Torio!"

She glared at him. "You dare deny me this, Lord Nasher? Can he do that, Justiciar Oleff?"

The aged Justiciar sighed. ", he cannot." He looked at Torio. "But I doubt you'll last long enough on the field against Squire Harper, Torio."

She regained something of herself, and put on a smug smile. "Indeed, you're right about that, milord. Will anyone fight as my champion in this most worthy cause for justice?"

There was silence. My heart soared.

And sunk again, as a deep, rumbling voice that could have been death incarnate shouted, "I will fight so that justice may be done!"

A mountain of a man entered the courtroom, easily three hands taller than me and just as wide. Muscles bulged on his frame...I even think if he lifted his foot high enough, he could have stepped on me and squashed me flat. Something about his face looked familiar...

All eyes turned to me, and Lord Nasher spoke as if in a daze. "Very well. Tonight, Squire Harper, you will go through the Rite of Tyr, and tomorrow...tomorrow, you shall face Luskan's Champion on the field, or choose a champion of your own to fight in your stead. The outcome of that battle will determine the ruling."

What?! "You've got to be kidding me!"

The courtroom became an ocean of noise again, and Sand grabbed me by the arm and ushered me out hurriedly, Shandra running behind to keep up. "This is nonsense!" I said, when we were outside. "They found me innocent!"

"It's an old law, and most of the time, whoever's guilty in the case usually ends up confessing during the Rite of Tyr. Nothing like facing death to change your mind." Sand looked worried. "But, as in this case you are truly innocent, and I doubt that Lorne or Torio will have a sudden attack of conscience..."

"Lorne!" I said suddenly. "I know that man. He's a Harborman, he's from the Mere! He's fighting for Luskan?!"

Shandra sighed. "And I thought my life was upside down..."

The others pushed their way through the crowd to us. I held up a hand to forestall speaking; the trial had run late and the sun was already sinking.

"We need to go to the temple." My voice sounded hollow in my ears, and I avoided anyone's gaze. Death faced me on all sides, and I wasn't coming out of this one without some marks on my hide, it seemed.

o o o o o o

"You will spend the night in the alter-room, gazing on the face of Tyr and asking him for his justice," intoned Hilam.

Right, I'll just keep all thoughts of instantaneous, bloody death out of my head and concentrate on justice, I thought bitterly. But I didn't say such words to a pious man like Hilam; some people you just didn't tease. Who knows, Tyr might take offense to sarcasm, and I definately needed to be on his good side tomorrow.

"And your friends must leave you, although you may have visitors for a short time."

I turned and looked back at my companions, crowded behind me in the church. "All right...well...I'll be fine, really." I smiled bravely, which I imagined looked more like a grimace, and watched as they filed out. Khelgar was last to go, and just as he was about to place a foot out the door...

"Hells teeth! I'll not be taking this sitting down!" He turned and thundered towards Hilam, sticking his axe in the air to emphasize each point. "This is bloody wrong! I'll not just stand by while some ogre of a man kills her off! Not after we tried so hard, and we won, too! We bloody well won that damn trial, and now they're just...cheating, and it's not going to happen, do you hear me?!"

The church echoed with the last chords of Khelgar's tirade, and Hilam looked down at the dwarf impassively. "You feel it is unjust."

"It damn well is unjust, and you know it!! Harper," he turned to me, and I had to dodge his wildly swinging axe, "Harper, girl, let me fight him! I'll give him such a beating that all of Luskan will feel it, and limp for a week after!"

Hilam looked at me. " have the right to choose a champion, to fight in your stead. Would you choose this one?"

"I..." Honestly, for a craven second, I thought about it. But if Khelgar lost, he'd be dead. And I'd be dead too, for it would be the gallows for me. At least if I fought myself, I'd only be risking one life. I sighed. "No. Khegar, thank you." I bent down and kissed the top of his head. "Thank you. But I can do this."

He grumbled. "All right. But...don't ye be getting killed, then! That's a top notch way of tickin' me off, it is." He patted my arm gruffly, and left the temple. I could still tell he was angry; hells, the dwarf was practically steaming at the ears.

"Follow me," said Hilam.

o o o o o o

I had unbuckled my sword-belt, and lain my weapons on the ground next to me. My hair was neatly plaited again, and hung down my back in a long braid; curls were pretty, but useless against giant killing machines. Most of the heavier accoutrements of my leather armor were laid out beside me, as well. I leaned back against the far wall, the statue of Tyr staring at me in my plainclothes and boots. The air of the temple was cool on my exposed skin, and I could hear the droning of the monks in a far off room. I couldn't even imagine dozing off in this place.

The far door opened, and Sand stepped in. "I hope you don't mind me inturrupting, but after Khelgar's...outburst...I figured you'd be willing to listen to anything." He walked over to me, and rather impiously used a knee-bench as a seat-bench. "I just wanted to wish you luck tomorrow, and you these."

He opened his pack and took out at least seven healing potions; I could tell by the way they fizzled slightly that he had just brewed them. I was touched. "Sand..."

"No, don't thank me, I'll just get all embarassed and start blushing enough to put Elanee to shame." He gave me a measured look. "You know, you did quite well in the courtroom today. Torio was sweating daggers near the end. You've got a way of wrapping words around your little finger that I'm starting to envy." He smiled wryly. "If you live tomorrow, we'll have plenty to talk about, you and I."

"Oh, thanks for the if, Sand," I grumbled, but I returned his smile after a moment. "And thanks for helping me. Even if the trial did turn out to be utterly useless, it...was kind of fun. I've never had a bigger audience than that before."

"And at the end, they were all yours, my dear." He stood. "I'll show myself out. Do us proud, tomorrow."

o o o o o o

"It's just a statue, you know."

I had been staring at Tyr, my eye's glazed over; I was writing music in my head, and feeling sorry for myself that I'd never get to write it down before I died (I was a little melancholy, all right?). I blinked. Bishop was standing in the doorway, leaning against the door frame.

My insides did their usual acrobatics, but I stayed seated, and watched as he walked into the room and sat beside me, leaning against the wall. "You're going to go through with this thing, aren't you?" He didn't look at me, just leaned his head back, his eyes almost shut.

"I don't really have a choice. If I champion someone else, and they die? I'm dead anyway, and that's just another life wasted. If I fight, at least it's just me dying." The last part I said lightly, as if making a joke, but Bishop growled.

"Well, look, if you'd rather not die, listen. I've seen how men like Lorne fight, they're all strength and swing and momentum. And I know how you fight, and just because he's bigger than you, doesn't mean he's got the advantage." He glanced down at my scimitars on the floor. "You're quick, and you move better than he does; if he tries to shift too fast he stumbles over his own feet, so my advice? Keep moving, and keep striking. He won't be able to keep up with you." He finally met my eyes. "Just don't get hit; his arms are like tree-trunks."

I cocked an eyebrow at him quizzically. "You sound like you know from experience."

Bishop waved my comment away with a flick of his wrist. "Like I said, I've seen how men like him fight." He tapped the side of his head. "I know what I'm talking about."

I nodded. "Okay. Well...okay. Then I'll take your advice." I sighed. "I really don't have much else to go on."

"And...well, if you need it, they'll give you a chance before you'll go on the field to pick someone to fight for you." He rubbed the back of his neck, scowling. "Maybe I'll do it, if you ask for me."

I was suddenly and sharply aware of how close he was. I didn't realize I was staring at him, until he looked at me again; his eyes were so close I could count the green and gold flecks around his irises, see a fringe of dark lashes around the edges. Without really meaning to, I closed the short distance between his face and mine, and my lips found his.

Flames licked at my veins, and my body ran hot and cold all at once. I remember the roughness of his shadow of facial hair against my cheek, his sharp intake of breath as my mouth pressed against his, the smell of dusk that clung to him, filling my nostrils. His hands found my shoulders, gripped them, pulled me closer, and his tongue slid past my lips easily...a promise. For a moment, I thought I would crumble to nothingness if he kissed me any longer...and that the same would happen if he stopped. And then, without warning, he let me go. We parted, and his eyes were bright, his breath heavy.

He stood, slowly, carefully, and it was then that the chanting of the monks infiltrated my senses. He looked at me a moment longer, then swiftly turned to leave, and my breath started coming a little easier. I sat against the wall, trying desperately to re-collect my scrambled thoughts, when he looked back at me.

"And in a church, too? You fly in the face of decorum, songbird." He grinned, and left.

Suddenly, facing Lorne seemed like child's play.

Hero's Song - Chapter 8 © Avariel

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