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Hero's Song - Chapter Twenty-Five

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Original lyrics "Do virgins taste better?" by Randy Farran

o o o o o o

I applauded Hackney, laughing along with everyone else as he attempted to make a flourishing bow and almost fell onto his face. Number one rule of the stage; don't drink while playing. Once you were drunk, your perfomance was more of an endurance test than anything else (albeit still entertaining.) We had returned merely an hour ago after destroying the bridges that led into our lands; an attempt to, if not stop, then slow the shadow army that had been marching towards Neverwinter. With the sword reforged, it had been only a matter of time until Black Garius had come looking for me, and battle was now upon us...but for tonight, saturated with the exhultation of victory, we were celebrating while we still had a chance.

Bishop stood alone, in a far corner of the room, toying with the string of his bow. He had been in a dark mood as of late, taking brooding to a whole new level. My heart ached that he wouldn't speak to me of whatever was troubling him, but I counseled myself that that's just the way that he was. He still spent his nights in my bed, and some moments I would awaken to see him staring at the ceiling, eyes open and glittering in the moonlight. But any effort I made to question him on it would have those dark eyes turning to me, and his rough voice whispering "Nothing. Go back to sleep, vanima." And it was rare enough for his voice to carry anything akin to tenderness that in a fit of unease mixed with warm pleasure, I would do so, and that would be that.

Someone jostled me out of my thoughts. "Captain! You'll sing us a song, yes?" Bevil was at my elbow, grinning at me. I had been surprised (and overwhelmingly relieved) when he had shown up at my gates, hell bent on joining the ranks in the Keep. He had made Sergeant in no time, with his militia training, and I was grateful more than once over that I had him. He gave me a playful little shove, and everyone around me laughed as I stumbled up onto the stage, patting Hackney on the back. "Take a break, old boy," I said, grinning as he tried to focus on my face. "Else you'll end up decorating the floor with your supper."

I removed my fiddle from my pack and unwrapped it, cocking my head at the audience confidently. "So, my brave men and women! What shall I play for the finest soldiers in Neverwinter?"

They erupted in cheering, and someone shouted, "Play that dragon song you sang a fornight ago, Captain! None o' the other boys have heard it yet!"

I grinned, placing the fiddle under my chin. "Just don't tell Miss Jen I'm playing it again, or she'll skin me alive." The bow flew over the strings in a lively, upbeat melody, and they began clapping along as I sang:

"A dragon has come to our village today.

We've asked him to leave, but he won't go away.

Now he's talked to our king and they worked out a deal.

No homes will he burn and no crops will he steal.

Now there is but one catch, we dislike it a bunch.

Twice a year he invites him a virgin to lunch.

Well, we've no other choice, so the deal we'll respect.

But we can't help but wonder and pause to reflect.."

Some of them began singing with me on the chorus, and a few feet began stomping...

"Do virgins taste better than those who are not?

Are they salty, or sweeter, more juicy or what?

Do you savor them slowly? Gulp them down on the spot?

Do virgins taste better than those who are not?"

I could see Casavir shaking his head at me from the back of the crowd, but the smallest ghost of a smile was on his face, and I could tell he was trying not to laugh. I winked across the room at him as I continued.

Now you have such good taste in your women for sure,

They always are pretty, they always are pure.

But your notion of dining, it makes us all flinch,

For your favorite entree is barbecued wench.

Now we've found a solution, it works out so neat,

If you insist on nothing but virgins to eat.

No more will our number ever grow small,

We'll simply make sure there's no virgins at all!

They all joined me in the chorus, and I was near laughing at the end; two of my soldiers had stood up and were swinging each other around, singing lustily along with the words, and they both curtsied to each other in a ridiculous fashion as the song ended, to everyone's delight. I played on, keeping the music light and the atmosphere celebratory; after a few rounds of it, Hackney jumped back up on stage, looking slightly more clear-headed, and I re-entered the crowd to friendly shoves and much back-patting.

Bevil was laughing at me, his eyes bright. "I remember the first time you played that, Daeghun near whipped you in the middle of the town square." His eyes grew a little sad. "It scared Amie half to death; remember she kept asking you if dragons really ate virgins?"

I smiled at that. "Aye, and I told her dragons ate everything." I cocked an eyebrow at him. "Although I do remember you standing behind the virgin theory quite staunchly."

He nearly blushed, and shrugged at me, grinning. "A young man's got to answer when oppurtunity knocks."

I laughed, and shook my head at him; as I did so, something caught my eye and my laughter died in my throat. Bishop's eyes were on me, cold, calculating; he turned, and walked out of the back door, dissappearing up towards the keep.

Bevil frowned at me. "Captain? Are you all right?"

"Aye...I'm fine. Tell the boys I'll be back in a bit, will you?" I gave him a quick smile and gently pushed my way through the crowd, slipping out the back door. I could see Bishop's dark shadowy shape ahead of me, climbng the steps that led to the battlements, and I broke into a jog, catching up with him. "Hey!"

He glanced at me as I came level with him, but kept walking. "Something you need, Captain?"

"Aye, what gives with the black mood?"

He snorted at me, moving towards the wall. He crossed his arms over the stone, leaning out over the edge, his profile a shadow in the moonlight. "I'm tired of this war, tired of thinking the next time I go galavanting off with you I'll end up stone cold dead." He shook his head in disgust as I slid up next to him, leaning my albows against the wall. "You don't even see it, do you? Down there, with your men, cheering you on like some sort of hero. Do you even realize that tomorrow they might all have to die for you?" His voice was scathing, and I narrowed my eyes at him.

"Of course I do! It's on my thoughts every waking second, has been since the beginning." I arched a brow at him. "You speak as if this is all my trouble, as if this battle is my fault, but it's not; even if I didn't exist, the King of Shadows would be doing exactly as he is doing."

"Oh, it is your trouble, because you've taken up this...holy banner, to save everyone, to make yourself some sacrifice on an altar," he spat, and when he looked at me next, his hands slid around my shoulders, and his tone eased down a little. "Look, war's about to hit this place hard - and you aren't going to win. Some things are just bigger than you, little elf. I say we head out now, while we still can."

I frowned at him. "But what about-?"

"No one else," he cut me off, his eyes dark and earnest, his face bending closer. "Just you and me, is what I'm saying. I can guide the two of us out of here, nobody has to know." His lips crushed against mine, then, angry and desperate, and his arms slid around my waist like a vice, pulling me against him as if afraid I would wriggle away. He pulled back slightly, his voice gruff. "Damn it, woman, just let Neverwinter fall. It's no use fighting this...and you know it."

"Bishop..." my voice came out in a whisper, thick with feeling, and my heart wrenched in my chest even as I spoke. "I...I can't. I can't leave them."

The light died in his eyes, and his grip on me loosened. He shut his eyes, and shook his head in a bitter, half-chuckle. "Yeah...I thought as much. These people are like stones, and this war's an might have made it out alive, but they're dragging you down."

He tried to step away from me, but my heart was crying out, and I fastened my hands on his wrists, refusing to let him leave. "Bishop," I said gently. "You have to understand..."

"Oh, I understand, Harper. You want to throw everything away in a useless gesture of heroism, that's fine by me, but I'll not be there to watch you do it."

"Please," I said, and something in my tone made him pause. His eyes met mine, dark and hunted, and so beautiful that I ached. I smiled at him sadly, and there was an echo of that first night in the forest in my voice. "Stay.

o o o o o o

I could hear the sound of the revelry dying out in as the time passed, and everyone stumbled to their rooms for the night. For once, he had fallen asleep before me, and I lay encased in his arms snugly, his chest pressed against my back, the warmth of his steady breathing gently caressing my neck. There was a growing unease in my gut that kept me awake; the look in his eyes as he had held me, the desperate, frenzied way his touch had burned against my skin, left me unable to close my eyes against the night. My thoughts were whispering to me that I had finally won him over, but there had been an unrecognizable look in his eyes on the battlements tonight, and I didn't know what to make of it.

Relax, the voice whispered. He's here, and you love him. That's all that matters, yes?

I shut my eyes and grasped for sleep, attemping to ignore the other voice that answered; So the stories would have you believe.

o o o o o o

A voice cut through my conciousness; pounding, on my bedroom door. "My lady! My lady!"

My eyes snapped open, head aching from being jerked out of a deep sleep. I blinked muzzily, my arm sliding over the other side of the bed; empty. Bishop was gone. Before the thought even registered, my door burst open, and Elanee was standing there.

"I apologize, my friend," she said smoothly. "But the young solider refused to open your door." She looked as if she had been recently awoken, as well; her hair was mussed and untidy, and there were dark circles under her eyes.

"It can't be much past midnight," I said groggily, pulling the blankets up tightly under my arms. "What's happening?"

"The enemy army has been spotted in the fields outside the keep. Already, siege towers have been spotted being raised up. Your young Lieutenant Kana requires your presence in the war room." She nodded at me, smiling slightly. "We'll wait for you to get dressed."

o o o o o o

When I entered the war room, everyone was already settled around their various seats. Bishop, I noted, was leaning against the wall, his face a blank mask. I was more than a little relieved to see him; the panic that had shot through me when I discovered him gone had nearly blinded me as I had attempted to throw on all my equipment at once, and it had taken me a bit longer than usual in my scrambling.

He wouldn't meet my eyes. I sat at my place and pushed him from my thoughts for now, my eyes falling on Nevalle and Kana. "What's the word?"

"Garius brings his army at an early hour. Surprise is his ally here, but his cover of darkness will not last."

Ammon snorted derisively. "No doubt he plans on a swift victory."

Nevalle interjected. "Regardless, his siege towers have been spotted in the distance, and our men will need your guidance on the wall to repulse them."

I rubbed my tired eyes, my hair falling in my face; I had not taken the time to plait it, and assumed it looked at wild as Elanee's did. "They arrived sooner than we expected."

"Our delay at the bridge was only a momentary one," said Kana quietly. "Garius must have pushed his army ferociously to have reached us so quickly."

"Yes, well, that is the advantage to having an untiring force of undead soldiers," said Sand wryly.

I frowned thoughtfully, my dagger in hand...I had buried the point deep into the table, and was now spinning it inbetween my fingers. "We'll need to take out those towers, and quickly," I said. "He might be counting on those to overtake us as fast as possible, and he might not even committ his whole force until he sees how we handle them; but if we can drag out destroying them until morning..."

"...we can defeat his army without facing it in it's entirety," finished Casavir, catching my train of thought. He nodded at me firmly. "The undead that walk will be destroyed by the light of day. Aye, I think you have the right of it, Captain."

"We can spare two units with you on the walls, Captain," said Kana. "Who will you have lead them?"

I looked into the expectant faces gazing at me. "Casavir," I said quietly, "The men are going to need you."

His face was firm and resolute, and he nodded at me. "I shall not fail you, Captain."

"And Khelgar, the dwarves will be up there with you; I think it right you should lead them."

He puffed up to nearly twice his size. "Be my pleasure to knock the enemy down - even farther than normal, this time."

My eyes found Sand and Qara. "Can I count on you two to rouse Startear from his eternal hermitism? The three of you together would be near unstoppable in taking out those towers."

They eyed each other warily. "As long as the princess doesn't burn the entire keep down in one of her tantrums, I...believe I could stopper my ears against the sound of her voice and go with her, yes," Sand sniffed.

"As if you could set a fire with anything besides a torch, hedgewizard," she growled, but she caught my look, and nodded sullenly.

"Good." My eyes found Bishop. "I need you to lead the archers," I said quietly. "Snipe whoever you can get a bead on; our walls will keep out their arrows and give you a pretty good shot."

He arched a brow at me. "Is that an order, then? Any more "favors" like this, and I won't live through the day."

"Keep talking and you won't," grumbled Khelgar.

I ignored the dwarf. "Look, Bishop, you're the best I've got. I need someone with good eyes and a good aim; it's blacker than pitch out there and half of my archers won't know where to shoot unless you're with them."

He narrowed his eyes at me, but shrugged, his voice slightly less irritated. "Can't argue with that, but that won't hold the day, trust me."

I glanced at Kana, who nodded at me firmly.

I sighed. "The walls await us." I tightened my sword belt around my waist; on my right hip, the Sword of Gith sang softly and eagerly in it's scabbard, humming with energy. At least one of us was ready for this... "Let's go."

Hero's Song - Chapter 25 © Avariel

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