The room was quiet after Bat left, except for the soft crackle of the fire in the hearth and the murmur of voices from downstairs. I tried to go back to sleep, following Bat’s advice, but my body had apparently had enough of sleeping for the time being, and my eyes seemed to pop open again the moment I wasn’t holding them shut.
Resigning myself to wakefulness, I pushed myself up into a sitting position again, thankful that this time the dizziness didn’t return. Bending forward and using both hands to guide it, I carefully lowered my wounded leg off the edge of the bed. The dull throbbing increased, but not unbearably so, and while there was some tenderness in the joint of the knee, once my other foot was on the floor I was able to push myself into a standing position.
Slowly, gingerly, I made my way around to the foot of the bed. Each step brought a little jolt of pain to my knee, a little more focus to the aching of the wounds, but walking was possible. The room was uncomfortably cool outside the warmth of the bedclothes, and I pulled the blanket from the bed and wrapped it around my shoulders to ward off the chill. I decided I’d make a circuit of the room, as quickly as was comfortable, stopping when I needed to. No rush.
By the time Sir Hagan came up the stairs, I’d made it a little more than a quarter of the way around, as far as the low stool by the hearth, after making a brief stop to relieve myself in the chamber pot that sat in the corner closest to my bed. He raised his eyebrows at me when he spotted me. “Well, Mason, am Bathe told me you were awake, but he didn’t mention you being up and about.”
I grunted as I shifted my weight on the stool. “I wasn’t yet, sir, not until after he left.”
“Fine, fine.” He looked down at my leg; some of the bandages had shifted as I moved, revealing part of a line of short, stitched-up cuts just above my knee. Thankfully, though, they seemed to be healing well, and I hadn’t started bleeding again. “How does it feel?”
“Better than it looks, I think, though I haven’t seen the whole thing to be sure yet.” I shifted again, trying to keep my balance on the too-small stool without putting any more weight on the aching knee. “I don’t think I’ll be in any condition to march for a while yet, though.”
“Understood,” Sir Hagan said. He seemed to see the trouble I was having, and grabbed a wider, square-topped seat from the table in the middle of the room and dragged it over next to me. He held out a hand to me, waiting until I grasped it in my own to step in close to me, putting his other arm around my back under the shoulder and helping to support my weight as I moved from one stool to the other.
Once I’d got settled on the larger seat, he slid the smaller over near the kettle and sat down. “There should be well enough time for you to recover before we need to march again. A runner from Euphentis arrived just an hour or so ago, with our first message back from General Byrne. He requests that we stay here for the moment to hold the Pass, and that we provide whatever aid we can to Irandrya and her escort, who will be arriving within the next week or so to see what they can do with the objects of power we’ve recovered.”
“We’ll have to ask her where the griffon came from, and where it went,” I said. After a moment, I remembered myself, and added a belated, “Sir.”
Sir Hagan waved the honorific away. “That’s hardly necessary here, Mason, not from one of my Broken Lances. When we’re not in front of the men, Hagan is fine.”
“I’ll try, sir,” I said. “Er, Hagan.” After a moment, I added, “And I’m Colum, if you like.”
Sir Hagan chuckled, and nodded. “All right, Colum. Though perhaps I should just start calling you Griffonkiller Mason; I’ve already heard a few of the men do as much. Apparently you made something of an impression on those who stayed with am Bathe during the fighting.”
I groaned. “I think Bat may be embellishing what happened for the sake of having a good story to tell. Sorry, I mean Mr. am Bathe.”
“I know who you mean, Colum,” Sir Hagan said, “I know the man’s nickname, even if I don’t use it. Spirits, at this point I think it’d likely make him uncomfortable if I did.”
I laughed a little, in spite of myself, and Sir Hagan raised his eyebrows at me again. “Sorry,” I said, “it’s just… our first week in camp, I remember our new leader popping Barder am Stomund’s shoulder out of its socket and throwing him in a ditch for getting angry at you. If you’d told me that, less than a year later, I’d hear that same man worrying about making someone uncomfortable, I’d never have believed it.”
I chuckled again, and Sir Hagan chuckled with me, but after a moment he then shook his head and sighed. “All men change,” he said, staring at the fire in front of us, “and then again, no man does. I…” He sighed again. “You boys were my first command, my first chance to prove I had the same fight in me that my father had, the same Henney blood. I tried to be the same kind of leader he was, the same sort of presence on the battlefield, but I found myself barely able to stomach it, even before Shalecliff. I’m just…”
He stopped, and looked over at me. “Spirits, I’m sorry. You hardly need me unburdening myself to you, especially not here or now.”
“No,” I said, raising one hand toward him, “it’s all right. Who can you unburden yourself to, if not your broken lance?”
“That’s… fair.” He frowned, looking back at the fire, but then nodded slowly. “Thank you. I just… I’ve not been a very good commander to my first command, and there are precious few of you left to apologize to.”
To that, I had no response. He was right; between those we’d lost and those who’d stayed behind in Tilaird, the remaining boys who’d been in Sir Hagan’s original group of recruits fit in two tents: Oskar, Aler, Ran and myself in one, Barder am Stomund and Wade ev Wollen and their tent-mate Powell am Iden in the other.
We both sat and stared at the fire for a long moment, and then Sir Hagan cleared his throat. “There was one other thing I needed to ask you, Mason, and as my Broken Lance I need you to be honest with me. Even if you think the answer will upset me, or would insult someone above your station. Do you understand me?”
I looked over at him. He was still staring into the fire, and the frown hadn’t left his face, but there was something more there, a gravity that hadn’t been there even when speaking about his fears. Slowly, gravely, I nodded. “Yes, Sir Hagan, I understand.”
“Good.” He took a deep breath. “After the battle, when we set about rounding up those who survived and getting a count of the casualties, Sir Erian discovered Sir Tolan and a dozen or so of the men who serve him back at the encampment, along with a number of those who fled into the woods during the griffon’s attack. Sir Erian informed them of our victory, and they accompanied him back here.”
“When he arrived, I asked Tolan what had happened on the battlefield. He reported to me that there had been sounds of combat within the keep even before you arrived, a fact that I’ve heard several others attest to.”
“Certainly by the time I arrived,” I said, “though we were among the last to reach the top of the hill.”
Sir Hagan nodded, but raised a hand to stop me. “Please,” he said, “allow me to reach my question. It’s important.”
“Of course,” I said, “sorry, sir.”
He waited for a moment, making sure I had nothing further to say, and then continued. “Sir Tolan said that there was a disagreement between Sir Bliss and himself as to whether to push forward with the assault. He neglected to mention which decision he argued in favor of, but I can surmise. He said that a decision to advance was made, and that the column advanced until it was broken by the griffon’s attack.”
He raised his hand again. “Before you say anything, I have no interest in knowing how that decision was reached. Sir Tolan’s statement implied that certain actions may have been taken by both Sir Bliss and yourself that might require correction if they were confirmed, but he has made no specific accusations and I’d prefer it remain that way.” He looked over at me. “Do you understand me?”
The way he’d worded it confused me a little, but I thought I had the gist well enough; Sir Tolan had hinted that I’d gone against his commands, but wasn’t willing to say whether he’d been in favor of retreat or attack and couldn’t say what order I’d disobeyed without revealing what he’d ordered. I nodded to Sir Hagan again.
Sir Hagan paused for another long moment. “Here’s the question I need you to answer, Mason: when did Sir Tolan leave the battle? When did he retreat?”
I opened my mouth to reply, and then stopped. My memories of the battle were still disorganized and somewhat hazy. “I… I’m not sure.”
“No?” Sir Hagan turned away from the fire, leaning in toward me. “Let me be more specific. Did he retreat before or after the griffon began its attack?”
I closed my eyes, furrowing my brow as I tried to remember exactly what had happened. “He… he was…” I looked up at Sir Hagan, and shook my head. “I’m sorry, I just don’t know. He didn’t stay with Sir Bliss and myself when we began moving toward the keep after the disagreement you spoke about, but beyond that… He could have left then, or he could have been just behind us all the way up to the gate, sir. I really don’t know.”
Sir Hagan looked at me for a moment longer, and then stood up. He seemed disappointed, though he seemed to be doing his best to hide it. “I understand, it’s all right. Thank you for your honesty, Mason. Colum.”
“Of course, sir. Hagan.”
He turned away from me, toward the stairs. “Shall I send in others, or do you need more rest?”
“I think I’ll be all right, if they want to see me.”
“Fine.” He paused at the top of the steps, and turned back to me. “Well, then. We’ll be here for a while, but I’m certain it won’t be forever. For the moment, your orders are the same as everyone else here: stay put and rest up.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, “I think I can do that, sir.”
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