Chapter 203: A Poem
The hallway was quiet as everyone’s gaze followed the long crooked finger to me.
I furrowed my brows. “Me?”
My mind spun trying to think of why Rahdeas would want to speak to me and what he could possibly say to me in this situation.
“After basically splitting up the entire dwarven kingdom and leaving me to clean up his unwiped ass, who is he to declare who he wants to speak to,” Buhnd growled.
“Do you think he’s aiming to make some sort of deal with General Arthur?” Blaine asked.
“I doubt it. If he wanted to strike a deal, he’d have a much better chance of doing so with Commander Virion or anyone else in the Council,” Merial answered.
“Perhaps it’s because of your ties with Elijah?” Virion wondered.
“That’s… what I’m afraid of,” I sighed.
In the midst of the discussion, Gentry let out a cough to gather our attention. “Councilmembers and lance. It would be an understatement to say it had been difficult for me to get the traitor to talk. Perhaps it’s best we capitalize in my—this achievement and talk to him while he’s still able?”
“Lead the way, Gentry,” I said, walking through the reinforced doors.
Bearing through the familiar musty smell of the castle dungeon, I walked silently behind Gentry while the rest begrudgingly stayed behind. Gentry motioned for the two soldiers guarding the lower levels where Uto and Rahdeas were held to open the door.
Taking a deep breath, I waited for Gentry to carefully unlock the cell barely the size of a shoe closet.
“I will be on standby just outside the door, General Arthur. I’m sure you already know, but please refrain from touching anything else, ” Gentry warned before stepping aside as he opened the cell door.
I waited until the old man left before shifting my gaze to the kneeled man in cuffs. “Rahdeas.”
The man twitched at the sound of his name before a smile formed.
“My gratitude for your time and presence,” he dipped his head respectfully. “Allow me to begin.”
“Begin?” I asked, but the man kept his head and gaze lowered.
I kept my guard up, uneasy because of his odd behavior.
“A lad of humble origins, born wrapped in rags for a towel,” he began, finally lifting his head. “Within, however, he was more. Just like the unassuming ashes of a particular fiery fowl.”
“And as with all heroes-to-be, the lad had the looks and the lad had the might.” Rahdeas stretched out an arm while his other hand laid over his chest. “His mother taught him the world, his father taught him to fight.”
I watched, dumbstruck, as the tortured man continued his epic.
Rahdeas’ voice got deeper, darker. “That is, until the day came,
When the lad knew that there was a larger stage to tame.
“His blood knew as well that they could no longer contain,
The lad’s fire that wished to reign.”
“So they took up their bags and wished their small town good luck,” Rahdeas let out a breath. “But woe, as all stories go, tragedy struck.”
“Rahdeas,” I called out, but was silenced by a raised finger.
The man continued. “But never fret, never doubt, because as all stories go, a hero never drops out.
“So he grows and grows,
Through his heartache and his death throes,
Never ceasing, overcoming.”
Rahdeas looked up at the dim flickering light above us. “Alas, every light needs a shadow,
Every hero needs a foe.
“The brighter the light,
The darker its night.”
Finally locking gazes with me, he shoots me a grin. “But I ask you this, hero-to-be.
What happens when your foe, who has crossed both time and space, is actually brighter than thee?
“Perhaps a fair maiden’s shining knight,
Is another one’s deadly blight,
And the side of dark and the light,
Is just a matter of who wins the right?”
An uncomfortable silence lingered as he finished his—for a lack of a better word—performance and just when I thought things couldn’t get weirder, Rahdeas, his arms chained to the ground, reached out and grabbed my hand with his blood-crusted fingers.
His glossy soulless eyes turned into crescents as he smiled up at me and nodded. “Ah good, you’re real. I was afraid you were just another illusion and that my performance had gone to waste.”
I stared down, not really knowing how to react as Elijah’s guardian continued to hold my hand.
“Hmm. I’ve forgotten how warm a person is.” His gaze remained afar as he stroked my hand like he would a house pet.
I jerked my hand from his grasp. “It seems that your time spent here has made you… unbalanced.”
“Out of all of more accurate words out there, you chose ‘unbalanced’? Not ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’ or ‘mad’, but ‘unbalanced’?” Rahdeas snickered.
“I’d rather not waste my time with lectures on my word choice, especially from someone unbalanced,” I stressed, narrowing my eyes.
Rahdeas shrugged. “Regardless, it is of your own free will whether you choose to ignore my words or not, poetry or prose alike.”
“So that poem you just recited…”
“Well, I thought a heart-to-heart conversation was a bit boring. And though I’m not very versed in the art of poetry, I had to do something to pass the time here,” Rahdeas replied seriously for a second until his eyes twinkled. “Or… you know; this might just be the rambling of a man ‘unbalanced’.”
A sigh escaped me as I shook my head.
“Be honest, though. My rhyming may have been a bit elementary but it was catchy, was it not?” he grinned, wrinkles lining his ghastly skin.
Annoyance bubbled up, showing on my face. “I don’t think you understand the gravity of your situation, Rahdeas. You’re going to be here for a long time and it’s going to be unpleasant. Revealing anything that might be of help to the Council—to Dicathen—will ultimately decide how unpleasant. Now is not the best time to worry whether your rhymes are catchy or not.”
He matched my gaze, unaffected, before suddenly falling flat on his back, resting his head on his hands like he had no care in the world. “I know precisely what sort of position I’m in and I’ve told you exactly I wanted to. Again, what you gain from it is none of my concern.”
I gnashed my teeth in frustration and waited in silence for a bit longer, hoping that he might change his mind. In the end, the traitor shooed me away with a wave of his hand as he began humming in the rhythm of the poem he had recited to me.
Letting out a scoff at the traitor’s attitude all the way until the end, I called for Gentry and had him lock Rahdeas’ cell.
I turned to leave, frustrated and speechless, when my gaze landed on another cell—one even smaller than Rahdeas’. Despite the mana-inhibiting qualities of the mysterious material that the cell was made of, an ominous aura constantly seeped out.
For a moment, I was tempted to open the cell.
In a short amount of time, I had grown and broken through to a stage that rivaled the top mages of Dicathen. The fear that I had felt when facing Uto, even with the help of Sylvie, left a deep impression on me that I wanted to get rid of. And I thought that confronting the retainer again would do so.
As silly as it sounded, especially since he was bound and severely weakened, I caught myself walking toward Uto’s prison.
There’s nothing to gain, Arthur, I scolded myself, shaking my head.
I left the dungeon, greeted out by the sound of Rahdeas humming that made me replay the bits and pieces of the poem that he so theatrically recited.
The members of the Council were still waiting for me by the time I came back out. Their gazes bored into me, waiting for me to say something—anything.
I shot a thumb back at the withering, hook-nosed interrogator behind me. “Gentry’s interrogation tactics seemed to have made Rahdeas lose a bit of his mind. The only thing he did was recite a poem to me.”
“Poem?” Blaine said incredulously.
Everyone knew Rahdeas as a mild-mannered dwarf that was intelligent and someone who always strived for a collaborative effort and solution. Hearing me say that he was basically babbling like a madman raised some eyebrows.
“What… was the poem about?” Virion asked hesitantly.
“It was a story about a boy on his way to being a hero,” I replied. “He said he made it up, but some of it didn’t really make sense.”
“My tactics do sometimes leave the prisoners in a less-than-desirable state,” Gentry said with a cough. “My apologies for the false alarm. I sincerely thought that he would be confessing something important.”
“Seeing as nothing substantial has been revealed, how about we discuss this more in our next gathering?” Alduin suggested.
“I second this,” Buhnd grunted. “We can choose whether to decipher his… poem once we’ve got some sleep in us.”
“If Rahdeas’ state-of-mind is as you suggested, his words most likely don’t hold any weight,” Merial said, already turning to leave.
Like that, the impromptu gathering of the Council in the dead of night in the lowest floors of the castle was brought to an end.
I got back to my room, and despite my lack of sleep and rest, I was wide awake. For some reason, what Rahdeas said kept me thinking.
Dimming the light artifact on the desk to its lowest setting so I didn’t wake up my bond, I began jotting down the parts of the poem that I remembered.
While my memory recall wasn’t perfect, I was able to get a lot of it down on paper with the help of the rhymes and simple structure of the poem.
Leaning back in my chair, I read through the poem again, frustrated at some of the parts that I couldn’t remember because I had been so confused at Rahdeas’ behavior.
The main message I got from this poem was about a hero… that much is true, but there was something more to it than that.
Under the assumption that Rahdeas wasn’t out of his mind, he explicitly said that the poem was what he wanted to tell me. This led me to think that maybe this ‘hero’ had something to do with me.
I was positive that the poem started off with something about a lad of poor origins, and how he was wrapped in a rag… or maybe a towel. but I couldn’t remember what he used to rhyme with towel.
Owl? Growl? Foul?
I clicked my tongue and moved on. Assuming that this lad was me, how did Rahdeas know details of my childhood? It wasn’t just the fact that I was from a rather modest upbringing in Ashber, but the poem also said that the lad wished the town luck before a tragedy struck.
It probably wasn’t too hard for Rahdeas to have done a background check on me using his resources while he was still part of the Council, but even then, this whole thing just didn’t sit well.
Frustrated at Rahdeas for the needlessly cryptic message and at myself for dismissing his poem for the jabbering of a madman, I moved on.
At least I started paying a bit more attention here, I thought.
The latter half of the poem was a bit more ambiguous as it began to sound more and more like an overused prophecy foretold in nearly every hero story I’ve read throughout both my lives.
Lines like, ‘the brighter the light, the darker its night’ most likely had something to do with my foe being more powerful the stronger I became—as if I chose my enemies by their strength relative to my own.
Regardless, the last few lines were a bit tricky and I felt like I might of misheard or remembered incorrectly. “…knight being someone’s blight?”
I went through the incomplete poem for another half hour before I gave up.
I’ll just ask Rahdeas to repeat the poem one more time tomorrow.
I was still skeptical of whether the poem even meant anything, which was probably why I hadn’t bothered to even listen carefully when the dwarf said it, but I was still curious.
Sliding into bed I tried to get rid of my thoughts of the poem, instead focusing on what I should do to best help out in this war.
Still, even as sleep overcame me, I found myself trying to piece the poem back together by trying to remember all of the words that rhymed.