Wages

“Conrad. Conrad! The fields are burning.”

“I can see for myself that they burn. Why rush at me to say as much?” Conrad Astym stood motionless under the cover of his pavilion, watching flame and smoke spread with the wind across the fields of dried grain below him. He could hear the shouts and stirrings of a war camp making its battle preparations. “With little luck the settlement will catch and our siege will conclude before sunrise. I had hoped to take it intact, but needs must…”

Geralt fumed, his flushed cheeks pale compared to his crimson-enameled mail. “You cannot be serious, Conrad. People live there! There are children and women within those walls! We must allow them to evacuate. We must-“

“-Do no such thing.” Conrad sighed and continued to secure the leather strap of his bronze-enameled gauntlet. “My orders are simple, Geralt. Take the township and, failing that, burn it to the ground.”

“But the innocents, Conrad? What of them? Have they been judged and hanged as well? Have they forfeited their rights under God?”

Conrad turned to face his protégé, eyes narrowing. “What rights, Geralt?” “Those given to all who live under our rule.” A placation.

“Law?”

“Yes.”

“Order?”

“Yes.”

“Life?”

“Of course, Conrad! Exactly.”

Conrad seethed. “All of which they forfeited once they turned against The Inheritor, turned against me and earned the wages of sin. Below us sits a corpse, Geralt. A blackened, rotting, corpulent brute whose only desire is to watch its corruption ooze and spread. We must excise the growth, Geralt; burn the body, and pray The Inheritor sees fit to grant mercy on us for our leniency.”

“Leniency?! Leniency? That is a corruption, Conrad, and you know it.” The last thrust from Geralts throat. “There is no justice in this. There is no law here, save what you rationalize to yourself. We marched to follow you, Conrad.” Geralt’s hands motioned to the camp hidden behind the pavilion walls. “We listened when you spoke of lawlessness within our banners. Of men working against our laws, against our duties. We trusted your word that here was harbored the writhing tail of the Dark Prince, that within these walls we were sure to find an evil so foul and a stench…” Geralt trailed off, watching the flames catch upon the wall and quickly engulf the battlements. The screams of the burnt and burning could be heard over the roaring flames and the distance.

Conrad turned his back to his protégé, took in the scene before him. “Is that it then, that the flow of your mind?” He spoke over his shoulder. “I was hopeful you had more strength to your spine, Geralt. I had hoped your will was as indomitable as your father’s.” Conrad pressed his eyes shut and laid a finger upon his temple. “If truth be told, I believe I was ordered to burn it to the ground regardless. This way is… easier, Geralt. Much easier.” Conrad turned again to face Geralt, grasping his shield from its frame by his now empty armor stand. He took one step that ate the distance between he and his protégé, sliding from his scabbard the longsword carried on his hip. “I had hoped this was not to be, Geralt. I had prayed that you were stronger in your conviction than I had feared. But I see that is not the case. I see your weakness open before me, like a too-ripe orange split through its skin. I smell the corruption within you, Geralt, like the township below, and I know that I must –.”

“-Must WHAT, Conrad? You work against The Inheritor, not for Her! And I cannot stand aside and watch you betray your oaths to Her.”

Conrad’s sword took Geralt through the gut, splintering his spine. Geralt slumped against Conrad’s shield, sending blood to drain down the grooves of the engraved family crest. Shock took Geralt and his disbelieving arms moved to encircle his long-time mentor and friend. They instead feebly embraced Conrad’s shield, and felt the thrumming evil within. It was with his last breath that Geralt’s prayer slid almost silently from his lips, “please Iomedae forgive him. See fit to make him forget. Make him forget this day so he may be redeemed. In your Name I ask this.”

Conrad let Geralt slide from his sword. He wiped the blade on his once-friend’s cloak. From without the walls of his pavilion he heard the screams of the men who followed him, followed by the wet smacks and growls from whatever he had summoned the night before. Hands clasped behind his back, Conrad turned to take in the scene of the licking flames, his face a frozen and fevered rictus.

Wages of Sin

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