Chapter 71:

Those Left Behind

Sword Quest

Six years ago, a young boy wandered a scorched village, staggering as a shingle fell from a burning house and broke over his head. His eyes glazed over as rain matted his bluish-black hair to his forehead, and as blood dripped down the bridge of his nose and into one eye, he winced, rubbing his eyes like a toddler. When he opened them again, he gazed at his own reflection in a puddle of water.

As the rain continued falling, dotting and distorting the reflection, he marveled at his single golden eye, and the one died red with blood. His vision blurring, he blinked, and the golden eye turned green, while the red eye became black.

"What… am I…"

"Quentle! There ye are!" a burly man cried as he ran toward the boy. "Ye can't be sleepwalkin' out 'ere, boy!"

Quentle woke with a start, standing in the middle of a Market Town road. His clothes were thrown on even more sloppily than usual, and his hair even messier. People passed by, snickering at him, some greeting him like nothing was unusual, not even asking him about his various bandages.

"Damn, I did it again…"

He limped the rest of the way to Castle Town, only to find his classmates gathered in the hallway. "Oh, Quentle!" Kaolo cried, waving as he rushed over. "Gambell isn't here… Somebody said he canceled class, but nobody knows why."

Quentle squinted at the floor, before looking around. "What about Farum and Berd? And Geraint and Jorge?"

"They stayed home," Kaolo answered, rubbing his neck. "I guess their wounds are still healing. Obviously, that goes for Mel too."

"Yeah… I'll try and figure out what's going on with Gambell. See you later!"

His next stop was Valblin's quarters, to which nobody answered the door, so he scurried up the stairs to the infirmary, where he'd spent far too much time. "Tess!" he cried as he swung the door open. As it crashed against the wall, the sleeping woman jumped from her desk chair, ready to strike.

"What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Sorry, I got carried away… Is Selmy around?"

"No, she stayed home," Tess replied, sighing as she sat back down. "Her father was just arrested for treason last night. If there's a trial, her brother could be implicated, and Mel…"

"Yeah… I understand," Quentle replied, glancing at his feet. "How are your wounds?"

She shrugged as she glanced at her bandages. "Who better to treat me, but me?"

"Oh, well that's good. Have you heard anything about Gambell? He didn't show up today."

"Huh? No, but you'd be better off asking Valblin, if you can find him."

"He's not in his quarters. I'll ask around. Thanks, Tess!"

"Wait," she said, holding up a hand to stop him from slamming the door shut. "How are you holding up? Not knowing what's going on with Cedric, Mel proposing to Selmy… I can understand why you're anxious. Not to mention the head injury."

Quentle stared dumbly, before scratching his bandaged head and chuckling. "I'll be okay. I just gotta keep one foot in front of the other, don't I?"

"That's the spirit," she replied with a grin. "Just keep an eye out for slick spots, okay? And please, don't slam the doo—"

"Bye Tess!" The door slammed shut before her plea was heard, leaving her to slump back down in front of her mountain of disheveled papers. "If Valblin and Gambell are nowhere to be found, right after Cedric took off with the sword… Wait, I didn't see Hydrick this morning…"

Several hours later, Quentle trotted into the castle courtyard, out of breath. "Even Feng was nowhere to be found…What the hell's going on around here?"

He peered out to the fountain to see a group of uniformed soldiers, heavily bandaged, eating lunch as they talked with another man, whose uniform was both more decorated and bore more wound dressing.

"That's… Al the Bleeder," he muttered, scaling the hedges in hiding and sticking his ear out.

"It's a shame how they treat the Heir, honestly," Al said with a sigh. "Makes me glad I failed the test. You guys should have heard how hard the elders fought Allen on sending Vlore out."

"Heir or not, Cedric's only a teenager," one of the other men said. "All he has is Galgi and Ralin. What do they expect them to do against Shuant, Pursia, and Faron with an entire fleet?"

"Well, Allen doesn't think they'll send the whole fleet after him," Al replied. "That's thanks to the massive losses they suffered last night. But even then, if Shuant himself goes, or sends Pursia, Faron, or even a ship or two, those three are in trouble."

"They would ignore such a huge issue for the sake of tradition? It makes no sense."

"I sort of understand leaving the Heir to grow on their own," Al replied. "Cedric won't get stronger if we hold his hand through the whole thing. But to leave him to fend for himself in this situation just ignores all logic. What's sad is that Valblin himself was the one arguing for it the hardest."

"Valblin is the type to insist Garik should have fought alone in the mountains, even if he'd been up against ten thousand."

"If you think of it that way, Cedric's position isn't that much different, so it makes sense that the elders would argue for that approach."

"Say, you on the other side of the hedges, what do you think?" Al asked, bringing Quentle's heart to a stop. "Now that you've heard something you shouldn't have, where do you stand? Are they babying the Heir by sending a general to aid his retreat?

Quentle trembled as he stood up to see Al flashing his teeth, and the others looking with shock.

"Sorry, I-I'm just looking for Master Gambell."

"In the bushes?"

"Hey, you're Quentle!" one of the men cried, pointing at him. "One of Cedric's friends!"

"Ohh," Al said, brow raised. "No wonder you're snooping around. You must be worried for him."

"Not really," Quentle muttered, averting his eyes. "He swore he'd come back."

"Ah," Al said, grinning. "I think I understand Valblin's illogical faith a little better now."

Quentle blinked at him, silent, until Al let out a chuckle. "Say, Quentle, if I tell you where Master Gambell is, will you promise not to tell anybody about what you overheard?"

His eyes shot open wide as he cried "I promise!"

"You're quick, kid," Al replied with a grin. "Valblin and Gambell are at the docks. They're setting sail shortly, to help Cedric in their own way."

"Really?" Quentle cried, backpedaling toward the exit with his mouth open.

"I came to let somebody else know for my buddy Hydrick, actually. Do you know Tess?"

"Yeah! I'll tell her!"

"Great, thanks, kid," Al replied as Quentle dashed off with a wave.