Exodus – Chapter 4 – The Chronicles of Swamp Lords

Part 4. A Regrettable Relapse into Immorality

“… FATHER SAMHARM, WAKE UP! Father, stay with me!”

It was Garmon Hawke. He shouldn’t be here. He should be … somewhere. On the Old Ways west … leading them … somewhere. His garron stood by whickering softly in the failing moonlight. It came to him. “You should be leading them to the Down Chapel.” Father Samharm struggled to sit up. “Urhh…”

“Don’t move, Father.” Garmon Hawke adjusted a lantern on the ground. “Nurk and Nergril are leading them. They’re able. Hold still.”

“They are that.” Father Samharm’s head lolled to the side. “Where is she? Spew? Her minions? I feel suddenly…”

“Still in the barn.” Garmon Hawke glanced up the hill at the barn. Someone was hammering away inside.

“No,” Father Samharm wrenched himself up, but a splitting pain felled him boneless back to slime, “they’ll escape.”

“You’re hurt.” Garmon Hawke pulled his hat on. “I stitched you up best I could, but… Only you can heal you. It’s bad, Father. Real bad.”

Father Samharm glanced down at his chest. A long stitched twine line ran from his sternum to lower belly. Ichor leaked from between the sewn halves. “Gruesome…”

“Shoulda seen it when I had to shove your guts back in.” Garmon Hawke dragged a hovel door over and tossed a coiled length of rope down beside. “Now don’t — don’t move. I’m gonna to tie you to this door and drag you to…” He swallowed. “We’ll catch up to the others.”

Father Samharm nodded twice even though he knew it wasn’t true.

“You hear me? You gotta heal yourself, Father,” Garron Hawke said, forming a knot expertly between deft hands. “Get to it.” He looped it over Father Samharm’s massive shoulders and then worked it under his arms. He snugged it firm.

“I have not the strength, Garmon.” Father Samharm placed a heavy hand upon his friend’s shoulder. “Go. Leave me here. I’m too damned heavy. Too damned…”

“Sorry, father.” Garmon Hawke looped the rope round Father Samharm’s waist. “This is going to hurt—” He cinched it tight.

“Uhhhh!” Father Samharm groaned. “It was the she-croaker. Not Spew. The other one, the one with the saw-sword.” He licked his pallid lips. “She nicked me…”

“Nicked you, huh?” Garmon Hawke raised an eyebrow. He pulled a knot tight with his teeth then spat it out the loose end. “Good thing she didn’t cut you square, eh?”

Father Samharm laughed, his body convulsing slightly. “Sanctos damn you, don’t make me laugh.” His stitches drew tight, biting, threatening to burst. “Why’d you come back?”

Garmon Hawke turned from his garron, a knot now neatly tied to the saddle horn. “Damned chitterling came bolting at the wagon column clear out of the dark,” he said. “Damned thing come on charging us. I feathered him twice through the eye and still, he kept on coming. Nurk bashed him in the leg and sent him packing — what passes for brains leaking out the side of his head. Didn’t slow him a stitch, though. Tracked him back here. Lost him up in the muck. Yonder. Crafty little thing.” He spat chaw into the muck. “Reckoned I’d come check on you while I was in town, make sure you was alright.”

“Was I?”

“Naw. Looked worse than my ole grandpappy.”

“Elson?”

“No. The dead one.”

“You must leave me,” Father Samharm pleaded.

Garmon Hawke guided his garron forward, dragging the cyclops onto the door. “Easy, girl. Easy.”

Something within the barn cracked.

“Rrrrrrrg!” Father Samharm grunted. “They’re almost free. Please.”

“Just got to secure you to the door,” Garmon Hawke said. “Just hope no one opens it.” He glanced up at the barn. His eyes were wide for an instant; then they narrowed. More wood shattered. Someone was shouting. Pointing. He reached for his crossbow.

“No.” Father Samharm laid a hand atop Garmon’s. A sharp hiss of pain escaped his lips as he reached into his robes and rifled around. “They would kill you.”

“Maybe,” he sniffed, “maybe not.”

“Will you not leave me?”

“No dice.”

Father Samharm sighed. “Very well.” He withdrew a small roll of parchment from his robes. “I shall be dead by morning, Garmon.”

“Then I’ll bury you in clean soil.” Garmon Hawke worked back on the ropes. Looping. Tying. Tightening.

“Across the river?”

“Aye. Across the river.”

“This is folly,” Father Samharm said.

“Maybe.” Garmon Hawke was nearly finished securing him to the door. “Don’t believe in miracles, Father? Crisis of faith? Sanctos wouldn’t be pleased.”

An arm poked out of the barn door. “I see you!” A head poked out. Madam Spew. “I’m gonna whip the skin off your bones!”

“Sanctos owes me no miracles, Garmon.” Father Samharm’s hands trembled as he unrolled the scroll before his eyes. “My soul has been thrice-damned for the horrors I’ve committed. These past five years, though… All the good work,” he shrugged awkwardly, “been hedging my bets.”

“You and me both, Father, you and me both.” Garmon Hawke pulled another rope tight. “Now you shouldn’t fall off. If Sanctos don’t owe you nothing, how about somebody else?”

“I was hoping you could call in a favor,” Father Samharm said.

“A vicious old criminal like me?” Garmon Hawke chuffed a laugh.

Father Samharm glanced up at the small garron. She whinnied in fear as Madam Spew and her horde burst free from the barn. “Does Swifty have wings?” Father Samharm glanced down at the parchment. He shuddered. It should have been burned it long ago.

“Even if she did, she couldn’t carry your lead carcass.” Garmon Hawke swung up into his saddle. War cries followed as Garmon Hawke cried, “Yaaaah!” to his garron and the little horse pulled forward, dragging the cyclops along quickly, evenly. Just not quickly enough. For the horde gained.

Father Samharm clutched the parchment close to his great eye and despite the pain, despite the jostling and the blood loss and horde gaining, he read it, mouthing out the words, gurgling out the sounds, blood bubbling from his lips. The ground began to shake beneath him, the moonlight snuffing out like a candle flame. A dark foulness emanated from his contorted speech as a static charge filled the air, crackling, thunder rolling within the earth itself. The garron neighed in terror, squealing forth madly as lightning ripped down from the heavens, forking infinitesimally, exploding, showering the village in a deluge green sparks.

Swifty’s hooves pounded.

Smoke cleared.

“Gods damn it,” Garmon Hawke turned in his saddle as he rode on, “you missed them all, father!”

Father Samharm did not answer.

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