Taramiel is forced to make a decision.
|Taramiel sat, bound up, in the remains of camp. They had stayed here for many months, perhaps even a year—Taramiel hadn’t bothered to keep track. There was nothing left now. There were the ruins of small firepits, charred black, some tents still around, the cloth around them collapsed like the air had been knocked out of them. Some animals were beginning to poke back into the area, particularly squirrels, who found the wide plain an appropriate place to scurry across and race each other to whatever had caught their attention. The leaves on the floor, and the trees that remained standing, gave it a curious look; a beautiful dome built without human hands. But, of course, it had been.
Taramiel had little to look forward to now. The ropes around his body were tight, body sagging against them as the threads rubbed against the flesh he’d left exposed, his back feeling heavy and bruised; hungry, sleepy, aching. He’d been left behind by the rest as a punishment. Gloss had made him an ultimatum: break out and prove yourself worthy, or be eaten alive here. Gloss had made some profound announcements then, mostly ones Taramiel didn’t pay attention to. His mind had soured since then, in fact. Perhaps, he thought, the way his mind had tilted was blasphemous. But he didn’t care anymore. He had to get out of this little trap, all to play the Sacredate’s game, worthy as it was, to appease somebody else. He had committed no wrong; only failed to do something only he had any chance of completing. The other generals were all worthless. Foolish, toothless, corrupt or mad. The foot soldiers, the real warriors, they did all the work; them and him. And the Sacredate, of course, for guiding us where we were meant to be . . .
Taramiel imagined seeing Gloss again, short and frail, and sending one fist through his body, hearing his bones snapping like firecrackers, body laid to rest on the ground, before being disfigured through whatever other means Taramiel saw fit. Evil thoughts, Taramiel thought—but he relished them.
A few hours passed. Taramiel wondered if he would ever be free, or if he wanted to be. Perhaps death would be a more just ending than whatever other crimes he’d be willing to commit if unrestrained. Perhaps he wouldn’t have to listen to the orders of the frail man anymore if the road ended here. He sighed. Another two days without water would do the trick, and he’d be a good meal for the rest of the wildlife, if he wasn’t eaten overnight by wandering creatures.
Something descended down the tree; a squirrel, perhaps, a multitude of them. They chewed through the first few rungs of his prison, then squealed and scurried back up the tree. Taramiel shook his head. He could hear the threads popping apart as he pushed against them. He thought, for a moment, of staying here, being left alone, by the others, by his own conscience; but he broke out nonetheless. He stood over the ropes slumped around the trunk; gathered his things, which were set behind the tree; and set off in the direction of footprints.