Lavos and his Final Night
A Story by Aaron Canton
As the woods slowly receded behind Lavos and rolling hills rose in front of him, the lagano found himself matching Illria’s brisk pace without even trying. Thoughts of his imminent execution had been subsumed by those of the current march and the upcoming battle. He shifted his grip on his sword, straightened his back, and felt a small flare of pride. Though it was the eve of his execution, he would do his tribe proud.
“Are we there yet?” came a jokey voice behind Lavos, who turned to see the three warriors Illria had managed to recruit. The speaker, a stocky lagano named Ferrik, wiped his brow dramatically and began to walk with an exaggerated stagger. “If you’d said it was this far away, we could have just died at home and not gotten all worn out beforehand!”
Illria frowned, but Lavos waved her off. “Sorry,” he told Ferrik. “I’ll send the Hillslash tribe a very harsh message demanding they move their mercenary camp so we can attack it more conveniently.”
“See that you do,” said Ferrik, holding a stern expression for a few seconds before dissolving into laughter. “Oh, lighten up, Illria. We’re all probably going to die; you can at least let us joke beforehand.”
Illria rolled her eyes, but Lavos saw a faint hint of amusement on her lips. “Ferrik may joke around,” he said, “But I’ve known him since I was little. He’s reliable.”
“Of course. I wouldn’t have picked him otherwise.” Illria snorted. “That said, he could stand to take this a little more seriously.”
“How can we not take it seriously?” asked the quiet voice of Tarkel. She was short, slight, and one of a few warriors in Lavos’ tribe that had some magic ability, mostly due to her relentless study of spellbooks pilfered from other tribes and captured from merchants, nomads, and even a few bandit groups. Without her spells, though, she was an utter pushover in combat. “You said it would be dangerous.”
“Extremely dangerous,” said Illria. “There’s still time to turn around if you don’t want to—”
Tarkel shook her head quickly, almost dislodging the spectacles Lavos had once arranged for her to get as her share of the spoils from a defeated bandit party. “I might be a little scared,” she stammered. “Or a lot scared. But I can’t leave Lavos behind…”
Lavos could feel his skin grow brighter from a warm blush, and despite the dim lighting, he could tell both Illria and Ferrik noticed. Illria gave an almost possessive snort, and Ferrik just laughed. “Hey, if we survive this, maybe you two can have a quick date before tomorrow morning,” he joked. “I know this great hillock.”
“Date?” Tarkel blushed and looked away as if suddenly fascinated by the surrounding hillside.
Lavos shook his head slightly and turned to the final member of the group. Rozzar was the largest member of the party, and the battle-axe he bore on his back was more massive than all the other weapons the group had put together. Rozzar had hated Lavos for years and had been known to mutter that he’d make a much better chief in the future than ‘some runt who just happens to be the chief’s son.’ Lavos had been stunned when Illria had brought him on the team. But he was there now, and he hadn’t complained yet, so Lavos was willing to go with it.
They neared the top of the hill, and Illria raised a hand. “We should be getting close, so keep quiet and—”
Lavos took one final step to crest the hill and walked right into a group of five humans.
The two gawked at each other for a long moment, and then everyone frantically drew their weapons. The humans wore light armor and carried swords, except for one clad only in mage robes who held a staff, and they all had tassels on their sleeves with the lion-and-harpy logo of the mercenary group the Hillslash tribe had hired. But Lavos didn’t have time to think on that—the nearest warrior was already striking at him, and it was all he could do to knock the blow away.
He sensed movement and felt his party forming around him. Illria dashed ahead on his left and ducked under the lead mercenary’s next swing, then jumped and smoothly stabbed her enemy in the joint between his helmet and breastplate. At the same time, Rozzar thundered past Lavos and smashed downwards with his axe at another mercenary. That human raised his shield, but the axe carved through it like butter, and the man was almost cut in two as Rozzar’s strike sliced into him. Then a third human stabbed at Lavos, and he felt a burst of pain in his side as he tried to dodge, but he pushed that aside as he’d been trained and thrust his sword as hard as he could at a weak point in the human’s armor. The human staggered as Lavos’ blade pierced his side just under the shoulder, and when Lavos pulled the blade back, the human collapsed in a heap.
And then it was over. Lavos looked around and saw the human mage sprawled dead with a crossbow bolt sticking out of his neck and the last human warrior stood still with a relaxed stance. Illria waved a hand in front of the human’s face and turned to look at Tarkel, who shrugged. “I cast the first thing I could think of,” she said. “A charm spell.”
“A charm spell?” Rozzar growled. “You should have just killed him! What’s the point of charming him?”
Ferrik chuckled. “Well, humans do throw the best parties—”
“Hey, human,” interrupted Lavos, knowing Ferrik would tell jokes until the charm spell wore off, and probably until the sun rose, if left to his own devices. He felt Illria moving besides him and dabbing at his side with something, but he ignored her and focused on the prisoner. “Tell us where your camp is and how it’s defended.”
The human nodded and spoke slowly, as if from a great distance. “We’re camped at the base of a big hill half a kilometer north. We have five guards patrolling the perimeter. There’s also a big fence with warded entrances…”
Lavos turned back at the others. “This is useful information,” he said. “Good job, Tarkel.”
The lagano mage bowed. “Thank you!”
Illria quizzed the human for a few minutes, until he had explained every facet of the mercenary base, and then quickly slit his throat. “I’ll scout ahead to make sure the camp’s where he said it was,” she said. “You four stay here.” And then she was gone in the tall grasses.
Tarkel sagged to the ground and drank from her water skin, but rather than follow suit, Ferrik approached Lavos. “You okay?”
“Considering I’m going to be executed tomorrow, sure.” Lavos managed a thin smile. “Why?”
“You got cut pretty bad.” Ferrik reached out and touched Lavos’ side, and Lavos immediately winced in pain. He’d been slashed by the human’s sword earlier, he realized, and Illria had been trying to tend to it with an herb or potion or something while he’d interrogated the human. “Might even scar over.”
Lavos snorted. “I don’t think I’ll be around long enough to worry about it.”
“Well…” Ferrik dropped his voice. “Look, Illria’s not here. If you want to go, we could just… go. I mean, I’ll follow you anywhere, and I’m sure Tarkel will too. We don’t need to do this.”
“Except if I run away, Hillslash will say we broke the terms of surrender and use that to further hurt our tribe.”
Ferrik shrugged. “That’s not your problem, is it? I mean, they don’t care if you die. You really care that much about them?”
Lavos’ next words caught in his throat. Ferrik was right; he could leave and start his life over someplace else. Someplace where he wouldn’t be at risk of being killed for political reasons. None of the tribe warriors or elders were there to stop him; even Illria had gone away. He could just go, and whatever happened next, at least it wouldn’t be his neck on the line.
But it would be the necks of his tribe.
Silence stretched between Lavos and Ferrik, and Lavos realized they were being eavesdropped on. He turned to see Rozzar staring at them. “What?”
“If he runs, you going to try to stop him?” asked Ferrik, his tone indicating he would fight with Lavos in that instance.
“Of course not.” There was heavy amusement in Rozzar’s voice. “I won’t do a thing.”
“Really?” Ferrik frowned. “That’s nice of you—”
Lavos shook his head, understanding. “He’s not being nice. He’d love to be able to report back that I fled and he didn’t. It would discredit me and my father; he’d be the next chief for sure.”
The big lagano grinned. “Maybe.”
Lavos looked at Rozzar for a long moment. “My father taught me a real leader looks out for the lagano he commands—whether that’s a battle squad like this or the entire tribe. He doesn’t secretly hope for the leader to fail for his own advancement. He fights to protect, defend, and advance his lagano.” Lavos clenched a fist. “I’m not running, Ferrik. I’m staying to fight. To do the only thing I can for my lagano. And if this one has an ounce of warrior spirit,” he gestured at Rozzar, “he’ll do the same.”
“You sure?” murmured Ferrik. “‘Cause, remember, even if you win they still execute you. There’s no shame in running away.”
Lavos shook his head. “Even if I thought running would work, even if I thought I had a chance of escaping the Hillslash tribe’s trackers… no. I wanted to do something to help my tribe. This is the only thing I can do.” He sighed. “If I don’t do this, then whether I’m executed or in hiding, Hillslash rules my tribe for the foreseeable future. If I do… my lagano have a chance.” He was silent for a moment. “But if you want to leave—”
“No way. I’m with you to the end. You want to go on a suicide mission, I’ll be right beside you.” Ferrik chuckled. “Probably complaining the whole time, but still.”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way.” Lavos grinned at him.
Illria returned a few minutes later and gestured for the others to gather around her. “The camp’s where he said it was. We can be there in a few minutes.” She eyed the others. “This is everyone’s last chance to back out.”
The group was silent, but Lavos stepped forward. “I’m going,” he said. “For our tribe.”
“I’ll go too!” said Tarkel quickly.
“And me,” added Ferrik. “You need someone to lighten the mood.”
“We really don’t,” said Illria, but she smiled as she said it.
Lavos fixed his gaze on Rozzar, who glared back at him for a long moment. But evidently something he’d said before about duty had resonated, because the big lagano finally sighed and growled something that sounded like assent .
“We’re all in,” Lavos said. “Illria. Lead the way.”