As Gregor lumbered along, struggling under the weight of the reaver, he wondered how he ended up being the one to drag him to bed. Earlier, everyone had shown up to pay their respects to Vragor. The body was laid down in the ship with the offerings of gold and furs. The sombre birdmen cast the ship off, with the priest squawking to the heavens. Ragnar lit his arrow and drew the bow, but at the last second passed them to Jay. They locked eyes for a moment before the bow was accepted. Rather than arcing the shot into the boat, the demon pulled the string almost to the point of breaking and on release it made a straight line to a bottle of spirits on board. The ship caught flame, the faster to speed the vessel and its occupant to the halls of the dead. The ceremony done, the reavers made for their tent. Gregor had wanted to leave them to their revelry, but Ragnar insisted “You were there at the end. You shared his life and his death. You will drink with us.” Gregor thought to himself “There is enough pain and sorrow in our waking life that seems not to trouble you one bit. And even here in this death of your companion you embrace joviality.” And yet he found himself going along. “Water, nothing more for me”.
Perhaps there was something in Ragnar’s affect that prompted Gregor to stay. The reaver seemed to laugh a little too loudly, seemed a little to anxious to spread mirth and good humour. He would occasionally pause and stare out into the distance. Only for a moment, but even that was more contemplative than Gregor had ever seen of him. He tried asking the matter, but Ragnar simply brushed him aside and come up with some bizarre feat that must be done in Vragor’s memory (because the Orc would have found it funny, and by all accounts he had a wicked sense of humour). When the drink ran dry, the birdmen were satisfied to fly back to their nests, but Ragnar stumbled drunkly outside, determined to find more. Gregor had briefly forgot where they were, and how in-advised such a task that would be amongst the followers of Pholtus. Sure enough when Gregor went outside he saw Ragnar in heated argument with two guards, guards who were about to put hands to their weapons. “Forgive my companion, his grief has unsettled him greatly. Come Ragnar, let’s get some water into before you get to bed.” The guards seemed happy enough to leave the reaver in Gregor’s care. Helping him walk back to his tent, Gregor asked again, more earnestly this time “What is wrong with you, Ragnar? This is reckless, even for you.”
“’S recklessess for you.”
“What is the matter with you?”
“Wit me? Wit me? I … I … I should ask m’shield. Oh hallowy spirit o’ the shield, come gimme your really old wisdom! … No, he don’t like being called tha… Shieldy McShieldface! Come lesse have a chat! … No, def don’t like that, he don’t. Cough Sir Lanval of Morganuse, tell me, whass the matter wit me?”
There was a pause, with Ragnar nodding intermittently. “Hmm, yea, s’good. Maybe s’right. What’d you think, Gregor?”
“I … I didn’t hear anything. He doesn’t speak out loud. And how did you get your shield on so quickly?”
“Wass he’s saying is, I’ve these new responsibilies, and s’not easy for me. Like planning and gettin’ the lads to do wha they’ve to do and stuff. Only he said it fancy like.”
“Sure, it’s a burden Ragnar, and your men look up to you. They follow you into battle, their loyalty is a credit to you. But something is different, something recent. What is it?”
Ragnar spun around, hands on Gregor’s shoulders, the better to look him straight in the eyes (and the extra support didn’t hurt).
“‘s … ’s …. ’s shoulda been me. He’da died in battle, he wassa gonner, it hadda be done. He asked, and I dinna do it. I was there and tried ta save him instead!”
“You care about your men, you want to protect them. That’s natural, that’s good.”
“Not for us! Death in glorious battle! Tha’s it. Tha’s the best we can hope for. And I couldn’t give it to ’im. Why?”
“Why do you think?”
“What was that?”
“I wanna help ye. You and Shen and Rue and Jay. Get my men, go to Iuz, get ye yer throne, hack up anyone who thinks to stop us.”
“That’s … That means a lot to me, and to the other’s I’m sure. That you would …”
“Ya don understand. If I’m start to worryin’ and thinkin’ about the safe way and the careful way, what do I become? A reaver that’s afraid and a scared? That’s no good to no-one! I’ve lost me edge, me nerve.”
“Ragnar, you ran into that massive demon with no plan, no thinking, no idea of what it was capable. You nearly got us all killed!”
“Yer just saying that.”
“No Ragnar, I’m not. Thinking too much is something you never have, and never could do. You would have done right by Vragor if I hadn’t, I’m sure of it.”
“Thank you, Gregor, thank you. Tha means so much ta me. I love you. No, really man, I love you. We’re brothers, you an me. Me an you. Wha you said, just wha you said made me, made me feel somethin’, somethin’ deep down inside … me …”
Gregor’s usual quick reflexes were not enough to get him out of the the way of the eruption of vomit that spewed from Ragnar’s mouth. The angry Iuzian cries he shouted in return fell on deaf ears; Ragnar had collapsed on the ground, completely spent. Gregor looked around, but the guards were either not around or had made a point of getting away. Not feeling the need to spare Ragnar any indignity or later discomfort, he started dragging him along the ground. For a moment, his arm brushed against the shield, and he heard a distant voice in his mind: “You fear learning who you are. You real fear should be forgetting who you are.” It had started as an old and dignified voice, but towards the end it almost sound as if it changed into that of Ragnar’s. He grabbed the shield and questioned it, but no further response was coming. As the cold nights air began to creep into his bones, he got back to the slow, laborious task of getting the comatose reaver into bed.