Swamped Chapter 21 Page 5

“Let’s start with how I knew him,” you say. “He was a courier, like me. For a while, he treated me kindly enough. Shared his food with me when I got mine taken away for slacking or whatever else. Even encouraged me to start reading. Then the soldiers came.”

You really don’t like remembering this part.

“We worked for a bunch of merchants, but they were rotten to the core. The one who housed us had some of his more unscrupulous activities exposed. He and his couriers were taken away when his mansion was raided… all but two of them.”

“You and Ash.”

“Ash got me away. At first I thought it was out of kindness. But he led me to another merchant, one who had gained quite a bit of the last one’s business after the raid. And that’s when Ash started showing his true colors.”

You pace around for a bit. It’s hard to talk about this sitting down.

“I don’t know if Ash really tipped off the soldiers, or if he just said that to get in the merchant’s good graces. Either way, he started being less of a courier. But I was just as much of one, and he was always asking me for ‘special favors’. Tasks he said he didn’t trust the others with. I went along with it, because he was the only friend or family I had. But I can see now that he was trying to get out of that world, whatever the cost, and I was just a useful tool to that end.”

You turn to Razor.

“That’s the sort of man he is. Oh, he’ll talk people up, even show them talents they didn’t know they had. But in the end, it’s all about what they can do for Ash. If they stop being useful, he discards them.”

There’s a flash of anger in Razor’s face. Damn, you must have hit a nerve somewhere. Maybe it’s something to do with how he ended up here?

“And if he winds up in charge of the Bogknights, we can’t face him on his own terms. Leave him to his own devices, he’ll focus on rewarding the loyalists, which is bound to just cause problems for him down the road. But if we attack him, we give him an enemy to fight off. That lets him build support, fortify his position. Plus, I know him, he’d fight us with way nastier stuff than just poison.”

You don’t even know how to bring up the letters he sent you.

At first you just didn’t know how to respond. That was before Rider took you under his wing, showed you the same kindness Ash did, only this time it was real. He knew when to give you space to know your own mistakes, and when to lecture you. (And hells, could he lecture.)

Most of all, Rider never asked you for a favor until Marshall showed up. And when he asked, it was… not exactly as an equal, but there was no pressure on you to accept. He genuinely wanted your help.

Rider was teaching you to be your own man, not just a grunt who worked for him. It’s only now that he’s gone that you’re starting to realize just how much you’ve learned.

“Your tactical concern is noted,” Razor says, snapping you back to the moment.

You feel like he hasn’t quite grasped what you’re saying, but then, you feel like he’d say something nastier if he didn’t think you might have a point.

“Next order of business. I’ve been told you’ve heard the call of the swamp. I want to know everything you can tell me about that. When you first heard it, what it’s like. Anything at all.”

Now that’s a question you weren’t expecting from Razor. What can you even say?

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i always thought it was wrong to say you heard it, it’s more of a smell

 

I was on the run and pretty wasted when it happened. It was like, a sudden wave of homesickness for a place I’d never been. It helped that I didn’t have much of a home to start with. The call gave me some direction. I just knew I had to go to the swamp.

You ever dream of your mother? Like from when you were an infant. She’d cradle you and sing you to sleep, of course you don’t remember it, and you can’t really process the words, but it’s comforting nonetheless. The call is like that, a forgotten lullaby.

Lots of folks who hear the call join the Bogknights because they’ve heard terrible things about the Marshguards. Me, well my self-esteem wasn’t so great. I figured I deserved to be among the rejects of the world, as long as I could get some booze. Though, I’m glad I ended up here. Oddly enough, with the most unlikely and unlikeable people, we’ve managed to build a family.

One more thing about the call though, it never really goes away. It’s kind of a part of you. If you ignore it, it can drive you mad.