Proud men, with caution, were the Pentarch sailors. In crossing that great storm-at-sea, which blew them to these far shores, as in their present role, chosen by Fate (and the High Augur, its chosen instrument), to play Delroy the merchant’s fabled Best Men, bested by that Great Forest, in that Dark Dance Cycle which tells, in part the tale of fair Delrin, and the demise of proud Abdazon, the anti-node of the Hypogeum in an age before this one.
Helmed, mailed, and armed with dull blades, the sailors took cautious steps deeper onstage as the orchestra died down to the barest whisper of a bowed dulcimer and a lonely oud calling out a sweet fragrant tension. And then, as from far off, a low rumbling. It seemed, at first, as if the city shook, a trembling of earth, rising up to a low clear note, a tone of great gravity, and a growing alarm. The Sailors felt the hair stand up on their necks.
Somewhere from offstage, the horrid sound of a death whistle, a clever cruel emulation of the song made by living beings under torture. An instrument never played in Quatria, in effect forbidden, but for this ritual introduction to the Song of the Betrayer. The crowd turned to hissing, as an effusion of smoke burst from the far wing.
And from that haze, a dark clad figure strode forth with an eerie slowness. In tatters of dark cloth of indeterminate color, it seemed to walk with a limp. From the orchestra, the sound of rattles, and the clackrum player turned the wheel of the wooden clapper, watching the dark figure move across the stage, and syncing his turn to the thump thump rhythm of the performer’s limp. The sound of death approaching.
The Pentarch sailors dressed as Best Men knew not what to expect, but, acting naturally, simply responded to the situation, falling into a triangular formation, Benda in front, Tendar and Ofend in the wings. The Betrayer approached them, as the clackrum turned to a halt, stopped, and lifted up a weathered arm to them. The rattling died down, and the Betrayer cried out, in sing-song atonal recitation, unaccompanied:
“From the depths, I rise.
Called forth by the Master,
A shape to the formless.
Who has form, I relieve.
Reckoning for man’s pride,
Cities fall in my wake.
Be ye three, I the Fourth.
Be ye four, I am Five.
I pass always silent.
I am that which burn not.
Cares of men are nothing.
All will sleep in their time.”
A hush fell over the assembled crowd, and a long pause was broken only by a baby crying somewhere, and then a light viol picked out a soft tune in response to the Betrayer’s harsh cries. It surprised Benda that he recognized the tune, and moved as he was by the moment, and the sheer terror of the figure of the blackened and burnt Betrayer standing there before him, he sang out in his own tongue.
He knew it as a lullaby for children, and a chant sometimes used by drovers’ wives over sick animals. He sang it thus, and though the Quatrians gathered in that Grand Plaza could not understand all the words of the Kremellian tongue, the meaning of the lyrics had evidently crossed into that language without much modification. They understood it clearly enough, and wept at the beauty which Benda brought to the role.
“You who are restless, be calmed.
There is no new thing today,
Which has not been seen before.
As our ancestors passed through,
Will we follow that same road.
Fear can wait another day.
Cry until you have finished.
Rest we in peace and safety.
In Anthuor, we withstand.”
In fact, Benda had sung exactly this song on his boat, his compatriots, and to the storm itself while they were lost at sea. And he sang it now with that same gentle power which he had then. The Quatrians were greatly moved.
The Betrayer then began to circle slowly round the Sailors dressed as Best Men, who naturally shifted into formation, mailed backs turned toward one another. The Betrayer lifting up both arms, cued the sound of a lonely zither, which accompanied him slowly, sorrowfully, as he circled round waving his arms menacingly at the three men, whose swords waved in rhythm, glinting in return.
The Betrayer sang out, and a flute accompanied his shrill chant:
“I bind thee, three to me.
Where I go, will you go.
Prisoners of silence.
The Changer is at hand.”
The crowd took up a sharp hiss, which, combining with the rattles of the orchestra, created an unholy ruckus.
The Betrayer rushed forward, seizing Benda roughly by the shoulders, who, unthinkingly, and in the heat of the moment, raised his dull sword, such that his would-be attacker fell upon it, the point sharp enough to penetrate his gut, causing the performer to gasp in shock and wonder.
The performer gripped his shoulders tightly then, as Benda realized what had happened. He retracted the blade in horror, as the performer squeezed out his dying words, which Benda heard as a muffled stage whisper amongst the cacophony. Being in the Quastrian tongue, he understood not the words, though could guess at their implications:
“You should have dropped your sword-”
And with that, he slumped to the floor unconscious, Benda gripping the blunt short sword, which dripped with real and unintended blood.