“You’re from Saltwell?”
“You know the place?”
“I lived there for a time! About eight years ago. Around the time the war started.”
“By jove! Quiet boy talking to animals… were you the feral boy?”
Arthen hesitated. “Yes, I suppose.”
“Of course! I remember you! You’ve lost your accent.”
“Living in northern Oakhurst will do that.”
“I suppose you and your family left after the ambush?”
“Yes, that was the major reason the Farmer moved us out of there and to the north. Hoping to find some fertile soil in Oakhurst as well.”
Faust, the Headhammer, the Voice from Saltwell, the Blacksmith Agitator, the Martu of the Alaun, took Arthen, the weak pale boy wearing a poncho, on a stroll back to the Eerie Bird. He took Arthen down the edge of the bridge so they had the open air of the lake to talk.
“Do you have this talk with all the boys who work for your cause?” Arthen asked.
“No, you are actually the first,” Faust said with a smirk. “I’m a very careful individual, and I like to know the people who join my resistance are just and not spies. But with work-boys, I have never bothered to interview because they never learn much or are not allowed to hear things out of their rank. Either way, there are many spies who lurk in our dealings–spies from conflicting parties. It’s in the best interest of our movement, especially while being in this city, that we become exactly as spirits."
“I’m not a spy if that is what you’re after.”
“I wouldn’t think you are. Booker has told me of what happened among the Stahlgs. It seems very peculiar for a boy with your stature and age to be able to do the things you did, in the arena and out.”
“Does that make me untrustworthy?”
“That makes you seem somewhat dangerous.”
Arthen looked defiantly ahead. He didn’t know how to answer that. Sure, he himself did not think he was dangerous, though doubt had been growing of this since the Stahlgs. The voices in his head and the fatigue had stopped, but an anxiety remained from the death arena of what was happening to him.
“Booker has told me that you are a very good kid, and eager to work. You showed loyalty to them when you ordered the Queen Stahlg to release them when you could’ve escaped yourself. You even showed loyalty to Oakley, a man who caused the mess in the first place. I have no doubt in your loyalty to people, but your means of being loyal seem dangerous.”
Arthen’s heart jumped. He stopped walking and looked at the ground in shame. Faust stopped beside him.
“I promise I won’t be a danger to your cause. I just want to work and be able to feed myself. I don’t want to be a part of your rebellion if you think I could be a danger to it.” Arthen’s head continued to face downward at the cobblestone street.
“Gleim, your means of being loyal seem dangerous not to the people you’re loyal to, but to the people against you. That is a very great gift of character. True loyalty against all opposition. You can be a very dangerous weapon against anyone who tries to hurt you or your friends. And that’s what made me excited when Booker told me about you. I’ve taken an interest in you over all the other boys that have wanted to join this cause to be a hero or to be some great warrior. Those kinds of boys are only it for their own glory.
“But you saw the people that marched through the streets. War prisoners from the Reach! This country is sending soldiers off to war for a cause they don’t believe in against an enemy that they are told is theirs. An enemy that does not want to, or has never wanted to fight us. I need people that can help me guide the country to the truth and out of this darkness. I need loyal men like you, Gleim.”
But Arthen felt taken aback. “I don’t want to be a part of another war if that’s where this cause is heading.”
Faust nodded. “Did Booker tell you the event that birthed this resistance, Gleim?”
Arthen shook his head.
“It was a few years after the ambush, after the Third Campaign succeeded and soldiers came back to quarter in Saltwell. You remember that surly gang of soldiers that stayed in town right before the war started?”
Arthen didn’t answer fearing the heat in his chest might make him vomit.
“I’ll take that as a yes," Faust said with a smirk. "The bull of that gang came back to town a more arrogant beast than before with even more cronies to follow him. With no battles to fight, but plenty of prisoners to torture, the gorilla Madrogel and his gang requested many ungodly creations from my smithy. He'd preach to all of us what he and his cronies did in the war and in the town was to protect Saltwell and it was for the people's greater good. When I couldn’t bear to make such devices for them any longer, they publicly displayed their oppression in the town square to one of their Reachling prisoners and made me decide when to put him out of his misery.”
Faust gave a slight pause. Then he took a deep breath. “They put a saber in my hand and made me watch them destroy this other human. When he got to the brink of death, Madrogel’s goons would inject the prisoner with their Brú concoction to give him a second wind. And a third… and a fourth–but not a fifth. I held that sword and cried, and pled to the citizens watching to not stand for this. Saltwell was our town and we’d lose ourselves if we continued to let Madrogel ravage the soul of it. When the prisoner’s face wasn’t discernible any more, I made my decision.
"They threw me in the jail. But my words in the square helped the people of Saltwell rise up. And while I sat in my cell, Madrogel was found dead one morning, tied to a fence post, with my smithy hammer embedded in his skull put in there by a "no one knows". All of his cronies faltered and relinquished any authority they thought they had. Madrogel's duet partner let me out of that cell and told me the horrors he faced in the war campaigns and the scars that he and many others like him bore. I told him how my village had been persecuted and ravaged from his kind. The circle of anger and hatred had been created not from within my village or his fellow soldiers, but by the powers that brought us together in that unfortunate circumstance of the war. And that unfortunate circumstance ignited this movement. That man has been by my side ever since and he’s the same person who just vouched for you earlier. If you are not in for a war, Gleim, then your mind should be at ease. I follow Booker’s guidance in the moral direction of our cause, and I believe it is a good direction.”
“Yes, he's told us about no killing,” Arthen said.
"We must be quiet, watching, and haunting to our enemies, but not violent. As spirits, we are the ones whispering the words of truth into the consciousness of the people too afraid to face it or to act against it. Of people weary and complacent. Reigniting old fighters with lost causes. This is not a conquest, this is a movement. And it is the only right way to bring the great change that is needed for this country."
Faust seemed very familiar to Arthen. Not in appearance, but with his idealism. It was long ago when Arthen saw that kind of bright-eyed determination in someone. Before Ketrian had cursed him, before Ketrian had captured him, before Ketrian had left him and their family. When Ketrian’s face was youthful, Arthen remembered him best as an eager and idealistic son of Alder Cartovius. That Marshall's son seemed to be reborn in Faust.
Arthen gave Faust a confident nod and stuck out his hand to him. “I'm honored to be with you, Faust.”
Arthen walked back to the inn with no bed, but it didn’t matter. He could never believe that his new purpose could build even more. To seek out the truth, and Faust the revolutionary was seeking it too, about everything. Faust would be the glowing torch in the darkness, to set them all free. At last, he thought, my family will have justice.