Author's Notes: And here's the end. I had a ton of fun writing this story, as I already mentioned. I took a bit of a different approach for the epilogue, but I decided to tie things back into canon at the end. Hence the title "Broken Roads"--Stalwart still ended up where we knew he would, he just took a slightly different path to get there. Hope you all enjoyed this as much as I did!
Disclaimer: If you recognize it from Dave Duncan's fantastic works, then I don't own it (except in paperback).
Snake walked into his office at the headquarters of the Old Blades, officially known as the Court of Conjury. It had been a long day, spent mostly going through the facts of the Waterby fiasco with a group of Inquisitors. He hated dealing with them; you could never lie to them, but they could lie all they wanted to you. And they way they stared always gave him the spooks.
He poured himself a glass of whiskey, glad at least that he was unbound and could savor fine alcohol when he so desired. Sitting down in his plush leather chair, he noticed a piece of parchment underneath a coin purse. He picked up the note, and couldn't help but smile as he read what it said.
Here's the money I owed you.
He went upstairs to the small room occupied by Stalwart, youngest of the Old Blades. He knew the boy had gotten back today, after a week's forced confinement in the country while he was slowly changing back after the conjury turning him into a replica of the king. He knocked on the door as he opened it to see the young man lying on his back, staring aimlessly up at the ceiling.
"You know, you never did explain how you ended up with the name 'Cap', brother," Snake said. Stalwart looked over at him, smiling.
"There's someone I want you to meet first, and then I'll explain," Stalwart replied, on his feet in an instant. He thundered down the stairs, and Snake followed after him, curious. "I saw him on my way back into the city," Stalwart explained, leading them through the city until they reached a marketplace. "There," he pointed, indicating a young boy who couldn't be older than eleven or twelve, grabbing an apple from a stand and darting into an alley. Stalwart led them after the boy.
The boy hadn't gone far, and Snake watched as he perched on a garbage bin, eating the apple like it was the finest of delicacies. He was small and dirty, and could have been the same boy who had conned Snake himself three years ago except for the darker hair. He hung back to watch what Stalwart would do.
"Hey, Scoot," the young Blade greeted casually. The boy with the apple looked up in shock, eyes widening first in shock, then recognition.
"Cap!" the boy greeted cheerfully, throwing himself into a hug. Stalwart was smiling. "What happened to you, Cap? You just vanished! Raz and Crumbs moved us after two days an' we all thought you got caught or died or somethin', but me, I thought you were still alive an' maybe you were just waitin' to come back, and here you are! You gonna come back with us? Just, Raz and Crumbs and Monty and most of the others are gone these days, and it's just me and Twitch and Sparks," Scoot rambled quickly.
"No, Scoot, I'm not here to come back. Hey, you still playing Blades and Bad Guys?" Stalwart asked the little boy. Snake raised an eyebrow in amusement, and Stalwart flashed him a grin.
"Of course! 'Cept now we can play at Blades and Monsters!" Scoot replied delightedly.
"You still pick Blades, right?" Stalwart asked. Scoot nodded with great enthusiasm, dirty hair flopping down into his eyes. "I want you to meet a friend of mine, Scoot. This is Sir Snake. He's a real, live Blade," Stalwart said, leading the boy over to Snake. Scoot looked up at him with big, brown eyes, mouth open wide in amazement.
"Are you really a Blade?" Scoot asked him. Snake nodded as he bent down to be on level with the boy.
"I am. And you know what my job is?" Scoot shook his head. "I'm the one who gets to kill all the monsters." The little boy's eyes widened further, and it was almost comical.
"Hey Scoot, how'd you like to go to Ironhall and become a Blade too?" Stalwart asked. Scoot turned to look at his former friend.
"Really?" he asked softly, unable to believe what was being said.
"Really. That's where I went after I left you guys. Snake or one of our other friends can bring you there, if you want to go," Stalwart explained.
"Yes!" Scoot shouted gleefully. "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! You're the best ever, Cap! You really are!" Stalwart was grinning, and it was infectious.
"Come on, then. We'll take you back with us and then you can head for Ironhall tomorrow," Stalwart said. Scoot managed to dampen his enthusiasm for just one moment.
"Lemme just go tell the others I'm going?" he asked. Stalwart nodded.
"We'll be waiting here for you. Hurry," he urged, but Scoot was already darting down the alley. Stalwart turned back to Snake.
"They called me Captain because I was in charge," he explained. "They wanted to call me Leader, but at the time, I took offense," he added, with a wry smile.
"Well, kid, give it a few years, and you may just be going by that name yet," Snake replied, pleased to see how much Stalwart had grown up since he had been nothing more than another nameless kid living on the streets of Grandon.
"You can bet on it," Stalwart replied with a grin.