The camp had settled at Mud River, celebrating their tremendous victory. The last four days had been a cycle of drinking, singing and dancing. It was evening, and there was still no sign of stopping, even under the smoldering heat of the two suns beating upon them.
Renner himself didn’t participate, but watching others was always fun. Even John was in on it this time, he had been unsettlingly happy since the battle. His confidence had somehow blown up too. He even went out alone by himself; for hours, sometimes.
Saint was having the time of his life. No surprises there. He drank, he sang and he danced.
Renner watched. He watched and he drank. Saint had tried to pull him in multiple times – literally pulling him while dancing, nudging at him and encouraging him to sing along – but it was all in vain. John had all but forsaken him completely.
Apparently, increase in confidence makes previously lonely, desperate people into really bad friends.
Things between Ren and Saint had gotten awkward. Probably not to Saint, it was impossible for him to be awkward. They still hadn’t talked about the mess Ren had made in the battle. I froze. Why?!
The feeling was etched into his very soul. He could still remember and feel how his legs had been stiff and planted, the emptiness in his head, the heaviness in his arms. Useless.
Saint sat down next to him, heavily breathing and slick with sweat. “You know,” he started. “I think I’ve solved it. About why you froze. Why you didn’t… Couldn’t do it when the time had come.” he said between breaths.
“I’m sorry, can you read minds now?!” Renner asked, seriously considering the possibility.
“He. Well, I’d like to think so, yes. But no… Not yet.” he winked.
Renner sighed. “What is this theory you have? Please, do tell me about myself. Can’t wait.”
“It’s simple, isn’t it? It wasn’t you, Runner m’boy. You are sympathetic. You have lofty ideas, but even loftier ideals. You can talk hundreds of men into fighting, with no guarantee for their lives but can’t convince yourself. This… All this. It’s not for you.”
“While the maniac phase you went through was amazing. Truly was. I knew it was going to be short-lived. You’re a passionate one, and yet, still mindful.” he said, clinked his pitcher with Renner’s own and chugged it without pause.
“Wow, you really just told me about myself. You know, when I was screaming, I actually couldn’t come up with a single reason or purpose to give these men, looking at me to go fight and risk their lives. I basically just asked them to invent one themselves. I just wanted to get a second chance at the Hero. Your ‘theory’ was actually pretty spot on, man. Couldn’t have said it better myself. And you did that all while being drunk.” Ren said, impressed.
“Whaa? I’m not,” he burped. “I’m not drunk. Who’s drunk?” he said and fainted right off the log they were sitting on. Renner, with great difficulty and some help, then pulled him on top of another log and let him lie drooling there.
After a couple hours and even more pitchers of beer, Renner decided to call it an early night and retire to his tent. Half the men had gone west to bath in a nearby river. It had been forever since his last bath, but Renner declined the offer when he was asked anyway.
He felt he needed to sit in his filth for a bit more days. Saint’s explanation was convincing, but it still didn’t stop Ren from feeling a tinge of shame. Since his dreams, he wasn’t too enthusiastic about water either.
It was hard to let go, he had become quite popular after his little speech. The name ‘Runner’ had spread quite a bit. Since he actually stopped the men from running, the name caught on because people love themselves some irony.
He was woken up by John, later. “Where are you coming from? Where were you?” Ren mumbled drowsily, using all of his strength trying to keep his eye wide open.
“Where is everyone?” he asked, looking around apparently not having heard Ren.
“Bath. The river.” Ren managed to reply.
“Oh, Saint too?” he asked, growing more annoying by the second.
“No, he’s sprawled right outside on one of the logs.” Ren said.
John’s face contorted, like he had heard something in an unknown language. He shook his head, confused.
“What? He’s not?” Ren inquired.
“No.” he replied.
“Would’ve waken up and went somewhere then. Everyone’s got places to be at these days.” Ren mumbled and looked around, and over John’s big frame. “Is it dawn already?”
“No.” John silently replied. He had taken Ren’s comment personally. It showed evidently on his face.
Renner noticed and quickly tried to let him know it was okay – Which it really was – while holding onto his ego. “It’s still night then. Sleep, John. Enough with the questions, I barely know what I’m even saying. The tent is almost empty for once.” he said with a smile.
John was visibly relieved by his smile, nodded and crawled into one of the mattresses a little away from him.
Come morning, the tent was buzzing with men again. Renner’s head pounded at every attempt of movement. His whole body ached. John stood over him. He noticed Ren waking and bent over him. “We are moving again. The celebrations are over. People are really bummed.” he said.
“Oh thank heavens.” Ren murmured to himself. That seemed to have brought quite a lot of strength back to him. He pulled himself up, stretched and went out.
“Fresh fishes coming from the river today.” John said enthusiastically. Their tent’s supply of fish was delivered directly to John by one of the King’s men. “This is for all of you, big guy.” he told John. He turned to Ren, “You, keep him from eating ’em all himself.” the man ordered and went giggling with one of the other men.
John was used to these little jokes by now, and remained unabashed. He was looking greedily at the fish.
“John… You are gonna be sharing, aren’t you?” Ren quipped.
“Heh. Of course, Ren. I know… Ha Ha. Very funny.” he said and smiled.
Saint, as always, came rushing from the northern part of the camp. “Runner! The King wants to see you.” he said.
“I’m sorry. What?” John took the words right out of Ren’s mouth.
“Yea. One more fan of the Runner speech, apparently. He asked for you by name. Never has asked even for me by name, that bastard. I was told that it might actually be more than just a meeting. Maybe you’ll even be made a General! Like me.” Saint said, jumping.
“WHAT?! So much new information!” John exclaimed, clutching his forehead.
Renner stood frozen, yet again.
“Renner! Did ya hear me? THE KING WANTS TO SEE YOU.” Saint screamed.
“Yeah.. Yeah, I heard ya. Just workin’ on believing.”