|Chapter 9: Ramen Covert|
"Bannor!" Foamfollower breathed intently. His stiff calm broke momentarily, and a pang of anguish twisted his countenance. "Do not damn me with such short words. It may be that I too much resemble Pietten. I have struck blows that I cannot call back or prevent. And you have seen--there is the blood of Giants upon my head."
The blood of Giants? Covenant moaned. Foamfollower!
The next instant, Foamfollower regained mastery of himself. "But you have known me, Bannor. You can see it is not my intent to serve the Despiser. I could not--!" The words ripped themselves savagely past his lips.
"I have known you," Bannor agreed simply. "In what way do I know you now?"
The Giant's hands twitched as if they were eager for a violent answer, but he kept his steadiness. Without dropping Bannor's gaze, he knelt by the fire. Even then he was taller than Bannor or Manethrall Jain. His muscles tensed as he leaned forward, and the orange firelight echoed dangerously out of the dark caves of his eyes.
"You have seen the caamora, Bannor," he said tightly, "the Giantish ritual fire of grief. You have seen its pain. I am not prepared--this is not my time for such rituals. But I will not withdraw until you acknowledge me, Bannor of the Bloodguard."
He did not release Bannor's eyes as he thrust both his fists into the hottest coals of the campfire.
The Cords gasped at the sight, and the other Manethralls jumped up to join Jain. Covenant followed as if the Giant had snatched him erect.
Foamfollower was rigid with agony. Though the flames did not consume his flesh, they tortured him horrendously. The muscles of his forehead bulged and worked as if they were tearing his skull apart; the thews of his neck stood out like cables; sweat oozed like blood down his fire-hot cheeks; his lips drew back into a white snarl across his teeth. But his gaze did not waver. In anguish he kept up the demand of his pain.
Bannor stared back with a look of magisterial indifference on his alien mien.
The Cords were appalled. They gaped sickly at Foamfollower's hands. And the Manethralls painfully, fearfully, watched Bannor and the Giant, measuring the test of will between them. But Lena gave a low cry and hid her face in Covenant's shoulder.
Covenant, too, could not bear to see Foamfollower's hurt. He turned on Bannor and gasped into the Bloodguard's ear, "Give it up! Admit you know him. Hellfire! Bannor--you bloody egomaniac! You're so proud--after the Bloodguard failed you can't stand to admit there might be any faithfulness left anywhere. It's you or nothing. But he's a Giant, Bannor!" Bannor did not move, but a muscle quivered along his jaw. "Wasn't Elena enough for you?" Covenant hissed. "Are you trying to make another Kevin out of him?"
For an instant, Bannor's white eyebrows gathered into a stark frown. Then he said flatly, "Pardon me, Saltheart Foamfollower. I trust you."