The Wildfire Riders are chronicling the guild’s experiences during the battle at Angra’thar, better known as the Wrathgate. There’s an ongoing thread of awesome right over here — if you have time to go catch up, I highly recommend it.
Bricu started the tradition of Friday fiction, and I think stories are a great way to kick off the weekend. So! Here ’tis, a bit of an interlude on the morning of the battle.
Annalea crawled out of the tent as the first hints of dawn tinged the sky. It wasn’t so much light as it was a lightening — the mountains became a darker spot on an already dark background; some of the stars winked out, while others had time yet to shine.
She wasn’t the first one awake. Just beyond the entrance to their camp, a match flared as whoever was on watch lit a cigarette. Someone was smoking closer by, too — northern leaf, its scent curling around her on the pre-dawn wind. She turned to her right and saw her brother-in-law, building the fire back up and tossing some herbs into a pot. The snow crunched beneath her boots as she made her way over to him.
“Yer up early.” He glanced up at her, then back down to a list at his side. It had been folded and refolded, probably twice a day at least since she’d given it to him — all the things Threnn would need to keep herself and the baby healthy.
“So are you. Is Threnny still sleeping?” She eased herself down beside him and held her hands out to the fire, trying to coax the ache out of her fingers. Weeks of harvesting followed by days and days of grinding away with her mortar and pestle, she was amazed her hands hadn’t bent themselves permanently into claws. And wouldn’t that be a fine bit of payback for Aumery Fane? Wouldn’t he just laugh at that? She shoved that thought away. There were things far more fearsome coming in the next few hours.
“Aye, but fitfully. She’ll be up an’ about once she hears more o’us walkin’ around.” He gave the pot a stir. “Fin still out cold?”
“Yeah. It was a long day. Longer one ahead. I didn’t want to wake him.”
They sat for a while, while he tended to the pot, occasionally tossing in another handful of herbs. “Yeh still look like shite,” he said at last. “Better than last time, but yer still on the fuckin’ potions, aren’t yeh?” He pitched the butt of his cigarette into the snow. Before it hissed out, he had his tobacco pouch out and was rolling another with a long-practiced motion.
Anna eyed it. “Um. Could I…?”
“Och, they’re shite fer singers.” But he passed it over anyway, flicking a match as she raised it to her lips. He seemed only mildly surprised when she didn’t explode into a coughing fit. “Since when do yeh smoke?”
“Off and on since I was seventeen. It’s a bit early for a shot of whiskey to go with it.”
He chuckled and rolled one for himself. “Yeh didn’t answer me question.”
She attempted a smoke ring that ended up more of a smoke oblong. It wobbled its way into the sky while she mulled over her response. “It’s a different formula, now. And I don’t take it when he’s home on leave.”
“I’m rattin’ yeh out ta both o’them when this is done. Fin an’ yer sister. It’s gotta stop, Annie.”
“When all this is done, it might not matter.”
His teeth ground together, audible evidence of keeping his temper in check. “Annie. No one’s dyin’ today.” There was hollowness beneath the anger; he wasn’t convinced of it himself.
“Well. I’m not.”
Something in the way she said it gave him pause. “Yeh’ve seen it, then?”
“In a sense.”
“That shite with Chromie an’ the Bronze?”
“Yeah. I live long enough to start going grey, at the very least. But when I asked about Fin…” She shrugged and took another drag.
“No answer? Strewth. Annie, yer future self’s a bitch.”
He snorted. “Fair enough.”
“You two are safe. Stonemantle saw Naiara. That means Threnny lives. And she’s not going to let you fall.”
“Fin can take care o’himself. He’ll be watchin’ yeh, same as Threnny’ll be watchin’ me. An’ if he gets in trouble, she’ll be watchin’ him, too. Yeh’ll be unlivable if she doesn’t.” He nudged her when she didn’t smile. “Fer a priestess, yer faith is shite.”
“That assumes I ever had any.”
“In yer sister? Yeh’d fuckin’ better.”
“Mmph.” But he was right. The gods might have their eyes on the heart of the battle today, but it didn’t matter. Riders watched out for Riders, the gods be damned. She took one last drag and pushed herself to her feet. “I’m going to go catch a little more rest. Thanks for the smoke, brother-mine.”
“Aye,” he said. “Go on back ta Fin.” His caught her hand as she turned. “An’ Annie.”
“Don’t yeh fuckin’ dare be goin’ back there ta say goodbye.”
She looked at him for a long moment in the firelight. “I won’t if you won’t.”
“Deal,” he said, and turned his grip into a handshake. “Now piss off. I’m bringin’ breakfast ta yer sister.”
A few of the others were stirring as she retreated back to the tent she and Fin shared. People murmurred to one another inside their own canvas walls, packing up bedrolls, changing clothes. The slow rasp of a whetstone on a blade came from Jolstraer’s tent, a husky laugh from inside Ilanna and Chryste’s. The mountains stood out, distinct now from the sky behind them, but when she let the flap close behind her, darkness reigned once more.
Fin swam awake as she shed her cloak and crawled in beside him. “Light, Anna, you’re freezing.”
“I went for a walk. It’s early yet. Go back to sleep.”
His arms snaked around her, hands rubbing at her back to speed up the warmth. “Are you all right?”
“Fin?” She wriggled in closer as he nuzzled at her sleepily.
“Shut up and hold me.”