Wrathgate Wednesday: A Witch And Two Paladins

By | November 4, 2009

Today’s Wrathgate features three very different Wildfire Riders. During the Wrathgate Storyline, Yva Darrows wasn’t really a Rider–She just felt more comfortable with them. As dark and scary as Yva is, she always manages to find someone who is just a little bit worse. Then she deals with them.

Jolstraer Taborwynn has one of the greatest, thickest, distinct and consistent accents ever to grace the Feathermoon server. The Old Soldier is here at Wrathgate, ready to hold the line against the Scourge. Despite all the prep work, he’s not above making friends with the ladies…

And finally, Anna’s already gone over what happened to Aelflaed during Wrathgate. Her story is worth telling again within the context of the Black and Red. That’s slang for the Wildfire Riders, just in case you’re new to the Wrathgate Saga.

The Painted Axe - Yva Darrows - J Rinaldi

The Painted Axe - Yva Darrows - J Rinaldi

One half of a mile from camp, the first rune was placed. She wedged the pointed tip of the marker into the ground and then raised the mallet.

Whack, whack, whack!

“Algidaman, to interest you,” she whispered, swinging back into the saddle and moving up about ten yards. She slid from Enigma’s side and pulled the next from her collection, peering at the symbol with three dashes, two curved lines, and a blood mark upon it.

With a wry curve of her lips, this, too, was pounded into the ground.

“Elivrani, to tame you.”

Another ten yards, another marker, and then another, and another

Barbitia, Echerna, Froslin. The guide, the anchor, the compass. Sarcharalvi for north, and at last . . . at last the unnamed rune. His rune, the rune she used in all of her ritual work these days. Zarani, she called it, after Narsh’Zaran. To her, it meant Power.

Her eyes flitted from the newly embedded trail up to the hilltop, where the tent billowed, its black flag dancing upon the pole. The crimson panels were garish against the gray sky. She led the horse to the stables, ignoring the nervous pawing of the live mounts around her. They weren’t comfortable with her dreadsteed, and frankly, she didn’t care.

She pressed a silver coin into the stable boy’s palm.

“Live for another day to spend it,” she said, gathering her cloak around her. She turned her face into the wind, blissfully oblivious to the arctic Northrend temperature.

“M-ma’am?” His voice cracked as he addressed her. “You’re barefoot, and the snows . . . well, I have a spare pair. You’re small, so they may fit.”

Her expression turned dark as she peered at him. She reached down to cup his chin in her palm, expecting him to pull away, but for his part he just stood there, smiling uncertainly. His eyes were the color of good milk chocolates. A smattering of ginger freckles covered his nose and upper cheeks.

With a tut and a sigh, her free hand swept sandy colored hair away from his forehead.

“How old are you?”

“Nine summers, Ma’am.”

“And tell me your name.”

“Lawrence.”

Yva crouched, far less than she’d have liked to be at eye level with the child. “And tell me Lawrence, what callous lordling brings someone of your tender years to face the armies of Arthas Menethil?”

“Lord Eddingly, Ma’am. He said it would be the battle of my life. I could tell my grandchildren about it one day.”

“Did he now.”

When the boy nodded, Yva began to hum, forcing a smile she didn’t feel. “Listen to me, Lawrence. This is no place for a bright boy like you. Do you see the red tent at the top of the hill?”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“That’s where I want you to go. There are women there with me, and we will protect you. I will protect you.”

“But Lord Eddingly . . . “

“Oh trust me. I’ll handle your lordship.” She pressed a kiss to the child’s forehead and then ten more gold coins into his palm. “Swear to me you’ll find that tent. Swear it on the thing you value most.”

She watched his top lip quiver, but after a minute, he nodded. “I swear on my Gram Gram, then.”

“That’s a good thing to swear on. I loved my Gram Gram very much. I’ll be waiting for you there in a few minutes, all right?.”

She turned to go, but another squeaked ‘Ma’am’ stopped her in her tracks.

“Aye?”

“Did you want the boots, then?”

The tilt of her lips finally felt genuine. “The White Witch doesn’t need your boots. Just take care of yourself and my horse, and that’ll be good enough.”

As she left the stables, she grabbed her riding crop from her saddlebags and started towards the camps.

*****

It didn’t take long to find the cluster of Stormwind’s finest. She pulled her hood back, stepping over the men polishing swords, shields, guns, and every other type of weapon imaginable. Someone whistled at her as she passed, and she suppressed a growl. Lawrence had been wearing the green and gold colors of his lord’s house, and soon enough, she saw a banner matching the livery in a small valley not too far from where the Riders were positioned.

A tall, arrogant looking man with a gleaming smile and blond hair was standing by the fire, one sabaton propped on a crate. His tabard was the color of good emeralds, with a large golden hawk embroidered in the middle. He was deep in conversation with a few other men, clearly moneyed and titled by the ornate workings of their armor. Some had titanium accents on their spaulders, others had fancy gems embedded into their breastplates.

“Are you Lord Eddingly,” Yva said, lifting her skirts to step over a sleeping dog.

The lord stopped talking to his peers long enough to scowl at her, clearly displeased at being interrupted.

“I am. And you are?”

“The woman taking you to task for bringing a bloody child out to meet Arthas Menethil,” she snapped. She walked toward him until they were less than a foot apart. He had at least eighteen inches on her, and likely a hundred pounds, but that didn’t stop her from tilting her head all the way back to glare at him. “Are you mad or simply stupid?”

“Excuse me, wench. Do you know who I am?”

“You seem to think I actually give a damn. How quaint.” She snorted. “I’ve taken your boy, and as soon as I can, I’m sending him back to Dalaran where he’ll live to see ten. The next time you decide to host a party on Arthas’s time, I’d recommend getting yourself an advisor. They might inform you of the dangers of war, since you’re clearly too dim to comprehend them yourself.”

The other lords around began to cough, hiding smiles and snickers behind their gloves.

Eddingly’s glower darkened.

“You dare?!”

“Oh yes, I dare.”

Someone came tromping through the snow behind her, boots crunching and clanging as they approached, but Yva was far too preoccupied to turn around. She watched Eddingly’s eyes flicker past her, but he just as quickly looked back down to jab plated fingers into her chest, nearly sending her sprawling.

“I’d advise you to leave now, woman. Go work the soup tents or whatever else you’re suited for. And if you want to buy the boy from me, by all means. We might be able to work an arrangement.” His perusal of her person was crude, as was the curl of his lip. “How well do you do on your back?”

He didn’t have time to move away from the crop. There was a hiss as it ripped through the air, and then an unpleasant smack as it shredded through the meat of his cheek, leaving a nasty, blooded welt. He cursed and pulled his sword, rage forcing his pupils huge. Mottled red crept up his throat and face to drown out the pale of his skin.

“You bitch!”

“Swing that sword at me, Swine, and it will be the last bloody thing you ever do, mark my words,” Yva snarled, lifting her free hand. Shadows began to swim over her glove as a long, icy talon curved off of her thumb.

“What the hell is going on here?”

Yva was angry, but she wasn’t so angry she didn’t recognize the voice of Threnn Bittertongue coming from behind her.

Oh, so that’s who it was. Damn it.

“Good afternoon Threnn, how are you today?”

“Yva,” Threnn said, her tone deliberately flat. It was subtle, but the warning was there, and Yva took deep breaths through her nose to clear the song clamoring inside of her brain.

“Lord Eddington brought a nine year old boy here by the name of Lawrence. He’s working the bloody stables.”

Threnn placed a hand on Yva’s shoulder – whether it was comfort or another warning, Yva didn’t know and she didn’t care. She stood down. Her hand dropped to her side and she licked her lips, more song bubbling from her throat.

“Is that true, Lord Eddington?”

“What of it?” He dashed at the blood dribbling down his face. It just made things worse; rust colored smears now covered him from temple to jaw.

“Well, I guess I’d say you had it coming and to saddle your own fucking horse.”

Yva’s lips blossomed into a grin.

“Are you done here?”

“I am,” Yva said. She lifted her fingers again, pointing one icy talon at the lord, and he was smart enough to recognize the threat. He stumbled away, cursing as one of his servants handed him a wad of mageweave for his cheek.

The women trudged back to their own encampment, shoulder to shoulder, never looking back.

“Did you portal him out? The boy I mean,” Threnn said after a time.

“I will when I get back. He’s at the tent.”

“Well enough.”

They passed the ballista, passed Ulthanon and his snow perch, passed Tarquin nursing a cigarette as he leaned upon a stack of ammunition crates, his black hat shadowing his eyes. Smoke floated around his head in a cloud.

“Ladies,” he said, flicking his fingertip at the hat brim in greeting.

“Boss.” Threnn sidled up beside him, pulling her gauntlets off to smooth a palm over the mound of her stomach. She muttered something about the baby kicking before maneuvering herself onto a crate to perch, her legs swinging.

“How’re yeh?”

“Pretty good.”

“Splendid. Fan-fucking-tastic, Ap’Danwyrith,” Yva snapped, brushing past him to climb towards the hill.

Tarquin took another swallow of smoke, digging the glowing end of the cigarette into the metal tin acting as his makeshift ashtray. “Threnny, yeh think Yva’s leavin’?” His voice was as dry as the Tanaris sands.

“I’d say so.”

Yva spun around, her eyes narrowing to slits. There was a wolfish grin on her employer’s face, making him look like he had far too many teeth for one mortal mouth. Forty thousand acerbic things dripped from the tip of her tongue, but her thoughts floated back to Lawrence, to getting him somewhere safe, and she dropped into a mocking curtsy instead.

Tarquin’s quiet chuckles followed her back to the tent.

Jolly

That "salute" is for you.

That "salute" is for you.

Angra’thar

The blade made a muffled rasp as it dug point-first into the packed snow, sticking up like a marker of some predetermined line. Jol Taborwynn stood behind that marker, rubbing his uncovered hands together as he eyed the army marching below. Around him others tightened grips on swords, shields, axes, maces, daggers and fuck-all else that they had made their business to do grim violence with. Strapped to his left arm was a broad half of a wall emblazoned with the sign of his homeland in gold that shone with its own brilliance in the meek sunlight.

Squinting his good eye, he made a judgment of how far up the harrowing valley the army had marched, then nodded half to himself. Tugging on his gauntlets, he turned and peered up at the outcropping where their lone ballista was perched. Raising one metal-backed fist, he waved twice, giving the signal that the Alliance was almost on the gate. He got a single wave in return, and heaved up his sword out of the snow.

“Look alive nae, yeh gobs! Annah o’yeh stahts lookin’ dead nae, thurr’ll be Hell tae pay wit’ mah!” he shouted coarsely at the line arrayed around him. He knew their worth, and a rational part knew it didn’t need to be said, but ol’ Taborwynn damn well wouldn’t let them out of it that easy. In that brief precipice before combat, Jol remembered one last thing before starting into his own war.

The Eve of Battle

The whetstone whisked slowly and diligently over every inch of blade from hilt to tip, a slow grinding song of its own. Jol sat on the log outside his tent, smelling the various cookfires throughout their camp and letting the last dregs of tea settle in his belly. His eye was on the blade with each stroke he made, but his other senses were mindfully paying attention to the mall clearing around him.

“Yeh gonna sit ‘ere all naight, ‘er yeh thank yeh’d drank ah lil’ tea?” he asked to the darkness behind him, stopping his whetstone and looking up over his shoulder to the shadows behind him.

It was a strange detail of Nykkolaia Zeran – one of many, perhaps – that even with her skin as pale as it was, eyes of grey and hair only a pale shade of yellow, she somehow seemed able to be a shadow. At least, that’s what she felt like. She lingered near the edges of this camp, because there were a few names she knew, but she didn’t truly know anyone and so she never tried to break the perimeter. Like a shade, she had only kept on the border and gone where her inward wandering had led her.

Since the day in the Underbelly, this trait had been amplified.

Nykk had been walking without direction – not without watchfulness, because it was rare that she let that go – but she hadn’t intended to end up where she had. The voice surprised her and she blinked from the darkness, taking a step closer although not yet too close… like a deer surprised in the edge of the wood by a hunter.

“Ah’m sorreh,” she apologized quietly. “Ah did nae mean tae intrude.”

The big man chuckled faintly, turning back to his whetstone and steel. “Mos’ folks dinnae min’ tha intrudin’ o’kin’red bein’s on tha eve o’ah great ba’tle. Las’ remindah o’bein’ livin’ an’ all ‘et shite.” He spit at the end of that, making the fire crackle. “Suhves some, ah reckon.”

To this, Nykkolaia smiled very faintly and not with any mirth. There were others reminders of being alive that she was far more familiar with, but wasn’t aiming to find this night. “‘Et likeleh does,” she agreed. After a few moments of silence, she came a little closer and the firelight caught her face, emblazoning the old scars turned new a little more angrily. “Ah cannae say Ah know from mah own exper’ence, but per’aps.”

“Hnh.” Jolly shrugged. “Awf’llah cool-min’ed on yer las’ day on ‘is Laight-given worl’. Mus’ nae be plannin’ oan dyin’.” He didn’t look up from his work, still sitting calmly and moving in practiced form. “Ah dinnae ken manah folks t’day ‘et ain’.”

“Ah ain’ nevah plan on ‘et,” she replied. As the usual chill within grew, she felt strangely more at ease. “But ‘et’s moah’n likeleh come tomorrah than annah othah day certainleh, maight as well be facin’ ‘et head on… tomorrah. T’night will jes’ be t’night.” Her shoulders gave a sort of rolling motion that was more than likely a shrug. She drew to the fire now, although it did little to warm her. For a passing instant, she was reminded of that day in Dalaran… one of many, but this one standing out, and as one she’d rather forget but there it was. His face stood out in the memory, and she almost gave voice to it, but didn’t then. “An’ a girl maight like some tea af’erall, if’n yeh ‘ave annah lef’.”

“Ah’m nae sae much ah ol’ horse’s arse tae offer an’ nae ‘ave annah,” he chuckled. From the sparse trees straight ahead of him, a quite loud snort was heard, as well as the creaking of wood and the rustling of dried branches. “Ah pike off yeh feckin’ coppah bint!” He had paused in his sharpening, glaring at the darkness straight ahead of him with a deep frown. “Wish tha damn bitch’d fly oan awreadah. ‘Ow manah differen’ ways yeh gotta say ‘et tae ah ovahgrown lizahd ‘et ‘ere free, ‘ey ken piss off’n an’ gae feck wit’ somebodah else nae?” The question was, to him, rhetorical and he shook his head. “Annahwey…thurr’s tea in tha ke’tle thar. ‘Elp yeself.” He gestured with the whetstone, then picked up the blade and held it out straight before him, eyeing its length in the firelight.

Quietly amused – as Nykk never really did anything loudly – she said a quiet ‘thank yeh’ and poured herself some of the tea. Not precisely one for social occasions – which even an impromptu conversation with a grouchy soldier that railed against his own dragon did count – there was some comfort to be found in having something in hand, even something so simple as a mug of tea. She looked into it, only able to see a small flicker against the surface of the liquid in the dark, and took a sip. Strange, she hadn’t been thinking much on her own mortality come tomorrow, until now.

Nykkolaia felt… compelled to talk. It was damned strange, and not something she was used to, but the reminder of death set it upon her… or was that really it? Hard to say. Yet she wasn’t much for small talk, never had been. Her eyes roamed briefly around the camp before settling on Taborwynn again. The earlier thought rose up again. “Yeh know, given’ what tomorrah may brang an’ all, Ah want tae sae tha’ Ah believe Ah’ve seen yeh befoah… years befoah. In Lordaeron.” She paused, frowning to herself. “Ah cannae raightleh sae why Ah feel tha need tae say ‘et, but… ‘et’s a damn strange night, Ah s’pose.”

Jol might’ve chalked it up to a need for closure on a person’s mind, but he wouldn’t say. Many a time he had sat in camps like this, with the promise of doom on the morrow, and listened to others let their tongues free and rid the mind of thoughts it had been harboring for so long. It was like a flower blooming in all its glory just before the vine withered and died. “Been ah lon’ time since ah marched me homelan’. Served manah ah yeah in tha colors o’silvah an’ blue. Dinnah thank ah’d be ah r’membahin’ type, wot wit’ tha glorah an’ prestigeo folks half ag’in me bettah. Mus’ ‘ave me ol’ maw replacin’ tha face o’some bettah man o’yeh yout’.”

“Man o’ mah yout’,” Nykk repeated the words softly – barely audible – and with a dark wryness. It lingered only for a heartbeat before she continued. “Ah do nae believe so, as Ah’ve a good min’ for thangs.” She paused, realizing where she was about to tread, but her mouth had run off with her. Too late now. “‘Et was one o’ those momen’s, yeh know? Yeh see one thang an’ ‘et brangs yeh back tae anot’er. Ah saw yeh in Dalaran.” She shrugged again, that strange rolling shrug. It was sort of a mutely insecure gesture – like a shrug that lacked the confidence to make itself whole. “‘Et brought me back tae where Ah’d nae been, in mah min’ at leas’… seein’ soldiahs marchin’ t’rough tha streets o’ the Cap’tal befoah…” She stopped herself on that one. “‘Et was a similah view, so Ah remembahed.”

Jolly paused, the hilt of his sword clicking as the blade was sheathed in full. “Lon’ time ago, foah suah. Ain’ been in tha Cap’tal since…” he trailed off, and then his grey hair shook vigorously with his head. “Nae mattah, ‘et.” He peered over at her again, squinting his eye in a considering look. “Yeh mus’ nae ‘ave been ‘et ol’.”

Inwardly, Nykk was not entirely pleased with herself for letting herself walk this far into this conversation, but it was what it was. “Mattah o’ perspective, one could sae,” she replied quietly. “Ah was f-fourteen.” The stumble was slight, but inescapable.

Jol eyed her sharply at the stumble, but didn’t comment on it directly. “Losin’ ‘ome sae young… dunnae ken whethah ‘et’s ah blessin’ ‘er ah curse.” He set aside the scabbarded sword, then leaned back and heaved up the broad wall of metal that looked battered, but still held some of its ornateness. He checked the straps, holding it with a great deal of familiarity, and made sure that the leather was without stress or cracks.

“Ah wasnae there when ‘et all happened,” she replied. Spit ‘et out, girl. ‘Et’s nae like yer hidin’ ‘et. Have tae tell someone sometime. Nykk’s head turned more fully, her face illuminated in the fire light as she glanced at the shield and felt the deep well of sadness grow. Perhaps that was what did it. “‘At was tha year Ah was ta’en,” she said quietly, eyes on the shield. “Ah was ta’en off tha streets bah tha man ‘at did this.” Her hand gestured casually at her face. “Ah was there fer ele’en months, sae Ah did nae know what happened tae ‘ome until Ah was freed. Bah then, Ah discovered Ah was in Stohmwin’ Citeh.”

Everything went still inside then. So few were the people she had told even that much. Why had she told him now? ‘Cause yeh thank yer goin’ tae die tomorrah, an’ maybe actualleh ‘ope yeh do.

Jolly regarded her for a moment over his shield, then nodded faintly as he was satisfied with the bulwark’s shape and set it aside. “Worse type o’evil lies in tha ‘eart o’ah man,” he said quietly. “May’ap yeh wos luckah. Yeh an’ ah’d say yeh weren’, given wot yeh got tae live wit’.” He stooped and threw another log on the fire, leaning on his knee and peering into the dancing lumination. “Stratholme wos bad. bad as annah man evah need see. Folks ah man’d ken, fallin’ ovah an’ pukin’ out ‘ere organs, chokin’ on tha verrah air ‘ey breathed…’en gittin’ raight back up, wi’out life, wi’out sae much as ah glimmah o’ah soul. An’ if’n ‘et weren’ enou’…thar was folks yeh loved ‘et wos sick, but ‘et wos tha slae dyin’ kin’. Sae yeh were given ah damned choice – put ‘em outta ‘ere miserah, ‘er watch ‘em die, an’ ‘en ‘ave tae dismembah wot yeh r’membah’d as good.”

He spit then, and tossed wot was left of his tea into the flames. They hissed, but leapt back to life quickly, their strength unhindered by the meager leftovers of tea. “S’wot ee come tae, t’day. Balancin’ tha debt, nae. An’ ‘et’ll be soon. Soon.” He looked up and away, into the darkness, at what could only be Angra’thar.

Aelly


The Wildfire Riders – Aelflaed by *JRinaldi on deviantART

Saul Innis was tall, and young, and earnest – gristle for the grinder, coke for the forges. He took his duties as a courier very seriously, but with none of Fyodor Galliwick’s straight-backed arrogance, and the obvious fear in his eyes was leavened by dedication. And ay course, likely, by thit wee drink he had wi’ Geny, an’ whate’er it is she wis whisperin’ ta him. Tarquin smirked at the soldier as they strode away from the fire. Innis didn’t notice, of course – he was looking over his shoulder at Genise, who was watching him with eyes dewy with longing and, of course, deadly sharp with mischief.

Some fuckin’ army.

“Aright, big lad,” he said cheerfully as they cleared the central wing and stepped into the relative calm of the outer camp, nobody even potentially in earshot but Yva Darrows, who was some yards away humming to herself and apparently mending a sock. “Wha’ manner ay business brings yeh here ta the belly ay the beast?”

Innis wiped the daffy grin off his features, all keen young soldier again. “Bad business, sir,” he reported soberly, and took a glance at Yva before continuing in a low voice, apparently satisfied that the shoeless madwoman was too busy risking hypothermia to eavesdrop. “Cultists in the ranks. They struck the medical unit around supper – poisons in the cookpot, and then black spells and knives. Nearly two dozen dead and another ten-odd out of commission. ”

“Fuck me,” hissed the northman, genuinely upset. More than thirty trained healers, on the eve of battle, was a blow to even an army as mighty as Fordragon’s. “Yeh’ve a raw deal, mate, an’ dinna mistake.” He cocked his head. “But Laird Bolvar kin hardly be wantin’ ta spread this word, ‘specially no’ ta the likes ay the Riders. Why’re yeh…” He paused, closed his eyes, and pressed the tips of two fingers to his temple. “Ah fuuuuck.”

Young Saul kept his voice carefully neutral. It sounded like he was reading from an official order, the ink of which was likely not yet dry. “I’ve been instructed to request, sir, that you send one of your medical personnel to the rear echelon of the main camp. I’m told that either non-combat or combat healers are acceptable.” He licked his lips. “We’re not picky right now, sir.”

Tarquin narrowed in on the admission of weakness. “Ayeh, no’ picky an’ no’ in much place fir ta be makin’ demands, eh?” he snarled, and drew himself up to his full height, summoning that trained presence that might make the courier forget he had thirty pounds, ten years, and the weight of Alliance high command on this slapdash mercenary captain. “Angrathar leerin’ o’er us like the blackest mornin’ the world’s ta see, an’ yeh propose ta take my people fra’ me?” He stepped forward, the two men seperated by the space of a jabbing, accusing finger. “Wir no’ Fordragon’s fodder, my lad. Wir the fuckin’ Riders.”

Innis stepped back, avoiding Tarquin’s eyes. “I’ve received special instructions in your regard, sir,” he reported hollowly, looking as if he’d rather be anywhere but here. “A message from Commander Galliwick.”

The breath literally hissed from Tarquin’s mouth, his teeth a vicious crescent in the grey. “Speak yir piece, then.” But Innis did not speak. Instead, he reached into the easily recognisable courier’s pouch at his hip, and drew forth the contents with fumbling fingers. Expecting a scroll tube or a folded parchment, Tarquin couldn’t identify the object that slipped from the young man’s hands and thumped softly on the snow. He waited until Innis bent down to pick it up, and when he took it in his hand, the rain of cold rage that burst on his mind was seeded with a new respect for their allies.

He let the “message” drop and pitched his voice low and easy, let the words speak for themselves. “Surely, Commander Galliwick widna be makin’ sich threats oan this eve. Surely his boss kens better’n thit. Especially wi’ sich casualties aready stainin’ the lists, he’d no’ be apt t’add anither. A terrible waste.” He glanced at the object on the ground, but his meaning was unmistakeable.

The courier swallowed and looked Tarquin ap Danwyrith full in the face. “I’ve been told, sir, that the night is young and you’re welcome to find out.”

What followed could not properly be called a silence, as it was occupied by the click-clack of Yva Darrows’s needle, the distant laughter and jeers of the Riders’ fire, and the further song and speech about fifty other such camps. But it had a weight nevertheless, and Tarquin waited until he was certain that Saul Innis had contemplated the possible abrupt end of his life before responding. “Yeh’ll have yir healer,” he said shortly. “Within the hour. Now piss off, an’ be sure ta give auld Fyodor my virra best regards.”

Innis nodded and somehow managed a salute. He reached down to pick up the Commander’s message, but Tarquin laid his hand on the soldier’s wrist. Innis jolted as if the older man were venomous. “Leave it, aye?” Improbably, the northman chuckled, and Saul quickstepped back and hastily started for his horse. “Yeh got a set ay balls oan yeh, Innis!” came the half-mocking voice after him. “Yeh live out the day, come an’ see me ’bout a job! Or talk ta Crownsilver!” Tarquin laughed again as the courier faded into the grey, his sardonic chuckle quickly taking on an angrier timbre and then fading altogether. He rubbed his temples with both hands and then turned toward the camp.

Behind him, a length of rope lay in the snow, carefully coiled and tied into a serviceable noose.

+++++

“Oi, Aely, yeh got a minute?” Tarquin’s voice held no hint of emotion, but she thought she might see steam coming out of his ears any moment. She looked up from her armor. “Aye, ‘Boss, wha’s th’ trouble?”

“Bad shite. Cultists took out the better part ay the Medical Unit down on the lines. I’ve been…requested ta send a replacement.” The humorless grin on his face neither invited nor left any questions as to the nature of the request. “Yeh’ve experience as a proper medic, ayeh? Battlefield’n all?”

“Aye. Sev’ral years, t’ be sure. ‘s wha’ I did back when we were fightin’ th’ Bloody Prince th’ first time. I need t’ pack up?”

“Likely fir the best.” He was chewing almonds again, she saw – his odd substitute for cigarettes. Come to think of it, he’d had a cigarette in hand nearly every minute she’d seen him since arriving in the ‘Blight. “Gods only kennit wha’ kind ay equipment they go’. Government shite.” He snorted dismissively and spat almond husk into the snow.

She picked up the piece of plate armor she’d been re-lining. “A’righ’ – I’ll report down there – prob’ly take an hour or so, bu’ I’ll be there well ‘fore nightfall. Owt t’ give me time t’ help ‘fore th’ push t’morrow. Y’ sure I’m t’ head out, an’ nae be here?” She looked at him curiously.

Tarquin looked at her for an inscrutable moment. “The wonderful thing ’bout war, Aely,” he said with blunt-force sarcasm, “is thit wir no’ sure ay sweet fuck all. But orders bein’ orders – ” it seemed to physically pain the man to say that ” – yeh’d best be oan yir merry.”

The paladin stood up, unfolding her limbs and taking a quick look at the small pile of belongings, armor, and supplies she’d brought up to the camp. “Fair enow, ‘Boss. Dinnae let ‘em f’rget I’m down there, ayeh? Leas’ I c’n bring my own damn horse.” She nodded at him, and walked towards the stables.

“Aely,” he called after her. When she turned, the wry smile and the lines of anger were gone. “Find us after,” he said simply, “Or we’ll find yeh. Trust it.”

+++++

Late evening before the main push, the air in the forward camps was thick with fog, fear, and the muffled sounds of make-ready. Half-frozen snowflakes flitted out of the dusky whiteness and sizzled on firewood, turning the tops of the tents to soggy slush, freezing and settling on her hair, setting off the copper waves with ethereal white flecks.

Aely sat outside one of the hospital tents, wrapped in a thick, oiled fur cloak, her hands deftly tearing strips of linen into bandages and rolling them – some thicker, some thinner, each set with as much Light as she could find in herself to give. Her mind wandered to the Riders camp, somewhere up in the mountains, and the hours ticked by. Men walked past, and horses – and somewhere a forge was running, late into the night.

She rolled the last of the bandages, stacking it neatly with the others, and stretched her legs out towards the struggling fire.

“Excuse me, miss, have you se…”

The voice trailed off, and she turned, looking up to meet the gaunt, deep set eyes of an Ebon Knight.

“Hae I seen which, nae? This’s Alliance groun’s mos’ly, if y’r lookin’ f’r Ebons, I cannae say rightly where t’ be lookin’.” She peered at him curiously, edges of memory flickering with some fragment of recognition.

He ran one hand across his eyes, face hollow and pained. “No I’m… I used to… Aely?”

Seconds passed.

One eyebrow arched up. “Ayeh, tha’s me. Sommat I can do f’r ye?”

His eyes settled on the fire next to her, obviously uncomfortable.

“I’d… I’d hoped you’d remember me, for who I was. Or that I was better at climbing trees than you. Bertrand Johansson, at least, I used to be.


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