Editor's note: I've had the privilege of beta reading and editing several parts of this story so far, and it is amazing. The White Knight is a very talented author, who's strength in story telling (especially world building) is incredible, and I love reading everything he writes. That being said, this story deals primarily with such themes as darkness and depravity, and if you haven't yet read any stories from the world of Ildathore, or are looking for a lighter read, I would suggest Icestorm or Beginnings.
Click here to read Part One.
The sun had long since gone down, and the seas crashed loudly against the seashore. The Twins had gone fishing again, abstaining from more than a cup of wine apiece. Although the fire burned bright enough for the rest of us, they too still had some light, as the moons were curved, and looked as deadly as the blades of knives. A human howl went up to the Man of the Mirror Shield and his Pale Lady.
Slam. Beaumont’s arm was crushed against a wine barrel for the fifth time that evening. He clutched at his wrist, his forearm was black and blue, cursing all the while. Brianna flexed her muscular arms for our cheers.
“Brianna! Brianna! Brianna!” We shouted our approval at the top of lungs, albeit slurring our words.
Emily fussed at Beaumont and grasped his arm, while handing him a flagon. “Let me see it.”
“It’s just my pride darrrling…” Beaumont’s tongue caught in his mouth whilst quaffing down thick red liquid, whilst more of it ended up on his black tunic. “Noooo worries. Let usss… have another go, fair Lady Brianna.”
“Beaumont if you try to take on Brianna one more time, she’s going to break your arm.” Laza’s arms were crossed over her chest. Her braids gleamed in the fire light, and her face glowed, both from the warmth and the drink. She swirled her drink.
“She’s right Beau,” Emily produced a few strips of linen and proceeded to wrap Beaumont’s arm.
“It was well fought,” Bran chirped. “You almost had her that once.”
“It was indeed close… that once,” Brianna winked at her disgruntled opponent.
“Don’t take it too badly pal,” I said, almost tipping backwards from laughing so hard.
“It was more than once,” Beaumont wiped his chin badly. “Why on that second bout, I—” Smithers abruptly snored, the drink having put him to sleep long ago. We burst out laughing, even Beaumont. I did fall backwards into the sands this time.
I pulled myself back up and ruffled the sand out of my hair, giggling like an infant. There were smiles on every face. Except for Laza. She swirled her flagon, and looked down at the wine sullenly. The fire was burning low.
“What does this change?” she asked. She raised the cup to her perfect lips and took a long drink.
“What does what change Laza?” I answered, trying to calm my amusement.
“Us,” Laza lowered the glass. “What will this change about us… When the war is over, and we all go home.”
Our faces fell. “Well,” I began, “we’ll go back to our village, and then we’ll…” I thought for a moment. What would we do? What would I do?
“Exactly,” Laza swilled her drink again. “My father’s lands will no doubt be claimed by my mother’s brother, and I’ll be left penniless, sold to an alehouse as likely as not for men to do with as they please. Beaumont’s master is dead, and he has no family back home. All those fearful peasant mothers will see him as some vagrant robber come to steal away the hearts of their daughters. They won’t care if you worked there once, or are looking to work there again honestly.”
“My heart’s been stolen, and I do work honestly. At least I war that way.” Beaumont took another drink, and stared into Laza’s eyes. One of his own twitched. “You’re drunk. That’s enough of this talk”
“You’re drunk,” Laza snapped back. Beaumont recoiled into Emily, almost pushing her over. “And who was your heart stolen by? The first homeless girl who batted her eyelashes at you and promised you a brief relief from your own slovenly loneliness! It suits you! A peasant girl for a peasant boy!”
“That’s enough Laza,” Brianna was glaring daggers at her. “I’ll not hear you talk of them that way.”
“Oh really? And how much better than them do you think you are Brianna? When your village was put to the sword, you cut your hair, stole a billhook, and marched off to war with nothing but the clothes on your back. So what, you killed an armored foe a horse, will that bring your family back?”
Brianna stood in a rage, and stepped towards the young priestess. Beaumont looked to stand as well. “How dare you?” Brianna thundered.
“How dare I? Easily,” Laza drank deeply again, not spilling a drop. “Your family was not buried, they were not prayed over or given rites, there were not given words to say to the gods at the Doors of the Dead and beyond. My prayers for them are all they have. Sit down Brianna, and take a drink.”
Brianna sat down fuming, and poured herself a full goblet of wine. She drank it in a single gulp. She dared not make a move against Laza. She was right. Amongst all of us, only she knew the right way to speak to the gods. We all needed her prayers. The flames crackled and burned, consuming the wood in flashes of light.
Laza began again. “Whilst Brianna acquitted herself bravely in battle, that does not matter to the old warlords and petty kings we serve, anymore than it would matter to the thirty crones of Se Sing Ba. If we took her home, she would come as a man’s wife or concubine, not as an honored member of our companionship.”
I sighed. Laza as always had the truth of it. When did she not? No one would accept a unknown warrior woman-brute as part of their community, and Lord Cairwell would grant her no fief as an unmarried woman. And what man amongst us could ever bring Brianna to heel, or would she ever submit to? No, that cause was hopeless. Even though my eyes were bleary, I could see that.
“The twins and Smithers are not any better off. The twins will need work for seven years to earn their fiefs from Lord Cairwell whilst indentured, if he allows them that at all. The farrier’s died, and Lord Cairwell will doubtless purchase a new one from Giza, or Bridgers. That new farrier will not honor nor care of Smither’s contract…”
“Not everything is broken back home Laza,” I finally spoke up. “And we can fix what is broken. Lord Cairwell’s fields lie empty, he will doubtless allow us to take fields to be worked…”
“Don’t be a foo,l Paul,” Laza’s eyes gleamed darkly at me from across the fire. “What is there to be fixed anyway? Why would we fix it? Lord Cairwell cares not for us. Why should we care for him? And who is there waiting for you? No one!”
She stood up, and a madness was in her face. “No one here has any family back home! My father is dead, my sisters and brothers dead! Brianna’s whole village put to the torch! Beaumont, an orphan boy! Derrick and Beric, orphaned! Smithers’ master, slain! You Emily, you say your whole family was killed, by reavers from Oslo no less! And you Paul, your own mother taken by the pox three summers past! Your cousins, Bran’s brothers all killed on the field before your eyes! Your livelihoods, your family, your future dashed out on the ground before us all! How can I, how can any of you, even think about having a normal life again?!”
She had gone on in a torrent of words, her arms pointing at each one of us, her fiery eyes glittered like beads. She had spoken so long and so loudly it was a wonder she had any breath left in her at all. Her chest heaved for air, and she seemed to calm. She sat back down on her log and took a long drink again. The waves crashed loudly on the shore. She stared into the flames, as if seeking shelter from something. “It would be better if the gods would strike us down now, so as we would not have to suffer here any longer.”
Bran was crying loudly. His eyes were red, and he brushed his nose again and again. Emily wept softly into Beaumont’s shoulder. Brianna too, had taken to staring into the flames, and she filled her cup again. Smithers still snored softly.
“Your drunk Laza,” Beaumont said at last. “You’ve had enough wine tonight.”
Laza snorted. “I have not yet drunk enough.” The sea roared against the seashores. She threw her goblet into the flames, and they rose high into the night, blazing against the sound of the sea. “Not just of wine, but of blood. The gods deserve their fill.” She looked up into the sky. “The blades of the Man of the Mirror Shield and our Pale Lady will be fully sharpened the day after tomorrow. Blood must be shed for them by then.”
“Blood is shed for them on the battlefields everyday, in the temples, and under every green tree wherever man and beast chooses to die. Why should we add to the blood?” I asked Laza.
She brushed her bangs away from her face. “There will bloodshed. Whether our blood or the blood of others, someone will die.”
“I wish that it wasn’t that way. I wish that the gods were not cruel,” I had long forgotten the drink in my hand, the laughs we had earlier in the night, I even forgot for a moment the time when the gods had first smiled upon with their ribbons of color. All I could think about was the dead, and the dying. And wanting to escape it.
I licked my lips slowly, thinking before I spoke. “We need not go back to the village. We could stay here.” I pointed at Laza. “You could be our priestess, speaking for us to the gods. We men will plow new fields, build new houses, and fish for food. Brianna could be our watchman against any outsiders. Emily could cook and sew. We have a well here, two mules, and every one of us is armed and mailed.”
I stood, in excitement, with thoughts of a new life in my heart, a life of work to be sure, but a peaceful one. A good life, with Laza as my bride. “We need not go back to the war. We need not go back to a village that remembers not our names, nor a Lord that will dishonor our service to him. We could build a life for ourselves!”
“If only it might be so,” Brianna said sadly.
“If only the gods were good,” Beaumont knocked back another gulp of wine.
“We need not decide now,” I said smiling. “We still have seven days to choose whether we should go back to the army and serve out our terms, or stay here, and never have to worry about the games of Lords and gods again. We could have peace, we could be happy.”
“Happy,” Emily said wistfully, her cheeks glistening with tears.
“Happy,” Bran echoed. His face was still puffy from crying, and he looked at me with something, could it be hope?
“You forget yourself Paul,” Laza said. “This war is holy. The gods have ordained it. The pretender Roger of the Seven Fingers is accursed. His mystic arts are unnatural, he teaches peasants with the lies of monotheism, he blinds great lords with promises of power, and he threatens to break our world. It is the will of the gods that we should face him.”
She looked at me then, almost as if she thought something of me as more than a friend. Her eyes stared into my soul. “We can never be happy, Paul. I’m sorry. The gods have made it man’s lot in life to suffer. And suffer we must. The gods are good, they grant us life, love, and freedom to serve their whims, but the never give us true happiness.” She smiled sadly at me. “If it were so, than there would be no suffering in the world, and all men would choose to be happy. But that is not the world or the choice that is given to us.”
A long silence hung over us. I sat back down, my dreams defeated. No one had anything more to say. What more could be said? Laza’s words were true. The war was holy, it was man’s lot in life to suffer.
Derrick and Beric came back into the firelight, with a brace of fish tied to a stick held between them.
“The sea is angry tonight,” Derrick began, and his calm face was a picture of fear.
“Nagodoroth stirs in his watery halls,” Beric continued, and he looked back at the ocean shuddering. “There is disquiet in the wind.”
Their feet shifted uncomfortably. Wyt does Nagodoroth stir tonight? There is no need for him to awaken from Antlatias, not tonight.
“I felt him stirring too,” Laza said nodding. “He has caused unrest here.” She leaned forward from her seat and grabbed a burning brand to serve as her torch. She stood and held her hand out for the largest fish the twins had returned with. She looked fierce, with a primal beauty in the firelight. “For the augury,” she told them.
They slipped the fish off, a big gleaming cod, and handed it to her. In the one hand she held the torch, and in the other the silvery fish. With the hand that held the fish she picked up Bran’s cup, who had fallen into a half slumber, with his eyes lidded over, barely open.
“I will go and pray to the gods, then I will retire. I will pray for the great Nagodoroth to continue his slumber, so that ruin may not come upon the world, and all men might die in fear. I will pray for the death of Roger the Accursed, that our war might end, and the heretics might be defeated. I wish you all a good night, blessings upon you all.” She strode towards the dugout, and passed through the bonfire. She stopped as she past Brianna. “I shall pray for your parents too Brianna.”
The burly warrior nodded her towhead. “Thank you priestess.”
Laza nodded and began again to walk away from the sound of the waves. I grabbed her arm as she went to slip past me. “Sleep well,” I said with a soft smile.
She smiled back. “I promise I will try.” And with that, she was gone.
I turned back to the fire. The Twins were gutting their fish, and Brianna and Beaumont had stood up to carry Smithers into a tent. I saw that I had the need to do the same for my cousin Bran. He was so small, and we looked so alike, that one might have mistaken us for siblings as I picked his tired frame up from out of the sand.
As I carried him into our tent, I heard Beaumont kiss Emily, and all wished each other a fair evening, and a good night’s sleep, with a special “I love you” from Beaumont to Emily and back again. As I wrapped Bran and I in the blankets, I could only desire to hear the same words from a different girl. I wrapped my arms around my cousin, and as the waves of the sea crashed outside on the shore against the crackling of the flames, I drifted off into dreams.
Written by The White Knight
Edited by The Flabbits
Copyright © 2018 by The Flabbit Room