Vol.2, Ch.1, P.5



A warm breath, blown from flustered cheeks, aglow as they were from many a sip of ale. The night breeze, cool and crisp, coursed against them to much welcome.

Emilie took in the pearl-dusk cityscape, having taken a moment from the tavern to sober up. It was quiet. The streets were asleep.

To be sure, Redelberne’s thoroughfares and promenades were no less packed even in the dead of night. But Emilie’s was a face too famous around those parts. So it was that the considerate Owlcranes had chosen instead an establishment well off the beaten path, that they might while away the moonlit hours in relative peace and privacy.

It was but a hole-in-the-wall, this tavern, humble and quaint, but it brimmed with both brightness of light and levity. Even outside, Emilie’s ears could faintly make out the merrymaking. She found the moment to be most romantic, in a way, to behold such liveliness from so tranquil a perch.


How delightful, this night.

Yes. Delightful, indeed.

To brush off a bothersome workday, and then with friends in tow, eat, drink, and mingle till the moon fancied a bit of slumber itself—it was nothing, if not delightful.

If not…

If only…

Emilie was quiet as she peered up into the everdistant sky.

A sky that arched on and on, well into the borderlands beyond.

She recalled then of the boy and girl she’d met earlier that day. How excited they were, with but a year till their own reckoning at the Roun of Orisons. They had asked her of her own experiences at the rites. She did not recall, was the simple sum of her answer.

A little lie, that was.

Emilie remembered. All too well.

Of how her heart swelled with anticipation. Of how thoroughly she thought that from then on, there awaited only days of hope and happiness. An era of innocent dreams for an innocent future.

Only, that future never came.

Leading up to the rites were bygone days blessed with bliss, each and every one. Yet the Roun of Orisons was a door that forsook it all. Emilie had crossed it, beguiled, and when it slammed shut, she found herself ever longing for all that was lost behind its lock.

And for that reason, the rites, to her, were not a welcome memory.

But they were a memory she well-remembered nonetheless. A memory she could never forget. Oh, if only she could.

“Emilie love.”

A voice rang through the thick marshes of her thoughts. Emilie turned, finding Raakel coming close. Upon her face, too, was a fluster from bingeing too many bitters.

“Raakel,” Emilie returned. “Come to sober up a little, too, I take it?”

“Can’t help it,” the warrior grinned. “That Sheila’s got a friggin’ well fer a stomach, whilst Gerd’s a fool fer tryin’ to keep up. I call’d it quits fer a bit, see.”

A quiet laugh. “…Of course.”

Silence suffused the nightscape. Against such enormity, the dames were as two blades of grass swaying contently against the starlit breeze. The air was delicious, and Raakel was happy to partake. After a lungful, she exhaled, and motioned her lips once more.



“Ye be thinkin’ ‘bout ol’ muscle-pate ‘gain, ey?”

“Oh, I… I have been, yes…”

There was little avail to be had in hiding it now. Emilie was well-aware: many a sigh had left her mouth of late, after all. Perhaps even her countenance was conspicuously clouded, a gloomy pall for all to wonder and worry over.

But they were not fools. To them, the source was clearer than uncoloured crystal.

“Bet ye both could’ve been a fine couple; the talk o’ the town, even,” Raakel admitted, “were he ord’nary like the rest o’ us, odyl an’ all, that is.”

To this, Emilie was silent. It was, by now, a world she had dreamt of far too many times to count. A world where Rolf was given his due.

From Yoná to him, a measure of odyl not more than a common man’s.

Nay. Even less would have sufficed. So long as it wasn’t naught at all. Were he blessed so, however meagerly, then maybe…

Just maybe…

How fruitless and fallow a fancy it was. But to Emilie, it was one she could not have gone long without humouring, if even to her own sorrow.

“Well, the fates won’t bless a man an’ woman both just ‘cause they be warm to each other, ye should know. Life be a mite more fickle than that, I’m ‘fraid.”

“…What do you mean?”

“I were warm to one meself, once upon a time,” Raakel confessed, faintly forlorn. “A man I thought was me destiny. Truly.”


“A dozen winters between us, it were. But I loved him. I really did. Couldn’t think o’ me future days without him bein’ in the same picture.”

That such soft words could ever issue from Raakel’s lips was a whelming wonder to Emilie. Certainly, the mareschal measured the Owlcrane warrior to be youthful and fair in her own way. But Raakel was a soul who sought—and found—purpose in battle, and nothing else. That was Emilie’s long-held estimation of her, though admittedly one shaded with shame for how shallow it was.

“He were a bastard son, y’see. A viscount’s, no less. There was naught at all what could’ve stop’d us from bein’ happy together… well, that’s what I thought, anyway,” Raakel recounted, uncharacteristically quiet. “His half-siblings—heirs, all o’ them—died, one after the other. So his pa suck’d it up and call’d him home. Made him heir an’ all that.”

“I… I see. And so… he was given a bride, then.”

“That he was, yea. Wedded to some dainty gentlelady. I weren’t a good pick. Not noble ‘nough, see.”

“And… what did he say?”

“Well, the whole deal was a bite to his arse, ‘course, but thass aristocracy fer ye. Couldn’t do aught ‘bout it, really.” Raakel blinked slowly at the stars. “We had one last moment together. Hug’d, an’ cry’d fer a long while… an’ that was that.”

The Owlcrane warrior—in her frailer years, tight in the arms of a man, her tears telling of the painful parting to come. Hardly a fanciable scene, certainly, but there was a look on Raakel’s countenance, one of softly distant eyes and a smile ready to fade at any moment. Seeing it, Emilie knew then that what her friend recounted was the bare and unblemished truth.

“Things—they hardly turn out. An’ that be the gist o’ it.”

“Oh, Raakel…”

“Yer the same, ain’t ye, love? The Lady Emilie Mernesse, Dame Mareschal to the 5th Chivalric Order. Ye’ve got yer family to protect, an’ knights to lead withal. All the trappings o’ a trap, chain’d to yer ankles both.”

Resigning from her vaunted post was a frequent thought in Emilie’s heart, but it was never to be. Not while she had yet to find a foothold for her family. Not while there was a betrothal to consummate. What’s more, her responsibilities as mareschal of late had ballooned along with Londosius’ whetted appetite for war. Thus the time to run away from it all had long since left; to even entertain the notion was vain.

These troubles and more were never spoken of to the Owlcranes. But deep down, they knew. After all, they were each, by now, roostmates too intimate with their mareschal to not notice.

“Life be a bunch o’ things we can’t do aught ‘bout, things what go the way we never thought they could. Innit?”

For King and Country.

For thine own Family and fellow Man.

Feudalism is the foundation of this society. To renounce one’s Duty is reckless. To defy the Ways is death. A most natural course, like the ebb and flow of the tides, the arc of the sun and moon, the comings and goings of the seasons. Such was the meaning in Raakel’s words.

But to air them so was not easy, for she was certainly not the sort to engage in intimate talk. Only with the help of many helpings of ale was Raakel able to work up the will to console Emilie. None of this was lost to the mareschal; upon realising it, she couldn’t help but smile.

“So… I guess you’ve had your own fair share of heartbreak, haven’t you?”

“No beatin’ ‘round the bush here, Emilie,” Raakel smiled back.

“Beat around what bush, now?”

“Can’t see me in a gorgeous gown, can ye? I were a prim an’ prissy princess once, ye know. Well, shy an’ shelter’d, more like.”

“…You’re right. I really can’t see you in a gown.”

Maul in hand, a whirlwind of a womanーRaakel the ruffian. As she was now, there was indeed nary a wisp of her princely past. A look at her and one would be forgiven for believing she was born with a battleaxe wrapped in her babe-fingers. Emilie certainly had, and doubtful she was alone in making the mistake.

“With baggage like that, I thought to put it all behind me. So, I cut me ties. Came to the Order,” Raakel went on. “Was all pain at first, to be frank, like I were punishin’ meself fer me past follies. I fought an’ fought, on an’ on.”

There are those who saw the world for what it was, and despaired at the sight. The sorry souls would oft consign themselves to life in a convent, cloistered from the goings-on beyond. But another path can be found, one that wends into the bowels of battlefields. Not few are they who chose it instead.

Yet never could Emilie have guessed that Raakel counted amongst them.

One can never truly know another, she thought.

“An’ thass how I forged me new motto. Strength be ev’rythin’. Fightin’ be ev’rythin’. Naught else matters.”

Raakel shook her head, as if to silence the echoes of a past she’d long since left behind. The two stood there for another while, deep in thought.

“Thass why…” Raakel began again, low, but firm, “…thass why I hate him, an’ all whimperin’ wimps like ‘im.”

Words of resolve. A resolve by the name of “wrath”. For Raakel was a woman who relinquished everything to seek but one thing: strength.

Emilie was a mareschal, unequalled in all of the 5th. But not only that, she well-fulfilled the duties of both her office and her societal obligations in tandem. Such was strength, Raakel concluded, and for that, Emilie was surely someone to be respected.

And then there was Rolf. The man ungraced, a weakling who chose to flee rather than fight. For him, Raakel knew naught but anger.

But weakness was not the only crime he committed.

Indeed, he was a cowardly cur most unwilling to confront even that selfsame weakness. Such a mien of sallowed meekness was the very thing that Raakel detested, and thus did Rolf earn her scalding scorn.

“Raakel… I… I never knew.”

Things none can do aught about. Things that turn out not as they ought to. These were Raakel’s own words. Defiance was cheap in a world so unforgiving; this, too, she understood well.

Even so—or, perhaps, it was precisely so that she sought strength on the battlefield, the one place unfettered from the shackles of society. To be strong was to be human. To fight was to be human. This was the compass of Raakel’s conscience, of a woman who saw battle to be life itself.

Rolf is weak.

Emilie is strong.

He who is feeble, who is not fain to face his own faults, is so to the sorrow of she who is mighty.


The weak weave sadness for the strong.

The ill irony could not find acceptance in Raakel’s heart.

“…We put us lives on the line, don’t we? To bring the world back to how it were, like the scriptures say,” Raakel began to reason. “Thass why I say strength be whole and holy, an’ weakness be naught but a vice, a sin. But look at ol’ mickle-berk. All that muscle an’ he can’t be arsed to stand up to his own weakness. That…”

An impalpable pang ran through the cold night air. Emilie shivered, sobering before the sombre of the moment.

“…Thass the sort o’ sin I won’t pardon—ever.”

A feeble fledgling who but flew the coop. That was Rolf, the fool fowl. To worry over him was worthless. Time was precious, to be spent elsewhere—anywhere, really, so long as it wasn’t on him.

That was the essence of Raakel’s message. As Emilie lent ear to it, she found herself frozen by its undressed animosity. In her own heart, there was anger over Rolf, of course. But it was but a candle before the conflagration that was the world’s own ire for the man ungraced.

Of it, Emilie was reminded anew, whilst behind her speechless person, the tiny tumult in the tiny tavern clamoured on quietly through the night.





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