Vol.3, Ch.5, P.4
All sins must answer, all treachery put to trial. Whether before a god, a judge… or a loved one. For such a reckoning had I well-steeled myself. Yet, that the day should dawn so soon…
The fates—ever fain to twist the stabbing dagger, to taunt the staggered soul. I felt then some watchful eye raising me some concealed question, demanding my due remorse.
Enough of the fates, of blaming the clouds… of looking away.
I’d chosen this path. And in so doing had chosen also strife against my own blood, my own family:
“…Those Nafílim,” my sister flatly began, “let them away where they must. They’ve business in the bastille, have they not?”
Bafflement flashed through my braves. Not that any blame could be theirs. A foe, yielding the way? At once they turned to me, racked by the riddle.
“Go,” I said to them. “She looks to have business of her own—with me.”
“…Aye,” answered a brave. “Rolf. Fair winds find you.”
Having swiftly judged the situation, they started straightway, passing my sister with due caution before disappearing into the bastille. Once certain of their safe passage, I returned my gaze to Felicia, finding hers long focused upon me.
“You’re sullied from head to heel, Brother,” she remarked. “Soot, is it?”
“No soldier goes unsullied. Such is war,” I said back. “But let’s cut to the quick—why are you come, Felicia?”
“…I was ‘the Lady Felicia’ to you, last we spoke.”
“You could be again, if you so wish. That much I owe you: a politeness for my newest opponent.”
“…hh!” Felicia half-gasped, as though stung by that last word. Then, with a strained regard: “…I was come… to enquire why you refused the recruitment call, Brother.”
“‘Recruitment’?” I echoed. “…Ah. That.”
A call to Londosius’ brighter minds for the post of Chief Adjutant of the 5th Chivalric Order. A call I myself had received, but left to collect dust upon the commandant’s desk—full-aware it was worded for me and my homecoming.
“Where was your answer?” my sister pressed. “Why were you not come?”
“Because my feet had found another path, Felicia. A way I now walk with resolve… after renouncing all reason for return.”
It’d arrived at a rather inopportune time, that call: a mere month before my quest into Nafílim country. The rekindled promise of knighthood, weighed against a promise made with Mia… The choice was clear. But absent the latter, still would silence have been my answer, for though I’d shared a road with Emilie and Felicia for many winters, mine now wended far away from theirs. Too, too far away.
“…What ‘path’?” Felicia asked, troubled. “You were banished, Brother. Retribution, not resolve, was what had flung you to this fringeland—a bane to any other eye, but a boon to yours alone…? Surely you cannot be so blind to your own folly?”
“My eyes see no folly.”
“But mine do!”
Her cry, concise, yet unclear. Though one thing was certain: sincerely was my sister trying to pour out her long-shut heart. An effort looking as painful as it was long overdue. Why, she’d braved a whole journey just for the opportunity. To not oblige her here would be remiss of me as her brother.
“What is ‘resolve’ to you, then, Felicia?” I began to debate. “Is it not the sparking of the soul afire? The braving of the dark when all light is lost? A self-given grace to any other soul, but a grief to yours alone?”
“What tears have you shed, to speak of my grief!?” she screamed back. “Emilie offered both hand and heart to you, that you should be helped from this hole! And yet…! Yet you brushed away that hand! You broke that very heart!”
Felicia, shivering with fury.
When was it, I wonder? When last she’d shown such ire? Perhaps never. In all the years of her youth, scant were her tantrums. And even then were they but the tiniest sort, not once breaking above quiet discontent. How it haunted me, then, to hear her fair voice moved to such misery.
Amidst that moment of reminiscence for little Felicia, I heard again that same voice, grown now, but low with languor.
“…Tell me, Brother. Was it truly you? Was it by your fault that Emilie’s steed was vanished?”
“I’d well-made my case at the hearing,” I answered. “Weren’t you listening?”
“An entire night in town! Yet too tipsied to remember aught!? Who could’ve lent ear to such a farce!?” she cried again, agonised. “A night… spent bedding with some… some brothel-maiden…!? Don’t tell me that was the truth of it!”
“An empty allegation, fed by the leaders,” I quickly cut back. “Don’t tell me you swallowed their slander?”
“I never wanted to! Never! But what else was left to me!? What!?” she screamed, her lungs now spent from lament. Overlapping her again was the ghost of her greener days: my toddling sister, tiny and in tearful tantrum.
“Felicia,” I said, as though to soothe her. “Circumstance was what’d stopped the truth at my lips. Silence and sophistry were all I had left. But let me ease you, nonetheless: it was not I who let that horse loose. And as to whether I’d produced coin for a corner-girl, well… no confessor would find the purchase worth chiding, I’d think. But as you insist, I’ll set it straight again: no such deed was ever mine.”
Her eyes then cast quietly down. Whether from comfort or some conflict within, I could not know.
“Believe me, or believe them—which way you walk is yours to decide,” I went on. “Reach that resolve by your own two feet, Felicia. I’ve walked beside you as far as any brother could—but no further. No longer.”
“…What’s this so asudden?” she uttered, slowly shaking her head. “Why play the dear brother now…? The stage is dark… the curtains long-closed…”
…That it was.
To yearn for the model brother; such is the right of any younger sister. Her prince and paragon, her guide and aegis, meek yet mighty, firm yet fair. Ousted from that stage though I was, I forsook the part for her protection… and in so doing left Felicia without a brother.
Thus could I not be who she wanted me to be. I could not answer my own sister’s simplest, most innocent and deserved desire.
“…Brother. I know not what tricks you’ve chanced against your trials thus far… but the battlefield ill-feigns the gentle judge. Not by deceit can you forever flee your sentence,” she warned at length, clenching tightly the silverstaff against her bosom. “And yet you would chance another trial here? Against me? A reverie of a victory is your lightest verdict, Brother, surely you see this…! As well as I can! So please… come with me, Brother? Come home… to where you ought be.”
Where I ought be.
Who I ought be.
What way I ought walk.
…Difficult, isn’t it, Felicia? Yet not few are those without direction, without selfhood, without a home to call their own. This, you ought know. Just as you ought know that no longer do I count myself amongst them.
I’ve found what I’ve long sought.
“Pay your penance… quit this chaos. Won’t you do this for me, Brother?” Felicia further pleaded. “Emilie yearns for your return, even now! Her sway is mighty, her wings welcoming! Shelter under them, and not even your present sins shall—”
I shook my head. “Felicia. I’m sorry.”
Indeed, I’ll not wend away from where I’m finally welcome. I’ll not baulk this battle of mine.
“…’Sorry’… you said?”
“That I did.”
A new hush.
Once more, Felicia’s gaze fell. Ruby eyes, brimming with beauty—hid now behind lengths of forlorn lashes.
“…Why?” she brokenly began again. “Why continue this tantrum? Why challenge the chariots of war, child as you are? Five winters, Brother, five. And still I find you stunted. Yet you’ve gall enough to… to twirl that twig of yours afore fearsome titans…! What shame…! Please, Brother… please… no more.”
Shame? Never have I shuddered at any shame I’ve shown. My days in the Order—days of being laid low, of being left beaten, bantered, and ablood—all of them I’d endured that I might crawl a mite closer to that tiny light at tunnel’s end.
But to stand aside, stayed and made an unwilling witness to her brother’s unbrookable labour—such was Felicia’s lot, her lament. Such was my only regret.
“Won’t you come with me, Brother?” she went on. “Forget this fool fight… Come home? And there find employ under House Valenius; live anew with duty, strive again with dignity… and… and then—”
“Felicia.” Once more, I shook my head. “It’s not to be.”
My sister, surpassing all pain in her bosom to beg my return. A struggle as clear as it was cutting. But I could not oblige.
I can’t go back, Felicia.
“‘Twas we who’d sent you here, ‘tis certain… but what choice had we!? What more of mercy could we have accorded you!? When so jealously did you hide from us the truth!?”
Brimming over with emotion, no longer could my sister confine her screams. No longer could she dam her tears.
“And still did we assay to send for you! Still we wanted you back home! That recruitment call—you ought’ve known full-well ‘twas for you and you alone! How we trusted to your answer…! How we yearned for your return…! Emilie and I both!!”
“…You would betray us, then? Us? Your beloved? Your bloodkin? Our differences, I’ll not deny, but… but are we so fraught? That you would fain forget aught and all you’ve once cherished? Who can find closure in such cruelty, Brother? Who…?”
Felicia’s voice was quivering.
An answer for her, then. From this failure of a brother to his long-forlorn sister: a raw, aching answer. Such she deserved, at the very least.
“‘Closure’? ‘Cruelty’?” I broke my silence. “Mere leisures and luxuries, Felicia. Comforts beside the bale and brutality of this reality. It cuts, it coldens, it confounds—all with a smile most serene, all… whilst innocents are pillaged and put to the sword.”
“I… I simply stand to strike it all down.”
“…What reality, Brother?” she beseeched. “Strike down what?”
“…hh!!” she gasped again, fully now, her countenance blanched of all colour, as though receiving at last the full brunt of her brother’s betrayal. “…You are set, then…?” she asked, almost breathless. “You would turn against Kin and Crown? Find fellowship with the Nafílim?”
“Kin of Man, kin of Nafílim—we’re souls all alike,” I returned. “And so I say this: it is because I am a soul that I must stand, fight, and forge on. For my conviction. For my creed.”
“Then you would strike down your own sister, as well? Dame of Londosius that she is?”
“If her fall should further peace… yes. I would.”
Hearing my answer, Felicia stood stunned and hushed. She turned down to the ground, staring at it strengthlessly, as though all meaning and purpose had expired asudden. A still span followed, filled only with the far din of the fray, till at last Felicia’s lips parted slowly again.
“…simple chore…” so rose a whisper of hers. “…’Tis a simple chore… to break your every limb and lug you back… Know you not my mettle, Brother…? How it stands a mountain over your own?”
“Felicia,” I answered, gripping tight the soot-steel. “Not even unlimbed will I yield. No deals will I cut, no quarter will I give. Such is my dignity—and the respect you deserve, as a fellow wager of war.”
“You foresee my fall, Brother!? By your blunted blade!?” she shouted, shooting her gaze at me anew. Her ruby-rose regard—no less lovely it was, even when veiled behind so many tears. “I’m a Dame Brigadier to the Order!! And you!? What’re you but Rolf Buckmann, the ungraced!?”
A blink. “…What…?”
“‘Rolf Buckmann’ is no longer,” I stated firmly. “Only ‘Rolf’ remains.”
Felicia grimaced. “…You would renounce our noble name? Our house? Then renounce it full, why not!? Forget, too, your birth name! Your first gift from Mother and Father!”
“The first of only few. But nay—I like it enough.”
A lull. And then…
“…Enough,” Felicia uttered lowly. “Enough of this.”
Drowning out now the drone of distant battle: a deluge of odyl. Streams over streams, swirls under swirls, bright odyl dancing like a storm, in whose eye stood an indignant Felicia. A veritable maelstrom of magick, matching the ire and energy of its mistress’ emotions. The air palpably pressed in from all directions. Skin tingled, senses blared; afore my sister—this celestine child of heaven-sent sorcery—seemed to bend and bow the whole of the world itself.
“Stand against ‘this reality’, you said? ‘Strike it all down’?” resounded Felicia above the bellowing odyl. “Then let me unfurl for you another fold to this ‘reality’. One that finds you frail, stricken of all strength to stand—your reality, Brother.”
All at once, the storm surged and scintillated. Felicia’s fair features glimmered, her sable-silk hair billowed, her blood-ruby eyes blazed. Mesmerised by the sight for but an instant, I readied forth the svǫrtaskan at once.
This was it. The fated fight. The vying of each our full-unveiled resolve.
“Know now your folly! Your shame!! And repent!!”
The Dame Brigadier to the Sorcerers of the 5th Chivalric Order: Felicia Buckmann.
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