Vol.4, Ch.2, P.3
A while later did we quit the archives, emerging with a merry burden of books. That I was allowed to borrow what struck my fancy was most gladsome, for it ranged much: a manual on Nafílim armaments, writings on Vílungen culture, and biographies on the founders of the vindarþing.
“A rather eclectic selection,” Lise noted pokingly.
“Focused study makes a finer scholar, I know,” I conceded, “but for now, I think I’d rather cast as wide a net as I can.”
We chattered on whilst sipping tea and savouring morsels of little yams—a local dainty and a delight, namely, one boiled soft in a sweet broth. At a tea house we were; Lise had endured enough of my book-browsing, thus was this bit of belly-filling my token of gratitude.
Not unlike Arbel, Hensen, too, had at its centre a bounty of businesses. And as one would expect, it verily throbbed with activity. Taverns took up much of the sprawl of eateries here, but peppered throughout were quaint establishments specialising in tea and simple sweetmeats. No doubt a boon of the Vílungen love for tea.
For our part, Lise and I were sat vis-à-vis at a table, basking in the balmy sunshine by the shopfront.
“Aah,” sighed Lise. “A fine tea, this.”
“With an aroma just as fine,” I added, basking also in the sight of Lise sipping smilingly away from her cup. Indeed, that smile of hers hadn’t faded in the least throughout our outing together. Ever was she grave and gallant upon the battlefield, but here, amidst mirth and meal, she very much seemed the springtide maiden that she was.
“Mm? What matter?” Lise blinked at me. “You’re staring awful hard.”
“Ah…” I started, catching myself, “…nay. Lise, I need your counsel, if you can spare it.”
Lise cocked her head in wonder. “Counsel? From me?”
“From you,” I nodded. “You’ll not mind, I hope?”
“Not at all,” Lise accepted, watching as I sipped my own drink one more time and collected my thoughts. Then, whilst fixed upon the tea playing in my cup, I began at last.
“…The battle at the concentration camp. It was there where I… I crossed paths with one whom I know very well,” I revealed. “Namely… my own sister.”
Lise was silent.
“I’d steeled myself for it—for the day when we would shed the blood we share,” I said on, “or at least, I thought I had done…”
From there onward, I full-confided in Lise. Of the will I’d found to forsake my homeland; of my conviction to cross blades with former kin and comrade if need be, even should they yet remember any love for me… or I, them. That for as long as my beliefs bring me to the battlefield, I intend not to quiver and quail afore its fires, nor renege upon my resolve.
As my words coursed on, Lise stayed quiet with ears full-lent and a face sombre and sincere.
“But at the last, I couldn’t…” I said, pausing, “…I could not cut down my own sister… I could not fell Felicia.”
The fight flashed afore me once more. A fight that saw my blade gain upon Felicia’s flesh. There she showed her prowess with the Frīgidus Ensis magick, to counter me where all other sorcerers might’ve cowered. A surprise move it was, for sure, but in hindsight, my plight was not as pale as I’d thought then, however otherwise it might’ve seemed to another eye.
Yet the truth was that my charge had failed; the sword of soot had but skimmed across Felicia’s shoulder. By all accounts, it ought’ve hewn her right then and there. Why, then, had my hands faltered? Days of thought have given me a glimpse of an answer:
That perhaps my heart of hearts had refused to see to Felicia’s death.
That in truth, if even for a moment, it had rejected my very resolve.
…An unceasing slayer.
An incarnation of carnage.
A demon of massacre.
Such I wished not to become, no. But just the same, I wished not to betray these folk that’ve so welcomed me. That my sword had strayed when needed from its stroke was all straightness, then, was a deep mark of shame upon me.
“I fear… I’ve fallen,” I said, downcast, “unto a mere man of made-up promises. One who steels himself but for… for his own solace…”
It was then that a gentle jingle met my ears: Lise had leant forth and stretched out her hand. And there, she caressed the crown of my head.
“Er…” I murmured in wonder, “…what’s this?”
“A present,” the jarl daughter answered, “for opening your heart.” Lise then sat back down and brought cup to lip. All the while, her verdant eyes softly looked on as they accepted the maunderings of the man afore her. “A bottle at sea, sealing the strain within, suffering the storm without—such I’ve thought of you, Rolf.”
“…That rings truer than I’d like,” I confessed, scratching my head. “There’s little shame in leaning on another’s shoulder, I know. And yet…”
“And yet not easy does the cork come loose,” Lise finished for me. Faint and fair was the smile upon her face as she stared intently at me. Indeed, she seemed aglow as her locks goldly glimmered in the midlight. “Losing your way, or wavering upon it,” she continued, “’tis a matter of course, I think, not betrayal. Such is how the heart beats, after all, whether flowing through ‘tis the blood of Man or my kind. But if it serves any comfort, then this I want you to know, Rolf: I sense no wile in your will. Always is it earnest. Always is it noble.”
Lise—in her limitless compassion did she vouch for me, with a voice warm and soft as a hare’s pelt long-lain beside a fireplace.
“None of us would dare urge you fight friend or family, former or no,” she assured me. “But if ever the hour comes and your heart can’t bear it… know that my shoulder is yours to lean on.”
This girl so sat afore me… by two winters was she younger than I. And yet here I was, given duty to depend on her when my need is grown most dire. How long has it been, I wonder? When last I was given such a tall task?
Looking at her, I then saw her in a new light. From those very words of hers, Lise very well seemed to me more broadly, more profoundly perceptive than most others, peer or no.
“But another thing you must know,” she said.
“What is it?”
“That we are all thankful, Rolf. Forsaking Crown and Country to fight for us, lamenting our lot when no other Man would… Showing compassion beyond all expectation, even as nary a smile ever lives on your lips… That is you, Rolf. A Man whom we thank with all our hearts.”
“I wish I have better words for it, for this simple gratitude,” she said on, smiling. “Thank you, thank you so much—that is my truest thought. That, I want you to know.”
“Lise…” I uttered, awestruck, “…you’re very kind.” Then did I feel a new fire kindled in my core. Small, yet brave and bright, a flame that alone could well-fuel me through a great many battles.
“I’m most glad that you’ve shown me your heart,” Lise confessed. “You must trust me much. Or?”
“I do. Very much so,” I nodded. “I ought thank you, as well, Lise. The burden weighs less already.”
Lise laughed softly. “…I trust you in turn, Rolf,” she said. “Everyone does. Even my father.”
The Jarl Alban. If his own daughter attests to it, then so it must be. More and more I sensed it, that at last have I found a home for myself, a little corner in this world where I might sooner savour comfort than suffer scorn. True, such dissenters there were like Dita, but rather than lose myself to fruitless foreboding, I trusted instead to a future of acceptance between us all.
“Speaking of, you’ve made merry with him, haven’t you?” asked Lise. “All through the night, no less, when I was away on watch-duty.”
“That I did,” I answered. “He’s told me much. About you, even.”
“…What?” Lise’s eyes grew curiously cold. “W-what about me?”
“About little Lise, that is,” I recounted, “and how she oft passed water under watch of wind and sun. A habit most strange, I’ll be frank—”
I witnessed a volcano on this day. Living and livid, a volcano by the name of “Lise”.
Such fire was all my fault. Perhaps I had got in me some unfortunate talent for tactlessness or folly. Though in my defence, I truly had thought it safe to bring up a childhood story as an example. But a blunder it was, nonetheless, and I had a bloody nose to prove it.
“That filthy father of mine! I ought flay him alive!!”
Lise’s ear-scarring scream when she’d quit my company. Alban—for him, an obituary might soon be in order. Pray forgive this fool’s loose lips, O doomed Sire.
Live and learn, as they say, I reflected as I headed back home, books held in one hand, and red nose nursed in the other.
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(Language: Latin; original name: “Chilly Blade”) Ice-elemental battle magick. A close-range spell in the form of many blades manifested immediately about the incanter, each of which is then independently propelled towards a target at high speed. Evidently difficult to learn and master; as it has few use cases and consumes a large amount of odyl to employ, it sees little action on the battlefield.