Vol.4, Ch.2, P.7
The sun had set, and gone with it: Sig’s company. As the crickets were collecting for their nightly chorus, I sat myself down afore a spread of papers. Maps, muster rolls, and myriad manuscripts to scan through over and again. Omen and unease, burgeoning in my bosom as the battle loomed nearer—such were my days of late. And on their every night was I sure to be found as I was now: perusing plans and preparations till contentment or tiredness.
But of the papers, ever did one sheet earn my unfading doubt.
“Juholt… the Unyielding…”
Sir Matthias Juholt, Knight Mareschal to the 3rd Order, solemn and steadfast sword of Londosius. Fifteen years thus far has he spent on the battlefield, upon no day whereof has he ever stoked Central’s concern or discontent. Or so it was said of him. A fearsome foe he was, nevertheless, one fraying no few of my nerves.
“Right,” I sighed. “Time for a break.”
Feeling fatigued of thought, I reached for Emma’s flagon of meramjǫðr and poured myself a bowl. The bitter brine, ever a remedy for the mired mind; right before I could have a sip, however, a knock played upon the door.
Hm? Who at this hour? I wondered as I stood and went to greet my guest. The answer: she whom I’d met under moonlight and misery some nights before.
“…Edelfräulein,” I greeted, nigh-taken aback at the sight of Dita at the door, standing silent and brooding amidst the blushing twilight. “A surprise, this. Nay—come in. It’s cold out.”
“Never mind that,” she refused quietly, before thrusting forth what had been draped about her forearm. “For you.”
A raiment it was. To wit, an overcoat, coarse and tough, looking very much fit for the battlefield. Sunlessly swarth was its every seam, and of a quality looking a cut above most other gear I’ve crossed.
“…Me?” I said with wonder.
“Yes, you,” Dita answered. “That dead direbear needed use.”
“Direbear?” I echoed, glancing between suit and seeming seamstress in awe. “You’ve made this out of that beast, have you?”
Dita nodded demurely. Accepting her gift, I could but be dumbfounded by its very feel. Supple yet solid, such gear devised from direbear leather are both seldom and highly sought after, for few of the beasts are ever felled, and even fewer artisans have hands and eyes keen enough to dare their making. In fact, such outfits fetch prices more princely than silver armour, and not solely on account of their collectibility, no. Compared to like gear, direbear wares weigh a virtual feather, allowing for full range of motion whilst touting a toughness envied by all other leathers.
“What deft and design…” I noted breathlessly. “Truly a masterwork you’ve woven here, Edelfräulein.”
Indeed, Dita’s crafted coat was a clear standout. Its blackness was a remembrance of obsidian, marbled and deep. Perfection sparkled from its every nicety, nigh-oozing with obsession, even, as though in token of its maker’s haunted heart… As though every push of the needle were as a stab of a vengeful dagger.
…Nay. Such was exactly the case, I’m sure.
“Even now…” Dita murmured under the gloam, “…even now I cannot forgive. Not you. Not Men. Try as I might, Mother’s memory is too much a nightmare. Her body… hollowed full with holes… No matter my better wishes, the nightmare washes them all away.”
“It is a weariness… Hating, and hating… Lifeless it leaves me. And yet, on and on it burns. A flame howling forevermore, perhaps… till I am but ashes in the grave.”
“Nay, that shan’t be so,” I said. “It will be long, no doubt, but time is what you need, Edelfräulein. Time, that shall unshut that heart of yours and mend your mother’s memory. And till such time heals you full… you have yet your father, do you not? Your family, your friends. Loved ones all, who would fly to your side should ever you need their shoulder.”
“For my part, I know full well that no word of mine can mend your wound. But at the very least, it is my sword, my battle that ought bring peace to your mother’s spirit. In this, I trust. For her, I’ll fight.”
“…As you must,” Dita said vanishingly.
“As I will,” I assured her. “Be that as it may, you have all my thanks, Edelfräulein. I could not’ve asked for finer gear.”
Dita shook her head. “It is no present, but repayment. For… for saving my life. And only that.”
“So it is. But, I ought apologise first,” I said. “This coat… like as not, it’ll suffer many a wound itself in the battles to come. Cuts and cracks, tears and tatters—all to protect a reckless renegade such as I. Nevertheless, it’s a fast friend you’ve woven for me, Edelfräulein. Through thick and thin will it shield me, I reckon.”
“I care not,” the jarl daughter remarked without mirth. Despite herself, Dita then thrust forth her other hand, which had been held behind her throughout our conversation. “…Here. Another.”
“A scabbard, as well…” I whispered, yet again in wonder. “Thank you, Edelfräulein.”
The svǫrtaskan had no scabbard of its own, ever a relic revered full-bare as it was, and so have I got by with whatever was at hand. Glad was I, then, to have at last a bespoke sheath for the soot-steel. Bound, too, in direbear leather it was, and just as beautifully made.
“That is all,” Dita said asudden. “I must go.”
“I’ll walk you back,” I proposed.
“No. I wish it not,” she quickly declined. “This place has peace enough. The way is safe.”
With that, Dita turned and walked away, never looking back. There upon the doorway I remained a while, watching her lonely figure fading into the twilit townscape. And there did a whisper leave my lips.
“You can forgive, Dita… someday, somehow.”
Planting myself back down on the mats, I drew a long, frowning breath. Taking the bowl of mare’s milk, I stared deep into the pale, dithering potation. Amidst the play of white water and reflected wicker-light, I began delving deep into thought.
Much was had today. Signs and suspicions, epiphanies and fated fancies. The children who, yet to be stained by the woes and wiles of the world, would so willingly trust to a Man such as I; Dita who, though haunted by the new hatred in her heart, yet wishes to forgive… As my thoughts threaded between these two extremes, I knew anew this one truth: that Man and Nafílim could fight—together, hand-in-hand. That Sig and I were hardly alone in our will for change.
That somewhere out there in the cold countries of Man, there burned in secret no few candles of discontent, ready to join our fire.
The point of greatest import, then, was Man’s own fire: the burning desire to deal death and destruction upon the Nafílim. A fire fueled by what else but his long-loved milk of the poppy: the spirituality of Yoná. These two factors were inextricably linked. Of this, I was most certain. And what better proof for it than the nascent parliament of Arbel, formed as it was from personages of the secularity, who themselves professed to harbouring hitherto only a faint trust in the Yonaistic doctrine. Personages who, despite their new Nafílim leaders, governed well and peaceably the free city to this moment.
And as they, so as others. Others who, too, had long left the herd of Yoná, who nurtured no blind love for Londosius. With them must we forge fellowship, if find them we can, wheresoever they may be.
A war of absolutes, never to know its end till the errant extinction of one side or the other. So sees the eye of Londosius in this centuries-long battle. But ours saw different. The war we waged was one for freedom—from fear, from persecution, from the ravages of Unreason. Indeed, this was no war of the races. Thus should the ace cards of companionship and cooperation be ours to play.
“And for that, I must ply myself,” I reflected, “further than ever before.”
To brave the battles to come and show to the Nafílim folk that even a Man can be trusted. To cut through the cloak of Crown and Church and seek out allies in hiding, who would wince not at the notion of living and fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with the Nafílim.
Searching over such a horizon in my mind, I brought the bowl of meramjǫðr to lip. Only, yet again was I interrupted.
“Not a lonely night, this,” I groaned, as another knock rasped at the door. This visitor, however, was no familiar face. “You are… of the army?” I asked after opening the door.
“Indeed, Herr Rolf,” the brave confirmed before handing me a sealed envelope. “Far has this travelled—for you.”
I blinked. “For me?”
“Sent to Arbel’s council it was,” the brave explained. “The courier hailed from Tallien, or so was I told.”
Receiving the envelope, I then thanked the brave and returned inside. Unsealing it, my eyes caught first the name of the addresser… and widened with surprise.
The three women I’d first met in the mirk of the Albeck manor; captives they were, and confederates besides in my effort to expose the sins of both lord and son of House Albeck. An effort done to much fruition, in which course was shown to me bladesmanship of unforgettable beauty, and wielded by whom but one of the very captives.
Such memories, conjured by her simple name as writ upon the missive:
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