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Post by Sir Karsimir on

No sooner had Aorle's head touched the padding of his makeshift pillow than he was being shook awake by Julen. Or so it seemed. At least that weakness and nausea was no longer. Finally he could see without constant effort to hold his eyes open.

Indeed, he felt better, more whole. As if an unknown thing had been missing and was now returned to him. Lifting his sheathed sword once more, he touched the pommel to his forehead and held it while gold radiance sank into his skull. So ended the pain of his wounds. Of course, he was still injured and vulnerable, only one long leap closer to recovery.

Standing under his own power, he once again sought a new meal. After that, he had matters to attend to. Among them was employing staff for the compound, a modest chore with definate purpose. Gathering civilians, Aorle began passing out remaining padding as emergency garb for refugees, gave boots to those who were shoeless, and advised Rollick to end the lessons. For the expedition, himself, Rollick & Julen were sound protection. Even if Aorle had skipped donning full armour, settling for a surcoat worn over his aketon given his hurt state.

An hour later, he had several new staff on the official payroll of House Anstrun, serving Aorle in the very compound, and garbed in virgin wools and dyed linen. Liveries mostly, with a preference towards blues and blacks, but decent garb for those who needed it most. Hard-wearing too, suited to serious tasks.

Of course, the opportunity was not wasted to provide Julen with livery. Presumably extra shoes and good clothing were welcome, but most significantly was a crested tabard of rich blue, with a white four-pointed starburst as the image, tailored to any preferences Julen would care to name.

Similar dress was given to Rollick. The tabard, strong wools and linens, comfortable and sensible outfits with subtle hints of military uniforms.

Finally, with some effort and vast assistance on Rollick's part, Aorle picked out two bright dresses as gifts for Uluki. One cornflower blue and one an elegant combination of green and yellow, with buttons... and replacement shoes. Rollick could not resist, nor could Aorle once knowing for that matter.

Previously, Aorle hammered out a budget with Rollick, drawing contributions from the stipends of staff into a pool which would provide regular supplies for everyone. Since it worked, and made sure his family would remain fed and sheltered, Rollick had no objections so far. Only then did Aorle mention his plans to appoint Rollick & Uluki as the leading staff. Adding numbers together, it was certainly fair pay to modestly provide for the family. Of course, Aorle was not done. Standing out was the phrase, "Know this. Regardless of any allowance for you and Uluki, supplies for everyone includes for you and your family. We have spoken of what is to be provided, you need only see to what else you deem fit from your own funds."

With that matter taken care of, the expedition returned to the compound, most giddy with the excitement of having such things as new footware and fresh clothes. Every refugee was thankful and taken aback by suddenly knowing where future meals were coming from, along with having money of their own which did not need to be spent on mere survival. Those who dared to hoped.

Upon their return, they were met by familiar warriors clad in more armour than before. This was good. Now the worst of the rifts in their defences were covered. Standards of protection needed to be met when leading men into battle.

"Julen, Merohl will help instruct in your archery. Rollick, my recovery is unfinished. The day, I leave to you."

Next meal he ate was more than mere bread. One of the warriors had stored food which he would gladly share with the leader. After all, this was man who had in the space of a day had personally supported the men through injuries, sheltered civilians in need, went alone into danger to retrieve his lost yeoman, and shared arms and armour won in battle. With matters in hand, and his meal finished, he drifted off into a grateful slumber.

When he woke, it was evening. Martha had taken the cooking aspect of her duties rather seriously, and as much as a gift as anything else, took care to ready a hot meal for Aorle. One of the page boys, the younger, Sean, was waking him to receive it. Feeling naked otherwise, Aorle donned at least his aketon and sword-belt, moving easier thanks to having tended his wounds. While he was unable to exert full force in his current state, simple motion was no longer an ordeal for him.

And dinner was now served.
My faith protects me, my kevlar helps.

Post by Julen on

Aorle’s odd gesture with the sword didn’t escape Julen. And since his friend now appeared to be feeling somewhat better, Julen took the opportunity to ask about it. Bit by bit, during the course of their expedition to outfit House Anstrun’s newest employees, the events surrounding Aorle’s search for Julen were gradually revealed. Of course, Aorle answered all of Julen’s questions in his usual matter-of-fact way. There was no attempt to embellish or paint himself as a hero. But some adventures didn’t require a colorful telling to be impressive. Julen’s eyes widened as he listened to Aorle describe his battle against the evil hag that lived in the ruins. Although Julen doubted he could have been much use against such a foe, he still regretted not being there to help Aorle fight it.

Most of the refugees made no attempt to eavesdrop on Julen’s conversation with Aorle, chatting amongst themselves instead. However, both Sean and Ian tagged along directly behind to the two men -- so closely that Sean actually bumped into Julen when Julen was forced to stop unexpectedly. Julen suspected the boys were doing their best to catch hold of every word being said, and he didn’t doubt that some interesting tales were going to be spread around the base. But maybe that was a good thing. Snyde might command a certain amount of power, but the refugees would know that the man who protected them had slain a demon. That was bound to instill a sense of security.

Only when Aorle spoke about the angel Amaranda did his voice lose its neutral tone. Awe and sadness infused his words as he evoked her grace, her beauty despite the bleeding wounds that marred her back, and the willing sacrifice given by the creatures which followed her. Hearing about it made Julen’s heart ache with a longing that defied expression. He knew the emotion was selfish, but he couldn’t help loathing Snyde just a bit more now. If not for the crime boss’s trap, he might have accompanied Aorle to the summoning, might have seen an angel. An angel! Surely that was the sort of encounter which touched a life only once.

Worse still, Snyde had also robbed Aorle of the opportunity to take his Oath. Julen felt deeply moved that Aorle had put his welfare above any personal plans -- not that, by this point, he would have expected his friend to act any differently -- but he hated the fact that his own carelessness and Snyde’s malice had made Aorle pay such a high price. Desperately, Julen wished there was something he could do to give Aorle another chance. But the only “angel” he’d ever summoned had been nothing more than music, light and dreams.

Other than receiving a replacement badge, Julen hadn’t expected to be included in the outfitting. So the gift of new clothing and extra shoes was a welcome surprise. At first, Julen felt a bit self-conscious wearing the tabard, its rich blue color at odds with the earth tones he usually favored. The garment seemed too ostentatious for a simple farmer. Not that Aorle intended him to wear it while he plowed. Shaking his head, Julen wondered if he’d ever be able to stop reminding himself that he was no longer just a simple farmer. Then, he noticed Rollick donning his own tabard, and the older warrior looked so good in it that Julen’s attitude shifted a bit. After all, Rosemary liked the color blue...

Julen was glad that the outfitting included some dresses and a new pair of shoes for Uluki, especially when he learned what had happened to Uluki’s original footwear. Again, Julen felt amazed that Uluki could care so deeply about people she’d just met, that she could make such sacrifices for them. Especially when she herself was barely better off than they were. And his amazement grew even stronger when Rollick told him about Uluki’s current mission to help the family of nomads. Rollick seemed quite calm about the whole thing, so presumably Uluki was experienced with such situations, but it still sounded quite risky to Julen. He hoped his new friend would be alright.

Naturally, watching Rollickhelp select dresses for his wife made Julen wish that he could bring a similar present back to Rosemary. But with the money they’d lost to Snyde, there just wasn’t enough left for such luxuries. Still, Julen made note of a set of buttons carved from bone and cleverly painted with delicate butterflies, resolving to return for them if budgeting permitted.

Arriving back at the base, Julen settled into archery practice with Merohl, who he found to be a skilled and patient instructor. Merohl kept him shooting arrows until dusk curled its smoky form around Marn, forcing the diggers inside due to the fading light. That seemed to be an unspoken signal for dinner time. After thanking Merohl, Julen walked around, making sure that neither warriors nor refugees lacked food. To his pleasure, he noted that everyone seemed quite willing to share -- Sigvard had even cornered Bethany, as well as her mother, in an effort to convince them to try some of his pickled fish. Satisfied that no one would go hungry, Julen invited Rollick, his two daughters, and Kaydee to share the hearty pea soup Rosemary had cooked with some of the supplies they’d brought from Shim. Thick slices of wheat bread, flavored by a modest amount of fresh butter, were also served. Still mindful of his promise to look after the girls if anything ever happened to their parents, Julen began trying to know them better. But he’d barely made any progress before a shout from outside disturbed their meal.

Curious, Julen crossed to the door, accompanied by Rollick and several of the other warriors. Poking his head outside, Julen saw a few men carrying torches, which cast their flickering light over a group of about twenty, including several on horseback. The shout had apparently come from one of their number who, because of the darkness, had stumbled into a freshly dug ditch. His comrades were currently helping him back out of it. Julen didn’t think that their outfits looked like armor typically worn by the Marn City Guard, but it was dark, and he wanted to make sure before things got out of control.

“State your intent!” Julen shouted at the group. Then, more quietly, he spoke to Rollick. “Get Aorle.”
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

Post by Sir Karsimir on

No answer. Instead, a handful of the soldiers assisted their comrade escape from the currently shallow ditch, while the others gathered to form a solid block of men facing towards the group. Crests revealed by the torchlight mounted helmets of the Empire, with armour glinting dully obscured by both crowd and shields.

So many shields was a dire sign, as was the economy of torches which kept hands free, and that the several horsemen remained mounted for their approach. All the soldiers were bunched together, creating a tight formation. These men were ready for battle.

Thankfully, so were the defenders. Few warriors were inclined to abandon their tools of war to remain unattended, so had brought out helm and spear and shield, making them ready for combat.

Finding Aorle was easy enough, as the shout had drawn him too. As loathe as he was to leave his meal unfinished, he suspected the shout to be either an innocent in need or the coming of danger. Neither could be left unattended, and it was clearly the latter.

"To arms, men. To arms!" declared Aorle, now recognising the oblong shapes to their shields, making solid guesses as to the identity of the strangers. "Krarug, hold. Everyone, cover the entrance to the base. Merohl, take an arrow slit on the left-hand side of the building, target their unshielded rights." If each attacker bore a shield in his left hand, the formation would be exposed on the right flank.

Many of the refugees, conditioned by fear, chose to remain inside and away from the screams in the night. Long practice. A few of the bolder ones, however, began to stray out from the shelter.

"Sean! Ian! Get upstairs and fetch me my armour. Leave it behind the crates. Bring the others with you. Keep them safe. Make sure everyone stays away from the windows." Far better than simply sending them inside, give them a way to contribute, and they might actually do as they were told.

"These bastards." growled Metellus, remembering how he had suffered at their hands. Now he was not alone, now he had allies. Now he could fight back. This battle would go different.

Arjen, with me.

That mental wish was all needed for the destrier, it trotted of it's own accord into the building, finding now obstruction from the large doorway. Once inside, Aorle began fitting the saddle. They had cavalry, and to remain inside as if besieged was a sacrifice in the battle.

While the march of the enemy moved slowly, Aorle doubted he would have time to don full armour before combat was joined, certainly not if he intended to fight from horseback. All he had was his aketon for now. An option would be to take defensive positions inside and bottleneck his enemies to buy time, but to do that would be to sacrifice the initiative.

Then he saw the division of the enemy unit. While the bulk marched forward as one, each step in unison, the cavalry hovered towards the wings of the ranks where they held the most flexibility and a collection of soldiers on foot stayed back.

"Archers." warned Aorle, pointing at the lingering group with drawn sword. "Julen, Rollick." the warlord addressed, "Take either bow or spear and give support where you see fit. Leave the heavy fighting to the most armoured." Knowing the peril brought by enemy archers and cavalry, the presence of shelter from the arrows or against flanking by cavalry was no longer a matter of choice. "Spearmen! Inside! Take position by the entrance, give ground as you need to and keep them engaged. Once ground is given Krarug and I will charge their flanks and shatter them. Hold them until my charge is ready." Once that was done, he pointed to Krarug and then to a corner, directing him into position. Arjen took the opposite end of the line of crates unprompted.

Still waiting for his armour, Aorle took his chance to address the men, who now formed a shield-line stood with the narrow entrance in spear-reach, intent on funneling the enemy through to both deny them the advantage of numbers and to limit their room to dodge the deadly thrusts of spears.

"Warriors! We have been brought a gift this day! Our first battle together, our first chance to stand at arms beside each other. We fight as friends, as allies, as comrades. We avenge the wrongs against our brethren. And we do so now."

"Remember this for when the battle is joined, and remember those we protect. Those who came here seeking our aid, those who have given us their trust. Warriors, we now make it known that their trust is well placed!"
My faith protects me, my kevlar helps.

Post by Julen on

Julen still didn’t know who they were about to fight, but the men advancing toward them clearly weren’t the city guard. And that meant no battlemage to deal with. Julen’s gratefulness for being spared from such a formidable opponent was tempered by his continuing curiosity about the identity of their foes. Such a direct, organized attack didn’t seem like Snyde’s style -- the crime boss would be more likely to try picking them off one by one. So these men must represent a new enemy. Julen shook his head. Who would have thought that trying to make the world a better place would piss off so many people?

All this passed through Julen’s mind in an instant. Then, Aorle arrived and began shouting orders. Julen knew he needed to focus on the upcoming conflict. But he couldn’t prevent his head from turning, couldn’t prevent his gaze from seeking out Rosemary. To his relief, he saw her on her feet, herding Dash, Zee, and Kaydee toward the stairs. Dash and Zee seemed willing enough to go. Kaydee, on the other hand, hesitated for a moment, her eyes seeking out Julen’s. She seemed poised to say something. However, before she got a chance, Rosemary grabbed her arm and yanked her forward. Urged along by Sean and Ian, they soon reached the safety of the second floor.

Freed from concern over his wife, Julen turned his attention back to the battle preparations. Since Sigvard, Thetta, Rollick, and Osaw had all taken up their spears, Julen decided to lend his support to Merohl. After grabbing his bow, Julen hastened to one of the other windows on the left-hand side of the building. Each window had been boarded up with logs, and then an opening about three times the width of a man’s fist had been cut in that barrier, allowing an archer to shoot through the small hole with minimum risk to himself. As Julen nocked his first arrow, he took aim at a man illuminated by the light from a nearby torchbearer. But, for the time being, he held his fire. No sense in provoking a charge before they were ready to deal with it.

Just inside the door, it only took a minute for the other warriors to form a shield-line capable of channeling all those who entered toward the waiting spearmen. The smoothness of their cooperation proved that Rollick’s training had been heeded. Meanwhile, Sean and Ian returned with Aorle’s armor, which they reverently set down behind the crates before returning to their family. Other than the slight clink of maille and the rustle of drawn weapons, the sound of the boy’s retreating footsteps was the only noise in the stillness. Julen felt like his senses were stretched as tightly as the string on his bow. He wanted the combat to begin, wanted the release of actually being able to act -- but he also feared it. Not so much for himself, since he was in a relatively safe position. But he feared some terrible harm befalling one of his new comrades.

Then, in that moment of mixed anticipation and doubt, Aorle spoke. Hearing him describe the upcoming battle as a “gift”, Julen resolved to avoid inviting his friend to any birthday parties. But overall, the speech solidified Julen’s determination, reminding him of why they all stood together. His allies understood the risks, just like he did. And, like him, they believed that those risks were worth taking. If sacrifices were made this night, they would be sacrifices made willingly, for a worthy cause.

Indeed, Aorle’s words made all the assembled warriors recall the things they fought for. Thetta thought of Uluki’s daughters, who she’d vowed to protect with her life. Rollick thought of his wife, off on her own errand of mercy, who would need a safe place to rest when she returned. Sigvard thought of all his splendid new friends, who he hadn’t yet had a chance to swap tales with or drink under the table. Krarug thought of the women and children cowering in the darkness upstairs. And Metellus thought of Triarius, who he would now be able to properly protect and avenge.

After Aorle finished speaking, another moment of silence held the world. Then, either because she judged it to be good strategy, or because she simply couldn’t stand delaying any longer, Thetta shouted at the approaching enemy. “Cowards! What are you waiting for? Why do you creep through the darkness, crawling on your bellies like toads and worms? You sought us out to fight. So come fight us!”

That was when all hell broke loose. Hearing a woman’s voice, the deserters assumed that their opponents must be badly outnumbered and desperate enough to involve civilians in their defense. Overconfident, the first group of Imperials charged inside, only to find themselves trapped between the shield-line and the pointy end of spears. Soon, most were too busy fighting for their lives to realize that the woman who’d mocked them was among the fiercest of the warriors they faced.

With the battle begun in earnest, Julen started firing arrows. Niether his hunts with his father, nor any of his recent practice sessions, had taught him to aim at moving targets. But few of his current foes seemed willing to oblige him by standing still. Quickly, Julen realized that taking the time to carefully aim at a specific spot was not proving to be a winning strategy. Better to shoot more, faster, especially when the darkness made sighting difficult anyway. Falling into an almost trancelike rhythm, Julen nocked each arrow, fired it at an enemy, and moved on to the next arrow without pausing to see if his last shot struck home. Curses and cries of pain among the men gathered outside told him all he needed to know about the effect he and Merohl were having.
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

Post by Sir Karsimir on

Battle commenced.

And was very one-sided. Within the confines of the entrance, only four men with shields could fit, while seven spears could strike against them, and each spear was worth two swords in a shield-line. Add that to the sword of Metellus and the axe of Darir, and the first rank to press forwards was effectively outnumbered five-to-one, too cramped to dodge effectively from the first thrusts.

Lasting as long as one might think.

Corpses fell from the first charge, second ranks stumbling over their dead or crashing into the backs of bodies held upright by spears piercing their bodies. As the wall of dead flesh hindered the charge the Imperial deserters made fine targets for more striking spears.

Advance buckling with the impact of spearhead on shield and body, seven were dead when the shield walls met. Each side was forced to strike over tightly packed corpses, a task which favoured the length of spears over close-range gladi swords. Rear ranks pushed against those corpses in front still held upright by the tight press of formations trying to drive each other back, using the cover to work their way beyond the doorway, lengthening their line and making better use of their numbers.

Loosed arrows struck the ranks still outside. Launched at close-range these arrows could breach the maille and land between an inch and two deep in flesh. Enough to wound but not kill, too shallow to reach a vital organ, instead plunging into the muscles of the side. Muscles needed to use a sword to fend off those blows which struck past the shield. Two with arrow wounds fell to blows aimed at their weakened side, a third turned his shield to cover that side, leaving an opening for another to strike.

One was struck by an arrow to the leg, and slowed down, remained a target for more arrows. By now, all the infantry were far enough into the entrance to be sheltered from further arrows. Enemy archers still hung back, uncertain, and the cavalry were moving too much to offer a reliable shot through one arrow slit.

They were getting in.

By this point, Aorle had strapped on his scale, buckling it on his body and around the arms and legs. It was difficult to stand back from the battle donning armour, but he knew he would be more use this way. No sense in fighting with light armour and heavy wounds. Greaves and vambraces would be next, although he accepted the possibility that he may not have time to finish.

Then a crash was heard on one of the arrow slits on the opposite side of the building. Then another, as the logs reinforcing the window started to crack.

All the while, both Arjen and Krarug stamped with agitation, tense with the thought of staying back while comrades were fighting.
My faith protects me, my kevlar helps.

Post by Julen on

When the last infantryman moved beyond the range of his arrows, Julen hesitated, unsure what to do next. He could start targeting the enemy archers, but they weren’t posing much of an immediate threat. Perhaps it would be better to switch weapons and aid his comrades on the inside? Hoping to take his cue from Merohl, Julen glanced back toward the entrance of the base, where the more experienced warrior had chosen a window. And saw Merohl locked in combat with one of the infantrymen who had managed to force his way past the shield-line. Merohl moved nimbly, dodging his opponent’s blows while stabbing with his own sword, but the infantryman had the advantage of a shield and was slowly pushing Merohl back. Without further thought, Julen snatched up his spear and ran to the aid of his ally.

Halting a little less than a spear-length behind Merohl, Julen jabbed at the infantryman, keeping his blows high. As he’d hoped, the infantryman raised his shield to block the spear thrusts. And that left his unarmored legs vulnerable -- an opening which Merohl quickly exploited by stabbing the man in his thigh.

At that instant, drowning out the infantryman’s shout of pain, a crash sounded behind Julen. Reflexively, Julen spun toward the sound. The wooden barrier on the window nearest him splintered as something struck it from outside. Seconds later, several logs broke loose, allowing Julen to catch a fleeting glimpse of horse hooves. The cavalry. The cavalry were using their horses to kick in the windows. Judging that Merohl could finish off his injured opponent without further help, Julen darted over to deal with the new threat.

With his back against the wall and his sword held ready, Julen waited beside the window. Waited while another kick knocked away the rest of the logs. Julen knew that climbing in an open window is an awkward act, which tends to leave a person temporarily vulnerable. Especially when they aren’t expecting anyone to be lurking on the other side. As soon as Julen saw his opponent’s hands grip the ledge, he swung his blade down against them, severing flesh and bone, and sending several fingers to join the broken logs scattered across the floor. Stunned, the cavalryman stumbled backward, fumbling uselessly for his weapon. Watching him, Julen felt the rise of a terrible rage. For a moment, the man seemed to transform, becoming something other than an anonymous enemy. For a moment, he was one of Snyde’s goons. And Julen wanted nothing more than to climb outside, knock the man to the ground, and strike him over and over again, as Snyde’s goons had done to him.

But the whistle of an arrow shooting past Julen brought him back to his senses. Now the enemy archers were presenting a more immediate threat. Unfortunately, it was too late to do much about it. Standing in the open window to return their fire would be akin to painting a large target on his chest. Maybe if he could get to one of the arrow slits that hadn’t been broken, he might have a chance. First, however, there was a new enemy to be dealt with. Another of the cavalrymen had gotten in through a different window. Drawing a ragged breath, Julen tightened his grip on his sword. Behind him, he could hear the cacophony of battle, and Thetta’s insults rising above it all.

“Is this the best you can do? You might as well be armed with rattles and pacifiers! Where I come from, the babes in their cradles have more skill!”
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

Post by Sir Karsimir on

Fast-chosen tactics had predicted greater difficulty. Instead, Aorle found himself struggling to keep up with his success. Many enemies were dead or dying, and rest would soon see who was favoured by the tide of battle. Planning for a defence hindered him in cutting off a retreat.

Escaping foes would pose a future threat to the refugees. Another. One of many. This could not be allowed.

Slight ground had been given, since deep ranks packed thick had pushed against a thin shield-line. Still, not much considering the speed of the kills. What he needed was to slay as many foes as possible before the rout could begin. Changing plan, cunning Aorle recognised the time to strike.


"Krarug! Attack!" Two words which would earn rightful dread. Lumbering forth was the Weapon of Flesh, the warspawned behemoth who had many a time smashed his way through guarding walls, the Maker of Rubble. Restlessly waiting apart from the bloodshed, vicious irony was that he had gone unnoticed by the enemy. Until now.

Two great bounding steps shook the earth, boded doom, slow vibrations as the heralds of destruction. Every cataclysmic promise came true when Krarug struck. First was a huge mace adorned with a cheerful selection of heavy spikes, reaching above the tight cluster of infantry to descend like the impact of a comet. Broken corpses were flung aside by the crashing force like rag dolls. Both the living and the dead were scattered, yet it was hardly clear afterwards who had lived until that terrible collision.

Such a vast mace would be wielded in both hands by anyone of normal size, but Krarug had fists which could engulf the torso of a full grown man. Like so.

Clamping tight, no breath remained to scream for the infantryman siezed high into the air before his brains were dashed out on the lintel above the entrance and the limp form discarded in the doorway.

Unfinished, sheer bulk overwhelmed those in the great orc's path. None could withstand the massive weight clashing against them, so were sent sprawling to the ground. Living forms were trampled beneath immense feet which carried a grand weight. One foot landed on a man's neck. That man was no more. Another foot landed on a chest, the owner coughed up blood.

Rushing out through the doorway, Krarug left no foe standing behind him. Even those who survived were now prone before a shield wall. Metellus showed no mercy. Nor Numidar. Nor Thetta. Spears struck flesh again and again.

Meanwhile, the righteous cavalier had prepared his vambraces. He heard and saw the reinforcement of the window crack, but his vambraces were not buckled in place and would restrict him in battle if left to hang loose on his arms. Instead, he finished enclosing them while the cavalryman entered, and met him inside with drawn blade.

This one was once a cataphract, clad in iron, reinforced by a steel cuirass of thick plate. Skillfully fitted was a helm which displayed the cast image of a human face. This one copied the style of the infantry and punched out with the shield before launching a thrust towards the chest. Never one to cooperate with an attacker, Aorle bunched his shoulder and rammed the outside-edge of the shield, obstructing the cataphract's blows with that same shield. From there, he moved to a grapple, clutching the man's shield arm while hooking a foot through the legs of his foe to stamp down heavily on the back of his knee while heaving forth to send the armoured foe tumbling to the ground.

Striking with his sword from another angle, Aorle forced the cataphract to counter by stretching his shield across his body, enabling the chevalier to stamp down on the back of the shield and keep it pinned while his sword plunged into the neck between helm and breastplate.

Rollick, unwounded and far more skilled, took less time to fell his opponent. Making contact with a backhand slash to provoke a reflexive parry, Rollick pushed with his own shield so that their shields were pressed against each other, with the blade of his enemy trapped between. Hammering the pommel of his sword into the cataphract's helm dazed him while the older man stabbed up under the chin to pierce the throat.

"Steady!" instructed Aorle, hoping to reclaim the initiative in a decisive fashion and planning to make the most of his troops to do so. Having discovered the position of the archers, he had a plan.

"Merohl. Take Numidar, Gaelm, Sigvard & Thetta. Exit through that window." Pointing towards one which had been breached by the cavalry, opposite side of the building to the archers. "Move to flank their archers and strike with surprise. Julen, take post in an arrow loop. Arjen, meet me outside."

The horse used the main doorway, littered with corpses, Aorle crept through the window so none would see him leave with the horse. Mounting out of sight, and without a torch to illuminate him, he would be hard to tell from the cataphracts. Indeed, he took the cuirass as well.

The trap was set.
My faith protects me, my kevlar helps.

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

((NPC Post))

With the battle now moved outside, Rollick took a moment to wipe the blood from his sword blade. It wasn’t an action he really thought about, more a conditioned response to a lull in battle, however brief it might prove to be. He would clean the weapon more thoroughly later, but for now he gave it the habitual swipe with a cloth, his attention primarily focused elsewhere.

If he’d a had a bow, he would have joined Julen at the arrow slits, but he didn’t, so he stood watch nearby, his sword still drawn, in case Aorle’s plan failed and their remaining enemies attempted another entrance through the windows. Rollick had full confidence in Aorle’s abilities. It was the concept of plans at all he put less faith in. Too many times the unexpected and unforeseen happened, and a battle left a lot of chances for those freak occurrences. Rollick would not let down his guard until all their attackers were defeated. He continued to maintain his surveillance, though he was careful not to make himself a target through the open windows, staying out of the line of sight.

Rollick was very used to battle. Ever since his youth, he had seen scenes like this. As a warrior, he was calm and methodical, almost businesslike. It was rare for him to show anger on the battlefield. This was his job, and he did it as efficiently as possible. Protecting the innocent from those who would harm them required he fight, but he did not do so out of malice or bloodlust. He did it because it was right, and necessary, and he did it with an untroubled heart and steady hands.

He had to admit to himself, however, that this particular battle had bothered him deeply. Not the killing; that had been necessary. Their enemies had attacked without provocation, and Rollick felt no guilt about defending their home. Their home… that was why he was unsettled. These people had come into their home, the place where his children slept. They had come into the building, and that had scared him. Not the battle, with the danger of death it always carried; regardless of skill and experience, it sometimes only took one false move, and Rollick accepted that. He had always accepted it. What he found harder to accept was the danger to his family. Their enemies had come inside…

There had been no way to prevent that, he reminded himself. His family was safer here in the fort than they would be anywhere else. It wasn’t a logical fear, and Rollick knew it. It was a visceral one, one that played on his deepest emotions. Still, he found it hard to shake. The things they might have done to his dear children… Rollick tried to force himself not to think about it, but the images rose in his mind unbidden. His heart beat rapidly, though his face betrayed no change in emotion. Their enemies had come inside… and that thought deeply upset him.

But before long, his comrades had returned, victorious, which lifted his spirits. The children were safe. He hoped wherever Uluki was, she was safe too, but he had full confidence in her ability to handle anything life threw at her. Uluki was strong. The defeat of their enemy reassured Rollick that everything would be alright. The people he loved would be safe. He would do everything possible to ensure that was always true. His trust in his new friends and comrades had greatly increased. They had fought bravely and skilfully, and their devotion had impressed him more than he could say. His family was lucky to have such friends.

Rollick would assist in looting the gear from the bodies, disposing of the remains, and generally cleaning up the mess. Even with the battle finished, the work wasn’t done. He had something he needed to do first, though, now that the fighting was over and the remaining labours were not so immediately urgent.

He quietly went upstairs toward his family’s room— but didn’t even make it all the way there before he saw her. She was pacing the hall outside their door, twisting her hands nervously. “Dash, it’s all over,” he said gently, and she ran to him and threw her arms around him.

“I was worried,” she said. Rollick had expected that. Dash always worried. That’s why he’d come to find her, to reassure her, as well as to make sure everyone was safe. “I made the others go to sleep," she told him. "But I couldn’t.”

“Everything is alright, sweetheart. All our friends are fine. I’m fine. None of us even got hurt. The battle is over. You can sleep now; there’s nothing more to worry about.”

This seemed to reassure Dash greatly. Her father didn’t lie. If he said it was over, then it was. “I love you, Papa. I’m glad you’re safe.” Her arms around him were surprisingly strong.

“I love you too, Dashie. Go back to Zee and Martin, and try to get some rest. I have more work to do, but there’s nothing to worry about. Everything is alright now.”

Post by Sir Karsimir on

Victory achieved, Aorle began a few sweeps with his unit to secure the area and was back soon enough. Among his errands in the blood-soaked night was to find the horses used by the cavalry. Presenting himself as no threat, he approached each horse and removed saddle and barding. Normally horses feared those covered in metal and blood, but these were accustomed to the battlefield.

Thankfully, cavalry horses were trained for calmness rather than aggressiveness, sparing Aorle from the potential danger of a vengeful and outraged warhorse. Mirthlessly, he smiled at the grim notion of a victorious foe seeking to handle Arjen. Eventually he was able to unsaddle and unbard the horses, for a moment he considered any duty he might have to these beasts. Soon he concluded they could forage. They were horses, they could live on brush and grass and the low vegetation.

Returning, he found his men-at-arms busy claiming valuables from the vanquished, before clearing the bodies away. Spoils of combat. Thankfully, Aorle was thinking beyond that. "Gather the clothes and shoes for the refugees as well." Mostly the bodies were moved by Krarug, who replaced hauling corpses with grabbing two at a time and casually transporting them away from the compound.

Arms and armour were gathered up and kept into a rather significant stockpile. These would have to find a purpose, in the morning ideally. Now, however, he wanted to address the men. "A good battle." he began, "We all fought well. We all fought together. We all stand victorious." Unity was a valuable trait in a warband, and now was a fine opportunity to reinforce it. "Remember this victory. Remember now there is one less peril for these people in here. Remember we avenge a wrong. Remember how we stand together."

Speech over, he left instructions. "Krarug, move the crates to block the broken windows, and to enclose the doorway. Use a water barrel to wash the blood out. When meals are finished, I want six of you to rest. We will have watches, and best you remain fresh."

Heading upstairs, Aorle checked on the refugees. Including Rollick's family. All was well. Addressing the older man, Aorle stated, "Everything appears in order. Many of the men are getting early rests so they are fit for watches later. Your family will be safe."

With that reassurance, he troubled them no longer. After his meal, he took his own rest, which was definately needed. His current state would be unfit to join the watch.
My faith protects me, my kevlar helps.

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

“Thank you,” Rollick said quietly to Aorle in response to the reassurance about his family’s safety. He wondered if his worry had showed, or if the younger man had simply guessed correctly what a father would be concerned about during such a battle. Either way, he was glad to hear it.

Rejoining the others, Rollick offered repeatedly to take a watch, but was told each time that it wasn’t necessary. Finally, Merohl said bluntly what they had apparently decided between them. “We have plenty of men for watches. Go spend time with your family. We’ll come get you if anything else happens.” Rollick accepted the suggestion gratefully. He could trust the warriors, and it would feel good to have the children near him tonight.

He felt much better seeing their faces. Zee and Martin looked so peaceful. The baby held two of his sleeping sister’s fingers in his small hand. Rollick smiled at the sight. Kaydee still shared their room, and she was curled up tightly, as though protecting herself from the world. Dash was not resting easily. She tossed and turned, her mouth forming silent words. Rollick brushed his daughter’s hair out of her face, then laid a calming hand on her shoulder; she relaxed.

Rollick himself did not find it so easy to settle down. The tension of the last few hours had affected him more than he had realized, and it was strange without Uluki. Even in sleep, she would snuggle against him. He missed the warmth of her beside him, the comfort of her presence. Rollick drifted off to sleep, but he slept restlessly, never completely able to move past his awareness that she was absent.

He awoke early. All four of the others were still sleeping, and he got up and left the room so as not to disturb their rest with his own inability to relax. He went downstairs and spoke to the man on watch, and was relieved to hear that there had been no other disturbances during the night.

As they talked, three figures approached on horseback. After a moment of cautious watching, they could see it was Uluki and the couple she had left with. Rollick couldn’t tell what condition Uluki was in, but she was alive, and well enough to ride her own horse. That was good news. He hastened to meet them.

By the time Rollick joined them, Nasima was holding the reins of all three horses and Zamat was taking the two good-sized sacks of food into the building. Uluki’s smile widened when she saw her husband. She introduced him to Nasima, and to Zamat when he returned. The couple then departed, with pleasant goodbyes exchanged all around, and promises to meet again under happier circumstances. Uluki was glad to have made two more friends.

Once they had left, Uluki threw her arms around Rollick. He wrapped her in his embrace. “You’re cold, dear one. Your skin feels like ice,” he said with concern, holding her close to warm her with the heat of his own body. He knew what it meant, that she’d used a lot of magic. “What happened? Are you hurt?” His eyes lingered on the rips in the fabric of her dress and her missing left sleeve. Of course, it would be the left one she had lost, she thought with some dismay, the one that ordinarily covered the rapier scars. Now everyone would be able to see them.

“I’m alright,” she reassured him as they walked arm-in-arm into the building. Inside, Rollick hugged her again, and she snuggled close to him as she gave him a synopsis of her night. His arms tightened around her with concern when she mentioned getting hurt, but otherwise he listened without interruption. When she was finished, he filled her in on the battle that had happened the night before, reassuring her that everyone was safe. She was particularly glad to hear that her children were entirely unharmed, and were sleeping peacefully upstairs. She looked forward to seeing them when they awoke, but wouldn’t disturb their rest.

“There are new clothes, dear one. Two dresses for you, and shoes. Aorle got clothes for all the people he intends to employ. I left your things up in the room.” Uluki smiled, pleased that she had replacements for the dress that had been slashed to ribbons and the shoes traded in the shanty town.

It felt good to be with Rollick again. He was such a wonderful husband, she thought, looking up at him. She traced her fingers down the line of his jaw, and he kissed her hand when she reached his mouth. “I’m glad you’re back, my love,” he told her. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too. Keep holding me for a little while, alright? I’m still cold.”

Post by Sir Karsimir on

Even at this early hour, things were busy in the unfinished compound. Several of the refugees were expanding shallow trenches in front of steep slopes made of piled earth to form a crude wall or fence of sorts, enough to keep out casual passers by and force a truly determined effort by one seeking to surmount it. Martha was tending to the cooking, assisted by her children who served out the meals to the warriors, who were focused on breakfast and deciding their hopes and dreams for the spoils of the last conflict.

Much of the labour, however, revolved around the new clothing taken from fallen foes. Servicable clothing, of use to the refugees, they were still garments people had died in. Messily. They needed washing.

Sleeping so early in an effort to recover from the previous night had caused Aorle to wake before the last watch was over. So he had washed and dressed and eaten in preparation for the coming dawn, his favourite time in which to pray. As light came to the world he felt new warmth and hope and wonder come with it. That moment when the light first began held special meaning for him.

Prayer normally took place in full armour, as part of the routine. Care was taken to be presentable during his devotions, as he stood before Heaven at this time, and even though it was his deeds and soul laid bare the simple act of preparing himself set him at ease.

Heading downstairs, Aorle planned to have all in order before assigning treasures. What he found this time was Rollick, with Uluki in his arms. Part of him leapt forth at the sight of her dishevelled and bloodstained state, but he also had no wish to interrupt the reunion between husband and wife.

Until he was waved over.

Speaking from the heart, he exclaimed, "Uluki, what the hell happened to you?" Without thinking, he embraced her with one arm, the other arm including Rollick. Realising the potential awkwardness, he pulled back so as not to interfere with the couple. Still, he could feel the chill in Uluki straight away.

"Martha." he called out, preferring to act rather than announce. "If you have anything hot prepared we need it for Uluki."

"And your warriors? Lord?"

Rather than dispute being called lord, Aorle focused on what was more important. "Can wait several minutes for your next batch." Then he saw one of the refugees, an ex-streetwalker, who was washing clothes. "Lady?" he asked with a touch of sharpness which helped him gain attention. "If we have a dry cloak bring it now. Thank you."

Touched by worry, Aorle reached for the scarred arm of Uluki left exposed by the torn sleeve. No comment was made, but those scars were clearly from battle, and the notion of anyone willingly bringing harm to Uluki was shocking to him. Remembering himself, he asked the important question. "What will you need?"
My faith protects me, my kevlar helps.

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

“I’m alright,” Uluki said quietly. “Really, I am. It’s not as bad as it looks. I’m not hurt anymore. I’m just cold.” She was a little embarrassed by all the attention. She wasn’t used to such a fuss being made of her by so many people. It was nice, but it made her feel self-conscious. “We went to a cave, far out beyond the edges of the city. The spirits that had attacked the family who asked for my help also attacked me when I intervened in the situation. Those spirits were corrupted, like a disease, but I healed them. They’re better now, and the family won’t be harmed anymore. I made friends with the family. They were nice. It all ended well.”

Uluki was pleased by the hug. Aorle’s concern about her made her feel good inside, liked and appreciated. Rollick was also pleased, though the gesture was obviously directed primarily toward his wife. Too many people had hurt Uluki; it was always nice to see people treating her with affection instead. The hug made both wife and husband smile, for their different reasons.

“She gets cold when she’s done a lot of healing,” Rollick explained, in a low voice that wouldn’t carry beyond the three of them. “When she’s used a lot of magic. Her healing comes from fire and light, and using it in large quantities leaves her cold.”

“So Rollick hugs me, and I make him cold too, the poor man,” she said with a laugh.

“When you love someone more than life itself, you don’t mind shivering a little for her,” he replied, and despite his playful tone, the look he gave her reminded her how deeply he meant the words. “I’m a lucky man, not a poor one.” Even under the circumstances, he was unable to let her implied self-criticism go without contradiction. Uluki leaned against him, silently communicating that the loving sentiment was returned. He squeezed her shoulder gently.

“I don’t really need anything, but thank you,” Uluki told Aorle. “I’ll be warm when my body replaces the energy I used. There isn’t much anyone can do in the meantime. My family will take good care of me,” she said with a smile. She had seen Aorle looking at the scars on her arm, though he said nothing about them. She should explain. “They’re from a rapier. From a friend. A long time ago. Everything is alright now.”

“Thank you, Martha,” Uluki said, accepting the bowl of warm food that was given to her. “This looks wonderful.” The other woman appeared a moment later with a clean, dry cloak. “Thanks, Masha.” Rollick helped her wrap up in the cloak. It was huge on her small frame and dragged on the floor, but it was warm and comfortable. Rollick still kept an arm around her shoulders, both to continue to warm her and because the physical connection reassured him she was really safe.

“I’m sorry I opened your letter,” Uluki said to Aorle, changing the subject. “I don’t usually… I’ve never done that before. I wasn’t trying to spy on you. It’s just that Julen was missing, and I thought the note might be from the person who took him. I thought it might help us figure out where he was. If I’d known it wouldn’t, I wouldn’t have snooped. It was an emergency, and I was more worried about Julen than I was about being polite. But I’m sorry.” The words had flowed out in a torrent of contrition, with no pause for breath and no chance for interruption.

Rollick had spoken earlier of the letter, and had made it clear that it had been a mutual decision— that he had agreed with Uluki and they had acted together— and he did not feel he needed to say anything more about it now. There was a related matter, however, that Rollick did need to speak of. “When we talked before, I told you the basics of our family’s history. However, since whoever threatened us seems to know many of the details of our past, it seems like you should too, though they are not all pleasant things to hear. You should know no less than the enemy we face does.” Rollick looked at Uluki to see if she agreed with his suggestion, and she nodded her approval of his words.

Post by Sir Karsimir on

Spirits afflicted by taint were a matter both alien and obscure to the feudal lord, he knew nought of how to treat with ancient ghosts. Instead, he was versed in war and arms, only able to deal with haunting spirits through their destruction. Truly a great deed had been achieved by Uluki, to cleanse their taint and restore the spirits themselves. Now he knew why shaman received such reverance.

Witness to how the couple interacted, Aorle was moved to touch knuckles to his breastplate in salute of how Rollick treated his wife. Such sincere love marked him as a true man worthy of the utmost admiration. Still, it was not his place to comment.

Until she explained the scars. A friend? A friend did this to her? If anything, he was more outraged than before. Twitching for an instant, Aorle composed himself and reached for that arm once again. "If there is one thing I can convince you of, Uluki, it is you can expect far better friends than that." The final word was said fiercely, with deep passion and conviction.

Then, the letter. Aorle had almost forgotten the letter. Not the contents or the result of it, but he gave no mind to the fact that it was addressed privately to him. "No apologies, Uluki. You made the right call. My full trust and backing means you can decide such matters and I will support you." Full gaze was met, as if to demonstrate his declaration to be a promise.

Now, the threat. Which brought up something best dealt with in advance. "On the subject of facing enemies, we have set aside some arms and armour for you from last night. Sean and Ian will bring them." With that, he gave the signal, and the boys brought maille shirt, crested helm with steel cheekpieces and a sloping neck-guard, spear taller than a man, recurve bow with full quiver of arrows, and dagger. "We will make sleeves and skirting from the mantles. Hopefully this will replace all you have lost." A nod of thanks was given to the boys, although deliberately kept to that, their current phase in their career was one of service and this was a vital lesson to their futures.

Once the boys had departed, Aorle returned to Rollick's suggestion, with a nod of agreement. "Speak."
My faith protects me, my kevlar helps.

Post by Lylessa Uluki on

Uluki was surprised that Aorle seemed to take an interest in her story about the spirits. It had been such a small thing, not as interesting or important as what he did on a regular basis. He had fought two demons in one night! What were a few spirits in a cave compared to that? It was kind of him to listen so intently to her tale, as mundane as it was.

She smiled gratefully at his comment about better friends. Things with Mara had been so… complicated. Forgiveness was a virtue, and Uluki had forgiven the betrayal, though she bore the scars. She held nothing against Mara. Still, it was nice when things weren’t complicated. It was nice when a friend was just a friend. It was nice to be able to trust, nice not to have to worry. She was glad that there were so many people here she could trust, good friends like Aorle and Julen and the others. Aorle’s obvious feeling behind the words made her confident he would be loyal.

Uluki was impressed by the gear Aorle had provided for Rollick, though she knew next to nothing about weapons and armour. She could tell her husband was also pleased. For the past ten years, Rollick had pieced together armour as best he could, spending what they could spare, taking items from dead enemies, improvising… but there had been little enough to buy or take. Everyone had been poor, and armour was seen as a rare and valuable commodity. There had been a time when Rollick had owned full plate armour, but that had been lost, along with all his other belongings, at the collapse of the Council. Since then, finding equipment had been a struggle. Uluki would feel better knowing Rollick had the things he needed to stay safe. That was her main concern— his safety. Rollick himself was clearly impressed with the generosity, though he merely said a sincere “Thank you,” in response.

When Aorle encouraged him to speak, Rollick glanced again at Uluki. The things that needed to be discussed would put her in grave danger, were they known by the wrong people. The warriors were trustworthy— last night had demonstrated that once again— but Rollick barely knew some of the civilians. They all seemed kind, but he was unwilling to allow Uluki’s safety to rely on that impression. “Perhaps we could talk privately?” he suggested. Aorle agreed, and they adjourned to the room where Uluki had treated his injuries the day before.

It was hard to know where to begin. Rollick decided it was best to get his own story out of the way first, since he had been the first one mentioned in the letter, and the one who most seemed to obsess the sender. “As I told you, my body was once inhabited by an evil creature— a god, they called it. It was a monstrosity, by any name. It happened ten years ago. An influx of magic unintentionally weakened the creature’s containment. It was in the body of a host at the time—a host who gave himself over to it fully, and allowed it to use his mind. That was when it was most dangerous, when it had a mind it could control. Only then could it reason and plan. At the time, however, we didn’t realize it was able to switch bodies unless the host was killed.”

“I received word that the creature and its host had broken loose, causing mayhem and fatalities. Naturally, I rushed to the scene to attempt to contain it again. The creature, however, saw greater strength in me than in its host.” This was not a boast, merely a statement of fact, and one that didn’t seem to please him.

“It jumped into my body. It was…beyond words. Its thoughts, its feelings, its desires… I couldn’t get control. It used my body to commit… horrors… as I watched, powerless to stop it. So much innocent blood shed. My hands were soaked with it. But there was nothing…” He stared at his right hand as though he’d never seen it before, as though it belonged to a stranger. For awhile it had. Uluki took the hand that so offended him in both of hers and kissed it, then continued to hold it.

“Everyone was dead, everyone but me. It knew there were others, though, it had seen them. Uluki, her friends, they were away dealing with another crisis. It knew they should be there, and it intended to hunt them down. It was forcing me toward her room…”

He meant Uluki’s room. She hadn’t been there, but four other Dusklings had—her family, civilians. They were the only survivors.

“I’d been struggling against it from the moment it took me over, and outside her door, I finally gained some measure of control. I fled. I knew they would return soon, and this evil creature wouldn’t be there to greet them.”

“I stayed in the woods, far from anyone. The time would come to do final battle against the creature, and I couldn’t do so alone, but it needed to be weakened first. I fought against it with all of my might. The moment it felt my ability to resist, it tried to leave my body, but I refused to let it. I knew I must keep it contained, because in a more cooperative host it could do far more damage. It was able to reach out with its mind—if such a creature can be said to have a mind—and taint the minds of people whose despair or fear or mental weakness allowed it entry, but from that moment it did no more harm using my body, I saw to that.”

Uluki leaned against him, proud of him, as he continued his story.

“It was determined to break me. It showed me horrible images, the things it would use my body to do. I saw hundreds of innocents lying slaughtered at my feet. I saw everyone I cared for tormented and killed by my hand. I saw her…”

He took a deep breath before he continued.

“It knew I had a fondness for Uluki, and it enjoyed using her against me. It despised her for her efforts against it, for how thoughts of her eased my pain, and it had particularly awful plans for her… all of which it was happy to show me. My mind was full of its cackling and gibbering and babble.”

“It told me that no one cared about me, that I was forgotten, that they had all turned against me, that they hated me for what it was doing while in my body. It couldn’t figure out why that didn’t yield the desired reaction, why I didn’t give in to despair and loneliness. There was a secret I kept from it, though. As it got weaker, it was easier to hide things. Uluki was sending me messages. There was such care, and compassion, and loyalty in those messages… I knew the creature was lying. I had hope, faint, but still hope, of a future beyond just pain and death. I loved her, and I hoped… that someday I’d be near her again, if nothing more than that. She made me stronger. She kept me sane.”

“The whole time, of course, Uluki was fighting her own battle. The creature fed on chaos and anger and fear. She was helping to provide for the community, making them happy, rallying them to choke off the creature’s energy supply. It worked. It took months, and there were setbacks, but it worked.”

“Eventually, the creature was weakened enough that we could battle it once and for all. I told Uluki where I would be. She and her friends brought others to fight. I knew what they would have to do to me, and I resolved to be strong.”

“He said ‘thank you,’” Uluki said quietly. “He thanked the people who were attacking him.”

“They were freeing me. They were attacking that… thing inside me. It wanted to fight back. It was able to send out energy with its mind, to harm people, but I contained that as best I could. It wanted to use my body, but I refused. I kept my arms folded, allowing them to attack me, because to attack me was to attack it. It seemed to take quite a long time.”

Uluki closed her eyes. Her face was pained. Rollick kissed the top of her head before speaking again.

“Eventually they managed to tie my arms, and that made it easier. I didn’t have to fight so hard, which was good, because my body was getting weaker. There was a sword, a final injury, and then everything was black.”

“The next thing I remember, I woke up surrounded by my friends. The evil creature was gone. It had possessed others briefly after I fell, but it was finally gone forever. Not dead, but weakened too much to remain in this plane, and other gods ripped it apart and took it away. Uluki saw it happen. I was free.” He said the word “free” with something like reverence.

“You assume after that, you’ll never be able to return to who you were, that your whole life will be one of loneliness and pain and nightmarish visions. That no… that no good people will ever want you near them again, knowing the horrors that were contained in your body. You think she wouldn’t…”

Uluki embraced him and nuzzled her face again his chest. It was an intimate gesture, perhaps inappropriately so in front of Aorle, but it seemed to provide Rollick comfort. His voice sounded stronger.

“There were two voices I could hear, two voices competing for my fate. The one that said ‘You are worth nothing now, you don’t deserve to live’ was far less compelling than the one that said ‘I care about you, I miss you, please come home.’ Needless to say, her voice won out.” It had, of course, been Uluki he heard calling him back. “Since then, I have done my best to lead a blameless life. I have protected the innocent from the guilty. So far as I could, I have promoted hope in places where there was despair. I have new life now, even better than the one that was stolen from me by the god. I proposed marriage to the woman I loved, the one who had stood by me. She accepted me, we wed, and now we’re raising a family together. Our life is simple, but we’re happy. I realize, however, that the acceptance of my return was not universal. There were some who thought that my life should have ended on that battlefield. They judged me guilty, and their sentence was death. That’s why Uluki was so frightened of your reaction.”

Uluki confirmed this. “One of those was a paladin. He thought that Rollick had been contaminated forever, that he was unworthy of life after what happened. He said Rollick had lost his honour. He said Rollick had to die. He was wrong.” Uluki’s voice was absolutely certain. “My husband is a good man. There is no wickedness or cruelty in his heart. The children and I love him so much. We couldn’t bear to see him harmed. That’s why I was so scared when we first came here.”

“I give you my word that I am no danger to the innocent,” Rollick told Aorle. “And now you know the whole of the story of what happened to me ten years ago.”

Post by Sir Karsimir on

"I know." replied Aorle to Rollick's vow, never doubting it for a moment. If Rollick had told him, then it was so. A number of times he started to reach out towards Rollick to comfort him, to console him through revisiting his ordeal, but each time Uluki did so first.

Only when the older man spoke of being shown awful plans intended for Uluki was Aorle given chance to embrace his friend uninterrupted. The strength of Rollick's love for her was clear and endless, evidently enough to hold a dark god at bay. No one should have to suffer such horrors, to witness the designs of such a ruinous power upon one so loved and cherished.

If anything, the sight of such fates planned for a loved one would have strengthened Rollick's resolve against the entity, since it was showing him exactly why he needed to keep that thing contained.

Still, there was a current matter which needed to be dealt with, so he withdrew from the hug and got to business. "So who knows of this? And who knows of your family as well?" Then there was another matter - this family had travelled far. "Who would want you dead so badly?"
My faith protects me, my kevlar helps.


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