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Post by Sir Karsimir on

Enclosing the compound was a shoulder-high wall of packed earth, which would not be too great an inconvenience were there not a five-foot ditch directly in front of it. The fortifications had gone well, so it seemed. Everyone had made an effort, for themselves and each other.

Good. When people help each other, everyone prospers, and those who supported that truth were the people most entitled to help. No parasites here, there were innocent people present who deserved better.

Following the Shining One was a small group of people and a pack mule, as well as Arjen now garbed in barding of maille reinforced with laced steel plates. Rather than carrying the knight, the destrier was carrying things. In particular, a set of honourable gifts.

The people behind was a large man, with brawn which outdone Aorle himself although shorter and with puffy flesh. With him was a woman modestly plump and heartily stout, and two children, one of tradesman age. Behind them was a butter-haired man clad in arms and armour of interlocked plates of rigid leather worn over a suit of maille.

One entrance space was left open between the berms and ditches, someone also had the foresight to leave small slopes in the ditches while working on them so people could more easily get out and move. Of course, with the sun fading beyond the horizon, heavy work with spades and hauling earth was less encouragable. Now was more the time for guarding.

Inside the compound, people stopped and stared, and a few of the warriors approached the Sword of Heaven. Partly expecting cue from their lord, partly more eager to speak with him than the newcomers.

None of this was so interesting as to go over more than once, so Aorle naturally flowed into public speaking mode. "Everyone! We have guests. This is Orin the blacksmith of Shim, and these are his family. They will be staying here until we can make their home safe from brigands. Due to their trade, any duties assigned will be a matter for my staff." It needed speaking of now, to avoid discontent if they abstained from many of the tasks around the compound. They were contributing.

Having completed that announcement, there was one more matter. "Warriors! This man is Hatton Thronel, a squire who has entered by service." Wise soldiers respected squires, for each knight was known to be worth ten ordinary fighters, and squires were men under arms approaching knighthood. "Expect him to aid you well."

Finally, orders. "Sean, Ian. Show Orin and his family to quarters if you will, and Hatton to a room with the other warriors. For those in the battle last night, rewards are unfinished, they will be seen to now." While giving these commands, Aorle was already started unsaddling and unbarding the hallowed destrier. First task for Hatton and Sean and Ian would be to store that gear away upon their return.

Most of the warriors were already in full armour, maille hauberks supported by some form of further body protection, in most cases the banded steel cuirasses or laced corselets of hardened leather panels for those who preferred the lighter armour. Imperial helmets were carried under arms, or in some cases simpler steel helmets from which hung curtains of maille to protect the neck. Everyone was equipped adaquately.

Glad with how things were, Aorle caught sight of Louise. "Lady. Your name please?"

"Um... Louise, sir."

"Thank you, Louise. Bring these to Hatton if you will." The items were an imperial helm, a spear, and dagger. "Find Rollick and tell him the bronze plate armour is his reward."

"Yes sir..." she replied hesitantly.

"My thanks to you." finished Aorle, showing due courtesy and respect before returning to his warband. One gauntleted hand rested on a modest sized chest brought in beside him. "I need to speak to Julen regarding these, then we can go up to the treasury and assign what was earned in the battle."
My faith protects me, my kevlar helps.

Post by Julen on

Under Rollick’s watchful gaze, Julen spent several hours practicing with his new bow. Although he couldn’t have explained exactly why, Julen got the feeling that the older warrior wanted to talk to him about something, but with all the people coming and going around them, the opportunity never seemed to present itself. Similarly, no chance arose for Julen to broach his own sensitive subject. Such things would have to wait for another time.

After his archery lesson, Julen returned to work on the fortifications, until the evening’s fading light made further efforts increasingly difficult. Then, he knocked the dirt off his shovel, put it away with the other tools, and went in search of his wife. News about the birth of Becky’s baby had circulated through the diggers, so Julen wasn’t entirely surprised to find Rosemary among the group of women fussing over the newborn. However, when Rosemary noticed her husband approaching, she broke away from the others in order to join him. Julen couldn’t help noticing that she once again possessed a sort of glow, a mixture of happiness and sublime peace, like when she’d held Martin in her arms.

“I hear it’s a girl.” As Rosemary drew closer, Julen slipped his arm around her waist.

Rosemary nodded. “Becky named her Nina-Uluki. ‘Nina’ was Becky’s mother and ‘Uluki’...well, I’m sure you can guess who that refers to. From what I hear, it was a difficult delivery, and Uluki saved Becky’s life.”

“Nina-Uluki. That’s very pretty. Back where Uluki comes from, I bet she has lots of little namesakes running around.” Dying in childbirth was not rare among Shim’s women, and Julen could easily imagine how grateful his neighbors would be to anyone capable of alleviating its dangers. The truth -- that the men of Uluki’s former home somehow managed to continue hating someone who saved their wives, saved their children -- would have been very hard for him to comprehend.

Smiling, Rosemary brushed her fingers across the back of Julen’s hand. “Do you ever think about what we’ll call our first child?”

The answer to that question became clear when Julen voiced his ideas without a moment’s pause. “If it’s a girl, I was hoping we could name her Lorelei, after my mother. If it’s a boy...if it’s a boy, I was kind of thinking about Railtus. The frog should be long gone by then, so we won’t have to worry about any confusion.”

Rosemary’s smile grew wider. “Not Aorle?”

“Aorle is a lot to live up to.” Julen thought of what he’d witnessed that morning. Thought of the angel stooping to kiss Aorle, thought of Aorle rising with a new glyph on his brow and his eyes completely turned to gold. And then Julen thought of the young man he’d invited in out of the rain. “But Railtus...I think our son could manage to give that name the honor it deserves.”

At that moment, as if summoned by their discussion about him, Aorle entered the hall accompanied by a small retinue. Julen was pleased to see Orin and his family looking so well. Catching the blacksmith’s attention, Julen gave him a wave of recognition, which was returned with equal friendliness. Yet, it was the stranger amongst the group who most captured Julen’s interest. Especially after Aorle announced that Hatton would be serving as his squire. Julen remembered volunteering for that position when he’d first met Aorle. Back then, it was just a title he remembered from his mother’s stories -- someone who helped knights do knightly things. And, although Julen’s rise from guide to yeoman had taught him more about the various titles and responsibilities of those who served a Lord, the position of squire still retained its mystique. Julen no longer wanted the job. But he looked forward to meeting the man who did.

Now, however, was obviously not the time for idle socializing. Stifling his curiosity, Julen allowed Hatton to go get settled in. Instead, Julen approached Aorle, glad to welcome his friend back. “A bit of news to report. We have three new refugees, one of them quite small.” Elaborating, Julen gave Aorle a quick description of his meeting with Asra and Kira, as well as what he knew about the birth of Nina-Uluki. “So, as you can see, there’s never a dull moment around here. How are things at House Anstrun?”
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

Re: Rewards

Post by Sir Karsimir on

"Good, we shall grant them a safe home to live." stated Aorle in response to the news of the new refugees. That was the crux of the matter, each life saved was a mother's smile, a lover's kiss, a child's laugh, saved with it. Thus his focus on what needed to be done. "House Anstrun is much as we both remember it, although I have yet to hear from Shantay in some time." Her absence had been more than three days. It bothered him.

Patting the chest beside him with an armoured gauntlet, Aorle explained straightforwardly, "Julen, Lady Mavelle bid me bring you these. An apology for how you were last treated inside House Anstrun. See if Rosemary would like them." Failing that, Uluki and her daughters. Although barely conscious of the size difference between Mavelle and Rosemary, the Shining One did not presume that everything would be fully suitable.

Meanwhile, various types of jewelry were set into a single pile, still awaiting distribution. The most significant were set aside. Gold and silver rings including one of gold wire distinguished by a wavy pattern inside a beaded wire border, bearing an oval shape of some pale stone, A flat silver band like an elipse widening towards a rounded head of gold set with blue glass, others were flat gold strips hammered and bent into the shape of rings or plain silver hoops adorned with the occasional stone. Two pendants, a gold frame bearing rock crystal, and a disc with an inscribed image upon the face. Brightly coloured enamelled brooches decorated the stack of plunder. Added to the pile were armlets of silver or bronze in a variety of styles, from flat metal to twisted wire to knobbled decorations, added for their direct significance to warriors.

"Three pieces each." Aorle stated, "Darir first, then Triarius, Numidar and then Thetta." Chosen in this order for a reason; those awarded the least so far in armour and weapons, those who came in the least need of further arms on the time of their meeting.

Darir claimed simple gold rings, dwarven gold-lust dictating his wishes. Triarius took a brooch and an armlet and a silver ring, as did Numidar. Aorle himself claimed only a brass armlet and an electrum ring. Once Julen had taken his pick, the others chose what appealed to them most.

Most of the castoffs were bronze pendants resembling diefic icons, copper bands for the fingers and bronze fibulae brooches. All with some potential as trade goods, though meager gifts for men-at-arms, as the standing of warriors is better shown by the quality of gifts than the quantity. These were best for the treasury, small gifts to reserve for whatever reason.

Trophy rings had already been claimed. More success brought to the warriors by their first battle.

Before he proceded further, he sought to witness how his gifts had been received.
My faith protects me, my kevlar helps.

Re: Rewards

Post by Julen on

Julen frowned when he heard about Shantay’s absence. He still remembered his quarrel with Phelan in the kitchen of House Anstrun -- her timely plea had helped spare him from a painful introduction to Phelan’s horse rod. And the look with which Phelan had rewarded her defiance revealed such undiluted malice that it instantly burned itself into Julen’s mind. “I hope Phelan hasn’t devised some sort of trouble for her, as punishment for speaking in my defense. That man carries grudges like a stray dog carries fleas.” Obviously, Aorle’s respect for honesty had helped Julen overcome his initial reluctance to speak truthfully about certain members of House Anstrun.

The wooden chest earned a raised eyebrow. “Please convey my thanks to Lady Mavelle, and assure her that she owes me no apology.”

For a moment, Julen struggled with protocol. He was itching to find out what lay inside the chest. But it seemed rude to open his present in front of people who hadn’t received similar gifts. Julen didn’t want to make anyone jealous. Finally, however, he decided to go ahead and have a look. Aorle clearly wanted to foster an environment of openness and it was probably better to let people see for themselves rather than risk starting rumors about the secret stash of jewels and gold that Julen had hidden away somewhere.

Hefting the chest from Arjen’s back, Julen set it down on the floor. Then he pulled open the lid. Inside, light danced across the sheen of fine fabric, and when Julen pulled out one of the dresses, a soft gasp escaped him. In keeping with Mavelle’s taste, the garment wasn’t particularly flamboyant. But small details revealed its great value -- bits of lace more intricate than a spider’s web lined the sleeves, decorated by tiny glass beads which glistened like drops of dew. And the material itself felt as cool and smooth as fresh water flowing against his fingertips. Julen suspected he could work for months without earning enough bishani to buy a handkerchief’s worth of whatever it was.

Unfortunately, it was instantly clear that Rosemary had about as much chance of getting into the dresses as he did. Only a few women around the compound possesssed a build similar to Mavelle’s -- Kaydee, Dash, Asra and Kira. Also Thetta. Julen resolved to say a heartfelt prayer for the man who suggested giving one of the dresses to Thetta.

Beneath the dresses, Julen discovered several jars filled with scented creams. Normally, Julen didn’t really care for perfume, finding its smell to be unnatural and overwhelming. There was nothing wrong with the good, honest aroma of a woman’s flesh. But these creams were scented with delicate floral and fruit essences, reminding Julen of his beloved countryside. After sniffing all of them, Julen selected one for Rosemary, because evoked the wildflowers that bloomed behind their farmhouse in summer. The rest he returned the trunk, before laying the dresses back over them. “Again, I thank Lady Mavelle for her fine gift. But these dresses are not meant to be worn while laboring. To do so would be to squander their value. I suggest that we add them to the treasury until a suitable use presents itself.”

There was another reason that Julen felt it would be best to withhold the dresses, even from those few that they might actually fit. So far, the refugees were working well together, with almost no squabbling. But giving some of the women such fine clothes risked creating feelings of envy in those who still wore plainer garments. Julen had noticed that women tended to be sensitive about their appearance, regardless of whatever desperate situation they found themselves in. But he didn’t mention this to Aorle. It seemed wrong to suggest that people might have failings which, thus far, they hadn’t demonstrated.

While Julen finished examining the trunk, Thetta claimed her share of the loot. She was glad that Aorle had allowed her to choose for herself. Too often, war leaders tossed her a few of the most feminine trinkets and then behaved as if they were gifts given to a girl they wished to bed, instead of trophies she’d won with her skill in battle. Aorle’s fair treatment earned him another grudging inch of her allegiance.

Unsurprisingly, Thetta avoided the more delicate pieces. She chose a silver ring, a thick silver armband, and a medallion with the picture of a naked woman wielding a bow. It was rare to find depictions of women, especially armed women, and Thetta imagined her to be the warrior queen of some distant land. As for her brother, when his turn came, Sigvard claimed a silver ring, a bronze broach shaped like a wolf, and a bracelet made of metal beads and bells. He seemed particularly happy with this last item, delighting in the noise it made when he swung his sword around. “From now on, let that ringing be heard in the Hall of the Gods, announcing that another worthy opponent has fallen beneath the blade of Sigvard Eskeson!”

Julen, for his part, chose a circlet and two rings. The circlet was quite plain -- the more anonymous the item, the easier it was for Julen to think of its previous owner as an anonymous corpse, rather than an individual who had once lived, and breathed, and led a life of his own. But the two rings, which Julen intended to give to give as gifts, were more ornate. One was made of gold wire inside a beaded wire border, while the second featured a pale blue stone with other bits of fiery color seemingly trapped within it.

Once everyone had taken their share, they gathered around Aorle, pleased by his generosity and eager to carry out any further instructions.
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

Re: Rewards

Post by Sir Karsimir on

Golden eyes glowed bright and fierce at the prospect of Shantay coming to harm. No longer resembling mortal eyeballs but instead radiant orbs of molten gold from which burned an inner light which suggested a seething heat within. If the eyes were truly windows to the soul, then no doubt was left that this was one of the Hands and thus Fists of Heaven in mortal form. A canvas and steel-clad fist gripped the sword hilt tightly in a reverse grasp, squeezing with the tension and rage.

His voice was low, and deadly, leaving no room for doubt. "We will have to kill Phelan someday soon, he is too dangerous to be left alive for long." Announced to a crowd of warriors all familiar with the tales of glory and success in battle, who knew Phelan as one of the greatest warriors alive, a man of unmatched prowess with a sword, of impossible skill. "Too many innocents have suffered by his hand. His every breath is a sin."

Forcing his hand wide open, the fingers spread wide and rigid by the effort, he moved his hand to the floor to partially support his weight in his crouch near the treasure. Those eyes faded to mortal nature again. What Julen spoke of was the most likely possibility, but there was little to be done for it. Perhaps they could corner Phelan and force the truth brutally out of him, but the protection of House Anstrun would intervene before Shantay could benefit.

Judging by the responses to the loot, Aorle was ready to smile again, although it was a wan smile still troubled by dark thoughts. Good to see that this was going well. The warriors had earned their rewards, and it was only just that they be able to enjoy them. And a signal, they could do well by doing good. In fighting a heroic battle, they had won honour, trophy rings, and wealth at once.

So one question, asked now. "Who among you are ready to take Oaths? When I lead you into battle, I want each among you to know that warrior beside you is sworn to the same cause." This was an important matter. Yes, they had fought well beside each other before now, yet there would be battles ahead and they all deserved to fight supported by comrades who would stand.
My faith protects me, my kevlar helps.

Re: Rewards

Post by Julen on

A murmur passed through the group of assembled warriors when Aorle spoke about killing Phelan. None of them took such a thing lightly. And, until that moment, none of them had considered it a task that they were likely to be assigned. Never having met the man, they had no sense of his evil. Even Julen felt a little shocked by Aorle’s words. Sure, Phelan was an arrogant ass, but to kill him...? That was an idea Julen hadn’t supported when Phelan was threatening to beat him, and he wasn’t sure that he supported it now. Of course, if Phelan hadn’t satisfied himself with a petty vengeance like getting Shantay dismissed, if he’d actually harmed her in some way, then action clearly needed to be taken.

After a moment, however, the murmuring died down. The warriors had seen Aorle’s wisdom. They had seen his strength. If he said that Phelan needed to die, they believed him. And if he said that they were capable of killing such a mighty warrior, they believed that, too.

When Aorle asked who among them felt willing to swear their Oath, Sigvard nearly started bouncing up and down in his eagerness to volunteer. No more petty raids. No more fighting monks and women. Here was a leader blessed by the gods themselves. A leader who would face great odds, who would engage in mighty battles, who would flee from no worthy foe. If following Aorle couldn’t earn Sigvard an honorable place in the afterlife, he didn’t know what could. “I will swear! Most gladly, I will swear!”

Thetta, however, was not so quick to speak. As other men shouted their willingness, she watched Aorle with hooded eyes. She had sworn an Oath of Fealty once before, to the chieftain of her homeland. That oath had been declared void when she was convicted of murder and outlawed. And Sigvard had betrayed his own oath when he followed her into the wilderness. Sardonically, Thetta wondered what Aorle would think of Sigvard’s enthusiasm if he knew about that broken vow.

Part of Thetta’s heart would never let her trust a man, would never let her believe that following one could lead to anything except submission and shame. But Aorle had treated her honorably so far. And Sigvard was going to do this, whether she liked it or not. If she refused to take the oath, she would not be allowed to fight at his side, and he’d almost certainly get killed. “Before I promise to take an Oath, may I inquire exactly what I’m being asked to swear to?”
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

Re: Rewards

Post by Sir Karsimir on

Ironically enough, the answer which impressed him the most was that of Thetta. An Oath was a grave matter, not to be taken with any doubts whatsoever. Any who placed conditions on an Oath clearly intends to keep it so long as the conditions are met, after all, why set them if they are meaningless?

Nontheless, bright smiles greeted the willingness of the warriors who were ready to swear their Oaths. Each of them felt so sure of him they would become Oathsworn without hesitation. Knowing he had earned such trust touched his heart, and made him glad of their friendship and loyalty all the more. Their respect mattered to him. They mattered to him. Each warrior was a friend, one who he was glad to know. Fighting at their side was an honour.

"Very well, Thetta." All would need know this anyway. "To stand by me in battle and accept me as both lord and friend. To bear arms for me in times of war, and when in peace to offer what wise council you may, and grant what service be within your power. To share in my cause as an upholder of justice and protector of the people, standing against wrongs on behalf of those in need." From here, Sir Aorle raised his head to address the whole group. Many here were from different cultures, with different concepts of what fealty entailed, so not all would bear the same promise so readily upon their lips and hearts. "Take what Oath of Fealty you will, but these will are the duties of the Lightswords, and all in my service will be sworn to them."

Of course, true fealty was not one-sided. Any lord worthy of the name would fulfill obligations of his own, would prove worthy of the trust and loyalty invested in him by such brave and righteous folk. "As for my duties, my blade shall join you in the field. I shall direct your swords and spears as is just, and value your lives as my own. For your loyalty, I pledge mine. My strength and my war-band shall stand beside you boldly as brethren, in word and deed, with hand or blade. As I prosper, so shall you. That will be my vow." While most of this was for every warrior present, the ending focused on Thetta. Many things could be said of Thetta's previous lord and chieftain, of how he ruled and commanded. Aorle was not her old lord.

And so the Sword of Heaven had one more announcement; they were going to very busy. "We have another foe to destroy. Snyde. The attack on Julen and Kaydee will not go unavenged, and so long as Snyde remains at large he is a threat to those here we protect. When we march for Shim, I will not accept leaving these people in danger." This was a matter of some urgency. "I want an end to his evil as swift as can be done, and those who stand with me for that battle to be sworn as Lightswords."
My faith protects me, my kevlar helps.

Re: Rewards

Post by Julen on

With her lips pulled into a thin line, Thetta listened to the proposed oath. Her lord? Aorle had already done much to prove that he deserved such a title. Her friend? Well, that was a longer, harder road, which few had ever successfully traveled. But it didn’t seem completely impossible that Aorle might one day complete the journey. All the rest sounded honorable enough.

And when Aorle spoke of bringing an end to Snyde, his words lit a fire in Thetta’s gut. Snyde was the worst sort of man -- a parasite who preyed on women, who beat them down until all that existed was their fear. He posed a threat to every woman in this compound. And, as long as he remained free, he would harm countless others. Aorle’s commitment to fighting him won the Angelsworn fresh admiration from Thetta. In truth, she would have sworn to nearly anything if it gave her a chance of seeing Snyde squirm on the end of her spear.

“Your terms are just,” she conceded. “I will swear to this oath. I will uphold my end as long as you uphold yours.” That was her escape. If she was wrong, if dishonor lurked beneath Aorle’s bright surface, then she was free. And Sigvard could go or stay, as he chose.

After Thetta finished speaking, all eyes turned to the one person who hadn’t yet said his piece. The first Lightsword, Aorle’s closest friend, Julen of Shim. It seemed a little odd to them that he hadn’t already sworn his allegiance. So now they waited expectantly, every heart in the room sure that it would soon come.

Every heart, that is, except Julen’s. The loyalty he felt toward Aorle beat its wings inside his chest, pulling on him like the vast sky pulls on a grounded bird. With all his being, he wanted to shout: Yes! Yes, I will swear. I will be at your side until death takes us. But the words refused to come. Like Thetta, he had already sworn an oath. But, unlike Thetta, it was made to a woman not a chieftain, and no event had occurred to break its hold on him.

Carefully, Julen noted the terms of Aorle’s oath, weighing them against the things he’d promised Rosemary on their wedding day. He could still remember each word he’d spoken to her as they stood in front of the entire village. To protect and provide for. Clearly, no conflict existed there. Because of the training Aorle had given him, he could protect Rosemary better than ever before. And their finances had only improved since he entered Aorle’s service. To honor and cherish. Yes. He would honor her by striving to become a better man, the sort of man she deserved as a husband. He would cherish her by fighting to make the world a better place for her to live in. To share his intimacy with no other woman. Serving Aorle didn’t affect that one way or the other.

To put her above all others. That was where the problem lay. Although it didn’t directly go against anything in the proposed oath, an inherent conflict lay beneath the words. Julen knew that Aorle wouldn’t be unreasonable in his demands. But if the threat was great, he would expect Julen to battle beside him, regardless of Rosemary’s needs or desires. Aorle would never put the wellbeing of one before the wellbeing of many. And what about me? Julen wondered. What will I do if that day ever comes? What will I choose? The lives of other men’s lovers, other men’s wives? Or the life of my own?

Julen’s mouth had never felt drier. But somehow, he managed to force sound from it, acutely aware of all the stares currently being directed at him. “I would gladly promise to do all that you have asked. I want to fight for your cause during times of war. I want to share what little wisdom I possess during times of peace. I already consider you to be both my lord and my friend. But when I married Rosemary, I vowed that I would put her above all others. At the time, it seemed like such a simple, obvious pledge.”

“, I’m not sure if the promise I made to her was a moral one.” Silently, Julen thanked all the angels in Heaven that Rosemary not present to hear this. “No matter how much I love my wife, I’m not sure that it can be right to always put the needs of one above the needs of many. But I did promise such a thing to her, with honest intent, and she has given up much because I did.”

“So, if I swear an Oath of Fealty, it would be with the understanding that she comes first -- before my lord, before my comrades. Obviously, I would weigh the urgency of competing needs. A splinter in Rosemary’s finger would not take priority over a sword pointed at someone else’s throat. But ultimately, my first allegiance would belong to her. And if, given that condition, you do not wish to fight beside me...I understand.”

Barely daring to breathe, Julen waited. He knew that Aorle’s own priorities were significantly different than his own. Could someone so willing to sacrifice all hope of a personal life ever understand the ties which bound Julen? Would he view Julen’s admission as weakness? As treason?
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

Re: Rewards

Post by Sir Karsimir on

And this, was why so many warriors began young and unattatched.

On the battlefield, there was no room for conflicting loyalties. Each man-at-arms placed his life in the hands of his lord and his comrades, and accepted the very same trust in turn, those who repeatedly risked their lives for each other had to come first. Being a warrior was more than mere work, they fought for each other, their bonds were rocks to cling to in the raging waters of anarchy and violent chaos.

Hearing the truth, Aorle was wondering how to react. In his mind, Aorle was Julen's closest friend and Rosemary was Julen's wife, they were very different bonds, with no need for contest. Causes, principles, values, these were things which made up a person, and Aorle knew he could no more break his principles than he could breathe underwater, so he understood that there were matters which could and must come ahead of fealty. They were part of the man.

Maybe that was it? Part of the man. Such a major part of Julen was being a good husband. Those marriage vows must rule a larger part of the man's life than Aorle ever thought of.

Gaelm spoke up. "Would he even have a wife were it not for you? Or would she be a bandit's plaything? We know of the battle, you fought against ten to keep them safe!"

"Eight." Aorle admitted, believing there was no debt for his actions. "And Julen had foes to fight as well."

Numidar saw Gaelm's point. "You are very cautious with our safety. You had no illusions of the risks when you fought eight at once."

"I was expecting to die." Aorle shrugged. Shrugged. "Not that it matters." he stated casually, and believed it.

For the dwarrowfolk, clan came before spouse, but loyalty was sacred, even if duties appeared misaligned. "Ye both should know where that allegiance begins and ends. No doubts on an oath. No questions unanswered."

That, Aorle agreed with. "A vow is a vow. Julen is right to bring it up."

Another, the aristocrat Triarius, had clear views. "Lords come first. Choice of spouse is for the lord to allow or disallow." In this way, much akin to the dwarrowfolk, yet with far more political objectives.

And then Osaw, "Some of us risked our lives by searching for you on the turf of a crime boss you made an enemy of. Can you fight with us when Rosemary may lose her husband in any battle?"

Eventually, Krarug rumbled his view. "Me trust Julen. Him good." Direct and uncomplicated.

Finally, Aorle spoke. "Every Lightsword will be committed to each other. You will be trusting each other with your lives, and guarding each other's lives with your own." Mostly this was announced to the group, before eyes settled on Julen again. "If this is what you can offer, all shall be well."

Remembering how fealty was something Aorle had brought in from another land, wisdom suggested explaining further. "As your comrades, we will all be accepting a duty and loyalty towards Rosemary, yet I do not want this to be a source of division." Indeed not, and he had no wish to set Julen apart from every other Lightsword in this manner. "You are welcome to discuss this with Rosemary before proceding further. If need be, I can release you from your Oath should your loyalties become incompatable. What say you? "
My faith protects me, my kevlar helps.

Re: Rewards

Post by Julen on

Head bowed, Julen listened respectfully while his comrades voiced their thoughts. In battle, all of them would need to trust him with their lives, and that certainly gave them the right to speak honestly now. Julen wasn’t surprised to hear that most didn’t support his position. Why should they? If they ever got married, they would choose women who knew what they were getting into, women who accepted all that their new life entailed. They would not make the promises of a farmer, and then march off to fight.

However, regardless of the general sympathy Julen felt for their doubts and questions, Gaelm’s comment still galled him. He didn’t like hearing the phrase ‘a bandit’s plaything’ drop so easily from the lips of someone who didn’t know Rosemary, who hadn’t been there, who wasn’t still haunted by nightmares of what nearly happened to her.

“I am well aware of what I owe Aorle,” Julen informed Gaelm. “If fate had placed him elsewhere on that day, I would be dead, and we would not now be burdened with the necessity of having this discussion. But others helped to spare my wife from harm. For several days before we arrived, Rosemary kept her wits in a terrifying situation, playing the mercenaries off against each other. When the battle began, Arjen stayed close, prepared to carry her to safety if the tide turned against us. Even Aorle’s heroic fight against eight opponents might have come to nothing if Krarug hadn’t intervened on our behalf.” And I didn’t exactly stand around scratching my ass, Julen thought, a little tartly. But Aorle had already addressed that point, so he didn’t repeat it.

“Obviously, I am in great debt to all who participated. But that debt does not cancel previous obligations. If I swore an oath to Aorle, and then another lord saved his life, I would not consider myself suddenly free to swear fealty to the new lord, just because Aorle would not still be around without him.”

Despite the casual tone and shrug, it made a deep impression on Julen when he heard that Aorle hadn’t expected to survive the confrontation. Julen wasn’t oblivious to the difficulty posed by fighting eight opponents at once, but his admiration for Aorle’s skill with a sword had kept him from realizing that the attempt bordered on being suicidal. Now, knowing that Aorle had intended to sacrifice himself so that his friends might have a chance for escape, Julen wished all the more that he could swear a complete oath, with no conditions or reservations. The fact that he couldn’t made him feel a little sick inside.

Julen didn’t know how to answer Triarius. He understood the idea of arranged marriages. But for a lord to have complete power over the choice of spouses for those who served him, as if they were nothing more than livestock to be bred at his convenience -- it seemed repellent. If Julen thought there was even the slightest chance that Aorle might start picking and choosing wives for him, he would have walked out.

Orsaw’s comment elicited a surge of emotion, although little of it showed in Julen’s face. He still felt guilty about making his companions face such avoidable danger. Snyde was his fault, and it tore Julen up inside to think that if he was not accepted as a Lightsword, other men would be the ones to face the crime boss in battle. Other men would put their lives on the line to fix a problem he’d created.

“My marriage vow will not keep me from fighting with you,” Julen assured. “Rosemary understands the risks that I take on the battlefield. She accepts them because she believes, as I do, that I fight for a better world. When I said that she is my first loyalty, I didn’t mean that I would never do anything to worry her, or hurt her, or make her grieve. I just meant that...” Julen paused, searching for difficult words. “I just meant that if she ever cries out for me, in genuine pain and need, I will go to her. I hope that when I do, I will have all of you at my side to support me. But if that’s not possible, if other priorities demand your attention, I will still go.”

After Krarug rumbled his support, Julen smiled at him. Simple words, but honest ones, and much appreciated.

Then, finally, Aorle spoke. This was what Julen had been waiting for. This would decide everything. The Angelsworn didn’t say much -- but what he did say filled Julen’s heart with relief. Aorle wasn’t demanding an absolute, unending allegiance. If circumstances changed, if great need arose, the Angelsworn would let him go. Julen earnestly wished that day would never come. But the vow he’d given Rosemary made it necessary to allow for the possibility.

Instead, what Aorle seemed to be asking for was an oath about how Julen would behave for however long his duration of service lasted. That was something Julen could easily give. “All that you describe, I can indeed offer.”

“So, if you will have it, here is my oath. I swear to stand beside my lord in all righteous matters. Those who serve him are my brothers and sisters, their lives are my sacred responsibility. Never shall any be denied the trust of my heart. Never shall any be denied the support of my sword. Together, we will protect the defenseless, bring justice to the oppressed, and cut down evil wherever we face it. Until the day that my lord release me. Or until the day that death does.” For the first time since Aorle had raised the issue of swearing oaths, a grin appeared on Julen’s face. “Let’s hope many years still lie between us and either of those alternatives.”
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

Re: Rewards

Post by Sir Karsimir on

"Now you stand amongst the righteous. Now you stand as a Lightsword."

Unfinished, the Shining One returned an oath of his own, from lord to armsman, standing by his faithful warriors as was his way. "Hear now my oath to you, I shall hold your loyalty dear to me with every choice and command. I shall reward your deeds and merit. I will stand beside you with my strength and my warriors, in battle and in all hardship. Your sword and spear will serve in just and honourable battles, and your life I will value as my own. In times of plenty, you will share in my fortune. To this I swear by right and honour."

Clapping hands clamoured throughout the room, starting first from Numidar, then taken up by Gaelm, and then the others. Clearly the acceptance of a new Lightsword was to be celebrated, inclusion into this warband, this brotherhood, was something of note.

As the applause began to die down, Aorle finished with one important announcement. "And I will never ask any to forsake a loved one in need." Were Rosemary's need great, and the Lightswords unable to meet it, Aorle would make sure another could. The responsibility of a lord was to take care of the families of those who served him. Reciprocity.

In truth, he had not planned to begin formal oath-swearing just yet, simply to discuss the matter. Well, to duty. "Julen, Numidar, Osaw, Sigvard & Thetta. You will be coming with me for the attack on Snyde. We will spend the evening preparing and be ready to fight in the morning. Remember, many battles are won and lost long before the first weapon is drawn, so we work on winning this one now."

"Julen, think of everything you can remember of the ambush site. Snyde may have betrayed himself, given us a way to find him. We can also ask the ladies who have suffered under his yoke." With luck, they would know where to find his places of business, and set up an ambush of their own. Or they could break the back of his power-base, making him far less of a threat. To them or anyone else.

Returning to the rest of the group, there was one matter which needed to be made clear. "Our goal is to kill Snyde, not torture him. We seek to protect and avenge the women he mistreats, and ensure he can no longer harm another. We must not lose sight of that, no matter how richly he deserves worse."

"Any questions?"
My faith protects me, my kevlar helps.

Re: Rewards

Post by Julen on

Julen nearly blushed when the applause began. He felt grateful and honored to be accepted by warriors whose experience stretched back so much longer than his own. Hearing them clap, his heart swelled with fresh resolve to do right by them, to make sure they never regretted the welcome they’d given him.

But when Aorle mentioned going after Snyde, all joy drained from Julen’s face. Sharply, like an involuntary spasm, his hand clenched into a fist. A swift death was more mercy than that bastard deserved. Perhaps Aorle could advocate such a painless execution, but he hadn’t seen Kaydee chained to the wall. He hadn’t held her violated body or listened to the whimpers that bled from between her bruised lips. He hadn’t felt the clubs striking, again and again, while that goddamn sneer never wavered. Part of Julen wanted to hurt Snyde, to hear him beg. Because Snyde deserved to be punished. Because he deserved to experience the misery he’d caused others. And because Julen needed to look into the crime boss’s eyes, needed to see pain and fear fill them, in order to finally forgive himself for the pain and fear that had filled his own.

“Easy, lad.” It was Darar who noticed Julen’s reaction, and who responded by placing a strong hand on the yeoman’s arm. “I know what Snyde did to you and that poor girl. But torturing you was his mistake, you see? He could’ve slit your throats, simple as anything, but he wanted to make you suffer. And that’s what allowed us to find you in time. Let’s not give him the same chance he gave you.”

For a moment, Julen’s mouth seemed to fill with a syrupy mix of blood and dust. Then, he forced himself to swallow, banishing the remembered taste. “You’re right.” Julen acknowledged the dwarf’s wisdom with an appreciative nod of his head, before turning his gaze to Aorle. “You’re both right. Vengeance would be a selfish indulgence. It doesn’t matter if Snyde suffers before he dies. It doesn’t matter if I’m the one to strike the killing blow. What matters is to make sure that he never harms another.”

And that brought them to the matter of practical details. Julen wished that he’d paid more attention while going to the building where Snyde had staged his ambush. But his mind had been focused on the little girl, and on whatever possible danger Kaydee might be in. Another mistake caused by his inexperience. “I’m pretty sure I could lead us back there. But if Snyde suspects that I’m still alive, it seems unlikely that he’d risk returning.”

“We may be able to catch him somewhere he doesn’t expect,” Thetta suggested. “While we were searching for Julen, we met a woman named Jenny, who worked for Snyde. She gave us directions to the building where Julen was ambushed. But she also knew of several other places where Snyde conducts his business. Snyde had threatened to harm her daughter, so we brought them both back, and they’re currently living here. Shall I fetch her?”
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

Re: Rewards

Post by Sir Karsimir on

Surprising. Aorle had expected Thetta to be the one to object to Snyde receiving a swift death. Instead, it seemed Julen held an understandable desire for revenge beyond the defeat and destruction of his victimiser. No matter how foul and deserving of agony Snyde was, Julen deserved better than to cheapen himself by indulging in so similar malice and cruelty. Silently, the Shining One offered a prayer of thanks that his best friend would be spared the stain of such a deed upon his soul.

"Aye my friend. 'Tis no act of mercy I speak of. 'Twill be a violent death we bring Snyde, sparing no wrath nor pain. Any attempts to torment him further compromises the aim of destroying him and ending his evil." After a moment of internal deliberation, he nodded. There was another reason. "More than that, the refugees have heard of enough acts of deliberate cruelty done by Snyde and his ilk, that is what kept them living in fear, they need not hear of any such acts by us. 'Twould only undermine the promise of safety we offer." There was good reason, he was not being uncaring of the man's plight.

So far, they had the means to find the villain. The building used for the ambush was one which Snyde would otherwise return to. This was good, this was a further target they could use. Every advantage was welcome against an enemy. Thetta's news was even better. "Thank you, Thetta, good idea. And good work on bringing them both to safety. Best we hear of every such place Jennifer knows of. If we cannot find Snyde himself, we kill his thugs by the score and destroy his tainted business. One way or another, we will bring him down!" On this he assured them, no place where such wickedness came to pass would be left standing were it within his power to unmake it. And with the Maker of Rubble by his side, there were frightening possibilities in that direction.

"We will train with the attacking unit for tomorrow against the defending group, so we are more accustomed to who will be at our sides for the next fight. Julen, if you can remember the layout of some of the area, we can arrange furniture or the crates to mimic the conditions we expect to fight in." Details, these were how battles were won and lost. Battle was all about claiming every advantage, and creating several in advance was just common sense. Preparations were how armsmen survived combat, and so preparations would be made.

Once Jenny had been brought, Aorle bowed at her approach. "Greetings, my lady. May I call you Jennifer? I am Aorle Kar, pleased to meet you. May I ask for your knowledge on something?" To call her 'Jenny' when having only just met seemed presumptuous to the point of disrespectful, better to wait for her invitation before crossing that line.

"Um... yes, my lord." She seemed very confused at something, although nodded, and seemed to avert her gaze.

"My thanks, and there is no need to call me lord. As Thetta may have informed you, we plan to destroy Snyde on the morrow, so he is no longer a threat to your family or anyone else. I understand you know where to find several of his businesses, places we might find him. Will you direct us to them?"

Jenny nodded, trying not to meet Aorle's gaze, uttering ,"Sir," in her response. Much to his annoyance, but he did not press the fact.

So, a series of questions were asked about the varying places of business. Landmarks, distinguishing features, how to identify them, what he keeps there and what times they are most active. Eventually, enough detail had been gathered to find those places without bringing her along. Again, a fact that she was grateful for, and Aorle was grateful not to be bringing a civilian into a potential crossfire.

"Thank you, Jennifer, you have been very helpful." stated Aorle.

During this time, Hatton returned, to receive a concise update from the Aetheling, who greeted him with a simple nod. "On the morrow, Hatton, I will be leading an attack against a glorified thug who mistreats women for his profit. You will stay here with the others, I need warriors to defend this compound."

"But Lord, I should go with you. This is a foe I should fight." This sounded like a dishonorable cur to Hatton's ears, a true threat. The kind a Crown Squire, backed by holy sanctity and the obligation of honor, was bound to slay to bring glory to the Sacred Order. Women should fear not from such filth - a disgrace to the natural order, a standing pillar of deceit which only lent itself to the destruction of common society. Such a slight could not stand.

"No, Hatton." Rather than stress the importance of protecting the compound, which while true, was not the real reason for this decision, Aorle was more direct. "You are new. Better to give you time to adjust to this warband before leading you into battle."

"My lord, I was on the verge of knighthood when my master fell. I am one of your best fighters." In this, he was simply eager to serve his new lord. As was his place, his duty.

Aorle shook his head. "All of my warriors are very skilled. For this task I bring those longer in my service." Considering the matter closed, he focused on all else present, including Jenny. "Ought that needs doing, now is the time." Hardly a dismissal, but sharing the initiative. Not all decisions required his command.
My faith protects me, my kevlar helps.

Re: Rewards

Post by Julen on

Julen hadn’t thought about the effect that his desired vengeance might have on anyone except Snyde. But when Aorle mentioned the refugees, Julen quickly understood the mistake which his friend had saved him from making. Those that had fled from Snyde would not view torturing him as fair retribution for their suffering. They would only see cruelty being used in the same way that Snyde had always used it. They would think...gods, they would think that he was just like Snyde. And they’d be right. Revulsion reached its putrid hand inside Julen, making him shudder as rotting fingers brushed against his heart. No. I won’t sink to his level. Whatever demons Snyde gave me to fight, I won’t defeat them by joining him in hell.

Bolstered by Aorle’s support, Julen turned his mind to remembering as much as possible about the relevant layout. While he did so, Thetta spoke up, responding to Aorle’s praise for aiding Jenny and her daughter.

“It was Uluki’s idea to bring them back here,” the Northlander informed Aorle. Thetta was always happy to give credit where credit was due, as long as the credit belonged to a woman. “She’s very wise. You should put her in charge more.”

Then, eager to hurry along Snyde’s defeat, Thetta went in search of Jenny. And it didn’t take long for her to find the former prostitute. As a mother herself, Jenny had taken over the responsibility of helping Becky look after little Nina-Uluki. Thetta tried to keep from fidgeting as she waited for Jenny to finish her demonstration of how to burp the newborn. It wasn’t that Thetta scorned traditionally female roles -- such folly belonged to men, who behaved as if things like cleaning, cooking, and raising children were unimportant tasks which required no true effort. Thetta respected those among her sisters who had chosen a different path. Nevertheless, she still felt uncomfortable around them, as if their domestic inclinations were something that might rub off on her if she was exposed for too long.

After a moment, Jenny finished showing Becky what to do, and turned her attention to Thetta. “Hello, Miss. Would you like to hold her?”

Involuntarily, Thetta took a step back, shaking her head. There was a look of fear in her eyes that few would ever see in battle. However, she quickly covered her nervousness with brusque words. “I have no time. Tomorrow, Aorle will lead a strike against Snyde’s forces, and he requires your help. You must come and tell him all that you know about the places where Snyde does business.”

“Me? Talk to him? I--I can’t.”

“Of course you can. No one’s cut out your tongue, have they?”

“Please, Miss Thetta! Couldn’t you ask me questions? Then go tell him what he needs to know?”

“No. He may need information which wouldn’t occur to me.” Thetta wasn’t ashamed to admit that she was a fighter, not a strategist. “And I certainly have better things to do than run back and forth like a messenger girl. Why can’t you talk to him?”

“You saw what happened this morning. An angel kissed him! He’s so holy, and I’m...well, you know what I was.” Staring at the ground, Jenny handed the baby back to Becky, as if she no longer felt fit to hold it. “If I talk to him, I’ll say something wrong. I’ll make him mad at me. Then he’ll make me and Bethany leave. We don’t want to leave, Miss Thetta! We’re so happy here.”

A growl of impatience rumbled deep in Thetta’s throat. Silently, she reminded herself that Jenny had probably never known decent treatment at the hands of anybody, which gave her every reason to expect the worst. But each second that she spent cowering was another second that Snyde used to harm someone else. “Do you know why that angel kissed him? Because he helped you. Because he doesn’t think that he’s better than you or me. If your intentions are good, he won’t get mad at you, no matter what you say. And if he does try to throw you out, I’ll gut him. I bet the angel would even show up and help me.”

Jenny seemed to consider this. Then she nodded. “Alright. I’ll talk to him. I’ll help. I do want to help, Miss Thetta.”

“I know you do, Jenny. And he’ll know it too.”

When Thetta returned, she saw that the others hadn’t been idle during her absence. With Julen to direct them, they’d arranged crates to mimic the layout of the room where he’d been ambushed. Good. Thetta couldn’t wait to get started on the training. But all during Aorle’s interrogation of Jenny, Thetta remained by her side, steadfast as a guard dog. And after he’d finished, she escorted the red-haired woman back out of the room. Jenny seemed a little dazed, like a child who’d spent too long staring at the sun, and Thetta thought it best to make sure she got safely back to Becky.

Meanwhile, Julen had finished helping with the setup, which left him free to eavesdrop on Aorle’s exchange with Hatton. Although he agreed with Aorle’s position, Julen still felt a pang of sympathy for the newcomer. It was hard to be left behind. So, in the spirit of brotherhood, Julen approached Hatton once Aorle had finished speaking. “Don’t be too disappointed,” he consoled. “When you start hanging around Aorle, you get plenty of chances to battle evil. Snyde is bad, but we’ll fight worse -- probably before the week is over.” Smiling, Julen extended a hand. “Julen of Shim. Pleased to meet you.”
Shim -- where the men are men, and the livestock are scared.

Re: Rewards

Post by Lightswords on

By the look on Hatton's face, he did not know whether to laugh or look aghast at the consolation Julen offered. A worse foe within the week? What next? A traitor to his king living from the spoils of his betrayal? A usurper who stole sacred rights? Were villains and cutpurses truly so plentiful in this land?

Was this the way of a land without lords? Of course, there was the mayor and the judges, but these were not true lords ordained to their authority by right of blood. A legitimate authority, but a lesser one, and this must be how it showed.

Still, good to be welcome. "My greetings to you Julen, I am Hatton Thronel, Squire of the Crown, and the pleasure is mine as well." Hatton smiled. "Our Lord Knight has spoken very highly of you. I must say, it is a rare and splendid occurance for the common man to demonstrate such courage and integrity." When first hearing as much, Hatton was doubtful of the concept, but not of Aorle's word. There was only truth here, and the compliment was well-earned by all accounts.

The offered hand was accepted with a leather gauntlet, the leather was hard and rigid, like that of the boiled lamellars, and the warrior seemed to be wearing an entire suit of such leather shaped as a credible mimicry of full knight's armour.

"A question, Julen of Shim." began the youngster, who appeared no older than Aorle himself. "Is there truly so much evil to fight nearby? In my time, I have fought against those who did treason against their rightful lords by acts of harm against innocent citizenry..." Indeed, crimes against the people were crimes against the Crown. A corrupt peasant was a traitor to his lord, an unjust lord would be a traitor to his king for such dishonour, and were a king to ever rule for ill-purpose, that king would be committing treason against himself and the sanctity of his own rule. "... yet they were encountered only seldom. Do you know of more foes we will fight?"

"So, how did you become a warrior, Julen of Shim?" inquired Hatton politely, deeming it only fitting that he should take an interest in his new comrades. "And how is it that you came into our Lord Knight's service?"

Finally, one last thing. "You have been longest serving of all the warriors here. Can you tell me something? Making no idle boast, I was fast approaching knighthood when my master fell in the field, so I fear Sir Aorle may be passing up a strong asset tomorrow by leaving me behind on this fight. How would you suggest I go about earning his trust and esteem?" Commonfolk may be unlearned, but many of them could show sound judgement, and Hatton saw no reason to doubt that Julen was such a man.

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