This setting is heavily influenced by aldersprig’s Fae Apoc setting. In fact, I thought it was going to be a fan fic until it insisted on being different to her world on a number of points. I hope you enjoy this but I recommend aldersprig’s stories. For those who need to count spoons or are simply short of time, this story is in two parts of just over 2,000 words each.
Este surveyed the aftermath of the fight with satisfaction. The Korrigan had led a band of fey-blood bandits who’d preyed on human and fey alike. Even worse, they’d flaunted being fey-blood enough to start stirring up human anti-fey feeling again. It had been necessary to deal with them before the humans began to care that they knew where some of the fey strongholds were. Dead was certainly dealt with in Este’s book and Mother would be pleased.
Pleasing her Mother mattered.
“Once we’ve cleaned up here and rested overnight back at camp,” she announced to the others, “we can go home to Green Tor.”
“You can go to Green Tor,” corrected Havok, the slate gray, felt hat on his head with its decorative band of shields around the crown still improbably pristine, “but the Korrigan’s death marks the end of our alliance.”
“But we’ve been together for months,” Este was shocked. “You’re one of us now.”
“Our relationship is based on ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend.’” Havok made his correction without heat. “Our mutual enemy is dead so we aren’t friends anymore. Trust me, Este, to know you is not to love you. I’m assuming our original agreement still holds and that our truce will last until tomorrow sundown?”
That put Este’s back up. She practically stuck her perfect chin up in the air. “Of course, I gave my word didn’t I?”
“Then I’ll rest in camp tonight and head out with what’s mine in the morning.” The hard, gimlet-like, grey eyes looked satisfied.
“We exchanged Names,” came the mild protest from Zani, Este’s wingwoman and attendant.
“No,” Havok told the orange haired girl, “I told you what you could call me. I am not part of your Lady’s Court or her daughter’s faction.”
“I am corrected.” Zani bowed her head.
“The sooner the clean-up is done,” rumbled Tyon, Este’s enforcer and the third of her triumvirate, “the sooner we can go back to camp and clean ourselves up.”
“And amen to that,” was the agreement from Denis du Main, the fifth member of their group.
Later, back at their camp, “What were you doing?” Este was berating Arra, her younger sister. “All you had to do was set up camp while we dealt with the bandits. The job’s barely done and dinner’s only just started! It’s not good enough, Arra. Mother sent you along to mind the horses and take care of the camp. Can’t you even do that properly?”
Tyon had just come back from checking on the horses and was holding something in his hand. “The horses are actually pretty skittish, Este,” he interrupted.
“So,” she rounded on her shorter, softer sister again, “you can’t even keep the horses quiet.”
“There was a snake problem after you left,” Arra said quietly.
“I don’t want to hear it,” Este told her. “Just do your job properly for once. As there’s lots of time before dinner, you can spend it repairing the battle damage to our gear.”
“Yes, Este.” Arra looked at her booted feet, her two dark braids hanging down over her chest.
“Well, get to it,” Este snapped and Arra went to sit beside the stack of Este’s weapons and armour to begin chanting over them in a low, melodic voice.
“Este,” Tyon began, “about those snakes-”
“I said that I don’t want to hear about it,” Este repeated and added, “from anyone.” With that she stalked off to where Zani had strung up some blankets for the two of them to wash themselves behind.
Denis came up quietly behind Tyon, making just enough noise that the younger man knew he was there. Tyon appreciated the courtesy. “What did you find?” The laugh lines around the older warrior’s eyes were still there but he seemed entirely serious for once.
“A scale down along the horse line,” Tyon held it out for inspection, his thumb and forefinger stretching to span the lilac object they were holding.
“Lamia,” was Denis’ comment.
“There were drag marks,” Tyon added.
“From over here too,” the older man acknowledged. “Havok went to have a look.”
They both turned to look in the direction the third man had gone in just as he came casually back into camp, his body language suggesting that he’d be doing nothing more remarkable than answering a call of nature. Seeing the other two men looking at him, he laid his right hand across his chest for a moment, three fingers showing before he turned aside and walked over to this his gear.
“Three of them?” Tyon cast an incredulous eye at Arra chanting over the damaged war kit. She was clad, like the rest of them, in boots, denim work pants, long sleeved shirt and broad brimmed hat but carried no weapons of her own.
“Who said she can’t fight?” That was Denis’ question.
Tyon thought for a moment. “Well, she’s not One of Those Who Protect or any of the lesser combat archetypes and her Mentor was One of Those Who Teach, so no-one expects fighting to be her thing. There’s been this general expectation that she’s best in a…supporting role.”
“A word of advice,” offered Denis, “never get into a fight with One of Those Who Teach and expect that they can’t or are unarmed. She can Make, we know that, so she could be able to pluck a weapon out of thin air as she needs it. She could be a superb combat caster. Over the years I’ve seen Those Who Teach and their students do both. It’s not what we,” he made a gesture that included the younger man and himself, “do but it is as valid a way as ours.”
Meanwhile Este was complaining to Zani as they disrobed and washed themselves with the basins of warm water Arra had provided. “To know me is not to love me? What’s going on with that, Zani? I’m One of Those Who Rule, people aren’t supposed to have that reaction to me.”
“Havok and Denis are a lot older than the people we’re used to dealing with,” the other girl pointed out calmly as she washed off the dust, her sweat and some splattered blood. “I find them both harder to read than almost anyone I’ve met, including your lady mother.”
“I know he’s one of the Caprucci and we don’t normally get on but it’s not like I haven’t tried to keep him happy. I told Arra to sleep with him, and that’s the only thing she hasn’t stuffed up on this trip.”
“Aside from making and breaking camp, finding water, cooking and cleaning up every day on this trip,” put in Zani drily. “You’re only finding fault with her because you’re trying to micro-manage what she does.”
“I was told to keep an eye on her,” Este said defensively. “Both Mother and Arlo-.”
“Arlo is the most controlling of your siblings,” Zani commented mildly. “Why do you think he can’t keep and build a train? Hogron withdrew from his service because Arlo wanted him to read everyone’s minds every day. Arra probably refused to work with him again and that got his nose out of joint.”
“She can’t afford to do that.” Este sighed. “I mean, she’s our little sister and everything, and of course we’re fond of her, but the rest of us are Those Who Rule and Those Who Protect while she’s just a mutt with no archetype at all. If she falls out with the family, she’s got no status. She’d be lucky to be taken in somewhere as a serf.”
“That’s no reason for you to treat her like one,” was Zani’s quiet return.
“I don’t,” Este bristled.
“Don’t you?” Zani raised an eyebrow. “Think about what you just said about her and Havok.”
“But that was nec…” Este went quiet.
Later, while Arra was kneeling over her washing up bowl, scrubbing the pot she’d cooked dinner in, Este came and knelt beside her. “I’m sorry if I’ve been treating you more like a resource than a sister. I’ll try to do better in the future but I make no apology for using the best tool for the task in hand.”
Arra looked up from her task for a moment. “I would expect nothing else. That’s part and parcel of being One of Those Who Rule, isn’t it?”
Este cracked a small smile, “Yes, I suppose it is. What I can tell you is that the most personally onerous of your tasks is about to end. Havok is leaving us in the morning and you won’t have to…share yourself with him anymore after tonight.”
Arra went still for a moment. “I see, thank you.”
“It’ll be fine,” Este said encouragingly as she rubbed her hand on her sister’s shoulder before walking over to join Zani and Tyon.
Zani’s opening question was, “How do you think she took it?”
“Quietly, which was probably diplomatic of her, after all she still has to sleep with him tonight.” Este looked across at her sister, still scrubbing diligently at her pot.
“Her emotions seem muddled,” Zani was looking in the same direction, “but I must say that she has gotten harder to read since her intimate association with Havok began.”
“Where is Havok?” Este looked around the campsite.
“Checking the horse line with Denis,” offered Tyon. “He’s taking first watch tonight and he doesn’t want to find he’s got any problems in the morning.”
“Fair enough.” Este nodded her head and turned the conversation to other things.
Later again, after the first watch was over and Havok had joined Arra in their nest of double bedroll after spinning the privacy cocoon of shadow and muffled sound around them, he asked her, “So, are you mine?”
“As much as you are mine,” was her warm, smiling answer.
“You know,” he went on, between kissing each of her fingers, “one of the things I like about you is how careful you are with things like that. It’s quite rare these days.”
“I listened to my Mentor,” and then she kissed him back.
Early morning before sunrise saw the pair of them up, their bedrolls packed up and Arra cooking breakfast. Denis, whose watch it technically still was, noticed that she wasn’t using her usual pans but had Made the pot the porridge was in, the ladle for dishing it up, the bowls and the spoons. Casually and with only passing effort. While the porridge was cooking, she’d packed up all her gear for travelling then separated out a third of the food and added it to the packing. She’d Made a new coffee pot too; a sturdy, practical thing that currently sat in the fire smelling of hot, liquid heaven.
After Arra and Havok had eaten, she cleaned up their bowls, spoons and mugs, packed them away and then saddled and loaded the mules. While Havok was saddling his horse beside her, he asked, “You’re not leaving the pack mule for the others?”
“Both the mules are mine,” she continued on with her task as she spoke. “They were payment for cleaning out the well on a mule farm while I was still a Student. All the pots and pans are mine too. All they need to add to their horses’ loads are what’s around the fire now and their share of the food.” She shrugged. “It shouldn’t be a problem for them.”
Havok pursed his lips in amusement, suppressing the smile out of habit, “Do any of them, other than Denis, know how to cook over a camp fire?”
“It may well turn out to be educational for them,” was Arra’s dry reply.
A few minutes later they took their farewells of Denis du Main. “Are you certain that this is what you want to do?” His question to Arra was quiet so as not to disturb her sleeping sister and her sworn train.
“Yes,” she smiled up at him, head tilted back so he could see her face.
“Well then,” he smiled back at them, “good luck to you both. Mind you Havok, this changes nothing. If I run in to you and we’re not on one of these little jaunts, I’ll do my damnedest to kill you.”
“Likewise, I’m sure.” There was a faint mocking note in Havok’s voice. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” He raised his hat from his head in a mocking salute, then turned and took Arra’s arm saying, “Come, love. It’s time to go.”
As they went off towards their mounts Arra asked, “What was that about?”
“Old, old politics,” was the faint reply that Denis du Main heard as he hunkered down beside Tyon’s prone form.
“So, Tyon,” Denis’ voice was very, very quiet, “why are you pretending to be asleep?”
“Plausible deniability," came the quiet, muffled reply. “If I’m asleep, I don’t know she’s leaving.”
“Wise man,” Denis nodded. “Sleep on then.”