September 2nd, 2013

White anemone person

Mission Washup Part 1

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.”

MissionWashup Part 2

White anemone person

Mission Washup Part 2

MissionWashup Part 1

Este spent most of the morning in stony silence. None of them tried to get her to talk after Denis had asked, “And would you have let her go?” Este hadn’t been able to answer that, all the responses she had wanted to give sounded…petty to her mind’s ear.

The second unwanted surprise of the day came mid-afternoon when Denis reined in his horse and announced, “Well, it’s been interesting working with you, but this is where we part company.”

“Why?” That was from Este.

“Now the Korrigan’s been dealt with, I have my own affairs to attend to and they take me south.” He indicated the long, dry slope that led in that direction. “Two days’ll see me in Grand Bluffs and I’ve no need to go back to Conniption or to Green Tor.”

“We’ll miss travelling with you,” said Tyon sincerely.

“And I with you, you’ve been good company, all of you,” the older man nodded at the three of them. “I will leave you with a little unasked for advice though, Lady Este,” he switched suddenly to a formal mode none of them had heard from him before. “It might have been better if you had not been so free with your sister’s person, powers and possessions. The breaking point for me would have been when you tried to exchange her mules for a horse, two fine mules for an okay horse wasn’t a good deal, and the only reason you telling her to sleep with Havok was acceptable was that she’d already been doing just that for about a week.” He switched out of formal mode and added, “It was amusing to watch Havok conducting a courtship in all his seriousness, I hadn’t realised he had it in him.” He nodded again, “Perhaps we’ll see each other around,” and with that he moved his horse of down the slope, disappearing unnaturally quickly into the heat haze.

“They were already sleeping together?” asked Este.

“Yes,” that was Zani. “When you told her to sleep with him, I thought you were giving her permission for something she was already doing. Your approval, in fact.”

“I had no idea.”

“So I realised.” Zani sighed. “I know that as One of Those Who Rule, your mind works on a tactical and strategic track to achieve your goals, but you have a train to help you fill in your blind spots. The thing is, you need to talk to us about things, otherwise we don’t know what you don’t know.” She added, “You must have noticed something, otherwise why would you think Arra was the solution to keeping Havok happy and involved with us?”

“That he was attracted to her?” was Este’s offering. “I honestly never thought she’d willingly get involved with a Caprucci. I mean, that family… I wonder what Mother will say?”

“She’s gone off with a Caprucci warrior?” Lady Gwiera raised a perfect eyebrow, giving herself a sceptical expression. “Then no doubt she’ll be back when she finds out what he’s like when he takes his skin off, as they say.” She looked over her second youngest daughter and her two companions, freshly returned from the task she’d set them almost half a year before. “Your task, however, is done and done well it seems. The Caprucci obviously provided you with aid. What is the name of this warrior who seems likely to make me a grandmother?”

Este looked at Zani and Tyon then back at her mother, “He told us that we could call him Havok,” she told her.

The Lady of Green Tor said slowly, “I know the names of most of the adult Caprucci but…”

Simultaneously the tan and brown furred, unbeglamoured One of Those Who Teach standing deferentially off to one side said, “Now that’s an alias I haven’t heard in a long time!”

“You’ve heard of him then, Melford?” Lady Gwiera turned to him, grace and beauty in her every movement. “How does he fit into their family tree?”

“Oh, he doesn’t,” the mouth in the long muzzle smiled, “but he and Sier Caprucci have been like that,” Melford held up his hand with index and middle fingers crossed over each other, “since the days when Queen and Council mattered in these parts.”

“If he’s that old,” Este had gone pale, “why did he follow my lead?”

Melford’s long, pointed ears twitched forward in interest. “Well, that is the question, isn’t it? Who else did you persuade to help you?”

“Only one of the du Mains,” replied Este. “They’d seemed to be taking the Korrigan quite seriously but then they only sent Denis with us.”

“Denis du Main,” said Melford slowly. “About five foot ten tall, lots of laugh lines round his eyes, carries a black sword?”

“Hilt and blade both?” Tyon replied. “That would be him.”

“He’s the original du Main,” Melford explained. “Scutter, the Master of Dublane, is his grandson. Denis du Main and Havok were both in the group that took out the Dragon Bahamel.” His ears twitched, “ I remember my Mentor telling me at the time that one had been for Queen and one for Council, but in those days it was particularly rude to discuss old politics so he didn’t go into details. I suspect, Lady Este, that by accepting your authority over the party they saved themselves from having to establish which of them was in charge.”

“So,” said Este flatly, “I was useful.”

“Say rather, Lady Este,” corrected Melford gently, “that two experienced and combat-hardened veterans of the Fall chose to work under your leadership for the period it took to complete a task.”

“That sounds rather better than having been a convenient fiction,” Este agreed quietly.

“If they didn’t challenge or rebuke you during the period they agreed to be with you,” agreed her mother, “then it is true.” She smiled warmly at Este, “Then you have done extremely well.”

“On the other hand,” observed Melford, “if I wish to speak with my former Student, I must go looking for her. I’m afraid I must take my leave of you, Lady Gwiera, sooner than we expected.”

“At least stay with us for another night,” protested his hostess, “it will give you time to consider where to begin your search for my daughter and her…protector. You know your company is always welcome here.”

Melford bowed politely, “You are most kind, milady.”

It was not, as such a council of war. It was, however a meeting of Lady Gwiera and all her children who remained with her. The fay were long lived and so the eldest person at the table, after their mother, was Saphro, a broad shouldered and muscled One of Those Who Protect who herself had adult grandchildren. “A number of you have asked,” began Lady Gwiera, “what we are going to do about Arra. The answer is nothing. Under the circumstances, if Melford is right and he usually is, there is nothing we can do without looking extremely foolish.”

Saphro looked around the table at her mother and siblings and commented, “I don’t know Arra very well, the age gap and everything, but I’m surprised that she could break her oath and go off like that.” A murmuring of agreement rippled around the table.

“Arra was not oath sworn to anyone,” their mother pointed out quietly. “All the tasks she undertook at my behest, she did as a personal favour to me. I paid her a stipend for the duration of those tasks and provided her with a room, of course, but she was under no obligation to me. In fact, as she has not claimed her stipend for her excursion with Este, I am in her debt.”

“Hang on,” interposed Saphro elbows on the table and gesturing with her hands, “she left her Mentor what, two or three years ago? All of us were oath sworn within a year of that.”

Lady Gwiera sighed. “Arra has been difficult to place, she doesn’t fit neatly into a niche in a train and she hasn’t ‘clicked’ with anyone who has one.”

“Just as long as no-one told her that her oath wasn’t wanted or was worthless,” commented Hagen, One of Those Who Rule sitting halfway along the table.

There was a moment’s silence and everyone turned to look at Arlo, another of Those Who Rule, sitting further down the table on the opposite side. Arlo looked back and asked, “Why are you all looking at me?”

“You can be very…blunt and cutting,” pointed out Tegan, the next youngest to him in age, “and you were the one she spent the most time working with before she went off with Este.”

“Well, I’m pretty sure I didn’t,” he snapped back. “Why does it surprise anyone that she didn’t fit neatly into a train, anyway? She doesn’t have an archetype, that means she has no defined role.”

“As to that,” intervened Lady Gwiera, “Melford has a theory he’s trying to test, which is why he wants to talk to her. Arlo and Este, both of you have travelled with Arra through the badlands. Did you ever make camp with her at a place that had no fresh water?”

“No,” came back Arlo.

“Never,” echoed Este.

“That,” said Saphro, “is statistically improbable.”

“Exactly,” Lady Gwiera nodded. “Melford’s theory is that she’s a rare archetype and he wants to see how additional maturity has developed her so he can be certain.”

Este, down at the foot of the table asked, “What does Melford think she is?”

“He thinks, although he’s never met one, that she may be,” Lady Gwiera took a deep breath, “a Mother of Waters or even a Mother of Life.”

“Well,” said Arlo into the long silence that followed, “that would explain a lot then.”

Havok was walking Arra through cool, shadowed halls cut into stone, linked by carved stone corridors and stairwells full of light that came in through cunningly cut shafts and windows. Clusters of rooms with tall, narrow window spaces letting in breath and light awaited occupation. Everywhere he took her, it was just the two of them.

She asked him, “How long has it taken you to make this?”

“You can tell that it’s my work?” He looked down at her and smiled. It softened his face a little.

“Of course,” she smiled back. “There’s only your scent in here. It’s your mark all over the stonework, no-one else’s. So, why have you built not just a stronghold, but a citadel?”

“The Barrier is weakening,” he said bluntly, “and the people who created it are beginning to poke at it, looking at a way in from the outside. When the Queen and Council put it up, they didn’t warn us, even though they did it to confine the Great Beasts. Trouble was, the Great Beasts were fay, so the Barrier works on us as well as it did on them. The human infrastructure was already crumbling and the Barrier finished the job. The population here was lower than it was in better watered places but tens of thousands died as a result of the food, water and power supplies being disrupted. Diseases we didn’t have the medicines for killed more.” He pounded a wall with his free hand. “We were betrayed. We held to our oaths but those we were sworn to broke theirs. They do not get to come back here and take over again as if nothing happened. This place, my place, plugs a hole in our defences. They won’t have the chance to betray us again.”

“You need water,” she reached up and kissed him on the cheek, “before you can man the walls and rally troops here. Take me to your cisterns and I’ll see what I can do.”