<~~~~~~FANART! YAY!

Well, here we are, the end of NaNoWriMo for a year and also the point where I'm coming closer and closer to the hundred page mark. And I think it will make it at least that far. In case you all were wondering (and didn't read my LJ) I did it. I finished NaNo successfully and now have another year to recover and think of a plot for next year. Meanwhile you have a decision. Do you want me to continue working on CS til it's completion, do DW and CS at the same time or do another section of DW before continuing on...or option 'other'. Hehehe. Please post your opinion on the tagboard. Thank you hehehe.


A Shadow's Acquaintance

I don't know how long we lay like that, but neither of us fell asleep or anything. There was something very safe about being in his arms. Neither of us made any attempts to move. It was just very warm. But then Daemon shifted slightly. I looked at him questioningly.
"You told me…the thing you were hiding from me," he said, a little haltingly. I nodded, "Mmhmm, I guess I did. But I don't want to dwell on it, which is probably why I told you."
"You said before that I would not have to tell until you told or vice versa," he said somberly.
I sighed, "You don't have to. I…I pretty much just said that because I hoped that you would never want to share yours so I would never have to share mine. It's your choice if you want to or not."
"It would only be fair," Daemon replied with a slight uneasy shrug.
I shook my head, "Don't do it for that reason. Do it for yourself or don't do it."
"For myself?" he questioned.
"That's why I did it, I wouldn't have otherwise. It depended on two things, one of which was if I felt I was ready and that it'd be best for me…in order to move on," I answered.
"And what was the other thing?"
"That I trust you," I said, looking at him finally.
"You trust me?" Daemon asked, sweeping some stray locks of hair from my face. I nodded, sending the stray locks right back by accident, "Yeah, I do."
He smiled at me, "Then I trust you. I'll tell you, Calvary. But…I'm afraid that…that you might think badly of me. I don't like how it happened either and I can't excuse it but…I had very little choice."
"I can't promise anything, Daemon. But I'll try. I know people make mistakes and can't always help it. So we'll see after you tell me. I'm sorry, I can't just say that I won't get upset or take it all in stride. But on the other hand, I also can't say that I will have a problem either," I responded after a moment of thought.
He nodded and took a deep breath, "I told you of my world, correct? Very little I know, but I told you some. When we came to this hold I said I was Daemon of Elserware, which is just sort of a title I was given that was a nice way of saying 'elsewhere.' The name of my world has no equivalent on this one and when I say it, it makes people here nervous. In my world, most are born alongside one of their shadows.”
“You mean like twins?” I questioned.
He nodded, “Yes. Upon their birth they are separated and usually taught to hate each other. Because one day they are expected to grow up, battle, and kill their counterpart. This has been the way of where I was brought up for longer than my parents or their parents can remember. Generations upon generations, really no one knows when it began. Just that that is the way things are and…it’s true. If you kill your counterpart, you do get stronger. But there can also be consequences, which depend on…well, I really don’t know exactly what. If there are to be consequences, it manifests itself differently in different people. Some go mad, some seem to lose all emotion, others…well…” He paused to gather his thoughts.
“In any case,” he continued at last, “my shadow’s name was Magdalaina. When I met her, she was as tall as me and her hair was long and wintry, her face pale. If I could have seen beyond what I had been taught, I would have seen that my shadow—my sister—had grown into a beautiful woman. And she was strong. She smiled at me upon our meeting. You see, for some odd reason before the battle of the two shadows, they meet. It was bright for a day there and she was sitting under a tree. She heard me approach and turned and smiled. I remember studying it for mockery or some sort of plot. Another quirk of this is that during these meetings, as both are generally taught to hate the other, they fight and finish things a bit prematurely. And some plot to end it early on purpose by some trap of some sort. So I began the meeting warily.”
She greeted me as brother and I treated her coldly. In the time she mentioned many things. Her life, what had made her happy and what had made her sad. She said that she was glad that I had grown up to be strong. That the next day we were expected to fight to the death. That we would never know one another. I suppose she was trying to fit all of her life into that short time so that I would remember. But I took it another way, when she mentioned regret I took it for weakness. I accused her of trying to ease me into false ease or that she was too weak to win so she hoped to weasel out of it. She smiled a sorrowful smile and nodded, and yet it neither proved or negated my statements. Soon after that we parted and she called me brother again.” He sighed and stared at the wall as if seeing the scene again.
In reality, I should have died that day. I didn’t know it then, but she was much stronger than I was magically and better with the sword. But we fought, and in the end she lay on the ground before me, mortally wounded.”
‘There now,’ she said, ‘live brother. Be strong and please remember me. No one else will. Know I came to love you though I never met you and I longed to. And I couldn’t kill you, brother, no matter what they wanted. If we were shadows or not, we were still born together. We are siblings of blood. Live for us both, please, and live for yourself. Be not what they expect.’ She coughed then and blood flecked onto her pale skin. And I was confused; there was nothing harsh in her face. There was nothing of what I had been taught to hate. And there was my family, calling for the final blow, to end her. I didn’t know what else to do, was not prepared to do anything else, so I did.”
Her memory haunted me for a long time. And I was given a reminder so I couldn’t forget. Those consequences that sometimes happen? Mine was to wear this gauntlet, which appeared on my hand when she died. I can’t take it off. And because of her I started to change, though I’m not sure if even I noticed it. I was brought here maybe a year after that event. And it may be because of her that Falan is not dead where he tried to kill me. I now know, though, that I regret what I did, no matter if that was what was expected or not. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had refused to fight. If I had I think she might have as well. But what’s done is done.”
With that, Daemon was silent and continued to stare at the wall. He waited for my reaction, but I suppose he wasn’t about to look at my face and search for my response. I couldn’t say I understood, couldn’t say what he did wasn’t wrong, and couldn’t excuse it either. But I then I couldn’t hold it against him. It was in the past, he had regret and it was obvious he did. And he had changed from what he was, I was confident of that. I knew he had changed, though almost entirely based on intuition. My judgment of character couldn’t be that bad. And I believed him when he said he loved me. Maybe I was foolish, but I didn’t care.
An initial pause and then I slid higher up onto the bed so I could kiss him. I saw his eyes widen before I closed mine. It was a sweet kiss at first, what could be described as tender. Then I tried to draw away, but he pulled me back into it—not roughly, but insistently. And I let him because I trusted him. Finally, he let me go, but held me very tightly in his arms.
“You’re going to fight alongside them, aren’t you,” I said, more a statement of fact than a question.
He nodded, “This may not be my world but it has become my fight as well as theirs. I can’t let them down.”
I pursed my lips and said finally, “Don’t die. I…I don’t think I could take it if you did.”
“Well, I can’t say was planning on it, Calvary. Especially since I have something to come back for,” he replied, smiling at me.
“And what do we do after that?” I asked, “If you win? What then? Will there be peace then and who will rule? Or will the way of rule change? Or what if you lose? What if you don’t come back, Daemon? What then? What happens to the people here if we lose?”
“We? What happened to not being for anyone but yourself. To not giving a…damn about what’s going on. What happened to it not being your fight?” Daemon questioned. He was teasing me now and I knew it. But even so, I answered him seriously.
“Well, I’m not a pawn anymore for one thing,” I replied, recalling my own words, “and I’ve finally found reasons to care about what happens to these people. But that started after I saw them for the first time, when you brought me out on the balcony. It wasn’t the cheering; it was the looks of hope on their faces. I may be a little self serving, but I’m not heartless. If that was the point of you dragging me out there that day, well it worked. And now I’m worried for them.” He smiled then, ran a hand idly through my short hair, which had grown out a bit since I had gotten here.
“In that case, I can’t say what will happen. I suppose only the gods have any idea of what might be the consequences. Maybe we’ll win and maybe we won’t, but we’ll have tried,” he answered. His words reminded me, though something in me kept trying to drift from the issue—forget it was and issue.
I sighed, “Speaking of gods, what about Janus. I can’t think that he could be anything but, unless he’s a magic user of some sort. He tried to have me kill you. He’s been trying to manipulate me and I don’t like it. And who knows what he’s plotting. Whatever it is, whether good or bad, I’ve never liked being used.”
Daemon’s face changed then, he got a little nervous, “I’m sorry, Calvary, but if he is a god, there isn’t much we can do. And he has only appeared to you, he probably plans it that way. As much as I wish that I could help, I don’t know what I could manage.”
“But you heard him too, didn’t you?” I questioned.
“What do you mean?” Daemon asked curiously.
I thought back, “The night that we danced on the balcony, the night that we…made a truce. You heard the music too, didn’t you? That was him, that’s why I left early. Because I heard a song that he had played before, one he called a song of change. So I followed it because I wanted to give him his coat back. That was when he told me there was another Shadow Dweller in the hold.”
He nodded, “Yes, I heard the music, but I thought nothing of it.”
“And the night that I met him, most of the people didn’t even remember that a bard had been there. I had thought that they had been too preoccupied with socializing, but maybe…maybe only some people could hear it,” I thought a bit more and certain things clicked into place a little, “And…and, no one should have been able to hear me yell from where I was when…when…I was attacked. Too many bends in the hallways and no places really very near. What if…”
Daemon blinked, “You think Janus made it possible…so I heard it.”
“And so you would save me…” I said, pausing, “but he didn’t know everything about the attack…” My sentence drifted off, I didn’t want to remember more of that night than I had to.
“Now that I think about it,” Daemon said, “Orion and the woman tending him them looked surprised when I ran out. I thought it was just a reaction to your yells though, not to my actions.”
“Do you think we’re the only ones he’s allowing to hear this stuff? Or maybe us and those that have some sort of relation to us like our shadows?” I questioned.
He chuckled, “Funny, we’re usually the ones referred to as shadows.” Suddenly he sobered and studied me for a few minutes. “Take off the coat, Calvary.”
“What?” I questioned. I had forgotten that I was still wearing Janus’s coat and it had never occurred to me that it might be anything other than a coat.
“Take it off. That thing could be giving him power over you, or helping him to know your movements and actions,” Daemon said.
“Maybe it had something to do with my voice being carried to you that night too,” I replied wonderingly.
“Take it off,” he demanded again. I just looked at him dumbly, as if my mind couldn’t process the order or my body couldn’t obey it. I wasn’t sure if it really could in actuality. The concept seemed foreign. It was so warm and comforting. And then Daemon was working to take it off of me. That was like a bath of cold ice, shocking, breath-taking, almost painful. And I was scared, the warmth was gone. When the coat came off, panic came back. All the feelings since the attack, I had been wearing the jacket almost constantly since then. Whenever I had taken it off, I had felt worse, but I had never connected it to the item of clothing. I started shaking.
“Daemon…” I said, my voice quavering. Why was this happening? Everything was coming back.
“Calvary, what’s wrong?” he asked, concerned. He had thrown the coat across the room and I stared at it helplessly.
“Daemon, I need it back!” I exclaimed helplessly, “Please! I can’t deal with this! It hurts…I’m scared. Please!” I was begging and I hated it, I was terrified and I hated it, I felt hollow and overflowing at the same time.
“Shh,” he soothed, “it’s alright, Calvary, I’m here.” I was still shaking, emotions all flooding over me. The coat had…kept me calm, dulled down the more traumatic things that had happened to me lately and the things that I had done or rather almost done.
“No, Daemon, please! It’s all coming back and I can’t take it! It hurts!” I pleaded.
“What is coming back, Calvary? I don’t understand,” Daemon replied.
Tears were in my eyes now as I tried to explain, “I…everything I should have felt…it was all dulled before…at least the bad things. And now it’s back.” He pulled me to him quickly, held me as I cried.
“I can’t give you that thing back,” Daemon said softly, “you have to get through this on your own. You and I both know you’re strong.” Maybe, but not for this. Not for all of what had happened flashing through my mind. I had heard of something before called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When something bad happens, sure it’s bad then and then you think you get over it and move on. But then I guess things start triggering it, flashbacks and nightmares, like a flood bursting in the back of your brain where you held it all and hoped to never have to think about it again. Maybe that was like what this was. It was horrible.
But Daemon was there, and though that didn’t make things okay by any long shot, it helped to have something. He was like an anchor for me then and I didn’t want to be swept away so I held on. I cried and I shuddered but he kept me grounded, said kind words, tried to help me though he could never understand. And eventually I wore myself out with all of it. I dreaded sleep, but eventually I succumbed to it. And maybe it was made just a little better because I was in Daemon’s arms.


Road of Recovery

When I woke up, Daemon was gone and when I looked around, so was the coat. I guess he wasn’t taking any chances. In all honesty, I couldn’t say that I wouldn’t have put it back on. It was still a horrible feeling and I didn’t want to move. So I just lay there in Daemon’s bed, not caring about the fact that it was a man’s bed right then. It was empty anyway except for me. Then of course, I also avoided thinking about the fact that I had spent the night in a man’s arms. If I had spent more than a fraction of a second thinking about it, no matter that it was Daemon, I would have had another bit of a break down. I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t want to do anything. So I didn’t leave the bed, I just curled under the covers, sleeping sporadically, other times just staring at the wall.
Daemon came in around noon I guess. The guess was based on the meal he brought, which was some bread and meat. I wouldn’t look at him and I wouldn’t take the food. At that point, I’m not sure if I was afraid of him despite everything or if I was just afraid of everything. Maybe if I had gotten to take everything one at a time I would have done better, but having it rush at me all at once was too much. I felt broken.
“Are you feeling any better, Calvary?” he questioned gently. I didn’t answer and I felt on the edge of tears. The last thing I wanted to do was cry and yet it wouldn’t be refused either. I kept silent to keep him from hearing the inevitable crack in my voice. He sat down on the bed next to me. I remained turned away, not sure if part of me was afraid of him or if I just didn’t want him to see me this way. “Calvary, you can’t stay up here and you have to eat.” When I didn’t respond, I heard him put the food down somewhere. Suddenly I was pulled into his arms. Instantly I stiffened and struggled to get away but he wouldn’t let me.
“Let me go,” I pleaded, “please.” My breath was quickening and my heart thudded and I couldn’t stop any of it. I was miserable, not just emotion wise, but just…in being.
“No,” he said softly, “you will see sense. I swear you will before I leave or else I will not leave.”
“You have other things you’ll have to attend to,” I said shakily, “and then you’ll leave again. And I’ll be alone again.” Funny how I wasn’t sure if I felt relief at that last statement or despair.
He sighed, “I’m not going to leave you alone whether that’s what you want or not. I have time before I have to go anywhere, I made sure of it. Calvary you can’t do this to yourself. That coat couldn’t have done anything more than you can’t do yourself. Whether it did it quicker than it should or not, I have no doubts that you can get through it again. But you can not keep hiding.”
“Why not?” I questioned, still refusing to look at him, “That’s what I did before and that worked pretty well I think. There’s no way anyone I used to know is going to find me here.”
“There then,” Daemon asserted, “then isn’t that one less thing that you should be distressed over? He can’t find you here, Calvary. He can’t hurt you again and you don’t have to go back, not if you don’t want to.”
“But other people can,” I whispered softly.
“Not while I’m here. I promise you,” he replied.
“And when you’re not around?” I questioned.
He sighed, “There is no more reason for anyone to have plans to harm you and the only one who might still have tried even after that news is dead.”
“This isn’t a logical thing, Daemon, I can’t just think it away,” I replied, my lucidity surprising me.
“But knowing the facts could help. What else is there? That we could die in two days? That I might die?” he questioned.
“Daemon, stop it.”
He continued, “You know we have to do this. You know that people die, it is part of life. It would be better to die for something than to sit back and wait for it.”
“Do not go gently into that dark night,” I muttered dumbly, “rage, rage, against the dying of the light.” He smiled a little; I could hear it in his tone. He didn’t understand that I wasn’t agreeing with him, that it was just a small mental eddy in which I was relating to what he was saying but not really accepting it.
“Right,” he replied, “that’s right, Calvary. We have to do it, even if it means the end for some of us. We can’t just let history repeat itself.” History repeating itself, a truly terrifying thought to me. Reliving my dad’s death, the accident where my mom died and I was spared, those horrible last months with my step-father, and…and…other things. I shuddered and Daemon held me closer.
“Why does it have to mean that I might lose the people I care about? Again and again, why? And I don’t care if I sound selfish. Why can’t, for once, everything be safe?” tears formed in my eyes, “Why can’t it be like it was before. I remember dancing with my real dad. I remember laughing with my mom. Now I remember dancing and laughing with you. Daemon…please…I can’t…”
He interrupted, “Calvary, I’ll come back. I pro—“
“No!” I protested, “Don’t say something you don’t mea—can’t keep! I can’t take that. Daemon, I don’t know what I’ll do…I don’t think it will matter anymore. Naida will go, you will go, they’ll all go. And will I be left here?” He didn’t answer my question. I don’t even remember how he changed the subject. But he didn’t--wouldn’t--go away either. He kept me talking, which I suppose was a good thing to do. It wasn’t serious things either, just trivial and keeping away from anything that might distress me for the time being. He also attempted to get me to eat too, and eventually succeeded in that as well, though I didn’t eat much. Despite this, Daemon seemed satisfied and I suppose he had the idea that he should take it slow. When he saw that I was getting tired, he suggested that I move to my room. I was torn at this; I felt safe in his room where it seemed like no one could get me, but at the same time staying here would mean spending another night with him. I wasn’t ready for that, even in my normal mental state I wasn’t really ready for that. The previous night had been all about security and nothing about intimacy.
So eventually I allowed myself to be led to my room. There was Naida and as bizarre as it was, I felt fear and insecurity. Towards Naida of all people. That fact shamed me almost more than anything and I pulled myself together enough to force myself to accept her. And so the three of us talked of completely innocent things. Naida watched me with both professional interest and concern. Naida left before Daemon did and said that she would give Orion my regards. And Daemon stayed until I fell asleep, just talking and every-so-often giving me physical gestures of reassurance. A hand in mine, sometimes an embrace, small things to let me know he was there and that I was safe. And I believed him because I had nothing else.


Progress

When I woke up the next day, Daemon was gone again, but Naida was there. She managed to get me up and get me to get dressed. Once I did that, she came back into my room and started to try to lead me out. I resisted.
“You can’t stay in one room the rest of your life, Calvary,” Naida said critically.
“I know,” I murmured, “I just…”
“We’re only going to see Orion. Wouldn’t you like to see him?” she questioned. Before I could answer that I wasn’t sure, she continued, “He wants you to teach him more of your words.” I thought that maybe I could handle that—it was simple enough to keep my mind off of other things. So I allowed myself to be guided to where Orion was staying. It was closer to my room than before. He was making a great recovery and so he had been moved to what I guess was his normal room.
He smiled as I entered, “Thought you’d never come visit again. What happ…” Naida cleared her throat loudly, interrupting and Orion’s smile turned sheepish. “Oh, right. So anyway, do you have anything else to teach me or have I got this ‘English’ thing down?”
I had to smile a little at that, “Not even close. English is a pain in the butt for even its natives to learn…it has some odd grammar quirks.”
Orion smiled almost triumphantly at my expression, “Well, then, get teaching. I have nothing else or better to do all day since Naida is making me lie down most of it.”
“You’ve had time to walk around,” Naida replied, putting her hands on her hips.
“Not nearly enough,” Orion quipped as I sat down in a chair beside the bed.
Naida rolled her eyes, “If you still think you’re going to go to battle in your condition, you have another thing coming. I will tie you to that bed if I have to.”
Orion’s tone rested between suggestive and challenging, “I’d like to see you try.”
“Don’t tempt me,” Naida replied, ignoring the underlying implication of the statement. I laughed a little and they both looked at me, which caused me to blink in surprise and shrink a little at their stares.
“What?” I asked uneasily.
Orion beamed, “Just haven’t heard you laugh in awhile.”
I managed a smile and said, “Well, you’ll have your opportunity if we get started…you usually make some pretty amusing mistakes.”
“Sure, and you don’t!” Orion returned, “What was that one the other day? Something about having moldy cheese in your pockets?”
I blushed, “Oh give me a break, I’m not used to having a hard time making links between languages. At least in my world some of the words will be English cognates.”
“If you weren’t a quick study,” Orion replied rolling his eyes and saying teasingly, “and if I weren’t stuck ‘resting’, I wouldn’t be bothering. I’m a fighter not a teacher!”
“Oh, as if I’m qualified to teach you English. Even I have trouble with the grammar or reason of it sometimes and I live there!”
Orion grinned, “Well then you can just learn this language and stay here, then you won’t have to deal with a language that doesn’t make sense.” I pause for a minute, felt my face grow solemn. I hadn’t thought about whether I was staying or whether I was going back. I wasn’t even sure I had the choice anymore, now that there was the whole complication with Oliana.
“Stay here?” I questioned mostly to myself.
“Of course!” Orion replied, “Don’t go back, Calvary. It may have been a rocky beginning, but you have a place here now.”
Naida was watching us with concern, but I ignored that as I mumbled, “Rocky beginnings…”
Orion laughed, “What, is there an echo in here?”
“Maybe,” I muttered with a half smile. I found myself wondering how much they knew. Did they know I had tried to kill Daemon, that Janus was in all likelihood a god, or did they think my mind just broke down? I suppose it didn’t matter.
“Well,” Naida said, “if you two are going to keep each other occupied, I have to go replenish some of my herbs. Are you going to be alright here, Calvary?” I glanced at Orion. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but my nerves were still a bit on edge.
When he piped in saying, “Don’t worry, Calvary, I may be out of commission for the big battle, but I can still be a knight in shining armor if you need me,” it just made me feel worse so I nodded in response. With that, Naida headed out.
“What happened, Calvary?” Orion asked finally once Naida was gone.
I stiffened, “What do you mean?”
“Naida told me to keep conversation trivial and as much as I love her, it was like walking on eggshells watching her watch your reactions. So what’s going on? You weren’t so bad the other day…”
“You wouldn’t understand,” I answered quickly, hoping he would drop it.
He sighed, “Then enlighten me.”
“There’s too much to it!” I pleaded desperately.
“Neither of us have anywhere to go. I’m not supposed to leave this room yet and I don’t think you can leave. And I want to know why,” Orion said evenly.
I glared helplessly, “People sometimes have delayed reactions to things that happen to them. You ever think of that?”
“Yeah,” he replied, “but you reacted then, then you were pretty much fine, and now you’re cowering again. And frankly it doesn’t become you. And about the other night, how did Daemon here you but neither I nor…”
“Can’t you drop it!” I exclaimed, clutching my ears, “Leave it alone!”
“No!” he answered, “Because this is not like you and it’s not healthy. You can’t just pretend like nothing happened. Something did and by the grey, it…it sucks that it did! But we’re here for you, Calvary.” In a better situation, I would have smiled at Orion’s usage of the of the word ‘sucks’, but instead I was staring at the ground, steeling myself.
“You’re not gonna let it go, are you?” I questioned at last. He shook his head, “Fine, I’ll do what I can. You remember what I asked about Janus? No, don’t flinch! That jerk doesn’t deserve that!” Perhaps that went a little too far, because Orion had a look of utter shock on his face. But I had a spark of anger and was holding onto it for dear life. In a flurry of words not lacking in colorful vocabulary now and then, I told Orion what had been going on…or rather what had been going on minus the night spent with Daemon. He didn’t need to know the past—mine or Daemon’s, though for all I knew he knew that already—and he certainly didn’t need to know where I spent my nights.
“So you’re saying that the grey has been talking to you, made it so Daemon heard you that night, but later convinced you to try to kill him, all the while you having his coat—a god’s coat—that damped what you felt?” I nodded, “That’s crazy.”
I gaped at him, “Do not even start to insinuate I’m making this up! I don’t need that sort of shit! Not from you!”
He laughed a little, “Feel better? I just wanted to make sure you’d stay you. It…it’s hard to grasp, but I don’t see any reason for you to make it up.” I sighed wearily, but tried to hold onto the fire that was blocking the insecurity and fear.
“Yeah, he gave me a coat that helped him screw with my head and if I ever get my hands on him, I’ll kill the bastard,” I said, trying for righteous anger, but only achieving sullen.
He raised an eyebrow, “You’re going to kill a god? If he is a god anyway. Maybe he’s just some crazy bard that knows a bit of magic.”
“You follow him?” I questioned.
“Well,” Orion replied, thinking, “yeah, he’s a god of balance and change. You can’t deny change. He’s also supposed to be fair-minded…so perhaps whatever he’s done…if it is him…it’s for the best. What’s meant to be to…”
I looked at him wide-eyed, “You’re defending him? He wanted me to kill Daemon and…and…” I let out a sound of frustration and stormed out of the room.
“Calvary!” Orion called after me, “Calvary, wait!” But I didn’t pause. I didn’t realize I was on my own until I was about half way to my room. I held onto my anger for the rest of the way, though, and luckily met no one in the halls.


Battle’s Eve

Daemon came later, but could only stay long enough to eat dinner with me. They were marching out the next day, as early as possible. He was happy at the fact that I seemed better, and to a point I was. I had spent much of the rest of the day thinking through what had been frightening me and trying to push it down to somewhere far inside of me. To some extent it had worked, though mostly because I had hung onto some of that anger from earlier. I didn’t know what that would do later, but it made the present tolerable. He did not know about my argument with Orion, I found out. I didn’t tell him either.
“We march tomorrow,” he said simply.
I chased a stray pea around my plate with a fork, “I know.”
“Some will stay behind to watch the hold, but most—those able—will go with us,” he said. I nodded grimly and he sighed.
“What,” he started finally, “what will you do tomorrow?”
I looked up at him with a strained smiled, almost a grimace, “What would you have me do? While you and so many others are off risking your lives while I sit here safe and useless?”
He blinked, “You’re not the only one staying, Orion…”
“Yes, I know! But that doesn’t mean I want to sit here while you and Naida and so many others I’ve come to know are maybe dying! I…!”
“Calvary, you can’t come,” Daemon replied sternly.
“Daemon, I…” I began.
“No! Even if you had not been…as you were the past few days, I would not let you come! You don’t know anything about fighting! Being a Shadow Dweller does not keep you safe in their eyes anymore. I could not do what I will have to do if I have to worry about you getting yourself killed!”
“And what is that?” I asked quietly, “What will you have to do?”
He ran an ungauntleted hand through his hair, which hung loose at the moment, “I don’t know yet. I…I have to go now, I’m sorry, Calvary.” With that he stood and turned to go.
“Wait,” I said. He stopped but he didn’t turn around. I went around him so I could see his face. Then I went on tiptoe a little, putting my arms around his neck so I could kiss him. “I would say it’s for luck, but I really don’t think I’m much of a charm,” I said quietly, starting to draw back.
But he didn’t let go and held me against him, “Would you like the overly sentimental response or…”
“Respond however you like, but if it’s corny don’t expect me to keep a straight face,” I said, smiling a little.
“In that case,” he said, with eyes twinkling but a straight face, “I’ll simply say that you are a wonderful motivation to come back alive.” I smiled with a sigh and let myself lean against him for the time being. His hand ran through my hair for a moment before straightening a little. “I’m sorry, but I really do have to go.”
I pursed my lips, “I…I guess you do…just…”
He interrupted me with another kiss, “I’ll try to see you before we leave tomorrow. Don’t worry so much. I don’t plan on dying.” And with that, he left the room.
“I doubt my parents did either,” I murmured softly. That was a big thing that I was afraid of. Whoever I was close to got hurt—my parents, Orion—and now more of my friends were heading off to what could be the end. Why did this have to happen? Why couldn’t Oliana just agree to talk with them? I laid down on my bed and pondered this. Before I could think too much, however, I was asleep.


Grey Kissed Obscurity

It seemed like it was only minutes after I dozed up that I woke up once more. But all seemed still in the hold. It was like the silence before the storm, the time before all hell breaks loose. I kept my eyes closed, willing myself to sleep again so I wouldn’t have to think. Then a hand clamped over my mouth. I flailed and let out an inevitably muffled croak before all of a sudden it seemed like my entire body was pinned by the air itself. It was as if it had condensed around me in a sort of stifling cocoon.
“If you promise not to scream, M’lady, I’ll remove my hand,” came a familiar voice. I glared at the darkness, straining to see the speaker, but I suppose if he didn’t want to be seen then he wouldn’t be. “Are you going to scream?” After a moment I shook my head.
As soon as he removed his hand I said, “I’m not going to scream but I am going to kill you.” I was proud of the fact that my voice remained level and even managed a tone of anger. Inside, I was scared. Scared at what he could do, especially with me held immobile.
“Good to see you’ve recovered,” he replied evenly, not sounding distressed at my threats in the slightest.
“Let me go!” I demanded, struggling against my invisible bonds. If anything they only got tighter and I tried to fight down the panic that was trying force its way up past my throat into vocal expression. His voice came from somewhere in the shadows of the room, “I want you to listen first.”
I grit my teeth for a minute and then replied, “If you don’t let me up, I’m not responsible for if I start screaming. I do not like to be put in a position like this! And I think I’ve been through enough crap the past couple of days, so let me up!”
Janus made a ‘tsking’ noise and replied, “First I must see that you listen, then perhaps I will release you. I could force you…but I think you’ll want this.” That was the wrong phrase choice for my state of mind.
“Janus,” I pleaded, in near panic, “please! Please let me up. You don’t understand. Please, I promise I’ll listen, just let me up.” The fear was bubbling up in my throat ever threatening. I hated him and feared him right then, though those were probably fairly wise feelings to have all facts considering. He came into what little light was in the room, his face a little puzzled.
“You’re frightened. I know you know…and I know that he took…my gift…from you. But you’re frightened,” he smiled a little, one that was meant to comfort, “why, Calvary? Do you remember the times you came near angering me?”
“It has nothing to do with…well I suppose it could have a little to do with that…but mostly to do with…with things that I left behind and would rather not discuss. Or have drudged up by some god on a whim!”
He sighed, “I did not come here intending to scare you, honestly. Haven’t I helped you, Calvary?” With a wave of his hand, the bonds loosened and finally dissipated. Then just as suddenly he gained his lute or whatever it was.
“Helped?” I questioned incredulously, “No, don’t you start plucking on that blasted thing! You’ve been manipulating me, using me as a pawn! I don’t care who or what you are, you deal with me straight for once! I don’t want to chance you trying to make me kill someone again!” Now that I was no longer bound, I felt a little bit more confident. However, I still knew what he was and there’s something engrained in humans that balks at angering a god.
He smiled, his fingers pausing over the strings, “You didn’t actually kill him.”
“Luckily.”
“I knew you wouldn’t.”
“What?” I questioned, confused now.
Janus ventured closer and sat down on the bed, “I knew you wouldn’t kill him.”
“If you knew that why did you send me to do it! What if he hadn’t woken up!” I demanded, “I still might have whether you actually wanted me to or not!”
“But he did wake up. And besides, you hesitated didn’t you?” he questioned. How he knew that...well I suppose he was a god so he could probably watch as much as he wanted. At that thought a blush rose to my cheeks.
“Don’t you have anything better to do than to spy on me?” I asked annoyed, turning my head to hide my blush. He idly plucked a string, “Oh, I have plenty to do, it just includes spying on you, as you say. I have to watch the Shadow Dwellers and their counterparts. I have to watch the threads that keep this place hidden and make sure they have not frayed too much over the years. I had to kill those who would harm my players and incite others against them. I have to see to the war about to begin. I have to keep the balance.”
One particular item in that list caught my attention, “You killed Berin? Why? Why not let them justice themselves? What if the people saw him as a martyr or something instead of…because of your actions? Aren’t gods not supposed to interfere?”
“When it suits us,” Janus replied chuckling, “I couldn’t let those who thought the same as him gather in strength and resolve. You are a piece of this, Calvary, I can’t have you killed by an overzealous group of rebels. It’s not likely that the people would see one who would molest and try to kill a young girl in a kindly light. And that was how he was portrayed, I made sure of that too.” A chill ran through me that had nothing to do with temperature. Janus noticed, “Are you cold?” From nothing he pulled the familiar coat that Daemon had taken away. “Allow me.”
“No!” He managed to look confused and I glared, “I know what that thing does, I know what you are. What makes you think I’m going to take anything from you again? You know, I thought you were a good person until I found out it was all about manipulating me when it served your purposes.”
“Very well,” he said simply, putting the coat aside for the moment, “in any case, time is running short and we have things to discuss.”
“Why should I help you? That’s what you want isn’t it? Something else for me to do? Give me one good reason why I should,” I answered.
He smiled, one that was not meant to be particularly kind, “For one thing I could just force you, but I don’t want to do that. For another, you’re a part of this whether you like it or not and you have to see it through. Which brings me to three, which is that I think you’ll want to do this.”
“How do you figure?”
“You don’t want to be left behind tomorrow, do you? You want to try to help and protect those you care about, that’s important to you, isn’t it? I will give you the opportunity,” Janus answered.
I bit my lower lip, “Yeah, that’s important. But what do you get out of helping me?”
“You need to get to Oliana, Calvary. That is all I want you to do. You need to get there before Daemon or anyone else does. I can help you in that, but I can’t do everything. As I said before, this is your story,” he answered. I hesitated, thinking through everything that Janus had done or caused. Everything he had said, the good and the bad. And then I decided that that didn’t matter. He could get me to the keep somehow and that was all that mattered. I didn’t know why, but that was that. I only had one question for him.
“Why, if you knew I wouldn’t kill him, did you send me to try?” I asked.
“Would you have opened up to him otherwise?” Janus questioned, “In any other circumstance you would not be vulnerable enough to be talked into it. I knew he wouldn’t kill you even though that seemed like what you were about to do to him. And I knew that he wouldn’t be allowed to die by your hand. Not then anyway.”
“What benefit is it to you if he and I got closer?” I questioned, a little annoyed. He had been playing us as if we were the lute that he held in his hand.
Janus shrugged, “If there was any benefit to me perhaps it would be that if you two were caring for each other, then my Shadow Dwellers would be easier to keep track of.”
“Oh come…”
“But you want the real reason, don’t you? Well, you needed someone. I knew you couldn’t keep the coat forever and that after all you had been through, recovery would be difficult. I had my reasons for giving it to you in the first place. However, he kept you anchored and worked to bring your reason back. And now you are useful to this story again,” he answered me.
“Why’d you bring it back?” I asked, staring at the coat lying innocently on the bed.
He sighed, “You will need it again, though its purpose has changed.”
“How convenient.”
“Yes,” he said, smiling wryly, “of course I am the god of change and a god of balance. I can’t just transport you to the keep. You will ride with the others and the coat will keep your friends from knowing you, just as it kept you from knowing the depth of your emotions. Of course, I wouldn’t advise talking too much, it isn’t fool proof. Does this mean that you’re going to cooperate?”
I sighed, “Yeah. It does. What do I do about transportation? Am I gonna have to walk?”
“You don’t have to worry about that.”
“What’d you do, steal a horse?”
He chuckled, “No, I believe Aerin mentioned the Púca?”
“The shapeshifters that take the form of demon horses and take you for the ride of your life? You’ve got to be kidding, I’m barely good enough to ride a normal horse, let alone one that wants to either throw me or carry me to hell and back,” I replied skeptically.
“It will behave; I am the god of change, after all. And ‘change’ has many different meanings,” Janus answered.
I raised an eyebrow, “So you’re saying if this Púca thing doesn’t do what you want, the next time it tries to change it could get turned into a newt instead of what it wanted and probably get stuck that way too?”
He chuckled, “An interesting proposal.”
“It wasn’t supposed to give you ideas.”
“Even so,” he said, grinning a bit, “well I suppose I’ll leave you to get what sleep you can. I advise you to get a weapon if you are able.” He started towards the door.
“You don’t see anything but the big picture, do you?” I said suddenly.
“Excuse me?”
“You only see the ends,” I elaborated, “you don’t see the little people that make it up and are effected by the means you choose.”
He didn’t turn, but he replied, “Some things must be done.” In the next instant he was gone.


The Right and the Left

The predawn was foggy, but I didn’t know that yet. Down in the courtyard men and women prepared for war. Armor was distributed as was weaponry. But there were more weapons and less armor than men. I would come to learn this later, after Daemon came to woke me up. It was a pleasant enough awakening. He kissed me on the forehead and I opened my eyes. Despite the sleepy haze that still clung to my mind, I quickly wrapped my arms around his neck. His armor was cold against my bear arms, but I didn’t care.
“Daemon,” I said simply. If I could have detached myself from the situation at hand, I probably would have thought that it was such a stereotypical, corny love scene. Right then, though, I could have cared less. If I had said anything else, I think I would have cried.
“I’ll…I’ll see you again, Calvary,” he said gently, trying to reassure me.
“When?” I questioned, clinging to him, “When will I know? This is so stupid, Daemon, why doesn’t anyone else see that?” Daemon pried my arms from around his neck then and sat down beside me.
“No one wants this, Calvary,” he said, “don’t think that. It’s just that…there just isn’t any other choice. Oliana won’t see us and no one is willing to wait longer because her coronation is coming up soon. And once she is officially queen we will have little or no chance. Her place will be cemented, for good or for bad.”
“Do you think she’s like her father, Daemon?” I questioned. I couldn’t seem to picture it. She had seemed so nice, but then again, maybe it was that I didn’t want to see it. Was I blind? Was she acting? Or was all of this a result of horrible communication. Maybe if someone had talked to me instead of kidnapping me, maybe I could have talked to her. But there was no point in ‘what ifs’ or ‘maybes’ that could never be.
Daemon sighed, “I don’t know. And I don’t think we’ll have a chance to find out.”
“You think that if they get to her they will kill her.”
“Yes. Her refusal to discuss anything in any form has not won any faith from us.” I decided to try one more time. Maybe I could still get there with them without having to fool anyone.
“Daemon, please. Let me…”
“No, Calvary,” he replied quickly, standing, “I won’t have you put in danger. You have no way to defend yourself. You may have been training, but the people who will be guarding the castle are not mere militia. Many of them have trained for years. They’ll kill you.”
“They’ll kill you too!” I shot back.
He smiled gently at me, “Not easily.”
“Sometimes skill has nothing to do with it. A stray arrow can take someone down as easily a well-used sword,” I answered sullenly.
“Then I’ll need to have some luck as well,” he bent and kissed me and I tried to remember everything possible about the moment, just in case. The warmth of his lips, his fingers woven through my hair, the way he kept just a little pressure on the back of my head to keep me from drawing away too quickly. He drew away and started for the door. “Naida sends well wishes and…and would appreciate it if you would keep Orion company at least for a little while.”
I nodded, “Okay.” And with that he was gone. I wouldn’t be able to see him or make sure he stayed safe. There were other things I would have to do once I was there. I just hoped that Janus was actually on our side and maybe even kept in mind that I was doing what he wanted. Maybe my friends could come out of this alive.
About a half an hour later, I was dressed and about to put on Janus’s coat again. Part of me was wondering if I was an idiot for trusting him. Another part was asking if I cared as long as it meant that I wasn’t being left behind. And then a third part realized how stupid that reasoning was, or maybe the first part and the third part were the same parts. I didn’t care. So I wrapped the jacket around me for what would hopefully be the last time. I didn’t think I felt any different, and yet I never had noticed it before either. There certainly wasn’t any reassuring change to make me think I wouldn’t be recognized. For all I could tell, I was just myself.
With a shrug, figuring the worst that could happen was Daemon locking me in my room or something to keep me from following, I headed towards the main yard. No one gave me a second glance, not as I found my way to the weaponry room, not as I picked up two twin daggers—the only things I felt confident that I wouldn’t accidentally stab myself with—and not as I found my way to the courtyard. There I was met by a dapple grey mare with fiery eyes and a mane as black as coal. What would have been a hateful glare on the Púca’s part was restrained to annoyed disdain.
“I get it,” I whispered, checking the gear that was somehow on the horse, “you don’t like me. Just get me to the castle and then you are free from any duty as far as I’m concerned.” The horse let out a haughty huff of air. Suddenly, I was clapped hard on the back by a wide, strong hand.
“Ye be ready there, lad?” Aerin’s familiar voice questioned jauntily. So far the jacket was working, I guessed.
I did my best impression of a guy’s voice, and kept it short, “Aye, sir. Ready as I’ll ever be.” Aerin guffawed, gave me another hard, friendly clap on the back and moved on. With a sigh, I mounted clumsily and earned a mocking whicker from the Púca.
“Let us hope,” said another familiar voice, “that yeh will not need to be mounting quickly once we make the keep. A sword would have an easy time of finding a mark in that exposed back, or finding a home between yer head and yer shoulders, Lady Calvary, and none of us would want that.”
I stiffened, “Bran, please don’t…”
He put up a hand to quiet me, “Be calm, if my intention was to keep yeh from this, I wouldn’t have gone straight to Daemon and not have given yeh a chance to lose yerself among the rest of those fighting today. I am not one to keep yeh from yer decisions, stupid they be or not.”
War is stupid,” I said stubbornly, “so what’s one more added to the throng?”
“It is who that one more is,” Bran maintained, “we’ve given Daemon acceptance, or as much as we’ve been able to. But he’s different. He’s different like yeh are different. It would hurt him to lose yeh.”
“And it won’t hurt me to lose him?” I mumbled.
“Of course it would, but I think he would blame himself if yeh were to lose yer life in this when he could have kept yeh from it altogether.”
“But you’re not going to tell, right Bran?”
He shook his head, and then regarded me with his sightless eyes, “No. But if yeh don’t mind I will ride with yeh for a time. Yer eyes will be useless once this begins. The chaos drags yer eyes to everything but what yeh need to see. That is one advantage we Sightless have.”
“Thank you, Bran,” I said sincerely.
He nodded, “Just keep yehself alive that will be enough.” In about another fifteen minutes, the little force was heading from the gates. Bran and I stayed towards the back and talked little.


A Long Ride

When you read a book that has a battle in it, it seems you hardly ever hear about the part before the battle, like getting to the actual field. Or that the anticipation and anxiety can be almost as bad as the fighting itself. Or maybe I just had never read enough war books. After awhile of riding, Bran started telling me about the plan of attack, the reasons why they thought they might have a fighting chance. Naida and some other half nymphs or what have you were going to infiltrate the castle. Easy enough as birds or whatever else they could change into. It wasn’t as if the keep was expecting an attack. However, it would know in advance of our approach so Naida and the rest were there to take out the guards and open the gates. With the gates open, we would attack and more or less hope for the best. It wasn’t a great plan or the best odds, but at least we had a way of getting into the keep.
We had no siege weapons so it was this or nothing. Thanks to Orion, we knew the layout of the castle, where the guard posts were set up, and what their patrols were. We knew where weaponry was kept and what their numbers and weapons were like. If things went immensely well, we would hit them between guard rotations. However, it would be incredibly lucky if they somehow missed the fact that a small army was marching towards them, so they would probably be waiting for us. I did not look forward to dodging arrows, but Bran advised me to stay tight to the horse. After a second ‘look’ at my mount, he said that it would probably know enough to keep itself out of harms way, that is if it felt like living today. At that, the Púca tossed its head and snorted.
After another silence, Bran asked, “Lady Calvary, why are yeh so set on being here? Yeh seem very much against all of this, so why are yeh participating?”
“I have to,” I replied quietly, “I…I have to get to Oliana before anyone else does.”
“That will be quite difficult, many of these men and women have a wish to get to her,” he replied solemnly.
I smiled wryly, though he couldn’t see it, “I have a little help. Or at least I think I will.”
“What sort of help?” he asked.
“I’ve had the unfortunate privilege of helping out a god, Janus,” I said with a sigh.
He nodded slightly, “That helps makes sense of the feeling I’m getting off of yeh, kind of a change in the…energy I usually feel from yeh. And what route do yeh plan on taking to accomplish this?”
“The direct one I guess,” I replied with a shrug, “it’s the only one I know.” Bran made a ‘hrumph’ sort of noise and we rode in silence for a while longer.
“I’ll take yeh there,” Bran informed me after awhile, “I know a few better ways for if yeh run into trouble. I’ve had my times in the keep as one of the Sightless. I dare say I know it better than yeh.”
I chuckled, “If all I knew about you was that you were blind, I’d be doubtful, but considering what I’ve seen you do…well, I trust you to get me there. Thank you, Bran.” A brief smile crossed his otherwise somber face. Then it was back to the expression that was mirrored all around me. Looks that were grim and expectant, with sparse glimmers of hope like sun glinting off of metal in the distance.
After awhile of silence, I made the attempt to start conversation again, “What are you going to do after this is over, Bran?”
He sighed, “Hope to find my son among those still living.”
“You have a son?” I questioned.
Bran nodded, “He’s…Trystan’s among the guardsman, probably the safest place for him barring a war. I didn’t want him to get caught up in this; he has a family to worry about. If things went bad for us I wanted to be sure that at least he would be safe. He’s not of the Sightless, but still a good fighter—intuitive at the right moments.”
“Oh…so being…one of the Sightless isn’t necessarily something you inherit from your parents?”
“No, not always. Often that is the case, but at times there might be no ancestors in memory who were or a child of ours will be born with sight. It’s not predictable,” Bran replied.
I nodded, “So…so he’s going to be fighting in all this?”
“Aye,” Bran replied simply.
“Oh.” It was a horrible thought, that people had family caught up in this, that some people might have them fighting on the opposite side. But they were fighting for their families too. One could only hope that it would turn out for the best. I found myself really hoping that Bran would find his son when all of this was over.
“What about yeh, Lady Calvary?” Bran said, though I almost missed it dwelling on my own thoughts.
“Me?” I questioned, “I…I don’t know. I might stay around awhile but…I don’t know, I might have to go home.”
“Do yeh want to go home?”
“No…I mean yes…I mean…I don’t know. Things have gotten…complicated,” I replied.
“Yeh care about him too, don’t yeh?”
I blushed and was thankful no one could see that under the hood of the coat, “Y-yes…I do…”
“Does he know that?” Bran asked. Why was he asking all of this? Where was he going, what point was he trying to make?
I nodded saying, “Yes, he knows I care about him.”
“Love him?”
“Bran!” I exclaimed shocked and embarrassed.
“Well?”
An inexplicable shiver ran through me and the Puca whickered, amused at my discomfort, “I…I can’t say that…not yet.”
“Yeh don’t love him?”
“No…I mean yes! I…I mean…I mean yes,” the sentence trailed off into shocked silence at the realization. It was more than just caring about Daemon. I really did love him, but I hadn’t been able to admit that, to him or myself. It hurt too much to do that, it hurt too much when you lost them if you both knew that you loved them.
“Then tell him, Lady, before it’s too late,” Bran replied sternly.
I watched the ground passing under me, “You sound like maybe you talk from experience.”
Bran’s tone quieted, “Aye, maybe I do.”
“I will tell him,” I replied, “but…but I can’t yet. Not now, he’d send me back the way I came and I have to be here.”
Bran nodded, “Aye, then as long as it is said before it’s too late.” This time the silence wasn’t broken until we were finally in sight of the keep, and then all Bran said was, “Keep by me, Lady, and try not to watch anything too closely.” It didn’t even occur to me to ask Bran why, I think I probably already knew.


Susurrations

Anything I had ever imagined about war was nothing compared to the reality of it. I saw people fall and it wasn’t always cleanly, wasn’t always instant. First it was just arrows, and as we got closer, bolts. We got through that pretty much okay—most had make-shift shield—but did lose some. I saw at least one fall from an arrow to the eye or a bold straight through the throat. After that, I buried my face in the Púca’s mane and trusted it to follow Bran’s, trying to stay as close to the Púca as possible. When I heard cries of hope and joy from our side, I hazard a glance. The doors had opened and there was just a very little distance from us to the gates. We would be there before they could close them again, or at least I hoped so. I also hoped that Naida and the others were all right and would be able to hold off anyone who might come until we could reach them with reinforcements.
As we neared the gates, I tried to make myself watch and pulled one of the daggers from the sheath. Though I didn’t want to see what was going to start happening around me, I had to stay alert or else I would be run through while I tried to hide, as if if I couldn’t see them they couldn’t see me.
“Stay close,” Bran reminded me, managing to speak above the din. We were towards the middle of the crowd despite our horses, so we were able to see the clash of men as the two lines met. The guardsmen of Eriashen were trying to keep their lines and us out of the keep. As one man in the line fell, the one behind him moved up to take his place. There were too many of us pushing against them to keep it up, however; slowly we pushed forward, curving the line and forcing it back. From my perch on the back of the Púca I almost thought I could see Daemon leading the force. We would have to get past him without him recognizing me and I hoped Janus’s jacket would be enough.
Bran turned back towards me, “We’ll stay on the horses as long as we can. Once we dismount, stay close and if yeh get separated from me, get yer back against a wall or ye’re liable to get a sword in it.” I nodded and waited as we slowly pushed forward. Though I tried my best not to see the battle before me, I couldn’t seem to help watching the figure that I thought was Daemon. I was intrigued but frightened at the same time, what if he was hurt while I watched. But what if he was hit when I wasn’t? He was good, I didn’t know that much about battle, but I could tell that much. Although, I suppose as long as you stay standing you’re technically good. The whole point is by this time was pretty much not to die. Suddenly, Bran was beside my horse, grasping my arm.
“Dismount, Lady,” he ordered firmly, and I obeyed, my stomach clenching, afraid to leave the mount that had a better idea of what was going on and how to stay alive than I did. Before I let Bran lead me away, I regarded the Púca.
“Thank you,” I said, looking into the depths of those animal and yet intelligent eyes. The horse paused for a minute, then whickered and whuffled a blast of air into the crook of my neck. I decided to take that as a wish of good luck.
“Take out yer weapons,” Bran said, assuming correctly that I had brought some, “and hope yeh don’t have to use them.” I nodded and pulled out the daggers and adjusted my grip on them. With Orion, I had only worked with wooden staves or wooden swords. I hoped that I would be okay with the daggers as long as I remembered to take the shorter reach into account. I swung them a little to get a sense of the difference.
“Yeh fool!” I jumped a little at Bran’s harsh tone, “Don’t hold them like that. Hold the one in yer main hand blade down, towards yer forearm and slash with it. The other one is fine just don’t catch yer arm with one while ye’re swinging the other.” I did as I was told and yet again perplexed as to how Bran could possibly know I wasn’t holding the daggers right. As if reading my mind he added, “The cloth makes different noises at different times one way than the other.”
“You never cease to surprise me, you must have the hearing of a…umm…huh…they don’t really have an animal for hearing, do they? Well you know what I mean,” I commented after a moment of confusion. Bran nodded and led me forward. By this time our group had broken through the force at the door and was no longer bulging inward, but spreading and seeping. They moved forward, carefully gaining ground and yet keeping enough ranks together to protect each other and keep our numbers up. We may have been a motley group, but many were some of those nobles who had been driven away, along with their own militia or guardsmen. The others had been training rigorously and those who were new to the sword were grouped with others more experienced. I found Aerin in the fray just as a boy around my age speared a guardsman about to take advantage of an opening Aerin had left when taking out another man. Aerin spared the boy a quick smile before continuing on.
I shuddered at the bloodshed going on all around me and knew I wouldn’t stop if I kept watching what was going on. So I concentrated on Bran’s back as we slid along a wall. I stayed close to him and when the inevitable soldier came around, Bran was ready. He moved quickly and deftly, you would never know that he was blind. In a few moments of fighting he was able to parry, slash, somehow sense the opponent’s weak spot, and take advantage of it.
Another inevitability arose, however, the one that involved Bran dealing with someone while another tried to engage me. Bran’s back was to me, my back against a wall facing outward. Then suddenly an armored guardsman was in front of me, squaring off and raising his sword. Somehow I managed to block the first strike with my two blades, but the impact of his sword rang in my arms and I lost the dagger in my left hand. The one held as Bran had showed me miraculously stayed within my grip. A small, almost relieved smile that also contained mockery peaked out from under the guardsman’s visor as if he could tell my inexperience. I could just make out one of his eyes through the vertical slits in the visor.
“You should have left war to the men, boy...it’s too bad,” the guardsman uttered. My knuckles were white on the dagger hilt and my breath came in short gasps. I took a quick look left and right and realized Bran was nowhere in sight. His sword rose again and I kept my eyes on it. Random things I had learned throughout the years flashed through my head—a few Tai Kwon Do moves and self defense assemblies—but none of it was any use against an armored man with a sword. The sword came down and again I managed to block it and keep my dagger, but the force pushed at my grip and had driven the blade back into my forearm, opening a shallow three-inch gash down it. My wrist and arm were throbbing now and I was starting to shake.
In battle you really don’t have a lot of thinking time, it wasn’t that this guy was taking its time. Just everything seemed to be moving slower. He moved from the first slash into a fluid sweeping motion. The follow through was just beginning and I was moving all too slowly to try to block when suddenly a hilt was sticking through one of the vertical slits in the guardsman’s visor, the same one I had glimpsed his eye through. His head jerked back and threw off his swing and his hand seemed to almost instantly go limp, dropping the sword. I still had to jump a little to avoid getting my legs or feet sliced, but it was better than being disemboweled. The man staggered back a few steps before completely falling.
“Battle is not the time for talking, especially to gloat,” came a voice from somewhere above me and to the left. I was shaking so badly that it was seconds later that the meaning of the words came to me and another few moments before I even thought to look for the source. Bran was about three feet above me in window. “Don’t dally, girl, pick up that dagger and get up here.” He glanced behind him, undoubtedly using his other well-developed senses to make sure the way remained clear. Numbly I did as I was told, sheathed the daggers after a look around, in which my eyes really didn’t take in anything. I tried to get up to the window, but my body wasn’t cooperating. Bran took another glance behind him, then hung an arm down, probably having heard my feeble jumps before or just assuming since my he didn’t sense my presence beside him.
“Kay, I’m jumping,” I said, as I jumped. His hand clenched around my forearm, fingers digging into the beginning of the cut. I winced, the pain enough to snap me back to myself for the moment. I tried not to cry out as he pulled me up and concentrated on trying to help bring my weight through the window. Despite this, he already knew, which wasn’t that amazing since the wound was definitely bleeding.
“Lady, you were hurt?” Bran asked. We stood in an empty hallway—well, empty aside from a couple of bodies, one of which I had accidentally stepped on when I first came through the window.
I bit my lower lip, trying to stay calm, “Yeah, it’s not that bad though, it’s not deep, just a little long. Let’s just keep going and try to stop this fighting before it gets too bad.”
Bran nodded, “Follow me and watch your back.” I dittoed his nod, though I wanted nothing more than to find a corner to hide in. Daemon had been right, I wasn’t ready for this, but it was too late to turn back now.


Threnody

Bran led me here and there along passageways I barely noted. Some of them may have been familiar, but I wasn’t caring where we went as long as Bran kept me going in the right direction. He seemed to know where he was going; perhaps he even knew where a monarch would be in case of attack. Occasionally he would hold up a hand, signaling me to wait. He would move forward or press against the wall--which I would copy—and wait until soldiers passed us by. Finally, he pulled me into a small sconce and faced me.
“Lady, yeh need to know where we’re going in case something happens,” Bran said in hushed tones.
I shook my head in refusal, “Bran, don’t talk like that. I…I don’t want to think about that.”
“Don’t be a fool, Lady,” Bran insisted, “yeh have more sense in yer head than that.” I sighed, and at my nod, he continued, “Oliana will be in one of two places. There is the throne room—those doors are more than just a fancy decoration and are very sturdy when barred. There are also a few concealed arrow slots in the room that only the upper guardsmen have knowledge of. If things seem to be going bad, however, there is a false wall in her closet that leads to a way out in back into the mountains or to the river, both ways of escape with the right guide, which she--of course--would have. Of course the river would be more likely, but never mind that, it’s not our concern right now. At the moment we are near the hallway where Orion said that yer room was. Do yeh know how to get to the throne room from here?”
I nodded, “Yeah, I think so.”
“Good,” Bran replied, “that’s good. Oliana’s room isn’t far. Yeh go the opposite way of the throne room and whenever yeh come to a stairwell going up, yeh take it. There aren’t many turns; the ones yeh take are two lefts, two rights—one of those being a staircase—and then another left and right. Then straight down a hall, yeh get that?”
“Left, left, right, right, left, right, “I repeated,” keep going up. Where are we going first?”
Bran paused, listening for a second, then replied, “The throne room, that’s where she should be to keep up morale. She may not be queen yet, but in battle a monarch’s place is either with the men or in the symbol of their power. Oliana isn’t old enough or experienced enough to join the lines, so that’s where she would be.” I nodded and we were on our way, past the place where my room was and down the stairs where I had once given Falan an earful. Silently and briefly I mused about how two people sharing the same face could make me feel so differently. Falan frustrated me to no end while Daemon…Daemon had made me feel something that I hadn’t allowed myself to feel for a long time. The first was something that was no different than any other day and the latter terrified me.
But I could, as I said, only think about this briefly, because my luck wasn’t good enough for us to get to the throne room or find Oliana without confrontation. The force wasn’t large, four soldiers. Four against, two—well not really two because I sucked at fighting—the odds weren’t horrible. These soldiers were well-trained however; I only hoped the small space of the staircase would give us an advantage. We had higher ground, limited mobility, and fewer numbers. I was mainly relying on Bran and he was proving himself worthy of my trust. The first one he took out quickly while I tried to face the second. After another moment, he shoved me backwards out of the way and faced the soldiers himself.
With a grunt he said, “I don’t want to be having to worry about yeh, just stay down.” I had fallen and landed on the staircase and did my best to stay behind Bran and out of harm’s way. The hood of my cloak fell back to lay between my shoulders, but I didn’t notice. Only two people could stand abreast in the stairwell, so Bran was holding his own pretty well. I was able to see that the one on Bran’s left was more skilled than the one on the right, that is unless Bran’s left was a weak side for him. I kind of doubted that though. I saw the one on the right fall though I couldn’t tell if he was dead or just wounded. Bran grunted with the effort of fighting two skilled guardsmen and I just tried to stay out of the way and not trip him up. In a few minutes, Bran took down the guardsman that had stepped up to the right side by way of a sword through the stomach. I felt my stomach turn but I felt compelled to watch as Bran worried at the defenses of the last guardsman, probing for weaknesses.
So I saw every parry and feint, but missed something else that was crucial, and didn’t learn my mistake until there was suddenly a spear sticking from the left side of Bran’s back just below the arm. I let out a cry and Bran jerked from surprise and the strength of the impact. The soldier in front of him took the opportunity to get in a slash across his side.
“No! No!” I shrieked, “Please!” Bran fell to one knee and his opponent made the mistake of thinking him about done for as he raised his sword for the final blow, exposing some of his torso. Bran took advantage of it, grimacing as he drove his sword upward into his chest. The soldier looked shocked, staggered, and fell. I rushed to Bran’s side as he collapsed, trying to catch him but ending up falling with him. He was bleeding heavily and I tried to pull him up further to use me as a brace but his armor and his own body weight was too much for me to pull. He coughed and I thought I saw blood.
“Bran, Bran!” I whimpered, “Hold on, I’ll find help…I’ll…I’ll…Bran you can’t!” Tears sprang to my eyes for this sightless old man that I had come to like and respect.
“Stop it, Lady,” he said gruffly, though softly.
“No, no, Bran. Just hold on,” I said, “help will come or…or…please just hold on!”
Bran shook his head, “Get outta here. Yeh have to run and yeh have to stop this.”
“I won’t leave you!” I cried, shocked that he could think I’d even consider that.
“Yeh have more brains in yer head than that! Yeh can’t help me, but yeh can help by finding Oliana and making her stop this! Maybe she’ll listen to you,” he insisted. His eyes were drooping as if they were too heavy for him to keep open, though he couldn’t see anyway.
“Please Bran,” I pleaded one last time, hot tears streaking down my cheeks, my voice breaking. I couldn’t lose someone this way. Couldn’t do this again.
“Don’t yeh break on me,” he said, “just go, Calvary. Quickly, before they come.” He managed to reach up a hand and he touched my face. He took a moment to move his hand across my face, his hand rough and calloused from years of working and swordplay. I let him without question until his thumb wiped a tear from my cheek and his hand dropped. “Now I have a face for the voice, thank yeh. Get going now, so Daemon will get a chance to see it again.”
“I’m sorry Bran,” I murmured, getting up, “so sorry.” Tears blinded me as I picked my way around the bodies of Bran’s fallen foes. I started down the stairs but stopped when I heard something like a sword hitting stone and Bran’s yell. Then silence for another moment until I heard a familiar voice call, “Guardsman, to the stairway! Get the girl.” This was from behind me and before me I heard the terrifying sound of footfalls. If I went up I would face Falan and down was more soldiers. But perhaps there was a corridor I could run down if I went down the stairs a little further. I ran for all I was worth, hoping to beat the guardsman to a corridor before they could catch me on the stairs. It wasn’t to be however, I ran around a bend and into the grasp of a couple of armed soldiers, who seized my arms. Bran was dead and maybe I was too. I dissolved into sobs until I heard Falan address the guards holding me, “You two, follow me. We will bring this Shadow Dweller to the Princess.”


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