The Struggle of Writing Vows

“Two years ago when your father offered me your hand in marriage to solidify the alliance between our clans I thought that I could be content with. At first glance you were a right fit lass and when you demanded I take you to Saragossa with me I was impressed with your spirit. You took the journey in stride, the trials and tribulations of the city, my admittedly limited capacity for coping with stress—all of that you took in stride. You kept our home warm and inviting, food ready for me even when I was returning home from the taverns at ungodly hours in the morning. You’ve been a rock since we came to this cursed valley, and even then I couldn’t say to myself that I loved you. I was a bloody idiot.

As I held you in those woods and watched the light fade from your eyes I knew at that moment a world without you waiting for me when I got home was not a world I could not accept. As I chased the people that had done this to you through the woods I was hardly concerned with my sword…I just wanted to hurt them for what they did to you. That was the moment I realized that there was nothing in the world that meant more to me than you. Every kind word, small gesture of affection, every moment spent with you drove me forwards and I truly believe brought me out of that alive.

Fiona MacLaren I love you with all of my heart and soul, and until I draw my last breath I will continue to work to be a man worthy of your love. I will live my life as the sword and shield that protects you from all the bad things in the world and nothing and no one will keep us apart.”

With a heavy sigh Niall crumpled the parchment he was writing on and tossed it to the side. This was the seventh time he’d attempted to scribe his weeding vows to Fiona, and the seventh time he’d found himself increasingly disappointed at the lack of words he could muster to describe his feelings. He looked over at the bed they shared and smiled softly watching the heavy wool blankets rise and fall as she slept. As much as he wanted to send her to Porto Fino, there was a great comfort in having her here. Seeing that she was alive and well, reminding him that he didn’t lose her. Occasionally he’d find himself in a moment of panic unable to calm down until he saw her or heard her.

The last few days he’d been so focused on tending to her recovery that he’d still been putting off the emotional labor of working through his own truama. As far as Niall was concerned that could come later, keeping Fiona safe and seeing them and the rest of his circle of friends through this crisis was top priority. Though he could hear Saorise and Arineh chastising him now about taking care of himself, in fact he was overdue for one of those conversations sometime soon.

As he set his writing supplies away Niall found himself thinking to the conversation he had with Sinnoch last forum. At the time when he was asked if he was happy Niall couldn’t respond. He didn’t know what happiness was, all he knew was his duty. But for now as he crawled beside the woman he’d given up his moorsword to protect he could imagine that one day he could very well answer yes to that question—and that was all he could ask for at the moment.

Welcome Newcomers!

For the benefit of the new faces making their way into our fair city Niall MacCraig will be hosting a ‘Spirit of Stragosa’ mixer on the first night of this coming forum at the Farmer’s Daughter tavern. Enjoy snacks and drink provided by the host and make the most of your first forum night. Don’t pass up this excellent opportunity to make connections and forge friendships. As representatives of the community Sir Lysander Freiheit and the city census taker Eloi will be in attendance to speak on life in the city and offer any assistance in getting situated that might be needed.

On The Importance of Self-Forgiveness

The sounds of shouting were far behind them now, and the only thing left was for them to make it to the woods and disappear. Declan and Liam had already made it past the tree line with Orla and Brody not far behind them. Niall was lagging behind carrying the bundle of supplies they had lifted from the caravan and Conner behind him to watch his back. “Oi lad we’re home free I can’t believe we pulled this off.” The young Dunn grinned brightly at his best friend as the sounds of his heart pumping in his chest started to drown out everything around them.

There was a brief moment before his reply that Niall thought to himself that it was too easy–a split second where the colors of the world seemed more vibrant, and then almost thunderously the silence was shattered with a grunt of pain. The look of wide eyed shock on Conner’s face as he fell forward burned itself permanently into Niall’s brain. The bright red fletching of the arrow sticking out of his back a stark contrast to his yellow tunic. Niall froze in place watching his best friend crawl up to his knees, his muscles tensed as he prepared to move towards his friend.

Before he took a step Conner’s voice boomed out across the field, “Niall MacCraig don’t you dare stop running!” The archer that had shot him from the watchtower was lining up another shot if he acted quickly he could get them both out of there. “Get home Niall. Don’t let them get the both of us mate.”

He wanted to argue, he wanted to rush forward and shield his friend from further harm, he wanted to make sure he would have to tell Conner’s parents that their son wasn’t coming home. His body had other ideas however and his legs were pumping carrying him towards the forest as if commanded by Conner’s order. He couldn’t even bring himself to look back as his friend’s final pitiful cry echoed in the empty field.

Niall woke up with a start clutching his chest. He’d had this dream every night since the events of Night Lord’s Feast. Watching his best friend die every night was starting to wear on his state of wellbeing. The sun was starting to raise over the horizon and rather than attempting to go back to sleep Niall carefully crawled out of bed as to not wake up Fiona. Moving around the house quietly as he could Niall got dressed and left for the necropolis. He found himself there more and more lately; well there or the nearest tavern drinking more ale than he probably should.

He found himself on standing amongst the very familiar gravestones in the cemetery and headed to his favorite spot among them. It was nestled in a rarely traversed part of the cemetery and had a small circle of trees nearby to sit under and get lost in his thoughts before the tavern opened so he could start drinking.

Setting up under his favorite tree Niall gave a deep sigh watching his breath frost in the cold winter air, “Gods I’m fucking pathetic…” he muttered to himself for what felt like the six hundredth time this week. He couldn’t help but think of what Conner could would say if he saw him now wallowing in depression. He could almost hear the sarcastic voice of his fallen friend.

“I didn’t die so you could sit around feeling sorry for yourself MacCraig. Now get yourself together and go be the man I know you can be. The hero I know you can be.”

A small smile broke onto Niall’s face, even if it was in his own head hearing Conner’s voice was a small comfort to him. He wanted to make his friend proud—to keep his death from being in vain. Clutching the Lionem that Conner had forged for him for his birthday many years ago Niall made a promise to himself. He would claw out of this hole he was in and forge a legend for himself that would be spoken of for years, and he’d be sure to tell the tale of the man that sacrificed himself so that Niall could become a man worthy of the title hero.

He wasn’t ready to forgive himself just yet, and the Malefic that cornered him had been right he would never outrun his guilt. But if he kept doing well, if he kept using his strength to save people and protect his friends maybe that would start to outweighing the heaviness in his soul. This was something that he was going to be living with for a long time to come, but like Father Heinrich had told him he had done a lot of good since the follies of his youth.

“One day I’m going to show the world what you saw in me Conner.” Niall muttered closing his eyes and picturing his friend in his minds eyes, “I just need to see it in myself first.”

An Open Invitation

A notice posted around town and read aloud:

“Attention Citizens of Stragosa, this upcoming forum there shall be a mixer celebrating the spirit of community. The party shall be began at a quarter past the noontime bell on the second day of forum, weather permitting at the amphitheater. Opening the afternoon will be musical selections performed by the Beggar Kings. Following shall be words of strength and community spoken by a select of Stragosa leadership. A public ritual for those wishing to participate performed by Sir Lysander of the Holy Order of White Lions shall round out the festivities. So I bid you join me in this celebration of community.
-Niall MacCraig”

An Unsent Letter to Maeve MacCraig I

My Dearest Mother,

You will likely never read this letter, it’s far too dangerous to send and risks spoiling the hard work I’ve put in to the task I was sent here for. This shall as merely an accounting of my tale should one day it need be told, and writing to you helps with the feelings of homesickness deep within me. My journey thus far has been trying to say the least and no amount of training could have prepared me for what awaited me in the valley. From shambling corpses, lazerine cultists, even the fae have made an appearance since my arrival. Had I been aware before I might have abandoned this plan. That said the longer I spend the more convinced I become that this is the right course of action. The city is full of people sympathetic to our plight, powerful people with the means and the intent to help. In fact I’ve sworn myself to a Hestrali merchant house the Giotolli’s who have dedicated resources to helping Duns in need. After hearing all they do for my fellow countrymen I felt good in taking a vow to help them to further their goals. Besides among the lot of them I’ve found companions that east the ache in my chest being so far away from home in many ways they remind me of my siblings. One of them, a privateer of sorts reminds me of Finn, boisterous and charming. It’s no surprise that a man that reminds me of my favorite brother would quickly become a friend. I count myself among good company here and one can never have too many friends in this cursed place.

Other alliances are in the works, but I dare not even write down the details. I’ve set things in motion that I am unsure about, that might change the way people look at me—that might change the way you look at me. I hope that people will be able to look past the choice I’ve made and see that I did it for the homeland. My conscious is clear and I’ve no regrets, but only time can tell if that will continue to be the case. I swear that regardless of the outcome my first duty will be to the Motherland.

I also find myself worried about Reese, I know that he’s sworn to take Ros Droma from me by any means necessary but that currently involves a treacherous journey into very unsafe territory. As much as I believe in the core of my being that I am the rightful wielder of the family legacy and will gladly defend my right to carry it—I wish no harm to come to my brother as misguided as he is. Mayhaps I’ll be able to get him to see reason, show him the progress I’ve already made. My short time in Stragosa has taught me many things, foremost among them that we are not alone. By keeping our people isolated the Rennet family has fostered the belief that we are indeed isolated. Seeing all the people here who wish to stand against their tyranny further solidifies my conviction that we cannot win this war alone.

(scribbled out) Mother I wonder were you as nervous as I am now before you married father. Fiona is a fine lass and a merging of Clans MacCraig and MacLaren is strategically sound. But I never imagined that I’d be marrying for anything less than true love, and the fact of the matter is that I so not love her. She will make a fine wife and an amazing mother, but my heart yearns for more. A fire that she unfortunately does not stoke. At this point I fear the repercussions of going back on my arrangement more than I loathe the idea of a loveless marriage. So I shall suffer in silence. (end scribbles)

May God keep you in good health
Your son