The first pages of a fresh journal

I figure its time to start writing my thoughts down. People love to record the histories of noble men and heroes, so maybe I can shed some light on what the day to day really is.

Im a Knight now. Sworn in service to one of my best friends, or at least sometimes it feels that way. I worry about her, shes very alone, she has no true confidants, and even to me she can’t tell everything.

I am scared of her. I respect her. The ancient hestrali spoke of love many ways. I dont feel the romantic and sexual love i feel for my wife, i feel brotherhood, and i know through my time in the field that that is love too, not sexual, but something deeper. A trust.

I know I should feel differently now that I have a title, but I just feel the same. Deperate to do my job well. Scared when i get into real fights, and hopeless when faced with the thousand mineutia of the day.

I feel a weight creeping in. Like a pressure on my very soul, as if my company is now more than it used to be. I’m scared for my friends and daunted by the responsibility I bear for them.

Originally I had wished to write of privelage and responsibility, of how station is its own burden, no matter how high or low one is.

I am finding it difficult to care. The prices and weight of this ring is heavier than it should be. I need time. I will clear my head and train.

Perhaps someday I’ll be worthy of being Ser Knut of the Order of the White Star. But as of right now? Im jealous of Ser Alastor. At least he is able to rest fully.

Cold Hands, Grateful Heart

“Hmm” Libby said, “these herbs might be able to provide aid to the ones who requested it, but this other effect might be problematic.”
This had been a regular occurrence this forum. Spending the evening bells consulting her many notes she had taken to create special brews at the request of the townsfolk of Runeheim. In this instance, her work had extended into that next morning. Measuring, pouring, recording, and comparing until her focus was broken at the realization she was late for Court. With an exasperated sigh she hurriedly put away her materials and proceeded to rush to the meeting room. It wasn’t until she sat down in the back of the room that she noticed her hands were so chilled she could feel her blood pulsing through her veins with each beat of her heart. It wasn’t uncommon for her to lose track of the time when engaged in her work. She moved her fingers to help warm them and distract from their painful stiffness.

Dag – a friend of Knut’s well known for his fighting prowess and seeming inability to speak, but still perfectly able to communicate – was sitting in the chair next to her watching her move and wring her frozen hands with a look of concern on his face.

Libby motioned to Dag to lean his ear close to his face. “There’s nothing to worry about son, my hands are just cold from the frost that has come so suddenly to Runeheim,” she said while massaging her left palm with her fingers. He pulled her hands in-between hers to warm them and audibly gasped at their temperature.
“This happens a lot. I get so deep into my work that I don’t notice my hands are frigid until I can no longer move my fingers,” she whispers guiltily to Dag, “I really should probably take better care of myself these days if I want to keep going into the winter.”

Dag looked at her with mixed emotions of worry, and a little frustration. Libby could sense his care as he tenderly held her weathered hands in his soft warm ones. He looked into her eyes and smiled, pulled her hands closer to him, and tucked them into the folds of his neck, the last few remnants of the chills working their way out of her fingers.

Runeheim can be a strange place to be – Malefic oddities come almost every single night, and the Menjir’s shining runes make many who call this place home nervous of the future. Libby found a community, with friends that she would protect in the same way she protects her grandchildren she brought with her.

She looked back up and met Dag’s eyes, her smile returning his.

Today she was grateful. Grateful for friends.

Victor Journal Entry #4

“Where in the name of anything that’s holy is my damn charcoal” fumed Victor as he began to stoke the fires of the smelter. He was starting to understand why Old Erik had always been such a miserably unpleasant person during his own apprenticeship. “Micheal!” he yelled for his own apprentice who hurried over. “Where is the rest of the damned coal? We should have plenty more to get us through the coming month, but its gone!” The young njord failed to meet his teacher’s eye as he replied, “I…uh.. may have left it at the basilica when I dropped off the feastware during forum.” “Go get it, “ Victor responded. “We have far too much to accomplish right now.”
The young man scurried off on his task. Victor could hardly blame the young man for misplacing things currently. The loss of his coin pouch still irritated him to no end. How could he have been so fucking stupid to simply leave it at the table. What could have possibly possessed him to simply walk away from his own money in a tavern full of strangers. His own anger was palpable. It was one of a few terrible instances of a busy forum.
As the fires of the smelter grew and readied themselves for their evenings task he absentmindedly rubbed his aching sternum. Somewhere in the confusion of night after the feast he had been shot. The pain still hasn’t subsided. What bothered him the most was that he couldn’t even remember being shot. His friends had told him that he had been trying to kill Ragnar. It *had* been awhile since he had last gotten blackout drunk in a fight. What had stuck in his mind was the absolute psychotic way the hollowsong men had fought. They had been such terrifyingly capable fighters, and he was not looking forward to facing them again.
The last forum hadnt been all bad though. Sure, he had lost some money, and spent even more, but being named master of ceremonies for the all-thing was an honor for sure. Being named co chair for master of coin even more so. The co- part of the arrangement was worrisome, but not an impossible task.
The fires were finally ready. “Yup, not a terrible time after all” Victor said to himself. He looked at the three rocks, flecked with gold, shining in the light. “In you go,” he said to rocks as he placed the crucible into the fires. When his friends said the grey company was bringing in more miners, Victor had known things were going to get so much easier. Being handed more gold then he had ever seen in his life the final morning of forum had made a stressful event a resounding success.
Perhaps he could actually become one of these dragon merchants outstretched on piles of gold that the church always rallied against. The thought was both amusing and highly entertaining.

Svart’s Internal Dialogue Late Autumn LA 608- Runeheim Forum 4

((Svart’s internal dialogue as he thinks over the events of the late autumn forum for LA 608 and tries to make sense of it all.))

I was robbed.

Miss V. had made me a pair of fine boots. I had them. Shanahan had given them to me, but when I looked for them later, they were gone. I looked all around, but I could not find them. They must have been taken by the bandits in the forest. That must have happened, because I do not lose things. The Witch Queen that they serve must have sent them to steal my boots. The bandits must have taken them.

They did not know that Svart can make his own fine boots. Svart is hard working and dependable and has all the materials he has gathered as his father taught him to do. He is quick and can work a needle as his mother taught him to do. Svart began work on his princely mantle. I made my own boots. Then I made small clothes. These are the things he did after Svart returned to Runeheim after staying with the Dunnick army in the South who said they would aid him in his cause if he helped free the Dunns from slavery.

Then the Witch Queen attacked. There were fire ghouls and bears at the beginning of forum.

Wolf-Rick was there and Svart kept away from him. When I first met him, I could tell he was a good person. I am never wrong with my impression of people. Just as I could tell that Tongue Splitter hated me when she slammed the door in my face. Then there was Xavier who made fun of me and told everybody not to use any of my crafting. It was no surprise to see him plotting the black dogs that stand on hind legs and talk. He is obviously in league with the bandits in the woods and taking orders from the Witch Queen. Yet, Wolf-Rick was a good person but revealed he was a wyrd spell caster with the story of how the magic tortures and corrupts his soul. It is sad to see a good man enchanted and corrupted by such foul wyrdness. I can tell he yearns to be free.

I, Svart, swear and oath that I will find a way to strip Wolf-Rick of his magic, and free his soul from its torment! Then, he can be a good person again.

The Hollow Song attacked Runeheim. They were in the woods attacking other villagers and when the defenders of Runeheim came out, they engaged. I had been out in the woods patrolling and protecting the other villagers from attacks when I heard the battle back by the bridge. I rushed back and saw that the group of Runeheim defenders had been split up. Most had been driven back across the bridge, while Quill was being attacked by another group. Svart attacked across the bridge, clearing the way and led the charge back to save Quill. Svart was the first one back to help Quill. We arrived in time to save his life, but not his finger. I think one of the Hollow Song ate it.

I did better in that battle. Rolf had been teaching Svart how to fight and advising him. Svart misses Rolf. We were good friends, and he helped train Svart in fighting. We’d go into the forest and fight together. We’d fight giants and trolls to protect the town. Nobody was as good a friend to Svart as Rolf.

Then there was the attack on Runeheim by the crows. They must be servants of the Witch Queen as they grabbed me and tried to drag me out to the menhir like they did others. I had escaped once through a tough battle. Seeing that they couldn’t get me, they kidnapped Solace and dragged her out to the menhir knowing that I would follow to rescue her. The Friar was leading the way with his lantern, but then an assassin snuck up behind me and stabbed me in the back. Luckily, Bjorn fought it off and saved my life.

The Witch Queen in the forest that controls the black dogs. The black dogs have always tormented Svart. Mother said that the black dogs don’t like me because my head is full of cats. Dogs don’t like cats. The Witch Queen did the same to kill the bear king, and now she does the same against me.

My mother also told me the truth after other children were making fun of Svart. That the Bear King used to visit Runeheim. Back when my mother was the most beautiful woman in Runeheim, he was one of my mother’s special friends. He is my real father, and I am the prince of the Bear Throne. But she warned me, I have to keep quiet and not tell anybody, or they’ll come after me. Then after my mother died, the Witch Queen started sending her dogs and bandits more and more often, because they know I am the real heir to the Bear Throne. They seek to break my spirit and stop me from uniting all of the Njordr.

The only person who knew was Rolf. I told Rolf who I really was. He told me that he has been sent to guide me in a vision he had. He recognised me as heir to the bear throne, and I branded him, Rolf the Unbreakable.

Eventually, I will make my fortune, destroy the Witch Queen and her servants, claim my throne, marry a princess, unite the Njord clans, and free the Dunns.

War Journals 4: Rage

A life spent in campaigns and raids, marching through mud and hiding in gore; the old knight had seen losses before. He’d been defeated before. Such things were inevitable, if one was truly honest with themselves. It was impossible to have perfect control of your soldiers. Impossible to know with perfect certainty how a rival would move, or how quickly their troops could muster.

These were all excuses that he told himself, saddled on his powerfully built warhorse, tromping through the hoarfrost. It had been a slaughter, there was no other word for it. The painted faces of the Hollow Song had come through the woods in a single long line, stretching further than the eye could see. They had been slathering at the mouth, adorned with the flesh of others. The Grym had faced their out runners and scouts in forum. The Hollow Song had refused to stay dead even then. How many had he killed? He’d lost count Their ravening cries between deathblows frantic, without greater purpose. The red haze that had descended across his vision had never truly lifted. [i]Her form had been limp, nestled against the base of the damned menhir. Red wicking through the pristine white of her robes. Her voice weak and sedate as it called to him.[/i]

When an army suffers a grievous blow and is in an ordered retreat, there are sounds one expected. A morose sort of silence. The whimpering of the wounded and the drag of their sleds. The occasional shout of alarm as each branch becomes a new imagined enemy. Curses, both at their ill fate, and also their inept leadership. His troops made little of these. Instead, there were growls, unsettling and deep. There were no curses from them, only demands that their retreat halt that they could return to the hopeless battle. They had been slaughtered when their force was twice this size. Now? They would hardly even slow the madmen. Some dark seed had been planted in them, and Sven, the Elf-Blood, wished to water it. More than anything, he wished to wheel his horse about and ride back to face them.

The painted faces had been goading, by the end. He had been surrounded by a dozen or so dead of their number, a hundred more of his own. They had been grinning, nearly lecherous at them. They flesh adorned men, faces grinning and painted, words oddly encouraging, had made a hole. They’d allowed half his soldiers to slip between their lines. The intentional release couldn’t be ignored; his lines had rolled up like a carpet. They’d been doomed; he’d expected to die with his troops, and they’d let him go.

“How old were you when you killed your first man, Troels?” he asked, not really caring. The commander of his forces said something in a growling voice, but Sven hadn’t asked because he cared for the answer. Sixteen, he thought. “I was nine.”

Eyes glassy, breath frosting and catching moisture in his beard, he stared into the distance. Some memories were burned into your mind for all time, and this one was just as clear now as it had been then.

“My Uncle took me hunting. He wasn’t so much older than me. My father was Earl and had given up most frivolities to focus on managing the house, for all the good it did him. A true Gothic in all but name, father was proud to divest himself of all but his furs. But Uncle Hakon… he was all history and romance for times gone by. He was so proud of his Brand. Hakon Iceblood, the vacant eyed killer. He taught me the trade more than anyone else,” the old knight shrugged. “He would often take me hunting. Sometimes for elk, sometimes for bandits. It made little difference to him.”

He was rambling now, but it didn’t seem to matter. Words were being used as a crutch, and he needed them to keep his men moving away from certain death. The blood in his veins boiled and demanded some sort of satisfaction. To be gratified on flesh.

“Uncle Hakon collected me from the city. The usual excuses were given. He wished the heavy pelts of larger deer in the North. He said we would be gone for a few weeks. It was a long trip. We met his men a few days out of town, and we moved north. A challenge had been issued; I didn’t know it at the time, but someone…” Sven’s features shifted to a frown in though. “I can’t for the life of me remember with who. Someone had challenged someone, and now their small armies were jockeying about to find favorable ground for a battle. I’d never seen such before. Not a real one. Two organized shield walls moving and counter moving. The axes pulling open holes. Spears and blade slashing through the openings. Iceblood won. I’d never seen a man move so fast. I’d stayed back with the followers; the cooks and blacksmiths and wounded too tired to assist materially. Far enough for safety, but close enough to observe”

The scent of the battlefield had been more jarring than the sounds. The slashes of blood making mud of the ground had been greater than any hunt. Nothing in this life smelled like the belly of a man torn asunder.

“When the matter was settled, Iceblood came back, grinning like a loon. He had taken a knee and clapped me on my shoulders. ‘This is mans business’ he’d said. The gravity of the situation was broken by the manic levity painting his face. He taken his knife from his boot. A lovely blade with a hilt of polished horn. He pressed it into my palm,” the knight looked down at his gloved hand as his horse plodded on. He could still feel the small nubs dotting its length and biting into his palm. “He took me by the shoulder and guided me to the field where the wounded lay. Some were crying. Some were dragging themselves off. Some were just blinking up at the sky with bewilderment. Iceblood found a fearsome specimen. Tall as a mountain. Some axe or another had taken a deep wedge of flesh from his side. His hair was the color of embers as they burn low, with a fearsome beard to match. Darker flecks dotted the beard, looking black in the evening’s shimmering light. ‘This is mans business’ Iceblood repeated and just stood there, expectantly. I was confused. I remember looking up at him and wanting to ask what was mans business. But it was the bleeding fellow that brought clarity to me. ‘It falls to the boys to cut the throats of the fallen’ he said. ‘This is our way. Cut the throats of those who will not rise on their own again. Call it a kindness lad.’ But there was no kindness there. I was dizzy and young and had no mastery of the blade. The first thrust hesitated and caught on his rib. It skittered away, sending shivers up my arm. Damnedable feeling, the bone grating against the blade. Iceblood let me stab him three times before he told me where to cut a man that he would bleed out. Didn’t show me, mind. Told me. I never learned the name of that red maned giant, but I remember his eyes still. I cut the throats of six more men that night. Their faces are less clear to me.”

He looked up from staring at his palm to view the woods thinning to plains as they marched towards Runeheim. Word would have already reached the Avalanche and Ingvar of their devastating lost. They would be wheeling their forces about to secure the populace. They were good, moral lads, in their way.

“I don’t know what brought that to mind,” the knight said absently.

Victory in Defeat

Sinclair sits down at his desk. He sets down a sheet of paper and starts to write. Then he stops.
“I don’t have anything useful to report.” He thinks to himself as he suddenly drops the pen. He moves his injured wrist again, wishing he could grab it with his other hand. He can feel those same feelings rise up again. Anger. Embarrassment. Shame. He silently curses himself for showing those feelings after he nearly died. “You have a job to do. Stop trying to be a hero.” He tries to tell himself again.
Sinclair looks back down at the paper. He struggles to find an answer. Should he just go back home as a failure again? Is it really failure if it saved the lives of those under him? He still isn’t sure if he can continue to support his troops with the limited amount of coin to be found in Runeheim.
He looks to his weapon, leaning against the door. It was hard for him to not care about the people of Runeheim. But he was in more danger than anyone really knew during all the fighting during forum.
Sinclair lets out a sigh and dismisses the thoughts, putting on a casual smirk. He places his hat on his head and walks out to man the walls of Runeheim with his soldiers.

In Pursuit of Knowledge

Scraps of paper, crumpled and torn from being hastily shoved into a bag littered the cabin floor. Drawings of malefic entities and runic scribbles dominate their content. Each one without specific purpose, made in haste for the sake of knowledge.

She shivered, pulling her coat more tightly around her shoulders. The frosts had come, hinting at the harsh winter quickly settling into the hills surrounding Runeheim. Once the snows started, there would be no leaving the city proper without some serious planning.

It was frustrating, trying to make sense of the recent events revolving around the Great Menhir. Why now? The war in this region has been ongoing for ages and the Old Gods had never been this active. She needed answers.

The memory of steaming blood in the snow was an unsettling reminder that sacrifice was not without benefit. There was a deep thrill whispering those words in the dark, not knowing who would answer or if anyone was even listening.

A sharp contrast to convocation and the shining light Solace so freely offers in her daily blessings. She also knew about sacrifice. The bloody price of lives lost in pursuit of unification and hope. Has Mithriel had a guiding hand in all this, or simply an observer unwilling to provide answers to her silent cries. What knowledge had been gained from her sacrifice?

One-Eyed Wolves

Ragnar was young, just after the very edge of childhood, 15 or 16 winters, he could never keep track. This day he found himself in the deep woods surrounding his mother’s camp, a place he fled to often. His mother’s Karls were fearsome warriors but they made poor company for Ragnar and when he needed to escape their merciless teasing and downright violent games he went to the woods. At his side was a small hunting knife he’d “borrowed” from one of the Karls who’d had a bit too much to drink, in the past he’d carried a bow when he left, but that had earned him mockery in itself so he stopped that as well. Ragnar moved through the woods doing his best to put their cruel words behind him as he trekked further into the wilderness. Ragnar walked for some time until suddenly he saw a massive hairy figure crouching hidden in the bushes, at first Ragnar thought it was a bear, but as it moved shifting in it’s crouch it became clear that the figure was not an animal, but a man, a large hairy man with a sword strapped across his back. Ragnar’s heart raced, “an enemy scout?” he thought frantically, he needed to return to camp and warn his mother. He began to walk backwards slowly, hoping to escape without the mans notice. Just then his foot caught on a vine and he tripped, crashing into the brush. Ragnar didn’t look to see how the man reacted, he only ran trying to put as much distance between them as possible. Soon Ragnar felt a hand on his shoulder, he spun around with his hunting knife slashing at the hand and shouting, his assailant simply knocked the knife from his hands , stepped forward, placed one hand under either of Ragnar’s arms, and before he could do anything Ragnar was lifted from the ground, “LET GO!” Shouted Ragnar, trying to break free to no avail. As Ragnar struggled he got a look at the man, he was large, with thick dark hair covering every inch of exposed skin, he wore a heavy beard and had a lain leather eye-patch covering his left eye, with the other being a bright blue color, matching Ragnar’s own. The man held Ragnar for a moment, never budging even as he tore and bit the mans arms in a desperate attempt to be free. Slowly the man began to grin before shouting, “I’ve found you! My son!” and pulling Ragnar into an embrace. Ragnar stopped struggling as the man set him back on the ground, “Father? How did you find us?” he asked, his voice shaking and tears welling up in his eyes. His Father smiled and clapped him on the back, “Come my son, I will explain more as we go, there is much to show you.”

Ragnar awoke from the dream in a bed not his own, he looked down at the figure sleeping soundly beside where he’d lain and smiled, then silently, he began to get dressed, he needed to take a walk. A few minutes later Ragnar had left began walking the trails in the wilderness, his thoughts, scrambled and painful, were on the events of the Forum, his folly, his weakness, and his pride. The Friar had told him he needed to learn from this, maybe he did, but what was the lesson? Ragnar walked in silence for some time, his thoughts his only company, until he heard a growling in front of him, Ragnar looked up and saw a wolf. The Wolf was clearly haggard and weak, emaciated from lack of food, it’s fur turning grey along the edges marked it as an elder, and a scar running across the space where it’s right eye had been marked it as a warrior. Ragnar looked around for signs of a pack, and strangely found none, this wolf was alone. Ragnar stared at the beast blocking his bath, it bared it’s fangs at him, growling a challenge, he simply stared back. Frozen in time Ragnar was forced to make a choice, did he move forward as he always did? Did he try to take a different path, to change the way he walked? He stood at a crossroads. Finally Ragnar made his choice and he stepped back keeping his eye on the wolf, he did not wish to fight, he would not accept it’s challenge. All at once the wolf lunged at Ragnar growling, Ragnar spun to avoid it but it’s jaw still clamped down on his arm and the momentum pulled him to the ground. As he fell he spun, placing his free arm on the wolf’s neck and when the landed he landed on top of the beast, pinning it. Ragnar tried to pull his arm free, hoping the shock would have loosened the wolf’s grip, but the creature sank it’s teeth further into his flesh preventing him from leaving, Ragnar roared in pain, his free hand searches for something, anything, until his fingers close around a rock loose in the dirt. The Wolf tears at the flesh on his arm, Ragnar screams and raises the stone, he brings it down. Once, a sickening thud. Twice, a violent crack. Three times, the sound a liquid spilling. Ragnar pulls his arm free from what remains of the wolf’s jaw, covered in blood. The body of the now headless wolf lays in the dirt, spilling it’s lifeblood onto the ground, Ragnar vomits. “Why had the wolf attacked him?” Ragnar thought, but deep down he knew. In a daze Ragnar cleaned his wound, the injuries were deep, but not serious, and then he returned to the bed that was not his own where he slept once again, dreaming of One-Eyed Wolves.

Of Darkness and Hearts Divided

I stared at the little girl with gold ringlets sitting on my knee, she was a spitting image of her mother.
“Uncle Armand, why did the bad man take mommy?” Irinia asked me.
“He wanted to hurt me, sweet girl. He knows I love you all so much.”
“But you saved mommy and stopped the bad man!” She said with a huge smile on her face. “Uncle Armand is a hero!”

Uncle Armand is a hero. No I’m not. I am a villain through and through. A murderer and a thief and a torturer. A man who will do anything he needs to in order to secure his station.

“Maybe if you kill them all you won’t have to deal with this conflict.” It says with its oily voice. “Maybe you can embrace who you are. Who we are. Do it Armand, become one with me.”

I ignore the voice and stare at my niece, sitting there, innocence unshattered by countless lives staining her hands. What I would give to make sure she never feels what I feel, or make the decisions I have to make. What I will give.
“Are you going to kill the bad man, Uncle Armand?” She whispers quietly.
“I am. I will will protect all of you.”

I exit the small cabin into the brisk fall evening. How can I protect them if Alexis is still alive? What is he planning? It doesn’t matter. I will find him and I will do what I do best.
Uncle Armand is a hero.

Lady In Crimson

Glittering gold adorns the crimson dress sweeping the floor behind each confident step. Their skillfully-painted gaze cuts through the crowd and lands on mine – calm despite the chaos. I don’t recognize the fine fabrics nor the title, but I recognize the person wearing them. “Rollo,” I feel the overcast rime surrounding the black centers of my eyes tighten, pupils dilating at the confirmation – she does recognize me. It is her. “Come here. Now.”

My legs move on their own. I turn my face, hiding the deep purple bruise on that side. Poorly. She has my ear, “…Y-yes? …My Lady?”

“Go to my bedroom. My bed is against the wall,”

This is hardly the time, I think, but I’m very amenable to hearing them out.

“There’s a basket. Inside it is a pistol. Bring it to me.”

Ah. Well. “Yes, My Lady,” It’s easier to say it the second time. I run.

It is as described, and I gently pass the firearm to them as one might hand over a wolverine pup. I’m just grateful it didn’t go off in my hands on the way back to the tavern – who knows how those things work?

I’m offered further insight immediately, as now she is shooting a rushing branded man in the chest. I can’t help it – I jump at the sudden sound; the flash; the unexpected scent of cinders and blood. I gape, my tone both stunned and reverent, “…My Lady…!”

They stand there a moment, time suspended. I’m quick to recover and dare to touch her, “We have to run. Now,”

Ragnar Stoneskin – haggard, yes, but still undying – prevents us from running, which really cramps my style. Not all of us can be fearless and indestructible, after all. But we make it to a safer place and stand guard at the door.

After a moment (which may have been quiet if it weren’t for all of the branded slaughtering each other) and a crick in my neck from looking at the stars rather than their eyes beside me, I say what I’ve been gathering courage to all day long, “…So… My Lady?” How many offenses have I given? Behaving as though we were anywhere near equals?

“Yes,” she sighs.

“I’m sorry.” I say, “If I’d known, I would’ve…” Would’ve what? “This whole time–”

They stop me, or maybe I’d just forgotten all words and let the conversation wither enough that they step in to assist. I’ve given no offense, they say. I wasn’t meant to know. She is Lady Encarmine, but she is Esparei also.

I don’t know what I feel. A fearful guilt, certainly. Things I’ve said and done around them which I would never dare to do in front of nobility flock in my mind. A hopeful relief, as well. They ask me to come with them to their room to help them undress to a more crisis-suitable outfit.

In a moment her laces are in front of my face just like before. I tug at the tight ribbons. They turn so I can unclasp their busk. She says, “You know, I think I like you on your knees,”

The remark exorcises the tension from the room and I can’t help but smile, “You’re not the first person to say that to me,” I say. She knows.

Free from their corset, I stand and offer other aid. Knowing that this is not where my skills lay, I imagine, she asks me to stay safe. I worry for her. “I’ll see you in the morning,” she promises. And she leaves.

I stand alone, safe in the cabin, and I wonder – will the scent I wore to the masquerade linger in their mind like a ghost the way theirs does now in my own?