Do You Like Honey Tarts?

“Miss Clodagh, what is for dessert at the dinner party?” Rosomon asked in excitement as she watched the woman’s gnarled hands knead dough. She and the other staff had been preparing all week. A guest would be visiting, and the entire estate was in a tizzy.

“‘Tis a secret, little Rose.”

Rosomon’s eyes lit up at the nickname, “Mother said not to call me that…”

“Hah!” The woman laughed, “And do you always do what the Lady says?”

The girl’s lips broke into a full smile, knowing full well that she did not.

“Ach, I won’t be telling ye,” she insisted. Looking at the girl a moment she said, “But I will give ye a hint on somethin’ else.” Clodagh set the dough aside to rise again then turned to pull a quill and parchment from a drawer. Rosomon watched her curiously, wondering what sort of hint it would be.

Clodagh returned and handed her a paper, “Here ye are.”

Rosomon looked at the paper:

Hares & Boars
Nuts & Berries
Ye’ll Not Know
What We’re Makin
Til You Figure
Out The Writin

Her eyebrows furrowed, “This is not a hint!”

“Ah, everythin in this life is a hint – ye just need t’ solve the puzzle.” With that, the woman turned back to her craft.

Rosomon hopped off the counter and moved to a stool in the corner as another cook came in to assist Clodagh. She stared at the poem, rereading it over and over. Eventually she went through the side door into the garden. As she paced she noticed the misplaced punctuation makes. At first he had thought them ink droplets, but now they began to seem intentional. Dots, letters, dots, letters – her mind worked to make the connection. How could dots give her a hint?

“Ah ha!” Rosomon ran back into the kitchens to find Clodagh alone again. “Honey Tart!”

She turned to look at the girl, excited eyes and breathing heavily as if she had just run across an entire field. “Aye.” With that, she moved to an oven to pull out a tray. Dishing out the fresh pastries onto a plate before moving back to the girl still standing in the doorway, she bent to kiss the child’s head, “Happy Birthday, little Rose.”

The girl hugged her again for a minute.

“Now, get goin – I’ve got a lot to do and not a lot of time,” Clodagh shoos her out.

Rosomon takes the plate runs back out of the door. She ran across the bailey, hoping to find a cozy place to enjoy the tarts. Not looking where she was going, Rosomon ran into a pair of legs. She followed them up to see a tall man covered by a dark fur mantle. Everything he wore was dark, except for the grey peppered at his temples. His hair was pulled back, and she could not tell how long it was.

“Pardon me,” she said with a smile, still excited about her treat and solving the puzzle.

The man looked down at her curiously but did not look away. She was small, but he thought she may be older than he had initially thought. Flying through the bailey without a care as she had, the man figured she was probably not as demur as her father would have liked.

“Do you like honey tarts?” she queried.

“Pardon?” he replied in a deep voice.

“Honey tarts – do you like them?”

“Indeed – who would not?”

The girl held up her plate to him and said very seriously, “As an apology, sir, I would split them with you. I can assure you, they will be the best you have had.”

His lip tweaked. Sir? What an interesting child. “Apology accepted,” he said as he reached to grab his tart.

She watched him expectantly as he took the first bite, “Well?”

He simply nodded to her.

“Are you visiting? I can show you around.”

“I am, but exploring will have to wait. Can you direct me to the Baron?”

He watched the girl deflate a little, “Of course.” She grabbed his hand and started pulling him along. “Mr. Hayworth, will you please stable this man’s horse?” She did not notice to look in the man’s eyes as he froze watching them pass. “I am Rosomon, by the way.”

They ascended the steps. He opened the door for her, “It is a pleasure, Rosomon. I’m – “

The Baron’s hurried footsteps sounded through the entry. “Count!”

Ribbons & Dresses

Port Melandir
~
“Nana!” Rosomon exclaimed as she ran into Lady Faulkner’s arms.

“Ah, my little Rosomon,” she said, holding the girl tightly. “What have you been up to of late?”

The girl’s nose scrunched as she looked at her grandmother, “Studying, mostly.”

The older woman laughed, “Ah, well best not show your father this, then.” She pulled a wrapped gift from a nearby shelf.

“Thank you,” the girl said before running off to the other side of the sitting room to show Maegi her gift.

“Mother,” Isamina chastised.

“Oh hush now, girl, neither you nor that husband of yours is going to prevent me from spoiling my grandchild.” Sitting down primly on the settee she continued, “I still cannot believe, after all these years, that you were able to convince your father marry you off to that man.”

“Love, mother. Love is how I convinced him.”

She harrumphed, “Money is more like it.”

“Have you heard of this day’s Parliament yet?” Isamina attempted to change the topic.

“Nay,” she said. “But I suspect we will at the Gale’s party tonight. Hah! We are not even in North Pass and they were able to put together an event!”

She looked over at her granddaughter who was in the middle of sorting the gifts and heard her say softly, “Look at this ribbon, Maegi! Here, it matched your eyes!”

~

Rosomon looked around the room crowded with imposing, well-dressed figures.

She felt a hand at her back. “Don’t wander off tonight,” came her father’s voice. They made their way to Viscount Gerald and his family. “Gerald, I was pleased to see you did not yield to Lord Bradford’s demands this time.”

“The man simply does not know when enough is enough,” he replied.

As the men talked, their wives caught up on the day’s ventures. Lady Peronell had found a lovely shop by the harbor with all of the latest imports from Hestralia.

Rosomon’s mind drifted off her gaze wandered. She spotted several other children around, most her age or older. She saw one girl with long brown hair and a pretty red dress. She looked down at hers – her family’s colors – and wondered why none of her dresses were red.

“There you are,” she turned at the familiar voice. “Kirk, you remember Rosomon,” Gunter told him.

“Of course, how could I forget your little thing.”

Gunter chuckled. “How have your lessons been going?”

“Very well. I have been studying the history of Rogalia.” She did not mention that she was mostly learning about where everything was located and other basics.

“Oh? Seems a heavy topic for a girl, especially one so young. What are you now, five?”

“Nearly seven,” Rosomon straightened. “Pardon me.” She turned around and walked a table with an assortment of treats on it with Maegi in toe.

“Those boys do not seem very nice.”

Rosomon looked up to see the girl in the red dress. “You are not entirely wrong,” she said, glancing behind her.

“I am Lady Alexandra Gale,” the other girl said.

“A pleasure to meet you, I am Lady Rosomon,” she replied. She paused for a moment, but could not hold back, “I love your dress!”

The End is Red

Rosomon, all of six years old, started her day as she had for nearly three years, sitting in the solar, focusing intently on the paper before her.

A A A a a a B B B…

At least, she tried to focus. The window kept drawing her attention. It was a beautiful, sunny day. She wanted to go outside and run around – maybe find someone to play with.

Sighing, she turned back to the letters and numbers before her. No fun was to be had here. Still, she wrote and wrote, methodically dipping her quill in the ink before returning it to the parchment.

“Morning!” A hand that was suddenly on her shoulder startled her, and the quill scratched across the paper leaving a large line. She knew she would have to start over, as her father would never accept such a thing.

She straightened address the older boy before her, “Good morning, Gunter. You startled me.” She looked pointedly at the mark on her paper.

“No matter – you can write just fine, so do it again.”

“Indeed, I certainly shall.” She pulled a blank sheet before her and picked up the quill.

A A A a a a B B B…

“You will never believe what I did today,” he said prodingly.

H H H h h h…

“Oh?” she replied without looking up.

M M M m m m…

“Yes…” Gunter went on to tell his story.

Z Z…

“Rosomon!” He grabbed her wrist to jerk her to face him, causing a mark to mar this paper as well. “Were you listening to a word I said?”

“You bested Marcus Olson at swordplay. Then the two of you went to the lake and found a boy catching frogs… and you threw stones at him,” she finished disapprovingly.

He pulled back to look at her a moment. “That’s right. ‘Bested’ is stating it lightly, though. I doubt he will even have the courage to challenge me again.”

Silence grew for a moment. “Ah! I nearly forgot! I have a gift for you,” he said proudly.

Her head canted to the side. “Truly?”

“I do.” Gunter took a step back to stand tall before her. He reached behind him, then bowed with a dramatic flourish. “My Lady,” he said holding a large rose in full bloom before her.

Her eyes lit up. “It is beautiful!”

“Of course – it is the first of the season.” He straightened and said kindly, “And it is for you.”

She smiled at him as he held it up to her. It was fragrant, and the petals looked soft to the touch. Gunter looked at her expectantly, so she reached her small hand to take the rose.

“Ouch!” She exclaimed as her hand closed around the stem.

A laugh cut through the air.

When she made to let go of the flower, his hands came up to caress hers. The move looked kind, but it exerted pressure to keep her hand closed around the stem and thorns. “Now, Rosomon, you do not want to drop your present.”

Her chin trembled and she felt tears behind her eyes, but Rosomon refused to cry. “Let go,” she said.

Gunter looked at her curiously, “Why would I do that?” The pressure increased slightly.

Knowing it would cut her hand more, Rosomon tore herself free of his grip. With one last glare she moved to leave the room.

“What? You don’t like it? Is it not enough? I can get you more!” He laughed behind her. “Come back.” When she did not follow his bidding, he stormed after her. “Rosomon. Come back. Agh! It was a joke!”

Finally reaching the door, she rounded on him, “There is nothing funny about using thorns or stones to hurt people!”

He froze, aghast, but before he could speak she was out the door. “You are no fun,” echoed after her.

Rosomon’s steps grew more hurried. She did not bother going to her parents – she would find no comfort there. So, instead of the rooms, she headed to the door leading to the garden. It was there she found her solace.

Bent over pulling carrots from the soft soil was Clodagh. The old Dunnick woman was always there for her.

Clodagh turned when she heard footsteps racing toward her; she barely had time to catch the child that flew into her arms.

“Miss Clodagh,” came a tearful voice, slightly muffled from her skirts.

“What ‘tis it then, little lady?” Clodagh stroked the girl’s soft curls.

She held up her hand, realizing that the rose was still clutched in it and little streams of blood trickled down her wrist.

“Ach! Whatever happened?” she asked, pulling Rosomon to a bucket of clean water nearby. She took the flower and set it aside, then began cleaning the cuts that looked too big on the girl’s little hand.

“Gunter played a trick,” she sniffed. Clodagh could see the girl was near tears but trying to keep them at bay.

“Hold fast, Rosomon,” she said encouragingly. “Life is uncertain. One day you get a rose, the next you feel the thorns – but the end result is red.”

Herding Sheep

“Rosomon,” Baron Renauld said sternly, “I have had enough of you running off to Banalis knows where! How many times must I tell you not to go off on your own?”

The young girl before him stood biting her lip and looking up with innocent eyes. She appeared sincere enough when she said, “I am sorry, Father,” but the effect was a bit dampened as she was covered head to toe in mud.

The man rubbed his hand across his face in exasperation and sighed, “Yes, I know you are – you always are. Run along and get cleaned up now, Rosomon.” The girl wasted no time in leaving. He opened his eyes and met his wife’s gaze across the room, “Fine.”

Isamina smiled, “The servant girl has herded sheep her whole life – she can easily herd a girl half her age.”

The Baroness had been trying to convince her husband for months to let her bring in someone to watch over their wayward daughter, who had a penchant for mischief. Isamina had spoken with her mother on the matter; the Faulkner Lady had laughed at her expense saying she ought to find a shepherd.

After thinking more on it, she knew her mother was right. She had heard mention of a girl – Maegi – who was nearing thirteen. The girl was an orphan with no family to speak of, meaning there would be no interference. Isamina had heard the girl was maybe not the brightest, but was humble and biddable. ‘Twould be perfect.

Do You See It?

A warm breeze brushed through the trees scattering freshly picked flowers. It was not strong enough to blow away the ones knotted together, though, as little Rosomon had been set about her task for the better part of the afternoon.

She looked up at the happy sounds coming from the other side of the bushes hiding her. She had been so focused that she did not realize the other children had gathered their flower crowns and are now ready to leave. “Maybe next time,” she said quietly, watching them go.

So badly did she want to join them – but she knew better. The last time she attempted as much they ran away before she could even say, “Hello, I am…” Had she scared them? Sometimes children are scared of silly things. She was afraid of that painting in the hall and Mother’s cat and even the pudding that Miss Cladogh loves to make. It was truly terrifying how the candlelight casts a jiggling shadow on the dining room wall! She did not think she was particularly frightening, but maybe they did… Regardless, she would rather learn to make their flower crowns than anything Mother would make her do – so behind the bushes she stayed.

At last, her crown was done. She placed it on her golden curls and scooped up the remaining flowers in her little hands. Making her way up the path toward home, she hummed a song the children like to sing. It was a lively tune, and she began to skip along.

As the house came into view, she noticed the sky beginning to change color. Perhaps she had been away too long?

Ascending the steps, her wrist was yanked on from below sending her stumbling back down. “How many times must I call your name!?”

All she could see are Gunter’s familiar blue eyes bent close to her face. “I am sorry, Cousin,” she replied kindly, already used to his moods.

The eyes narrowed for a moment before he leaned back to stare down at her, still holding her wrist too tightly. A charming smile came to life on his face, “Very well, then. Come… I have something to show you.”

The taller boy charged up the stairs, towing the girl along, headless of her having to nearly run to keep up and clutching flowers to her chest. He continued on, starting and stopping abruptly to vier through the people before reaching another set of stairs. The girl had never gone up the spiraling staircase before – Father had forbade her. She tried to tug away, but the boy simply tightened his grip and hauled her forward.

She did not understand why he insisted upon dragging her everywhere, for she would follow him if he would but ask. But, no, this was always how it was no matter how old they were. She could not remember a time when he did not tow her about. Sometimes he would show her interesting things, but she knew that when he finally let her be her wrists would be sore for the next two days.

They reached the top, and she froze there, forgetting to breathe because of the beauty before her. Everything was coated in red with the setting sun – the leaves, the grass, the stones, the people…

The boy took her closer to the edge and stood beside her, “Look at it all… Do you see it?”

Of course she saw it. What did he mean? He was surely a confusing boy.

She must have not been paying him enough attention, because he grabbed her chin and grinds, “Do you see it?”

Her eyes widen, “Yes.” It was the same as she had seen her whole life. What does he want her to see?

Seemingly satisfied, he let her go and turns to the view, “Did you hear? I will be leaving soon.”

“Oh?” she was having a hard time following his thoughts.

“‘Tis an honor, really. I will train more, and I will fight. I will show those in defiance that they will never win.” The boy stepped closer to the edge. “Do you see it?”

The girl did not like this anymore, but he tugged her to the edge with him before she could step back. “Do you see it?” All she saw was the fever in his eyes as his gaze met hers. “Since you are clearly too simple, I shall tell you. It is mine – everything my eyes land upon. The mountains. You. The trees. That horse. Everything.”

The boys chest puffed out in pride, but his eyes narrowed once again when she did not immediately concur. “Fine – you can just stand here until you can see it…”

At last he let her go and stepped back, but her arms flashed out to balance her trembling frame. In her effort, the crumpled flowers fell from her fist. As she watched them sink to the ground below she thought, This is not silly.

A Thing of Duty

“I expect you will teach him well,” Viscount Gerald told his friend.

“Of course,” Renaurd responded, clasping the young boy on his shoulder.

Gunter was but five years of age. His blue eyes sparkled in excitement as his father attached a wooden sword at his side.

“Take heed and listen well. You are becoming a man – it is your responsibility to learn to protect this domain,” Gerald told him firmly before stepping back.

The men stood talking for a time, and though the boy listened intently, he could not truly follow the conversation at hand.

“Go say goodbye to your mother, Gunter.”

The boy nodded, excited to be able to move. He was not entirely sure what was going on, but he knew that his father and mother would be leaving him here for a time. And he knew his father deemed it important.

He went to join his mother and Lady Isamina who were clustered near the well looking at whatever the lady was holding. They seemed transfixed, cooing at the thing.

“What are you looking at? I want to see,” he said indignantly upon approach.

“Here you are,” Isamina said. She turned the bundle to face him.

“What is that?”

“Tis a babe. Her name is Rosomon.”

The boy moved closer, “It’s hideous!”

Peronell gasped, “Gunter!” She could not believe the child had said that.

“It’s quite alright,” Isamina said as she laughed gently. “She may not suit you now, but one day she will.”

The boy hummed doubtfully.

“Trust my, little Lord, she will. It is her duty. After all, she will be your wife.”

He thought on her words as he stared at the babe wrapped in a blanket. She yawned and shifted, just waking up. “You mean she is mine?”

The women looked at one another and shrugged delicately. “You could say that,” Isamina replied.

“Well then,” he said, pointing at the babe’s face, “you had best do your duty well! I am doing mine.” He was not entirely sure what “duty” was, but the grown ups sure liked to talk about it a lot.

The babe just cooed happily at him and reached for the finger before her, not knowing in the slightest who the boy would become.

Born to Goodly Parents

Men sparred in the bailey, their breaths like clouds in the morning chill. Renaurd felt his muscles tighten as he blocked the onslaught of maneuvers.

“Is that the best you’ve got, Gerald?” he scoffed at his friend.

The other man guffawed, “Nay, it isn’t.” With that, he arched his blade to meet the other.

The men had been up the entire night. It had started out pleasant enough with dinner and cider. The men and their wives enjoyed visiting together during the winter months. With the Lady of the house, Isamina , late into her pregnancy, Gerald and Peronell had made the trip this time.

~

Early last eve, they had all been sitting in the great hall taking turns telling stories of the year’s campaign. It was brought to a halt when Isamina began having shooting pains in her abdomen.

“‘Tis too soon,” she fretted.

“It will pass with no trouble,” Peronell told her.

They eventually realized that it would not pass and sent for the midwife. The women went above stairs to rest. They all waited and waited, but no one came.

“What is this then?” Renaurd demanded of the servant who bore the news.

“Apologies, my Lord…” he drifted off, not having any answer for the man and not wanting to incur his wrath.

An elderly Dunnick woman with grey weaving through her dark red tresses entered from the kitchens. “I believe I can be of assistance, my Lord.”

Looking down his nose, he replied, “Do you now?” Gerald watched the exchange from near the fireplace in amusement. A little boy sat at his feet banging toy soldiers together, and another sat off to the side studying.

“Aye,” she said, confronting his gaze steadily. “Delivered all of m’ grandbarns m’self.”

Renuard held her gaze. When the woman would not look away, he waved his hand dismissively, “Well be to it then.”

He returned to his friend, where they sat and drank until becoming too restless to sit any longer. The boys were taken to bed, and the men moved out of doors to work off some energy on the lists.

~

Their swords met again. “Gah! What is taking so long?” Renuard spat in frustration.

Just then, a servant ran up to them, staying clear of the blades. “My Lord!”

“Finally!” The men stopped their sparring and made their way across the yard to the building with the servant girl trailing behind. Before reaching the door, Renaurd turned on the girl and said, “It is a boy, yes?”

Her steps faltered, “Nay, my Lord.”

“Damn,” he said, walking into the keep.

Gerald laughed at his friend’s expense. “There is always next time,” he said throwing his arm over the other man’s shoulders.

“I suppose,” his mood was dark indeed.

“You have a daughter – and so what? I have sons,” he said proddingly.

Catching on to the man’s train of thought, Renaurd felt his mood begin to lighten. “You are right!”

They made their way up the stairs to his wife’s chamber. Gerald waited outside while Renaurd continued in. Peronell sat on blood coated sheets while pressing a damp cloth to Isamina’s forehead.

“I am sorry, Renaurd,” she said weakly.

He ignored the blood around the room, having seen much of it in his life. “Do not fret, Gerald and I have it sorted. Besides, they’ll be a boy next time.”

“I think not, my Lord,” the old Dunnick woman said from across the room. She held a small infant in her arms, rocking it gently. “The birth was hard on my Lady.” She said nodding to the sheets and piles of soaked linens, all stained red. The woman lying on the bed, nearly unresponsive, should have been evidence enough.

He did not let her words dampen his mood, but felt the need to remind her, “When was there ever a time a Dun knew more of this world…?”

The Price of Mercy

-Five Years Ago-

“Gideon,” sighed the Bishop. He was an older man, dressed in the plain brown robes of the Mendelhim. He massaged the bridge of his nose as he looked disapprovingly at the young Priest who sat across the desk from him. “Back again, I see.”

“Yes, Bishop,” replied the young man. His features were obscured by bandages that had been wrapped around his head, trails of blood soaking through them at the cheeks. Three angry red lines on each side, marks the healers said would never go away. A constant reminder of his decision to involve himself in matters that did not concern him.

“And this time you…” the Bishop picked up a parchment from the desk and scanned it quickly, “interceded in a duel to the death?” His eyes lifted from the page to regard the wounded Priest wearily.

“That isn’t quite accurate, Bishop. I didn’t involve myself in the duel… I saved the life of the loser.”

“You saved the life… of the loser… of a death duel?” The Bishop sounded incredulous.

“Yes, Bishop.”

“Why, Gideon?”

The young Priest met his gaze without flinching. “Mercy in all things, Bishop. I could save the man. So I did.”

“And were attacked in turn by the winner.” It was not a question.

“Yes, Bishop. The Lurihim said I will wear these scars for the rest of my life.”

The Bishop regarded him appraisingly. “And you aren’t concerned that it might put your patients at ill ease to see them?”

Gideon shrugged. “Perhaps I’ll wear a mask…”

-Three Years Ago-

“Gideon. Back again, I see.”

Another Bishop, of the Cyanaheim. A new town. Scrow this time.

“Yes, Bishop.” He wore a mask now, the Plague Doctor visage the Lurihim were known for. His voice was distorted behind the leather.

“Father Superior Cornelius reports that you did it again.”

Gideon nodded. “Yes, Bishop.”

The Bishop sighed heavily. “Gideon… you *cannot* keep doing this. We need to be reaffirming people’s faith in Benalus, bolstering their trust in the Church and belief in God.”

Gideon’s head tilted as he spoke in reply, “I make every effort to stay Lurian’s hand and embolden their faith in God and Benalus, Bishop. I offer Baptism and confession so they might find Atonement and return to our fold. Should that fail, I offer guidance as to how they might relieve their suffering.”

“By directing them to Physikers and apothecaries.”

“Of course not, Bishop. The use of drugs is sinful. I simply tell them who to talk to that might be able to help them when spiritual means cannot. If those individuals lead them to sinful behavior, I have no knowledge of it.”

The Bishop’s mouth formed a line. “You’re walking a dangerous path, Father.”

Gideon spread his hands in front of him. “Have I committed a sin, Bishop? Is my soul imperiled by heresy in doing this?”

The Bishop pinched the bridge of his nose, a common expression of frustration when dealing with Father Gideon. “No. Not technically. But-”

Gideon leaned forward in his seat. “If I’ve done nothing wrong, then why are we having this conversation?” His voice was hard, with a tinge of annoyance. The leather of his glove creaked as his fist balled.

“I should be at the Hospital tending to patients. People actually in need of treatment to avoid Lurian’s grasp. I make every effort at healing through the Church’s means, Bishop. But I cannot allow a living creature to suffer.” His voice had an impassioned edge. “Mercy. In. All. Things.”

The Bishop took a step back, clearly affected by the vehemence in the Priest’s voice. “A-and what if they should find their way into the arms of another faith?”

Gideon’s voice maintained it’s edge. “Then they do so of their own devices and that has nothing to do with *ME*. As I said, I make every effort to reaffirm their belief in the Benalian faith. Should they choose to seek out damnation of their own free will, they have done so after I have alread expended my attempts to bring them back to Benalus in order to treat them with our methods.”

Gideon’s stare could be felt from behind the glass discs that covered his eyes. “But as I said, Bishop: Mercy in all things. I cannot allow a living creature to suffer.”

The Bishop sighed, his body language backing down. “I fear for your soul if you continue this path, Father. And for your well-being. Lurian may take you sooner than we would like if you continue this foolishness.”

The masked Priest shook his head. “I don’t believe he will, Bishop Farin. I believe he wants me here, doing his work…”

-Last Year-

His smoking body stank with the odor of charred flesh as it was quickly placed in the center of the ring of powdered silver. A candle sat at each of the four compass points around him, lit one by one by the white-clad Priests who worked hurriedly to prepare the ritual. Beneath him lay a red sheet that obscured the blood soaking into it from the gaping hole just below his stomach. A ranking Lurihim, clad in white ceremonial robes, began to quickly work on the downed man, cutting away his burnt robes to leave him in his smallclothes and then beginning the surgery that they hoped would save his life.

It was all a haze to Gideon. The pain was indescribable. He faded in and out of consciousness. He couldn’t feel his legs.

Is this it, Lurian? Is this how you will take me? For doing Your Will and staying Your Hand where I could?

To his surprise, he heard a voice, melodic and otherworldly. A shape rose up before him, apparently unseen by the other Lurihim, including the Bishop who worked frantically on him. It became a massive figure in a white cloak, with great feathered wings, reaching a hand out towards him.

~Gideon… my dedicated servant. This is not your end. The fire mage has crippled your body, but your soul remains pure and untouched. Your work here is unfinished. And I am with you.~

“L-Lurian…” he muttered fitfully as the Bishop continued to work on him. He could see that three of the four candles were extinguished. The Bishop made his supplications and prayers even more earnestly. Gideon felt a wave of anger flow through him.

Damn it, Lurian! You say that this is not my time, but the fucking ritual is failing! Are you toying with me? Mocking my dedication to your Mercy and the sanctity of life? Is this really how you treat your humble servant in his time of need, with empty promises and placations?! Fuck off with your taunts and teasing! If I am to live then let me live, God damn it!

The Bishop completed his surgery with one candle left. The spectre of Lurian began fading from the delirious Priest.

~If that is how you speak to your Patron, Gideon… then let it be so. But know that I will never be far from you…~

Gideon woke, exhausted and battered from the ordeal. But he could still sense a lingering presence in the back of his mind…

-Four Months Ago-

The clergy and layfolk were both wary. The church leadership were unsure what to do with him. They deliberated amongst themselves.

To top it all off, one pointed out, that Fire Mage still wants his head. He cannot stay here.

But where can we send him? Another asked. Where would he be safe?

It’s not a matter of safety, said a third after a moment of contemplation. It’s a matter of practicality. Stragosa. He already has friends and allies there. Let them deal with him. Let him obsess over his Mercy and preventing suffering in a place where the first is desperately needed and the second most likely foolhardy.

Put him on the frontier? Asked the second incredulously.

Exactly, responded the third. Send him to Sir Percival. Have him answer to his Order there and the White Lions. Either he’ll get what he needs from the chaos that surrounds that place and his true purpose will come forth… or he’ll die. Probably horribly, if the stories about that place are true. Either way, he’ll no longer be our problem.

But will Sir Percival accept him in this state? Asked the second.

Why does he need to know? replied the third coyly. Gideon has a deep devotion to his Covenant and the healing arts. Surely that information will suffice.

The other two fell silent in contemplation.

I suppose… mused the first, if we took his masks, armor, and weapon… gave him some fresh Plague Doctor masks to eventually ruin once he gets there…

Precisely, replied the third. By the time anything is noticed, he’ll be settled in. And entirely not our problem anymore.

But… objected the second, what if what he claims is true?

If what he claims is true, said the third smugly, he’ll be protected. If not, he’ll be taken by his beloved Archangel. And either way, still no longer be our problem.

The first and second reluctantly nodded in agreement.

-Several Months Ago-

The masked Priest approached the forest warily. It was dark and foreboding, not the kind of place he wanted to be unarmed. The rest of the newcomers looked nervous as well.

A man came out of the treeline, carrying a lantern and a sword. He looked the rag tag group over with world-heavy eyes.

“My name is Graham. I’ve been sent to escort you the rest of the way to Stragosa.”

~Terrible things are going to happen to this man. You should tell him so.~

“Not now,” the Priest muttered into his mask, “This isn’t the time for cryptic warnings.”

One of the others looked at him.

“Did you say something, Father?”

Gideon shook his head. “No, it’s nothing… Lurian guides my thoughts. Keep an eye out, I’m not completely sure we can trust this man.”

His companion furrowed his brow, but in the dark forest, surrounded by possibly threats, they didn’t argue.

Gideon was unarmed but confident. He had faith that the Archangel and God would not abandon him…

Sailing the Sea of Coils

Sharp wind cut through the thin blanket that William had wrapped around himself. He took a shuddering breath and crouched next to a crate to block the wind.
“First time to Njordr?”
William looked up at the voice, eyes dead. He nodded.
“You look cold.”
William nodded again.
“I’m Asja. Asja Gatewatch. And you’re William, yes?”
Sighing, William sat straighter. “What do you want, Asja?”
“Well… the others were saying that you were one of the guys in charge of the Sea Beggar? Big fan of your business. I was the one who helped Fearghas Llewyn get North.”
William shrugged, still not really interested in pursuing the conversation.
“Well, before we left, the captain, Julio de Monique? He said that you could use some help.”
William sighed. “No. I really don’t want any help. I don’t care who you are. I just want to be left alone.”
“God, you’re depressing.” Asja folded her arms and shook her head.
William shook his head as well and huddled down again.
Asja shook her head. “Look. Julio told me about Miss Tiarnan. Said you’d need some help getting back on your feet.”
William felt his anger building, but shook his head again and didn’t respond.
“I’m trying to help,” she said with a sigh. “If you don’t want it, I’ll just leave you alone.”
Pulling the blanket tighter around himself, William sank back down to his slumped position.
Shaking her head, Asja turned and walked away.

How dare he. How dare Julio tell this stranger about him, about his business. And how dare she bring up Lile. He gritted his teeth and tried to fall asleep. He dreamt of Lile.
He awoke to wind whipping past his face and his stomach lurching. He was falling. He hit the water and his breath was slammed from his chest. He fought his way to the surface and took a deep breath. He looked around, treading water. It was dark. William grabbed the edge of the boat and began to pull himself from the water, letting his waterlogged blanket fall from his body. He heaved himself over the rail and collapsed to the deck. He rolled over, still gasping for air. An axe hit the deck next to him and his eyes rose to meet those of a thickset man with njordic markings coating his skin. William’s eyes opened wide.
“What the hell?!”
The man lowered the axe toward him. “Don’t move you fat swine.”
William held his hands up, somewhat relieved. Maybe they’d just kill him.

Sitting in the boat, all William could hope for is that he’d freeze to death. His eyes were dull and he couldn’t feel his fingers anymore. He wished they would at least have left him his mask. They were sailing North, towed behind the enemy’s ship. He tried to feel something at the very least, but honestly couldn’t. Maybe it was good that he’d survived, but he didn’t care, not without Lile. North.

A Wilted Lily

William pushed his hair out of his face, grinning as he tied off his final line. He waved toward the Capitan. “Julio! I’m going to go! I’ll see you later!”
Julio laughed. “Say hi to Lile for me.”
William waved again and snatched his bag, and the box next to it, from by the gangplank as he left. He smelled the lily he’d gotten for her; his terzo regalo. She’d finally asked for it when she gave him the ring. He grinned as he thought about it, shifting his gear around himself to make it more comfortable.
“William!” came a friendly call from behind him.
Laughing, William turned. “Slaine MacAlister, what are you doing out here?”
“What, I can’t come see the Sea Beggar make its triumphant return?”
William rolled his eyes. “What do you want Slaine?”
His friend put his hand on William’s shoulder, smiling. “Conor and Malmuira are making a big meal tonight to celebrate, why don’t you and Lile come?”
“I suppose we should,” he laughed. “Since we’ve skipped the last few.”
“That’s not your fault, you’ve been travelling a bunch. How many are you at now?”
William smiled. “I don’t keep track. Not enough until we can fix the whole issue.”
Slaine shook his head. “You’ve helped a lot of people William. Don’t forget to take care of yourself.”
Laughing, William shook his head as well. “Why do you think I’m trying to get back to Lile.”
Slaine grinned and patted his shoulder again. “I’ll see you later.”

Craigellachie was beautiful in the fall. William took a deep breath as he walked through the town. He waved to a few people he knew as he went. It’d been nearly three years since he’d come to Dunland. He’d never thought he’d fall in love, not with the city or with Lile. Something was different in the air that day. Maybe it was that he’d been away a couple of weeks, maybe it was that he was going to see Lile again. He smiled as he thought about Saoirse, the girl he’d taken to Port Melandir, who reminded him so much of Lile. But there really was something different on the air. He sniffed it again. There was the smell of fire on the wind. He frowned. Was there a fire somewhere? There was no smoke on the horizon. Leaving the city boundaries, he kept walking toward the Tiarnan family farm, still thinking about the fire. It didn’t smell like a cooking fire, nor really a bonfire. He shook his head. It seemed too much for that.

William stopped on the corner of their farm, hands growing weak as he saw the stake rising from next to their house. He dropped the box in his hands and sprinted toward the building, dropping his bag when it got in his way. There was the pyre, burnt out on the yard. There was the stake, still standing from the charcoal. He paused there, looking at it. Who had been burned? What had happened here? A moment passed and he tore himself away. He pushed open the door. “Lile!?” he called.
Llwyn, her brother, was standing next to their crying mother. He turned to William with fire in his eyes and ran forward to meet him, then slammed his fist into his jaw.
William collapsed against the doorframe, eyes wild and hand to his cheek.
“It’s your fault, you bastard!” Llwyn yelled in his face.
William shook his head, not understanding. Then his eyes grew wide and he staggered back out of the building, back toward the pyre. “Lile!?” he cried out again as he pushed through what was left of the pyre. His palms were tearing open on the rough wood as he cleared the wood. He found a bone, carbonized flesh fused to it. He cradled it and screamed out.

He didn’t know how long he sat in the pyre, ash coating his skin. When he came back to himself, it was raining. His exposed skin was burning under the ash, but it didn’t matter. His heart was broken. What had happened? He began to cry, probably not for the first time. He slowly began to stand, pulling what bones he could find from the pyre. He pulled his blanket shawl off himself and wrapped up the bones. He walked up to the house, but Lwyn stood at the door.
“You’re not welcome here anymore.”
William didn’t say anything, he just stared.
He glared at William. “They said she was a witch. She was screaming about ‘just wanting a child’ as they burned her.”
William still didn’t respond.
“Get out of here. You’re not welcome here,” he said again.
After a moment, William turned and walked back toward the pyre. He stopped, tears still streaming down his face. He bent down and picked up the little tressertag bracelet he’d given her months before.
He walked to the pyre and paused again, then pushed past it. He kept going, stopping only to take his bag before he continued back to his ship. He left the lily behind, wilting in the mud.