I Just Wish This Was Easier

“Why am I talking about him?” I said in bewilderment to my younger sister, Sev. I had not expected her to come to forum, but I guess she had been cooped up in the house for a while now. She did take after her mother a lot, or so it seems. She’s nothing like Dad. She’s more head-in-the-clouds, eccentric, and rambunctious. Many things dad would never allow. God, why am I thinking of him so much. He was so horrible to all of us, Sev probably more than the others. Despite all that, though, I guess he taught us some useful things. Why did I have to inherit his work. It’s just a burning nail of a reminder for me whose trying to live the life he wish he could. It’s so similar to what others saw of him that they see it as the same. It’s not. It absolutely was not. He dealt with coin. He spoke honeyed words to those who would give him money, but saw his own children as cattle, slaves, property. He deceived, or paid off, anyone who would have a second mind about him. He deserves all that came to him. Despite all his going-on about hard work, preparation, vigilance, and all the other bullshit virtues that he hammered into us, he was a bastard. I mean some of those are good things to have. There’s some in town that could use a good lesson or two about hard work. He didn’t even let us be kids, though. From when I could talk, I had a hammer in my hand, or at least a pair of pliers. When all the other kids were out in the mines or out enjoying themselves I was at the smith with him. For good or for ill, he taught me everything I know, and I despise that. I’m an adult now, and only know what he taught me. I don’t know what -I- like, what -I- want to do, only what feels like what he’s worked my mind to like and want.

Fabron takes a big sigh

I can’t let him control me anymore. -I- live for what -I- value and care about. If that’s smithing, that’s not because of him. If that’s caring for -my- family, that sure as hell is not because of him. I-…

I hate him so much, and the only way I see to truly get rid of him is to stop worrying about him.

I just wish it was easier though.

“Hey can I go out into the forest?” Sev asks, snapping me back to reality. How long was I just staring?

“No” Came my practiced response, grimacing at how familiar it sounded.

“Pleeeeease? I’ll be safe” Sev begged.

I glared at her, again in a rather practiced way. Maybe she’d see the pain behind it, or maybe tell from the time it was taking for me to respond that I didn’t want to say no, but only knew this way of taking care of her.

God, I just wish this was easier.

One Foot Already In

“Hey mom… its been a while. Winter has finally thawed and snows no longer covering your grave… Its nice out today, light rain, flowers in bloom. You always liked this time of year, when the mornings still cling to your bones with a chill, but burns away midday to where a coat isn’t needed.” Alex would say, taking his hat off and holding it in front of him. Fidgeting and scrunching it up, he’d stammer out, “I.. I… I talked to Lenore recently… She’s doing well it seems. Jan has grown up like a weed, he seems set to be a big as dad…” He’d glance down to the ring on his thumb, sniffling then cough to try and compose himself.

“She told me part of what happened.. How you died shortly after I left. How the man you set her up with turned out to be an alcoholic that got violent with them… How she blamed me for leaving…..” He’d let the words hang out in the air, trying to keep his thoughts from crashing in. “She says she forgives me, I don’t fully believe her. In all honesty though, I don’t blame them if they do. They’ve been living out in the forests for the past couple of years it sounded like and the first time I get to talk to them, Jan is off running into the woods and Lenore has their leg busted open by a bee hive person. Benalus that was awkward… Especially since the reason that Jan left was trying to become a bandit out in the woods, just like their Uncle. I swear I am looking at a mirror set years in the past with how set on adventures he was, though his stubbornness definitely comes from his mother.”

“I do think some of the damage is getting repaired though, the trust I broke. Lenore showed up to church for my re-baptism, going by Alexandre now.. We talked a little about that last time, needing a fresh start. It went nice.” His hands would relax on his hat as he looked at the marker for her, trying to crack a small smile. “I set them up with House Dubois, Granny Jo offered to help us out for the time being, with the hope we’ll fix up a house for them. Honestly with how much I’ve been doing for the town, a house to put up my feet instead of out in the woods sounds real nice. They should be safe there for now, much better than how things were. Especially now since the woods are even more unsafe for those who can’t defend themselves.” He’d say, sighing as his thoughts began to wander.

“I.. I had the intention to promising you I’d take better care of them now.. Of being there for them. But I can’t lie to myself, nor to you mom.. I know you’d be proud of me getting re-baptized, trying to start a new life, but even after the ceremony I still feel this… this weight on my shoulders. When I shot Emile in the street, I thought this was it.. Everyone will know about who I am and they’ll condemn me. But then it didn’t. The town decided they wanted to keep me around and have my penance be working with Cadence to keep the town safe and explore the Mouth. And ever since then I’ve had this feeling that I’m the next tooo…” “Doesn’t matter..” Alex would shuffle in place, his eye drifting to the bare ground next to the plot.

“The town’s different from when we grew up. So many people died from the plague, those that are left are trying to keep the pieces together and yet.. Someone is going to get hurt. They make plans and plans on top of it and then last minute, they shift without telling everyone. And they ask me to keep everyone alive, everyone safe. So honestly.. its gonna be me there, taking hits for others when their plans blow up and living with the consequences afterwards… Well.. that’s if I even..” His face would slump slightly, trying to push out thoughts he was having. He’d run his hands through his hair, setting his hat back on and slipping the sling for his rifle over his shoulder, taking a final look at the marker. “Goodbye mom.. I love and miss you. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you then… I’ll see you later, maybe sooner than we both expected..”

Terror most mundane

It is in the most mundane of things that true terror can be found.

Walking alone through the woods at night and hearing the wildlife go quiet.

Staring at a task knowing that if you start you HAVE to finish.

Laying in the grass waiting for the guard to pass.

Heartbeat pounding in your ears as all sound fades.

The creak of wood and clank of iron as a chest opens. Echoing in the night.

Not knowing if all the work, the stress, the fear, is worth the risk of dying alone in an enemy camp.

And the worst.

The congratulations of work well done. The well wishes. The looks.

And knowing.

You might have to do it all over again. As others look to you and what you’ve done before.

-Sticks and String

CW: Violence, Eye Trauma

It was a familiar dream, seen a hundred times and to be seen a hundred times more. He knew this, but still fear filled his gut like glowing lead. Hot, heavy, toxic, and lethal.
Snow swirled around him, burying him up to his ribs, and biting deep into the sopping wet cloths we wore. Yet still he ran. One foot in front of the other, he ran. Stillness was death, by cold or by blade, he knew that if he stopped, he would die.
And so a much younger Rosto ran, through thick drifts of snow and howling wind. Though freezing rain and ice capped streams. He ran from the images that would haunt him forever, he ran from the sounds of battle and bloodshed, he ran from the bodies of his family piled high like cords of firewood, he ran into the ice and snow and cold. He runs into Her arms.

Time passes and a young boy wrestles in the snow with a older man, a splintered bow and shattered ax littering the ice around them. The older man bleeds from an arrow ruining his left eye and the young boys face is marred from cheek to cheek by an horizontal ax wound that nearby bisects his nose. The boy is dying, he knows it in his bones, the cold bites deep into his flesh and he cant breath through his ruined nose and broken jaw. The older warrior is trying to squeeze the life from him, two hands wrapped around his throat. The boy does the only think he can, with his last breath, he screams into the cold void of death. A raw, ragged, primal scream, the last sound of despite life flinging it’s self into the frozen void.
The storm churns around them, and She watches on.

Rosto awakes from his nap, still nestled in the crook of the branch he had found a hour before, bow across his lap, and arrow knocked. The snow piled up on his skin and cloths not bothering him as he takes stock of what awoke him form his nightmare. Below him, a stag moves in the snow, silent as stalking cat. Rosto draws the nock to his cheek, sights down the shaft, and exhales a heatless breath.

Sticks and String, Ice and Cold, Simple things that separate the living from the dead.

Memories of a Humble Life

A few years ago

“Vernon, please slow down. You know I’m not as athletic as you” Valter ran to catch up with his friend, fumbling with a bag his mother gave him.
“Yeah, that’s cause you’re always at home with your ma cooking. If you came with any of the gatherers, especially the hunters, I’m sure that’d change real quick”
“There you two are, I was wondering how long everyone was going to wait,” Pasi and Kjeld stood waiting for their friends outside the door to a modest looking cabin.
“I had to convince this one pretty hard to check this out. You know how he worries” Vernon gave a friendly side-hug to Valter, who still seemed nervous about something.
“Yeah, when you said it was some adult thing you heard about, I was with you. Who knows, maybe there’ll be sparing or something” Kjeld punched his fist in excitement.
“F-Fighting? Vernon, you didn’t say anything about that” Vernon sighed.
“I don’t know, they might, but listen. We’ll make sure you don’t get hurt, okay? Right Pasi?”
“Yeah. We’re kinda taking you at your word here, Vernon, but we’re all friends. If something doesn’t feel right, we got each others back” Pasi patted Valter on the back.

They all entered the cabin and were welcomed warmly to this odd group. Members of many clans were there doing things from crafting, eating, some found the ears of other members and were speaking passionately to them, others were sparing in a makeshift fighting ring. Kjeld did pick a couple sparing matches and won about half of them, coming out a bit more bruised than he’d like. Vernon and Pasi were preached to about some pretty obtuse ideas, but some of it made sense to them. Vernon looked for Valter who was seen speaking to another member about his age off in a quite part of the cabin. He smiled as a sense of pride for his friend washed over him.

about 3 months later.

The four were sitting eating a mid-day snack out in the forest together. Since joining this strange group, Valter had started coming more out of his shell and joining the others in the forest.

“I’m excited for our next meeting. I’m hoping I can beat Bjorn this time” Kjeld hopped down onto a log and rummaged through his pack.
“Whenever you two fight, it’s always a bloody mess. I worry one of you isn’t going to make it out alive” Pasi chomped on her trail ration that Vernon’s mom made.
“That’s what Oddi says is the bettering of the soul. Facing your conflicts head on and pushing yourself to the limit” Vernon recalled, shooting a glance at Valter.
“I think that’s supposed to be less literal than what Kjeld does,” Valter mumbled through bites of rations. The others laughed. A smile grew on Valter’s face which then made Vernon smile even more.
“I just hope Hilda doesn’t try and kiss me again. I like talking with her, but she seems to think I want something more. I just like that someone likes doing things at the camp as much as I do” Valter thought out loud, the others listening politely along.
“Yeah, someone just as odd as our Valter” Kjeld ruffled Valter’s hair.
“What, and you’re normal?” Vernon chided.
“For some clans, yes” Kjeld rebutted.
“We’re all a little odd, let’s be honest. That’s what makes us wonderful, though” Pasi intervened.
They all smiled and continued eating their rations.

Present time.

Vernon sat, alone, on a log near a river, reminiscing on these times as he stared into the rushing water. They started creeping back into his mind more and more now as he settled into his new life in Runehiem. He hoped if ever he saw his old friends again, things would be like this again. He had a pit of doubt in his chest that this would not be the case, however.

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.

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.

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?


The arena was empty when the squire arrived, pre-dawn, cold, clear, and crisp. Since the end of the contests and tournaments the roped off ground had been abandoned, save for a stray animal or two… and Tumble. His shirt, heavy armor, and tower shield piled in a corner, the squires bare chest steamed in the cold air as he slowly moved though the motions of a series of strikes and blocks. He couldn’t read the sword manuals he was trained from to save his life, but his instructor had drilled these lessons into him so hard it had penetrated even his thick skull.

His foot work slipped, and the strike was sloppy.
He dug in his heels and began again

And so, each morning, he practiced. With armor, without. With his shield, and without. Over, and over, and over again, until his breath burned and his arms ached, and his lungs felt like ice. He was no Ice Hardened, but he was the son of a Smith and a Farmer, used to the pre-dawn hours.

The callouses on his palms tore and the blood made the sword too slick to hold.
He bound his hands and began again.

Visions danced before as he worked. Images of horror he could never unsee, things he would never ever forget. Burning corpses rising again, shadowy spirits that crushed his mind with a word, blood drunk clansmen feasting on human flesh as they boasted about murder.

A hollow suit of armor and flowing cloak that mocked him for his simplicity. His… ordinary mortality.

His hips turned too slowly, the cut was weak and easily punishable.
He reset and began again.

Tumble drilled until his legs felt like frozen stumps and he couldn’t lift the heavy training blade anymore. Until the whispered jokes and jests and quiet laugher he had heard the last two days faded to the back on his mind. Until, mortal as he was, simple as he was, he had to stop and rest and watch the dawn break over the trees.

His breath in steaming clouds, he counts on his shield hand fingers:
“One: I will never take a human life”
“Two: I will never flee from the face of Evil.”
“Three: I will stand for those cannot stand for themselves”

Then he stands and begins again.

Apple blossom

Esparei had delayed unpacking for as long as possible. But she’d finally caved and put everything away carefully, every gown, every robe, all of her furs, her books, things that reminded her of Capacionne. She unpacked the portrait last- her family, in a dreamy pastoral scene, a smaller copy of the painting in their home in Beauclair. A tree laden with blossoms on an island that had never known a storm. Whole and perfectly preserved for all time. She couldn’t look at it for long. It hurt too much. It just made her think of…that night four years ago. There had been so much blood. And fire. And- no. Don’t dwell on it. She already couldn’t shake the image of Victor collapsing, bloody and shocked. She’d thrown up after, begging Rollo to help her out of her masquerade gown, nearly in tears as he helped her change into something easier to move in, so she could go help that reckless Njord.

She looked at the red flowers on her desk, next to a little wooden figure painted crimson. Such sweet gestures, from a person who was so loud, so, so chaotic- the gentle nature of his gifts was jarring, almost. When he’d been stabbed in the tavern, when Victor had gone after him, she’d shielded his body with hers, unthinking. That’s what you do when you protect someone, right? Not just with words and titles. Not hiding away waiting for her grandfather to call her home.

A tree laden with blossoms on an island that had never known a storm. Until the storm came. And now…being able to speak openly about the coup with Saga had felt like a cork had been pulled from her soul and everything poured out in that moment. They knew. They’d heard terrible things. They listened when she said how important it was to serve the people you are responsible for. They told her the plight of the Njords, of the suffering and the harsh, unyielding land they fought so hard to preserve. And it made her heart ache. She wanted to talk to Vernon more too, she’d felt so guilty for ruining her atonement. She wanted to tell Svanhildr everything. She wanted to hug Ragnar- he gave such good hugs, like nothing could happen and she was safe, if only for a moment. That comfort meant a lot when she was painfully homesick and lonely.

A tree, stripped bare by the storm. But still living.
A Lady, alone.