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?

-Simpleton-

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.

Ragnar.
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.

-Too Big, Just Right-

Willam Smith looked at the stranger in the polished copper mirror, dressed in fine boots and homespun clothes under a worn gambeson and armor that was anything but shining. He lifted one arm the stranger followed in lock step, metal plates rubbing and clinking together with the simple movements. A slow spin in place and a rolling of the shoulders produced a sound like a coin purse being aggressively shaken and Tumble couldn’t help but chuckled at himself. All dressed up like a maid at her first barn dance and twice as nervous.

A shield sat in the corner of his small room, stoically guarding the corner with zealous fervor, his sister’s painting scrawled across the front. He still wasn’t sure where she got the paints, and he wasn’t going to ask either. The white wings and knight’s golden helmet were straight from one of their childhood fairy tales, the kind of knight who slew monsters, who saved princesses and nobles, whos armor gleamed like noonday sun. Again, Tumble stared at the stranger in the mirror and the too-big armor it wore.
He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath and recalls what his father told him when he first helped his son into the thick cloth and metal plates. When Willam had expressed concern over the size of the armor, worried it would be too big for him. But his father had seen the true issue, the anxiety over being a squire, of the responsibility of being the first Smith to leave the farm in several generations, of being the first son to leave Murten in an age.
Roain Smith’s response was the same to all worries, spoken and unsaid

“You’ll grow into it.”

Excuses

Lord Svanhildr Saenger.
I regret that I am unable to reach Runeheim by the a̶f̶f̶o̶r̶m̶e̶ date that you gave me to reach the city. I̶n̶ ̶r̶e̶c̶e̶m̶ As an apology, I have included a casting that may help you this season. You may not give c̶r̶e̶d̶e̶ credit to these castings, but the runes are as old as Njordr and I hope that, by giving you these words, you might forgive my vagabondary.

ᛗᛝᛋ•ᛇᚲ•ᚷᚦᛚ
You have been relying on yourself as you enter this new stretch of your life and it has been rewarding for you in the past. But as you enter into this new arena, find the source of your power and focus on learning where to spend your energy and what can be left behind. There will be a blockage in your path, but that delay may be rewarding. Have cautions, but press forward. You may have to face the fire of things that are hard this season. Seek out allies and remove the thorns already in your feet. Find your flow, and like the Kaltlina, your ambitions will take you out to sea.

I ask that you forgive my skiving. I travel as fast as the weather allows on difficult roads, but I will try to be there by next season. I pass this note up the river in hopes that it reach you.
Eiðr Fylgjason

What is.. This?

There was nothing more important to Marinette than community. Her community. Her people. It hurt that others had suffered to keep her community safe–but they were distant, far away from her; they were not her community. She would do what she could to right those wrongs, to amend those pains, to bring them into her community, but when Alphonse spoke of the salvation that had been given to Luisant, Marinette’s heart echoed his words. She abhorred it, truly, but these feelings resided within her regardless of their selfishness, and they were real. She was not responsible for what the nobility had done–none of them were, but if standing above a pit and told “You must push this stranger into the abyss, or Pierre will die”, what would she do?

There was not a question. She would shove that man without hesitance, and weep at the injustice of it all. She would break on the wheel of responsibility and crumble like a dead flower. She would hide in the corner of the darkened church like she had when she was seven and her mother and father were gone. She would hide until someone found her, until he comforted her and told her nothing like this would happen again–even if he lied. Sweet lies.

Father Vallet–how dare he hurt her community? She struggled with this distrust and concern she felt over Alphonse. She had never seen eye to eye with him before, but… but now, it was deep in her, like a poison. A poison that had been put there under the guise of the Church she sought for safety. She had told him she would give him another chance, and he had come back and done it again. Even Isabel thought this might be for the best, but she had not seen it! She had not been there when they had turned on each other. Men and women screaming unceremoniously at one another until one nearly drew a knife and the other, in fear, had POISONED him. This man–she hated this man.

Hate? What was that?

This … this was poison, too. This feeling. She had never felt it before. What an awful, intrusive feeling. A clawing hand dragging her under a thick river of red so she could not catch her breath. She had not even felt this for the men who took her father from her. Perhaps that was the curse of knowing. When she was young, she did not understand the ways of men. She did not understand how hurt spread and ruined. She did not really grasp that Father and Mother were never, ever coming back.

Now she knew what she had, so the losing? It was far more painful. Far more frightening. And she grabbed for it with far more desperation–and in that desperation, that seething red: hate.

She stared at the door of her small one-bedroom home, where Grandpa slept in the one room and Pierre, her, and now Alere all slept in the main room. She saw the moon’s rays through the window, and sat, quietly, until she stood up. She couldn’t be here tonight. No, not tonight. Out the door–the same familiar trail. The same steps, the same soft song. The same destination, where she’d sleep beneath the church’s pews until she woke at her home again.

“Look to the soft and misty skies,
The moon is full and wind is blowing…
Now, please, Love, don’t you close your eyes…
I see your fear is growing.
You do not have to be afraid,
Darling, please be brave…
There’s nothing out there quite like me; don’t you see?

Not every monster’s scary–
Sometimes they are on your side.
I’ll leave the bad ones wary,
I’ll gnash and bite, they’ll run and hide;
You don’t have to fear the dead,
You’vе tamed the monster undеrneath your bed.
You don’t have to fear the night,
’cause I’ll be watching you ’til morning light…”

The Woodsman’s Hope

((Sentences or parts of sentences in all capitals seem to be written by a much more frantic and chaotic hand))

The warm summer sun shone down through the verdant canopy as a woodsman, new to this particular area, trudged on through the underbrush. There was a bit of a reprieve from the hotter-than-normal summer Njordir was having in the cool shade of the forest just outside Runehiem, but the evidence of hard work and exertion showed on this man’s clothes and brow. His pack, filled with materials gathered from the land, weighed on his shoulders, albeit still a burden he could bare. His clan taught him well the value of hard work and respect for the land. He ventured toward the top of a hill deep in the woods in search of a vantage point to get a lay of this new land, as well as a place to sit to enjoy his hand-made trail rations.

As he shifts through the brush, steps over fallen trees and rocks, and skips over small sinkholes, he thinks back on his parents. They were so caring and knowledgeable in their craft and taught him much raising him. HE’S JUST SO DISAPPOINTED THAT THEY HAD TO BREAK THE FAMILY APART. They taught him the best mixture of nuts, berries, flour, honey, and just a bit of animal fat to make these trail rations just the right thing for a hungry gatherer. All he’s learned in life has been from either his parents or his clan, EXCEPT VIOLENCE. He still misses them, EVEN THOUGH THEY DID THE UNTHINKABLE. As the woodsman sits on a fallen log atop the hill to enjoy his trail rations, he looks out into the forest and hopes he continues to make friends in this new village. For the short time he’s been here, it’s felt more and more like home AND WHERE HE BELONGS. He sees new paths forming toward bright futures, and not only the one involving taking a priestly vow. As he’s dwelling on the new friends he’s made, he finishes his trail rations and is ready to venture forth again.

He looks back from where he came, and a small ephemeral bird darts across his sight line. It was so quick, even the trained woodsman couldn’t fully catch it. He looks toward where it went and is met with just the typical sight of the dense foliage with several rays of sun piercing through the canopy for illumination. A voice stirs in his mind, “I HOPE YOU ENJOY YOUR LIFE, EVERY ASPECT OF IT”. He blinks a few times and shakes his head. For good measure, he takes a drink from his water skin, and tries to focus on the voice again. Nothing but the chirping of the birds, the buzzing of insects, and, in the distances, the soft rushing of the river. He says a brief prayer for safety and turns to make his way back to his work and to town. This incident sits uneasy in his mind, BUT AS SOON AS HE LEAVES THE FOREST AND GETS BACK TO TOWN, IT IS OF LITTLE CONCERN TO HIM. He finds peace in his community and the act of helping them with their needs.

Over the next few weeks, during days when he ventures not into the wilderness, the woodsman is found practicing archery in whatever suitable open area is available, mostly out of preparation for the next season’s hunt BUT ALSO YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN YOU NEED TO PROTECT YOURSELF. His thoughts, again, drift back to his parents. His mother was such a dependable hunter and member of the clan, BUT SUCH A DISAPPOINTMENT IN THE END. The clan trusted her with many a folkwise and leaned on her frequently for food and clothing for the winter. WHY DID SHE HAVE TO DO IT? WHY? WHY? WHY? The woodsman, gathering his arrows from his last volley, had tears welling up in his eyes. He wiped his eyes, nocked another arrow, and took just a second to aim. Just before he let the arrow fly, he closed his eyes and let images of hope fill his mind. Next he opened his eyes, he was met with the arrow jutting from the center of the makeshift target. “The light of Benalus is the gateway to hope, the road to salvation. I feel I have hope, so I must be on the right road,” The woodsman mumbles to himself.

To Victor

To the smith, Victor Siggurson

I think any disagreement respectful when a new insight or novel reasoning is presented for consideration. The counsel of the wise is respected within our family and all the North. Fear not error for mistakes can be amended. You served us in the struggle to push back the walking dead that followed us home from attempting to bury the soldiers in the charnel fields. The community came together to bury the dead and again to put them to rest. Thank you for your assistance. You are forgiven for any error or trespass and the debt is paid in full. No obligations between us for the past shall carry forward. We’re here to provide you the support you need to fulfill your purpose in Runeheim and you may come to us. Let me know how you think you can best be helped. In my view, all of the Peers are here devoted to the success of this community and its members. In clearing up matters, it seems that you suspect I have spoken some words that you want clarified or believe do you personal harm. I do not recall speaking against your name recently nor did I call you out at Convocation. Since I’m not afraid of admitting if I spoke hastily, you are invited to quote my words back to me. If I consider those words misrepresenting myself I will admit it directly and if there is no misunderstanding I will clarify. We are known to keep our promises.

Regards, Wrex