Miracle For Rollo

Whenever I’m conscious, I hear footsteps on the hardwood. My Lord, clergymen, the doctor – even Fritjof’s mother. It seems I’m causing quite a stir – they refuse to give up even though I’ve accepted the reality of my situation; I went to my family to help them, and am now cursed like they are. And I will die like one of them.

Never in my life have I been so incredibly wretched – which is saying a lot. The very air stings my skin. My face is swollen, crusted, chaffed like dried seawater. My eyes are going to burst from my head. Every breath is pain in my mouth, through my throat, to my chest. My pulse is in my teeth. Twitching or uttering breath takes long moments of deliberate preparation. If only there were anything I could do to spare myself beholding Lady Death’s face just one more night…!

Friar Ignatius and Brother Erasmus enter with the skald, Saga. I feel like I’m thinking through heavy fog; his words make little sense. I must be delirious, as I feel like laughing – not at the poor man, but at it all. How is it possible to be so terrified and yet so cavalier? Yet that is how I feel.

My Lord lingers nearby. He’s invited me back into his own bed (even if he refuses to join at the moment), despite proclaiming that I’m not to go near it until I am well again. I hear Sir Knut has offered drink to ease the pain. My heart skips a beat as Solfyre peers into the room with a ball of flame in her hand. I know well to fear her, and all magi, but her reputation is… poignant. When the light and shadows retreat with her, I notice the room is far more comfortable than before. Perhaps more than the fire spell, though, my heart is warmed by the stalwart willingness to aid me, an outsider, by the Benalian community.

My Lord tips the drink to my lips, a wild reversal of roles… he can be so tender, when he chooses. I am assured once again that they’ll find a solution, come Helheim or high water. I hardly have energy to register their words. It will take a miracle.

The clergymen believe they can lift the curse with a ritual of Benalus. The very idea petrifies me, but what am I to do? To call the Lion’s gaze upon me… what will it entail? Though whatever it is, if it can spare my life, I will agree to it.

Brother Erasmus helps me to cleanse my hands with holy water. The friar is reading from the Testamonium, and Erasmus asks if I will face the might of God. Nothing could frighten me more. With everything I have left, I ask him to begin. Erasmus carefully lifts a sizzling coal from the censer with a pair of tongs and takes my hand. He turns my palm upward, and presses the ember to my wrist.

I don’t know what happened to my body. My mind fills with the image and overwhelming presence of an enormous white lion. He has a huge and kingly mane, and his sunset eyes burn. Burning. Sizzling. Scorching. I feel his might. I hear someone asking that he drive away the curse and forgive my sinning. It feels like eternity, staring into the fiery eyes of God, but when the coal is lifted from my skin, finally extinguished, I fall back into my body. I try to strangle a scream – somehow I’m still not empty of tears. I lay exhausted and in agony, trembling from what I’ve just experienced.

And then Erasmus murmurs, “…Now once more,”

Why art thou blooming now

It was well after midnight, but Esparei was used to their late night chats, sitting by the fire with drinks and a bite to eat. Tonight, it was tea- fine Capacian tea from her own personal collection- and toasted bread with the last of a jar of marmalade. She set the tray next to Ragnar and arranged herself on the cushion across from him.
“What is this, my Lady?”
“You like jam?”
The Njord gave her a wide grin.
“Oh yes!”
“This is like jam, but orange.”
“I see!”
He slapped a hearty dollop onto some bread while she poured them both tea. And ate half in one great chomp.
“Mmmm! Yes! Very good!”
Esparei giggled and passed him a cup.
“I’m glad you like it. I’ll have to get it more often. How are you feeling?”
“Well enough- why?”
“We did just have…quite the time. You almost drowned, you were almost executed, the fire went out…”
They both shuddered.
“Lady Esparei, we are up against much. And I am more active than most. But I am fine, as you can see.”
“But the oath-”
She fidgets with her cup, anxious.
“…Do you resent me for it?”
“No. Why would I?”
“Some might think you’re my loyal dog now. Or a servant to my House. It’s wrong, of course, but-”
Ragnar patted her shoulder, gently, with his free hand.
“Lady, I understand why the decision was made. And I understand what my role is, yes? You told me your grandfather- Lord…Lord…”
He clutched the teacup with both hands and made an embarrassed grimace in the general direction of the fire.
“I cannot speak it. Please repeat it for me?”
“Lord Aram.”
“Close enough.”
She giggled.
“Your grandfather, Lord Ahhhhram, has a group of his most loyal around him. And surely you are doing the same.”
“I’m trying…my retinue’s delay made things…harder.”
“How so?”
“I wanted to have extra hands to help make the work go a bit smoother. And to watch over those of us doing good work- that’s the purpose of the oath! My duty is to nurture the garden and oversee as it expands and diversifies, and I cherish every Rose we’ve ever inducted into the House. We have many more in Capacionne, obviously. But you have the distinction of being our very first Njordr Rose.”
“Ah yes, a wild thing that grows in an unforgiving land-”
Ragnar’s tone is tinged with dramatics, but there’s a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. Esparei smiled back.
“Wild but enduring, no matter what. That’s what I find so unbearably lovely about this place.”
“Do I make a point of lying to you, Ragnar Stoneskin?”
“No, no, you do not. I just- even I have a hard time seeing my homeland as lovely. Why do you say it is so?”
“There is beauty in something that endures. That says ‘here I am, my roots are deep, and I will not be moved by gods or man’. That speaks to a strength and love in the land I can’t put into words. Not adequately. I think only a skald could- it deserves to be spoken in the tongue of this land, not my clumsy attempts at it.”
Ragnar was silent for a long moment, then he took a careful sip of tea and tried to speak.
“Lady Esparei-”
“Please call me Esparei when we’re not in public. Don’t stand on ceremony when we’re sitting cross-legged on the floor while you’re eating marmalade with your fingers.”
“Ah you caught me! But Lady- Esparei- you speak of my home with such love and care. And you are not of this land, but you do not come here and try to force it to change for you.”
“That’s how you ruin your garden.”
“I see.”
“And I would be a poor guest indeed if I came into a home that was not mine and moved everything around to MY liking, eating all my host’s food and smashing up their belongings.”
“That is a very good way of putting it, yes.”
“My purpose here, which the Saenger Lords know, is to uplift and enrich the community. Working with the Church and the common folk. Tending to the space we seek to command, or we’ll be left with a patch of sour earth and an empty garden. I’m no great commander, no hulking brute with a sword or an economy minded fellow with every last vegetable priced to the stalk. They have their place, and their purpose, to whatever end that is. I know I couldn’t do their jobs. But I do know I can do mine best serving the people, as a Highborn should.”
“You spoke to Brother Erasmus about this most passionately, I remember.”
“I did. And I meant every word.”
“I know you did.”
Esparei finished her tea, deep in thought for a minute.
“I still need to learn Njordr, don’t I.”
“Ha! Yes, yes you do!”
“Then I can speak to the Avalanche and give him marmalade too, and make many friends.”
“Oh no- we may have to fight over the orange jam, it is very good.”
“There’s enough to go around, you menace!”
They dissolved into merry laughter. By the time they finished the tea and toast, it was late. Ragnar slept by the fire, in Esparei’s reading chair, axe across his knees. And Esparei, in her bed, hair falling over the pillows like so much spilled coffee, dreamed of flowers growing in ice and songs in the dark.

Conversations with myself.

Corbin left the tent briskly, pulling his hood up and over his head to protect him from the cold drizzle that this afternoon had brought. He pulled the sides of his coat closer to him, cursing the lack of waterproofing on the sides of the thing. It was his own fault, after all, there should be plenty of beeswax from Linette. He just had gotten too busy with other things to actually mix it with the oils and then apply it to his cloak. The thickness would keep him warm until the drizzle soaked it through. Once soaked through, any semblance of warmth it provided would fade, and it would only be a hindrance. He had maybe a couple of hours before that happened so he quickly made his way under the canopy of the forest.

“You have questions?” a small squeaky voice chirps inquisitively in his ear. The sudden surprise of it makes Corbin nearly jump out of his skin in panic. But really, it’s not something that should have come as a surprise in the first place: The spiders had been talking to him for months now. Ever since the emissary arrived at the gathering in the woods that night.

“Y..Yes. About the Knight.” He hated spiders. They were creepy little crawly things that tended to get everywhere and he could never tell which ones were going to bite and which ones were not. They were creepy and skittery, and generally just made him uncomfortable whenever one was around. Sure, it wasn’t their fault they were creepy. Spiders played a vital and important part in the health of the forest by keeping the more dangerous insects at bay. He just wished they would do their jobs…. over…there.

“The darkness is good, it hides us.” the voice responds while Corbin represses yet another shiver from running down his spine. He had sorta walked into that one. Of course, the spirit wouldn’t immediately know what a Knight was, at least without more specificity and context.

“N..No. One of the Cruzemore’s men, one of their soldiers, their knights. P..people say he started acting weird once the spiders got into his head. Made him do some really bad things. Can you tell me about that?” Corbin didn’t really want to know if the spiders had driven the man to torture and kill people. He didn’t want to be involved in this discussion at all, but someone had to. Someone who would be able and willing to speak to the spirits and hear what they say needs to be involved in the discussions. If this spider queen really was a Vacatran Crone, the circle needed her. His people needed to help her, and any other members of the faith who might still yet live in her lands.

The silence stretched on for much longer than Corbin felt comfortable with. Not that there was anything even remotely comfortable about the situation, to begin with. He had almost convinced himself that the little messenger had taken his request and left, possibly to go get the answers he sought. His heart had even just started to calm down when the tiny voice spoke again, making him flinch a second time.

“We did what was necessary to guide them through the Mists. It took all we had to do this.”

A perfectly appropriate answer from a spirit. Not a ‘yes’, not a ‘no’, and something each side could interpret to support their original arguments.So pretty much no help at all. If it were a person he could accuse them of dodging the question or being obtuse, but spirits were just like that sometimes. Expecting a depth of understanding of the complicated social nuance of intent and evil was a lot to ask of a little spider whose whole world was about weaving webs and trapping insects for lunch.

“Umm… Thanks” he says finally. “I will leave some of my next hunt at the house in the grove for you.” Just because the information wasn’t particularly useful didn’t absolve the need for payment. That was a lesson hard to learn long ago. Silence followed, and Corbin lied to himself that he was probably alone again. In truth, he knew deep down that he was never really alone anymore, but admitting to that was not something he was ready to do just yet.  

The inevitable turning point

Corbin left the tent briskly, his emotions roiling under a thin façade of calm. He knew this day would one day come, and he was no better prepared for it now than when he first realized it was inevitable all those years ago.

“I thought I would have more time…” he muttered to himself. It was another lie. He’d known for years now that it was only a matter of time until Isabel swore her oaths and became an official priestess. Hell, the only thing that actually surprised him is that it had taken this long already. A small part of him had always hoped he could talk her out of it, but that would be like talking the trees into growing sideways instead of up.

So, he did what he always did when his emotions were too much for him. He ran away into the woods to gather things for the town. Hunting always calmed him. It allowed him to be alone with his thoughts in the cold uncaring murk of the forest. The forest didn’t care if he was happy, sad, scared, or furious. It simply was, and it always sang to its own rhythm and pulse.  He could lose himself in that pulse; get swept up in the currents of the winds, in the trails of the game, and in the simple repetitions of scavenging.

Isabel taking vows had been a foregone conclusion. An inevitability he had been dreading, but by no means unexpected. Sophie Joining at the same time was a surprise, but only in that way that you are surprised the soup fresh off the fire is too hot to eat right away. They were both doing what they thought was best to help serve the town, and really, they probably were. They were not wrong in perusing their ambitions, in following the love within their hearts. And who was he to tell them not to?

He had already shifted his pace and posture and arrested his breathing before he’d even consciously noticed the freshly left pile of deer droppings. Judging by the size and texture, there was a buck nearby and upwind of him. The hunt was on.

Memories flooded his mind in the stillness of the forest. With each cautious step towards his prey, another story from his childhood played itself over again in his mind. Stories from his mother, about the dangers of talking too freely about the old ways and traditions. Names of relatives and friends from long ago who were persecuted and killed for their bonds to the forest and the ways of Vacatra. Warnings against going to those who wear thelion for help or trust, lest the whole family be put to death. Over the course of his entire life, he had never once seen a member of the lion faith harm a member of the circle in the way his mother’s stories recounted. Still, he knew the old stories to be true, and they haunted him all the same.

The buck was grazing in a small clearing just beyond the next bush. He leveled an arrow at the beast and aimed to shoot it in the neck. It would be a clean kill with as little pain as possible, and they would eat well tonight. His breath hung in his chest as he lined up the shot and held for just the right moment.

“That wouldn’t be Isabel though, right? There is no way she would ever hold his family’s connections to the spirits against him like that, would she?” he thought. His breath exhaled. The arrow loosed and smacked loudly into the great oak tree just behind the buck. The sound startled the beast who took off with a start and a grunt of fear. Corbin watched in dismay as his prey disappeared into the underbrush, likely never to be seen again.

“Yeah. I didn’t think so.” He muttered to himself.

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.

The Darkness of Death

The Eparch is dying” Lord Hyutyr let out when he entered the tavern.
“WHAT?!” I took off sprinting into the woods, following behind Mother Superior Solace and a few others, including the good doctor Heimir, rushing to Elias’s aid.
My breath left me, I don’t know if it was the shock of the news or the distance and speed I was running but by the time I reached Elias, My head was pulsing, my sides splitting, my legs cramping. I looked to the others at the scene.
“What happened?”
“Hollow Song. They got him. He’s dying”
With that last word, I was left completely breathless as a frenzy of panic set in.
“No, no, no, I can’t save him then, I haven’t learned what I need to, maybe if I-” A pair of strong weathered hands grabbed me by the collar and before me Lord Knutt stared me in the eyes.
“Vernon, not Erasmus, just breathe. Do what you need to do and be there for him. Emotions will come later”
A warm calm washed over me as he let me go. One I had not felt in a long time. I fell to my knees next to Elias and reached for his hand. It dashed and darted as he tried to get the good doctor to stop his ministrations.

Elias spoke his peace to both me and Solace. I felt my vision darkening as he spoke, as the words grew distant. Finally, Solace looked up to the good doctor and spoke, which brought me back to the moment.

“Heimir, Stop.”
“WHAT?!” Heimir exclaimed with a look of shock and disbelief.
“It’s okay… Let him go.” I put a hand on his shoulder, which was quickly ripped away from me as he backed away.
Finally, his thrashing stopped.
“I’m so proud of you both. Lead these people well. Good…bye.” His breath left him, his muscles relaxed, and his hand slipped from my hand. I fell backward into the soft grass behind me. My vision darkened again as I stared at the ground in front of me. I had failed. I couldn’t protect this man of god from the grasp of death. All my efforts and the knowledge I had gained in the past months were not enough. Shame seeped into my mind as once again a voice pierced the darkness

“Vernon, are you alright? Can you stand?” The Voice of the Tempest extended his hand. I stared for a moment and took it. My legs were tree trunks as I stumbled upright, leaning on the kindly skald with sister solace on my other side. The blood returned to my limbs as we moved back out of the forest. Slowly I was able to support myself again to walk, and speak once again.

“Thank you for that. I feel I would’ve been sitting there a while would you have not had said something” I said to him. I looked ahead and saw the good knight Knutt carrying the body we were to bury shortly. My mind blurred. I moved with what felt like practiced actions. They buried him and I gave him a proper funeral. When I was done speaking the rites, I stepped away from the group gathered and kneeled. Again I felt that darkness creep back. This time not blinding, or hindering, just…dark. I heard my name again and snapped back to reality.

“Would you like some time, Brother?” It was the Voice again.
“Uhm, yes please” They left me alone with the darkness, with my emotions. I sat. The doubt seeped in again; The doubt, the shame, the anger. I failed. How was I supposed to lead these people I met not more than 6 months ago? I let them down. I let this good man of God down. I was weak. I chose this life and this is what I get for it. I felt the tears streaming from my unblinking eyes. I clenched them and felt the sting of the cold winter air. I wiped the tears away with my hand and stared.

“Please, guide me on this new path. What is the best thing I can do for these people?” I placed my tear soaked hand on the freshly laid soil and prayed.

“Do your best, Vernon. Learn what you can, lead these people with that knowledge” I heard in my head.

My face was soaked, my eyes red. I stayed just a bit longer to clean myself up a bit. I stood and returned to the people. The people who I would help, heal, and lead. The people who would support me when I needed it, and I would support in turn.

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.

In Flagrante

Runeheim slows to a halt, the frigid winds locking the city into a standstill. Nighttime cold was too big a risk for most, so the shattering of glass went unnoticed. Crime was all too easy, businesses closing early, staying empty longer. It isn’t until the sun rises that a frantic bar maid sees the broken window, and rushes to unlock the door, terrified of what she might find. Are they ruined? Is there food? Will she have to find a new way to support her family? The door creaks open. The smell hits her just before the vision.

A scream wakes runeheim.

The tension grows in the silence. Svanhildr looks calm, but Skarde and Fritjof both feel the quiet rage filling the air.
“Breaking and entering.”
“I’ll pay for-” Skarde is quickly silenced by a fierce look from Svanhildr.
“And if that wasn’t bad enough. You do the one thing,  the one, specific thing I told you not to.”
“We just thought-” Fritjof is the one silenced this time, by a soft laugh, almost more terrifying than the stare down.
“You thought?! Tell me please, where have you been hiding that particular talent, and why have you not showcased it for me before now?! No. You two do not think. You were caught, fully nude, on a tavern table, Shaving!” Svanhildr’s voice barely raised, but their gaze grew even more severe as the two hooligans smiled and elbowed each other’s ribs playfully. “The window and the barkeeps discretion is already paid for by house Saenger. But you two owe me personally  for not throwing you both out on your ear. At the very least, some peace and quiet you owe me. Now, get out of here before I have someone throw one of you in the pillory just to keep you separated”

Skarde and Fritjof quickly exited Svanhildr’s study, pausing after they were out of earshot to look at each other before bursting into laughter and stepping once more into an embrace. “Your place or mine?”

A tangle of furs and body parts and sighs later, the two lay staring at the ceiling.
    “How was burying bodies?” Fritjof finally broke the ecstatic silence and he snuggled into Skarde’s chest.
    “Not as exciting as I hoped, Callistra is a bit shy” they both chuckled. “I missed you frit”
    “I know. I missed you too…” There’s a long pause before Fritjof speaks again, “I..I might have to leave you for a bit longer though”
    Skarde’s breath catches, “was I that bad this round?”
    “Hah, never” Fritjof kisses Skarde on the nose. “But I’ve had a lot of time to think and,…there’s some things I need to take care of. Look in to. All that”
    “Sure, I’ll pack and come-” Skarde is silenced by another kiss, this one on the lips.
    “I need to meet with someone alone.”
     “You…you’re going to come back right? Intact?”
      Fritjof brushes his thumb across the bare line he shaved into Skarde’s eyebrow the last time they spoke, and repeated the same words. “I’m not going to abandon you”

A Brother Comes Home

“I’m home!” Vernon projected his voice through the cozy house that had quickly become a home to him.
“Big brother!” Randolph, Ylva, and Embla, his younger siblings came running to warmly welcome him home after an arduous forum with a group hug.
“Well, welcome home, my hard-working nephew. Glad to see everyone made it home safely,” Manning, a middle-aged, but greying man, gave Vernon a warm smile but shot a couple glares at Randolph and Ylva.
“I am, too. You two took quite a risk coming to see me. Between Skógerblóði, the Hollow Song, and the mages, I was worried you wouldn’t make it home,” Vernon nudged his twin siblings roughly.
“Yeah, well, you taught us well. We made it there fine,didn’t we?” Randolph rebutted. Vernon and Manning rolled their eyes.
“Making it past my watchful eye was quite a feat. I was quite a hunter when I was still with the clan,” Maning boasted.
“It wasn’t exactly hard when you were asleep,” the children giggled.
“Also, wasn’t that quite a few years ago? I remember you leaving a lot up to my parents even before you decided to settle down,” Vernon ribbed.
“Oh hush now, I did plenty. And as for you youngsters, isn’t it past your bedtime? I know you wanted to stay up to welcome your brother home, but come now, let’s get you all in bed.”

After Manning got everyone to sleep, or, at least, in bed, he came and sat with Vernon.

“So I hear you’re set to become a priest? I take it those lessons helped?”
“Yeah, thanks,” Vernon sat staring at the fire that was keeping the home warm.
“Ya know it won’t be easy? When’s that ever stopped ya, though” Manning chuckled.
Vernon just sat, deep in thought, still staring at the fire. Manning sighed.
“I miss them, too.” Vernon snapped a look of both shock and a touch of anger at Manning, “I know, I know. What they did was horrible, but they’re still family.”
“I just can’t forgive them. I can’t reasonably expect them to take care of me or anyone for that matter. They’re monsters,” Vernon uttered this cold vitriol, tears forming in his eyes.
“…But you still miss them, don’t you? I see the rations you make and take to forum, hear the stories you still tell your siblings and I’m sure others you meet in town. I can feel it in your heart, Vernon”
Vernon shuddered, despite being comfortably warm, clenched his eyes shut, tears streaking his cheeks, and, finally, turned to his uncle’s shoulder, sobbing.
It was Manning’s turn now to stare into the fire, gently stroking his nephew’s back as the dark of the night grew.
As Vernon’s cries waned, Manning began humming a soft melody to soothe both Vernon’s and his own soul.