“Lady Christiana, it is so good to see you. I’m honored to be in the presence of such a beautiful and blessed lady.” Sinaedh’s face twisted into a frown as the young scout gushed the praises of her friend. “And indeed, honored to be a member of such an august Company.” The scout swept a grandiose bow to Christiana, outstretched hand nearly brushing the well-packed ground before Caer Sursbrooke.
“Why don’t you kiss her feet?” muttered Sinaedh.
Gasps from those near her broke the abrupt silence. Sinaedh clapped her hand to her mouth in shock and embarrassment, face reddening. Why had she said that? Christiana was her friend, and the words the man spoke were less than those around her might have expected to hear from her husband Sanders, not long ago. “I..,” Sinaedh whispered, backing from the crowd awkwardly. “I’m sorry, Chris. Lady Christiana.” She turned and walked quickly away, tears stinging her eyes, narrowly avoiding collision with the guards dutifully pacing their rounds.
“Sinaedh,” a firm hand on her shoulder stopped her.
The red-haired cleric bowed her head, the tears forcing themselves into her eyes. “I’m sorry, Christiana. I don’t know what made me say that.”
The fingers on her shoulder squeezed slightly. “I forgive you.”
Anger intruded again, and Sinaedh’s fists clenched, though she kept them at her sides. Always forgiving, always perfect, aren’t you? a voice inside her head raged at her friend. Always happy, always helping. Well, I’m not. I’m NOT!
The blond woman shook her head slightly, feeling the tension in the other, and getting no response other than that. “Sinaedh, I don’t know what...,” she started.
“I don’t know either, Chris,” Sinaedh interrupted. “I need... I need to be by myself. I’m going out to the Wall.”
Christiana caught her lip between her teeth, considering. She had the right and duty to forbid that if she saw fit, they both knew. But perhaps solitude would help her friend’s mood, where companionship hadn’t. “Be careful. Go with God,” she finally said.
Sinaedh nodded mutely. God? God has forsaken me, she thought with a sigh. He took Sanders away.
The road toward the wall was overgrown. In places, the cobbles had been pried up to build huts or sunk so far into the ground that one could only see the standing stones that marked the way. Still, she’d been this way often enough that she knew the path, and knew the dangers she’d find along it. Here, civilization fell away, to be replaced with the graveyards of those who’d died invading or defending. Here, only murderers and bandits lived with impunity.
Sinaedh crested the rise slowly, warily watching the trees around her. This far from Camelot, heathens from the cold lands of the Norse as well as the strange elves were wont to travel, in hopes of doing damage to the faith and people who followed the late King. She stopped often, listening and looking, keeping track of the sights and sounds of the mountains as well as she could. The thick underbrush and rocky hills were prized places for outlaws or invading heathens to hide. Still, the wild beauty of the land soothed her, easing some of the concerns she carried with her with each step.
Suddenly, a flash of color darted toward her, then across her path. Without thought, Sinaedh lifted her hand, lips forming the prayer to give her the power to stun the intruder in its path. She saw, as the small form blinked in the flash of light, that it was of the strange race called kobold, a denizen of the frozen north. Lustrous eyes flashed in the dark blue face. She wasn’t sure if it was surprise, hatred or fear there, but it didn’t matter. She reached for the hammer swinging at her side, pulling it free, and slamming it into the smaller figure.
Without warning, all of the emotion she’d been working to keep bottled surged to the surface. She saw nothing but the leering face of her enemy, an enemy that might have been responsible for killing her love. Her first swing slammed into the side of the kobold, who was so stunned that he still made no move to weapons or to run. Teeth clenched, Sinaedh lifted the hammer again, striking down at the legs of the kobold. It let out a yelp as the hammer crunched through muscle and tendon, twisting its knee horribly. “Die!” Sinaedh yelled, stepping forward as the kobold sluggishly pulled a sharp blade from its sheath. “DIE!”
Sinaedh surged forward, slamming the hammer down on the shoulder of the kobold. “You!” she screamed, spinning with the hammer, smashing it into the belly of the beast. “You killed him!” She spun with the hammer, pounding it into the chest of the kobold. With a gurgling grunt, the blue-skinned beast slumped to the ground. “DIE!” Again and again, Sinaedh slammed the hammer down on the kobold. Blood, bits of bone, and brain splattered as she mindlessly beat down on it, anger, fear and frustration driving her. Again and again the hammer fell on the mangled creature.
“Sinaedh!” Something caught the hammer in its swing, and she stumbled, her grip loosening. She fell to her knees before the twisted form of the kobold. “What are you doing?” Sinaedh heard nothing of the note of hysteria in the voice that questioned her. Her eyes were locked on the destruction she’d caused.
“Sinaedh?” she flinched from the hand that fell on her shoulder.
“Easy lass,” a gruff voice interceded. “Let her be for a moment. ‘Tis anger that’s done this, and it will leave a hole when it’s gone.”
Sinaedh blinked, staring down at the broken flesh, then to her own hands, spattered with blood. As if she were dreaming, she wiped her hands on the grass beside her, then lifted them again. The blood was still there. Nodding as if she understood the meaning, she placed her hands on her thighs and rose to stand, wavering over the kobold. Hazel eyes lifted away from the dead creature to the sky. “Blue,” she whispered. “It’s blue.” With a soft sigh, she slumped in a faint next to the one she’d killed.
(written by Christiana)
“I don’t know either, Chris,” Sinaedh interrupted. “I need... I need to be by myself. I’m going out to the Wall.”
Christiana had known Sinaedh for several years, they had both chosen the path of the Cleric, and they were Sisters in the church and out. Sinaedh had become the sister she had never had. And she knew that Sinaedh was not behaving like herself. The Lady had not been herself since the death of her husband. After learning Sanders fate, she had spent weeks just sitting in the Church, praying and crying. Chris didn’t know how to help her friend. The only thing she knew to do was to lend an ear and a shoulder. Sinaedh had become withdrawn and rarely spoke of Sanders death. The few times she did speak of it, her words would become caught in her throat and she would apologize for her emotion and change the subject.
Christiana knew the trip to the Wall was dangerous, but she would not forbid her friend from going If that it what she needed to do…”Be careful. Go with God,”
After watching her friend disappear from sight, Chris turned back to her group. Most of them were discussing military matters, Christiana tried to appear as though she was listening, but she couldn’t get her mind off of her friend. After a couple of hours the sun was hanging low in the sky, it would be getting dark soon. How could she have let her go off like that? She should have stopped her, or at least gone with her whether she wanted the company or not.
With that last thought, Chris excused herself from the Company and made her way towards the Wall. She would find Sinaedh and have a little talk with her. Let her know that she couldn’t jeopardize her safety just because she wanted to be alone. She would let her know that she had people who loved her and cared for her.
The trip to towards the Wall seemed to take longer than usual. Chris scanned the hills and trees, hoping to find Sinaedh coming home. Constantly listening and watching for enemies, she walked on. Once she thought she had caught a glimpse of a dark shadow behind her, in the distance, but did not see it again. The evening’s dark shadows playing tricks on her mind, she thought.
Suddenly she heard the rumble of thunder. The sun was settling in over the mountains behind her, the sky was clear. That could only be one thing, someone was in battle. Christiana took off running as hard as she could over the hill in the direction of the rumbling. Just as she crested the hill she heard screams… Dear God, that sounded like Sinaedh, she’s hurt…if something happens to her I’ll never forgive myself for letting her go……… Up ahead she saw two forms, one smaller than the other. Kobold, she thought, they may be small but they can be deadly against a cleric. Especially Sinaedh…she’s not skilled in combat….
Chris continued running towards them, not quite comprehending what she was seeing. The small form had fallen and yet Sinaedh continued to strike the creature repeatedly. By the time Chris reached them the kobold was clearly dead, yet Sinaedh continued with such rage and anger that it teetered on the verge of madness. “Sinaedh!” Without thinking Chris grabbed the hammer, as she was about to strike the creature again. “ What are you doing!?”
Sinaedh stumbled to the ground and Chris knelt in front of her. Sinaedh’s face was spattered with blood and she stared blankly at the kobold. Christiana knew at that moment that something was terribly wrong with her friend, her best friend. Pulling a cloth from her pouch she began to clean the blood from Sinaedh’s face. Her gaze did not leave the bloodied creature. Trying to get her attention Chris grabbed her shoulder and shook her “Sinaedh!?”
“Easy lass, Let her be for a moment. ‘Tis anger that’s done this, and it will leave a hole when it’s gone.”
Startled by the man’s voice, Chris jumped up and took a step back, instinctively going for her hammer. “Randon! Praise God! I thought you were…. I didn’t see you!”
As Chris was speaking Sinaedh slowly stood, she raised her eyes towards the sky, mumbled a few words and then fell to the ground unconscious. Chris rushed to her friend, placing her head in her lap, holding her hand out to Randon, “give me your water flask”.She poured the water onto the cloth and began wiping Sinaedh’s face again.
“She’s not well, the burden of Sander’s death has been too much for her. I don’t know what I can do to help her…..” tears welling up in her eyes as she spoke. “ I shouldn’t have let her come out here, not alone. She has always been there for me Randon…always…”
“C’mon lass, lets get her home” Randon said as he offered a hand to help Christiana up and then knelt and scooped Sinaedh up into his arms “ and you as well”. Dusk had faded into a dark night as they began to make their way home.
(written by the player of Kadatha)
It had been several months since the young kobold had traveled so far from her home. The attacks on her people had been steadily growing, and she had no reason to journey beyond the snowy frontiers for a fight. Today, something was different. Since she woke in the morning, edginess had consumed her. Though she rarely remembered her dreams, today she was haunted, and could think of nothing other than discovering what they meant.
Cloaking herself in the shadows, she clambered down the outside wall of the outpost. Her mate had taught her to avoid using doors whenever possible, to avoid detection. The kobold proceeded along the path towards the milegate, watching carefully for any sign of danger. As her feet moved silently through the wet grass, Kadatha’s mind drifted to memories of the dream. One image remained with her, burned into her mind—an image of grass—dark lush grass unlike that of Emain Macha—streaked with blood. She had seen many bloodied battlefields, and spilt the blood of many enemies herself, but there was something about this dream that would not let her rest. She prayed to Loki that she would find answers on her journey, and that the relentless burning inside her would cease.
The kobold’s heart quickened as she approached the large wooden doors of the milegate. This was it—the one place along her trip where she had to reveal her presence to any watching. With a deep breath she opened the first gate, and then the second. Passing through safely, she moved away from the gate. Instead of the usual feeling of relief, the pounding in her heart grew stronger. With the beating grew the anxiety, and she began to feel as if every inch of her body was being twisted inside, crushed by an unseen force.
As she reached the top of the hill, she saw it. Reaching the carcass, she fell to her knees. The form of the slaughtered kobold was bludgeoned beyond recognition—she had never seen anything like it. His white hair was matted with blood, his face crushed. Across the path from the corpse, a patch of grass was streaked with blood, as if the killer had tried to clean their hands. Kadatha dropped her head for a moment, closing her eyes. The brutality of this killing went beyond an act of war.
Opening her eyes, Kadatha reached toward what was left of the body. She was filled with a sorrow greater than she had ever felt before. She had to return him to his homeland, he could not lay here to be trampled and ravaged further.
As she gathered the remains into her arms, her heart sunk. Beneath the crumpled body lay a tiny iron dagger. Her vision blurred as the tears rose up, and she reached for the familiar weapon. It was one of the first she had crafted, a present for a young warrior. A piercing wail broke the silence of the hills as she cradled the remains. Her body quivered as the tears poured out, memories flooding through her. Visions of him singing, as she brushed his soft white hair—the beaming of his eyes as she taught him how to use his new dagger—kissing his forehead and telling him goodbye. So many years had passed since she left him in the darkened caves, so many years since she returned to find him missing. She had always held out hope that he had escaped, but now, that hope was shattered. Her baby brother was gone, left crumpled on a dirty path by one of the Christians.
(written by the player of Randon)
Randon sighed to himself and narrowed his eyes, peering around the scene to make sure there were no more enemies close. Apparently this lone kobold had traveled alone, for he detected no signs of danger nearby. Under normal circumstances Sinaedh would have been no match for the warrior from the Northlands, but he had encountered the cleric under far from normal circumstances. Her anger had done this; unbridled wrath. Perhaps, the mercenary thought, this would snap his sister out of the fog she had been walking through since Sanders' death.
With slow and deliberate movements he knelt down and took her into his arms and lifted her from the ground.
"Let's get her home," Randon said, "and get her cleaned up."
The veteran fighter knew that if enemies caught them and their cargo, they would be hard-pressed to defend themselves.
"Keep an eye out, lass. They are not dull folk; they'll strike if they see a weakness."
Christiana wiped the tears from her eyes and nodded solemnly, glancing around for any out of place movement. Randon also took another quick look around, nodded, and then set off for home, carrying the fragments of broken-heartedness in his arms.
(Written by the player of Randon.)
The creak of the door alerted the woman that her husband had arrived home from another patrol of the savage frontier. She herself had just arrived an hour or so beforehand from a trip to the barrows that lay underneath the Stonehenge. It seemed the church was constantly waging war with the evil that had been left by the pagan druids when they were driven from that place, and more often than not she found herself in the midst of that war. It was good to be home, she thought to herself. She stirred the stew that she was preparing over the fire without looking over her shoulder. As she spoke she turned around, preparing for the embrace that was no doubt on it's way.
"Come in, love. I've a stew cookin' on the fi..."
The words caught in her throat as Affinity saw Randon step into the room, the limp form of Sinaedh in his arms, her body stained with blood. Tears formed in her eyes, and she was on the verge of letting out a long wail when her husband spoke.
"She's not dead, woman...she's just passed out from the strain of her grief and anger. The blood is not her own."
Affinity let out an exasperated sigh of relief as Christiana made her way into the house and shut the door behind her.
"I'll let Chris tell you what happened," the mercenary said as he laid Sinaedh on their bed. "I must be off to the city to speak with a man. Clean the lass up and keep watch over her. She will be disoriented when she wakes, and a bit frightened."
Both clerics nodded without looking at the man, their attention drawn already to fetching rags and water to clean Sinaedh and make sure that she was not wounded. Randon stood there, thinking. His wife's familiar voice woke him from his daze.
"Well be gone with ya, man! We've got to undress 'er to get our work done, and yer not helpin' a lick standin' there with a blank stare on yer face!"
Randon frowned slightly as his wife approached him with a wink, placing a warm loaf of bread in his hand, hollowed out with her savory stew replaced inside. He attempted a smile as she kissed him and shooed him out the door. As he glanced down at his food, his stomach rumbled. No better way to a man's heart, indeed, he thought with a silent chuckle.
With a sigh, he set off toward Camelot, the fair city. The city of mystery and intrigue. The city which held the answers his sister so desperately needed. The city where he would find those answers and make the perpetrators pay in blood. His physical hunger absolved, his hunger for justice was now taking precedent. It was at last time to end this once and for all, for better or worse. Sinaedh depended on him now, more than ever. He had never let her down, and he was not about to start now.
Sinaedh woke, gasping for breath, blindly flailing.
"Shh," a soft voice whispered. "You're safe. You're safe."
"No!" Sinaedh cried, lifting her hand before her face in the dim light of early morning that the small window of the house allowed. She turned her hand, inspecting it closely, then lifted the other. "But...," she whispered, shaking her head. "But the blood."
"Sinaedh," the gentle voice whispered, a hand brushing her brow, where wild strands of red were plastered to her forehead. "Shh. It's all right. You're all right. There's no blood."
"No blood?" Sinaedh murmured, looking toward the form that sat with her in the narrow bed where she lay. "C... Christiana?"
"Yes. We found.. Randon and I found you, Sinaedh. You're safe now."
"I.. I did a horrible..." The younger cleric's face crumpled. "I killed him, Chris.. he... he was young... he was alive.. and I...," she sobbed, plunging her face into her hands.
"Shh," Christiana soothed, taking the shuddering form into her embrace. "Everything will be all right."
Time to recover.
Time to reflect.
Time to remember.
Time to grieve.
Sinaedh had time, remaining at the house for several days, regaining her strength, but awakening every night trembling and with sweat-soaked nightclothes from nightmares she couldn't remember. She spent long evenings before the fire, trying to deny the need for sleep, but each night fatigue won, and horror arose in her dreams.
"Perhaps if we go out to Camelot, to see the sights. I know just the thing," Christiana said. "How about an evening listening to the tales told in a tavern? There are many fine minstrels and storytellers about." She looked at her friend carefully.
"Yes," Sinaedh responded softly, nodding. She knew Christiana was trying to help, and perhaps it would. Perhaps a tale, a song or two, and a mug of shared ale would drive the demons that stalked her nights away. "Yes," she said more firmly. "I'd like that."
She’d always enjoyed the gatherings where folk would stop what they were doing for a time and tell a story or sing a song. It took them away from the war for a time, allowing them to immerse themselves in the fantasy of another place and time, perhaps distant, perhaps close.
But Ludlow... no, she couldn’t continue to go to Ludlow and hear the tales. Too many memories lay there, of a handsome man standing behind those in the main circle, listening. Of him smiling at her as she recited a tale of her home. Of his silvery-tongued compliments. Of his warm smile. Of her desire.
So she asked instead that they travel to Camelot, though she wasn’t sure that would be better. There were memories there, too, but she hoped to stay away from the district where she and Sanders had shared joy and passion in their home. She and Christiana traveled to a pub central, yet far enough removed to feel almost safe.
The evening began well enough, with a tale from an eccentric mage of the earth telling of his learning and the strong binding he felt to the land. He seemed a bit reluctant to speak with Sinaedh present, and fled when her sister of the Church appeared bearing mugs for each of them, but Sinaedh marked it down to doubts on his part. The Church fathers had decreed that mages, while they did not necessarily have as strong a Faith as others, served God in their own way. And the tale diverted her thoughts away from her own concerns for a moment to wonder at his obvious empathy with the land, which she viewed as inert, but he knew as living. So she listened to him, then after him to the minstrel Baeley, who wove a riddle into a trip to Camelot.
As Baeley spoke, a young couple entered the pub. They held hands, seeking seats close to each other, and leaned together, whispering. Sinaedh tried not to watch, to concentrate instead on the ending of the minstrel’s tale and on the riddle therein, but when she looked away to Christiana, hoping to find understanding and diversion from the young lovers, she found an armsman bowing to the cleric, then sitting quietly next to her to partake of the evening as well. A cold hand gripped her heart, turning it to lead and pulling it toward the ground.
“You were gone a week entire?” pursued the young Highland man, doing his best to solve the riddle.
“Nay,” the minstrel shook his head, grinning. “Try again.”
“Love, do you know?” The young man hugged the red-haired woman sitting with him.
“Perhaps there was a magical spell involved?”
“No, lass,” the minstrel chuckled, enjoying his moment of outfoxing them all.
Sinaedh listened with blank expression, her mind refusing to consider the riddle, hurt and confusion swirling in her thoughts instead. She stared down at her hands folded in her lap, until some of the further conversation seeped slowly into her ears. “We’ll wed in two days,” the young man was saying. “And all are invited. We’d be honored to have you as guests.”
Sinaedh lurched to her feet, ringing in her ears, throat tight, breaths forced against a constricting band that seemed to have been wrapped around her. “I...,” she started, then swallowed down cruel words. “I... I need to go. Congratulations,” she forced in the direction of the couple, and without further explanation, turned and fled into the night.
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