Archive | March 26, 2013

Finale, a drabble of Luke and Myst (@kissofjudas)

After Matters, after Mutts

The blood splattered, and the woman fell.

Luke pulled the sword out of his chest with both hands. “Idu… Kwxe.” shit. The bitch had really gotten him. But he could still feel for heat signatures. A child could have done that.

Child. The children were right there, holding their knives. Good kids.

“We’re clear. Nobody else within a mile.” He coughed, and spat out a Jasfe Tlacatl. There. His guts were back inside of him. “Myst…” he closed his mouth. “Mystral, sa’Oncoming Storm.” He dropped to one knee in the bloody grass. “I did not come home tonight to fight …ninjas.”

Don’t be a moron, Luke

Trying. The blood loss and the twitchy feeling of post-combat were not helping the situation.

“But we fight together. Like we move together.” The children were listening. He should be careful what he said. “We’re a team, Mystral. We should always be a team.” The ring was still there, in his pocket. Sapphire and diamond. He pulled it out, and offered it, in the palm of his hand. “Mystral, would you do me the immense honor of being my wife?”

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Into the Fire, a story for the Giraffe Call (@ellenmillion)

For [personal profile] ellenmillion‘s Prompt

“Stand there.”

Terena had placed Tho off to one side and handed him a short blade. At first, he’d been a bit worried for his safety – she had dressed him in enough chain mail to make a handkerchief and just enough leather to hold it on, which left far more of him exposed than he liked.

Then he’d watched her go to work, with her sword-kin, and his only worries had settled in to “why can’t I move my feet?” and “exactly how silly do I look?” The blade looked as decorative as his armor, far too shiny to be an actual weapon.

Tho knew weapons. He’d been a blacksmith’s apprentice, before his village was sacked and he’d been taken captive. He knew armor, too.

Terena was carrying a weapon, a real one, and wearing real armor, a proper breast-plate, greaves, and leather under that. As Tho had learned in the last day and a half, she also had the muscle to carry both weapon and armor.

Tho did, too, of course. But Tho had a tiny shiny blade and tinier shinier scale maile. And feet stuck in place. Which really wasn’t a logistical concern, because Terena and her sword-kin were stacking up the bodies before they ever got to Tho.

He jabbed the silly blade into the arm of someone who fell too close to him, just to make himself feel better. The arm twitched and stopped moving.

“There.” Terena beheaded someone with a tidy swoop – the tiny spurt of blood suggested the beheading was just for show – and jumped on top of the pile. “That’s done.” She twisted back to look over her shoulder. “Well, now that I’ve paid for you, boy, let’s find out what you can do.”

Tho looked at the pile of bodies. Two days ago, those had been the bandits who had sacked his home. He looked at Terena and her kin, and then back at the bodies.

This, his mother would have said, was out of the kettle and into the fire.

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Rin/Girey Pino Nano

Karak grinned. “You’ve been mustered out.”

“I wasn’t released, I was captured.” The bottle of burning stuff was looking more and more tempting.

“And your country was defeated. Not to be rude, or anything.”

Of course not. Girey gritted his teeth. Save him from friendly drunks.

“You don’t have an army anymore. You can’t lead any sort of noble resistance from the back of your captor’s goat and, besides, you’re not going to kill her, and that’s what it would take.”

“You seem pretty sure about that. More sure than she is.”

“I know people, that’s all. And Rin knows it, too.”

Girey held up his chained wrists. Karak gestured dismissively.

“She has to make the show, right? And, besides, I didn’t say you wouldn’t run away.”

Girey looked down at the shackles and shrugged. “I have a responsibility to my country.”

“Doesn’t what’s left of your country have a responsibility to you?”

“That’s pretty harsh.” He had rubbed-shiny spots on his skin where the shackles touched. He hadn’t noticed that before.

“I’m not known for my flowery tongue. Look, do what you want to, of course. I’m sure you will anyway. Here, another drink?”

“I think I’ve had enough.” He could remember how to be diplomatic, when he tried. It was good, as his father had said once, for covering moments when you had no idea what you were supposed to be doing.

“Hardly. I could build a table with you, you’re so stiff. Have another.” Karak poured them each a finger-width of the stuff. “So, you’re not loyal to her, but you’re not going to stab her. If you could escape, you would have already. Right?”

Girey picked up the drink and did not drink it. “Close enough.”

“So right now, there is not a lot you can do, right?”

“Right.” This was getting unpleasant. Girey downed the burning drink in one swallow. “I’m stuck.” Unless he killed her. He didn’t think he could get away with killing her.

“So relax.” Karak smiled like he’d proven a point. “This might not be the rest you were looking for, but after years of war, everyone needs some sort of break. Take it. You don’t have anything you need to do here.”

Girey studied his empty glass. It was very… empty. “Are you suggesting, then.” He had begun in Calenyen to be clear, but the word then in Calenyen sounded funny today. “Then, that I should look at being taken prisoner as a furlough?”

The veteran laughed. “Oh, you’re a [word, nob, royal, high-falutin], already. Nobility, commisioned officer, right?”

Girey nodded. Of course he was. Even the fake identity didn’t deny that.

“Enlisted men know how to take every break you can get. You never know when you’ll get another one.”

It was an interesting point. Girey leaned back in the chair, and thought about relaxing. If the soldier had noticed he was stiff, it was likely his captor had, too. If she thought he was still preparing for battle, she’d never let her guard down around him.

He jangled his chains. Maybe he should learn how to relax.

One woman works
Two women play
Three woman war.
-Calenyen men say this to each other.

“Relax.” Noni poured another drink for each of them.

“Do you think they’re okay down there?”

“I think my Karak can take anything your boy dishes out. Especially chained. He doesn’t look like much. Tall, sure, but they’re all tall.”

“Noni!” Rin was caught between laughter and indignation.

“Do his feet drag on the ground when he rides?”

“Noni!” She laughed into her drink this time. “He’s not that oversized!”

“How would you know? You said you hadn’t ridden him yet.”

“Oh, you…” Finishing her drink seemed like the best idea.

“And you’re going to, aren’t you? You’ve got him dressed like a bed-warmer.”

“Shhh.” It came out as a mortified hiss.

“He looks pretty in it, especially all cleaned up. Put him in something a litlte softer and he’d make you the best sheets-weasel. No shame and no harm in that – until you want to get married. Then what will you do with your grumpy Bitrani boy-toy?”

“Plenty of people have bed-warmers and spouses both.” It was a bit of a thin argument. People did, yes. Mostly their kin, and not usually the ones they were close with.

“Their bed-warmers aren’t foreign nobility, Rin-nin. Yours is.”


“I know, I know. The son of the Duke of Tugia. Even if you manage to pass that, that still makes him nobility. Not the sort of boy you can oil and wax and leave sitting in your bedroom.”

“The country doesn’t exist anymore.” Her arguments were getting weaker and weaker.

“But the people do. The people care about their… Dukes and their Duke’s sons. They care about their nobility.”

“Maybe they shouldn’t. That’s what got us into this war in the first place. Their damned pride.”

“You know your history better than that, Rin-nin.” Noni poured them each another drink.

“It’s what got us into this war this time around.” Rin looked down at her drink. “And, I suppose, our pride, as well.”

“‘There is no pride so correct as your own, and none so stubborn as your neighbor’s.'”

“I know.” She sipped from the edge of her glass, just warming her mouth and throat. “He’s proud. Girey.”

“And so are you, Rin. It’s a wonder the two of you haven’t twined your horns like a pair of bucks. It’s a wonder you’re both still alive.”

“I’m not that bad!”

“I’ve lived with you, Rin-nin. You can lie to your boy, but not to me.”

“I’m not… all right.” This sip was deeper, until her throat felt it. “He’s interesting. He does these things. I imagine it’s because he’s royal, noble, but I think some of it is just how Bitrani men are.”

“I’ve known a few.”

“That captive you took, in [city]?”

“The captives whose oaths I took. The ones I guarded. The ones we sat on while the healers put them back together. How is he, Rin-nin? Does he try to wrap you in blankets, or tie you to the cook-fire, or insist you should be in skirts, or complain that you have a weapon?”

“All of those! All at once or in turns.”

“And no Calenyena man has ever thought you would be better making babies with him?”

“Well…” Rin shook her hand, “some and some-not, you know? Most Calenyena men I know are either army men, or from home.”

“And the ones from home have the city mindset. And the ones from the army don’t want to anger the healer.” Noni’s smile was large, but that could have been the alcohol. “I was not a healer.”

“I remember.” She stared at her drink, and then finished it. “If not a bed-warmer, then what, Noni? I can’t let him free.”

Noni smiled. “I didn’t say not a bed-warmer. As a matter of fact, I think you ought to take him in your bed.”

“That’s what you said about the goat-herder from [town]. And the priest’s child from [towntown].”

“Don’t forget the water-sister{term} from the Arran cities. And, of course, the prince.”

For a moment, Rin forgot who Noni was talking about. “Aren’t we… oh.” She reached for the bottle. “That prince.”

“I knew it!” Noni crowed it out, and then laughed as Rin tried to shush her. “I knew it! He has the nose.”

“Lots of Bitrani have that nose.”

“Not like the old king did.”

“Goat dung. It is that obvious?”

“No. It was a guess. And then I got you drunk.”

“Then I won’t let anyone else get me drunk. The point… the point is, you always think I should take them to bed.”

“And you never do. The [reference earlier] was the closest you came. They can’t all not be good enough for you, Rin. You already turned down a prince and a priest.”

“All that’s left is a [rich guy].”

“If I find one for you to turn down, will you take this one to bed?”

“What am I going to do with him?”

“Well, you see, you take off his pants – probably a good idea to take off his shirt too. And then you lay him down on your bed, or bedroll, or a pile of hay – something soft, it’s nicer that way. And then you…”

Rin flailed her hands. “But what do I do with him after?”

“Well, it’s generally nice to buy them a drink. I think Karak’s taken care of that for you.”

“He’s foreign nobility.”

“Rin-nin, I have full faith that you will fugore… figate… figure out the political details. I’m just worried about the buck-and-nanny stuff that has to come first.”

Rin rolled her eyes. “All right. All right. I will figure out the buck and nanny stuff.”


“No!” She stared at her drink. “But soon.” She had to do something with him, after all.

“Good. Pass me back the bottle. I want to tell you about this thing that Karak does…”

Rin filled up her glass before she passed the bottle back.

People are not what you expect them to be.
People are what they are. You can show them what you need, and what you want,
but you can’t make them who you dreamed of.
~Rin’s mother

The water is there, but neither god nor human can make a goat drink it.
~Ancient Truism

Girey was not certain what had happened in Ossulund, but he was certain that something had changed.

If nothing else, he had caught the look on that Noni woman’s face after she and Rin had been off talking, the one that, at home, would have meant he’d been the chief topic of conversation. He’d caught the matching look on his captor’s face, the one that means she’d been doing some strange thinking about him and wasn’t sure she liked the end result.

Whatever conclusion they had reached together, neither of them shared it with him. They had loaded up the goats, packed fresh provisions and new-tailored clothing, and given long and tedious depositions at the city reeve’s stand. They had bought fresh cheese and bread, fresh tea and biscuits, and soap and clean blankets, and never discussed what the two women – or what Girey and Karak – had talked about during their evening apart. Whatever it had been, his captor hadn’t shared it with him then, and she wasn’t sharing it with him now.

What she was doing, however, was talking to him. Before Ossulund, she would chat over meals, or as she was setting up camp. Now she was talking as they rode, too.

“This hill here, back in the days of the first Emperor.” She gestured at a round hill, almost a cylinder sticking out of the surrounding landscape. “It’s called Castle Hill; I’m sure you can see why.”

The stones around the top of the hill looked like battlements, giant tooth-shapes surrounding the hill’s bald top. Girey nodded; she would keep going on with very little encouragement.

“The legend is that the First Emperor needed a place from which to defend the territory he’d claimed. We’re on the edge of the old border line, here.” She gestured at a few yellow-white road markers. “That marked the First Border.”

“I didn’t realize it was this far South.”

“Most people don’t. But much of the North is frozen wasteland.” She pointed back at the hill. “That used to be, we’re told, a normal hill. But the Emperor didn’t have time to wait for his engineers; they were three days’ ride to the west, working on another fort. So he pulled the hill into the shape he needed.”

“The amount of sira that would take is monumental.”

“Even today, if you attempt to pull the sira from the earth in this area – a mile in any direction – it lashes back. You can get the worst headaches that way.”

“You tried?”

She smiled. “Wouldn’t you?”

Girey wondered if that was a trap. “I suppose, if ‘everyone said’ I couldn’t do something, yes, I might try it.”

“The hill is hollow, too. Not entirely, but its cave systems do not look natural. And they spiral up from a small base cave, almost like a stairway.”

“It sounds fascinating.”

“It’s quite nice. Everyone says it’s cursed, of course, but that could simply be the sira.”

“Simply.” His lip curled in something that he barely kept from being a sneer. “I’d call that a bad enough curse.”

“That’s why we’re not staying there for the night.” She smiled at him, as if he hadn’t just taunted her, and kept riding. “I have a painting of the tower in my room at home.”

Girey wasn’t exactly sure what had just happened. Why had she told him that?

She was, of course, not forthcoming with an answer, but, of course, neither was he forthcoming with a question. Girey supposed that was fair.

“This plant.” The next words she spoke to him were almost an hour later, and she’d urged her goat to the side of the road. She was pulling on her gloves as she spoke. “It, among other things, is great goat fodder.” She plucked the thorny nettle in her gloved hand and showed it to him. “If you catch it young, like this, you can stew the flowers for a soothing tea.”

Girey hauled his goat’s face away from the plant so he could study it. “Proof that goats will eat anything.” It certainly didn’t look tasty.

He’d hoped she’d smile at the joke; she smirked a little bit and moved on, again without explaining, at all, what she’d been up to.

It wasn’t long before she was showing him the small, fluffy rodents that made both good stew and good slippers, or the type of tree that most often left deadwood good for burning. “Just mind the leaves; they’re sticky and gooey.”

The rodents were far larger – and fluffier – than their cousins Girey had encountered down South. He could believe they’d make a stew – although, considering what the rats in the south tasted like, he didn’t really want to find out. And the wood was another thing. “We never have a problem finding wood in Bithrain.”

Except after a really bad storm, when the whole country was waterlogged. That was mostly beside the point.

“You have a lot more wood, in Bithrain.”

That was true. “It’s not just this area?”

“There are forests in the far North. But very little wood, here in the middle of the land.”


“The house across the road is often far different from the one your mother keeps.”

“That’s a Bitrani saying!” It sounded odd in her language.

“It is. It’s also a Calenyen saying. It’s true everywhere.” She smirked at him, and then went as if to go back to riding.

“Wait.” He found he wanted to know more. “This stuff, are the winter-dead leaves sticky, too?”

“No. Actually, the dead leaves, if you can find some still out of the snow and dry, make really, really good tinder. The resin dries, so it’s not sticky, and it burns like a torch.”

“What about the live wood?”

“Way too damp. The good news is, they’re a short lived tree and prone to beetle damage, so you can almost always find deadwood.”

Girey was running out of questions to ask about firewood. “It cuts easily?”

“Like cheese.” She made an axe-swinging motion. “It doesn’t burn long and hot, but it burns a lot better than goat dung, and it doesn’t stink.”

“Goat… oh, not enough wood. What do you burn in the cities?”

“We grow a couple really thick grasses, and we burn oil in concentrated sira-burners in the cities.” She dug into her saddlebag until she unearthed a red puck the size of her palm. “Careful with that.”

He handled it carefully, studying it. Deep inside him, something told him it was heavy with sira. “That’s…”

“Fire. Concentrated essence of fire. It’ll burn for hours and hours, once you trigger it.” She took it back from him. “We find enough things to burn, I can say that. As cold as it gets…”

“I’ve heard the snow stays on the ground.” He had trouble picturing that.

“It stays on the ground in piles up to my knees, in the middle of winter.” She gestured at her knees by way of explanation. “Or deeper, in some places. Lanamer is by the sea, so it’s not as bad there.”

“Up to your… how do you get around?”

“Carefully. And with runners on our wagons instead of wheels. And with a lot of clothing.” She plucked at the thin layers of her qitari. “Lots and lots of clothing.”

“I’ll freeze to death.”

“No more than anyone else does. You’ll be fine, Girey. We all survive the long cold season.”

Girey wasn’t so certain. There had been several sentences his father was fond of trotting out. One of them, usually brought out in his cups at the end of a long day, had been “We took the south for a reason, when we had the choice. Let the barbarians keep the frozen north.” Related, but often more cyptic: “Bitrani do not [ski].”

“I imagine your…” He chose his words carefully. “…your people have more practice with the cold.”

“Well, of course.” She slid the fire-stone back in her saddle-bag. “We have been living in the cold for generations. You learn or you survive.”

“Or you take over warmer land.” He regretted the words the moment they were out of his mouth, more when he say the smile on his captor’s face. He could believe, looking at that, every story he had heard about the savage Bitrani.

“Or you take over warmer land. Yes.” She cracked her knuckles. “But we are heading for Lanamer, so it would do you good to learn how to handle the cold.”

He jangled his chains at her. “If you never let me off the goat, I’m not going to need any of this knowledge.”

“I guess I’ll have to let you off the goat once in a while.”

Somehow, she made it sound more like a threat than a promise. Girey sat back and shut his mouth before she made him haul firewood.

[earlier transition does not work. Maybe: As strange as the field training was, Girey could see the purpose in it. He didn’t really think she could leave him tied up forever, and neither did he think she could let him wander freely around her nation’s capitol. She’d have to do something with him.

He was less sure about what she was doing when they got into populated areas.]

Two days out of Ossuland, their rout took them through a medium-sized town, bright and garish like the city but with shorter walls. This town was sandwiched between a river and a mountainside, cuddled up against the stone walls with a narrow bridge across the rapids. Rin rode them right over the bridge, and right into the town square.
[[description above may need work.]]

Although she usually bypassed towns, they’d spent enough time among her people that he expected what she did next: she dismounted, leaving him with the goats, and began chatting with the gathered visitors. She liked talking to the children most of all, crouching down next to them and listening to their stories as if they made sense. The thought occurred to Girey that she would make a good mother.

He was still struggling to suppress the strange flood of ideas and emotions that triggered when she came back over to him. Without warning or any explanation, she unlocked his shackles from the saddle and urged him to dismount.

A tall, deep-tanned woman who had to be slightly older than the mountains was waiting. “This is Talrya.” Rin bowed to the older woman, and then explained to Girey. “She has been the Reeve here since she was a young woman. Her father was Reeve before her.” She switched to Calennan. “Reeve Talrya, this is Girey of Tugia, my war-captive.”

The woman bowed to Girey, as deeply as if she’d been introduced by his real name and title. Her Bitrani was careful and slow, but understandable. “My pleasure to meet you. Welcome, both of you, to our town.”

What was his captor playing at? Girey used his best Calennen and his best manners. He greeted the woman with every bit of deference she’d showed him and then a bit more, and thanked her for her hospitality.

It was good hospitality: The Reeve fed them at her own table that night. She put them to sleep in her common room when the candles guttered out, well-blanketed and warm with her own blankets.

But before sleep, they had spent a long time talking, in careful Bitrani and slow Callennan, about the running of a small city and its surrounding lands, and how Talrya’s town, Kanatan, served as a way-stop between Ossulund and the small farming villages to the north and west. Girey learned how, when the yearly floods were worse than normal, Tlarya and Kanatan dealt with being a bottleneck for grain and meat, since their road was the only one that didn’t wash out. And he learned, although he didn’t think he was intended to, how the crown dealt with small settlements that were far away from Lanamer.

And the whole time, dinner, talking, sipping the burning drink the Calenyena loves so much, his captor was watching him. Not directly, but he’d catch her eyeing him sidelong, as if looking for something, waiting for something, listening for some words to come out of his mouth, in her language or his.

Girey hadn’t felt this on display since his father had presented him to the court, and that, he thought, might have involved less scrutiny and implied judgement than this. It brought back old habits; his chin tilted up and his lips curled into a sneer, his answers came out in a lazy drawl and he framed everything as a joke, going for smiles and laughs to wipe the stares off their faces.

But the women weren’t smiling, and they weren’t laughing. His captor dutifully translated his jokes, and they curled their lips enough to acknowledge the poor humor – indulging him, like a pat on the head, like a small child being tolerated at a grown-up party.

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