Tag Archive | prompter: poll

The Trouble With Theories…

After The Trouble With Chickens, to poll-selected continuation.

Trenner Oujiduie was not her professors’ favorite student.

That was not entirely true: she was the favorite, or one of three favorites, of Professor Sojide, but since nobody else in the entire Sciences and Studies wing wanted to even acknowledge that Professor Sojide existed, that did Trenner not a bit of good, and, in the grand scheme of things, probably hurt her more than anything.

She had been keeping informal score with Sojide’s other favorites – what crap assignments the other professors gave them, when the professors ignored them to call on someone who clearly didn’t know what they were talking about, and so on. She had not been in the lead until that paper she’d done for Professor Lokeg-Fridelabout about the Feltenner Chickens and their uses in a broader academic-sustainability plan.

It hadn’t been a brilliant idea, but Resklin Tarajirra was beating her in points and she really was quite fascinated with the chickens. They were a triumph of science – over the scientist, even! – but, more importantly, the meat they could provide – and eggs! – could totally deal with the food shortage down in the Lower East Quarter

That explained why she was walking out into the Lost Buildings – what had been the former Science Wing, before, well, everything – carrying a small harpoon gun, a set of spears, and every religious icon anyone on her dormitory floor could provide her.

(For a school of science, they were immensely religious. She liked that. And if only one of the gods noticed her tonight, Trenner thought it was well worth the extra weight of necklaces and bracelets.)

“If you are so fascinated with the Feltenner Chickens, Trenner.” Professor Lokeg-Fridelabout’s voice had gotten that deep sound of threat and danger in it, then why don’t you bring one back? We can see if the meat is edible and see exactly what Feltenner did to these things.”

Trenner moved very slowly through the overgrown dogwoods. She was fairly certain she was being stalked by a rooster taller than she was.

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Next: The Trouble With Assignments. 

Answers from Grandpa Joseph – a continuation of the Stone story

This comes after King(maker) Cake, King for a Day, After the Kinging, Stone: Aftermath, and Stone: After some Aftermath
Beryl and Stone both had a hand on the necklace that was their ancestor (or at least distant relative; neither had bothered to look up where he stood on the family tree, in part because that would require talking to the relatives who kept the family tree, and that might lead to some awkward explanations nobody wanted to get into).

::Very good. Now. Where to start?::

“What happens when you go against the will of the family?” Stone was whispering. His door was half-open, half-closed, because he and Beryl both thought this was more than a little weird and wanted to be able to shout for help if they had to.

::And it’s a good question, even if it’s an awkward question. So. Who’s the will of the family?::

Neither of them answered. In their heads, the necklace chuckled.

::Ah. I see you’ve both learned to spot an obvious trap before it bites you. You’re right, of course. It’s not the Aunt, it’s not the grandmothers, it’s not the young mothers and it’s certainly not the husbands and sons. But yet… it is.::

Stone looked at Beryl; she looked back and shrugged.

::Aw, you’ve learned too well. How am I supposed to have fun?:: the necklace sulked. ::All right, all right. The family will, like the family power, is a gestalt thing. But the will, unlike the power, is mob rule. It moves this way and that way all over the place, depending on the climate. So the problem is: what the family will is can change from day to day, much less from year to year. Like young Stone here.::

“Excuse me?” There were too many things that could mean, and Stone didn’t like most of them.

::The family was fine ignoring you, weren’t they? Nobody was going to be stupid enough to train you. Nobody was going to give you any more power – or, should I say, give you access to your own power. Given time, the family gestalt would soak up most of it, leaving you with enough to light a fire without a match or know when it was going to rain, probably. Petty stuff, the stuff any street-corner magician can do. That’s what the family does, you know. It collects power that’s not being used.::

“Wait, what?” Beryl stared at the necklace as if she could see if it was lying or not. Stone felt an urge to do the same.

“Say that again.”

::The family gestalt. What did you think the power the Aunt held was?::

“It’s our birthright…” Beryl said slowly. “The strength of the family. The power of the lineage.”

::Exactly. The strength of the family. The power of the lineage. It’s a lot more powerful now than it has been in the past. That’s part of the reason – though I bet from what I hear in your voices that most people don’t know this – that they can afford to have so many non-Aunts wandering around doing magic. You. Rosa. I bet everyone does a little more than their ancestors did.::

“Because…” Stone frowned. “We have more power?”

“Because we have more family!” Beryl sat up straighter and grinned, and then just as immediately deflated. “Wait. Wait, though. The family splits. It gets too big, and then it splits.”

::That’s the other sort of power, though. That’s the fact that a mob too big is too hard to steer. Well, and it might burst a weaker Aunt, let’s be honest. That’s a bad thing, someone who can’t hold the power.::

“…but the family splits,” Beryl repeated plaintively, “so how are we more powerful now than we have been?”

::Two reasons. Maybe three. Let’s see if you can figure them out.::

“You sound like Mrs. Tyler,” Stone complained half-heartedly. “Okay, so. Big families. There’s four of us, most of our cousins have two or three in the family, and it spreads like that. So even with splitting, you get bigger families.”

::That’s one.:: It sounded like the necklace approved. Stone still wasn’t sure how he felt about that.

“Oh! Oh, we suck in other powers. I mean, that sounds violent but-” Beryl ducked her head. Stone was pretty sure she was thinking about their dad.

::That is right, yes. What about your Jake? Does he have power?::

“Still figuring that out,” she muttered. “He doesn’t run away screaming, at least.”

::Even if you don’t want to be the Aunt, you might think about what bringing a powered person into the family will do,:: the necklace murmured. ::Think long and hard, dear.::

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Captured by the Night Witch, a continuation

First: Captive of the Night Witch

For the “Do up whatever story/stories suit your fancy or for whomever most wants/needs ’em.” commission and the poll here.

The minions had all been chased off. The guards had been sent to guard, to lookat some place that was not here. The Night Witch had set wards, and then warded the wards.

Candor had waited, although his entire body had ached. He had held still, although the chains were digging into his skin. He had been silent, although that was less by choice than by gag.

When all that was done, the Night Witch stood in front of Candor. “You might as well stand up.” She had overcome her shock, it seemed. At least, now she sounded far more amused than concerned.

Candor found he was far more cramped than he’d planned for. He had to flex against the chains and then pull, letting the cheap metal cut into his skin, before he could manage what she’d suggested, and stood.

She looked the same as he remembered. Her outfit, blood-red robe over white kidskin, was a new affectation, but she’d always been pleased by playing dress-up. Her smile, a bitter little thing that held little warmth, that he remembered very well indeed.

He knew she was getting a similar look over him. Hard to see his smile with the gag still jammed in his mouth, but they’d brought him naked, cutting his clothes out around the chains.

He was muscle and scar, tattoos and piercings and a red mohawk of hair that fell down his back like a mane.

“Hello, darling.” The Night Witch smiled at him, the hero. “Have you come to kill me?”

Candor took a moment to stretch, letting everything settle into place. It wouldn’t hurt her to be a little nervous. She had always been so damn certain of everything. He took his time working over the buckle on the gag. That part hadn’t been his idea. Let her wait.

“You’ve racked up quite a reputation here.” He let his eyes slide over the bone-powder road, over the twisted edifice rising behind her.

“I have.” She let her hands settle loose at her sides. He recognized her combat pose, even after all these years. “It keeps trespassers away, and it lets me get stuff done without interference. You’ve racked up your own reputation, too.”

“I have.” He rolled his shoulders. “It lets me get stuff done without interference. Until some sorceress’ minions take me captive.”

“They thought I’d enjoy the present. It seems some of them buy into my propaganda a little too much – or maybe it’s just all those would-be heroes that come to try to kill me.” The fingers of her left hand twitched. “Have you come to kill me, Candor?”

He had never been very good at deception. That was her purview. “No, Guile.” He shook his head slowly. “No. There are many things I came for, but none of them were to kill you.”

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Under a Rock, for @rix_Scaedu

First: Rock, Hard, Now What? a
Previous: Not Rocking the Boat.

Written to [personal profile] rix_scaedu‘s commission.

The armorer wasn’t entirely copacetic about giving Chress a knife, but Arisse was still Crown Princess, and there was little the woman could do except voice her concerns.

She did that in at least three different languages and seventeen different turns of phrase, but when Chress tested the weight on the dagger and found it the best he’d ever held, she seemed at least a little mollified.

“You shouldn’t be running errands, you know, Princess.” The armorer shook her head. “You’re Crown Princess, remember.”

“I remember.” It was surprisingly hard to forget it. She’d lost siblings to get that title. Arisse smiled brightly at the armorer and tried not to think about funerals. “I was concerned he might get lost – or fall down a set of stairs and break his neck. Accidentally.”

The armorer winced. “Accidentally. Right. Clear skies, your Highness.”

“Sharp blades.” She caught Chress eyeing her thoughtfully as they left, but he said nothing until they were alone in the hallway.

“If I… ‘fell and broke my neck,’ all your problems would be solved.”

She snorted in a very un-princessly manner. “My problems would barely be touched by you being hustled off the living plane.”

“Hunh.” He kept walking, although his pace was growing considerably slower.

“Sorry to disappoint you.”

He snorted just as inelegantly as she had. “My enemy’s Princess will only be mildly inconvenienced by my death. I have failed as a warrior.”

“Are we?” She looked him up and down again. “We, Kuresh? I did not think we had issues with Iorjania.”

“I’m not from Iorjania.” Chress smirked; it couldn’t have been the first time he’d heard that assumption.

Arisse raised her eyebrows. “You look Iorjanian. You sound Iorjanian.”

“Common misconception. Iorjania spends a lot of time trying to conquer Ovainesc.” Chress twitched his shoulders.

“…Ah.” And Kuresh had a treaty with Iorjania against several small nations, including Ovainesc.

“You thought I was Iorjanian, and didn’t wonder how your father had gotten me in chains?” He paused to look at her. She did him the courtesy of ignoring how he was leaning against the wall for support.

“You could have been Kureshi and I wouldn’t have been surprised. Slaves come from all over; all you have to do is irritate the wrong judge and you find yourself bending knee or bending over a headsman’s block.”

“Hunh. We don’t do that in Ovainesc.” He twitched his shoulders again. “Did your father build this castle as some sort of torture device?”

Arisse snorted. “My mother’s great-great-great grandmother built it. Every generation since has built on. We Kureshi like to accumulate family. For a definition of ‘family.’“

“‘Family?’“ Chress forced himself back to his feet with obvious effort. “People like that lady who’s not fucking the king? Or the one who split his pants?”

It was Arisse’s turn to shrug. She certainly wouldn’t call Dame Sessaly kin, not given any choice in the matter, and Sir Nateron… he was a story all of his own. “Some of the courtiers here are people my mother brought in, or her parents. Some of them… the King brought in.”

Chress walked a few steps, his expression thoughtful. “Sounds to me, Princess, like you need to bring in your own family.”

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The Merger of Railways

First: Prince Rodegard Visits the Imperial Capital

Previous: Edora Begins to Explain Life to Prince Rodegard

For the “Do up whatever story/stories suit your fancy or for whomever most wants/needs ’em.” commission and the poll here.


Edora stared out the train window. The countryside of Prince Rodegard’s mother’s nation rolled by at a stately, weedy pace: Iscandia. The place was at the far western edge of the Empire, pressed against the mountains on one side, the sea on the second side, the Empire on one long side, and on its far side – a unruly collection of states that the Empire did not dignify with a name. It was a weedy, poor place, not good for much, but the Imperial territory it touched was a rich, prosperous country with many natural resources. It behooved the Empire to keep Iscandia within its borders.

“Do you know who built these tracks, Rodegard?”

The prince was not looking out the window, she knew. He was staring at her, trying not to bounce in his seat like a toddler. Her question made him make a noise, somewhere between a groan and a whine, that he quickly suppressed.

“What’s that have to do with anything? I mean. I mean, the Empire built them, didn’t it?”

Edora shook her head. “These tracks in particular were built by a company called Cortenar Railways. The Empire owns the land under them, and it leases the land – and travel rights, and the right to make money off of the trains travelling the tracks – to various railway companies. Nearer the Capital, it’s Helarna-Jakobs Railway and Shipping, and so on.”

“But what does that have to do with–” Rodegard cut himself off. “I’m sorry, Da- Your Highness.”

“All of these railways have to join. There are at least seventeen of these companies – I’m not a railways expert, so please don’t quote me on the number – and they have to link together just so to make the Imperial railway system work. Do you follow?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He was slouching in his seat. He wasn’t listening as well as he should be. Well, he would learn.

“The whole Empire is like that. Millions of tiny pieces that all have to link up just so. Nations with their own royalties, their own laws… and they all have to link up properly with the Empire’s rules and laws. And what’s more than that, millions of people that have to link up.”

“It’s politics.” He nodded slowly. “Takaranne and Caredorn are better at politics than I am. I was always better with crops.”

“Well, that’s part of what I’m here to teach you. It may have been a while ago that I was put on a train like this – but I remember everything I had to learn.”

He narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. “Twenty years ago, the Empressina’s cousin – the Crown Emperito – he, ah. He was killed.”

“You know your history.” Edora kept all emotion out of her voice. Emperito Mateusz had been a bit older than her, but he had been kind. After all this time, that was most of what she could remember.

“Empressina Nadia is not married yet.” He was speaking very slowly, carefully, picking his way through the rocks and gopher-holes.

“She is… not exactly married yet.”

There was a moment where Rodegard’s shoulders relaxed, and then his eyes narrowed again and he tensed. “This is more complicated than lining up railroad tracks, isn’t it?”

“People always are.” Edora allowed herself a smile. He might not be entirely useless. “People are always more complicated.”

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Not Rocking the Boat

After Rock, Hard, Now What? and Two Rocks and All The Pebbles.

For the “Do up whatever story/stories suit your fancy or for whomever most wants/needs ’em.” commission and the poll here.

Getting Chress pants turned out to be a bit of a challenge. The laundry kept livery for the palace servants and slaves, true, and it kept uniforms for the guards. But even the broadest and widest of the palace servants were not generally as broad in the hips or the thighs as Chress. And while the guards were a match for him in size, they tended to favor kilts or short tunics; Chress’ opinion on that was short and to the point and decidedly negative.

The head launderer was beside himself trying to help, providing option after option. Finally, he reached into a bin on the other side of the room, the side where they kept the courtier’s clothing. “Sir Nateron is nearly of a height with you, and very… broad. He ripped these pants, and while I’d mended them properly, I had nobody to pass them down to.” He looked worried. “If a pair of mended pants are acceptable for the Princess’ slave…”

Chress took the pants from the launderer and looked them over. They were made of soft brown silk, very soft and very well-made. If you squinted, you could see the place where they had been mended, but it was high on the inner thigh, and it was unlikely anyone would spend too long with their face pressed between Chress’ thighs.

“Nice,” he muttered. He looked up at the launderer. “The nobs here dress like this?”

The launderer nodded. “Well, some of the young courtiers dress more brightly, or more extravagantly. But that’s how many of the older nobles dress, yes, sir.”

Chress barked out a laugh. “Good. Good, this’ll do. I mean–” He coughed quietly. “Princess?”

Arisse did not chuckle, but she did allow herself a smile. “They’re very nice pants. If we’re lucky, perhaps Sir Nateron will rip a shirt as well.”

“Oh, well, shirts may be easier. Some of the guards wear tunics with their kilts–”

“With silk pants?” Arisse raised her eyebrows. “He’ll look like a ragbag.”

“Can’t have that.” Chress’ laugh was a deep rumble, actually quite pleasant. “Well, is there a belt that will fit me there?”

“Oh, oh yes, quite a nice one, too. It was custom-made, but the, ah, commissioner did not like it when it was done.” The launderer tsked and produced a lovely belt the same color brown as the pants. The swirling design in it looked foreign, northern. It made a smile grow across Chress’ face, a slow, pleased expression.

“This will do. This will do nicely.” He looked over pants and belt. “Shoes and shirt can wait, if there’s someone in town who can do them up properly. What about a knife, Princess?”

“The armory is just this way. Thank you.” She nodded at the launderer, and he, in turn, bowed at her. “We may be visiting again.”

“I’ll keep an eye out for anything that will fit your man, Your Highness. Smooth ground under your feet and a light wind at your back.”

As the launderer’s blessing followed them out the door, Arisse thought she saw a twitch in Chress’ shoulders, but his face betrayed nothing, nor did he speak.

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A Rescue In Hand

Previous: Probably a Rescue
First: A Rescue, of Sorts
see also:
A Proof, Of Sorts

For the “Do up whatever story/stories suit your fancy or for whomever most wants/needs ’em.” commission and the poll here.

Daxton’s rescuer really had thought of everything. She’d packed a change of clothing for him, as well as scissors to trim his scraggly hair and a razor for his beard. When they rode away from the cabin, he was as clean, as well-dressed and as smooth-shaven as he had been on the day the Red Queen’s agents had taken him.

He was skinnier, by quite a bit, but he had a full stomach for the first time in ages. And he was a lot more nervous than he had been, right up until the moment the Red Queen’s people had grabbed him.

“You could ruin me, you know.” It wasn’t the most cheerful conversation for your prospective wife, but then again, most prospective wives didn’t pull one out of a dungeon owned by a wildly powerful despot.

“If I’d wanted to ruin you, I would have left you in the dungeon.”


“Wedding.” The mercenary woman shrugged. “I gain nothing by blackmailing you. Nothing but – down!” She had her short horse-bow out and was wheeling her horse around before Daxton could do anything but duck. But duck he did – he hadn’t survived as long as he had by ignoring the people paid to protect him.

Heartbeats passed, his and the horse’s, Daxton’s nose in the roan mane. He could hear the mercenary’s horse shifting restlessly, and see the way the woman’s calf stretched as she stood in her saddle. Then she settled down. “False alarm. Sorry.”

Daxton rose slowly to a sitting position. “No need to be sorry.”

“If you’re going to keep being this reasonable,” she teases, “I’m going to think I got a ringer. Do your family keep doubles around?”

“We’re not nearly that important. Well…” Daxton shrugged. “I thought we weren’t that important. It’s not as if my parents are King and Queen, just Duke and Duchess. It’s not as if I’m heir.”

“And yet your parents sent mercenary after mercenary after you.”

“Put up a reward, you mean. They didn’t actually send anyone, did they?”

“It’s quite a reward.”

It was. If his parents followed through… “I don’t even know your name.”

She barked out a laugh. “I imagine you’d find out at the vowing-in, if not before. Esharina nic Myodoc. Esha.”

It seemed the thing to do, so Daxton bowed from his saddle. “A pleasure to meet you, Esharina nic Myodoc. I look forward to showing you the hospitality of the Ducal Estate at our earliest convienc-”

“Down.” Her voice never changed from a conversational tone, but Daxton ducked anyway. Three arrows whanged over his head in quick succession. “Ride, your graceiness. Ride.”

Some time later, Daxton might think to ask about “your gracieness.” At the moment, however, all he thought about was riding. They would ride, and then the mercenary would wheel around and fire another arrow past his ear. They’d ride more, and another arrow would whing past. Again and again, until finally Esharina let their sweating, lathered horses come to a walk.

“That was either the last of them, or they’ve stopped follo-” She followed Daxton’s gaze to her shoulder, where a broken-off arrow waggled with her every move. “What?”

“You have an arrow sticking out of you.” He said it slowly, in case it turned out he was somehow wrong.

“We’re a half-hour hard ride back to the Ducal estate. I’ll be fine that long.” Esha seemed entirely too casual about the whole thing.

“You don’t want me to – I don’t know, pull it out or something?” Daxton found his hands flailing and used both to grab the saddle horn.

“Not unless you have hidden talents as a medic that I don’t know about. You can help me bind it, and we’ll be good for the rest of the ride.”

With her left arm bound, she wouldn’t be able to shoot. “Give me the bow, then.”

“You can shoot?”

“I’ve hunted. I’m not a warrior, but I can hit a target.” He nudged his cooperative mount as close to hers as he could manage.

“There’s rags in my left saddlebag. They should work.”

He wasn’t surprised that a merc kept clean, wrapped rags close to hand. You had to survive long enough to get to a healer, after all. He bound her arm to her side, following her directions, and wrapped around the arrow, to keep it still. It was nerve-wracking work, all the worse with his spine itching, trying not to look behind him every two seconds. Finally Daxton let out his breath. “That should hold until we get home. Bow?”

Still she hesitated. “A merc’s weapons…”

“I will hold them as carefully as I would hold your honor. After all,” he smiled gently at her, “I may soon hold that, too, and you, mine.”

She was startled into a weak chuckle. “Nobles. I wouldn’t have put it that way. But…” She swayed a bit in her saddle. “Let’s ride. Put the pointy bit into anyone who attacks us.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He checked over the bow to be sure he knew how to use it. It was a different sort than he’d handled before, more compact, more efficient. Of course, mercenaries generally had to be more efficient than “nobles.” Content he could manage the piece, he let it rest against his thigh. “Let’s ride.”

They were close to home now, close enough for all of Daxton’s worries to come back. Esharina was right; there was a chance that Daxton’s father wouldn’t follow through with his offer. He was usually a fair and honest man – but had he anticipated getting a merc for a good-daughter, even if he had posted the offer? Had he expected to get Daxton back at all? What were they riding into? Before the Red Queen had taken him, there had been talk of marrying Daxton to the Dowager Duchess of the Blue Mountains, whose duchy bordered theirs. It would secure the border – but the Dowager Duchess had outlived three husbands and four sons and was not yet forty.

“Heads up!” Esha’s snapped warning brought Daxton out of his worries. He could see the Ducal estate on the horizon – and off to the left, he could see riders coming towards them. “Friends of yours?” He readied the bow anyway.

She squinted into the distance. “They – yes. They’re flying the troupe’s colors. Please don’t shoot my friends.”

Daxton didn’t lower the bow. “I won’t shoot your friends,” he answered, carefully. Someone had snatched him from the middle of his father’s lands and thrown him in the Red Queen’s dungeon. Now that he was free, he found he had no interest in going back and less interest in dying.

Esha made a small noise. “If they’re not friends, I’m in no shape to fight,” she warned.

“If they’re not friends, I think we can try running again. If we head straight for my parents’ estate, that’ll run us into the orchards quickly. It’s hard to shoot through trees at a running target.”

She made another noise. Daxton glanced over at her. The mercenary’s face was gray, her lips pushed together tightly. They had to hurry. He wasn’t sure what he’d do if she passed out. And he really didn’t want her to die. “You,” she spoke slowly, “are more interesting than I thought you were.”

“That’s the goal.” He looked between her and the quickly-approaching riders. “Ready to run?”

“I’m sure I can manage a couple hundred yards.” She straightened her spine. “If I have to. Daxton, if I can’t trust my troupe—”

“I hope we can. I really hope we can. But I—I’m not feeling particularly trusting right now, sorry.”

“No, no need to be sorry. But – oh!” She straightened a bit further and her color improved. “It’s Senner and Karron. We’re safe. If I can’t trust them, the world’s gone upside down.”

Daxton lowered the crossbow, even as he was considering: Esha being able to trust them and him being able to trust them were two different things.

They road towards their visitors, and their visitors rode towards them. When they were a hundred feet away, the stouter of the two shouted “Esh!” and urged her mount into a canter. Esh’s horse danced for a couple steps before settling down to a walk again; Daxton kept his hands on the crossbow and watched the newcomers carefully.

They had no eyes at all for him, not at first. “Esh, Esharina, shit, how bad is it?” The stouter woman – that had to be Senner, Captain of the mercenary troop. The leaner one – that would be Karron, then – was young, barely old enough to be wearing armor at all, but she already had three gold earrings and an elaborate silver hair-piece. “Esh, what happened?”

“Give me some space to talk, Senner.” Esha sounded like herself – as far as Daxton could tell, at least, cheerfully snappish. “They came after us. Probably the Red Queen’s people, but I didn’t stop to ask for their particulars.”

“The Red Queen’s…” Senner turned to look at Daxton. “By the mountain’s tits, that is young lord Daxton!”

Daxton found himself blushing, a situation only worsened by the way Karron was whooping. “Esha’s getting marrr-eeed, Esha’s getting marrrr-eeeed,” she crowed, like children at play.

“Maybe.” Esha’s voice was soft. “But I got him out, at least.”

“That you did, Esh, that you did.” Senner’s smile took in both of them, a small, proud thing. “And a job well done. Now let’s get you back two back to His and Her Grace, so you can claim your reward. And then, Swordslady, we’re taking that arrow out of you properly. Come on, let’s ride!”

And they rode towards home, the sun setting to their left.

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