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“Choose, Witch!”

“Choose, Witch!”

Timeline:

Soon after Aager Fogstep and Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostman arrive at Serenity Home from Durkahan City, they are confronted by a mysterious, hooded man and are expected to meet him the other day.

 

This story takes place the next day after
A ‘Warm’ Warning.

 

 

Inshala had woken up early that morning and snuck around the single-room house —her home, tiptoeing so as not to wake up the man sleeping soundly on the hard, threadbare mattress they shared and sneaking in a twenty by fifteen ‘room’ was a dare, all on its own, without waking up the most guarded and wary man in perhaps, several hundred miles in any direction.

But Inshala was just that good!

Having lived all her life mostly alone and in the wilds, a person learned to be quiet.

Or die quick.

 

Very silently, she snuck to the only door of the house, carefully opened it, and peaked outside to make sure there wasn’t anyone around to see her, as she wore only a simple, cream-white, hip-high shirt-gown, which did look more like a man’s shirt, really, and pretty much displayed her skinny legs, all the way up to her slender hips..

Satisfied, she slipped out of the house and into the garden behind. There, she very slowly drew water into a rickety wooden bucket using the old, squeaky pump, which wasn’t as easy as it sounded, considering how skinny she was, and how it shrieked every time she pulled at its lever!

When the bucket was full, she went back in and returned with a basket holding two apples, four green peppers, two hand-full of grapes, two tomatoes, half a dozen tiny onions, and two potatoes. All of these, she washed using the water from the bucket and quite vigorously.

 

Not content, she washed all of them again..

And again!

 

With an obsession that went all the way back to her younger days when she’d thought she was some unclean demon-spawn and had thought, or perhaps, zealously believed washing herself over and over and over again until her skin was rashed and likely bleeding, now.

In later years, her thoughts had become of two, in this matter. After she’d met Aager, who was hopefully still sleeping inside, however, she had finally concluded that perhaps —like, maybe— she wasn’t so unclean and not really a demon-spawn.

In all candor, she hadn’t yet attained that level of clarity, or wisdom, where she just wouldn’t care even if she was, in fact, a demon-spawn and it was what one chose to do, and consequently became, that mattered, rather being born as something that one’s opinions was never taken into account, nor were you ever confided.

 

That wisdom would come in time.

Like, many years later..

Just not yet.

 

Suffice to say, the idea of she being unclean had faded, drastically so, but her obsession for cleanliness and washing things over and over and over had, apparently, stuck!

 

Hence, with cold, weary, and shriveled hands, she returned back into the house and put all the fruits and vegetables on the small but sturdy table next to the tiny fireplace. She gave a cursory glance at the pots and pans that were available at hand, which weren’t all that many, really; a small jar full of cooking oil, two crock-pots containing some butter and some white cheese, a number of tin containers with coffee, various teas and herbs, one small iron pot for stew, a dingy copper pan, a small, water boiling pot, and her own addition, a set that comprised of two, flat, wooden plates which were called dinner plates, as she’d found out later when they were in Durkahan, two wooden bowls, and two wooden cups, all of which she herself had painstakingly carved in secret after she and Aager had come to better know one another, and when they were back at Arashkan, and a pair of forks and spoons, and several knives.

 

She picked up the smallest of the knives, the wooden-handled one, and peeled one apple, and sliced it in four. She took the other apple and sliced it in eight, but without peeling it. She also peeled the potatoes and cut them into very neat and very thin slices and cleaned the tiny onions then went over to the tiny fireplace and with a small wave of her hand, she lit the fire. She picked up the copper pan, careful not to make any noise, she poured some of the cooking oil in it, then lined the sides of the pan with the sliced apples, followed by potatoes, and in the very center, she put the onions. And with equal care, she placed it on the grate of the fireplace. Then she returned to the table, took out the two dinner plates, and spooned some butter into both and a rich slice of the white cheese as well. With sharp, practiced motions, she cut the tomatoes without letting the juice —one of the advantages of being mated to Aager; all his knives, kitchen or otherwise, were always very, very sharp, and placed them next to the cheese. Then she speared the green peppers with one of the longer knives, walked over to the fireplace, and held them in the fire, one pair a bit more than the other because Aager liked his food a bit on the burnt side. She placed the green peppers, now spotted with black charrs, and lay them next to the sliced tomatoes, and held her breath!

 

Aager had just stirred!

 

Hastily, she went back to the fireplace and withdrew the pan, and put a bit more than half the onions and the potatoes, and all the four slices of peeled and fried apples into his plate, and the eight, not-peeled ones into her own because Aager liked his apples peeled and once peeled, apples turned mushy when you tried to fry them, hence the slices had to be larger. She, on the other hand, liked her apples with their peels! As an encore, she placed the grapes, in a sort of pyramidical formation, and next to the green peppers.

Then she took out the two wooden bowls, turned them upside down, and placed them over the dinner plates to keep dust and bugs out of the now ready breakfast, cleaned the table off the peels, took out the water boiling pot, ghosted back out, filled it with water, skimmed back in and hung the pot over the fire and dumped a spoon.. no.. two spoons.. wait.. was it one, or two spoons?

This was the one thing she could never remember;

The number of spoons of coffee that went into the small pot.

Possibly because she never drank coffee. It smelled wonderful, like awesome-wonderful, but once, and only once had she drank it. Back when her Father, Cathber had still been alive.

Turned out, coffee had quite the opposite effect on her, than it had on her Father —or any other human for that matter.

 

It had made an eleven-year-old Inshala totally, unimaginably, and roaring drunk!

 

It had been a learning experience for both herself and her Father that day.

Hence, Inshala preferred her herbal teas in the mornings but she wouldn’t make a fuss if they weren’t available. Aager, on the other hand, would forgo his breakfast, but not his coffee!

 

All done and ready, she quickly heated her slender hands near the fire, then her tiny feet, and with a very self-conscious blush, she turned around, pulled up her simple, cream-white, hip-high shirt-gown she used while she slept, and heated her embarrassingly small, cup-sized, bare butt as well, because Aager tended to get riled when her hands, her feet, and even perhaps her butt, was cold, as one never quite knew where hands went when the mind was asleep, usually ending up where they wanted to be without bothering to ask the mind!

 

Apparently..

 

Just the other day, she had woken up with one of her slender hands in his hair, and the other in his shirt, touching his lean, spring-coil chest marred and marked with whip marks and numerous stab wounds!

She had been so embarrassed.

But with a very guilty and a very, very red but decisive face, she had kept her hands where they were.

 

The deed had already been done, right?

Inshala had figured, should Aager decide to trash her for it, she’d at least have fully earned it!

 

That’s how her mind worked; if she was going to get trashed, she should do her best to thoroughly deserve it.. as odd, somewhat scary, and illogical as that sounded.

 

Back to the topic at hand, then?

When Aager found her hands, feet, and possibly her butt, were cold, he spoke in his ‘quiet’ voice because he thought she wasn’t taking care of herself.

That was one of the very few things he did not tolerate when it came to Inshala.

 

Well.

It seemed like everyone had their perks, quirks, and oddities and it mattered very little how much you loved and cared for them, or how desperately they loved and cared for you.

But all of that went only as far as one could find a way around them.

Evidently..

 

With her hands, her feet, and her butt comfortably warmed up, she snuck back to the threadbare mattress and slithered her way into his arms, and started to watch his face..

 

With quiet, excited anticipation..

..and inadvertently, she breathed, softly, into his face.

 

Aager frowned.

Perhaps he was having a bad dream again.

Aager often had bad dreams.

Inshala had watched him ever since they had met in the woods, some six or seven months ago, and knew when he was having a bad dream.

Then his eyes opened.

They didn’t flutter.

They opened suddenly and alertly, without any sign of sleep or grogginess.

It was quite creepy, really.

But Inshala had found it amazing.

Possibly because when she woke up, she was much like this silly bear that’d just woken up from his winter sleep; dizzy, groggy, confused, stupid, and at times, panicked, even.

 

She smiled.

Because she wanted him to see ‘this’, the first thing he opened his eyes..

 

“You have pretty eyes.”

 

Aager said solemnly.

After quietly staring at her.

 

“Yeesh!”, thought Inshala. “Totally worth a trashing.”

✱ ✱ ✱

Meet you at the Guest’s Inn at, say, when the town bell hits twice afternoon?”, Aager asked. He had cleaned out his perfectly prepared plate and was now sipping his hot, bitter coffee, quietly wondering at what point had the little girl slipped out of their dingy mattress and prepared the breakfast and returned back into his arms and whether or not to tell her she didn’t have to prepare the breakfast because he didn’t think she was some serving maid.

“I don’t prepare anything because I am a serving maid, my Aager.”, Inshala said with a flushed smile, as if having read his mind, which, in all likeliness, she had.. “I prepare them because I do not think you should go to work to keep us all safe and do it hungry.”

“Some would argue your point.”, Aager mused.

“You are not ‘some’ to me, my Aager. And I prepare it because you have asked me to care for myself. Which is what I am doing. Caring for you is caring for myself. And I like cooking.”, she replied with an even bigger smile. “Besides, this is our home. And ‘some’ has no say here. Only you, and me, get to speak in our home.”

“Well, when you put it that way, someone just lost the argument!”, Aager smiled.

“As for the hour, I think we should meet here and go to this Guest’s Inn, place.”, she said.

Aager cocked an eyebrow.

“When we return here..”, Inshala explained. “..we have returned ‘home’ where we are at our best. We are filled and refreshed with our ‘home power’ here. And we shall go and meet them fully armed, with the least taint of the day, hanging on us.”

“That is.. a rather deep perspective of looking at it.”, Aager admitted a bit astonished.

“Will you fight the Summer Knight?”, she asked a bit tentatively.

“I have no desire to fight anyone. We have enough enemies on their way.”, he growled. “But I shall not bow to any demands, should he be foolish enough to make them. What will you do today?”

“I have been asked by the elves of High Woods to kindly meet with their druids and the druids, shamans, and witches of Ritual Forest to lead them.”, Inshala said unhappily. “I don’t want to lead anyone. I am too young for that. But the request was made by your mayor, Artanboss—”

“Arthandos, love.”, Aager corrected her kindly.

“Yes, him. He sent word to our Bremorel to find me and tell me about this. What should I do? I have more than enough work, bargaining with Mab and Titania so they would cooperate..”, she said like she wanted to cry. “I mean, they can barely tolerate one other in even in my secret Silent Forest. Now I bargain with Mab so she would refrain from her usual winters, and beg Titania so she would breathe life and warmth to these lands so the refugees will not freeze and die, and neither wants to give consent without wanting something from the other! They only agreed thus far because I told them, should either refuse, Mab can live her best winters when the Orken bring their destruction and kill all her Winter Feys and I told Titania that she could enjoy her summers once the same Orken totally burn her Perch and kill her nymphs and dryads who live there.”

Aager splurted some of his coffee!

“You threatened Mab and Titania?”, he stared at her, somewhat aghast and about to laugh.

Inshala’s face went red.

“I.. might have.. just a little..”

Aager laughed.

“That was awesome, love.”, he said happily. “But I think you should lead all the druids and witches and whatnots of both parties as you are the only one among them that have seen the bigger picture and look out what’s best for the world and the people in general, rather than their individual self-interests. Though I think you should make sure you have their oaths that they will follow your lead, should they want you to lead them.”

“I don’t want any more responsibility and you want to bind them to me with oaths?”, she pouted.

“We all must do what we must, love. And we are all running out of time.”

Inshala pouted some more and Aager put his bitter coffee down, leaned over the small table, and kissed her pretty pout.

“I am off, love.”, he said with one of his rare smiles. “It has been a wonderful night, a delicious breakfast, and even a better kiss. I will meet you here at the second toll of the bell, afternoon.”

And left.

 

Inshala stood where she sat, a demure, happy smile on her face.

Then she blinked.

“Ow no..”, she moaned. “I forgot to ask him if the coffee was alright.”

Then paused.

“I forgot how many spoons I put.. Again!

✱ ✱ ✱

Will you honor us, Lady Inshala?”, asked an elderly elf in some old and saggy brown robes.

“I will honor everyone who comes in peace.”, replied the little girl, blushing furiously, for the elf bowing before her was at least one thousand five hundred years older than her. “Sir. Please. I am the Ritual Guardian, for the forest has spoken. But I lack the years and the wisdom for such respect.”

“No, Ritual Guardian. The forest has chosen you, precisely for those reasons. Mortals may choose as their wont. Nature chooses to her need.”, said the elderly elf and there was a rumble of agreement among the other druids, both elf and human, young and old, and the few shamans, all standing in a huge, rune laid circle, far out of the town, and all staring at her in wonder, something Inshala found quite uncomfortable and rather embarrassing.

The witches at the back, a score or so in number, all wearing masks or veils, however, stood silent.

Inshala looked back to make sure the two rangers were still there; Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel and Ranger Master Moorat, who had been assigned to her for the duration of this meeting, though whose idea it had been to assign them to her in the first place, she didn’t know, though she had some implicating suspicions about it. She and her hubby, Aager, would have words about this later, at length..

“It wasn’t me, love.”, she heard Aager whisper in her mind.

“It.. it wasn’t?”, she asked a bit baffled.

“As much as I would claim my hand in this, I have no jurisdiction over the rangers of Serenity Home. Yes, they are bound to report to me, but I can not give them orders, and I can even prove it!”, Aager said and gave Inshala the impression that he was smiling.. sort of smugly.

“I would like to see how you can prove that, all the way from the sheriff’s office, my Aager.”, she replied with a little sniff.

“Morel.”, Aager said.

“What about her?”, she asked a bit confused.

“Is she scowling and fuming?”

“Well. No. She looks.. happier than I remember her from our time at Themalsar.”

“There you have it, love. Had I given her the order, she’d be glaring and breathing fire, because both she and her cousin, Laila, very much dislike me and hate it when I order them around.”, he said, the impression of his smugness more apparent now.

“They would have liked you if you hadn’t inperodated.. incarocated.. imperomated—”, she said and faltered.

“Uhhmm.. Interrogated them?”

“Yes, that..”, she said blushing furiously. “In that tent when they were wounded after their fight against the wolves, all those years ago.”

“Wait a minute.”, Aager said. “How could you possibly know about that?”

 

A long, ‘oops’ sort of silence settled over the conversation.

 

“You.. you got your knife back that evening, didn’t you?”, she mumbled, her blush turning into a very hot flush now.

“That.. that was you!”

“Yes.”, Inshala replied with a very small voice.

“I knew it! I KNEW IT! AND THOSE IDIOTS INSISTED ON NOT TELLING ME ANYTHING!, Aager fumed. “And you were there all along..”

“Well, I only joined the attack against the wolves when they both were hurt because they didn’t know me and I was in my saber-tooth tiger form and feared I would either be a distraction or a source of fear causing them to attack me as well.”

“And it was you who healed them and washed and braided their hair!”

“My master did most of the healing. But yes. I did wash their hair and braided them as well. I am sorry my Aager, but they were wearing their hair wrong!”

“And.. you were at the tent afterward as well?”

“Well.. not inside the tent.. Just outside. They were hurt so badly and I know hurt very well and felt so sorry for them and wanted to be sure they were alright. That’s when you came and started intorodating them..”

 

Inshala got the distinct impression that Aager was ‘victory dancing’ in her head!

 

“Umm..”, she said. “If I’d known you were this curious about it, I promise, I would have told you about it before. But many things happened after we met in the forest years later, and..”

“And?”

“And I didn’t want to scare you..”

“Scare me?”

“Well. I did follow you around when you and my Father, along with the hunters and rangers had gone to kill the rabid wolves, and later, when we were following those bad men that had killed my Father and burned your town. It.. makes me look.. scary.. I would have been scared if someone snuck around behind me like that..”, she said, a bit mortified.

“Love. Being followed around and stalked by you was one of the better things that has ever happened to me.”, Aager admitted freely. “As for why Bremorel and Moorat are there, I might have an idea as to who sent them to safeguard you.”

“Who?”

“Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. Udoorin’s father.”

“That was very nice of him but.. he wouldn’t have known about this meeting..”

 

Aager coughed.

 

“I might have mentioned it to him and insinuated that keeping the Ritual Guardian —our Ritual Guardian— safe and sound was of utmost importance..”, he replied, not without a small amount of smug.

“Ow, my Aager.”, Inshala sighed. “You could have just told me, you know. I am not a disagreeable girl, after all.”

“No, love. You are not. But that meeting isn’t only a happy gathering between druids and witches. It also concerns the rest of us. Think of Bremorel and Moorat as representatives of Serenity Home.”

“I do not mind Bremorel is here, my Aager. But Ranger Master Moorat is.. scary.. And he is scowling at everyone!”

“That’s Moorat for you. But he is a good man at heart. I think. His sister was Sheriff Standorin’s wife, and Udoorin’s mother. She became very ill when Udoorin was at a very young age and died. Moorat and the sheriff are always scowling because they still miss her.”, Aager said quietly.

“Owww.. That is so sad. I shall speak of this matter with him after this meeting. I sense he has words to say and they have been inside him for many years now.”, Inshala promised.

“Do be careful, love. Moorat might be a good man, but he doesn’t have all that good manners and his mouth is rather foul.”

“I doubt he can add any more to what I have already heard from the woodsmen in my youth, my Aager, but I shall be careful.”

 

A moment of smoldering silence fell and Inshala immediately regretted what she’d just said.

 

“One day, love, and soon, I believe you and I are going to visit those woodsmen up north.”, Aager said with a too steady voice.

 

“No need, my Aager. Really. Nothing good can come from such a visit. What is done is done. I did what I did and went near their homes to fix their broken and hurt animals when my Father clearly warned me not to. And just as he warned, I made their sins, my sins. I do not regret my choices, nor the consequences of my choices. I do regret theirs, for I was the cause of it. The woodsmen there always live in fear because their lives might end at any time and without warning; the tree they cut might fall on them and crush them, a wild animal might attack and eat them, a marauding band of orcs or goblins, or worse might raid them and slay them.. They suffer the harshest of winters and could easily die, frozen and brittle.. Being so far away from help has made them wary of everyone and everything that isn’t them. Yet they still are there, because there, they are free and no one tells them what to do. Vengeance, my Aager, is merely a lazy form of grief..”, she said mutely.

Aager did not reply for some time. When he spoke, his voice was kinder, though as steady and even as it had just been.

 

“You, my Inshala, are a wonder, you are. I shall not go after them. But should they come after you as they did before, I shall not allow you to suffer their sins again.”

 

That said, Inshala felt Aager’s presence leave..

 

She sighed and turned to the men and women, elf and human, all much, much older than she.

“I shall accept your offer to lead, but not your offer to command. We, druids and shamans, are free. From nature, we take only what we need, and we return back to her willingly. That is who we are. And that is what makes us, and no ill-begotten Orken nor their foul demon masters may take this away from us. Should you acknowledge my lead, I shall require your consent. We are free. But we must work and work in concert to stay free. Will you all concur on this?”, she asked quietly.

 

There was a murmur of awed surprise as the druids stared at the little girl in wonder.

Yes. The forest had chosen her as her guardian, and this was the reason. Her wisdom was merely the excuse.

One by one, they approached her and bowed, declaring their devotion and allegiance.

“Thank you all.”, Inshala said, looking down at her own small palms, very much embarrassed. “Let us all, then, gather our collective wisdom and put them to words at the first toll of this very night, and see what knowledge we have, where we are most needed, and what we may do about them.”

The druids and the shamans all nodded and quietly left.

 

When they were gone, only the witches remained.

 

Someone grunted in disgust behind her and that was the only sound she heard from Ranger Master Moorat.

One of them, a very elderly, crooked old hag of a woman with a gnarled old cane took a few steps forward.

“We are not some tree-hugging druid or some simple-minded shaman, little girl.”, she said and Bremorel’s soft, throaty voice immediately riposted!

“Careful, witch. Should you try and insult the Ritual Guardian, I shall personally make sure it’s the last thing you do.”

“We are not afraid of you, nor your kind, Bremorel Songsteel.”, spat back the old witch.

“I do not require your fear of me nor my kind, hag. You can frisk or frolic while I cut you for all I care. Know this, however, you might get away from the Ritual Guardian, for she is kind and forgiving and has a great heart, but there is no place on earth you can run nor hide from me nor my kind. And should you want to test us, you shall never see us coming. Only die by our steel. And we shall bring the full might of the Temple Guardians upon you, also!”, she replied coldly.

 

A grim silence fell over the witches, for nothing the ranger lieutenant had said was bravado. She had pronounced exactly what she would do. Period.

 

“Ranger Lieutenant.”, Inshala said quietly. “Please. We are all here under the threat of total annihilation by the Orken. We need each other, more than ever.”

The old witch stared at her for a moment, her veil shuffling rapidly.

“Your master, Cathber, did us great disservice by banishing our kin from the Ritual Forest. This needs to be addressed.”

“My master banished your kind from Ritual Forest because your elders sided with Themalsar during the first war. And along with his warlocks did they bind the spirits of the fallen, tormenting them and driving them mad and sent them against the elves, the humans, the dwarves, and the gnomes.”, Inshala replied mutely. “Those spirits, bound and mad, stayed there for eight hundred years, howling in despair. I felt them all, as I brought down that mad priest’s temple down. And after so many centuries, were those poor spirits finally free.”

“What’s done is done. We can not be held responsible for the deeds of our ancestors. We must be allowed to return to our lands.”, the old witch snarled.

“The land is not yours. It never was. Land and sky belong to nature.”, Inshala said. “We all are mere guests, here.”

“Then there is nothing to speak here. We shall take our leave and return to our homes in exile.”, the witch declared.

“Return or stay. That is yours to decide. But should you persistent on the mistakes of your elders and join the enemy as they did before, I shall make sure you will be the last of your kind for nature hates demons because they are foul and they are evil, yet they are also not of this world. You and your kin, however, are, and nature abhors more, that which so thoroughly betrays her own world.”, Inshala said and there wasn’t a trace of a threat in her voice. She said it as it was and as a matter of fact.

“You give us nothing, yet want everything. You give no carrot, yet you show us the stick.”, hissed the hag.

“I do not do carrots, nor do I do sticks. I am nature. I balance. And balance does not offer bribes nor favors. Should you want to live in a world free of demons, you must bleed for it, just like everybody else, for I have offered nothing to the druids, nor the shamans, much like nothing was offered to me.”

“A challenge!”, another witch said from behind.

A murmur rippled among the witches.

“Yes. A challenge, then.”, said the old hag.

“A challenge for what?”, Inshala asked.

“A challenge of yield to see if you are fit to be the Ritual Guardian!”

 

Inshala paused for a moment.

 

“I did not choose to be what I am. I was chosen.”

“So you say. Face one of our kind and prove yourself!”, cried the old witch triumphantly. “Should you lose, you shall step down and will no longer be the Ritual Guardian, and we will be allowed to return to Ritual Forest.”

“Nothing of what you just said made any sense, and the fact that you do not understand what being a Ritual Guardian is or the workings of the world around you, is proof that you shouldn’t be dabbling with any magic, let alone with spirits. But it is apparent you will not understand even should I explain it to you because you are not here to understand. You are here to make demands for the things you want but do not deserve and without wanting to bleed or sweat for them. So I will ask only what would entail should I win?”, she asked calmly.

“What would you want?”, the old witch asked.

Inshala didn’t miss a beat.

“You, all of you, shall join our fight against the Orken and their demon masters for so long as they remain a threat and be bound to someone of my choosing, and never shall you ensnare any spirits to torment them ever again. Should any of you break this agreement or fail to uphold it, you will die, all of you, by your own spirits. This is my carrot!”

 

A dead, choking silence fell over the witches and Inshala heard a pair of elated snorts from behind her.

 

“Girl, if that was the carrot, I don’t ever want to see what you would do with a stick.”, snarked Bremorel.

 

“We.. we shall decide whom to send..”, the old witch said with a deflated voice.

“I shall await your choice. Now, I have other matters to attend.”, Inshala replied and calmly rose, and left the circle.

 

“I am not sure what just happened, girl, but what you just did was dangerous.”, Bremorel said with a frown. “Witches are bitches and not a good lot. I’d rather they didn’t help us.”

“If they do not help us, they will help the enemy, dear Bremorel. Yes, witches can be bothersome, and dangerous, but they must know their place. And for them to know that, they must first learn it, then earn it. My Father had very good reasons for banishing them and it would seem, after all these centuries, they still haven’t learned neither their place nor any humility.”, Inshala replied.

“Lady Inshala is right.”, Moorat said with a vicious scowl. “As much as I detest them, you don’t want them hating you more than you hate them. In his very long life, Master Cathber did many great things. Kicking the witches out of Ritual Forest was one of his best, though.”

Inshala flinched.

She didn’t know this Moorat and he was a scary man.

“Would you give us a moment with Ranger Master Moorat, dear Bremorel? I must consult him on a personal matter.”, she said tentatively.

“Of course.”, Morel replied, though she did give her a queasy look.

Moorat was a broad-shouldered man but not very tall and he still looked down at the little girl. His ranger outfit seemed harassed and make-due, but a closer inspection would reveal, they were, in fact, immaculately kept, just like his bow and great sword he carried across his shoulder.

He did, however, have a truly evil-looking face.

“You display wisdom beyond your years, young lady. I am impressed. Reminds me of someone I knew, once.”, he said in his harsh voice.

“Thank you, sir.”, replied Inshala a bit shyly.

“Ah. I merit a ‘Sir’, now do I?”, grinned Moorat and his already evil-looking features became even more sinister. “This should brighten Stan’s day!”

Inshala flinched again.

“I.. I don’t think you are as you seem.”

“No, little girl. I am exactly as I seem.”, growlaughed the ranger master!

“Would you say dear Bremorel is a good person?”, she asked.

“A bit silly at times. And can start a fight in the blink of an eye, but yes, I would say she is a good girl. The best greenhorn I ever had. Well, not anymore. She’s a lieutenant now.”

“Greenhorn?”, Inshala asked, inadvertently reaching up to touch her own horns.

“Ahh. Bad choice of words there. I meant student.”

“There you have it, then, sir.”, she replied.

“There I have what?”, Moorat asked a bit confused.

“At the hands of a decent man, good becomes better. At the hands of a lecher, bad becomes worse. I heard people tell of her sad story and how she lost her parents and how she was after that. I look at her now and I see a dear sister; smart, full of life, and fiercely loyal to her friends and I would like to think you had a hand in that.”, she said quietly.

 

Moorat stared at her..

..and blushed!

 

“Well.. maybe.. no one needs to know, though. Are we clear on that, young lady?”, he said flustered and uncomfortable.

“Your secret is safe with me, sir.”, she said and very quietly, she added. “I.. am sorry about your sister.”

 

Moorat stumbled.

 

“I.. yes.. well.. thank you for your concern..”

“You must miss her dearly.”, she said with the same hushed tone.

“Many who knew her, miss her dearly.”, replied Moorat with a similarly low voice.

“Udoorin was my friend and was always kind and polite to me. I do not remember my mother. She died when I was barely born. But I would very much like to hear who his mother was. I.. would be much in your debt and be honored if you would tell me your sister, Limnia Karya.”

“You know her name?”

“I did not, sir. But to those who know how to listen, the earth we walk.. she speaks us certain names for she does not forget those who do much harm and trample it in hubris, nor does she forget those who are much loved and softly have walked it..”, she replied.

“Limnia.. my dear sister.. did walk it softly..”, whispered Moorat, staring far into the distance. “..and was something else. And I couldn’t even tell her how much I loved her before she died..”

 

 

It was long past the first toll of the bell that afternoon when Inshala returned back to the town, accompanied only by a silence Bremorel.

When they entered Serenity Home, the ranger lieutenant gave her a hug and told her to come over for dinner some time, and if she really must, that she could also bring her hubby, Aager, along too, but that it was perfectly fine and she wouldn’t be vexed at all if she didn’t..

Inshala smiled at her and simply said, “We belong.”

Bremorel stared at her with this look on her face and said, “Well, that must suck!”

Inshala smiled again and started towards home.

It was nearing the second toll afternoon and she didn’t think she should keep her hubby waiting.

✱ ✱ ✱

What’s the plan of action, here?”, Aager asked in his growling voice.

“Plan of action? Those are too big words for me, my Aager. I am but a simple girl who needs ranger escort to find her way to a meeting. Perhaps we should stop by the temple and ask Bremorel to join us, again.”, said Inshala with a mischievous spark in her eyes.

Aager fumed a bit but didn’t bite back.

“I am sorry.”, he said. “I wasn’t trying to be bossy nor was it my intention to patronize you.”

“My Aager. I never mind it when you want to boss me, nor patronize me. Because you never do them out of whim, nor to feel good about yourself. But I need your respect and your trust as much as I want your love and your care. I have your love for I can feel it. I have your care for I see it. But you must show your respect and your trust by your deeds. It is true I am not as smart as you are, but if I must fall, then I should fall because one day, I surely will. It is the nature of Mortals to fall and hurt themselves. That is how we learn to look where we are going. I am young and silly and have fallen many times, and still, I forget to look where I step, so to speak, but if that is the only way for me to learn, then I deserve to keep on falling until I don’t.”, she replied kindly.

“That is asking a lot, love.”, Aager said, still fuming.

“To ask for your respect and trust?”, Inshala asked a bit baffled.

“No. To let you risk so many falls..”

Inshala smiled at him.

“Sometimes, I will fall, my Aager. And sometimes you will. We both are still very new at belonging and have a lot to learn. As for the matter at hand, I think it would be better if you do all the talking since this is a matter between the Winter Knight and the Summer Knight. I will only speak should you require some vital information perpaiming.. perkaiming.. per—”, she sighed with a flustered resignation. “I forgot the word!”

“Pertaining?”, offered Aager.

“Yes, that.. perpaiming the fey and the courts..”

 

They walked in amiable silence for a bit and Inshala looked up to see the vague visage of the Gull’s Perch, lost in the distance and mists. It was several days travel away, but still looked beautiful; a single vertical rock-like mountain, some half a mile at its base and climbed up and up and disappeared in the clouds.

She sighed and Aager nudged her.

“What’s up?”, he asked.

“The Gull’s Perch.”, she replied simply.

The Winter Knight looked up too and stared at the majestic scene.

“What of it?”, he asked.

“It’s been quite some time I haven’t been there. The last time I was, my Father was killed because I was busy playing with the fey that live there. Things could have turned out very differently had I been at home and not there.”

Aager didn’t really know what to say to that. It appeared, guilt was something that logic just couldn’t wash off. So he did the next best thing; he reached and held the little girl by the waist and pulled her tightly to himself, and kissed her lightly on the forehead.

“Give it some time, love. It won’t fade, but it will be tolerable.”

Inshala leaned closer to him and the Guest’s Inn came into view.

“Should something start here, I want you to leave and go home, please.”, he said in his growling voice.

“And you truly think I will abandon you?”, Inshala replied with a frown.

“You won’t. But you can’t be seen, nor be part of a direct conflict between the two opposing knights. I am thinking neither Mab nor Titania will appreciate that. I don’t want you to lose all your good standing with either court.”, he said seriously.

Inshala did one of her funny snorts!

“I love it when you try to get me out of harm’s way using this thing you call logic. Has it ever worked?”

“Every time.”, Aager said blandly. “Because you are a smart and sensible girl.”

“Ow.. I like where this heading.”, Inshala smiled.

“And I am not the sort of guy who falls for just any pretty face. The girl I love must also be sensible, logical, and can see reason when it’s offered to her..”

“..and has the strong will to ignore it when she deems it necessary!”, she finished smugly.

 

Perhaps it was time for Aager to sigh.

So he did..

 

“Do not worry my Aager. You know I shall do my best not to hinder you. Just like I know you will do your best not to bind me, and just like we both know neither shall abandon the other, no matter the cost. I may live with the wrath of Mab and Titania. But I have no desire to live alone nor to live without you.”

 

 

Aager pushed the door of the Guest’s Inn and scanned the large room full of tables, chairs, and stools, to see the inn was void of people. Even the bar and the bar attendants were gone. He looked up to made sure the stairs leading up were clear, and entered.

It was perhaps the only time he had seen the inn this empty.

Accept for the one table near the center and next to one of the shuttered windows. The inn’s saloon was not dark, per se, but it was decidedly dim.

He looked at the occupied table and saw a figure in dark brown robes, a hood, and a full face mask. The man didn’t seem to be carrying any weapons on him, though Aager knew robes could be deceiving and could hide any number of nasty and pointy things. The man didn’t seem to be large nor tall, but only gave the illusion of size due to the robes, the hood, the mask.

And he wasn’t alone.

A lithe figure say next to him. She wore a tight, dark purple dress-skirts, a polished steel bodice-girdle emphasizing her rather shapely breasts, several necklaces, all accessorized with dozens of multi-colored beads, any number of bracelets with similarly colored grains, and her long, slim fingers were decorated with more rings than she had digits and though her face was covered with a heavy veil, she gave the distinct impression that she was the kind of girl who was comfortable with her own figure but very much liked to be further appreciated for it..

 

Without further due, he pushed the door wider and stepped aside as Inshala walked in and gave the inn a quick glance herself. She silently nodded at him and they both ghosted towards the only occupied table.

Aager let Inshala slide into the double bench and took his place next to her where she would face the well-accessorized girl, and he would face the man in his dark brown robes, pulled up hood and mask —the Summer Knight.

The four sat there for a long moment as everyone tried to assess their counter-part.

To Aager’s surprise, though, it wasn’t the man in the dark brown robes who spoke first.

“What’s she doing here? Why is she even here?”, asked the girl sitting next to the Summer Knight.. quite viciously.

“I am the Ritual Guardian. I am here as the moderator.”, Inshala said simply.

“I do not recognize this self-imposed title. I do not recognize the Ritual Guardian!”, she hissed.

“Your recognition is neither required nor deemed. Your ignorance of the world you live in, however, is a bit worrisome.”, Inshala replied quietly.

“I doubt you are in any position to lecture me, little girl.”, the girl spat waspishly.

“You are a small as I am.”, Inshala said, trying not to snort.

“I am older than you are!”, the girl hissed.

The Summer Knight sighed.

“And your age has not brought you the wisdom it has promised. Perhaps you should wait a few more years?”, Inshala smiled happily.

“I could take you any day, any time!”

“I don’t think so, Witch!”, Inshala replied calmly.

 

A choked silence fell over the spat.

 

“Perhaps we should go and come back some other time.”, Aager said in his ‘quiet’ voice. “As much as others might enjoy a good catfight, I don’t, and neither do I have the time for it..”

“I am sorry, Sir Knight.”, Inshala said, a bit flushed. “I was not name-calling her. Merely defining her for what she really is; a witch! And she is trying to rile us so she could bring her spirits into play and axe this meeting which she knows she is not a part of. She is not fey, she is not a vassal of either court, let alone Summer, and is recognized by neither, and hence, unhappy, which is understandable. By refusing to recognize my title, she hopes to gain a seat at this table as someone who does not have a title herself. What she does not comprehend, is the importance of this meeting. She wants recognition, yet she defies the same from others. Much like the rest of her kind, she turns a deliberate blind eye to the title of Ritual Guardian, which I did not bestow upon myself, as it is not a Mortal whim, and hence, can not be self-imposed, as she is also ignorant of what it entails, much like she is interfering a business between forces as great as Mab and Titania, for each knight here represents one or the other, while she represents no other than her own self-interests.”

 

Aager did not turn to look at her, though he very much wanted to. That had been one awesome smack-down and he could literally feel the veiled girl seething with hate.

He just stared at the man sitting across from him.

 

“You asked me why I was here and I have given my reason. Why are you here?”, she asked the girl in the dark, purple dress skirts. “If you so wanted to be part of this meeting, all you had to do was to ask nicely.”

“I am here to make sure you stay out of this meeting and do not cheat!”, the girl said viscously.

“Unlike you, I am actually part of this meeting. You may consult the Queens on this matter if you like. I hold Mab’s personal favor and am bound to Titania due to my druid’s circle. Also, I carry fey blood. Hence, I do not cheat, nor do I require it. Had you known fey, you would also have known it is quite not possible for us to lie. We leave such despicable acts of vile deceit to Mortals.”, Inshala replied with a prim little sniff.

“I.. am sorry for that last part, my Aager.”, she said abashedly.

“No, no. By all means do what it is you are doing, love. Smack her down to your heart’s content. I am enjoying this.”, came Aager’s mirthful voice.

“Please, my Aager. This is important. I have to learn this witch where she belongs amongst us and that she and her ilk are not above others and neither are their actions beyond consequences. A something they have failed to learn after all these centuries when they sided with Themalsar during the first war. Should they want back into the ‘fold’ they must earn it. And to earn it, they must first respect the living and the spirits they enjoy tormenting.”

“I am content, love. Really. By destroying her, you are destroying the summer boy for me.”, he replied smugly.

“Aager Fogstep!”, she replied reprovingly. “He is not the summer boy. He is the Summer Knight.”

“A knight, he may be. A boy, he certainly is. Something about him tells me I should know him.”

Inshala signed.

“When will Mortals ever learn to use their noses?”

And that little reprimand hit Aager over the head and he suddenly figured out what it was that he had sensed about the boy;

 

Flour!

 

The boy smelled of flour.. and pastry!

“Dervel Stratler..”, he stated.

And noted the man in the dark brown robes, the hood, and the mask stiffen.

“I.. beg your pardon?”, he stammered.

“How is your father?”, Aager asked with an amused tone, from behind his own half-mask.

“I have no idea what you are talking about!”, the Summer Knight stammered some more.

“I challenge you!”, hissed the veiled girl.

“On what grounds? You hold no title of your own. You represent no one other than yourself, and you have nothing to bargain that I would want, should you lose.”, Inshala said a bit baffled.

“I represent the witches of Ritual Forest!”, snarled the girl.

“You want to interfere?”, Aager asked the very young Dervel, mildly. “Or would you rather I did. Because as much as I am the Winter Knight, I also represent the law here and will not have an open fight on my watch. I will take her and you into custody and throw you both to jail and keep you there until such time you are both brought before the mayor whilst he rules a judgment for causing public disturbance during a time of war.”

 

The Summer Knight didn’t say anything.

But Aager got the impression he wanted to be anywhere but here at that very moment.

 

“Should I win, you shall accept the same stipulations to step down and no longer be the Ritual Guardian, and we will be allowed to return to Ritual Forest.”, the witch bit savagely.

“What is a spupilation?”, Inshala asked quickly.

“Stipulation, love. It means, condition.”, replied Aager.

“Well, why doesn’t she just say that?”, she fumed.

“Love, she really wants this fight and isn’t going to back down. She is vicious and really wants to hurt you. Should that happen—”

“No, my Aager. You may not interfere in this matter. At this moment, you are the Winter Knight. Should you interfere, Mab will not be happy. And this is something I must do. We need all the help we can get. Including the witches. Because if we don’t get them on our side, the enemy will get them on theirs, exactly the way it happened at Themalsar. I want them to see and to recognize the excuse I am presenting to them to give them their place amongst us.”, Inshala said desperately. “Please..”

 

Aager seethed.

 

“Very well. You have my love and my care. Now I ‘deed’ to show my respect and trust.. by doing nothing..”

“You are here, my Aager. That is something all on its own.”, she replied with a smile.

 

“Then I put forth the same stipulus.. stickilus.. stimelus..”

“Stipulations, love.”

The veiled girl laughed.

“You can’t even pronounce a simple word, yet you claim to be the Ritual Guardian?”, she snarked.

“I claim nothing. But I can pronounce your full name, Be’heire Crowfeather, the daughter of an outcast wood elf witch, much like yourself.”

 

The veiled girl, Be’heire Crowfeather, shut up!

 

“It shall be a duel to yield and you, all of you, shall join our fight against Orken and their demon masters for so long as they remain a threat and be bound to someone of my choosing, and never shall you ensnare another spirit to torment them ever again. Should any of you break this agreement or fail to uphold it, you will die, all of you, by your own spirits —these were the exact conditions I put forth earlier and they still stand and you and all your kind will abide by these stipumations. Should I win but your ilk refuses to acknowledge you as their champion, I shall assume they have broken the agreement and will call upon all the elves, the rangers, the dwarves, the ogres, the wild, and the fey to bring down their judgment upon you!”

 

Be’heire froze where she was.

 

“Honey, please.”, said Dervel. “This really is unnecessary and quite pointless.”

“I disagree..”, Be’heire hissed between clenched teeth.

 

The Summer Knight signed again.

 

“Let’s go!”, the witch sneered and got up.

“Very well.”, agreed, Inshala, and also rose.

“Not in my town.”, Aager said quietly.

“Have your precious town, Knight!”, Be’heire sneered and stalked out of the inn, followed closely by Inshala.

 

Dervel sat where he was and his shoulders slumped noticeably.

 

“Well..”, he said. “That went well..”

“I have never blamed another man for his choice in women, young man.”, Aager noted. “But yours seems to have issues.”

“She is normally a very kind and sweet girl. She is an outcast, though, both from her own people and Ritual Forest and by no other than Lady Inshala’s master, Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig himself. I would agree that his reasons were very much justified, but his banishment did leave behind many discontent witches, all of whom have a chip on their shoulders. Be’heire is young. Very young, even by elf standards, but quite powerful and always feels the need to prove herself. I really hope this does not turn any uglier than it already has.”, the young man said honestly.

“If she hurts my Inshala, I will kill her. You know that right?”, Aager said and there wasn’t a tint of a threat in his tone. He had merely stated a simple fact.

“That’s why I am here, I suppose. To make sure that does not happen.”

“I will kill you too, then.”, Aager said, with the same exact tone.

“I suppose you will try. But I must warn you. Starting a war between the courts is not a wise course of action. Not now, anyway.”, Dervel said carefully.

Aager shrugged.

“I care little for the courts, and this is not a Winter-Summer issue anymore. It is one man avenging his woman. If you can’t do that for yours, then you are not much of a man, young Dervel.”

“You represent the law, Aager Fogstep. You are not above it—”

“You misunderstand me, boy. I shall slay her and you, then sit happily in my jail for the remainder of my life!”, Aager replied coldly.

✱ ✱ ✱

Inshala came to a stop in the center of a clearing, somewhere not too deep in the Ritual Forest. The trees surrounding the clearing were brittle with cold, and snow blanketed everything in sight. A large boulder stood, sticking vertically out of the frozen ground somewhere a bit to one end of the clearing and she went and stood near it and waited. 

Soon enough, Be’heire appeared on the other side of the nearly fifty feet long and forty feet wide relief, scowling at her.

“Go ahead, Ritual Guardian. Let’s see what you got!”, she sneered at the half-fey.

“Very well, Be’heire. I would have wished we settled this peacefully. The true enemy approaches as we speak and they will not care if I am a druid, and neither will they show mercy because you are a witch. They will slaughter us with equal abandon.”, Inshala said sincerely.

“We are past talking, little girl.”, Be’heire spat.

“No. We are not. There have been no crimes done between us. No notable insults have been lashed that demands a retribution or rebuke. We are, at this very moment, at an agreeable standstill.”, Inshala corrected.

“You are just like your old master. Talk and talk and talk and nothing else. He was a fool. And so are you!”, the witch said with vehemence.

Inshala frowned a bit.

“Why would you bring my Father into this. He is not here.”

“I could summon his spirit anytime and—”

Be’heire Crowfeather never got to finish that particular sentence.

In the blink of an eye, giant grasping vines stabbed out of the ground sending dirt and debris and covered everything, a hundred feet in every direction, and they kept growing!

Be’heire yelped and jumped to avoid being ensnared and yelped again as she stepped on sharp, thick thorns, three inches each, sticking out of the frozen ground. She gritted her teeth and summoned her bound spirits and sent them after the fey girl she could barely see through the cacophony of wild growth.

The angry spirits shrieked and speared at Inshala, who just stood there staring angrily at the witch.

“You and your ilk never learned when to stop at foolish. I may not tutor all your ilk, but I shall do this one favor to you. You may not respect me when I am done, but you will respect the world you live in and the spirits you bind..”

 

..and stepped right into the large, vertical rock!

 

The spirits slammed the boulder, shrieking and clawing at it to no effect..

..just as Inshala got out of the other side of the rock and released another spell.

The spirits went after her again but she stepped back into the rock!

 

One of the trees, right behind Be’heire came alive, and with a wide swing of its branches, it struck the witch, sending her sprawled deeper into the gnarling, thorny vines. Be’heire shrieked in pain as her head spun from the savage attack of the tree coupled with all the stabbing thorns and one of the entwining vines had gotten a very painful grasp of one of her ankles and had started twisting it at a very disorienting angle.

“Yield, Be’heire.”, Inshala said sternly, as she stepped out of the rock. “I could bring much lightning and great fires upon you, right now, yet I have not.”

 

Be’heire cast a spell and flew!

 

Just to be slammed, very hard, back down and into the frozen ground by the thick, thorny vine twisting her ankle. Something snapped and she howled in pain as her eyes teared and she lost control of her spirits.

With shrieks of mad triumph, the spirits went after their tormentor!

“NO!”, snapped Inshala. “You may leave in peace and be free, but you may not afflict your madness upon another Mortal, even though she may deserve it.”

The mad spirits hovered over the tear-streaken witch, clawing at the air, an inch away from her face.

But slowly, they drew back..

..and faded away.

 

And Be’heire pointed a finger at Inshala and snarled.

“DIE!”

A beam of pure, black darkness shot out of her finger and slammed at Inshala..

 

Far away, back at Serenity Home, and in the Guest’s Inn, Aager Fogstep felt an awful sense of dread wash over him.

For a long, dreary moment, he felt his own heart stop!

He tried to breathe but nothing happened.

His vision blurred and the inn’s dim saloon darkened..

..then the dim returned, his vision cleared, his heart fluttered and started to beat again, and the sense of dread was gone.

 

Aager Fogstep, the Winter Knight..

..exploded!

 

And the Summer Knight never knew what hit him..

One moment he was calmly sitting across the man in his dark leathers, the next, he was hurled across the room as a savage blast of sonic winter slammed him right into the wall, at the far end of the inn!

And the Winter Knight was upon him, a shimmering, ghostly blade put to task right at the Summer Knight’s throat..

“Wha— What are you doing?”, Dervel exclaimed.

“You have broken faith between the courts!”, he snarled, his eyes burning with blue, arctic flames. “Your woman cast a death curse upon the Ritual Guardian during a duel of yield! I warned you what I would do should she harm my Inshala. Hence shall I start with you!”

 

Young Dervel started, quite horrified as the Winter Knight drew blood.

✱ ✱ ✱

Inshala staggered as the tree of life she tendered deep in her soul shuddered and trembled and many of its beautiful, purple-green leaves shriveled and died.

She gasped for breath and felt her heart flutter and the afternoon sun dimmed down to a pin’s point as she felt herself drown.

 

“INSHALA!”, screamed a voice in her mind and she thought she knew that voice.

And with something akin to panic, she held on to that voice, her Aager’s voice, and pulled herself up..

..and the light returned back to the forest.

 

“You.. you cast a death curse in a duel of yield?”, she asked the bleeding and squirming girl, shredded in the thorny vines.

“I.. am so sorry, Inshala.. I swear.. I didn’t mean to!”, she whimpered.

“You did mean to, Be’heire. You can not cast a death curse without intent, for one is the prerequisite of the other. You broke the agreement, the rules of the engagement and you broke faith. And now, not only your life, but the life of your beloved man hangs in balance.”, she asked unable to comprehend what the girl bleeding in the thorns had just done.

“What was it that was so important that you would want to take the life of another, Be’heire? What did I do to you or your ilk that you would release your death curse on me?”

“Your.. your master ruined us. He and his druids leveled our homes and burned our fields. He banished us from our lands.. We were left homeless.. We were made outcasts..”, the witch moaned bitterly.

 

“You never learned. Only blamed. Your ilk sided with the vilest of men and the foulest of fiends and demons and caused death by the thousands and brought unimaginable suffering upon Mortals at Themalsar. Yet you still refuse to face the consequences of your actions. Your ilk must learn to own their sins, should you want a place among Mortals. But you, Be’heire, what you did had nothing to do with what your ilk did. You are too young to have seen nor lived their suffering. Your reason is merely an excuse for your misdemeanor and that excuse has nothing whatsoever to do with you for none of the witches that were ousted are alive today. You never suffered, and never were you troubled as an outcast, seeing as how you live, quite comfortably, in Serenity Home, for which the rest of us shall fight for, bleed for, and die for, and only you and your ilk will not..”, Inshala replied, her voice not unkind, but she hammered the stranded witch with them.

“What.. what would you know of suffering, girl?”, Be’heire sneered at her.

 

Inshala just looked at the witch.

Silently and still.

Then, she undid the thin straps of her dress and let it fall on the frozen ground, displaying her skinny, gaunt form.

 

Be’heire ogled at the little, naked girl.

 

Slowly, Inshala turned.

And the witch stared, quietly horrified, at the little half-fey’s whip riddled back..

 

“What.. what is this?”, she gasped, her eyes wide open.

 

“This is called suffering, Be’heire. The kind that speaks for itself. The kind that does not need to be aired and used as an excuse for my own self-interests. I made mistakes and came too near ignorant Mortals and met the consequences of my folly at their hands. I learned, at the age of eight, that everything we do has consequences, and that we must face them and own them. And so must you. I am the Ritual Guardian, Be’heire, yet those that left these abhorrent scars upon me still live, as do their sons and daughters because I chose it so even though I had the right to extract my vengeance from them. You, Be’heire, you spurned your misplaced hate upon me. You deliberately tried to kill me by leveling a death curse at me and in a duel of yield without cause nor reason.. Thus I call upon you to face your own judgment, Be’heire Crowfeather. You and all your ilk will join us and fight against the Orken and their demon masters so long as they remain a threat. And just like us, shall you bleed and die for this cause.”, she said with a steely voice and a long, thorny whip made of vines appeared in her hand. “Or I shall return your misdemeanor in kind and you shall die by my hand, right now.. And so shall your beloved mate, at the hands of the Winter Knight.”

Be’heire Crowfeather stared at the skinny, naked girl in total fear.

 

And Inshala’s voice cracked like a whip.

“Choose, witch!”

✱ ✱ ✱

What’s up, girl? You look beat!”, asked Bremorel when the little girl found her near the forest, training a new batch of Arashkan survivors.

Inshala sighed.

“I need your help to find Ranger Master Moorat, dear Bremorel. And I need you to be there so he doesn’t.. get too angry with me..”, she said and she sounded as tired as she looked.

“Sure. But why? Did he say something to hurt you?”, Bremorel asked. “If he did, you shouldn’t take it too seriously. He says things, but he doesn’t mean them.”

“No, no. He was very kind to me.”, Inshala said hastily.

“Huh.”, the ranger girl said with some surprise. “Sorry I missed that. Come, he should be on the other side of the river.”

“Thank you.”

“Tis alright, gurl.”, Bremorel said, giving her a big grin.

Then she blared!

“MAL! TAKE OVER! AND THAT BLOODY TARGET DUMMY HAD BETTER BE RIDDLED WITH ARROWS WHEN I GET BACK!”

And grinned again.

“I so love smacking rookies..”

 

 

“Ranger Master Moorat, sir. The Ritual Guardian would have a word with you.”, Bremorel said after a crisp salute.

“What are you doing here, Bree? Don’t you have a batch of your own to train?”, scowled Moorat.

“I do, sir. But Lady Inshala, here—”, she began.

“Just, Inshala, please.”, Inshala said in a small voice.

“I am sorry, girl. Between us and when we are among friends, just Inshala will happen. When you are in your Ritual Guardian-thingy, you are Lady Inshala, and I’ll bash in any face that says otherwise!”

“Told you Bree was my favorite student.”, grinned Moorat. “Now. What can I do for you, young lady?”

Inshala paused for a moment before she spoke as if deciding on how she should phrase what she wanted to say.

Then she took a deep, pained breath and spoke.

“Ranger Master Moorat. The witches have agreed to join us in our fight against the Orken.”

“That was quick. And great news.. I think..”, Moorat said dubiously.

“I have given their command to you.”

 

A dead silence settled and Moorat displayed the ugliest face, anyone, in a thousand miles in any direction had seen!

Bremorel held her breath for as long as she could, then snorted.

 

“Why.. would you do this to me?”, he asked Inshala with a blackened face.

“You, sir, know the witches. Well enough to hate them and be wary of them. You are also the best qualified to know where to make the best use of them. You will sweat them, and bleed them, and be it necessary, kill them, should they stray from their given oaths. They have many skills, not unlike yours, and they know how to curse and to bring down destruction. They will be under your command until they learn ‘respect’ and earn their place amongst others.”

Moorat stared at her, feeling a bit freaked.

“Learn respect? They will never learn respect!”, he scoffed.

“Then they shall stay under your command for a very, very long time, sir.”, she said with a wan smile.

“And I believe one of them will have something to show you.”, she added quickly.

“You don’t do anything by half, do you, young lady.”, Moorat said in a deflated tone.

“No, sir. I don’t. And I pity the other half.”

✱ ✱ ✱

Inshala woke up to something. She wasn’t sure what it was and she felt groggy and sleepy and stupid and very, very tired. Apparently, a save from a death curse left one a lot to be desired.. As opposed to outright dying..

She had come home late that night, arm-in-arm with her hubby, the Winter Knight, and just collapsed on the threadbare mattress and curled into a little ball.

Aager had stared down at her, thinking just how close she had come face to face with death, and how he had very nearly killed a seventeen-year-old boy!

He pressed his lips together in a grim expression as he pulled off his dark leather hood, his half-mask, his armor, and his weapons and put them neatly on one side of the mattress where he could easily reach for them. Then he picked up the sleeping girl and sort of pulled the blanket from under her, laid her back on the mattress, and covered her with the itchy thing.

Then he went over to the fireplace and lit it using the flint and iron sitting next to it, grabbed the small iron pot, got outside, drew some water using the old, squeaky water pump, and filled the pot, returned inside, and set the pot over the fire. He peeled some potatoes, a large onion, and several carrots and killed them into small pieces, and dumped them into the pot. Then he pulled at the cooking oil and poured some of it into the pot as well, sprinkled a few pinches of various herbs and the one Inshala called Kumse Beetles, though he wasn’t sure if she was making a pun or if she was being literal. Aager thought, perhaps not every single thing had to be known between mates and lovers. A girl should have some secrets, right?

He sat next to the fire, and the red-orange light from the fireplace danced and gave a harsh, angry cast on one side of his face and hid the other as he stared at the curled shape of the girl sleeping drained just a few feet away..

..and he thought about the events of that day and what they would entail in the long run.

Indeed, Aager hadn’t made any friends that day.

At all.

He had very nearly sliced open young Dervel’s throat, from ear to ear in his madness..

 

He signed and checked in on the now boiling pot. Just a few more moments and the carrots should be soft enough. Potatoes were easy. It was always with the carrots.

 

Silently he rose, picked up the two, hand-carved bowls and checked each for any chips or cracks. Carving plates wasn’t an easy job and certainty hadn’t been for the skinny little girl. Yet she’d carved them, just for him and herself. Aager had never been a materialistic type, but for some reason, these bowls, and the other two wooden plates had turned out to become precious to him.

He unhooked the iron pot out of the fireplace and dumped some of it into either pot, produced two spoons, and dug into one while he waited for the other to cool off. He tended to ignore the blistering heat of the food he ate, but Inshala became whimpery and teared up and pouted when she burned her mouth.

He slurped the last of the juice of what remained of the stew, got up, and went over to the threadbare mattress with the other bowl, still steaming.

He sat next to the girl and set the bowl next to himself and carefully, he picked her up and sat her in his lap and close to his lean, spring-coil chest and with a small nudge, he whispered.

“A bit of a bite before you totally wink out, love. C’mon. Open up.”

When she didn’t wake, he gave her another gentle nudge.

This one got a response, though not very intelligible.

“Iam hngry but Iamalso vrysleepishhh!”, she whimpered, her words slurred.

“Yes, yes, I know you are, but you shouldn’t sleep with an empty stomach, either. Open up. C’mon. Just a few spoons..”

Inshala opened up and mechanically chewed as the Winter Knight spoon-fed her..

..until the bowl was empty.

 

Apparently, Aager didn’t like doing things by half, either.

 

He settled her back down, went outside with the bowls, the spoons, and the iron pot, and in the dead of night, and the freezing cold, he gave them all a quick wash and returned back inside and put them all in their proper place..

..and slumped under the blanket himself.

And with some innate instinct, Inshala squirmed a bit and nudged her little butt until she was comfortably snuggled up to him and he enclosed her in his arms and now, her skinny back was leaning against his chest..

 

It had been a few hours later that Inshala had come around, not quite sure what it had been that had woken her up. She was still lying next to Aager but was facing him..

..and both her hands were in his shirt, one touching the spring-coil muscles of his lean chest, the other, running down his marred back!

Inshala blushed a bit and looked up at Aager’s face to see if he was awake and was going to be mad at her but he was still asleep and seemed.. at peace..

“The deed is done.”, she thought happily, tinted with a certain sense of guilt and shame.

“The hands want what the hands want and go where they want!”, she said nodding with confirmation at her own, very ‘logical’ explanation in her mind.

 

It was then she realized.

What it was that had woken her.

 

It hadn’t been the warmth she felt inside the palms of her slim hands as she held them in his shirt but a certain other, ‘calloused’ warmth that spread, like some deep, smoldering fire, from her own chest, and around her once buxom, now sad and small breasts, and down.. way down the small of her back

Inshala gasped with petrified astonishment and with unyielding, throbbing exhilaration..

 

It was his hands..

..and they were, right now, in her shirt.


 

book 06 books dungeons and dragons duygusal groups karakter analizi komedi modül role play serenity the plot thickens

A ‘Warm’ Warning

A ‘Warm’ Warning

Timeline:

Sometime in near future.

And back at Serenity Home.

Early one evening..

 

This story takes place a bit over a month after
The Oathbreaker (Part Four)
on the same night, and right after 
Unintentional Adaptation.

 

 

Aager Fogstep, the right hand of the town sheriff, the head of SIS —Serenity Intelligence Service, and unbeknownst to any but the willing few; the dreary Winter Knight and Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane Bolgrig Hooman, the Mistress of The Grove, the wont of Mab and Titania, the Lady of Durkahan and the Ritual Guardian walk side-by-side, indeed, arm-in-arm, worn and tired of a long day’s hard accomplishments.

The quiet young woman, somewhat abashed and with the small smile of an unspoken achievement clearly etched on her face, walks with light steps next to the silent, spooky man in his dark, sinister-looking leathers, hood, and mask. The girl inadvertently does this little skip-and-hop thing every once in a while for she has her hair down and her awesome rams horns are in full display; the source of her smile, her skip, and her elation.. and one of great consternation, fear, dread, dismay, and anxiety —each distinct, now, and finally overcome, accepted, and acknowledged.. The man on the other hand seems alert and distracted at the same time. His steps are steady, careful, and ready to pounce. His distraction, hidden under the hood and mask, is perhaps due to the unaddressed nature of the hope he hankers, as they head for the little, single-room lodge assigned to him years ago, and that the girl with the light, happy steps next to him would also call, ‘home’..

“Thank you.”, he whispers in his growly and gravelly voice.

The girl turns and gives him a look of shy elation.

“You are welcome. But, why?”, she asks.

The man clears his throat.

Fighting and consequently bleeding, many times, has never been a matter of trepidation for him.

This girl..

This little girl, and trying to express his feelings, for her or otherwise, however, has always felt like an uphill battle for him.

A battle he knows he would win, should he but dare.

She certainly wills, with all her heart and mind, that he would.

 

Dare.. and win..

 

“I suspect you know why..”, he says carefully.

“I do. But I like it more when you voice it. Reminds me of Katana, my saber-tooth.”, she replies quietly.

“You like my voice because I sound like a cat?”, he asks a bit amused.

“My cat was not just any cat.”, the young girl retorts with mock fire. “She was a great, six hundred pound tiger, with a massive jaw that could take a man’s head whole and still have room for dessert, and awesome paws that could cave in an ogre’s belly, flat! And I find the viscous similarities between the two of you quite.. intoxicating! I am sure, or at least I very much hope you find something in me that makes you remember things you liked. Perhaps that is why we find something akin in one another.”, she says happily.

“How do say things like that and claim not to understand people?”, he asks with unveiled wonder.

“I claim nothing other than you, my Aager —for as long as I can.. Some things are clear to me. People.. and this.. social-thingy.. is just not one of them.”, she replies with resigned remorse.

“Fair enough.”, somewhat agrees, Aager. “Though you are wrong about my finding something akin in you that reminds me of something else that I once liked.”

“Ow.. How come?”, asks Inshala with a small pout.

“The answer to that is quite elementary in its simplicity.”, he says with a well-hidden smile.

“Ow?”

“You are unique!”, Aager admits, and freely.

And without even needing to turn, he feels, through their bond, how the young woman blushes.

“That.. is beautiful to hear.”, she stammers.

“You like?”, he asks, with a very un-Aager like tone. A tone that he would never, like never ever, use with anyone but the girl in his arm.

“I.. love!”, she smiles, blushing even more.

“I thanked you..”, Aager says, rewinding a bit back. “.. because of your brevity. And for not hiding what you are, for I wish you never to be my personal secret, but known to all, and that we belong.”

“I must thank you for that, even though I know you will not let me. But we both know I would never have come here, let alone display myself the way I have, had it not been for you.”, she admits and smiles even more.

“Perhaps. But this is your moment. Not mine. And..”, he says and freezes in his pace.

As if on cue, so does she.

“What is it?”, she asks peering into the night.

“I.. am not sure..”, admits Aager with a slight frown. “I sense.. an equal.. but not.. at the same time..”

“You sense quite correctly.”, says a deep, muffled voice from the night.

“Show yourself, if your intentions are honorable!”, grows Aager Fogstep, his hands clear and at his sides and Inshala standing, not precisely behind, but with the exact amount of space and distance he would need to draw his swords for a swing, a parry or an unrestrained thrust..

“That, coming from you, I find a bit ironic, Sir Knight.”, says the muffled voice.

“I sense.. Summer.”, whispers Inshala, a bit baffled.

“I greet you, Lady Inshala, and I mean you no harm.”, comes the voice.

“But you mean harm to whome I belong!”, she says staring hard into the night.

“That is but for him to decide.”, declares the muffled voice with an intense and implied voice.

“What is this?”, asks Aager in her mind.

“I am not sure, my Aager. I have a guess, but I would rather he introduced himself, lest I give him power he may not have.”, replies the young woman in his.

“Dammit!.”, very nearly blazes Aager with frustration. “Apparently, running around all day fixing issues and defacing potential political outbreaks, training three different parties for the upcoming battle, and corking security gaps as an encore, is not enough.. I would like one moment.. ONE SILENT MOMENT IN PEACE with you and alone, dammit!”

“I am sorry, my Aager. This is my fault.”, whispers Inshala guiltily.

“How is this your fault?”, he asks, still frustrated.

“You are the Winter Knight because of me.”, she says in a small voice.

“Inshala.. To this day, I have done many things that I have come to regret, and shall likely end up doing more.. Dying for you to live, however, was never one of them.”, he almost lashes back.

“But..”, Inshala tries to object.

“Also to this day, never have I banned nor barred you of anything, have I?”, he steams.

“No, my Aager. Never.”

“Well, now I have. Never shall I hear another word of regret to the choices I made with regard to you. Because when you cast doubt in my choice, you cast doubt on what I feel for you.”, he says, and not without wroth.

Inshala falls silent, whether it is perhaps due to shock of how her Aager has just addressed and admonished her, or because she is afraid, is not clear. When she speaks, however, it is due to neither.

“I.. am sorry, my Aager. It was thoughtless of me to question you and your feelings, for I know it isn’t easy for you to speak them, yet you have.. For my sake.”, she says with shame in her voice.

“Inshala. Please. There really isn’t any reason to go there.. Much like you have made peace with some of the things in your life, your past, and your choices, I have thus done so. If being Mab’s hatchet man is the way to keep you and safe, peace, then, is upon me.”, he says, though not unkindly.

“You want me to cry, don’t you, my Aager..”, pouts Inshala.

“Not for me, and not tonight..”, he says as he smiles..

..and turns to face the man, hidden in the night.

With a low, distant, and arctic voice, the Winter Knight growls..

“Who are you, and what do you want? I have run a full day of petty mortal errands and am tired. I have another long day full of such errands waiting for me tomorrow, which is in mere few hours, and hence have I but little time to spare for late-night theatrics, and none for drama. Either come out and spill your wont, or go. Suffice to say, move or I shall move through you, should you truly want to test me tonight, for you are between myself, my lady, and my home, in the middle of the night, and in my town..”

“Oh, my.”, giggles Inshala and mimes a tiny, virtual fist into the air —in his mind.

“I think he just ate earth! You go, Winter Knight!”

“You go, WHAT? Where did you even hear that?”, asks Aager both surprised and amused.

“I am sorry. I have no idea what I just said.”, bubbles the young girl a bit embarrassed. “I heard young Master Cümeyt say it, but I am not sure what it means! He did make it sound like a ‘cheer’, though!”

Aager laughs.. silently..

“It is ‘dirt’, by the way, love..”,  he inserts, stifling another laugh. “Not, ‘earth’..”

“But.. isn’t dirt, well, dirty?”, wonders Inshala a bit confused.

“The best thing about dirt, you never want to eat it more than once, love”, Aager says, not without a certain amount of vicious satisfaction. The man in dark leathers, hood, and mask wears what he does for three, rather distinct reasons, and none of them has anything to do with drama;

One, the obvious reason; for better cover in the dark.

Two; Aager has an astute sense of smell, particularly for bad ones..

And three; a dark hood, along with the mask, has the practical capacity to fend off fools.

 

There is a moment of chagrined silence and Aager gets the distinct impression that whoever it is hiding in the night, is perhaps a tad new at whatever he is at..

 

“Very well.”, the muffled voice says. “Meet me at the Guest’s Inn tomorrow at noon.”

“Afternoon!”, Inshala counters.

 

Another silence ensues.

 

“Why? Why would you back this evil man, Lady Inshala?”, he asks quite perturbed.

“My Aager is no evil man. He has proven his mettle. Yours is yet to be seen, Sir.”, she replies the young girl with stern command.

Aager’s eyebrows shoot up.

It isn’t the first time his Inshala has gone out of her way to defend him, and it certainly feels.. surprisingly ‘awesome’.. to be.. safeguarded?.. by someone you dearly loved, but the verbal dual here is a subtle one and in a realm, he is not yet accustomed nor has had much privy to.

“Afternoon, then. I shall consent to this request for your sake, Lady Inshala.”, the muffled voice says.

“You shall do no such thing, Sir. I owe you nothing and have promised you nothing. And I shall owe you no debt! ‘Afternoon’ is a neutral time, neither too warm nor too cold.”, Inshala says, equally sternly.

 

A sigh of resignation is heard followed by the slightest shuffle of feet and the muffled voice is gone.

 

“Alright.”, Aager muses, staring into the night. “That wasn’t odd or anything. Your thoughts, love?”

“I.. I am not certain..”, Inshala frowns slightly.

“It’s alright. Your halves are better than my nons!”, smiles the sinister-looking man.

“You are in an unexpected mood this night, my Aager. And I can’t even claim any crafty skills on my part.”, smiles back the young girl.

“First of all, I apologize, wholeheartedly, for my harsh words earlier. You deserve better than that. But I would much rather we put my choices and their reasons well behind us. They are done and gone. Going over them makes neither of us happy, but puts both of us in despair. Agreed?”, he says quietly.

“And I apologize for bringing it up in the first place, though I got what I deserved for it. I shall submit to your wishes on this matter, my Aager, hence, yes. Agreed.”, she replies staring somewhat at her own feet.

“Please, don’t do that.”, Aager says.

“Don’t do what?”, she asks.

“You did nothing wrong. Don’t look down. As a matter of fact, never look down!”, Aager pleads.

Inshala looks up, her face is slightly pink.

“You will not even let me suffer my own follies.”, she says with a flustered pout.

“The pout can stay. It looks sweet on you.”, smiles the man in dark leathers.

Inshala does a very unladylike snort, causing Aager to laugh.. out loud!

“Well. How about that. I laughed. Can’t remember the last time I did that. I guess I do owe my mood to crafty skills on your part.”, he says with an amused tone of voice. “As to what that was all about, I believe you do have some thoughts on the matter.”

“Yes. And deep down, I believe you have as well, my Aager..”, replies the young girl, suddenly looking at him with intense eyes.

Aager cocks an eyebrow and thinks..

..and the thing that has had him itching somewhere at the back of his mind suddenly dawns.

“Yes, my Aager. Nature is balance. Winter will follow Summer and Summer dies when Winter arrives. Much like Summer will melt and defrost Winter upon her arrival..”, she says softly.

“Damn..”, he blurts. “He is.. double damn.. the Summer Knight? My opposite?”

“That is my thought. I believe he wanted to keep that to himself and perhaps use it as a levelidge.. lefedirge.. leafer—”, she blunders and her face turns pure red in self-disgrace.

“Leverage?”, Aager offers kindly.

“Yes. That..”, says the young girl, her face still burning with frustrated shame.

“But he gave himself away.. Ahhh, that’s why you argued about ‘noon’. It is likely he will be at the peak of his power at noons and at summer times. That was very ingenious of you the way you refused him and moved the time of the meet to afternoon.”, says Aager admiringly for even though the young girl hadn’t quite won him an advantage, she had, instead, stripped any his opposite might have gained, just by changing something that had seemed so trivial.

Inshala blushes some more.

“I suspected.. the moment you said, ‘sensing an equal, but not, at the same time..’, and when he called you, ‘Sir Knight.’ Only fey would know you for what you are.. And the vassals of either court. I felt no fey vibes from him. He seemed.. mortal.. and something else.. perhaps some sort of affiliation I am not aware of.”

“How come there is suddenly a Summer Knight now and what does that entail?”, asks Aager, with a ‘should-I-be-concerned?’ frown.

“Nature is balance, my Aager. Both Winter and Summer have a ‘Mother’ known as Mother Winter and Mother Summer, and then they have the Queens, Mab as the Winter Queen, and Titania as the Summer Queen. Both courts are also supposed to have a ‘Lady’, but there hasn’t been a Winter Lady for ages forgotten After she lost her own daughter some unknown millennia ago, Mab refused to take another as the Winter Lady, causing the Summer Lady wane, and eventually fade away..  There was the potential for a new Summer Lady, but she was slain at Gull’s Perch by some ruffians a year or two before I was born, which is why there has been a ban on mortals, and why there is a dwarven outpost there, guarding the Perch’s entrance ever since.. I believe there were some dwarves among the ruffians and Titania blamed their kin at Scowling Hills and forced them to build the outpost and safeguard the valley as payment for their kins’ sins against her daughter. Whether the death of her daughter was a coincidence, or it was because Mab would still not take a new Winter Lady, I do not know.”

Aager listens to the young woman in amazement as she explains the monumental goings-on that no mortal would know.

“There also hasn’t been a Winter Knight since the last one was slain by a mighty wild fey, who was actually a noble in Mab’s court once, many, many millennia ago. And Summer failed to produce a knight of their own during that time. It isn’t a coincidence that they would do so now, almost the moment you chose to become Mab’s Winter Knight. For there to be balance, nature compempates.. compendates—”, she pauses, her face flushed with embarrassment again. “Help me, please..”, she pleads..

“Compensates?”, offers Aager as he puts one hand over her small shoulder and gently turns her to face him.

“Conpendates.. That..”, blubbers the girl, her face burning red. “I hate this. I am so stupid. I lack so many important words, and I am supposed to be the Ritual Guardian and fill my Father’s shoes..”

“Hey.. Don’t be like that.. Please.. We promised to be stupid together, remember? At least you know what you are talking about. I don’t even know where to begin to even understand.”, he says kindly, and gently pulls her into his arms.

Inshala just stands there, burning with embarrassment on any number of levels now.

“You are so awesome.”, he adds quietly.

“Awesome like.. Madina? Or awesome like Moira?.. Or perhaps awesome like Laila? Laila is awesome and cool, though I am not sure what that means.. I mean, she has a nice, warm heart. And I think that De-De-Dexter boy likes her. I saw him give her, as an example of how his trainees should act and behave, just the other day.”, she mumbles.

“Madina, Moria, D.D. Dexter and even Laila aside, I would say, awesome like Inshala.”, he says. Then thinks for a moment, nods, and repeats. “Yep. We shall thus call it, Inshala-Awesome!”

Slowly he releases her, and they are once again, arm in arm, walking in the night, towards ‘home’..

 

. . .

 

“She is pathetic.”, says the skinny, vixen girl, hidden further in the night, and quite waspishly.

“She is what she is, love. And she holds great favors from both the courts. It is not wise of you to speak ill of her, nor to go out of your way to taunt her. She is good people..”, replies the man with the muffled voice.

“And the man. His attitude. Such arrogance.. Perhaps a nice hex will fix that for him..”, she sneers after the two.

“You shall do no such thing, love. There is no point in starting a war here when there is another war right on our doorstep. I merely wanted to meet him and warn him not to abuse his powers. We shall meet on the morrow.”, he says sternly.

“You are afraid of him.”, sniffs the girl with disdain.

“No one in his right mind would be uncautious of him, love. Mab chose carefully, as she always does. Don’t let your pride get the better of you.”

The girl sniffs again, and haughtily, with her small, perky nose.

“I bet, I could best her!”, she declares.

“Perhaps.”, says the man. “But you will not go up against her. She is the Ritual Guardian.”

“So?”

“Suppose you best her. What then? Who will take up her burden?”

The girl shrugs.

“Will you?”, the man asks, looking at the skinny girl.

“Why would I? It is a folly burden that offers little to no reward. She is as foolish as her Father was..”

The man with the muffled voice signs. The slight girl standing so agitated next to him is a fun, life-loving girl, but she does have her moments of pique, and they did tend to get the better of her indeed, and she is quite a single-minded girl who lives for silly challenges..

..which was how they had met, really.

“Come. We have much to do ourselves..”, he says, in hopes of distracting her. “Thousands of mouths to feed..”

“I think I want to know what they talk when they are alone.”, she says, squinting after what little she could make of the two, distant figures walking away, arm-in-arm.

“No.”, says the man even more sternly this time. “You don’t..”

..And picks up the skinny girl, by her waist and carries her off, literally, as she kicks and squirms and laughs with delight..

“Will you feed me too, Sir Knight?”, she snickers viciously..


 

book 06 books dungeons and dragons duygusal groups karakter analizi komedi modül role play serenity

Promise To Be
Stupid Together

Promise To Be
Stupid Together

Timeline:

It isn’t the life-threatening moments
that makes us realize the value
of those we love..

 

Not always.

 

Sometimes it is the silly things..

..such as coloring pictures
in a children’s book..

..with crayons.

 

This story takes place several days after
The Oathbreaker (Part Four)
and after Aager Fogstep
and Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane
defeat the tyrannic oathbreaker;
Lord Tarakadahan Karkashi
in a very bloody duel to the death.

 

 

Aager Fogstep held Inshala close and tightly to himself for she was in mourning and because her soft warmth was the only thing that kept him from screaming in pain. The little girl held a sad, broken piece of dry twig in her small, delicate hands —the only discernable part left of what was once a giant walking tree; Snare! True, Snare had never been a ‘nice’ tree, but rather a vicious, sour, and one old cuss of a monster. He had, however, kept the little girl safe and company during their stay at Arashkan, before the city’s fall, hiding in plain sight among other trees, deep in Heaven’s Park, and had helped both her and Aager in their numerous encounters.

This last fight, however, had just been once too many for him. The tyrannic lord, Tarakadahan Karkashi, had come down on the grumpy old bark like ten thousand axes and smashed him into the ground. And now, his tiny mistress held the only bit of what was once a grumpy, eighteen-foot tall monster..

“When we.. get out of this stupid.. arena..”, Aager grinded his teeth. “I want you to go with Lady Alisia and Moira..”

Inshala looked up at him through her tear blotched face.

“No. You are hurt. I need to—”, she started.

“Inshala. Don’t argue with me. Not now.”, he cut in harshly. “This is an excellent opportunity for someone to take advantage of and make an attempt on your mother’s life.. Or Moira’s.. Or yours.. You must watch over them as they watch over you.”

“But.. What about you?”, she asked with a pleading voice.

“I hold no power in this city, love. I am a nobody here. I am not of the nobility and I carry no titles. I am not even a squire, let alone a lord. Not that I would want to be one. Ever..”

“..The only person that would have benefited from my death is dead! Anybody else coming at me will gain nothing from my demise. You, on the other hand, hold the city in your hands and it will take but one fool to ruin everything we gained today should he attack you, your mother, or Moira.”, he said through his gritted teeth.

The pain of his dislocated shoulder was getting at him and trying to rationalize why he wanted her to go, rather than to stay and watch him suffer was taking every ounce of his remaining strength.

“Please. Do this for me.”

“I will—”

The great gates leading in and out of the arena parted with a booming echo, smoldering any objections the little girl might have said, and Lady Alisia, followed closely by Lady Moira, Captain Fardashi, and half a dozen guards came running at them.

“Okay. I am going to let go of you now. You mustn’t show them any tears because everyone is watching you. Be strong and go with your mother.”, he hissed quietly.

“Sir Aager..”, Lady Alisia called as she stared at him, and at the little girl holding a piece of twig, with unveiled awe.

“Lady Alisia..”, Aager greeted the First Lady of Durkahan with a barely contained voice behind his leather half-mask. “..Lady Moira. If you would be kind enough to escort Lady Inshala to your quarters whilst she could rest. She has had a trying day.”

Lady Alisia ogled at the bloodied, sinister-looking man in his dark leathers.

“Please..”, added Aager with emphasis and giving a quick glance at the watching crowd.

Lady Alisia’s face lit with comprehension.

“Of course, Sir Aager. Daughter, please come with me. We must get you out of those bloody clothes at once. I believe a nice hot bath, a meal, and sleep will do wonders to you.”, she said as she held the little girl close to her, nodded at Aager.

And with Moira on the girl’s other side, they started back towards the arena gates as the guards fell in formation around the women.

For a moment Aager was left behind and he gave some serious thought to whether he should just surrender to gravity and fall where he stood.

 

“Ahem..”

..said a gravelly voice from behind him.

 

The fact that he hadn’t even heard that someone was actually standing behind him without his notice was definitive proof that the man in dark leathers was about to lose it soon.

“I’d love to give you a hand and carry you out, but that would totally ruin your ‘cool’.. And I am not sure I’d even get the hand back!”, he recognized Fardashi’s amused voice.

“That was one hell of a fight, young man. Hard to be impressed when you get to a cussed old age like mine but, what can I say, I am impressed. Good thing I didn’t tell you to buzz off the night you two came at the city gates. Will you be able to make it until we get out of here? People with nothing better to do love watching the victor drop dead after a good show!”, the old captain said lightly. A bit like the way he spoke right before he had smashed in the castle guard commander’s face in, about a week ago.

“I think so.”, grinded Aager, and took a stubborn step forward.

✱ ✱ ✱

Stand guard here.”, commanded Fardashi at the guards, pointing at the door. “I must see to the Ladies than make sure the rest of the city is all well and good.”

Just before he left, however, he paused, gave a thoughtful look at the door, frowned a little, and quietly added, “Whatever happens, don’t enter the room!”, he warned.

The guards looked at their captain, then at the door, and hastily nodded.

 

Aager stood in the darkness of his room. The one he had been given shortly after their arrival at the inner castle of Durkahan city. It was barely ten strides in either direction with two, separate, single-beds, a small chest at the feet of each bed, a decent-sized cupboard, a high, rectangular table complete with a large washing pan, two blocks of soap, and several neatly folded rough, gray towels and one, slit of a window that seemed to stare gloomily at the arse end of a rigid, stone tower rather than at the city, but it still seemed cavernous compared to his tiny, one-room house back at Serenity Home. That house at least had had a larger window —two, in fact, now that Aager had a moment to think about it. Not that he preferred large windows —or any window, and he certainly had never fancied homes with scenic views, but that house —his home— had had them anyway; an easy to climb in and out window with a view to one of the town’s mildly busy streets. The other, he’d boarded the day he had moved in, years ago, because it had provided too big a security flaw for his taste, and because it was a window, it also provided a natural security ‘gap’.

He grimaced in pain at the jarring irony there;

Security GapOpen Window!

Apparently, Aager thought, he had a bit too much free time in his hands, since he had the luxury for such delinquent ironies. But there was a point to that irony.. and the boarded window now. It used to open to a rather picturesque view of the back garden. Not so much picturesque since Aager had moved in, as it was full of dead plants and ugly, barbed, and thorny weeds. But should his Inshala come to Serenity Home, he could open that window while she did some things nice with that garden. And perhaps they could share responsibilities at that point as well; he could keep an eye on the street side window like he always had, and she could cover the garden side!

Alright, the man in dark leathers, hood, and mask thought. There was something genuinely wrong with that thought!

He doubted anyone in that town ever ‘covered’ their windows with the metaphorical fanaticism as he did.

Or rather, no one else..

 

He shrugged —his other shoulder.

 

At least with both windows open, his home would be ‘sunny’.. Unlike how this chamber would ever be..

This chamber was dark at noon, pitch at night, and was slightly on the musty side.

More like a lair.. or a den, really. Men like him did not have suits or chambers.. They had lairs!

 

Just how he preferred it..

 

Or rather..

..just how he should have been preferring it, as awkward as that phrasing sounded!

 

But for whatever reason, however, he did not.

Yes, he had come here every night, washed off the day’s dirt here, slept here, and ate here, quite laconically, too —many times. For the same, ‘whatever reason’, however, that just didn’t seem to ‘cut’ it anymore. He felt ‘blank’.. more than empty, here. A blank he had come to recognize very slowly and growing recently.

He stared at the dark walls of the chamber, all the while sweating profusely in pain.

Carefully he chose a specific stone.

Not that it mattered, but focusing on something, in particular, had always given him a sense of purpose. And that purpose, now, was not going to be fun..

At all..

Slowly, he walked up to the stone he had selected and stared at it with baleful eyes.

“I am sorry, love.”, he growled with pure, unadulterated self-loathing, swung his shoulder once, twice..

..and smashed it into the stone and wall!

 

A horrid, meaty crack was heard by the guards outside followed by a feral roar of pain..

..and something stumbled over and the room fell silent.

 

Somewhere two floors above, Fardashi ran back into Lady Alisia’s quarters, his sword drawn, when he heard the single, shrill scream of a girl in savage pain!

✱ ✱ ✱

And what do we have here?”, asked Aager, entering his chamber/lair/den, late one night, several days later. The proceedings, the meetings, the strategic plannings, and the secretive, impromptu ‘hallway’ chats on how they should mobilize the Durkahan Army, and which route they would take to reach Serenity Home in time were taking their toll on him. He felt like the sore merchant of some vast trading company, bargaining for rights of free passage through man-eating local’s lands.. without getting et!

 

..or possibly the CEO of some bank trying to stay afloat during an economic crisis!

 

“I am coloring this book that Master Cümeyt was kind enough to give me.”, Inshala replied from where she lay on the thick, pale beige carpet. Aager knew it was pale beige because the guard who had brought it had told him so like it held some significance and in all likeliness, it probably did. Just not for Aager..

..in any way that would be significant.

But then, this whole carpet thing was a new addition to his chamber/lair/den and seemed disturbingly out of place.

Feral beasts like him did not do carpets, nor cushions or loveseats..

Alright, there weren’t any loveseats in his chamber now either, and Aager did not really want to know what a loveseat was, but there were any number of colorful cushions, thrown on the said, pale beige carpet.

Aager scowled at the thick, soft, comfy thing and its fluffy little companions, and they scowled back at him..

..with compounded smug smirks because they knew they had won, and there was not a buggery bum he could do about it!

He certainly wouldn’t have asked for them, had it been up to him. But the young girl had taken a habit of bringing things her new brother, Cümeyt, or her new sisters Madine and Maira, and even Moira would give her, to here, and either play with them or draw pictures —on the cold, stone flour.. Hence, Aager had asked one of the guards if he would be kind enough to bring in a carpet, for Lady Inshala’s benefit.

And a cushion or three, while he was at it..

 

Or even if he weren’t kind enough!

 

Aager did not recall having put any such emphasis, but the thick, soft carpet had arrived within ten minutes followed by the half a dozen or so cushions..

And now, said Lady Inshala was here, lying flat on her little tummy, her skinny legs swinging up with lazy contentment and coloring what appeared to be some sort of flower in the book with little, colorful sticks scattered around.

 

“Crayons”, Inshala had told him with knowledgeable accomplishment.

They were called crayons.

 

The sinister-looking man in dark leathers thought that sounded suspiciously like a fancy name for some kind of deathly and dermal poison!

 

Then there was this coloring-book-thing!

 

Aager had never seen a book that could be, or even should be, colored before. Would have been a surprise if he had. He wasn’t sure if anyone back at Drashan had ever seen one, either.

Drashan aside, why would he?

And what was the point of buying a book, and books weren’t cheap, then doing all the work by coloring it yourself, anyway? Apparently, some smart artisan was making a lot of money by openly cheating his customers!

The nerve some people had in this world..

What kind of a demented idiot would even buy—

 

Aager opted to stop making combustive, mental commentary at that point.

Whatever he was about to say about said idiot, one of them was already here, and apparently, he was about to be the other by joining her! 

 

“Would you like to join me for some? Before I am called back to sleep in my room?”, she asked smiling up at him.

It was quite obvious this coloring thingy was something she had liked a lot, Aager noted, because not only did the young girl seem happy, but she also appeared content. And there was a distinct sense of serenity about her, which made her glow in an altogether new kind of beautiful.

“Maybe..”, smiled Aager as he pulled off his dark, leather hood, undid his mask, and tossed them both on his bed. Then unbuckled his leather armor, and his belt, ridding himself of his swords and daggers, and carefully set them aside.

“You want me to pout, don’t you?”, asked the girl honestly.

“Very much.”, replied Aager in kind. “You could win just about any argument with me using only the pout.”

“But.. I do not want to argue with you. Arguing is not nice. It tarnishes some things between people. And I think it becomes a habit in time and people start doing it without noticing anymore.. They argue about everything, and they do not recognize, both love and respect are now gone!”, she said..

..with a pout!

 

Aager was astounded, once again, at the depth of the young girl’s insight. Particularly when taking into account that this girl never had anyone to have argued anything in her past, save one, venerable old man, to have observed, and consequently, gained such insight. 

 

“We are not doing this on the table, why? Seems easier on the knees.”, he asked as he knelt down across the little girl and on his stomach, pulled off his heavy leather gloves, stared at the flower in the book, which he assumed was some kind of a rose, picked up one of the red sticks, and carefully started to fill one of the pedals.

“I am not sure.”, Inshala replied.

Aager cocked an eyebrow.

“How so?”

“When.. when we sit around a table, the table is standing between us. That makes me feel like I am alone.”, she said, frowning slightly.

“We could sit next to one another, perhaps?”, he offered.

 

“We could. I suppose. But.. that feels like we are only friends.. Like Ranger Corporal Laila, or even Master Gnine are my friends.. I like friends and I like that they are my friends. And I like that Alor’Nadien ne and Udoorin are my friends. And how Lady is my friend. And Merisoul and even Anglenna are my friends. I want you to be my friend too, but not like them. I do not know the words. You should not be my friend like they are my friends. When we lie down on the floor like this while doing things or talking, however, it feels like we are actually sharing something.. and more than just these pictures and more than just words..”, she said, struggling to correctly phrase her mind.

Then she went a bit pink. 

“And.. and our faces are much closer when we are lying down and coloring these pictures.. And I can watch you from this close, as well!”, she said with a blush.

And now Aager had both his eyebrows cocked up, for this insight did not belong to a little girl.

At all!

 

They colored the flowers and some other things that Aager was not always sure as to what some of them were. But they did it anyway and in content silence..

..for two hours straight.

 

He asked what color he should use when he wasn’t sure and the girl would look around for the appropriate stick, pick it up, hand it over to him, and say, “This!”, every time, with a happy, accomplished smile.

It was during those two hours Aager had the opportunity to think, or perhaps, contemplate on certain things.

He threw careful glances at the girl as she savagely colored the flowers, the stems, and the leaves, the sun, the clouds, the bees, and the bugs, and the dears, and the houses in the coloring book with child-like fervor.

He looked down at his own workmanship and noted his seemed more like he was dissecting the flowers, the sun, the clouds, the bees, and the bugs, and the dears, and the houses with jugular accuracy, waiting to be labeled and placed into their corresponding jars!

It was just about then, a number of things dawned on him.

 

One

The little girl was deliberately, or maybe the correct word would be, ‘inadvertently’, acting like a little girl because for the first time she had a genuine mother, a grandmother, three sisters, and a little, overtly smart, mischievous brother and hence she could afford to.. let go?

Or perhaps, drop her guard.

A something, Aager thought, was quite encouraging to see, yet altogether sad —in a way.

 

Two

Thanks to young Master Cümeyt and the emo girl Madina, though Aager still did not quite understand what the buggery bum an ’emo’ was, she, Inshala, was catching up to everything she had missed during her own childhood, both because such entertainments had never been available to her, and it wouldn’t have mattered even if they had been, seeing as how solitary and dangerous a life she had lived.

 

Three

He himself was pretty much in the same rickety boat as she was, dammit! When people looked at his Inshala, they saw a traumatized little girl, all the while thinking he, Aager, was the steady one and that at least he was ‘alright’.

Lying face down, coloring silly flowers and dears and bees and bugs, Aager Fogstep realized he was not alright. He realized he had never been alright, but always skirted at the edges of suppressed, angry insanity all his life. Coming to Serenity Home had been a blessing, certainly, but in a way, and unwittingly to be sure, that had merely diluted his very unhealthy mental status. Or camouflaged it, to put in a more astute perspective.

 

Four

This little girl, Inshala, had come to his room, much like every other night, and shared everything she had seen, learned, felt, and experienced that day with him until late hours, in effect, making sure he healed as much as she did. Bit by bit, she was freeing herself from her fears, her desperations and her losses, all the while seeding her desolations with her mom, her grandma, her sisters and brother, while making new friends, and learning and experiencing the things left missing all her life. And by coming here, she was sharing her joys with him, in affect, bringing whole new norms into his life as well, even if only by proxy.

The beauty of it was, there was never been any deliberation in her actions at all. Only instinctual need to make him feel as good as she was feeling, and the irony in all of that was not lost on Aager.

Inshala was giving him surcease, just by being here and being herself!

 

And Five

Aager loved it!

 

Unequivocally.

Irreversibly.

Without any doubt.

All of it.

 

And knew, at that very moment, why he had felt thus ‘blank’ of late.

For he had just recognized, with quiet fervor, that he could no longer tolerate her being just a ‘part’ of his life..

He wanted to be all of hers!

 

“You seem.. odd tonight. Lost in thought and distracted and your hands are drawing without consulting you.”, whispered Inshala, staring into his eyes.

“I am odd every night.. And distracted much of late.”, replied the man in dark clothes, a tad gruffly.

“A gold coin for your thought?”, she smiled. “I have a gold coin. I think.. I could go and get it if you like.”

“I doubt my thoughts are worth a gold, love.”, Aager said quietly. “But I will share them with you. Just as soon as I understand them myself. I promise.”

“I could ‘pout’ them out of you, you know!”, giggled the girl.

“I think you have been with Master Cümeyt for far too long, love..”, mourned Aager.

“He has shown me so many interesting things. Did you know there is more gossip going on here, in this place, than among the fey at Gull’s Perch? You would think a city full of paladins would have a bit more honest people!”, she said a bit disturbed.

“Ow? Is there some theft going on? That kind of behavior should be discouraged.”, said Aager with a frown and felt no guilt or shame, whatsoever, at the fact that being a thief was what he had started his long line of an uncouth carrier in the first place. But thieving had never really been any more than a stepping stone for him. Sort of something he’d had to endure in a ‘just do it’ sense until better options had presented themselves. If anyone he’d known had been an outright thief, it had been that Darly Dor kid —which did also explain why he had disliked him so much..

“No, no.. Nothing like that. It’s just something I learned, that many people are sleeping in someone else’s room and few wake up where they are supposed to!”, mumbled the girl as she slapped her tiny feet together for emphasis as she totally drowned a sunflower in dark purple with vehemence.

“People are strange sometimes. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. And I am not sure that’s the color for that picture, love.”, said Aager, pointing at her page. 

“It isn’t. I am just angry. That is why it is purple. My sunflower is angry too!”, she said unhappily.

“Ow? Why are you angry? Did something happen?”

“I do not know.”, came her frowning voice in his mind. “I am sorry. You are tired and have been keeping me company when you should be sleeping and now I am afflicting you with my silly!”

“True. I am tired. But doesn’t ‘keeping company’ work the other way around as well? And let’s not go to ‘silly’, please. I haven’t even begun my daily ranting yet!”, he replied in an amused tone. “Now tell me, what has gotten you riled up?”

“I do not know.”, she repeated. “I am put out that people don’t wake up where they should, yet I am doing the same thing. I go to sleep in my room, but wake up here all the time.. Is something wrong with me?”

“Uhhmm..”, said Aager, not sure as to what he should say or how he should respond, really, so he tried for a casual sort of tone. “I.. do not think what you and they are doing is quite the same, love.”

“How so?”, she asked glumly.

“Well..”, he began but faltered. “..Possibly because when you come here every night, I call your name, every time, but you don’t hear my voice. You truly are asleep. You come, you stand before my bed, hold out your arms, and just.. stay there. Took me by surprise the first time you did it, and even more, when I finally figured out what it was you demanded.”

“I.. I demanded something from you? I shouldn’t be making demands from you! That is not nice! And in my sleep, too? What did I demand?”, she asked in a depleted voice.

“A hug.”, replied Aager kindly.

 

Inshala’s face turned bright pink.

 

“I..”, she stammered. “I thought I came here and just slept in the other bed, to keep you company, though I honestly do not remember ever getting up, nor walking here..”

“That.. might have been partly my doing. Not the coming here. The waking up in the other bed.. After I’d give you your silent demand, you wouldn’t move but make this funny noise.. like when cats see a bird or a squirrel..”, said Aager honestly and Inshala dropped her coloring sticks and just buried her face in her skinny arms..

“I think, or felt, to be more precise.. you wanted to.. cuddle up and sleep next to me.. But something about your base, honest character wouldn’t let you.. Not without my express permission.. And because you weren’t really awake, I wouldn’t give you that permission because it would be wrong.. Which is why I would pick you up, and tuck you away in the other bed. You’d make a bit of a fuss in there but eventually, go still.”, he said kindly.

 

“This is so embarrassing. I do not remember the last time I was this—”, she mumbled in a muffled and horrified voice.

“There is nothing to be embarrassed about, Inshala. We both want, what we want. Apparently, you decided to actually do something about it, without ever knowing.”, he said thoughtfully.

“But.. what do you want?”, she asked, her face still buried in her arms.

 

And, there it was..

The simple question that was the core of what they had been, what they were, and what they would become for one another.

To simplify that even further; what they had, and what they could have..

So simple..

..a question.

 

What did he want?

What did he want?

And what did he want?

 

The small nuances in the same question made all the difference, to be sure, but the only thing he was certain of was the answer to the question that actually preceded this one;

 

Did he want?

 

To that, he said, yes.

Not because he was mentally sure of anything.

But because the blank in him was telling him exactly that.

Or rather, he had the blank, because he no longer could tolerate the lack of certain things..

..or a certain someone.

 

And something clicked in his mind.

 

Six

Aager decided, then and there, to shut up..

..and do something about the blank in his soul.

 

“Come, love.”, he said with a deliberate, casual tone. “It’s getting late. I’ll escort you to your room. I believe most of our plannings and meetings are done, but a few crucial details are left. They will need me wide awake for them in the morrow.”

 

The young girl accepted his offer to take her to her room gracefully.

Not that it would matter.

She’d be back in a few, anyway..

✱ ✱ ✱

Aager dropped off the strangely beautiful, deeply sincere, shyly honest, and unconventionally his Inshala to Moira’s former room with a gentle kiss, then left..

But not back to his own room.

He decided to have one meeting before going there and for some oddly existential reason, this one would be much more important than all the meetings he had done for the last eight or ten days.

He dashed silently through the torch-lit corridors and long halls of Durkahan’s inner castle and skid to a halt before the one door he would have never expected to have knocked.

 

“Aager Fogstep to see Lady Granma on an important matter —if she is available.”, he said quietly when a young, feminine voice asked who it was, upon knocking on the door.

A moment of surprised silence ensued, but it didn’t last long.

“Come, boy..”, he heard the old, cackling voice of Granma.

Aager slowly opened the door and entered the dimly lit room of the very old woman —the mother of Lady Alisia.

The room was comfortably decorated with many chairs holstered with velvets in subdued colors, a long, comfortable-looking, dark maroon divan, and cushions, several deep, soft rugs, a large, old wardrobe, any number of shelves with books, delicate porcelain cups, vases, and many other delicate curios, and a small table covered with cream-colored laces, all of which gave the distinct impression of ‘been there, done that and I have the aged wisdom to prove it’ feel to them.

The old woman was sitting in a large, rocking armchair, delicately holding a cup with something steaming in it.

“Tea, boy?”, she asked in her wheezing voice but didn’t wait for him to reply. She motioned a hand and Moira’s younger sister, Lady Maira produced another cup from the shelves and poured him his tea, while the Granma watched the sinister-looking man settle down.

“Sugar? Honey? Milk, Sir?”, Lady Maira asked politely, though it was apparent she was not very comfortable with the idea of being just her and her grandmother in the same room with this man.

“None for me, Lady Maira.”, Aager growled with his gravelly voice, inadvertently making the girl flinch.

“Honey. Put honey in his tea, girl. Methinks he will need it.”, snickered the old woman.

“Ma’am..”, said Aager, sort of as an excuse to start from somewhere.

The old woman snickered again.

“You didn’t come here to Ma’am me this late, boy. ‘Granma’ will suffice. I have heard it enough many times to respond to it by now.”

“I came.. to..”, stammered Aager. “I was hoping for a private talk.. on a private matter, Lady Granma.”

 

“Well, now.. Lady and Granma.. You truly must be desperate, boy. But polite. Good qualities to start a conversation. Maira, dear, why don’t you take the night off. You don’t have to sit up late every night for my sake, you know. Do tell Alisia I said that, if you would, please. I am old. Not invalid, nor senile. She can attend to me personally when I am, rather than send her daughters..”, she huffed.

“Are.. are you sure, Granma?”, Maira asked tentatively, giving a sidelong glance in Aager’s direction. “Will you be alright?”

“I am alright, dear. And quite safe with Sir Aager here, seeing as he is the only trustable man left in Durkahan.”, she said steadily.

“I shall not keep Lady Granma up for long, Lady Maira.”, promised Aager quietly so as not to scare the girl any further.

“Then I leave my grandmother in your tender care, Sir Aager.”, she replied politely, bent down, kissed her granny, curtsied Aager, and regally left the room.

“I hope I didn’t scare her too much.”, mumbled Aager.

“My daughter and my grands don’t scare too easily, boy. Managed to give them that much at least. Though they did botch the job when Tarakadahan happened.”, said Granma, staring at him thoughtfully. “Now, what’s on your mind, young man? You truly must be desperate to have come to me for wisdom. People seldom do, anymore.”

“Their loss, I am sure..”, Aager said. “It is true that I am desperate, but I do not believe my choice of wisdom was faulty.”

“Very good, young man. Polite, and honest in his praise. No wonder that poor, skinny girl cares for you so deeply.”, she replied. “I suspect this has to do with her?”

“Uhhmm..”, stammered the sinister-looking man and.. squirmed.

 

Aager.. squirmed!

 

“Speak, boy. Wisdom must be given direction to make sense.”, said the old woman sternly, surprising Aager a bit.

 

The man in the dark clothes took a slow sip from his honeyed tea, sort of to wet his throat, then started talking..

 

“I.. am not sure where to begin.. I.. deeply care.. for Inshala..”, he whispered. “Before I met her, my life was only about work. And the safety of the people who I knew nothing about, and who knew nothing about me. But I did it anyway.. As payment for my past sins. Then I met her.. while tracking the miscreants in the vastness of Ritual Forest, who ran and hid inside the old Themalsar ruins. We spent weeks in the cursed halls and dungeons of that mad man’s temple, fighting and bleeding on a nearly daily basis.. Then we faced Themalsar himself.. I almost died when he cursed me, Inshala got banished and then he dropped his demons on Lady Moira and the others.. We were.. desperate.. Dying, really.. But somehow, possibly by sheer stubbornness and a good dose of dumb luck, we did it.. We slew the mad priest who had plagued those lands for over eight hundred years., though we still couldn’t do anything about his deathly ruins, which would always be a gathering place for evil, as it did on at least four occasions, causing the death of tens of thousands of people.”

Lady Granma did not say anything, nor did she interrupt the whispering narration of the man sitting merely a few feet away. Silently, she listened to his desolate recollection of the historical event that had, perhaps unwittingly, changed the world.

Aager had just remembered what had happened after that.. and the ten days he had spent watching over the girl he’d come to love and honor, constantly making sure she was still breathing and still alive, every moment of those ten days, day and night..

Inadvertently, he shuddered.

 

One day, it was likely he would get over the terrors of those ten days..

But not anytime soon.

 

Slowly, he took another sip and continued.

 

“When we got out, she, Inshala, just stared at us and smiled, and just like that, she took the responsibility of kings and queens, great generals and armies, and buried the sins of men and the ruins of Themalsar, deep into the earth, and brought forth life —a whole forest of it, upon the dead and desolate land that was Themalsar, sacrificing everything that was precious for her. Everything that defined her.. She gave away what she was.. for the sins of men..”, whispered Aager in a desperate voice. “And now, I feel lost.. She comes to my room and together we color these silly pictures with colored sticks —with crayons, and I have never felt anything thus fulfilling in the entirety of my life, Lady Granma. What’s worse, we are going to a desperate war and she will follow me there, right into the bloody field.. I.. I do not know what to do, yet I feel so empty.. so blank.. without her.. I want her to be with me, for the rest of my life, and I want to be there, with her, for the rest of her life.. And yet, she is so young.. Do.. do I even have the right to ask such a selfish wont from her?”

 

The room seemed to hold its breath as Aager fell silent again.

Then Granma took things into her hands and dismantled everything!

 

“You are aware, that you are speaking to a woman who married at the age of fourteen, right, boy?”, she said with a toothy smile.

Aager ogled at her.

“And the same woman whose mother married when she was twelve! My father was barely sixteen himself and could barely hold up a shield.”, she continued with a cackle. “My mother was playing hopscotch with her friends when my grandfather called her inside and they wed her with my father who was nursing a bloody nose because he had just been fighting with some other boys at the time. Then the wedding was done, in under ten minutes, my mother returned to her game and my father went back to return the compliment done to his nose and had his lip split for his efforts!”

Aager snorted!

“Life is not how we define it, boy. That is base arrogance. Yes, they fought and so did I and my beautiful man, who had the soul of a shark, and was a brigand in bed! We did all sorts of silly things and fought over even sillier things and it took us years to understand what being married truly meant. But when we did, we were thick as thieves after that. Children marry at an early age in Durkahan, and for many reasons varying from the need for soldiers to farmers and artisans because we constantly feed our troops who safeguard the vast lands around the Demon Plains just north of here and Heavens Hand to stave off the evil that is constantly trying to overrun the Demon Wall, with logistics, soldiers, masons, and both armor smiths and weapon smiths, knowing should we fail, Heavens Hand will fail, and then the kingdom will fall. Other cities might have the luxury to live otherwise, but we do not. Boys and girls tend to marry quite after their twenties at Koruxan, while it varies greatly in other cities, and our dear little Inshala is not a human girl. Judging her by our standards is a poor way to repay her due respect. Not to mention the fact that she is a bloomer. I could see what she sees when she looks at you. You might see a little girl when you look at her and try to be honorable for all you like, but she sees a ‘mate’, when she looks at you! True, she has not grown in a society, hence, she lacks the things she should know and do, which refrains her from fully blooming. But you should also note; none of that is her fault.

Think of this when you are deciding whether she is too young or not; she sleeps in her room, wakes up in yours!

I am guessing, she does not do this because she needs a father figure. It is possible you filled such a gap, before, and at the beginning. But that is not the case anymore and has not been so for quite some time now, and I believe the delay was only due to her lack of social mingling; she just couldn’t correctly define what you were to her because she never had the appropriate social references. When it came to boys and men, that only meant being chased, caged, and whipped!

It is commendable and quite remarkable that you have managed to be as honorable as you have and never taken advantage of her, seeing as how honest, sincere, earnest, and pretty she is. Just for that, you have my respect. Methinks, however, playing with fire every walking moment of your day, and ‘not walking’ moments of your nights, and not expecting to eventually burn, or burn out, is foolishness, and you don’t look like a fool to me, boy.”

 

Aager stared at the old woman with astonishment. He had expected her to be mildly straightforward, certainly, but what he had gotten was a whole herd of Moxes trampling over him!

 

“You think.. I should ask for her hand?”, he asked carefully.

“And here I thought you were a smart man.”, muttered Lady Granma with exasperation. “We are past hands, boy. Ask her whole, already!”

 

Aager dropped the cup!

 

“Tell me, boy..”, the old woman asked. “When is the correct time to kill? You should know. It’s quite your area of expertise. Right up your alley, as they say..”

 

Aager paused for a moment.

This was something quite off-topic, and not exactly a ‘table conversation’ kind of thing to ask, nor answer, for that matter..

 

“I.. do not understand what you mean, Lady Granma.”, he replied carefully.

“Let me dummy that down for you then, young man.”, she said with a slightly disappointed tone.

“What happens when you stab too late?”

“You have missed your opportunity and are likely bleeding to death now.”, he replied.

“And what makes you think love is any different when it’s too late?”, she asked, staring deep into his eyes.

 

Aager Fogstep picked up the porcelain cup off the thick carpet, slowly rose, and spoke in his gravelly voice.

 

“Thank you, Grandmother. Your wisdom, it would seem, is quite sharp and well earned.”, he said a bit flustered.

“Sit, boy. We are not done yet!”, Granma ordered.

 

Aager sat.

Promptly.

For a moment he wasn’t quite sure what to say. Finally, a low, harsh, and bitter whisper escaped him.

 

“I can not think of a life without my Inshala. I shall ask for her hand from Lady Alisia. I dearly hope she gives her to me, and with her blessing..”

“I wouldn’t worry too much about Alisia, young man. She yearns for a wedding.”, replied Granma with a snicker.

“Thank you for the tea.. and your insight..”, he said honestly.

“Do not wait for a day or three. Ask her hand in the morning, and have the wedding afternoon. The moment you forget to mention that, Alisia will turn the whole thing into a parade. Thrust me, boy, you don’t want that.”, Lady Granma warned with a smile. “Nothing short of an ambush will save you!”

“You have a very interesting way of laying things out, Lady Grana Maarva!”, Aager said, quite intrigued.

“I do, don’t I?”, she replied with another snicker. Then her face turned serious all of a sudden. “You will take care of my granddaughter, yes?”

“As tenderly as I can.”, replied Aager.

 

Granma stared at him and something deep inside her squinting eyes lit up..

 

“Tender is good.. But do not overdo it. Inshala is a flower, but not a wilting one. She will cry easily because she has never had the benefits of social moderations in her life. She also knows pain intimately and does not fear it. She has, methinks, figured early in life that, much like being tired after a long, happy run, being hurt and suffering pain is merely one of the natural outcomes of any venture —as sad as it is that she has come to that conclusion, and at such an early age, really is.

What she fears is not pain, but one of two things that very much matter to her. This, I have seen in her. She listens to everyone around her, and carefully asks the things she does not understand, even things that are trivial or just silly. I am guessing my mischievous grandson Cümeyt and my hair-brained granddaughter Madina are giving your Inshala a crash course in many things she has missed, and possibly on things it would have been perfectly alright for her to have totally missed.”

“Yes. Buggery bum!”, said Aager with a short snort.

“Heard that, did you? Madina’s favorite for this month. Drives her mother crazy every time she uses it. And now she has learned it to young Inshala, who, willy-nilly, also uses it when her mother is there and is totally innocent of her deed. You can imagine the snickers all around, and there’s nothing much Alisia can do about it. I haven’t had this much fun in the last three decades..”, cackled the old lady.

Aager grinned.

“Her responses are oddly early or late, though. It is like she is miscounting her turn to speak, but eager to blend in..”

“Huh.”, grunted Aager. That had never happened when she was with him.

 

It dawned on him that it hadn’t because she trusted him to see her flaws and correct them appropriately, and for some reason, that made him feel happy.

Funny how it was always the little things!

 

“..For whatever reason, your little Inshala absolutely fears not being comprehended!

This she dreads mindlessly and can not shrug off nor ignore. My guess is, it is because she has been judged, and consequently punished for being something she is not —her whole life, precisely for that reason.

Somehow, she sees the absence of respect not so dissimilar to being misunderstood, hence, she fears this also. It is possible she strongly believes; ‘the misunderstood’ can not have respect.. Ignoring her wonts and desires —and likely her strengths as well— for the sake of your own conformity and providence and for something she can, and is willing to bear and endure will do her injustice on both accounts and give her the impression, quite clearly, I might add, just how little you really understand her, thus, how little respect you have for her! My man had faults. Too many to name here and now. But one thing he was never at fault nor lacking was, he showed me his love the way I wanted it, and I laughed every time he did a funny, even though he was a lump when it came to humor! Give her what she wants, boy. And let her give you the love you need to fill in your blanks.. Life is too short for stupid, and we are all going to war and some of us are not going to come back! Live with the regrets of loss. Not with the regrets of never having had the balls!”

 

Aager stared at his feet.

Wow!

The sinister-looking man in his dark clothes felt singed.

That had been one, classy thrashing he’d just received from Lady Grana Maarva, and she hadn’t even been trying!

Also, she wasn’t done yet..

 

“Being polite and honorable is good and well. I am guessing, is how you have been treating her all along. Polite and honorable are indeed, good qualities, boy, but not at the expense of the people around us. Delia did the honorable thing, and good thing he did too —got himself killed by his own. Don’t get me wrong. I adored and respected that boy. He made my Alisia deliriously happy and I am sure that was a mean trick for him.. My Alisia was quite the petulant girl when she was young. Then my Moira did the honorable thing; landed herself in the dungeons. And then my Alisia decided to be honorable and good, and almost married the animal who killed his own brother and her husband. No one sought the wisdom of this old woman, which would have been; hire cutters, put a bounty on his head, poison his well, hex him, drop a loose flagstone on him, push him down the stairs, or whatever.. just kill him, already!

 

Aager blinked!

 

“My Alisia did disappoint me, back then. Of all the things she could, and should have done, she chose defeat because that animal had threatened her with her children.. You see, boy, when someone threatens you and yours, you do not bargain to bed them. You simply have them killed! “, she finished pleasantly.

 

Damn.

Though, Aager.

Good thing this old lady had been on their side.

 

“What you and your pretty little girl did was more than save our collective sorry hides. You, Sir Aager, and Inshala, in particular, remembered Alisia what it was to be a noblewoman, and the First Lady of Durkahan again. And when I say ‘Inshala in particular’, I do not emphasize it because you were less than her, but because she came here as not as a savior like you, but as the scared little sister, the lost daughter, and the awesome granddaughter!”

 

The old lady fell silent after that as if telling him she was done learning him her wisdom.

Aager stood up, respectfully nodded at the old woman then ghosted to the door.. and paused..

 ..as a moment of unexpected, and quite a retrospect insight dawned upon him.

 

“Would you..”, he asked, looking at Granma over his shoulder. “..know a Lady Daniella, perchance?”

 

Grana Maarva stared at him for a piercing moment.

 

“Now why would you ask me about Daniella?”, she asked sharply.

“No particular reason. Overheard a conversation between a young man, Udoorin Shieldheart, and Lady Moira once, right after we had come out of the Ruins of Themalsar and before my Inshala permanently sank it into the depths of the earth.”, he said.

“Why would Daniella’s name be mentioned at all?”, Granma asked intently.

“From what I gathered, she is the great-great-something-grandmother of the young man..”

“That so? And never did they figure, he and my Moira were cousins, then?”

 

Aager turned and stared at Lady Grana Maarva.

Granma chuckled.

 

“You see, Daniella was my mother’s younger sister and a fiery, rebellious girl she was. She detested the nobility and married a promising young captain named Samdorin Shieldheart and together they left Durkahan and settled somewhere far off to the east..”

“Serenity Home!”, Aager blurted..

“No one will blame the beautiful Princess of Bari Na-ammen to have taken a simple country oaf for a king!”, said Lady Grana Maarva with a check-mate snicker.

✱ ✱ ✱

Aager Fogstep lay in his bed, staring blankly at the stone ceiling, back in his ‘lair’..

..and quietly waiting.

It was past midnight and he was exactly twenty-five years and one month old now. Normally, that wouldn’t have been remarkable for him. People who lived on a daily, ‘today, I have survived again’ basis, cared little about their age.

This particular night seemed special, however.

Or rather, this particular day.

There seemed a sense of freshness, and perhaps that of ‘expectation’, in the air. Much like how children felt when they learned their father was alive and coming home..

..from a long, depleting war.

 

“Huh.”, mumbled Aager. “That was a bit dramatic. Couldn’t have related to something brighter, something happier, could you?”

 

The door to his den opened and in a particularly pretty, pale lavender nightgown with white, frilly fringes that barely covered her slender hips and nothing else, Inshala walked in.

She didn’t wait at the door to look inside, nor pause for her eyes to adjust to the dark chamber.

She entered as she’d opened the door.

And with silent, naked feet, she ghosted around Aager’s bed until she bumped her, somewhat knobby knees, to his bed and just stood there with little to no expression on her face. What was there, however, seemed on the bare edges of distress.

 

Slowly she rose her skinny arms and held them outstretched and with her palms facing one another.

She had been like this ever since Moira had given her room to her, and gladly, but Aager suspected the whole idea had been Lady Alisia’s.

True, she had done it to preserve her new daughter’s dignity and avoid possible, slandering gossip. But she had, perhaps unwittingly turned ‘the girl who hangs around that sinister-looking man all day’, into ‘the girl who sneaks off into that sinister-looking man’s chamber at nights!’

Aager sighed and put the esteemed Lady Alisia aside, sat up, and stared at the girl.

He stared at Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane and quietly called her name.

The girl’s brows crested slightly, then she made a small, distressed noise.

She looked so very pretty, but sad..

..or perhaps ‘unhappy’, was closer to defining her distress.

She seemed like someone yearning to be somewhere, was allowed to come thus near, just not permitted to touch her wont.

It was a cruel way to punish someone, and unwittingly as it may have been, that was exactly what was being done to her.

Silently, he got out of his bed, came around behind her, pulled her to himself, and enfolded her, and her outstretched arms in his.

She seemed so small in his arms like that and Aager wasn’t a large man, to begin with. A stab above average in height, and an edge broader at the shoulders, certainly, but altogether, a lean man, really.. A man, made of tightly woven, cord-like spring-muscles. More so since he had accepted Mab’s offer and taken the Winter Mantle.

Everything seemed more vivid, detailed, and alive since the Mantle, including his deadly attire, and his not-so-dissimilar desires..

In fact, everything was more since the Mantle!

His moments of happiness, and consequently, his moments of wrath. Which was exactly what he had dished out on Karkashi, in the arena..

And Inshala had found her solace in a man like him, of all people.

A good-for-murder, only Mab would have deemed worthy of her Mantle..

Inshala, on the other hand, had found her peace with him and in her beautiful gray eyes, he saw her storms, and her demons back off and scatter.. and he only needed to be near.

Was it, then, too much for him to ask just as much of her?

To stave off and scatter his demons?

And perhaps find solace too?

No.

Not perhaps.

And certainly not for his demons.

For he had already found his solace in her and that had happened before the Mantle.

The scattering of his demons was merely ‘collateral damage’, per se.

Because Aager Fogstep was always honest with himself.

With her, he had been nothing less.

 

Slowly, and with great care so as not to wake her, he picked the little girl, as he always did, and tenderly lay her in the other bed. And with nothing less than honest desire, he looked at her tiny feet, her smooth, bare legs, her slender, naked hips, her small, palm-sized butt, her slim waist, her little tummy, and her appealing, nubile, baby-pink breasts, quite visible under her revealing nightgown, and her diminutive, somewhat angular face, her long eyelashes, her slightly frowning brows, her cute, perky nose, her plush, cherry-red lips, her beautiful, curving horns, and her long and scattered silky hair..

And he wondered.

For an inevitable moment.

Whether this little girl knew.

Just what kind of a stirring effect she had on him..

But that was it, wasn’t it?

Other than some vague insight at an instinctual level, the little girl truly had no idea.

Only suppressed hope that the man, Aager, somehow found her appealing.

And that was also his fault.

Both that she didn’t know, and that she would think so little of herself..

Perhaps it was time, he thought, he really ought to tell her.

Then.

With a destitute sigh.

He reached down.

And covered her tiny feet, her smooth, bare legs, her slender, naked hips, her small, palm-sized butt, her slim waist, her little tummy, and her appealing, nubile, baby-pink breasts, still visible, still calling from under her revealing nightgown, all the way up to her skinny, bare arms, slender neck and her diminutive, somewhat angular face, with his own blanket.

He watched as the girl did a sad little whimper and struggled to free herself from under her covers.

Inshala, it would seem, displaced her blankets quite frequently. A something he would look forward to tending in the near future..

..and mayhap, in the far future as well.

He bent down and kissed her forehead, then her beautiful, curving horns, and soothed her long, silky hair until she calmed, and with a depressed sigh, went still.

For a long time, Aager listened to her sated breaths, then gave a similar, depressed sigh of his own, silently ghosted to the large wardrobe, pulled out a spare blanket, and went back to his own bed.

 

Lying in the dark, and staring at the ceiling of his den, he asked.

“Do you want me thus much, Inshala?”

 

No reply came.

Only soft, steady breathing..

..and a barely discernable, sleepy little sigh.

 

It was possible he had a barely discernable smile of his own on his face when he finally drifted off to sleep. He was twenty-five years and one month old now, the girl he loved was barely an arm’s length away, and today seemed to promise a whole new beginning.

✱ ✱ ✱

And what do we have here?”, asked Aager, entering his chamber/lair/den, late that night and stared down at the little girl lying on her tummy and on the pale beige carpet with her legs swinging lazily as she furiously colored what he thought was a woodsman’s lodge with a garden full of flowers, bushes, trees, a raccoon, a dear, a bear, and an eagle, or maybe it was a hawk, or likely a crow. A picture, he thought, was a bit on the pretentious side and would likely end with the bear killing the dear and raccoon destroying everything in the lodge and possibly knocking down a candle and setting the whole thing on fire!

“I am coloring this new book that Master Cümeyt was kind enough to give me.”, she said, looking up and smiling at him from where she lay. “He insists I am getting better so he gave me this one and swore on his ancestors that this one was for pros!”

“I could see how this one is indeed for pro’s.”, said Aager with a straight face, as he pulled off his dark, leather hood and mask off and tossed them on the bed.

“I told him he did not have to swear at his ancestors and that I would have believed him anyway because brothers and sisters never lie to one another.”, she said happily. “But he just stared at me with this funny face and he was like, ‘Ow, like never ever?’, and I said, ‘Of course, never ever, because brothers and sisters must trust one another, and he was like, ‘Well, that’s a buggery bum. Where’s the fun in that?'”

“That boy..”, growled Aager, while he undid the buckles to his dark leathers, pulled them off, and put them neatly on the bed as well. “..will either go far or go to jail, someday..”

Inshala giggled.

“Then he tried to explain what pros meant and I asked him why he cut the other half of a perfectly nice word, and he said, ‘Cuz that’s what pros do, sis!'”

Then she sighed.

“The rules of cities and families are confusing and many.”

“That they are.”, he agreed and loosed his heavy belt and removed his swords, daggers, and knives, and carefully set them aside.

“And of course, I am confused now. I wanted to ask you, then and there but decided against it. You were in a meeting with the pigwigs.. or maybe it was the bigwigs, I am not sure which because both Cümeyt and Madina started laughing and giggling when I said pigwigs and neither of them made any sense after that and I was like, ‘This is a buggery bum of a situation only my Aager could untangle’, but you were at the meeting with the pigwigs.. So then I was like, ‘Girl, you must stop, like, now! You are like this clumsy bear cub that just stepped on a wasp’s nest and is now running around in silly circles with all the angry wasps on your tail!’

I did tell him, I would rather he never cut the other end of my name, though. Or anybody else’s. Can you imagine Inshes, Cüms, Mois, Mais, and Mads and Fards running around all day? I mean, we wouldn’t even have to be running, and we would still look funny and silly!”

Aager snorted.

“I would rather you all didn’t run around all day as Moi’s, Mai’s, Mad’s, Fard’s, and Insh’es, either. That would be awkward, indeed. And funny. And silly.”, he said with a smile, settled on the thick, pale beige carpet and on this stomach, pulled off his heavy leather gloves, grabbed a brown coloring stick, and started one all the tree trunks, and the lodge.

Inshala giggled again.

“Master Cümeyt thought it was funny, and silly too. So he laughed. In fact, he laughed so hard, we had to stop playing for a while. But his laugh was also very squeaky and funny, so I laughed too. Then Madina laughed because she thought we were funny and because I make this snorty noise from my nose when I laugh. Then mother came and grounded us because there was an important meeting going on with the pigwigs and we were making so much noise and being irresponsible! That sort of annoyed Granma so she and mom started arguing. Granma told mom the pigwigs wouldn’t even be having their buggery bum meetings if it hadn’t been for us and we could hear them all the way from our room and Cümeyt, Madina, and I thought that was a bit unfair of mom to have grounded us when they were making so much noise themselves.. I did also wonder why we had been grounded. I mean, we were already sitting on the ground. But I decided to let that pass too, as things were confusing and funny, and silly enough as they were and I thought maybe not asking would make me look more like this ‘pros’, rather than the clumsy bear cub! After all, I thought, I could always ask you.. when you are not in a meeting, and not busy, and not resting..”, she finished with a pout, as she picked three shades of blues and started on the sky!

“You could ask me now.”, he offered.

“No..”, Inshala said with a happy, yet slightly distracted voice. “..You are busy in a ‘resting-meeting’ now, with me.”

 

Aager laughed.

He just couldn’t help himself.

 

Yes, the story Inshala had just told was mildly entertaining, but it was the artlessly innocent, earnest, and seamless ‘commentary’ way she told it, followed by the unexpected conclusions that made it cute, adorable, and funny. What was more, was that Inshala was not telling her stories with the intention to entertain.

She was just telling them.

The way she saw them and comprehended them. It wasn’t all about her stories and how entertaining, or even fascinating they were.

It was how she delivered them..

 

When Aager told a story, he said it like he was giving an intelligence report; short, succinct, to the point, and with professional deliberation. It would start at point A, and end at point B, using the shortest, straightest, two-dimensionally linear path, and A would always keep B in his LoS —Line of Sight because that’s how much his A’s would trust his B’s!

 

Inshala’s recollection of events never went from point A to point B. They certainly never followed a straight nor a linear path because there were C’s, D’s, E’s, F’s, G’s, and a whole flock of other letters both related and sometimes, not so related, to consider, hence, were all brought into her telling, because outright discarding them was obviously not nice, and probably rude as well, as she told the events of her day in her soft, seamless, and ‘slightly confused’ narrative voice where she took point A into her small, delicate hands and bloomed it!

From there, things could only branch or ripple out, seeming to go every which way without any purpose or destination. She would reach point B, but never in an ‘eventually’, sense.

Her point B’s were neither here, nor there, but stressed in her telling and you just had to be deliberately dense or outright lacking any form of sentient perception or insight to have missed it thus thoroughly, or it came from an angle that had little to do with what she was talking about in the first place but ended up being oddly relevant.

The curious part of it all was the fact that things THUS FAR FROM THE POINT and LINEARLY NON-TWO-DIMENSIONAL were the very same things Aager Fogstep had truly, and unequivocally hated..

..until he’d bumped into one, Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane.

The counter-amazement to this was in the dilemma of how Inshala would rather be straightforward, to the point, and succinct like Aager had been all along, only if she could.

 

Aager certainly wished to never see that!

 

“I didn’t want to tell Master Cümeyt, but the real reason why I thought he shouldn’t cut names in half like that was because names have protective power of their own, and cutting them in half removes that protection..”, Inshala said after a while.

“I didn’t know that.”, admitted Aager.

“Not many do. This is why it is unwise to name certain evil beings. It might irk their interest and bring them upon us. Not something anyone would want, and it will give them power over us. This is also the reason why we shy from calling those we love by their name, I think. We already feel helpless against them and we fear we might succumb to them all the way, should we call them by their name, “, she explained quietly.

“Huh.”, said Aager. “Is that why you didn’t use to call me by my name before?”

“Yes.”, she replied honestly.

“But you are saying it now.”, Aager stared.

“Yes.”, she said again, her voice a bit smaller.

“What changed?”, he asked.

“Nothing changed.”, she answered in a tiny, abashed voice. “I have decided to succumb all the way..”

 

In silent contemplation, the two turned the picture around as per need and colored the lodge, the garden, the bushes, and the trees, the raccoon (who, against all expectations, behaved itself), the dear, the bear (which indignantly refused to kill and eat the dear), and the hawk, in unified trans, passing the crayons back and forth for the next two hours.

 

“Inshala?”

“Hmmm?”

“You once asked me when I would see you as a girl and not a baby —like a woman..”

“Yes?”

 

“Would you like to be my woman? My wife?..”

“..And be stupid together for life?”

 

Just like that.

Aager Fogstep proposed.

✱ ✱ ✱

Aager Fogstep, the silent, sinister-looking man in his dark leathers, hood, and mask, the Winter Knight of Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness, and Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane Bolgrig Hooman, the Lady of Durkahan, the Ritual Guardian, the Mistress of The Grove of Titania, the Queen of Mother Earth and Summer, married the very next day, just a bit after ambushing Lady Alisia and asking her blessing, and for the hand of her new daughter.

The wedding took place in Lord Delia Karakarsh’s own small, private chapel in the inner castle of Durkahan City where Ladies Moira, Maira, and Madina happily attended, while the young Master Cümeyt held the tail end of the pretty bride’s long skirt, merrily skipping and hopping behind her and punching the air with a victorious fist and shouting;

“Yeesh! You go, girl!”

 

Seated at the rear, one Lady Grana Maava smirked while her daughter, Lady Alisia, dabbed her eyes as she watched her Inshala join, in health and in sickness, up in the sky and down in the ground.. and for life, with the silence, spooky man, Aager Fogstep..

 

The ring Aager gave Inshala was handcrafted by the best gold and glass smiths Durkahan had to offer and was made specifically for her; a slim, extraordinarily elegant circular glass, quite indestructible, with a forest of very tiny, life-like flowers and vines, and even tinier motes of what appeared to be fireflies captured in it and smoothly framed with gold —all intricately molded and flecked with emerald, ruby, and diamond dust, and with both red and green copper.

Inshala’s ring to him was a simple, very dark, quite thick, blue-black thing with two fiery orange bands running around it’s surface. And between the seemingly burning bands, was a poorly scrabbled etchings that must have taken the skinny little girl hours to have carved.

 

To • My • AAGRR • I • Belong

✱ ✱ ✱

Far, far away to the east and in the dark, silent depths of the vast Ritual Forest was a rundown and abandoned derelict. Standing right outside that small, sad, and desolate hovel was an ancient oak with less than half her leaves and weighted down with snow.

A warm, happy breeze soothed unseasonably from the west and caressed the brittle branches of the old, nearly-petrified tree and the ancient oak shuddered, felling more of her remaining leaves. A sharp, precipitous crack echoed in the forest and the ancient tree split in two. With a great sigh of relief, Tamara whispered.

“She is safe, she is loved, and she belongs. You may rest in peace now, my love..”

And after some three fulfilling millennia of breathing life into her forest, the ancient oak toppled over and crashed with a resounding boom, adding to the derelict..

Tamara gave another sigh.

“You be good, now, Ritual Guardian..”

She said.

And died.


Tamara was the beloved wife of Master Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig who was Inshala’s surrogate father and master. Tamara was killed some eight hundred years ago, during the first Themalsar War. At least on one occasion, Master Cathber was known to have called or referred to the great old oak tree standing mighty in front of his tiny hut as Tamara.. Whether he was calling the oak, Tamara in reference to the day they met and right in front of the old tree, or he is being literal is unknown, as the only two people involved, Master Cathber and Lady Tamara, are both dead.

 

What Inshala etches on the dark, blue-black carbon-alloy iron ring may, or may not be a misspelling of Aager. She does know the secret runes and glyphs of druidic, and perhaps a spatter of elvish, but does not know how to read nor write common. Cümeyt and Madina are tutoring her some (possibly on Lady Alisia’s orders) and she has come far. Interestingly, the first word she asked to be taught how to write was not her own name.

Whether she does a typo mistake on the ring, or she has etched it so with deliberation is unclear. She does confess, much later (in the story: A ‘Warm’ Warning) how Aager reminds her of her saber-tooth tiger, Katana.

Hence, the possibility of the typo; AAGRR!

 

book 04 books dungeons and dragons duygusal groups serenity the plot thickens tundra walkers

The Man & The Wolf

The Man & The Wolf

Timeline:

Unclear.

Many, many centuries later.

Or perhaps before.

 

Sure, it would have been nicer had we known,
but what matters is that it took place.

Or that it will take place..

 

Damn..

 

 

The Man & The Wolf..

MAN: Are you awake, wolf?

WOLF: I AM.

MAN: How does it feel, to end?

WOLF: LIKE NEVER. I AM NOT MORTAL.

MAN: How does it feel to be one?

WOLF: LIKE YOU!

MAN: Do you even remember?

WOLF: I NEVER WAS..

MAN: How long has it been since you died, wolf?

WOLF: LONG ENOUGH.

MAN: Centuries?

WOLF: LONG ENOUGH..

MAN: Long have you gone astray..

WOLF: ONLY TO SEE MANY MORTAL ASHES SIFTING IN A TRAY!

MAN: Long have you abandoned your cause.

WOLF: MURDER WAS ALWAYS MY CAUSE.

MAN: Have you forgotten, wolf?

WOLF: THERE WAS ONLY ONE WORTHY TO REMEMBER IS GONE.

MAN: Thus, your winters have been quiet..

WOLF: WINTERS ALWAYS WERE.

MAN: Will you ever remember how it was, to have a purpose?

WOLF: SHE SHOULD NEVER HAVE BURDENED ME THUS, LITTLE MAN.

MAN: What does all life have in common, wolf?

WOLF: I SHALL NEVER KNOW.

MAN: Do you remember a little lamb once, wolf.

WOLF: LONG GONE.

MAN: She is, for you made it so…

WOLF: SHE WAS MINE, THAT I MADE IT SO!

MAN: Your deeds have slain her so.

WOLF: I SEE WATER, NO LONGER.

MAN: Wolves don’t cry.

WOLF: I DID. ONCE.

MAN: You are a wolf, no longer. The rabid have no ilk.

WOLF: SO THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO END. TO BE MAGISTERED BY A PUP!

MAN: And for more.

WOLF: SO EAGER TO DIE, PUP?

MAN: I have already died twice.

WOLF: THE PUP HAS COME AS JUDGE, THEN?

MAN: I come as executioner. The judgment has already been made, and the verdict passed.

WOLF: DIE.

MAN: Later. When my time comes.

WOLF: NOW, PERHAPS..

MAN: I have skimmed death. But never have I shied from it..

WOLF: YOU BARE THE SMELL OF A LAMB ON YOU.

LAMB: Yes. He smells of me.

WOLF: AHH. IT’S BEEN TOO LONG SINCE I HAVE HAD A LAMB..

LAMB: You have had your lamb. I belong to another wolf.

WOLF: I SMELL FEAR.

LAMB: But not of you..

WOLF: NO. I SMELL MY OWN ON YOU!

LAMB: We have come to bring wisdom. For there is nons here, wolf.

WOLF: THIS HOW I END, THEN, LITTLE LAMB; AS A WISENED WOLF?

LAMB: You have died already. We are here only to remind you.

WOLF: I MUST DIE BY MY OWN.. OR MY KIN!

LAMB: Thus, she said..

WOLF: AHH.. AFTER UNCOUNTED MILLENNIA, SHE HAS FINALLY UNDERSTOOD!

LAMB: Her vengeance always comes.

WOLF: AND NEVER TOO LATE.

LAMB: Upon yourself, you wroth your doom.

WOLF: HAH!

LAMB: Are you ready, wolf?

WOLF: I WAS.

LAMB: There is no tomorrow.

WOLF: ‘T WAS NEVER PROMISED.

LAMB: Did she grief, wolf?

WOLF: NEVER AS I HAVE.

LAMB: It is time. How does it feel to die?

WOLF: LIKE, ALONE.

LAMB: Your time is short.

WOLF: TAKE WHAT IS LEFT. I AM DONE, ALONE.

LAMB: You will never feel hunger again.

WOLF: NO. THE HUNGER IS NOW YOURS TO BEAR. LIVE.

LAMB: You shall be free, wolf.

WOLF: ALONE, WAS NEVER FREE, LITTLE LAMB..

 

 

LAMB: How one dies.

WOLF: IS HOW ONE HAS LIVED..

LAMB: You have lived.

WOLF: THEN SOON, SHALL YOU FOLLOW. I AM READY. ARE YOU?

LAMB: That is for my wolf to decide.

WOLF: LOOK CAREFULLY AT YOUR LAMB, PUP. FOR SHE IS ME!

MAN: She never was. And she never will be..

WOLF: HOW SURE YOU SPEAK OF IMPROBABLE FATES AND UNFORSEEN CALAMITIES.

MAN: She has a heart.

WOLF: SO DID  I, ONCE.

MAN: And a beautiful soul. That, you never had..

WOLF: IT IS I WHO BREATHED LIFE INTO HER.  I SHALL FOREVER HOLD HER CHAINS.

MAN: With your fall, shall she be free.

WOLF: I AM WOLF!

MAN: Now, I AM, and I claim no chains.

WOLF: I AM LAMENTING FEYNOX.

LAMB: And I am LA FEY.

WOLF: I AM NOT MORTAL..

LAMB: You are to his blade, what his heart is to my mine. Goodbye, old wolf.

WOLF: GOODBYE, LITTLE LAMB.


 

book 03 books dungeons and dragons duygusal groups serenity the plot thickens tundra walkers

The Lamb & The Wolf

The Lamb & The Wolf

Timeline:

Unclear.

Many, many centuries later.

Or perhaps before.

 

Sure, it would have been nicer had we known,
but what matters is that it took place.

Or that it will take place..

 

Damn..

 

 

The Lamb & The Wolf..

LAMB: Are you awake, dear wolf?

WOLF: I AM.

LAMB: How do you feel?

WOLF: SAD.

LAMB: How does it feel to be sad?

WOLF: LIKE A HUNT IN WINTER.

LAMB: Do you remember?

WOLF: I NEVER FORGOT.

LAMB: How long have we been together, dear wolf?

WOLF: NOT LONG ENOUGH.

LAMB: Centuries?

WOLF: NOT LONG ENOUGH..

LAMB: Never one.

WOLF: WITHOUT THE OTHER.

LAMB: And without the other.

WOLF: NEVER ONE!

 

 

LAMB: Have we been forgotten, dear wolf?

WOLF: ONLY ONE WORTHY TO REMEMBER IS HERE.

LAMB: Winter has been too quiet of late.

WOLF: WINTERS OFTEN ARE.

LAMB: Will they ever remember us?

WOLF: THEY ARE ALL GONE, LITTLE LAMB.

LAMB: What does all life have in common, dear wolf?

WOLF: THEY END.

 

 

LAMB: I remember a little lamb once, dear wolf.

WOLF: YES.

LAMB: She was alone.

WOLF: IS SHE STILL?

LAMB: You are here.

WOLF: I SEE WATER!

LAMB: They are called tears, dear wolf.

WOLF: IS THIS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO END?

LAMB: I do not know. I never died twice.

WOLF: IS THIS HOW WE END, THEN, LITTLE LAMB?

LAMB: All life fade. All things, great and small.

WOLF: DIE.

LAMB: And all that die.

WOLF: NEVER LIVE AS WE HAVE.

LAMB: Those who run from death..

WOLF: SIT STILL WHERE THEY ARE.

LAMB: Think they run from it.

WOLF: ONLY TO FIND IT SOONER.

 

 

LAMB: Am I still beautiful, dear wolf?

WOLF: YOU ALWAYS ARE.

LAMB: But beauty fades.

WOLF: THAT IS WHY IT IS BEAUTIFUL.

LAMB: More have come, dear wolf.

WOLF: I SEE THEM.

LAMB: Perhaps they seek wisdom.

WOLF: MUST HAVE SOME, TO WANT SOME.

LAMB: Do they?

WOLF: THEY SELDOM DO.

LAMB: Did they?

WOLF: HAH!

 

 

LAMB: Are you ready, dear wolf?

WOLF: I WAS.

LAMB: Hope is a tomorrow.

WOLF: NEVER A PROMISE.

LAMB: I wonder how they see me.

WOLF: NEVER AS I HAVE.

LAMB: How does hunger feel, dear wolf?

WOLF: LIKE, ALONE.

LAMB: My time is short.

WOLF: THEN TAKE WHAT IS LEFT OF MINE.

LAMB: Then I shall feel hunger.

WOLF: YOU ARE ONE. YOU MUST LIVE.

LAMB: Shall you never be free, dear wolf?

WOLF: ALONE, IS NOT FREE, LITTLE LAMB.

LAMB: How one dies.

WOLF: IS HOW ONE HAS LIVED..

LAMB: I have lived.

WOLF: THEN I SHALL FOLLOW. I AM READY.