King’s Stoke, Autumn Wassail 380YE, Saturday.

***

It is becoming progressively harder to separate out what is what.

It begins in the morning, at the first sight of the Jotun in King’s Stoke, when her one hand reaches for her knife, and the other draws Lupo’s sword from his side in a swift moment. But the grip is not hers — and she’s never fought with two weapons before. If only she could get them out of the village, away from the others! It’d be easy to cut them down like the harvest. Vitória asks why the orc is looking at her, staring– Frederick says a name, corrects her that that is not a Jotun Orc, but an Imperial Orc, a citizen, that she was with them in Kalino at the wedding. There’s a moment of disconnection — because she knows there were no Jotun were at the wedding, and Frederick would not lie to her. So what is true? That the orc staring at her is a Jotun infiltrator, come to threaten Stoke and her family, or that the man she loved would lie to her? The discord does not sit well, like missing a step on a staircase; it’s easier to ignore what does not fit the narrative.

When she finally gets her weapons practice, when Lupo finally obliges her, everything about it feels wrong. Her hands feel clunky, untrained, her footing unsure. She was never the best soldier or bravo in the world, but she’s not so… untrained as this. Youthful, unskilled like hands playing with father’s swords when he’s not looking. Everything about the weapon is wrong, everything about her stance is not right. And then there’s the push back, the surge of emotions and all of her fear is channelled to hatred, and this is no longer practice… the only moment the anger subsists is when Vitória’s blood is gushing out from just across her ribs, and Lupo is trying to staunch the wound with pressure. This is too similar to… something dark, unremembered. She’s unsure; her mind recoils in horror and it’s better to not think on it.

There is another bout of disconnect, after Beatrix has reset her nose forcibly, and she’s shaking and on edge and trying to be grateful for the help while simultaneously wanting to push Beatrix off the bed into a pile of mud when the same Jotun Orc who was staring earlier enters their borrowed house, is looking for Victoria Barossa, and thankfully everyone surrounding her is now as on edge as Vitória has felt all morning. The Orc has a message to pass on, urging her to not fight–too young, too inexperienced, and it’s all too easy to rebel against that wish. Gabriel is the one to step forward, run interference and draw the attention as if she wasn’t in the hut, and amidst the blood trickling down her throat and out her nose, she’s momentarily confused as to who is family and who isn’t. She could slip between Beatrix and Gabriel, she could be on the intruder in a moment’s notice — but Frederick, beside her, has his hand across her knife in her lap, his palm caressing the edge; one move and she’ll hurt him, and she can’t bear the thought, no matter the danger and fear pressing down on her.

It keeps happening, more swiftly, easily: Vitória passes Gabriel with a smile and a wave, while promising Grandpa Gregory that she’ll be back with her armour and weapons. She rows with her father– who’s also the Orc? This is the source of the discord– who’s still pleading with her to listen to him, to her brothers. And she understands, she does: of course it’s wrong to let a child go off to war, but she can’t make them see that there’s no use running from the incoming Jotun, that she’ll follow Grandpa Gregory anywhere and that she wants to fight, that she’ll never become a sla– at the word, the thought, she feels a powerful connection instead of dissonance, two souls working to the same purpose– never be a slave to anyone. Isn’t it better to die fighting, than submit and have no Virtue? Benedict is still rambling about his pigs, and Rachel–Bo?–no, Rachel is adamant that they would all survive if they joined the Jotun.

And finally, finally, the monk James gets back to her and confirms that yes, she is being possessed. It’s all Vitória needs in order to relax, and let it happen, just like in Ennerlund. Now she understands, she knows what to do.

***

“Tori?” Gabriel calls out to her as she passes, and she turns, smiles at him. “It IS Vitória?”

“Of course it is, Gabriel.” What an odd thing to question.

“Felicity? Felicity!” Vitória turns to the call, shouts back that she’s on her way.

“Don’t worry, Gabriel,” she tries to reassure him. “This isn’t my first possession.”

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