Springborne Curses, Pt 2

Part 2 of the downtime triptych. These events take place between King’s Stoke Wassail IV and Mindforged Manacles I Hear player events.


Springborne Curses, Pt 2
King’s Stoke / Tassato / Necropolis, Autumn-Winter 380YE

“So what does it feel like?”

Her hands flailed while she stuttered, trying to find the words to explain. “It’s like…. Endless frustration? No, worse, more… It’s….”

Fingers ran through her hair, trying to calm her, yet the flustered feeling in her stomach continued to grow, until Vitória felt ill, rushing up to open the window, the cold biting air stinging  her cheeks.

“It’s…”

***

Everything came on suddenly–that was how it was with briars. There was no stealth, no subterfuge; it was direct and blunt and that was how she liked it. It was odd to remember back –it felt like a lifetime ago, when she wasn’t one– what was she like then, can she even recall? Vitória remembered it being different. She remembered that the perpetual confusion only came on after the ritual, after her wounds grew bark.

Suddenly, Briars! Suddenly there was this support network that drew her in, cared for her, wanted to help her. She could rely on that, she could count on it.

But there, like a missing stair — sometimes, suddenly, there WEREN’T briars anymore. And then what?

Suddenly, Vitória had very few people to count on, to be direct with, to be herself with, unreservedly. With anyone not of the lineage, there was always that attempt to hold back, to be ‘normal’, to be what they wanted to be. All the briars who had her back, kept her grounded, sane… they were all gone now.

Suddenly, she had no one to admit to, that she was struggling.

***

They hitched a ride along the road back to Tassato, curled up in the back of a cart in a mound of blankets and cloaks. It sheltered them from the biting wind that’s coming down from the north.

“Are you okay?” He asked, searching out through the blankets for her hand. Her fingers were cold, and he tucked them tightly into his warmer palm.

She thought about the question a moment, her eyes tearing themselves away from the forest around them, the forest to the southwest specifically. “Um… no…” She mumbled distractedly, her eyes peeling back to the woods.

“You’ve been eyeing the south since we’ve left.”

“Yeah. I just, am getting a weird feeling about the forest. It might be from Felicity.”

“A remnant?”

“M-maybe? No, probably,” she acquiesced. ” I don’t think I really realised, before… how young she was. And,” her head tucked down into the blankets. “I just want to keep her away from the forest.”

“Maybe it’ll pass once we’re outside the Mourn.”

“Maybe.”

***

Vitória normally knocked on the door; this time she shouldered it open. She untied the heavy cloak around her neck that still smelled of wood smoke and Stoke, and tossed it on the workbench that smelled of iron shavings and oil and charcoal.

She didn’t say anything, and her brother said even less, just looked up from his work, then back to it, continuing the obscure project he worked on– Vitória was too distracted to try and figure it out, and any guess she’d make would probably be wrong. But he made no comment, let her pace in the far corner, hop up onto the drafting table and kick her legs out, climb and swing from the overhead rafters. She watched him work, then lost interest; she meddled in the projects that she knew he wouldn’t yell at her for disturbing; she swung around a couple of his new-fashioned weapons, and packed up a set of armour that’s to be shipped off to its purchaser.

It’s only much later, when he wiped sweat from his brow, took off his apron and changed his shirt, and sat down for a moment that she moved across his workshop to hug him.

“Want to tell me what’s wrong, Sister?” He mumbled over her head, hugging her with one arm, messing up her hair with the other hand.

“Only everything except what’s right.”

He was the only one who knew that the only time she actively wanted to talk, is if the answer to “Are you okay?” was “No.”

***

“Marcella!”

The housekeeper ignored the call for the moment needed to place the last bag down by the door, then turned her head at the sound of rushed bare feet above her. Vitória barrelled into the banister on the upper floor, peering out over the stairwell.

“Here, Signora.”

“Did you send that letter I asked you to earlier?”

Marcella picked up her skirt as she climbed the stairs, as the briar rushed to meet her at the top, taking her hands in her own. Her fingers trembled, her eyes pleaded, as if clinging to a shred of Courage. “Did you send the letter?” her voice warbled out, stressing each word.

“Yes, of course I did–” Vitória’s fingers, so cold, recoiled from her, her eyes fearful, immediately filling with tears. “Signora, what’s wrong?”

The briar just shook her head, hiding her face before she turned and ran off back to her rooms, fleeing.

***

It was over a dozen hours before anyone could find Vitória. Marcella knew the usual places to look when Vitória disappeared — the theatre, her brother’s workshop, her office at the Chantry, her usual haunts for drinking or bar fights. It was only as the list dwindled that Marcella admitted to a shred of worry forming in her heart. Vitória ran when she was upset, but she ran to very specific places.

Eventually she returned to the Signora’s bedroom, following a trail of disorganization to the window, which was left open. Anyone else would have read the room and thought the occupant had fled via the window, and the trellis that climbed down to the gardens from there. Marcella knew better.

She walked into the adjoining closet, tucking down underneath the shelves of boxes neatly stacked and dresses hung amid sachets of vanilla. She very nearly missed the stock-still woman, curled in a tangle of skirts and a pile of folded winter-weight blankets.

“Vitória… Signora…” The glassy eyes stared back at her, unseeing.

“Why’d I say yes?” The voice was mechanical.

She edged closer, gently picking up a dagger tucked under a box within easy reach, and tossing it out of the way. “I don’t know Signora. Why did you say yes?”

Marcella approached cautiously, as one would to a wounded animal frightened in the corner, which might not have been that far from accurate. She tucked her frame into the space beside the briar, still too still to be anything other than worrying. Her fingers reached out to Vitória’s hands, clenched too tight for too long against the woman’s side. Her fingers were ice, and a touch to the cheek showed it too lacked warmth. Arms held still for hours were stiff, and there was no way to cradle Vitória in Marcella’s arms, too paralyzed was her form, unable to move.

“Why did I say yes?” Again, the hoarse croak from her lips.

Marcella couldn’t tell. She just sat by her lady, trying to warm Vitória’s form, frigid from either shock or fear or some combination of both, staring at the door like ghosts from the Labyrinth were going to burst through.

She would call for a physick later on.

***

“You should not go.”

“I have to. Help me with these sleeves.”

Vitória clumsily slipped the warm travelling dress over her head, while Marcella picked up the sleeve from the dresser.

“You’re not well. Please, Vitória, do not go. Frederick will understand. The Militia will understand.”

“I already said yes, things are already packed.”

Realizing her mistake, Marcella’s hand grabbed Vitória’s, holding it firm. She turned the briar towards her, made her meet her eyes. “Squ–erm, whatever you do, do NOT squeeze my hand.” The conflict in Vitória’s eyes burned dimly as Marcella waited for the return pressure on her palm that never came. “You can’t, can you? Your fingers are numb again.”

“Of course I can!” She waited, defiantly, yet still no pressure was returned. The briar’s face crumpled, a shaky breath the signal that she was distraught. “Why does this keep happening?!”

Marcella sat her down, perched beside her on the bed to slip the sleeve strings through their loops. Vitória stared down at her hands, loose and limp in her lap, as if her eyes could will them to react. “I do not know, Signora. Shall I go fetch Lord Frederick?”

“No. You shall NOT,” though her shoulders fell a little more, “Though I could not stop you.”

“Shall I discuss this with Duarte? He would be kind, understanding…”

“No… he’ll want to run some experiment.” She hiccuped, drew her knees up at the thought, and whimpered.  “Why did I say yes?”

“Vitória. As your friend,” Marcella took her weakened hands in hers. “Please, I really….” She paused to think of her wording, but Vitória shook her head, hearing nothing.

“I have to go. I gave my word.” But her fingers remained cold and still in Marcella’s hand.

***

As quickly as she could amid driving rains, she picked her way through the monuments to the Virtuous, passing the few pilgrims and dedicants brave enough to weather the storm to marvel at the statuesque and grand tombs of the Necropolis. The weather made everything drearier than usual, and difficult to see. The way was only half remembered, and more than once she doubled back when the path became unfamiliar.

She wished Civetta was with her again, brawling and bashing her way through every tavern along the way. Problems were simpler, then. Not that Frederick was not welcome company, but Vitória had been lucky that the tavern keeper at the inn didn’t recognize her from her last visit.

Her feet finally found the path that she wanted, ducking around a plinth and into the Tomb in question. The door opened silently on well-oiled hinges when she unlocked it. Only the sound of rain outside echoed in the space, and the stone chilled her, sapping the warmth from the air around her. Vitória’s hand reached into the dim space, feeling for the wooden chest that should be by the door, which contained candles and torches. It was not quick work to light a candle with her weakened, numbed, frozen fingers, but eventually she could spread light around the tiny chapel, then shut the door to the outside world, so she could finally pray in peace.

‘This is where I end.’ The thought should not have been comforting. Yet — Here, there would be space for all their names, all their remains. Two new spaces had already been made. Some day a space would be made for her own ashes. Maybe she would be remembered, as each of the names already carved were. Knowing where the story ended, if not how, she could handle that.

Her sleeves served to dust off the mosaic mirrors around each candle holder, and she took painstaking care as her hands picked up each of the jars of ashes and cleaned them carefully.

She knelt on the floor, surrounded by the engraved names of her family, and continued her devotions, that she would find semblance of grace and Courage.

Though all before me is shadow,
Yet shall Virtue be my guide,
I shall not be left to wander the drifting twists of the Labyrinth
For my brothers and sisters shall find me
For there is no darkness in the Path of Virtue
And nothing that we have wrought shall be lost.”

***

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E10 2015 – Prompts

Prompts and Impression drabbles from Event 10- Spring Equinox

Sister 

Every time she calls me ‘sister’, I pause. It cuts through everything in my head, and is a moment of calm where the world stops, but it is always gone too soon, there is too much chaos in my head and my soul. I know it means something but the fear is making me forget.

I am trying to reach out, so she will call me ‘sister’ again. It is important to me. If only I could remember why.

Brother  

When she thought back, there were very few times that Vitoria remembered fear. Oh, there were times when as a child, the jitters and demons would come in the night; but when the monsters came, she would go to her own monster. She would pad quietly, barefoot, to her brother’s room. Rodrigo would roll his eyes and tease her, as brothers do, but he’d never turn her away. He’d simply tuck her in beside him, and ignore that she was trembling, and she’d not mention the latest black eye or bruise from fighting.

It simply made sense to her. If you’re afraid of monsters, you find a bigger, more dangerous one who’s on your side.

But she was grown now, supposedly beyond those things. She had been through the crucible, tempered by experience and adulthood. Yet, these were Varushkan monsters and mora, horror stories made real by magic, and like that she is a child again, running away from her fears to find her brother; only how can she ask?

In the end she does not have to. Her monster is still watching out for her, as he lays a hand on her back, picks up her hand and squeezes, and stays with her until the fear is less real. He is still the most dangerous person that she knows, and he is still her big brother, and she doesn’t have to ask him to scare away the monsters.

Frustration – Civetta 

Please don’t walk away. It cuts deeper than you could possibly know.

I am surrounded by problems I do not understand, and cannot solve. I knew the world would be different when I came home, but I couldn’t prepare for just how much it hurts me.

I keep trying to explain, to those who ask how I am doing, that I am struggling with this. When I am asked if I am okay and I say, very clearly, “No,” I think you fail to see my frustration, at no longer feeling in control of myself, and lacking understanding of the world around me. I cannot admit it, and I cannot discuss it in a way that anyone would understand; the language is leaving me.

The only thing I have to cling to, is my certainty and loyalty in my family. Silly as it is, I need to know I can come home and my family will be there, that I’ve not been left behind.

Please don’t walk away from me. It cuts deeper than I could possibly say.

Nora 

She is an observant priest, when she tries to be, when something comes along to pique her interests. She watches, and she judges, she searches out more information even though she knows she’ll never be asked for her opinions, and she’d not give them without an offer of payment.

The latest thing to pique her interest was in studying a personality: the small tics, the tiny habits that give oneself away. The more she watched, the greater the desire to grab shoulders and shake, to try and drill in a bit of confidence where it was sorely lacking. There were small flashes where she could see the beginnings of assuredness, the makings of a Prince, gone all too soon back into familiar territory.

She listens quietly, her mouth occasionally opening but clamping shut, because she’s not been asked her opinion and this is not her story. She listens, and there are small seeds of hope that perhaps this pilgrim is starting to realize their own inner strength. Perhaps.

But Vitoria is never asked her opinion.

Duels – Magdalena

I’m mentioning it, suggesting it, and then there’s borrowed steel –Lupo’s?– pressed into my hand and another blade into yours.  We seem to be actually doing this, honouring this promise we made and settling this debt in the way we, as from the League, know how. We lost our chance before, there will be no missed second opportunity.

It does occur to me that this could be a very stupid idea. I don’t have to look around to know the family elders, the ‘responsible adults’ must be busy or have not noticed, for I believe none of them would let me duel a Grim Legionnaire, the reanimated by Winter, dead, soul-less corpse of Magdalena. But Gabriel asked me to handle this, and handle it I will, and if he’s not around to stop me…

“If there’s no soul there, then why are we not putting it down?”
“It’s not her, it’s something else.”
“Kill it quickly. It’s not a person, it’s a thing.”

Shut up, all of you. I need to focus. I need to learn whether this is a remnant, a spiritual danger, and I need to win a duel.

I don’t actually think I can win, and I prepare myself that though we duel, to three hits, as is traditional, you might strike with the strength of Winter, for I have no idea whether you are capable of control. I give you my all, and I think you do the same, and we are both surprised, when I land the last hit with the flat of the blade. The duel was very close.

You reach across, take my hand with your own, cold as ice, as a cadaver; we shake, drawing the line under the events of the past. We part not as friends–it is too late for that– but two people who might, under different circumstances, not have been enemies.

No, you’re not a Thing, Magdalena-as-was. I can show you that courtesy, before you’re ripped away again.

Balthazar

Come in, please! Sit down, help yourself to drink and food, get comfortable. You’re clearly a friend of Felice, and so, a friend of mine. You’re quiet, and you watch and listen, and I think there’s quite a lot that you see of the world around you that I should ask you about. Two sets of eyes are better than one. And when an actor prepares so thoroughly for a play as to bring a hand puppet, then the play is going to be a spectacular one and I want to be in the audience, if not the stage.

Welcome

I really wanted to do this right, and I wanted to do this at your Spring Welcoming — a new beginning. I didn’t want there to be the tricks of before, in Holberg; no more misunderstanding on both of our parts, over a small token and what it would mean in a culture that wasn’t either of our own. I wanted you to know it was from me to you, and not have it tainted by the thought that you might give it to Nora because that is STILL eating away at me.

And then we were mustering for battle and I couldn’t know whether I would come back in order to do this properly, so this brief moment is all I might have. But whenever I’m around you my words fail, and I get flustered, and I don’t know, once the present is in your hands and we’ve had to part ways, whether you understood what I meant by it.

I have the sneaking suspicion that you don’t.

Dramacrawl II

There’s just something so earnest about the little Dawnish Puppy that I find adorable. I find myself helping her instinctively, giving advice that most people would have to actively solicit with favours, or at the very least pay me to provide.

But she wants advice about that, and then I’m halting, wondering, trying to think quickly. No, little Puppy, that would be a bad idea, though I see why you think it would be a good idea, by Dawnish standards; it’s not how the League works, it’s not how this Camorra works, and oh dear I’ve turned my back to get advice and she’s started a dramatic scene. SUCH A DRAMATIC SCENE.

Well, it is out of my hands now, isn’t it? Best to sit down, and finish my drink, and enjoy the show. Because this is a fantastic way to start a Dramacrawl, with Gabriel taken aback and Serena with one eyebrow askew and Felice in the corner keeping her distance but watching with a sly, tripping smile.

I wonder if anyone will love me like this, one day.

Feliiiiiice

“Feliiiiiice….Felice, I know it hurts, but I need you to get off that fine naga ass right NOW.” My arms are gathering her up, getting her back up on her feet while she works through dulling the pain of injuries and we pull her back from the front line. Her fangs are bared as she hisses, plaintively moans and whimpers until she recalls where she is. I know she’ll be okay, as I pass her to Serena who supports her as we move. It’s my feet that step forward even as we fall back. It’s my sword that fills the gap in the line, my eyes that take on a darker expression while I look for anyone to make pay for the injury to my leash-mate. It helps me cope, and it helps me to forget the fear I thought I saw in her eyes, while the blood was soaking into her doublet and she thought she was alone.

A moment later and she’s truly fine, with fire in her eyes, and I laughingly let her lead back into the fray. Because it’s easier to laugh.

Masks – Tilly 

This mask is the only calming one I have. I asked for it to be made thus, to help me contain the Spring energy, when I couldn’t anymore; this mask is to show others and to remind myself that beautiful things bloom from the same stems that grow thorns and bark.

When you needed a mask, this was the one I gave you — I don’t think I would have given it to anyone else. But you understood, YOU GOT IT LIKE NONE OF THE OTHER BRIARS I HAVE MET DID, and you were so PROUD, in a way I am still learning how to be. In one short, frank, honest conversation of everything that I was struggling and worried about… you and those from King’s Stoke listened and you were, all of you, wonderful and beautiful and I wanted to be you, to be strong like you.

I am acutely aware, as I stop running away long enough to put this mask on, my fingers pressing the roses against my forehead, that you were the last to wear it, and now you’re gone, and now this mask is the only thing hiding the tears I’m crying for you and yours.

Understudy

“My cousin’s a Briar and I think she’s really beautiful, any of you weirdo Unveiled fuckwits got a problem with that?”

A play is never the same twice.

One of the earliest lessons Vitória received from visiting the playhouse was that you can perform the same play day in and day out, and they will always be unique. The moods of the troupe playing the roles, the mood of the audience, would always interact uniquely, play out slightly differently, with each performance.

Stagehand. Supporting Character. Audience. Each night came and went, and she had a different role to play each time. Except for one: the role of the leading lady, taking centre stage in the drama to follow, continued to elude her. She knew she was not required to play it. She knew it would not ever be thrust upon her unless she accepted it. But there was the expectation, the deep-seated desire within Vitória, that wanted to ONE DAY be able to play that role in the drama.

The first night, opening night. The first night had caught her by surprise, unaware. She could only sit, part stunned, part in awe, as Civetta took the lead role with a challenge to the few Unveiled and Highborn in the wayhouse’s common room. She wasn’t familiar with this play, so what else could she do but sit back as the protagonist laid down the challenge with well-honed wit and words. Tonight, she was audience.

The third night. A new Inn, with a new audience. They had barely arrived, just past dusk, when the play began, and she was cast in the role of supporting member of the dramatis personae. This fight scene had one star character, and it was Vitória’s job to distract when needed, watch her cousin’s back, add to the flurry of the action on stage before the hero proclaimed victory and the rest crawled or hobbled off to lick their wounds.

The fourth night. This was a bad audience, a large crowd, an armed playhouse. It had taken all her skill, what wit she had and what charisma she could summon, to steer the conversation away from any topic that would start the play anew. Civetta’s anger was quick to rise, and more than once did Vitória have to grab her hands, nearly sit on her, to keep her in her seat. ‘Not here.’ ‘Not now.’ ‘We can’t take on this many.’ And the worst line of all, ‘What if I was to get hurt? They’ve got knives,’ which left her feeling guilty for saying it, but it worked.

The fifth night. The lack of performance the previous night meant that the show would be bigger and bolder tonight. Tonight, it was in Cive’s eyes, in her stance, in the slight edge that her voice took, when her mask went on and the sun disappeared down the western sky. This was the performance that Vitória would HAVE to take a more central role. This one involved action, much more than before, and while she was competent in a fight, she was not her brother. This performance HURT. She had to check herself very carefully afterwards, that each wound was just a bruise, just swollen, and not a cut. She got lucky.

The seventh night. She was still aching from the last performance, but that was fine. An Actor draws on life experiences, good and bad. Tonight’s role was a speaking one, a third act challenge laid down by a Bishop, a challenge against the antagonist’s lack of Virtue, lack of Loyalty and Pride. Turning the pain of aching muscles and bruises into righteous indignation was easier than she thought. How dare they interrupt, threaten, a Pilgrim’s right to visit the Necropolis? To pay homage to family members interred there, to gaze upon the works of Virtue inspired by the Heroes of the Empire, and all for the sake of lineage? ‘Instead of challenging my inherent Virtue you should be looking at your own, at the Virtue of your brothers and sisters who keep waylaying these Pilgrims, attacking them, encouraging Hatred and Fear instead of the Way and of Virtues!’

She hadn’t expected that to actually work. And as she recovered afterwards, it dawned on her that perhaps this wasn’t the play at all. Perhaps this was only the rehearsal.

Tenth night. Another dramatic performance, another bar fight. But she was familiar with the plot now, and how they wanted the story to end.

“This is my beautiful Briar cousin, hands up who thinks she’s ugly.”

This night, it was the Understudy who threw the first punch.

E9 2015 – Prompts

First mainline event as Vitória Barossa.

Building Blocks

I know that something’s wrong just by the sheer amount of people in the tent. I don’t know most of them, and no one is telling me what’s going on and I’m not able to push past people to find out.

“Is something wrong, Rodrigo? Is there any more bad news?” Someone asks, I cannot tell who. I remain silent as I fight my way through, slipping through people the minute a gap appears.

“No… news…. For you.” My brother’s rasping voice makes me start; the growl to my left makes me turn to where he sits, glowering, snarling and inwardly fighting with something.

A flash of red behind and I look up to see Nora looking concerned. “Vitória…” She looks as lost as I feel, as I try to approach; I don’t know whether it’s bodies in the way, or how distant his eyes seem with internal struggles, but I can sense the gulf between my brother and I, and feel it hurt my soul.

I turn, looking around for the Reaper present that I had given him an hour or so before. My hands pick up the tray of building blocks that are nearly as old as I am, and my hands hover, turning, trying to pick the right block for the moment. The ring? The rune? His initial? The fox?

I hear a snarl behind and pick one quickly, turning and pushing it into his hand, closing his fist around it with a squeeze. I can only hope he remembers. I can only hope it helps. I watch as he clings to it, then I pull him closer to the light, set the tray in his lap.

“I’m sorry I don’t remember the order you like them in. You’ll have to set it right.” His eyes focus in on it, his hands moving in practised motions, familiar rhythms, moving the pieces around.

I leave him to it, with people I don’t know and some woman doing something with a glowstone lantern, but his hands continue to build and rebuild, and that is something to hold on to. I don’t know what’s wrong, and I think all I’ve done is buy some time. Fighting panic, I look around. I need someone to find Gabrielle, and I need to get more liao.

Brother 

I have done this before, I have done this a hundred times, but this time it is different. This time it is not me drawing the picture with the liao in my soul, I am drawn into the picture. And where one face should be, there are three.

The first. A tall lanky man in robes and red armour, dark and short hair, though his back is turned and he is walking away, a greatsword in hand that looks taller than I would be, drawn to light that casts a shadow on the form he leaves. But in the darkness behind, there is a sense of danger about the Shade, the Beast, that seems to superimpose itself over my brother.

Two where one should be, I cannot separate them. I see my brother; Rodrigo at his forge: focused and determined, creating, building, shaping. I can see the Beast’s frustration, and I know this to be my brother’s curse. It has no interest in this, in these blocks; it rails at them. It is something the Beast cannot understand. It wants only to lash out, to destroy.

The only other thing here is me, and I realize that I have made a terrible mistake. And as it lashes out at me I hear its whispers in my head and its claws digging into my soul. I hear all the things it wants to do if let free, what it would do to family, do to me. I hear it’s name for me, the role I am to perform in this play.

The next thing I know is that I am outside, and I could only be outside if I had fled. Gabrielle is there, holding my shoulders as I cover my eyes, cover my ears, and tell myself that I am not afraid of my brother.

But I am a horrible liar, and the damage is done, and I cannot look upon him for fear that it will not be his face looking back at me.

Mine

I cannot face this yet.

Your hands are so assured; mine tremble. Your fingers are steady as they tie the mask over my arm, securing it better than I could myself. You don’t ask questions which usually means you’ve already worked things out and I don’t know how that is possible because I HAVEN’T WORKED THIS OUT YET AND–

Breathe.

The masks we wear hide who we are, they are the faces we present to the world. I think there’s more symbolism in this act, this fox mask tied to cover the bandage underneath, than I am ready to confront yet.

And I think that I need to take my banner, and my fox mask, and my problem, and I need to run. Because if I stay any longer, this will not be a problem that is mine to confront. I need it to be mine just a little while longer.

Just until I gather my thoughts.

You’ve been there 

For FUCKS sake, Roberto, I don’t think I am asking for a theological debate or anything. I am asking for HELP. You’ve been there, been through this, you’ve had more than 4 HOURS to cope with, come to terms with, whatever the fuck one has to do with… THIS!

My voice is raising because yours is; I take a quick look out the door and there’s Nora and I wish I knew her better to be able to couch this in anything more polite than a hand gesture and a look that says ‘NOT. NOW.’

“WELL IS IT A PROBLEM OR ISN’T IT??” Your voice snaps me back and cuts through everything else. Is it a problem or isn’t it.

“I DON’T KNOW!” Because I don’t think it’s a problem for those I love. But, others?

“THEN FIND OUT!”

“FINE! I WILL!” And I storm out, because if I’m in that tent any longer I’ll probably swing at you, Robbie.

But I feel better. Thanks for helping.

Drama 

I cannot stop smiling at the dramacrawl, at my family, at the scenes and songs and laughter that has surrounded us tonight; For a moment I cannot believe that I am finally home, that we all came back from Reikos alive, and that this bar has good drinks and I have a full purse.

I turn to laugh at Tino’s conversation on masks and mud and there’s the flashing steel of a blade an inch from his throat. “You calling me a briar?” The Marcher asks.

And I can’t move. Frozen like the depths of winter, I can’t tear my eyes away from the steel edge of the blade that is nearly caressing Tino’s neck. There’s only about 6 inches that blade would have to move, and it would be pointed at the right target—my neck.

All I can see is the blade, but I know Cive’s the first on her feet from Tino’s other side and that hers is the next blade drawn. The Marcher turns to his side, to Serena, on the opposite side of the table that was full of laughter a few seconds ago, an age ago. His voice sounds clearer; I can only suppose it’s the settling of this tense silence over the family. “This is where you draw your sword and point it at her.”

“That’s not how it works.” Her voice matches the ice in my blood, and carries with it the promise of something darker. It carries with it the fact that this man has just underestimated what this family will do to protect their own. Then the blade is moved, the challenge thrown down, the family taking leave of the Nissed Pewt to finish this outside.

And I am still frozen, still sitting and staring at a now empty table. I don’t know where to look, until my eyes meet Serena’s. Like floodgates in spring, my face is falling and my eyes are wet and I can’t stop it, my mask can’t stop it, and she’s there to hold me and hug me, until we both must go stand with family and see this comedy-turned-drama to its conclusion.

End scene.

Leash (or What you are in the dark) 

It’s dark and clear and cold. I pull my shawl up and cover my head in the futile attempt to further hide my face from those around me until I can find a new mask to hide these conflicting emotions.

I know we are headed back to the League camp, and I lead in an anxious bid to return to safe ground, but a familiar tune catches my ear, echoes and remnants of lyrics from the morning stopping me in my tracks. I turn, and cannot breathe while the sight and sound overwhelms and my heart skips a beat.

It has been so long since I have seen a leash of Foxes. My leash of Foxes. And though this isn’t a battlefield, we have just come from a fight.

It is Civetta that takes my breath away, as she burns with restrained fury, resplendent in her mask, blood dripping from her nose. It is her voice that binds us together, her anger held in that drives us onwards. And the Camorra joins their voices to hers as we walk. Foxes don’t usually walk alone.

She looks at me, and without forethought I’m asking for her hand with mine, outstretched, and as she takes it and squeezes it tight, the leash is around me, encircling me as we walk. For tonight, for the first time in years, I am not alone. Thought you, my lord, that I had no kin?

Espelho

I’m stumbling over my words and it’s frustrating me to no end.  I look at your calmer, questioning, unflustered gaze and it’s making it worse. Heart beat is rising. My knees are shaking. Time to run.

You don’t need me to explain Loyalty to you. I know you can look around this family and see it in every single Fox. Or is this a test? Is this to force me to put into words what is going through my head, when ALL I want to do is put what is in my head and heart into ACTION.

I’m sorry, Cousin. Today, I don’t have words for Loyalty. I have to go.

Pride

I am learning more about you each minute I spend in your company. You are making me question everything I knew about Pride, as you search out your own answers with, let’s be honest, not as much help on my part as you think I’m giving.

I was intrigued by you, before. Then afraid. Nothing can convince me that I was not justified in my fears, but there you went, destroying them under the most… well, it takes something special to surprise a cicisbeo. I think you handled the situation with more dignity, understanding and grace than I could have ever hoped, and it left me…

Proud.

You can’t shake my Loyalty dedication, but damn if you have not made me consider things I never would have before, and in doing so, solved problems I wasn’t yet ready to face, was still deciding whether they were problems.

There’s another debt to be repaid.