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Month: January 2020

Marches – Chapter 05 (Second Draft)

Author’s Note – So, I wanted to show the second draft of this chapter. I hated the original version of the chapter, but love the character of Romi. I wanted to bring it closer to how I hoped to change the story in the next drafts, and while I’m now working on a third. I really enjoy seeing the evolution of stories, and thought it might be worth a look for anyone watching along. I hope you enjoy this rewritten and revised version of my least favorite chapter.

The Fox’s Bastard

Mirabelle had found herself at home in the village faster than she had expected. The people of Milae were incredibly cordial to her, with an excitement to have her that she never saw in any of the people who visited her old home. She never knew the people of the villages outside of Towers at the Temple, but here – she was already getting to know people. Only a few weeks had passed before she had found a few she could genuinely rely on to help her with many things. Ervig, specifically, had been essential in helping bring her information about the region.

She had been lucky that the Astier owned two manors, as well. They had a fortified home atop a nearby hill, which was built across a river tributary and was where the family actively lived. But Chateau Ronic, where she currently lived, was the home of one of the middle Astier ancestors. From what she gathered, the eponymous Ronic was a leader of the village but otherwise detached from the family affairs. However, while the others were off at war, she was able to defend the village from an opportunistic attack. The villagers held it up as one of the pillars of their relationship with the family.  It seemed the family mostly used the manor as a place to stay when visiting the village now, but for the time being, it was hers to do with as she pleased.

She kept herself busy learning about the region and its people but made time for meals with Tienette. While she did not connect much further with Valamir, she did spend quite some time with Sarus’ younger sister, Cynewise – though she always went by Cyne. The two did not enough together for Mirabelle to consider her a close friend, of course, but she could easily see her becoming one in the future. Still, this isolation made her feel rather lonely. One day, that feeling began to gnaw at her more than usual, and she decided that she needed to leave the residence and go about in town, in hopes of clearing that fog from her mind.

So, with Coralie and Bastien behind her, she ventured out into the village once again. It was a day like any other in the town. A few traders had come into town that morning, as they did every few weeks. It was a time when she could get a few items she didn’t normally have access to – mostly dried goods from the coast, in this case. Still, she enjoyed looking. Every once in a while she would find something from home that helped her feel a bit more grounded. It was a challenge for her to avoid simply buying up more than she needed too, but luckily Coralie was always nearby with a reminder about her stipend.

Today was not unlike any other. The sun peeked through the leaves of the trees scattered throughout the village giving a little bit of warmth on an otherwise blustery day as the summer season faded into autumn. The people were happy though, the sun and early stages of harvest beginning keeping spirits high, despite the colder day. She spent some time chatting with some local villagers as she passed through, still impressed that she was greeted well nearly every time. Of course, there were outliers. A few villagers had let it slip that they’d prefer an outsider not be joining their ruling family – but she had expected that sentiment to be the most common.

Instead, even only a few months into her stay, she found herself walking the streets of the village with the same confidence she might have strolled the temple. While speaking to the baker, though, her ear caught a warning.

“Look out!” A villager’s voice pierced the otherwise peaceful day. There was a distinct, sharp screech of someone in trouble, then the sound of a scared or wounded horse.

Mirabelle felt a heavy hand on her back, the gauntlet edges pressing into her spine and forcing her back. Bastien may have said something, but it was impossible to tell. There was the distinct sound of steel leaving scabbard. On her other side, Coralie and falling back against her as well, both pushing her back and into the merchant’s stall. She barely had a chance to look to see the trouble. A pair of large draft horses had been startled, or maybe injured. She couldn’t tell. Their drivers tried desperately to get them back under control. Then there was a distinctive snap, the leather of their reins giving way under the stress. One of the drivers fell back at the change in force, losing his footing and smashing to the ground with a scream. His partner was startled, and the second horse’s reins were lost. Both horses tore forward. The cracking of wood followed as they stripped free of the cart.

Then the animals rushed forward down the street, panicked. Little was more dangerous than a frightened animal, and a massive draft horse on a busy street was a genuine threat. When they rushed down the street, people scattered. Mirabelle saw the creatures rush at a villager, one raring up and striking out with its front hooves. Luckily, the villager had been able to dart out of the way, but they moved fast towards the other villagers. One villager fell near one of the horses, who kicked back. “Bastien!” Mirabelle’s voice broke through the noise.

The old templar didn’t hesitate. When her voice called, he pushed off from her and rushed towards the villager. He raised his sword, both hands firmly gripping the hilt of the old weathered blade and raising it as a spear. With a yell, he met his mark – the blade sinking into the draft horse as it raised with a sickening sound. The templar followed through, pushing his entire weight into the beast. He was not a small man, but the beast was enormous. He pushed with everything he had and tilted the thing just enough to knock it back and away from the villager crawling to their feet. The villager let out a scream as the horse hit the ground next to it, with the templar now atop it.

That was all the opening that Mirabelle needed. She pushed past Coralie and rushed out to the villager on the ground. She gripped the villager’s hand and helped him up. Her handmaiden was right behind her, though. As soon as the villager had started to climb to his feet, she felt Coralie hit her in the back – hard. She and the villager stumbled forward, and she turned to see the handmaiden rolling out of the way of the other angered horse.

“Coralie!” Mirabelle yelled back to her as her eyes caught a glimpse of Bastien pulling his sword out of the creature and stepping away. Then she realized her mistake. One of the draft horses, the one still standing, had rounded back around to face down the small foreign handmaiden armed with nothing but a dagger. And the other rolled back to its feet, despite the blood pumping out of the sword wound in its chest.

She saw it then, the bright white bone at the center of each horse’s skull.

“They’re licorne.” Mirabelle almost laughed with a mix of excitement and fear. They were not just frightened and scared animals. They were unicorns, their horns carved off their skulls and forced into service as draft animals. They were bred for war, fighters from the day they stood to their deaths. She felt a hand on her shoulder, then another, the villagers pulling her back and off the street and to a nearby building.

Bastien let out a yell and hit the pommel of his blade against his shield. The loud noise drew the attention of the wounded beasts, and as they prepared to strike again, one of the villagers yelled as well, hitting a hammer against the wood wall of the building next to him. It drew their attention, and as the wounded licorne rose to its feet, the other huffed and beat on the dirt road with a hoof. There was another yell, another burst of cacophonous sound. The poor beasts seemed confused, and it was clear they were frightened. They wavered, and shortly after darted down the street and away from the noisy crowd, and twisted hard to move towards the woodlands around the village.

The few minutes after felt like a much longer time, but soon enough, Ervig and his men had reached the scene and were helping people get things back to normal. At first, Bastien and Coralie were reluctant to let Mirabelle help, but once they did, she found herself calmed by the tedious tasks of cleaning up a market stall alongside one of the village artisans. She had helped pick up some of the smaller items that had been knocked aside in the rush of folk trying to find a safe place to stand, but her eyes would drift away to Ervig from time to time.

The man questioned the merchants whose cart the beasts had broken away from, took count of their things and seemed exacerbated by the time he stepped back over towards the stall where Mirabelle and company still stood. Bastien stepped out to greet him, still standing with his blade out and a watchful eye on any around his Lady.

“What did you find out, Sir Ervig?” She heard Bastien say.

“Not much. They bought the licorne from a merchant traveling through Rane. What information they had would be useless in finding out anything. My instinct is that they had no idea what they purchased.” Ervig let out a long sigh, “I’ll be getting some hunters together to try to track them down.”

“Any skilled enough to bring down a frightened licorne?” Bastien asked.

“We’ve got good hunters. I’ll put up a bounty for them, and we’ll get them down quick,” He took a deep breath, lingering a moment. “A bounty should help speed things along.”

“Bastien,” Mirabelle spoke under her breath, quietly joining the conversation and drawing looks from the two men. “Get him the coin needed for a bounty from our stipend.”

“My lady, this isn’t a d’Argent issue. The Astier will handle the coin,” Ervig protested, though only half-heartedly.

“It will be faster if I do it. If you insist, you can have the Astier repay me…” She spoke as she brushed off her robes and smiled over at the shopkeep she was working to aid. “Besides, I saw the danger. I want to assist.”

“Of course, my lady. And we thank you for that. You are too kind…”

Mirabelle just smirked and shook her head. “I will offer double the amount if the beasts are brought back safely. I would like to think they could be reformed.” She stretched. “Coralie and I will walk through the village again. Bastien, go with Ervig, and get what he needs.”

“Yes, Lady d’Argent,” Bastien agreed, “If Coralie is comfortable protecting you on the return to the manor.”

“I am,” The handmaiden gave a single nod.

“And my men are about if you were to get uncomfortable,” Ervig added. “And I will have Bastien back to you quickly.”

“Good,” Was all Mirabelle thought to say before smiling to the merchant and going back to working for a few moments, as Bastien and Ervig moved off to handle setting up the bounty. She wondered if she had made the right choice, but didn’t dwell. As the shop was cleaned up, she said her farewells and returned to the manor for a time.

Two days passed before she heard any word on what had come of the Licorne hunt. The autumn weather continued to push colder, and with a seasonal rainstorm hitting the area shortly after, she found her spirits down. The lands here were beautiful in their way, and from the manor house, she could watch over the small village to the west and enjoy wonderful views of the forest and rivulets to the east. Unfortunately, the turning color of the leaves had been cut short by the pounding rainstorms of the previous two days. What had looked like a beautiful array of colorful leaves had been stolen from their branches, with only a scant few leaves remaining on the branches.

She had expected that their hunt for the Licornes had been cut short as well, made impossible by the rains and fallen leaves. She had little hope they would find it and resolved to keep a vigil for the beasts.

A beating on the manor door near dusk on that second day was answered by one of her servants, who returned to the commons room where she sat reading as Coralie played lightly on her old viol. Bastien, as always, was nearby but left the lady to her own devices and busied himself with other tasks.

“My lady, Sir Ervig is here to see you,” The servant spoke with a bow.

“Very well. Show him in.”

“Yes, my lady,” The servant said before stepping back out of the room.

Ervig stepped in a moment later, his normally thin frame looking even frailer when soaked through by the rains he had walked through to get here. He spoke up quickly, “I am sorry to bother you, lady d’Argent, but I wanted to update you on the hunt.”

“Calling it off?” Bastien spoke coldly from the corner.

“Yes,” Ervig responded with a shrug, “But not for the rain.”

“Why, then?” Mirabelle asked as she pushed up from the seat.

“A young woman brought me the Licorne this evening.” He spoke. “The remaining one. She found the wounded one had succumbed to its wounds, and ended it.”

“But she was able…” Mirabelle turned and set her book aside, trailing off as she turned to speak to the man.

“Trap it, and bring it to us, yes,” Ervig gave a low laugh, “In the pouring rain, deep in the forest, with a fresh layer of leaves. I’ll admit, I am surprised.”

“And who was this lady?”

“That would depend on who you ask, my lady.” The militia captain’s lips twisted a bit uncomfortably, a sort of wince on his face.

“What exactly are you implying, Ervig?” Bastien spoke up, more curious at the tone than most of the others.

“It was the Fox’s Bastard.” He replied.

“And should that mean anything to us, sir Ervig?”

“Right,” Ervig brushed some rainwater off his arms and took a deep breath. “She’s the daughter of Luc Cedolin du Rane. He was a marquis, across the border from Milae.” Ervig explained. “He was called le Renard, the Fox. Not because he was particularly cunning or quick, but rather because he had orange and red hair.” The militiaman pointed towards his head or the hair on it – which bore no resemblance of similar colors. “He never married. His lover died in childbirth, and he raised Romi alone.”

“Her father never granted her status as a full member of his family?” Mirabelle asked calmly, but quietly as they still stood in the midst of the room. She didn’t want to be too loud, to speak to openly and say something uncouth about the huntress who had just accomplished something she had frankly thought a nigh impossible dream.

“Unsure. When her father died,” The captain took a breath and crossed his arms. “She was only fourteen. Her cousin took regency of his estate, and she was officially named a bastard by the Duc du Rane.” He glanced down to the small puddle below him. “There are rumors that her cousin orchestrated it. But, in the end, she is illegitimate. By law, she is just Romi. Her cousin did grant her a small piece of land on the edge of our territory. But she mostly subsists by hunting and has a small contingent of loyal servants.”

“How many?”

“Significantly less than you brought to the village, my lady,” Ervig said quickly. “She is a kind girl, but of little concern.”

Mirabelle made a noise somewhere between a huff and growl. It made the others around her take notice, though primarily those servants that had traveled with her to Milae. She took a deep breath and then gave a little bit of a shake of her head. “I’d like to know more about what happened to her and her family.” Her fingers tapped along the side of her robes, and after a moment, her voice called out an order, “Coralie, have the servants find what they can from the village over the next few days.”

“Of course, my lady.” The handmaiden gave a quiet bow, her music fading as she began to stand up, “We will find what information we can.”

“And I still want to have a meal with her.” Mirabelle clarified. “Bastard or not, she is of noble blood.” She spoke with a quick nod. “And I look forward to it.” She seemed to have decided as she dusted off her clothes and looked to Ervig. “Thank you, Ervig. Please bring me a report after you’ve sent one to the Astier. And given it is Astier land, they may keep the Licorne if they would like, but if not, I would like it brought here.”

“Lady d’Argent,” Bastien started to protest, but a hand raised by the young woman cut him off.

“Yes, my lady,” Ervig said after a moment. His head twitched to one side for a second and he gave a smile, “My lady, you do recall you are just a guest here, correct? There is no need for you to worry about the day to day.” He smirked, poking at the young girl, “Or are you considering staying?”

Mirabelle frowned at him. “You forget yourself.”

“My apologies, my lady,” He replied with his hands raised for a moment. “I meant it mostly in jest.” He admitted with a smile to her, and then he gave her a bow. “By your leave, ma’am.”

She gave him a dismissive wave, and then looked over to the others, before returning to her seat and taking back up her book – though the pages rarely turned. Her mind was elsewhere.

Once the day of the meal arrived, Mirabelle set it upon her servants to prepare a traditional Cote d’Argent meal – light fish, sweet fruits and vegetables, and a stout bread. She gave them their orders and went back to her quarters to bathe and clean herself up. Then, once she had dressed in a nice enough dinner dress, she set about waiting for her guest to arrive. As the night began to fall, clouds began to fill the sky, blotting out the stars, though the rain did not return — only the chill of the Autumnal air.

It made for a dark night, and as the dinner hour passed, her servants began to mill about and see if she would decide to eat without her guest. She did not. Instead, she sat and waited. After an hour or two, she relented and allowed her servants to eat – but she waited. Night fell darker, and the deeper the time went the more she listened to her servants speak about how she was wasting time, that the girl wasn’t coming.

With the darkness engulfing the home, she had her servants light a lantern outside, and one for her to read by, and she continued to wait. As she read, she listened. Bastien’s snores from his place nearby her were perhaps the loudest sounds, but Coralie’s insistence on busying herself around the lady came in a close second. It was not as late as each seemed to feel it was that night. Only an hour or two had passed since darkness fell, but they were impatient.

When there was a knock at the door, Mirabelle stood and moved over to see who it was. Coralie rushed to stop her and to open the door herself, but the lady would not have it. She opened the door to greet the archer and her guard with a smile. She had expected someone more imposing on both counts. The Huntress was a small woman, with a rounded face and bright red hair toned with just enough light browns to give it the tawny or orange color for which her father was known. She only met her eyes for a second before the woman looked away, nervousness extending from every motion and twist of her body. Her guard was not much more impressive, a tall, lanky man with only basic armor of tanned hide and a simple spear. The only impact he made on Mirabelle when she saw him was the odd thought that he looked uneven.

“I apologize for the late hour, my lady,” Romi spoke with a deep bow. “Please forgive,”

“Not at all,” Mirabelle replied swiftly, cutting her off. “Hunter’s rarely come home until the end of the day, Lady Cedolin.”

Romi smiled and lowered her head. “Thank you,” She said quietly.

“Come in and have a meal with me. Your man is welcome to rest and eat as well, of course.”

“You are too kind.”

The two walked into the manor and found themselves in the dining room. The sat to eat and for the next few minutes, they found themselves merely exchanging more pleasantries, which irked Mirabelle – though her face never showed anything but kindness. As the conversation seemed to go nowhere, she opted to push the archer, to see what she could discover about her. After a drink of wine, she spoke plainly.

“Ervig says you are the daughter of Marquis Luc Cedolin – but a bastard.” Lady d’Argent put a hint of emphasis on the last word. “He is wary of you.”

“Ervig is…” Romi’s grip tightened on her cup, and she sighed, “Cautious, but correct. They call me…”

“I know,” Mirabelle spoke softly. “You don’t have to say it.”

Romi nodded and continued. “I live in a small home in the forests on the Rane border with Nid de Vouivre. It is a meager hunting lodge my father built. Something my cousin didn’t care enough to take.”

“You don’t seem to harbor much ill will…”

“My cousin is a fox. He is cunning and always a few steps ahead of anyone who faces him in a political arena. He doesn’t join conflicts he will lose. His case against my inheritance is ironclad in regards to the law. He has contacts at every level of the court of Rane and he can bend them with a few choice words.” She spoke with a clear bit of sadness. “Had he put his skill to something great, he would likely be one of the best of us – but he is driven by power and wealth.”

“Perhaps one day, you can secure your lands again,” Mirabelle spoke with a succinct nod.

“No. My father’s lands are rightfully his. As long as he leaves the lodge and forests to me, I have no reason to test him.” The archer shrugged. “One day, I hope to be able to sway him back to something more important than power and wealth. His potential as a courtier and leader is astonishing. His mastery of debate and the sincerity to which he puts his mind to the research behind arguments is inspiring – if currently misplaced.”

Mirabelle didn’t say anything. She was a little surprised. That was rather high praise for a thief and con-artist, but moreover, she was astonished at her sizing up of the man. “Tell me, what do you think of Ervig’s abilities.”

“Hm?” Romi raised a brow and paused between a bite of her dinner. “I…” She thought a moment. “As a military leader, he is talented, but his domestic abilities leave much to be desired. He tends to want to handle things himself and lacks the education required to adjuvate village projects properly. It drags him down as a domestic steward, but his skills with a spear are quite good. His understanding of bandit tactics and small conflicts makes him very skilled at defending a village such as this. He also has a knack for connecting with his subordinates.”

Lady d’Argent gave a little nod. She thought that maybe there was more to the archer than she let on, but this all but proved it. “Do you know this much about every noble in the region?”

“What?” She shook her head for a moment, and then sighed, “Well, yes. I have had to. Otherwise, how would I hope to keep my quaint holdings?”

“So, you know about the Astier family?”

“Yes, of course. As a regional power, and the nobles of the closest town to me, I have too.” Romi spoke softly.

“What can you tell me about Valamir?” Mirabelle asked, before shaking her head. “Actually, no. I know the Marquis and Marquise…” She pondered for a moment, “Romi, what can you tell me about Sarus?”

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Short Story – The First Magi

Author’s Notes – This is my second Short Story of the year. However, I think I failed completely at the idea of a short story this time. This feels much more like a prologue. The story here is only hinted at, and I don’t feel like it is a complete story. That all being said, I wanted to post it anyway. Maybe if people enjoy it, I might make it into a full fledged long form. I think there are some fun ideas to play with here, and it is always fun to explore magic systems. Take a look. I hope you enjoy. And next week, I hope to have a story that works much better for actually being a ‘Short Story’.

The First Magi

There was little age on his hands, few wrinkles marking the passage of time, but the tremor in his hand as he gripped a feathered pen was clear. This was a man who had seen time pass into memory for ages uncounted. It was the tiredness in his grip and the weight in his eyes that showed the wearing on his soul much more than anything about his body indicated. He took a long breath. His shoulders rolled to find a more comfortable seated position. His joints cracked just a bit as he sat up a bit straighter.

Those tired eyes drifted across the length of the library he sat within. A crackling fire in an old stone fireplace shone light across the large room, with shadows dancing across the countless tomes and scrolls that lay stacked in endless corridors of bookcases. This was not a flowery description or overly inflated assumptions of the size of the place, it was the truth – or as close to it as a Magi could ever get. The corridors of books twisted in impossible fashions, bending through space and wrapping around one another with no semblance of reliance on the bounds of physics. A corridor may have spiraled over one of the others, disappearing into one of the open spaces in a distant bookcase, and exiting through the back of another on the opposite side of the room.

His eyes caught his apprentice as she approached from a distance. If you had asked him a few years prior, he never would have considered taking an apprentice – but as she searched for a scroll or tome, angled as if she was standing on the wall from his perspective here, he couldn’t imagine having left her behind. The thought let his breath escape for a moment, a sigh. He tapped the pen on his desk and leaned back in his chair.

The tapping seemed to awaken a nearby piece of paper. It perked up like a curious, sleeping cat. With a small flitter, it lifted off the floor near the desk, and it was picked up by some unseen wind and brought up to the desk. It floated softly to rest just next to the man’s hand. He twisted his hand to place the nib against the parchment, and with a swipe of his fingers, the first trail of ink followed behind.

To the Council of Magi, he wrote.

When we last spoke, I submitted that I would not take another apprentice of the Arts in the future. I found myself unwilling to consider such an event would again present itself to me, but I write to you today to say that I have changed my mind and will be taking an apprentice. His eyes drifted up to the distant girl, who struggled to pull a scroll from its base just out of her reach. He shook his head softly and turned back to his writing, I have found an assistant who exhibits exceptional power in the use of magic. 

There as a clattering which caused him to raise his head. In the distance he could see her standing with a hand outstretched, a single scroll levitating under a silver sparkling wind as a mess of books settled around her on the pathway that spiraled above him. He shook his head.

“Alejandra!” His old voice bellowed out.

“I’m okay,” She squeaked out a startled response, leaning back to look down at him – though it was up from her perspective, and her neck was stretched back as far as possible to look at him.

“The books, Alejandra,” He looked away from her for a moment and to the letter. He rarely second-guessed himself, but this was one of those times.

“Right,” She called back. His eyes returned to watch her for a moment – and that hesitation was gone. She stretched out her hands and her a swirling silver mist raised up around her. Her clothes billowed as if she was in the wind, or perhaps falling a short distance, and all the while, the books rose from their resting points. They rose gently, twisting harmless in the shimmering gray winds summoned by the young woman.

He turned back to his writing shortly, his wrist twisting with the letters as he wrote. Despite everything the Council has ever done, despite everything they have said, her very existence has called me to question our leadership. In the thousands of years we have existed, they have spoken of one single truth. Humans are not able to weave the threads of fate. And yet, here I sit, He paused and glanced back up to view his assistant. A handful of books floated back to their spots in the bookcases as she floated just a few inches above the ground, her clothes and hair tossed around by the mystic winds that followed her hands and the direction they gave to return the books. He continued, watching as she uses magic for the mundane tasks I set upon her, having learned from little more than observing me as I work. 

Her potential is there and yet her existence is threatened by the very people who should be embracing her skills. He took a breath and glanced up again. He couldn’t spot her immediately. She had wandered deeper into the stacks on his task for her. For a moment, he hesitated. You. He wrote finally. He tapped his pen against the parchment for a moment before his resolve returned. He sat up straighter, his mind was made up. This facade ended here. Alejandra is my apprentice, let it be known from this moment forward. She will be the first magi of her kind. 

There was a reason he had steeled himself. Again, hesitation reached him. The line he was about to cross was worth it though. My duty to the threads comes first, and I will fulfill it to the best of my ability. Wrongfully holding back an entire people will not stand. You may hunt her and seek to stop me, but know that I will protect her with every ounce of my power. Any attack on her or her kind on her behalf will be known to me.

So it is written, so shall I take my new apprentice, and when her training is complete, she will stand before the Council.

“Sir,” Her voice broke through the silence of his mind as he wrote. He glanced up from his writing to see the young girl with a hand full of scroll cases, standing a few steps distant from his desk. She was shadowed by the flickering light of the fireplace. She gave him a weak smile. “I’ve gathered the scrolls you asked for.”

He started to speak. He stopped, though, and he nodded to her. “Good,” He said with a trailing of the word as his next question came to the air. “Do you want to be a Magistrix, Alejandra?”

She seemed to draw a blank for a moment, before her head hastily bobbed up and down, “Yes, yes, I would.”

“It won’t be easy. It won’t be safe. The art of magic itself is dangerous, and because of what you are people will try to stop you from succeeding.”

“I understand,” She said sternly. There was a confidence there. “So was life before,”

“This is different than people treating you like a mutt,” He spoke coldly, “Or living on the street. Those things are dangerous to this body,” He reached out a finger and pressed hard into her shoulder. “The dangers I speak of will tear at your soul. A mistake in magic, a lowering of your guard, and the very fabric of the universe will seek to erase you to repair the mistake. Even in success, you may find yourself at odds with powers most of your kind only consider to be mythological. You have seen some of the dangers I have faced.” He raised a finger, “There is no shame in choosing a life away from these dangers. Are you sure you are ready?”

She paused for a moment. There wasn’t an answer for a time, but her shoulders shrugged after a moment, “Of course not,” She nodded to herself, “But you said that you hadn’t seen a magi like me before. Humans weren’t seen as capable of using magic, right. So,” She glanced at him, her hands rubbing and wringing nervously, “It would be wrong not to take advantage of that. I think. So I don’t really have a choice.” She shrugged, again, a nervous tick. “I mean, I want to learn. It’s amazing…”

“Alejandra…”

His voice shook her to a bit of a truer decision. “Yes, I’m ready to learn,” She nodded her head hardily. “I accept the dangers.”

He nodded to her and lifted a finger to point to the scrolls and tomes she collected. “Good,” He smiled, “Those will be your first proper lessons,” He gave a dismissive wave, “Take those with you. Return home, and rest. We’ll begin tomorrow.”

“Are you sure? I don’t feel like I’ve done much today.”

He nodded, “I need to finish up some things here. So, you’ll learn nothing more today,” He looked past her to the entrance to the library, “Besides, some relaxation will make you a better student tomorrow.”

“Okay. Is there anything else you need?”

“No,” Was the only response. Neither said anything else. She stood silently for a moment, but then gave a quick nod and took the scrolls and tomes with her as she headed out. She hesitated from time to time, but eventually, she moved behind him and stepped beyond the threshold marked by large oaken doors. When the doors closed behind her he turned back to his letter. The pen in his hands tapped on the paper again, leaving some errant droplets of ink to stain the parchment. He finally put the nib to the end of the letter.

Justiciar, Magister of the Watch. He signed off. A small flicker of silver flame fell from the pen and onto the ink. It spread across the page and in mere seconds the document had turned to ash. He looked off to the distance, and for a moment there was silence and stillness within the room.

Moments passed before there was a flash of light, a blue flame appearing where the letter had been, and leaving a smoldering remnant that formed into another letter. This letter was different.

Justiciar, It said, You have made your choice. You are hereby relinquished of your council seat, and exiled from Magister society. You have chosen the enemy. We will not suffer a traitor, especially one who has fallen as far as you. Then, signed at the bottom was a simple, So it is written by the Council of Magisters.

He turned his eyes up again looking out to the libraries beyond. One by one the stacks began to spark with that same blue flame. Roaring fires soon engulfed the countless tomes and pathways beyond, riding through until they reached the points where the stacks met the library. There was no heat, there was no sound, only the visual representation of the magic tearing through the cases of books and tomes. Once they had all reached the library where he sat, the fires relented and faded. They left nothing. Unadulterated void stretched beyond, with no sign of the knowledge that had been within moments earlier.

Still. He was happy with his choice. She deserved to have one soul believe in her. He was proud it was him. It was a familiar feeling to be so alone from one’s own kind, and only fitting that she would take his place. She would become the next Justiciar, with or without the Council’s resources. With that thought, he stood and took a breath. He reached out towards the fireplace and slowly closed his fist. The flickering fire was snuffed by a silvered wind, and he turned to head towards those oaken doors.

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Short Story – The Answer

Author’s Notes: This is something a little different for me. I’ve wanted to try to write more short stories, so I’m giving myself a challenge to write one short story a week. This is a weird one, and came from a weird idea I had. I wanted to keep it under 2500 words, so I felt a bit rushed. I’ll get over that as I improve, and hopefully these will get better. Either way, I hope you enjoy my first Short Story in this very random series.

The Answer

The only way to explain the experience of deep space hibernation was to imagine hitting the snooze button on one’s alarm over and over, except instead of buying oneself a few more minutes, one was buying a few more centuries to fade back into the virtual dream they had lived within for so long. Of course, that was the original technology. A person would be put in hibernation, with micro-adjustments allowing them to experience a virtual world in lieu of dreaming. Over the years, the mind was allowed a few scant thoughts. To the person in hibernation, it was a short dreaming sensation, a fun diversion to pass the time. It was impossible to realize that the service was designed to reboot the brain over and over, moments before it faded away entirely.

The body was placed in a sort of coma for as long as possible. The thoughts were given as brain activity drifted dangerously low, and for short moments one was woken up before the body faded – but never brought from the hibernation fully. To the passenger, it was a short nap, but great distances and times had passed. It was the only way to exist in the great vast distances between stars. Connected pods would allow one to have some socialization.

This had not been one of those trips. A lonely night on the edge of a hill watching the stars was the entirety of the virtual experience, interspersed with strange drifting off only to confuse the dream and real life for a moment as the body rebooted. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it also wasn’t designed to be pleasant. It was solemn. It was a view that wouldn’t be seen again.

One dream, a word appeared in the sky. It was a simple digital text that read nonsense. The program had lasted as long as it could. As the garbled words spread across the skyscape, the vision faded to darkness. There was an instinctive deep breath sometime later, and opening of eyes and the slow realization that the dream was over. The real world was all that remained. The voyage, as it was, had come to its end. Waking was always the hard part. Drowsy, heavy eyes begged to stay asleep. Limbs struggled to move. But after a time, after a few long moments, there was movement. There was breath.

The Dreamer woke to the world of their starship. It was a cold place, both figuratively and literally. The temperature was well below comfortable, only enough to keep the life that it held from freezing. The lights were dim, barely illuminating the plain metal bulkheads and accessories of the room. Wires and straps held the dreamer to a bed, where their body had lain for the duration of travel. As they woke, they slowly removed the straps and tubes one by one, and eventually sat up. It was strange to see their body again.

They were younger than they felt, aging slowed by the unnatural coma that guided them safely here. In the dream, the Dreamer had aged as they would have expected. Their body grew and grayed on that hill under the stars, but here, they had remained frozen at the moment they had gone to sleep – give or take a few years from the short restarts. After a few short, unbalanced breaths, they turned to twist. Their hips wobbled on the bed, their hands catching the edge and keeping them from falling but only just. Their legs swung weakly off the side, and with a small push, they tried to lift off.

In a low gravity situation, this was easy. It was lucky, though. The strength in their legs likely wouldn’t have held up their form. They had one goal for now. Every long sleep required a wake-up period. Though they didn’t know how long they had laid there struggling to wake from the dream, they knew what to do after.

On a counter near the bed where they had slept was a small box. It was not labeled and showed no signs of movement for a long time. There in the room, it had been kept in the same brutal stasis they had been.  They opened the box and glanced across the items with a small sigh. It was a series of small tubes and a small syringe to use them. This was the cocktail that would eventually bring them back to the land of the living. The feeling of the vials in their hands, the needle against their skin, the slow sting of something entering their body, all were part of sensation that had been left behind so long ago. Now, suddenly it was back. Their body responded slowly. There was a bit of warmth, a bit of energy, an illusion of health returning. It would be a long time before that strength returned.

Then, they reached out to the counter. They pulled themselves along the counter, floating through the small room towards a sealed door. The console at its side lit up as they approached. The dim blue light was almost brighter than any of the others that had been illuminating the place before. It made a weak chime and with a resounding hiss, the door cracked open. The atmosphere spilled out of the small room and into the others within the ship beyond that door. A loud, droning hum vibrated along the bulkhead walls as the ship lumbered back to life. Faded lights flickered a bit brighter, and for a moment. They were waking up.

They reached out and grabbed one of the many small handholds near the now opened door. This was no massive ship; it seemed to be little more than these two rooms, at least that was accessible. The room they pulled themselves into was the control room, with powered down control panels lining each side, and most importantly the large transparent viewport that looked out into the space around them. In all their years, all their experiences, they had never experienced a view like this, though.

There was nothing. No stars lit the sky beyond. There was no glowing dust lit by dim stars in a distant sky. For the first time, they felt a strange sensation. It was a growing excitement. For a second, the realization that there had been a success with the plan was there. They had made it.

But the realization of success was followed by a growing dread. There was a small red light on the cockpit controls. Their fingers ran across the light, and the machine chimed at the touch. The sound was calm, uncaring. It made the light chime and blink, checking for signals beyond the small room they inhabited.

The waiting for a return signal and despite every technological advance they had, could take some time. For days, they hovered around the room, waiting for a response, hoping for a response. There was nothing to do but wait. There was no science to be done, no tests to be run. The outside, everything beyond the ship was gone. There was hope that they were not the only ones to reach the End.

Time had lost much of its meaning. The grim realization set in that they might have been alone. There was no response. No signal from the others driven to explore this far. There was no sign of life or much of energy out beyond this place. They had reached the end, and for a moment, recorded what had happened.

As time wore on, there were creaks and sounds within the ship. The ancient creation had been running out of time for many thousands of years. Now, beyond the edge of eternity, it felt that the final stage of existence. Even the forces of nature which held it together had begun to decay. They too weakened, the energy of life slowly fading from existence with them. One by one, the systems of the ship shut down. They always strove to keep that single red light on the console powered, a signal beaming out to the world around them that there was still life. There was always hope that someone out there faired better, that they would know others survived and be able to learn from them.

The truth, they had long ago realized, was that they were the last.

When that light in the ship faded away, and the console grew dim, they knew it was over. With a silent resolve, their eyes closed, and they waited to fade away with the rest of the universe.

Then for a time, there was only silence. They let themselves drift away.

Until there was a voice.

“Hello?” The voice was familiar but foreign. They could not place it. Perhaps it was a memory or an amalgam of them. Or so they thought – until it continued. “I let myself in, I hope you don’t mind. Oh,” The voice was paired with a tap on the bulkhead nearby, “Dozing off. Did I get here too late?”

Their eyes drifted open. They were heavy, barely able to move. Seeing the source of the voice would be impossible. There was no light. Though, when they opened their eyes, there it stood holding a flickering light.

The source was an old man. He wore a warm smile, with cheeks rosy from the cold of the ship as its power failed. He had a long, white beard and a head full of white hair. His face was plump, with the rest of his body large. There was nothing about him that looked as if he should have been there. He didn’t wear a spacesuit, instead wearing an old-fashioned fur-lined jacket over stereotypical winter clothes. He leaned against the bulkhead, with his free hand holding an old gas lantern that bathed him in dull light. They could see his breath.

“Not a talkative one, I see,” The man laughed and leaned down. “Mind if I sit with you?”

He didn’t wait for an answer, he sat down next to them, leaning against the bulkhead. They could hear the lantern as it was placed on the deck plating. They heard the man sigh and felt him turn towards them.

They hadn’t spoken in so long, and they struggled to do so. Their voice was weak, barely above a whisper. “You aren’t real…”

“That’s an odd thing to say,” He responded.

“It is impossible for you to be here…”

“I could say the same to you,” The man responded. “You sought and found the end of time, in a machine designed to reconstitute itself over and over, with little more than debris caught falling into the last black holes, and the hawking radiation from their deaths…” He laughed a bit, “It seems we’re both impossible.”

They didn’t say anything for a moment. That was impossible for him to have known, and with no entrance or exit to this craft, it was impossible for him to have entered. Yet, they indulged their delusions, “You’re a figment of my imagination.”

“I hope a comforting one, at least.” The man said as he rested a hand on their shoulder. They didn’t say anything. They didn’t respond. There was no reason to do so. After a few moments of silence, the man opted to continue. “Well, either way… I was surprised to see you made it this far. There shouldn’t have been anything left, but here you were. Your people were always explorers. That’s what I liked about them.”

“You liked that about them?”

“Yes. Think of it… from the moment they began, they sought to explore. First out of the ocean and onto land. Into the trees. Beyond their forests, and into the fields. Across their seas, beyond the livable places in the world. When they couldn’t explore their world, they explored themselves. Eventually, they explored their solar system, then beyond. Their galaxy. The next. They always sought the next exploration. And that drove them to keep exploring. Beyond everything. To the end of everything.”

They heard the voice and shook their head. “You say that like you knew them.”

“I did. Say you are right, and I am a figment of your imagination…” The man spoke. His hands rose and fell with his words, brushing and tapping against them as he looked out into the nothing. “Then, I – like you, I suppose – am of them. I have the memory of everything that came before for your people. I know them because I was born from them. From their explorations, their explorer.”

“Why are you here?” They asked, changing the subject away from the bigger picture.

“I saw there was still a spark where their shouldn’t have been, so I came to investigate.”

“You saw?”

The man nodded, and a smile crept across his face. “Yes. I was shutting everything down. Turning off the last of the lights on this universe, and saw you.”

“Of course,”

“You don’t believe me. That’s fine,” He said with a smirk, “I could be the last neurons in your mind firing as you fade away.”

“That, I believe,” They said quietly.

“What did you hope to accomplish out here?” The man asked quietly.

They turned to face him and paused. Their eyes were weak, and their head shook lightly. “We didn’t know… what happened next. Someone needed to see it.” They put a hand on the bulkhead and tried to push themselves up a bit, but there was no movement. “Someone needed to see what happened.”

“Why?”

“Just…” They paused. The question lingered unanswered in the air. There was no real answer to it, not that they could find at first. Then, it came to them. “Just in case we were wrong…”

The old man smiled. They had never seen such a wide smile. “That’s the perfect answer. And, it sums up why I do it too…” He patted them on the shoulder. “I’ll leave you be for now. You might want to wake up, just for a minute, though. Or you’ll miss the end.”

They no longer felt him there. After a single blink, there was only darkness and silence again. They were alone at the end of time. There was no light, no lantern, no old man. But their view was drawn to the outside world, or where that should have been. They watched for some time but felt themselves struggling to stay awake.

Then, they saw it. They saw the end. It was a single moment that made a warm smile cross their lips, and as that smile crested their eyes closed.

And the world ended.

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Marches – Chapter 09

Author’s Notes – So, nine chapters in and we finally reach the wedding. This is a key chapter, the final crossing of a threshhold and losing her connection to her old family, forever tied to this new family. While modern concepts of marriage can’t help but seep in a bit, this is designed as a medieval style of political marriage. She can’t risk getting a divorce without a good reason, or it endangers her homeland – but does she even care about her homeland anymore? Should she? All in all, this is an important chapter, and one I feel that I glossed over too much in this original draft. In the new version, I plan on holding here a bit long to explore those questions more.

The Wedding of Sarus Astier and Mirabelle d’Argent

Those days passed quickly. Like a summer storm coming onshore, she felt it so distant until it had arrived. Then she felt as though a weight had fallen on her chest. She couldn’t explain it, but nerves had almost completely overwhelmed her. About a week before the actual event, the Astier all left Milae. Every single one of them, and all their guards. Then it was just her and her family. Romi came to Milae a couple of days before the event to stay with her as well.

When the day finally came, she felt herself shaking. The entire day her hands trembled and she felt a weird mix of fear and anxiety. This wasn’t a man she loved, it was a man she had met only once and that was a secret. Now, she was to be bound to him. It would be expected of her to have his children. It was something she had rarely imagined. He seemed kind enough, but the stories of him were of a man who would find his goal and set upon it. She had chased off the thoughts of that possibility, that she was just a goal, so many times. She had agreed to this, but she was not prepared.

That morning, before the sun had even begun to peek over the horizon, she was joined by her sister, Romi, and a small legion of handmaidens led by Coralie. She was given a warm, perfumed bath. A priestess of Lune arrived during and after her bath, she was anointed and blessed for the coming nuptials. They worked on her hair and it was brought into a meticulously maintained style adorned with fresh flowers. Then for what felt like hours she was pulled into the elaborate wedding gown that had been made for her. It was a flowing gown, designed to exacting specifications by the tailors of the village, with outerwear brought from Ava. A silver-lined corset was tight around her, and her gown trailed for meters behind her. A blue capelet was draped over her shoulders. She was given a few bracelets brought by the families, her d’Argent signet ring was worn on her right hand, and what must have been a full pound of necklaces and pendants draped from her neck. She barely felt like herself with everything on like this. A silver circlet with the symbol of Lune centered on her forehead was slipped on. The veil was last. The blue silken fabric was attached to the circlet in the rear and draped forward across her face. Once all that was set her handmaidens moved off to help her sister and Romi change.

Then she was left alone. For the first time in her life, perhaps, there was no one with her. Even Coralie had left to help the others. Bastien was outside, within range of her voice to be sure. Just her. She looked at the small silver mirror that had been given to her, staring back at the woman’s reflection there. She rarely even imagined this day, let alone like this, or that she would actually be going through with it.

After a few moments though, the priestess returned. She closed the door behind her softly and moved to join the lady. She stood quietly for a moment, before finally speaking. “My lady, are you ready? The sun will soon be rising.”

“Everyone else is ready?” Mirabelle asked.

“Yes, Lady Cedolin and Marquise Girardine are awaiting you just outside. Sir Bastien and Marquis Girardine have your honor guard ready to move out, and the carriage is prepared for you.”

“I suppose we’re ready then.”

“Is there something wrong, my lady?” The priestess spoke softly.

“No. Just nervous,” Mirabelle spoke quietly. “Actually.” She admitted, “Has there been any word from mother or father?”

The priestess gave a small sigh and shook her head. “No, my lady.” She bowed. “Your father is…”

“Don’t you dare make an excuse for him.”

The priestess stopped and just gave a nod. There was a pause, “I meant no disrespect, my lady.”

“I am one of the Fille de Lune. The Grand Magister of Lune isn’t going to come to my wedding.” Mirabelle spoke as she stared into the mirror. She set it aside with a long sigh.

“You are a Fille de Lune. Lune chose to bless you, my lady. I am sorry your father won’t be here.” The priestess gave a quiet bow to her.

“Speak no more of it,” Mirabelle spoke as she rose, and headed out of the room without another word. The priestess followed behind closely but made no attempt to speak to her again.  She walked through the manor, angry at the conversation and terrified of the steps she would make today at first, but it wasn’t something she could keep up. As she walked the servants of the home bowed and wished her well.

When she stepped out of the manor, she lost her breath. She barely noticed the cold because of the sight. A carriage covered with thousands of flowers sat waiting for her. The Knights of Tirmont sat atop their armored horses in bright ceremonial armor and capes prepared to escort her. There was Bastien too, standing at the carriage door in freshly polished armor. The old templar’s lip couldn’t hold back a smile.

“My lady.” He said with a bow, and a smile he couldn’t hold back, “I know this old templar has done nothing to deserve the honor,” He spoke as handmaidens rushed to pick up the trail of her dress before she reached the road. “but please allow me to escort you to your wedding. Your grandfather awaits you there.” She just smiled and nodded, and then moved to the carriage. He helped her up and then joined her in the carriage, where Romi and Roheis awaited her.

There was a sound then, a shout from the honor guard, and then they were moving. The village was a little way from the top of the hill and the Chateau de Astier. She sat for almost an hour, chatting quietly with her sister and friend, but nothing slowed her nerves it seemed. Shortly after dawn finally broke, there was another shout, and they stopped. She took a breath and knew what that meant. They were at the Chateau.

She felt her heart skip a beat or two, her pulse starting to race. She heard a voice. “My lady?” She glanced around, and then looked to the door. Bastien leaned over and opened it, and one of the knights sat nearby. “We are ready, on your order.” He spoke as his horse adjusted under him. “The rest of the way is prepared for you.”

She nodded. “I am ready.” Her voice cracked as she spoke.

“As you wish.” The knight replied, “Honor guard, dismount.” He barked up at the other knights.

She waited, listening to the sounds of the knights dismounting and taking up position around her carriage. They waited for her. She must have hesitated because she felt a hand on her hers. “We’re with you, my lady,” Bastien spoke with a squeeze of her hand.

She nodded and stood. Then, Bastien stepped out of the carriage to help her down. As she stepped down and out of the carriage, she felt a tug on her dress as the handmaidens worked to lift it for her and keep the trail off the ground. She paused to let them work and at that moment she looked at the ground first. The frost still hung on the ground, but she did not stand on dirt. The path had been laid for her – a path of flowers and branches of trees, and just ahead of the carriage a long cloth runner leading to the Chateau. This was a home she had not seen before. For the first time, with the sun rising behind the mountains, she saw it.

Atop the hill overlooking Milae was a small castle. Lining the road to its gate was a grove of willows, not unlike the village it oversaw. The gate itself was of great red timber, capped with iron. The stone walls stretched around the grounds, and she could hear the river running through the castle from here, trickling down the rocks and feeding into the greater rivers in the region. She could see the peak of the old temple over the walls as well. This was no temple of Lune, but a temple of Erthus, another goddess. The goddess of the forest, so it made sense there was a temple to her here, though she thought it strange the altar was in the castle walls.

She took a breath and her eyes lowered to the people. The road was lined with citizens of Milae and the other villages and hamlets in the province, and just beyond the walls were all the nobles seated and waiting. For her.

That was a terrifying thought.

She felt Bastien brush a hand on her back. “My lady, after you.”

She nodded and began to walk forward. The road was not long, but she took her time. As she passed the carriage, a cheer went up from the crowd. It startled her a bit and she saw the nobles begin to stand. She walked a few more paces before the Knights suddenly stopped and a small group of men approached from one side of the line.  They were ready to defend her it seemed.

“Knights of Tirmont,” Ervig called out to them, dressed as fine as she had ever seen him – with clean mail and a long black cape. His men, however, still looked as ramshackle as ever. “The men of Milae ask that we be granted the honor of escorting our Lady d’Argent alongside you.”

The Knights did not respond at first. So, Mirabelle nudged Bastien. “Knights, her lady would bid you accept.” He responded at the nudge.

“Then we shall. The Knights of Tirmont are honored to stand alongside the Men of Milae.” The Knight closest to them called back.

Ervig waved his men forward, and they moved to join the Knights. The dichotomy of the two was undeniable. The fine armors shined against the patchwork leathers worn by the men of Milae, but they stood no less proud than the knights of the honor guard. Then once again they moved forward. The people continued their cheers. The weight kept growing on her shoulders.

There in the gate was her grandfather though. The old man wore his noblest of clothes and an old tarnished longsword at his hip. He couldn’t help but smile when she walked up towards him, his eyes welled with tears. He stepped forward.

“Sir Bastien, Knights of Tirmont, and men of Milae. Thank you for the protection of my granddaughter.” He spoke softly as he stepped forward. “Please, allow me to take you the rest of the way, little one.”

“Of course.” She replied.

“Your grace,” Sir Bastien spoke with a nod. “She is in your care.” He took a clenched fist and hit his chest.

Mirabelle stepped forward, and her grandfather offered an arm to her. She linked her arm in his and they walked through the gates. There were the nobles, banners from so many houses lined the inside of the walls. Her eyes widened at one though. It was a gold shield with a black cross potent center and a blue rose above the potent, with a silver crown above the shield itself. She felt herself take a sudden, gasping breath – but didn’t even have time to panic before her arm was panted.

“Don’t worry about the charges, Mirabelle,” He said quietly, and gave her arm a little squeeze.

She nodded, and they kept walking forward, between the standing nobility on all sides of her. Her eyes finally rested on the front of the event, where two men stood. The priest of Lune, and her betrothed. He was dressed in reds, mostly, but wore a warm furred cloak – and he had his sword at his hip. She felt herself smile at him, but she knew no one would see that. She took a breath as she felt her grandfather stop. This was it.

“This is Lord Sarus Astier,” The priest called down to them. “Son of Marquis Valamir Astier.”

“This is Lady Mirabelle d’Argent, granddaughter of Duc Leufroy d’Argent.” Her grandfather responded.

The priest gave a nod, and for a split second, she saw a displeased look on his face. “And you give her this day of her wedding?”

“She is Fille de Lune. By the grace of Lune, I have had the honor to escort her.” He turned to her, “Today, she makes her choice alone. And I will support it.”

“My lady, d’Argent.” The priest took a deep breath. “Do you willingly come this day?”

She swallowed, and for a moment considered saying no. The whole thing was arranged, for political gain. Her family would be dishonored if she refused, and she knew that going in. But today, today she felt sure that this was the right path for her. She gave a squeeze to her grandfather’s arm. “Yes. I come willingly.”

“Then please, join your betrothed.”

She nodded and stepped forward, but her progress was stopped. Her grandfather pulled her back to steal a quick hug from her. She moved forward and stood next to Sarus for a moment. Her eyes drifted down to the ground below her, but more specifically her hands. She heard the priest start to speak.

“Your Majesty, your graces, lords, ladies, men, and women – you come here today for the joining of two souls this day, the first of spring under Lune’s new moon. This is a time for new beginnings, rebirth, and we are blessed to have such a day to behold a union such as this. Two great families, the Astier and d’Argent will be joined, for the betterment of both and for the Republic itself moving forward. Our blessed daughter of the moon joins here today her life to the heart of wyverns.” The priest’s voice boomed over them. She stopped listening though, just watching her hands. They were still shaking. She was shaking.

Maybe the cold had finally gotten to her, or maybe it was just the nerves she couldn’t shake. The fear that this was the wrong path, that she had made a poor choice, that her life was over. All these things raced through her mind. The idealist and romantic in her feared that this was not a man she could love, that she would be alone, relegated to live her life out raising children of a man she barely knew in a small village. That fear of course was echoed by her desire to have that romantic love of the stories she read as a child, that beautiful knowing. It didn’t matter. She would cross that bridge when it arrived. Now, now she just wished her hands would stop shaking.

Her thoughts had plagued her long enough that she was distracted when she suddenly realized the priest had stopped talking. But it had been sudden as if he had been interrupted. Her eyes rose and she glanced to Sarus for a split second before she felt a weight on her shoulders, and fur on the back of her neck. His cloak draped across her shoulders, and she felt the warmth of the cloth, of him, again. She just stared at him.

“Sorry, your reverence,” Sarus spoke with a little wave of his hand. “My apologies for the interruption.”

“Not at all,” The man spoke with a shake of his head. “My lady, it is a cold morning. Is that better?” The priest asked quietly.

She just nodded. Then the priest went back to his speech. She was bewildered. She knew wedding protocols. The bride and groom were not to speak or see each other until the day of. They were not to speak to the priest until the ceremony was over, except when addressed as part of the ceremony. They were not to touch one another until the ceremony was over. Instead, on this cold spring morning, he removed his cloak in front of the Princess of their kingdom, and draped it over her shoulders, interrupting the wedding, and then had the nerve to speak directly to the priest without being addressed. It was all improper. On top of that, now he stood in the cold without a cloak.

She turned her head to him and just stared for a moment. When he caught her, he looked at her and gave a warm smile. Then mouthed the word “warmer?” to her. She nodded, and then quickly turned away. He clearly wasn’t ignorant of the traditions, he just didn’t care. She felt suddenly flustered.

“My Lord and Lady. As is only proper, I now turn to you. Under the morning sky, on your first new day sharing this path together, I ask that you turn to one another.” They did as he spoke. Again, she was staring at him from under that thin veil. He was odd to her. Even on just this second meeting though, he was not feeling as much a stranger. “Please, reach out to one another, and join your right hands.”

They did. Her hand slipped into his and their fingers intertwined. His hands were cold, but then he squeezed her hand. She couldn’t help but squeeze back.

“Your paths are joined today. May your hearts and souls follow in these coming days. When you struggle, may the other give you strength. When you succeed, may the other be the first to share in your triumphs. May you bring your families honor. May your bond be never broken.” The priest spoke putting his hand over theirs. “In all things, look to each other. As the moon starts anew, so to shall you, and may your love grow to be as steady and reliable as her rise each night.” He nodded at them. “Before Lune, before Ethrus, before the assembled, but most importantly before one another, do you vow to be husband and wife, to forsake the old and usher in the new together, and to each other stand and strive to with all your being to fulfill your duties to one another?”

She paused for a moment. She didn’t know what to do, exactly. This was it. Two words. She felt him squeeze her hand again, and she swallowed. “I vow.” She said quietly.

“I vow,” Sarus replied after her.

“Then it is my honor to announce you,” The priest spoke, motioning for them to turn while keeping their hands together. They did, switching sides before the altar and standing ostensibly on the side of their spouse’s family. The priest stepped up behind them. “Majesty, your graces, lords, ladies, gentlemen, and gentlewomen. It is with all the blessings of Lune, I present to you not Lord Sarus Astier, and Lady Mirabelle d’Argent, but Lord and Lady Astier d’Argent.”

She felt a wave of relief. That was it. The act was done. They were husband and wife.

“Now, the Lord and Lady will retire for the morning. Marquis and Marquise Astier invite you to enjoy the bounty of Veillée de la Vouivre. The young Lord and Lady will return to greet you all during the noon meal.”

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