PART I : Two Blades
There is a name that had spread fear across the continent of Thaedal for two hundred years. Newborns are no longer named that name, and those who already bore it were surrounded by distrust and superstition. For the pelsh believed the name to be cursed--The very mentioning of it a summoning. And that She, who the name belonged to, was able to hear it wherever it was uttered, and answer.
The dear reader might have been introduced to The Mistress of Slavery and Murder, also known as The Mistress, or The Sweet Mother, in my previous writings about my journey across the continent. Or perhaps because the reader has visited the continent, or is pelsh himself. But herein you might find something refreshing on the account of the Mistress, because I have collected all the pieces of the legend and accompanying rumors for the reader’s pleasure. And as a demonstration as to how superstitious cultures that do not hold modern imperial values can be.”
---- Gareth Gweneth’s An account of The Sweet Mother.
The greens of spring slowly protruded through the receding whitescape. The sun had dawned bright and warm on Ruvig for the first time in months, but the wind still carried the chill of winter. There was wood in the fireplace, and rain descended upon the hard land, cool and gentle. And riddling the hill where the Limping Stag Inn stood were jasmines and crocuses, blooming yellow and mauve and dancing to the wind as if joyfully welcoming the gradual shift in the weather.
There, from the open windows came the sounds of passing wagons, of wind-stirred tree branches, and the distant hubub of the marketplace. And sometimes came in the casual bumblebee buzzing about or the more common pappus. The inn was full to the brim with customers; peasants and simpletons, mercenaries and tradesmen. The market place was downhill and beyond the river were rice fields and lands ripe with fruit trees.
From the corner in which he sat enjoying the cool breeze, as was his custom, Arvin had a great view of the scene outside. Of the emerging bright colors of the season, of birds excitingly singing and jumping about tree branches, of the people making their way to the market. And of the book the old man facing him was reading, and in which he had a greater interest. “What nonsense.” he said. To which a disapproving grunt was the reply.
Cadiviir closed the book and slid it under his arm, simultaneously picking up his cup of honeyed milk. The old Blade wore his medallion around his wrist. “Gareth’s style is somewhat bland. But he’s an honest author.” He said, taking in the refreshing scent of wet dirt the breeze carried inside before gulping on his drink.
“Honest?” Arvin raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms. “Most of what he wrote about her is not true.”
“He didn’t say it was.” said Cadiviir. “Did mention it was all legend and rumor.”
“I’ve checked Simus Muudi, too.” said Arvin. “Neither were of any use.”
“Oh, you can read?” Cadiviir said with feigned surprise, wiping froth from his grey mustache.
“You taught me how to read, remember?” Arvin amusingly reminded him.
“Easy to forget with how little reading you do. What a waste of time it was!”
“I read where I must.” said Arvin. “But reading is not what we should be doing right now.”
“Aye,” Cadiviir confirmed, “Reading is for winter.”
The season of rest was over and the two blades were anxious to get back on the trail. The long rest had depleted their savings almost entirely. And that day, they were going to scout for their first job for the spring. There was no shortage of scavengers scouring the edge of the woods. And there was talk among the peasants of a werewolf threatening the western farms. Opportunities were ripe for monster-slayers like themselves. Arvin fingered the bronze medallion he had hanging from his belt. It depicted a sword, decorated by three white-washed skulls of unknown origin. He had always wondered what kind of creatures they belonged to. Cadiviir did not know. Nor were there any creatures similar to them in Naz’s Lister. And just then he remembered to ask:
“By the way,” he said. “Any idea where the Lister is? I haven’t read from it since midwinter, and it’s not in our packs.”
“The girl has it.” Cadiviir simply answered. Seemingly preoccupied with a wiggling twig that was about to fly off it’s mother branch just outside the window, as if his stare was holding it in place. Arvin instinctively turned in the direction of the young redhead that was cheerfully serving drinks. Her jade eyes had soul in them for the first time since the old one brought her back with him.
“You’re having her reader Naz’s Lister?” Arvin was skeptical. “Give her a sword next?”
“She could be of use without a sword.” Cadiviir strightened in his seat, brushing his grey beard. “She’s got a sharp mind. And it’s best if she keep it busy.”
Arvin remembered the first time she came through that door. It was a rainy night, before the first snows. Cadiviir had brought her under his cloak, and sat her down in the kitchens while Everec brought her a warm drink, which she did not touch. She was in a state of shock; shivering limbs and eyes wide open. All she did was repeat a single name over and over. At first, because the name seemingly threatened her sanity, her very being. But later, because she did not want to forget it. But as time passed, her hidden wounds began to heal. She started opening up to the old man. Accepted to work in the inn with Everec. Began to eat and drink regularly. Made friends, even. But for some reason she still avoided him. Her eyes would reflexively shift away from his whenever they met.
“I’m glad she’d recovered.” Cadiviir said in a calm voice. There was a hint of compassion in his eyes as they followed the girl around. “She was too fragile. I was afraid she might never come out of it. You could talk to her some, you know. Make her feel more welcome. You frighten her.”
Arvin sighed. “I’ve to care?”
“She’s staying with us after all--A touch of innocence and femininity in our daily lives could be healthy. Rather than teaching you how to read I should have taught you how to smile. Could have been more useful.”
“Would have been a waste of time as well.” Arvin said with the hint of a smile on his lips.
The older Blade put down his empty cup and wiped the froth from his beard. “Let’s go.” He said. He had began to stand up when to the door was kicked open with a loud thud.
Four men in orange coats and leather armour spread inside. And a moment later a fifth one followed, taller and wider than the others. His clothes were red, and an ugly scar disfigured his face. They were all guardsmen and carried the Neligraadian bull on their chests. Silence took hold of everyone’s throats and their limbs froze.
“Looking for blades.” the man declared. His eyes searching among the clients. it was rare for the guard to barge in like that to a common inn, and when they did they often took someone with them to never be seen again.
Cadiviir, who’s back was facing the entrance, put his hood on. And a dark shadow passed over his face, and seemed to linger there. Arvin followed suit.
He knew very well the Captain was here for them.
“I’m looking for blades.” the Captain repeated to Everec, the innkeeper.
Arvin was already calculating their method of escape. There were four of them, armed and armored. He and Cadiviir only wore chainmail. Common guards don’t go through much training with the sword, and they had the advantage of skill if not in numbers. The problem was that the place was tight and their movement would be limited, and there were tens of people around them. And if they did indeed go sword to sword with the guards, even if they succeed in killing all of them or escaping they would no longer be able to remain in Neligraad; Every guard would be on the lookout for them. And they were hard to miss--he with his long black hair, pale skin and violet eyes and Cadiviir with his white head and crooked nose.
“Many such types come here, m’Lord.” said Everec. “How do they look, these specific blades?”
“Violet eyes, thick and long black hair. Pale skin.” said the Captain. “The other, an older one. Gold eyes and white hair. Crooked nose and small ears. Looks like a cook. A good cook.”
“I don’t recognize them, m’Lord.”
The Captain sighed. “Can’t we do anything to remedy this amnesia?” He said, producing a golden tail and raising it above his head. Many eyed the coin greedily. And among them was Filsh.
“I think I know them.” a shrill voice came from the dark corner at the end of the room. Filsh raised a thin veiny arm above his head.
“There’s a smart man.” the Captain walked to the hunchback’s table, loomig over him as would a mountain loom over a molehill. He placed the coin infront of him. And the hunchback immediately took it and slid it into his pocket. He grinned as he looked towards the Blades, and pointed.
“Everyone out.” said the Captain. And a disturbing smile swept across his disfigured lips.