Vanya and the Green Knight

A Few Days

Only the necessity of giving speeches, accepting weregild, attending the funeral for the fallen kept Maeglin by being at his bedside. Innis suspected the young king was skipping meals to come see him, from the way servants kept putting food conspicuously nearby when he was there. He wondered if the young king’s intensity was guilt over asking him to go to battle – or hunger that put food out of mind. “I weren’t badly hurt, majesty.” Maeglin was changing the cold cloths on his fevered stomach wound for the fourth time in the hour.
“You were near death yesterday.” Maeglin said quiet and firm. “Your leg was mostly off. Your stomach is infected. You were cut from shoulder to hip in the back. I counted the sword wounds. 15.”
“That musta been after yer healers drugged me to sleep.” So Maeglin had been checking after their work, looking under the sheets? Well Meaglin could see him naked if he really wanted to. His flesh couldn’t be much to look at until he healed. All red and purpled and gaping. The funny thing was, he did expect to be healed more than he was. It might be he was used to Morrigan, and their priests could have chop sueyed warriors back out in the field quick as you can lay-on-hands if they needed to. Maybe Maeglin’s priests didn’t have that kind of brass. Innis didn’t expect to be priority, he wasn’t even from their Riocht. There were plenty of other wounded for those priests to be saving spells for. It did seem like they had been saving the spells didn’t it. But Maeglin had called all the healers there to his bedside, frantic, when he had first come back from the battlefield, and cursed at them to do something. The king seemed to think he was top priority, nursing him personally. So why not give him the full healing? “Well I will be set to rights in a few days anyway.”
“A few days,” Maeglin agreed, sounding worried. “And then what?”
Ah, so that was it.

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End of Grimghast Righ

Innis woke blind, something hot and rough lathing his cheek. He didn’t move till in curled wet and loud into his ear. “Tha’s enoof” he meant to say but a gurgle came out. He sat up, not liking how his skin was taut, like he had been badly sewn. The tongue crossed his eye and cleared enough blood that Innis realized it had been stuck shut, not put out. It was dark out, night again. His wolf’s mostly brown face had a white patch between his eyes that blurred there like a bit of mist caught in moonlight until he managed to focus and see fur and wide worried eyes. It whined and cleared his other eye for him.

The plain was covered in bodies. If one woke up in the Underworld it would look like that. Nothing else was moving. His sword was lodged through a man that lay over him, pinning his legs. By the length of blade coming from the man’s back, it had been to the hilt.

He must have been the last.

“Iniiiis” a distant, hoarse voice.
His neck pricked…he wasn’t in the land of the dead was he? No, why would a pure and simple creature like a wolf follow him there. He looked that way but it was too dark to see far. The voice again-it was Maeglin.

The wolf put his ear forward and back. The other was missing.

“Can ye” he tried to speak again, swallowing dry blood “go get ’im?” It only warked, like one of those crows in that happy place. But the wolf understood. Thank the goddess for the intuition of beasts.

But he was alone in the field of the dead then, under a black sky, with the wind rushing towards the mountains like a gasp unending. I must have killed every one He didn’t remember and black and gold in the flickering badly edited reel that played as the last day – Maeglin’s troops had steered wide of him. He was the monster unleashed. That stopper in his soul that could be tugged free and all the light rushed into it. Or all the black rushed out. Had he really escaped the emptiness in Garin’s eyes? Could it come here too? He didn’t want to be alone. Why had he told Laerwyn to stay away…

The wolf was like a gull heralding land to a lost fisherman. White and alone, but he knew salvation followed.

Maeglin was running, leaping bodies. “Innis you’re alive!”
He took him in arms without caring how filthy he was. “I thought we wouldn’t find you.”

Gar was there. Innis looked at him over Maeglin’s shoulder. Like the wolf, Gar understood what he wanted to ask. “Three days. This is the fourth night.”

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Knight of the Sheafollow
Yelti was in her garden beyond the small copse of oaks that separated the second cottage that his mother used as a guest house for any long-term visitors. Who those would be, he wasn’t certain. No one really ever stayed longer then three days. Hospitality seemed more inconvenient to him then anything else; just when you were getting used to someone being around and they were finally getting friendly and talking with you they were packed off and on the road. Usually he never saw them again, unless they were related. He wasn’t certain about relatives. So far they proved the more invasive of the kinds of visitors that came calling. If they were men, it was worse. Male cousins, uncles, or whatever were always pulling him outside to some contest of skill, wrestling, lifting heavy things, racing, or commenting proud as crowing cocks how tall he was getting. ‘Growing hale and fine limbed as a silver birch!’ As if their loins had anything to do with the matter.

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Laerwyn picked up his pace to crest the few hills and around the brush. A crow moved over for him to lean on the rock wall and he examined his sister’s handiwork with the milkthistle. “You’re taking a lot out of the garden. Will the plants be okay?”

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“You will plant more.”
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“Why me?”
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“Because Ysolte, Ianthe and I have more important business then planting the garden. You know how. “
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“I was going to Holdwyf’s tower today. He should be back and he said he’d have a present for me.” The old knight was kind with his library and tower, and Laerwyn was loath to go more then a few days without spending some hours in the warm study. Usually with the same old tome filled by monks to the brim with drawings of animals and their lore: Craetyrs and Legynds, Observashyns of the Argent Order as recorded by Brothers Fynholm, Maerdwyr and supplemented by the Skalds of Thinerigh.
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“Are you only going for a present?” She looked up through a screen of dirty blonde.
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“That isn’t what I meant. “
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“Only say what you mean.”
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He blinked, straightening from the wall as she went back to gathering herbs from the garden patch. Had one of their potions gone amiss? It was still early in the day for her to be ill-tempered.
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Yelti paused again and wiped her bags out of her eyes, “Look, I just don’t feel like answering idle questions right now. I’m busy, Laer. Why don’t you start off for Holdwyf’s. Try to be home by sunset, Mother wants you to be here to help with the ritual.”
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“There’s no ritual on this calendar night?”
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“There is now.”
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It was evident that he should just show up and learn when it was told him, not before. He shifted into a kite and sped off the wall to the more welcoming skies. His sister only scowled more and yelled after, “Before sunset!”
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It had already been half a year since his first brand and start into training, and he’d thought that his sisters were all over the fact that he could already transform. Mother said it may be a couple of years until they were able. So far it was the only glowing thing in his schooling, and tarnished at that with being made a pack mule for all their errands that required any speed. He hadn’t been allowed to go to town without one of them as escort before, and now they sent him all the time to run errands of purchase or sale, dropping off parcels or letters like he was the personal messenger to three queens. Transforming into a carrier pigeon would only make it worse. At least the sky was a welcome quiet. Surrounded by the rush of wind there was no sound, unless it was the drum of his heart during a dive.
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The closer he came to the great keep, the more black alder and birch spotted the ground as outrunners and then in long rows of marching soldiers who overlooked boxwood battlements. He banked when the scent of a pipe wafted up to meet him. The old knight was in the upper east tower, his smoking room. The sounds of the servants in the courtyard echoed around, moving boxes and heavy things. Laerwyn landed and shifted again, bunched precariously on the thin ledge of the window and knocked.
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“You will fall keeping that flesh on that platform. “
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“My balance is not so bad off.” The window opened and Holdwyf embraced him in against the smooth leather of his doublet. The room smelled sweet like burning fruits and sugar and thick brandy, and the scent was stronger on the old man’s shirt. “You sound to have been home a short while, but you’re already smoking?”
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“I started once Dunny turned the lane. “
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Laerwyn did not step back far when he was released, and took the rough hands in his own, “It’s been nearly three weeks you’ve been away. Was the Castle Seat well? Was it wonderful?”
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“Haste! Haste!” Holdwyf pulled his hands back and held them up in entreaty, “Let a man finish one relaxation before he turns to another.”
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They rejoined to the seats near the deep hearth, but Laerwyn chose the floor beside it and stretched full out on his back. His chest and arms were cold, and the fireside was warm and made him feel like liquid fire. He had been invited to come in Holdwyf’s absence, but it wasn’t the same. He had borrowed his favorite books the first day instead, and then waited.
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“You’ve been caged at home this whole time. Dunny and his old maid say you haven’t been by. I left them word, you know.”
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Laerwyn smiled. Their thoughts ran alike; Holdwyf would have noticed the staleness of the library first of all things since the servants only went in to dust every other week. “I’ve been to town and back enough.”
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“It doesn’t count. You hardly speak to anyone in town.”
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“I’m not supposed to. “
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“You’re not supposed to cause trouble, is what Cymyr has said.”
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“Words cause trouble enough with those who don’t know you.”
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“And when have you had trouble?” The knight was tapping out his bowl on the granite dish beside. “You have some mischief in you, but not trouble. Where did you learn such a lesson?”
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Laer rolled on his side and looked up at the gentlemen. The wool of his house slippers was huge in his forevision, melding into a cloud over which the spectacles and silver halo hovered. “I have nothing to say to anyone, anyway.”
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Holdwyf allowed him the dodge, since it was true enough. Matters of baking bread and cart wheels, and the rumor mill of Sheafollow was intriguing enough for minds with simple aims and hearts that did not soar. “You have not eaten enough.”
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Laewyn sat up, gaping, “Eh?!”
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The old knight was already rising, walking on his clouds to the bell rope that hung from the side of the chimney. The boy rarely ate enough for his potential size. It was likely the fault of upbringing, druids were neither rich nor poor, and Cymyr’s house had many daughters already. They did not eat more then was necessary for survival either, which in the boy’s case meant he may not reach the height and girth that his frame promised. He had mentioned it to Cymyr in passing at the last market, after sending the children off with gifts of five copper a piece to spend for their pleasure. She had seemed dour and offended as he expected. He last option was feeding him extra meals whenever he came to visit, which was thankfully often, except for this trip away. “When did you eat breakfast?”
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“At dawn, but it’s still two hours before midmeal, sir. Please, you needn’t feed me!”
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“As long as you are a guest in my house, I will see to your comforts.”
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Laerwyn gaped still, throat working around words that were dying and staying silent there.
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“Speak! “ Holdwyf looked over with warmth but sternness.
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“I-“a stutter more from alarm then otherwise, but started he accepted that he couldn’t stop. The boy just accepted so many things. “I thought I was a friend in this house, not a guest.”
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“One can be both, if necessity needs calling on one to serve the other!” Holdwyf chuckled. “How else could I throw my weight around and enforce the edict? Come, I have not breakfasted, and single plates make for meager joys. I know you are hungry. It is a long flight here.”
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It was a lie, but unworthy of debate, and the boy didn’t know it anyway. Maatan knew her master’s mind, shared it, and would not betray him. The old maid answered the bell in the moments it took to work up the tower stair, puffing and apple cheeked and merry. “ ‘ut kin ah gitya?”
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“Food, Maatan! Enough for two hungry men.”
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She waved her hand at his grin, ignoring his manner but not the order. “Eggs, hens, chutney and cheeses. Toasts, too. “
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“Hens? I don’t see how eggs and hens are necessary, “ Laerwyn was up and brushing his backside.
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“You need meat and energy, Laertes. Besides, they are the small ones I raise in the yard.”
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“They should be kept for better occasion.”
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“My first visit after so long is occasion enough. I have missed you and so have my hens. Let them do their job, and Maatan hers, and I mine. You did Maatan at least disfavour in not showing up. She loves to cook buns and sweets for you. Their son is long gone from the nest and I have none to entertain her. You’re like a grandson to her.”
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Laerwyn flushed and came close to stride aside the knight, hearing the unsaid praise. And like a son to you.
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His heart fluttered in his throat with tethers to his chest like a caged butterfly. His own father did not live in the house of Cymyr. Instead, he came as a guest to visit them and talk with them about their lives. It was always estranged, however warm his claps to the back tried to be. A woodsman was fine enough for breeding, but his distinct lack of reverence for nature made him little needed in the den of a druidess. Laerwyn was not certain even if it was love or convenience that had brought his parents together to sire so many children. Cymyr must have had choices, with her strength and skill, raven hair and grey eyes. She should have chosen Holdwyf. Even some years her senior, Holdwyf was a more then worthy man.
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The informal sitting room, rather then the dining hall, was set with board and steaming chicory. Two tatter-plushed, oak chairs sat at the head and right, and a card deck was laid beside. “Do you fancy a game? I imagine it will be half an hour’s pace before the plates are set. Unless our unstarved-guest has enough energy to prove himself with sword?”
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Cards were strategy enough, and the deck was hand wrought with delicate illuminations of knights and ladies. So soon on meeting, Laerwyn preferred to sit near then stand against, “I yield to the mastery of the house.”
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Holdwyf’s deck was a marvel to the small world that made up the Righ. The cards were round, comprising 9 suits that each had 13 cards. Each was crafted from paper that had been coated in clear lacquers and leafing, then fitted at the edges with decorative frames. Rings, Scepters, Jewels, and Leaves were ruled by Queens, Youths, Knights and Squires. Swords, Cups, Coins, and Beasts were ruled by Kings, Maidens, Knights and their serving Squires. The last suit, which Holdwyf named, “Celestials”, was governed by the faces of the River, Maiden, Youth and a Guardian Knight. This last suit, covered in stars and constellations, painted with deep skies of lapis and pieces of precious stone cut thin as fish scales, was the enigma of the deck. Oftentimes they sorted it out and set it aside before play. It sat by today, already sorted out for them by Maatan’s hand.
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The King’s own deck was only 4 suits, and made with long rectangles of painted paper only. There was talk at the market from time to time of who had won what bets on games played in the Great Hall, or what had been promised of pillows and kisses. Wagers were a favorite, leaving outcomes half to fate and half to skill, and all was a thrill of possibility. Ysolte had her own deck as well, 4 suited, which she had won at a party in Sir Brego’s house at the Mid-winter Nocturne two years before. The King’s man had wagered the deck, a pretty expense, against his sister’s first kiss.
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The old knight always showed a preference to keeping the suit of leaves in his control, and disliked the cups. In his own field, Laerwyn fought for control of the Beasts and swords, which proved an easy combination. Swords were fast and strong, and Beasts were varied and mobile. Their game of kings and queens remained slow paced this time, though, which served the strengths of Leaves and rings to build into an impenetrable defense. The final blow was spared falling, as plates were placed on the line of no-man’s country between the warfare.
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“A truce?”
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“I will not complain.”
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Maatan pushed the cards to the far edge out of her way without asking leave, “More plates comin’.”
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“Have you played with your sister while I was away?”
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“No, the games with her deck are different. She plays with Ianthe and Yelti. It would be more peril then I would like to be their fourth. Mother should take that place, and maybe the winner would be different once in a while.”
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Their plates of eggs and toast arrived, and Dunny carried a pitcher and goblets.
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“Wine so early?” The scent of grapes was rich, some harvest barrel tapped from southern lands, no doubt. Holdwyf had come back with much.
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“It is watered, “ there was a grin beneath the silver whiskers. “But bodies want luxury after long travels.”
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“Old ones at least.” He wasn’t able to dodge the cuff, but laughed despite the sting. “I should have taken the challenge of swords. I probably could have won.”
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“I am relaxing, I did not say I was sore. Or tired.”
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“After a late morning of wine and pipe you would be.”
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“But the wine is after the challenge would have been.” Holdwyf, bounced the tip of his table dagger like a teacher’s stick of truancy at him. “Swords it is, next time you come. And I will teach you to better mind your elders.”
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h3. Later…
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“Maataaaaan, it was delicious, “ Holdwyf managed the first words after the joint wolfing. Likely the result of years of skill with pans and obscene amounts of butter, but the old maid was the best cook he knew and a carefully guarded treasure of the keep. [[:vahnarh righ]] visited as often as he could find excuse to hunt the far hills of the hither estate, but it wasn’t for the abundance or challenge of the game. “You’ve outdone yourself again.”
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“S’not, s’jus flatt’ry and wind in mah skirts yer blow’n” But she flustered the same while she gathered her plates.
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“A man could be full to bursting and ‘yes’ to a piece of her pies.” Dunny poured them both another draft of wine, the firsts having remained mostly untouched until the conclusion. Laerwyn felt a little dizzy from downing his so fast. It didn’t taste that watered.
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“A third for the boy, he’s got one to grow on and no pipe before. “
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“But-!”
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“I won’t hear it, “ Holdwyf laughed.
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Obliged, Laerwyn breathed long and slow before draining the cup again to make room for the third. He hardly had chance to taste it going down, a waste for fineness. It burned at the back of his tongue, but felt dry at the front, and did little for quenching thirst. His vision blurred a second when he dropped his glass to the table again and Dunny poured blurred, warm, afternoon-light through deep purple falls. A few drops splashed on the table and he traced his pointer from one mini-lake to the next to make lochs. It stained the white a blush. Laerwyn imagined the wine was stained beneath the surface of his cheeks. The room felt hot and turned on its own like a lazy-servant. Wine was so much heavier on his brain than ale or beer. His sisters preferred it, and could drink bottles on their own. The dizziness would only get worse when he stood, after drinking two cups so fast.

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