Vanya and the Green Knight

Roman's Musing
Post Fall of Severskii

The gold thorn pricked as he gripped the bar. A drop of blood beaded slow on his thumb, red and cold. “I do bleed,” he said to the empty cage, the empty room. The words were empty. Gilded and dead. There was pain to accompany the barb in his flesh, a slight, pleasant sensation. He did feel. But the living did not have to remind themselves of it, surely. Their breath came fast, without their remembering to draw it. Their blood surged from their wounds till they emptied, wrung in the clenched fist of their heart. He clenched his own fist until the garnet burgeoned and trickled down a stem. It took that much to squeeze it from him. He let go the bar in disgust and whirled to face his bed. Somewhere outside, in that waste of white, in that vicious and pure cold, there bloomed a winter rose. He had found something rare and vital, something at home here. The youth lived, he was certain of it. The woods had taken him in. The snow and shadows had been windblown and untouched as the boy’s skin. The poor brown brambles had covered his tracks as surely as these false golden vines had held him. Iron could not hold him. He had snapped the shackles as if they were brittle with the cold.
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Roman fingered the broken irons on his bedside table. The next time he would not trust iron, that close kin to blood. He would wrap him in gold, in his own arms. He would brush that velvet skin, coax blood to the surface, a blush, maybe more. He would feel that pulse against himself till it was his own. He would feel hot red pulsing where, even in the worst ache, he felt only swollen and heavy now, turgid with lifeless desire. His own hand could do nothing for him but massage the fluids back whence they came. Alone, he felt dead.
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He shed his sleeping robes and armored himself. It was only an hour after he had gone to rest, but he felt more agitated for having tried. His lady waited for him outside the tent, lovely as the green line of dawn after a battle victorious, black as his hair…no, he would not let thoughts of him ruin what had been his constant pleasure. He took off her armor also, whenever he rested, though leaving it on did not hurt her. She would get angry if he didn’t take it off, now, because she was used to the rhythms he maintained. She whickered to see him out too soon and whuffed his hair. “Even your strength could not drag him.” He pet her naked shoulder, soft and cold under his hand as the furs on his floor inside. At least they were of the First Vow, Voelkher’s chosen, and their blood did not freeze. Some of the newly vowed were having trouble with that, in this weather. The cold wrinkled their flesh so it chafed and split, but did not ooze. The sight of it was hard for them, who had been so recently fair and living, though they did not feel pain as keenly as he could.
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He had been fair and living once. “Do you remember life, lady?” She snorted and shook her mane, a common mannerism of hers, but he pretended it was answer. “No? Nor can I. Was battle at his side ever different than it is now? I used to joke that I would always be young and beautiful compared to him, but we never guessed how true." He paused, "Do I truly remember joking, or have I since made that up?”
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“Can’t sleep?” Followed by a furtive chuckle. Roman hated Gaspar’s laugh. He never let it out properly, so it wheezed and snorted.
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The fact that he rested for two hours of the day was a spring of amusement for Gaspar that never ran dry. If Gaspar were in a good mood, he would always ask him, “How did you sleep?”
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“Have you raised another fifty yet?”
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“Oh don’t be an ass, just because I interrupted your conversation.” Gaspar said. He also thought it silly that he talked to his horse, nevermind he talked to his thing, or to himself…constantly. “I am sure it was poetic. The rose defeated has more perfume from its crushed petals than it does fresh in victory, I daresay. You like it. I would say you let him go on purpose, except that you came running out…as you did. You would never feign your own humiliation.”
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As if thoughts summoned it (well, they did, just not Roman’s thoughts), the rotted orb floated down and rubbed an eyestalk on Gaspar’s cheek. He lifted a red hand to it.
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“Are you here for some reason?” Roman asked. His mare pinned her ears and turned to face Gaspar. She didn’t like It, either.
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It didn’t like or not like. It didn’t care that it was hideous and smelled terrible. It had no feelings of its own.
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“Yes. I came to wake you because Bertok found it.”
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“The next city.” It wasn’t a question. He had, in fact, asked Gaspar to come to him whenever Bertok reported to the dead on the outskirts of their lines. They didn’t know how far this land of little kingdoms stretched, each self contained and unique, each too small to withstand them. But where else could that boy have gone, other than to the next? He would find him.

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Sylvania Abandons Vlahiskoi

“”/campaigns/konstantine/characters/sevastyn" class=“wiki-content-link”>I ran there in a day and a half. I know because the moon was only up once. I didnt even realize I had made it there till they shot arrows in my path to warn me. By the third arrow."

“I was so happy to see that gold wood and bright fletching. They knew who I was, I heard them say my name. They were in shock as to my condition, but guessed true that I had fled ”/campaign/konstantine/wikis/severskii" class=“wiki-page-link”> Severskii. They meant to bring me someplace to rest, sounded as if they had expected Severskii’s fall, and knew of the others. I don’t know what I was then. Desperate. I grabbed the one by the collar and told him it wasn’t even two days past. That people still lived. I couldn’t bear for us to have been parted for no good reason."

“He shook his head at me, and I punched him.”

“Not the best way to get someone to help you. He took it well. Harrin. That was Harrin Thorntower, I know his father. Knew. I guess he has gone now. Their story was very strange.”
“He asked if I would stay and rest, if he promised to give whatever help they could. I asked if he could really promise that and he said yes, he had that authority.”

“What help they could offer turns out to have been Harrin and one companion, but I passed out, I didn’t find out till I woke. It was quiet there, no singing in the distance, no sounds of people moving or smells of them cooking. The Elves are always quiet, but when I woke in a hammock in the branches I thought the wind through them sounded empty.
An elfwoman was there, Harrin’s little sister. I guess they figured I wouldn’t attack an elfmaid half my size. I asked her where her brother was, and what had happened.

The god came to them, Konstantine. Months ago. I guess elves get a special consideration, or are different in some way. They didn’t know what to make of it, but they had his name, which we have heard. Mirina said that on the night of the full moon, a silver dragon had landed on the high stone where the council meets. They hurried to get the appropriate gifts. Silver dragons are wise, good creatures. Rare here, unlike the reds you always hear about. The elves remember old friendships with them, have ceremonies, nothing I know, but Mirina seemed to take it as a matter of course. But when they came forward to greet the dragon, it lowered its wing, and a man stepped down. She was hesitant to say elf, though she called him that later.
She said he had silver hair, got distracted trying to describe it. Jewels that pinned it into tufts, crests, like fur or a halo, wild looking. She said he was very tall and fair. That his skin was “no color.”
“to speak of this so mundanely, I see the trouble she had. Aleksey had no time for this part of my story. I told him no more than that the elves had already seen battle and were in no numbers to do us significant good.”

: ::::An elf that rode a dragon….:::

“It must have been him. He said he had come with a warning and an offer, not for their leader, but for all their ears. He said “The dark will fall on your wood, the enemy will walk free under your trees, without life or breath, rank flesh and hard bone. Bloody hands will pull at your entrails, and rotted eyes will see and turn your warrior’s hearts cold, your flesh to stone, your tears to blood, your songs to moans.”

“It terrified them, his pronouncements from such shining lips. She said that every ear heard him plain. Even scouts far off in the trees. He said, “Give me your bows, your knives and your slings, and I will lead you against this enemy, into the night. When you are blind I will light the path your arrows must take, when your throat chokes on the mist, I will give you courage to drink, cold and silver past your lips. But before you do this, you must foreswear Corellon and the sun. Abandon him as he will abandon you here for the dark to devour you.”

The elves of our lands worship much as druids do. But I know they all revere Corellon, if distantly, as the greatest of the gods. They spoke as if that were the most shocking part of his pronouncement.

He had them bound in wonder though, and no cries were raised against him. They only asked in quiet earnest how he could say this. And he said “If you so love Corellon, run to him. Take comfort in his own halls while his doors are yet open. Eternal days, brimming cups, sweet music and the scent of every blooming thing, more than this wood has ever known. Go, to peace like you have never known. Or stay here, in your own forest, and I will stand by you even as you stand by it, and let the mist sweep over us. I want none who yearn for the sun, they will quail when his face is gone forever from their eyes.” And he gestured, and a stair made of silver light rose from the stone into the canopy of trees. There were leaves on the branches where it met them, the hall of trees marching back became some other wood, in high summer with sunlight casting a green glow through the foliage onto their faces. Mirina said she could smell it, could feel the warm breeze.

The prince of that wood, Kyrie, asked if he might go ahead and return, to be sure this was no spell or trick. The man said by all means, that they would know the truth of his words even as he knew the truth of their hearts. So Kyrie armored himself and went, and they waited, as the ice in the pine boughs melted and crows flew curiously into the green wood from their own. The stranger never moved, hand rested on a spear, and the other on the dragon’s shoulder. She said his eyes were terrible.

Mirina said he must have been a powerful sorcerer, or the avatar of a god. We know which god. When Kyrie came back he was unarmored and had baskets of fruit, flowers chained around his wrists. He said that it was no trick. He had met their kin on the other side, and they were welcome in their households. The stranger said to hurry and pack their things and say their goodbyes, if they would leave. For those who stayed must turn their backs on any hope of long life or rich gardens, of solace besides the light of their blades, the hearts of their companions, and the destruction of their enemy. And he waited while they chose.

The old and the young, brothers loathe to be parted, young lovers, sons giving way to their mothers tears, and daughters to the pleas of their fathers. Of all the elves, only a handful stayed. Those who have lost their families to the hags and werewolves. Those who could not imagine leaving the wood. Those whose hearts were burning with the zeal in the strangers voice."
“It seems unfair that they had the offer to escape.”

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: :::::It is strange to hear of elves as us…as regular people. I thought they were strong and magical and thousands of times greater. But they left…fear and worry beset them. They left. There is no place for us to leave. How lucky for them. Men can only run, fight or die….no solace at all.::::

Sevastyn would seem tired like he thought similar things.

“The tales make elves to be perilous. They sound no different from us.”

:::Perhaps that is just naive to have had hope in them. Yes. To have thought they were anymore than just people. Well. I have seen that. These here…they are strange as cipher and francois…and most half but for Shin. But still…they are just people. Not so great. They eat and sleep and sew and ….complain. Tease and fight. ::::

“They love and fear as we do. But they live without dying. I think that is the chief difference. For us the choice is to die now or in ten, thirty, fifty years. They have beliefs about our dying and what happens to our souls, things they won’t discuss. But I do know they believe their souls are apart at the end, that they go to a paradise for elvenkind where their sorrows are forgotten. If they die, they believe that is the end. Darkness.”

:::Some may have magic and miracles in their hands, as Shy and Cipher. But ….as shy and cipher. Not as the story of the winter maid Linyphiidae.:::

“For the stranger to say it so baldly, to not expect long life, to stand with him in the dark, he meant for only the boldest to stay.”

“It wasn’t the end of what befell them. Mirina said there had been thirty. Which, of elves, is enough to face a small army. When the mist came, and the dead, they went out behind them, following them to their lair. The man on the dragon himself led them. Only five stayed behind, to care for the wood. She said the party sent back word on hawks’ wings, of a heavy mist, day and night, that made it hard to travel. That things moved within it. Then they sent no more messages.”

“But the wood is ours to use. It is near here. And the five who are left are eager to ally themselves. They would be.”

“We can hunt in their woods, use their stores. Those who left took little, since they went to plenty.”

“That is a lot of news.”

“And it’s only the elves.”

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High Hebridean
The Trials of the High Priest

He was tired beyond sleeping. The morning had been maps spread on tables, maps without names, matching little rills in silver and green ink to the mountains of his visions. Or maps all in High Hebridian, no relation to what people who lived in those places now would name their mountains and rivers. The afternoon had been falcons. Writing orders on strips of paper the width of a blade of grass. It was difficult with only one hand, and he had to weight the ends with stones before he could start. At least the eye that remained to him was still keen and the tiny script didn’t make him squint. He suspected his eye was keener than it had been. Were nights supposed to be as luminous as day? Ought he to be able to see the hawk waiting in that distant tree down to its speckled breast feathers? Without the depth a second eye would lend it, the world was like one of Atropos’s hyper-detailed paintings. Almost disturbing in its abundance of life. His hearing too. That evening had been hosting the young lords who came to talk to him, feasting them in simple fashion in his garden. When they had talked softly to each other at the far end of the orchard, he could hear every word. At least it had been talk of the beauty of his Avariel wife, and not doubts about his strangeness. Even his most devout new followers thought him strange. It was a change from being the level head, the chaste untouchable, the old fogey of Morrigan. Stripped of the other fanatics, he was a lone tree, visible to all around. One with too few branches.

Oh where was Innis? He had no one to joke with. Lillith didn’t like his humor when it was dark. He hoped to have a bird from Innis soon. It would be happy to meet again, even on a battlefield, and hear him crack gallows jokes as the enemy approached in that lilting accent.

“Can’t sleep?” a dark, joking tone, just as he had been wanting. There was a light on Lillith and the children in bed, lining her scarab feathers in opal. His shadow was long across the floor from where he stood leaned in the doorway watching them, the light behind him. He got hard just at the voice. It was liquid as mercury, rolled over your skin.

“You know I can’t.” He almost never slept at night. The need to watch was in him, as he watched Lillith now. Or to walk under the trees with grass on his feet and let the stars pierce him. Or to slip into the cold pools and float, feeling light and silver as the water. He napped during the day in his hammock.

“Will you watch with me?” It had some other meaning, how it was said. He turned, quizzical. Lucern was already walking away, sparing him the glory of his face. Tirion followed him out to the pools. Lucern was wading into the water, leaving a bright silver path behind himself. Tirion loved how water looked near him, how it always lead to him. He was watching openly, but when Lucern turned he dropped his eyes. And there, in the water…an eagle’s view. The castle he ever saw in his hammock dreams, but a single window, movement beyond. There were pale and smokey limbs twined, black and white hair, bodies thin as racing hounds. Beautiful, even with ribs plain and scars, almost too elongated and stark to be human. A race of hunters. He blushed when he realized they were kissing.

“So this is how you got the epithet.” Watcher in the Dark indeed. Those poor youths had no idea. He looked up at Lucern instead, ashamed at playing the moment’s voyeur. The god’s hair was pinned in tufts like fur or small wings, a halo about his head, but lit by his face. He had a wicked grin, canines indenting his soft lips, somehow full even though they were bow curved thin. He had learned that grin from the Bodhisattvas. Predator. It was his to play the prey that night. He didn’t hesitate, but fled.

His feet were grown swift. The short green grass, always moist and soft in that land, was like a springboard for his steps. Every stride pressed him harder into his breeches, twinging. The day’s weariness was dust on his skin, vanished when he dove into the silver light. He could feel the thunder of hooves in the ground, or a shudder of wings in the air, the hunt closing, the hawk diving. Lucern bore him down before he made it to the orchard.

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See Sevastyn Run

His rasping breath, pulse, and the jar of his shins on frozen earth had become one rhythm, loud enough he couldn’t hear anything else. But that drum had played so long he didn’t hear it either, like being underwater, or deaf. The elation came and went. He would feel
bodiless, a wind sweeping over the hills. His mind followed like a kite, free to swim in its
own fancies. He imagined Konstantine ahead of him, dancing under moonlight, grinning over his shoulder, running in slow motion it seemed, hair lifting and falling. He could reach out and let it trail over his fingers. Then the fatigue would set in, and his legs, for all that he couldn’t feel them, were shod and shackled in lead, and the bellows in his chest burned, and his mind was too tattered to hold images. Then the fatigue passed, the fetters fell away, and he was soaring drunk on his own exhaustion again. Like sun and moon the feelings cycled, but the true moon had risen and set only once.

They had to shoot three arrows into his path, each a step ahead of him, before he noticed
the whine and thud counterpoint to his drumming. He jogged a few steps past the last
one and looked back at it, stopping to stare. He saw golden wood with bright feathered
fletching, merry paint winding down the shaft like embroidery on a hem. It was a mistake,
to stop. The pain must have been chasing close behind. It slammed into him, hand and
knees into the ground. Sweat was dripping off his nose and bangs, leaving holes in the
snow.

“Va Corellon! Herth Severskii na Sevastyn ya. Isha laya ne, ehh on this wet earth has chased him? It must be them. Were he a hind his heart would have burst by now. Get him up, if he doesn’t walk his muscles will seize.”

Sound filtered in, then understanding. They were speaking Elvish, lifting him by his elbows,
encouraging him to move his legs. He had passed their borders already. Sylvania. “Help”
he rasped out and coughed before he could say more. They seemed to understand.

“It’s a three day run. Severskii will have fallen.. Rus will be next…they will ring us around.” They were talking to each other over him.

“Nyet!” he said, dragging himself up and close, inches from slanted green eyes. “One day.

Still time.”

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Accounting to Knyaz Aleksey

“Start with when you were captured and woke. Tell ”/campaigns/konstantine/characters/knyaz-aleksei" class=“wiki-content-link”>me again, all that the knights said, every detail of their appearance."
“Truly the beginning is after I left the Knyaz and Vyacheslav in the care of Ranger Riduk.”
“May I start there?”
“You may”

“I had taken the first of the refugees to the waypoints, the farmer and boy and three girls, and had made way back to the battle site near the bridge. Tracking can be felt, like a scent on the air or a brush of wind across the cheek…and I was being followed. I doubled back and took cover to try to catch my pursuer. It came up on all fours like a beast, but as a man imitating a beast. I knocked an arrow and the ears of his hood, a likeness to a hunting cat, moved for him as though they were of living mien. He wore a cape of many ‘leaves’ of flesh, that I did not realize until much later. He drew his weapon, a knife with an elaborately carved wooden handle inlaid with ivory of people on horses hunting a cat. It was not Vlahiskoi style, and exceedingly intricate. He was confident and quick, unlike the shambling dead that tore limbs or the walking bones. I thought he must be another of the scouts, as Riduk and I had shot down on the roofs at the start of the battle. He asked me what I hoped to accomplish; if so few stranglers were worth it. If living so, desperate, broken, and unmanned, were worth it? I replied every life was of worth. We fought- traded blows. He said I could not kill him. I said to sink back into the earth. At last he jumped back, scoring my arm, and howled. It was shrill, pitched and long like the scream of some unwholesome thing that carries over mist or even storm. Then he ran. “
“My position was desperate, so I threw both mine and the red sword, rather than give him the lead of arming my bow. With the both he was felled. I drew my third as I ran to close the distance and took his head. They have played at ends before. But the cry had been given already, seconds before. I reclaimed the blades and took the head and body. I thought……surely ash could not be made anew. There must be some way to prevent the dead from rising again. I carried the pieces to the burning quarters and threw them in, even as two scouts came on me and watched. They had some memory of horror to their faces, and fear. They fought briefly with me, but I could not kill them before they retreated. I thought no more of it but to get away….to leave no track if more should come to that position looking for me. This …youth, like to a fallen Ranger, I would later learn more about from the Knight Himself.”

“The coming of the charge of the silver disks, and of my leading them to Gregor’s is already known. The return of all to the mines, the gathering of food and supply, the decision to try the castle with their ….specialist. My ill-treatment of the Knyaz’s person. These passed and then we three stood in the last night-shadows of trees with the threat of the knights after us and a nephew prince’s cries loud in our ears. I should have listened to Specialist, by the Prince…it was his son and the man’s manner was gruff and uncaring. I did not want blows to come or harsh words. It was the forest of Severskii, and I am swift. There were no scouts anywhere. I thought the child surely must tire soon and then I could fade into the forests and return in wan morning to the mines. I was wrong. So confident an apprentice could seldom find a better correction or teacher. But the price…..I should not have made the choice when the price was not my own to pay but the Noble Prince. “

:::Vlad handed his son over so willingly. Trusted me in his uncertainty and terror of the strange events. A subject he has seen or overlooked perhaps a dozen times, and a fellow Vlahiskoi over the dangerous and unknown stranger. Over the man that wanted to put the children in a hunting sack. The Knyaz’s Nephew and sister in law. Sevastyn’s. Riduk must have found him in the days of my travel here. I have caused his brothers such pain, yet I would wish he were here to ease mine? Well, should we see each other again I doubt mine will be wounds needing to be tended. He will be thin, run apart and wild, days more then I to a place of Elves. His city and the castle flying black banners on his return. It will be as beneath the pine. If I am allowed to see him, or touch him, it will be mine to comfort him. ::::

“The child did not stop…I ran in the coming dawn the length from the corner of the castle to the dip of the steep over the road as it followed the river. The Snufflers…I have not seen them, but their slavering and shuffling gate was behind me as pack of hounds before the Hunt. And I heard the plate mail and ricket-hooves behind. Laughter and excitement and shouts of wonder at the cry of a baby in the growing light! A baby in the midst of the battle? It had gone from simple diversion to a formal Hunt. It was Hunt. Then the sound of plate and glimpses of Green Lacquer and Gold from the opposing side…down in the forest near the bank. The Green Knight and his closer knights had joined…If I moved forward, they would catch me on the road itself, and behind was the rest of the hunt. I had only up the steep or down the river and face the bridge and any who met me there. I chose up, towards the gorge and the rapids. The ground grows rocky there. The prince finally ceased crying, but already driven so close to the ridge I was visible in the traitor sun, and the Knight spurred faster to keep up and below me on the road until all others had fallen behind us. Only the elevation separated us, and still I could not double back for the Hunt. Others there have been, surely, that have stumbled delirious and wounded from the burning….but he did not pursue them with such persistence. Women have run in the night with their youngest children fleeing from the slaughter. This for the child he did not know? My best judgment is that the draw lies in the distinct unreality of event….the sense of being in the midst of a tale in those moments. He is proud in bearing and seems to style himself the perfect knight of lore.

I looked for anything that would keep the child and I out of reach still and give more path of escape. There was a snow shoot….it went direct to the rapids. I took off my armour and wrapped it about the young prince that the winter river would touch him less if at all so swaddled and doubled….and took the shoot. My strength held to keep him aloft and navigate to the opposing bank on the face of the cliff. The knight followed and watched at a walk as I continued. I think together we both calculated that already dead…the rapids posed him little harm, nor the fall.”

Konstantine would pause, testing in his throat and scowling as he tried to match the tones and inflections correctly, even though his own throat had not the same magic of undeath or command in it:
‘You look cold,’ he called, as I paused in this dread. I had no choice but to try the cliff. To try it and do my best if I fell, to take the fall myself and not the prince. ‘There is more than bodies and carnage in our camp. There are warm fires and food.’
I made no answer. I heard him dismount.
‘Will you not come? The child must be cold. The water and snow…it will not last long.’
Pity for the flayed and gutted dead I have not seen as they walk or ride beside his banners. Pity for the living soon to join the ranks as fuel or slaves. However sweet the offer, it was poison. I shook my head and started to climb, but the ice was too thick there, water frozen that was splashed up by the rapids. I fell below the surface again and climbed out. Tried again. I made it halfway before the grip was wrong. I heard the last of his armor hit the stone as I surfaced. I tried a third time, I was halfway as he made it to the bank and started his own climb. He does not tire…he must have started to gain then as the winds froze the leathers on my limbs. I made it first to the top and started to run again. Up…only up. I must have been so slow, maybe it was not running. There are boulders there. I risked once the gain he would have to throw one down. It didn’t work. The finale of that meeting was already told. “

He would pause there if there were any question.

No cues from Aleksey’s boots, only quiet as he considered what he heard. Before he started again, when he made move to draw breath to speak “He followed you in broad daylight. Did any others? We know the skeletons walk the daylight hours, and the ones who look as though they are living. What of the snufflers?”

“They followed me through the trees and it was day, until my sprint and the terrain separated us. The knights. It was a full Hunt as for sporting, even as the Knyaz might enjoy.”
“Dawn had come as I reached the forest edge and first chose to go up.”

::there is pain in him, not fear, for the loss of the prince. Too young yet even for a name. What other subject would have given so much, without thought for his own skin? When he was free away, but for the crying. I will tell Vlad of your mourning. Of your heroics. He will feel less a fool. He did not give his child over into poor hands. But that mourning must come later. Konstantine pleads with me for understanding. Shall I let him know that he has it? I brought him here to speak of our enemies, to know their weakness, if they have any. Their numbers and names. But he feels he is on trial no doubt.:: “Daylight does not stop them” said tired. “Only the shambling corpses seem to return to earth for it.”

“You are not on trial. That is all past. Though I will tell Vlad of your mourning. The knell rings true in your tone, for a nameless child no blood of yours. You could have set him down and saved yourself, leaving no tracks and bait behind to stay the hounds, but you never did. I will tell him these things.”
“But now I must see with your eyes. Was there no weakness in them? Is it true then, that they cannot be killed? There must be some magical key. Or do I tell tales to myself for comfort and hope for a third son to come to me with a talking bear and a magic tablecloth. Yet there must be some way.”
“He bore the wound your master gave him,” having heard it before in short.

“I do not presume of the Knyaz’s time, I am sorry that I have forced on him the information in form of a tale…..it is how I am best used to giving chronology and full account. I will try at brevity,” he would bow in his kneel.

“No. It is detail I want. We have all these days at our behest.” He would sigh ::he takes it as a reprimand. Well, I have reprimanded him with the life of one of his own, and he has the death of my nephew on his hands, what should he expect but reprimand. Why should he take my words for an attempt at reassurance when the last I reached out my hand it was with scepter and sword to make harsh decree::

“Before our duel, when he had drawn sword he said exactly this,” mimicking, " ‘Do not lay down now! You cannot have come so far and fought so long to finish as a stag. There must be strength still in your arms with only running.’ "

Konstantine would brush his scarred cheek, fingers tracing the broken lines of the split over the bone. “I woke warm. The air was scented with aromatic wood and the charnel battle banished from the atmosphere. I was bare or cloth or device, except for these close irons, and laid on ermine and fine beaver, and spiraling roses wrought of gold as though real hemmed me in. I tried to bend the thorns or flowers, and while they moved they would not break. Enchanted, it is a bird-cage of a size that two people could be…… kept… within.” ::::Or one kept and the other visit to twine into them as the very roses leave one to suspect. :::

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He would give exact account from his precise memory of the tent. He can make Aleksey and knights uncomfortable

While he spoke he would have heard Sasha mumble like someone had jostled him in sleep and then “oh, lay back down. There is nothing you can do.”

::::Laurente and the others are awake to hear? no::::
:::Laurente may have woken at the first sounds of my voice.::::
“The Knight came. He watched me from his bed and drank a goblet of something. Just that, then left. Later a man came. The Necromancer. A man of severe, though perhaps once handsome, countenance. He was thin, and his skin too tightly drawn over the bones of his features. From the back he almost appeared a woman. His hands were always red when he came to ruffle the desk. His robes were plain, worn brown and tattered despite their faded embroidery on the edges. Maybe they were nice before they were worn by a corpse for the some passage of years. He ignored me except as one observes and sucks one’s teeth at a friend’s excesses. He is called Gaspar, and is whom the Knight called for in a rage that Anstice and Illya, and the archers that fired on him, were to be taken alive.“

“From their manner with each other, his teeth sucking and his free entry into the others tent, they are both generals. Or would you say this green knight is the lord?”

“The key to that lies in the conversation the following day.”

He would hear a muffled noise like a hand over a mouth and then shushing calming noises
Aleksey makes no comment on any of the extra noises in the other “room”, nor would shift in his throne as if listening to them.

He would go through all the conversations wrote then, leaving out his personal thoughts or feelings, briefly detailing his hamster wheeling escape to get to the conversation and events of that conversation about Bertok.

“It was in learning of bertok……he said the scouts will do nothing then. He was leader of the scouts. The Knight, then, as best I could guess, is their overall marshal, but each seems general of their own camp in his campaign. So they do seem in some ways autonomous. And Barnabas, whom I guess to be the portly friar, was away on some other business to have arrived. So independent in action. But this is only my guess.”

Then the water for touching conversation, and denial.

The Rose Knight leaving it out of reach.
Konstantine hears a sob muffled, more shhing, very soft.

Give short account of getting it and then expand again when he returned and give full of the strange conversation of roses and his own ….mistake in thoughts about what would happen when as the knight stepped through.

How detailed would that accounting be?
Exact, voices and all, since it would flesh out the character of the knight for the Knyaz to better strategize against.

He would hear more sobbing as well muffled as it was, it sounds angry as much as anything, and the cloth moving sounds of a minor struggle. The knyaz ignores all this as far as he can tell, like the other side of the screen is no part of this room. He would get up to pace though, looking at the shelves and out the windows.

Konstantine would stop with, “and I ran. And it was night.”

“Where have they come from? What foul mouth spews this mist and them with it? Hell, a necromancers stronghold in the northwest. We cannot know, only hope that the mist brought them from Rsha, and those camped at Rsha are all the more there are. These three servants and the knight their master. We cannot know whence they came, but I hear some of why in this talk of roses.”

“Cannot a gilded rose, planted in new soil, come to sprout again? Your answer roused him. There is more here than the hunger of the dead, the nature of evil things to destroy. They come to conquor.”

“They will not tolerate the living as their subjects if this gaspar’s reaction is any telling. They wish to make this a land of the dead. But there is hope for them in that wish. Perhaps they are cursed and seek a way to lift it?”

“Sevastyn believes in curses and foretelling. It is bread and butter to the gypsies. Could there be any truth to it? Who could we ask about such things.” ::my mother if she lives.:: “We must find someone who can see beyond what is plain, and answer us about curses, someone who knows more about the workings of the dead. Someone unsavory.”

“Moreover, they can be killed. They can be wounded. You killed the one and burned his body. They said it would take seven days to bring him back, and it seems they needed his body and this priest to do it.”

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Vision - Fall of the Unicorn

It was a normal enough nightmare at first, running around stomping and hitting skeletons with his sword, shattering them easily, but there always being more. The further he went they would stop being skeletons and became bodies, fallen soldiers of Severskii. Soldiers of mist came walking out of the forest, spears and swords out, indistinct swirling shapes. They reached down and touched the hands of corpses who reached up to them in supplication. The corpses rose, turning to mist themselves. This procession was coming, moving body by body towards him. Strangers and faces he knew, rendered in swirling white, walking inexorably forward.

He tripped on an arm, then looked down to see Laurente’s corpse. And mist soldiers coming for him.

Warning bells rose in mind- get Laurente’s body away from them, do not to let him be defiled.
His brother was laid half under his horse, Goga all clawed from undead and horse teeth open in a scream. Laurente’s leg was broken, and arrows pinioned him made of bone. Konstantine screamed Laurente’s name, hauling at his body and the horse to get him free.

Laurente’s face turned to look up at him “How can I kneel? My leg..konstantine.”

“You kneel to the knyaz and the wet earth only, brother, not to the enemy.”

The mist knights were coming faster, raising weapons, seeming to see that he was interfering.

::::Why would you even think that? What is wrong with your dead brain? How are you speaking? You cannot speak, you are dead and full of arrows. ::::

He ran at a sprint, lungs burning as he remembered from when he was wounded, Laurente’s heavy dead body in his arms, in his armor. Mental epitaphs against platemail echoed through his thoughts. They drove him over the road, to the river, and along it, the smaller dirt road that follows it.

The sky was black, even though he could see. Not even stars. As he ran the moon rising in the south, at the end of the road to Minsk. It wasn’t rising as a crescent but full. It felt torn -the slowness of its rising and knowing that the mist soldiers were, in dream fashion, always just behind him at the edge of vision.

Hoof beats coming and a hunting horn blow, far on the road from Minsk, and then closer, closer.
He woke at one of its calls.

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Frost and Francois

“Good gods they’re filthy.” Frost greeted him, looking over the tops of the brass framed trifocals Francois had made for him, with a jewelers lense and colored glass filters not in current use fanned out to the side. “What did you do, hire yourself out as a bloody chimney sweep?” It was a usual greeting. Frost thought of his wings as borrowed property and lamented his care of them. He would probably take them back if he could find a way.

“Mon Dieu, the doctor is picking up slang,” Francois said with a smile. He thought the Albion accent suited Frost. He had never sworn much before, Francois assumed because he wanted to set himself apart from the STRIKE dialect. If only Ethan were alive he would be proud of him now, not that he would understand a word he was saying.

Francois carried his old accent and epithets into the new tongue. It had always been about remembering what was lost. Once that had been his grandmother at the stove in their blue and yellow kitchen, and that bottle of cooking wine that never got any emptier,. Now he thought of Alain sprawled naked, sunk deep into that dog-reeking leather couch, those opal eyes and grease smudges on his cheeks, “Talk to me. Say anything.”

His accent didn’t get him into any trouble. People assumed it was the language of his marvelous winged race, and scholars reported it a living example of ancient Hebridean. That he and Frost could both keep mum and straight faced when people discussed it was their favorite shared joke. Maybe their only…

Frost took him by his wrist and dragged him to a metal swivel stool. He had a kit, a small badger brush, oil, a chamois. Francois took a deep breath as he started cleaning. “They really don’t get so dirty. The dust, it was much worse.” The dust used to eat at the feathers, worked its way down to the skin and gave him rashes. This was just coal soot and machine grease. The badger brush and deft hands tickled and warmed him, took his breath away, like good brandy rolling on the tongue. With anyone else it would be embarrassing, but something about Dr. Frost drove any feel of sexuality out of the act.

“I was looking at chimneys, at the new mill. You think we could set up some kind of chemical filtration system in them? As it is those short stacks are spewing coal dust all over the city. The old textiles plant is downwind, and has sealed all the windows and doors to keep the soot out. Imagine working that place with no open windows or fresh air in this heat. They’ve got kids in there…”

“You went inside a steel mill. Do you know what will happen to you if a spark, an ember, a splash of molten anything touches these?” It was more scripted speech between them, but the Dr.‘s focus wasn’t in it. He was actually thinking about the question.

“We’ve come on these people in the first throes of their industrial development. Processes start out crude, filthy. We can’t hurry them along to nuclear energy.”

“Doesn’t it feel like we brought it with us, seeing black cloud towers up into their living blue sky?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. We’ve been careful.” Dr. Frost’s lab with all of his advanced experiments were deep underground. He kept them utterly secret, or tried to. “Still, we might be able to rig a smoke scrubber and desulfurization chamber for them.” In Chronos their arts had nothing in common. But in this world Dr. Frost was brought nearer to sciences he understood. They made a fair team, with Frost’s alchemy and his engineering. Dr. Frost in turn seemed happy to have anyone who understood the physics and chemistry he was talking about at all, even an old hoverbike mechanic.

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One. Week.

Riduk watched the two of them by the fire. Konstantine sat rigid, contorted with emotions, taffy twisted this way and that until it was brittle. Emotions he could only guess at, but looking close and guessing was the same thing as knowing to a tracker. There was relief, to be alive and safe – moreso to see him alive and safe. Fear of the Castle – moreso of his dissaproval. Did Konstantine think he would turn him out with the scent of a stranger on him, like a mother bird whose chick had been handled? There was elation, and that was harder to track. It might be on Sevastyn’s account, from the way Sevastyn sat close and protective and wouldn’t meet his eyes. They had done something, his boys. One week. One week he left them, and they found each other. Was this how cityfolk felt when they must travel on some business and left their sons charge of the house? The two seemed to be waiting for a scolding.

But musk didn’t explain the fey light in Konstantine’s eyes. The glittering in that dark purple had more to do with firebird feathers than the mundane flames reflected there now. What had he seen? Sevastyn was a strange boy, had a touch of the other side to him, but it was smoke and evening shadows, not unicorn light. Again, it was a guess but a good one, the same river of light that led his eyes up that particular snowy slope as he looked out the window, that showed two figures in its stream as they crested the ridge, that light might have touched on them. The dark boy with the bloody eyes said the moon was a god.

Riduk felt the weather changing, an ache in his joints. It had set him wandering farther and farther, looking for whatever was coming. Maybe he had wandered too far and missed something important. The forest was full of questions – that faint rot on the wind, all the tracks heading south and east, always south and east, the moon so large and close it felt like it might crash down. The boys would have felt those questions too, and maybe the answers brought them together. That was no excuse though. Whatever they had shared, Sevastyn knew better.

The woodcutters called him “the wolf” which they meant as an insult. They thought of all wolves as wargs, insatiable evil and cunning. They hated the forest and were blind at night, so they only saw the specters their minds cast on the dark behind the first line of trees. The name suited more than they knew. He was so like a shy, wild thing.

Then there was Konstantine, who walked softly with his eyes open. Who took day and night for what they were. Who loved the forest. Konstantine who still wondered at fairytales when other boys his age were more interested in village girls. He had watched the boy stoop over cloven tracks and touch the torn bark of trees, in case this time it hadn’t only been a buck who left them and the message carved might be more than velvet itching off a rack of new antlers.

Imagine that boy meeting the prince of the forest. Half a wild animal, half a fairytale, and wounded. It would be foolish to expect anything but fascination, as expecting a salmon not to swim for its stream. If only Sevastyn really were a wolf or a fairytale creature, something wholly of the forest.

With his legs tucked up like that, and his bangs hiding the creases beside his eyes he could be the same boy who had crept to his fire not so long ago. (Fourteen years…had it been that long? A lifetime for a newlywed soldier. A day in the life of an elf or a tree.) Sevastyn had been as shy and curious of him as a beast would have been of the fire. It had taken most of the night, sitting and ignoring him, for him to clear the ring of light and come sit down. It must be how the long ago fathers of dogs had come to pass – some lonely wolf following a hunter, just out of sight, laying at the edge of his fire, just out of reach, and the two slowly becoming used to each other. If only Sevastyn’s lonliness were so easily assuaged. It had been a shock to realize what the boy really wanted. When he felt that thin body…always too thin…creep under his blanket and press to him as for warmth. But he knew Sevastyn never got cold. The courage it must have taken. Was it cruel that he had not moved, had not spoken when trembling lips brushed his jaw? But that was the answer wasn’t it, simply put. He couldn’t respond to that need, couldn’t accept that submission, because they were both men.

Sevastyn was a man. He was a prince, tied always to the city and the castle at its heart, however much he hated that. It was an easy mistake to think of him as part of the Forest. Konstantine knew the Forest. He knew that no wolf was more dangerous than a lone, hungry, scarred one, many times trapped and wounded. He was so patient, so gentle he might even be able to tame Sevastyn to his hand. But no ranger had any business messing with the castle. The Knyazes walked forests darker than they did. The thorns were daggers from behind. The fruit was often poisoned. In fairytales it was always the woodsman who saved the princess. How he saw it, whether the evil queen killed the woodsman for his troubles or the princess showered him in gold and brought him to court, the woodsman lost his life.

The clothes Konstantine wore and that medal on his breast frightened Riduk. Konstantine would rush to save someone’s life without any thought of reward or consequence. It can’t have been Sevastyn’s. No one would give him a medal for that. What had happened? He must have fled the city to still be wearing anything that ridiculous. None of the supplies with them were Konstantine’s things. Well, Konstantine would tell him in his own time.

It hurt to be proud, when he knew he might lose him. Might have already lost him. Whatever Konstantine had done, however foolish, it had been noble. He had some of his knight father in him. He wouldn’t let fear of strangeness cloud Sevastyn’s beauty or be able to look away from his pain. He wouldn’t see trouble and not run to help. He would have drawn his bow till the last arrow flew. He couldn’t be angry with Konstantine for that.

Sevastyn though. He knew better. He knew the risks any lover of his would face, and had he laid them out? Had he told Konstantine that men he had never met would hate him if they knew, that his own family might turn him out, or that the Knyagina would want to see him suffer? Sevastyn had always hidden himself totally, avoided Konstantine specifically, Riduk had thought as a token of good faith.

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The Beginning
Berries and Mittens

The story begins on a crisp autumn day. Early snow has fallen, and Annechka gives Konstantine a new pair of rabbit-fur-lined wool gloves with mitten overs. She asks if, in his checking of the traps that day, he would look for some late berries. She wants to make some more jams for the winter. Despite this being a scene one might have seen in any previous year of Konstantine’s life, though the gloves have gotten bigger with time, this year is poignant. It is a year since Konstantine began his apprenticeship as a ranger, and even his brother Anstice must admit he is a man grown. People begin to ask him when he will marry.

And all the autumn has been strange. Animals usually only seen in the far north have come south. And strangers also, bedraggled mad beggars with stories of a Green Knight who brings death and plague. Clearly a sickness or some other misfortune has struck one of the northern volosts, and it has addled the wits of the survivors. There have been encounters with orcs, rare but not unheard of around Severskii. One might think this would alarm a mother sending her son into the woods, but the woods are always dark in Vlahiskoi, and to worry of their danger is like to worry of the river’s wetness or the stove fire’s heat.

Deep in the forest Konstantine finds a clearing bordered in a great hedge of ancient raspberry bushes, the most hidden berries in the warren of trunks not yet plucked by sparrows and ermine. He spends the evening there picking them and decides to stay the night, since the thorny hedge is a natural protection from predators. As the moon rises, he sees a huge white wolf, larger than any he has seen, at the far edge of the clearing. She limps and sniffs the air, coming to the edge of where he hides and whining. Nothing in her manner is aggressive, so he goes out to meet her. The wolf leads him to a fallen girl, bloodied and gut wounded, half frozen in the snow. When he approaches her, she only says, “You’re alive. Thank the moist mother earth.” She is strange, dark skinned and white haired with pointed ears. He fears she may be a vampire, but checking her gums for paleness of bloodloss as a ruse, he sees her teeth are only as pointed as his.

He wraps her in his cloak and begins to carry her home. But before he has gone far, an orc comes loping over the hill behind, and then more. He sprints for his life, and even as he does, a slender chestnut-and-flaxen-haired mancomes running towards him, bow drawn, shooting at the orcs behind. He says he will hold them off, and to keep going. The wolf too turns to fight.

By the time Konstantine reaches the edges of town, the man and wolf catch up. And the man offers to take the girl and wolf and see to their wounds. This day Konstantine meets his first direwolf and his first drow, discovers that his master Riduk is not the only ranger in Severskii’s woods, and there on Sevastyn’s hearth sees a naked woman for the first time. His adventures have begun.

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Of Petty Wars and Winning

People were flooding in from Runefeld. Narsilon, his mage, had urged him to turn them away. How could Blackpoole feed two Righs? But Gar said that if he took them in, Runefeld would be his without contest. Its fields were not always so barren, and its warriors were famed. Better to suffer hunger this winter with them, than to let a new Righ take Grimghast’s place, and the survivors nurse their wounds and their grievances.

Grimghast’s body had been found the morning after they had brought Innis back to the Hall, the day of the gathering of the dead. The once Righ had been near where they found Innis, the arms cut off in one stroke, and the head in another. Decisive blows. No one wondered whose sword had made them. Grimghast’s warriors, those who still lived, had come to offer themselves to him. He gave them gold torcs and goblets with an open hand, as generous as Hrothgar in tales. But it was Innis that they asked about. Who was the man who fought alone? Who was he dyed the color of blood, even to the roots of his hair? Maeglin didn’t blame them for where their hearts lay. His went that way too.

While he sat on his throne and accepted the upheld swords, while he stood in the council room with Gar and Narsilon weighing the census against bushels and herds, while he walked the houses of healing till the stench of wounds and poultices was thick on his clothes…his mind was in the longhouse where Innis slept. He had wanted to post guards, but Gar said it would only attract attention. Keeping out curious warriors wasn’t really why he had wanted to post them, only a pretense, but he couldn’t tell Gar that. He was certain every time he went back that the bed would be empty, inexplicably.

Innis was tall, misleadingly awkward when he moved. Gregarious, rough, common mannered. On the one hand he was the perfect copper coin of Armagh’s mint, one hearty warrior of a thousand. He was earthy as the green grass. There was nothing frail about him. What was it then, that marked him as otherworldly? What was it that made it seem like he could step sideways through a veil of shadow and be gone? Could it be that he was half elven? Maeglin had met elves, had watched them step out of mist and leaves, suddenly at his elbow. They hadn’t made him feel the way Innis did now. If anything, he acted too human to be half elven. Not a hint of snobbery, no thorny uncertainties about his bastard heritage, and he seemed to prefer the company of a drunk crowd to solitary gardens. Why then? Where was he looking, when his eyes lost focus? His face was young, smooth and cheerful as the rolling foothills in spring. But if you caught him not looking right at you, he looked older, features carved out and shaded in contrast like the mountains when the sun was low. What distant sorrow drew those long shadows? Was it only that he was cursed with the blood rage, marked by some fickle deity?

Gar said this obsession was the fault of a keen mind, adding that he was prone to discontent. Was curiosity and restlessness all this was? Who wouldn’t be curious about a half eleven warrior grown who couldn’t ride a horse? Who said bizarre things and laughed sadly to himself.

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