Dubhaine Family/Brigdha/Roleplays/2017/December

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10th Dectember

Day -- An Najaf


"See dear, this is how your father plans to bring peace to the North," Brigdha passed her brass spyglass to her young companion and guided her eye to the encampment in the valley bottom where various prominent knights were lecturing a captive audience of An Najaf's leading families on liberty whilst armed guards looked on.

"My father wants to-" Glory's tone was indignant.

"Shhsh m'lady," Kris put his finger to her lips, "we don't want to attract attention."

"My father wants to bring them freedom," the fire in her young eyes matched her insistent whisper, the spyglass for the moment forgotten.

"Oh Glory, you have a lot to learn about life if you think freedom can be imposed with a sword," Brigdha put a hand on her shoulder.

"And what do you know of freedom!" Glory pulled away, shaking with anger.

"You ask me that?" a wry smile soured Brigdha's lips, "I've fought the war your father now fights and it cost me my sister, my niece, my grandniece - all the line of blood which binds our two Houses. And you ask me what I know of freedom? I've known your father since long before you were born Glory, and I've seen him at his best... and at his worst - neither were amenable to reason," she took the spyglass and returned it to her satchel.

"And who are you to judge him? A interfering old busybody who spends her days talking with fat merchants and ignorant peasants!"

"A interfering old busybody perhaps child, but I'm old enough to have seen this story play out before," Brigdha turned to the valley below, "and that's why I don't judge Garas. I pity him."

Alfhelm Sussex

Alfhelm had been in a commandeered inn, reading a book of Sirionite history, when one of his network of spies and scouts reported to him that the woman he had been seeking to speak with for some time had been spotted.

"Are you sure?" he asked the scout.

"Yes m'lord. She was accompanied by a young girl and a handful of servants. The militia spotted her but let her pass, however they noted the house sigil on one of her possessions. She is undoubtedly of the House Dubhaine. I left two men to monitor her movements covertly."

"Hmmm," mused Alfhelm. "Well I suppose that she does have free right of movement under our laws as both a priest and a diplomat, so the militia acted properly."

He rose to his feet and put on his cloak.

"You did well to keep her monitored. Take me to her."

Sometime later Alfhelm and the scout rode up to the place where the priestess had last been spotted, overlooking a valley encampment of Highmarchian forces.

Captain Baldric had nearly had kittens when Alfhelm had insisted on travelling alone, but had obeyed orders and kept the Sussex Lancers confined to guarding the inn.

Thus the Representative for Winkamus was quite alone when he dismissed the scouts and rode up to the rise and called out "Hail Lady Ambassador! Might I join you?"

After all, there was no need to startle them and end up with a knife in his eye for his trouble. That would be a most unsatisfactory end for the next Vox of Highmarch.

Garas Gabanus

Goran said "I suppose...Hello Father...and how are you would be the best way to start the conversation." he said with a smile on his face.

Garas just looked at his son, the Prince of Oligarch, although he seemed just am anxious boy now, damagednin some unknown way. It hurt Garas a bit. All he had tried was to protect his family and he has felt a failure since the day he got captured, tortured for months unable to help them, only to find Catherine disappeared upon his escape. Now he saw his son for the first time in years and he just felt pity and shame.

In his younger years Goran was such a playfull boy, who loved to sing and play. He was good at it too, although Garas always insisted on his military training, making him strong. He now misses those times, those songs and the smile Catherine had when she heard him sing. Those were the only times she smiled around Goran, but now that smile is gone and no song will bring it back.

This and much more went through his head as he looked at Goran and so he smiled and looked sad at the same time.

"Now that you have returned I am a happier man," he said "Perhaps now it is time for us to have your sister return as well. Now come and sing me one of your songs."

Rand Al Thor

As Rand walked amongst his men, he wondered if the region of An Najaf would bend to the will of the Highmarch forces and come willingly into the fold and protection it can offer.

Scanning the horizon he didnt notice any signs of enemy forces planning an assault. Though there was lots of movement in the camp all seemed in order, except, yes that is Lord Alfhelm riding out of the camp, strange to go riding so late.

Dismissing the Lords movement from his mind, as he is but a Lowly Knight and Lord's movements is not his concern he enters his Field tent and reads his last received orders from Lord Garas, instructing him to temporarily take command of An Najaf once the region has been annexed.

Looking at Victor, his scribe sitting with the latest reports and messages he say's,

"I wonder if these orders are still valid, these where issued before we where routed from An Najaf, best would be to get clarification. Victor, pen a Letter to Lord Garas and ask for instructions regarding An Najaf and if my last received orders still stand. Make haste and send our fastest messenger"

"Aye My Lord it will be done with all haste"

Sitting back in his chair he ponders the outcome of this campaign, and a time he is back in Aestus looking after his people and Estate.


Hrolf watched the lone horseman approaching the bluff from his hide, the dust from the horse's hooves drifting lazily on the light summer breeze back towards the distant detachment of lancers. Judging by his bearing and finery the man was a high-ranking nobleman and Hrolf's trained eye unconsciously measured the angle of his killing shot as the horse drew into range.

"Hwuuuurt!!! Hwuuuurt!!!" the rider's approach had been marked by a second pair of eyes, perched a quarter-mile away in the branches of a parched oak.

"Pyrwhipt!! Vyroot!!" he returned the signal, easing the bowstring.

"And what might your business with the Ambassador be, young lordling," a stooped crone wrapped in a ragged cloak, leaning what little there was of her on a gnarled staff, limped slowly and painfully from the undergrowth.

Alfhelm Sussex

As his horse trotted towards the bluff Alfhelm felt, but could not see, eyes watching him. He could feel the hairs standing up on the back of his neck and it took a conscious effort not let his hand drift to his scabbard.

When the crone called out to him and emerged from the undergrowth, Alfhelm brought his horse to a halt and dismounted, patting her flank.

"Good day to you grandmother," he greeted her respectfully, inclining his head a fraction.

"I am the Chief of Commerce of Highmarch, and Representative of Winkamus. I have, for some time, been seeking to treat with an ambassador of Shadowdale on behalf of the south. I also wish to offer her my hospitality, should she wish it, while she is in An Najaf."

Alfhelm furrowed his brow as he tried to make out the face half hidden by the hood of the cloak.

"Are you a servant of the Ambassador? Could you direct me to her? Or," he said, an idea suddenly occurring to him and his eyes widening, "is this some cunning disguise? Am I in fact addressing the great lady herself?"

Garas Gabanus

While most of his men were off giving freedom celebrations in the city, Garas decided to move towards Alfhelm's camp as he wished to discuss a few matters with him. As he arrived at the camp, his captain at first refused to tell him where his master had gone, but Garas placed his hand upon the shaft of his sword without actually drawing it and looked at Baldric with a most evil of looks. It's unclear whether or not it was his hand on his sword, or the look, the face of a burned man, or perhaps his reputation of being highly temperamentful, it didn't matter as ultimately Baldric told him where his master had gone.

"Lady Brigdha is here?" he walked towards the horses of Alfhelm's camp, cut one loose and as he got on he turned to Baldric "You, make sure word is sent to Prince Goran Gabanus of Oligarch, do not make me learn you haven't. Tell him to meet me at the Ambassador's place and tell him where it is! Now go!" and as such he rode away himself. Baldric must have looked confused for a moment as this man was not his master, yet gave him orders.

And so Garas rode out, perhaps a few minutes behind Alfhelm, on his way to Brigdha.

Brigdha Dubhaine

"It seems the lad's perceptive m'lady - for a southerner..." Kris rose from the ground beneath Alfhelm's mount, spooking it, dust falling from his cloak as he sheathed the wicked hooked knife in his left hand.

The crone took a step forward, eyes gleaming beneath her cowl, mesmerising the steed, "You're just upset Kris that your party piece wasn't needed."

"Hrolf! Anagrith! Stand down! Seems lordling's off the menu today!" the bushwhacker grinned as his voice boomed over the bluffs.

"So it's an Ambassador you seek is it?" the old woman let the hood fall away, revealing straggly white hair and a toothless grin, "Then I suppose I should oblige."

The crone's hands moved with surprising swiftness, her staff rising and falling in a single fluid movement entirely at odds with her hunched, misshapen form. The butt struck the ground with a dull thud, and as it did a great many subtle glamours fell away, limbs straightening and flesh plumping, fabric mending and wood warping as the Balancewalker resumed her courtly form.

"Countess Brigdha Dubhaine, Ambassador of Shadowdale at your service Representative Alfhelm. How may I be of assistance?"

Alfhelm Sussex

Alfhelm managed to maintain his composure when the knifeman rose from the ground, but utterly failed to do so at the countess's transformation.

His eyes watched with fascination and amazement as her appearance transformed.

This is true magic, he thought, this is real sorcery, not the nonsensical mutterings and hocus pocus of the mages of the Tower of High Sorcery back in Isadril.

When Brigdha had finished her transformation, Alfhelm realised, to his chagrin, that his mouth was slightly open. Closing it, he regained his composure and turned first to the knifeman, Kris, or whatever his name was. He would let the snide remark about being a southerner pass, but there was one matter which he would not - and which would allow him to cover his embarrassment at acting like a slackjawed fool at Brigdha's transformation.

"Your devotion to defending your mistress is admirable," he said sharply "but it is extremely rude to startle a perfectly innocent horse. Daisy's a gentle soul and could do without cut-throats appearing from underneath her."

Then he turned back to the countess and bowed deftly, before smiling disarmingly, his boyish looks and cheerful blue eyes for once working to his advantage as they made it clear he was definitely no threat.

"Lady Ambassador, it is a delight to meet you. Firstly, I bid you welcome to what should, by dawn, be Highmarch. As a priestess you are welcome here and I would be pleased to offer you my hospitality should you wish to stop observing us from afar."

A knowing, mischievous smile touched his face for a moment as he said this, before his tone and countenance became more serious.

"Secondly, however, I wish to enquire under what terms Shadowdale would be prepared to withdraw from this war. I understand fully that that would be the kind of conversation which would require lengthy correspondence, but I hope that would be a discussion you are willing to entertain?

"Thirdly, and somewhat contradictorily, I had considered asking whether you would be interested in making your home in Highmarch and bringing Aureus with you - but if all of Shadowdales warrior are half as skilled as your men then I suppose you may be too confident in defending it to consider joining the other side."

The last he said with a wry smile at his own expense for he had been truly astonished at what he had witnessed. Was this Sirionite sorcery? Or was it the Way of the Shadows? Or something else entirely? Either way, he thought ruefully, it was unlikely he would ever find out.

Garas Gabanus

Garas rode the horse quickly, pushing it forward with every movement, hastening to his goal. When he was close he could see Brigdha transform in front of Alfhelm's eyes, although he was still too far away to hear what they were talking about. Garas didn't care much about any of it. He didn't want to know why they were meeting, it didn't even cross his mind. All he cared about was reaching her as quickly as possible.

"Lady Brigdha, up to your old tricks I see," he said with a smile, but before he allowed her to answer he quickly added "Where is she?" Before he had finished speaking he had unmounted his horse already and let it go. The horse stood still, most likely well trained, but none of it caught Garas' eye. It wasn't even his horse after all.

Brigdha Dubhaine

"Excuse my hotheaded cousin Lord Alfhelm, his daughter's been in my charge for some time, studying at the Grey University in Karbala, and he's anxious to be reunited," there was a brief rustling in the bushes and an unarmed young woman emerged, dressed in russet serge tunic and leather riding britches.

"Papa!" the girl's face broke into a guileless smile as she rushed to embrace Garas, "Oh Papa! I've missed you so much!"

"Glory's studies have progressed well," Brigdha's face remained impassive as she watched the reunion, "Her tutors say she has a natural gift for scholarship."

In the months since Brigdha spirited her great-grandniece from the Siege of Oligarch she'd become very fond of the girl who was now almost like another granddaughter to her. Well, perhaps not a granddaughter considering her complicated relationship with Etain, but certainly the girl commanded that same fierce affection which cemented the Dubhaine matriarchy.

Returning Glory to her father's influence when she still had so much to discover about the Dubhaine ways was far from ideal, but Garas was not a man to be trifled with, a ragged scar consuming the fabric of reality. To see that gentle jade flame guttering as the winds of limbo roared all about it brought back memories of Queen Catherine lying in that darkened high chamber, surrounded by the stench of madness and decay. The sorcery Brigdha worked to save the Queen had cost her dear: two great years of slumber, her soul adrift in the High Firmament...

A heartbeat, then a second, then a third.

Brigdha turned to the young Representative from Winkamus, "It's my duty to talk peace Lord Alfhelm, even when the prospects seem very slim indeed. But as to Aureus, well my people are a quarrelsome bunch and forthrightly attached to the Shadow King's beneficent rule... as I'm sure your friends from Fallangard can attest."

Alfhelm Sussex

There were times when Alfhelm felt in complete control. When he felt as if he could see with crystal clarity every last small piece of the world. When he knew what people were going to say before they said it, exactly what to do, whom to speak to, and precisely what to say to manipulate people into making his plans work.

And then there were other times, like this, where there were far too many unexpected surprises. Too many unknown factors. He felt the faintest touch of panic starting to rise inside him... then gathered himself and squashed it down mercilessly, forcing himself to place a polite smile on his face while he silently watched this unexpected reunion and tried to restore his grasp on his surroundings.

This girl, this Glory, is she Gabanus's daughter? he wondered to himself. Once again the man proved to be an enigma with a past that Alfhelm felt he would never truly know or understand.

He suddenly realised that his eyes were lingering too long on the girl's face. No, the young woman's face, he corrected himself. She was undoubtedly beautiful but Alfhelm averted his eyes before he could embarrass her or himself. Or enrage Gabanus, he thought.

Instead he glanced around, taking in all the members of what was starting to feel like a gathering, before he head Brigdha speak to him. Her words, at least, were something he knew how to react to.

Finally feeling somewhat self-assured again, he turned to reply to Brigdha, this time fastening a warm smile on his face.

"Thank you Lady Dubhaine, but please, if you must call me by any title, then call me Citizen. We have no lords in Highmarch. Though," he reflected ruefully "we do currently have two foreign princes."

"But I am most glad you are willing to talk peace. I might have been hoping for enthusiasm for the notion but I will not spurn dutifulness. Not when it offers the potential to avoid needless bloodshed. I must confess that I'm not surprised by your answer on Aureus - though perhaps we might have a chance to discuss it again after Fontan falls?"

Alfhelm moved a little closer and lowered his voice, and glancing over at Garas and Glory. "But first I must ask - that young woman - would she be Knight Commander Gabanus's daughter?"

Brigdha Dubhaine

"I prefer to think of her as my great-grandniece, but yes, that is Lady Glory Gabanus, late of Oligarch and daughter of your Knight Commander," Brigdha slipped her hand into her satchel and rummaged for a few seconds before withdrawing a small waxed-paper bag of candies. She held the bag towards Alfheim and then to Kris.

"Thanks m'lady," the bushwhacker withdrew a sweet and popped it in his mouth with a wolfish grin. The two remaining members of Brigdha's party sauntered from the undergrowth, longbows slung over their shoulders, a well-built man with the bearing of a professional soldier dressed in a mixture of faded greys and browns, and a slender woman with the distinctive features and sharp eyes of elfland, her garb shifting to suit its surroundings as she moved.

"Forgive me, I haven't introduced my travelling companions. You've met Kris already and this is Hrolf," Brigdha nodded to the newcomer, "they like to think they're my bodyguards though I often feel its me who's doing the guarding."

Mirthful laughter came easily to the three of them, that effortless camaraderie soldiers develop when they've been through hell together, and it was clear that their relationship was more that of close kin than mistress and servants. The elf woman on the other hand was emotionally distant, her expression unfathomable and her body too calm for human comfort.

"And my female companion is Princess Anagridh Serpentis, of the Avamar Serpentis. She likes the hunting in these parts," which left the question of what she was hunting unanswered.

Had Alfhelm the sight he'd doubtless have recoiled from the balefire limning that fair elven form and the skirling rhythms as blood danced through her alien arteries. But then if Alfhelm had the sight he'd probably be far more concerned by Garas than Brigdha's elven in-law. But sadly such wisdom was lost on the men of the south...

Yeghandr Anderfhstim

"Both Glory and Anagridh will serve their husbands fine. Maybe not Anagridh if this war continues. She may become an offering to Ulgaro. Do not worry though. She will know all earthly pleasures before she joins with Ulgaro. My men and I will make sure of that." Said Yeghandr while laughing with his men.

He could already imagine Anagridh's flayed body tied to a tall tree after serving every single one of his men. She would be please Ulgaro greatly through her suffering and pain. Her screams will fill his ears and her blood will fill his hunger.

11th December

Day -- An Najaf

Garas Gabanus

Garas embraced his daugther for such a long time that he had the feintest idea of time, nor did he care. Moments of happiness were rare to him and he hadn't known them since he lost Catherine, save for the return of Goran and now Glory.

"You grow more beautiful by the day," he said with a smile as a single tear went down his face. His eyes now looked into hers, her beautiful clear blue eyes like her father used to have. She happily stared back at his. It almost seemed as if she did not see the burned scarring which covered his face. "Papa, your eye, it's blue again?" She suddenly exclaimed with a mixture of surprise and happiness.

Garas had not looked at himself in a mirror fo years, but none of his men had told him either. His eyes now were of different colors. One as blue as the ocean waves, and the other still the piercing red they became after the last Dark Magic attack by the elves on him. The attack had left him burned, enflamed, scarred, but stronger at the sane time as an intense hatred took over. One could only speculate as to his condition, especially now.

After talking with his daugther some more, kissing on the forehead a thousand times before he would hug her once more, he ultimately walked to Brigdha and Alfhelm again. Without paying heed to the negotiations they were occupied with, Garas placed a kiss on Brigdha's cheek "Thank you," he said in a strong and emotional way "I'm sure Goran would love to see the two of you as well. Tell us all of your adventures!" he said as he turned back to Glory. "Lady Brigdha my dear, you will join us as well I hope? The rest of yours can join camp as well and have some supper."

It was only now that it seemed as if he had truly noticed Alfhelm. "Lord Alfhelm, please join us as well. If you wish to do diplomacy you should get to know the ambassador better," he said with a smile. It was unlikely that Alfhelm had ever seen him smile before this day, or even portray an emotion other than anger and hate.

Rand Al Thor

The Army staging ground was abuzz with activity. Fletcher's and armorers busy nonstop, scouts and scribes rushing from one camp to another carrying all kinds of parchments and messages. The smells of cooking fires waft around the laughter and music of men happy to be alive for yet another day.

Rand was busier that usual, orders arrived from Lord Garas with instructions on the current occupation of An Najaf, Rand felt overwhelmed by it all. As a young Knight this, the Occupation and well being of the people of An Najaf so far was the greatest responsibility laid on his young shoulders yet, and he was going to make sure nothing interfered with his duties.

“Captain Aelfmona, our orders are clear we are to hold An Najaf for the time being, or until ordered otherwise. I feel the other Nobles, Knights and Lords will be getting ready to move soon. Station our men to the Lords Keep for now and secure the grounds also set guards and patrols. With so many Nobles and Lords in the region we have to assume they would want to meet and discuss our plans on the war effort. Make the Lords keep open to them, and Aelfmona you are in charge of their safety, don’t disappoint me.”

Captain Aelfmona nodded in agreement “My Lord, with so many nobles and Lords expected to arrive, I would like to make the suggestion that no more than two attendants escort them into the Lords Keep, security and their wellbeing will be assured by the Dragons Teeth.”

“I agree, also make sure that there is enough food and drink available at all times. We will not let it be known that Highmarch skimps on their Celebrations. If there is nothing else, you may get the men moving and start the preparations.”

“Aye my Lord”

As Aelfmona made her way out of the command tent, Rand slowly started to gather his sword and shield and stepped out into the madhouse that is the Southern Army, with a faint smile on his face.

Hrafn Skovgaard

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest A Strange in the Nest

What's this? The monsters are all missing And the nightmares can't be found And in their place there seems to be Good feeling all around Instead of screams, I swear I can hear music in the air The smell of cakes and pies Are absolutely everywhere

"I am Sir Hrafn of the clan Skovgaard, son of Erik Eyolf Serpentis, Sultan es-Selatin, Conqueror of the North..."

The young crow put the letter on the candle flame and let it burn. He was not in Sirion anymore and Higmarch was not exactly interested in who his father was. If even in Sirion that didn't mean much, imagine there, in a Democracy. Hrafn was a Republican with tendencies to Imperialism, like his father. They saw Democracy to be a soft, effeminate version of true Republican values. While a Republican should stepped in and made his will to be heard by the vote, the Democrats hid in an anonymous crowd, leaving the vote of a majority speak by itself. It was better not to start off on the wrong foot, for Highmarch was not the destiny, just the path. However, he could not help but notice the differences. Leaving Sirion and joining Highmarch was like leaving a graveyard and joining the ball. While one was moribund and silent, the other was vibrant and noisy. Except for Garas, they were all strangers to him, though Sirion was not much different nowadays. It was like stepping out thr silence of the temple ruins and entering the market.

Hrafn: "Do you remember the tale about the Sultan who dressed as a beggar to walk among his people? I think it will be appropriate now. Fly low for a while. Keeping quiet and discretion..."

"I think you're old enough to know. The original tale is about an adventurer who stole one of my chests while I was traveling. For a while he would dress and try to behave like me to seduce the countrywomen. When we caught him, instead of hanging him, I gave the poor man a bottle of wine and a pat on the back. He deserved it. I don't think your mother would like this version..."

He shook his head, got up and opened the tent's entrance and looked out into the organized chaos that was An Najaf now. That was a brave new world and it wouldn't be easy to keep quiet. How long could he dance to that masquerade without being noticed? Fontan would have to be a quick job. Being under Gara's command would be very strange, even despising Ecthelion and all the other old mummies and young idiots.

The sights, the sounds They're everywhere and all around I've never felt so good before This empty place inside of me is filling up I simply cannot get enough I want it, oh, I want it Oh, I want it for my own I've got to know I've got to know What is this place that I have found? What is this?

Alfhelm Sussex

He smiled politely during the introductions, then bowed to the princess but kept his eyes on her - something about her made him instinctively wary, like a hare in the presence of a falcon.

But then Alfhelm calmed himself and once again found his confidence. He was a man of power and authority, and right now he was protected by common courtesy.

Under other circumstances things might be different but right now there was no threat to fear from these foreign nobles who still clung to the outdated titles of royal regimes that would be swept away in time by the new age of democracy.

A genuine smile of friendliness warmed his face as he straightened his back.

"It is an honour to meet you princess. I have heard many great things of your family..." he began, only to be interrupted by Gabanus striding over and kissing Lady Brigdha's cheek.

Under normal circumstances he might have been annoyed at having been utterly ignored by Gabanus, for all that he was used to the man's abrasiveness. But the genuine warmth of the smile on the man's face caught Alfhelm by surprise.

In all the time Alfhelm had known him he had come to think of Gabanus as more like a weapon than a normal man, for it seemed as if any humanity had been burned out of him by the attacks of Sirionite sorcery. All that was left, Alfhelm had thought, was a barely restrained hatred and the military genius that made him the single most potent weapon the south had - a dangerous weapon which could just as easily turn on them as aid them.

So Alfhelm had grown used to alternately arguing against Gabanus and then advocating for him. He had grown used to remembering Gabanus's goals and advocating for them as if they were his own. He had grown used to making himself necessary for Gabanus's plans so that, in turn, he would benefit from Gabanus needing to support Alfhelm's own ambitions. After all, he certainly would not be in line to be the next Vox of Highmarch if Gabanus had ever turned against him...

But this, this was new. Alfhelm found himself reappraising the man and for the first time felt he had caught a glimpse of the character which had compelled so many to follow him as a ruler in his own right and not just as a general.

"I would be most glad to join you Knight Commander," he said. "I always find that diplomacy goes easier once all involved have broken bread together."

Left unsaid, but thought was, I would not mind spending some more time in the presence of Glory either...

Brigdha Dubhaine

Brigdha's mind still dwelt on that moment on the bluffs, even as the unlikely assembly approached the encampment in the valley below.

For as long as the priestess had known Garas he'd been a proud man, unwavering in his certainty and remorseless in its execution, so the gesture of familiarity was most unexpected. Perhaps his feelings for his daughter might yet prove the monster's unmaking and the man's resurgence...

Ever courageous in service of a good cause, Brigdha accepted the chance fate afforded, leaning close as she returned the kiss, her counsel a soft whisper for his ears only, "Don't just look Garas, see!"

The Southern Army cast a mighty shadow in the High Firmament, even with half it's battalions departing, and Brigdha was reminded of Fontan at its zenith. But just as the coalition at Fontan's heart had been proven a lie, so the unhealthy hue and squawking facies which crowded all about suggested darker motives at work.

Whilst the councils of the north took fright at the revolutionary ideals of Vix and Highmarch, and the fashionable drawing rooms of Shadowdale were full of talk of peasant insurrection and the overthrow of divine order, Brigdha was less certain.

"This smells of politics," Anagridh spoke in her mother tongue, her relaxed demeanour and the melodic syllables at stark odds with her stark choice of grammatical framing: the recognition of deceit concealed from its author. It had taken Brigdha a good decade or more of constant usage to master the subtleties of such constructions, and another to frame her own thoughts with equal clarity in the Heru Mellen.

"Freedom is the wind, death is the ocean," she replied in the common tongue, a smile spreading slowly across Anagridh's face as she savoured the tale of the Swan Captain, an ancient Elven saga of dark passions and bloody betrayal which had nothing to do with either Swans or the ocean and left very little to the imagination.

"So Lord Alfhelm, have you visited An Najaf before?" Brigdha turned to the young Chief of Commerce.

Night -- An Najaf

Alfhelm Sussex

"Why yes I have Lady Ambassador," Alfhelm replied, walking at her side and deciding to ignore the cryptic remarks which had just been exchanged.

"Quite a few times in fact. But always on the business of war. On the last such visit we were on the verge of convincing the peasants to embrace the freedom of Highmarch, only to be defeated by a northern host which soon terrified the region back into compliance.

"And now history repeats itself, once again we find ourselves on the eve of battle with a northern host bearing down on us."

A faint, mirthless smile touched his face. "But this time it will go a little differently. An Najaf his ours and the northmen will break themselves on our army."

Then Alfhelm sighed, glancing around at the scenery.

"It is a shame though" he remarked. "This place truly is quite beautiful. A hidden gem in the shadow of Fontan."

He turned back to Brigdha. "I envy you in truth. As an Ambassador and a priestess you are free to travel, to see so many parts of this great continent. I envy that freedom - for I am trapped in a cage of my own choosing, either bound to the capital by administrative duties or travelling to battle. Scarce indeed are the chances to truly appreciate the beauties and wonders of the different realms."

Garas Gabanus

"Don't just look Garas, see!" she whispered in his ears, but he was uncertain what she really meant. He knew Brigdha well enough to know she was hinting at someone, but today he would not think about it. The thought would no doubt recur in his mind some days later, but as he looked at his daugther he could not bring himself to think of the meaning of these words. He walked behind Brigdha and Alfhelm together with Glory when Alfhelm made his reply to the shadow priestess.

"I envy you in truth. As an Ambassador and a priestess you are free to travel, to see so many parts of this great continent. I envy that freedom - for I am trapped in a cage of my own choosing, either bound to the capital by administrative duties or travelling to battle. Scarce indeed are the chances to truly appreciate the beauties and wonders of the different realms."

Garas smirked for a moment: "Beauties and wonders of the different realms?" he repeated "What wonders my friend? The City of Oligarch where the elven tyrant now hangs his banner? Or the White City with its famous towers now claimed by some upstart rebels, or shall we visit Xavax, nearly devoid of population or Perdan City where a hundred years from now people will still try to conquer it, or burn it down? Or perhaps the wastelands in the north of Nivemus, the famous Tree of Oroya, corrupted by politics and dark magic? Wherever you go, you will only see blood and death, at least for the next decades. I've been nearly everywhere on this continent, it's all the same in the end."

When he was finished speaking, Glory shirked his sleeve "Papa, don't be so melodramatic. The badlands of Nivemus are quite beautiful to ride a horse and the White Tree mama always spoke about, it's still beautiful papa, promise me that we'll go together one day! The world is beautiful!" Garas shook his head for a second "I'm sorry my love, you are right. The world is a beautiful for such a splendid being as yourself, not for men like me," he said "But whenever I see you and your brother, you are my beauty in this world and wherever you are the world is beautiful. If only I could return you your home." He looked at her, no longer smirking, but with a deep and long stare.

"And the White Tree?" she asked, noticing the change in her father's voice she saw an opportunity. "Your mother and I are still to go there, bless our marriage under her sacred tree, but with the war and Nivemus' hostility, we never had the opportunity." He didn't further answer her question and now fell back to the memmories of his wife. "So Alfhelm," he quickly said to change the topic and remove attention from himself "You like An Najaf better this time around?"

Alfhelm Sussex

Once again a reply had died on Alfhelm's lips as Glory interjected. He inwardly marvelled at her energy and excitement and delight at the world - she was so unlike the Gabanus he knew that it was almost hard to believe she was his daughter.

When Gabanus changed the subject Alfhelm rapidly replied to prevent the conversation dwelling on what was doubtless a painless topic.

"I like better any province which flies our flag!" he chuckled.

"But, more seriously" he said, "this time I have had the time and leisure to explore it somewhat more. The highlands and the emptiness is... peaceful.£

"And of course," he added, making sure he wasn't looking at Glory, "the company is much better this time too."

Then he did turn to Glory.

"Your father is not wrong though. There is as much darkness in the world as beauty, and blood and death are all too common.

"But I like to think that that is what makes beauty all the more marvellous. The fact that it can be fleeting is what makes it so precious and worthy of enjoyment. And while even a mighty city or beautiful temple or peaceful countryside can be shattered and destroyed in the end, the return of beauty is just as inevitable as blood and death. Everything has its time and place, and nothing lasts forever - but that is no reason not to enjoy what we can as it passes by..." he finished contemplatively.

Then he flushed in embarrassment.

"My apologies!" he called out to the group. "I am afraid that sometimes I can let solemnity get the better of me - please pay it no mind!"

To cover his own embarrassment he turned back to Lady Brigdha.

"You mentioned the University of Karbala earlier - what is it like?"

Brigdha Dubhaine

"The Grey University? I should think it's the brightest jewel in the Shadow King's crown. Where else can you find a community of scholars dedicated to furthering knowledge of the natural world without the blinkers of superstition?" Brigdha's pulse raced as she warmed to her subject, "The true sciences: alchemy; astrology; genealogy; anatomy; natural philosophy. All pursued with rigour."

"My order has a close association with the University and I've been a member of the faculty there for a number of years. I was even rector for a while, though I must admit the egos and politics that involved were somewhat tiring... Lady Glory has just completed a semester, haven't you my dear?"

"Yes, Aunt Brigdha," the words tripped off her tongue reflexively and a charming blush reddened her cheeks as she found herself the centre of attention.

"So what did you think of the University?"

"It's so romantic..." her eyes glazed for a moment, evidence of some inner reverie, "The spires, the domes, the Great Library. I never realised there were so many books to read, so many clever thoughts... And the poets! Miltaise... Shelville... Byren... especially Byren..."

"I think what my great-grandniece is trying to say is that a good education broadens horizons."

12th December

Day -- An Najaf

Benjamin Pryde

Oh, what a glorious battle!

The gods of war are shining in their glory today!

Today, the Sirion Civil War continues, when once it was nearly done.

But the treachery of the elves of the eastern forests knows no end, and so it is left in the hands of the loyal sons of mankind to stand united against their corruption.

We shall cleanse the lands of their influence, and bring freedom back to the north.

Garas Gabanus

Garas now only listened to the conversation as it delved into sciences, the university and much more. When he was young he would spend much of his time in the libraries of Rettlevile, but he mainly read the military books of the great Generals who came before him. A boy dreaming to one day serve one of those great man, what strange a life he had lived he thought to himself. But then his was taken from his thoughts as he heard Glory speak. She spoke with such enthousiasm, such knowledge and her innocence still. He had seen that as a weakness when Goran grew up, but now as he saw it in her, he only wished it had never left his son.

"You sound so much your like your mother," he said as his daugther finished. For those unaware of Garas' inner workings this may have sounded like a slight, but he quickly continued "She was the most brilliant women to have ever walked this world, wise and kind far beyond any other, especially myself," only to add "No offense milady" as he turned to Brigdha.

He then placed a hand on his sword, "This world needs wise women to rebuild it, after we have broken it down," he paused for a moment "Only then can a better world come to be, the world your mother once envisioned decades ago before they slandered her and voted her out of Nivemus." He felt his anger grow again suddenly as he thought back of his wife, the things they had done to her and all the suffering. His hand clenched firmly around his sword now, as if he was ready to strike down any present, his blue eye dimming in light as his red left eye grew brighter, untill Glory placed her hand on his "Papa, I love it when you speak of mama, I miss her," and suddenly his grip loosened and he just looked at her "So do I my love, so do I" and he took her hand, softly and gently.

Perhaps there was a way to tame to monster he had become, but what would be of him if she was not around.

Roleplay from Rand Gardarr

Rand blinked as motes of light assaulted his eyes; he immediately closed them and touched his forehead, the streak of pain at his touch almost made him pass out. Again, but a bit more tentatively he opened his eyes and surveyed his surroundings.

Yes, he was in his command tent, everything seems a blur, but he remembers charging the Enemy host with his men, the sound of swords clashing and men screaming becoming more vivid every second. Three men surrounding him, all seemed lost as he took a blow to his head, and then two of his banner men wading into the fray pulling him out from the chaos.

And here they were standing guard in his tent …

Hoarsely he asks “The Battle, the troops, what has happened …”

His two guards looked at each other, seeming not to answer, maybe out of fear or something else perhaps?

“Speak, men. You know me; I would not blame you for ill news”

The older of the two guards steps closer and says “ Aye milord, ti’s is true, we know you and we know you’ll not blame us but yourself” sighing he steps even closer.

“It was a massacre my lord, thirty three men dead or unaccounted for, another thirty one on deaths bed, the healers have been busy all night long trying to save as many as they can” Looking at this companion , he nods. “Me and George are the only two that made it out unscathed, the Gods must have smiled on us to clear our path from the battlefield as we retreated with you Milord.”

His men knew him too well, and they were right, this tragedy is no one’s fault but his own.

“Help me up, and take me to the wounded at the healer’s camp”

He would not shrug his duty in this, he would be with his men, especially now.

Rand was slowly walking between the cots laden with his men, bloody messes of flesh and bone, it made him sick.

“Milord, it is confirmed, the ships at Breakwater Landing does belong to Lord Smiddich Fontaine”

Sighing, Rand turns to the Scribe “And the Lord himself any news?”

“Not as yet Milord, his men are scattered all over the battlefield and the Lord himself has not yet been seen”

“Damn the man for being so elusive. You have the Letter of Marque and my offer to Lord Fontaine?”

“I do milord, if I might summarize the content?”

“Continue” said Rand

“As per your request; you in writing offer the Estate of Breakwater Landing to Lord Fontaine, also as Representative of An Najaf offer him a Letter of Marque to plunder our enemy’s Vessels along the Coast of An Najaf and the ships fleeing from Fontan, that and some more flattering and missives about the honour such a position would carry”

Nodding his head, Rand smirks. “I need those ships; An Najaf has a long coastline and would make a perfect staging point to attack the sea gates of Fontan when the time comes. Send the Letter to Lord Fontaine’s Camp, I don’t care if the messenger has to stay there the whole week until the confounded man is found, I want his reply urgently”

“Milord, if I may, you do realize that Lord Fontaine has taken an Estate in Tokat?”

Rand’s head ached and pounded all the more … “Tokat is too far from the front, it would suit him better to take an Estate in An Najaf, and from what I hear of the man, he likes to fight, and we need a fighter on our coast. Send the Letter; if there is fallout from Tokat I will handle it”

“As you command milord, as you command….”

Brigdha Dubhaine

To say Garas was choler made flesh was an over-simplification, though one any casual observer could be forgiven for. The slightest provocation could evince a rage barely contained by mortal form, whether it be a word or a deed or even a fleeting thought. And to mundane eyes few could match his sheer physical presence, the choler brimming to overflowing in flesh and sinew made hard by constant war.

Yet in the High Firmament he cut a piteous figure, his ego a ragged scar of etheric will held together mainly by grief and the barest recollection of love, an insatiable vortex shot through with flashes of putrescent yellow and shrouded in the roiling, deafening, torrential clouds of his insatiable desperation. Desperation for power. Desperation for revenge. Desperation for forgiveness from all those he'd failed. A desperation which knew no other outlet than rage.

"They all look yet none of them see," Brigdha muttered beneath her breath, shaking her head as the realisation dawned in her that very few of those who followed his tragic, doomed crusade ever would do more than look. Where Garas was to her eyes an unwilling victim, brought to this place by powers far beyond his control or even comprehension, those who praised his poisoned cunning and brutal methods were far from innocent in his fall. They gladly prepared a banquet of vanities to strengthen their dark champion: dreams of conquest and revolution; of plunder and vengeance; of fame and dread and superstitious awe... and running through all an undercurrent so dark that even in the worlds beyond its form was barely discernible.

"Why do you look so sombre aunt?" Glory noticed that the priestess's thoughts were elsewhere.

"Because she knows what must happen in this place," the cultured tones of Elfland strangely at odds with Anagridh's bluntness.

Brigdha's brow wrinkled and she shot the princess a warning glance, the kind that says not now, as she turned her attention to Garas, "You are Glory's father and it's for you to choose her path, but do you really want her to witness what you and all these other fine knights will do today in the name of... democracy?"

She'd wanted to say liberty, but that was too fine a word for the ambitions of Vix and Highmarch. Their desire was revolution, not constitution. And to invoke liberty would be too much a reminder of Rhidhana's broken body, borne from the wreckage of Krimml's gates. In an age when people spoke lightly of democracy, and by it meant tyranny, who now remembered the martyrs who'd given their lives that others might live freely?

Night -- An Najaf

Alfhelm Sussex

Alfhelm had listened with fierce interest at the description of the Grey University, and commented "I would dearly love to visit it someday once the war is over."

But as the conversation progressed he found himself shaking his head at Brigdha's words.

"No my lady, not in the name of democracy but in the name of peace and the name of justice" he said, with a face full of earnestness.

"Highmarch does not seek to impose democracy on anyone. Right now we must do bloody deeds but only because that is necessary for a just peace.

"We fight today in defence of An Najaf in the face of Caligans who have refused every offer of even discussing peace. And we fight this war for the sake of the Oligarchians who have unjustly been robbed of their homeland. Once we have achieved that then the fighting can end."

He sighed.

"Believe me, nothing will please me better than when we are finally able to sign peace and end this war."

He paused.

"But all the same, I do not think a battle is a sight anyone should witness unless there is no alternative. Perhaps it would be best if Lady Glory were to stay far away from the field?"

Brigdha Dubhaine

"Three men argue: the first cries crime, the second cries justice, the third lends sanctimony to whichever profits him most," Anagridh picked a mote of dust from her cuff and studied it for a moment before blowing it away, "but death cares nothing for men."

Day -- An Najaf

Rand tried to not cough, even though his lungs protested at the wafts of smoke in the seedy tavern he found himself in. One would not say that he was naive of the ways of the world, but even he had to admit that this tavern in Breakwater Landing made him wonder what the underbelly of An Najaf hid …

He was trying to buy time, time to think. He under estimated the Pirate Knight, from the accounts of courtiers, spies and anyone he could find that knew of the man. This was no burly ruffian, oh no, in fact Rand found him shrewd, cunning and most of all dangerous.

Glancing around, he couldn’t but notice the shady characters drifting in and out of the tavern, did anyone recognise him? He wore an old cloak borrowed from one of his scouts, and with the hood up he hoped it would be enough to avoid prying eyes.

He wondered how Teren dealt with this man, Teren Wirrander, Lord and Representative of Tokat, the reason Rand was hidden under an old cloak in a seedy tavern in the wrong side of Breakwater Landing. Teren somehow got the Pirate Knight so swear fealty and here was Rand trying to entice him to, what? Break Fealty, no not really …

Rand leaned back in his chair, his head was killing him, constant pounding and pounding and pounding, like a bloody blacksmith was trying to split open his skull.

“Eighty percent is too much; An Najaf will need extra funds to rebuild after the nonstop battles, not to mention the percentage that needs to be paid to the state. Sixty Five percent and you sort out your own ship, you know as well as I do that Highmarch is a land locked State. We only recently conquered Tokat and An Najaf, and what the enemy could not take with they burned. The Harbours are littered with the skeletal remains of the wrecks they left behind”

Smiling , rand lifted his hand in a questioning manner “ Come now, you are a shrewd Captain, you know the Estate I offer and the Letter of Marque would outlast me once I get re-assigned to a new post away from An Najaf. The New representative would not dare revoke it”

Rand leaned closer to Smiddich, he tried not to blink as he looked him in the eye, lowering his voice he said “And the spoils you would get if you are prepared for the exodus from Fontan, would make you richer than you could ever dream, a fleet under your command” Not taking his eyes of the man he leans back in his chair.

Rand was sure he had him, or at least he hoped so, this man had an uncanny knack of making it impossible to read him.

“Milord” a whisper from Rand’s attendant and a letter placed on the table. “Orders just in” Rand noticed the Smiddich’s man also stepped forward and gave him a sealed envelope, while whispering in his ear.

As Rand opened the letter and read it, he said “Seems we will either need to come to a consensus here or on the road …”

29th December

Evening -- Viseu

Glory Gabanus

Aunt Brigdha,

I fear for father's health. I know of the stories of mother and of your healing and even that of the healing once attempted with father after his blindness. A fury has got hold of him and I seek your aid. I have acquired a healing scroll, but lack the skills to perform such a ritual and know of only one who could release father from the dark magic inside of him. I beg of you, meet us in Sordidus and help me.

(Ooc, I don't have the time now and for the coming months to do too much on BM, I'll stay but the Generalship is simply too much and as such I think it's time for a change. Rather than pausing Garas (sitting back and doing nothing would break entirely with his story) I want to change him. Release the daimon inside of him, banish it, returning Garas to good health etc. If you want I'll then happily join you as a priest in the Shadows, studying the black hand and how they corrupted the events of the world to bring it chaos and death. I want to do Garas good though, so want to properly RP it. Won't have too much time, but we can do a few).

Yours truly, Glory Gabanus

Brigdha Dubhaine

Dearest Niece,

I'll pack my herbals and join you as soon as I may. Do you know what triggered your father's rage? And what have you learned of this healing scroll? The more I know the better the chance that we may prevail.

Brigdha Dubhaine

Ambassador of Shadowdale

Countess of Aureus

Priestess of The Shadows

30th December

Day -- Viseu

Dear Aunt,

When in my presence father is often relatively mild, but I've been speeking with others too and such is often not the case. I had heard ofbit when growing up, but did not believe it as papa was always the kindest man to me. But even I saw his right eye flicker back to the hellish red of his left the other day when a scout report came in of some Elvish troop movement. I can only imagine that dark magic assaults still haunt father as I know of no natural ailment that causes one's eyes to change color. And it seems to have gotten worse throughout time. If I look closely into his eyes it is almost as if his left eye is set aflame.

The healing scroll is called the fountain of youth. It is said to rejuvinate the spirit and body of the receiver. It is also rumored that the most skilled sorcerers can use it to bring forth the younger purity of a man. I asked captain Reinhart and he said the first encounter of papa with dark magic was when the traitor Selene or something (he was uncertain of the name) of Krimml cursed him. She defected Krimml to Perdan and then to Sirion in the war where father offered her amnesty if she did, but after doing so he was overruled by the Senate. That is what he still remembered at least. He claims that in hindsight father's rage started and grew from there, but I do not know. I will have him join us.

Evening -- Viseu

Viseu, Three Hours Before Dawn

"Lady Ambassador," a strong rustic voice, syllables heavy with the brogue of Viseu labouring from exertion, was accompanied by three rapid knocks on the door of her lodgings.

"Who is it?" Brigdha threw back the covers and sat up, reaching for the nightlight on her bedside table. The wick flickered and burst into light.

"Olamh m'lady, overseer of the Eastern Frontier plantations."

"Olamh? What's so urgent that it can't wait until after breakfast?" she drew back the bolt on her chamber door to admit the sturdy yeoman, his beard and hair caked with dust from the road.

"I've ridden hard through the night m'lady with news that a large raiding party is crossing the border from Tokat."

"How many?"

"At least three hundred ma'am - maybe more. They look like professional soldiers."

"You'll find my grandson Leopold and his companions sleeping in the common room. Rouse them, they'll know what to do."

"As you command m'lady."

"Aye, as I command," she muttered under her breath as the farm agent clomped down the staircase. It was many years since Brigdha held a battlefield command, back in the first siege of Krimml during the Great War. That blood-drenched battle fell at the end of a war so ruinous that what remained of her beloved Fontan was a thin rump of woodland and Negev's necropolis The Fields of the Fallen. Her dreams for years after were haunted by the faces of those she'd slain, and those who'd been slain fighting alongside her. It was those dreams - dreams which she'd never shared with anyone, not even her consort Bedhwyr - that had caused her to first take the cloth...

"Grandmother," Leopald's head popped around the door, withdrawing quickly at sight of her semi-dressed state, "sorry, I didn't realise you were dressing!"

"We don't all sleep in our travelling clothes Leo," she hurriedly fixed her gown and swept the tangles from her hair, checking in the mirrored surface of her laver for any signs of tiredness, "You can come in now."

"I've given The Watch their orders ma'am," he drew himself to attention, familial informality for the moment subsumed by military discipline, "They're turning out every able-bodied man of military age in Viseu."

"Good. Let's give our guests the warm welcome they deserve."

Viseu, One Hour Before Dawn

The trestles in the common room of the Dobromir's Head had been hurriedly rearranged to best display the newly surveyed parchment map of Viseu township Brigdha's agents had spent much of the last week preparing. She remembered when Viseu had boasted a fine motte & bailey, one of the key fortifications on the Fontan-Caligus border, then on the Dunnera-Caligus border, and now on the Shadowdale-Caligus border.

Dozens of carved ivory markers, mostly in the shape of footmen, were arranged on the township outskirts where the road to Tokat snaked in from the southeast. The vast majority were stained in the night blue of Shadowdale and formed a defensive screen, the peasant fyrd Brigdha had summoned at such short notice. If their morale held these would be the men - and here-and-there women - who'd take the field in less than an hour and repulse the raiders advancing rapidly on the town.

Runners had been coming in since she woke with updates on the enemy advance or details of another band of peasant militia reporting for duty. Peasant militia. To the contemptuous eyes of the nobility there was no distinction between the commoners, but Brigdha spent much of her time visiting with the gentry and the yeomanry, the merchants and the guildsmen. Here were the apprentices dressed in their leather aprons and armed with hammers and cudgels, there farm labourers with their billhooks and mattocks and threshing flails. A merchant with interests in Oporto and An Najaf had sent his bodyguard, gaily caparisoned landsknechts with two-handed swords and crested helms, whilst many an old veteran had dusted off a gambeson or haubergeon in the long-faded colours of one of other realm which had lain claim to Viseu's green pastures and gentle woodland.

A knot of local dignitaries crowded around the table, heads of guilds, aldermen, reeves and bailiffs, as Brigdha outlined her plan for the battle ahead.

"Beggin' your pardon m'lady," Alderman Fraeulf was a young man, crippled since birth, who'd risen swiftly in the mercer's guild on account of his keen head for numbers.

"Yes Alderman Fraeulf?"

"Will you be taking command in the field?"

She thought for a moment.

"No. This is a war of realms Fraeulf, not of faiths. If I take the field it will muddy matters. However you will have support," she gestured to her grandson Leopald and the unnerving figure of Princess Anagridh.

"The veterans of the Ghost Watch will stand with you," Leopald stepped forward, arms folded nonchalantly, "and we're not accustomed to losing battles."

A hush fell momentarily on the room. The reputation of House Dubhaine's irregulars was well known on the borderlands, enhanced even since they'd passed into the shadows of myth and rumour. The Ghost Watch, once Sirion's warrior elite. The Bloody Knives and the Black Swans sworn the Brigdha's service. The Negev Green Jackets, Moira's Rangers and the Imperial Cagilan Guard. And then there was Fort Dubhaine in Negev where Fontan's Bureau of Irregular Warfare was headquartered.

The opening thesis of Kelwyn's Toxophilite came to Brigdha's lips unbidden, "An archer aims; an archer shoots; an archer reloads. That is the way of war. But the Toxophilite waits. He holds his breath and studies his surroundings: the wind swaying through the grass; the sun or moon reflecting from the clouds; he picks his target and he draws it to him as the lodestone draws a needle. Only when the target fills his mind and his heart does he loose the arrow, and as the arrow becomes death -"

"- so the Toxiphilite becomes the destroyer of worlds," the soft elfin beauty of Anagridh's voice completed the quotation, "Today m'lady Brigdha is the Toxophilite, and we are the bow into which her enemies will be drawn. The shaft will bury itself deep and shatter in their breast. Death will hold sway."

"Which is my daughter-in-laws way of predicting our triumph," Brigdha smiled and the tension was broken.

Evening -- Sordidus

"So is the letter genuine?" Leopald handed it back to Brigdha as their hardy hill ponies trotted along the road to Sordidus, a merchant caravan about the tedious business of trade on the war-torn border.

"It's certainly Glory's handwriting," Brigdha studied it again for a moment before carefully refolding the vellum and slipping it into her saddle bag, alongside the medical supplies and texts she habitually carried.

The battle in Viseu had gone as planned, her hastily assembled fyrd routing the raiders, and now she was free to act on Glory's plea for help. Not that riding into Sordidus was such a bright idea since war had been formally declared between Highmarch and Shadowdale. But still, if there was even the feint hope of turning Garas from his current path she had a duty to both her realm and her family to act on it. Garas was her nephew damn it, the grandson of her sister Moira, and his daughter Glory was as innocent as the blood he was drenched in.

"For some unknown reason Garas trusts you kinswoman," Anagridh's eyes were fixed on the horizon, scanning for the telltale signs of distant riders.

"I think he trusts me out of desperation Anagridh," the Countess shifted her weight slightly, stiff in her thighs from long hours riding sidesaddle.

"Perhaps, but I still think this is a fool's errand."

"It probably is, but I'll not turn my back on Glory when she clearly needs my help."

Letter from Brigdha Dubhaine

Dear Niece,

You will find my party on the road from Viseu to Sordidus, in the guise of merchants. These roads are not especially safe at this time for nobles of any realm so I advise caution when travelling to meet me. I've brought a number of supplies useful in leechcraft so that if the scroll you've acquired fails we might yet attempt to heal your father.

Brigdha Dubhaine

Ambassador of Shadowdale

Countess of Aureus

Priestess of The Shadows