SotF: On Thin Ice - Part Two

  • The sun had set before dinner and now the Keep was asleep. Vigil’s Keep was awash with hues of blue and grey, only a few torches to light the way. Brondar, Hjalti, Astra, Baldnr, and Sovul are keeping watch and Stendarr bless them with true sight and warmth. It was spring yet the winter chill lingers.


                My stomach grumbled but I could not bring myself to eat; too much on my mind I tell myself, far too much and I have a promise to fulfil. I held the bucket close, the wood grain digging deep through my sleeves. Kharbub was kind, he ought not to but he did spare some oats, nary a question asked.


                I flung open the metal lock and slipped in the stables quietly, it would be rude to wake them now. The stable was snug, I turned to my right and saw a fire pit burning with just enough kindling till dawn. I smiled, Svaknir may not be the most approachable of my brothers and sisters but he always had a tender heart.


                I hefted the bucket up and stalked the aisles and there she was – Lil’ Sweetpea wide awake, not doubt waiting for her oat supper. Her ears perked up as she saw me and she greeted her sweet oats with a soft whinny. I hung the bucket by the stall and scratched her behind the ear.


                ‘Pace yourself, Sweetpea,’ I said. ‘It might be awhile before you can have your oats again.’


                I pulled myself a short stool and saw down next to Sweetpea’s stall.


                ‘Do not make too much of a mess,’ I whispered. ‘Svaknir would be crossed if he learns that I have been feeding you behind his back, yes he will!’


                I sighed and leaned back.


                ‘I spoke to Keeper Torvald earlier,’ I said. ‘Common debriefing. I spoke of the mission, the reward…. And of the disaster.’


                ‘I told him how Kjoerd took a quarrel in the face – died before he touched the ground. He died with his eyes wide open, his green eyes just staring out. Kjoerd was a tough one he was; he once took an axe in the gut. Lesser men would retire but he… he came back. He said his brothers and sisters needed him and we did. He was our pillar of strength and so it was just like that: swift, painless.’


                I petted Sweetpea’s muzzle. She did not seem to mind, too busy eating her oats.


                ‘Britta fought hard and fought well. She took a quarrel to the chest but she kept going. She killed two of them before she finally fell. If only she had lived, we could use her fury.’


                My vision blurred, my breathing growing tense.


                ‘Vadim. Poor Vadim. I held him in my arms as he died… That poor boy, he kept calling for his mother and there was nothing I could do to help. They gutted him messily, the wound was too great for even my magicks to heal. Carcette, incompetent leader you are.’


                ‘Carcette Whoredotte, you should of have died many times.’ I shook my head. ‘In Riften, in Windhelm; your casket has been empty for far too long. You escaped but death always finds a way to balance the scales.’


                ‘And do you know what Keeper Torvald told me? He told me that it was not my fault? Not my fault he says. Who was it who got careless and walked into an ambush? Who was it who hesitated when she ought to be decisive? Who was it who failed to save a boy – just a young boy who died cold and afraid asking for his mother?’


                Stupid! You are so darn stupid, Carcette!


                I heard a cough and I panicked, quickly wiping away my tears. Am I alone? I turned to the stable door and saw a shadowed figure.


                Falrielle stood there with a lantern lighting her snow-white face. ‘Could’ve have sworn I’d find you here,’ she said. Falrielle always did moved stealthily she had a habit of randomly appearing without anyone noticing. How does she do it? She only wore the standard tunic and tabard, and trousers. She walked with a jaunty bounce on each step, no rattling nor shimmers on her clothing. She had been called reckless but Falrielle knew how to avoid being noticed… when she wanted to.


                ‘Oh?’ I said. ‘And why did you think that would be so?’


                ‘Didn’t see you at dinner, again.’ Falrielle hung the lantern on a beam. ‘I asked around and Kharbub did say you wanted for some oats and not in a bowl so I asked myself, “Is Carcy finally going to try that milk-and-oat bath I’ve always been telling her to?” but I told myself not likely, she always went for the florals.’ Falrielle stopped herself and began rummaging her tunic. ‘Which I can respect but the point still stands….’


                She pulled a cloth bag and tossed it at me. The bad was light and it had bits of grease leaking from splotches. I carefully unfolded the bag and found a few loaves of bread and a slab of salmon with a slice of lemon on top.


                ‘Couldn’t get the chowder in the bag.’ She shrugged. ‘And you wouldn’t believe how long it took me to get the grease out.’ She shuddered. ‘Damned thing burned me a few times.’


                I made a smile as I broke the bread in half and gave her one. ‘Thank you, Falrielle.’


                Falrielle shoved her share in her mouth and began scurrying about the stable. What was Fally looking for I wondered? She moved barrels, rustled hay until she suddenly let out a cry of triumph. She returned with a bottle in hand and a smile on her face. Of course she would have. She sat down opposite of me, popped the cork with her teeth, and poured some of the drink in a glass cup she pulled from her tunic.


                ‘Normally I don’t care for the Imperial stuff,’ she said, filling herself another cup. ‘But Pomme-Malum isn’t too bad.’


                ‘Fally, remember the last time you had gotten yourself drunk?’


                ‘Hey that was years ago.’ She waved the cup at me. ‘And it involved green and bloodwine. This here is just brandy, it’s not nearly enough to even get me tipsy.’ She looked at the cup which was half empty and handed it to me. ‘Give it a try.’


                I eyed the cup with suspicion but Falrielle insisted. I sighed, took the cup and hovered it over the light and a dark-brown light shone through. I sniffed it and the brandy smelt of caramels… and apples? Falrielle leaned back, eyebrow raised waiting for me to drink it. I looked at the cup one more time and swigged.


                I immediately gagged, my throat burned. Not the proof but it was how sweet it was. Fally darted forward and caught the glass before it shattered.


                ‘Normal people sip the stuff, they don’t do shots with it,’ she said. Oh, now you tell me! Falrielle noticed my grimace and grinned. ‘Hey don’t blame me: you didn’t ask.’ She will never let me forget of this.


                ‘I do not suppose,’ I said. ‘That you are here just to share a drink with me, are you Fally?’


                She filled the cup. ‘No actually. I’m not just here to drink,’ she said, finishing half her cup. ‘I spoke to Mentor during the dinner you missed.’ Of course she would have. ‘He asked me to talk to you, to pull you out of your melancholy.’


                ‘I appreciate the gesture, truly,’ I said.


                ‘Carcy. It’s not your fault. People die in our line of work and there’s only so much we can do.’


                ‘Everyone keeps telling me that like it would change anything,’ I said, my hands on my lap. ‘I know what everyone means when they tell me that but I cannot be the person they want me to be.’ I sighed. ‘I… feel so weak. So helpless, so stupid. I feel so alone.’


                ‘And hiding in the corner and bitching would make you feel better?’


                ‘I do not know, Fal. I am lost, I do not know what to do.’ I said, slowly. ‘I look back and I see their faces and there will be more faces if I continue to wear the sash.’


                Falrielle closed her eyes and frowned. ‘Grit your teeth,’ she said, opening her eyes.




                ‘I said: Grit your teeth you Breton bitch!’ she snarled and before I could react, a surge of pain flashed white across my face - my cheek burned red hot. Falrielle seized me by the shoulders and looked me in the eye. Her steel blue eyes sent a chill down my spine.


                ‘Listen to me,’ she began. ‘You think it was your fault? You think Britta, Vadim, and Kjoerd died because of you? You know what, you’re right. They died because of you. Is that what you wanted to hear?’


                I looked away and said nothing to her. She spoke the truth that was what I wanted. Mentor, Keeper Torvald, the others were just too kind, they did not want to me face the facts: that I am underserving of my title, my station, my honour.


                ‘Now tell me, what are you going to do now?’ she continued. ‘Will you sit here and keep feeling sorry for yourself? If you are you don’t deserve to wear that sash around your waist… Carcette Whoredotte.’


                I snapped my eyes at her, my teeth grinding, and my knuckles paled.


                ‘Do not call me that,’ I said.


                ‘I don’t need to take that from, Whoredotte. Why should I? I know that you’re just going to find yourself a little corner and-‘


                I swung my fist at her jaw and Fal stumbled a few steps back. My head felt light and airy, and my ears pounded to the song of my beating heart. The stable was startled awake by the commotion and the animals shifted tensely in their stalls.


                ‘Do not call me that,’ I said through gritted teeth as salt stung my eyes. ‘Do not ever fucking call me that!’ What… did I just say? Did I just said that? What did I just do? Did I just hit her? ‘Falrielle, I am sorry. I did not mean to-‘


                Falrielle smirked and prodded at my chest. ‘You feel a fire, don’t you? That pain. That rage. That disappointment. Never forget that feeling – it is the fire that keeps you warm in the dark. It was your fault they died but so what? Crying isn’t going to bring them back.’ She shook her head. ‘You lived and they died so that means you owe them. You owe them to get better to be a better person, a better leader.’




                ‘And that’s the hard part,’ she continued, looking away. ‘Living. That’s the punishment… you live long enough to regret – to make amends.’ She tightened her fist and released.


                The stable grew quiet.


                Falrielle chuckled and massaged her chin. ‘That was a mean hook.’ She spat. ‘I saw stars there for a moment. Hey Sweetpea.’ She picked up the bottle. ‘Thirty?’ She emptied what was left of the apple brandy into Sweetpea’s oats.


                ‘Wait, what are you-‘


                To my astonishment, Sweetpea ravenously slurped the brandy from the bucket. Looks like Sweetpea loves something more than oats.


                ‘The stable loves a little something every now and then.’ Falrielle looked into the bottle. ‘Svaknir gives them some to help them sleep on bad days. That old coot and I have a little arrangement you see – I get him the hooch and he gives me a place I can keep it. We split the bottle half-and-half. That bastard took some of my share this time.’ She paused and looked at me. ‘You ain’t tattling on us, you don’t have any evidence.’


                I shook my head and smiled. ‘Drill master, routine? Does that always work?’


                ‘A body once something… something something reborn. Book of… uh-Justice. I don’t remember the verse.’ She shrugged and stood up. ‘Listen,’ she stammered.


                ‘It is alright, Fal.’ I rubbed my cheek. ‘That was a good slap.’


                ‘That? No not that. You deserved that one. I was wondering if you uh,’ she said, her body shifting uncomfortably. ‘You are getting the week off from duty, right?’    


                I nodded.


                ‘Since Mentor is back I get tomorrow off… so are you doing anything in particular?’


                I raised an eyebrow. ‘Not at the moment.’


                ‘See if you’re still feeling down I know what might fix you up.’


                I furrowed my brow. ‘I will not go on a meadcrawl with you.’


                ‘No not that. It’s just,’ Falrielle said. ‘There’s this fishing spot near Lake Yorgrim. Me and Faerin used to go there with Ma and Da as children. Me and Faerin still go there when we have the time… before he, you know.’


                I sighed. ‘And where is this fishing spot you speak of?’


                ‘It’s by a wharf. We’ll meet there after morning mass- no. After breakfast, I don’t want to miss tomorrow’s breakfast.’ She said as she left. She stopped and she turned. ‘Wait, uh-are you coming?’


                I nodded.


                ‘Great! I’ll see you there. If you’re there first, get a fire going. You southerners don’t like the chill. Don’t want you to catch a cold.’



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