The blog has a full Table of Contents and Reference page for Part One: Inundation. It is also advisable that one reads the added scenes with the new character Brisa tu’Onr. (PDF download) Otherwise, we are beginning part two of When Comes the Firetide: Emergents.
WHEN COMES THE FIRETIDE | PART TWO: EMERGENTS
Chapter Three: Specious Primrose Doth Grow
The Kestrel Purlieu, Southern border of the Kestrel Pine Barrens, Southeast Tybraes
1st Som of Industry, month of Foundations 8178
Delicate hands trembled with a feeble grasp. Hakken attempted to brace the cup to ensure it was well secured, but the woman flinched away from his touch. Concerned, he readied instead to catch it if she fumbled. A demur lift her head constituted a nod as the Erahs drew the steaming broth toward her lips. The fearful recoil was noticeable even so far as where Gregoire stood and it pulled from him a troubled sigh. The Jasuuk’s matte grey skin was pale, hinted with purple, so it was difficult to determine if she was ill, stark with fright, or merely her natural coloring. With luck, Hereth could say more.
Always a keen eye for scrutiny, he turned his eyes to the other woman. Her coloring only slightly darker, she appeared a bit more robust, not the delicate frightened flower as her sister. She also accepted a cup of broth and sat at the table in silence awaiting address. Gregoire studied the way this one carried herself. The other was clearly no fighter, barely seemed self-sufficient. One quick to flinch at the slightest shadow, the woman’s legs struggled to support her. This one, however, was a scout perhaps, or a hunter of some sort. Of the sisters, she was clearly the elder and very protective.
“You belong to no clan?” Gregoire asked as Hakken open the door for Hereth. The soldier glanced back, a curious stare. The Commander knew full-well there were no Jasuuk clans.
“No. Lived in the village at Lake Moriar, southwest of here. It was… we just ran. After a bit, I left Iridiah to see if it was safe to go back…” The woman stared into her cup, face set with pain as her sister shuddered, expelling a stifled sob. “Not safe anywhere. Least ways here those things can’t get in, right? Just one monster to worry about.”
Gregoire covered his eyes a moment after Hereth gave him an acerbic glare. His offered a meek gesture to his friend, then refocused on the women. Hakken leaned over to whisper the few details they acquired. The situation understood, Gregoire nodded, the grim lines of his features only deepening. Indicating Iridiah, Hakken murmured, “if you like, Hereth is a healer. Perhaps it is wise to have Iridiah examined, ensure her… um… health after such an ordeal?”
The not-yet-named woman leaned over and held the younger’s hand. In Elhia the two conversed, Iridiah’s face contorting with reluctance, before she conceded and allowed Hereth to lead into another room. Once they were gone, Gregoire felt comfortable speaking a little more freely. “I am truly sorry for what has happened to you both, to your sister, especially. I’m afraid few of our scouts venture so far without cause, else we may have found you.”
“You cannot prevent all the evils of the world, Commander,” she stared into her broth, yet to touch it.
“I did not catch your name,” Gentle as he spoke, Hakken lowered into Iridiah’s vacated chair.
Coral-colored eyes lifted to him, as she murmured, “Onatiel tu’Danna.”
He indicated the Iridas on her hand. It peeked from beneath her sleeve and vambrace. “I’ve not seen such a bold red color before. It is lovely.”
“Most Jasuuk don’t have Iridas,” she confessed. “I think my elders wanted to be sure it was known we were not slaves. The color was deliberately bold.”
Nodding in approval, Gregoire smiled, “a sentiment I can appreciate. I see no reason you cannot both remain here. A clan of Avali are expected to arrive soon, refugees like yourselves. Perhaps they would take you in as one of their own, unless you wish to make other arrangements, of course. If city-living suits you, I mean.”
The woman scowled up at him. “Do you mean take to a brothel or stay on to service your men?”
“No! Absolutely not.” The man was genuinely aghast. “Not a soul here will lay hands on you lest they seek to lose it. I abide no such conduct. I simply meant when you are well enough, I am sure vnesh can be arranged if you wish to return home or travel north to Enoa Vale, or elsewhere. I feel you would be safest here, but, it is your choice.”
“Thank you Commander,” she ducked her head, thick plum-violet locks falling to hide her face. “I apologize. After returning to find Iri–”
“No. There is no need. I understand.”
Hakken interjected with a firm note of approval, “I am impressed and pleased you dispatched them yourself. Good riddance.”
“Would’ve done more damage had there been fewer, and more of me.” Onatiel drew in a sharp breath, eyes locked on her broth.
“Well,” Gregoire cleared his throat. “For now, let us get you a comfortable room, a change of clothes, and I can send a servant up to assist with a bath or anything else you need.”
“I will wait here for my sister.”
“Of course. I’m sure Hereth will be finished shortly.” Gregoire nodded then paused, “if I may be pragmatic, may I ask if either of you have any skills that may be useful while you are here?”
The woman blinked up at him, dumbfounded by the question. After a moment, in which he thought he may need to reassure her once more, she finally replied, “oh, yes. I was a tracker, a hunter. Iridiah, if she recovers herself, is a gifted healer. Magical arts…I hope that will not–”
“No. No, that is fine. Quite useful to a fortress of soldiers, in fact,” the man smiled. “We have an advisor here who may be interested to speak with her, though, just to understand the nature of her gifts. For now, take the time you both need to recover. In a day or so, when they arrive, I will introduce you to the Avali Venerate.”
Onatiel rose, half bowed, fingers touched to her brow. “Thank you, Commander. I cannot thank you enough.”
Returning the genuflect, he shook his head. “There is no need. The Imperial Army is here to protect the Empire. If I cannot offer sanctuary to two ill-treated women, then I have failed beyond all comprehension.”
The woman left behind the untouched broth to follow Hakken’s indication of her sister’s whereabouts with Hereth. Once alone, the two soldiers expelled air as if they breathed in every foul event recounted by the Erahs’Jasuuk. Hakken spoke first, a hand raised to his head. “I can’t believe in this age such savagery still exists. As if we just wait for an opportunity or excuse to behave as the animals we’ve always been.”
“Sadly, their story is not unique. I fear there are a great many more like it that will never reach our ears because we are too busy slaughtering each other.”
“Yes, far more civilized.”
Arms only just buttressing his weight on the table, Gregoire vacantly stared at the deep wood grain. “Still, send a scout to Lake Moriar. If the dusters are there as well, we need to start mapping their locations, perhaps the direction these hordes are moving.”
Arms knot across his chest in contemplation, the soldier eyed his commander. “You think they’re not telling the truth?”
“I have no reason to doubt them.” He straightened, “but it is always when I do not doubt catastrophe befalls us. Send a scout, and I will speak with Hereth. If anyone is doubtful and hears truth between the words…”
A soft grunt of compliance huffed from Hakken as he straightened. Before he headed for the door, Gregoire stopped him. “Hakken, do not let a pretty trembling flower distract you. It can still be poisonous.”
The man nodded then left to obey orders. Staring down at the two cups of untouched broth, Gregoire tried to needle out what it was that felt off. Hakken was right, there seemed no reason to doubt anything in their story, and yet.
And yet, it had everything necessary to hook deep into any woman-loving commander’s heart. A besieged village, loved ones dying, a narrow escape, two young women on their own, and of course the more delicate one is assaulted by bandits- so traumatized she cannot speak. How could he not want to protect them? How could he not open his arms? Perhaps Hereth should have asked questions. Perhaps he was becoming a suspicious old man, seeing betrayal and deceit in every corner. Not all Jasuuk allied with the Ganroth. There was no reason to suspect spies.
Swiping a hand over his face, he chastised himself for wanting to believe they were spies, rather than accepting such horrors existed still, that men did such things simply because they could. Wars were not needed to enable violent actions, they just enabled more ‘acceptable’ excuses.
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