A secret or two…

From the walls, Hans gazed outward with the castle grounds behind him. The castle where Gná had sent her people was most of a day’s march away, more of a stone manor with a large courtyard and thick stone walls. If anything, it was too large. There wouldn’t be enough warriors to defend its walls and it was higher up in the hills. It was also much cooler up in the hills, which was the real reason the old hall in the valley was preferred.

There was another reason the castle saw rare use. It was too close to Loki’s tower. Hidden though it was, with too many elves in one place, so close to enemy eyes, it would not have remained so.

Still, it was well tended, including several small fields of crops outside and a fair sized garden within the walls.

* * *

One of the first facilities put into use was the bathhouse. It was a large stone room with a number of large tubs. Jinsoku and Za had one to themselves. Jinsoku didn’t have to see the conspiratorial winks that Za got; he could tell she was reacting to something behind his back. Clearly the others simply didn’t understand the high respect he’d come to hold her in. Even if she was the most incredibly beautiful woman he’d ever encountered in his life.

She was also an incredible warrior. He wondered if it would be impolite to ask about her scars. Especially the one that started from that firm, white breast . . .

“Away from that thought, Jinsoku,” he spoke silenty to himself. “You’re just worked up from that bathing you got. Gonna have to find some nice way to ask them to not rub certain body parts on you while cleaning your back is all.”

He’d picked up some bad habits being a teenage boy this time around. Of course, at only three hundred years old, Za probably thought of him as but a boy.

He hoped he hadn’t been staring, but she seemed amused by something. She settled down into the hot water and let herself relax. Jinsoku decided to follow suit.

Za sighed loudly. “I was all but cornered by Friend Gordon coming here. He showed me his ‘infirmary’ and he has ‘drafted’ a number of maidens to assist him. He was teaching ‘ceepeeare’ and said something about seeing my warriors and I in ‘first aid class’ once things settled down. Never have I seen a man so driven.”

Jinsoku smiled. “You’d do well to attend his class. You’ll lose far fewer warriors in battle if you follow his guidance.”

Her smile back was pleasant enough. “I have already lost fewer on his account. How is Lord Madison doing?”

Jinsoku lost his smile. “Badly. He’s never seen war before.”

Za lost hers as well. “Such a waste. So he does not have a warrior’s heart after all?”

Jinsoku shrugged. “He’s got the heart for it. It’s the heart of a killer that he doesn’t have. But until he realizes that he’s not simply a killer, he won’t be much use to us.”

“My Lady will not like that news.”

“No, she won’t. Not at all.”

* * *

Still on a rampart, Hans sat with his legs dangling over the wall. He looked out over the landscape as the sun set. He’d not cleaned up from the fight, but most of the blood and gore had dried and flaked away on the march from the hall. He planned to take a bath as soon as he could be sure the bathhouse was empty.

Gná pulled herself up onto the wall and sat down beside him. She glanced at a raven as it perched nearby, then paid it no more attention than he did her. She obviously had no suspicions about it’s nature herself; certainly none that Hans wanted to raise.

With a loud sigh, Gná said casually, “I rather like this view. But I suspect that you do not see it.”

Hans managed a weak smile. “Actually I was thinking that the sunset is quite beautiful. And thinking about all the people that won’t be seeing it tonight. And those watching it mourning their loved ones, on both sides.”

Gná inched closer. “I see. So this was your first taste of war then?”

Hans couldn’t help but frown. “First and last. I can’t go through that again, ever.”

She moved closer again. “For all that I have fought Loki through the centuries, never have I known war that way. Za has ever been the leader in battle. I rule, she fights. Often I wonder if we should trade places. She could rule in safety and I could face the horrors in her stead. But she would never have that.”

She moved herself against him and placed a hand on his cheek, turning his head to face her. “Perhaps you are not meant for war. Your friends accorded themselves well enough. Let them be the warrior and ‘doctor.'”

Gná moved her lips toward Hans’. “Maybe you could just try being king.”

Hans turned away, mumbling, “I’m sorry, My Lady, Gná. I’m not worthy.”

Gná placed a hand on the back of his shoulder and her cheek against his spine. “Worthy? What is worthy? You slew the Fenris Wolf and you helped save my people today, willingly. And I, should I not be deemed the unworthy one? I have treated you poorly to get what I wanted.”

Hans looked down. “You did what you had to, for your people.”

He heard Gná hop off the wall. “And you did what you did not have to, for my people.”

Her footsteps receded into the coming night. Hans watched the last of the sunset.

“I’m just a boy, playing at being a man.”

A voice nearby croaked, “I would say you are a man, discovering he’s no longer simply a boy.”

Hans nodded when the raven changed shape into a tall, thin, black figure before his eyes. He’d finally guessed that he’d been seeing the same bird over and over. Its appearance at the castle was the clincher. That it could take the shape of a man at will seemed hardly a surprise.

He said idly, not taking his eyes off the horizon, “I was wondering when you were going to reveal yourself. Have you been watching me my whole life?”

The raven man bowed, “Your life and your father’s and your father’s fathers’ going back so many generations that even the Raven of Memory must struggle to recall. I am Memnir, and I am at your service, My Lord.”

Hans looked away. “I’m no lord to be served.”

“You forget to whom you speak. I remember. I remember the little boy that always protected weaker children from bullies, who took a beating and kept coming back until he beat the bullies. I remember the youth that walked hours home, having given his bus fare to an elder that lost hers. Today I witnessed a man stepping into war simply because it was the right thing to do. I will remember. And I will choose whom I call lord.”

Hans remained silent.

“I’ve seen killers, My Lord, the very worst. Many called themselves warriors. A killer relishes killing, but a true warrior does not relish war. You are no killer, Lord Madison, and I assure you that the day you come to relish war, I will no longer call you my lord.”

Memnir changed back into a raven and flew off toward the final dying glow of the day.

“Thank you, my friend. I feel better. Not wonderful, but better.” Hans got up and carefully picked his way down the stairs in the dark.

Next:
INTERMISSION

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Copyright AndyOH! (Andrew F. Odendhal)
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This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to persons living or dead is coincidental.