Four years, three months and thirty seven days.
That's how long it had been since I had last seen the walls of my home. The city of Myrin, capital of the Kingdom of Venos. Even from some distance away, one could see the three spires of gold that shot up from the cities exact centre, like the swords of some terrible God. It was a sight to behold, especially in the rapidly fading light of sunset. It set the towers alive in shades of orange and red that could be found nowhere else and that sight was a balm on my wounded and exhausted soul. I was home. Finally home.
I looked at those around me, the members of the mercenary company that had taken me in those long years ago after I had begged and pleaded, right up until they were about to leave the city on another adventure.
At the beginning I was met with scorn and pity, not that that could be helped. I had been a wretched little thing back then, living day to day and giving every scratched and mouldy coin I could plunder to the woman who had raised me, to the orphanage that was my home for the first thirteen years of my life.
They were a hard bunch of folks down to the bone, and each held the same look in their eyes that I surely shared. It was one of cold calculation and violence, a sweeping hostility that was prevalent with all of our kind. We had seen some shit, so we were not to be fucked with.
It hadn't deterred me when I was a boy, far from it. Because among these men and women I saw the promise of a better future than the one that would have waited for me among the commons of Myrin. A sharp blade and a shallow grave, as the saying goes.
I smiled at the memory of standing before bold Boldrin, the leader of this particular band, Boldrin's Brigade. He had laughed in my face when I had asked him for training and gifted me with the back of his hand when I had pressed the issue. He only took notice when I cut his hand open as I fell with the small blade hidden in my jerkin. Then he had laughed again, though friendlier this time and asked me my name.
“Orin, what's your plans?” A voice pulled me from my fond memories of that day and I turned to see the man himself on the old nag next to me.
Boldrin was a brute of a man and, not for the first time, I wondered how he hadn't taken my head off when I was younger, his hands the size of my head. His hair somehow looked oily and crusty at the same time and I noticed more than a few breadcrumbs in his grey-streaked black bonnet and unruly beard, his eyes twinkling with a wicked intelligence that belied his looks. In one hand he held a wineskin, though considering the smell I doubted very much that it was wine, most likely more of Brin's home-made mead, the stuff so strong and foul that it was not allowed anywhere near an open flame.
I shrugged nonchalantly. “Most likely look in on some old friends, I haven't been back here since you first picked me up. Have a few people to check up on.”
“Ah, that brings back some memories, don't it,” Boldrin said boisterously, the man unable to be quiet even for the sake of a mission. “Tessa, did you know that this is where we picked up little Orin all that time ago? Should've seen him back then, all skin and bones, could barely lift his head.”
Boldrin threw back his head in laughter that I swear I had once seen cause an avalanche and I winced, turning to Tessa who rode on Boldrin's left.
The best way to describe Tessa was sharp. The girl exuded an aura that said, in no uncertain terms, that she wasn't one to be fucked with. We all had something like that I suppose, but Tessa made it an art-form. From her rough cut auburn hair, to her cutting steel coloured eyes, Tessa was one of the scariest members of the brigade, despite being a full year younger than even me, and the newest member of the band.
Tessa's cold eyes glanced at Boldrin and then focused on me, making me almost shiver under her withering gaze.
“I can imagine. He still looks weak to me.”
I rolled my eyes in response. Tessa was always trying to get a reaction out of me and I wasn't sure why. Perhaps it was because I was so close to her in age. She was trust-worthy enough in a fight, her daggers merely blurs as she removes life and limb with ease, but I never got the impression that she liked me much. Not that I tried very hard to endear myself to her in any meaningful way. Tessa is more wild animal than person and I had always treated her that way, lest she remove a part of me I would much rather stay attached.
“Didn't Orin save your life in Redoris? Seems to me he's plenty strong.” Fendi, another member of their brigade with dark eyes and darker skin spoke up in my defence, a smile on his lips as he mocked Tessa, his favourite pastime and one of the few pieces of entertainment we mercenaries got between battles.
Tessa flushed and held up a knife towards Fendi with narrowed eyes. “He didn't save shit, I slipped in blood. I would've had that savage without his fucking help.”
Fendi laughed. “Surely, Lady Tessa, though I don't know how you would do that from the ground.”
Tessa snarled and swiped at Fendi who easily avoided the attack and pulled to the side, settling on the other side of me, as though to use my body as a shield.
“Control your woman, Orin, before she hurts herself,” Fendi said while leaning towards me, a look of false concern on his face. “Little girls shouldn't play with knives.”
With a cry of rage Tessa turned her horse around and began to chase Fendi, who whooped with glee, around their convoy. I could hear the other members of the Brigade shout encouragement to their favourites. More than a little money changed hands as they bet on if Tessa would draw blood this time. I doubted it, Fendi was clumsy on the ground but with a horse he was the most graceful rider in three kingdoms.
I sighed and ran a hand over my face, feeling the beginnings of a beard starting to grow, before sweeping my long brown hair out of my eyes. There was a time not so long ago that I would have joined with the others in their fun, but I couldn't bring myself to now. It only annoyed me because of how close I was to home.
I could see the walls now. We were only minutes away from reaching the gates and then a twenty minute jaunt to the orphanage to see the Sister.
“You sure we need to part ways here, Orin?” Boldrin asked, strangely quieter than usual. “I'd be sad to see you go, son.”
I smiled at the old man and clamped a hand on his right shoulder, avoiding his left because of the injury that still plagued him from years before.
“Thanks, Boldrin,and thank you for taking care of me all this time, for the training, for... well, everything,” releasing him, I looked away before becoming too emotional, surprising myself with my strong reaction. “But this is it, gonna settle in, maybe try for a job in the guard. My family's here and all so...”
Boldrin nodded grimly and continued ahead for a quiet moment, as though in contemplation, something you rarely see from the large warrior.
“I understand,” he began slowly. “Just know that if you ever need a band to ride with again, the Brigade will accept you with open arms.”
“Thank you,” I said, choking slightly on the words before we continued in silence once again.
I had never known my father, and Boldrin was unlikely to ever be one, knowing him as I do. But he was the closest thing I had ever had. He had taken me in, put a sword in my hand and gave me a way to made decent money in this world. I would be forever thankful that I had met him and this gang of mad bastards. They had been something close to a real family.
We made good time to the gate, and I spared a glance for the towering stone walls above my head. Once they had made me feel trapped, now they felt like the welcoming arms of an old love. I could barely contain my excitement as we sat while the guard inspected our few wagons and looked over the permits that Boldrin all but threw in their faces, laughing as he did so, which set the earth to rumbling.
Eventually the men at the gates let us into the narrow streets of the commons with hurried motions, seemingly trying to get rid of the boisterous Boldrin as fast as humanly possible, something I had seen in other cities many times before. There was something to that, most likely. Entering a city could be an annoying long affair, yet during my time with the band we were through the gates within minutes. One of the better parts of having a leader as loud as a cannon.
We were just inside the gates when I decided to part ways, no need to drag out the farewells longer than was needed. I got off my horse and handed off the reins to Fendi who clapped me on the shoulder with a smile and a wave. I hadn't even thought of keeping the beast. It was just another mouth to feed and I wasn't planning on leaving the city anytime soon, better to leave it to the Brigade and they can give it to my replacement.
I made my way down the line of some sixty men and women, clasping hands with each and receiving a smile in return. I thought about how much had changed since I had first left the city four years ago. Those first few months with the band were anything but good and I was spat on, mocked and beaten more often than not until I proved my worth in battle. That was all that mattered to men and women like this, how well you held up under the pressure of a skirmish.
I reached Brin at the back of the line who seemed to be crying and snivelling as he wrapped his arms around me, his whole body shaking. With the drink or emotion, I couldn't be sure.
“Let the kid go, Brin, you into boys now?” A woman's cry, Yala, emerged from the crowd drawing laughter from the others and even from myself.
Brin chuckled lightly and pulled away, pushing a wineskin that I had no doubt was filled with his signature brew into my empty hands. He then clapped me on the shoulders and nodded before turning away. I smiled at the old man's back and made my back up the line to where Tessa and Boldrin were waiting, Tessa glancing at Fendi every now and again, no doubt looking for a place to plant her dagger.
“Said your goodbyes, boy?” Boldrin said from his place beside his horse, loosening straps.
“Yes, sir, all good.”
Boldrin nodded before turning and pushing my pay from the last job into my hands. I opened it to find it was full of copper and a few silvers. But when I noticed the gold coin I did a double take, my jaw dropping as I looked up at my mentor with a shocked look on my face.
“Didn't expect that, did ya kid?” Boldrin laughed, drawing the ire of a few passing folks who quickly looked away upon seeing the large axe still strapped to the giant man's saddle.
“Boss, I can't accept this, it's too much.” I replied stiltedly, trying in vein to push the coin back into the man's large paw.
Boldrin shrugged and lifted his hands out of reach. “Consider it a bonus for all the good work over the years and remember,” He pointed at the sword that hung in it's scabbard at my waist. “No matter your place in this world, the sword lets you strive for better.”
I nodded begrudgingly, placing the coin back in my purse and slipping it into one of the hidden pockets of my brown cloak. I had heard that saying from Boldrin before, during my intense bouts of training with the man. He said that a Knight had told him that once when he served in the Yelesi army and it was what inspired him to start the Brigade. I wasn't too sure about that fact, why would a Knight talk to a lowly soldier, as Boldrin had been? It didn't matter, every time he said it I got back up from my place in the dirt and tried again, and again, until I couldn't physically move.
I extended my arm to the old warrior “Thanks, Boldrin. For everything. If you all are ever in town again, come find me and we'll have a drink.”
Boldrin took my hand with a smile. “Sound's good to me, son. Now go out there and make something of yourself. You'd better at least be a Knight by the time I get back to this city, or they'll be hell to pay.” The man laughed and clapped a hand on my shoulder that at one time would've sent me too my knee's.
I laughed along with him at the absurdity of the statement and turned on my band, my family, with a wave, and began to walk away. Sad at the thought of possibly not seeing them again, but happy for the opportunities that lay ahead of me. I return to my home with a pocket full of coin, a sword at my hip and anticipation in my heart. For some reason, I was feeling rather optimistic for things to come.
I was surprised at feeling a tap on my shoulder and turned, expecting to find Boldrin standing there with a grin on his face, but instead found Tessa, who stared up at me with those sharp eyes.
“Don't die, Orin.” She said simply and punched me on the shoulder before turning and making her way back towards the band with a nimble grace that I would never be able to replicate. For some reason, that meant more to me than the gold coin in my pouch. I smiled and continued down the street, further into the heart of the commons, where my home awaited me.
I have to say, I truly did miss this city while I was away, though that nostalgia didn't come until I was almost a year into my time with the band. Sister Erin and I swapped letters back and forth every so often, with her telling me how much the money was doing for the orphanage and me telling her about my life as a mercenary. I didn't go into any great detail about my battles with the Brigade of course. Sister Erin was still a wife of the Great Spirit and she would worry if she knew just how close to death I had come a number of times. She was a great woman and the only mother I had ever known, not that I had made it easy on her in the beginning. I was not what could be called a quiet child and was always getting into trouble for stealing and fighting. I still thought that the only reason I didn't lose a hand, or even my life, to the guard was directly due to the influence of the good Sister. She was well respected in the commons and even the thieves and cut-throats gave her a wide berth. An unwritten rule for all the criminals in this part of the city was that the Sister and the children in her care were off-limits.
I took in the sights as I walked, familiar and yet alien to me in every way. Mitch's shop, the granary and the Horse's Head, the old tavern where me and some friends had tried to steal some ale.
I thought for a moment to stop in and have a nice cold drink, but couldn't bring myself to hold off on seeing Sister Eren any longer. I had told her that I would arrive near three days ago now and I didn't want to worry her any longer. I just hope she wouldn't beat me with a cane. Because of my antics as a child, that cane and I were old friends.
Eventually, after rounding another corner, I found the orphanage standing tall and proud, dominating one side of the decrepit street. It looked better than I remembered, perhaps some repairs had taken place?
I smiled, thankful that the Sister had gotten some of my money. It had been a constant worry when I was away that some enterprising young courier would snatch the funds right from under the Sister's nose. Though she was shrewd one, and I was doubtful that she would let such a thing stand since she knew I was sending coin. Her cane was as strong as any war-hammer, after all, and she wielded it liberally against the children in her care. Perhaps that's why she had so many success stories.
I arrived at the beaten doors of the orphanage with a smile on my face and love in my heart. I also found myself to be quite nervous. I had been away for four years and I just hoped that too much hadn't changed. The Sister said that upon my return I could stay here until I got settled and I just hoped I wouldn't be intruding. Would the kids still remember me? More than a few of them were quite young and I'm sure that there were new ones now. I wiped a sweaty hand against my leg and laughed at my own foolishness.
I am Orin, a deadly swordsman who fought in battles great and small, yet before the thought of seeing the woman who had raised me I felt like a little boy again.
With no small amount of hesitation, I knocked heavily on the door and waited.
It didn't take long and I could hear the footsteps on the other side of the door, my smile growing brighter as it opened to reveal a young looking woman, wearing the vestments of our holiness, the Great Spirit.
It was a drab and unflattering outfit, shades of dark and light brown, and would have looked silly on anyone else in my opinion, but the Sister had always worn them well, as if she were born for it. Her dark blonde hair was tied up behind her head with what looked like a pencil and there was a smudge of ink on her chin. Despite everything I had seen, to me, she was still the most beautiful woman in the world. Her eyes however, narrowed at the sight of me. I knew that look and it was a dangerous one. No doubt her other hand was grasping for her cane.
“Don't know what you want here, sell-sword, but you have ten seconds to get off my property before I give you a concussion.” Sister Eren said in her soft voice, which had an edge to it that would have left even Tessa in awe.
“H-Hey Sister, I'm back.” I said, with splayed hands and a winning smile.
She didn't recognise me. I wasn't really surprised to be honest. I mean, I had been skin and bones the last time she had seen me and now I had the dangerous look of a swordsman, a mercenary. My pale skin was now a tanned brown from all the time spent in the sun soaked countries to the south and my hair was a lighter shade of brown for the same reason. There was a small amount of stubble upon my cheeks and my pale green eyes stood out against my darker skin.
Years of good eating and training with Boldrin and the others had filled me out and even through my thin leathers, one could see the lean and muscled body of a trained warrior.
Plus, I had grown quite a bit in the past few years, having just celebrated my eighteenth birthday on the way back to the city. I now stood at six feet and towered over the five foot nothing Sister, who still stared up at me with narrowed eyes.
But just as quickly, those eyes widened in recognition and I felt a hand of steel whip out from her large sleeve and wrap around the back of my neck, pulling me down and into a hug with surprising ease, considering I was supposed to be so much stronger now. Perhaps the Sister was just that strong?
“Thank you, Great One, for bringing my boy back to me” she whispered softly, stroking my back and rocking me gently, making me feel like a child again. Honestly, it wasn't that bad.
She pulled back and cupped my cheeks between both hands, staring at me with a serene smile on her face.
Then she headbutted me. Hard.
I went flying backwards, falling back down the steps of the orphanage and tumbling onto the mercifully soft dirt of the road outside. I came to sudden stop and my hand went to my already profusely bleeding nose, my head shaking with the impact of her forceful strike. I turned to look at the top of those stairs to see the Sister staring down at me with her warm eyes and smile still in place.
“What was that for?!” I cried out, wincing as speaking seemed to cause my nose more pain.
“You worried me, you dolt! Three days ago, three, that was when you were supposed to arrive, not so late after. I was afraid you had died.”
“So you headbutted me?” I asked with wide and confused eyes.
The Sister nodded gracefully, as if this was somehow an accepted method of punishment by all wives of the Great Spirit.
“Unfortunately, yes. I had to punish you. If it makes you feel any better, I felt the Great Spirit work through me, so perhaps it should be him who you should turn to for answers.”
And she somehow turns it into a way to make me worship. Of course she did, she always does.
I sighed and pushed myself shakily to my feet, one hand still holding my profusely bleeding nose while the other knocked dirt off my clothes.
“I could've died, you know.” I grumbled morosely. “What if I'd fallen on the sword.”
“Hush, child. Your awful weapon is still in it's scabbard and if it somehow managed to escape it's holdings and place itself blade up in the dirt to catch you as you fell, then we could only accept that it was part of the Great Spirits plan.” She lifted her hands to the sky in supplication, but I could see a hint of smile pulling at her lips.
“Glad to see some things haven't changed, Sister.”
She let her smile shine through then and laughed brightly as she gestured for me to return to the door. I went with no small amount of trepidation and nearly flinched when she brought me in for another hug.
“Welcome home, Orin. I'm glad you're alright.” She whispered softly, rubbing the back of my neck fondly.
I returned the hug and buried my head in her shoulder. “I missed you, Sister. Thanks for letting me stay.”
“No need for any of that,” She said as she pulled back and took me by the hand, pulling me into the orphanage. “This is your home, Orin. You can stay as long as you want. You sent us so much money that we managed to add more rooms last spring. The place has never been so full and I had to hire some help just to keep things going.”
I frowned, concerned. “Really? Are you alright, not over-worked?”
She laughed again as she pulled me towards the kitchen. “Are you kidding, of course I'm over-worked! But by the Spirit, Orin, I have never been happier. The money you sent helped so much. I told you we added rooms, but that's just the start of it.” She laughed again and threw open the familiar doors of the kitchen and took a step back to allow me to enter first.
I was shocked.
The kitchen had always been rundown and decrepit, much like the rest of the orphanage, but now it shone and glimmered with clean workstations and copper pots and pans lining the walls. I wasn't surprised that this was the first room that the sister showed me because of her love of cooking. She had never really had much to give us before, but now it looked stocked and clean, much like one would see in a tavern or inn. I knew instantly that I couldn't have done this. I had sent what silver I could and the occasional gold coin, but nothing could afford this level of opulence, this kitchen wouldn't look out of place in the palace.
“Sister, this is incredible! How did you afford all this?” I asked, still shocked and looking around the room, examining the walls themselves. Even they looked brand new, obviously scrubbed to the point of wearing down the stone.
“Your money, of course!” she replied, following him inside,
I glanced around doubtfully. “I don't think so, Sister. Unless prices have dropped to almost nothing since I was last here.”
“No, no.” she said while waving her hand. “At first we used the funds to keep things going. Times were still tough, of course, but we pulled through easily enough. When we managed to get some leeway, we started holding fund-raisers in the inner city! The entry fee to that part of town is exorbitant but we had enough wiggle room with the purse to get inside.”
“Fund-raisers?” I asked dubiously.
“Yes! I say fund-raisers, it was just me and some of the kids going around and asking for some coins from the nobles. Many didn't bother, but a few did and that brings me to all this!” She cackled madly, lifting her hands and gesturing wildly around the room.
“I doubt even some coin from the Nobles would've been enough to renovate this much. I saw the hallways as well, everything looks brand new.”
“Wait until you see the rooms, dear one. Real beds, Orin, real beds. Soft and filled with down, it's like sleeping on air.” The Sister sighed, lost in her daydream of a comfortable sleep.
“Okay, now I know you didn't have enough, beds cost ridiculous amounts of gold. I was sleeping on a bloody mattress stuffed with hay!”
The Sister's eyes sharpened. “Careful boy, no swearing in this house. I don't care how big and strong you are, I'll whip you up and down the street.”
I straightened immediately. “Sorry, ma'am.”
Her smile returned instantly. “Well, as I was saying, the Nobles gave us a few coins but you're right, there was no way we could afford any of what we now have with their coin. That was until the Princess walked by...”
I blinked. “The Princess? The Princess? Like of Venos?”
Sister Erin cuffed me upside the ear. “Of course, you dolt, who else would I be talking about?”
“But... she's the Princess, what's she doing wandering about the city?”
“On her way to one noble estate or another, one would imagine. Anyway, she was passing by in a carriage that almost ran over poor Delithia and the girl was knocked to the ground. So the princess came out to help her.”
I stared at her with a deadpan expression.
“Delithia? You let Delithia near the Princess of Venos?”
“Yes, why wouldn't I?” asked the Sister, confused.
“Because it's Delithia?” I couldn't help but feel that wasn't a ridiculous question. Delithia had been seven when I joined the Brigade and even then she had a reputation for nimble fingers and a cute face. A dangerous combination for a pickpocket as prolific as her.
“Delithia doesn't act like that any more, Orin. She grew out of it a long time ago. Just after you left actually. What does that tell you?”
I winced at the implication and decided to try and hurry this along.
“So the Princess helped Delithia up and...” I indicated for the good Sister to continue.
“Yes, the Princess helped the girl and then noticed my vestments and asked what me and the children were doing out in the cold, it was winter then, you see.” Sister Erin walked over to the stove and turned it on by touching one of the glowing symbols on it's side that had appeared at her approach.
“Ah, so I take it the Princess decided to give you her... assistance...” I frowned and looked once again at the stove.
Yes, there it was. Glowing symbols.
I nearly leapt out of my boots on my way towards the machine from the door, immediately falling to my knee's as if in prayer to the Great Spirit himself. I turned to look at the smug expression adorning the face of the woman who raised me and and pointed one shaking hand at the seemingly simple machine.
“Is this what I think it is?”
The Sister cackled madly and raised her hands into the sky in triumph. “I was wondering when you were going to notice, boy! What, did you think the reason I brought you in here was to see just how pretty my kitchen is? No, no, no. This, Orin my son, is an Inscribed stove!”
I nearly fell back onto my ass at her confirmation of my suspicions.
An inscribed anything is worth more than the whole orphanage. Depending on the item and how it has been Inscribed, it could be worth more than even that. It depended on the function of course, but even the relatively simple task of making fire could be made infinitely easier with the proper glyphs. This was incredible, the fires in this stove would burn at the temperature that was required, no more and no less, and could be changed whenever the owner needed it. It was a marvel of modern magic and only those who were Scribes could create them and they were all under the control of the Crown.
“Let me guess, the Princess?” I asked weakly.
Sister Erin nodded and put a hand on his shoulder from where she stood, still staring at the symbols that lined the side of the stove.
“We have been blessed, boy. First by you and then by the Princess. I cannot begin to tell you how much everything you've done has meant for us.”
I coughed and when I spoke my voice was thick with emotion. “It was no big deal, Sister. You would have gotten to see the Princess anyway so really I sent that money for nothing.” I'm not too proud to admit that I was slightly bitter about the whole ordeal. I had worked my fingers to the bone with training and gone into battle against desperate odds, often with the one thought that I was helping my family back home. Then I return to discover that my help wasn't really needed at all. At least, that's the odd conclusion that I came too in my self-pitying state.
Sister Erin rolled her eyes. “Foolish boy. Without you we wouldn't have made it through that first winter you went away, never mind in paying the toll to enter the inner city. You are the saviour of this place, my dear Orin. I just wish it hadn't cost you so much.” She said softly, running a finger over the head of a scar that poked out from under my tunic collar.
I immediately turned away and did up the last button of my jacket and pulled my cloak closer, hiding the scar from sight. Foolish, I should've checked to make sure she couldn't see any of them. As strong as she was, Sister Erin was a soft soul at heart. She would have to be with what she put up with from the often feral orphans. It was good she didn't see anything else, if she saw the extent of the scars on my body she would burst into tears, of that I had no doubt.
“Thank you, Sister, that means a lot.” I said stiffly. “So? You never finished your story about the Princess.”
I turned back to look at my Sister to find her staring at me with a haunted look in her eyes, as if she had seen all I had seen and wanted desperately to save me from the memories. But she soon shook her head and favoured me with one of her serene smiles.
“Of course, where was I?”
“She had asked what you were all doing out in the cold.”
“Ah, yes. Well after that we got to talking, her and I, about our purpose for being there and the orphanage in the commons and the state we were all in.” Sister Erin smiled at the memory. “She's quite the intelligent little thing, you know, and has a surprising knowledge of what happens outside those palace walls. She told me that I could go home and get some rest, that there would be people coming to the commons within the week.”
“Really? Just like that?” I asked incredulously.
Just like that,” The Sister snapped her fingers. “I didn't believe her at first, of course. I have met too many selfish and uppity Nobles in my life to believe that we had found the only truly altruistic one among them, and the Princess no less! But arrive they did, and in force. Spirit, Orin, you should have seen this place, it was bloody anarchy! Men running about like chickens with their heads cut off, taking measurements, screaming at the top of their lungs. And in the centre of it all was the Princess, dressed like some kind of common tavern wench and directing them all like a conductor. It was quite the sight!” Sister Erin laughed.
“Wait, the Princess actually came here? Didn't expect that,” I muttered.
“Yes, she came by, met all the children. They were so happy to get to meet her and she was really very good with them, you know,” She raised her eyes to the sky in contemplation. “Well except for Gertrand, he just kept giving her and that bodyguard of hers the evil eye. I wonder where he got that from?”
I winced yet again. Gertrand was a little over ten years old when I left with the band and he was something of a little brother, always following me and Pater around when we disappeared off to enact some hair brained scheme.
“How is Gertrand?” I asked quietly.
“Well, he didn't take you leaving very well, my dear. He understood, of course, but remember he was so young. Then again, so were you. I expected more from you than a farewell note, by the way, don't think I have forgotten that.”
“I'm terrible with goodbyes, you know that!” I said in protest.
The Sister shook her head. “We both know that wasn't the reason. You were afraid I would try to forbid you from going and you were right. If you hadn't come back alive I would have gone to the underworld and dragged you back up for a caning,” She leaned forward and patted my cheek with a fond smile. “I'm so glad you're home. That you came back alive. You would have liked to meet Princess Elora, she was very striking, reminded me of you in some ways.”
“I did meet her once, remember? Her eighth birthday?”
The Sister frowned at me for a second before her eyes lit up. This was swiftly followed by her echoing laughter. So fierce was it's intensity that she almost fell over, her face red and wheezing.
“I shouldn't have brought it up.” I said with a sigh and a blush of embarrassment, it was one memory that I was in no mood to relive.
“That was... when you... how did...” The Sister's words came out between great gusts of giggles and try as she might she wasn't able to stop it.
“Yes, yes. It was very funny when I almost got my hands cut off! We all had a good time, now lets move on. She probably doesn't even remember it.”
“Oh my dear, dear Orin. No one, especially the Princess, has forgotten that, trust me.” The Sister replied after finally getting a hold of herself.
The Sister waved a hand dismissively. “I'm old, I'm allowed to forget things.”
“Not that old!” I grumbled. “And you swore!”
The Sister had the nerve to look shocked. “Orin, how dare you. I would never swear.”
“But you did, you said 'bloody'!” I shouted like a child.
“Orin,” The Sister snapped. “I would never say such a word, and the fact that you've said it for a second time in my presence deserves nothing less than a caning.”
“But... but...” I choked, wondering if I actually heard her say it or if it was a part of my imagination.
“Now, you have arrived quite late, but the children will be coming back from chapel soon for their supper. You can see them all then,” She chuckled softly. “Eighth birthday. I'll have to bring that up to her the next time I see her.”
“Wait, you're seeing her again?”
“Of course, haven't you heard?” She seemed genuinely confused now. “The Princess is marrying that Noble bodyguard of hers I believe. Their doing their Bonding as well, quite a cute little couple.”
Bonding? That could only mean one thing.
“So the Princess is Bonding with her Knight?”
The Sister nodded. “Marrying the man as well, quite lucky in my opinion. We should get you a girl, Orin, I bet you make cute kids.”
I side-stepped that rather loaded topic with another question. “But how will you see her? Were you invited to the wedding?”
“In a way. Some of the kids and I will be present on stage during the ceremony, it's to be held in the public square in the inner city and Delithia is actually in the bridal party! She has to go to the palace and everything! She's very excited.”
I smiled, glad that my family could be part of something as momentous as the Bonding of a Smith and her Knight. It was open to the public as well, as all royal weddings and Bondings were. The King and Queen performed the same ceremony there when they were young.
“When is it?” I asked curiously.
“Only a couple days away now, I can't believe you haven't heard anything.”
“Ah, you know how it is, Sister. We wandering swordsman types care little for the news of the realm, instead focusing on when we can next shed blood!” I cried sarcastically, causing the Sister to smack me on the arm with a tut.
“Yes, yes, you are very strong and brave, my most troublesome son. Now come, the kids are most likely already arriving from Chapel and they will wish to see you.”
I smiled and followed after the Sister as she made for the door, glad for this time to talk with her in private and surprising myself with just how much I wanted to see the kids again, it had been too long.
If Delithia and the Sister were going to the ceremony I figured that I should stop by myself. I had met a few Knights and Smiths in my day, but never before had I seen their first bonding. Plus, the throne would be secure upon the joining of the Princess Elora and her paramour, which meant the city would come alive and food and drink aplenty would flow through the streets of Myrin.
Honestly, I couldn't believe I had come back at a better time. I could spend a couple of days catching up with my family and then have a city wide celebration with my friends and neighbours. I knew I was right to be optimistic.