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The arrows slapped down into the mud all around them, most of them harmless, though a few men sank to the ground crying and groaning. Brynden ordered a volley to be fired with a swing of his sword, and so they did. Their own arrows proved as ineffective as the previous hail, only injuring few. They would have little effect until the distances were shorter and, perhaps, battle was properly joined. Now was the time for action, however, and Brynden shouted his command, fervently. [b ''Ladders, now!''] Teams of twelve men each, all of them protected by their own respective shieldbearer, charged the walls, bearing ladders they had constructed during the weeks of preparation. Most of them made it, but a few fell, struck down by arrows. Eventually, however, the ladders were thrown up.
Eager for the double pay that the forlorn hope received, a soldier climbed up one of the ladders long before the rest of the battalion had even begun their march. Brynden looked on with a frown as a peasant levy with a spear stuck him in the eye and pushed him back off the ladder, a thirty-foot drop into the ditch below. He gave the order to advance.
It was as if they flew towards the walls and, once on the ladder, Brynden gave them all an example of how it's done. It is an awkward affair to scale a ladder in such heavy armour while also bearing a large sword, but by the gods, Brynden made it look easy. The peasant guarding the parapet let out a triumphant roar as he thought his next targeted was being presented to him. His triump turned to fear as his spearpoint bounced harmlessly off of Brynden's chestplate. He was rewarded with a five-foot long steel blade being rammed unceremoniously into his belly, only to then be twisted, before Brynden saw fit to boot the man off the other side of the wall, moments after he had crossed the parapet. He hacked and swung around him, all the while shouting like a man possessed. He created a gap large enough for a second soldier to join him, and then another, and so on and so forth until the mercenaries steadily trickled onto the castle walls.
He fought side by side with Tasia for a good while. Due to him clearly being the greater threat, and conveniently, a larger target, most men attacked him, leaving Tasia easy openings to finish them off handily. They got seperated, however, when they entered a dark tower and Brynden stormed up the wooden stairway to deal with the archers at the top, while Tasia continued through to the next section of the walls. When he came down, he was stained in blood and gore, head to toe. The archers had never expected him to reach them.
He saw her, eventually, ensuring a man could never father children again. He waded through the battles, his heavy blade spelling disaster for whoever dared get in his way. When he reached her, eventually, he saw a man seize her by the arm. She shaked free. He could hear her speak his name. He then saw the man behind her draw a dirk. [b ''Not today!''] He shouted. His blade flashed up and came down in a split second, ridding the man of his left arm. The screams sickened Brynden, so he shoved the man over the parapet, into the stake-filled ditch. To his relief, the wall, though littered by corpses, was clear of any other living beings. He rushed towards Tasia and set his sword aside, forcing her down onto her back as he sank into a kneel. He propped her torso up against his knee and looked her over, quickly. [b ''Can you fight on?''] He asked, his voice warped by his hollow helmet.
Tasia hasn’t expected tenderness and she promised she wouldn’t call him by his real name, remembering the story of why he hid it from everyone. She nodded to him as she followed, perhaps the wine making her more obligatory as she settled in his arms. It felt safe, protected and warm. And she truly didn’t want him to die, and she was afraid he might. He seemed so concerned and worried. For a long time, Tasia watched him in silence before drifting off into a sleep.
She didn’t sleep long, her eyes watching Brynden awaken and felt his thumb brush her cheek. If they could have stayed like that forever, she’d have been happy. But the Gods were merciless. Tasia stood and rinsed her face, eating barely anything as she didn’t have the stomach for it given what today was. She adjusted his armour and eyed it over. It was different to his usual and she wondered why, perhaps it was safer than his more flamboyant style. She looked to the other men, lined up and awaiting command. She was scared, but she didn’t want to show it as she looked up to the defenders on the wall. She looked to Brynden and only nodded in response because she would have preferred the latter.
She drew her sword, thankfully gaining some movement back in her shoulder which would aid her well enough. Of course the first attack was a shower of arrows from the wall but they countered it with their own in retaliation. Within minutes, chaos had descended upon them. Battling and clashes of steel ringing out into the cold air. All thoughts and worries ceased as Tasia fought for her life. These men were tougher than the last battle and they had no mercy. Tasia was struggling to keep up with the battle and stick close to Brynden.
In a pause, like a sigh, Tasia looked around the girl to notice many were dead. Far more than she had ever anticipated and for a brief moment, she was distracted, brought back to reality as an arrow barely missed her and she whipped around to see a handful of advancing men. She drew in a deep breath and if anything, she had some speed on them and agility, they were heavier than her and although eventually she had slain three of them, it wasn’t for lack of her own injuries. Her helmet had been lost in the scuffle, a thin cut on her cheek and her nose was bleeding. A cut to her arm as she stood opposite the last man from the clutch. She was breathing heavily as she spat out a little blood. She wasn’t sure what kept her even standing upright right that moment, the man advancing and Tasia narrowed her eyes. Where was Brynden? She needed to find him. She lunged herself forwards at the man, the clumsiness costing her as he shoved her back into the mud, roughly. He peered down at her. He looked curious as he put his blade tip at her throat.
[b “You look like a girl, boy. Maybe we’ll keep you around.”] He sneered and Tasia felt a pang if blind panic as she grabbed her blade and thrust up into the man’s thigh, staggering to her feet as he squealed like a pig. Dazed and disoriented, she looked around.
She felt a hand grasp her arm and haul her to her feet.
[b “No- stop. Where’s Brynden?”] She asked in a quiet voice as she wiggles free. She wouldn’t be retreating or going to see any surgeon. She couldn’t anyways. Her head was spinning as she finally came a bit more back to reality and stared around, wiping blood and grime from her face.
Despite his worries and his fear, he did crack a slight grin at her joke, even though it vanished as suddenly as it had appeared. [b ''I do not plan to die, Tasia, and you have no need to thank me. It is almost a contractual obligation that I teach you.''] He replied. [b ''If you must forbid me, I cannot promise that it is something I have much say over. Fortune has smiled down on me all my life, but lady luck is a fleeting mistress, and who knows just when she'll abandon me?''] He waxed philosophically. [b ''In any case, I can do my best. You'll not die, either, that is an order as your commanding officer, and should you see fit to fail to follow said order, I'll come up to the heavens and drag you kicking and screaming back into this muddy hell-hole myself.''] He assured her.
They sat and talked for a while, but only after Brynden had fetched a couple of his skins. He drank heavily, and she drank more than he'd seen her drink before. [b ''I feel, Tasia, that given my likely fate, I should tell you that my name is Aleandro Scala. Do not ever call me by that name. I am to remain Brynden, is that understood?''] It took but the slightest confirmation for him to trust her. He'd sat down beside her, and throughout the night, he found himself gradually scooting closer. When they both agreed they were tired, Brynden took her by the hand and guided her out, any conflicting feelings he might have had over his fingers being intertwined with hers erased by the daunting prospect of the battle to come. He guided her into his own tent, barely muttering his explanation. [b ''Mine is a lot better than yours, you'll find it easier to rest.''] It only took a bit of coaxing from Tasia and a departure of his obstinacy for him to join her. It was odd. He'd never expected it to come to the point where she lie asleep in his arms, but he did not mind.
When he woke, it was only to find her pale eyes looking at him. With some semblance of a crooked smile he reached up and ran a thumb over her cheek. Then, he was up and getting dressed, wolfing down last night's cold meal for breakfast, offering her half. He splashed water onto his face to scare last night's wine out of him before he set to armouring his companion, before she could return the favour.
When they had finally marched out and assembled with the others, his fear had gone. He was clad in armour much unlike what he'd usually wear, hideous steel that showed it had lived through many battles. It was far heavier than what he'd worn the last battle. His helmet, too, differed. A great, ugly houndskull bascinet. His sword had been replaced with a mighty greatsword that looked fit to split a lindwurm in half.
He stared up at the walls and saw the defenders gathered, but it mattered little to him. He gave Tasia a nod.
[b ''Death or glory.'']
Brynden was unusually soft but she didn’t draw attention to it in front of the others. She worked out her frustrations and it actually felt somewhat good despite her skill not being up to par like everyone else’s and the cooked breakfast was a relief. She watched Brynden and nodded, agreeing to his terms of public display being just that; a display.
However, she did not expect him to visit her in the wee hours of the night and she watched him, eyeing him over and looking concerned. She listened to him and sighed out softly.
[b “You’re too stubborn to die, Brynden.”] She said to him quietly and reassuringly.
[b “And I would be a coward not to be at your side for this siege. I did survive a Lindwurm, you know?”] It was a joke on her behalf and she quietened when he asked if he could stay with her for a while and she nodded to him. She would do her very best, as she always had when it came to battles except this time she wouldn’t pull any stupid stunts but she also didn’t know what made this siege so much more dangerous. But she wouldn’t fall from his side either, if he had taught her one thing it was to be stronger than yesterday.
Tasks looked thoughtful for some time as she quietened and looked to him.
[b “I don’t think you’ll die tomorrow. I wouldn’t let that happen and… in case you are planning a dramatic exit, Brynden.”] She eyes him over. She had never seen him like this before, usually he was confident.
[b “In case, I want to say thank you. You’ve taught me more than simply defending myself. And I’m sorry, for disobeying.”] Tasha said to him quietly and looked around the tent. Tomorrow would be dangerous then, and Tasia supposed she would need to do her best to keep an eye on Brynden for a change. She had been to every other siege and battle so far, she wasn’t about to miss this one out. But she had promised to obey him, in public at least.
[b “I’ll go with you. And before you give me an order, I agreed to publicly obey you, we are in private now.”] She pointed out and exhaled. She didn’t want Brynden to die, for many reasons. Perhaps the foremost being he had become someone she was close to, and she hadn’t been the easiest squire to train. She hesitated for a moment and looked to Brynden again, as if choosing her next words carefully.
[b “Besides, I don’t even know your real name, Brynden. You said I had to work on seeing your kinder side. So… as a woman, I forbid you from dying.”] It was clear she was upset at the possibility of him dying, and his nerves only made it worse for her but she was trying very hard to be like he was, strong and bold in the face of adversity.
It had been confusing for himself. He had already turned about and was making his way to vacate her tent when she told him to leave. Despite the conflict, he slept well that night, and when he woke, it was to a pleasant sight; a well-cooked breakfast. He thanked the cooks in his heart and took his time to sit down and have his meal. He washed it down with a flagon of dark beer before he finally decided to wash and shave himself. Once he was dressed he finally left his tent, only to see his squire practicing at archery. The master-at-arms shouted at him about Tobias trying his hand, and Brynden gave the man only a glare. His voice came forth like rolling thunder, his chagrin likely promoted by a hangover. [b ''My bloody squire. Ask first, next time, or I'll have you digging latrines for a month.''] He then went on to the armoury.
When he returned, he was still in plain clothes but he bore two practice swords. He tossed one at Tasia and, without waiting for her to catch it, adopted his usual stance. When she got the message, he let her hammer away at him, working out her frustrations, her anger, while not so much as uttering a word. He did fight back, though he struck at her only occasionally. He hit her once or twice, and when he did, she could notice he wasn't putting half as much force into it as he used to.
He finally returned to his tent after gesturing for her to follow. Half of his breakfast stood untouched, and he signalled towards it. [b ''Work away. You must be hungry.''] He even pulled out the chair for her, and then shifted it back towards the table once she'd taken a seat. He'd then move over to his bed, sitting down on the edge. He took a deep breath. [b ''I will treat you as my squire only in the public eye. I will treat you as I would a woman in private. You are not to disobey or challenge me when anyone else is around - remember, you are my squire. And, of course, my apologies.''] That is the last he told her that day, before he left his tent to train his abilities with a lance on horseback until time for dinner came.
Three weeks passed since then, and Brynden had offered her no meaningful conversation. He trained her in the art of sword and spear, without fail, and he was glad to see her grow into a decent warrior. He looked on as her body adapted, shedding soft, pale flesh for hardening muscles and sun-kissed skin. He had no private meetings with her since that conversation, either, but she would occasionally find her laundry done or her sword sharpened, and on two rare occasions, a platter of hot food in her tent when she returned after a day of practice.
He finally came to her again after the Captain had announced that the siege would be executed the following day. He entered her tent in the small hours, relieved to find her awake. [b ''I come to you only because the situation warrants it. We are to storm the walls tomorrow, and I have been chosen to lead the forlorn hope. In layman's terms, that means I lead the first assault on the walls, a risky job, but one with great rewards. I do not expect you to come with me, nor had I planned for it. I recommended the Captain to let you stay with the archers or join one of the last waves, as you see fit.'']
The hesitation was clear on his face, and that was the first time Tasia could see doubt in Brynden's grey eyes. [b ''I might die tomorrow, Tasia. Would you mind if I were to remain here, for a while?'']
Brynden’s words were cruel, they were the truth but they were cruel and cold. Tasia didn’t give him the reaction he wanted as she stayed in her tent and mulled over his words. His mention of ‘visited in the night’ had been a low blow considering what she had been through in the past. She rubbed her eyes and she was still angry. Her place was not below him, nor was it above him! But she wouldn’t be treat like a dog being yanked to heel either.
Tasia warily stepped outside her tent, keeping quiet. At first she had all intentions of simply going away, finding somewhere outside this camp to sit and think out her options but of course Brynden appeared and she watched him with narrowed eyes. She wasnt feeling guilty, because evidently he wasn’t by the anger in his eyes. Tasia took a step back as he advanced on her, not quick enough to avoid him shoving her against the pole, feeling the cold and wet metal at her back. He smelled like wine and despite his advances to lean in, she knew he was angered. She was too shocked to shift out the way of his lips as he kissed her and should feel her stomach hitching slightly, slight with fiery emotions.
However, she soon got ahold of herself as she pulled back, staring at him wordlessly for a few moments.
[b “Is this my place then? A drunken outlet for you?”] She asked quietly. If that was the case then so be it but she wouldn’t be happy about it.
[b “An outlet for your cruel words and intentions?”] He has been angry at her, he had said such cold things and now he advanced on her like a wolf upon prey and expected her not to be confused. If he wished to toy with her emotions then she wouldn’t allow it to happen.
[b “Fall from my sight.”] She said softly and turned her back to him. It was difficult to remember females had different emotions than men. Wine made men sloppy. She sat, awake most of the night.
However, when dawn broke, Tasia was out on the training field first. This time a bow in her hands as a man she had never met before taught ‘Tobias’ the art of archery. And she was slightly better at it than sword and spear. However, archery pained her injured shoulder more. It was easy to see the beginnings of pain written on her face as her stitches pulled, the blue bruise on her cheek fading.
[b “Ah! Brynden, your squire was up early and given his antics last night, I figured the boy would do better to learn a ranged skill where he can’t get himself killed with foolish notions!”] The man announced and earned a glare from Tasia at his words but she didn’t say anything. If they wanted an obedient dog then so be it, she wouldn’t fight anymore, she wouldn’t argue. She would do as commanded, like the a well trained dog but Brynden probably wouldn’t like it either.
[b ''You are in no position to make demands of me. Without me, what would await you out there - out in the wide world - is death, death, and nothing but death, maybe with a side dish of 'being visited' in the night!''] He bellowed back. [b ''And take control of something? Your own [i guaranteed] death? You're lucky to have come out of that alive! I am certain it goes without saying that you follow my lead!''] He'd silence himself only to take a heavy swig from one of his abundant wineskins, his eyes shooting fire at her all the while. A stream of purple wine ran down the corner of his mouth.
He growled, then. [b ''And I did not ask to have to take care of someone like you, Tasia, but that is our lot in life, and such are fate and duty. I know my place, it is time for you to learn yours. If you wish to be seen as a woman, go ahead, step outside and scream it! At the top of your lungs! See where that gets you!''] He let out a cruel chuckle before drinking his fill of wine, again. He sat himself down on the edge of his table as he watched her storm out, the wineskin still in his hand.
He sat, he drank, and he thought. Occasionally he could hear a muffled sound from her tent, but he could never place them. A sob? A mumble? A laugh, maybe? He drank until his candles burned low and his head was swimming. He stood up and staggered out to answer nature's call, boots sloshing through the mud. The night's light rainfall proved more than pleasant, particularly so in combination with the gentle breeze. He listened to the rustle of the leaves and, as he looked around, he noticed all but the sentries were asleep. He marched on back to his tent.
There was nothing but surprise in his eyes when he arrived at his own tent just as Tasia stepped out of hers. He could see the doubt on her face. He watched it change to shock when she saw him. Did he detect a hint of guilt? He soon grew visibly angry and approached her with long strides, his hands quickly finding her collar. He forced her back until her spine found rest against the tent's central pole. For a moment, he hesitated, anger clouding his mind. What came next must have been a result of his inebriation, for he leaned in to kiss her.
Tasia was almost sure this thing could hear the blood rushing around her body with every throb of her heart. In her mind, Tasia was being brave and offering some sort of distraction. Rather one person than a group of thirty men, right? At least that was her initial plan and last she checked, no one else had come up with a plan. But she was also naïve, she didn’t know these creatures or exactly what they were capable of. This creature was nothing like the dragons she had been told stories of, it was from the realm of nightmares and she realised the situation she had gotten herself into. Her rush of adrenaline was gone, courage deserting her in the moment and she took a step back.
The thrashing of the beast only winded her, knocking her back and knocking her unconscious for a short while luckily as it was distracted and she didn’t remember much after that. The next thing she remembered was coming to and Brynden’s face. She could tell he was angry. And it infuriated her as to why. She had tried to be brave! For once in her life to stand up and not be the shy servant but evidently, it felt like Brynden preferred her that way.
She stared at him when he spoke, looking a little perplexed but more importantly, angered by his reaction. Had he gone in there with a plan?! If so he had neglected to tell her.
[b “Excuse me?”] She said, tone a little too calm as she eyed his tent. She glared at him, somewhat embarrassed. She had thought she had been brave. Surely that deserved at least a little credit?!
[b “You went in there with no plan. And if you had a plan then you didn’t tell me. So forgive me for attempting to come up with some sort of distraction, and besides, it worked. The things is dead..”] She hissed back and eyed him over, her eyes furiously icy.
[b “And do not call me a moron. It is not me that is the moron, Brynden. My life is worth a bag of coins to you, that’s all. And you would do well to remember I am not a Mercenary. Nor am I a man.”] She muttered and looked to the tent entrance,
[b “And I did not ask for this, any of it, but here I am, bruised, battered and injured. And all you can say is that I’m a moron to keep up your cold exterior for the others. So forgive me for at least trying to be in control of something since I came here because this whole time you have pulled the strings. You’ve been exactly as my masters were, I swapped one set of chains for another.”] She was most likely embarrassed by his reaction, thinking she was brave as she turned her back to him and led the tent, ducking into her own one and struggling out her armour.
She tossed it aside and slumped on her bed, after closing the flaps of her tent. Brynden could be angry, she didn’t care. He seemed to forget combat was not something she had seen, it was not where her skills lay and he treated her like a common slave. She had swapped one set of masters for another! She ran a hand through her hair and swallowed thickly. Anger was not something she dealt with well. But she was furious. Brynden seemed to throw her into situations where she wasn’t confident and hope she made it out in the end, and for what? So her father could hand over a large bag of gold for her safe return? Her body ached and her head span with a full headache.
A sudden thought sparked. She could leave, she wasn’t a prisoner, right?
It was a shock to suddenly see that slight, untrained handmaiden stand before a massive beast capable of ending her with a single bite. He was dumbfounded. He could hear her calling an order, but the men hesitated. They hadn't known this young lad as anything other than a run-of-the-mill squire. The Lindwurm burst forth with a roar, and Brynden knew it would be do or die for Tasia, and now or never for him. He could see her shy away from the jaws of death as, with his left hand, he took up his hunting horn. He brought it to his lips and let out a deafening blast just in time.
The beast whipped around, all fury, fangs and scales. With a swing of its tail it took down several men and Tasia, leaving them groaning and battered in the dirt. [b ''The legs! The hind legs! Now!''] He bellowed as he dropped his horn, gripping his billhook tight. He stood his ground as he stared into the beast's open mouth, flared tongue lolling out of its mouth. At the last second, he leapt aside, just as the jaws snapped shut where he had been a moment ago. With a quick swing, he lashed out at the beast's nose, prying a single scale loose. He could hear men shouting behind him.
Those shouts were soon overpowered by roars of pain. He glanced over for but a moment, but it was enough to see that a number of billmen hacking at a leg each was enough to rid the beast of its mobility. He saw Wyl chop through the beast's massive femur after a few well-aimed, powerful blows. It collapsed onto one side, only for its other leg to be seperated from its body a moment later. [b ''Kill it!''] Brynden roared. He dashed away from the thrashing mass of scales and muscle as his men hacked into it. He tossed his bill aside and slid towards Tasia on his knees, through the mud. He worked quickly to remove her helmet, only to find her unconscious but unharmed.
The march back to camp was filled with revelry and boasts. Each men carried chunks of the Lindwurm's carcass, large slabs of meat that would help feed the camp for weeks. Some had taken fangs as trophies. Brynden, personally, had collected an eye and the scale he had loosened. Nevertheless, he was silent, as usual. Something about his refusal to speak, however, foreshadowed the angry speech Tasia would no doubt get.
He did indeed lead her right into his tent. He stared her down for a few seconds before hissing, through his teeth, at her. [b ''What in all bloody blazes were you doing, you maniacal moron?!'']
Gentle fingers fastened Brynden’s armour in place as she listened to him, doing her best to look neutral as Brynden spoke. Perhaps she could learn more than fighting from him, maybe learn how to guard her own emotions and not wear them so boldly but there was a horrible twist in her gut when he explained the lindwurm and what it was. She paled a little, understanding now why Brynden had given the reaction he had with Evin. She understood very well that she was ‘Tobias’ when in public with Brynden and given how changeable Brynden’s attitudes could be, it was easy to do. He blew hot and cold, changing like the very weather.
Tasia did as instructed, following him and taking the billion and looking to Brynden when he wished her luck. She wouldn’t need luck if these things were so terrible, she’d need a miracle. The atmosphere was tense and Tasia knew damn well she couldn’t take on a serpentine with fangs and acid. She heard Brynden’s call for a scatter and she fell into the ranks, surrounding the beast and she stared at it. She had never seen anything so… intimidating. She looked wildly around and swallowed. What exactly was the plan here?! She watched the thing slither and groan with movements and advance on a small clutch of men before it. She had to think quickly and she hoped to the Gods she didn’t regret this. She knew with snakes, you had to cut off the head. She didn’t have the brute strength for such an endeavour but she was quicker than these men, skinnier and more agile.
She glanced to Brynden and hoped he would forgive her for being foolish as she lurched forwards and drove her hook into the beasts tail, only missing it’s whipping and quick action by centimetres as it rounded on her. Well, that happened quicker than expected! She didn’t expect the beast to be that quick but she was committed now as the eyes focused in on her and she swallowed. Armour made her slower but she was a whippet as she eyed the creature. This was the stuff of nightmares!
[b “Come on you great ugly brute.”] She called, standing firm and staring at it, her hook impales on its tail as she reached for her blade. The liquid oozing from its mouth fizzed almost and she took a step back, her movement slow for now, not daring to prompt the thing into a chase.
[b “Take the head off.”] She said to the closest group of men, anything right then because whilst she had the Lindwurm’s attention, it wouldn’t last forever. Her heart was pounding hard in her chest and she was ready to run at nearest opportunity or hint of real danger as she eyed the beast over, making enough movement to keep it somewhat occupied. This was either bravery, or utter foolishness.
As she was seeing to his armour, she'd asked him what a lindwurm was. He looked at her in disbelief for a moment, before giving his head a light shake. [b ''You were told about dragons, were you not? The stories weren't exactly true, as far as I know, but they are not lies. They're founded on truth. Lindwurms are, for lack of a better word, snakes on four legs. They're, say, some sixty-five to seventy feet long. They breath a sort of acid-like substance that eats through wood but not metal, and is poisonous. They have deadly fangs and claws. Make sure to fetch a long pike, or rather, a billhook.''] Once she was done, Brynden set to armouring her up.
When they marched out of his tent together, they were both clad in steel toe to temples. Brynden had even adorned her helmet with one of the red feathers that had previously been part of his impressive plume. He guided her over to the armoury and, given that his blade was already sheathed at his side, he selected a billhook for himself, before passing her one. A nine foot hardwood pole with a curved, metal head perfect for pulling riders off of their horses. He gave Tasia a look through his open visor. [b ''I wish you good luck, Tobias, and be sure to stay safe.''] He then proceeded to the group of men clad in chainmail, leather and brigandine, all armed with spears, pikes or bills themselves. When they set out, he found himself marching at the head of the column alongside Tasia, both armour-clad. The armour weighed heavy on him and he could only fear how hard it would be for Tasia.
Dusk was quickly falling and all chatter and song died down as the hill that hid Ingham came into view. With a sudden burst of sound, a deafening screech came from their left. Wood groaned in protest before the sound of a massive oak crashing into the forest floor thundered around them. The Lindwurm's roar came then, sounding much alike a massive amount of steam being released all at once. Brynden pivoted left, leaving Tasia behind his back, to see the massive outline of the serpetine beast barreling towards them through the woods, a bright green substance leaking from its fanged maw. [b ''Scatter!''] Was the only thing he could shout. Just in time, too, for his men narrowly avoided being rammed into the cliff-face on their right. [b ''Surround it!'']
And so, the thirty men fanned out around this massive beast, knowing a fight worthy of songs was at hand.
Tasia watched Brynden for a while before retreating to her own bed to sleep. She understood Brynden’s issues with showing kindness. Mercenaries were not commonly thought of as kind. He had to be tough, merciless and cold. Shendidnt blame him and she didn’t push the subject of unlocking his kindness as she gave him a small, understanding smile to him before she retreated. She truly did wonder what lay beneath the mercenary and his cold exterior but she doubted she would ever see it. He had been kind tonight, at least somewhat.
Of course there was no rest. Even with her injury. Tasia did her best with Brynden and it was better than before but she still couldn’t best Brynden and she doubted she ever would. Her injury slowed her down and she guarded it more than she had to. Her cheek still held a stark bruise as a reminder from the battle previous and she supposed Brynden was right in his words. Sacrifice and death.
She eyed the commander and raised an eyebrow. Why did Brynden seem so concerned? She scurried off to sort out the armour and looked to Brynden, being tugged along by his wrist. She gestured she’d assist him with donning his armour.
[b “What’s a lindwurm?”] She asked him. She had never heard of it before, then again her sheltered life meant she’d been hidden from a lot of darkness. Most of the time. She adjusted Bryden’s Armour carefully. There was worry in her pale eyes because Brynden’s reaction to the news was not exactly what she expected.
Tasia shifted her hair out her face, what little of it was left and she was still getting used to not having her long locks fixed up but it was the least of her worries right then.
He sat and ate in silence, casting fleeting glances at his conversational partner only sparingly. She apologized for his horse. He gave a light shrug. [b ''It was the lesser of two evils, Tasia. It had to be done. I did not want her to die, but what men want does not matter. War is upon us, and war means death. We all have to make sacrifices.''] He'd explain his train of thought, before reaching over and lightly pulling at the ragged strands that had once been her long, auric locks. He gave a morose sigh before finding an excuse to remain silent by pressing a grape into his mouth.
[b ''Is my kindness indeed that, Tasia? It is born from necessity, not the goodness of my heart. I can not treat you as I have without eventually breaking you, and I do not doubt that that would leave a poor impression on your father, once we return you to him safely. No, if there be any kindness in my heart, you've yet to unlock it, if you ever will.''] He stated with a smirk that betrayed satisfaction. In his own eyes, he'd saved his reputation. With a sigh of relief, he looked around the tent. [b ''It is getting late.''] He hinted, eventually goading her out towards her own tent.
In the morning, he met her on the green again. He spoke rarely but they practiced. Brynden was glad to find she'd improved since their last session, and Tasia would be glad to find Brynden did not see fit to whack her near as hard as he had done previously. When they eventually finished and were at their water, he saw fit to adress her. [b ''You are doing well. You're learning. I think that, tomorrow, I'll bring in Wyl as well, so that you can try fighting two opponents. I will show you how it is done beforehand. Not to worry.''] He had just stowed away his practice sword when a runner came, a lad half Tasia's age, stained with sweat. [b ''Serjeant, come quick! The captain has need of you! Bring your squire!''] Brynden gave Tasia a look before setting off for the large pavilion.
Evin seemed as distressed as the runner's words seemed to convey. He was nearly shaking with frustration, and perhaps, fear. He took a long dagger and slammed it into the map on the table. [i ''Brynden, my boy! Twelve serfs dead, seventeen injured or maimed. Scores of livestock eaten. Houses destroyed. A man came from this village here,] Evin pointed out a small hamlet, Ingham. [i ''To ask for our help. He promised standard rates along with a few heads of cattle and other provisions. I want you to take some twenty-five or thirty men and deal with it. Understood?'']
[b ''And you'll handle the siege here, I take it?''] Brynden inquired, slicking his sweaty hair back.
[i ''Indeed so. I have my duties, you have yours.'']
[b ''Fine, fine. What is it?'']
[i ''A lindwurm.'']
Brynden stared at Evin in disbelief for a few moments before he turned about, taking Tasia by the wrist and pulling her out after him. [b ''Damn it all to hell.''] He groaned. [b ''Bring your armour to my tent. Now!'']
Tasia smiled a little when he accused her of renegotiating their contract and she raised an eyebrow as he spoke.
[b “And Ser Brynden, I believe you’re growing soft.”] She retorted quietly with good humour. She supposed in places like these, men had to be tough. They had to uphold their reputation or fear being dominated in a game of life and death. She just nodded to him in understanding and then watched him leave. She was also grateful he didn’t coo or Fawn over her because of her history. She didn’t want sympathy, she had stated simple facts to him. And he was wiser than his years. His vulnerability didn’t go unnoticed but she didn’t dare draw attention to it, wary of making things tense or awkward and she felt oddly trusted.
For a moment she thought she had done something wrong, something perhaps to upset him and she looked around the tent. Tasia didn’t want him to change, if being hard on her meant saving his reputation them so be it. She looked to him when he returned with the platter of assorted foods and she watched him.
[b “Me?”] She eyed him over like he was speaking in tongues. Brynden had come through as the hero after everything. Tasia has clumsily defended herself as best she could. She didn’t refuse the food though but she had her terms.
[b “Share with me, then.”] She said to him softly, gesturing for him to at least join her because it was his training after all. It had been him who had thundered in to save her life from horseback. She knew nightmares of the battle would ensue but she would do her best not to draw attention to any of it. Brynden’s story had shed some light that most people went through this, that this was necessity.
[b “I’m sorry, about your horse. I never got a chance to tell you.”] She said to him quietly. She eyed the fruit and selected a piece. She had to admit after the stew and hard bread the sweetness of the fruit was a relief. It seemed like sweet things didn’t always exist here. But this was a welcome reminder than in fact there was some salvation after the storm of the day. And it was welcome to her. She figured this was something rare and wonderful that wouldn’t happen too often so it was best to ignore the dull aching of her body and enjoy it.
[b “Your kindness won’t be forgotten. And you can be tough on me. I will not tell any of the men otherwise.”] Tasia wouldn’t talk to any of the other men, but at least it was some assurance and something she could offer him in return for his kindness. She was penniless right then, and she knew he mostly would want gold and with the Gods Grace he would get it if things went according to plan. But she could offer so little right then except the acceptance he would act tough on her. And that was alright with her .
Brynden waited out her story. [b ''We've our tragic stories, all of us. It gets easier with time, usually. You grow, you age, you become wiser and stronger.''] He stated, a rare snippet of something resembling wisdom from an otherwise vain and arrogant man. When she mentioned war with Fellwood, and particularly, the pay, he raised a brow. [b ''Miss Tasia, if I didn't know any better, I'd think you were suggesting renegotiating the contract.''] With that statement, he finished his wineskin and proceeded to fetch two goblets, offering her one and keeping one for himself. With another new wineskin, he filled the both of them, topping hers up without even thinking to ask.
He drank heavily and spoke little, choosing to let her do most of the talking. When he eventually spoke up again, however, it was with a mind clouded by a bit more drink than he'd care to admit. [b ''I know I have been hard on you these past few days, but it's because I've an image to keep up. A reputation, to be precise. It's just a bit of a charade, to be honest. I had thought, earlier, that being as I am is like a suit of armour, and something I need in life. I do not know why this came to me, but I feel it is because I feared you are growing on me, despite my unwillingness to, ah, participate in any niceties. I am sorry if I ramble.''] He finished, seeming vulnerable for the first time since she met him. He swallowed down a few more gulps of wine before refilling his goblet. He'd go to sit down, but he'd change his mind, instead hurrying out of his tent. He returned a minute or two later, carrying a platter bearing skewers of meat and chunks of cheese, along with a few pieces of fresh fruit. He'd set it down between them before finding his seat again and taking another drink. [b ''I feel as though you deserve something after that fight.'']
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