Story: "Anything was Possible. Always."
The wiry Breton peered nervously into the darkness, his anxious eyes flitting from shadow to spindly shadow. “But what if there are Daedra out there?”
The small campfire crackled, spitting an unruly ember an arm’s distance - as if it were trying to escape. It tumbled harmlessly onto the raked earth that Bran had carefully cleared.
“There aren’t any Daedra out there”, he assured flatly, stopping short of invoking Stendarr’s name.
That wouldn't have inspired much confidence.
“How do you know?”, Rees challenged. “Times ‘ave changed! Daedra can jus’ pop up these days. Any-where! Any-TIME!”
Bran opened a tired eye and looked at the lad squarely. The boy seemed to wither slightly beneath his gaze, as if realizing that some invisible line had been crossed.
Rees grew quiet, and stared at his feet.
The “soul burst” might have sundered the Mundus, but it barely blemished the lines between the Breton classes...
…or their grim determination to change whatever fate they might have been dealt.
Anything was possible. Always.
Bran smiled and reached out to grasp the young man’s shoulder. “We’ll be fine, Rees.” He assuaged. “We’ll strike camp at dawn and be in Wind Keep by midday. I bet Aurelie will already have a kettle of stew on the hearth. ” Rees looked down to the Battaglir and thin broth congealing in his bowl. “Can you taste it now?” the knight asked.
Rees nodded, a little less frightened than he was before. “You’ve a kind soul, sir”, he said, lifting a small, wooden spoon to his mouth.
Bran looked out into the darkness.
“Once, perhaps”, he thought to himself.
He grit his teeth.
“…and some day, I’ll get it back.”
Story: "Never Going to Happen"
Bran cried out as his fist let slip the golden shaft of Aedric light. It sailed over grass and grain before slamming squarely into the forehead of a stone dog. The goblin scout was flung to his back, his eyes now empty and hollow.
Two more left.
He burst laterally to pin one foe against the other, arcing as his opponents moved to counter. It wasn’t the number of foes you faced when it came down to it, only how many could face you.
He felt the mana flow again, his will shaping it into a blinding bolt of pure energy. It buzzed angrily beneath his hands. He gripped it tightly, rushing his enemy with a feint. The flint axe angled down to parry, but he dipped and planted a riposte as he charged. Warm ichor sprayed his robes as he ran him down and then thrust the bright javelin into the meat of his final foe.
It was over before it began, really.
He stood there, panting, his hands tingling and his heart racing.
He hated this.
The constant killing,
the burning villages,
the blackened fields,
the bodies that lined the roads.
He hated the fear in the voices of the townspeople he met, but worse still the ones who were simply quiet,
resigned to their fate
surrendering to the overwhelming enormity of it all.
Perhaps it reminded him too much of the hollow cavity his soul had left behind.
It would be so very easy to
Rees was soon upon him and began rummaging through the goblin corpses, salvaging what useful bits and bobs that he could before they went to waste. As he worked, he whistled a hopeful tune.
Bran wiped his wet hands on the grass by his feet, still in shock, but now awed by the hope he could hear in the boy’s warbling refrain. He felt the weight of the responsibility he bore, feeding that hope as he had in recent days.
It would be easier to just give up.
But that was never going to happen.
Story: "Not Away From Death, but Towards it"
“Who’s your new friend?”, Gwyneth asked with a half-hearted smirk. Not long ago you’d have likely found her in the great room dressed in hand-me-down finery, surrounded by her confidants, hoop and needle in her hand and asking after the latest gossip from Wayrest with wonder in her eyes. Today she was on the side of a muddy road, clad in mail, attended by her patrol, right hand resting on the hilt of a flanged mace and her wonder traded for worry.
Bran pressed his palms together, lowered his eyes and let some magicka slip. It washed over the weary knights in a wave of cleansing comfort, soothing their frayed nerves and bruised flesh. Someone quietly praised the divines.
“I forgot you were a healer now, Cousin”, she remarked. “My thanks.”
“We’ve all changed”, Bran confessed. He looked back towards Rees, who was leading his horse. “I found him in Gavaudon, near death, his kin slain by scamps. It didn’t seem right to just leave him there. I thought Pariah Abbey might take him, but they have their own troubles these days.”
“Trouble is the only thing that isn’t in short supply”, she agreed. She looked up the road towards the Hawking estate, and then back to Bran. “We lost one of the barns last week to bandits or the Midnight Union or some such. You can hardly tell them apart these days. Some of the cows took sick, Ansley had to put them down and burn them to save the herd. Most of our cousins are either attending Duke Nathaniel at Alcaire Castle or Sir Hughes over at Firebrand Keep. I hear there’s trouble down in the Village, but we don’t have a sword to spare for it. ” She cast her cousin a knowing glance. “…but I hear you’ve been busy.”
“I seem to have a knack for finding myself in the wrong places at the right times”, the knight admitted.
“King Casimir might disagree”, Gwyneth quipped.
“Well, about that…”, Bran began to explain when the ominous sound of a distant horn thundered on the horizon. The ground trembled slightly beneath their feet and the wind carried the frightful noise of daedric chains.
“I can’t abandon my post”, his cousin explained, her men readying themselves for danger.
“Wrong place”, he observed with a wan smile. “Right time”
“Stendarr’s Mercy upon you”, she offered. “On me!”, she commanded her patrol. “Back to the crossroad! Nothing makes it to the estate.”
Bran turned to Rees who handed him the reins, his youthful brow furrowed with single-minded purpose.
“They will need our help at the Dolmen”, was all he offered by way of explanation, mounting the horse and then offering the boy a hand up.
Bran leaned forward, gave the horse a squeeze with his legs and cantered not away from death, but towards it.