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Novel 2 Part 2 Chapter 7 - The Judge's Usual Morning Routine

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A new chapter arrives!

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New Chapter!

The new PK chapter is up at the new site.  Bling!

If you got here from another site then please ask them to update their bookmarks to the new site's URL.


Book 2 Chapter 2 is up!

One more post over on the old site just in case people miss that we've moved to a new site. The new chapter of Book 2 is right here, and if you want to read the first book, it's over at the new site as well, along with a whole bunch of shorts and extra materials!

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The Peacock King Trilogy Book 2 - The Peacock King in Court

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Bonus: The Last of the Dhealg'seala (Part Five)

This isn't the last of The Last of the Dhealg'seala, but it's the last that Char's posting before PK Novel 2 goes up.  This is probably the most comedic one so far, and I think you'll enjoy it.

Come this Saturday we'll have a new novel going in the Peacock King Trilogy: The Peacock King in Court.  We'll also have a new site up for you to peruse.  Hope to see you there!


Nighttime usually found me lurking about the roofs.  I loved being up there on the still-warm tiles, stretched out under the stars, listening to Bel'eth's roar dimming into the quiet sounds of a settling city.  On nights like this one, the breeze carried the faint crisp scent of the ocean, adding a nice edge to the warm, mild odors that hung over the Complex.  The solitude was reassuring as well, welcome after a day spent chasing snot-nosed upstarts who thought that being slapped into a teenaged body excused treating me as one.

They learned quick, but 'Sy was starting to complain about the toll that the medical supplies were taking.  Luckily, I only had a couple more days of growth to go before I was the proper age again.

Being assassinated sucked.

I felt Camden's approach before he actually stepped into the practice yard.  I growled low in my throat at the intrusion, but luckily the new Peacekeeper was so wound up in himself that he didn't notice me lurking in the shadows on the roof.  I rolled over and glanced down, recognizing the pinched look of someone having a deep discussion with their Arms.  If I strained, I could probably eavesdrop a bit, but I had already been warned about playing nice with the fresh meat for at least a couple of days while he adjusted.

Not that Camden particularly wanted me to play nice.  I grinned, sitting up and leaning back against the chimney so I'd have a clearer view.  No, the new Peacekeeper was quite happy to play hard, and my girls were already forming some respect for his Geillg'a.

Another good reason not to eavesdrop.  If Geillg'a hadn't seen fit to warn her partner that they were being observed, then I'd much rather accept that small gift than give Geillg'a reason toreally take notice of me.  She was a quick one, that whip, and even if her partner was nowhere near ready to catch me, she did a damned good job of evening the odds up a bit.

Camden drew Geillg'a, and I watched them practice together for a while.  He was naturally a quick learner, and I'm sure Geillg'a's habit of taking chunks out of him when he moved too slow or in the wrong direction provided a lot of motivation to learn faster still.  He had a natural grace to him, though.  He had claimed no experience with whip-style weaponry.  It showed.

Oh?  Are we such an expert on whips now?

I decided not to take any notice of Gevurah's tone.  It was actually rather pleasant for the peevish little knife--


Would you prefer 'diminutive'? I asked, rubbing my hip where she had jabbed me.  

Gedulah's ivory-toned laugh rippled through my head.  Awww, is the little toothpick getting cranky about her size again?  Gonna throw a wee bit of a tantrum?

I felt Gevurah's form shift, and reached for her in a panic.

"No, don't--!"

Gevurah roared, and a respectable chunk of the roof went flying.  I stared down at the hole in dismay, down at a very familiar desk, barely hearing the girls screaming at each other in the back of my mind.  I had just enough time to wonder why the Hell Gevurah had shot a hole in the roof when she was angry at Gedulah before another chunk of the roof exploded outward.  I threw myself sideways, staring back at the spot... and kept falling.

Fuck.  Missed.

I am going to drown you in a well, I thought at Gevurah, managing to twist myself around so that I at least managed to land mostly on my feet.

She snorted, the sound suspiciously like a magazine slamming into place.  She started it!  Besides, I could hit you from anywhere in the Kingdoms, and you know it.

Good job there, birdshot brain, Gedulah snapped.  We were trying to stay hidden.  Not to mention the shit we're gonna be in when Di-- 'Sy finds out who shot holes in the roof.

I turned and looked over my shoulder.  Camden was staring at me, Geillg'a still in his hand.  I noted that he had his Arms held at ready, Geillg'a's silvery length coiled to strike with the slightest provocation.

He does learn fast! I said, making sure I had enough room to maneuver if they decided to take the offense.

Gedulah murmured her approval of their improvement.  Gevurah snorted again, a quick metallic snap of her chamber loading.  Not fast enough.  He didn't notice us until... well, much later than he should have.

Alarm flooded me, and I nearly whipped Gevurah out before I realized it was Gedulah reacting to something.  Her next words, however, had her sister and me joining her in her growing panic.  

Shit!  He's coming!


I had barely enough time to process Katherine's rather abrupt entrance from above before she was raising her arm, eyes wide with... fear?  I didn't recognize the dark object she was pointing at me, but Geillg'a apparently did.


I threw myself sideways, instinctively whipping Geillg'a back at my rather unexpected opponent. The noise her weapon made was incredibly loud, and I had to fight the urge to clamp my hands over my ears.  Sparks flew as Geillg'a made contact and slid along the other weapon.  Geillg'a?  What WAS that?

Gevurah!  I felt my Arms curse, and my body rolled back the other direction of its own accord, another roar and a spray of dirt kicking up from where my head had just been.  There was a distant shout of alarm.  I felt Geillg'a listening to whatever had made that exclamation, and then her laughter filled my head, near drowning out the commotion Gevurah was making.  Just keep up yer dancin' fer another minute, boy, and we'll be fine.  The Judge is on his way!

Why is she trying to kill me?  I asked, rolling to my feet.  Geillg'a curled behind me, ready to strike.  She whipped forward as I twisted, very nearly catching Katherine at the ankles.  

She isn'a.  Ye'd be dead already.

I scowled at her matter-of-fact tone, trying to track Katherine's movements and look for cover at the same time.  She's toying with me?

Geillg'a laughed, her tip sailing out and smacking Gevurah aside enough that the next round missed.  Think of it as illustratin' a point, boy.  Here I am, doing all the work, and barely managing to keep her in check.  I stepped to the side, pulling the whip back in.  She coiled behind me, scratching at my ankle to underscore her reprimand.  If she were working with Gevurah instead of fightin' her, ye'd have several holes in ye by now.

Quite so, that deep voice from earlier growled.   It's a good thing she's actively trying to slow down her Arms, or...  STOP.  Out of the corner of my vision, I saw the Judge step out of the shadows, his battle-fork held at ready.

Trident, m'dear, Geillg'a whispered.  I made a note of the word, and watched as Katherine nearly bent herself in half trying to turn and face the Judge mid-leap.  I noted with relief that her Arms no longer seemed to be aiming at me.

Rather nasty feelin', isn' it?

Like...  I groped for some way to describe it.  Like seeing the sword descend towards your throat, and knowing there's nothing you can do to stop it.

Exactly like that, Geillg'a chuckled.  Make a note of it, and learn to use that effect to yer advantage.  There isn't a creature alive that doesn't feel our Aim.

The Judge spared me only the slightest glance as he stopped in front of Katherine,  then turned and focused the full weight of his scowl on Katherine.  "Explain."

She called me a toothpick --

-- took a shot at me for no reason --

-- won't SHUT UP --

I blinked at the sudden flood of accusations and counters, and watched the Judge wince and pinch the bridge of his nose with his fingertips.  The Trident's tip rose until it was being held perfectly vertical, blunt end sinking into the earth, the Judge leaning slightly against it as if he needed the support.

They'll get better soon enough, I heard the Trident mutter.

Better?  Is there something wrong with them?

I realized as I felt the Trident's regard weigh down on me that I hadn't been addressed directly by him.  After a moment, I heard something like a sigh.  Nothing is... technically wrong with them.  I felt the Trident's focus mercifully shift away from me once more.  Nothing discipline won't fix.

Her Arms fell silent at that quiet threat.

Discipline and a mere couple of days, Diyn, I heard the Judge say.  There is no need to take her to task for a situation that is very nearly done correcting itself.  "Jhe Cruxradia."

Katherine straightened with a small wince, standing at attention.  I noticed with a start that she looked older than she had earlier in the day, closer to my age.

"Please explain why my office now features two skylights and ventilated furniture?"


Maybe we should make a run for it.  I wasn't terribly surprised to hear Gedulah propose a strategic retreat... except that it wasn't terribly strategic in this situation.

No, I said, snapping my mouth shut as I tried to think of a way out of this without a lecture or loss of limbs.  No, running is a bad idea.

Gedulah fretted in the back of my mind, little ripples of worry buffeting my mind like a million butterfly wings.  If we ran fast enough, we'd get a decent head start before Diyn could--

Before Diyn could what?  

I sighed, closing my eyes.  He sounded altogether too amused.  It didn't speak well for our safety and well-being.

"Well," I said, shifting my weight, taking care to keep my hands visible at all times, "I was on the roof minding my own business and... well, the girls started fighting, and Gevurah tried to shoot Gedulah."

She started it, Gevurah grumbled petulantly.

The Judge sighed, and I risked a quick glance at his face.  He had that distant scowl that he always got when Diyn was giving him an earful, and I could tell by the way the corner of his mouth occasionally twitched that he was arguing back just as hard.  I didn't envy him; Diyn was even harder-headed than the Judge, what with being the literal knife-edge of the Law and all. The Judge's face went blank at one point, and I reflexively took a step back.  Camden flinched at the same moment.

He can hear us, Gedulah murmured so quietly that it took me a moment to realize that she was deliberately pitching her voice low for privacy.  Diyn just chided him for being impolite, but the poor boy didn't realize he was eavesdropping.  Or that he's not even supposed to.  

Don't know why it would be, Gevurah grumbled.  If he can hear, let 'im hear.  Besides, getting him used to this could prove to be a tactical advantage.  Hey!  Hey, kid!

Camden jumped, then looked at me, puzzled.

No, down a little.  ... Lower, boy, or I'll shoot you.  Those aren't yours.  Yep, that's me.  Hi!

... can hear you?

Gevurah snickered.  Because I want to, regardless of what that huge hunk of over-polished dinnerware says!  Hey, tell your razor-snake there that I sai-- shit!

I glanced down, wondering at her sudden retreat, then looked up.  The Judge was scowling at me again... and he was tapping a boot against the ground, obviously waiting for me to say something.  "I'm sorry, sir?" I said, my voice thin.  I couldn't even pretend to have heard what he was saying.

He sighed, and opened his mouth to say something, but stopped with a funny look on his face.   His mouth snapped shut and he snorted, glancing at Diyn with a small, amused grin.  "Dinnerware?"

Shit shit shit shitshitshitshitshit.  Geillg'a you whorish betraying loud-mouthed fucking overwired piece of ass-floss, I am not going to fucking forget this--

Someone -- Diyn, I suspected -- shut Gevurah up before she got to the part where she started making promises.

Diyn and the Judge sighed simultaneously, and it felt so much like a sudden pressure-drop that I reflexively worked my jaw to pop my ears.

"My dear, I cannot wait for you to finally mature."


Bonus: The Last of the Dhealg'seala (Part Four)

So, if you ever were wondering about how Armed become, you know, all Armed and stuff.

(And I know you were.)

You'll really like this one!

Part four of Char's short about Camden and Elric Briarseal is pretty exciting all around.  Expect at least one more part this coming Wednesday - next Saturday we start posting novel 2 in The Peacock King Trilogy: The Peacock King in Court!  Once that's live, Char might change her update schedule on The Last of the Dhealg'seala a bit.

Anyway, go on and read.


I stamped my foot against the ground, sensing the composition, as I looked at the structure of the courtyard around me.

No, this was no courtyard.  This was a training arena.

Everything was designed to be portable, from the lush greenery in tasteful containers to the benches and the stones that composed the walkways.  Of course it would be preferable to master certain weaponry with the objects in place, but should the situation call for it, the grounds could be completely cleared.  The aisles surrounding the courtyard were faced by simple columns, but backed by thick, windowless stone walls.  The doors were stout, no-nonsense affairs as well, built to withstand direct assaults.

My right hand twitched, a motion that didn't go unnoticed by the Judge.

"A little morning exercise before the tour, then?"

I started to look at him in question, but instinct took hold and I knelt instead, drawing my dagger from my boot and parrying the Judge's attack before I consciously realized he had moved. 

"Well done," he said, standing back and flicking the point of his sword to the side.  

I laughed, flipping my dagger and resheathing it as I stood.  "I am not a match for you, sire."  

"No," he said, tipping the point of his sword into its sheath and sliding it home in one smooth motion.  "However, you could very well be in a very short time."  He glanced to one side of the practice arena and smiled.  "I hope you can forgive my presumption," he said, holding one arm out to the side, "but I wanted to include her in today's activities."

I looked in the direction he was was watching.  A young girl was approaching, looking from me to  the Judge with a puzzled expression.  She stopped several feet away, her green eyes studying me as carefully as any soldier whose inspection I had been subject to, before turning to the Judge with her arms crossed.

Of course she didn't speak Rhivendish.

I took that moment to inspect her in turn.  She was young, no more than twelve by my estimation, and short for that age.  She had begun to fill out as a woman, but was still more limb than length.  Despite her youth, she had the careful foot-forward stance of a trained warrior, and her hands had the beginnings of the calluses that spoke of a familiarity with weaponry beyond mere hobbyist.  Her dark brown hair was pulled back and twisted into a braid which was wrapped around and pinned in a loop.  A sword was strapped across her back, and a smaller knife at her waist.  

She turned and pinned me with those eyes again, and my hand reflexively twitched for my sword.  She watched me a moment longer, then nodded and smiled.

"Jhe Katherine Cruxradia," she said, bowing gracefully.

I returned the bow, careful to accord her slightly higher rank.  "Camdhegn, Laigr Dhealg'seala."

Again, she gave me a measuring look-over, then performed a different sort of bow, one that set my blood singing in recognition.  I returned the bow, and then stood guard.

She came at me quickly, her knife seeming to leap out of its sheath, slipping easily past my guard and drawing first blood in one smooth twirl.  I twisted away and adjusted my stance, careful to keep my eyes fixed on her.  She was fast.  She pivoted on one heel, looking for all the world like a Rhivendish dancer, and flew at me again.  I was better prepared this time and moved with her, my hands ghosting her wrist long enough to brush my fingers against the hilt of her knife.  She twisted away once more, the knife moving out of my reach, and I heard the metallic hiss of her sword being drawn.  I hit my knees and stilled as I felt the edge of the blade against my neck.

"I yield," I said, spreading my fingers wide in case she didn't grasp the meaning of my words.  

The blade withdrew, and her small hand appeared in front of my face.  I grasped it, rising to my feet, and she bowed low over my hand and said something in Radian.

"She thanks you, and says that you're damned lucky you hit your knees when you did, or you would have died," the Judge said, barely-contained laughter in his voice.  

"Would I now?"  I glanced at her, returning the bow with my eyes carefully keeping her in view.  

The Judge chuckled.  "Gevurah doesn't take well to being handled, and Gedulah is very protective of her sister."

I stared at him, certain that the tall warrior was pulling one over me.  His smile widened. 

"Arms don't react well to being handled by any save their Armed."

I looked at the short child watching us with intense interest.  "She's one of the Armed?"

"Armed, and a Poet, as well as one of my officers."

My respect for the child rose, high as it already was.  "How old is she?  I thought none save the Clan would serve the sword at such a young age."

The Judge's eyes twinkled.  "Fourteen, but don't let her age fool you.  She has the mind of a grown woman already, and takes some offense to being in such a young body."

I blinked, then decided I had simply misunderstood him.

Katherine cleared her throat, and I looked her way even as I reminded myself I wouldn't understand a word she said.  "Camden," she said slowly, and it took me a moment to recognize it as my name, "when..."  She looked at the Judge, her eyebrows scrunching together in irritation.  I startled inside as I realized I could almost hear the edges of their silent conversation, and then she was looking at me again.  "When you are free... I would like to match you again."  She grinned.  "This time matching Arms."

I reflexively bowed, wincing a little inside.  "You do me honor," I said, and caught that curious echo once more between the Judge and Katherine, "but I do not have Arms to match to yours."

She listened, then tilted her head at me.  "Gevurah says differently."  She turned and narrowed her eyes at the Judge, speaking quickly to him.  This time, I was on the receiving echo of the Judge's translation.

Her Arms are quite insistent that we introduce you immediately to them, he said.  I was anticipating a more prolonged introduction to the Armed, but they are certain that you are ready now.

Am I?  I said, then froze.  When had I decided?  I didn't recall making any decision to join this unknown army, but there was the curious sense that somewhere, at some point, I had.

The Judge looked at me with his gold eyes, one eyebrow raised.  "If you are, then you are," he said, then began walking towards one of the doors.  Katherine gave me a long stare, then followed.

I watched them a moment, feeling as if the future were bearing all too quickly down on me, then pulled myself together and followed.


They led me into small, sparse room.  A solitary chair was the only piece of furniture present, as well as a few very old and worn weapons, suitable only for display.  Sunshine spilled into the room, lending a soft glow to the wood surfaces.

The soft click of the door being closed behind me set my nerves on edge.  I turned, my guard rising.  The Judge stood in the center of the room, his hand resting on the hilt.  Katherine stood behind him, her face tense.

"What's this about, then?" I asked softly.

Katherine glanced towards the Judge, crossing her arms.  

"I do apologize for the abruptness with which we're inducting you, Laigr."  He drew his sword and twirled it, the blade reforming into the battle-fork form.  "Typically, training for this moment lasts years, but time is short... and I'm certain enough that you are ready to gamble on this course of action."

I heard Katherine's short gasp before I actually felt the tines of the battle-fork in my chest.  My eyes flew from the Judge's flat stare to the silver prongs buried in my chest.  As I marveled at the lack of blood, my vision seemed to slide backward, then go black.

You've courage enough for twenty men.  He says you will see it through, but I have my doubts about your stamina, you half-grown navel-gazer.

I stared into the blackness.  I will last as long as I must.  I am the Dhealg'seala.

A thin mist curled around my ankles, thickening as it rose to my knees.  I heard the low impact of hoofbeats, and a chill raced along my spine.  The Dubhimealleach.

The darkness coalesced, forming jet hooves fringed in fine hair, flashing glimpses of a long, rippling mane and a tail that trailed to the ground like a black silk banner, then finally revealing the midnight-black form of a bridled mare.  She halted two arms-reach in front of me, tossing her mane and snorting.  Her head turned and she regarded me with one blood-red eye, peering out from behind her long forelock, her jaw working as she inspected me.  I stared back, my hands forming fists at my side.

Quick as lightning, her head swung around, teeth bared.  I twisted and dropped to my knees, hand instinctively flying to my side.  I was surprised to feel a hilt, but reflex took over and I drew, swinging my arm around to block.

The Dubhimealleach caught the blade in her teeth, shattering the metal and shaking her dark head.  I had no time to think, only to stare as she reared and squealed, her attack faster this time.  I cried out as her teeth sank into my shoulder, then screamed as I felt my flesh being pulled into her fiery mouth.  

This is no dream, son, I heard the voice of my father say.  I saw his body, stretched out in the wrong direction, face-down in the mud.  The line of Dhealg'seala ends here.

No!  I clenched my jaw and pushed against the mare's head.  She squealed and dug in, twisting as she fed.  

Oh?  I felt the curious sensation of being watched from within.  Rather looks like she's making a decent meal out of you, son.

I can fight this.  

I felt rather than heard the snort.  Yes, I can see that.  Can you win?

I will prevail or die trying.

There was the cold feeling of being stared at, and I saw a brief flash of silver eyes narrowing.  And if you die, boy, what becomes of the Dhealg'seala?

I tried to respond with my brother's name, but the thought was snatched from me as if the mare had taken it into her teeth and consumed it.  I knew to my core that if I fell, my brother would not be able to hold the Seal on his own.  I looked into the mare's eye, for a moment completely unaware of the pain.  

I wasn't just the Laigr of Dhealg'seala.  I was the Dhealg'seala.  

The Dubhimealleach squealed and tossed her head, throwing me through the darkness.  I hit something and slid, pulling myself to my feet as she charged.  I dove away, rolling away from her hooves.

At that moment, it finally occurred to me that my feet weren't stuck.

About time you noticed, whelp.

Aye, he's a slow one, alright, a new voice whispered, sharp and soft.  Ach!  He heard me!  A low, silvery sound, like chainmail spilling off of a chair filled the darkness.  Laughter?  At the same time, my fingers brushed a hilt at my waist, even though I was damned sure this time I had none a moment before.  

Quit thinkin' so damned hard and fight! she said.

I drew, and felt the blade impact as my vision went black and I toppled forward.


Katherine caught me, her hands steadying my shoulders as my knees buckled.  My head fell foward, my nose banging painfully against her collarbone.  I sat back on my heels, blinking tears from my eyes.

"Well?"  Katherine tapped her foot, her lips twitching.  She gave up fighting her own face and grinned eagerly.  "Let's see her!"

"Not in here," the Judge grumbled, pulling the door open.  I blinked against the flood of sunshine, wiping fresh tears from my eyes, and surged to my feet.  Katherine fell in behind me, her footsteps light, as if she were dancing her way out to the courtyard.  I snorted at the thought.  Having been exposed to her form, it was entirely plausible that she was in fact waltzing out to the arena.

She stopped near the edge, drawing Gedulah and adopting a stance that seemed a bit more suited to a knife fight than a sword.  I shrugged, and drew my own weapon.  

Instead of the metallic slide of a blade being drawn, there was that soft chainmail-whisper, and the brush of something at my feet.  I glanced down in confusion, then stared in shock.


Boy, are ye criticizin' my form?

I choked on a laugh.  This is not a man's weapon!  A whip?  What am I to do, tickle my opp--"AUGH!"

My pants lay in shreds around me, one leg bloodied and near-skinless.  The whip had skinned me before I could even register her movement.

Katherine's laughter echoed through the courtyard.  Mercifully, I didn't hear any noise from the Judge, but I also wasn't terribly inclined to look for a smile on his face, either.  

Serves ye right, ye insolent half-brained puppy of an inbred bitch.  She snorted.  I'll have ye know, th' Judge and Jhe Cruxradia are currently arguing over th' terms of their bet.  She sniffed, and I felt her watching them with disdain.  As if t'were a fair deal, what wi' the Judge bein' a part of myself an' all.

I glanced down at the whip, the notion that I was talking to it finally sinking in.

Her, if it pleases ye, she grumbled.  Or Geillg'a, iffn' ye be addressin' me proper.

Geillg'a?  I turned the name over in my head.  Are you my Will, then?

A part of it, she said, her voice a purr in my head.  Yer Will, yer contract, yer Duty... call it what ye want, boy, but when ye boil it down, yer mine.  Now wipe that stupid look off yer face an' look smart.  She snorted.  As smart as ye can manage, ye dull toin.

I looked up, fighting to keep my irritation from showing on my face.

"Don't worry," Katherine says, "we all make that face at least three times a day."  She held out a small kit and a folded bundle.  "For your leg, and a change of clothes."

I sighed as I accepted them, tucking them under one arm.  "My thanks..."  I stopped, unsure of the proper way to address her.

She smiled, one corner lifting higher than the other.  "Katherine is enough.  As of now, we hold equal rank."  Her smile widened a touch, mischief sparking in her eyes.  "Just don't forget to add Jhe once I'm promoted."

"If you are," I said, then blinked at my own familiarity.  To my relief, she laughed and lightly slapped my shoulder.

"Just wait," she said.  She bowed, her hand tilting out at my side.  I was puzzled for a short moment, then realized she was addressing my Arms.

A pleasure to make your acquaintance, lady, I heard her say.  I hope that we'll have a chance to take our measure of each other soon.

Aye, Geillg'a responded, and a pleasure to meet you as well, Your Highness.

Katherine's face twisted into a small scowl as Geillg'a's laughter rippled through my mind.  Ah, ye didn't know that about yer wee friend?  She's the Emperor's daughter, amongst other things.  Geillg'a snorted.  Amongst many other things.

How do you know so much about her?

I know what he knows, and that's enough.

Before I could think of anything further to ask her, I felt her curl up in my mind and quiet, almost as if she had fallen asleep.  I glanced down, and she was sheathed at my waist.  Light sparkled off her as I turned, and I finally noticed that she was composed of thousands of tiny blades, layered like the scales of a snake.  

Rather beautiful, actually.

I felt her rumble of pleasure at the compliment and smiled.  

Katherine snorted.  "Camden, you're going to bleed out at this rate.  Stop daydreaming and dress those wounds."

I startled, then winced as the agony in my leg finally registered.  "Could you show me where I can..."  I held up the kit.

"This way," she said, tilting her head towards a section of the building across the arena. 

I limped alongside her, only half-aware of the pain as I contemplated the quiet, curled presence of my Arms in my mind.


Bonus: The Last of the Dhealg'seala (Part Three)

Here you go with Part Three of Char's serial short on the backstory of Elric and Camden and just how they got to be all Armed and Poetic.  This is really getting interesting because you're starting to explore some new places, and see a few characters quite a bit younger than they are in the Peacock King Trilogy's time period.

The first part of this story is here, and the second is here.

If you would like to read the first book in the Peacock King Trilogy, please go here.

See you in a few days!


Elricht set the cups down on the table and dropped into his chair, his fingers dancing as they curled around his teacup, smiling the widest grin I could recall having seen on his face.  The knot in my chest loosened to see him so happy and caught up in this new kingdom, though I felt a small flash of bitterness that he could so easily set aside our clan.

I reminded myself once again that the state of my clan was my burden to bear, not my brother's.

"So," I said, threading my fingers through the handle of the teacup and bracing myself for the onslaught,  "what has you dancing about in your chair like a giddy barmaid, Elricht?"

His grin widened to the point where I feared his face would split, and his eyes focused on some point in the distance, his mouth hanging open as he gathered his thoughts.

It was going to be a long tale, from the looks of it.

"Oh Cammie," he sighed, looking for all the world like a love-sick lad, "I've not seen so many books in my life."  He then spun a tale of an entire building of books, mountains of books, and the people who write them...

I sipped my tea and nodded at all the right points, giving up on keeping track of what he was actually saying.  As I watched him speak, his hands dancing through the air as he illustrated one point or another with little gestures, I began to see him in a new light.  No longer my little older brother, the quiet mouse of a boy, but someone who had... potential.  There was no room in the Clans for a man who refused to take up the sword, but things were playing out a little different here.  My brother had a place now, and the more he spoke of the Poet Hall, the more obvious it became that he had already decided somewhere in that head of his that he was going to be there the rest of his life.


I startled.  Elricht was starting at me, his eyebrows raised in question.  I had gotten so lost in thought that I had missed one of my vocal prompts and had been caught drifting.

"My apologies.  It's been a long day..."

"I understand," he said with a small smile, and for a wonder I believe he really did.  "I'm sure tomorrow will deliver its own set of delights, and we should probably be well-rested for them, aye?"

"You haven't even touched your tea."

He looked down at his cup, surprised.  "Aye, and it's gone cold, too."  He chuckled and drained his glass in one long draw, then set the cup down with a loud clunk.  "Now?"

I chuckled and pushed away from the table, heaving my sore body out of the chair.  "Bed has never sounded lovelier."



I stared at my hand in the rising glow of dawn.  It rested on the pillow near my face, the shape still young, the skin smooth -- save where it was callused and scarred from years of wielding a sword.  As the light rose, my hand seemed to age, revealing more of the rough texture and marks of hard use.  A grown man's hand.

My brother's hands, while bearing a few hints of the same sword calluses, were noticeably smoother and more delicately shaped than my own.  I wondered at the small pang of jealousy I felt.  Not at the skin, I decided, but at the way he so easily cast off the Clans and moved ahead.  He slept easily, only the occasional sigh or mutter breaking the silence.  His soul had already found a home here, and he was relatively at peace.

I hadn't slept.  I didn't even have to shut my eyes to see the specters of the dead, of my kin crying out for revenge, demanding that their Laigr return and restore the Dheag'seala to their glory.  Behind them, the Radian Emperor stood, his pale blue eyes staring at me in cool curiosity, wordlessly asking me what I would do next.

The tips of my fingers twitched.  Join the Armed?  I hadn't believed for a moment that taking up with the Armed would still leave me free to carry out the duties of my lineage -- but what of my lineage was there to be dutiful to?  My brother, whether he realized it or not, had already turned his back to Rhivend and the Clan.  There was only me, and what was the point of a Laigr whose only Clan was himself?

Dhealg'seala.  There was the Seal, but that blood-tie was something that would follow me, whatever the geography my blood happened to occupy.  As long as there was breath in me, the Old Man would remain in slumber beneath the earth.  

I thought of the black horse that had haunted my nightmares as a child, a beautiful horse that my father claimed was the Old Man's mount, and shivered.  I had dreamt all to often of the Dubhimealleach as a boy, and finally had approached the Laigr about it.  He had listened as I had described standing at the edge of a misty bog, my feet stuck in the black rot, listening to the wet, muffled impact of her hooves as she walked toward me.  Clouds of mist rolled from her nostrils, and as she approached, I could smell the rot eminating from her, could see her breath feeding the fog.  She stopped in front of me, then stretched her muscular neck out, the whiskers of her muzzle tickling my ear, and the world pulled sideways.  The first sharp pricklings of pain began at my jaw, and then I felt my hair sliding, and I realized she was eating me, bringing me down under to the Old Man.

My father looked at me, ruffled my hair, and told me it wasn't just a dream, and that it had been a damned good thing I woke myself up before the mare had finished consuming my soul.  Many men had been lost to her cold, devouring teeth.

I rolled over and sat up, pushing back the covers with a sigh.  Sleep wasn't going to come now, and with the sun already peeking above the horizon, it wasn't likely to find me until another day had passed.

Mist rolled by the window, and I suppressed another shiver.

There was a small amount of comfort to be found in preparing breakfast, and by the time Elricht shuffled out of the bedroom, I had pushed back the worries of the night and felt ready to tackle a new day.

"Sleep well?" he muttered, pulling out a chair and dropping gracelessly into it.

I shrugged with one shoulder, loading his plate and setting it in front of him.  He looked at it, mouthed a quick word of thanks, and dove in so enthusiastically that I idly wondered why he didn't just bury his face in the eggs and chew his way down.

As I was loading my plate, there was a firm knock on the door.  I set the plate down and steeled myself before opening it.  Instead of the Judge, I was faced with a giant quilt wrapped about a young, dark-haired man with a crown.  I bowed reflexively, then waited for his response.  He smiled and seemed to be waiting for me to say something.  I smiled back, a little off-balance, unsure of what this person wanted me to say.

"'Hello' would do nicely," he said, only the slightest trace of irritation mixed in the overall good-natured tone.  He tilted his head as I remained silent, then laughed.  "You'll get used to it."

I wanted to ask what exactly it was that I'd be getting used to, but Ericht chose that moment to choke on his eggs as he tried to simultaneously greet our guest and swallow his breakfast.  The man smiled serenely at Elricht as my brother pounded furiously at his chest and swallowed, his eyes tearing.  He said something in a different language, and the man laughed and replied in kind.

It occurred to me then that he had spoken flawless Rivhendish to me, and my weary head hadn't picked up on that fact.

My brother turned to me with a sheepish smile.  "Camdhegn, permit me to introduce the Poet King, Jhe Eleth-travente 'hLogos."  I bowed, and the King tilted his head in a polite nod.  "Jhe 'hLogos, my brother, the Laigr of Clan Dhealg'seala, Camdghen a'Laisgeanta."

"I have heard many tales of your clan, Laigr," the King said.  I tried to keep a smile from my face at hearing the smooth condescension in the man's voice.  He may have been a king, but he looked to be a bare few years older than me, perhaps only the same age as my brother.  "The Dhealg'seala are well-known for their strength and courage.  From what your brother has told me of you, I would say you've fair earned that title-name."

I glanced at my brother, who had the temerity to grin.  What have you told this man?

Only the truth!  Nothing embarrassing, I swear it.

I do not trust your definition of "embarrassing", Elricht.

"You do me honor," I said aloud, fighting the urge to glare at my brother.  "They are bestowed as  the wish of a parent for their child, and my father would be proud to have his wish acknowledged as bearing fruit."

"I wonder," he said, a small grin ghosting his face, "if you would be as fierce today had your father not gifted you with that name."

"My brother's means 'he writes history with his fist'", I said mildly.  Elricht scowled at me, and the King looked at my brother, openly amused.  

"Well, we shall see, won't we," he said with a small chuckle.

My brother scowled and pushed.  It was rather like having my head trapped in a blacksmith's vise.  Mercifully, I heard a distinct set of boots in the hallway followed by a polite throat-clearing from the threshold, interrupting my brother's unsuccessful, but admittedly uncomfortable attempt to crush my head with his mind.  

"Jhe 'hLogos," he said quietly in his strangely-accented Rhivendish, "if you would be so kind as to permit me entry?"

The King turned, blushing slightly as he stepped to the side and pulled his robes closer to his ankles.  The Judge entered, glancing from the King to my brother, then raising an eyebrow in my direction.  

I bowed, at a loss for any other course of action.  He returned the gesture with an equal dip, according more honor than I expected.  I was so surprised that I bowed lower.  The Judge frowned slightly, then his expression smoothed and he nodded. 

"Laigr Dheag'seala, if I may have your time..."

"Of course," I said, hurriedly stamping my feet into my boots, grateful that I had fallen asleep in my clothes.  I bowed again and moved around the Judge and into the hallway, then turned and nodded to my brother.  He returned the nod, and the King smiled and waved his fingertips as the Judge brushed past me, pausing to wait outside the door.

Courtesy out of the way, I turned and followed the Judge down the hall, quietly wondering why it felt so much like a narrow escape.

I will prepare dinner tonight, dear brother.  The Jhe 'hLogos just warned me that you might be rather worn from the day.

What?  My footsteps faltered ever-so-slightly.  How could he... I... I sighed mentally.  Whatever the day brings, I can manage.  I thank you for your offer, brother.

You're welcome.  ... Jhe 'hLogos requested that I pass along a message.  I felt him listening carefully to whatever it was the King was saying.  He says to say hello to Geillg'a for him.  Do you know who...?

No, I said.  From the corner of my eye, I saw the Judge watching me with the tiniest of frowns.  Perhaps he's mistaken?

Elricht turned that over in his head.  No, he's pretty certain.  ... Camdghen, I like him, but he's a little strange.

Strange, and more than a little full of himself, a new voice broke in.  I glanced at the Judge, recognizing the low, warm tones of his voice in the mental one.  He is about as eccentric as they come, but don't mistake that eccentricity for madness or stupidity.  He shot a hard stare in my direction.  His lack of discipline disguises a keen intellect and abilities you'd do well to heed.

Sire, I said, one concern rising over all the new questions brewing between my ears, do all Radians have this ability to communicate through thought?  I was so sure of the privacy between my brother and myself that I hadn't thought others might be able to eavesdrop.

"Not all," he said aloud, "but you will need to learn to guard your thoughts and speech."  He looked down at me, curious.  "Is the ability so rare in the Clans?"

I nodded, then frowned.  "It would appear that way, but I've wondered.  It's not something that is discussed amongst our people."  I thought of my brother and winced.  "Such abilities are rather frowned upon."

I could feel him turning the information over in his head.  "Interesting."  He glanced down at me, but kept his silence.  

We walked for a bit of a distance, then climbed a set of stairs.  The Judge opened the door at the top of those stairs, and we stepped out into a wide courtyard, surrounded on all sides by a large building five stories high.  Beyond that, I could see the rise of a much larger building that couldn't possibly be anything other than the Palace, and a smaller but still impressive tower to the left.

The Judge smiled at my awed expression.  "The Palace, as I'm sure you have guessed, and the Poet Hall."  He looked around, pride filling his eyes and smile as he glanced at the building surrounding us.  "Welcome to the Armed Hall."


Bonus: The Last of the Dhealg'seala (Part Two)

Continuing from last post, here's part two of The Last of the Dhealg'seala. This is a multi-part short story that Char is writing. We'll be posting it until April 11th, which is when The Peacock King's 2nd novel starts up. And if this story isn't done by then, well, we'll just keep posting it too!

If you missed it, Part One is here.

And if you want to start The Peacock King from the beginning, then start here!


My escort led me to a grand set of doors, each easily twice my height, and wider than my arms could span. The dark wood was embossed with what I assumed was the seal of the Empire of Crux Radia, the craftmanship finer than even the adept workmanship found in the guilds in Rhivend. I resisted the urge to inspect the grain and the artistry, instead standing back while my escort approached the doors. He knocked gently, the sound so quiet that I couldn't imagine how anyone could have heard the sound without having their ear pressed to the wood. A short moment later, however, they swung open, smooth and quiet, revealing what appeared to be an extensive council room.

The room was far too showy for my tastes, but I couldn't fault the elegance of the decor. My Da had far gaudier accoutrements strewn about his home, and a quick glance confirmed that the leaders shared similar ghoulish displays of trophies... the usual heads and scalps, plus an artful arrangement of what appeared to be severed middle digits. They were as carefully placed as the fine works of art that graced the walls, and the beautifully crafted musical instruments displayed along one wall. They were works of art in themselves, but also showed the signs of loving and careful use. Books lined the walls and were casually scattered about the area, and I felt a small pang as I thought of Elricht being able to see such treasure scattered about like so much discarded clothing. He would be horrified at the mistreatment of such near-sacred objects, and I could imagine his delight at being able to pore through them.

The books alone were of higher value than the entire contents of the Dhealg'seala Hold. Perhaps not before the raids, but certainly now.

I caught myself in the middle of shifting my weight, and attempted to smooth out the motion as to make it unnoticable. The Laigr of Dhealg'seala would not show any manner of unease or restlessness in front of another. At the same time, I felt a pang of anxiety at having been separated from my brother, and then chastened myself for that as well. I had always been my brother's protector, and there was no reason to suddenly switch to clinging to him like a babe with his blanket. Personal pride aside, it would be a severe insult to the memory of the Dhealg'seala.

My shoulders tightened as I imagined the strong hands of my father resting on them, the weight of the clan with them.

My escort, the auburn-tressed soldier who greeted us on the holdland, quietly announced our presence. I gathered my wits about me and squared my shoulders, preparing myself to meet the Emperor of Crux Radia.

I am not sure what I expected, but it certainly wasn't the person of the Jhe o'Radia. Perhaps I imagined someone bulkier, dark and scarred like my own father. The Emperor was quite different; tall, lithe, and very fair-featured for someone who was allegedly such a feared individual. His smile, which I am sure was meant to put me at ease, did nothing to alleviate my tension. The easy friendliness of it set my nerves further on edge, and I found myself readying myself for an attack from the back.

None came.

"I thank you for taking the time to see me," he said, his voice rolling the Rivendish speech with a pleasant enough Northern accent. "Especially on such a trying day as this."

I bowed low. "The honor is mine," I returned, mentally cursing that I could not return the gesture of speaking his language.

"Please excuse me a moment," he said, and then spoke to my escort in what I assumed was his native language. It was my first exposure to Radian, and I was intrigued by the difference in the rise and fall of the sounds and patterns it made. Something about my attention must have caught the Emperor's eye, for he flashed a smile in my direction and said something in his own language, amusement coloring his voice. My escort responded, raising an eyebrow as he cast his own glance down at me.

I flushed, embarrassed in spite of my determination to keep a cool face in front of these men.

The Emperor chuckled. "Forgive our aside, Laigr. The Ju-- well, I shall explain soon enough." He nodded to my escort, who bowed and said something that sounded like an exit. True enough, he turned and quietly left the room, closing the door behind him.

I suddenly felt very small and very alone.

"Please, have a seat." The Emperor inclined his head towards a set of couches to one side of the expansive room. I nodded and put far more bravado into my steps than I actually felt, selecting the couch that would place my back to the wall and taking a seat.

The Emperor chose a seat across from the one I occupied and casually arranged himself in comfortable repose.

"I would offer some form of refreshment," he said, the beginnings of a small grin playing about the corners of his mouth, "but I fear that it is too soon and you would politely refuse anyhow. I suppose we should therefore dispense with the usual boring pleasantries and move on to business?"

I nodded, at once appreciative of his informal attitude and put on guard by the direct tact of his conversation.

"Tell me, young Laigr," he said, his casual pose doing nothing to disguise the sudden focus of his attention on me, "what will happen to the Dhealg'seala."

The pain hit hard, and I couldn't keep the grimace from my face, the expression sending fresh waves of pain from the injured parts of my face. "My brother and I have claim to the lands still, but with only two of us to the Dhealg'seala name, we would not hold the lands long. Be it through treating with our neighbors or hostile takeover, the land is lost to us." My voice cracked on the end despite my attempts to keep it level.

The Emperor nodded. "And the Seal?"

My breath stilled completely, and I fought my hardest to keep my expression as neutral as I possibly could. "Seal, sir?"

He snorted, his pale eyes boring into mine rather uncomfortably. "I am quite familiar with the true birthright of the Laigr sworn to protect the Briar-Seal he is named for. There is no need or use in feigning ignorance with me."

I swallowed and nodded.

"Will the Seal be affected, Laigr?"

"Nay, Sire, as long as there is breath in one of the Blood."

His breath left him in one loud rush, and he visibly relaxed. "That is very good news, young Camdhegn." His grin, crooked as it was, fair glowed with genuine relief. "'Tis a good thing the Judge happened on you when he did then, eh?"

I fought back a snort at his caricature of my Southern Rivendish accent. "For all the good it will do you when we return, only to fight the moment we touch our land."

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that," he said casually, his eyes hardening a touch. "The Council has already been made aware of the casualties stemming from this latest Dirybvik incursion, and by now are well aware that the Clan Dhealg'seala has appealed to the Empire of Crux Radia for..." He looked to one side, his smile twisting. "Rather, the Clan Dhealg'seala was clever enough to have entered into treaty negotiations with Radia in a rather timely manner, and of course the Jhe o'Radia was more than willing to provide support to their new allies while the Dhealg'seala stabilized their own holdings."

I stared at him, stunned at his adroit management of the situation. I could not find any way to truly take offense at his presumptuousness, even though some part of me felt I should. My greatest unease was in the idea of foreign soldiers present on my land. Clan Dhealg'seala had never relied on any but her own for defense. As grateful as I was for the presence of the Radians to help fortify the holdlands against further invasion, it was in its own way a small defeat.

He seemed to understand the dual nature of my reaction to the news. His blue eyes watched mine, seeming to read the very thoughts in my mind, and I could in turn see the beginnings of a query forming in his.

"Would it be such an imposition," he said carefully, "if you were in fact part of those forces guarding the land?"

"I'm sorry?" I was certain he wasn't questioning my presence there. Rather, there was the overtone of a slightly different question between the words.

He straightened, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. "Of course Radia, and the Empire of Crux Radia, has her own standing army. In addition to that, there is a smaller guard, an elite group of soldiers chosen for a particular duty and calling." His fingers, which had been tapping together as he spoke, stilled. "They are known as the Armed, and are technically independent of any nation and alliance, save to the Judge. He has expressed an interest in recruiting you into his ranks."

I drew a deep breath. "Sir, I am truly honored, but as Laigr..."

"The title remains yours, as do your duties, Laigr Dhealg'seala. There will simply be additional ones as well."

I opened my mouth, but one gloved hand held aloft stilled my voice. He took a quick moment to stare at the back of his hand, clearly admiring the embroidered silk wrapped around his hand, then spoke.

"No need to respond right this moment, young Laigr. Investigate the Armed, speak to the Judge, and see for yourself the benefits... and the drawbacks." The crooked grin appeared once more on the Emperor's face. "I would be lying if I said there were none." He straightened once more, draping his arms over the sides of the chair. "In the meantime, we have a Council to motivate into action, an unusually destructive raid to investigate, and a hold to secure." His grin widened, and his head tilted to once side. "Why don't we call it an evening and enjoy a good night's rest before tackling such tasks? I'm sure your brother has much to discuss with you by now."

"Aye, sir," I said, a small wave of shame washing over me. I hadn't considered my brother through this whole conversation, although the Emperor surely had extended the same hospitalities to Elricht as he was now offering me. I was suddenly eager to see him again, and to also find some rest. There was a lot to think about, a lot to investigate... and far too little time.

The Emperor stood, and I automatically rose to my feet as well. He ushered me to the door, holding it open with a small bow. The Judge was waiting there, giving no indication that he had actually been waiting there the whole time. "Talk with him," the Emperor said as a dismissal.

"Yes, sir. I shall." I bowed low, and took two steps back into the hallway. The large panels closed with a low thump, and I turned to face the Judge with far more confidence than I felt.

His warm gold eyes looked me over, and then he smiled. "This way, Laigr," he said, his enunciation far smoother than it had been mere hours ago. Something of my surprise must have shown on my face, for he smiled as he held out his arm in a way that invited me to keep pace with him, rather than follow behind as protocol would normally dictate. "One of the benefits of being one of the Armed," he continued, "is developing a knack for language. Rather, it is a skill that can be cultivated, if the natural ability exists."

"How is it done so quickly? You speak as well as if you had studied the language..." I paused, coloring slightly at the unintended offense.

The Judge chuckled low in his throat. "No offense, Laigr Dhealg'seala. The answer, though, is long enough in the delivery that I feel it is best saved until tomorrow." The expression on his face was amused, if a touch weary.

Suddenly, the weight of the day finally set in, and I nearly stumbled on my own exhaustion.

"Point taken," I said, flinching as my voice cracked. "If you would be so kind as to help me find my brother?"

"He is waiting for you in your guest quarters," the Judge said. "They're not far."

I was grateful that his opinions of 'not far' matched my condition. I stumbled through some manner of thanks, readily agreeing to meet him after breaking my fast even as exhaustion dimmed the edges of my vision. He opened the door to the suite even as the blackness briefly overtook me, causing me to stagger a touch as I crossed the threshold.

My brother exclaimed as the door opened, and he rushed to my side. He said something in choppy Radian as he steadied my shoulders, and the Judge's low voice quietly replied. I picked up from the edges of my brother's thoughts that he had reassured that I was in need of rest and some attention, but that no harm had come to me.

"He speaks the truth, brother," I said, willing myself upright under my own flagging strength.

Elricht smiled weakly. "I know, but this day..."

I nodded. "Let us look forward to tomorrow, Elricht. Today is finished."

The Judge nodded, then bowed low as he dismissed himself. "Alert anyone you see if you need anything. They will know to find me," he said, straightening and nodding in my direction. I returned the nod, tilting my hand in a small imitation of the bow I had seen the Jhe o'Radia form at our departure earlier.

"You have our thanks," Elricht said, sincerity adding gravity to his voice.

The door closed, and Elricht turned his wide blue eyes to me. "Camdhegn. I have such interesting things to tell you."

"I as well, dear brother, but could you prepare something hot to drink first?"

"Of course," he said, rising. "I'm sure I spotted a proper teapot on the stove. Can you make it to the couch from here? Or do you need to lie down?"

I snorted. "Elricht, I am injured, not dying. I am fine where I am." Another wave of vertigo hit, but I steadied myself in the chair, thankful that my brother had missed that lapse. "Tell me of these amazing things I can see dancing around the edges of your eyes."

Elricht smiled, his eyes twinkling. "Proper tea first, dear brother."

* * *


Bonus: The Last of the Dhealg'seala (Part One)

Char has a two-parter for you folks!  This is part one of a short focusing on Camden and Elric Briarseal.  Part two will be posted on Saturday.

This is more backstory, and it's set earlier than any short yet posted, quite a ways in the past.

Also, if you just found The Peacock King Story Archive, please start at Chapter One and read in the order that things have been posted, because that's the way the story (probably) makes the most sense.  Come April 11th I'll start posting Novel II in The Peacock King Trilogy: The Peacock King in Court.  So uh...I guess you've been warned.


I stared out over the battlefield, forcing myself to gaze at the tangled mess of ruined bodies and broken weapons until the pressure in my throat threatened to choke me unconscious.  I almost wished it would.  Unconscious was better than having to look into my brother's eyes and face the reproach in his eyes, the cold condemnation of the coward I was.  

Ach, 'Richt, you know me better than that.

I sighed and looked down at him.  My brother, so fierce and capable and a good head shorter than me, glared up at me with one hard blue eye.  His other was swollen shut, which was probably just fine considering the amount of blood trickling down his face from the larger of his scalp wounds.  Blood in the eyes stings.  

The sheer weight of his regard prompted me to cast my coward's eyes back to the battlefield.  That, too, was intensely uncomfortable, so I looked at my feet.  Surely my feet were safe.

They were scuffed, my sandals scuffed.  Cam's feet were caked with mud and blood where there weren't openly bleeding wounds.  One of his sandals was halfway torn off, hanging on by a few strained leather straps.  He had fought hard, fought proudly as the Crhlaigr... before he left behind his clan and the battle to protect his weak brother.

If I had picked up the sword instead of the quill, would he bear fewer wounds?

"Aye, because I would be lying dead with our father."  

I winced, not from the idea of our father lying still, but from the emotionless tone of Camdhegn's voice.  

He set his shoulders and lifted his chin, for a moment looking much older than his fourteen years.  "Come.  Let us see if more of our clan live."  I understood from the way the words fell from his lips that he didn't expect to find any, but it was his assumed duty as Laigr.  As the head of our people, it was his duty not only to lead our people into battle, but to survive the damned things so that he could personally finish off the mortally wounded before our enemies could do such dishonor.  It was pitiful enough to be so weak as to allow another not of the Clans to take your life; being so weak as to allow the enemy to slack off on their duty of completely killing you was worse than emasculating.  

Warriors of the Clan Dhealg'seala simply did not survive battles in anything less than full health.  If a battle-wound was crippling, the Laigr showed mercy by cutting their lives off and gifting them with a noble death rather than allow them to suffer through life as a drain on the clan.  Their families would celebrate the warrior's brave demise, and only the Laigr would know of the supposed mercy-killing, and even the Laigr would do their best to forget that the duty had ever been performed.  

As my brother walked before me, I found myself looking him over for any sign of permanent, disabling injury and shuddered.  To my relief, all his wounds were relatively superficial.  He'd have an impressive set of new scars, but nothing that would gain him so much as a slight limp.  I nearly stumbled as my unacknowledged worry that my brother would be injured enough to expect me to end his life left me in one hard gasp of relief.

He glanced back, eyebrows raised, and continued walking once he realized I was suffering no harm.  "Take the sunward side, 'Richt.  I'll account the other."

"A'right."  I was grateful that he had apportioned me the section with fewer bodies.

As we slogged through the mud, I did my best to concentrate on accounting for our kin, rather than ponder the conditions that created the field's particular consistency.  I had long since adapted to the particular stench of an ended battle -- my tunic bore witness to the moments earlier in the day when the horrifying tang of blood and death first slapped my senses, and I emptied my stomach in the corner of my favorite bolt-hole.  It seemed strange that I was so relatively at ease; the battle was still fresh enough in history that the spring flies had not yet begun to swarm the bodies.  I had to marvel a moment at my own sense of detachment as I nudged a severed hand to one side with my toes, glancing down and noting the identity of the body nearest to it.

Kaereg dul'Dhealg'seala.  His skull was hollowed in the back, luckily a side that was facing away from me.  He had died with a rather surprised expression on his face.  Rather like how he lived, actually.  I snorted a small laugh, causing Cam to look up my way in worry.

"Elricht, are you a'right?"

"Just as a stream, brother," I said, choking back another giggle.  He raised an eyebrow, presumably questioning my sanity, but went back to examining his own section of the field's dead.

Kaereg's sister Thennet was lying several feet away, the end of her long brown braid cut, likely as some manner of trophy.  She had been kind to me, one of the few defenders of Cam's weakling elder brother, and one of the few who had been willing to train with me by moonlight.  My brother had been selective of those he chose to work with me, people he knew would not take the "learn or die trying" approach to mastering the weapons of our clan.  She had been particularly pleased when I finally disarmed her one moonless night, standing over her with the thin blade of my sword at her throat, laughing at the idiotic expression of surprise on my face.

"'Richt, you just might be able to save your own life," she had laughed.  I still had my doubts, but as I clasped her hand and helped pull her to her feet, I couldn't deny the small thrill I felt in my chest at my accomplishment.  Thennet was one of Clan Dhealg'seala's favored warriors, known for her lightning-quick reflexes and deadly aim.  I had truly shown aptitude when I had defeated her; I was not to be faulted any flush of pride.

I knelt down and closed her eyes.  Her forehead was still furrowed in concentration, one hand reaching toward Kaereg.  Her sword and her opponent were nowhere to be seen, but the set of drag-marks in the earth told me all I needed to know about what had happened to her opponent... and likely the person unfortunate enough to have managed to kill Kaereg.

The next few were mercifully easy for me to tally.  I had few friends among our clan.

I found no sign of the Dirybvik raiders amongst the bodies.  As usual, they had carried away every trace of their own, from the smallest scrap of cloth to their weapons and dead.  All that remained was our own, scattered and broken.  Mercifully, it appeared that the Dirybvik had managed to mortally wound every one of our own on their way out, however it was that they managed to disappear so quickly from the battlefield.

A low curse and the sound of my brother's sword piercing flesh corrected my assumption.  I looked towards the river and watched my brother perform the gestures of pardon.  Something about the scene seemed off, until I realized that it was simply because my brother was wearing the wrong badge over his cape.  I was mildly surprised that he hadn't taken the time to find the Laigr-badge before performing this duty. 

I suppose even my brother is susceptible to shock.  It's not something I would naturally accord him, but for all that he was now Laigr, he is human.

Of course that moment of observation would mark the moment I discovered our father's body.  I looked down at him a moment, glanced up at my brother, and moved on.  I would save this moment for last, after we had finished accounting the rest of our clan.

As the sun touched the hills, Cam straightened and marched directly for me.  I nodded, anticipating his question before he was even within earshot, and gestured towards the corpse of the previous Laigr.  He reached it before I did, kneeling by his side and unpinning the badge of the Laigr and clasping it in his hand, deep in thought.  

"How many?" he asked, his voice low. 

"Twenty-three, Laigr."

He nodded.  "Forty-eight by my count as well.  As I feared, brother."  He frowned down at our father's body.  "Elricht, does anything strike you as odd about this body?"

"Er..."  I looked down at it, suppressing a shiver of revulsion.  "I'm sorry, but all things considered, nothing appears out of the ordin..."  I blinked, then looked up at my brother in confusion.  "Cam?  He was running away from the battle."

"Yes.  He was running away from the front.  He was escaping."

"Cam... but... why?"

His lips flattened, letting me come to my own conclusions.

I closed my eyes against the small wave of sorrow.  "Cammie?  What do we do now?"

He stood, wiping sweat and blood from his forehead, squinting into the sunset.  "I don't know."  His eye turned to me, hard and assessing.  "What do you think?"

"May I make a suggestion?"

Camdhegn whirled and struck before I had even finished drawing my sword.  I blinked, startled by the sight of his broadsword captured in the tines of a rather large battle-fork, the great weight of the weapon casually held in the hands of a very tall and well-dressed stranger.  Strange in the fullest sense of the word; his manner of dress was completely alien to us, and the way his tongue formed our language was off in that particular way that said it had never used our speech until that moment.  His red hair was unbound like a woman's, but I was learned enough to realize that didn't automatically mean he wanted to be one.  

As a matter of fact, I was willing to bet that even if that was the case in his culture, he would be able to leave his hair unbound, and none would dare say anything about it.  Ever.

My brother bared his teeth and flexed, but his sword remained locked in the battle-fork's grip.  Belatedly, I realized I should have drawn and attacked as well, but something about the situation told me that not only would the gesture have been useless, but Cam's attack had been unnecessary as well.

"Laigr," I said as softly as I could and still be heard by my brother, "I do not think this man means us harm."

"He appears out of nowhere like the Dirybvik, and you just assume everything is a'right?" he grumbled, even as his arms began to relax.

I smiled meekly, glancing at the stranger.  "I beg your forgiveness, brother, but I have the distinct impression that should he have intended our demise, it would have been accomplished without us managing to learn of his presence beforehand."

"Quite," the red-haired man said, cracking a small grin.

Cam blinked at me, then dropped his right hand from the hilt of his sword.  "As you say, brother."  Without even one whisper of motion from the stranger, his sword fell free of the battle-fork.  Camdhegn sheathed it and crossed his arms, granting the stranger a respectful nod.  The stranger nodded in return, the battle-fork glowing briefly as it somehow melted into a light sword, which he then sheathed.

Camdhegn drew a deep breath.  "As Laigr Dhealg'seala, I greet you upon the lands of the Clan Dhealg'seala.  Forgive my abrupt response.  As you can see, we have suffered a harsh blow this day, and..."  he paused, his expression cracking a little.

"A warm welcome to you," I broke in, moving to stand next to my brother, my eyes flitting briefly to the hilt of the sword at the stranger's side.  Cam nodded to me, his lips tight as he fought back the emotions threatening to catch him.  "We cannot accommodate you with all hospitality due a visitor to our holds, but while you are amongst us, our weapons guard you and our bread feed you."  I hoped it was a fair enough greeting to meet the Laigr's standards.  My brother's one blue eye was almost warm with gratitude as he gave me the barest nod of thanks.

The stranger looked past us, his forehead furrowing as he examined the ruined fields of our clan's land and our dead.  "None would fault your hospitality, especially given the present situation," he said quietly.  He glanced at Cam for one long moment, his gold eyes respectfully assessing, then turned his attention to me.  "On behalf of the Empire of Crux Radia, we offer refuge to the survivors of Clan Dhealg'seala of Rhivend..."  He paused, his jaw working a moment.  "Should the Laigr wish it, the Emperor of Crux Radia has offered a private audience to the Laigr Dhealg'seala to discuss the latest hostilities provoked by the nation of Dirybvik."

Some light went off in my head, and I gave my brother the tiniest of mental nudges.  Accept.

Why?  Since when does the Clan Dhealg'seala kneel so low as to accept the charity of strangers like the lowest of beggars?

Since we...  I paused, then swallowed.  Brother.  I see that this is the correct course of action.  

Camdhegn's blue eye snapped up, piercing me with the force of his gaze.  "You have seen it, Elricht?"

My eyes flicked nervously to the stranger's, then back to my brother.  "Aye, Laigr."

He sighed and straightened, rolling his shoulders back.  "Then that is what we shall do."  He nodded to the emissary.  "We accept the Emperor Crux Radia's offer, and are deeply grateful to him for his show of... mercy."  Personally, I think the phrasing could have used a little less bitterness than the edge my brother put into it, but the emissary merely nodded, taking no offense.

"If there is no further business here?"  

I shook my head, and Camdhegn looked down at our father's remains.  "No.  This is finished."

The emissary nodded, his eyes warm as he canted his head towards Camdhegn.  "Let us be on our way, then.  Jhe o'Radia is expecting us."  I tucked away that small bit of titular information as I watched him draw his sword once more, holding it point-down, perpendicular to the ground.  Camdhegn straightened, standing as tall as he physically could, and pinned the Laigr's badge so that it overlapped the Crhlaigr badge holding his cape in place over his shoulders.

The sword dropped to the ground, and the lands of the Clan Dhealg'seala of the Rhivend vanished from my eyes.