Private Tales A Hymn for Honest Hands

A private roleplay only for those invited by the first writer

Isander

Knight Sworn
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Morning light spilled across the browning fields of Gwinholm, its settlement pocked with the many shadows of laborers toiling to symphony of cockcall and birdsong. Isander worked among them, nails cracked and pores deep with dirt. Having arrived the evening prior with his companion and a wagon laden with supplies, he allowed for a longer detour than initially planned. In good conscience, he could not leave these people to rebuild alone.

A hard harvest drove the settlers to listlessness. Fires from a season past ravaged the town proper, and a lack of skilled foresters delayed the restoration. Coupled with the odd party of rogues down from the foot of the Spine and disease that spread ravenous through the livestock, the settlement had reached a breaking point. Several farmsteads lay abandoned on its outskirts, houses emptied of all that could be carried off. Broken tools and straps littered the fields. A sorry sight for what once stood proud in the shadow of the Spine.

Sweat beaded on Isander's brow as he drove another picket into the dirt. Unglamorous work, necessary all the same. Dusty linens clung to him with each breath of autumnal air, prompting welcome shivers that served to recenter his attention. Absent his spear and armor, he found it easy to lose himself in the labor. It required some care to ensure he placed the stakes in proper alignment. Even a slight stray could render hours of wasted. Still, the cyclical nature of it, the quiet repetition made for pleasant company. It gave him time to breathe, to dwell on simpler times.

Patting down his forehead, he heaved a sigh and turned to his companion.

"Saskia," he said, "let's break fast for the morning. The fence can wait awhile longer. I could use a drink."


Saskia Kerraelas
 
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"Finally!"

Saskia dropped the picket she had been pretending to look over for quality, standing up and putting distance from herself and the pile of pickets left to dot out the fence line. She had poured her whole being in the past few days since their arrival, and her energy could never rise back up to full restoration as her sleep became disturbed multiple times. It left her irritable, as if that were something new, and she felt terrible to have been paired with Isander so early and subject him to her terrible mood.

"I think something to eat may make me able to bear another day of labour." She sighed, weariness pouring out from her and leaving her to look so defeated. Prior to answering the call for aide, Kerraelas had been unwell, and without the proper time to recover, it had left her feeling quite rough by the time she curled into bed. It fed on her strength, and her mind, and the worst of it was felt today. She was not the stellar companion for conversation this morning, but she thought Isander did not mind the silence they worked in.

Isander
 
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Plucking a waterskin from the tangle of his belongings, Isander uncorked it and poured some over his hands. He rubbed the dirt off, patted them dry against his shirt before drinking his fill. A contented ache saturated his frame, the labor teasing exertion from underutilized muscles. He stretched them in turn, knuckle taut in the small of his back. Loosening his shoulders and hips, he cracked his neck and set about straightening his stance.

"You'll survive," he said, tossing the skin to his companion. Dawn broke gray over the horizon, swelling to full in the aftermist with offered light that did little to warm the surrounding air. He could see wisps of his own breath curling out occasionally, faint vapors that trailed from mouth and vanished unceremoniously.

Collecting his pack, he rummaged through the bundle for the rations within; bread from their host's hearth, dried persimmon quarters acquired on the road, and a pouch of salted chestnuts that never quite seemed to diminish in volume. These last he set aside for Saskia while he tore a piece off the bread. Coarsely textured and dense, even a quick bite took several seconds to properly chew.

"Another day's delay won't harm us. We've at least another three before falling behind schedule," he said.

He gave a winsome smile.

"Unless Syr Kerraelas has more pressing matters to attend?"


Saskia Kerraelas
 
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"Syr Kerraelas is here as is expected of her." She grumbled and sipped a generous amount, not needing too much as she barely broke a sweat just now. "And will remain here until the duty is done."

The young knight could complain to her heart's content, but she would still work hard and ensure the job is not only done, but the people they help have had their spirits raised. She grinned, although it came out a grimace, and turned to plop down and sit before reaching for the chestnuts. "I may seek out a medic and see what they can offer to help settle myself. Cannot have you doing all the hard work, can we?" She chuckled, crunching into a chestnut.

If she had not been feeling lousy up until now, she could have bought some fresh berries or sweets, but alas, what Isander had provided would do to sate her appetite, but not her sweet tooth.

Isander
 
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Isander's smile fell away, crooked from his lips as his brow lowered to occlude his gaze. He looked his companion over, having made little note of her enthusiasm prior. Their task dictated delivery of these supplies, no mention of further dalliance. Perhaps he pushed too hard.

Concerned, "If you truly are unwell, I've made study of healing magicks and could offer my aid?"

The aging knight held little renown for his knowledge of arcane pursuits. Practices from his youth, where a younger Isander dabbled in all measures of the Order's teachings in hopes of proving himself a worthy inheritor to Master of the Pursuits. Such eccentricities yet clung to him, though his heavy shoulders slumped lower under the ever encroaching Dawn. He found contentment elsewhere, made merry of the small moments life saw fit to bequeath him.

He handed over the rest of the loaf, palm ringed with a delving glow.


Saskia Kerraelas
 
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Saskia regarded Isander and his offer with a face that looked like she truly regretted saying anything. It was natural for her to think any healing on her person was a waste of energy and focus, but if the scar above her brow was any indication of the brilliance some possessed, then it was best to... give healing a little credit.

"Would it do much for an upset stomach? The longer I am moving about, the nausea hits. Nothing ever happens, except that feeling..." Once, a medic tried to convince Saskia her love for sweets led to a stomach ache, but this was not an overfill on sugary sweets.

"You know... I think I have been cursed. How else will we explain this gods awful feeling?" She questioned, taking the loaf from him and making a face as she chewed on the not so soft bread. That was definitely not her poor health hindering her tastebuds.


Isander
 
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Concentration accosted him. Probing for signs of visible malady, a pause. Hesitation that hung in the gaps between breaths. It stretched in the fading cinders of conversation; too long, he was taking too long to reply. The weight behind Isander's eyes played a chorus of remorse forced into a softened smile. He shook his head, withdrew his hand.

"No," he said, professing, "but I've little talent for it."

He offered her a shrug, a tentative pat on the shoulder, and popped another chestnut into his mouth. Around the crunch, he lightened his visage. If he could not ease the burden, a little levity could not hurt in its stead.

"We can rest awhile longer. So tell me: any new stories from the Dusk side of things?"


Saskia Kerraelas
 
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Stories?

Saskia was quiet only for a moment before she broke out into a grin. "Oh. Well, there was that skirmish not too long ago. I was there. Got a hideous scar," She brushed her golden hair back to reveal the silver line from brow to temple, "and I also got to use my shadows on a larger scale. It felt... rather powerful in the aftermath. I rarely use it in combat, but... it was a learning experience."

The teamwork, the bravery they all possessed... it were long hours of determination and it certainly paid off.

"And then there was this monster terrorising a settlement... it smelled awful." Just thinking back on it made her stomach feel more queasy. "Was quite a bitch to bring down... took multiple of us, really."


Isander
 
"A proud scar to be sure," Isander said, nodding along.

Easing onto the ground, he propped himself up to rest. The ache in his shoulders subsided a smidge with the motion. Blissful reprieve from the constant vigilance required of the morning. He focused on breathing, steadied long, slow gulps to keep his focus sharp.

"What kind of monster was it?" he asked, cracking an eye that had shut while he lowered himself. It took considerable effort; more than he anticipated. The journey perhaps had faired him no greater kindness.


Saskia Kerraelas
 
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Saskia lifted her arms and shrugged. "It was... unnnatural. We suspect the witches had called forth some abomination, but at least we know it has been quelled." It took plenty of them to take it down in the end, and Kerraelas was relieved it had been on it's own, and not belonging to a pack.

"You know... have you ever thought what your life would have been life if it weren't for the Order? I think to myself, what would a girl and her shadows do without this purpose?" It was a question she had not thought of in a long, long while, but Isander seemed to be the kind to have some knowledge and experience of such string of thoughts.
 
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Isander met that shrug with a smile. Propped on a pair of elbows, heedless of the dirt that painted fresh stains onto his sleeves, he grabbed for the waterskin again. He rolled it against the grass, idling. Wine suited best this maudlin mood. Water served fine in its absence. Something to wet the throat. To spare a few more moments of retrospection.

Popping the cork, he drank, letting the words coalesce before providing his answer: "I've put some thought into it."

He returned the skin to his pack, setting it up behind him to give rest to his swiftly tiring elbows. Covering a sigh, he glanced back to Saskia.

"Fifteen years," he said. "I spent fifteen years among the Order, and have no regret for it. Oh, sometimes I think on the what if's and wherefore's. Had I kept my father's name, perhaps I could have a measure of fame in the Reach. Minor holdings, a title. Plenty of tithe to bear my then-to-be ostensible weight."

He raised a brow, a slick motion for the dwindling pouch of coin they ferried between them.

"Or, perhaps I'd have died in the siege. Another body on the wall, another unmarked grave in the pits beyond the moat. I do not know," he said.

"Instead, what I do know, and unassailably at that, is that I'm thankful for where I am. Among friends."


Saskia Kerraelas
 
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His answer had made Saskia beam, for she too could agree on that. "Makes it all worth it, doesn't it? To go forth into battle side by side with your friends and family." Saskia had left plenty of her friends behind at the monastery, but she did not want to be away from Alaric's side. He was primed to receive his knighthood, and so Saskia worked her hardest to be there beside him.

To her, this had been all worth it.

"They say my mother had fled from Vel Anir. That's a city in Liadain." She added, moving to break another piece of bread. "I have... a brother somewhere out there. When she did not come back after many years, I was finally told about her. I guess... that is truly why I think on that question..." Saskia smiled, not missing the idea of a family she was born to. Alaric had made her feel part of his own despite him not getting on with his father.

"At least I can agree that my work with shadows is a lot broader learning the pursuits." At this, she snorted a laugh. "Oh, Syr Isander, you should see what my shadows can do once night arrives. I could make familiars to aid us in this fence."
 
"I'm sure," Isander said, laughter rolling from chest. He popped another chestnut in his mouth, crunched around it in quick, easy bites.

They had time to kill yet. Afternoon remained a while off the horizon, and the chill air beckoned for company to share in its touch. Isander was content to keep it, presently enjoying the slow limbering that suffused each of his muscles; he uncoiled his neck and shoulders, worked the strain from his back, let it radiate from him into the ground itself.

That, at least, could suffer weariness far better than he.

"Perhaps I am wrong in my thinking," he said, "but I hesitate to draw on Loch where honest hands suffice. At least, I know what toll the work will take on my body. Magick? No, I've nary a clue how that might affect me."

He shrugged it off, let whimsy filter into his voice.

"Maybe I'm too old for battle. I find myself drawn to these simple tasks more and more. Does it chafe at you?"


Saskia Kerraelas
 
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Saskia was quiet as the thought, such a rare thing about the dusker. "Older than I, Syr Isander. Why I am in my young and spritely years. I would hate if the taste of combat make my bones weary."

With the taste of the small food on her tongue, her stomach seemed to settle somewhat. Did it give her renewed energy to get up and resume the task?

"I suppose you thought the same as me when you were my age. Could not wait to get out there and prove yourself... at least that is how I still think." She was knighted a year now, the same as her best friend Alaric. The thought of him abandoning her to make his father happy did not sit well with Saskia, and so she went above and beyond to be there with him as they were no longer squires.


"Seriously, we should talk so someone. Raise issue that they are sending out a seasoned knight to do menial tasks with aching bones!"


Isander
 
Isander set hands upon his knees and sat upright to meet Saskia's gaze.

"Aye," he said with an agreeable nod, "I felt much the same. I was born with some inkling of noble blood and once dreamt of uniting the Allirian Council behind me as king."

A wistful smile alighted his eyes. He crooked an arm, flexing taut to the loose tunic that housed his frame.

"A hero I'd be. The greatest swordsman of an age, a giant among men." This he voiced thick with embellishment, a taunt that dared dissenting repartee. He felt himself terribly clever, knowing that he stood but to the shoulder of greater men.

"But Syr Kerraelas, heroes save the everyday kingdom. Rarely do they slay dragons or beat back legions of the dead. Heroes are no giants. No, they stand shoulder to shoulder with the common folk. That's what we do," he said, standing.

"And that's why we've a fence to build."


Saskia Kerraelas
 
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"And that's why we've a fence to build."

Saskia whined. She carried on and let her head fall back as she complained without verbal commotion.

"Trust you to make work into a lesson to be learned!" But she ended up laughing. "Fine. We will continue the work. We just need to make it to lunch. I heard that the tavern was going to be serving hearty soup, and Isander, I really want hearty soup." It was incentive now, to get an honest time's worth of work in before treating herself to a warm meal.

"I will even go without the help of shadows." She promised, sparking those amber eyes to the Syr before grinning. What mischief was hiding there.

Isander
 
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Matching that laugh with an easy roll of his own, Isander brushed the dirt from his trousers and resumed his stance in front of the post. The work made steady his hand. He hammered away, pounding down at the stake, let the dull thud of iron ring on timber. Felt the cramping resonance set ripples from wrist to shoulder.

"Soup sounds welcome indeed," he said.

Wistfully: "Something to ward the chill from the air. Look, the season's first snow has already capped the Spine." From behind the veil of morning's fog, beneath the froth of clouds that churned out the eastern breeze, lay but a peek of the white-capped ridges looming so in the imposing distance. A blank canvas backcloth to ease them into harmony with their honest hands.


Saskia Kerraelas
 
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Saskia scowled at the sight of the snow-capped horizon.

"You know, I always enjoyed the summer months." She grumbled, assisting Isander with the post by keeping it upright until it was well into the earth to be upright. Next, she kicked at the dirt where the next post would be installed, marking the spot and positioning it readily for the hammer.


"Not only do I celebrate my birthday in the summer, I feel more powerful with wielding then. The sun gives the harshest of lights, stronger than that of the moon."

Saskia liked how the sun also warmed her skin, how her hair seemed to turn brighter. She certainly felt more life in the warmer months than the winter could ever yield.

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"The brighter the light, the darker the shadow cast," Isander said, approval painted over his lips.

His breath came in measured gulps, matching the tempo of his hands as he hammered into the stake; the wood quivered, quivered, and halted stock in the dirt. He found an easy rhythm to it, feet sliding to the next station. The planks, strewn about the green in ready reach, were palmed and driven down in succession.

Their labor had brought them closer to the farmhands who pounded away to an asynchronous tune. He raised a hand in greeting.

Slaking the sweat that chilled his brow, he turned back to his companion.

"When I think on it," he said, "my own magick favors heat. Conjuring a blaze, or even imagining such, is an easier task with the sun on my skin. Perhaps it is my imagination that is lacking, then."


Saskia Kerraelas
 
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Saskia snorted.

"Or you do not have full faith in the ability of yourself conjuring without the reminder of what warmth is." The dusker shrugged, moving down to the next post and began to copy the motions Isander took in structuring a staked post. So she could do the work!

"When in complete darkness, yes, it is much easier to draw on the shadows... but even in the daytime, when light bounces around too much it dulls any shadow... I know I can bring to life what was not there. Shadows can appear, but they will not be as strong or opaque, able to fight alongside me like they would in the veil of midnight." She made a face, lifting her head as a thought came across her mind.


"What is warmth to you, Syr Isander? Not the sun. Not the hearth roaring with fire... Perhaps imagination needs memory."

Isander
 
Another stake pounded into the dirt, another slake of sweat flicked from Isander's brow. Hammer on nail on wood played into the dawning choir. It sparked as the fire that sung within his soul, warmed him to fingertips as he continued on with the work.

It echoed on in silent reply to Saskia's question.

In a pause, he put words to it:

"Warmth is the product of labor," he said. "As we put flint to tinder to spark about the kindling flame, so does the friction of movement lend itself to warmth. Memory alone is not enough, at least for me. Rather, I find it in constant motion, reiteration.

"How does it differ for you?"


Saskia Kerraelas
 
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Saskia arched a questioning brow. "Well, I need not warmth in order to cast my shadows..."

In truth, she could wield them from a young age, perhaps due to her unknown parentage. Mages, or a witches, it did not matter. Learning about the Loch in her formative years kept her strengthened, grounded, but now, the shadows seemed to never be too far from her.

"They feel... cool to the touch..." She lifted a hand, casting a shadow soft enough to be seen by both their eyes. Her other hand came to steal it, molding it into odd shapes in both her hands. "But I suppose that form of thinking gives me warmth just thinking about it all." Saskia smiled, releasing the shadow.

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"Warmth, the absence of it," Isander said, nodding along.

The rhythmic thud of hammer on wood brought him to a comfortable reverie, thoughts slipping and words tumbling from a tongue accustomed to the silence of isolation. He reflected on it, eying his companion all the while. Part of him grasped for something to say, a way to fill in the empty spaces that he let linger in the conversation; a greater part instead let it idle by, working his palms on the smoothed wooden haft of his hammer.

It took him some few moments to find a question, and in doing so he gave it voice (and sufficient preamble):

"As fire may be likened to life, so might shadows be given to death. What drew you to this Pursuit? For me, as I've said, I had always dreamt of being a knight, a hero. It seemed obvious to pursue life, light in following that. A sure-paved path before me."


Saskia Kerraelas
 
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His question threw her, and in that moment, her finger came away bloody in her failed mark in striking the post to the ground.

She hissed, lifting the cut to her lips and tried to stop the bleeding, but it only came to the surface again and began to treacle.

"I... I was born with the shadows. At least, I think I was. We think my mother was a mage, or my father. I was given his name, but we never found anyone this side of the Allirian Reach with the name Kerraelas. Squires are not meant to learn of the Pursuit of Death... but I needed help in controlling them." She had been young but able to grasp the early teaching of Loch to help her mind ease with the burdens.

Saskia curled her hand into a fist, as if that would stop the bleeding for a minute.


"I want to pursue Death because... It is the only thing I am drawn to. I think I have an affinity for it..." She never used those exact words with anyone before. Pursue.

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"Indeed?"

Isander found pause, hammer falling short of the fence. His hands stilled, hesitant in the motion of driving down that stake. He came close to fumbling there, hands thick and clumsy about the work, eyes fixed on his companion's words and then upon the freshly opened wound.

"Here," he said, setting aside hammer and approaching her. He clicked out a glyph between fingertips; a glow set upon him, one that stretched white and mellow from nail to palm. A gentle shroud, suspended at the precipice of acceptance.

"Perhaps light can prove salve to some troubles."

He smiled in mirrored warmth.

"You've surely no affinity for mending fences," he said, "or rather, I should say you've not had the opportunity to try before. Give it a day. We might see you my mentor yet, Syr Saskia."


Saskia Kerraelas
 
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