Love is War 03:00:02:08
– 03:00:02:08 –
Veskur was tired, isolated, alone.
She had never minded being alone before Figo had come into her life, had handled being alone quite well, but now that she was used to basking in the love of others and had no others to bask within she found herself yearning. It was complicated, irritating, and something that she did not know how to deal with. Sotaas was gone and not to be found, using the very sciences that Veskur had shown him to vanish from Midgard completely. Figo would not speak with her. And Endrall…
Well, Endrall was vexing, troubling, at once attentive and apathetic. Veskur felt like a tolerated pet, something to be coddled on occasion and ignored the rest of the time. Endrall would come to her when his father’s latest atrocious behavior became too much to bear, or when some other person crossed his delicate ego and expected Veskur to make it alright – but, before leaving, he would injure her psyche, remind her of her place, keep her as low or lower than even River ever had.
She tried to keep all thought of Figo and Endrall out of her mind. She spoke more frequently with Thea, though those communications were as strained and frayed as they had ever been and soon lost much of their luster. Endrall accused her of keeping in touch with Thea only to assuage her sense of loneliness, but the truth was more based in guilt than adoration; although she no longer spoke with River, his final accusation haunted her and she had convinced herself that all of Thea’s miseries were born in her.
Veskur had difficulties determining who was responsible for what in most social situations.
She inevitably found it easiest to assume that she was at fault and never stopped to wonder why no one ever corrected her understanding of things.
Her work no longer provided the same solace for her that it once did. The equations crawled along her parchment, the ink drying long before she had finished so much as a page. The land no longer held the wonder for her that it always had and it became harder and harder for her to observe any of the social niceties that Figo and Endrall and Sotaas had taught her. She retreated further into hermitage, refusing to see anyone in her home and rarely venturing anywhere outside of the lands that she claimed.
When Deeam called upon her to visit him, though, she had to answer. He was almost Njord and he had visited her a few times for nothing more than the pleasure of her company. The more complex theories she worked on were as far beyond him as the social games he played with everyone else were for her, and there was something comforting about that. He relaxed around her, closing his eyes and taking deep breaths.
“I like coming here,” he once confessed. “There’s nothing to deal with, no bargain to be made, nothing to keep track of. It’s quiet.” Veskur was not certain what he meant exactly. She appreciated his understanding and knowledge of myth, and so tolerated his company with more ease than she tolerated the company of anyone else.
Her manservant packed her off in her carriage, locking the doors and staying within all the while. She shambled into her dress clothes at the last possible minute, more than content to wear her sleeping robes the entire way to the capital. She stepped out of the carriage disheveled and exhausted, black in mood and eye. Still, she stepped off and out, walking through the halls of the powerful while ignoring the startled gasps and whispered recriminations of the other assorted nobles.
They meant nothing to her.
They. Meant. Nothing.
She went to Deeam’s throne room and he rose as she entered, walking down to embrace her.
“Are you alright?” he asked her, his booming voice dropping so that only the two of them would hear. “You look like you’ve lost weight and you never had very much to lose.” She said nothing, allowing him take her by the hand. His betrothed watched them with a keen interest, but did not seem jealous of their brief contact – not that Veskur was in any condition to notice any such subtlety.
They stopped in front of a map of Midgard, an outline of the place that detailed the various capitals of the noble houses. She looked at it with interest and then at the two other nobles that stood studying the expanse. These would have to be the Freyr and the Freya, counterparts and equals to the Njord that Deeam would soon become.
Veskur made polite noises when they were introduced to her, wondering what she was doing in a place where someone like Hekro or Figo or Risue would have served much more better. The Freya, mistress of both Science and War, was quick to tell her: those three and all the other heroes were serving along the front lines of the Coeecian border. During her self-imposed exile the Coeecians had marshaled their forces under someone calling himself Jesam the First and had made massive gains along the south and western borders.
She smiled as they told her that Figo was one of the only Vanir holding his own against the oncoming barbarian horde. Hekro Gherlid was another, called back to the frontlines by necessity and finding redemption. Risue, too, was apparently keeping his troops active and eager, but they were suffering heavy losses and were cut off from all retreat.
This was why they had brought her here – they wanted to know if there was anything she could do.
A number of nobles from the more peaceful Houses had been visiting Risue’s outpost when the initial assault had begun. They had managed to keep the horde back but those nobles were still captive. From the most recent information they possessed, Risue did not have it in him to wage another daring escape – though he had, reportedly, tried. A number of Vanir had fallen to the enemy in those attempts and none of the nobles they had been trying to lead out had escaped. A handful of other nobles had already tried to get in and a small group of healers led by Endrall Sahr himself were ready to provide succor along the borders, but were still unable to get through the siege.
Veskur studied the image in front of her for a long time. She had brought her gaurn and wore her levl across her back; she had seen Figo do that and had adopted the style for her own even if she only barely knew how to use the weapon. Her left hand twitched, the power that was hers to command ready and waiting to be summoned. With a sigh, the greatest individual power in Midgard told the greatest political powers that she would see what she could do.
At the very least, acting in this matter would distract her from the warzone quiet in her head.
She didn’t bother taking her carriage to the battlefront – even a single horse would have been slower than she was capable of traveling on her own, and the entourage Deeam offered her would have reduced her progress to a crawl. Instead, she tapped the power of the gaurn and touched the very forces that underlay the entirety of the world.
The first thing Veskur did was use her tool to draw a line in the air, adding length and width and depth and finally life. She heard gasps behind her but ignored them, feeding her own energies into the steed she had crafted by means of her own will. The horse had eight hooves that flickered lightning, electricity running all over a glowing white body. It was an aesthetic touch that served as much function as form, for the next thing Veskur did was turn her attention to the sky.
She had learned that Coeecian ritualists worshiped storms. Their dominant caste, the Skie, lived on a mountain and used their primitive sciences to control the weather, imposing their will on others through the vicious use of this power. The Jesam she had killed used those sciences and had been, from what she understood, very good at it.
Veskur believed herself his better.
The storm she crafted was the breath of a Coeecian god, a low rumbling thunder that shook the earth, heralded by lightning thicker than any human she had ever met. The rain struck the earth like an amhr, hammering and hammering, digging small holes in the earth and soaking the soil into a suckling maw. The Vanir nobles behind Veskur gasped and screamed, retreating from the deluge. Only one, she knew, would remain. She turned to face him as she climbed atop the creature she had crafted, nodding her head to the future Njord.
Deeam, grim-faced and pale, returned the gesture.
Her mount rose spiraling into the skies, hooves galloping on the clouds far above the torn earth. The storm itself announced her coming, the Coeecians at first taking heart from what they saw as a sign of favor. She laughed when she felt the pitiful wills of the Skie trying to wrest the storm she had crafted from her, struck at them with lightning and rain and wind, sending the leaders of the invading force running for shelter. She let them go.
They could tremble out of her sight. Veskur had learned well the lesson of turning joy into despair.
She descended to earth while her own people looked at her with dread and knew that this was all she could ever expect. If she had never known the pull of gravity, she thought, this was something she might have been able to live with, but now that she knew better she could not help but feel the pang of loss. She made herself cold, facing those that stared at her with wary eyes.
“I am the Lady Veskur Wyrd,” she announced. “I have been sent by Njord and Freya and Freyr to help you.” The tension between herself and her people eased only somewhat. One of their number, braver than the rest but still a trembling mass, came forward and told her about the treachery of the Coeecians, the terrible stratagems they had used to bring the Vanir of this place low. Veskur listened to the man, allowing him to take her steed before following him to the refreshment hall.
The Vanir were, by and large, a boisterous people. They enjoyed celebration and the company of their fellows and they put great stock in their stories, balls, and dances. A refreshment hall was often the heart and soul of any keep, and even reclusive Veskur took some solace in the whirling dances and happy laughter of such places.
No laughter existed in this place. There were moans and whimperings, the wounded brought here to either be tended or die. Endrall was somewhere outside, out along the borders surrounding this place, waiting. Veskur had no desire to seek him out; merely seeing her love would have been enough to knock her to her knees and make her useless in terms of what she would have to do.
“Who is in command?” she asked. There seemed to be some argument as to that, a silent series of glances moving from one face to another.
“I am.” The voice, normally a booming confidence, was now a pained whisper. A passage cleared in the standing bodies, a path that Veskur followed to where Risue Elhaz lay on a cot. He had put on weight, hard muscle turned to flab, his face pale but his eyes still sharp. “This is my responsibility.” The fire in those eyes warmed Veskur’s heart and she moved to her friend’s side, clasping his wrist. He tried to do the same but he was weak, so very weak.
“What happened?” Veskur asked.
“We thought this land was secure.” Risue grimaced, trying to make himself comfortable. Veskur removed a wet cloth from his forehead, wrung it out, replaced it with one soaked through with fresh cool water. “It was not. The Coeecians came up out of the earth. They dug tunnels below us, lay traps for us, but did not act until the nobility that wanted to visit was here.
“We tried to get them out using their own tunnels but they killed us by collapsing the tunnels on us after we had claimed them. We tried using science only to have their magicians counter our efforts, tried to sprint our way to safety only to have the tunnels we thought collapsed prove full of Coeecian spears. My soldiers died. We kept the nobles safe, but again and again my soldiers died.
“Some of the nobles went around us, thought they could make a deal with the horde outside, and were idiotic enough to think that the horde would keep it. The barbarians betrayed them and nearly killed us all, but I managed to rally the troops and hold the line. We suffered losses, though. There’s a skeleton crew here now and we’re running out of supplies. I’m not sure how much longer we’ll last.
“How did you get in? Can we use that method to escape?”
“No,” Veskur shook her head. “We can’t.” Even with the power on her hand, it would take more than she possessed to create transport for nine hundred people and call on a storm large enough to support that much mass. Risue looked heartbroken, but only for a second. He gathered his resolve, held it, the fury in his eyes promising a mass of destruction.
“Then we have no choice,” he said. “We cut our way out. Some of us might live to see the healers. If we stay here we are all going to die. We can use the same strategy I used before, the same strategy that worked just south of your home.”
“It won’t work here,” Veskur said, but before she could say anything further another voice cut her off.
“What are you doing?” said the voice, high pitched and arrogant and giving off a barely concealed contempt. “Reliving your glory days?” The woman might have been good looking at one point – at least she still had the glow of youth and a haughtiness that Veskur had come to recognize as common along those of House Nauthiz. She had a regal bearing but bore no levl.
Veskur tapped the Ethcinos, twisting it with her will to look upon the breadth of the newcomer’s life and the potential her future held. There was nothing of note in either direction. She saw the woman as she was betrothed to Risue, watched her accept that betrothal and take advantage of all the good that went with it – but the moment things had become difficult for Risue, Veskur knew, this woman had begun to chafe at his affections like the child she truly was.
No one went for her throat. No one spoke ill against her, doubted her, rose to challenge her words or to defend Risue’s heroism, and later and later again Veskur would curse herself for a coward when she, in that moment, did nothing. Instead, she ignored the girl, took her friend’s hand, and held his gaze.
“Get your men ready,” she told him. “There’s little chance of us holding this place but I can get the rest of you to safety.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll be fine.”
She let his hand drop, stepped away and outside and closed her eyes. Behind her, she could hear the grown child nattering on, wondering who Veskur was and why everyone was giving her so much space. When someone told her she laughed, each exhalation a blow.
“That’s the Lady Wyrd?” the grown girl giggled. “I heard she was monstrous but she’s just a disaster. How pitiful. Do you think she dresses and carries herself like that all the time or is she just putting on a show for us? I’m sure it’s the latter. She just wants the attention.”
Veskur pretended her quivering came from the rain.
She raised a hand, cleaving herself to the deluge and calling upon the very gods the Coeecians worshiped. She would show them a storm. She would pour all her anger and all her hate and everything else she was feeling into it, letting the storm wash her clean. She would do this thing, and when it was over and the Vanir were safe and the Coeecians were driven back, she would go back to her keep and try to remember what it was like to be among people that desired her presence.
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