More Than Faith October #BlogBattle-Dream

Dream Scape (2)

The sun began setting behind a drift of rain, the walls of Parledach took on the now familiar image of a beast hunched, deadly being cornered in the hunt. The light from the constant flames of damage within and without adding to the ominous threats both hunters and hunted presented. Hunkered in the trenches the hounds of that hunt waited for the next order; soldiers of disparate regions and abilities all at the Imperial behest to bring down this creature of rebellion. Another assault under the cloak of night, accepting the stumbling over ravaged ground, with the hidden traps, for the gift of darkness’ cover, and no problem with direction, you could hardly miss looming town walls.

One section of trench was comparatively tidy as the troopers of LifeGuard engineers industriously checked equipment, in particular the powerful petards to be set against the iron and wood gate, a location they had been patiently digging to, thus lessening the distance.

The smaller figure sat upon a pile of wood methodically storing and securing equipment designed to repair the tools of injury and demolition. Twenty two days she had been here. Part of another of the elite LifeGuard’s contributions, a medical half company. Mostly obliged to care for the injured or sickening lords and senior officers. Ten days ago, she and another medician had been sent to supply emergency aid to the engineers who needed and deserved it. Yesterday Medician Quedir had slipped and died on a discarded blade at an odd angle. It surprised unbloodied folk how many died of accidents on battlefields. Medician Beritt hoped the quota of ill-luck was used up. It had been a bad five days; six dead and three incapacitated was a heavy price on a company starting at fifty and already depleted by an earlier eleven. That’s why she and Quedir had been sent, try and repair minor injuries and turn them back into the fight, show that The Command cared. Quedir’s death had hit hard, it smelt of ill-luck, like smoke and fumes it drained and choked even engineers who lived in the jagged and sudden places.

The captain whose features spoke to her of badly maintained road shambled over to her. He tried a grateful smile, instead the actioned reminded her of the rictus of dying. Being a medician gave you perception.

‘As always, your presence in the attack will be appreciated medician,’ she reckoned he was going to say more but the words appeared stuck, she tried to help them on.

‘Jus’ doin’ mah required duties Cap’n,’ she laid on her sudd-hengestatian accent thick, the general opinion was her folk were nascent roguish clowns, but leather tough and unflappable. She played to the crowd keeping her own feeling tight within. Good for morale? Had the rictus smoothed out?

‘Well you try and be careful medician,’ Scraith but this siege was a bad one ‘We need you,’ And frib’ ,Was he pleading now?

Quick glances up and down the line. She could see pity, concern and some disgust; soldiers knowing their captain was losing whatever captains were supposed to have.

The rain picked up, pushed on by the sudden arrival of a chill wind. Never trust Spring, her farming pa used to say.

‘Breakfast in a sewer,’ groaned a trooper engineer ‘This weather is gonna turn five hundred yards into three miles. Hold my hand Stitches,’ he said to Beritt dredging up some humour. ‘I’m nervous,’

‘Trex,’ she growled ‘Ah’m not touching anything of yours without gauntlets on,’

Laughter skittered about. Thus, pair bantered back and forth, sharing a sudden burden to keep morale steady.

These heroic efforts were to fade as the night settled in and the support ordinance began to call out its arrival, pounding walls and beyond.

‘They’re on target tonight,’ someone said in grim relief, promptly followed by the roar of an explosion further up the right, and a trembling along the trench; screams and curses followed. Then the fearful judgement they all hated ‘Shortfall’

‘That bitty scratching won’t help Stitches,’ Trex said with true sympathy, and Beritt realised she had been clawing at the trench wall. ‘We all do it,’ he added.

‘Prepare’ the captain called out, his voice, quite steady but a sudden illumination displayed the creeping fear.

‘Scraith. They’ve got a whych up there,’

Beritt in a detached way fear brought put the commentator from the south and east of the empire where such terms were used for those who dabbled in the Ethereal. This one was for lighting up places making stark the ground before them bright with a metallic sharpness. A heavy hand fell upon her shoulder, she turned to the stone faced sergeant, the last one of his rank.

‘Don’t forget Medician. Stay back in the rush. That’s where your work will be,’

‘I know sarge’, ‘she said, wondering why he’d felt the need to say that, she’d scrambled out of the trench three times since her arrival attending to and dragging back the injured who had a chance.

‘Ready engineers,’ called out the captain, the word ‘forward’ trembling on his lips.

The sergeant stood up, looked to the ground ahead and said above all the roar, and with all due respect.

‘Captain. You can go and scraith yourself,’ and with that drove his combat knife efficiently into his own neck, as he fell, the blood showering over Beritt’s boots.

The company survivors looked down at the body, Beritt in the grip of her training checking he was indeed dead.

‘Damn,’ said Trex ‘That’s a shame. Poor ol’ Sarge Ferred,’

‘Just lost his step on the road. That’s all,’ one Beritt knew just as ‘Cheerful Chye’ spoke in his usual fatalistic way. ‘One charge too many,’

The Captain, tears beginning to trickle, nonetheless scrambled out of the trench.

‘C’mon,’ he cried hoarsely ‘I’m not letting Ferred be remembered just for this. He was there for us every other time. C’mon,’ this time the command came as a visceral roar, and not looking back he was off.

Trex huffed, Chye wiped his nose on his sleeve and they were off, the rest following. Beritt closed Ferred’s eyes and placed his cap over his face and obeyed his last order.

 

To either side of her, there were lines, columns and clumps of men hurling themselves to the walls; distractions she reckoned, for that fellow with the lights was swinging his attention in all directions, panicked, she felt. Two engineers were down, wounds sufficient for her know that was it. Another clutched his leg, bone protruding. She slipped alongside, the swearing fellow, pushed a bottle of her own mix into his mouth and while he drunk she set a crude splint on his leg.

‘What the scraith was that Stitches,’ he gasped at the liquid burnt down his throat.

‘Make you forget the pain. Y’all crawl back now,’ she said and was in pursuit of the rest. Another was seated on a mound, holding his left arm by a thread and saying ‘Oh dear. Oh dear,’ over and over in a slightly distressed way. Beritt unhunched up to him, consoled him, into having another of her mixes to drink, snipped through last threads of flesh, gave him the arm to hold, while she slapped some ‘goop’ on the wound to staunch the blood.

‘Now trooper y’all get your backside back to LifeGuard Command. Hear?’

‘Will do Stitches. Oh dear. Oh dear,’

 

Beritt sloshed and slipped on, the force of a nearby detonation hurling her into the cover of an upturned cart. Troopers were catching breath and whatever sanctuary they could. Trex was snarling, lifting up the heavy barreled falconade, an Ethereally powered device, aiming at the fellow on the walls. A dulled red bolt of energy hissed forth, catching the target, pitching him back, screaming and burning. Trex howled in high-pitched unhinged glee, jumping up and down, heedless of the danger.

‘Yeah! Gotcha you braxer! Weren’t ready for that uh?’

Beritt tugged at his belt to get him into cover, he lashed at her, told her she was a bitty girl and stick to stitching folks up. In response she kneed him in the groin, as he bent double her fist struck him in the jaw, sending him into the wagon. Whereupon she jumped on his chest and shaking him.

‘Y’all keep tha’ damn stupid head down, knuckle brain. T’otherwise Ah’ll kick yore delicates over tha’ wall!’

And was gone towards the next injury.

Trex blinked, puzzled.

‘Was that Stitches who pounded me?’

‘You did have it coming,’ Chye observed.

Beritt was curtailing a bleeding arm when a group reached the gate. Five of them two hold up wooden cover while the Captain supervised the fixing of the explosives, missiles and rubble either deliberate or by detention falling about the party. The remainder of the company unleashed aimed missile contributions. A battle against circumstance and chance taking place. You could not expect luck to hold in that storm of Humanity’s cursed doing.

One of the shield bearers was caught in the wash of some incendiary, thus turning to a threshing thing.

A chorus of oaths and two troopers were out dashing to assist; Beritt in their wake, eyes fixed on the victim, who in his pain had knocked into the another working at the charge. Beritt lighter and used to sprinting to suffering, gauntleted reached the growing crisis first, snatched the burning man, with heels dug in pulled him away, throwing him to the ground, leaving everyone else to whatever was necessary, burning fleshing assailing her nose, screams into her ears. Knife drawn she plunged it into the man’s throat, the screams turning to a gurgle, and finally a sigh. She looked up, no one questioned her releasing the fellow and stemming his panic. Anyway, they were busy.

‘Charges set ready,’ came the practiced call.

‘Charges ignited,’ the second.

‘Retire,’ the captain commanded.

At this the cover was dropped and the men turned to run.

Beritt did not know the whys and hows, but the charges seemed to explode too early, throwing everyone to their faces into the filth. Although winded she managed to get to her feet, squinting into the smoke and flame she looked for injuries.

‘Scraith. We done it,’ that was Trex, then hoarse and scared ‘Where The Cap’n?’

Beritt was already crawling to the latest body.

‘He’s down,’ she yelled, swearing on reaching him, some piece of debris flung by the explosion had sliced open his midriff, she supposed he had been looking back to check the effects. Not a place to conduct anything medical she began to haul him back, fortunate he was unconscious, others reached her and between them they got him into the trench, where she worked to cover the injury, keep the filth out and innards in. There was a lot of talk and shouting going on, nothing to do with her. His eyes flickered open, and she forced open his mouth to administer the last of her mixes, he proffered thanks, as she continued.

‘Keep me alive until we are relieved,’ he hissed ‘Someone has to give orders,’

In their trench, now forgotten as soldiers tore at the gap and fought into the town, the engineers waited, as ordered by their dying captain, the medician keeping his pain bearable and innards secured.

An officer arrived, gaunt and as bloodied as they were.

‘Engineers. Your task his done retire to LifeGuard Command,’

The man knelt by his fellow officer, words were exchanged, the captain died.

The medician punched the side of the trench.

‘Lieutenant sir?’ she asked, ‘Did you see two troopers making their ways back,’

‘One crawling and one who had lost his arm?’

‘Yes sir,’

‘I am afraid I saw their bodies,’

‘Scraith! Damn to fifth hell!’

‘You did your best medician. You couldn’t be expected to save folk with such wounds. Not here,’

Lined and dirty face, her lips twisted into what expression the officer could not make out.

‘A girl can dream sir,’

And a girl would dream. 

Tonight.

The wrong sorts.

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As Legions Before Us. We Will Be Tested

Child victim of War

Foreword: Two previous attempts at this post binned; five days of rehearsing paragraphs in my head before they made it to the page, and I still don’t know if  it is even close to the original intention. The drive would not let me rest though. Bear with me. Encapsulating these aspects of The Human Condition were never destined to be easy.

Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, then Libya, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Northern Mozambique, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Niger (to name but seven of the approximately twenty plus conflicts in Africa), Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, (blink and you might miss those two) and now a war in Ukraine which is coming into its eighth year when shorn of the curtain of a fight for independence by minorities was elevated to one which cannot be avoided. These are the sometime headline ones; not the ones packaged into small items on the brutally repressive regimes and the bloody conflicts between communities or criminal gangs.

Ukraine. If we are starkly honest with ourselves, and this is a time to be so, this one takes hold of us by the heart and mind, because those folk and their towns look so very similar to our own. And in the next sentences I walk a literary minefield. Do we notice more because of the colour of their skins. Yes? For the simple reason that familiarity brings a greater degree of emotion. Deep inside lurks the feeling with a myriad of deeper causes ‘That could be me. Us,’  You can’t stop it. No more than someone native to any of the nations above would bitterly think ‘Welcome to our world. You, of The First World,’ Human nature: You might be blessed enough to have the gift of Thinking Before Speaking; dare anyone here claim they have the gift of Perception Before Feeling? You will have to accept, I don’t believe you. No person has that sort of Objectivity. The Invasion of Ukraine, an industrial powered, visceral, savage, unavoidable, twenty-four seven media reminder what has been going on non-stop somewhere, sometime, somehow. For some folk who follow the world news, maybe the last straw. If anyone out there and has been weeping, threshing, howling, shutting down their TV or laptop save for rom-coms, sports feeds, domestic themed shows, or wildlife documentaries….I for one don’t blame you. Just come back to us some time.

And of course there are those issues on your doorstep. Pandemic, voter suppression, job security, rising prices, civil rights, domestic and civic violence, environmental concerns; those for examples. We agonise and rage over what is happening in Ukraine, but we worry about doorstep issues. We even might taste fear over one or more of them, dread them starting to link up, like a series of small forest fires merging into one vast wall of speeding immolation.

A short while back, I wrote about the importance of Hope. A plea to not to give way to despair. In all honesty an easier work to write. This is about the application of Hope. … Firstly we can all Hope, and we can all believe we will sustain the intention in a good way. Until our own Reality comes in; the inescapable truth of a War in The First World. Not just in the fierce imposition of the media, or the stream of consciousness interchanges between others. It comes creeping up on us. Sometimes swirling about us when we planned on going to sleep, or maybe dragging us out of a restless half-place, or maybe hovering there while we go about our daily chores, worse intruding upon our leisure time asking ‘Should you be….’  

You will be tested. I cannot predict how, where or when. I can tell you those myriad of emotions you are feeling are part of rehearsal. Steady yourself for a journey into a Batman’s Gotham City grotesque warping of Doctor Suess’ ‘Oh The Places You’ll Go’. You could already be finding you are wishing one man dead, perhaps joyfully celebrating resistance and shrugging at the sight of dead Russian soldiers, bitterly seeing those in your country who are ‘soft’ on Russia as not just wrong or nuisances but traitors and possibly paid by Moscow. Be prepared to be feeling emotions beyond anger, to find callousness has become part of your prism. You will be drawn in. Conflict and War are most adept at justifying; the shock being you will believe, In This Case, it was right to embrace them. If you ever thought you were angry over something outside of your own personal life, now you are stepping up (or down-depends on your viewpoint) a piece. Beware how you tread; an emotional solution the Ukraine could became your template for problems at home. You might well feel fatigue at some stage, taking comfort when the news slips down the ratings…’Can’t be so bad anymore?’ Really?

Those words disturb you? Do you feel I have stepped too far into incitement, a tabloid rabble-rouser, safe in his age and home? Are you, instead nodding your head and invoking battle criesIf You Want Peace Prepare For War’, ‘Democracies Don’t Start Wars. We Finish Them,’ ‘Justifiable War. It’s In The Bible’ (it’s not actually -Augustine of Hippo might have been the first to write on the subject). Or are you shaking your head and thinking What is he on about? I don’t understand where he is going with this?’. Perhaps you are there gnawing on your lips and saying ‘Well. Yes. But there has to be a better way. There must be. Surely we can’t keep on killing. Can we?’. There we are then. You, me, others; drawn into in a confused internal conflict where principals, ethics we are told about and the ever raw emotions collide, maybe merging in pairs or a trio only to fly apart like some of the more exquisite subatomic particles, or remain in constant antagonism. Whichever; they will plague us with a constant restlessness, even if that be only a far off rumbling of someone else’s storm.

You might cryTested? I did not sign up for this!’ Well sorry soldier, The Human World’s dynamics has the monopoly on this particular conscription, switch on some communication,  step, outside the door. Yep. You’re drafted. Even trying to be detached is some kind of statement. Your only other option is Hermitage while trying to avoid the Media finding out about you and placing you in today’s circus side-show.   

Regrettably there are no test-papers, no Yes/No/Maybe forms to fill in or on-line courses for you to tackle to see if you have passed as an In-Tune Human. (We don’t count social media for this circumstance, there are too many opportunities for pollution by those who wouldn’t even qualify for consideration to try the test; they come from Right, Left and up underneath). Thus you justifiably ask ‘You are telling me an awful lot of grim stuff. Is that all you are dealing in this time. Some Old Testament prophet re-enactments?’ 

Well, maybe. Or look at it this way. This is a journey. The weather is unsettled, make sure you carry an umbrella, a hat, and a shower proof jacket in a back-pack. Ones woven with judgement, perception and reflection. Unsettled weather. Best carry a bottle of cool reason ease the parched feeling brought on by the sudden heatwave of anger. Take opportunities to find yourself some shelter to get out of the extremes; wait for the breaks, indulge yourself in the respite. If you can grasp a short span of calm and understanding, a wish to be charitable or helpful in some positive and constructive way, thus you are coping, you are not destroying. ‘So far so good’; ‘I could have done worse’ ;’I’ll know better next time’  Maybe not the most positive of statements or evaluations, but, in testing times perpetual excellence leads to burn out, or worse Arrogance – the doorway to…..too many bad choices.

To conclude The Testing will not end in the foreseeable future. Your continued, dogged, sanguine efforts to help the victims and stand against oppression mixed with the realisation we are all fated to stumble at times, not living up to expectations; these will be part of the way upwards and outwards. Surviving and then washing away this latest deluge of the dross of Ignorance and Aggression.

Take care of yourselves folks. You are a precious resource.

Those Varying Borderlands of Gloom and Light

The Gloom

Working in the gloom was not uncommon. All mediums came with advantages and drawbacks, seldom were they unconditionally generous.

Here, there was Dankness of the dripping sort which had soon put an end to his torch. He never had cared for lamps with their greasy or oily fumes and cumbersome inclinations. Far better to enhance limited vision with your other senses, and of course caution. Arguably you might be better off without a torch anyway, for then you could wield your sword easier without the glare impeding your vision. Find your way by steady step and one hand gliding over the nearest wall. And always remember the watcher whatever or whoever they were had the first advantage, some sort of advantage of your own.

This would be a poor and humiliating place to find luck had finally expired. No grand venture for some noble close to the Imperial Throne, who desired something but whose rank required discretion. Instead in a remote squalid location, simply to make good on an error, a salve to a petty lord with far more vanity and ill-conceived pride than character. A place where small, slithering base things dwelt, their deadliness paid out in sly, instinctive reactions, no sliver of comfort that they revelled in the kill; no roaring out a challenge and bellowing victory over your body. Not for you the bleached skull posted somewhere to mark your end, only the slow ugly decay as smaller things feasted on your flesh, chewed on your bones and what was left was rolled along by a fetid stream to be swallowed by swamp or mud. These were the places which usually claimed the inexperienced or the lost. The humiliation would be of someone finding out where The End had finally been met and for what reason.

He stopped to steady himself, intending to shake loose the creeping tendrils of Desolation such places and circumstances birthed. He had traversed sharper places. He should treat this as no more than groping around in a sewer for a misplaced purse. Time to gather in all the instincts and experiences, treat this as but a task to be done and no more.     

He wanted to move on, for there was no option. However all hard gained knowledge and perceptions warned him there was something else out there, aside from any small creature. Waiting, lurking, watching. Whatever this was had been very still and patient, until his closing proximity appeared to have unsettled this stance, there was a rising of breath, the barest of sounds of movement. He stilled the irrational relief at a possible challenge, there were always the creatures, one careless move could cause them to strike out from their deep, wet gloom, and there would be no contest.

‘Hey fellah,’ the traditional greeting to a stranger came in clear, slightly anxious words surprising him. A greeting by anything so female should be sultry, tempting, lowering your guard before the strike. The eyes not two person’s length away widened, as if to signal there was no threat; a good killer always kept their eyes hooded in darkness, eyes could reflect even the barest of light.

‘Hey yourself girl,’ he replied, also honouring tradition, he kept alert but spoke casually, good manners cost nothing ‘Are you lost or here with a purpose?’

Carefully viewing and measuring the shifting of the shades of gloom, he discerned the outline of someone seated against the wall, legs hunched up to avoid the dangerous pools and watery traces.

‘Never get lost,’ came the sulking reply ‘Don’t reckon on doing so neither,’

The drawl placed her from Hengestatia, a land he believed to be populated entirely by restless nonconformists.

‘How about you fellah? Come in out of the rain? Or,’ a mournful sigh issued ‘You intending to make a fool of yourself too?’  

‘Comments which suggest you know something more than I do,’

‘I wouldn’t say that. I’m hearing an experienced and cultured venturer coming to a soul-sucking forlorn and remote place for no more than a candlestick which would get the finder laughed at on most markets be they open or behind doors,’ a bitter laugh followed ‘Now why would that happen? Unless said venturer been so long in highly thought of quests they forgot to look down and tripped over their own reputation?’

Hengestatians, ever loquacious, even if they were astute. 

‘Very well. On taking a short cut I inadvertently insulted a local lord of low character and intellect when stopping his drunken obnoxious son from forcing his attentions on a tavern serving girl; fists and an introduction to a midden were involved. The lord required I look for this lost valuable family artifact, or he would burn down the tavern as he co-blamed the owner. You?’ the last word was pointed.

There followed the sound of something lightly striking the wall, he guessed it was the back of her head.

‘Nothing as noble as yours. Common enough stumbling amongst the ranks of us lesser venturers. Did start in a tavern though. Got to drinking with fellow scrabblers and we started to swap notions on which would be the most stupid of quests here abouts and someone came up with The Candelabrum of House Waardeloos; them being an object of derision in this princedom, so singularly useless and negligible, folk of your style would not have heard of them,’

‘I have now,’ he said bitterly ‘Go on, there must be more,’

‘C’mon over here classy venturer,’ he stiffened at the overture, relaxed at the sudden weariness causing a thickening of the accent ‘I don’t feel much like speakin’ this out loud,’ a cough of a laugh followed by an obscenity ‘Scraith. Don’t it get tiring?’

Caution his byword as he grew closer, there was a flick of a match and a faint geometric glow from a box she held. A young lined face, framed in pale hair, she was possibly a handspan taller than most women, dressed in travel hardened leathers and buckskins, a wide-brimmed hat flipped back, a tough smile.

‘My. An’t you a looker too,’ she patted the rock gesturing him to sit. He slumped down next to her ‘You’ll like the joke on this one. We got around to cards. I musta drunk a smidge too much. Kept playing the hands bad. Ended up betting my best sword, knife and gauntlets. Lost. At the time, seemed they were being kindly over it. Said if I could bring back that stupid-ass’d candle, it would make up for being so stupid as to lose my gear,’ she tailed off with a long sigh. ‘Least I had the sense to keep mechanical illumination,’

‘No disrespect, I have heard funnier endings to stories,’

‘An’t done yet,’ the sulking again. ‘Cause the punch-line only came to me when I got here. I’ve been down the tunnel a bit, comes to a sudden drop, my little gubbinz here only illuminates to gloom ten paces, so down goes a stone. Counted,’ she held up a hand ‘Six…damn six…. That’s like two hundred paces, ‘bout a hundred man drop. And’ she held up one finger to the gloom. There’s no going beyond that drop. S’ a wall,’ she bumped her head again ‘Set me thinking, those fellows knew it would end up here. No one carries two hundred paces of rope or clambers into nowhere for a market day selling candle. They set me up to fail, keeping really good quality weaponry,’

‘And I by honour bound was obliged to try,’ he said in empathy.

‘There was a splash too,’ she added ‘Frib’ knows what would be waiting down there,’

They looked at each other, the shared expression of two who should have known better, but had let one guard or another down and wandered into situations they had usually avoided.

‘Luck and sense run out with the best of us,’ she said, then suddenly extended a hand to him ‘Betherelle Gettis,’ by way of introduction.

‘Varow Dekyria,’ he replied and shook her hand.   

They lapsed back into silence.

Previously he had expected one day in battle, old injuries, age, over-confidence, poor judgement or some quirky event would be his downfall. Not just running out of confidence and the humiliation of being herded here like some farm animal, tethered by Honour and Reputation.

‘Unless I get that candlestick he will burn down the tavern,’ he said, hoping speaking out the words would give him resolve.

‘Sure Master Venturer Dekyria. You go and try, lose you grip and fall, into some deep ice cold water which’ll rip your breath out, stop you swimming to the plinth or whatever. Or trying to clamber up, cold, shivering, losing that grip again,’ a slight shrug ‘Me, I just lose good gear, walk away looking a fool. I can get good gear again, go to another part of the empire, piece together another ragged sort of a reputation,’

‘You must be short on resources,’

‘At my end of the business a little bit of light  thievery is not frowned upon,’

The word  landed lightly first as an observation, then settled.

‘What sort of light thievery Betherelle Gettis?’

‘Don’t sound so censorious Master Venturer Dekyria. Finding unsecure windows and doors and tippy-toeing into places where folk can afford a small loss,’ a little hurt seeped into her voice ‘All beneath your status I am sure,’

‘I apologise. My curiosity took hold,’

‘You sound suddenly planful,’

A pause that stretched her nerves followed.

‘Much experience of combat with your lost sword and knife?’

‘An interesting question,’ she sat up ‘Since we’re down amongst the drainage as it were, no. Mostly fists and knees, or hilt of the sword on the nogging. Sharp end for defence before running off. Only served mild wounds and maybe two deaths to my name. My line is scouting, look-out, being an extra body to intimidate, relieving of fat purses by hard suggestion and,’ brittle cough ‘That light thievery. Good at it all too,’ her eyes glinted knowingly ‘Combat? You’d probably see me off in a count of five. If I was lucky to get the chance to flee, that is. What’re you scheming all of a sudden?’

‘My experience’ he chose his words ‘Is more in combat. I can moved deftly, but had the luxury of feeling if discovered I could fight my way out. You seem far better based for avoiding danger,’

‘Know your limits I say. What road are we treading? I’m guessing there’s a ‘We’ in this chat,’ 

‘I admit on realising the true extent of this wretched business I fell prey to despondency. Listening to your view of this work I am angry at being caught out by such a wretch and his worthless son. The candlestick is of no importance. The well being of the tavener, his family, staff and neighbours are. This lord is in the way,’

There was a long low whistle.

‘You gonna remove him and his progeny from this mortal world? That’s a turn around, heavy duty, no mistake,’

‘It would not be the first time I have been part of such an enterprise. I only need someone who is deft at finding their way into a place,’

A soft puff of an exclamation.

‘I dunno. I got no quarrel with this fellow. Killing lords hangs around you for a long time and distance,’

‘There again Betherelle Gettis. Success in such a venture also gives you a new sort of status to those higher than mere lords,’

‘Oh my. Here was I thinking you worked only noble causes,’ she fingered the box, light and shade moving across her face’ Mope in here, slouch out. Or?’

There was a  smirk.

‘I’ll see you in then and watch your back?’

‘One extra matter,’

‘Yeah?’ suspicion

‘Best we marry after. Husband and wife teams carry more value and oddly, dignity,’

‘Why, Master Venturer Dekyria. How could a girl refuse such an offer?’