Posted by Darth Krzysztof
4 September 1380 C.E.
Quinn cracked an eye open to find that the sun had yet to rise. He sat up slowly, not sure how much of Nyleth’s wine he’d had to drink, nor how much his head would hate him for it – but he felt no pain. All weariness from the previous day had left his body; truth be told, Quinn had never felt better.
Moria must ha’ woke me up tae take a watch, he thought. He turned toward his friend, but Moria was nowhere to be seen. Quinn glanced up and down the beach, but saw no sign of Moria, or of Nyleth. Kash and his boat had also vanished, yet the little campfire still burned…
“Hells,” Quinn muttered. “What’d they do, ditch me here?” Kash had said that he was waiting for daylight before setting sail… at least, that’s what Nyleth had said that he’d said. Quinn’s skull was already crammed with too many words in too many languages, and he was in no rush to add Fomoraig to his vocabulary. Quinn had no cause to doubt Nyleth or Kash… but where were they?
He got to his feet, brushing sand off his lamellar armor. Cannae believe I’ve gotten used tae sleepin’ in mah fish scales. Lady Shardea’s right, though; if there’s trouble, there’s nae time tae git all dressed up again. He adjusted the angles of the blades hanging at his hips before reaching for his shield – but his hand froze, inches away. Someone had repainted its plain wooden face a deep, royal blue, the center marked by a white, nine-pointed star. Silver, he thought at once. In heraldry, white’s called silver.
He looked up and down the beach again, finding himself utterly alone. Who painted his shield? And why? Quinn was entitled to a coat of arms, now that he was a true Spellknight… “It’s fer Saint Immotion,” he muttered as the realization hit him. Nine illuminations, nine points to the star. Silver for purity, blue for fidelity. It was… perfect. And the shield’s weight as he ran his arm through the straps was as familiar, as comforting, as ever. He couldn’t help but smile.
Not sure what else to do, Quinn trudged toward the water, right hand on his falcata’s hilt. I dinnae ken what ye think ye’ll see, he told himself. It ain’t like boats leave tracks.
He drew breath to answer himself, but held it when he heard a faint sound coming from the treeline behind him. After a moment of straining, he said, “That sounds like… pipes.” Great Daleland bagpipes, to be more precise. Had Nyleth slipped off into the woods so her piping wouldn’t wake anyone up? Quinn couldn’t come up with a better explanation; there certainly seemed to be enough room in the elf’s bag for a set of bagpipes. He started toward the woods, trying to place the unfamiliar melody.
He emerged into a large torchlit clearing, occupied by half a dozen dry-stone buildings with thatched roofs. Blackhouses, Quinn thought. They’re called blackhouses. At least twenty people had gathered around a bagpiper, who played from atop a great boulder near the center of the clearing. Everything about these people – their clothes, their dirty faces, the way they danced to the tune – told Quinn that something impossible had just happened.
“Invershire,” he muttered. “Stone me, I’m back in Invershire.”
“Suren it’s about time, too,” Callum said, suddenly appearing by the Spellknight’s side to give him a fierce hug. Finally releasing him, Callum demanded, “Look at ye! Dressed like a knight, ye are.”
“That’s ‘cos a knight I am, Callum.”
“Oh, aye? Do I need tae call ye Ser Quinn Mac Teague, as ye please?”
“Nay,” Quinn lied, for Lady Shardea had dubbed him as such. Asking people to address him that way just seemed arrogant. “I dinnae have any land, or a title. I just made some vows, is all.”
Callum smiled, unwilling to let Quinn play his station down. He hadn’t aged a day in the eight years since Quinn had last seen him. “So where ha’ ye been?”
“Here an’ there,” Quinn said with a wave of his hand. “It might be easier tae tell ye where I havenae been.”
“Might be, a’that. Anyway, welcome home.” Callum’s expression sobered a bit. “Yer Da’s lookin’ fer ye.”
“Suren he is.” So much fer a pleasant homecoming, Quinn thought.
“There’s a lady knight with ‘im. They been talking aboot ye all night.”
What?! “Lady Shardea? She’s here?”
“Thass her,” Callum said with a nod. “Is she yer boss?”
“Ye could say that. Where are they?”
“Armory. Where else?”
Quinn nodded his gratitude and headed that way. “Good tae see ye,” Callum called after him, but the Spellknight didn’t hear.
Teague Mac Teague was showing Lady Shardea Brightdelve one of the armory’s masterwork claymores when Quinn entered. Typical in height and build, with blond hair and light brown eyes, Teague had given Quinn his temperament, but not his looks. Quinn tried to approach quietly, but clinking scale mail and bootheels clopping on flagstone betrayed his arrival. Shardea watched his approach, her expression unreadable; Invershire’s quartermaster returned the claymore to its wall mount before turning to face his son. “Been waitin’ on ya,” Teague said.
“Sorry. I dinnae ken that I’d been sent fer.”
Teague shook his head. “Not as if ye’d ha’come if’n ye had. Ye dinnae ken what yer beholden tae nae more.”
“I’m no Walkinshaw nae more, Da. I left this place an’ became a Spellknight.” Quinn gestured to Shardea. “Suren she’s told ye that.”
“An’ it was as a Spellknight that ye vowed to find the wee bairn, Alyssa. Tell me, have ye found her yet?”
“No’ yet,” Quinn replied, already well aware of where this was going.
“Why, then, were ye drinkin, an’ singin’. An’ dancin’. On a beach. When there’s a child who needs ye.”
Quinn took a deep breath and tried not to shout. “Now see here. Keepin’ the two of us alive’s been hard work, Da. An’ now there’s three of us. I ain’t holy enough tae do that kinda work wi’out food, or sleep. An’ I willnae push mah friends tae do the same.” He shrugged. “An’ if they wanna sing an’ dance, me bein’ all dour an’ sour wouldnae help wi’ nothin.”
“Carryin’ on dinnae show any respect fer the vows ye took.”
“It’s who I am, Da. All them songs an’ dances I learned right here, in Invershire. Swearin’ mahself to the Spellknights adds tae who I am. It doesnae erase who I was. Saints preserve, Da, listen tae me! I’m always gonna sound like a bloody Dalesman!”
“No matter how many languages ye learn, it seems.” A strange little smile crossed Teague’s face.
“It’s good tae learn foreign tongues,” Quinn said. “I’m on th’ other side of th’ world. At least, I was. An’ it’s bad enough stickin’ oot like I do wi’out takin’ th’ trouble tae try an’ show some bloody respect.”
“She teach ye that?” Teague pointed at Shardea, who still hadn’t spoken a word.
“Suren she did.”
Teague’s smile grew a bit more cruel. “An’ is that why ye’re learnin’ Lavinian, is it? Tae show some respect tae that wench?”
Quinn felt his cheeks burning already. “Dinnae call ‘er that, Da. Pastanti’s no wench.”
“She’s a servin’ girl in a tavern, lad. Thass what a wench IS.”
“Then call ‘er a servin’ girl. Cos that word … people use it tae mean a … promiscuous woman, too.” He hated to say such things in front of Lady Shardea, but he knew that his father would say much worse before this was done.
“Oh, aye? An’ how d’ye ken she’s nae whore!” Well, thought Quinn, that didnae take long. “Far as ye ken, there ain’t a soul in Balearaeos who hasnae had ‘is way with ‘er.”
“I know it in ‘ere.” Quinn tapped his heart with two fingers. “An’ I give ye fair warnin, Da. I willnae let ye speak o’her that way.”
“Fine.” Teague spat on the floor of his precious armory. “It’s ye I should be callin’ names, anyway. Worryin’ on yer precious servin’ girl when there’s a child tae find. Not tae mention them missing fey…. Good riddance, I says, but I thought that was the kind o’thing a Mystralyte hero’s supposed tae do.”
“I’m nae Mystralyte, Da. An’ I ain’t no hero. I’m jist tryin’ tae help.”
“Then DO that, Quinn. Stop thinkin’ with yer plonker an’ focus on helpin’ somebody, afore yer too late.”
Quinn looked down at his freshly painted shield: blue for fidelity, silver for purity. I’m true, he thought. Suren I’m true tae mah vows. An’ that’s important tae me … mebbe the most important thing tae me … but it ain’t the only important thing aboot me. I’m true tae mah friends. True tae mah roots, even when I wish I wasn’t. An’ I only speak truths.
Are ye pure, though? Suren I strive tae be. A man who serves a goddess of purity an’ cleansin’ needs tae be. Still, this feelin’ ye have fer Pastanti … it’s real, I ken that now, an’ I thought it was somethin’ pure. But what if it’s … vulgar? Quinn had seen what men would do in the name of lust, after all, and he knew what beauty like Pastanti’s would do to such men. Could she be affecting Quinn more than he realized?
“Nae,” he said, and quite loudly. “You listen tae me, Da. Yer love for Ma ne’er got in th’ way of doin’ yer duty. If Pastanti’ll have me, it won’t get in th’ way o’mine.”
Teague crossed the short distance between them, drawing mere inches from his only child’s face. “I never claimed tae love yer Ma, Quinn,” he growled. Then: “Or ye.”
With that, Teague Mac Teague stalked out of the armory. Quinn watched him go, unable to move or speak until he felt a light touch on his shoulder. The Spellknight turned to see the lovely face of Lady Shardea Brightdelve. “You love her,” Shardea said. “Do you not, Syr Qwynn?”
“Aye,” Quinn said, feeling unworthy of the title, especially coming from her mouth. But his own words felt so right… “I think I do.”
She popped the side of his head, hard, then placed his hand over his heart. “Love’s not thynkyng, fool! It’s feelyng. What do you feel?”
“Love,” Quinn blurted at once. Stone me, it’s true.
“That’s bettyr.” Lady Shardea’s fingers rose to brush along his cheek, then they were gone. “Tell her whyn you see her nyxt.”
“I dinnae ken if I can do that.”
He blocked her attempt to smack him again but failed to keep her other hand from finding the back of his head. “Why do you hesytate to love, but not to fyght?”
“Cos ye trained me tae fight,” Quinn said at once. “Better’n I ever could ha’ learned here in Invershire. But, every time there’s been a girl…”
She turned reproachful eyes on him. “Thys is no dyffyrynt than anythyng else I taught you. You try untyl you wyn.”
“Suren yer right,” Quinn admitted. “I jist… I dinnae ken what I’ll do.”
“She lykes you, doesn’t she?”
He shrugged. “I guess. Moria seems tae think so, leastways.”
“All right, fine. She likes me. She called me ‘Apsifoppotis.’ Means ‘brave knight.’”
Shardea’s eyes sparkled in the torchlight. “Dyd she. Thyn do anythyng. Yf she feels the same, yt’ll be enough.”
“All right. I will.”
“Good man,” Shardea sighed, clapping him on the back before turning to leave.
“My lady?” he said, causing the Arcane Order’s Sword Arm to stop. Ye’ll nev’er get this chance again. “There’s talk in Mathghamhna aboot ye and Chancellor Japheth… I hate tae ask, but: is there anything to it?”
The smile she turned on him was the most enigmatic thing Quinn had ever seen; it made Moria seem positively easy to read by comparison. “Syr Qwynn Mac Teague. Yt’s none of your bysynyss when you’re awake, and yt’s none of your bysnyss here.”
Quinn felt his heart sink. “Damn. This is a dream, innit.”
“Yes. And now you must awaken.” She suddenly leaned forward to place a gentle kiss on Quinn’s lips. “But maybe thys wyll help you rymymbyr what I told you…”