Since The Day You Left V: Toughen or be Tossed
They found Chance in the stables.
But before they did, he just waited. He could hear the crowds and personnel drop into desperate clamor, and he knew that his team was successful. He found himself useless at this point in missions, given he discouraged himself from fighting. He knew he could, but experiences were burned in the back of his mind. They held him back. Even sparring in between missions proved difficult to do. He wished he could harden up, but memories kept him soft - broken. There was no time to let his heart cool before another memory burned it in despair.
Sudden silence crept about him. He leaned against a pole in the stable and tried to quiet his mind.
He began to whistle.
His tune was melancholy, like a lover’s lament. A haunting feeling would come over anyone who listened.
He remembered a stanza of the words.
“I went down by the riverside
That runs between the hazel'd halls
And on an apple-blossomed hill
I slept beside the golden falls.”
How did the rest go? He listened to it play in his head for a second, then mumbled the next verse.
“And as I wandered far in sleep
The fisher king flashed blue on gray
I heard a voice come from the deep
And call my name from far away.”
He ran a hand through his thick hair. Where were they? They should have succeeded by now. He waited and sat down against the pole.
The song stayed in his head and he mumbled the rest. It was a ballad that stuck with him when most of his memories became a haze. He hardly remembered the day he woke up in the snow, Breixo and Nóe looking at him with concern…
And they’re back from the dead.
Breixo, smartly dressed in the black uniform of a Solitary, deep sapphire cloak, and armed with a blue-tinted iron longsword, marched into the stables, not looking close to happy. His expression was less than satisfied.
You’re in for it now, Chance.
Sa’di, Nóe, and Arlo followed their disguised leader into the stable.
“You ruined it all, Chance!” Breixo half screamed.
“Guess who got the crown?” gloated Chance, motioning to Arlo, who puffed out his tiny chest with pride. “Guess what you didn’t steal?”
Breixo’s fists shook at his sides and his face looked ready to explode. “If you weren’t important to this team, then I’d send you to the wild packs! You deserted!”
Chance rolled his eyes and stood. “I didn’t desert. I showed Arlo my plan and let him do it himself.”
“‘E did so, too, Beeeray-shaw, sir!” Arlo defended. “I did spankin’ well, I did!”
Breixo halted him with a hand gesture. “Tân-pen, keep your whines to yourself.”
Arlo huffed and slumped over the hay bales at the sound of his demeaning nickname he had earned when they had met. Chance tossed him his toy soldier with a smirk, and the boy grinned his crooked tooth grin. Just as quickly as his smile crept across his face, he went back to his play.
“I can’t believe you, Chance.” Breixo shook his head quickly.
“Well, we succeeded, let’s just split our share and-” He leaned to the side and saw Sa’di, then frowned. “We’re not paying him, too, are we?”
“Breixo,” Sa’di raised his voice.
Breixo halted him as well. In Destrea and in Úda both, it was highly exhorted to respect elders, but the young man shut him up with no remorse. Sa’di was flustered, but he feared the sand-roamer’s ability to kill him.
“I don’t need to listen to this talk about money,” he grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest. “Ten drauffyrch each. No more, no less.”
Chance nodded. Ten drauffyrch was enough to buy out a tavern in the high class parts of Destrea, so no one was losing anything. He snuck a look at Arlo, whose bright green eyes widened at that notion.
Ooh, boy, thought Chance. I’ll have to monitor your spending particularly.
Breixo sighed and ran a tired hand over his face. Staring at Chance, he shook his head again, this time with a cooler head. “You, as sure as wolf’s bite, need to get over your soft heart. You’re a mercenary now, like us-”
“Shut it, Nóe!”
Breixo gave his brother a dangerous look before he finished, “and we need to toughen, aye? You need to toughen up and meet the battlefield, like I know you can do.”
Unlike a normal day, Breixo laid a brotherly hand on Chance’s shoulder. “Toughen or be tossed.”
The saying was the maxim of the Destrean mercenaries. Chance never listened, having been satisfied with his indirect job of strategist. It apparently applied now.
“Arlo, pack up,” Breixo ordered as he backed away and faced Sa’di. A dangerous glare overcame his visage. “And if you think twice about turning us in…”
Sa’di rolled his eyes. “The palace is more tiring than you think. Once a servant, you want to get out as quickly as possible.”
Nóe’s eyes lighted. “Like that beautiful Údaen girl-”
“Shut it, we’re not talking about that night,” decreed Breixo with a curt sweep of the hand. Nóe bowed his head like a humbled soldier. “Sa’di, I haven’t worked with you for long, and you’re not my friend. I’m not turning my back on you, either.”
Chance hefted Arlo on his back once the small boy took Breixo’s satchel, his toy soldier, and packed everything up just-so. If the countryman had a good relationship with any of the men in the mercenary team, it would be Arlo, given he was close to tolerable.
“We need to get the crown to Lord Crofton by sundown,” Nóe reminded the team, squinting at the dipping sun. “It won’t be easy, given the security will be tight at the keep’s bailey.”
Chance shook his head. “They’ll think we’ve escaped already,” he protested.
Nóe, Sa’di, Breixo, and Arlo all stared at him. However, their leader’s stare was softer, as if he believed he was right.
“Solitaries stay close to the castle and the keep,” he explained. “Several sweeps are done in these areas, but never at the bailey. We stay low where we are - just outside of the keep’s walls - for a few hours, then we can slip out to the bailey with enough time to cross to the Crofton Fief.”
Breixo nodded once. “Strategist,” he said bluntly, sitting down. “Very well. I’m convinced.”
Caislín knew what it was like to be her father while she was battling her illness.
“He ain’t doin’ so good,” the Údaen nurse sighed, shaking her head. Her accent was like the low-class Destreans’. “I’s’ll say he’ll git through the night, but I can’t promise t’morrow or the next day.”
Caislín’s eyes stung with tears. She nodded. “Thank you, Lane. May I have a moment alone with him?”
Lane looked down at the king, then back up at the princess. “H’won’t reply.” With that, she stood, curtsied to Caislín, and left the large bedroom chamber.
Caislín sat on the side of the bed and watched her father. His face was pale and his eyes were closed. She had to be brave to swallow down her tears.
“You were such a strong monarch, Dadi,” she sobbed. “I can only dream of being- being half the ruler you were.”
“Can you stay alive, Dadi? Please?”
Caislín patted his hand and stood again. Her shoulder hurt from the way the Údaen handled her so harshly, but it did not match the pain in her heart to see her father in such a critical stage.
Because of those… those rogues!
Caislín sighed and replaced her sadness with strength.
She would bring them to justice.