Every movement was pain, but Emmeline felt it as a distant nagging, a warning that each step she took, more of her life blood spattered on the stony ground beneath the gates of Calder Keep. She knew that Renee and Elemix were saying something to her but she didn’t hear them. She kept thinking about how cold the Baron’s hand was, how grey his face and still his chest.
She’d leaped at the chance to go against the goblin army with Elemix and Renee. She wanted the goblins that had hurt her Baron dead, their families dead, every one of their friends dead.
Someone had her by the arm. Blinking she stared around her and wondered where all the color had gone. Why was everything looking so dim. She looked down and saw there were arrows in her chest, two down one thigh, one through a hand and another in her shoulder. Her back hurt, so she was pretty sure arrows had struck her there, too. This explained why people around her seemed to be fretting. She didn’t like all the buzzing, so she closed her eyes a moment.
It was morning. Golden light punished her eyes as she blinked and looked around. Her body was stiff and it still hurt. She’d taxed her body severely between battle with the hag and then battles with the goblins. The last battle, drawing off the army so Elemix and Renee could get across the river to safetyh, had nearly killed her. She knew that. But she had wanted to hurt the goblins some more.
Elemix had hurt them severely. Their cleric and some of the leaders had been killed in the conflagrations he unleashed. She knew that Mara had had something to do with giving Elemix the strength to recover his magic without a full night’s rest. She couldn’t feel Mara now. The loss made her sink further into herself. How long would Mara be gone? She didn’t know.
Mara! Had Mara asked for her first born daughter? What was it that Emmeline had bargained for? She owed Mara her firstborn daughter now. Was it in exchange for giving Elemix an instant rest? It seemed like it was something more than just that, but what? She would deal with it later.
She wandered the castle like a ghost, going from room to room until she found where they had laid the Baron. In the chapel to Aarith, they’d brought in a table and carefully laid him there. His armor had been removed, his body cleaned and dressed in noble finery. Somewhere in the castle someone was probably working on the Baron’s armor, pounding out a hundred dents and rents, patching where it needed and making it ready in hopes the Baron would don it once more.
The spell she’d woven to preserve him made him seem as if he was only sleeping. Perhaps he would awaken when Jocelyn said her prayers. She went to him and the only thing in the room that had color was the cold, dead flesh of the Baron Roland.
She’d missed his fall by three hours. Three! If she could only have been there in time, she might have spared him this. What if he would not return? Her broken heart couldn’t take the thought. It felt like part of her would die.
Emmeline took his hand in her own bandaged hand. In her mind, she spoke with the Baron, imagining what he might say to her if he were alive right now.
“My lord,” she would have said, with a deep curtsy. She would have kissed his hand and it would have been warm, alive. He might have taken her in his arms since they were alone.
Then he would have told her that he needed her to help the people again. He was ever the warrior, but he needed her to show the gentleness he could not and to protect the people when he was away.
She had not been gentle last night. It had run against the grain of her personality but she’d done it anyway. She could hear him asking her why she would take such a terrible risk.
“To save my friends,” Emmeline answered aloud. “Elemix is the only wizard of Uzec and Calder needs him. The goblins will be at the gates again, vengeance in their minds.”
She imagined him asking her what she would do with the goblins rally.
“I will be here, with you,” she said.
But he was dead. There was nothing she could do for him.
Tears ran down her face. “I can’t leave you like this!” She whispered, “I love you.”
He didn’t like open displays of affection, but this was private. Still, she imagined he could not chastise her for doing something that he did himself to protect his people.
“Please don’t go,” she murmured. “Please come back.” No one was there to hear her plea, not the Baron, and not Mara.
She closed her eyes, just for a moment. And then someone was leading her away. She looked around vaguely but didn’t recognize the older gentlemen at her right, nor the kind-faced but worried older woman to her left. The old woman said, “Our apologies, Lady, but the Lady Rivanon needed to pay her respects, while there is time before the next attack.”
Emmeline didn’t respond, but let them lead her away. They left the little chapel and crossed a small courtyard. To Emmeline’s eyes, men and women were running everywhere, most in bandages. They were collecting arrows, moving barrels, and anxiously tending to the few surviving horses that were left. Some stopped to ask her questions, perhaps about helping the defense, but she didn’t answer. She didn’t have any answers. A few were smiling and they pointed at the sky, clear for the first time in weeks. But Em didn’t see the bright blue overhead. It all looked grey to her.
When she realized that the older couple were taking her to guest quarters, she pulled free of them, turned and headed up the stairs to the top of the castle walls. When the goblins attacked, she mean to kill a great many this time. More than last time. She would have ignored everything else until the next battle but that was yet to come had Etienne not appeared at that moment.
“M’lady,” the stoic young knight said, “I grieve for your loss, though I pray to Aarith that yours will be temporary pain. I have witnessed the priests raise the newly dead once before.” He paused and then said, “thank you for trying to make my father whole. Even though it did not succeed, you tried.”
Emmeline turned and stared at Etienne. “Sir Knight,” she murmured, “I am so sorry. I could not get close to the camp.” She reached for and clutched his arm. “All those who dared to dishonor your father burn in primordial fire now. Small comfort for your father, for you…”
“I thank you for that. My father has gone to join my mother,” he said. “I would not take that from him. In any event he was raised once years ago, before I was born. The Temple does not look fondly upon the privileged gaining such a blessing more than once, except under dire circumstances. Father died saving others alongside his Baron and friend. He would consider such a death an honor. Last year you and your friends saved some of the very knights and soldiers who made a difference in saving the townsfolk and holding this Keep. This includes me. I will mourn for my father, but this winter and the goblin raids are not over.”
She turned and leaned heavily upon a merlon. “I am so tired, Sir Etienne. But I hear you. I cannot rest. We have to do more than survive the next attack. The old songs say we must hurt them so badly they will not return. Do we have the strength to do it?”
“Lady d’Uzec wants to rest up tonight. She’s impressed villagers to act as lookouts and to man the parapets as if they were soldiers. She proposes we get every horse and every strong rider and make a cavalry raid against the goblin camps during the bright of day. I’m not sure how wise that is, but I want to believe it can be done. Unlike the rest of us, myself included…” a single tear could be seen rolling down his otherwise stoic face. “I mean my father is gone – forever, as are the others. She is a rock against the wind.”
Emmeline turned and put her back to the merlon and slid down to sit on the hard stone of the parapet. She laughed but her heart wasn’t int it. “I’ve seen their numbers. For the Lady’s sally to succeed, we will need an edge. But Lady d’Uzec knows what I can do. She’ll make the cavalry attack a distraction, I think. She must send me to destroy their camp while they are off in a futile attempt to catch you. Elemix is a practically a battlemage; he’ll keep their attention with you. And you must keep him alive; he’s worth more to you than I. When they turn back to the camps, Lady Rivanon could turn the cavalry about and smash them from behind.” She had no idea how she’d ever make it back out of the camp.
“Maybe that is her plan. I do not know. The last I saw was her leaving the chapel with the magus,” he said looking out over the parapet north to the still burning fires of the goblin camps. “The goblins likely would have attacked tonight – and may still – but for the river melting. You can almost hear them felling trees and building boats. By noon at the latest, they will be upon us. By then, hopefully help will arrive.”
Emmeline asked, “What help do you mean?”
“Shortly after she arrived, Lady d’Uzec took in the goblin situation and the freezing river and ordered Sister Typhon Né, any adventurers, and the bulk of the garrison north to Calder Keep, leaving only the walking wounded to guard the town. Her father didn’t explicitly give orders to not call for reinforcements, but we all cautioned her that the goblins could use the east high road, albeit mostly impassible right now, to with difficulty move into the Lower Valley. She sent another set of scouts there as well. It makes Uzec a very tempting target, if the goblins learn of it.”
Emmeline nodded. “They will. El and I faced a party of nearly thirty goblins between Uzec and Derrien practically on the road. We destroyed 25 of them, but I don’t think we got them all. Whether there are enough goblins to threaten Uzec, even with a diminished garrison, I don’t know. But if we can win here, break the goblins completely, we might be able to stop another army forming in Uzec. Perhaps the commander in Uzec will also request aid from Derrien. That could shore up everything, help us achieve a real and lasting victory…”
She reached out her hand to Etienne to request a hand back up to her feet.
Sir Etienne graciously lifted her up. There was a look in his eyes toward Emmeline that both made her uncomfortable and desired. Perhaps a longing kindled by a shared grief. Emmeline did not know.
Standing again, she wiped at her eyes, but they were dry. Red and miserable, but dry. Perhaps she couldn’t cry for the Baron anymore. “Sir Knight, the last time I knew Sister Jocelyn she had not the strength to summon anyone back from the dead. But we still have hope. I have preserved him. Even should I fall today, you yet have ten days to end this war, get him to Derrien and find a priest with the strength to raise him.”
“For you m’lady I shall endeavor. The Lady sent for the priestess, but you are right. She may not be able to cast such prayers. Perhaps it would be best to send the Baron to Derrien and the Bishop as you say?”
Emmeline nodded. “But not while the roads may still be unsafe. We can’t risk his body being stolen or destroyed.” She hesitated and added, “I don’t think I would be so strong as you and Lady Rivanon if that happened.”
“I’m not strong. I’m wounded m’lady, deeply. But it is not a knight’s place to cry, even for my father, when there are other’s safety in my hands. But I must confess it is most difficult and when the day is done and all are safe, I shall mourn. The Lady. She has ice in her veins. No offense intended, but you show emotion and love, yes love for the Baron. She is so very calm. I may have seen a tear, but perhaps that was but melting snow. Maybe that is what we need?” he replied.
“That’s not ice,” Emmeline said softly. “The Lady Rivanon I know has been my best friend and supporter this past year. She is hurting terribly, I know she is without even looking at her face. But she puts forth what she believes people need of her. With her father… laid low she knows people need strong leadership and so she’ll be that. Later, when she is alone and her people are safe, she will be the daughter that has lost the most important person in her world. I know she is as terrified as I that we might not be able to get him back.”
“Still unsafe or no, getting to Derrien will take at least a week in these conditions, even with the break in the storms. Do we wish to chance it?”
“We have to. Anyone we send with the Baron will be sorely missed here. Calder could fall.” Emmeline didn’t say it but she had no intention of letting the Baron go to be raised without her. She continued in a murmur. “If I could, I’d turn into an eagle and fly him all the way to Thalassa if it would save him. But I haven’t the strength. I can manage such things only for an hour.”
“How many days does he have?” the knight asked.
“He is preserved for ten days. In this time his body will not decay, nor can he become… undead. It extends the time limit on raising him to life,” Emmeline said. “And I can cast it again if we need. Or Sister Jocelyn can — I learned to do this from her. If she doesn’t make it, or if I die, then someone must get him to Derrien by then end of my spell effect and before he has been gone too long otherwise. This means a maximum of twenty days to raise the Baron back to life, should I die. As long as I live, though, I will preserve him no matter how long it takes to get him to a priest strong enough to raise him.”
“The Sister may be here by mid-day tomorrow. Assuming she helps us heal before or after a battle, she can escort him. I believe you were specifically mentioned by the Lady for a mission of some kind after her plan succeeds, though I don’t know the details. She wants to hold a war council in an hour. You should be there. In truth; however, I would escort the Baron if you asked. I would also not judge you if you chose to go with him instead of the Sister.”
“We all have our duties and our obligations. I know the Baron understood that, but I can’t help feeling that my place is at his side for as long as he will have me. I will always deeply regret not being there when he needed me the most.” The pain and worry for the Baron struck her again full force, but she didn’t try to hide it. She was perhaps too distracted to wonder what he meant when he said that he would escort the Baron if she asked. It was something to worry about later.
She cleared her throat. “Thank you for speaking with me,” she said softly. “It helped. I think I’ll go wash up before I find my way to Lady d’Uzec’s war council.”
“Very well m’lady.” Sir Etienne said. “May I ask, what was that song you were singing before?”
Emmeline was a little surprised. “I was thinking of him. I didn’t know I was singing. It was the Baron’s song I’d suppose. The song of Roland.”
She left the wall and drew some water from the well, then found a basin in some corner of the keep to wash her face. After she felt a little better, she went in search of Lady d’Uzec’s war council.