Compare with designer notes on Albadian Betrothal Ritual.

Short Story; A warrior's Heart

author: Exhalia
author: Moonduck
date: 2003-04-22
status: finished

Galadaria walked once around the glade where her company had once again set up camp for the night, or at least what passed for night so far under the earth. It had been a long and harrowing day. First the Riddle, then the Dragon (Her mind still faltered over that one. No wrack dragon that, but a true dragon, a great evil from the ancient world.), then the Portals. She ran a hand over her face, trying to absorb it all. The ramifications of that discovery could shake the foundations of the world as she knew it.

She gazed around her again. Assessing the well-being and morale of her group. The company was still buzzing with excitement. Lucas and Jurgi sat together going over the pile of goods that made up the dragon's horde. Anna sat near by with the appearance of calm aloofness that only the Hellion could display, but her eyes were intent on the items. Edward and Ara were sitting very close together, talking excitedly while she scribbled furiously in her notebook. Dagnal was not far from them. He alternated between brooding, and pacing back and forth as rapidly as his stocky legs would work. Every once in a while he would stop and listen for a while to Edward and Ara and then he would snort and begin pacing again. Rolf sat near the center of the glade, a grizzly assortment of trophies lined up before him on the ground. He stared at them for a long time, occasionally picking one up to examine it minutely, and then, smiling to himself, would place it back someplace else in the arrangement. Galadaria failed to see the significance of his pattern, but it appeared to be keeping him content. That left only... Her body tensed as she looked around quickly for the last member of her company. Scrymgeour was not in the glade. Her first thought was that he had once again run off in search of more danger, as if there had not been enough of that today. She relaxed slightly when she saw that most of his gear had been deposited in a heap near the pile of furs the Albadians shared. He would not have gone far and left it behind. She chewed her lower lip, thinking back. He had seemed a little restrained and a little drawn while they had been searching through the dragon horde, but there had been too much to think of then to notice it, and she had been too embarrassed about her spontaneous reaction to him when the dragon fell, to meet his eye. She blushed again deeply as she looked around once more make sure that all was well here before she went in search of the missing man. She was not a girl anymore, she chastised herself as she set off, to be overcome by emotion and act on impulse. She was a grown woman, a paladin and a leader of men, that she should forget herself so far as to kiss a fellow soldier, a man not her betrothed... It was unforgivably forward of her. Perhaps when she found him she would apologize.

Almost an hour later she was beginning to wonder if she ever would find him. She was grateful for the lessons in wilderness lore that he had already given her because at least she was sure she had not been wandering around in circles. She stopped for a while to listen to the grove, amazed again that such a place could exist under the ground. Off to her right she could just hear the burbling of the creek that ran through the grove. She sighed. Even if she couldn't find Scrymgeour, at least she could clean herself of the dragon stink. She headed in that direction. After a few minutes the woods began to thin and she was able to see up and down stream a little way, and there, upstream from her, by a small pool, Scrymgeour was sitting on a large stone. She approached cautiously, not wishing to startle him, but it made little difference. He was obviously far away in his own mind. His face was grim and drawn, and his eyes were rimmed with red. He looked more like a man who had lost his best friend than one that had faced and helped to kill a dragon without any loss of life. When she stood five feet from him, she cleared her throat, hoping to gain his attention. He looked up, startled and met her gaze for an instant before his eyes lowered in shame.

A long, tense moment passed before her said, his voice choked with emotion. "I am unmanned in your eyes. I am unvorthy." Galadaria approached him, completely bewildered, searching for something to say. As she reached him, he collapsed to his knees before her, and holding her about the waist, buried his face in her breast. Almost sobbing, he went on, "I have. newwer. NEWWER... felt so much fear, terror. It.. the Beast. rose from the wery stones! I cannot. do not... I. I am no warrior. My own people would.. disown me... turn me out." He looked up to her face, "And, worse, I failed to hold my ground in front of you. I have shown unforgiwable weakness... while you and t'others stood fast. I am less than unvorthy." With that he slumped, falling further to the ground, sobbing and completely broken.

Galadaria looked down at him helplessly. It stung her heart to see so mighty and brave a warrior brought to such a pass. Kneeling, she gathered the man in her arms. He made no resistance. It was if the life had gone out of his body. A few minutes, she knelt like this muttering soothing sounds in the language of mothers and healers, that she had not even known was in her until this moment. When his sobs had begun to abate she began to speak to him in a quiet voice, " Scrymgeour, when we were still in Meliad, at the Wayfarers Repose, do you remember how many doors we had to have replaced leading to my room? Do you remember why?... Because I woke in the middle of the night with screaming terrors... Screaming terrors, of what? Of vengauraks which are to that foul beast of the ancient world as a mouse is to one of the Proud. Creatures which you faced and decimated without a second thought had the power to reduce me to a child-like state, and yet you have followed me these many months, trusted me to guard your shield arm, thought no less of me as a warrior and a companion. Yes, you found fear in the face of an ancient, unholy terror, when you were alone and unawares, but there is no shame in that, even if its power to instill fear were not partially magical, which it was. When you were needed, you rallied and in the end your stroke felled the beast. I have never known a warrior so courageous as you, nor been so proud to fight alongside another.... As to the rest of us holding fast... I am granted the courage of my god to face such things, it is one of the gifts given to Paladins, and still I thought my heart would stop when we first heard that creature shriek. Rolf and Edward too are gifted with divine courage and our presence extends a part of that to those who stand with us and even so, you were not the only one who's morale was shaken. There is no shame in fear when you have faced it and defeated it. And you have, with more courage than I have ever seen." As she spoke, his body ceased to shake and eventually he lifted his head enough to look at her.

" But it vas acceptable for you t'be afraid of de Titanspawn. Yer a..." he stopped abruptly looking a bit embarrassed.

" Because I am a woman?"

" Eh, no. Vas thinking 'Varmlander', not voman, but still." his voice trailed off. "Ye find me brave? I do not... I am. no good at thinking things through as ye do. Yust because I do not stop to think does not make me brave, makes me thick-headed, bloody-minded. Am berserker, still. I vill newwer leave it behind." He sighed. Looking again into her face he seemed to be searching from something. After a moment a grim look came over his face, and placing his hands on either side of her waist he lifted up without warning, placing her, startled, back on her feet. Kneeling still at her feet he drew his sword quickly and placed it on the ground between them. Once more he met her eyes briefly and then bowing his head he placed his left knuckles to the ground and his right bent in front of him, palm up. When he began to speak it was in Albadian, his voice deep with emotion.

" I lay my sword, Nametaker, at thy feet. I fight only for thee, in thy name, from this day on. Without thee, there is no hand to guide my blade and ever will it miss the mark.

" I lay my shield and mail at thy feet. Naked and defenseless, I will stand in thy stead. My blood for thine, from this day on. Without thee, there is nothing for my shield to guard, or my mail to keep hale.

" I lay my herds at thy feet. Hungry and ill-kept, they need the hand of woman to keep them well. Without thee, they will wither and die, as will I.

" I lay my tents at thy feet. Cold and under clouded skies, from this day on. Without thee, my face is ever to the wind and I can know no comfort.

" I lay my heart at thy feet. Alone and bleeding, from this day on. Without thee, my heart has no meaning and will ever be lost.

" I offer, and I ask, from this day on. Without thee, I am nothing."

When he had finished this speech he remained as he was, waiting for some response from her. Galadaria looked down at his bent head, her heart thrumming with a mixture of wild joy and utter horror. She felt suddenly tired as the weight of the combined events of the day caught up with her. She took several deep breaths to steady her, and then reached out her hand and touched his cheek in a tender gesture. When he looked up at her she said, "I am sorry, I am unfamiliar with your customs, but that sounded to me like an offer of marriage?"

He nodded briefly and returned his gaze to the ground.

" May I ask why you offer it now?"

Continuing to speak in very formal Albadian, he replied "Each line speaks naught but truth to thee. Each and every line. My blood for thine, my heart for thine. If I can trust thee with my deepest shame and thy face does not turn away, then I can trust thee with my heart and truest feelings. I am nothing without thee. That is why."

She sighed again softly. "I do not doubt the strength of your feelings for me, nor indeed the strength of the feelings in my heart for you, for I have never known such joy as you have given me today, or such helplessness as these last weeks where you would not speak to me." She took a deep, shaky breath. "But..." His body tensed as she said this. "... consider that there is more to the matter of marriage than the feelings of two people. There is an exchange of family and property, none of which I have to offer. You have said that you family will not mind, but the prejudice against "warmlanders" seems strong among your tribe. If I were your mother, I would want better for you than a disinherited southerner who had so little to offer you, for I can not even offer you children of our union. I am not a young woman any more Scrymgeour." Her voice was subdued and sad as she said this. "More than half my child bearing years have passed, and I am still bound by honour, by duty, and in truth, by desire, to a life which precludes children. I have no idea how long I will remain bound to this way of life, and so no matter how much I may wish to be the mother of your children, it may never happen. You are still young, and men may father children for much longer than a woman may bear them. You should marry a younger woman. One who can bear you children, and one who will not always be divided between her duty and service to her god and her love for you. You deserve so much more than I can offer you." She paused for a moment, her eyes filling with tears.

Looking up at her, eyes fierce and bright with his own emotion he replied in Ledean, "You argue from head, not heart. Feh, vhat care have I for lands or didds, deeds, vhatever? My people do not own land, land is land. We hold what strength of arm will keep, and vhat Gods vill us to have. My Muter may think me mad to hie avay with Varmlander at first, but she is like you, one who sees into men's hearts. She vill know you for who you are and welcome you vith glad hands. And vhat matters family? I know you think is important, but family is across Ghelspad. You are here now, Scrymgeour is here now." he paused a moment, and his face grew wistfully sad, "As to children, we are of The Road. Ve cannot expect to bear fruit as ve spend no time making roots, no? If Corean and Tanil vill us to have get, they vill show us way to have get." He paused for a moment, "As to yer duty, I cannot hope but to stand in vay of that any more than I could stand in vay of a battle mad Ice Yak. Your conwiction to duty is force of nature. By same token, I can stand beside it. I can help you vith duty. You hear call few men hear. So be it. If I help you with call, then perhaps you have more time for Scrymgeour." He smiled slightly, "Among my people, voman is head of hold in all matters but varfare. Though, in your case, vould be in charge of that as vell. Eh, bad example. Point is, a man learns that voman makes decision, and that voman has duties above vhat man does, to children, to well being of tribe. Voman may sometimes have to make hard call, man must live vith it. So be it. It is our vay." He grined and poked her in the chest, "If you can make Corean understand that Scrymgeour is in your life, than I can make Scrymgeour understand that Corean is there too. And Tanil von't care either vay." He stopped, cocking his head as if he were listening to something faint. "I am hearing vhat heart is saying. You?"

Rubbing her face with both hands she gave a little laugh before replying, "Scrymgeour, you are your own force of nature. You argue well, and your arguments are all the stronger because they do answer the desires of my heart, but..." She grinned at him as she said it, and then, serious again "in such serious matters it is best if the head and heart work together to find a solution, so please, as a favor to me, take the time to think this matter through, in a time that is not so fraught with emotion as today is... And if you ask me again, in... say a week, I will not deny you again." She leaned over and placed a kiss on his brow and another on his lips. "Now, I don't know about you, but I still stink of that beast. Do you think the spirit of this grove will mind if I wash the stink from myself?"

He seemed pleased that her mood had lightened, though suspicious that she was not answering. "I do not think Denev vould mind. In fact, is good idea now." And with a quick grin and a shove, she found herself in the water. Stripping his shirt off and kicking off his boots, he followed her. Galadaria did not wait for him to find his balance on the rocky bottom before she was pulling his legs out from under him. He went down with a crash and came up spluttering. She shrieked like a child as he tried to tackle her. She was almost able to pull out of his reach, but she was not quite fast enough and he was able to grab hold of her sodden tunic and pull her back. He picked her up and threw her a few feet where she landed with an enormous splash. After a few more minutes of rough-housing, she was panting and laughing, feeling more care free than she had since her childhood in Darakeene tagging along behind her brothers. She gradually backed away trying to catch her breath. He grinned at her again and then, in typical Albadian fashion began to strip down, completely unconscious of her continued presence. Galadaria blushed hotly and turned away. Looking up at her, he grunted, and walked toward the shore. Gathering together his clothing he started to walk away, but stopped instead before her, dripping with water, and said, "A week, eh? I can wait that long. But I vill hold you to your vord, paladin of Corean and holder of my heart."