“Daddy!” Sara’s voice met Telfor as he enters, the door opening with a familiar creak and the cosy light of the fireplace warming the room. Springing from her seat at the table, Sara runs across the room to greet him. With a joyous laugh the old soldier catches and swings her up off the ground to carry her on his hip as he moves to where his wife, Jasha stands waiting. With his free arm he pulls her in and kisses her deeply. Her hands rest tenderly on his chest for the moment, gripping the hem of his shirt in a way that tells him she missed him.
When they part, the smell of stew finally reaches his brain. In the excitement to see his family he’d overlooked it but now in his hunger it’s all he can focus on. No other smell could simultaneously send his mind both back home, and out on campaign at the same time. Jasha had been a soldier like him before they had married and had Sara, and she still cooked like a soldier. Unlike many army cooks, Jasha took pride in what she made and her stew was always delicious.
“Difficult time on your mission, Tel?” Jasha asks, her arms crossed and a sternness concealed beneath a pleasant conveying more than her words.
With a sigh he hoped expressed contrition rather than annoyance, Telfor put Sara down with a kiss and set about helping himself to a bowl of stew, “Yeah, things got complicated. I’ll tell you about it.”
Complicated was their code for when they should continue when Sara’s asleep. Jasha nods her understanding and the three sit down together for dinner. Almost finished eating already by the time Telfor had arrived, before long they are just listening to Sara telling stories about everything that had been happening in her life while he was away.
“Mamma’s been teaching me how to fight! She says I’m a natural with aug-magic!”
“Is that so?” Telfor asks, looking up questioning at Jasha who returns his stare defiantly.
Sara nods confidently, “That’s right. Also, Cardicus is teaching me to read. He says I’m going to be a warrior poet, like the old kings.”
With a small chuckle, Telfor tussles her hair, “So long as you don’t tell me you want to marry a prince. I’ve never heard a single story where marrying a prince went well.”
“No, Daddy,” Sara answers, seemingly earnest.
Together the family finishes their meal. Sara goes and sits by the fire, telling herself a story with two toys made with sticks and cloth while Telfor takes the plates to clean. For the next a few hours they have nothing but each other. These are the times that Telfor cherishes, and made all the sweeter by how rarely they actually happen. This last job had kept him away for two weeks, half of his away time already.
Much too soon, it comes time for Sara to go to bed. Telfor takes her to her room and tucks her in with a kiss.
“Daddy, are you leaving again?”
“Not until the new moon, sweetheart.”
Sara considers this, frowning a little, “That’s so soon.”
“I know, love,” he answers, “I wish I could stay here with you and your mother all the time, but I need to work so we can afford to ear.”
“Why don’t you work here in the city?”
“Because my profession doesn’t have much demand here. Soldiering is best when it’s done far away.”
“Mamma says that war is coming to capital, though.”
It was true, everyone knew war was coming but hearing the words come from his daughter’s mouth sent a shiver down his spine, “Now, Sar, there’s never been fighting in Capital for a hundred years. That all stays outside the walls, up in the hill forts. You’re safe here in the city. I won’t be gone forever, one day soon we’ll have enough saved that your mamma and I will be able to buy an inn here in the city, or a farm down south and we’ll all be together all the time. Promise.”
“Hmm,” Sara considered the prospect deeply before deeming it acceptable with a nod, “Alright. Just remember you promised.”
With another kiss, Telfor took the oil lamp and left his daughter’s the room, hanging the lamp at the end of the hall and extinguishing it as he re-enters the main room. Jasha was sitting on the rug before the fire, mending clothes worn down and torn during work and play. He settles down beside her, watching the fire dance as he waits for her to speak.
“You were late.”
“I know,” Telfor acknowledges apologetically, “Things went bad, the job itself should have been simply but we encounted an army of undead on the King’s Road and had to flee into the Märchenwald.”
“The fairy wood? Jugir’s blood… it’s a wonder you made it back at all. But, an undead army? What was that doing there? How could it be there?”
“I wish I knew,” he answered, “We lost them fairly quickly, even the dead know better than to enter those woods. We were fortunate, we only suffered one fatality in the wood. Verumalleus died saving the lives of Vahkragg and I.”
Jasha’s hand left it’s hand to rest on his arm. He took it in his own as he continued to speak, “We were poisoned, but we were treated by a girl in a village we were lucky enough to find. Zsófia is her name, she asked to come with us and I couldn’t say no.
The prisoner got away while we were recovering. It seems like Rubin might have let him go, I didn’t have time to properly investigate and it wasn’t a good idea doing it then, anyway. Anyway, Vahkragg and I came back to report our failure and the undead presence but had to leave Pan, Rubin and Zsófia behind to treat a curse.
That should have been it, just a dead friend and a failed mission but that’s not it. Arnhilde gave us another job to arrest a priest here in the city, made me a veiled threat about it too.”
“Arnhilde veiled a threat?”
“Aye, was almost like someone else was talking out her mouth when she did it. I could almost see the strings move. Could tell she hated it almost as much as I did.”
“What about this new job?”
“Spoke to Laurin, he confirmed what I already knew. It’s a trap. Not for us, we’re just moving pieces. Not sure exactly who for, don’t rightly care, but Laurin said he knew how to get to the target while out of sight of the Pantheonic guard. The plan is to do that tomorrow at midnight, Sara won’t even know I was gone.”
He could feel the tension in Jasha’s hand as he spoke, could tell she wasn’t happy. She’d been a soldier before Sara, and she’d never expressed any discontentment with Telfor’s profession, but he could feel it was there, even if she’d never admit it.
“It’ll be three of us and the unsuspecting Priest, we’ll be in and out in an hour, tops.”
“Three of you? I thought you said only Vahkragg was with you?”
“Laurin’s coming with us.”
“That wastrel’s never done anything for free in his life, what did you promise him?”
Telfor hesitates before answering, “Ten percent.”
“Bloody one, give me strength!”
“I didn’t have much of a choice, Jasha, the crown and the church are feuding. I wasn’t about to risk my life on the hope they give him up peacefully.”
That gives Jasha pause. He’d only recently learned that himself, and he had been travelling with a crusader and working for the crown. To most people’s eyes, the church and the crown were dual arms of the law.
Jasha puts the clothes aside and lowers her head for a couple deep breaths. It was something she did when her temper was hot but she knew she didn’t want a fight.
“I trust you. I’ve always supported you, and you know I always will. I’m so sorry to hear about Ver, she was a beautiful soul. But the most important thing is that you’re still alive. We need you here. Don’t forget that.”
He put an arm around her shoulder and pulls her in to him, resting his head on hers. They sit in silence for a time, the tense energy in Jasha slowly being released. He can tell she’s finally ready to forgive him when she climbs onto his lap, kissing him deeply.
A bit of a longer one today, usually I try to go for closer to 1k words flat, but felt that the scene wasn’t complete this time for a bit longer. If I was editing these rather than just stream of conscious writing, I think I’d bring Tel and Jasha’s conflict a bit more into the open. But I also kinda like it all going on underneath.
Featured art is by Steve Argyle it’s the art for 4e D&D for Half-Orc’s, Tel and Jasha aren’t half-orc, but they aren’t human and half-orc was the closest I could find where art vaguely resembled.