The next morning, Maria found herself nursing a hangover of not inconsiderable proportions; Blaidd had suggested that she drink one of the curative flasks that had found their way into her pack upon her first moments in the Lands Between, and, indeed, the thick red fluid had cleared her mind in an instant. From there, over a simple breakfast of hardtack and jerky, the two began to talk of business.
"Darriwil, as I said," Blaidd had explained, "turned his back on the order of the Bloodhound Knights. Their garb is plain - breastplate layered over leather, greaves, gauntlets and helmet - nothing you haven't already seen so far."
"Breastplate? Leather? Odd," Maria had mused, fiddling with her hair. "I would have thought a knight to prefer full plate."
"Ah, most would. Bloodhounds, though - they've mastered the art of fighting on all fours, or, at the minimum, keeping low to the ground. You'll not see any much, if any, points of contact left unarmoured - they arm themselves with curved greatswords and bladed claw-gauntlets, and their manner of fighting is much unlike any other knightly style I've ever seen," Blaidd had noted. "Fast, frenetic, almost bestial. It's a good match for me - their gauntlets won't so much as put a dent in my plate, and I've a greatsword of my own to turn their strikes away with ease. You, on the other hand - I daresay your tunic and pants would barely guard against rainfall, let alone heavy weaponry like that."
"Simple enough," Maria had said with a small smile. "I suppose I shall simply have to not be struck."
"It did take me quite a while to get a hit in on you, and even that wasn't a killing blow," Blaidd had mused. "Fair enough. Let me be the target of Darriwil's ire - I've the armour and the backbone to handle that much. You stay to my rear or flank, watch for an opening - if you see one, take it. The man's fast, and well-armoured, but his style works best in one-on-one duels - hunting down singular foes, picking off targets from a group. Between my strength and your speed, I can but hope that we'll make easy work of the traitor."
Their search for Darriwil began in earnest, then; between Torrent's speed upon the open roads and paths around the forest, and Blaidd's ability to weave through the denser pockets of trees, they found exactly what they were looking for in no time at all.
They found themselves standing atop a small hill near the southern edge of Limgrave; beyond lay a heavily-guarded bridge, and after that was the beginning of lands unmarked upon Maria's map. At the centre of the hill was an enormous stone depression carved into earth, guarded by dozens of worm-like golems formed from stones which each bore a single, unblinking eye.
"Trail ends here, hmm? Figures," Blaidd growled as he surveyed the scene. "Bastard thinks he'll do his penance from a cell." He looked up at Maria's quizzical expression, and jerked his head towards the stone circle. "Evergaol," he explained. "Warded prisons designed to keep things in, permanently."
"Hence the name," Maria muttered.
Blaid smirked. "Aye."
"And the, ah, worms? Made of rock? With eyes?" Maria pointed at one of the animate stones, a scowl stretching across her face. "Are those, ah, part of the prison as well?"
"Stone clusters, or something along those lines - I don't know their proper names," Blaidd offered, "but worm would be as apt a descriptor as any other. They'll be guardians, of a sort, as you guess."
Maria watched, one eye raised, as several of the rock-worms flopped about the entrance to the prison. "They, ah, hardly cut an imposing figure. Not quite what one has in mind when thinking of those who might serve as wardens of an eternal prison."
"They aren't," Blaidd said, chuckling. "All the same, keep your wits. They're neither fast nor particularly hard to destroy - a few good hits with anything solid is enough to break the enchantment keeping them going - but they are primed to explode if they detect hostiles."
"You could have opened with that information," Maria grumbled. "Floppy rocks is one thing. Walking - crawling - you get my meaning - bombs, that is something else entirely."
"They work," Blaidd noted with a shrug. "Anyone who manages to escape an evergaol - which, I might add, I've never heard of happening - is going to be hungry, tired, and probably on the edge of madness. Having a horde of exploding familiars parked outside the entrance is enough, I'd wager, to curtail any would-be escapees."
Maria nodded sagely. "Ah. Fair enough. In any case, we are entering this prison, no? How do we make our entrance?"
"Follow me," Blaidd explained, setting off at a brisk walk towards the middle of the hill. "Don't make any sudden movements, and especially don't go kicking the worms or the like. Stay calm, and the clusters will simply ignore you." The wolf-knight led Maria down into the centre of the crater-like depression, and stomped on a pressure plate with a hefty boot; the entire centre of the indentation rumbled and began descending into the earth.
"An elevator," Maria said, frowning as she drew her longsword. "Should we expect an ambush?"
"Never hurts to be ready," Blaidd replied, unslinging his greatsword. "Stay calm, stay close, and let me take the hits. Got it?"
"Understood, Sir Blaidd," Maria answered, loosening her muscles with a roll of her shoulders. "Let us be about it."
The floating platform lowered them into what appeared to be a large, grassy cave illuminated by rings of glowing lights atop the ceiling; at the far edge of the cavern, a hunched, armoured figure, easily a head or two taller than Blaidd and bearing an unnervingly long-limbed frame, was sitting entirely still, apparently unaware or uncaring of the two intruders. Once the platform had landed and settled into its base at the ground of the cave, Blaidd took a few steps forward, and raised his sword in challenge.
"Darriwil," Blaidd shouted, "rotting in a cell is not justice! Penance, atonement - hiding in a cave beneath the earth gives you nothing of the sort! I, Sir Blaidd, come to you this day to deliver justice at bladepoint! Face me, traitor!"
Darriwil glanced over his shoulder, staring at the duo through the eye-slits of his helmet; the man got to his feet, picking up a worn greatsword from the ground as he did so.
How far this Darriwil has fallen, Maria thought as she raised her sword into a low-ready stance behind Blaidd. His armour is pitted and dull, his blade rusting and chipped. What manner of thought goes through his mind at this moment, I wonder? What oath did he make to Sir Blaidd's liege, and what compelled him to break it?
Darriwil, still hunched over, rested his greatsword over his back and jammed his left hand into a claw-gauntlet hanging from his belt; he took several lurching steps towards Blaidd and Maria, remaining silent all the same.
"Come, now," Blaidd spat, spittle flying from his fang-filled maw. "Have you nothing to say? Do you not care to defend yourself? Your honour as a knight? Your pride as a man?"
The once-knightly prisoner, in reply, shouted something in reply: it was a garbled, anguished noise, filled with wordless, unthinking rage.
"Oh, dear," Maria sighed. "He - his words, Sir Blaidd, remind me of Godrick's men. I fear there is little remaining for you to speak to of the man who betrayed your liege."
"Suits me well enough," Blaidd growled, hefting his greatsword over his shoulder and widening his stance. "I offered him a chance to speak, he replied, and now we get down to business. Let him make the first moves - you'll understand better the way his kind fight that way."
With a furious roar, Darriwil charged forward on all fours, loping towards Blaidd with his weapons ready; the traitorous warrior leapt into the air from a distance of several paces away, bringing his blade to bear against Blaidd. The wolfman turned the strike away with a swipe of his own massive blade, blocked a slash from Darriwil's claw with his gauntlet, and swung his blade back up in retaliation. For several moments, all while Maria circled slowly around to Darriwil's side, Blaidd and the Bloodhound Knight traded blows, over and over; while Blaidd seemed unable to land a solid hit on the traitor, neither could Darriwil, and eventually Darriwil leapt back nearly a dozen paces, disengaging.
"You're well?" Maria asked, taking up a spot slightly behind and to the right of Blaidd.
"Good," Blaidd answered, rolling his neck. "You see my meaning?"
"Tunnel vision," Maria answered, as she and Blaidd began slowly advancing on Darriwil. "His style favours an assault in one direction. Engage him again, Sir Blaidd, and I shall pounce when his focus forgets me."
"Mmm. Forward!" Blaidd surged forward with a sudden burst of speed; Darriwil returned the favour, and the two smashed into one another in a clash of sparking metal. This time, they traded only a small exchange of blows before, with a mighty roar, Blaidd managed to graze one of the few lightly-armoured parts of Darriwil's right arm. There was a ripping sound as his greatsword carved through the leather underarmour guarding the traitor's limb, and a small spatter of blood flew into the air. Darriwil paid it no heed, and pressed the attack-
-there! In between his greaves and breastplate - barely any armour around his stomach -
-Maria waited until Blaidd and Darriwil had just disengaged once more, then sprinted forward, stance low, coming on from behind Darriwil; she rolled beneath an incoming swipe from the traitor's claw, barely sidestepped a frantic swipe of his longsword, and with a grunt of exertion she rammed her blade deep into Darriwil's stomach. The blade drove straight through the belts and leather armour protecting his gut, and before her foe could react she tore the blade down into his groin, yanked it free and was about to get out of range when out of the corner of her eye she saw the traitorous knight swing both claw and sword in two one-handed strikes.
Twisting her body around, she deflected the claw with the side of her longsword, and almost caught the greatsword in a parry - yet the strength behind the blow was enough to turn her blade aside. She did her best to slide out of the way of the strike, but didn't make it all the way; Maria hissed, burying the searing pain as the tip of Darriwil's greatsword passed straight through her tunic and carved a ragged gash down diagonally from her left shoulder all the way to just above her navel. She watched, gasping for air as she saw Darriwil raise both his weapons for another two-weapon strike; with shaking arms, she raised her sword once again-
"-MARIA!" Blaidd rushed forward, charging Darriwil with his shoulder guard; there was a mighty clang as Darriwil was shunted back. For a moment, her vision went hazy; there was a rustling noise, then a clatter; Blaidd tore open her satchel, took out the flask with the crimson curative, popped its top and forced the opening into her mouth. "Drink, before you pass out on me!"
She gulped eagerly at the thick, red fluid within, and felt a warming wave of heat wash over her; a golden light shone from her wounds, and moments later her flesh knitted itself back together. "I'm fine, I'm fine," Maria shouted, tossing the empty flask aside; she and Blaidd, again, stood side by side, weapons raised.
"Good," Blaidd grunted, glaring at their foe; Darriwil was trying to stand with both weapons raised, but the wound Maria had managed to inflict was beyond severe. Blood poured from his stomach and groin, and with every ragged breath torn flesh and loose organs spilled from the opening. "We have him on the edge, but stay wary - he's not out of fight yet."
Darriwil, for his part, screamed in rage and pain; he tossed aside his sword, holding a firm arm around the gash in his stomach, and charged once more with his bladed claw-gauntlet at the ready. A bestial war-cry erupted from the ex-knight's helmet as he once more leapt into the air-
-but this time, he aimed his falling blow not at Blaidd, but Maria. She watched, mind racing; she waited until he was nearly upon her before she dashed forward, sword held aloft as she raced underneath and through the incoming strike. Her sword screeched as it skated along one of Darriwil's greaves; with a garbled curse beneath her breath, Maria whipped around, ready to block the retaliatory blow that would be coming -
-but instead there was another thunderous clang as Blaidd stepped in the way, blocking the claw-swipe with his greatsword. Indeed, this time, the wolfman had jammed his greatsword in between the blades of the claw, and he twisted his enormous blade with enough force that, heralded by an ear-piercing shriek of metal-upon-metal, the claw's blades flexed aside. Darriwil was about to leap away once more when Blaidd, his blade now jammed well within the claw-gauntlet, grabbed Darriwil's outstretched arm and heaved him back into place.
"YOU'RE GOING NOWHERE, YOU SHITESTAIN," Blaidd roared. "ENOUGH RUNNING!"
Here's my chance! Maria sprinted to Blaidd's left, and, with all the force her frail frame could muster, she aimed a slice at Darriwil's legs; there wasn't enough power behind the blow to do much besides bite at his thighs, but it was enough to dislodge her foe's stance. Blaidd didn't wait - the second Darriwil's frame wobbled off-balance, his grasp still upon Darriwil's arm, he kicked the traitor's legs out from under him. Their foe hollered in surprised pain as he hit the floor face-first. Maria scrambled atop the downed traitor and, with two heavy strikes, cut the flesh on the back of Darriwil's thighs almost down to the bone; at the same time, Blaidd leapt high into the air, landed straight on Darriwil's back, and, roaring with fury, stomped straight on the unarmoured portion of their foe's neck.
There was a loud, echoing crunch.
Darriwil's body spasmed a few times, then fell limp.
"Well," Blaidd muttered as he untangled his greatsword from Darriwil's gauntlet, "it's done. Had to work a little for it, but it's done, all the same." He spat on Darriwil's corpse, then kicked his head for good measure. "Things got a little testy there, aye, but that was a fine showing, all the same, milady. Justice is done this day." He looked up at Maria, blinked, then looked up at the ceiling.
"Indeed," Maria replied, exhaling as the stress and adrenaline began to fade into calm. "I would have been hard-pressed to face this man alone - indeed, I have you to thank for my survival. I cannot express my gratitude enough, Sir Blaidd. Thank you."
"If you want to thank me, Lady Maria," Blaidd muttered, "you'll take the cloak from my back and cover yourself."
Maria looked down at her torn shirt and her exposed body beneath, rolled her eyes, and pitched her tone to be somewhere between exasperated and mocking. "I did not take you for a prudish man, Sir Blaidd."
"It ill becomes a knight," Blaidd replied, still staring pointedly away from Maria, "to ogle an uncovered lady, all the more so if that lady is also a knight."
"You cannot mean to tell me," Maria said, holding back her urge to laugh, "that the mere sight of some breasts is enough to offend your sensibilities?"
Blaidd growled something unintelligible before planting his greatsword in the dirt; he undid the clasps on his cloak, and tossed it over his shoulder, where it landed with a hefty thud. "Just put the damn thing on, woman, unless you'd like to return to Kaika with your tits hanging out."
"How vulgar! Are those the words, Sir Blaidd," Maria chided, her tone mocking, "that a gentleman knight such as yourself should be uttering to a lady of high standing?"
"Put that cloak on, Maria, or you'll suddenly find yourself bereft of a guide to Caria," Blaidd grumbled. "And who said anything about you being noble? With etiquette like that?"
"Ah, you are no fun at all, Sir Blaidd. Truly, a waste." With a theatric sigh, she wrapped Blaidd's heavy cloak over her shoulders, buckled the clasps, then rotated it such that it covered her body like a set of robes. "Very well, Sir Blaidd, I am now adequately covered in such a manner that your delicate, virginal eyes shall be spared from a terrible fate."
Blaidd turned around, folded his arms and glared down at Maria. "You know, you truly are a mystery, Lady Maria. One moment, you conduct yourself like a noblewoman. The next, you're a woman with swordsmanship that'd put most knights to shame. Then you suddenly fancy yourself a gadfly, and a truly bothersome one at that."
Maria paused, a frown creeping into her features. "I…yes. That is rather confusing."
"It was mostly meant as an attempt at humour," Blaidd noted, cocking his head. "I meant no offense."
"No, no, none taken," Maria replied, chewing at her bottom lip. "Just…it rouses my mind, hearing such words from you. Perhaps…perhaps…might it be that we see hints of who I once was? Facets of the old Maria?" Maria began pacing, her expression thoughtful. "Now that you mention it, you said you knew the name of Mair Gwynne, or at least that her family name was familiar in the vaguest sort of way. What - what if I am also Mair Gwynne, or - no, that makes no sense! I am certain that I am Maria. Why, that is one of the few things I-"
Maria was jolted out of her reverie as Blaidd took ahold of her shoulders. "Hey. Stop. This does you no good, Lady Maria. Don't lose yourself in such questions. There's nothing to be gained, testing those waters, not without some further knowledge. You're you. You fancy yourself a woman of good nature, and you're alive. That's enough."
Maria blinked several times, looking up at Blaidd's unbreaking gaze; after a moment, she took a few breaths, and nodded. "I, ah, yes. Thank you, Sir Blaidd. Thank you."
"Nothing to thank me for. We've fought side by side. You're good in my ledger. So long as you don't try and kill me in my sleep, that's fine by me." Blaidd gestured at the curative flask Maria had tossed aside during their fight as he walked over to Darriwil's corpse; it was beginning to fade, now, into motes of ash and light, and Blaidd knelt beside the fading body as a shimmering sphere of runes began form before him. "The runes are yours, Lady Maria. I've no need of them - my liege's pockets are deep enough. Gather your things, and let's leave this place - my mission's done. Duty compels me to return to Caria once we've furnished ourselves with a meal and gotten a good night's sleep."
Together, they left the evergaol, and once they'd made some distance between themselves and the hill which housed it, Maria summoned Torrent from wherever it was he remained while waiting for her. With a little convincing - and several handfuls of berries - Maria managed to coax Torrent into letting Blaidd upon his back, and so they set off, with Blaidd navigating. They rode north at a steady pace, Torrent grumbling and whinnying quietly the entire way; with her steed's reduced speed, and a few detours made around the main road to avoid several patrols of Godrick's soldiers, it was well after sundown when they returned to the Church of Elleh. When Maria and Blaidd dismounted Torrent, the horse seemed to glare at Blaidd, then vanished before Maria could even give him a few pats.
"Truly, I do not think he likes you, Sir Blaidd," Maria said with a bemused expression.
"Ah. Poor thing probably just isn't used to carrying two riders," Blaidd replied sheepishly. "Well, we're here. Let's check in, shall we?" He let out a loud, hearty howl, then sauntered into the ruined church. "Oi! Kale! You here, friend?" Maria glanced around the camp; the merchant's mule and packs were in their usual places, and the campfire was lit; the merchant, however, was nowhere to be found.
"He was not here the last time I arrived at night," Maria offered as she plopped herself down in front of the fire. "Perhaps he is away, again, on business?"
"No - he's here. I'm sure of it." Blaidd frowned, sniffing at the air. "Kale? Where are you, Kale?"
The merchant emerged from the rear of the ruins, rounding the corner with a groan. "Can a man not relieve himself in peace?"
"No. I'm afraid that's right out," Blaidd snorted, joining Maria at the fire. "Good to see you, Kale."
"Aye. Good to see you too, Blaidd. And Lady Maria! I see you've made friends with our knightly friend," Kale offered as he joined the two at the fire.
"You could have told me," Maria said, her tone glacial, "that Sir Blaidd was a wolf-man."
"Oh. Dear me. Did I forget to mention that?" Kale shrugged, his eyes shimmering with mirth. "My most sincere apologies, Lady Maria."
"In fairness, she did attack me upon sight," Blaidd pointed out. "Next time, maybe warn whoever you tell your tales? There's no other wolf-men in the Lands Between, far as I know. I'd rather not have some other Tarnished lower that number to zero."
"Ah, well, it all worked out, hmm? You're both sitting here, and - huh." Kale scratched at his disheveled hair, eyes flitting between Blaidd and Maria. "Hrm."
"Out with it, my good man," Blaidd said, one eye raised. "What's the matter?"
"She's wearing your cloak," Kale said flatly.
"I took a blow during battle," Maria explained. "Sadly, that tattered tunic was the only shirt I had - truthfully, I think I'd like to purchase some clothes, or even some armour."
"I'll bet you took a blow," Kale said, roaring with laughter. "Whoever wished to lay hands upon you must've ripped right through your shirt!"
"Oh, they did," Maria replied, smirking. "Why, when Sir Blaidd laid eyes upon my shirtless form, he all but fainted, so overwhelmed was his-"
"-right, right, that's enough of that," Blaidd growled. "I'll have you know, Kale, that we fought side-by-side against the man I was hunting, and Lady Maria took a nasty cut across her chest. That's all. I'll not have both of you impugning my dignity like this. I won't stand for it!"
Kale rolled his eyes. "You, my knightly friend, have absolutely not a single ounce of humour in you."
"I am plenty cheerful, and funny besides," Blaidd glowered. "But a man's, let alone a knight, has to have a little honour."
"Well, all the same, if you've something I could wear," Maria said, sighing happily as she let the campfire warm her, "I would gladly pay you for it. I am sure that Sir Blaidd would like to have his cloak back at some point."
"It's not as though my wares have expanded since last we checked," Kale pointed out. "I've not suddenly chanced upon plate or mail that'll fit your frame. But, if you're in need of a simple tunic or the like, I've plenty of those."
"Something simple will do," Maria replied, nodding. "In truth, I intend to travel with Sir Blaidd to Caria - I shall have him to assist in my defense."
"We'll leave at sunup tomorrow," Blaidd continued. "If you've some drink and something to snack on, I'll happily pay for those as well."
"Ah! A good evening, all things considered. Very well - a moment, and I'll be back with your goods," Kale said, getting up and heading over to his crates.
Later that evening, as Kale dozed by the dying fire and Maria snored from the safety of her bedroll, Blaidd felt the familiar chill settle across his shoulders; seated atop the highest point of the church's ruins, he turned to the source of the cold and knelt on one knee. "Your Royal Highness. How may I serve you?"
Princess Ranni stepped out from nothing, and seated herself next to the wolf-knight. "Is it done, Sir Blaidd?"
"It is, Ma'am."
"Good." Ranni looked down from her perch, both of her faces frowning. "Thou maketh camp with others in thy company? Is that not the Tarnished, Lady Maria, who slumbers there?"
"Yes, Ma'am. I met her but yesterday- she was seeking aid, hoping for guidance to travel to Caria, Ma'am, and despite a rocky introduction, we struck a deal," Blaidd explained, his tone professional and formal. "Mere hours ago, she assisted me in slaying the traitor, and at sunup I intend to return home with her in tow by way of the cliffs behind Stormveil Castle."
"What meanest thou, speaking of a 'rocky' introduction, Sir Blaidd?" Ranni's gaze fell upon her kneeling knight, and she tented the fingers of her upper two hands. "Is this a matter with which I should be concerned?"
Blaidd held back a sigh and continued. "I…ah…perhaps, Ma'am. Lady Maria, she…her memory is damaged. She recalls not her birth, or her history, save for the fact that she calls Caria home - though she also recalls some land called 'Cainhurst' as her place of origin."
"Cainhurst? This name is unfamiliar to me, Sir Blaidd," Ranni replied, frowning. "And there is little in the Lands Between, and beyond, that I am unfamiliar with. Continue."
Blaidd swallowed. "Lady Maria, upon seeing my face, fell into some sort of trance, and proceeded to attack me-"
"-and she yet lives? Art thou a fool, Sir Blaidd? I had not thought thee the type to think with thine lower head," Ranni grumbled. "Art thou a knight of Caria, or a wolf desperate to mate?"
"No, no, your Royal Highness, that isn't - I - in the midst of our duel," Blaidd said hastily, "I struck her in the face, and it broke whatever madness she'd fallen into. We spoke in peace after that - and I must say, Ma'am, her swordsmanship is excellent, incredibly so - and I examined her possessions. Your Royal Highness, I have reason to believe she is the descendant of one of the Royal Knights, exiled long ago."
Ranni's tone was utterly flat. "And what, Sir Blaidd, leads thee to such a conclusion?"
"Her rapier," Blaidd noted. "Having not seen one in person for many years, I could not be certain, but I swear the resemblance is uncanny - she carries upon her person a rapier exactly of the sort once issued to the Royal Knights themselves. I must also note, Ma'am, that she has upon her person a book - a journal - which once belonged to a woman by the name of 'Mair Gwynne,' though the journal itself is mostly ruined beyond comprehension."
"Speak carefully, Sir Blaidd, and think hard. Thou art certain," Ranni said, her tone grave, "that the Lady Maria knows the name of the Knight Gwynne?"
"With all my heart, I promise it to be so, Ma'am," Blaidd replied.
For a long while, there was only the quiet, cold night.
"I would have words with the Lady Maria," Ranni ordered. "She is to be brought before me, unharmed, with her journal and rapier. Make for Caria with all due haste, and let nothing delay thine travels."
Blaidd, already kneeling, pressed his face into the stone. "Of course, Your Royal Highness. I live to serve."
Ranni returned her gaze to Maria. "Mmm. Good. Hast thou any other details to provide me with? What other knowledge hast thy gleaned from the Lady Maria? I intend to study this woman as best I can before thine arrival, Sir Blaidd."
"In the midst of our duel," Blaidd offered, "Lady Maria called out for someone by the name of 'Gehrman -' I think this person to be her teacher, or mentor, by way of her words. So to did she spoke of a 'scourge' in my eyes, of how I was 'lost' and 'drowning' in blood."
"Do you believe, Sir Blaidd," Ranni said quietly, "that the Lady Maria has designs against me?"
"No. Or, if she does, I do not think her aware of them," Blaidd noted. "And, if you will permit me, Ma'am, she did share one more thing with me, though I do not think she intended to."
Ranni tapped her fingers against the stone ruins. "Speak."
"In the midst of her sleep, I heard Lady Maria speak. It was a warning, I believe, and I tell you this, your Royal Highness - she spoke the warning with such fear, such weight, that I am certain even through her forgotten memories her body cries out for her to remember." Blaidd recalled the words - the terror in Maria's voice - and despite his fur and the cloak he wore, a chill ran through his veins. "In her words: 'by the gods, fear it. Fear the old blood.'"
Silence, once more; Ranni sat atop the ruins, lost in thought for several minutes, and so Blaidd remained in position, kneeling quietly as he waited.
"Excellent work, Sir Blaidd," Ranni said softly, breaking the silence at last. "Thou hast, whether by chance, or design, found an person who hath captured my interest. Thou hast thine orders, Sir Blaidd. Do what must be done."
"Yes, Your Royal Highness."
Blaidd felt the chill dissipate, and he looked up to find the Princess already gone, a swarm of fading blue lights the only sign she had graced him with her presence. With a heavy sigh, he pulled a bottle of cider from his coat, popped the cork, and drank, looking down at Maria and Kale's sleeping forms. "Ah, shite," he grumbled. "A right quagmire you've gotten yourself into, Blaidd."