Zornhut: Chapter 15
Author's note: Zornhut, or Guard of Wrath, is one of the main guard positions in medieval sword techniques. Also, I've opted for the game's default name for the tactician, Mark.
Haven't updated this in a while now, have I? (sheepish) Will fix the quirky formatting of the earlier chapters later; in the meantime, enjoy this new chapter.
The young man took after his mother, Oswin decided. He had the lady's red hair, hair a shade slightly darker than that of his sister's. He had also inherited his mother's features; the reddish-brown eyes, the ruler-straight nose and the firm mouth, which rarely smiled. Not that the lad smiled often, even as a little boy, Oswin remembered from his brief station at Cornwell. The few occasions when he did see the boy smile was when in his little sister's company, whether when they were playing in the halls, or out wading in the shallow creek near the castle grounds, with the boy always keeping a watchful eye on his younger sibling.
He certainly had grown up to be a fine young man, comely indeed, and comelier still if it were not for the seemingly permanent scowl on his face. Oswin guessed--correctly, had he known--that the young man had adopted the scowl primarily to make himself look older, for most employers do not care for fresh mercenaries; the fact that the scowl also deterred anyone from approaching him was probably an unexpected, but quite likely a welcomed effect.
After all, it certainly worked with Oswin himself; he certainly had no desire to be anywhere near the unfriendly-looking mercenary when the man was first recruited. It was only after Marcus mentioned the incident at the small farming village did he take a bit more interest in the man the company knew simply as Raven, for that incident revised his opinion that the man was nothing more than a regular sell-sword. Regular sell-swords, Oswin had observed in all his years, never got involved in anything that did not gain them profit in any form.
At first it was only simple curiosity, but Oswin's interest in the mercenary increased after he realised that there was something familiar--something he should in fact, know--about the man. He had tried observing Raven from a distance, hoping that the mercenary's actions would trigger his recollections, but to no avail. He then put the whole thing down as nothing more than a mere fancy--or perhaps the man did remind him of someone--but it probably was nothing important.
It was only when he spoke with Priscilla about the fate of the girl's parents did the answer come to him, although at first he was not too sure that the thought that occurred to him then was in fact, the truth. Priscilla certainly had an older brother, but that alone certainly did not make every single red-haired young man the company came across as him, Oswin thought, especially when the young man in question was not in Priscilla's company often. If the mercenary was indeed her brother, surely he would try to spend as much as time as he could with his long-separated sister, Oswin had deduced.
Still, Oswin had kept the speculation in mind, only to find it proven one night in camp when he had spotted Raven glaring daggers at Sain, who was trying to persuade Priscilla to dance with him. It was the one time when he could actually look at both Priscilla and Raven closely, and he saw the resemblance to their mother they shared. And amusingly enough, Oswin thought to himself, it was Raven's glare that made him sure of the fact that the two were indeed, the siblings from the fallen House Cornwell.
The glare he recalled, was almost the same as the one Raven, or rather, the child Raymond had given to another boy a long time ago. That other boy was a son of a visiting lord, whom had bullied Priscilla to tears, only to back away when Raymond had arrived in rescue of his little sister. Raymond's glare had driven the other boy a few step backwards, but that was not enough and the two then had resorted to fists.
Oswin also recalled with much amusement that the Cornwell knights had not rushed in to separate the two boys until after Raymond had a few good hits in.
Raymond--no, Raven, Oswin reminded himself--now rode at the head of the small group of travellers; Oswin rode in the centre while Harken brought up the rear. Oswin had joined them last night. It was fortunate that the other two men had decided to stop for a while to let the horses rest and drink, or he would not have caught up with them. Harken was surprised to see him arrive, but the man did not mind the additional travelling companion.
Raven had simply shrugged and said nothing. However, Oswin surmised that by the stubborn set of the mercenary's shoulders and by how the man simply refused to look at the Ostian man-at-arms throughout their whole journey so far, Raven certainly did not share Harken's sentiments.
"We should stop soon," Harken yelled from the rear of the small convoy, interrupting Oswin's thoughts.
Raven slowed his horse from a full gallop to a more sedate canter, and then to a full stop, allowing the other two men to catch up to him. "We've still a few hours of daylight left," he said, frowning slightly. "We should press on."
"Not with that weather," Harken said, looking at the dark clouds in the skies ahead. "I've travelled through this region before--you do not want to ride in one of the storms here. The rain's so heavy you can barely see where you're going. We'll need to find shelter."
"We ride on for about another hour, and then we'll camp," Raven said; Harken nodded in agreement. "Do you know of a good place to stay for the night?"
Harken kept silent for a moment, thinking.
"Perhaps there's something marked on the map," Oswin suggested.
"Hmm." There was a slight touch of irritation in Raven's response, but he said nothing more as he retrieved the map Mark had given him. He unrolled it and studied it quickly before he said, "There should be a cave some distance ahead. It says here that it's frequently used by travellers as a shelter."
"I hope there's enough room for us and the horses," Harken remarked before they moved on.
The cave, it turned out, had more than adequate room for the whole party. The horses were quickly led inside and rubbed down; their sweaty coats needed to be dried, or else they would catch a chill in the storm. "I'll see to the horses," Harken volunteered. "Someone should go get water."
"I'll do it," Raven said, untying the waterskins that hung from his saddle. "There's a brook close by, according to the map."
"I'll go with you," Oswin said, earning him a surprised glance from the mercenary. "We'll need firewood," he added quickly.
Raven shrugged. "As you wish."
It did not take long for the two men to reach the small stream marked on Mark's map. Like the cave nearby, travellers made frequent use of it; one thoughtful traveller had even constructed a crude hold of firewood, made of strong branches and sticks to shelter a cache of dry wood from the elements.
Oswin helped himself to some of the firewood before he chopped down some tree branches with the small woodsman's axe he carried to replenish what he took. Occasionally he would turn away from his work to glance at Raven; the younger man remained silent as he filled the waterskins with water from the brook.
The low, rumbling roll of thunder in the distance interrupted Oswin's thoughts, as well as Raven's; both of them looked up to see a bank of dark clouds moving out of the western sky. Then again, they heard the dull roll of thunder.
"We should get back," Oswin stated, stacking the newly chopped wood in the crude hold.
Raven merely grunted in response as he filled the last of the waterskins. There was a long, awkward pause before he added, somewhat grudgingly, "Do you want help with the firewood?"
"No, I can manage enough for all of us," Oswin replied, pile of firewood in his arms.He walked closer to the other man, and then took a deep breath before he added, "Thank you for asking, Lord Raymond."
The waterskins dropped to the ground with a dull thud; Oswin only heard the quick, yet all-too-familiar sound of a sword drawn from its scabbard before he found Raven standing before him, the man's blade pointed at his throat.
"So," Raven said, "did Uther send you to finish me off?"
Oswin slowly shook his head. "No, Lord Raymond."
"Really?" He sounded sceptical, and Oswin did not blame him.
"I only wish to talk."
Oswin eyed Raven's sword. "Preferably without that pointed in my direction, milord."
Raven snorted and lowered his blade, but made no move of sheathing it. "And why," he asked, "should I believe that you won't try anything against me?"
Oswin met Raven's gaze. "I swear it upon my life and my honour that I will not raise my hand against you, Lord Raymond," he said solemnly. "I give you my word." Seeing a flicker of uncertainty in Raven's eyes, he added, "I'm sure you remember that even though my time in Cornwell was short, I served your father as best as I could."
He hoped that was enough to persuade the younger man. Fortunately for him, Raven seemed somewhat convinced with his arguments.
"I remember," Raven said after a long moment. "You served him well enough. All right," he said, grudgingly sheathing his sword, "you can talk, but I do not guarantee that I will listen."
"Thank you, milord."
"And enough with the 'milords', I no longer deserve that. Or have you forgotten, Oswin?" Raven moved to pick up the dropped waterskins. However, the younger man left his sword arm free of burden, Oswin noted, leaving the Ostian man-at-arms somewhat amused.
He did not reply to Raven's question; he doubted Raven wanted to hear it anyway. "I am here not at the request of Lord Uther, nor Lord Hector," Oswin began, "but I am here of my own choosing." He took a deep breath. "I want to talk to you about your parents."
"What's there to talk about?" Raven did not bother to hide the anger and bitterness in his voice. "They're dead. Ostia is responsible for that. That is all I need to know."
"You need to know the truth."
"The truth?" Raven snorted in derision and turned to walk back to camp; Oswin sped after him, barely remembering to take the firewood. Go home, Oswin," Raven said. "Go back to Hector and stay out of my way. I'm not interested in hearing any more of Ostia's lies."
"I talked to your sister, and--"
"You did what?"
Before Oswin could even blink, he found Raven's sword pointed at his throat again. It seems the mercenary was even faster than he previously thought.
"Does she know?" Raven growled.
"Know what, milord?"
"Hang it all, Oswin! Don't try to play the fool with me!" Raven snarled. "Does she know?"
Oswin took a deep breath before he nodded. "She knows they're gone."
Raven's blade wavered slightly, and for a moment Oswin thought he saw a faint glimmer of anguish in the mercenary's eyes. "I wanted to spare her that, at least," Raven muttered softly, but Oswin heard him all the same.
"You cannot hide it forever, milord," Oswin replied, his tone gentle.
"No, no... I suppose not." Some of the anger in Raven seemed to have died away, for he looked away and sheathed his sword. "So this is what she meant when she said that I was not to do anything foolish..."
Raven ignored him. "We should get back," was all the younger man said before he resumed his interrupted trek back to the cave.
"I still wish to discuss the matter of your parents, milord."
"I know enough," was the curt reply.
"But Lord Raymond--"
Raven halted his steps and turned to look at Oswin in the eye. "Oswin," he said after a long, awkward moment of silence, "I swear on my life that I will not kill that fool of a lordling of yours. Will this satisfy you?"
Oswin stared at the mercenary; he certainly did not expect for this to happen. It took him some moments before he could answer. "Thank you, Lord Raymond."
"But I still need to tell you the truth about your parents."
Raven's shoulders stiffened. "I already know the truth," he said, his tone solemn, before he walked away.
Raven did not answer.