Prisoner Of War - Prelude

Prisoner of War

Prelude

Mememto, terrigena.
Mememto, vita brevis.

            Shing.
            Shing.

            The whetstone made a soft, sibilant metallic sound against tempered steel, echoing softly in the all-but-empty warehouse. The building, one of many on the Palanthian waterfront, had been constructed to hold the cargoes of merchant ships that docked in Palanthas, but now it held only dust, and row upon row of bedrolls and pallets--the makeshift bunks of Company T of the Palanthas Militia. In the shadows of the far corner, clothed in smoky grey leathers and little more than a shadow herself, a slender elven woman sat cross-legged, sharpening a shortsword.
            The fact that she was alone in her company's impromptu barracks did not seem to bother her. One might have even suspected that she preferred it. Regardless, when the warehouse door opened and soft footsteps approached her, she continued with the task at hand almost with an air of complacency.
            Shing.
           
 "Siona?" a quiet voice, flavored lightly with the lilt of the elfwoman's homeland, asked.
            She looked up now, brushing wisps of snowy white hair away from her eyes. "Commander," she responded in her own tongue, with a slight nod of respect.
            He waved the title away carelessly. "Kerin."
            Siona Shadowflight canted her head to the side, regarding Kerin Silveroak. He was taller than she was, tall for an elf, but still slender; his shoulder-length dusty-blond hair had been bound carelessly back, making his pointed ears look more prominent. He'd shed his chainmail tunic but still wore a longsword at his side, and he still had the look of one in command. "That's not very good protocol," she told him blandly.
            "Hang protocol," was his somewhat irreverent response. "Do you honestly believe anyone else in this company cares about protocol?"
            Siona chuckled. "A few, maybe. All right, then, Kerin, sit down before I hurt my neck looking up at you."

            Obligingly, he took a seat at the other end of her pallet. "So where is the rest of this company, anyhow?"

            Laying down the whetstone, Siona replied, "Out drinking, most of them." She retrieved a square of soft chamois and began polishing the blade. "The ones that didn't go specifically to drink went with friends, to keep them company while they drink."
            Kerin grimaced. "Wonderful." His dry tone made the single word speak volumes of sarcasm.
            "There were a few priestly types who headed in the general direction of the library," Siona added. "You won't be seeing them before sunrise either."
            At that, he chuckled quietly and nodded agreement. "So why are you still here?"
            "I'm not much of a drinker," she replied with a crooked grin.
            "Good," he said wryly. "At least there will be one member of this company who isn't hung over tomorrow morning."
            "Indeed. Somebody will retch on your boots during drills, but at least it won't be me."
            Kerin groaned. "I am truly comforted."
            "Besides," she added, indicating the flask that sat nearby with a nod of her head, "I don't have a high opinion of the drinks served in the local taverns."
            "What's that?"
            Siona shrugged, regarding the mirror-bright sheen of her blade. "See for yourself," she said absently.
            Curiously, he uncorked the flask and sniffed at its contents, then took a cautious sip. His eyes widened in surprise. "Elven wine."
            "In very deed," she replied amusedly, sheathing her sword.
            He laughed a little. "How much did you pay for this?"
            She quirked a rueful grin, answering, "More than I care to admit. But it's the real thing, brought to me straight from Qualinesti. Help yourself."
            Kerin saluted her with the flask. "To the Qualinesti."
            "Self-righteous hypocrite bastards that they are," she agreed.

            "Siona," he said mildly, "your claws are showing."

            "Sorry," she answered, cheerfully unapologetic. "I'm a little bitter."

            After another sip of wine, he offered the flask to her. "Dare I ask?"
            She shrugged. "The tale isn't worth telling, really." Accepting the flask from him, she took a swallow, then handed it back. "Suffice it to say that there's a reason I opted not to stay at home."
            "And came here instead?" he inquired.
            Siona shook her head, face sealing over. "That has nothing to do with Qualinesti. I have unfinished business with the Dragonarmies."
            Wisely, Kerin let that go without further questions.
            "So what about you?" she asked, diverting the conversation from herself. "I can't believe you're here because you like trying to turn peasants into infantry."
            He laughed a bit, with as much regret as humor. "No, I had no intentions of commanding anything, much less this farce. I'm just lucky, I suppose."
            "You don't have much confidence in your gallant soldiers," Siona noted with asperity.
            "They're mostly farmers and craftsmen, with not a clue to share amongst the lot of them," he returned, his tone one of pity and a hint of purely elven derision. "I don't trust half of them any farther than I could throw Lord Amothus's warhorse; I know for a fact that at least two of them are thieves. And that's not counting the kender."
            She chuckled quietly. "You don't see me volunteering to take your place, do you?"
            "You have more sense, evidently," he said ruefully. "I wish I did."
            She reclaimed the flask of wine from him for another swallow, and pointed out, "You haven't done so badly, considering."
            "Considering what I have to work with and the short time I've had to do it in, you mean?" Kerin shook his head. "I'd like to think it would be enough, but—well, you've seen them."
            "You keep saying 'them.' I am a member of this company as well, if you'll recall."
            "You," he said, "came here knowing more than I've managed to teach most of these poor clods. If it comes to combat, most of them aren't going to survive it."
            "I hope it won't," she said, more serious now. "Quite frankly, I don't want to face the sort of thing that Kitiara uth Matar can pull out of her dragonhelm."
            Again, he sighed, regarding the flask of elven wine regretfully. "I suppose the best we can do is hope."
            "And pray," she agreed, and echoed his sigh. "Dismal thought."
            "That's war for you," he said, a little bleakly.
            They subsided into silence, each having a good idea of what the other was thinking, and neither caring to speak those thoughts aloud. Instead they shared the elven wine back and forth, until the silence became less depressed and more companionable.
            Then brown eyes met blue-grey over the half-empty flask, and the silence took on another quality entirely.
            "Perhaps," Kerin mused quietly, "when this is over, you and I..."
            "That's the loneliness talking," she said, with a touch of sorrow. "I should know; I've felt it often enough myself."
            He sighed. "I suppose. Still, in another time, another place..."
            "But not here," Siona said. "Not now; not you and I. You have responsibilities, and I—I have promises to keep."
            He looked to her, inquiring softly, "There is someone else?"
            She nodded. "Yes," she replied, simply. "There is someone else."
            "Not here..." The words had a questioning lilt.
            "No," she said. "He was taken prisoner by draconians some months ago."
            "Oh," said Kerin, and then, "I'm sorry. You don't know where he is?"

            Siona shook her head. "I'm not even sure if he's still alive. But I have to try, at least." She looked up, meeting his eyes again. "I have to know."
            Curious despite himself, he asked, "What is his name?"
            "Madoc."
            "Madoc," Kerin repeated quietly. "Is he the reason you left Qualinesti?"
            "You," Siona told him without rancor, "are entirely too sharp. Yes, he's the reason I left—or rather, I'm the reason he left. It's considered bad form for the scion of a family of noble elven warriors to fall in love with a ghostly-looking half-ranger, half-swordswoman from the lower ranks of Qualinesti society."
            He reached out idly to toy with a loose lock of her unnaturally white hair. "I don't think you look ghostly. On someone else, perhaps, but on you it's impressive." He regarded her mildly. "It suits you."
            "I'm not sure if that was a compliment or not."

            "It was." After a pause, he offered, "Perhaps, when this is over, I can help you find him."
            Siona blinked at him, startled. "I—" She hesitated. "I would be grateful."
            "And perhaps," he continued, voice the tiniest bit wistful, "you can save a dance for me next Spring Dawning."
            At that, she smiled. "I will," she promised. "But you may come to regret asking when I stomp all over your toes."
            He grinned slightly. "I'll take that chance."
            "Don't say I didn't warn you," she told him, laughing softly.
            "I wouldn't dream of it," he replied, his grin widening. Her offered her a hand. "Friends, then?"
            "Friends," she agreed. Their hands clasped briefly; his tanned, hers white, both callused and strong. It was enough.
            Then several pairs of boots clumped into the warehouse from the street, letting a whisper of cool night wind in with them. The arrivals talked among themselves in the loud voices of men just drunk enough to believe they don't seem drunk.
            Kerin sighed, the camaraderie broken—or perhaps merely put aside. "You had better get some sleep," he said, rising to his feet with easy elven grace. "Tomorrow is going to be a long day."
            Siona nodded acquiescence. "Good night, Commander."
            "Kerin," he corrected her, with the barest flash of a grin.
            She smiled, briefly. "Kerin."
            He nodded, turning away. "Good night, Siona." Then he made his way out of the warehouse, carefully circumventing the small knot of cheerful drunks on his way to the door.
            Siona stretched out on her pallet with her head pillowed on her rolled-up cloak and tried to sleep, and to not think of the things she had seen in Kerin's dark brown eyes.

Et itur ad astra.
Et itur ad astra.