Prisoner of War
Mememto, vita brevis.
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
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.
"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
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
"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."
he took a seat at the other end of her pallet. "So where is the rest of this
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
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
"Indeed. Somebody will retch
on your boots during drills, but at least it won't be me."
Kerin groaned. "I am truly
"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."
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."
bastards that they are," she agreed.
he said mildly, "your claws are showing."
she answered, cheerfully unapologetic. "I'm a little bitter."
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
"And came here instead?" he
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 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
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
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
"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?"
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," 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."
was." After a pause, he offered, "Perhaps, when this is over, I can help you
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
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
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.