Author's Note: Okay, this is terribly chliché, I realise this. I've had three or four different versions of the events that would lead to Alandra's little speech, some dramatic, some violent, but I've decided I wanted to use this version. Why? Because it cracks me up!
Professional stuntmen were used to perform this scene. Do not attempt this at home!
"Let go over a cliff, die completely, and then come back to life - after that you cannot be deceived"
And then, on the day they had arrived at Basa's southern coast and everyone was busy unloading the boats and erecting a base camp, the time had come for Crimson Sabatt to take her revenge.
"Surprise," came a low voice near Kestral's ear. Something sharp and pointy was pressed against her back. "Well, gypsy, I predict you this: you will apologise for your little troublemaking the other day."
It had apparently been a bad idea of Kestral's to explore the surroundings of their base camp on her own. She was missing her dagger from her belt and she had a faint idea who might have it.
"I sure as anything won't! Why should I?"
"Let's just say I don't associate with the likes of bandits on such a personal level."
"You don't associate with bandits? Maybe -I- don't associate with the Red Prince's tramp general*!"
The change in Crimson Sabatt's countenance was remarkable. She looked as if she'd been slapped across the face with a damp rag. Her eyes grew even narrower as she intently fastened her gaze on Kestral (the back of her head, that is). Her voice was icy and barely audible. "I hope you are a fast runner, because you better start running now." Oh yes, that had struck home.
And run she did, but not until Kestral had delivered a sharp blow to Sabatt's side with her elbow; followed by her fuming opponent who looked like a creature straight from a nightmare with her feathered cape blowing from her back and shoulders. The dagger in her hand had turned into an instrument of impending Armageddon.
"Give me the dagger!" shouted Kestral, well ahead of Sabatt and turning her head to estimate the distance between them.
"Come and get it!" yelled Sabatt.
"Then stop running!" challenged Kestral.
"Why don't you?" It was a recipe for disaster.
And it was easily the most bizarre thing anyone could have ever witnessed. The two women engaged into a fierce hand-to-hand combat that evolved around the dagger in Sabatt's clutch and turned into a wrestling match that hardly befit a knight.
It was only a few gallons of dirt short of mud wrestling. This was never meant to be a fair fight, it was an opportunity to shred each other to pieces without as much as a half-hearted attempt at a reason. Both craved this, and they both knew the rules to this kind of inherently female fight.
"Stop writhing!" Kestral managed to get hold of a fistful of Sabatt's hair and pulled.
"Make me!" shrieked Sabatt as she clawed at Kestral's eyes.
Both rolled on the ground in such an utterly disgraceful manner they could have paused an entire war by the unbelievable sight alone.
Maybe it was true that women always resorted to this kind of cat fight no matter their station.
Or maybe they simply wanted to tear each other apart in the most rewarding, physical way possible.
All bets were clearly on Kestral until Sabatt managed to get her into a firm headlock which lasted for a whole of two seconds.
When Kestral had nearly managed to wind the dagger out of Sabatt's fist, her opponent bit her. Hard. "Bad Crimmy! Down!" Kestral kicked at her and down she went, and dropped the dagger in the process.
"Oh, whoa, impressive. Is that some kind of Red Prince elite move or have you been practising?"
Sabatt, crouching on the sandy ground, hissed: "Go jump off a mountain!"
"What else can you do? Roll over?"
That, too, she could, taking Kestral with her whose hand reached for the dagger on the ground.
It wasn't a terribly smart idea to challenge Kestral to a hand-to-hand combat, but Crimson Sabatt did reasonably well for someone who hardly ever partook in this kind of activity.
More hair was pulled and more insults were exchanged.
The world could have stopped turning without them noticing.
And that was by far the biggest mistake about this whole affair, as hilariously embarrassing as it already was.
The dagger, kicked away by a flailing foot, slid across the ground and lay in plain sight.
Kestral let go of Sabatt and threw herself towards the weapon, or so she tried, but alas she was somewhat hindered by her angrily screaming opponent, misjudged the distance and toppled over the edge of the cliff whose existence both women had completely removed from their minds.
"Hah!" cheered a triumphant Crimson Sabatt as she went to pick up the dagger.
And was grabbed by the throat by Lady Kestral who hung on to the edge of the cliff with one hand, closing the other around Sabatt's throat. "Surprise!"
Thus followed the next mistake. Crimson Sabatt, in her unfortunate position, did the only thing that was considerably more stupid than trying to wrestle Kestral: she kicked her, and thus the person who had her throat in a firm grasp while dangling from a cliff.
She was hauled off her feet.
Lord Marcus emerged from his tent and checked the fit of his belt as he did so. His longsword was strapped to his side, and he nodded to himself, satisfied. He was all set up, just having finished putting his things in the tent. Alandra was already awaiting him in the centre of the camp site where she had set up a makeshift table, a large map of parchment in her hands. Lord Hakim stood with her, easily looking over her shoulder to get a view of the map.
Marcus ran a hand through his hair and prepared to approach his companions at a smart pace – until he was blown off his feet and blinded by the awning of his tent which fell over his eyes.
The impact wasn't nearly as loud as it should have been, judged by the sheer amount of damage it did.
Kestral crashed into the roof of the tent, effectively taking it down in the process, followed by Sabatt who smashed whatever might have still been standing.
Both came to a halt, face down in the remnants of Marcus' tent.
With a little thumping sound the dagger landed right in front of them, just out of reach.
Two sets of eyes locked on the weapon. Two sets of hands twitched with the desire to be the first to reach it. Both prepared to lunge forward.
"This is quite enough now!" bellowed an angry female voice. Alandra's incredibly angry glare locked on both of them after she had hurried to their side.
She helped Marcus up without even taking her eyes off the two women.
"I do not want to know who started this! But there is one thing I have you know, both of you: This ends here! We haven't even begun this mission and already you are at each other's throats – not like I would not have expected one of you to act out."
As was her talent, Lady Alandra managed to be reprehensive on so many levels it was near impossible to simply dismiss her. She continued in her sincere fashion while Marcus calmly brushed the sand off his trousers.
"You will both work this out, and we will see no more of this! Let me be clear: I will not go on this mission with two insolent children instead of fellow knights! If you wish to act like children, then be treated as such. If any of you hazards our expedition into these lands by any kind of aggressive behaviour towards another member of the company, I will personally pack you on a boat and ship you back home, both of you!"
It was an impressive speech from a woman who had just witnessed two of her followers fall from the sky and crush a tent in the process.
For once, Alandra had immediately come to the right conclusion.
Kestral looked at Crimson Sabatt. Crimson Sabatt looked at Kestral.
"Your fault," Kestral hissed.
"What was that?" snapped Lady Alandra. Standing over them like a ferocious mother hen, she folded her arms, her face entirely hidden by the hood. "Up with you and let me check you for injuries. After I'm done with you you will build up that tent again, and you'll do it together – don't you dare any snide remarks, Sabatt!"
Crimson Sabatt closed her mouth. An enraged Alandra was a force not to be trifled with, and both knew they would do exactly what she demanded.
Marcus, in the meantime, simply shook his head in a placid 'I've seen it all' way and took the map Hakim handed him without as much as a comment.
The same day, late evening
"Alandra is right, you know." A slim shape ducked under the tent awning and entered the dimly lit domain of Crimson Sabatt, her personal sworn enemy. The owner of the tent looked up from the book she was reading, lounging on an assortment of cushions. Her expression turned into a frown of disapproval when Kestral stood at the entrance to face her. The unfortunate biscuit in her hand suffered its untimely demise in her clenched fist.
"Really." Sabatt shut her book with a thud (and disposed of the crumbs). "And what are you going to do about it?"
Sabatt removed herself from the cushions in a sophisticated, elegant manner that forced a scowl from Kestral who crossed her arms, giving the Guerannan a nasty look.
The two women confronted each other with merely their eyes, wise enough not to engage into another brawl. Their previous encounter had left them both thoroughly bruised.
"Gosh, I really hate you," muttered Kestral as she briefly turned her eyes away to mark her words with a studied expression of thorough aversion.
"How very touching." Crimson Sabatt was, of course, entirely ignorant of whether or not this Settler-bred mongrel should hate her.
The curly-haired woman uncrossed her arms to point a finger at Sabatt. It was not so much pointing as actually pushing into the front of her crimson garments. The woman from Gueranna quite literally ruffled her feathers at such treatment, giving her the impression of an angered crow. Or vulture, as Kestral thought.
Sabatt gracefully detached herself from Kestral's fingertip by taking a smooth backwards step. Her brow was raised the usual sliver. "Well?"
Kestral's eyes glinted with stubborn pride. "Have a seat somewhere?"
The moment of suspense subsided when Sabatt casually motioned towards the seating area of her small domain.
"Very well; se tu vuoi, brigante."
"Try to insult me in a language that's not gibberish."
The hideous crow watched Kestral from atop its perch where it sat like the parrots she had seen in Janub. She walked past Sabatt with as casual a stride as she could muster.
"Oh, but I didn't."
"Really. Well, Sabby," the former mercenary leader announced in an equally casual tone, "You know I never believed you actually were on our side."
The young woman sat down on a large cushion and looked around briefly, trying to give this the impression of an everyday conversation. She needed Sabatt to think that this really was no big deal for her, when in fact it was. The young woman had spent most of the day contemplating Alandra's patronising speech, and while she didn't feel particularly close with her she had learned to value her fellow knights' opinions. Kestral knew she had a quick temper and rash attitude that sometimes didn't lead to the best of decisions.
This time, however, she had thought long and hard and she realised that she had to end her enmity with Crimson Sabatt at least on a temporary basis in order not to hazard their operations in these lands.
She hated the guts of that woman, but she loved her friends and Westerlin; she would not put them at stake.
Crimson Sabatt cocked her head to the side after she had settled down opposite of Kestral. The look she gave the younger woman was inquisitive. "So I've heard."
Kestral briskly pushed some hair out of her face and back over her shoulder. "You and I are going to make a deal."
Sabatt tilted her head to the other side, very much giving an impersonation of her own pet crow as she did. "And why might I be inclined to do such a thing?"
"Because," Kestral explained with a stern expression, "let's face it, we don't trust each other, and this is a problem, correct? Alandra is right, we can't work on this mission if we can't rely on each member of the group." She scanned Sabatt's face, then continued. "I'm not saying we need to like each other. I'm not happy they took you along, but that's how it is, so ..."
"Diplomacy has never been your strong point, has it?" Crimson Sabatt said at length while she tilted her head back up.
"Duplicity has never been my strong point, unlike yours, Sabatt," Kestral retorted sharply.
Crimson Sabatt's eyes narrowed in a familiar expression of discontent that turned into an empty smirk. "Definitely not your strong point." She casually brushed her hair back over her shoulder. "Continue."
"I give you my word that I an't gonna give you a hard time if you give me yours that you won't attempt to harm anyone unless it's by our orders or necessary to survive on this mission. Words are cheap, though; you have the habit of not staying true to yours. So we're going to do this my way."
Sabatt was not amused, evident by the look of icy anger that was now on her face, because Kestral was actually mistaken. Crimson Sabatt had stayed true to her word on those rare occasions she gave it – that is, for as long as those able to hold her to it remained in a state alive enough to do so, which was sometimes not too long given they were prone to mysterious and tragic accidents.
A smug grin crept onto Kestral's features. "So. Give me your word as a knight or whatever you consider yourself to be. Don't, and Alandra should be very happy to hear all of this. And believe me, I can be very convincing." She leaned in towards Sabatt, once again pressing the tip of her finger into her front while fastening her eyes on her. "You're going to give me your word and seal it by blood," she said in a low, dramatic voice. "In a blood pact."
Kestral could barely suppress her mischievous triumph when Crimson Sabatt's eyes grew large with what was no doubt anxiety.
"If you break it, you've forfeit your life and I will make sure you'll be locked away in the darkest, dampest prison cell Vestholm offers, and if I personally have to dig you a hole that's deep enough."
In an overly dramatic motion, Kestral drew a dagger. It was the very same dagger they had fought over hours ago. She tried to hide her smug grin when she noticed her rival's wince of surprise.
Sabatt had by now backed away as far as she could without being too obvious about it. The sheer amount of disbelief on her face could no longer be hidden by any attempt. She was clearly distressed. "You certainly don't expect me to–"
"Watch." The former mercenary extended her left arm and gently put the blade on her own wrist. "It's easy. We simply slice our arms, see?"
Sabatt was entirely and thoroughly taken aback now, and her face was even paler than normal which was certainly an achievement with a natural complexion the colour of a bed sheet. The woman from Gueranna was overwhelmed by such barbaric customs (nevermind her own behaviour, of course). The thought of drawing blood from her own arm made her quite nauseous. She was, of course, an excessively vain and self-loving person, and maiming herself was among the top ten things that she definitely wasn't keen on doing. Another was falling from a cliff, but that couldn't be helped anymore.
Kestral enjoyed her expression to the fullest. "Well, Crimmy, you don't have to." Her words came in the same deceptively calm tone she had used before. "I'm sure you can convince Marcus he's better off trusting you than me."
Crimson Sabatt collected herself in an attempt at dignity and slowly started to pull off her left glove.
Kestral couldn't help but notice that she seemed to always wear gloves. And she noticed something else: The part of her glove that covered her arm up to the elbow wasn't actually a glove at all. It was a bracer, leather most likely, coated by whatever material it was that Sabatt's garments consisted of. She might have misjudged the woman somewhat, that dress wasn't as useless as it seemed. Clever.
If Lord Marcus had reason to doubt her, thought Crimson Sabatt, it was either fight or flight, and she ultimately didn't prefer to lose the comfortable life outside a prison cell. There was simply no way she could coax Marcus into anything, he was smarter than that by far by now.
"Swell. Just remember that you can't break this blood pact, ever. Your head will explode if you attempt to do so."
Her eyes went narrow and, like daggers out of a hot brazier, smouldered at Kestral.
"You," she finally concluded in a very low and icy voice, "are leading me on."
And Kestral collapsed into bursts of pearly laughter.
"Sorry," she spluttered between laughs, "I just wanted to see if you'd do it."
Kestral didn't realise how lucky she was. The only way to pacify Crimson Sabatt was to baffle her, and she was completely baffled. Too baffled to assassinate the insolent little bandit. Too baffled to do anything but stare in profound bewilderment.
The young woman continued to laugh as she admitted: "There's no stupid bandit blood pact. Fooled you, Crimmy. What you gonna do, tear down a tent – again?" She chortled, curls shaking with muffled laughter.
Sabatt blinked, then stated: "No. I think not."
She, too, began to chuckle after a while when she realised her mistake – she really ought to know better by now. "Unless you are going to tell anyone, of course."
"Don't worry, this remains our little secret. Let's end this stupid feud, shall we? You have my word."
Kestral held out her hand in a friendly, peaceable manner, and Sabatt took it, evidently still somewhat bemused. "And I give you mine, rogue. I am and I have been on Vestholm's side. Do not make false assumptions about me."
"I will not have you run around on your own and do whatever, though. You gotta learn to work within systems, you know. I'll keep a very close eye on you, Crimmy."
The other woman never turned her eyes from Kestral. The look upon her face was priceless and ever so smug, if not gleeful. "And you must learn to pick your battles, lest you will find that very bad things can happen to those who attract the wrong enemies."
"Like who," Kestral countered, "– you? Give me a break, your head is too far up your backside."
"And my boot could very well be up yours very soon."
"So you're not even going to pretend to be all nice and play the 'I've reformed' game now?"
"No. Nice doesn't suit me."
"That's like the first thing you say that's actually true."
"Maybe you simply don't listen well." Sabatt's brow rose in the usual manner while she smirked.
"You're sneaky." Kestral grinned. "You almost got me fooled into believing you were somehow humorous."
Sabatt launched into her trademark sneer. "Oh no, I'm not; not in my line of work."
Kestral burst into bubbly laughter again.
Sabatt's brow rose another sliver as she watched this reaction. Her face altered to a smug expression. She found this, for some reason, rather enjoyable. "I can be. Whatever suits you."
"But I still hate your guts."
"The feeling is entirely mutual."
Kestral got up. "Yeah. Night, Crimmy."
"Good night, rogue."
That woman was truly a nutcase.
And, unbeknownst to herself, Kestral begun to like this.
* Credit for this hilarious nickname goes to the unknown person whose review of "The Settlers – Rise of an Empire" I've read some time ago. This was the only thing that stuck. My apologies, but it is too good not to use and confront her with. I am sure it was meant in an entirely nice and non-offensive way. Because, really, who would ever think that about Crimson Sabatt (unless you played the German version, in which case I find this absolutely understandable)? Go stand in the corner. Shame on you.