Compulsory Disclaimer: All credit for characters, settings and everything else related goes to Blue Byte and Ubisoft, designers and distributors respectively. Except of Crimson Sabatt. I claim her as my own. Sue me.
Chronological Order: Set after the game ends, after New Alliances and The Eastern Realm.
Author's Note: I'm not usually one for extensive author's notes, however thanks and an explanation are in order.
This story is based on an idea of heatherek and I that led to unexpected discoveries and character twists as we delved into it. Thanks go to heatherek for her awe-inspiring depiction of Thordal, his tales, his homeland and for the countless hours she had to endure my grumpiness. And for her depiction of the Grandmother. Seriously, I had a blast!
Big thanks also to ParchmentRose who voluntarily suffers through my horrible Engmush (that's what you get when you try to write in English but fail) and who sends me back to the drafting table frequently so I may improve my writing.
Thanks, gals, I owe you a big box of chocolate chip cookies!
Update: Big thanks also go to Harley, you know who you are and why! :D
A Song of Ice and Fire
Confusion now hath made his masterpiece.
– William Shakespeare
Vestholm Castle, Autumn
"I am not taking her with me!" Thordal's fist slammed down on the oaken table, causing a clatter of crockery among the porcelain cups.
Marcus and Alandra shared an apprehensive glance.
The young knight ran his fingers through his thick brown mane, briefly feeling the braid that was supposed to keep most of it out of his face. "Must we really go through this again?" He sighed, then walked around the table in a manner he hoped would calm his fellow knight. "We've been through all this." Marcus vaguely pointed in the direction of the map of Narlind which lay spread on the table, corners pinned down by conveniently placed teacups. He shot a brief look to Alandra who hinted a nod, encouraging him to continue.
"The fact remains: We've got reports of raids in two coastal Narlindir villages, and no offence Thordal, I didn't think we'd be expecting more trouble in the raiding department. I completely understand that you're set to investigate as soon and as fast as you can, but –"
"Where's my little girl – Kes?" Thordal boomed as he loomed over the map on the table with the tip of his beard almost brushing on the paper before he pulled back and crossed his arms. Even without his giant axe, the towering Viking was a most intimidating sight. It didn't help that he was upset.
"Still in Janusberg. I'd love to join you, but you know I have other responsibilities right now, or I'd gladly head out and go have a look with you."
"Well, I guess I have to go alone, then. Hakim? Elias?" The Viking's voluminous articulation had simmered down to a low rumble which was no less intimidating but much easier on the ears, at least. Marcus hoped that his Viking friend was being receptive to his attempts at persuasion. It was generally a good idea to reason with the man, even more so when all that stood between him and the need to replace Alandra's best set of china was the amount of reason he could talk into him before Thordal's anger took on more palpable forms.
Then, of course, there was Crimson Sabatt.
Marcus shot her a brief, weary glance from the corner of his eye. Her face was pale as ever, if not paler, sharp features were pronounced further by the gauntness she had acquired lately. He could clearly see how her cheeks had hollowed. Like a ghost. A spooky weasel ghost. In Marcus' opinion, anyway.
Sabatt stood in an expression of cool detachment with her hands folded on her back, just close enough to the table to indicate she had business here. Sabatt, the crux of the matter, and she was being completely oblivious about it all. Which was to be expected.
Marcus spread his arms in an almost apologetic gesture. "You're the only knights available right now, and only because La... dy Alandra gives her approval for Sabatt to join you in regard to her condition." He'd almost made it all worse by a slip of his tongue. Thankfully no one seemed to notice.
Alandra quickly took over before the Viking had time to voice another complaint. "Sabatt knows as much of the northern territories as we do – and she speaks the local language. Her input will be valuable to you. Plus, the hearty northern climate would do her dwindling health some good, I believe." She paused briefly, giving her following words an air of importance. "The illness is getting worse."
Finally, Sabatt snapped out of her silence. "And I believe we needn't discuss this here. Am I even being asked here? Are you going to discuss this over my head?" Her voice sounded annoyed. Marcus suspected she would crank up both the volume and the level of annoyance within the next moments. He was not looking forward to it.
Slam. Clattering china on the table. "She can recover on this side of the sea!" If Alandra had hoped for her appeal to soften Thordal's refusal it didn't work. And now Sabatt was on their backs, too.
Marcus groaned inwardly.
Alandra remained unimpressed by the noise of brittle tableware. Her clear blue gaze fixed on the Viking. "I am told the famous hot springs do wonders." She turned her head in the direction of Sabatt. "We are indeed, since you do not seem overly concerned with your health."
A huff from Sabatt. "I am not concerned with my health?" The look the Guerannan woman shot Alandra was nothing short of vile. "I am not going with him."
Marcus' hands flew up in a helpless gesture. He rolled his eyes.
"Oh, but you are both going. That is out of the question."
"I'm not going to take that venomous snake with me! After what she did to my people!"
"You do not make decisions for me, Alandra." Sabatt jerked her head in the direction of Thordal. "I am confident you need not be overly worried."
The Viking crossed his arms. "I'm not worried. I am certain you won't set foot on my homeland."
Sabatt mimicked the gesture. "That makes two, then."
"Oh for crying out loud! Thordal, you're not going alone. And we can't go with you, so that leaves you two options: to stay and wait until we can, or to work with Sabatt." This was worse than herding his many siblings. At least Marcus didn't remember his siblings ever displaying such an amount of sheer immature belligerence.
"It is not his choice to make." The level of annoyance in Sabatt's voice had been cranked up a noticeable notch. Marcus began to dread how this might continue.
Thordal grunted. "Both stupid ideas. It is my choice! It is my country out there!"
"Even the northern simpleton believes your fancy notions to be ludicrous. I will not hear more of this conversation." Crimson Sabatt spun on her heel and strode towards the door, but Alandra's fingers clasped around her arm before she could make her exit. Alandra pulled her back with little heed to her angry hisses.
"You stay right here. You are both going to investigate the events in Narlind and I will hear no further objections to this. This does not only concern you, Thordal. It is the concern of your people!"
Sabatt yanked free from Alandra's grip. "And it is most definitely not of my concern."
"It concerns your life I am obliged to preserve."
Both women were facing each other now. "I was under the impression I had been doing that for the past twenty-odd years, and successfully so."
Again, a massive fist was slammed down on the table, and the resulting clatter seemed to ring on in Marcus' head. He rubbed his face. He'd had enough. "I'm sick and tired of this bickering!" Without noticing he had walked up to Alandra and was now standing right beside her.
Her arms were crossed, and the young Knight was familiar with the poised manner in which she carried herself. He was eternally grateful not to be on the receiving end of the hard piercing stare she reserved for those who didn't follow her explicit orders.
Alandra inhaled sharply. Her tone was stern and commanding. "We are agreed, then. I will provide all the necessities by tomorrow."
"No," rumbled Thordal, "She won't –"
"Yes, she will."
Marcus felt sympathetic for his friend, and he almost regretted he had to put him through this. It was easier said than done; Marcus all too vividly remembered their struggles against the Red Prince's agent and her countless betrayals at every possible turn. He'd much rather run her through than allow Sabatt to get anywhere near his home – or at least that's what he secretly wished to do to her given that she had made herself quite comfortable in Vestholm by now. He couldn't help but feel that Thordal was right.
A deep rumble emerged from the Viking's throat. "Bah! Fine, she goes with me." He pointed a thick finger at the Guerannan woman. "But one step out of line and she won't make it back to Westerlin, I promise you this!"
With a final glower, the giant Viking stomped out of the briefing room and left.
Sabatt's murderous glare followed him.
Marcus gave another weary sigh. "Whatever became of honour, decency and trust? Does anyone even remember that?" He shook his head and started to recover the miraculously undamaged porcelain cups from the table while Lady Alandra assumed a more relaxed stance after Thordal was gone. She smiled in the direction of Marcus and finally turned back to the other woman who still stood defiant. "I apologise for the harsh measure. Sabatt, I expect you to be civil towards Thordal. He is not one to be easily angered, but given the nature of your past dealings I do not wish for him to make good on his promise."
"That, Lady Alandra, is still Crimson Sabatt to you. And you have this entirely wrong: I will not go with him."
"You won't? Then I will just have to send you to Basrima to recover. Princess Saraya should be ever so delighted to coddle you."
A cup in each hand, Marcus waved his right arm in the direction of Sabatt. "Look, Sabatt. You may not like this, but Narlind might do you some good once you're there. What's the matter? We're just concerned about your health. Isn't that so, Alandra?"
Sabatt's lips tightened.
Marcus continued. "See, we're just worried. Come on. Thordal is a fine fellow, you'll get along." His eyes met Alandra's with a conspirational twinkle. "Are you sure she's fit enough to travel? Maybe our dear Lady Sabatt here just doesn't want to admit to her state of … indisposition."
"Oh, but she would surely not hide such a thing from us, Marcus." Alandra's smile was ever so ingenuous.
Marcus took his time to carefully arrange the teacups on a side table, not looking at the two women. "Are you sure? I think you better take her back to the infirmary and treat her to a couple of weeks of bed rest. And you need to keep an eye on her diet, for good measure."
Sabatt rolled her eyes. "You are truly unnerving, both of you. Very well. Have it your way – this time."
Alandra held back a smile. "Do try to enjoy yourself. And thank you."
"Suit yourself." Steering clear of Alandra, Sabatt pompously stalked towards the door and left in a dramatic swish of red.
Marcus couldn't help but chuckle. "Ouch. Good job, Alandra."
Alandra's eyes twinkled with amusement, and the smile found its way across her face. "You, too."
"We make a great team parenting these insolent Knights, don't we?"
"Oh, we do. But in all earnest, Marcus, aren't you worried they are going to harm each other, or that there will be trouble amongst the Narlindir?
He grinned, rolling up the map of Narlind on the table. "Kestral hasn't killed her yet, and I haven't killed her yet, so what are the odds?" He paused, frowning. "The Narlindir are our allies, and Sabatt is sworn to Vestholm now. Still..."
"Who's going to convince her of a … change of style? This is going to end really badly if she shows up just like that."
Alandra nodded wistfully. "I'll do it. Now, how about some archery practice? Last to arrive at the barracks is a lazy slug!"
He dropped the map. "You're on!"
Shooting sharp pointy things at immobile objects seemed like a wonderful idea now.
Early the next day, Vestholm Harbour
Marcus idly brushed wisps of unruly hair out of his face. The harbour was one of his favourite places to be, especially in a clear morning breeze that carried promises of a smooth passage across the ocean and the smell of adventure in faraway lands. He smiled, then tore his gaze from the distant waves and gave his friend a gentle nudge. "Exciting, isn't it?"
Thordal was busy directing a group of sailors carrying large boxes, occasionally bellowing out a crisp warning when they seemed to linger or sway too closely towards the edge of the basin. He watched them disappear up the gangway that led into the belly of the light caravel. The Viking turned his attention to Marcus. "Excited isn't the appropriate expression, lad. More like eager to head out and see what happened. Sometimes I wish I had a magical dragon to fly me across the ocean in no time at all."
Marcus grinned up at him. "I hear you. That would make things so much easier, wouldn't it? You'll have to make do with dragon ships."
Startled by a sudden expression of disbelief from Thordal he turned his head to follow his glance.
There stood Crimson Sabatt, her trademark crimson outfit gone in exchange for something of less identifying colours. If Marcus hadn't known better he would have sworn it came straight from Kestral's wardrobe, although the mix of dark leathers was considerably less revealing than the former bandit's usual attire. And considerably more form-fitting than Sabatt's.
"Oi," he said, cheeks burning.
Thordal was on the verge of laughter when Marcus desperately turned his face away. "Don't you look strange in that." Only a miracle kept his twitching features in check.
Sabatt crossed her arms, evidently not amused. "Yes, gentlemen?"
Thordal grinned. "Nothing. Might want to give a warning next time you sneak up on a poor unsuspecting lad like that."
The look Sabatt gave the Viking was entirely humourless.
He finally cracked up laughing when she continued to ignore them completely, flicked some hair over her shoulder and waltzed up the gangway to board the ship.
Marcus chuckled and briefly rubbed his chin as if attempting to remove any remaining trace of his embarrassing reaction. "Looks like you've got charming company."
The Viking sighed dramatically. "Bah, shut up, kid. That's not charming, that's a snake. This is going to be a long journey, mate. Wish me luck."
Marcus grinned broadly. "Good luck."
"Thanks." Thordal snorted, then walked towards the gangway himself. He turned and gave a final nod towards his friend. "See you when I see you, mate."
Marcus' eyes followed the departing ship, and when he finally turned away he left with a small salute towards the tiny disappearing form by the horizon.
A Song of Ice and Fire - Chapter One
updated: 13. Mar. 2012
word count: 2647