Brigands on the Beach- RTR folks see here for Garia story

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Brigands on the Beach- RTR folks see here for Garia story

Postby Rodia » Sun Sep 20, 2009 12:31 am

I am sure I will regret this tomorrow morning.

Those of you who know my brigand Garia (that is, the Redemption RP crowd) might be interested, those who don't might want to skip this story, it isn't cleaned up proper and isn't meant to be universally understood. It also suffers from an abominable lack of research.

Two years ago I started writing about how this upstanding (hah!) young man came to join a highway band. I still haven't finished but here, here it comes piece by piece. I suspect by the time I actually get to writing about the band the story will lean heavily towards its chief, Raisha, who is far from the mere NPC he was two years ago...but I digress.

I think I started writing it on Frelga's request. Somehow, everything I write seems to be because of Frelga.

:x :x :x :x

Anyway, here we go. Working title is Brigands on the Beach, or BoB for short.

EDIT: Brand spankin' new comment thread: http://forums.theonering.com/viewtopic.php?p=3812171
Last edited by Rodia on Tue Sep 22, 2009 4:40 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Postby Rodia » Sun Sep 20, 2009 12:35 am

Sereh let his toes sink into the sand. A piece of shell dug against his foot, and the water licked his skin in a manner that inspired pleasant dreams; indeed, Sereh had closed his eyes and was smiling softly at the clouds. They floated along the sky, dreamy and slow. No rush, they seemed to say, there is nothing troubling the world but the fast decline of such a marvelous day.
Only, when he stretched to comfort, the links of his mail bunched up and knotted under his back. He grunted, left without a choice.

His eyes stung, his head spun a little when he sat up. Hunched and chewing on the last of his sleep, he looked a bad fit for the mail he wore. Gauntlets lay discarded nearby, and a wandering crab considered his helmet for a dwelling. Sereh yawned.

"Ah, hell." he said, and with some effort, pulled off the chainmail. At last it landed clinking on the edge of the tide, and Sereh fell back next to it, his eyes closed once again.

"It'll rust up!" the incredulous protest amused Sereh.

"Mhm."

"It'll be useless..." He heard the murmur of sand and the jingle of mail being salvaged from a salty demise.

"Lots of use it is now." he retorted. There was a long silence before the other spoke.

"Still good mail..." he said, but did not seem convinced. Sereh stretched his neck for the sun.

"No good here. I'd do alike if I were you." he challenged. His companion laughed, but did not move away. Sereh opened one eye.

"Damn you, you're in my sun."

The other shrugged and sat down in the sand, first taking off his sword and pushing it into the ground, sheath and all. The belt flapped like a strand of seaweed.
"Maybe you're right." he admitted, staring out at the blue.

"Of course I am. No one out here for miles."

"Then shouldn't we go back to camp and tell them so?"

Sereh sighed for the naivete of youth. "No." he said simply, and closed both eyes again.

"Because they'll send someone to follow, and I don't think they'll like us here with our boots off, I mean, all right, it's just a hunch, what do I know..."

"Garia, shut the hell up. Please."

"I'm just not asking for trouble, that's all."

The sun had disappeared and the tide had left Sereh's toes cold. He sat upright, cranky at having his holiday spoiled, and gave Garia a look full of reproach.
"So you're afraid of trouble."

The young man was shocked. "I'm not afraid of anything!" he replied, indignant and ready to prove his claim.

"Yeah, so what's all this baby whining about someone being sent after us? You're dumber than a fencepost, boy, scouts get their time to do their job, and our time's not nearly up. Take your damned mail off, you're making me sweat just by looking." He let the other chew on that, and was granted a small bit of silence. He enjoyed it, though the best of his respite was already irretrievable. Sereh stared dumbly at the water and enjoyed the emptiness of the horizon.

Meanwhile, Garia had come to an astounding conclusion.
"We're all right, aren't we!" he exclaimed. "They'll just wait...and we can ride back at the last minute. Hah! Thats a kind of brilliant."

"Unlike so many other things." Sereh murmured. He wiggled his toes."Right, you understand. So, how much time does this leave us?" he raised a finger like a question mark. One of Garia's pale eyebrows went up, no doubt in strenuous mental effort.

"Til sunset tomorrow. Are we sleeping on the beach?"

Sereh laughed. "No. We're definitely not sleeping on the beach." he replied.

They walked to save their horses where the sand turned to flat pebbles. On their left, the landscape rose gradually from a flat grassland to a wall of grey cliffs that seemed to stretch further than sight. Sereh walked serene and content, but behind him Garia could not help glancing back at their long trail of hoof and boot, watching it wind away into the distance. The sea glistened and murmured its mystery.

When Sereh turned towards the cliffs and sought out a steep path to the top, he heard behind him a loud complaint.
"We couldn't have turned off the beach where it was flat?" Garia had not taken Sereh's example of undress and suffered from the heat, and the so far pointless promenade. His eyes scanned the glimmering horizon. Sereh could talk, but it was a time of war. That peaceful water could soon rise with black ships from the East.
But the immediate worry was the climb. Sereh was well ahead, his horse slowly following along the side of the precipice.

"So what's up there?" Garia called. He got no answer other than a wave from Sereh, and some gull's cry in the sky above. Grumbling wordlessly he led his horse up the path. His eyes glued to the ground for most of the journey, he was surprised once they turned towards the sea; from this height, it took the shape of an overturned bowl. He stared a while, fitting this view into his concept of the world.

At last the path dropped over the top of the cliff and spilled into a lush valley, winding down to cut off the hum of the sea. The wind fell into the trap easily and tore through the tall grass, spinning until it found the edge of the cup. Sereh had stopped to wait, though he looked impatient now.

"You've been here before?" Garia asked him. The menace of the sea was gone from his mind, but the daunting prospect of the return journey was not. Sereh took pains to appear mysterious.

"It's well worth your effort. See that bit of shine over there?" he pointed vaguely across the swaying green.

"No..."

"Come on."

Sereh did not mount, so Garia walked, too, resigned by now to seeing through the unbidden exercise. He let his mind blank out over the sea of tall grass. Somewhere on the edges, the black ships sailed, loaded with fantasies of fame and glory.
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Postby SilverScribe » Sun Sep 20, 2009 8:56 pm

Well, I for one hope you don't regret it and instead, stop shamelessly tantalising us and post more!

:D:D:D
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Postby Rodia » Mon Sep 21, 2009 8:52 am

Really? :D

Hokay then!!! :D (problem is the faster I post, the quicker I will get to the point where the story is left unwritten...)
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Postby Rodia » Tue Sep 22, 2009 4:38 pm

Fast as a rabbit, a grubby child leapt from the grass and ran away down the slope. Her arms flapped like wings, her red skirt billowed, and she startled both men so well they gripped the hilts of their swords. Sereh was the first to laugh. They moved on, that shining light Sereh had pointed to now well visible, a shutter hinged to a window, and the window set squarely in a rickety red caravan.

"Gypsies!" Garia exclaimed, expecting murderous and thieving hands to spring from the very grass. Sereh paused for breath.

"No. Gypsies...who do you think I am. They're heyfolk. Don't call them gypsies, you block."

"All this...darned way...to see a trick and juggle show."

Sereh shrugged and pressed on. The red skirt flashed once more, and fled. Wheeled houses grew out of the meadow, perched slant on the slope. They were turned west now, and the sun shot through the camp, blinding the two soldiers' eyes and dulling the painted caravans to an uneasy grey. It was not until they lost it over the valley's rim that the full spectacle was revealed to them; a tarnished spectrum of silk and crystal, not quite Shi'uri, and not quite tinkerfolk, the inside of a magician's trickbox: grim children and their pouting mothers, men with farmer's hands and the eyes of kings. Sereh slowed his pace from respect, but Garia stood still from a wonder he would not have known how to explain. It was not until a man dropped from a caravan's dinghy step that the spell popped like a soap bubble. The heyfolk were about their business, suddenly, and the sun was gone. Without light cutting him from the sky, the man that came forth was only a grey and tired face, set on shoulders wrung thin with work, feet dragging through the grass and a suspicious eye square on the visitors. In a flash, his head rose in bright recognition. Sereh stepped forward to meet him.

No secret greeting or foreign words fell between them, a nod only, a gripping of hands, and it was a great part of the magic that fled with their hello. Til he touched fingers with Sereh the travelling man was a creature of the world that glimpses but a moment in the road dust, the stray notes of a chime or music box; but as they stood next to each other he diminished, and the hat that topped his weary head was not magical, only lopsided.

"If I didn't know better, brother, I would say you're not where you ought to be." he spoke, and though his lilt carried the wonder a little further, the plain rasp of his voice chased it off. Sereh's own screech was more serene; Garia looked on the caravans with a renewed suspicion, noting the worn paint and grimy children who were never long out of sight. Boys popped out with swords made of sticks, showing off for the man in armour.

"What better place to be truant than among the migrants. I knew you'd be here." Sereh was no novelty to the men and women in the trailers, and the man in the hat treated him as kin. "I knew you'd make it down early this season. This place is well hidden."

The man's face darkened. "And yet we moved too late, and walked in the open long enough to be marked and stolen from." Sereh began to shake his head, but the traveler did not let him speak. "Fine speeches come from the kings in their white halls, but they did not say one kind word when they put weapons in those young hands. You would not remember them, they were children when we last met. And they are children by our law, but the king's men say they are soldiers."

"The Steward's men, Yer. There has been no king in the city for many long years." The man tossed his head, bitter.

"And the difference it makes to us? I chose this life to keep my freedom from kings and stewards, and yet their hands reach farther than I can run."

„Leave that!” Garia barked at a freckled boy who was trying to undo his swordbelt. „Or I'll run you through with it.”

„For skies' sake, Garia, they're children.” Sereh admonished, glad to change the subject. The younger soldier looked dissatisfied. The child, on the other hand, grinned.

„You can't kill me cause he won't let you.” he sang out.

„I can still whip your arse raw if you won't leave me alone. Scoot!” Garia kicked at the dust, and the child scampered off, giggling. „Sereh, it's a bloody long way back.”

Sereh laughed. „Yerrid, the boy thinks I made him waste his breath.”

„Has he got any left? Brei will like him, but not if he wheezes. Are you fond of magic tricks, soldier?”

Sereh cackled. „He's as much a soldier as I am your mother, no offense, Garia.” The younger scout rolled his eyes and soured, not pleased with the jokes.

„Nonsense, Sereh, he's got a fine sword at his side, and a knife. But I wonder if he knows how to use them? Mark this.” Yerrid gave Garia a challenging look, and pulled out his own knife. The young man's hand flew to the hilt, which made Sereh and the heyman both burst into laughter. Yerrid displayed the knife on his palm, carved bone and steel in a rough cradle of flesh.

„Watch now.” he spoke, and lifted up the blade. He threw back his head. His throat was bared, the jugular quivering like a live thing. For a moment it seemed the blade could go nowhere else but across this bare skin, freeing a river of blood, but Yerrid flipped it between his fingers, and raised it high above his head. It was poised, ready, and in one smooth and long terror, it slid into the man's mouth, pushing into his throat until the carved hilt rested on his teeth.

In a blink, it was out again, the blade whole and the man also, laughing at the startled face of his singular audience. He flashed the knife once more before returning it to his belt.

„Simple trick.” the young man sputtered, which cut short the laughter. Yerrid looked at him sternly, and pulled the knife out again. Hilt forward he handed it to the soldier.

„Is it simple?” he demanded. To his slight surprise, the man took the knife and turned it about in his hands. For a few moments, he held a calm confidence in his features. It shattered quickly, and he returned the weapon with a disgusted face. Sereh burst into laughter, but Yerrid only smiled.

„Simple.” he said.
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Postby Rodia » Wed Sep 23, 2009 7:01 am

A beadsilk curtain trembled behind him. There were little silver bells tied to the strands; not true silver, but painted and polished brass that tinkled in a tune the wind carried easily. All three looked up at the little window in the caravan's side, where a pale hand appeared. No rings or bracelets adorned it, and the face that followed it was clear and bright as a child's.
Yerrid laughed. He twisted around and caught the gentle palm. „Brei!” he greeted her. „We have guests, my sunshine. Will you join us?”

The girl bent her elbows lazily over the sill, then pulled herself up. She slipped outside the frame like some amazing snake or ribbon coil, barely touching the sides as she went. Agile, with feet still lurking in the gloom, but shapely tenders catching the setting sun, she bent over to reach Sereh's shoulder. Towards herself she pulled him, closer and closer until she could stand firm inside her window again, and place a sweet kiss on the top of his forehead.
„Good evening, uncle Sereh.” she purred.

„I do wish you wouldn't call me that.” Sereh complained, smiling at her kindly. „The older I get, the more beautiful you grow. I have to congratulate your father.”

„It is not his indulgence that makes me as I am, nor any special skill of my own. Who's that?”

„A friend of your uncle's.” Yerrid said pointedly despite Sereh's groan. „ My sunshine, would you take him around our meadow while we old friends reminisce?”

„No.” she replied, and drew the curtain. The bells laughed, and the men sucked air into their lungs.

„Bad luck, there.” Sereh said. He shrugged, apologetic. „That will teach you to scowl.”

„It will teach me not to follow you up any damned cliffside.” Garia grumbled. „I'll take the walk anyway, with your leave.” Yerrid nodded to the request. Out of nowhere, the freckled boy appeared with a fresh grin on his face.

„I can show you around!” he offered, happily. Garia ground his teeth.

The little camp was busy under the reddening sky. Laundry sunbaths were cut short; the dusk looked like rain. Sheets and shirts flapped in the wind, playing a line with the chimes that seemed to hang at every painted window. Garia ignored the boy's chatter as best he could, but the child was persistent.

„Look! Look! I can fight, too!” he demonstrated his skills by slapping the man with a wooden stick. Garia caught it and pulled it out of his grip.

„You're really asking for it.” he growled. „Go away.”

The boy stomped his foot in reply. „You can't do that! You caught it by the blade, so now you cut off your fingers! Ha!”

Garia sighed. He swung the stick over his head and sent it flying, out of the camp and into the tall grass. The child gawked. Garia stuck his tongue out at him. „Now what?” he mocked.

„Soldier, my little brother is not a dog to play fetch with you.”

Garia scanned his surroundings twice before spotting her, slim in between two piles of crates, and with a mischievous eye fixed upon him. Yerrid's sunshine had slipped out from behind her beaded curtain, and followed him through the camp.

„And I'm not a tree for him to yap at. You don't want to get your sword back?” he asked the boy.

„You're stupid. It's just a stick.” The child was convinced, at last, that he had been wasting his time on a half-wit. He turned on his heel and walked off.
His nubile sister remained.

„It's just a stick.” she repeated after the boy. „How could you mistake it for anything else? A thing as glamorous as a sword, even. My, but you must be naive.” Her lips barely moved as she spoke, so the air seemed to ripple around her, sweeping around the stillstand in time. The sun's rosy tint avoided her; she was pale until the evening had set, suddenly, and then she glowed softly. Garia followed her between the caravans. Now that the stars were slowly lighting, so were the lamps; to a traveler coming up the cliffside path, the valley would host a bright little village.

„But no one comes here unless they know the way.” Brei explained in her lazy, golden voice. „So every year we stop here to rest.” They had walked all around the camp, and Garia had thought for sure she would turn into the silent meadow. She tricked him, and wound between the caravans again. They snuck past yellow windows, threads of conversations floating over their heads. He moved closer to her, so close he could put a hand out and catch the golden braid. When he reached, she burst out into the grassless ring, a clearing for the heyday bonfire. It burned.

Garia stumbled out after her. He was greeted by laughter, and the girl was already behind the flames, clinging to her traveler sister and a heavy silver cup. She smiled at all but him; she found her little brother under a table. A whispered word into his ear, and the child ran happily towards the soldier.

„Can you jump over the fire?” he asked, breathless.

„What?”

„My father can jump over the fire.”

„Did she tell you to ask me that?” The girl had disappeared. The flame did not hide her golden glow, she had simply vanished.

„No. Can you jump over it?” the boy asked, again.

„Of course I can.” She was not in the circles, not at the tables. Her grace did not show in the bright windows.

At once a screech cut the evening, a wild cry that belonged to no man or beast. From the darkness came a pounding of bare heels against the earth, and the crowd split in two. She pounced, she flew from the night, she leapt like the flame itself, gold over gold, gripping her skirt but letting her hair spill. Over the bonfire she rose with a scream, and landed in the dust, flushed, happy. The heyfolk roared in delight.

„Brei! Good girl, Brei!”

Her scream had set off drums and fiddles, and in the mad whirl of dance, she was gone once more, and this time did not return.
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Postby Rodia » Thu Sep 24, 2009 9:54 am

A line formed to dance around the fire and weave through the camp, leaving no places of privacy save the caravans themselves. The doors that were not thrown open with light were locked from within, full of their own music. But around the fire, there were drums. Coarse faces opened up in song, like the gypsies, but not like them at all. They were burned by the sun, freckled and raw and wildheaded.

Garia could not step aside. The crowd swelled around him, and for a moment he was the only body standing still. Then, an arm slipped around his and pulled him out, bruising against the dancers; he went willingly only to find the girl was not she. But her eyes smiled and that satisfied him. She slipped away when he came between her and the firelight. She would watch the dance first.

„You will not come with us! They would not allow you.” she declared suddenly, curling her arm about his waist, and resting her head against him.

„I was not thinking of it.” he replied, and discovered that he must think of it now. „Who will not allow me?” he asked, irritated. He caught her and pulled her close. „I'll damn well come with you if I please.” She laughed at this, or perhaps at the fellow who had spun about himself as he leapt, and might have singed his toes but for being so quick. Garia saw her look. He gazed over the crowd, searching for Brei's face, and did not find it.

„I'll come with you.” he said, and left her by the caravan, hurrying so that she might still watch and see. Someone's hand came out of the crowd, with a heavy pewter cup. Garia caught it and drank without sniffing, then passed the cup along. Suddenly, the crowd had parted; he stumbled as a body sped past him, and leapt over the fire with a shriek. There were cheers, and clapping.

He heard his name, and was startled. It was only Sereh, appeared from nowhere with Brei's father at his side. They both lifted their drinks. Sereh called out but his words were lost in the noise, and Garia could only see him laugh richly at his own joke. Another leap was greeted with cheers. The young soldier remembered his girl, and Brei who might be watching. He stepped out of the crowd and turned towards the fire. It was burning well; he tried to recall the last time he had leapt over the flames, and found to his frustration that they were much tamer that night. But then, he was also little but a boy, and tonight he did not feel the terror his chest pounded with back then. He had landed safely.

He let one more fellow pass him by, and launched directly after. Cheers followed, there was laughter and music; it was not a long way to run. The flames rose high, so high one could lose hope at the last moment, but Garia knew how to do it; it was a trick. It was like running your finger through a candle's wick, and making girls gasp with horror and awe.

Yes, he knew how to do it. He leapt, launched himself over the fire as if he could fly up and spot Brei from above, pick her out from the crowd, and take her to the meadow where it was quiet and cool. The fire licked hot at his feet as he knew it would; it was odd how long the moment seemed to last.

He had time to grin, even, before the mail he still wore and had not accounted for proved too heavy. The descent came too quickly, the leap was too short. Grin turning into shock, Garia landed right in the smouldering logs. Embers and sparks flew as he stumbled forward. Someone cried out in alarm, someone laughed aloud, and the young soldier went head over heels into the legs of a rickety table.
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Postby Rodia » Thu Sep 24, 2009 3:02 pm

„Here now. Ah, you're a stoutheaded lad, I knew you wouldn't play a trick on me. He's all right.”

That was Sereh, babbling about something. Garia opened his eyes, and saw nothing but darkness. Confused, he gasped and tried to rise. Someone gripped his arm and pulled him up. Suddenly, the world was back, with light and dance and laughter not far away. Sereh crouched close, shaking his head from side to side like an old wife, and a skinny shape stood black against the firelight.

„Liar!” it announced in a high-pitched voice. „You said you could do it. My sister can do it, and you can't!”

„I can do something else, do you know? Out of my sight before I show you what that is!” Garia roared at the boy. The child screeched in laughter, but fled, leaving only Sereh to complain. The man was moaning about something already, with his grip still on Garia's arm. The young soldier tried to pull free. „Go finish your damned drink, Sereh, you're not pissed enough yet.”

„Well, that's fine talk. And here I was, worrying you might have knocked the last shreds of wit out of the block they gave you for a head. That's really fine talk, boy, I'll know better next time than to try and save your life.”

He was angry, but Garia had to laugh. „Save my life! From what danger? Let me up. Stars, my head...” A tremendous headache had just shot through his temples, and spread to the nape; he brought up a hand and felt around for a lump. He found a crust and trickle of blood instead.

„Let me give you a little bit of advice, Garia, from heart to heart. If you play at soldiering, it is likely you will die, but you'd do well to at least make it to the battlefield.” Sereh handed him a wad of moistened cloth.

„Pah! We'll be stuck watching the coast until the Black Tower falls, you said so yourself.” Garia grumbled. „And you're the last man to feel sorry about that.” he added viciously.

„Watch your tongue, boy.” Sereh warned, but Garia went on.

„You ought to pack up with these damned pale gypsies, and skulk aside til the war's done, that'd be the best use of you. Damn you, let me up. I'm going back to tell them the coast is clear.”

„Watch your bloody tongue, boy, or I'll have to pay mind to what it's babbling about.” Sereh spat, and stood up. „You're not going anywhere until morning. I hope sense will have stopped leaking out of your skull before then.” he said, disgusted, and stormed off. Garia sent a furious glance after him. He dabbed at the cut, then felt it with his fingers again. It was shallow; the pain, however, went deep. He must have hit a rock on the ground, or perhaps only the edge of the table; at once Garia realised that the blow had put his lights out. He felt the blood rush back to his cheeks. It was pitiful. What kind of idiot can't manage to jump a fire?

There was no noticeable change in the surroundings; the dance went on, and the sky was still pitch black. He could not have been unconscious for long. Someone had managed to drag him aside, behind the tables and out of the light. The ground was cold, so Garia staggered up. The circle of dance and fire turned in front of his eyes, but there were men all around it, and women, their backs turned towards him so that not even the warmth of the flame reached. Neither girl was in sight. They would not care for a fool who ran headfirst into tables.

And yet, as he turned away from the firelight to find better brooding in the darkness, two glistening eyes met his. There was a smile beneath them, rude and mocking, but while his gaze was allowed to wander further, he didn't care. Soon, the sounds of dancing were fading in the distance, and wet grass whipped at their feet. Garia bit his tongue, because the ground was not even and he could not see. It was too quiet to curse. Brei had a steel grip; he could not fall behind, and yet she seemed to pull and pull as if she wanted to run blind into the night.

"Hold on! This is far enough, where do you want to go?" It was her turn to stumble, and she did curse. The camp was a speckle behind them, the bright dot Garia saw coming down the meadow, but leaking gold through the dancing shadows. Brei had started up the slope. The wind now roared louder than the music.

"This is far enough, sweetheart." But she scampered when he let go of her hand, and rather than let the night swallow her, Garia gave chase. He had no breath left to berate her with. She reached the top; her shape cut itself from the sky, and then she was gone.

"Down to the beach again! You wretch!" She wouldn't hear him, laughing her way down the path. "Stars, I'll break my neck."

The climb down took whole years, whole decades of trembling fingers gripping rock. It was too dark to see. The moon, if it shone, hit the rock and poured shadow over his eyes. Garia had worried at first that the girl would laugh at how slow he was, but when he the top of the cliff was gone far above, and the roaring sea began to pound so hard on his ears that he could not hear his own footsteps, he forgot about her. When his foot finally touched sand, he clung to the rock, breathing heavily. The sea thundered behind him.
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Postby Rodia » Mon Sep 28, 2009 2:12 pm

"Soldier!"

Garia tore away from the rock and stumbled towards the voice. Brei emerged, a shadow cut dark against the glimmering water. The waves held every ray of light hostage- when the young soldier looked back at the cliff, he felt sick. Of course, the girl was laughing.

"How many men have you let fall from that cliff, you witch?" he wheezed. She laughed still.

"Oh, soldier, sweet soldier, I only let the stupid ones fall. The stupid, ugly ones who will not keep their hands by their sides, and those who give shaved coins to my little brother." She danced across the sand. Garia could only trudge behind her, heavily. The run and the climb had made him sweat, but there were no fires on the beach, and a cold wind blew through him. His teeth began to chatter so hard that he could not ask where they were going. From the faraway camp came the scent of burning wood. The wind was a mad thing, to carry it this far, Garia thought, and then he looked up.

They had walked past the dark rocks that jutted out into the water, broken away from the cliffside. At the edge of the tide, almost licked by the waves another fire burned bright and welcoming. Garia stared at it, still walking. He already felt the warmth of the flames on his skin. Brei had come back to wrap herself around his arm, and so they stumbled on together. Garia looked down to see his feet sinking into the golden sand with each step. There was no point in trying to speak over the hum of the waves. They pounded on the shore with a steady rhythm that made his heart race. It wasn't the water. The waves sloshed and scraped against the sand, but they did not beat like drums.

"Drums!" Garia exclaimed, but could not hear himself speak. Brei's hand slipped out of his grasp and she raced forward, past the last scatter of rocks to begin a wild spin in front of the fire. She could not jump this pile, it was taller than her head, so she danced. Around and around she danced, and when she returned breathless to her soldier, her hand was clasped in another. The girl that followed looked like a gypsy and she had paint on her face. Garia looked down: her belly was as bare as her feet.

"They're not quite like us," Brei laughed when she saw where he gazed "but they dance better. Oh, how they dance."

She let go. The girl laughed and began to follow the beat of the drums with her hips, her hands. Skin and muscle, her entire body seemed sentient. When she turned around, Garia saw a pattern on her back painted like the one on her face.

"They dance all their lives. They dance before they walk. And you can't wipe that paint off," Brei shouted in his ear- in the din it sounded like a whisper. "She came over in a ship, and she is my sister." Perhaps she was jealous, for she suddenly leapt in front of him and turned him until he no longer saw the dancers. As proof of her words, she showed him the palm of her hand. It was dirty- no, it was inked, the dark pigment running deep under the skin. Garia breathed in her scent. She was warm, and she held him tight. Behind her, the sea rolled in, and out, in, and out, never ceasing, the glow of the fire skipping off the waves...

"Sons of..."Garia swallowed the curse. The girl felt him freeze, and she pulled away. Her hand reached to trace along his cheek, but he pushed her back.

"They came over in ships...you bloody sons of...," he gasped, disbelieving. He spun around to face the fire, piled too high to leap over, tall enough to burn all night.

"Sereh!" he hollered, and set off at an impossible run across the sand. It spilled into his boots, flew up into his mouth. The sea thundered against his ears. He crashed into the rock, blinded again by the shadow, the fire still printed on his eyes. Slipping, trembling like a reed, he crawled up the path. With every loose stone under his palm, he whispered a curse. They strung into a chant by the time he reached the top. He rolled over the edge into the grass. Getting up again took all the will in his mind and body, but he did so, and set off at a heavy run.

He burst into the camp like a blinded bull, and would have collapsed into the dust if an arm had not held him back. It was Sereh, he knew somehow, and turned gasping to the older soldier.

"What the devil did that girl show you?" the man tried to joke, but the firelight was bright enough. "Garia!"

"Sons of whores...traitors...Sereh, on the beach...they have a bloody beacon lit. A beacon! Damn it!"

Sereh's eyes darkened. He pushed Garia back, disgusted. "Watch your damned mouth. You're drunk out of your mind."

"A beacon! A damned signal light for the Corsairs, Sereh!" He gripped the man by the shoulders and would have shaken him, but Sereh wrestled away and stared out into the darkness as if he expected the hillside to burst into flames. Someone shouted, and Sereh set off. He had stripped to his shirt and so it cut away from the darkness for a while, then was lost among the tall grass and the shadow. Out of breath, Garia did not try to follow. He leant back against a cart and looked up at the sky, full of stars, and then abruptly of Brei. Her hair fell down over his face.

"Traitor!" He bounced away from the cart. She sat on top of it like a preying cat, her grin no less beastly. She had the audacity to laugh; Garia could tell she had been waiting since their run to the beach to let that dreadful sound out of her.

"Traitor," he said again because he did not know what else to do. She laughed again when he felt for his sword, and rightly so- he couldn't very well slash at her. He left the blade in its sheath and looked about in a panic. "Where's my horse?" His head was spinning. "Sereh!" he called out again, forgetting for a moment that the older soldier had already come and gone. His thoughts rearranged themselves and he pointed a threatening finger at Brei. "He'll be on his way back to the outpost," he sputtered, not at all pleased with the way she was laughing now.

"Then you don't have to worry, " she said amicably, sliding aside to let him past. He was not aware that she followed him as he stumbled through the camp, looking in vain for his horse. When her fingers touched his neck he gasped and spun around.

"Don't worry," she said again. Somehow, Garia didn't strike her though he very badly wanted to. He merely gripped her hand at the wrist and pulled it away. The skin on his neck where she had trailed her fingers tingled.

"They're not a day's ride from here," he whispered through clenched teeth. "Sereh's gone to fetch them now. He..."

"No, he hasn't," Brei murmured, and to Garia's complete distraction, she laid her head against his chest. He could not pull back; her hands wound around his waist. "Uncle Sereh is our friend."

Garia felt his stomach turn. On tiptoe, Brei slid up to face him. He could barely see her in the darkness, but every now and then the firelight shone in her eyes.

"Don't worry, soldier. No one will blame you."

"That's not what...Will you let me go!" Of course she laughed at that. He hardly fought her when she pressed against him; he didn't know how to disentangle himself from her embrace. She pushed forward- he stepped backwards, like in some odd midnight dance. She lifted herself up once again; he thought she was mad, or he was. They were worse than gypsies- one knew not to trust those, but Brei had the blue eyes of any girl back home.

Traitor, Garia remembered. He tried to pry her arms away, gently at first, then gripping tighter when she would not yield. One more step back...he stumbled. Abruptly, Brei let go, and Garia felt other, rougher hands pulling him backwards. The treacherous Brei pushed, but there was a certain alarm in her eyes. "Don't hurt him now," she breathed to the darkness.

"Let me go!" Garia demanded again, out of breath, but now there were two men dragging him. Three, perhaps- he could not find his balance. "You'll all hang for this..."

His words were met with laughter and his next protest silenced by a blow to the stomach. Still breathless, he found himself spun around and falling headfirst. He hit a bed, of all things, and felt wooden planks under his knees. Behind him, a caravan door slammed shut. Even before he leapt to his feet to tug at the handle, he knew it would be no use.
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