» Mon Sep 19, 2016 9:03 pm
Ill Gotten Gains (How Videgavia and Freja Fireborn first met)
3013, III – Dale, February
Videgavia squinted through the incessant drizzle, his bones so sodden and chilled that he doubted they would ever warm again. The land he looked upon from the edges of the dripping trees around him was scrubbed clean by yesterday’s pounding rain. They rolled, soggy and uneven, clear into Rohan from here, and they appeared empty. Not even the Easterlings were inclined to venture out in dismal weather like this. Just why he was here now, water steadily dripping onto his hood and sliding down his back, he didn’t know.
No…he did know, he just didn’t want to pick over why. Not his fault people were so damned difficult to get along with. If he’d told them once, he’d said it a thousand times: no one touches his knives. No one. This, perhaps, is why he was largely friendless. Taciturn, anti social, churlish, there were any number of ways his peers described him when he happened to be in the company of others. Preferable as solitude was, though, company usually meant a roof, a dry bed and respite from the incessant, creeping damp.
He brushed a hand across his brow to flick away water and debated with himself the merits of returning. They’d want an apology even though he’d done nothing wrong. He’d not even hurt the man…badly. As he considered that his knuckles popped. No, Videgavia thought, he was still too angry. Best to stay away a while longer in the infernal rain. With the summer season on its way the Easterlings would be back again and he’d prefer to deal with them with people that were not fixing to stick one of his own knives between his shoulder blades. If at all possible.
A frustrated sigh pushed out of him and he scanned the borders a final time before he pulled back into the trees in search of a relatively sheltered place to pass the night. He’d only taken a few steps, though, before something came to his attention. Voices…no a voice…female…highly agitated…with a talent for creative cursing. He turned about again and returned to the treeline. Still, nothing seemed to move in the borderlands and the woman’s voice had dropped away.
Videgavia frowned as he curled his fingers around a knife hilt, and squinted suspiciously out at the drizzle. Another brief burst, Rohirric. Definitely Rohirric…and then gone again. Not from the forest though. He crouched and drew his knife proper. Rohan was not Dale’s foe but all sorts of brigands called these borderlands home. From her turn of phrase, the woman was not some lost Daughter of the Mark. He’d heard cleaner mouths on Dunlenders.
Then he caught movement….not a woman but a horse and oh! What an animal! Even from this distance it was clear that this fine beast was one of the Méaras. They were different from other horses, more powerful, taller, cleaner lines. This one was one of the finest he had ever seen. Ebon black, perfectly made and…riderless. Odd to find one of the Méaras wondering alone. Rohan’s king guarded his royal herd jealously.
The creature picked its way unhurried as Videgavia’s thoughts spun. Would be irresponsible to leave an animal like this wandering the borderlands and forests of Dale. And, possibly, there might be a reward in returning it to the royal herd…a king’s ransom as they say. Videgavia’s sour mood was relieved instantly as he considered this. With a purse full of gold and silver, no telling where he could go. A man had options when he had coin to rub together.
The Daleman stood, stowed his long knife and left the cover of the trees. What seemed relatively straightforward soon proved to be anything but. Firstly, the sodden land was treacherous and slippery. He covered in mud and scratches from the spiny shrubs that prevailed in the borderlands. Then there was the horse. It had absolutely no intention of meekly accepting the Daleman’s company. Thirdly, there was the issue that the beast was not alone or riderless at all. The woman he’d heard swearing a thick streak of obscenity was little impressed with Videgavia’s attempts to steal her horse from her.
Understandably, given she had fallen off it, become tangled and by the looks of her had been dragged for a good league before Videgavia’s arrival. The gelding’s attempts to elude Videgavia did little to improve her humour, already foul. Lastly, and perhaps most notably, there was the fact that the woman was obviously a Shieldmaiden and not just a novice or hapless initiate at that. Her hair, sodden and muddy, was entirely braided and she was furious. Even Easterlings thought twice about directly engaging with a furious Shieldmaiden.
Cursing, snarling and spitting like a cornered wolf by the time he finally managed to bring the gelding under control, the Shieldmaiden demanded, ”YOU! FREE ME NOW BEFORE I-“
“Before what, exactly?” he returned, doing his best to keep his voice steady.
She had blazing blue eyes that she narrowed at him and had her legs not been entirely snarled she probably would have killed him with her bare hands. She would have had to, given her sword and spears and shield were all still attached to her empty saddle. And while he had knives, she’d probably suceed.
The best course for his immediate survival, however, was to not provoke the woman further. He drew one his long knives, she spat a series of blistering invectives about what would happen if he tried to use it upon on her and severed the strap that had entangled her so. No sooner had he done that was she moving.
The Shieldmaiden rolled, her speed and strength remarkable given she’d just been dragged behind a horse into Dale. Momentum carried her to her feet and within an instant she had a vicious looking dagger gripped in her own hand. Whilst her ankles were still entangled, Videgavia realised that she’d throw herself at him and not in a good way if he didn’t do something. Carefully, oh so carefully, he set down his long knife on the churned ground and stepped back from it, hands spread wide so that she could see they were empty.
”Keep a hold of that horse,” she said, voice tense around the iron ring of command, ”I don’t want it, or you, wandering off.”
Eyes narrowed, she watched him comply, then crouched and set to work freeing her ankles. She was quick with her knife, efficient and assured and soon stood unencumbered entirely. Tall as a spear she was though the colour of her hair was impossible to tell under all that mud. As she checked over her gear for damage, her eyes flicked back to him constantly, sizing him up.
”Never knew the Shieldmaidens were gifted with Méaras,” Videgavia said.
She sniffed at that, uncorked her water bag with her teeth and then rinsed the mud from her mouth several times.
”Never knew Dalemen had fallen to horse thievery,” she answered, re-stoppering her water bag and returning it to her belt.
Videgavia shrugged, ”Never met a Shieldmaiden who couldn’t ride her own horse before.”
Her eyes seared into him for a moment and then she did the most extraordinary thing. She tipped back her head, turned her face to the drizzle, and laughed. Fulsome, delighted, entirely improper. Wicked, like the smile that flickered on her face after her laughter passed.
”Fair point,” she allowed and then swooped onto the longknife he had set down.
Videgavia’s teeth ground as she turned it over briefly, ”I think I’ll hang onto this for now.”
No one touched his knives! Somehow, he didn’t know how, she guessed that she had touched on a nerve for she looked up at him to gauge his reaction. He scowled at her but she was unperturbed. Short of wresting it away from her, all he could do was watch her stow it through her belt and wait. She moved to the other side of the horse next, checking over the saddle and kit. Then she mounted, swinging into the saddle well enough despite the massive height of the gelding. She pulled the reins to her without a word.
”Where do you think you’re going?” he demanded, the question spilling out of him as her horse jerked his handsome head and bridle from his grip.
”Wherever I please, Daleman. What concern is it of yours?”
You’ve got my bloody knife, wench! That’s what he wanted to howl up at the woman that peered down at him from upon high. Her horse danced away, describing a small circle.
”You can’t go riding an animal like that through Dale. Only a matter of time before someone decides they want it for themselves.”
“Like you,” she observed, mildly amused.
”I could have stolen your horse, yes. I could have cut you free and left you here or I could have slit your throat-“
“You could have tried to…last thing you would have ever done.”
Her arrogance was almost more infuriating than the fact that she was in the process of stealing ONE OF HIS KNIVES!
”It will be nightfall soon. You camp in the open…” he spread his hands and shrugged, ”You’re on your own here, Shieldmaiden. No one to mount the watch nor guard the pickets. No sisters at your back.”
“Why do you care?”
“Because I want my bloody knife back! You get yourself robbed, they’ll probably take it and then I’m chasing it all over Dale.”
She lifted a brow and drew his knife out to study it, ”It’s just a knife…an ordinary one at that.”
“You clearly have no idea what you’re talking about.”
At that she lifted a brow and leant on her pommel, ”A Shieldmaiden knows more about knives and daggers at the age of 10 than one of you blackguards ever grasps in an entire lifetime spent skulking between your trees.”
Despite her words, though, she let his longknife drop to the sodden ground. Videgavia did not delay in reclaiming it. As he did so, the woman studied the dark forest that loomed to the north east. With his knife returned, Videgavia no longer had any concern about what she did or where she went. He gave her no further thought as he strode away, disappearing into the trees without further word nor a backwards glance.
Night closed swiftly and finding shelter proved difficult. Videgavia slipped through the darkness in search of somewhere decent. All his usual choices had been washed out or filled with debris from the downpour the day before. There was just one other left that he knew of and if it was ruined, he’d be sleeping in a tree. An unpleasant prospect for more reasons than one. The rain tended to dislodge the smaller denizens of trees. He’d once woken covered in tiny spiders seeking warmth and shelter from him. It had unnerved him so that after the echoes of his shriek had faded, he had resolved to never sleep in a tree after hard rain again.
Odds were, though, he wouldn’t have to. This last shelter was facing south, towards Rohan and away from the northern rain that had ruined everything else. Deep enough to be dry. Good, even, for a fire…and that was exactly what he saw glowing ahead of him in the darkness. Swallowing an oath of his own, he scrambled forward to see who had claimed this last remaining shelter and sure enough, there she was again. Quite comfortable she was too.
She’d removed her armour and her mail. Her gambeson was spread out before a tidy fire to dry, along with her boots, a tunic and trews. At that moment she stood with her back to the fire, barefoot with fresh trews and only that. Her hair was clean, freshly braided too. An extraordinary colour, like wine or spilled blood it was, and then there was the bare, finely muscled expanse of her back. He blinked, startled, and in that instant a fresh tunic unfurled, falling into place over hair and the intricate tattoos that spread up her spine and across her shoulders.
Videgavia swallowed thickly, thoughts scattered. He’d heard about the tattoos, of course. No Shieldmaiden spoke of them, no one was foolish enough to ask her to, but he had never seen them for himself and had never thought he would. Every one was different, he’d heard, but what it signified and when it was done he had no idea. The Shieldmaiden had turned about again, the fire bathing her face. Free of mud, her features were striking both for their appearance and her youth. Eight braids?! She couldn’t be more than twenty years of age. He knew of veterans twice her age that bore only six.
Then he recalled that she had stolen his one last chance of decent shelter for the night. He scowled in the darkness and moved forward, advancing on the stony overhang without any attempt of concealing his approach. Predictably, she greeted him with a spear, wicked point gleaming in the firelight.
”Oh…it’s you,” she said dismissively, lifting the spear out of play, ”What do you want.”
“This is my shelter.”
“Not any more,” she replied, studying him anew and then shrugging her shoulders beneath her tunic, ”There’s room enough, I suppose, unless you snore. Have you food?”
First his knife, then his shelter and now his food? She gazed at him, spear grounded by one bare foot, and then turned back to her fire, ”I do, if you have need. Not a lot, mind you.”
How could someone so arrogant and haughty be so inclined to laugh at herself and generosity? The woman was an enigma.
”What’s your name?” she asked, back still turned as she rifled through her saddle bags in search of food.
”Videgavia,” he replied as he stepped out of the rain and into the firelight.
She paused, peering at him around one arm, ”Just Videgavia?”
“Videgavia of Dale,” he supplied, at which she rolled her eyes and returned to her saddlebags.
”Freja Fireborn,” she answered as she dug something out.
She stood, unwrapping what turned out to be a bundle of dried meat, peeled off two long strips. One she set between her own teeth and the other she extended out to him. It was only then that she caught him staring.
”What?” she asked him around the meat clenched between her teeth.
”You are not Freja Fireborn,” he answered.
She shrugged, waggled the strip of meat at him and then returned it the bundle she re-wrapped.
”Suit yourself, Videgavia of Dale.”
“Freja Fireborn is…”
“A Shieldmaiden of Rohan,” she said, seated herself and nodded over at the armour for emphasis.
She crossed her long legs, bare feet to the fire and wriggled her toes, ”If I’m not Freja, then who am I?”
“Freja Fireborn is protegé to Captain Eriwyn herself!” Videgavia pointed out.
At that, her cheeks coloured, and she murmured ”Well…not so much right now…”
“Freja Fireborn was the king’s ward.”
“You were not the king’s ward,” he said, recalling very clearly her vocabulary from earlier in the day.
She grinned at him, devious as an imp, ”Excellent! That means it won’t be me that Prince Théodred is wroth with when he discovers his personal rations have been switched out.”
She leant back against her saddle bags, hands behind her head, chewing on her dried meat. Then she extracted it and sat up, ”And it also means that some other Freja got herself banished. Oh, this gets better and better, Videgavia of Dale!”
By now he knew she was mocking him, but he still could not get his head around the fact that Freja Fireborn couldn’t ride her own horse. He crouched, holding his chilled hands out to the fire and then he realised what she had said.
“Banished? You’re banished?”
“Not me, as we’ve established. Some other Shieldmaiden,” she continued for a moment, twinkle in her blue eyes, but then she sobered, ”Aye, banished until such time as I am called back - which seems unlikely, at this point, to ever.”
Freja, he had to accept that she really was, pushed out an unhappy sigh, ”It’s all Wormtongue’s fault.”
And so out it tumbled. The tributes to Mordor. Her mounting frustration. An ill hatched plan that never could have worked and so didn’t. And though she spun it as though it was all some sort of subterfuge plot for the better of the realm, what it all boiled down to was that Freja had been bored.
”All they had to do was arrest me, return me to Edoras for trial, and Wormtongue would be dead by now.”
“And you executed for horse theft and high treason.”
She shrugged, ”All battles have their price.”
Short of dividing up the night into watches, little else was said. Videgavia opted for the first watch, having not spent part of his day being dragged behind a horse. Freja bedded down without argument, back to the fire and her sword and spear within grasp. Despite her objections to snoring, he found out that she snored. Come the time to swap over, she woke without hesitation or complaint, swiftly took up her weapons and padded out to take up his position.
Morning came grey and overcast but, importantly, dry. Videgavia woke as Freja doused the coals. So much for a spot of tea, he thought. She was already packed, armour and weapons back in place and her stolen horse saddled. Yawning, Videgavia sat up to consider the beast. If it was stolen, why did she have it still? He asked her the question outright and she shrugged at him.
”Eriwyn said Dale would be hard enough as it was without needing to do it all on foot.”
The Shieldmaiden’s Captain was wiser than Freja could understand.
”So, no idea how long you'll be here for?” he asked and she nodded, drew a deep breath and studied the trees. She chewed the inside of her lip.
”What’s your plan? Find a tavern, lay low?”
Freja lifted a shoulder, ”Initially.”
“You know, summer is coming…and with it the raiding season. We could do with a Shieldmaiden, provided you’re capable. A cavalry of one is little use in the forests of Dale,” inwardly Videgavia congratulated himself on his brilliance. Just imagine the look on the others' faces when he brought them Freja Fireborn!
“Tree skulking is for cowards,” she contemptuously declared, drawing up to her full height and pouring cold water all over his newly hatched plan to re-ingratiate himself.
”Well, given you can’t ride your own horse, I suggest that perhaps you might benefit from a new career. Have you any better options?”
She stared at him hard as he nodded to her and then made off for the trees. Wasn’t long before he heard her following behind him, painfully noisy in her armour and with her giant of a horse. He winced. She had a lot to learn.
”How hard can it be anyway?” she asked.
Videgavia grinned mirthlessly. Really, she shouldn’t ask questions she doesn’t want to know the answers to.
Last edited by elora
on Tue Sep 20, 2016 7:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.