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The Most Bitter Terms

Aurelius's picture

((Originally posted September 29, 2008))

((I’ve done my best to capture the events of this weekend from Aurelius’ point of view, touching on some points, dropping a few here and there. I didn’t chatlog anything (I’d kill for a decent chatlogger in the game!), so most of the conversations are from memory and as honest as I can recall))

Aurelius had barely slept the last forty-eight hours. The dust and stink of all Hyborea’s lands still clung to him, even on the clothing he’d worn beneath his armor. Every muscle ached, from battle, from travel, from the lack of sleep. Yet, he still could not sleep.

He could only watch her as she slept.

Every commander has his weaknesses, Aurelius’ rational mind knew this… and he was aware well enough of his own, but some naïve instinct had told him they wouldn’t stoop to using them against him. When he had taken the field in Tesso aside the King’s men, it was a battle like any other to him. It was hard fought… the enemy was numerous and gave no quarter, but neither was any expected. He’d thought then Lord Amunsol was in command… and had believed the Rebel Lord’s protestations of nobility. He might be delusional about his ability to rule, but at least he seemed to have some honor. Aurelius still did not know if it was desperation that drove them over the brink or if they were always this sinister, but regardless, they no longer sought merely battle. They sought domination.

They had used both his greatest weaknesses and strengths against him… his love for Kemena and his faith in his Company. Until they took her, he did not understand the dark forces he was arrayed against, the depths to which they would plunge to subjugate free men to the Rebel Lord and his Stygian masters.

The Friday before had gone well, from all reports. Aurelius was busy off on another contract, this time hired out by some merchants to defend a caravan from Zingara. It wasn’t a lot of pay, but they’d been fighting for free so much recently, any coin was good coin. The War was taking its toll on Invicta’s coffers and Aurelius felt it necessary to do what he could to keep it up. Besides, the bar tabs at the Golden Boar were starting to eat a hole in his own purse. Not that he minded… his men deserved a night to sing, drink and be merry.

He wasn’t there when it happened. All he had were reports from his men and the soldiers of the King’s Guard to go on. After most of the soldiers had gone off to bed or passed out at their tables, one of his own… one of the soldiers he’d worked to provide a home for, defended in the field, accepted to his ranks, his band of brothers… asked Kemena for assistance in healing some child in Stygia. Kemena had trusted her… there was no reason to think otherwise. And with Jadeane at her side to provide some protection, Kemena had gone into Khemi to help Isabela.

But it was a trap… he would discover later that Nox Eternus, one of the members of the Dark Alliance, had infiltrated Invicta. They had used his trust of his own men against him.

Isabela.

Priestess of Set.

Aurelius had long defended the Stygians in his ranks… convincing Aquilonians, Cimmerians and Stygians to work together was not always easy. Cultural clashes were common. But he had staunchly defended them. In the King’s War, he had learned to judge a man by his action in the field. A man could not choose where he was born, but he could choose who to bleed beside. And to a soldier… to Aurelius… it was that blood that mattered.

When he woke the morning after returning from Zingara, the bed next to him was empty. It was rare for Kemena not to return home in the evening, but he knew that her kind heart at times took her away late into the night. But it was unlike her to give no notice, to send no message. Still, the soldier blithely assumed she was merely tardy… he made some inquiries to his brethren, but none had seen her.

Finally, Jadeane woke and summoned her Captain to report on the previous night’s events. Kemena had been asked to help a girl in Khemi and Jadeane had gone to defend her. But it was a trap… Jadeane was attacked from behind and put down with some foul concoction. When she woke, Kemena was gone. All that remained was the Stygian Innkeeper’s smug protestations that he knew not where she’d gone nor who had taken her.

Slowly, as new reports came in, the story unfolded. The vast host of the Dark Alliance had coordinated well that evening. But they had no counted on the King’s Guard to be in the Province searching for the members of the Rebel Order being protected by the Stygians there. Their scouts saw Kemena being lead through the desert by her captors and rushed to assist. Wulfran of Invicta immediately joined in the search, though some others of the Company took longer to shake off the haze of drink and merriment. Satet-ka’s own Brotherhood took the field against the King’s Guard to disguise Nox Eternus’ escape with Kemena. And they were successful, even overwhelming Commander Challa at one point, though, with some fortune, she was recovered by her men before the lord of the Dark Alliance could have his way with her.

But the battle that day was lost. Kemena had been taken.

Once Jadeane’s report was complete, Aurelius sounded the call. The men and women of Invicta rose to the clarion call and burst forth on the Province, searching for signs, for someone they could force for information. Aurelius rode desperately through the desert, hulking Oxgard at his side, while his Tribune Kyzafi and others in the Company rode on fast patrols, looking for the colors of the Brotherhood.
When Isabela had called to meet with Aurelius over their emblem, he’d almost dismissed her out of hand in his desperation. But finally, he met her in the sands of Kopfesh, pausing his search long enough to speak with the trusted priestess.

“They had my daughter,” she told him coldly, her eyes aglitter with victory. “So I gave them Kemena for her. I do not expect you to understand, but I have my daughter now.”

“We will find her,” Aurelius growled, “and then I will deal with you.”

“You will not,” she replied with a sneer. “She is gone now.”

Aurelius’ heart raced as he mounted his steed and rode back into the desert, his eyes desperately scanning for any sign, for anyone wearing the colors of Nox Eternus. But despite expanding their search into the Purple Lotus Swamps, to Keshatta, even back to his native Poitain, where the Nox’s dark citadel stood high in the hills, but there were none to be found. It was as if the entire lot of them had disappeared off the face of Hyborea.

Finally, in Tarantia, Tereska found one of them… a member of the Dark Alliance flying his colors in the very shadow of the King’s Castle. Aurelius slipped into the Trading House unseen to listen… he knew his sister was much better with words, much more convincing than he’d ever be. The Nox they found made protestations of ignorance… a Cimmerian, by the look of him. Though he wore no collar of servitude, Aurelius assumed he was a slave. The conversation that followed revealed nothing of Kemena’s whereabouts, or even if she was still alive… and ended in heated words as more Invictans stumbled across it.

Aurelius ordered his men back to business while he continued the search. In his heart, he knew he would not find them… that he would not just stumble across them… that it was likely, by this point, that the woman he was to marry in a week’s time was dead at their hands. Images of her body, lying cold and alone in some pit filled with serpents flittered unbidden across his mind. He knew well that despair was a soldier’s defeat… but he could feel despair filling him nonetheless. They had taken the woman he loved… and had used one of his own brethren to accomplish it.

The next day, reports began to trickle in of Satet-ka’s brood up in far flung Cimmeria. Aurelius rode swiftly to his men’s support, but by the time he had arrived, only one of the serpents was left. The dying man mocked them… proclaiming how his Lich Lord would resurrect him, before his body disappeared from the field. But they had shown their hand… their dark machinations were extending into Cimmeria now. Aurelius left his men to continue their search and rode down from the mountainside, searching for any bearing the colors of the Brotherhood.

Finally, he found one in the foothills of the Eiglophians, down in the so-called “Fields of the Dead.” She spotted him and tried to flee… over hills and through a river… until he finally caught up with her. In his rage, he did not stop to question… the images of Kemena’s cold body flooded his mind as a red haze settled over his sight. The battle was over quickly… this member of Satet-ka’s dark brood was not experienced in combat. Aurelius brushed aside the pangs of guilt… this was war… and now a desperate war.

He took to his steed again and continued his patrols. After some time, he saw a band of them… three Brotherhood standing on Cimmerian soil… and the girl he had put down among them. Again the images of his love in some pit filled his mind… and again, his vision clouded in rage. He rushed among them, sword flickering in the pale Cimmerian sunlight, but their dark magics swirled about him. He was buffeted about, then disgusting, greenish glowing wounds began to appear on his flesh… and he finally succumbed to unconsciousness, his last fleeting thought to touch his emblem and call for assistance. And, as darkness fell, he briefly thought of his lost love… and a part of him so desperately hoped he would be rejoined with her in the afterlife.

But he did not die on that battlefield… he began to rouse, he heard his enemy mocking him.

“I want his balls!” the woman he’d defeated cackled in glee.

“What is your name and rank?” another demanded of him, noticing his eyes flickering open.

“I am Aurelius of the Maxtenti,” he replied, “Brotherhood scum.”

“You did not answer the question… what is your rank?” she demanded.

“I am Captain of Invicta,” he replied.

A cold smile crossed the woman’s face… a priestess, by the look of her robes. “Then he may be of use to us,” she replied with a smirk. “Bind him and put him on a horse. We have a hostage.”
And so Aurelius was bound and thrown across her horse. They rode quickly through the Fields of the Dead, the Captain of Invicta bouncing unceremoniously, a captive of the Dark Alliance. Perhaps, he thought briefly, they might hold me where they have Kemena. Or if they have killed her, perhaps they will throw my body into the same refuse pit they have thrown hers.

“FASTER!” the Priestess called out.

Men and woman shouted the alarm behind them. His call for support had gone out as he fell… his brethren were in pursuit. As they slipping into the pass leading to Connal’s Valley, an arrow struck the priestess’ horse. The steed, the priestess and her captive crumpled to the ground in a heap. Their escort fled farther into the Valley, leaving the Priestess behind.

And now Invicta had a prisoner.

The trip to Poitain was long and tense, but they finally made it to that hidden valley near the Maxtenti Estate. Aurelius glanced around the small vale, where he and Hrothgard had played at being soldiers less than two decades ago. But now… with this dark priestess here, bound in ropes, those memories seemed so many lifetimes ago.

“Where is she?” Aurelius demanded. His voice was steady, but he could feel the rage inside him. “Where is Kemena?”

“You fool, you have captured the wrong person…” the Priestess sneared, “I do not know.”

Aurelius’ hand flung almost of its own accord. She chuckled mockingly as she turned back from the strike.

“Where is she!?” he demanded, his voice raising in fear and anger.

“I cannot tell you what I do not know…” she replied, the mockery still dripping from her tongue.

His hand flew again. His stomach turned… he did not have the constitution for this. Torturing a soldier taken on the battlefield was base, the province of Nemedians and the less professional sellswords. It was not his custom… but his rage overcame his revulsion at what he was becoming.

“Where is she?!”

“Captain,” Jadeane reported, one of the Centurions who had rescued him from their grasp. “Men coming from the south… I think they’re Brotherhood, but they’ve a Cimmerian in tow.”

“Set up an ambush,” Aurelius commanded. “When they get here, take them prisoner.”

The Cimmerian nodded and jogged back up the hillside, the small band of rescuers, now captors, taking their positions. The fight was swift… one had slipped past and was near the Priestesses’ bindings, but Aurelius swung into action when he saw her, his blade striking at both. When the dust settled, they had three prisoners. And one of the Brotherhood had, again, fled.

Importance… a former member of Invicta who had stumbled across their little party stepped up as the new prisoners were interrogated.

“Where is Kemena?” he asked of a dark-skinned Stygian woman wearing the Brotherhood’s colors.

“I do not know,” she replied.

“It is as I told you,” the Priestess interjected. “We were only covering for the escape of Nox Eternus with your woman. We do not know where they took her.”

Aurelius’ hand started to fly again, but Importance caught it.

“Please, Aurelius…” he whispered in his oddly hypnotic voice. “Let me try… I know this one.” He nodded to the new prisoner. Aurelius sighed and nodded, stepping back, his arms folded. Importance might be a bastard, but Aurelius trusted him.

Finally, the story unfolded… of how the Brotherhood had been called to provide cover for Nox Eternus while they spirited Kemena away. And finally, Aurelius believed them… they did not have her. But at least now, he knew with certitude which of the Dark Alliance did.

“I… apologize for my temper, Priestess” Aurelius mumbled through clenched teeth as he cut her bindings. “Your people helped take the woman I love a week before we were to be wed. All I want is for her to be returned.”

“You will pay for your insolence this day,” she replied proudly. “The Brotherhood will not stand for its priestesses to be treated in this way.”

Aurelius shook his head as he stepped away.

“Captain?” Kaper demanded angrily, his arrow still knocked in his bow. “We’re just going to let them walk?”

“They don’t know where she is, Kaper,” he replied wearily. “I believe them. Besides, keeping prisoners is expensive.”

Aurelius returned to Fort Invicta with his brethren, the enemy set free. He sluggishly stepped to the top of one of the many towers defending their home… for all the good those towers did against an enemy who sought to kidnap his people when they were travelling from it.

He gazed out over the fort… the vast fortifications Invicta had built with their own hands. More than a few of the buildings Kemena herself had designed…

…Kemena…

“I think you should let me handle this Captain,” Kaper was saying behind him. Jadeane went silent and Tereska cut him a sharp glance. “You’re too emotional to Command right now.”
In his heart, Aurelius knew Kaper was right… he had flung himself at the foe without regard to tactics or their numbers. And he had been captured by them… if not for the skill of his brethren, he would be their prisoner now. Perhaps even dead.

At least, in death, he might have a chance to find her again he thought.

“Take it up with your Tribune,” Aurelius replied. “If the members of Command decide I need to step down, I will.” With that, he rose and entered the Keep, walking to its heights to try to find a moment’s peace. He needed to clear his head, to keep things together… otherwise, he knew he’d never see her again. Assuming his cowardly foe hadn’t already killed her.

The following day, his search continued. Their search. Despite his protestations, his brothers and sisters in Invicta had demanded to participate in the search. He knew they would… but there was a part of him that knew the search would be fruitless. And there was still a war to fight. Conversations flowed across his emblem, many of which he missed entirely.

Finally, Isabela’s betrayal was mentioned. Tereska requested permission to try her for her treachery and Aurelius consented to her request. Invicta’s Ambassador headed off to find Isabels in the heights of Atzel’s Approach to bring her in for her trial. But, of course, the enemy was prepared. The Dark Alliance was waiting in ambush to protect their spy.

“I need help in Atzel’s!” Tereska called out over the emblem. “Now!”

That call made its way through the haze of exhaustion and despair. They were trying to take his sister! His mind quickly sobered, he dug his heels into Traveller and rode the pathways to Atzel’s. When he arrived, many of his brethren had already answered the call.

The Traitor was there… under the protection of Nox Eternus and the Brotherhood. But they were outnumbered and those present were not skilled enough to kidnap Tereska with so many stalwart Invicta at her side. Words and blows were traded back and forth, until finally a voice weakly came across the Captain’s emblem.

“Aurelius…” Kemena’s voice echoed in his mind. “Please, love… tell them… to cease… attacking.”

If a man’s heart could stop and he still live, Aurelius’ did. At once he was filled with hope… she was alive! But even among that hope, despair echoed through it. The pain in her voice… the fear… they had been torturing her as they had Niladri when they held her captive. Or worse…

“Fall back!” Aurelius called out.

“What? Captain?! We have them!” the protestations came back.

“I said fall back!” Aurelius demanded, couching his sword on the pegs on his back and turning away.

“If you value her life, you’ll call off your men,” a sinister voice echoed across the emblem. Aurelius knew that voice… Sontlux.

“I’ve called them off,” Aurelius replied. “What are your demands for her return?”

The emblem went dead.

Aurelius relayed what had transpired and Tereska called a meeting of Invicta. The loyal band of brothers were quickly gathered in Poitain and though the Captain was warmed by their rage, their indignance and their support, his despair overcame him.

They had him. They knew how to control him and, through him, his Company.

The men and women assembled spoke their minds… some of plots and plans, some of taking the field and crushing the Dark Alliance one by one. Aurelius’ mind whirled. They had discovered that he could be controlled. And he knew well what their demands would be… to leave the War. To allow them to defeat the King’s Guard, permit Satet-ka to have his way with their Commander and enslave those who survived. And then, to permit Aquilonia to be put in chains to the Rebel Lord and his Stygian masters.

Kaper was right. He had to surrender Command.

“Brethren,” he said, rising. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but we all know what has to happen. Invicta cannot be allowed to bend knee to these people. We cannot be brought to serve their visions of conquest and domination over the free people of Aquilonia. I have no choice but to resign. As long as I am in Command, they have control over me. I cannot just let them kill her.”

The brothers and sisters of Invicta objected loudly… calls for blood were raised. But he had made up his mind. Nothing could sway him.

“And if’n ye do tha’,” Oxgard’s deep bass voice rumbled above the din. “What reason they got fer keepin’ Kemena alive?”

Aurelius’s jaw dropped to respond, but no voice came out. He was right… if he surrendered command, they would kill her. As long as Invicta was their puppet, she would be safe… at least from death.

So the Company formed a cunning plan… one that, if it went off, would restore Kemena to him by treachery and allow Invicta to exact revenge on the cowards who had taken and tortured her. The brethren rode out to prepare for battle, but before the plan could come to fruition, that sinister voice again filtered to Aurelius from across his emblem.

“I have a letter from your beloved,” Sontlux mocked. “Where are you, I will send my messenger to you.”

“If you’re going to try to kidnap me, you’re going to have to do better than that,” Aurelius replied. “I’m not telling you where I’m at.”

“You do not wish to read the message?”

“No…” Aurelius replied. “I’ll come to your messenger. Where shall I meet them?”

“At the Armsman, in the Noble District” he replied coldly.

“I’m on my way,” Aurelius replied.

Aurelius swore. Again, the Dark Alliance travelled into the very shadows of the King’s Castle, his guard unable or unwilling to put them down. Aurelius rode quickly into Tarantia… he knew the King had greater troubles… the Order of the Blade had been forced back into Stygia, under the protection of their masters… but to allow these villains access to his city? Perhaps the King was indeed weaker than Aurelius had believed… perhaps Aquilonia was indeed about to fall to tyranny and the domination of Set. Had Aquilonia truly traded its own native tyrant for a Cimmerian King who would be the last king of a free Aquilonia? Had Aurelius, in his youth, been a part of bringing down the nation of his birth?

“Do not harm the messenger or Kemena dies,” the sinster voice crowed over the emblem.

“I’m doing what you’ve asked,” Aurelius replied.

“Ease up or you’ll kill her,” the voice ordered to someone else over the emblem. He had left his hand on the emblem while speaking to one of his servants.

“Dammit, man, I’m doing what you asked!!” Aurelius shouted.

The emblem went dead.

Aurelius arrived in front of the tavern, the “Messenger” arriving with her escort. It was Isabela, the Traitor. Her ruse complete, she now wore the colors of Nox Eternus proudly. She handed a blood stained parchment to Aurelius.

When he took it, he could feel something inside the scroll… even before he opened it, he knew what it was. Kemena’s delicate finger rolled out into his palm, turned blue and starting to swell, the blood already dried.

Much of the letter was in her own hand… or rather, what was left of it… expressing her love to him, how she wanted to be in his arms again. For the first time since he was a child, Aurelius had to choke back tears. He would not permit the Traitor to see her victory so complete in his eyes. He would not give them the satisfaction he believed they so craved.

At the end of the letter, another hand wrote their demands. As he had expected, Sontlux was ordering Invicta to stand down from the war. But atop that, they were to betray the King’s Guard. They were to take the head of one of their officers and deliver it to their fortress. It was then Aurelius realized that he would likely never see Kemena alive again. They knew well that, no matter what choice he made, they would be victorious. Either he allow them to kill Kemena now by refusing the demands or they would kill her later, once he had betrayed the King and Invicta declared outlaws, betrayed the rules and trust of his own Company, and left Invicta in shambles.

It was at that moment that Aurelius realized this was not a war of battlefields or even a war of treachery… this was a war of annihilation. The Dark Alliance would stop at nothing but the complete destruction of Invicta, the King’s Guard and any who stood in the way of their faceless, immortal hordes. This was a war unlike any he had faced. And because he had dared to love, Kemena would be the first to pay the price of it, regardless of whether he became enslaved to Nox Eternus or not. Once her usefulness was ended, he knew in his heart the enemy would kill her.

So he ordered his men to attack. Isabela and her escort were taken down quickly, but in the end, they had nothing on them. They returned to health only to mock our attempts to have them take us to Kemena. The both of them were immortal by some dark sorcery and neither would be broken by pain.

Eventually, negotiations began again. Attacking them was fruitless. All Aurelius could hope was to threaten to attack them repeatedly in the field. At least it would disrupt their ability to lurk about in the Cimmerian highlands gathering the materials, experience and power they needed to bring Aquilonia to their knees. But the Traitor refused the demand outright.

Finally, a new demand was given. Aurelius was to go, unarmed, to meet with Sontlux alone. Aurelius smelled a trap like the stink on a Cimmerian whore, but he had no choice. The immortal host of his enemies had nothing to fear, nothing to lose. They had even defeated death. What recourse did normal men have against such magic?

His brothers and sisters protested, of course… but he gave his final orders and his blade to Hrothgard, his foster brother and Legate. They were to allow him this, to let him go alone to meet with Nox Eternus’ dark lord. It was his final chance to bring Kemena home safely, even if the chance of it not being a trap was slim indeed.

They called for a meeting in Connarch Village… ironically, the same village the King they so despised came from. Aurelius arrived, as requested… but he heard Hrothgard over the emblem countermanding his orders. As Aurelius arrived, he knew Invicta was about, despite his commands.

Soon enough, Sontlux arrived, with the Traitor and her escort in tow. The dark lord of Nox Eternus hadn’t even bothered to make the appearances of following through with his promise that the meeting would be alone. In retrospect, Hrothgard had been right to countermand his orders… the Dark Alliance could not be trusted even in this.

The group sat in the tavern, Aurelius naked of his weapon and began to speak. Sontlux wanted Invicta out of the war. He wanted Invicta to betray her allies and become outlaws against the Crown, else he was going to kill Kemena. And then he made protestations of wanting peace… that all his people wanted was peace, no matter who they had to ally with or how those allies would enslave the free men of Aquilonia. Despite the desperation of the situation, Aurelius was barely able to contain his laughter.

“You want peace by backing a Stygian priest who wants to see Aquilonia brought under Set’s domination and a Rebel Lord who can’t even hold Tesso? You really think they can deal with the Nemedians any better than Conan can?” Aurelius was incredulous. He wasn’t certain if the man was mad or simply lying.

“Besides, I can’t command Invicta to do anything… I’ve become a liability to the Company. So I’ve surrendered command.”

“You are mad,” Sontlux replied. He promptly rose and stormed from the room.

But a new voice filtered out of the shadows. Dark, sinister to be sure, but not as taunting as Sontlux’s had been. He spoke of the chaos in Aquilonia, of King Conan’s failure to put an end to it. And he spoke of his organization’s willingess to do whatever it took to bring order in Aquilonia, even if it meant allying with a Rebel Lord and a Setite bent on enslaving its people.

The negotiations suddenly took a different turn… this voice’s demands were different. Cease attacks on their supply trains, on those skulking about gathering information on Aquilonia, on those searching for magic and weapons to support their dark purposes and… 100 granite.

Aurelius was a bit amazed by this last request. He recognized that it was a symbolic payment intended to humiliate them… but if it would get Kemena back to him, he’d be willing. But he hazarded his own demands as well… that they return Kemena to him safely and that they cease all further kidnappings against Invicta. Any further kidnapping, Aurelius promised, and there would be hell to pay. And, of course, there was the condition that it could be done only if he were restored to command.

For some reason… the voice agreed. Aurelius quickly moved to the traders in the Village and purchased what granite they had. There was enough… he brought the stone in a hired cart back to the Inn.

“Excellent… we will return Kemena to your shortly.”

“Shortly?!” Aurelius replied. It was well into the morning by this point and his sanity was near breaking. He had been up for two days, ridden across the width and breadth of Hyborea and been forced to sit in the presence of the Dark Alliance and bend knee to them. His patience had snapped.

“Now, you treacherous cur! That was the deal!”

“We just need to make preparations to have her brought here,” he replied smoothly, but there was a dangerous lilt behind his voice. “And don’t insult me again or she will arrive in pieces.”
So they waited… hours passed with no sign of Kemena or her captors. Aurelius paced while his brethren offered words of encouragement from the shadows.

“You lot disobeyed my orders,” he replied, with the first smirk that’d crossed his lips in days.

“And I love you all for it.”

Finally, the dark host arrived, Kemena slumped over her horse in exhaustion. Sontlux was with them, the smug grin of the victor plastered across his face. Kemena suddenly shrieked, as if coming out of some horrid nightmare, and collapsed into Aurelius’ arms. He curled her up into his, ignoring the immortal foes’ taunts, and whistled for Traveller to come. His faithful steed strode foreward, snorting defiantly, and Aurelius lifted the frail form of his love across the horse, slipping up behind her and holding her in an arm.

“Watch them, Invicta,” he ordered his men as Hrothgard returned Aurelius’ sword and rank emblem to him. “If they make no move to attack, then depart the field in good order when they are done.”

“We’re just going to let them go, Captain?” came the incredulous reply over the emblem.

“They’ve won this day, brethren,” he replied somberly. “But we will not be dominated. We will fight them when they come to support the Order and the Brotherhood, but we will stick to our end of the bargain until they betray theirs.”

“Once they do, there will be hell.”

He rode all the way back to Poitain with her, she stirring only twice. He laid her in their bed, checked her for any remaining wounds and laid down beside her.

She was restored to them. To him.

But would the ransom he paid lose the war?

These were most bitter terms indeed. But in the end, the terms were something he had no choice but to pay. Time would tell how much paying that price would bring them more pains at the hands of the Dark Alliance.

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