Nivenea’s Shield Part III

Check out Part I and Part II to read Les’s short from the beginning.


The camp didn’t have much going for it, that was certain. It was getting colder by the day, snowing overnight sometimes but not enough to stick in the daytime. Seldat’s little village was struggling enough before the so-called “Fall” a few weeks ago that there were several empty homes for us to use. Dirt floors and holes for latrines – there was a time when I never dreamed of living in such conditions. It occurred to me that Aia had lived in this place years ago, and the respect I felt for her was more like a knife than a flower blooming, knowing I respected a woman who was dragged away from me while I watched, helpless.

I swore internally for thinking about my friends again, the thousandth time in the day, and stood up from the fire in the center of my hut. Kyren, one of my two hut-mates, looked up from the floor where he lay.

“You look mad again,” he commented. His words came out in puffs of fog.

I shook my head and forced myself to smirk. “Don’t worry, I’m not mad at you.” I turned to walk out the door. I needed to go somewhere, anywhere – a walk around the woods again, perhaps. There was talk of moving the camp soon. Adreth had a surprising number of confidants around the whole of the world; in the first week after arriving at Seldat word spread that we were here, and people started showing up with information in tow. They told us about work camps and horrors in the countryside. Some had news from Nivenea herself, none of it good. Adreth and Adria were working on some kind of plan, the nature of which I was only glancingly privvy to. They needed me as a symbol and a name. They did not need me to make decisions.

Not that I wanted to make decisions. I had nothing to give. I was getting frustrated at having to be here at all, but Adreth kept telling me he needed me, and would need me more in the future. I thought he’d lost touch around the whole issue – his judgment with everything else seemed sound enough, yet when it came to me, he had no grasp on reality.

All the thoughts swimming through me traveled faster than my senses, and it took more than two seconds for me to notice a woman on a horse un-horsing herself to walk into Adreth and Adria’s hut. The woman looked sufficiently weathered to be called a messenger. The realization jolted me, and suddenly I was on a mission to find out where this mysterious messenger had come from. Every newcomer in the camp was another chance at finding out more about Cadde.

“Les,” Kyren called after me, “do you see something?”

“Messenger I think. I’ll let you know.” I wasn’t sure if he heard me in my walk-away, and much as I’d hate to admit it, I didn’t much care if he heard me or not. I jogged across the camp to Adreth and Adria’s door and knocked. I wanted to barge in, but something kept me from doing so. “A moment,” Adreth shouted out at me.

I waited and listened. They spoke in hushed voices. A creeping feeling of dread raised every hair on my body; I couldn’t follow those anxious thoughts, not yet. They could be talking about anything. Troop movements, negotiations with the Celet forces…things that didn’t really concern me.

It seemed like forever before Adreth peeled open the flimsy door and beckoned me in. When I entered the messenger looked at me, then back at Adreth. She was shorter than me but sturdier even so. In a fight I’d place bets on her, not me, though to be fair there aren’t many people against which I’d have much of a chance. This strange fear only added to my concern that this woman looked afraid of me. That couldn’t be right. Either I was misinterpretting the situation or she thought I was someone of more consequence than I was.

Adreth didn’t flinch. I wasn’t convinced he was capable of such a thing. Adria kept her eyes on her brother, just like the messenger.

“Baron, there is something you should know,” Adreth’s eyebrows quirked just slightly, as if to say, Are you ready to hear me say this?

The look on his face tightened something in my gut. I think I knew immediately that there was something going on about Cadde – something very bad. None of the thoughts were concrete, though, as my vision and hearing shifted, and the words from my mouth sounded as if they came from someone else.

“What is it, Lieutenant?” Was my voice always that wispy?

“I-” the messenger tried to speak and was cut off with the flick of Adreth’s hand in her direction.

“Les, I am very sorry to tell you that Cadde has been lost,” his voice was measured and slow. “Our messenger, Emm, was told by the survivors from Pelle that your wife was blight-touched soon after you left. They were not able to find her when they evacuated your home.”

Emptiness, just then, throughout my body. All I felt was cold, disconnected. I wanted to burn down the encampment and burst into tears all at once, and instead the only thing I did…was stand still.

It would be so much better if she were dead. She probably was. This wasn’t happening.

Adreth dismissed the messenger, people moving around me while I stood outside of time. He spoke to me. “Les,” he looked me straight in the eye, “I’m sorry.”

I swallowed. Should I have laughed? “No,” I must have said, because it certainly seemed like I was talking. Shit. “I have to…I should go. I should go.”

“Baron-“

“No,” my voice rose, anger flying past my lips even while I couldn’t quite feel the heat of the emotion at the time. “I shouldn’t be here. I should never have been here – if I hadn’t been here then-“

“Sh,” Adreth inched between me and the door. If he’d been a smaller man I think I would have tried to push him out of the way, but even with half my brain working properly it was obvious that he was a large man, much larger than me. If he wanted me to stay he could make me stay. “I’m not going to pretend this is nothing to you, but I’m also going to need you to keep this contained.”

“Contained?” At that I did laugh. There were tears on my cheeks – they must have been mine. “I don’t think you understand. Cadde is blight-touched and it is my fault.”

“The hell it was,” Adria spoke up, looking altogether uncomfortable with the whole situation, yet unwilling to leave. “What could you have done if you were there?”

“She would have known me. She…maybe she wouldn’t have run. She would be alive.”

“Would you?” Adria’s puzzled gaze saw much clearer than my own. “Pelle was evacuated. It was destroyed. Everyone left was killed or captured. If your wife is alive it’s because she ran off, and if you’d been there, you would be just as dead as any of them.”

“Dead and better off,” I choked.

“You’ll keep that to yourself,” Adreth loomed closer, and with him the idea that he could smash me to bits. I had never met a man who wielded charisma and intimidation in such equal measure. I envied that. “You’re here. You’re with us. You are not alone.”

Because you need me for something, you mean? I didn’t say that. I wasn’t sure if it was true. The way he expressed caring felt real when everything else in the world didn’t. As much as I wanted to blame someone for something, it was clear that Adreth wasn’t pretending.

“I can’t do this,” the words spilled out too soft and too quick. I wasn’t sure they could even understand them. I turned away from Adreth, towards a wall. I pressed my knuckles to my forehead just to feel the pain.

There was silence for a long time. I could hear Adria shifting uncomfortably while Adreth stayed still enough that it was almost like he’d disappeared. It was getting dark outside, I was pretty sure. Kyren would wonder where I went.

“Adria,” Adreth’s voice was smooth and low, even soothing. “I think you should find Kyren. Have him come in here, see if you or he can find something for the baron to eat.” It was as if he was Aia with her mind-reading ability.

“Here?” He must have given her some kind of gesture or look, because the next thing I heard was Adria clearing her throat. “Not a problem.” She left.

“Please, Baron, have a seat,” Adreth moved to take a place on one of the sitting-pillows near the fire circle. It gave me pause, but I eventually obliged to take a seat across from him.

I didn’t look at him. There was a crystalline quality to everything I saw, blurred by tears. The part of me that was still supposed to be a “leader” – whatever that meant – lamented Adreth watching me in such a state. Another part of me, the larger, growing part, didn’t care what happened to me or anyone else. That thought was almost comforting.

We sat quietly for a while. I wondered where the hell Adria got off to, looking for Kyren. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted her to come back.

“I’ve never lost a mate,” Adreth’s voice startled me to attention. He sat forward, elbows on his knees, gazing into the fire rather than me. “I have lost many friends, family…people you can’t replace. It’s never easy and it doesn’t get easier.”

I guffawed – almost laughed – and at once felt sick. How could I laugh at a time like this? Was I really so hollow to think…? “Lieutenant, never easy is as far as I can imagine from what this is. This whole thing…” the image of the broken spire flashed in my mind, and I squeezed my eyes shut as if it would drive the image away. It didn’t. My parents, my friends, my wife…like as not, they were all dead, and I should have been dead with them. The laughter grew in my chest. “What kind of god,” I choked through laughter and tears, “left me alive through all this? Whose joke is that, Lieutneant? Explain that to me.”

His dark eyes flashed up to meet my gaze, something haunted hidden behind them, a thing I didn’t expect to see. “I’m not going to try to explain the universe to you, Baron, but let me tell you this much-” Adria peeked through the door with Kyren behind her, both of them pausing in the doorway, no doubt feeling the weight of Adreth’s talk with me. He continued, barely pausing. “What I do – what we all do – we can’t do it hoping that some deity will protect us. Reason or not, you’re alive and they’re gone. We’re all we’ve got.”

I didn’t understand it in that moment, feeling the raw, penetrating pain of grief. Looking back, that may have been the wisest thing anyone’s ever said to me.

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Nivenea’s Shield Part II

I told you I had more of the story on my hard drive didn’t I? Sure I did. I wasn’t even lying! Here I give you the continuation of Les’s short story, in the immediate aftermath of Forsaken Lands Book I: Tragedy.


It seemed that all at once that everyone, myself included, sought out Adreth. Only he and those placating the horses stood amidst a sea of crouched and fallen Justices, prisoners, and civilians. We waited.

Shouldn’t that be me up there, standing for everyone to see? If I am a leader, too, shouldn’t I be there with him?

He scanned the faces of the fallen in such a way that it felt like he looked at each of us individually, if only for a second. He could have kept us waiting for years, just like that.

“I have no answers,” he started, his voice clear, unshaken. I couldn’t help but envy his resolve. “I only know that each of you here today are my comrades – my brothers and sisters in arms – and none of you will be alone. Stand,” he motioned widely with his arms, “collect your things and ready yourselves. Wherever we go, it will be far from here.”

It was perfect. He made a point to try to unite everyone, the prisoners and guards alike. I could never be sure how much of that was evident to other people – I have to assume that often the public does not realize what the words are supposed to be doing to them, yet at the same time it is so very painfully obvious to me. On a deeper level, I wanted to believe him, too. I suppose that would be the whole point; even if you know it’s a trick, you still want to play into it.

Many people rose, as Adreth requested. I just made myself more comfortable on the ground. Everything I traveled with from Pelle was in my bag already. I had very little to gather.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the damned spire. It shouldn’t have hurt me as much as it did – just like Adreth’s speech, the spire was built with the intention of making people care about it. It was a trick. A symbol. Artificial.

I loved that damned spire.

Wherever we go, it will be far from here; that’s what Adreth said. It seemed unlikely that he was planning to go towards Pelle. Feya was the only major city out that direction, and it had also been decimated by a quake just recently. No, he wouldn’t be headed east. He was much more likely to go north or west.

I wondered if my wife, Cadde, had any inkling about the unrest in Nivenea. She was taking care of business matters in my stead. I needed to be back with her, needed to know she was safe. My friends, my mother and father, all of them were out there in the wilderness, too. Finding Aia and Teveres…I wanted to do that, as well.

Damn it.

“Les?” Kyren looked at me, puzzled. “Are you alright?”

I half-snorted-half-chuckled. Alright. How long had it been since I was alright? “I assume you’re asking that question but looking for another answer entirely,” I answered dryly. I just couldn’t help myself.

The remark hardly miffed him. We might yet become good friends. “You look like you’re thinking about something. I was going to go see if I could help the others…” he hesitated, “but you look…”

“Go,” I told him. I didn’t turn my head, didn’t look him in the eye. “Nevermind me. Do what you need to do.”

Kyren waited a few more seconds, and seeing that I was not volunteering anything else, walked back towards the farmhouse. He had things on his mind too, I was sure – grief over Aia among them. Like any good Healer, he was drawn to his duty first.

I had no purpose here, just like I had no purpose with Aia, Teveres, and Garren. Looking back on the past few weeks I had to wonder why I bothered to go with them at all – and why they tolerated me for so long. I was a drain on resources and not fast enough to make pace. So why…?

“Baron Les?” I didn’t hear Adreth approach me from behind. His deep bass voice seemed to rattle in my chest, startling me. Instinctively, I scrambled to stand.

“Don’t,” Adreth said, his voice lowered. Perhaps he noticed how startled I really was. I watched in some measure of awe as the man (who was something like two stories taller than me) sat on the grass beside me, one knee bent on which to rest his arm. He stared out at the spire just as I did.

Slowly, I resumed my position. I didn’t look at him – seemed fitting, since he wasn’t looking at me. I might be slow to run, but I liked to think I was quick to pick up on cues. In that moment I wished I had Aia’s power of mind-reading, because no matter how hard I tried, I could not come up with a reason why the Lieutenant had come to sit beside me when there were more important tasks at hand.

“Wouldn’t object to knowing your intentions,” I said, casual, like I wasn’t concerned or interested at all. “Also wouldn’t mind helping you and the others out, if there’s something that needs doing.”

“I have a favor to ask,” he told the spire, “but first I’d like to know that you are coming with us.”

I smirked and shook my head. Adreth, too? Surely he noticed how little I brought to a good fight. “I wasn’t thinking you wanted me.”

“I don’t know you,” he spoke quickly, like he hadn’t even heard me. “What I know is that I have fifty-seven men and women who followed me out of a prison, and more promised to gather their friends and meet us in Seldat. Half of these fine people are civilian criminals.”

Reasons started clicking in my head. I eyed him sidelong. “So you’re saying…”

“Over the years I’ve found that prisoners rarely get along with the people making the arrests.”

“And you think I’m the solution to that problem, somehow.”

“You’re a Baron, aren’t you? You represented your citizens when they were brought to trial in Nivenea.”

“Twice,” I found myself sounding much more defensive than I would have planned. “I’ve been Baron for little over 8 months.”

“They don’t know that,” Adreth finally turned to look at me, one eyebrow raised. “All they see is a Baron who was elected to protect citizens. You might not be as good as one of them, but you have a hell of a lot more credibility that I do.”

“Even though you were locked up with them for – what was it, a year? Longer than I’ve been in office. Surely that bought you some trust.”

Adreth stretched out his left arm. It was smudged with sweat-caked dirt, but the bright red triple diamond tattoo still stood out, spanning his inner forearm from elbow to wrist. The mark of Justice-hood was branded on all of the Justices.

“Old divisions,” I reflected.

“You see my problem.”

“I see it, but I don’t know that I’m the right man for your job. Once you get to Seldat there will most likely be a Baron of a larger city, or even one from a guild somewhere. They will outrank me any day.”

“I’m not willing to put my faith in a person I can’t even confirm is alive.”

I shut my mouth, pressed my lips together. The man had a point.

“Can I count on you?” Adreth pressed.

“I should go back to Pelle,” I said slowly. “My wife and my people need me. I don’t belong out here.”

He took a moment to process the words before he began again. “I don’t think you’d make it out there on your own, and I don’t mean that as an insult. I think you and I could both get what we want.”

I hadn’t even begun to think about what it would be like to try to navigate myself all the way back to Pelle with no one to help me. Adreth was right – I’d be dead within a week. “I’m listening.”

“I can promise you that when we reach a safe base of operations I will see that a messenger is sent back to Pelle. They can find out what has happened to your town and bring your wife back with them.”

“You really want this, don’t you?”

He stared me down. A man like him wasn’t likely to expound on his needs for others.

“I…will do whatever I can. I won’t promise that it will help.”

“It will help,” Adreth rose, dusting off his pants. “Mareth wouldn’t send just anyone to find me.”

Gods, not that again. Mareth and his predictions. Mareth was a fair part of the reason I came to Nivenea in the first place. If we Deldri were supposed to be so blessed by the gods, how could something like this happen with us present?

“See here,” Adreth called out, stepping up on the fence to gain height on everyone. Eyes drew up on him automatically at his command – maybe because we all needed to believe in something with all of this going on. I scrambled to standing next to him, sensing an introduction coming on. I was getting the impression that Adreth was the kind to take action without warning. “We have Baron among us who has volunteered to follow us to Seldat.”

I caught his rhythm in time to follow it. I didn’t bother standing up on the fence as he did – I was fine with Adreth standing above me in more ways than one. “My name is Les, of Pelle. I don’t have any answers for you yet – if I had them, I’d give them. I want to help in any way I can.”

Feeble. Dull. Basic. The blankness staring back at me from the crowd mirrored my own internal blankness, and threatened to turn my face blood-red.

Adreth terminated the scrutiny by jumping off the fence. He almost smiled at me.

“Thank you,” he said, and by the way it sounded he didn’t often thank people for anything.

“Thank fate,” I parried, the words unsaid: Don’t thank me for something that wasn’t my choice.

Adreth struck me as a man of strategy and intelligence – like as not, he got that extra meaning. He didn’t look back at me when he walked away. I didn’t look back at the spire, not once, before we started on our journey to Seldat.