Noble Quarrels Pt. 2

A long flight of stairs lead to the entrance of the Soenis Mansion. They were extremely thin, yet they rose tall and high; bordered by elegant, marble rails. When Eydis reached the top she was greeted by two stone statuettes of Bafimer’s sigil: an open tome with a leaf marking the page. The doors to the mansion were as thin and long as the staircase itself, rising to an arched point and painted dark green. Two giant, bronze leaves curled into a fist functioned as handles. With a stack of old books in her arms, Eydis nervously pulled one open and slipped through.

    She found that the fallen dusk had made the entire mansion look desolate. The dark draperies that hung over the skinny windows on either side of the main entrance seemed to rustle without the help of the wind, and everything was illuminated solely by the moonlight spilling through the windowpanes. A statue of Bafimer holding a quill and a book in either hand was in the center of the room. 

    When her eyes looked away from the statue, she gasped at the entirety of the mansion. She was a highborn like Sage, though she wasn’t used to this sort of wealth. She was of the Mirren family, a name known by few. But most everyone she knew also knew the Soenis name. They were the family that used to breed the most talented warlocks when the War of the Eclipse raged decades before, when elven brethren fought one another. The Sun Elves prevailed, and kept the Runelands, keeping most of the well-bred warlocks and turning a the Moon Elves into a race of lowborns. 

    The house was empty without the servants, who left with the rest of the city to see the last Rite of Autumn. Not attending it was deserving of scorn.

    Eydis ascended the first two flights of stairs and became lost in the halls of the house for nearly an hour before finding a door etched into the hallway leading to the dining hall. She ran her hand along the small slab of oaken wood and entered on a whim. The first thing her foot touched was the bottom of a steep, wooden staircase. It spiraled upwards in a confined space like a well. Upwards with each steady thud of her footstep, until she was at the top and nearly breathless.

    What little breath she had was swept out of her. The room was immense. Up here, it seemed to stretch half the length of the house. The terrace was on the leftmost side, the walls on either side decorated by shelves of books nearly touching the ceiling. A shore of moonlight was coming through the terrace. A large wall separated the main room from where Sage slept. It was filled with a mural of Netherwayan gods. She recognized Calan, the Goddess of Nature; Morros of the Blessed, Bafimer of the sun elves and Afimer of the moon elves. Other than that, her brief religious studies eluded her to the dozen other divine strangers. 

    Eydis pulled her eyes away from the mural. She walked to the center of the room and looked back at the terrace. And then finally, between two stone owls perched on the rails, there was Sage leaning with his arms crossed. He looked like a god himself, his dress more formal than it had been when she saw him earlier; though just as black. One half of his face was held by the moonlight. He looked out over the city with a book clutched loosely in one of his hands. Eydis could make out the word “Syndicate” on the front. He looked even paler now than he did before. 

    “Sage,” she called after him, calmly this time. 

    The elf turned, somewhat relieved to see her. His eyes were tired and his walk slow as he approached. “Apologies, Eydis, for not meeting you at the door. I waited for hours but it got late and I thought you weren’t coming.” He looked sad … remorseful, even. 

    Eydis suppressed a smirk. The merchant was right, she had purposefully let the day pass by lazily until the moon was high in the sky. By then the rite was in full swing, and it wouldn’t be over until dawn. Instead of smirking, she offered a smile and said, “You know, Sage. You seemed so keen on your brother’s companion I didn't think you would mind.” 

    Sage looked like he had been struck by lightning. He stammered, but found no words. 

    When he didn’t say anything, she bent down and picked up a something that caught her eye. It was corn. She furrowed her brows in confusion.

    Just then a dark fowl flew into the room, fluttering as it plucked the corn right from her hand. It then went to Sage’s shoulder faithfully and cawed Eydis! It was as big as Sage’s head, with eyes black as a moonless sky that seemed content with staring at her. 

    “Why are you letting crows into your house?” she asked. Eydis didn’t have to be royal to understand how queer it was. “Raven,” Sage corrected tiredly, still trying to ignore the remark she had made. “She keeps me company,” he added, just barely able to look Eydis in the eyes. He felt as if he had wronged her, strangely. 

    “She?” Eydis could feel the tense air but pushed further, stepping uncomfortably close to Sage. He could feel her breath on his face as she caressed the creature; but even more could feel her eyes looking into his.
    Sage shrugged and reached into his pocket for more corn. “Her name’s Valdis.” The bird picked at it hungrily. 

    “I see you haven’t been breaking away from your old habits,” Eydis said jokingly as she looked at the books beside his bed. 

    “It’s none of your business what I read,” he said quickly, the animosity in his eyes clearly derived from something else. “I’m sorry,” he offered immediately afterward. The raven echoed his apology. He chuckled sadly and offered it more corn.

    Eydis nodded nervously and accepted the apology. Without any more delay, the two went to Sage’s desk and looked over what they could offer each other. Eventually, Sage had indulged his father and practiced a few of the healing spells that night. His skin looked a little more colorful in the dim candles in the room, but he was still pale, and his mother was still gone.  

 

    Hours later, Eydis was laying on Sage’s bed with her hands folded over her stoamch. She stared up at the ceiling, eyes fluttering more with every passing page, while Sage read to her from one of the books in his library.

    Eydis didn’t hear most of the story, even if Sage told it with as much enthusiasm as he could muster in the most exciting parts. He propped open the book in one hand while he paced around the room. His soporific voice put her into a trance as it echoed softly in the chamber. 

    After he read the final passage and looked up, Sage realized Eydis had fallen asleep. For a moment he watched her breathe peacefully, then he placed one of the furs at the foot of his bed over her. Her breath came out soft as a whisper through slightly parted lips. Looking at her made Sage stop what he was doing to quell the beating in his heart. After slipping off her shoes, Sage sat beside the bed and went over the books she had lent him. Ever so often he’d glance up at her. 

 

    One moment she sighed deeply, startled by some phantom in her dreams. A breath of wind pushed a lock of hair out of her eyes. She stirred slightly, though she did not wake. Sage was so struck by her beauty that he was about to run a hand over her cheek when something stopped him. 

    Voices came from the entrance of the house. They echoed faintly up to his room like whispers in a cavern. “Keep watch over her, Valdis,” Sage commanded softly. The bird perched itself on one of the wooden bedposts, and cawed.

    Sage rushed across his room, light on the leather soles of his feet, and descended the stairs swiftly with his cloak trailing behind him. He made sure to shut the door to his room tight to block out the noise. 

    Soon he was at the landing of the second floor. All clad black, he looked just like another stray shadow in the house. He looked down upon the floor of the entrance. Now the voices were much louder and he knew who they belonged to. The words were slurred and the steps that echoed around the empty house were unpredictable, stumbling.

    It was Aghiri and Astari. Aghiri was yelling at her, shouting insults that even Sage had not read too many times in his violent stories. He couldn’t make out their features, though he could see who was who. It was pitch black inside, and most of the moonlight was kept out by the heavy curtains.    

    Aghiri was pacing maniacally while Astari trembled in fear not far from him. “Don’t give me your deceitful words you harlot! I saw what you were trying to do, the tricks you were pulling! You’re a temptress, a whore, that’s it! I wouldn’t be surprised if every last innkeeper and priest in this city has had you. Gods take you!” A loud clap shattered the air. Sage suppressed his gasp with a hand. He could feel the force of the slap like it was on his own cheek.

    Now Astari was on the ground covering her face as she swept. They were both intoxicated. Barrels of mead went around near the end of Bafimer’s rites, and Aghiri was never one to hold back if he had the chance. That much could be seen now. “I see the looks you give him. Whenever he comes up you look as if, as if—” Aghiri was sniffling back tears of hatred. Something made him stop. Sage grew tense in the dark silence, wondering why … 

    “You little shit,” Aghi spat suddenly. Sage felt the burn of his brother’s eyes on him, and felt the fire on his heart. 

    At first Sage was not frightened, only startled. But soon Aghiri was bounding the steps toward him three at a time. Sage caught sight of his sword and fear filled each beat of his blood. A stray ray of moonlight came from an uncovered part of a window. It caught the steel adornments on the leather sheath and gleamed. The rapier was deadly, Sage should know, he had it crafted personally for his brother’s last birthday.

    Sage backed away slowly, but fear held him in place. He eyed his brother’s weapon nervously. The handle was wrapped in leather that met a ruby studded pommel. Its guard was a flurry of gold-plated steel. Before Sage could react, his brother had finished climbing the steps and was walking toward him with a devilish grin. But he didn’t immediately grab for his sword. Instead he closed the distance with a long stride and landed a punch on Sage’s left jaw. Astari’s sounds of weeping were echoing in the house now, though Sage didn’t hear it. Not after his head slammed against the ground, and a resounding crack deafened everything else.

    For moment everything was black, then he opened his eyes to see Aghi’s expression seething with animosity. He grasped his younger brother’s vest in one hand and punched him with the other. It hit like a hammer, knocking away what little sense of reality he had left. Warm blood was trickling from his nose, falling onto the cold floor. After a third hit, Aghiri stood up, panting, and wiped sweat from his brow. Locks of hair had fallen from his ponytail and hung at his sides. “You’re a sack of satyr’s piss, you know that, Sage? What do you do all day in your room, anyways? Sticking your head in a book or are you just sticking your hand in something else while you think about Astari? She’s mine, Sage, mine!”

    Sage blinked away the disbelief in his eyes when he saw his brother reach for his sword and stumbled to his feet. “I’ll give you a mark to make you remember never to look at her again, you spiteful little cur.” His voice burned through Sage like acid, made him angrier than he ever had been. It flowed through his blood like the fear and sent him sprinting down the first flight of stairs. “You cursed craven!” his brother called after him, covering the steps twice as fast.

    Sage couldn’t run away. His brother knew the house just as well as he did, and this fight had been brewing for months. But his sword was back with Eydis in his chamber. He sprinted to the main entrance, dashing on his thigh to slide across the middle of the room passed the weeping Astari. When he met the wall on the other side, he reached up toward the shield adorning the wall with his family’s crest: an owl perched on a golden twig. Two swords decorated the shield. Sage had never dared touch the swords for fear of punishment, but he had to now, and he prayed to the gods they weren’t welded together.    

    The gods heard his prayers. The decoration rapier on the right slid out of a sheath behind the shield. The hiss of metal on metal rang throughout the room. It made Aghi cackle in mockery while he stepped calmly down the last of the stairs. “You know as well as I do Sage: I always had you on your knees in the practice yard.” Sage thought of the lessons he had with his brother and remembered the countless defeats. But these weren’t blunted swords anymore.

    Astari had the sense to stumble to the safety of the wall as the two brothers approached each other.

    Aghiri had a murderous fire in his eyes. His younger brother was staring at him calmly, the hatred concentrating in his blood. 

    “Gods damn your silence, Sage!” Aghiri roared. It was as loud as Sage had ever heard his brother. Again, he had no response. He stared at his brother with his sword readied, legs slightly bent as his instructor taught him. It had been a long time since he practiced, but his muscles remembered.

    His brother had little patience. He sprang upon Sage with an attack strong enough to cut iron. Sage ducked the blow aimed at his neck and dodged just fast enough to save himself from another strike from above. Aghiri was still affected by the mead, and his attacks were predictable. When he regained himself he lunged, thrusting the point of his rapier at Sage’s chest. The blade was swept away by a loud parry, then countered by an attack. Aghiri was swift enough to block the blow, dodge another, then return with a flurry of swipes. Sage could hardly hold his ground as he was pushed back against the statue of Bafimer in the center. He found an opening in one wide attack and—much to his surprise—dealt the first cut. Blood welled around the inner skin of Aghi’s forearm. 

    Aghiri had never been so angry as this. “Gods curse you!” He angled his blade above his head and brought it down. Sage remembered telling the blacksmith to give the sword an edge like none other. His eyes widened while he raised his sword against the attack. It parried the blow, but that was all. Aghiri’s force was so strong it snapped the brittle decoration sword. Half of the blade clattered to the floor uselessly.

    “Aghiri, stop!” Sage shouted finally. The pain of the parry vibrated up his forearm. 

    But the elf wouldn’t hear it. Aghiri’s swiped at Sage’s side. Cloak whirling behind him, Sage met the attack with a sharp parry of what remained of his blade. The decoration sword’s guard did little to protect his hand. Aghiri’s blade ran across his knuckles, cutting him to the bone on each finger besides his thumb. 

    Sage screamed in pain along with Astari who saw the blood dot the floor beneath them. In desperation, Sage rammed Aghi with his shoulder, but was grasped by the neck as if he was a child and shoved to the floor. As he fell, Aghi caught the side of his shoulder with the edge of his blade. More blood spilled from him. With only half his vision from the punches, Sage retreated, clutching his arm, eyes wet with pain. Still, the broken sword was clutched in his hand. 

    As Aghiri advanced upon him, he was met by the now hurtling hilt of the sword. It cracked his nose. Lucky for him it was the pommel first, not the blade. Blood flowed as Aghiri roared furiously and cut at Sage’s chest. The few layers of fine clothing did little to protect him. After the first few swipes, it was only shredding skin. Whenever Sage raised his arms to protect his chest, the cuts only landed on his wrists and arms instead. Sometime during it all, Aghiri caught the clasp at his throat with the point of his blade, and Sage’s cloak fell to the floor. 

    Sage was weeping as much as he was bleeding. He could do little but move backwards as the cold steel came after him. 

    Then Aghi grew tired of cutting his brother. He sheathed his blade and attacked with knuckles already sticky with his blood. Just as he grasped him by the tatters of his shirt and raised a fist, Sage saw a shadow out of the corner of his eye. It was coming swiftly through the doors of his home, growing larger as it sped closer … 

    Valdis dove through the house’s entrance like a feathered arrow and punctured Aghiri’s left eye just as he landed a blow.

    The elf cursed wildly, the force of the large bird offsetting him onto his side. Valdis struggled to pull her beak out of him, but when she did, Aghiri’s eye came with her. It hung limp from its socket

    Aghi’s scream was bloodcurdling, a noise Sage would never forget. “Unholy demon!” he cursed as he grasped wildly for Valdis. Blood was spilling from his nose and eye. Before the demon could flutter away, Aghiri had her in his hands; she was cawing noisily back at his curses. 

    Sage cried in protest as he rose to his feet. “Aghiri! Sto—“ The loud crunch of her neck stopped him, and choked his words with tears. 

    Valdis fell to the floor, her neck twisted and mangled. 

    Sage screamed at his brother as he never had before, and unsheathed his own blade while he sat fumbling for his drooping eye. Sage jabbed the blade at his chest, though he didn’t have the heart to drive it through, even if every last vein of his pumped blood for vengeance.

    “Leave,” he growled. 

    Aghiri looked up from the ground, his face a mess of blood, loathing, and tears. “Where will I go you wretch? Look what your pest did to my eye!” Aghiri’s shouts stabbed Sage the worst out of all the wounds he inflicted. He forced himself beyond it. 

    “You’re certainly not staying here,” he spat out some blood at his brother’s feet. “Seek help from the gods you disgraced today, but by the the heavens I’ll spill my family’s blood if I ever see you again you jealous fool.” 

    Reluctantly, Aghiri stumbled out of the house weeping and clutching his face.

    He let the blade clatter to the floor. He had won, but there was no victory or honor in it. Blood was smeared across the center of the room. Astari was standing breathless, the tremors in her body barely controlled by her hand that clutched the railing of the stairs. 

    Sage looked at her with nearly as much loathing. “All this from a glance?” he whispered through tears. “Was it worth it? Toying with two hearts at once? Get out. I won’t have you here either. Make amends with your ‘beloved’ but don’t come near me.” Sage put mockery into the word. He was only sixteen, but in that moment he felt as powerful as his father. When Astari didn’t move—frozen in shock—Sage shouted, “Leave!” so gutturally it nearly scared himself.

    Blood clung to the bottoms of her dress as she started toward the door, glancing back to look at the dead raven in horror. Sage slammed the door shut after her. He wanted to scream as he looked at Valdis. Instead what came out were tears. She was just another shadow on the floor beside the two swords and the cloak. He picked up the bird and wept bitterly with it in his hands. He could still feel the warmth through the feathers, could still see the blood fresh on its beak.

    Sage was at the base of the stairs when he heard his father come in. “Sage! Are you hurt? Gods be damned, I’m going to kill Aghiri if that bird of yours hasn’t already done a good enough job. That whore Astari, she caused—“

    “Father,” Sage interrupted while he wiped away tears with a bloodied hand. His face only became more dirtied than before. “Words are what started this. I’ve heard enough curses for one day.”

    “ … Sage?” His father gasped as he came to him to the top of the stairs. His son was standing still, his forehead resting in the palm of his hand as he tried to hide the tears coming faster now. His father couldn’t believe the wounds he was seeing. The sheer number of them. The ones on his left arm and chest glinted in the light of the moon. Blood trickled down the skin. “Aghiri … he?” his father mumbled in disbelief. 

    Sage nodded mournfully. The family finally crumbled. This fight had been boiling since Aghiri met Astari and began treating him like a lesser peasant. But there were still wrongs to right. The young elf looked up at Lord Soenis worriedly. “Father, I’m sorry for everything I said, the way I treated you. I had no right—“

    Father locked him in a tight embrace and felt his son’s warm blood leak through his clothes. “You have nothing to be forgiven for. And I haven’t been everything I could for you. Gods, here I am saying this now, as your lifeblood leaves you.” Father stepped back and looked at him intently. “Look, Sage, everyone your age is entitled to a few bouts of anger or jealousy. Well, I’d hope we all are. But what Aghiri did …” Father suppressed a wrathful curse and shook his head. “What that crow did was what he deserved. Gods bless you, Sage, I think someone was looking out for you. I don’t know a god or goddess with a bird such as a crow—“

    “Raven,” Sage chuckled painfully.

    “… raven as a symbol,” his father continued. “But whoever it was, I thank them like I count the stars. I think Aghiri would’ve killed you, as much as it pains me to say it. But you did well, Sage. You got away with your life with some cuts to show for it.” Father gently rubbed Sage’s back as he felt him shaking into his shoulder. “And that’s what life is, is it not?” 

    Sage sniffled and nodded. 

    “What … what’s this?” Father asked as he felt the strange bundle in Sage’s arms. The embrace broke. They both stared down at the dead bird. “Aghi snapped her neck after she pecked out his eye,” Sage could hardly say it through sobs. 

    “That blasted son of a demon, I’ll—“ His fists balled and trembled as if he was to punish him then and there. 

    “Father. While he was busy killing her I had time to take his sword. It’s the only reason I’m alive.”

    “Then the raven did you yet another service greater than revenge. Your very life.” 

    Sage smiled while another tear fell down his blood-stricken face, feeling a gratefulness he hadn’t felt before.

    “We should get these wounds cleaned before they fester. Come, we’ll visit Calan’s center. The priestesses there work well with healing spells.” Father put his hand around his shoulder and began escorting down the stairs.

    Sage nodded then stopped. “Wait. There’s someone closer who can do just as well.”

    “Oh?”

 

    Sage lead his father up to his room, each step he took up the stairs was met with some protest. Surely, his son had lost too much blood and was mad. 

    Soon they came upon Eydis, a talented sorceress who understood healing spells like she knew her hand. After the awkward introduction of waking her and explaining the evening’s events, Sage’s wounds were tended to by the light of a fire in his chamber. They watched Valdis’ feathers go up in flames with the smoke, until her body fell to ash with the rest of the embers. The open terrace and the wide windows kept the room smelling like the night air despite the burning flesh, and the three were all grateful for the strange company that, for so long, had been neglected.

    After Eydis had led Sage through several spells, she bandaged his wounds with linen sent for by Lord Soenis himself. He did not mind the two being alone, and did not question her after seeing her expertise. Never did her eyes move from Sage. They were fixated on every ridge of his wounds, every drop of blood. Father could see something in her eyes that went beyond a common healer’s urgency. There was a love in her movements, subtle as shadow, but he caught it all the same. Sage not only saw it, but felt it, too. It warmed his scarred heart with such emotion he felt on the verge of tears again, though he held it back.

 

    There was a minute when Father had stepped away to the terrace to reflect, and Sage and Eydis were alone again.

    She was the first to speak, her hands meticulously working linen around the cuts on his arms.“I suppose all the secretive glances weren’t so innocent after all,” Eydis said softly, taking a brief second to look at Sage. His eyes met hers as they had before, yet strangely it felt as if for the first time.

    Sage sighed, though this time it was because he was relieved. “Sometimes the wrong decisions bring us to the right people.” With dried blood still on his face, he smiled weakly at Eydis. She thought for a moment to kiss him, but Lord Soenis was already walking back to the fire, chilled by the night’s winds. 

    

    Soon enough the blood stopped running. But the particularly deep gash on his shoulder seemed intent on bleeding out what little color he had. His lips were as pale as stone by the end of the evening. 

    After all had been soaked up and tossed to the fire, Eydis blessed the bandages and asked for quickened healing. “I beseech you Calan, for your gracefulness in nature’s course. And you, Bafimer, for the healing of his mind after this loss of family. And you, Nithe, who had the compassion to save his very body from death itself.”

    As graceful as the blessing was, Sage and Father shared a look of confusion. “I beg your pardon, Eydis. But who is Nithe?” Father asked, afraid to offend her. 

    Eydis—her house being nearer to the commons than the royal district—knew all there was to know about Nithe. She wanted to look at them as if they were strangers, but suppressed it. “Nithe?” she repeated. “Why, she’s the Mistress of Shadows, of course. Her sigil is the raven. Doubtless, this was a sign of her presence tonight. It’s not everyday a son of Bafimer befriends a raven and is saved by it.”

    “And what does she do exactly?” Sage asked. 

    “She’s the Goddess of Thieves, and the leader of the Shadow Syndicate.”

    As much as Lord Soenis felt like vomiting with the thought of the Goddess of Thieves watching over his son, he swallowed it back and nodded with gratitude. “Well,” he said, clearing his throat humbly, “I suggest you keep leaving out the corn.”


Thank you for reading this short story! If you enjoyed it, please lend a heart, comment about what you enjoyed or did not, or share it with your friends. See you in another realm,
Josh