Ulrich, Captain of the Sunsguard
It was easy to forget, Ulrich reflected, that their chaplain was a Firestarter, and that to the rest of Karse, a Firestarter was the monster no one would admit to. Father Kir was very approachable, for one of those the children of Karse were raised to never approach willingly. He was normally a very calm, constant figure that he knew the men of the 62nd found comforting in his steadiness.
Right now, though, it was hard to remember that Father Kir wasn't one of those nightmare starters who blazed through towns with flames at his fingers and fanaticism in his eyes.
"There is an army marching across our Plains," he was murmuring, pacing in front of them at the head of the table they'd spread maps over, half-lidded eyes roving from pallor stricken faces to trembling hands. "An army, heading to Hardorn, host of our most ancient foes. Yet I hear proposals to waste lives of the Faithful, blood of the Sunlord's Children, to stop them."
His fists were clenched, white-knuckled under the table, resting on his knees. He had been arguing against the action, had despaired of getting through to the 54ths Captain; the man was fanatical in his hatred of Valdemar and it was very obvious this Rethwallen army was marching to aid the northerners. That was small comfort, knowing that the priest was agreeing with him.
"They are seeking to aid the Witch-Queen of Valdemar," Coronad protested, former strident tones faded to weak insistences, normally garrulous man flinching at the flare of red robes and shimmer of heat, full force of a ghost-eyed glare searing into his bones.
"Yes," the priest acknowledged, flat tone not particularly promising, "But you will note I called Hardorn host to our most ancient enemies. Is the education of officers so remiss that you cannot recall just who that is?"
Ulrich was unable to suppress his wince at that. There was no way Coronad could win – either he admitted that the Sunsguard was failing to properly train their officers or he admitted to personal failure in forgetting an enemy that a Firestarter viewed more despicable than the White Demons.
"I, at least, do not recall these enemies," Greich spoke up, looking remarkably composed from his spot at Ulrich's left. It was only his rather close friendship with the sergeant that let him notice the unnaturally wide eyes and faint tremor in hidden hands. "But then I do not have the education of an officer."
The look Coronad cast him was pitifully grateful, His Holiness clearly catching the look and his mouth twisting into a rough smile before he spun on his heel to begin pacing again, hands locked behind his back.
"Blood-mages," he sneered the piece-meal translation after a few moments of humming silence, whirling to a halt at the head of the table and glaring down his nose at them all, face locked in a disapproving blankness. "Or as the ancients called them, witach."
There were only a few enlisted men here (lucky bastards were hiding in the kitchen itself he would guess) but those present looked interested at the word – noting it's similarity to their modern curse of witch. Father Kir apparently noted those looks and inclined his head slightly, continuing, "The similarity to the modern word witch is no coincidence. Those who were called witach were the first to be burned, always and without exception. Should one enter Karse's soil, they will be hunted down and their entire school burnt to ash – that is their fate. That is why they fear us."
The almost friendly explanation shifted abruptly as he returned his focus to the four commanding figures around the maps, a snarl entering his tone as he said, "So if His High Holiness the Son of Sun finds it adequate, to lurk within our borders and hunt only those who trespass, so be it, His Wisdom Unending. But I will not allow for any who hunt these wretches to be delayed. I want them burnt to ash, I want them hunted down and destroyed to the very last and if I cannot do that myself then by the One God I will aid those who seek that end!"
He slammed his hand down onto the table, smoke and the scent of burning wood curling up from where he rested, leaning forward to glare at them all, eyes gleaming with a passion that sent a chill curling down Ulrich's spine. That was conviction, he had seen it before, too many times. That was a fanatic, unquestioning belief that they were right to seek this course of action. That sort of faith, that sort of conviction – it couldn't be faked. It couldn't.
Sunlord please, that they never step into the realm of that conviction. Fighting a true believer was always a losing proposition and with one as powerful as Father Kir it was a death wish.
"I suggest then, that we send two scouts with you, Holiness Dinesh," Ulrich found himself saying, mind scrambling to come up with a plan that would get this man (ally, comrade but oh so frightening) the hell away from them – "And monitor the situation. One can ride ahead to warn shepherds and settlements of the incoming army so no one tries to be a martyr, and if someone refuses to listen to reason you can add authority to the suggestion."
Grey eyes met his and he quailed internally, that hard expression not fading but something in the eyes changing at their meeting – he recognized it, he did, but he was too worried about not flinching and physically shying away in front of his men to consider the pain lurking there.
"Agreeable," the priest finally said flatly, pulling back from his predatory looming and nodding shortly at them all, "Choose your scouts, I will be waiting at the gates."
"Very good, Your Holiness," Ulrich agreed, three others around him echoing his sentiment, the priest turning sharply and leaving the mess hall, door shutting behind him in deafening silence.
A solid count of three passed before everyone in the room shuddered and slumped over, supporting themselves on walls or tables – whatever was at hand. "You lot have my utmost sympathies," Coronad said fervently, "I cannot imagine sleeping at night with that in my walls."
Something in that sat wrong. The sentiment, sincere and, judging by the nods circling the members of the 54th, rather universal, was wrong. He slept easy, knowing there was a sunpriest he could trust in his walls. That a sunpriest who stood with them, against politics, against enemies foreign and domestic as they saw them, was in the next building over.
But his hands were still shaking, heart still pounding and some ancient instinct screaming that he had only just escaped the man he trusted with the fate of his unit.
The priesthood, in a curse.
Sescha Brothers, Scouts of the Sunsguard
They had been hiding in the kitchens with as many enlisted men as could fit during Father Kir's rage, but when they'd all come out after he left they had seen the Captain's eyes lock on them and they knew. Two scouts, and a squad of five was all that came to this meeting. Of course he'd send them, they were a ready-made team and they'd worked with their Sunpriest before.
Judging by the sympathetic and poorly concealed relieved expressions, even on members of their own unit, if they survived this they'd get plenty of sympathy drinks. A definite plus.
Saluting and accepting the murmured well-wishes with good grace, they stepped into the drizzle as one and made their way to the stables, horses quickly saddled and saddlebags stocked, Father Kir waiting by the gate as promised, oil-skin coat glistening in the dampness. The man's ever patient gelding snorted as they approached and the three of them mutely rode out, Balin and Galen letting their mountain-bred horses fall into matching step behind him.
Even after they were out of sight of the barracks, well out of earshot too, they stayed in silence. The twins exchanged glances, thoughts following a similar track. Neither wanted to be the one to break it – they had entered the Sunsguard for lack of better options, stationed close enough to home that seeing the family was a matter of a single day off, and their plan had been to serve out their seven years and retire to sheep-herding with crazy stories of bravery to drag some of the better ladies to them.
Not to somehow become embroiled in a desperate half-declared war with not-so-secret alliances across The Border, with a Sunpriest who had been blessed by the Ascending Son and was more than a little terrifying in his own right. Come on, who would believe those stories?
Head down, slog through, come out at the end alive. That had been the plan. That was the plan. Now their plan was dying a flaming death, given how often they'd been sent out with their Sunpriest. Great adventures, good fun, but they could do without the constant scrambling to keep up on just what they were dealing with from moment to moment.
Speaking of, what the frosted hells was their job this time around?
"Father Kir?" Balin finally spoke up, the priest turning his head slightly to regard them out of the corner of his eye, a raised eyebrow prompting him to continue, "Just what do you want us to be doing on this stretch sir? Is there a plan? With – ah – the northern cousins?"
He finally turned completely in his saddle to regard them, dark eyes disturbingly blank before he apparently deemed them worthy of an answer, turning to face forward again before saying coolly, "There is no plan. The Rethwallen army is going to reinforce them, that was planned. But a crossing through Karse was not part of it, for good reason. It is a stupid idea."
He paused for a long moment, Galen even opening his mouth to ask another question before the priest continued, "I would have one of you carry a message to Valdemar, so they know where their wayward allies are marching. The other I would have fulfilling Captain Ulrich's orders, to seek out families and settlements and warn them. If they decide to evacuate, they will be able to find shelter at the 62nd so long as there are not truly excessive numbers."
"And yourself, sir?"
"I will be ensuring the reports to Sunhame of the army marching don't result in Furies decimating their forces," was the grim reply, "At least three got reports out to the south that I am aware of, depending on Brother Tahan's willingness to relay messages there may be more."
"…Furies? Sir?" Balin asked, completely willing to admit to the shaky tone. Furies were the nightmare of border people, they could come down and destroy perfectly faithful families with no warning and then all their belongings were confiscated by the priesthood and their connections drawn into immense scrutiny because Furies, of course, would never target an actual faithful.
Furies had targeted Father Kir. They would attack anything that lived.
"Do not travel alone at night if you can help it," their priest finally said, sounding exhausted, "That is truly the only advice I can offer. I will present a more tempting target alone – I know how to lure them. Sunlord's will that they do. No one deserves those wretches."
"Not even… blood mages? Sir?" Balin asked, ignoring his brother's frantic gestures to shut up. They may have missed the gleaming eyes of fanaticism, but they could guess from the tone and the utter shift in the mood of the room that this was a topic their priest felt very strongly about.
"Not even them," there was no hesitation in that response, no brief wavering. Good to know, Balin exchanged nods with his brother. Good to know indeed, that there were lines their priest would not cross, even to destroy those of witach. Reassuring to know, honestly.
"I will head across the border," Galen offered after a few more moments in silence, "Balin can send the messages to the shepherds."
"Very well," Father Kir nodded, pulling a rolled up map from his bags and waving him forward, horses halting as the three clustered around to view the map. It was a rare find – an accurate map of the dead-zone on both sides of the border, the area within the 62nds range the most detailed, naturally. There were charcoal markers scattered across it, symbols that didn't fall within canonical cartography knowledge, so they were probably personal to the priest.
"We are heading for the north bridge," the priest pointed on the map, the crossing of the Sun Serpent river where their own new territory began – it used to belong to the 103rd. "I will range south, as that is where the Rethwallen army will likely ford, from reports they are within a days hard march of fording the river and I doubt they are doing anything less. Once I find them, I will remain outside of their scouting sphere but nearby. When they camp – if they camp – is when they will be the most vulnerable. They will have to stop at least once before hitting the Hardornen border on this side of the river, and that will give enough time for Furies to be sent."
"After you cross the bridge, you will head here," Father Kir indicated a circled 'x' on the map, two day's hard ride from the bridge crossing and well into Valdemar. "Herald Anur and I are scheduled to meet shortly, he may very well be there already. I will write a letter for you to carry. If he is not there – it is up to you. If you feel comfortable, and only then, if you continue north a mark you will hit a road, follow that road east – go right – and you will find a guard post on your left in a few marks, it is here." A square around a dot, this time, "I have been there before, ask for Herald Anur. Do you know any Valdemaran?"
"No sir," Galen replied, a quick lesson on basic words (like 'truce' and 'hold fire') resulted. While Galen practiced his phrases, Balin echoing them as it might be useful one day, Father Kir scrawled a letter into a blank book with a charcoal writing stick, careful to keep it protected from the drizzling rain. Ripping the page out and folding it carefully, he handed it to Galen who quickly tucked it into his vest to protect the missive from the damp. Accepting the now rolled map, he bowed slightly in his saddle, exchanged brief farewells with his brother, and launched his horse forward, heading for the bridge.
Balin watched him go, worried but not as much as he might have. Valdemar, at least, didn't have Furies that far into its borders.
Turning to the priest, whose gaze was locked on the disappearing figure of his brother, he asked, "Would you have me leave now, Father?"
The priest hesitated tellingly, before nodding shortly, Balin wanting to smack some of his brethren for making their priest think he was universally feared (respected, yes. Feared? Only sometimes). Time to repair some damage then, "A blessing, Father?"
The startled look on the chaplain's face was a painful thing to witness, as was the almost immediate gratitude, a hand coming to rest on his bowed head as the priest murmured, "Vkandis most high watch over you, shield you and guide you. Go with the Sun."
Balin waited for him to remove his hand and straightened, giving an appropriate half-bow of respect before departing, mare eager to lope after standing in the rain. The proprieties should always be observed – it was polite, and it was far too appreciated by their priest to be common.
Devek, Lieutenant of the Sunsguard
Devek Koshiro was good at his job. Given, he wasn't the highest ranked Lieutenant here, nor was he even within the Captain's advisory circle, but he was good at what he did, managing scouts and archers of the 62nd. He still had four years in his contract and the odds were good he'd be promoted to at least a Senior Lieutenant, maybe even a full Captain in his own right if he were transferred out, and he was looking forward to it.
At least, he had been, before he'd realized just how lucky the 62nd was within the Sunsguard.
Even now, he was sitting in the chapel (one of the warmest places in the barracks with a truly ever-burning flame), playing cards with a cook and a medic that were off duty with him. Playing cards in the chapel, now that was something commonly Not Done in Karse.
Trusting a Sunpriest to watch your back was something Not Done in the Sunsguard. He had been in a unit like that for his first year as a junior officer and it had been awful – they had always had to look over their shoulder, felt a crushing presence as the priest lurked in the wings, waiting for someone to slip into vague heresy. And that was just a pastoral red robe!
The 62nd? They had a Firestarter, and while at first glance that was a million times worse, within the first month of his stationing here he had realized that no one lived in terror of their priest. Certainly, they treated the man with the wary respect due his station, but they weren't scared of him. He could sit in the mess hall and while they would watch their tongues, they wouldn't sit in stiff, awkward conversation.
He had gone on cross-border intelligence exchanges for Vkandis' sake! No one did that, taking a priest into another nation was tantamount to risking war, especially with even a vague chance of encountering a Valdemaran patrol, or Sunlord forbid, a White Demon.
Then Hardorn had happened and it had become very obvious very quickly that they were the luckiest Sunsguard in Karse, having a Firestarter not only willing and able to step onto the battlefield, but they had one that would risk everything to keep them alive and healthy. He had gone into Valdemar for them, returning with months of supplies and followed by an actual White Demon.
And then, as if that weren't enough, some marvelously coincidental bandit raids on the other side of the border sent much reduced and panicked bandits right into their waiting blades. While he wasn't willing to speculate aloud (as some idiots had and he had quickly silenced) it was very clear after the first two that this was no coincidence and their priest's frequent wanders into the dead-zone (witch-hunting, please) took on an entirely new light.
Going back to the normal Sunsguard would be damn difficult after this. He liked having a chaplain he could be at ease around and it was interesting to be here, to be this close to the center of things, of things he could almost taste world-changing potential in.
Devek eyed the letter sitting on a stool by the door to Father Kir's quarters in the back of the chapel. It had arrived three days ago, missing the group heading for the 103rd's barracks by a few marks, if that. Letters in that hand had been scarce, but definitely noticeable in their frequency – before this correspondence had been struck up he honestly couldn't recall their priest receiving a single personal letter.
But if rumors were true (and he actually trusted these rumors) those letters were from none other than the Ascending Son, a woman who performed actual miracles and who the entire Sunsguard had heard whispers of by now from the 21st.
The potential, the sheer promise in being able to say that – it was incredible. And he was so, so lucky to be here where he could see the future of his country changing, that he could say in the future that he had been here that he had seen it happen.
The doors slammed open and they all jumped, cards scattering as they leapt to their feet, snapping to attention entirely automatically at the sight of their priest, dripping water and wild-eyed, standing in the doorway to the chapel. "Father Kir!" Devek said promptly, "Is everything all right?"
"Rethwallen army marching across the plains to get to Hardorn, reasoning unknown," Kir replied shortly, striding past them to his quarters, leaving the letter aside and the door open. Devek took the action as an invitation and followed, hovering in the doorway and watching as the priest tore through his room, grabbing seemingly random items and packing them together into his saddlebags.
"Do you require back-up, Father?"
"No, thank you Lieutenant," an extra pair of boots, looked too big for the priest, "I will be escorting them from a distance," a red sash of some sort? "The quartermaster is resupplying my bags and Riva is being tended to," was that a packet of rank sigils? "Second Scouts Sescha are alerting the relevant parties that an army is crossing our nation."
"Very well sir. When should we expect you back?" Devek asked, stepping back to let the priest pass him, door shut behind.
"I will try to be back before the moon is over," Father Kir replied, grim tone and expression belying the thread of exhaustion Devek could read in a desperately straight spine and squared shoulders. "At the least I will send word."
"Sir," he nodded, the priest about to leave the chapel entirely when Devek realized he'd forgotten the letter, "Father Kir! This letter arrived for you!"
He rushed to hand the letter over, recalling from other times that these letters usually put him in good spirits, and if the priest was anticipating an entire two weeks worth of trouble out of this army marching (he really wanted more information but the man was clearly in a rush) he could use the morale boost.
Devek was in the middle of mentally patting himself on the back, the priest having snatched the letter with barely concealed eagerness and hope when he found himself scrambling back a few steps, the priest's expression something completely unspeakable and letter smouldering in hand. The hot paper was shoved into his chest, Father Kir whirling on his heel and shouting over his shoulder, "Burn it!"
"Ah, Father?" he asked hesitantly, before deciding it was just as well the man had ignored him, judging by the way people took one look at their priest's face and fairly dove out of the way, steam rising from him as rain was burned off.
Heading for the ever-burning flame, Devek hesitated before casting it into the fire as ordered, giving in to temptation and reading the remarkably short letter. All it contained was a single sentence – no salutation, no signature. Just one line, and one he didn't understand the reaction to.
We trust in your judgment, brother.
Anders, Lieutenant of the Valdemaran Guard
Tension was humming in the air, he could taste it, even standing on the walls doing something useful. This trap, devised by mercenaries and their own, had seemed such a good idea, such a solid plan – but it was turning on them, something was going wrong and no one could figure out how the hell they were supposed to fix it. Hells, they couldn't even figure out how they could hold until the promised Rethwallen allies came, if they were even coming.
Anders Corith was not an ambitious man. Originally sent to the guard in lieu of a decade in the mines, he had fallen in love with the job after hunting bandits like he used to be. Sure, they were bandits near Karse instead of lurking in the trees of Sorrows, but bandits nonetheless and it wasn't until he had this job that he realized how fun it could be, to be on the other side of the law.
So he had been content, hunting bandit groups in the south, just one man among many. But apparently when he had re-enlisted, professing a dream of living the rest of his life in the guard, all those commendations that had apparently been lurking because of his sentencing suddenly sprang forward and he found himself shooting up in the ranks, finally settling under the formidable Captain Naomi as second in command and Lieutenant.
He was perfectly content with that. He had enough authority to get things done and get his voice heard, with none of the true burdens of unit-level command and dealing with the higher ups. The perfect place for him and he was determined, if he ever, gods forbid, got offered a promotion he would turn it down without question. Definitely not worth the headaches he had plied his Captain with tea for over the years.
Then he had the utter misfortune of finding out that Captain Naomi really was just as hungry for dead bandits as everyone had said, when she agreed to an under-the-table (but Herald sanctioned) alliance with Karse of all places. Oh sure, it was just one unit, and really just the officers of one unit, but still. Karse.
At least he'd had the chance to meet this priest that had proposed the idea, giving them all brief panic attacks when he rode up demanding a meeting with a Herald. It was a good thing they'd thought he was a scout or some enlisted equivalent, because if they'd known he was a priest (and apparently a witch-hunting priest at that) they would have shot him dead first and apologized later.
And telling a Herald that their friend was dead was never fun. Telling one that you'd killed that friend? They'd be lucky to make it out alive, much less with their careers intact.
"Rider incoming!" an alert came down the line, and he quickly perked up and jogged over to take the spyglass from the lookout who'd cried the alarm, raising it to his eye and squinting through the piece, straining to see through the misty rain of the early morning.
"The hell?" he murmured, recognizing those colors. That was a Karsite riding up! Damn it their alliance was supposed to be under the table, something must have gone very wrong to make that priest risk running here in daylight again.
"Get a horse!" he shouted down, handing the spyglass back and sternly ordering the lookout to keep his trap shut about the rider's colors with a fierce look. The lookout, one of his, thankfully, only nodded and Anders quickly clattered down the steps, swinging up onto the horse being offered him and bursting out of the gates at a mud-sodden run.
The moment he was within earshot of the man (looking suspiciously unlike that priest curse it all) he called in Karsite, "Halt!"
The stranger's horse quickly slowed and stopped, sides heaving as the man, most certainly not that priest, held his hands up in surrender and said in slow Karsite, "I seek Herald Anur. I have a message."
"What's the message?" he demanded, narrowing his eyes, he'd be damned if some Karsite spy got to their Herald on a suicidal assassination mission. Heralds were too precious to risk like that.
"A letter from Father Kir," the man replied, typically Karsite features strained with worry and exhaustion if Anders had to guess. Too bad, he needed more than that.
"A Rethwallen army is marching across Karse, we think they are heading to engage Hardorn," and there was that more he had been looking for. Time to engage in a time-honored tradition – pass it uphill.
"Come on, I'll escort you," Anders said brusquely, turning his mare around to pace next to the Karsite's horse, a small mountain breed if he wasn't mistaken, very good in these hills. "Lieutenant Anders Corith."
"Second Scout Galen Sescha," the scout replied, absently stroking his horse's neck with one hand. "Could I tend to my horse? We have been running most of the past three days."
"Mind one of ours doing it? I need to get you to the Herald immediately, we're pressed for time," Anders replied, the scout shrugging and nodding agreeably. Good, he'd just wanted the horse taken care of. Besides, if they wanted him dead, why waste the effort on sabotage? He was already here, what the hell would Karse do if he vanished? Nothing, if the higher ups even noticed, that's what.
Wide eyes and a rash of murmurs followed them through the gates, the Karsite man watching blank-faced as the horses were taken to be tended, a runner streaking off to find Herald Anur out of the multiple Heralds lurking here waiting for a call to arms.
Anders made the executive decision to find Captain Naomi and get some food into this scout at the same time. Good hosting and all that. Besides, they'd get more information out of him if he wasn't about to pass out from exhaustion. He went for the mess hall, knowing they would have word of where the officers were today, keeping an eye on his Karsite shadow and knowing that every eye was watching them with hands ready to go for weapons. The scout was doing an admirable job of ignoring the half-hostile looks, but not as good as the priest had. From what Anders remembered, the few times the priest had been wandering around without Herald Anur as an escort, the man had seemed entirely at home, smiling agreeably to those who met his eyes and willing to answer general questions in halting Valdemaran.
Though of course, it was entirely possible the priest hadn't even noticed. Priests weren't trained to notice things like that, at least not in Valdemar.
He herded the man into a seat and waved down some food – not the best, nowhere near, but judging by the way the man gratefully inhaled the warm whatever-it-was, this Scout Sescha could care less about taste. Hells, the man barely even twitched when Captain Naomi strode into the hall, making a beeline for them and demanding in Karsite, "What's happened?"
"A Rethwallen army is marching across Karse, heading for Hardorn near as we can tell," the man reported after swallowing some water, "Father Kir is keeping Furies off them and making sure no one interferes with their passage. My brother is warning shepherds and settlements to stay out of the way. Are they expected?"
"Not through Karse," Captain Naomi said shortly, "If you're done, let's go. The Herald is in the map room."
Anders was hoping he could escape, but judging by the sharp look he was sent, the attempt did not go unnoticed and it was not appreciated. Seemed he was following then. At least he would get a good story out of it.
The three of them made it to a room filled with people of higher rank than him – three Heralds, one of which was their target, four Captains and a few Lieutenants that actually wanted to be promoted, sorry bastards.
"Herald Anur, this man has a letter for you from that priest of yours," Naomi said in Valdemaran, waving at the Karsite scout who quickly handed it over to the expectant man, "Apparently the Rethwallens are marching across Karse, of all places. Should be crossing into Hardorn today or tomorrow, if they're fast."
"Right. I'm going to Karse," Herald Anur said, letter apparently short as it was within seconds of him unfolding the thing.
"Anur, be reasonable, by the time you get there – if you can even find him, the Rethwallen forces will be well within Hardorn or Valdemar, Griffon will be fine and you'll be more useful here! We're going to need all the Heralds we can get with this one," Herald Lenora argued, resting her hand on his arm as he stood from the map strewn table.
"I don't give a good damn what you think, Kir needs me and Griffon needs Kir, I am going, now!" Herald Anur snarled, eyes blazing and expression suddenly furious (a long standing argument it seemed), wrenching his arm out of Herald Lenora's hold and turning towards the door, Anders still in his path and having a chance to stop him.
"Now wait a min – " he was suddenly yanked out of the way, an iron grip on his arm and he stumbled, Herald Anur already past him and down the hall by the time he realized just who had pulled him out of the man's way.
"Are you stupid?" Sescha demanded of him, grip still tight on his arm, eyes wide, "When a priest has that sort of look on their face, you move!"
"He's a Herald," Anders replied, exasperated, "Heralds and priests are not the same!"
"No," the man agreed, tone still grim, "You idiots love them for it."
Kir, Sunpriest of Karse
Kir spat out a glob of blood and mud onto the ground, rinsing his mouth out with water to try and get the taste out. He'd taken a fall during his frantic running around last night to deal with Furies and bit the inside of his cheek to bleeding – and there was little of him that hadn't gotten covered in mud over the course of the cross-country race. Riva huffed tiredly beside him and he patted the horse's neck in weary commiseration. It was over at least, Rethwallen's army well into Hardorn by now and all that was left for him to do was decide between returning to barracks or lingering for the remaining two weeks he'd given himself.
He could always find a traveler's chapel, take a bit of a break, he supposed, but it probably wasn't the most effective of ideas. Especially since Midwinter was only a couple moons ago, he couldn't really justify taking time off so soon.
Chiming hooves stirred him from the internal debate, and he quickly looked up, smile growing on his face as he recognized that blurred white figure. The witch-horse slowed and stopped next to him, not sliding and sending muck all over him again which was much appreciated. "Herald," he smiled wryly at his friend, "You just missed them."
"Ah, seriously?" Anur groaned, dismounting and sagging against Aelius' side. "By how much?"
"Crossed the border entirely this morning," Kir said ruefully, "Marched most of the way through the night, apparently they did take rumors about the Furies seriously."
"So close," Anur sighed, before shaking it off and straightening again, "Well, thank you Kir, for informing us and getting them through safely. Did you get hit at all?"
"Nothing worth worrying about," Kir waved off, eyeing his friend worriedly, "What of you and yours? How is the plan going?"
"Not well at all," Anur said grimly, "We'd set up a trap but it's turning on us and we can't figure it out, but these reinforcements are more than welcome. With any luck, we'll be able to get out of this one too."
"They're sending constructs near constantly against a different section of the border, he's assigned there with a small squad while the majority of the army and Heralds are up by Iftel with the rest of Ancar's forces," Anur grimaced, "It's frustrating for him, to be so clearly and easily brushed aside."
"It would be," Kir hesitated, before continuing, "I am not expected back for another week – "
Anur was already shaking his head, but before he could say anything he suddenly gasped, clutching at his head and sagging against Aelius. Kir quickly reached out for him, steadying him with hands on his friend's shoulders, asking, "What is it?"
"Griffon," Anur gasped, pulling back and clambering into his saddle, face still twisted with pain, "Something's wrong with Griffon."
Kir was on Riva's back in moments, the horse perking up and seeming to gain a second wind. He sent a suspicious look to the witch-horse but let it go, he needed to keep up and Riva hadn't been harmed by the aid yet. "Then let's go," Kir said simply, and Anur didn't argue this time, only nodding even as Aelius spun around and launched forward, Riva eagerly taking off in pursuit.