(1867-10-03) Questioning Beliefs
Questioning Beliefs
Summary: The recent battle, and it's consequences, has Esyld all out-of-sorts. Pity Vorian.
Date: Octobre 3rd, 1867 IA
Related: Death and Destruction
Esyld  Vorian  

Healers Pavilion
In set
Octobre 3rd, 1867 IA

The healer's pavilion is no ramshackle affair, all things considered. This is, after all, the domain of the t'Andalucci and let's face it - they know what they're doing. Or so Esyld keeps telling herself, having spent the best part of the night here. Outside, it's perhaps an hour or two until the sun will rise above the horizon and cast grey light over the bloodstained battlefield, the charred remains of those bodies who didn't warrant gravedigging by the few who yet have the strength. She's done her part, hefted lifeless corpses onto carts and off them again, all with the same impenetrable expression, the mask she adopts when anywhere but within trustworthy company. And that is scarce, these days.

A few lamps are kept burning, providing the healers with just enough illumination as they drift through the half-dark like ghosts, tending to the wounded, quietly making the calls as needed to add another number to an ever-growing list. How could it have gone so badly? Ruffians. Bandits. That's what most of the Couvieri force were expecting. Not full blown battle. So many of them, while courageous and desperate to prove their worth, were untested. Even those who have seen countless such engagements fell foul of blade and bow. And here is perhaps the most poignant reminder of that fact.

Corvin is stretched out upon the cot upon which he was hurriedly laid many hours ago, drying blood staining one side of the blankets as it continues to seep from the wound in his chest, the one made deliberately with a sickeningly large 'needle'. He hasn't moved, save the occasional convulsion, the choking that always ends in a gruesome splatter of yet more crimson from his parched lips. And Esyld, with quiet, patient, dutiful diligence, has stayed right here. Ostensibly to restrain him, when the throes threaten to injure him further. To wipe blood from his ashen features, or to press a cooling poultice to his brow when the sweats and shivers rear their ugly heads. For the moment, however, all is serene in this sombre little tableau; the Commander slumbers on, blissfully unaware, one hopes.. and the newly raised Knight dozes, laid out flat on the ground to one side of his cot, one arm flung across her eyes, the other hand splayed upon the steady rise and fall of her abdomen. Her own dark leathers are still caked with browning red. Why bother cleaning it up, when she'll inevitably have more bodies to move, come daybreak?

Vorian t'Maren has been tending to his own business for most of the night — the business of being restrained into a cot by his sergeant while his men continue their work. It grates. It's simply not natural to the young knight and battle-leader; he belongs on his feet, guiding and cheering his soldiers, mourning their lost comrades alongside them. There will be funeral pyres when the force returns to Highwater Keep, and drinking, and there will be tales told and tears shed. But for now, Vorian is useless. Well, there is one thing that he can do. He waits. Eventually, Fallon's chest begins to rise and fall in the slow rhythm of sleep and Vorian sneaks out of his cot, like a teenager escaping out his window.

He rises to his feet, bare-chested, his wounds bandaged and stitched and covered with sharp-smelling poultices. Wrapping himself in his heavy blood-stained, grimacing in pain as he stumbles, the young t'Maren slips out of his tent barefoot. It would have been an impossibility to lean down and slide his boots. And it would've certainly woken Fallon anyhow. He plods through the chilly autumnal mud and leaves toward the Healer's pavilion, ducking in through the tent flap with a tiny gasp of discomfort.

And once inside, he has a mission. Making his way through the wounded men, his intent is momentarily derailed. A soldier — not one of his own precious force — is lying awake, and murmurs a greeting. Vorian stops and the two speak for a few minutes — the young knight has the talent of remembering details about men. He speaks glowingly of the soldier's courage, of particular actions taken during the battle, and wishes him a quick recovery. And then, back on track, he moves toward where Corvin Fremont lies unconscious.

Always gallant, beneath his coarse exterior, Vorian observes a long moment of silence as he gazes down at the Wraith commander. There is respect evident on his features, though no particular liking. He seems tempted to say something to the man, but refrains in the end. What is there that he could say, after all? And he's come for someone else, anyway.

Esyld Draven is lying there beside the cot, apparently asleep. Vorian's features — tight with pain and grief — soften somewhat as he gazes down at her. He unclips his cloak after a moment and — moving very carefully — takes a knee and drapes the cloak across the woman's body. "Sir Esyld," he murmurs. It's not meant to be loud enough to wake her up. "Rest well, my knight."

"..do you honestly think I could sleep..?" The murmured response might well startle him, and that might well hurt. So it's with a weary expression of apology that Esyld moves her arm, revealing her blue eyes and settling them upon Vorian, otherwise unmoving. That gaze, sharp as ever despite her blatant exhaustion, takes in the extent of the veteran's own wounds, a flicker of disquiet momentarily there. "You keep it.. catch a chill and you'll end up coughing. And that'll hurt."

It likely should have occurred to him sooner. She's not here to rest. She's standing guard. Many Knights observe a vigil, prior to earning their spurs. Those Knights, of course, are more about pomp and ceremony than waiting out the darkness to see if their lover still breathes, come sun-up. With a soft grunt of effort, the woman stiffly raises herself to a seated position now, resting her arms atop bended knees and automatically casting her eyes over Corvin's profile. A moment of tension along her jawline, a splitsecond, and she swallows whatever response came instinctively to the sight of him still lying there. "..I'm sorry about your men." She's addressing Vorian, though it takes her attention a few beats to follow the direction of her words. Sniffing, though in a 'wake up and get a hold of yourself' manner rather than feminine dithering, the ebon-maned woman regards her fellow t'Maren gravely. "I liked them. Good men. Good fighters." Never one to wax lyrical.

"Are you alright..?" Does she mean the visible injuries, or the ones he'll no doubt try to conceal beneath that charming, devil-may-care veneer? Well, he's sought her out for a reason… maybe he just needs the company.

"It hurts," replies Vorian, answering the last question first. It takes him a good thirty second to ease down into a seated posture, knee brushing against the woman's as he settles. A brief grimace crosses his bearded features; it's unclear whether he is speaking of his injuries, or his losses. "Taggett and Talbot. Two of the best lads I commanded. I'm going to need to train replacements." Unsaid, of course — there is no way that he can replace the five years and more of shared experiences.

"But I came to check on you," he says after a few moments. He nods upward at the cot. "I know what this is. It's harder than knowing your friends are gone. It's waiting." He dampens his lower lip briefly, then glances aside at Esyld and — delicately, aware of his own injuries — elbows her lightly. "And I wanted to say, too.. If you want a place in my company, I could use a second. Or a partner. Especially when I begin to train up the new force. If today's proved anything, Sir Esyld, it's that the l'Saigners need a true infantry force to support their Wraiths." Business — it might be entirely out of place in this moment, except that there is much unsaid in the way he watches Esyld. A warmth, and empathy, that he hasn't quite learned to conceal.

The woman simply nods at first, letting Vorian speak on the matter as much or as little as he desires, for the moment. "..it's the risk you take, whether a mercenary or a bonded knight. They were willing to follow you. They loved you. I know that's of little comfort now.. but it's true. All you can do is treasure their memory.. face your grief now and then move forward." Voice of experience. Well, by now they both know full well how to deal with loss. For Esyld, it tends to come in the form of a good fight. A real rage. Or drinking until she forgets, then concentrating on the hangover the next day. A stomach churning with strongwine is better than one roiled with sorrow.

"I'm alright." Answering the man's question in a rather deliberately obtuse manner, the brunette lowers her eyes, rubbing at her sternum. "Few days it'll be naught but bruises. I got off light." Notably, she doesn't elbow him back. She might break a rib or something. For a while, there's simple, companionable silence. Is she mulling his offer over, or choosing to ignore it entirely?

"..we'll see. If Lord Gabriel would allow it, I've plenty of experience training recruits.. though I'm better on horseback and that's not exactly House l'Saigner's focus." Something in Vorian's words, suddenly, precedes a scowl and one hand rises to rub at the nape of her neck - a certain sign of her being needled. Not by him. Softening her tone still further, now little more than a furiously hissed whisper - as if Corvin might any moment wake and berate her for a lack of faith - she fixes a sidelong look upon her companion. "..the Wraiths shouldn't have been in the midst of that. They shouldn't have. They strike from shadows, or from a distance. What chance were they ever going to stand in the middle of a fucking melee like that? Men in full-plate didn't walk out of there unscathed!"

She casts a look again toward Corvin, continuing to speak as she watches him; the strangest forlorn expression seizing her features in the lamplight. "They're so good at what they do. But they're not infantry. Not Knights. It was reckless and stupid, and.. I don't know whose head that falls upon." Drawing that hand forward from her neck, she brings her dark tresses with it, over one shoulder, and tightens a fist in the lengths. Her words come swift, and yet hesitant. Quite unlike her. "He's not supposed to be reckless. The Duke said… he thought I kept him from being so willing to casually throw his life away. And now here I sit, counting the seconds between his fucking breaths." She doesn't look at Vorian, but the faltering of tension and guilt are perfectly palpable in her voice, for once. "..I couldn't get to him. I got there too late."

Pain flashes across Vorian's features as he sits there. Perhaps the pain is a memory of his dead friends; more likely, it has to do with the sheathing of bandages covering his ribs. He says, very quietly — addressing the easiest issue first — "..I have to write their families when we get home. Fortunate that neither of them had children. I can't afford a stipend for them." It's not cruelty that causes him to adhere to business when he speaks of his dead men, and nor is he immune to the kindness in Esyld's words — his eyes fill up briefly, and he has to blink several times to clear them.

But then the topic is shifting to something more immediate, more painful, and infinitely more dangerous. "This entire plan," he says after a few moments, very hushed, "was flawed. We did precisely what we should not have done. I tried to tell them — send the heavy force in, and then unleash the Wraiths. But we completely destroyed any advantage the Wraiths have." He's agreeing with Esyld, but his assessment lacks her heat. It's not as personal for him.

But what she says next is personal. Very carefully — for so many reasons — Vorian lifts his arm and wraps it around Esyld's shoulder, well-aware that he is exposing some serious injuries to a sharp elbow. He speaks carefully. "You did get there in time. He breathes. He owes that to you." He tongues his cheek as he watches Esyld, exhaling slowly and painfully out. "It's not fair, Esyld.. It's not fair to.." He clears his throat, obviously agonizing, and continues. "You are not a life-line to be clung to. They can ask for your blood and your steel and your loyalty, but not that. You're more than that."

Nodding slowly, distantly, Esyld offers at least some reassurance. "Perhaps the l'Saigners would have seen to that.. but, as you say.. thank the One they had none." She deliberately avoids looking to Vorian, allowing the man the time to master his composure once more. A small kindness, certainly. But she knows how she hates having witnesses to a moment of vulnerability.. and so she pretends.

As for the next matter, however…

"And whose fault is that? Who made the plans? Gabriel would have known better, surely? Or were we all too blindly arrogant? Was Corvin his usual pigheaded self, convinced he could take the entire bloody force single-handedly?" The laughter in her tone on this last is utterly bereft of genuine humor. That's a frustration she's faced before, it would seem. And no.. it's not as personal for Vorian. How could it be? She's spent most of he life with the ruling family, in one form or another. And while her respect for the Wraiths is unquestionable.. she clearly has some issues with throwing them to the lions in so blase a fashion. "They're trained for a very specific purpose." she continues, still whispering. "..and that is not so serve as fodder for enemy bowmen. You know I would follow Gabriel to the end of the world if the order was given. But.. could I do so knowing.." She trails off as that arm settles carefully around her shoulders. Could she do so, knowing that this is how Fremont and the Wraiths are being used. It goes unvoiced. But most likely Vorian hears it all the same.

"That's the thing." An unsteady breath is drawn, but she doesn't seem inclined to push the other knight away. For now, anyway. "..I think the Duke was mistaken. After today… nobody can possibly think that was anything other than reckless. I don't keep him safe. Is that a failure on my part?" Looking up and aside to Vorian now, she searches his expression, presumably unaware of a lone tear meandering slowly down her cheek, glimmering in the lamplight. "Every way I turn this, Vorian.. it's somehow my fault."

"Esyld.. I need you to hear me on this." Vorian is staring at the young woman; he tilts his head forward, resting his forehead briefly on her shoulder. "The Wraiths have a very specific purpose. And when they're misused, both they and everyone else suffer. We know that." He reaches up with his thumb, slowly enough to be evaded, to wipe away that tear — but he doesn't acknowledge it, doesn't even really do more than glance at it. It's as though he were picking lint off her shoulder. "They were misused today and we all paid."

He draws in a breath before continuing. "But you.. my sweet friend, your job is not to keep Corvin Fremont alive. Or to give him a reason to live. I wish that you could see how unfair that is to you." He pauses, clearly searching for an example. His eyes unfocus briefly as he, clearly, begins to think in the abstract. "It's like asking a sword to be a club. You didn't fail today. They did. All of them. Even Corvin. Especially Corvin." He breathes out slowly. "Am I making sense?"

"I want to keep him alive!" The ferocity of the statement is in no way lessened by the fact that she's forced to hiss it. "It's not a job! It's what you do for the people you love. The.. the expectations, and the responsibility.. that was all His Grace. But I would fight to keep Corvin alive regardless. Or Alina, or Gabriel.. One's Teeth, I once hauled that bloody Rivanan Princeling off the field under my own strength. Not because I loved him but beca.." There she cuts herself off abruptly. Subtle as a brick, as ever. "..because it was the right thing to do." Raking a hand through her dark locks, tousled from long-dried sweat and splashes of water, the woman pulls her gaze away from Vorian, frowning and staring fixedly at some invisible spot on the tent wall across the way.

"When.. I say the Duke was wrong.." she grits out, with obvious effort and reluctance, "..I don't mean in that his notions of loyalty and protectiveness were misplaced. I love him. There's no denying it." A fractional upward tilt of her jaw, with an indrawn breath, assumes an air of tenacious rebellion as she meets the t'Maren's gaze once more. "That doesn't mean he loves me."

There's a long pause. Uncomfortably long.

"..but what difference does that make? I have a sworn duty to Alina and I wouldn't turn from her for lack of affection." The grim determination in her voice, hushed as it is, does not invite argument on that point, unsurprisingly. "Corvin asked me recently.. if my loyalty was to his sister, or to the House. Knowing the right answer and having it be true are very different, I've discovered. But I see it now, what he meant. The difference between us, between Corvin and I… is that I had to think about it." Drawing another, slower breath, she shakes her head and gently extricates herself from Vorian's arm, careful not to nudge his side as she moves slowly to a stand. "..let's get some air." Roughly translated: one more word like that here and now and I'm going to knock some teeth out. Still, she offers Vorian a hand to help him rise. A dirty palm, with the remnants of crimson in the creases of her skin.

Vorian endures what comes with a stoic silence — the lashing of words, no less violent for being spoken in a whisper. He knows that the anger is not directed at him. Not really. And so he takes that hand carefully, rising to his feet in slow stages. "There is so much," Vorian says after a few moments of painful silence, "that I want to explore with you in what you just said." He releases her filthy hand only reluctantly, wrapping his cloak more tightly around his body. "But as you say.. let's get some air."

He walks toward the tent flap, ducking out into the air and waiting for Esyld to join him. And then he trudges forward, leaves crunching beneath his bare feet. He tilts his head up to the sky. "Normally, after a battle.. Especially one where I lose friends.. I want to fight someone. Or fuck something." He says it absently, not as an invitation, and certainly not lewdly. Just for something to say — a way to bridge what he now leads into.

"I know how you feel for Corvin. And you know how I feel for you." The lean knight grimaces, absently pressing his hand into his ribs. "But I'm not such a prick as to try and sleep with a woman when her man lies as he lies. So I need you to really listen to me. Beat me up for the rest when I'm healed." Vorian's nervous, but he's steeled himself to say these things. "You tell me that I cannot blame myself for my men dying. Fine. Fair." He draws in a breath. "Esyld, I say this because you said this to me. If Corvin Fremont makes a foolish decision, that is not your fault. Nothing to do with how you love him. Nothing to do with how you serve this House. Every man and woman on this battlefield makes their choice."

He sucks in a breath and continues. "Punch me for that if you like, Esyld. But it's the truth. What happened today was as far from your fault as I can imagine. And you can't carry it." He spreads his hands slightly and exhales. "That's all. That's what I want you to hear from me."

"..you should have boots on." It's an oddly innocuous statement, as she follows Vorian out into the night. They're alone now, for the most part. Not seeming to feel the night's chill herself, Esyld draws to a halt when he does, planting her feet and facing the taller knight square on, folding her arms across her midsection. The heavy strike landed there still aches but she does an admirable job of disguising any such discomfort, meeting Vorian's gaze as he speaks and listening to him without interruption as he says his piece. "We have that in common." she remarks, candidly, to what she'd normally be doing, post skirmish. Entirely unperturbed. She might be a Knight now, but she's still not a Lady, after all. Quirking a brow, an insolent mannerism that would normally be intended to provoke a fight - despite the agreement just made - she regards him coolly. "So if he'd taken only minor wounds, what? You expect you'd have my back against a wall somewhere? Have me bent over the hauling cart, maybe?" Bitch. But he knows why she's being this way. They both know. The guilt is over more than just her desire to protect the Duke's bastard. Shaking her head, she sighs in exasperation, averting her eyes and looking past the man's shoulder. "Everything you're saying is true, Vorian. I'm not going to add to your injuries for that. Corvin wouldn't have done a damn thing different even if I'd begged and pleaded til I was blue in the face. I know that. I just.."

She's faltering. It's obvious in the way her gaze lowers to the ground, the bite to her lower lip. "..are you a man of faith? I don't suppose I've ever thought to ask you that before…" Slowly, those vibrant blue eyes rise to meet his again and she shifts her weight a fraction. The sapphire hue gleams unnaturally in this dim light. Can she see better in the dark? Probably a question for another time. "I'm not. I don't actively disbelieve… but I'm far from pious."

"Well, I might've tried," Vorian answers equably. He does understand. It's written in her face, in the fact that they're even having this conversation. And he doesn't press it, not really. True to his nature, however, the rangy fighter can't help but acknowledge it. He reaches up as she drops her gaze, touching the woman's chin lightly in an attempt to direct it back up toward his. "I think we've both seen too many battlefields to care what the One says. If He cares for people like us, He has an odd way of showing it."

He considers for a moment, squinting. "And that means we must take responsibility for everything we do, ourselves. If the One does not guide us, we guide ourselves. Is that what you think? It's true." The man squishes his bare feet in the mud and leaves, and smiles. "But you think that means you ought to be able to effect the shit that's happening. That's bullshit. If I stood here and wept and said, 'I should've taken those shafts for Talbot,' you'd call me on it." His tone gentles further. "Esyld. We owe our fates to no one. We make our choices, and we do our best. But we cannot make the world answer to our whims."

"We make our choices.." Esyld echoes the sentiment, but her gaze had wandered into unseeing again, despite the unnerving feline gleam that highlights it. "It's true, I never had much belief. How can you, when you're in the thick of it? Faith is for those who never get their hands dirty. So perhaps it's not the will of the One.. but.. do you think we're being punished..?" The guilt plainly has her spinning, if she's questioning the very nature of battle. "I had this responsibility, to the Duke's son. Not placed upon me.. taken upon myself, once it was made clear. And.. I actually considered straying from it. And now… Vorian, if he dies, I'll never forgive myself." A moment's pause. "..or you." The words are soft-spoken, which perhaps makes it worse. She's not angry. She's.. broken. And beyond exhausted. Spend a night holding down the person you love as they thrash and spit blood and you'd be the same. "Maybe I brought this upon us, somehow. I was knighted, kneeling in dirt and blood, while Corvin was unconscious only a dozen yards away. That.. that's not how I pictured it happening. Ever."

"And there's another thing!" She's grasping now, working herself up, frantic. It's nigh unheard of to see a woman like Esyld panicked and wide-eyed. "I'm a Knight now. What might have been vague bonds before are oaths now, or I dishonor myself and Gabriel, for his choice in me. And the House!"

There's a gasp of pain from Vorian, followed by his hands on Esyld's shoulders. Tight — not as tight as he could typically grab a thing, but tight. And it's taking a toll. His face pales beneath his beard at the sheer agony of exerting himself; an indication, perhaps, of the urgency of the gesture. But he lets her finish, lets her exert herself. "Esyld." The word is quiet, but it's packed with all the authority that he can muster. It's a knight's voice, a commander's voice, and it signals a halt. Whether she hears it, he continues to speak, gripping her shoulders as hard as he can, as if to arrest her from plunging over a cliff.

"We are not being punished by anyone but ourselves." The young man fixes his dark gaze on her vivid one. He is really putting himself on the line here — physically, at least. "I stand here lashing myself — with a bloody razor-whip — every moment. Because Taggett is dead. Because Talbot is dead. Because I am alive. I want to scream, or throw you down and fuck you, or kill every man that ever slighted me. I want to do something." He draws in a pained breath.

"But what I want most is for you to hear me right now. Blame me. Go ahead. Hate me. Whether he lives or dies, I'll accept that. It'll rip me in half, but I will." He grits his teeth, visibly rolling his jaw. "But hear this too. Your being a knight? It changes everything. Between you and him? Between you and I? It changes everything. For all the reasons you've said to me before." He breathes out harshly and wavers, visibly. His grip tightens — this time for support. "But nothing changes tonight. Not even Corvin's life. You need to sleep. You need to drink water. Your head is as clouded as mine… and you'll do no good for anyone continuing on as you are." He pauses, and then lays the brutal words down. "Be responsible. Take a look at your duty. We do not have room to fall apart, not yet. Do your job, Esyld. And right now, your job is to rest. Because we'll all need you soon."

"My job.. my duty.. is to protect the Duke's family. That was true before the title and it's just as true now. Moreso, maybe." Esyld doesn't quail beneath the weight of that grip.. or the fact that she actually ends up a supportive brace. And, more than that.. his words actually begin to sink in. He's hurting himself to voice them. What else can she do but listen? "Vorian.." Halting herself, perhaps even setting the thoughts aside entirely, she shifts her stance to better keep him upright, firmly gripping his forearm but drawing it only gently across her shoulders. "..take your own advice, for fuck's sake." Probably not what she was originally going to say. But his pain is a distraction.. and her own is flawlessly disguised once more, with something to focus on. Wrapping a strong arm about his waist - she really did get through relatively unharmed, didn't she? - the young woman wrestles the Knight with ease into the strange half-embrace, turning to face them both back toward his tent.

"..I don't hate you. Or blame you. If things were different…" Well, probably best not to dwell on what-ifs. Not now. And having rid herself of that grip, and the glare settled upon her, she finds it easier to breathe and regroup. "..nothing has changed. Except now I can enter tourneys and knock you on your arse for all to see." It's a lame attempt at humor, lacking any real motivation. But it punctuates with finality that she's closed the floodgates. Firmly. He already saw far more than he ought to have.

"You're going back to bed. And this time you will stay there or so help me, I will knock you out and PUT you there." That's probably more for his benefit than her own.. particularly as she softens her tone again to speak further. "..I can barely cope with the thought of losing him, Vorian. Don't ask me to handle the loss of you, too. Rest. And heal."

"I will if you will." But Vorian's expended his strength; he leans heavily on Esyld as they make their way back to his tent and his cot, where Fallon is no doubt still slumbering — and about to wake in a justified rage. He closes his eyes for a moment as he walks. "You and I will discuss all of this when we are not on a battlefield," he says after a weak few steps. "But it's all different now. Apart from that oath of loyalty."

With her help, he eases his way into the tent and onto his cot. Looking up at the young woman, with Fallon either sleeping or pretending to sleep, he says "Don't ask me to lose you either, sweetling." His words are slurring slightly now — he really is done. But his eyes are still piercing as he looks up to her. "When we're home, I shall wake my men in our company's fashion. Come." And then he eases back onto the cot, staring up at the canvas ceiling. Fallon continues to pretend to sleep.

"I want y'to know," he says after a long few beats of stillness, "that when I die, it'll be because of me. G'night, Esyld."

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