You Always Couldwith @Hank
And so the meeting had ended, and the party had dispersed and divided themselves up in the camp, each with different intentions and different emotions clinging to their bones in the cold.
For Reinette, a glass of red wine had already left a speckle of pink across her cheeks, and a warmth through her body that was nothing to do with the fires. She squinted her eyes across the way, and smiled for herself. With another sip, she sighed, the taste of the drink still on her tongue, and the glass fragrancing the air around her with the full bodied scent of peppered, spiced berries.
The Breton had been working tirelessly in the time between Kvatch and now; even in Kvatch, she had been spreading word, lighting little fires here and there in her own way. Coins trading hands, secrets finding the right ears - all carving the path that had brought her to the inner circle of the Isobel. Even within the inner circle, there were those most trusted - as they had fought through thick and thin together. There was a difference and Reinette understood the language of those nuances and played with them accordingly, never pushing her chances too far, only ever far enough.
She had to go through her share of thick and thin too now. Come what may, things would change tomorrow.
She would usually spend her time writing correspondence, weaving through the swaths of soldiers to offer any required healing touch, and taking her seat at the table with an educated tongue and useful knowledge and experience of Castle Skingrad. Her assertive and confident manner had won her fair favour too. But despite it, Reinette wasn’t often found amongst the group in personal conversation, save for once or twice - usually in an occurrence just like this, when she wore the signature flushed cheeks of slight inebriation. She kept herself to the fringes by choice.
She knew that she would do what was asked of her come morning. That she would make some fireworks alright, would they be expecting any of the tricks that she had up her sleeve, she wondered? With a smirk she raised her left hand and wiggled her fingers and as she splayed them out in front of her face, she caught the sight off in the distance of the young Breton boy, Henry. Reinette likened him to a fawn in spring. Wide eyed and bright, still finding his feet in life. Moving and stumbling all the while, but never stopping — for how could he stay down for long when his need to impress and desire to do right was the very string that kept pulling him back up?
The blonde moved silently across the camp to reach his side and take a seat, watching him like a hawk all the while, with an intense gaze that caught the flakes of gold flame from their campfire amidst the storm grey of her eyes. They always appeared that way at night after the darkness had fallen in and swept out the blue. Gently she cleared her throat, so the young man would know she was there. With wine in one hand, she crossed her legs and propped an elbow on her knee - her smile feline in nature; “Young Henry, what say you to keeping me company a while and resting your feet?” she asked in her low voice.
Henry turned around and almost dropped what he was holding when he heard Reinette cough. “Oh, hi, Reinette,” he said and smiled and reached up to scratch his head with one hand, but that once more almost caused him to drop what he was holding with the other, since it was a pretty heavy box that he needed two hands for. Muttering a quiet ‘oops’ to himself and deciding that he was better off not holding anything for the time being, he put the box on the ground and gingerly sat down by the fire next to the woman. This wasn’t the first time they had talked but she continued to intimidate him a little. All of them did, really. But Henry supposed that she wasn’t as scary as the orcs, or the girl that might as well be an orc, so his smile widened. “Sure, I could take a break,” he said, and then quickly added, “and it’s nice to speak to you, of course.” He cleared his throat, and with wide eyes he asked: “So how did it go? The meeting? Tomorrow is the big day, huh?”
“Ah - the meeting,” she replied with an overly pursed lip and a wave of her hand. “You’re curious,” she answered frankly and with little in the way of emotional resonance. “I’ll spare you the details of course, it’s not entirely why I chose to speak with you, to recount it. Unless you really wish to know? Little birds around camp tell me you’ve been training well with the others. Is it true?” She locked her eyes to his to gauge his reaction, holding back from raising a brow.
Pink shades of embarrassment crept up Henry’s cheeks and he stammered something unintelligible. Then he cleared his throat again and laughed, clearly at his own expense. “I wouldn’t say well, but… yes, I have been training with the others a few times. With Janus. And Akamon, once.” Henry pulled the dagger he wore sheathed at his waist free from its simple scabbard and held it, clearly a dangerous animal or foreign artifact to him, precious yet fearsome. “Isobel gave it to me,” he said softly as he looked at the short blade. “For self defense, but…”
He trailed off and looked up at Reinette and said something else instead. “I think I’m to stay here.” The boy sounded relieved. Then he chewed his lip and looked away again and his grip around the hilt of the dagger tightened, and at last he sighed and put it away. “Are you going?”
Her eyes tracked his movements carefully. The way that he held the dagger with a looser grip than she’d seen him with a knife while he cooked until his nerves took over and his touch turned anxiously fierce. He had no business with a dagger and yet she understood he needed it. It seemed as though he’d hurt himself before anyone else, if push came to shove. Reinette slowly drank from her glass as she observed him. “I shall be, yes.” She nodded slowly, running her tongue over her teeth before drawing in a long breath through them. “Castle Skingrad is my home, and I shall be needed.” She paused again and looked back at the young Breton. “But I will be back. We’ll be back to bring you when we are victorious.”
“You sound certain,” Henry remarked, and then chuckled and shook his head. “I mean, of course you are.” He had watched the meeting from a distance, eyes wide at the collection of heroes. And when Beordan himself had stepped into the light! Oh, what a sight that had been to young Henry, who considered himself quite fortunate that he was able to be that close to history in the making. Then he thought about what Reinette would be doing. “How does it… feel?” he asked. “To heal like that, I mean? All the blood and such, is it scary? What do you do if someone, well, you know.” He noticed his foot was tapping rapidly and he stopped. “Sorry.”
That question took her by surprise, and in the moment, she broke her gaze from Henry to stare into the flames. She saw no sense in wrapping the reality of death in a ribbon and coating it with sugar. “If I lose someone?” She asked bluntly, “I remember them. Always. So that next time I am better, and if it wasn’t my fault, I remember them still, preserve them in memory as a blessing.” Reinette let the words hang in the air before she broke the silence with a smile, turning back to Henry. “How it feels though? I can show you — it is easy for people like you and I, you know. Our blood is special.” Brushing her hair back over her shoulder, she placed her emptying glass on the ground at her side and slipped off one of her gloves. “Give me your hand,” she said in her usual assertive manner, holding her own small hand out. “Place it in mine.”
“You sound like my mother,” Henry said without derision. It was a statement, matter-of-fact. “She said the same thing. And I think she wanted to teach me, too, but I was too young.” He looked very small for a moment.
Then he did as he was told and placed his hand in hers, and he smiled at how much larger his hand was, even though it wasn’t quite yet the hand of a man. Reinette’s hand was cold to the touch but soft and delicate too, and Henry found it strangely comforting. “Now what?” he asked quietly, in reverence of the secret she was about to show him.
His comparison, for a second, took Reinette’s smile and some of the spark from her eyes — until she simply breathed out a small laugh. “It sounds like your mother was a wise woman.” With another breath, a long one this time — steady and controlled, even with the wine and the general noise of camp. Quickly, a wisp of golden light formed in the spaces between both of their hands. Sparkling and with a feeling not entirely unlike warm, gentle sun on bare skin on a peaceful day. “Do you feel it?” She asked, willing it to move through his hand until she could see the glow of it on the outside of his skin as it grew and swirled into his wrist. “Tell me how it feels, focus on how it feels, listen to that feeling,” she said softly as it hummed and chimed away.
Henry stared intently at the light and focused his as best as he could on the sensation of its healing touch. His wrists had been sore from lifting things and cleaning things and peeling things all day, and he felt that soreness fade away, scooped out of his tendons and replaced with honey and birdsong. “It feels good,” he said unhelpfully. “Soothing… cleansing… like a really good bath.” He spent a moment intensely missing what a really good bath was like before he returned his attention to the sensation. He tried to do what she had said, to listen to the feeling, but he couldn’t hear anything. Was it supposed to be telling him something? And then he heard it -- but not with his ears, for it was a soft buzzing, the slightest hum, a swarm of bumblebees down at the edge of the field, in the back of his mind. “Oh,” he breathed. He looked at Reinette. “How do I… ?”
“Sometimes…” Reinette began, a whispered response, “just a gentle nudge…” her hand began to move away from his, the light dripping away from her fingers — falling away like sand into Henry’s. “Is all it takes to show us how to do it,” she spoke out in concentration, letting her healing magicka stay with him. She could see that he had it, at least for now. Her eyes remained fixed on his hand and arm as she watched patiently for the infusion to take completely. “This light belongs to you now Henry, you have to take care of it.” It would soon enough tap into whatever pool he had within him, and she held on for the moment that it would, meeting his eyes once more.
Somewhere deep within Henry’s being something clicked, and he felt a waterfall pour into the light into his hand, and the humming was coming from him now. “Forever, you mean?” he asked and panicked. “I can’t, I have to do other things too, I have to feed the horses!” The light flickered in his confusion and he held his breath and focused on the waterfall. He didn’t want Reinette to be mad at him for letting the light go out.
That was an unexpected, if not completely endearing response. “Yes. Forever,” she answered with a chuckle, “but not forever in your hand. You can conjure it up again, I promise.” Slowly, Reinette placed her own hand back on top of his and with a gentle movement she closed his fist. “You just need practice the feeling. Perhaps each day. Perhaps only every other day.” Finally, she let go of his hand, and placed her own back in her lap neatly. “If you do that, then you will find control of it, you can start small. With scratches and tiny aches,” she smiled.
Henry stared at his closed fist for what felt like a long time. Then he looked up at Reinette. “I can do magic now?” he asked, dumbfounded.
She moved her face closer to his and smiled at him. “You’re Breton. You always could.”
The thought made him laugh. “I just had to be shown how,” Henry said, repeating what Reinette had said before and demonstrating that he had listened closely. “Wow,” he breathed and flexed his fingers and rolled his wrist, enjoying how easy the movement came to him now even after such a hard day’s work. It wasn’t big, grand magic like he knew Elara was capable of, spells that could kill and spells that could summon Daedra, who could then kill people for her, which seemed like the height of luxury and power to him, but if he practiced and then he could cast away the soreness from his limbs -- that was good enough for him. “Thank you,” he smiled.
“You’re welcome, Henry.” Reinette found herself smiling too much at the boy, feeling too familiar beside him. She had more patience for him than just about anyone else here. Of them all, she couldn’t justify his presence here. He was too young for this. “I… it’s a useful skill,” she added, a sharpness in her voice all of a sudden, different to the softness from moments ago. “You practice it and you may save someone’s life. This is to be regarded with as much importance as the self defense you were learning.”
Taken aback by the change in the tone of her voice, Henry wondered if he had done something wrong or said the wrong thing and he just nodded enthusiastically in agreement with what she said, doing his best to look very serious and dedicated to the cause of saving people’s lives. “I will,” he added after a moment. His curiosity got the better of him and he dared to ask a question: “You saved the dark elf’s life, didn’t you?”
With a quirked brow, she looked at Henry again, “Velyn? Yes. That’s correct, he was in a poor way… Why do you ask?”
Henry shrugged, he himself unsure why he had asked. Then it came to him. “Because he looks so sad,” the boy observed. “Sometimes I wonder if not all of him was saved. Not that I think you did a bad job! Or anything like that. But it’s like he’s only… I don’t know, like only half of him is here. You know what I mean?”
“Well,” her hand instinctively reached for her glass, and she finished the last of her wine before sighing. “Henry,” Reinette began, quite seriously. “There are maladies that are deeper, and different to wounds of the flesh.” Her hands formed the shapes of explanation in the blank space before them, casting long, dancing shadows across the ground. “While we can fix flesh, there are some things that are harder to mend. To explain, I shall say they are shadows of the mind,” she added, running her thumb over her lip. “So we must try other things. Sometimes we have to… Encourage people, and walk beside them, and in turn allow them their quiet when they need it.” It was simplified. She knew it was.
The blonde woman shrugged slightly. “I theorise that the shadows are always walking with them. Some days they are close, very often they are suffocatingly close.” Her hands fidgeted again and she quietened her voice in order to watch the camp, to scan across her surroundings while she tucked a foot under her ankle to adjust her comfort. “And of course there are the days that they are further away, so far that they can barely be felt at all.” She stopped, and bit at her lip. “Does that… Make sense?” Today, she felt that her own shadow was beyond the trees, simply watching with ready eyes.
Before Henry could say anything, Akamon the Redguard appeared and sprang out of the darkness and onto the other seat next to Henry with a bottle and a cigar and a grin plastered on his face. Compared to Reinette’s dark clothes and Henry’s simple garb he was a bright apparition, wearing white robes beneath scale armor that shone like polished silver and a red sash around his waist. His sword was sheathed across his back and Henry’s eyes flitted between the hilt and the warrior’s face, until Akamon’s own gaze forced him to look away, bright as it was, brown and green and full of spirit and joie de vivre, and Henry felt small and diminished by comparison.
“What are you two gossiping about, eh?” Akamon asked, oblivious in his revelry. Where others were solemn on the day before a battle, he seemed emboldened and empowered and entirely absent of shadows. He shook the bottle and the cigar as if they were tambourines and laughed. “Come on, you can tell me.”
Unlike any other time that Akamon had bumbled his way over to her, or around her in a social setting, Reinette was slightly grateful for it this time. Although she did wonder how Henry felt about their conversation, and about what she’d said. The woman hoped his question was at least somewhat answered. With a raised brow and pursed lips, she held out her empty glass expectantly in Akamon’s direction - hearing the healthy slosh from within the bottle. “Nothing really, I was simply explaining my entire life story to Henry. He’s rather riveted as you can tell.”
He raised his eyebrows when Reinette held out her glass for him to refill, as if to ask ‘you sure?’, but then he shrugged and did as she asked. It was not wine -- it was a rather dark liquid, halfway between amber and chestnut, and he only filled the bottom of her glass. “Stros M’Kai rum,” he explained. “Kicks like Beordan.”
Then he looked between the two of them and nodded slowly, impressed. “Her life’s story, eh? I must learn your ways, Henry. You’re the first one to get that particular tale out of her. Many have tried,” he said dramatically, then gestured towards the boy with the bottle. “Only one remains.” It was a rather butchered delivery of the famous Zurin Arctus quote, but it would have to do. “I salute you.”
Sparing Henry the effort of having to come up with a reply, Akamon turned to Reinette. “So! Excited to get your home back?”
“I will be pleased to take back whatever is left of it,” she answered, lifting the drink to her nose first before taking a sip. Akamon wasn’t wrong, her cheeks immediately felt hot - and then her throat as it travelled. “God’s,” she croaked. “That would burn the warts off a mule.” As she said it, she chuckled and daringly went in for another sip. “So long as my quarters were not touched — In saying that, I shall be thankful to return to any of it, whatever the state may be… Many of my colleagues were not fortunate enough for even that.”
Akamon grinned and nodded appreciatively when Reinette went back for seconds after nearly burning her throat the first time. But she brought up, if veiled, the deaths of those she had known at Count Hassildor’s court, and a more respectful expression came over Akamon’s face, and he hummed and swirled the rum beneath his nostrils. “Damn that man,” he cursed into his glass, and took a sip. The taste agreed with him and he smacked his lips. “May justice be served tomorrow.”
A question had been burning on the tip of Henry’s tongue and he blurted it out at last. “Aren’t you scared?” he asked Akamon.
“We’re blessed by Arkay,” the Redguard replied with a sparkle in his eye. “Guifort said so, so it must be true. What is there to be afraid of if you walk in the light of the God of the Dead himself?”
That seemed poignant to Henry, and he nodded.
Reinette too swirled her glass, staring down into it intensely. “He will receive his justice,” she said darkly. She’d held back at the meeting, played along. But now she felt bold again to speak her mind. “He will feel true fear, I guarantee it. I’m not frightened of tomorrow, I’m excited. I’m ready.” Again, she drank from the glass — at the third taste she had become used to it, the inside of her cheeks slightly numb. “I’ve been ready, for so long now.”
“Ready, eh?” Akamon wiggled his brow boyishly but then remembered Henry was there and stopped and said nothing more on the subject. “It’ll be a mighty fine fight. One for the history books,” he pivoted, and looked at the Breton youth. “Do you know anything about history, my friend?”
Henry smiled at being called friend, but then fidgeted with his hands. “I don’t think so… no, not really.”
“Hm,” Akamon said, and bounced his knee up and down and rubbed his chin and without knowing it he was the spitting image of his uncle Amir, when he was sat around the campfire in the Alik’r desert. “There was a woman, long ago, who freed the people of Cyrodiil from slavery at the hands of a cruel race of elves. She founded the first Empire. She was a slave before she rebelled, and her most trusted companion was half-man, half-bull."
Henry's eyes lit up. "Saint Alessia. I know about her." Then it dawned on him how much of what Akamon had just said also applied to Isobel and Beordan. He looked at Akamon, a slight frown on his face.
Preempting the question, Akamon shrugged. "Who knows? But it's funny, isn't it?" He smiled and moved his glass in a round arc in front of him. "They say time is a circle…" Then he glanced at Reinette. "What do you think?"
From her side, Reinette sat ruminating on it, eyes moving slowly from the treeline to the fires. She studied the shape of the darkness around their camp before returning to the glow of flame, perhaps for longer than she should have. “I would say it would suggest that we continue to make the same mistakes, and underestimate the power of women. If that means time is a circle…” her voice quietened, and she turned the glass in her hand, reflecting on her own insignificance under the weight of the story. She had never been a slave, and she had no Minotaur champion, she was simply a hand - nay, little more than a pointing finger and the thought turned in her stomach and soured her expression. “Destroy that circle for good this time. Break it. Drown it, even.”
As she finished the last drops of the rum from her glass she felt that her words had been sour, so she smirked, adding “beside that, you did not recall on the part of the tale where they were also lovers.”
“Details, details,” Akamon smirked and waved his hand. Then he used that same hand to point at Reinette. “You know, you remind me of a character from a book I once read. Some fantastical story where one of the Septim Empresses had three pet dragons and came back from exile to conquer her stolen empire. She said that she would ‘break the wheel’, referring to the endless violence that sees power transfer from one political dynasty to the next in a never-ending cycle.” He sipped from the rum some more and quirked a brow at her. “You sure you haven’t read that book?”
“I have not read such a book, I feel I’d remember such a vivid story.” Reinette laughed, adding a shake of her head. “You know, Akamon, it’s not always violence, in the obvious way that one may consider it either,” she said, her voice lower as she directed her quiet words his way. “Power transfer often happens through words, in the theft of ideas, the butchering of culture, the slow and sustained silencing of an individual.” She sighed bitterly, crossing her leg back over the other again. “It is easy to break the wheel with the force of dragons behind you. The strength of a demigod at your side, and it is certainly not my wish or intention to invalidate the efforts and erase the individual struggles of these fantastical women — but there are so many unseen hands of brilliance scattered across our lands too.” Her speech slowed ever so, and she pulled her knees up towards her chest. “They carry to their graves the unknown weight of their invisible work.”
The woman turned her head to look Akamon in the eye, and she watched him closely. While her gaze was curious, somewhere in those eyes was a telling shimmer of sadness. “For them to break the wheel, they must do so with their own bare hands, having survived the lonely climb to reach it.”
Henry looked between the two adults as they talked and the more they talked, the more he felt like he was a young child at the dinner table again, not privy to the secrets being discussed by the grown-ups, secrets that he could not understand even if he tried to listen closely to the words.
Akamon, meanwhile, thought it was an interesting take. All the history he had read had been focused on the exploits and lifetimes and downfalls of great heroes and kings and conquerors. “I suppose that’s true,” he acquiesced. “But do their efforts really compare to the way that Tiber Septim changed Tamriel forever, or the Tribunal, or the Nerevarine, or the Hero of Kvatch, or Ysgramor? Many unseen hands toil to keep the world turning, but the Wheel,” he said, and gestured broadly at the sky over their heads, “the Aurbis, turns upon Heroes. It is not those who carry to their graves the unknown weight of their invisible work who are mentioned in the Elder Scrolls.”
Then he shrugged. “Is that fair? No. It just is.”
“No, but it is those that are mentioned in the Elder Scrolls that sometimes benefited the most from their touch,” Reinette said with a wry smile.
“Henry,” she added, nudging him in the side gently with her elbow — aware that he was growing quiet, and perhaps bored of her dour and drunken ramblings. “Why not show Master Akamon here your new trick.”
The Redguard sat up straighter and looked at the Breton youth with interest, who suddenly felt very sheepish and made to stammer an awkward protest before resigning to his fate. He raised his hand like how Reinette had made him do and focused hard on bringing back the hum in his mind and a few long seconds passed before anything happened. Akamon glanced at Reinette in that time and his eyes lingered there a little too long and he almost missed Henry’s trick.
Golden sparks raised from the palm of his hand and swirled around his fingers, faint and unsure but definitely there, for a moment. They extinguished and Henry exhaled sharply and only then became aware that he had been holding his breath.
Akamon beamed and put the bottle on the ground by his feet and clapped his hands together. “Magic! Excellent! Healing magic, I assume. Very useful. Very noble. I never had any talent for it.” An arc of blue lightning leapt across his knuckles and he winked at Henry. “More of an elementalist, myself.”
Henry smiled and pride swelled in his chest. He could do something that Akamon couldn’t. The electricity that the spellsword commanded was intriguing too but he realized that the idea of trying to tame forces like that frightened him more than it appealed to him, and he looked back at Reinette. “I think I’ll stick to healing, for now at least,” he said, hoping not to offend Akamon, who nodded and made no attempt to convince Henry otherwise.
“Make sure you practice it, Henry,” Reinette said in as encouraging a tone as she could find through the rum and wine and looming thought of battle. “I can show you more once we take back Skingrad.” She sighed, and considered for a moment to reach out and ruffle the young man's hair before deciding against it. “I’ll even show you my study quarters if you’d like. If it’s something you’d like to learn. So long as it hasn’t been destroyed, I have some useful tomes and diagrams. Or did. Who knows.
I hope I still have a bed,” she mused with a tilt of her head and a light shrug of her shoulders. “And my bath. God’s, all of this will have been worth it when I slip into my bath.”
Akamon shook his head, feigning exasperation. “And an invitation to her quarters, no less! Leave some for the rest of us, Henry, would you?”
The boy turned beet red. He thought he knew what Akamon meant and he wanted to explain that such things weren’t on his mind at all and not on Reinette’s either, but as soon as he opened his mouth Akamon burst into laughter, and he realized that he’d been had, and he managed to laugh as well.
“Seriously though,” Akamon said and leaned over to Reintte, a boyish smile on his face. “Big enough for two? I could use a bath myself.”
Reinette frowned slightly and shook her head, “try surviving tomorrow and then we can talk.” Somewhere after it she laughed just so, a tiny dark whisper of a laugh. “It’s going to be a long one after all.” After she said it, she went to take another drink from her glass, before realising it was empty — there wasn’t a drop left in it.
Realising the weight of her words, Reinette looked at Henry again, and just beyond him, the shadows. “I should…” she began with a sigh, “probably make sure everything is prepared.” With another sigh, she stood to her feet, casting one last long gaze out ahead of her. “Goodnight boys,” she said before walking away.
Henry watched her leave and then looked at Akamon with questioning eyes. “What did you do?” he asked, having forgotten his place for a moment.
The warrior shrugged. “Beats me. Maybe she’s just worried about tomorrow. I’m going to be scaling the walls, after all,” he said and threw back the last of his rum. “Very dangerous. First into the breach. Shoulder-to-shoulder with Janus and Velyn as we fall upon the enemy, cresting the battlements as a mighty wave in a storm.” His eyes sparkled and he pantomimed the motions of war as he talked, and Henry looked at him in awe.
Then Akamon laughed and got to his feet as well. “I suppose I had better get some sleep. How can one be fleet of foot with Vaermina nipping at your heels? Good night, my friend.” He whistled a tune to himself as he wandered away to his tent and left Henry alone with his thoughts.
With just the fire for company, Henry looked down at his hand and the magic in his fingers there and smiled.