Serpentbane Dusk, Bearskull Dawning Pt 2: The End

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Part 1

Atar?” Berriam looked up from his field desk as Aurina walked into his tent, a much beleaguered Shadow in tow.  Berriam eyed the great cat as Shadow curled up as far away from the humanoids as he could get, closing his eyes with a great sigh.

“Aurina child, how are you?” Berriam rose to embrace his daughter, knowing the past three days had been hard. Something had happened to change his bright and precocious child into the brooding young woman who entered his tent, an event only exacerbated by the loss of her adoptive father – or hearth-father as her people called him – hours later.  She sighed as she returned the embrace.  “Well enough atar.”

Pulling away he looked her in the eye. “Is there…something…you wish to discuss?” he asked, confirming his suspicions when she looked away.

“Yes but…not now. I…am unsure how to speak of it,” she admitted with a wan smile.  Berriam nodded and released her, motioning for her to take a seat across from the field desk he just vacated.

“What can I do for you?” he asked. Aurina remained standing and glanced over at Shadow.

“Something’s wrong with Shadow,” she said simply. “I found him like this, wandering the camp alone and dejected.  I tried speaking to him as you taught me, but I’m either doing something wrong or he’s ignoring me.  We tried to look for mata but I cannot find her.” Aurina turned to her father, looking a bit sheepish.  “I was wondering, could you maybe talk to him?  Find out what’s wrong and where mata is?”

Berriam’s frown grew deeper with her every word, until he was almost scowling. Something was wrong indeed for Elga and Shadow to be so parted.  Aside from the natural bond that formed between such pairs when one trained as a ranger took on an animal companion, Elga had saved Shadow from death and then raised him from a cub.  He was much a child to her as Aurina and her brother Elgin.

“I will see what I can do,” he promised, Aurina sighed in relief.

“Thank you atar.  I’ll leave you to it in case he might be more open without me here, but please let me know when you find mata,” Aurina made for the opening of the tent, pausing as she drew aside part of the entryway.  “Is it odd or normal that I think of him more as a person than a tiger?” she asked over her shoulder.  Berriam made an amused noise.

“Both,” was all he said. Aurina gave a faint chuckle before ducking out.

Alone with the tiger, Berriam approached cautiously, not wanting to startle the great cat and cause him to lash out. But Shadow’s eyes remained closed, his breathing deep and even as if he were sleeping although Berriam knew otherwise.  He crouched down beside the great predator.

//Shadow?//  The cat opened one eye. //Berriam//

//Shadow sick?// Shadow closed his eye and did not respond.  That was new. Usually being the only other one aside from Elga who could communicate to him, Shadow often welcomed their ‘conversations’.  He tried again.

//Shadow hurt?// Still no response.  Alright, either the cat was perfectly fine or he was being really bloody stubborn.

//Shadow, where Mistress?// That got the tiger’s attention as Shadow opened both eyes and looked despondently at him.

// Shadow is good Shadow Berriam?// he asked.  Berriam rocked back on his heels.  Animals didn’t normally associate themselves with human moralities like good or evil.  To them there was only predator and prey, food and water, pain or comfort.  Animals had a basic understanding and grasp of emotions such as fear and anger, but usually nothing as complex as this.

//What mean?// he asked, hoping to get a better understanding of what the cat was asking.  Shadow sighed and lifted his head.

//Mistress sad since mate died. When Mistress sad, Shadow make smile.  Make happy.  Mistress no smile now, no happy, no talk Shadow since Mistress-mate died// Shadow started to pant in distress //Why Mistress no talk Shadow? Shadow do bad?//

Berriam rubbed at his forehead and the beginnings of a headache, liking less and less where this was all leading. To the Nine Hells, this was not good.  Three days since the death of her mate Tanta, and Elga had not said a word to her companion?  He needed to find Elga, and he needed to find her now.  But first he needed to calm the tiger down.

//Shadow good Shadow. Shadow no bad. No do bad// Berriam dared to reach out and stroke the great cat’s heaving flank, thinking furiously of something to say to calm him.  Hrast, how to put a human’s grieving into concepts an animal would understand?

//Mistress…Mistress sick// It wasn’t a total lie, anyone would be heartsick at the death of a mate.  And Thankfully Shadow’s ears perked a little and his panting slowed down.

//Mistress sick?// Berriam nodded.  //Berriam help Mistress? Make better?// He nodded again.

//Berriam try. Need find Mistress//

//Shadow help Berriam! Berriam help Mistress! // The tiger heaved itself up and trotted out of the tent quickly, tail lashing with excitement and Berriam scrambling to follow close behind.


//Mistress there// Shadow looked towards the hillock where the four of them had stood and watched over the field of dead three days ago.  Berriam followed the cat’s gaze and spotted a long figure standing against the skyline. His nose wrinkled as a change in the breeze brought the scent of rot to him.

//Good Shadow. Hide bushes.  Wait Berriam call//  Shadow looked at him doubtfully for a moment, before sighing and turning away, placing his trust in the elf lord to help his mistress.

Berriam made for the lone figure, shaking his head. Of course she would be here where he died.  The armies were breaking camp in the morning so there was little chance of anyone coming to disturb her.  Anyone but him that is.

“Elga my dear,” he called to her as he drew close. “What in name of all the good gods has brought you out to such a sad and desolate place?” Elga stood immobile, wrapped in her cloak – since when did she bother with a cloak? – and stared out over the darkening battlefield, giving no sign that she had heard him.  Berriam walked faster.  Elga was not the dark and silent type, and she doted on her tiger companion like a child.  Something was desperately wrong, he thought at he drew up beside her.  She was staring sightlessly over the battlefield, tears streaming unchecked down her cheeks though she seemed as oblivious to them as she did to him.

“Oh Elga,” he breathed out softly. She looked at him then, and what he saw chilled him.  There was complete and utter desolation in her eyes, the look of a woman already dead and for whom it was only a matter of time before she picked up a knife and her body followed.  Her face was a brittle mask of composure that began to crack as he watched, her face screwing up as small animal noises came from her.  Knowing she would not want others to hear her, he threw up a spell of silence around them and pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her and guiding them gently to the ground as her legs gave out.  Rocking back and forth, he felt her shoulders heave as she screamed out her pain and anguish to a world that could not hear.  Berriam held her tight and offered what little comfort he could.

He could not imagine what she was feeling. This was a female who had lost everything as a child, fought for so long and sacrificed so much to help strangers throughout the life she had rebuilt herself from scratch, and she could not even save the life of her mate.   He knew she cared for the male she had chosen for herself, but until he heard her first screech of defiance and disbelief on the battlefield as she came upon his body, he did not know the extent of her feelings for him.

And she could not even grieve for him at first. She was a leader and many looked to her in this time of loss, for her mate was not the only one who fell that day.  Oh she had told her tales and raised her tankard with the others as they toasted to the memories of their fallen, but never was a tear shed.  It was not the way of her people to weep when one was lost, but to drink and make merry, to celebrate mortal lives past and the immortal lives their loved ones were surely experiencing in Tempus’ halls.

How she was able to function for the past three days Berriam would never know, but he knew she needed this. If the death of her mate had so damaged her she even turned from her companion, then the way of her people when faced with death was just not enough.  Perhaps even this emotional and physical cleansing would not work, but hopefully it would be a start.

All these thoughts and more ran through his head as Elga cried out her grief in the magically induced silence, until finally she stilled in his arms, tears spent. They sat comfortably together for a bit longer, watching the sun finish setting and washing the field below them anew in red.  Finally, his spell ended, the sounds of the world returned to them and she pulled away to stand.

“Forgive me, you were not meant to see that,” she said softly. Berriam made a rude noise.

“Forgive me my dear, but it seems that was a long time coming.  Do you…feel better?  At least?” he asked hesitantly.  She smiled softly but it did not reach her eyes, and it was as if his concern was the only key she needed to unlock the words that began to pour forth.

“Twenty years we were together. When we first joined I never thought I would love him, it was best way to unite the tribes so all I hoped for was a peaceful marriage with a male who was not cruel or abusive.” She looked back at the darkening sky.  “And I got so much more.  He was kind, smart, brave, funny, he had a great heart and a gentle hand.  I came to love him for who he was in time, but-“ her voice caught in a hiccup that threatened tears once more.  Elga was silent a moment as she fought them down.

“But I don’t think I ever truly told him that.” The wind sighed around them, ruffling their hair and the leaves on the brush behind them.

“I did not know what he meant to me, how much I cared for him, until I saw him lying dead before me,” Elga’s eyes were dull and flat as she looked at him.  “How could he have known how I felt, if I did not know myself?  That is what hurts most, that he died thinking I did not love him.”  But Berriam was shaking his head in denial before she could even finish.

“He knew,” he said. “You can show how you feel about someone without knowing or understanding what you feel yourself.  And with or without words, you are not one to hide what you think of someone my friend.”  He placed a hand on her arm.  “Tanta loved you as much as anyone can love another that much I saw for myself.  And I am sure he knew you loved him just as well.”

She gave a soft laugh and shook her head. “Ah my friend, have you always been this wise?”

“I am an elf my dear,” he sniffed haughtily. “We are born wise and all knowing,” She chuckled at that and he broke out into a grin before the seriousness of the situation bore down on them once more.  Resting his hands on her shoulders he turned her to face him.

“Do not run from your grief my dear, it is not something you can hide from, and it will be with you for a long time. But I promise you one day it will not feel so large and overwhelming, and there are those about you who care enough to help you through this, if only you let them.”  He motioned to the brush around them and Shadow came skulking from them, head down and whiskers drooping as he looked imploringly at his mistress.  Elga’s eyes filled with tears anew as she knelt and held her arms open for the great cat.

“Oh! Oh my sweet Shadow, forgive me. Come here,” she whispered. Shadow’s ears perked up at the sound of his name and he eagerly went into his mistress’ arms.  Hugging the cat close, Elga buried her face in his fur as they rumbled to each other with joy at being reunited, then looked back up at him with eyes clearer and brighter than before. “Thank you, my friend.”

Berriam inclined his head to her and took his leave of the pair, no longer fearing to awake in the morning short one barbarian chieftain. Hopefully Elga had taken the first steps on the path to healing from her loss, but how long that road would be no one knew.


Aurina walked towards the field of death slowly and hesitantly. Her father stayed true to his word and told her were to find her mother when he returned.  But as much as she wanted to see her mother once more, the thought of doing so here threatened to overwhelm her.

But she was her mother’s daughter, stubborn to the end, and she walked up to the woman and her tiger sitting on the grass. Neither acknowledged her, but they knew she was there, and rather than disturb the quiet just yet Aurina simply settled herself on the grass beside her mother.  As the trio sat in silence Aurina was thrown back to that day in the forest so long ago, where her mother had told her the truth of her father, and where she had decided to walk his path.  It was Elga who broke the silence first.

“You have changed my daughter” she said at last. Aurina sighed.

“It has been years since you saw me mata. Of course I have changed.”  Elga turned and studied her daughter’s face for a moment, Aurina meeting her gaze.

“No,” she mused. “It is more than the passing of years or of turning from a girl to a woman.  I see a hurt on your face child, one too newly known to me to miss in another, and a hardness in your eyes.  Who was he?”

Aurina startled and was the first one to look away. How much should she tell her mother?  Should she tell her anything?  The weight of the days and weeks pressed down on her, the choices she did not make, the choices she prayed to all the gods that she could unmake.  But Elga had drilled into Aurina and her brother to always be truthful and honest in their words.

“His name was Darrak. A half orc,” she said finally. She waited for disgust or recriminations but none came.

“The battle?”

Aurina rubbed absently at her chest, at the ache and emptiness that resided there. “No, I killed him the night before you arrived.”  She looked at her mother again, face hard.  “He loved me.  But he put the fear of his people before that love and spied on the valley for months.  Numbers, strengths, weaknesses, defenses.  All the dead on that field-” she waved a hand before them “-can be laid at his feet.”

“You know this?” Elga’s voice was not accusatory, but curious. Aurina nodded.

“I saw him leaving the camp one morning. I don’t know what made me follow him but I did.  I saw him meet with the orc leaders.  I heard them planning, things I had told him of our battle plans he relayed to them.  He used and betrayed me.”

“So you killed him.” Aurina kept her eyes resolutely over the field as her mind replayed the events of that night.

“I took him out to the woods. I lay with him.  He tried to convince me to flee with him, saying we would both be better off without our people as neither accepted us for we did not belong in their worlds.  I confronted him with what I knew and he did not deny it.  I had originally thought they pushed him towards me to have someone spy on the elves from the inside, but no,” she sighed.  “Our meeting truly was chance, our feelings real.  But his people learned of us, learned of me, and they forced him into the role of spy.  He truly loved me.  And I killed him for it.”

Elga took her daughter’s chin firmly in hand and forced the girl to look at her. Her eyes were hard and her voice fierce as she spoke.

“You did not kill him for his love,” she said. “You killed him for his betrayal, for his lack of faith and trust in you and your love.  But do not let who he was change who you are.”  She gave Aruina a tiny shake before letting her go.

Tears finally welled in Aurina’s eyes, but still she refused to let them fall. “He was my first in so many ways mata.  First love, first lover, first…kill.  How can that not change me?”

Elga stood, drawing up her daughter and embracing her. Aurina wrapped her arms around her mother and held tight, burying her face in Elga’s shoulder.

“It will and it has. But only you can decide how.” Elga held Aurina at arm’s length and looked her in the eye.  “And no matter what these changes bring in you, you are my daughter and I will always hold you in my heart.”

Aurina simply nodded, not trusting herself to speak as her mother hugged her again, longer this time, before kissing her on her forehead.

“Walk well my daughter,” she murmured before turning and heading back to camp with Shadow, leaving Aurina to put her demons to bed.


In the darkest hour of the night, as most humans and elves slept, a form flitted through the shadows, between tents and around sleeping warriors, their destination unerringly leading to the tent of Lord Berriam. It was amazing the things one remembered after so many years, Elga mused as she walked with silent footfalls.  No guards were posted this night, with the lack of enemies and the camp ready to break in the morning he must have given them a night of rest.  Slipping between the tent flaps Elga allowed herself a moment for her eyes to adjust, making out the field desk, map table and chairs in the main space, with a curtain beyond them dividing the tent in two.

She crept silently closer and laid a gentle hand on his arm, whispering his name. Berriam awoke with a start, reaching for the dagger under his pillow before he saw who had woken him.

“Elga! What-” she gently stilled his furious hissing with a finger to his lips.

“Hush, no words,” she murmured back. “Just…hold me? Please?”  Berriam held still for a long moment, eying the woman who had crept into his tent. Wrapped in a cloak with silently pleading eyes, Berriam knew he could not turn her aside.  Sighing, he released the knife and held the sheets back in silent invitation, drawing her close as she slid in beside him.

Part 3


Serpentbane Dusk, Bearskull Dawning Pt 1: The Middle

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The din of battle echoed all around her as she hastened to her father’s side.  The clash of steel on steel, the screams of the fighters, the moans of the wounded and the dying were faint but distinct.  The elves of Beriath’s Valley were more wont to take out their foes from the treetops, but Lord Berriam refused to allow the attackers to come so far onto his land.  As soon as word reached him of the assorted orc, bugbear, and goblin horde descending upon the valley he rallied his people to meet the creatures on the neighboring plains.

Even this far back from the front lines Aurina could smell the blood, thick on the air.  Lord Berriam had seen a decisive victory for his people, but the horde that descended upon them was almost twice the size of what was reported and after three days of fighting she was beginning to have doubts as to who would win this battle.  Lord Berriam had sent out all call for aid that morning, a call she feared would be answered too late for the elves.

Aurina finally caught sight of her father, standing on a hill overlooking the battle, directing the flow as best he could through commands issued to his officers.  She quickened her pace.

“What are you doing here?” Berriam growled at his daughter as she approached him.  “I told you to stay back and help with the wounded.”  Aurina arched her brow at him, looking pointedly at his bandaged arm.

“I am helping.  I can help out just as well here with axe or bow atar, you need every able body fighting.” Berriam sighed.

“You do realize preserving your life protects mine as well?  Elga would kill me –literally– if  anything happened to you.”  Aurina stepped closer to her father, finally noticing her half brother on the far side of him, and pitched her voice so only they could hear.

“We need to retreat now atar, into the trees where we can take them from above.”  Berriam looked away from her, but she reached out and grabbed his uninjured arm.  “Do not let your pride and arrogance be the downfall of everything you have worked so hard for,” she hissed. “We thought this would be done and over with quickly but we were wrong.  We must retreat if we are to survive.”

Berriam’s eyes grew round before they narrowed at his daughter’s words.  Something was not right here.  Berriam knew nothing of his daughter’s existence until a few scant years ago when she showed up on his doorstep, demanding to be trained.  But in the five years since he had taken her in she proved herself to be much her mother’s daughter.  Elga Serpentbane was a loud and boisterous woman, prone to smiles and laughter among comrades, fond of drinking and merriment.  Their daughter Aurina was not as loud as her dam and more reserved regarding festivities, but the smiles and laughter came just as quick.

Neither were within her face now, and while she may have spoken the truth, never had she been so harsh or virulent with him before.  In one glance he took in the lines on her face and the hardness in her eyes, neither had been there the morning before.  Something profound had changed within her, but now was not the time to probe.  Aurina was right, they needed to retreat.

As he opened his mouth the give the order, the blaring of a horn echoed over the battlefield, drowning out all else.  The fighting slowed and then stopped altogether as friend and foe alike turned to look towards the sound as a second clarion call rang over the plains.  A line of warriors, some mounted, crested a ridge just over a league away.  The horn sounded for a third time as the mounted leader drew their weapon and brandished it over their head, bellowing loud enough for all to hear.


“AND BEARSKULL!” came the resounding refrain from hundreds of barbarian throats echoed by the roar of dire tigers as the tribes swept down the ridge towards the fight, a handful of mounted figures bounding ahead of the rest of the line, led by the largest and loudest pair.

Berriam turned towards his daughter. “Your mother certainly knows how to make an entrance,” he drawled as the young woman drew her bow.

“No more than you atar,” she said grimly.  With a nod he motioned her away and she sped off towards the waiting line of archers.


Berriam stood on the hilltop, looking over the field of dead.  The arrival of his old comrade and her people had turned the tide of battle.  Taken by surprise, faced with raging barbarians, dire tigers, and elves infused with renewed hope, the goblin kin horde had broken and fled.  The mounted barbarians known as Claw Riders and a handful of their shape shifting brethren had followed, tracking and taking down stragglers, those too slow or wounded to keep up with the rest.  In a few days, after licking their wounds and bickering among themselves, the last of the horde would break up and the creatures would return to wherever it was that they called home.

Now, the surviving elves and humans looked to their dead.  The wounded had already been carried off, so most of the movement he saw below was corpse sorting.  The allied bodies would be burned, it was the way of the barbarians to cremate their dead, and there were too many elf dead to properly bury.  Berriam had already sent some of his people to scavenge as much fuel as they could.  There were spells to start and prolong the life of flames, but those flames would still need to be fed.  The goblinoid corpses would be left to the ravages of the wind and time.

“Elf brother!” came an old familiar call.  Berriam turned to see Elga and Shadow walking towards him, her grin turning to a frown as she noticed his bandaged arm.  She had not changed much in years they had been apart.  Tall, broad, amazingly strong, the years had treated Elga well.  Even Shadow looked much as he did since he last saw him, full grown yes, but still little more than a cub.

“I would ask how you fare but I can see that plainly for myself,” she said as she drew closer.  “What happened here my friend that a cleric of Correlleon walks wounded?”

“What this? Oh nothing, an orc almost took off my arm with one blow,” he replied dryly.  “I’ve done what I can to keep it, and keep it functioning.”

Elga looked across the battlefield. “What of the other clerics?” she asked

“I would rather they use their prayers to keep my people alive.  I can ensure the survival of my arm well enough on my own.”  Elga nodded and motioned towards the wounded arm.  “May I?”

Berriam arched a brow as he held the wounded appendage out for her, for last time he saw her healing was not Elga’s strong suit, especially such of his magnitude.  Elga laid gentle hands upon his arm, closed her eyes and murmured a prayer.  Immediately Berriam felt a warmth suffuse his arm, and the last of the aches and pain fade.  He looked at her incredulously.

“Better?” she asked as he flexed, testing out the strength and flexibility of the newly healed limb. He nodded.  “How did you do that?” he asked.  She just grinned and stared expectantly at him, seemingly waiting for him to think of it himself.

Now that she was closer, he noticed that the years had not just treated Elga well, they had not touched her at all.  A quick glance revealed the same for her Shadow.  Frowning, Berriam took half a step back, readying to defend himself for surely this was not his friend of old before him.  But a whisper on his consciousness stopped him as a seemingly familiar energy ebbed off her and Shadow both.  A whispered prayer to his god revealed a bright light surrounding them, and the image of a great hammer above each of their heads, the mark of a god.  Berriam could only think of one god who would mark Elga so, and what she had now become because of it.

“Oh gods be good,” Berriam groaned, clasping the hand of his newly healed arm to his forehead in mock dismay. “You’re a Chosen of Tempus now?”  Elga winked at him and held a finger to her lips.  Catching sight of her children, she called to them and waved them closer.

“Berriam, this is my son Elgin,” Elga introduced as the pair drew close.  The lad was little younger than his half elf sister Aurina but almost as tall and broad as his mother, Berriam noted.  The lad inclined his head with a murmured “My lord.”  Berriam nodded his acknowledgement as Elga greeted their daughter.

“Ah daughter mine!” she embraced the young woman in a fierce hug then held her at arm’s length, appraising her from head to toe.  After a moment she nodded decisively.  “Yes, now THIS is the Auriana that the world will know hmm?” Aurina smiled weakly as her mother glanced around them with a frown before setting her eyes on her son.  “Elgin where is your father?”

The young man shrugged.  “I lost track of him in the fight mata.”

“Hmmm,” Elga stroked the head of her dire tiger companion. “Find Tanta, Shadow mine,” she bade the great cat who swiftly bounded off to carry out her wishes.  “Now that we are mostly assembled,” she said as she turned to the three of them again, face grave.  “In all seriousness my friend, what happened here?”

“You know as I do that these things happen,” he waved off her concern.  “Gruumsh and Magloybet get antsy for blood and call forth their minions to make war.”

Elga shook her head in denial.  “They war once a decade or so, it is too soon for it to be just another uprising of the tribes.  And I recognize some of the Black Shields among the orc dead, something more is at stake here,” she insisted.  Aurina felt a chill run down her spine.  The Black Shields were an orc clan whom, if not exactly friendly, were neither openly hostile towards the Bearskulls.  Something about a war between bugbears and orcs, in a hobgoblin stronghold taken over by hill giants that her mother was able to stop practically single handedly.

“Well whatever the reason they have been soundly put down now, thanks to your ever so timely arrival.  Ahh…” Berriam looked questioningly between mother and son.  “How did you know to be here?”  Elga nodded to her son.

“You can thank the eyes on this one,” she said.  “He was out hunting and spotted the tracks of a large group of goblins and such heading in this direction.  His report was not the first one I had heard, but it was the third and ultimately the last.  Thankfully the tribes were already gathering for a moot so I sent out the call to ride and here we are.”

“And just in time too,” another voice chimed in.  Berriam turned to see his son and introduced him to the others. “Yes we were sorely pressed before your arrival my dear,” he admitted.  Elga smiled and clapped her old friend on the shoulder.

“Well, here we are!  And here we will stay, for a few days at least!” she laughed and hurried to reassure the look of mock horror on the elf lord’s face.  “Just until we can be sure that nothing else is forthcoming.”

It was at this point Aurina looked up.  Silent, brooding, and avoiding the gaze of all around her during the others conversations, she at last opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted by the wail of a dire tiger rolling across the plain.

Elga went still and all color drained from her face when she heard it, and before the cry had faded she had turned to run swift as the wind, down the hill and across the field slippery with the dead.  Aurina and Elgin looked at each other in shock.  Berriam sighed.

“Follow her younglings,” Berriam said softly.  “She will need you both now.”  The maternal half siblings spared a glance for their hosts before following their mother as another of the great cat’s cries came forth.

“Should we go as well atar?” his son asked from beside him, but he shook his head.

“No. I need you to search out wood for a pyre, one great pyre set aside from all the others.”  His son looked at him quizzically.  “Shadow has found Tanta, but not as Elga would hope” he explained.  “Only a creature in mourning can make that sound.”  Father and son both winced then, as a very human, soul shattering scream of rage and defiance rolled forth from across the battlefield

Part 2

From Bearskull to Thornburst

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Aurina walked behind the guard, fighting the urge to wince at the pain in her ribs.  Gods above, why did they take so starlning long to heal?  She shifted the weight of the sack that was slung over her shoulder, hoping to get a little relief.  Granted this huge stinking sack didn’t help matters either.

Trying to take her mind off her discomfort, Aurina locked her eyes on the guard’s back as he continued to escort her through the lord’s palace, and thought back onto the first time she walked her father’s halls.

Aurina grew up a half elf among barbarians, daughter of their chieftain, Elga Serpentbane.  A former adventurer in a group called the Bloody Misfits, Elga traveled far and wide before settling down to rule, and nine short months later Aurina was born.

For most of her life the identity of her father was kept from her, her mother only saying that Aurina would know in time.  That time came almost five years earlier, when Aurina decided she wanted to be a ranger like her hero Berriam from her mother’s tales of adventuring.  It was then that Egla finally revealed the truth to her daughter, that her hero was also her father. Berriam Thornburst, lord of the neighboring Beriath’s Valley, and a fellow Misfit.  Elga told Aurina she was the result of a single night’s dalliance, the last night the Bloody Misfits were together where Berriam held a great feast for them in his hall.

Father and daughter were kept ignorant of each other, for Egla feared that being the daughter of such two infamous parents would bring too much dangerous attention upon her firstborn child.  But she swore that when Aurina came of age she could seek out her father, either at Elga’s side or with her blessing.

And so when Aurina turned fifteen, she bid her mother farewell and traveled to Beriath’s Valley to ask Lord Berriam to take her as an apprentice.  She was determined to keep her identity a secret from her father until he had accepted or denied her.  Aurina wanted to follow in his footsteps and wanted him to train her for her own skills and merits, not for the blood she carried.

The path between the lands of her people, the Bearskull barbarians and the elves of Beriaths’ valley was a well-traveled one, but Elga insisted her daughter travel with at least one companion, and sent along her own dire tiger Shadow to escort her daughter to the edge of the elf city.

Alone in a new city, but with funds gifted from her mother, Aurina was able to find lodgings close to the palace while she attempted to gain audience with her estranged father.  It took a week before Aurina learned of the petitioners’ line which the lord met with every day, and another month of standing in that line and being turned away for one reason or another before she was finally able to stand before Lord Berriam Thornburst.

He looked down at her from the dais and his throne with mild distaste.  Her clothes were clean but worn, patched and mended as her people did not throw anything away unless completely unusable.

“And what,” he drawled “Do we have here.”

“My lord,” Aurina bowed deeply and fought to keep her emotions in check.  Her mother had warned her to show no fear, and to display the utmost courtesy when presented to her father. “My lord I have come to ask a boon of you.” Berriam arched a brow at that.

“Of course you have, that is why you are here.  Very well then be quick about it, there are other who await their turn.” He motioned for her to speak and Aurina took a deep breath.

“My lord, tales of your greatness have traveled far, far enough to reach even my ears.  I grew up with tales of your prowess and ferocity in battle, and for so long have I dreamed of being great like you.” She licked suddenly dry lips, aware of the smirks and murmurs of the courtiers lining the walls.

“But to be great like you,” she continued, “I need to be trained like you.  So I have come to ask that you take me as your apprentice.”

Silence reigned over the audience chamber at her words, no one expected this little half breed to come with such an outrageous request.  She hurried on before her father could speak.

“I will prove myself worthy of this.  Give me a task my lord.  Any task, and I will see it through and prove to you my ability.”

“And who are you who have seemingly come so far to request such an honor?” Lord Berriam’s voice was cold and his eyes were hard.  Aurina’s heart hammered in her chest.

“Ah…Rina,” she stammered.  Berriam caught her hesitation and shook his head.

“Of course it is.  Tell me ‘Rina’, how old are you?  And why should I take someone such as you on when you cannot even be honest enough to give me your name?” Berriam leaned forward in his chair, waiting for her to answer.

“I have seen fifteen summers my lord, and forgive me but I do not want my name or lack of one to hold any sway over your decision.  I only ask for the chance to prove myself first.  Then on your acceptance or rejection I will tell you all.”  She looked up hopefully at her father, seeing him watching her she could not help but wonder if he saw any resemblance in her face, though she saw no recognition in his eyes.  Finally he made a rude noise and leaned back in his chair waiving a dismissive hand in her direction.

“You are a child.  An insolent, arrogant child. Your request is denied.” he motioned for the next petitioner as Aurina was led away.

Thankfully, she was more determined than heartbroken.  Knowing now the petitioner’s process, she came again every day for another month and every day was able to come before her father.  Most days he turned her away without a word, some days she was able to make her plea again before being escorted out as the next petitioner was escorted in, until that last day.

“Oh gods you again child?” Berriam reclined to the side of his throne, head supported by his fist as Aurina made her way into the audience chamber, bowing before her unwitting father.  He sighed. “Same request as before?”

“Yes my lord,” Aurina said as she straightened.  “Give me a task to complete, and when I come back successful, accept me as your apprentice.”

Barriam studied the stubborn little half breed before him.  Taller than most half elves he had seen, long auburn hair braided behind her slightly pointed ears, large hazel eyes, common clothes, there was nothing about the girl that should set her apart from anyone else.  But she was brazen, and determined.   He sighed again, knowing now he would need to give her something else she would never cease.  “How many times have you come before me now?”

“This time makes thirty one my lord.”

“Well I for one do not want to see you here another thirty one days in a row.”  Berriam straightened as an idea came to him.  This would either provide the proof the child was so desperate for, or send her home with her tail between her legs.  He thought more likely it would be the latter.

“I have recently received word of an ettin among the hills, on the eastern edge of the valley,” he smiled as her eyes widened. “It is becoming a nuisance.  Kill the ettin, and I will consider your proposal.”  Aurina was silent as she mulled it over.

“If I kill the ettin,” she said slowly, “You will take that as proof enough and accept me as your apprentice.”  Berriam’s brows shot up as the courtiers whispered.

“You make demands of me?” he asked incredulously.

“I ask the same thing I have asked these last thirty one days my lord,” she replied. “Give me a task, accept my apprenticeship upon completion of it.  You have given me a task, will you accept my apprenticeship upon completion of it?”  Now it was Berriam who turned the words over.  The spies he had following the girl were unable to find anything out.  She simply showed up at the northern end of the valley a little over two months ago, found a place to stay, and almost every day since then had been here, making the same request of him over and over again.  Damn if he wasn’t beginning to like the little half breed.  If only a bit.  Berriam nodded to himself.

“Agreed, under one additional condition.  Since you will not tell me your name before your task, once you return you tell me here, before all the court, who you are.  Depending on that, I will accept you.” Aurina opened her mouth to protest but Berriam held up a hand to forestall her.  “That is nonnegotiable, I will not allow an unknown nor an enemy so unconditionally close to me.  This is also my final offer,” he looked hard at Aurina. “You either accept these terms, or you will be banished from the valley on pain of death.”

Aurina nodded slowly. “Agreed.”

“Good,” Berriam stood up and straightened his clothes, signaling that the audiences were over for the day.  But as he made to leave he hesitated and turned back to the little half breed, waiting to be escorted from the hall.  “And as you have come before me for thirty one days, you have just as many to find the creature, kill it, and return.  The commander will give you more details on where to find the ettin,” he said left the audience chamber.

That was thirty one days ago, and here Aruina was again, a little more dirty, a little more disheveled, and with a large, stinking, gore-dripping sack in tow.

No waiting in the petitioner’s line this time.  The guards knew her, by reputation as the Stubborn Little Half Breed if not by sight, and the sack over her shoulder could only mean one thing.  She was ushered into the hall before her father as soon as he was finished with the current petitioner.  She strode forward boldly, ignoring the soft gasps of surprise from those assembled at the sight of her.  Eyes trained on Berriam, she reached the foot of the dais and swung the sack around to land with a wet sound on the marble floor and bowing low once freed of her burden.

“I have returned successful my lord,” she said as she straightened and looked at her father.  Berriam stared down at her, eyes flicking between her and the bloody sack.

“That stain is not going to come out easily,” he quipped as he stood up and sauntered down towards her, fighting to keep the surprise and suspicion off his face.  He had his people shadow the girl, and so knew she was indeed able to track down and kill the ettin as he had bid her, but she was little more than a child!  There was something more to this for one so young to take out a giant kin alone, and he was determined to discover what it was.

“So you are back and successful O Unknown One? Let’s see just how successful you were,” he nonchalantly opened the sack and looked inside, nodding as he saw the rotting ettin head and confirmed what his scouts had already reported.  Looking back up to her, Berriam straightened and tapped a long forefinger against his lips in thought as he studied the young female before him.

“A task successfully completed, but something seems amiss here,” he said as he voiced his earlier thoughts.  “By the standards of most races you are young, practically a child.  How was it that you, alone and unaided, were able to accomplish this?  Track and kill a giant almost three times your size and strength?”  Aurina gave a little shrug.

“My mother knows a little of hunting giants and giant-kin, I simply remembered what she taught me,” she said simply.

“Ah yes, your mysterious parentage,” he drawled.  “And now we come to the second half of our little agreement.  Who are you exactly child, who has come to my home and demanded so much of me?” Aurina straightened as much as she could, heart pounding as she spoke the words she had rehearsed in her head so many times.

“My name is Aurina Bearskull, blooded and firstborn daughter to Chief Elga Serpentbane,” her voice carried clearly across the hall.  As soon as Berriam heard the name of his old comrade he closed his eyes and sighed as he rubbed at his temples.

“Of course you are, the only female I know more stubborn than you is her,” he muttered.    But Aurina saw him still as he made the connection and slowly looked up at her, peering more closely.  “Ah…how old are you again?  Exactly?”  She couldn’t help a small smile.

“Fifteen summers my lord.  I was born shortly after the Bloody Misfits retired.”

Berriam couldn’t help but stare at her as the truth slowly took form in his mind.  Fifteen years.  Oh bleeding bloody hells, it was little more than fifteen years to the date since the Misfits retired and he hosted their farewell feast in this very hall.  Fifteen years since he spent one passionate night with the only human female from that group. And now this child appears, this half elf child of the woman he lay with, the one he could have sent to her death or worse, was most likely his child, unknown for all these years.  Throat suddenly dry, he visibly swallowed before attempting to speak.

“And how is your mother?” he asked, his voice thankfully sounding stronger than he feared, at least to his ears.  Aurina inclined her head to him.

“She was well when we parted.  My mother sends her greeting and bids me to give you this,” Aurina reached inside her tunic and searched for a moment before drawing forth a much crumpled but still sealed parchment.  “She remembers her last night here in Beriaths’ Valley in detail and with great fondness. She hopes you do as well, and that one day she is able to return the favor.”

Berriam keep his eyes on his daughter’s as he reached for the parchment and broke the seal, looking away long enough to read the contents.  Long minutes later he took a deep breath and turned back to her, seemingly having had the chance to gather his thoughts.

“You know what this letter says?”  Aurina nodded.  “You do realize there was an easier way to go about this,” he indicated the stinking sack on the floor beside them.  Aurina nodded again and grinned.

“I would not be my mother’s daughter if I took the easy way.”  Berriam chuckled at that as he tucked the letter away.

“Very well then,” he turned towards the courtiers that were watching every second of this first true meeting between father and daughter.  “Ladies and gentle males, may I present to you Aurina Bearskull, my apprentice…and my daughter.” He laid his hands on Aurina’s shoulders as a flurry of whispers and murmurs arose at those words, and Berriam had to raise his voice to be heard as he continued.

“She will be named as my daughter and co-heir alongside my son, granted lands and titles, a position here at court, and shall be accorded every respect and privilege that comes with bearing my name even should she not take it.”  He winked at a very shocked Aurina and whispered so only she would hear.  “It’s mostly paperwork and formalities, but it will all be yours to do with as you please, to use as much or as little as you desire.”

Drawing her back up the dais with him, he motioned to young half elf male.  “Come and see to your sister.  Find her rooms to rest in until we can get her properly situated.  We will all speak over dinner tonight.”  And with that he turned from them to deal with the rest of the court who were understandably in an uproar, calling for order.

The two half siblings blinked at each other for a few moments before the male shrugged and beckoned Aruina to follow him.  In the quiet of the corridor beyond the hall, Aurina found the courage to speak again.

“That was…uh…unexpected,” she said softly.  The male turned towards her with a grin.

“Welcome to the Thornbursts,” he said.


Elga’s Letter:

Forgive me my friend, if I can still call you that.

I know you are no fool, and have by now guessed outright or suspected that Aurina is our daughter. Believe me when I say I did not know the truth of her parentage until after she was born. When I left you the possibility of conception never crossed my mind, and when I learned I was with child I had returned to my husband Tanta and assumed the child his. I would have sent word, but I confess fear stilled my hand, fear of upsetting your world for you already had one half breed child, and fear for Aurina herself. I felt that having me for a mother put her in enough peril, but having you as her father? A child of two Misfits, both leaders of their respective peoples, both heroes of the Realms? A fine prize she would have made.

I told Aurina the truth of you some years ago, when she decided the ways of our people were not for her and she wanted to walk your path. She had always been fascinated with your stories as a child. Tales of the Misfits are told often around the campfires of my people, and the stories of Berriam Elf Brother, Breaker of Hordes were always her favorite. Nightly she would beg of one more tale of you, ‘just one more Mata,’ she would plead. And I obliged as often as I could.

I had planned to tell you of her when she came of age, even before she made the choice to come train under you. I know not if you have accepted her as your apprentice or denied her. If you have, I thank you and I know you will care for our daughter well. If not, I hope you broke it to her gently, and that you do not extend an offer based solely on her blood. She is much like me in that regard, taking only what she has earned.

I know not what else to say, except that I leave this knowledge in your hands, to do with as you will. I know Aurina would love to have you in her life, she knows as well it was wholly in my hands why you two never knew of each other before now. But we have no expectations, and place no obligations on you. I can only imagine the effect this knowledge has upon you, and I can only pray the one day you will find it in your heart to forgive me.

Yours faithfully,


Aurina Bearskull

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She ran blindly through the woods, tears blurring her vision as she slapped branches out of her way. She ran until her legs, pushed beyond their limit, gave way beneath her and sent her sprawling along the forest floor. Gasping and sniffling, she took a moment to regain her wind before making a shaken attempt to stand. Spotting a fallen tree nearby, she stumbled over and gratefully sat down on top of it as she took stock of herself and her surroundings. Aside from a few scrapes from her fall, she was unharmed and looking around her she found this part of the woods was unfamiliar. In her flight she had gone further than her previous forays around the lands her tribe called home. She held no fear however, for she knew no matter how far she had come she would find her way back again.

    The girl closed her eyes and breathed deeply as her heart rate slowed. She always felt more comfortable out in the wild than among the encampment of her people. A trait she attributed more to her unknown elf father than her human mother.

    She lost track of time as she sat there, eyes closed, soaking in the sounds and smells of the forest, until a twig snapped behind her and a chuff of hot fetid air blew across the back of her neck. Her shoulders slumped as the creature moved up next to her and reached for her face.

    “Not now Shadow,” she muttered as she gently pushed the muzzle away. Another chuff and the girl turned her head to watch the dire tiger step over the fallen tree and lay across her feet, rolling over and exposing his belly for a rub which she obliged with a small smile, scratching through the soft fur to the accompaniment to the giant cat’s contented rumbles. A rustling in the bush alerted the girl to the presence of the great predator’s companion.

    She looked over her shoulder, unsurprised at the huge barbarian woman standing behind her, a great axe resting on one shoulder and a bow peeking out over the other. To the girl’s tribe the woman was Chief, to her enemies she was The Serpentbane, to her friends she was Elga Greyskull, but the girl simply knew her as mother.

    “Hullo mata,” the girl greeted her mother, her voice flat and dull as she turned her attention back to the tiger. But the great cat only had eyes for his mistress now as he arched his back and reached out a paw big as a serving platter towards her, claws flexed out. Elga chuckled, stepping over the log and taking the tiger’s paw in her hand, avoiding the claws even as they retracted.

    “Good job Shadow mine,” she crooned as she sat next to her daughter. Shadow rolled to his feet as Elga set her axe down and reached out to scratch him behind his ears. “Good boy finding Aurina cub, yes good boy.”

Aurina rolled her eyes as her mother continued to talk to her animal companion like it was a baby, and in some ways it was since she had raised the dire tiger from a cub. This tale among others was well known among her people. Elga had traveled far with her adventuring band the Bloody Misfits in her youth, and on her journey they rescued a litter of dire tiger cubs for a tribe of tiger people called Rakastas. In payment for their efforts and at Elga’s request they bequeathed her one to raise and train as a companion mount. Elga named the cat Shadow Stalker, but rarely had his real name been used as his mistress found it highly amusing to give him the nickname of ‘Fluffy’ as they adventured, and now since retirement she simply referred to him as her Shadow.

    “Go lie down Shadow,” Elga bade the tiger, who obediently walked off a few paces before curling up in a great snoring heap. Mother and daughter sat quietly for a few moments before Elga turned to her child.

    “This is the third time in as many weeks you have run out of camp like a dragon was on your tail child,” Aurina hunched her shoulders at her mother’s bluntness and chiding tone. “What ails you my daughter?”

“Nothing mata,” the girl muttered, staring at her toes.  Elga sighed.  In so many ways were she and Aurina similar, but in this they were different.  Getting the child to speak a word she did not wish was like pulling teeth from a gibbering mouther.  Thankfully they were alike in that the girl never truly lied, but like all children she was partial to half truths to avoid trouble or answering difficult questions.  Elga tried again.

    “Aurina, daughter mine, you know you can speak truth to me and I will not hold it against you. Speak truth to me now. What troubles you?”

This time, Elga refused to break the silence before her daughter, and they sat in silence for a long while, the quiet forest noised broken only by the rumbling snores of the dozing tiger.

    “They want me to be like you,” Aurina finally murmured.  “I hear them talking when they think I can’t hear them, and the way they look at me sometimes. They think I’m going to be a great warrior like you. And I am trying mata!” she looked at her mother, a hint of desperation in her eyes. “I’m trying so hard, but I can’t do it. I’m not big or strong or brave, I’m not even human! And I don’t want to let them down. I…I don’t want to let you down.”

    Elga laid her arm across Aurina’s young shoulders, drawing the girl closer as she looked off into the woods, gathering her thoughts before speaking again.

    “I know what our people expect of you,” she began. “They honor the ways of axe and arm, sword and shield. Your grandfather was a great warrior and hero of his tribe, your mother is a chieftain, a famed warrior in her own right, a hero of the Realms. You and your brother both are under constant scrutiny, expected to follow me and become the next in a line of warriors, chiefs, and heroes.”

    She turned to her daughter and her voice grew grave. “But the ways of our people are not always my ways Aurina. And they do not have to be yours. If your heart is telling you to walk a different path then you must heed it. To the hells with what I or anyone else thinks or expects of you. What is important is what you think of and expect from yourself. What is it that you wish to become my child? How do you want the world to know Aurina Bearskull?”

    Aurina frowned and thought for a long moment on her mother’s words. “I…I want to become a ranger, a watcher of the woods like you mata,” she whispered at last, eyes downcast. Her mother made a rude noise at that.

    “I am a warrior, a killer more than a caretaker child, this you well know. Be honest in where your desire comes from.”

    Aurina refused to meet her mother’s gaze for a long time, watching an ant make slow progress across the fallen log where they both sat, before she dared look up again. Her mother’s face was stern but not angry, expecting only truth in the next words, not caring what those words might be and that in itself gave the girl courage.

    “I want to be a ranger, like Lord Berriam. The thought of being able to take down my enemies and protect my friends before danger can reach us, and to be able to slide along the shadows, silent and untouchable.” She grinned at her mother. “I want to be a ranger!”

    Elga returned her daughter’s grin and laughed her great booming laugh, the woods echoing with it. “Then a ranger you shall be my daughter!”

    Aurina squealed and threw her arms around her mother almost knocking them both over. “Thank you mata!” Elga chuckled and hugged her daughter back, unsurprised. Tales of her old band, The Bloody Misfits were favorite fireside and bedtime tales among her tribe. But for little Aurina, the tales of Berriam Elf Brother, Breaker of Hordes were the most cherished. It was not surprising to her that the child would choose her hero’s path. But Elga’s cheer quickly faded as she realized that the time had come to tell her daughter the truth of her parentage.

    “And since you want to be a ranger like your hero,” she whispered, voice hoarse and heart breaking. “Who better than your hero father to teach you?” The girl stilled before pulling away and staring at her mother in confusion.

    “Yes my child, it is time you knew. Lord Berriam is your blood-father.” Elga reiterated softly, giving the girl a moment to absorb this new information that would change her world. Aurina blinked at her mother. Elga had never hidden the circumstances of Aurina’s conception, but neither had she revealed the identity of her father, saying only that it would be known in time. She already knew that ten years ago her mother and the rest of the Bloody Misfits retired from their adventuring lives. And that on their last night together as comrades in arms Lord Berriam hosted a great feast for them in Beriath’s Valley where her mother lay with her father and unknown to both of them, left pregnant.

    “You know most of the story already,” Elga unwittingly echoed her daughter’s thoughts. “What you don’t know is that Berriam is the male I spent the night with. We had always flirted with each other, and I had always drawn a line between us. But the night of the feast that line…no longer existed. We would no longer be traveling together, your hearth-father and I were wed in name only, so what was the harm?” She looked off into the forest, her memories going back through the years as her child watched.

    “I remember what happened during that long night,” she continued quietly. “And when morning found us in each other’s arms, we acknowledged what we did and moved on with our lives. We both knew it was a one night affair. Yes we felt for each other, it is hard to avoid forming such bonds among comrades who have lived as closely together for as long as we did, but we did not love each other. He needed to take a wife, and in the eyes of our people I had a husband. We parted ways and as you know have remained close friends ever since.”

    Mother and daughter sat together in silence for a time. Aurina’s mind ran through all the tales of her hero –no, her blood-father– that she had heard through the years. She knew that he had come to visit her mother and people once or twice since that night, the last being just a few years ago. She remembered being so excited and nervous when she was introduced to him, and her mind poured over every look, every word he sent her way, and it was then she realized the depth of her mother’s deception. She looked over at Elga.

    “He doesn’t know about me, does he? He never acted like he does.” Elga shook her head, knowing exactly what she was referring to.

    “I never told either of you about the other,” she explained. “By the time I learned I was with child I had returned to our tribe and my mated bed. It was not until after you were born that I knew your true parentage and by that time Berriam had already taken in one half breed child. I saw no reason to bring such drama upon his house, and I feared exposing you to more risk.”

    “More risk?” Aruina yelled, jumping to her feet and facing her mother with balled fists. This was almost too much for the girl, learning her mysterious sire is the hero she has adored for so long, and that her mother intentionally kept them ignorant of each other! Her eyes filled anew with tears born from anger. “What kind of risk could there possibly be in telling my blood-father I exist!”

    “Oh daughter mine,” Elga sadly shook her head. “You forget who your mata is? Who your parents are?” Aurina scoffed and made to turn away from her but Elga grabbed hold of her arm and made her daughter face her.

    “I am The Serpentbane, chieftain of the Bearskulls,” she said sternly. “Your father is Berriam Thornburst, Lord of Beriath’s Valley. We are both Bloody Misfits and lauded heroes of the Realms. Do you know how many enemies we have made in our travels? How many would gladly see us or those we care for dead in an effort to hurt us? And what of the enemies of our tribe, the orcs and giants who would love to get their hands on the chieftain’s daughter? Or the enemies of the valley? Oh the daughter of Lord Berriam would make a lovely prize for profit or vengeance!” Elga realized she was almost yelling and shut her mouth with an audible click of her teeth. Taking a deep breath, she continued more calmly. Kneeling before her first born so they were eye to eye, she released Aurina’s arm and clasped her soft, tiny hands within her own large, battle scarred ones.

    “You and your brother are in danger enough by being my children. Add to that you being the child of an elf lord and a second member of the Misfits? No.” She shook her head. “I would not do that. I swore I would not tell either of you until you came of age, or until such events happened that I deemed it more prudent to tell you beforehand. It may have been wrong of me to do so, but you are my child. My daughter, blooded and first born. I was and am willing to do whatever is necessary to keep you safe.”

    Aurina chewed her lip as she listened to her mother, held immobile by indecision. She wanted so much to scream and flail her fists at the women kneeling before her, a woman whose face begged for forgiveness or understanding. She felt like running all the way to Beriath’s Valley and up to her father and make herself known to him, or falling into the comfort of her mother’s arms and cry out all her frustration.

    “Does tata know?” she asked finally, using her nickname for the man who raised her as his own.

    Elga let out a breath she did not realize she had been holding. “Yes, tata knows. He knew of my night with Berriam before you were born and so realized your parentage the same time as I. And you should know that it doesn’t matter to him who your blood-father is. He may be your hearth-father, but he loves you for who you are. He has loved you since the day you were born and I laid you in his arms. Do you know what he said to me that day?” Aurina shook her head, eyes wide and no less tear filled. Elga smiled at her.

    “‘My daughter’, he said. ‘And damn any man who says differently.’”

    Aurina’s lip quivered as she fought back her tears, a battle she ultimately lost as they began rolling freely down her face and she began to sob. Egla wrapped her daughter in a fierce embrace and held her. Although most of her people seemed to accept and love her, Aurina knew there were pretenders among them. A look, a word, turning towards her too slowly or away from her too quickly showed her who those pretenders were. And her greatest fear was that among the better actors was her hearth-father, pretending to care for his mate’s half breed daughter to avoid Elga’s wrath. It was this fear that prompted her to try to appear more human, braiding her hair over her ears, wearing bulky clothes to hide her slim form, trying to speak like the others around her.

But now her mother had laid those fears to rest, and the girl felt a weight lift off her shoulders, for she knew her mother never lied to anyone about anything. Nothing of what Tanta showed to Aurina had been an act. He truly loved and cared for her as his blooded daughter, and a hope lit in her heart that perhaps if he felt that way then maybe there weren’t as many pretenders within the tribe as she had feared.

    Tears spent, Aurina allowed herself to be held a few moments longer before pulling out of her mother’s embrace. Wiping her face dry, she looked around and noticed the afternoon sun was giving away to evening.     “We should get back,” she said as she glanced back at her mother. “But…what do we do now?” Elga stood and dusted forest debris from her knees. Sweeping up her axe, she motioned to her Shadow before answering.

“Now, we continue on as before. I ask that you keep your blood-father’s identity to yourself for now, I don’t care for the thought of the world knowing of his daughter before him.” Aurina grudgingly nodded, seeing the truth behind her mother’s words.

    “Second, you continue your training as a warrior,” she held up a hand to calm her daughter’s objection. “I will teach you what little I know of the ranger ways, but you will continue to train. No knowledge gained is ever wasted Aurina mine, remember that.”

    “And finally,” Elga looked at her child with a mix of pride and sadness. “If you wish to seek out your blood-father when you come of age, I will not stop you. I will even go with you. Berriam is a good male, but it might take more than your word to convince him to see the truth.”

    Motioning for Shadow to scout ahead, mother and daughter walked in comfortable silence until they reached the end of the forest, where Aurina laid a soft hand on her mother’s muscular arm, halting the large woman who looked back at her in puzzlement.

    “What if I don’t want you to come?” she asked softly. “What if I want him to accept me as…well…me? As Aurina Bearskull?” Her mother smiled.

“Then I will write a letter and bid you swift journey. Your life is your path to walk daughter mine, let none sway you form what you feel is right in your heart.”

    ruina smiled at her mother before turning at Shadow’s call and running ahead, her feet as light as her young heart, now suddenly full of hope.

Bloody Misfits Farewell Part 3: The Morning

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Part 2: The Night

Dawn was a mere thought on the horizon when Elga awoke next, replete and aching pleasantly in all the right places.  Opening her eyes she saw an empty pillow, but looking around the room she saw Berriam standing by the window watching the skyline.  She took a moment to watch him staring out over they valley, noting how the light caught in his hair as he leaned against the windowsill.  Good gods what a male, she thought to herself.  Lithe and handsome in the way of all elves, a stalwart fighter, a fantastic lover, here was a male she would be proud to have claimed as a mate if their lives had been different.  But what’s done is done.  No point in dwelling on what could have been.

“Berriam,” she called softly, “not that I mind the view, but why don’t you come back to bed.  We have time for one more round surely.”

“A moment my lady,” he responded glancing over at her, “I simply wished to see the sun rise before we parted ways.”

Finally mustering herself to rise, she padded silently over to the brooding elf, wrapping her arms around his waist as she rested her chin on his shoulder.

“Come now.  Everyone in this valley has drunk and eaten themselves into a stupor.  I say we have at least until midday before people start wondering where we are and look for us, our comrades included,” she began to nuzzle at his neck, emboldened as he tilted his head to accommodate her.  “And if I’m wrong, the door is locked from the inside and my Shadow is sleeping in front of it on the other.  There is no way we will be disturbed.”  He gasped as she reached up and gently nipped his ear, pressing himself back against her.

“Gods woman, you are insatiable,” he moaned as he felt himself stir yet again.  “Have you not had your fill of me?”

“Obviously not,” she said as glanced down his body. “And it seems nether have you.”

Berriam laughed and turned in her arms, grabbing her hips and pulling her against himself as he kissed her.

“It seems not my dear, and I do believe we can make time for one more round.”  Elga grinned as she kissed him back.

“Good!” Elga began to slowly lower herself down, trailing kisses as she spoke. “For I believe it is time for me to show you how grateful of a guest I am for your…tender ministrations last night.”

Berriam hissed and threw back his head, threading his fingers through her hair as she began to show him just how grateful she was.


Several ‘one more’ times later, Egla and Berriam were finally getting dressed.  Dawn was just beginning to give way to morning, and the two knew they would have to move swiftly if they wished to avoid being questioned by friends or servants.  Thankfully neither had heard stirrings in the corridor beyond, but if that was due to a lack of traffic or just prudent avoidance of the no-doubt disgruntled dire tiger sitting just outside they could not tell.

With Berriam’s help retrieving her belongings that were scattered around the room, Elga had packed her bag and gathered her weapons.  As he watched her eschew her usual plate armor crafted from green dragon scales in favor of a plain cotton bodice with leather vest and soft calfskin breeches, the implications and possible repercussions of their time together tumbled through his mind.  Amazing what one was able to forget or ignore after dark with a few drinks in the belly and a naked woman spread out before them he mused.

He knew she was married, he knew as well she had taken other lovers between then and him.  Perhaps only once or twice, but a roll with a harem boy in Surina’s conjured manse was a far cry from bedding a neighboring elf lord and party member.  Her people may be more free with themselves than most others he had come across, so it may well be that her past partners would matter little to her current mate, but Berriam had not lived so long on ‘maybes’ and ‘perchances’.  It would be best to ensure.  He cleared his throat, drawing her attention to him.

“I wouldn’t possibly have to worry about any angry barbarians at my gate, seeking vengeance for besmirching your honor would I?” he asked bluntly as he tied his breeches shut.  Elga grunted as she pulled on the laces of her boot.

“No, you are safe in that regard,” she said.  “Tanta and I never consummated our marriage before I left.” That stilled Berriam’s hands.  “Oh we spoke the words, performed the ceremony, but I did what needed to be done to secure my position within the tribe and to ensure that they would be looked after in my absence.  I wasn’t even certain I would return after all, I did not wish to tie him too tightly in case he needed to take another.  In the eyes of my people we are married in name only, and that is what was needed, what mattered.  As for everything else…” Elga shrugged.  “I know he cares for me, perhaps even loves me, so I have hopes for everything else.”

Finished with the one boot, she turned her attention to the other as Berriam gave a mental sigh of relief and shrugged into his tunic.  “I am sure you will be happy, he would be a fool not to love you,” Berriam said placatingly as he padded barefoot to the door.

“And you Berriam?” she asked, halting him.  “Do you love me?”  Startled he turned to face her.  She stood at the end of the bed, fully dressed now with her bag packed and waiting by her feet as she strapped on her various weapons.  Glancing over at him and seeing his stare she shrugged.

“It is a simple question, and given we are essentially going to be neighbors it would be good to have a firm understanding of such things.”

He watched her for a moment as she turned back to her weapons.  Was she intentionally keeping her gaze from his?  Was she trying to hide something from him?  The problem for him, he mused, was that she was smarter and more cunning than most humans he knew.  And frankly more than he normally gave the species credit for. But he also knew her to be honest almost to the point of rudeness, and that she would not appreciate it if he did not deal with her in kind.

“No I don’t love you,” he said at last, and was relieved when she looked at him again and he saw nothing untoward in her eyes.  “I care for you deeply of course, but purely as a friend.”  She nodded and smiled softly at him.

“Good, that’s much as I feel.  Though I do admit that I think we might have been more, in another time, a different life.”

“Perhaps,” he murmured returning her smile.

Elga bent down and swept up her bag, striding purposefully towards Berriam. “Well my friend, this is farewell for now.  And…thank you.” She reached out and clasped his forearm, a farewell from one warrior to another.

“Well I’ve never been thanked for that before,” Berriam returned her gesture as he glanced at the still-rumpled bed behind them.

“No you ass,” she laughed as she released his arm and punched him on the shoulder.  “That was for always having my back on the road.”  She grabbed a fistful of his tunic, pulling him to her before he could react and kissing him passionately, releasing him long moment later.  “That was for last night,” she purred.  Then with a smirk and a wink she slipped out the door.  Berriam stood there for a moment, lips swollen from her kiss, and listened to the woman and her great cat greet each other with a series of rumbles before the sounds of them both faded as they walked away down the hall.  He looked up at the ceiling.

“So. That’s the death you’ve chosen for me, is it?” he asked of his god, shaking his head as he too slipped out and away, leaving an amused silence behind.

Bloody Misfits Farewell Part 2: The Night


Part 1: The Feast

The hour grew late as the feast went on, and one by one humans, halflings, dwarves, drow, and elves alike left to find their beds until only the servants remained to clean the hall.  Well, the servants and one barbarian woman passed out in a corner with a huge wildcat that growled at any who came near.

Berriam sighed as he crossed the hall towards the snoring female and her overzealous companion.  He had been in the middle of getting ready for his own rest when his steward had quietly knocked on his door and asked if he would not mind speaking to the cat and letting it know the servants meant no harm? He was growling at any who came too near and giving the cleaning maids quite the fright.  So here he was, barefoot, hair tied loosely back, a plain cotton tunic and woolen breeches, about to ask a giant, fickle predator to stop ‘protecting’ it’s mistress.

“I need to find more sober comrades,” he muttered as he drew near.  Fluffy had seen him enter the hall but, not wanting to leave his sleeping mistress, had waited for Berriam to approach them before greeting the elf lord.

//Berriam!// the tiger was excited to see him, getting up and rubbing vigorously against his leg. Used to such enthusiastic greetings from the dire tiger Berriam was able to keep himself from being knocked over.

//Shadow// Berriam responded, calling the cat by his true name rather than the nickname most others used. He knelt down so he was face to face with the cat and began running his fingers through the tiger’s ruff.  Shadow’s eyes half closed as he began to rumble. //You no sleep?//

//Mistress sleep. Shadow watch. Shadow protect mistress from elf strangers// the great cat opened his eyes to glare towards the servants watching safely from afar, the rumbling turning into a low growl.  Berriam hastily soothed the cat.

//Mistress safe Shadow.  Elf strangers Berriam friends. They no hurt mistress. Shadow no growl elf strangers// Shadow laid his ears back.

//Too many strangers near mistress// he huffed.

Gods Berrriam’s head was starting to hurt.  This ability to communicate with animals was not intended for such a lengthy conversation.  He thought quickly.

//Wake mistress? Find her den for sleep?// Shadow’s ears perked up and he stopped growling.

//Yes!  Den for sleep.  Much better for mistress//

Shadow turned and nudged Elga with a paw as large as a dinner plate.  The woman mumbled something unintelligible but otherwise did not stir. Nuzzling her shoulder, Shadow managed to get his head under her arm and partially roll her over, where she promptly began to snore again.  Shadow looked over at Berriam with an almost sheepish expression.

//Berriam wake mistress?// he asked.  //Mistress drink too much rotten grass and fruit water. Shadow can’t talk to Mistress now until next sun//

Only Shadow would refer to the finest wines and ales in his cellar as ‘rotten grass and fruit water’ the ranger thought to himself as he bent to the task.

“Elga? Elga my dear?  Time to get up,” he called loudly as he shook her shoulder to no avail. Undeterred, he tried again. “Elga wake up! Humbrol has the Ever Lasting Beer Barrel and he needs your help to drink it!”

“Huh! Wha! S’ok! Fer glory and…skull…bears…” Elga started awake and sat up blinking blearily around her before focusing on Berriam.  “S’bed times?” she slurred.

“Yes, bed times, come on,” he held out his hand and helped the woman to her feet, ducking under one arm as she started to sway.

“Ok now let’s go.  One foot after the other leaning on me yes?”  Elga nodded as she frowned in concentration as she stepped forward. Shadow stood up and pressed gently against Elga as they walked, bracing her from the other side.  //Shadow helps// the cat flicked his tail across the back of the legs of human and elf.

Nodding to the servants to continue their work, Berriam and Shadow carried and supported Elga down long hallways and up several flights of stairs.  The trip becoming easier the more they walked as Elga swiftly sobered up.  The one good thing Berriam and the other Misfits had learned about being around a barbarian on a drinking binge was that they sobered up quickly.  Finally, they arrived before Elga’s chambers.  Not quite able to juggle opening the door and supporting a still-drunk Egla, Berriam turned to her companion for aid.

//Shadow open door?// he asked.  The cat obligingly lifted a paw and levered the door handle down, pushing as the latch disengaged. //Grateful.  Berriam set mistress to sleep, let Shadow in//

Shadow huffed his acceptance and laid down outside the door as Berriam stumbled into the room under Elga’s weight.  Thankfully the room was large and spacious so he did not have to worry about crashing into anything.

“Well that’s a problem,” Berriam muttered as he caught sight of the bed.  It was strewn with the contents of Elga’s backpack, her clothing weapons and armor piled in a disarray across the plush bedding.  “Alright my dear lady, do try not to fall over while I take care of this.” Slipping out from under her arm Berriam began moving items so his friend could sleep. Finally having cleared everything off, he turned around to help Elga into the bed.

“Come along now my dear, you must get your beauty rest before you return to your people…in…the…” Berriam’s words trailed off as he looked up to see Elga hopping on one foot while she tugged her boot off the other, which just so happened to be the last article of clothing she had on.  Berriam just stared at her for a moment as he tried to decide what was more surprising: that she was able to keep her clothes on for this long or the fact that he was still surprised by anything this woman did.

“Elga,” he finally asked. “Why are you naked?”

Elga made a rude noise as she weaved towards the bed. “Can’t sleep with my clothes on silly,” she muttered.  “Oh!  Wait no, can’t go to sleep yet.  Need to find an elf for the night.” Changing course and making her way around the end of the bed with a surprising amount of grace for a drunk naked barbarian, she made for the door but Berriam wisely intercepted her.

“And why dear lady would you need ah…how did you put it…’an elf for the night’?”

“This is my last night as a Bloody Misfit!” Elga proclaimed dramatically.  “I must partake of debauchery to the highest degree!  And this means drinking, feasting, fighting and fucking! I have had ample of the first three both here and abroad, and am at a loss for the third.”  She made to move past him again but the elf lord stood his ground. “Berriam,” she sighed “you have two choices.  Find me a bed mate or stand aside while I find one for myself.”

He shook his head. “At least put some clothes on first-“

“Nope!” Elga said cheerily as she made another attempt to get past him. “I shall find that lucky elf in all my glory!  Unless you want to be that elf?” she winked saucily at him.

Berriam sighed and held up his hands in defeat.  “Fine, I know better than to argue with you when you’re like this.  Just…sit down before you fall.  I swear you are the only barbarian that can get black out drunk and still be as eloquent as me,” he muttered as he steered the woman back to the bed.  Elga giggled as she flopped down on soft mattress and laid back across the bed, drumming her heels off the floor as she began humming a nameless tune.

Berriam made to leave but hesitated at the door, one hand on the latch as he gazed at the woman laid out across the bed before him and  His eyes ran along her naked form. He remembered once when he was wounded she carried him to safety to be tended, and held him in the night when nightmares plagued his fever dreams, stroking his hair and murmuring comfort into his ear.

She was such a paradox.  A human with higher than average intelligence. An educated barbarian prone to prose.  A warrior who thought first and fought second. Her body hard and corded with muscles honed from fighting, but she still had the soft feminine curves that drew the eye of most every male around her.  She could take lives in the morning, swinging her axe with abandon to fell her foes, and tend to her comrades with the softness of a mother’s touch in the night.

To the hells with it, he thought as he felt himself stirring.  He slid the lock on the door in place before he could change his mind.  Elga looked up as she heard the lock engage, a look of confusion on her face as Berriam began crossing the room towards her, tugging off his tunic and letting it fall behind him.

“Berriam?” she asked as she sat up.  “Why?”

“Why not?” he asked with a shrug pulling out the tie that held his hair back, letting it fall around his face and shoulders. “You said to find you a bed mate or take his place.  I’m taking his place.”

Elga’s face closed and became guarded, but before she could voice a protest Berriam reached out and gently cupped her face in his hand.

“Believe it or not, you are a beautiful woman Elga Serpentbane,” he murmured. “Beautiful, fierce, and wild.  Any man would be honored to lay with you, and a fool to turn such a chance away.  And I am no fool.”

He leaned in to kiss her, using his forward momentum to gently push her back down across the bed until he was stretched out on top of her.

“Besides, you are among my most special and honored guests,” He purred, trailing his lips down her neck, punctuating each word with a kiss, “I would be remiss if I did not dedicate myself to ensuring your full enjoyment of my…hospitality.”

Elga’s deep throaty chuckle swiftly melted into a moan and they did not speak again for a long time.

Part 3: The Morning

Bloody Misfits Farewell Part 1: The Feast


Elga wiped her mouth on the back of her hand and belched, loudly and with great appreciation for the hands that had made the feast she had just devoured.  A few heads turned towards her, but the faces mostly smiled or smirked in her direction for the barbarian woman was well known within the valley and many tolerated her antics with wry amusement.  Much like a parent with a particularly winsome child. Elga gave a mental shrug as she drained another flagon of wine and let her gaze roam over the assembly.  It mattered not what the elves of Beriath’s Valley thought of her.  They were far too proper and while she was careful not to overstep her limits, she enjoyed tweaking their noses with her ‘brash and crude’ mannerisms. Served well to remind them that there was more to life than soft words and softer beds.

“Yes! Yes and then lady Surina, aided by yours truly of course, faced down the dragon…” Elga smiled as Sil’s voice rose and fell among the noise of the revelers.  No doubt she was regaling the elves with a tale of the Misfit’s adventures, and if she knew the little Halfling sorcerer at all it would be a tale that grew taller by the word. Now where…

Ah! There she was, at the far end of the hall surrounded by a group of wide eyed younglings.  The little female’s hands gestured and fluttered excitedly as she continued her tale.  Elga let her gaze continue as she sought out the rest of her companions from the Bloody Misfits.  Oh, there was Bargle and his wife Halia deep in conversation with…more wizards it seemed like.  She smiled and shook her head slightly.  Ah wizards, never passing up an opportunity to study and learn even in the middle of a party.  And it looked like Dietrich was busy trying to charm some local merchants into expanding their trade routes.  Nobleman first, fighter second that one.

Liberating another flagon that passed through her peripheral vision from the hands of a server, she heard the faint strains of a dulcimer and saw Surina attempting to ply her charms upon a noblewoman of the valley.  The bard may have been a drow but that did not stop her from trying to get into a lot of pants. And skirts…and nests…lairs…pretty much everything/one that they had fought or met in their travels.  A chorus of shouts from outside told Elga where the party’s dwarven cleric Humbrol and half drow paladin Torlold had disappeared to.  No doubt attempting to grow their churches through the power of conversion…via a good wrestling match of course.

Elga sat back in her chair, flagon in hand as she surveyed those assembled in Berriam’s hall.  She could not remember the last time she felt so satisfied or at peace.  Her belly was full, she had a steady supply of ale and fine elven wine, her Shadow was a warm presence dozing at her feet, and she was surrounded by her friends who over the past years had become more her family.  All she needed now, she mused as she eyed a passing guard, was a male to warm her bed tonight and everything would be perfect.  The guard noticed her appraisal and boldly returned it.  Winking at him, she turned her attention back to her drink.  There would be time enough later for that.  Elves did not need to sleep like most other races and Elga wanted to hold off choosing her bed mate for as long as she could, not wanting to miss a minute in the company of her comrades.

For despite the joy of the evening there was a bittersweet tinge.  This was their big send off after all, the last hurrah for the Bloody Misfits before they took their shares of the treasures collected on their journeys and settled into quieter lives.  Who knew when or if they would ever met again after this? No, she mused, she had a mate and with a little luck many nights of bed play after this, she would not choose that over these last few precious moments among those who she had risked everything for, and who had risked everything for her in turn.

“Here’s to you Kithri and Milo, where ever you may be,” she muttered as she drank a silent toast to the first Halfling sorcerer to join their group, and the only member of the Misfits lost to death, and the little halfling rogue who was with their party for too short a time.

“What was that my dear woman?” Berriam asked from beside her, not looking up as he methodically cleared the plate that had been set before him.  The Bloody Misfits had been given seats of honor at the head table, but these two were the only ones left as the others had quickly eaten their fill and gone to find other amusements for the night.  The only reasons they remained was as host and lord of the hall, Berriam was only now truly getting to his meal after dispensing with all the formalities such a gathering entailed.  And Elga, after putting away three or four courses of food, was just taking a few moments to wash it all down before joining the others in the throng.

“To Kithri and Milo,” Elga saluted Berriam with the flagon.  Eying the container, Berriam deftly plucked it from her fingers, and ignoring her sputters of mock indignation, poured the remaining wine into their glasses, setting the empty flagon between them before picking up his glass and motioning for Elga to do the same.

“Kithri and Milo,” They drank to the memory of their fallen and absent comrades. “Hey Berriam, you mind bending over for me?” she asked innocently as they set their glasses down and Berriam gestured to another server for more wine.  “I wanna see how big that stick up your arse is.” Berriam rolled his eyes at her.

“Ha ha very funny” he drawled.  “Why are you not down among the rabbl- I mean populous with the rest of our comrades?”

“Why that would deprive you of the pleasure of my company,” she batted her eyelashes mockingly at him.

“I think I would survive,” They grinned at each other as the server set down a platter of flagons filled with various wines and ales in front of Elga.

“Ah ha!  This is more like it!  Elga like!” Laughing heartily, Elga swept up one container and drained it in two swallows before picking up the platter and bowing low to Berriam.

“And such a fine bounty you have provided my lord! Too fine for the likes of a lowly barbarian such as myself.  I must share this with others more worthy!” she mocked, her words starting to slur slightly. “Come along Shadow mine,” Elga bade her tiger to follow. Berriam chuckled to himself as he watched her weave away from the table, her dire tiger companion Shadow aka Fluffy close to her heels and helping to clear a path as people made room for the giant cat and his mistress.  Although an outsider would sometimes be hard pressed to see the camaraderie in the jabs they shared, such teasing was common between the two, for the elf lord and barbarian chieftain were probably the ones who understood each other the most among the rest of the companions.

They were all close and dear friends to each other of course, he mused, but as was the way of things in such bands, some people formed closer bonds than others.  Dietrich shared Berriam’s love of the finer things in life, but held not as much respect towards the wilds.  Sil’s tongue was more silver than the coins in Berriam’s coffers, but her heart always belonged to another which led her to many weeks away from the Misfit’s side.  Humbrol was a fellow cleric although fanatical in his devotion to his god, Torold was far too rigid, and Surina…Berriam hid a grimace behind his glass. Surina was just weird.  Elga understood his connection to the wilds, even asked him to train her as a ranger so she could form a closer bond with her companion and care better for the neighboring lands she called home.  She shared his love of fine food and drink, even as she poked fun of his fine clothes and rich lifestyle.

And, if he was completely honest with himself as he continued to surreptitiously watch her mingle and laugh with strangers and friends alike, she was quite attractive.  For a human of course.

A touch of his sleeve and a murmured ‘My lord?” drew him from his thoughts and back to the present.  There would be time enough later for remembrances and musings.  For now he had a feast to host.

Part 2: The Night

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