With a thunderous crack, the gates of the castle shattered in, chunks of wood spinning through the air. A cheer went up from the soldiers as they beheld their imminent victory.
"Go! Seize the castle!" shouted Lord Hildirsson, his horse rearing as he raised his sword, "Those who throw down their weapons may be given quarter!" A rallying cry went up from the soldiers as they flooded forward. The defenders slowly fell back, trying to maintain some semblance of order as they fell back. A spear pierced the breastplate of one soldier as he was pulled from the ranks. A large figure shoved forward and slammed a mace into the advancing soldiers. Instantly, a shield crumpled in completely as the soldier screamed, his forearm bending sharply in the middle. Blood showered his chest as he stumbled backwards, his comrades grabbing him and pulling him back into the ranks.
"We hold the line!" shouted the large soldier, "They're bringing timbers from the back! We hold the line!" The attackers fell back a couple of steps, forming a semi-circle before the large knight.
"That's Arnor Isisson the Bloody Mace!"
"Shit! The enemy had him in their ranks?!"
"We can't fight that!"
"Hey! Don't fall back! Get up there and fight!" said Lord Hildirsson, "I ordered you to seize the castle!"
"Yeah? Why don't you fight him?" snapped one soldier, "We're just mercs." Lord Hildirson grumbled under his breath as a figure moved forward through the ranks of his soldiers, a beautiful glaive resting on their shoulder. This person was odd. The first thing noticed was their bone white hair. The second was their extremely pale, almost pure white skin. The third were their blazing red eyes.
"Now this looks like some fun," said the figure as they stopped at the edge of the ranks before Arnor Isisson, "This is the person who's stopped the advance cold?"
"What are you talking about?! Yes!!" snapped Lord Hildirsson, "But you need to get out of here, little girl. This isn't a game." Lagetha looked over at Hildirsson, cocking an eyebrow.
"I'm wearing full armor and probably have more battle experience in one week than you've had in your entire life." Lagetha rolled her eyes and slammed the butt of her glaive down on the ground, the clang of metal on stone ringing out. "When I beat this guy, I expect a full apology and thirty gold."
"What?!! How dare you!!" snarled Hildirsson.
"Ten gold and an apology," said Lagetha, "Or you can hang out here and slowly get pushed back when their arcanist recovers their spells." Lagetha glanced around at her fellow mercenaries. "Cause I sincerely doubt you have anyone of Isisson's caliber here besides me." Murmurs of agreement broke out in the gathered soldiers as Hildirsson gritted his teeth, veins bulging.
"Fine! Kill him and I'll pay your coin!"
"There we go," said Lagetha, "That wasn't too hard now, was it?" Looking back to Isisson, he wore full plate, rendering the blade of her glaive useless for the moment.
"A little girl?" said Isisson, "Sending out children to do your dirty work? How low you've stooped, Vredrana!" In a blur of movement, Lagetha flipped around her glaive and swung hard with the shaft, the length of metal blurring towards Isisson. At the last moment, he brought his shield up and deflected the blow, an explosive clang cutting through the air. Switching her grip, Lagetha brought the blade cutting up towards Isisson's armpit. He dodged aside, eyes wide through his visor. Lagetha pursued, rapidly twisting the glaive through a series of strikes and slashes with both ends. Isisson dodged and deflected as best he could, swinging at Lagetha's legs a heartbeat later. She slammed the butt of her glaive down and vaulted away from the blow. Landing in a crouch, Lagetha grinned, letting Isisson recover himself.
"What's wrong, Bloody Mace?" said Lagetha, "Having a hard time keeping up with this little girl?" She dashed forward, thrusting the butt squarely at Isisson's head. He leaned back and Lagetha caught an edge of his helmet, shoving it from his head a moment later.
"No!" Isisson whirled around, reaching for his helmet. Lagetha speared him through the back of the head, holding him up for a couple of heartbeats before letting the body fall in a cavalcade of clanks and clangs. The air was deathly silent as Lagetha twisted her glaive in a fast circle and snapped it to her side. She looked over her shoulder at Hildirsson with a smirk.
"Seize the castle, right?" said Lagetha. Hildirsson's mouth strained for a couple of moments before he nodded.
"Seize the castle!" shouted Hildirsson, "Quarter only to those who throw down their weapons!" Lagetha turned and snapped her glaive into both her hands, advancing forward into the enemy.
Lagetha stepped up, finishing buckling the sheath of the glaive's blade. Hildirsson made a strangled sound as she looked to him, grinning.
"Well now, your grace," said Lagetha, "I believe you owe me something." Hildirsson quickly counted out an extra thirty gold and added it to her salary purse, holding it out. Lagetha accepted it with a bow and bounced it in her hand. Seemed about the right weight. She opened the drawstrings and fingered the coins inside. All silver and gold. Excellent. She looked to Hildirsson and winked, saying, "And don't worry about the apology, your grace. I wouldn't dream of embarrassing you like that." Hildirsson cleared his throat.
"Yes well, I have been thinking about this since your display," said Hildirsson, "And I would like to offer you a full time position within my personal guard. It would pay exceptionally well."
"Your offer is most generous." Lagetha smiled sweetly and stowed her purse, turning to leave.
"Wait! You'll have security and rank!" said Hildirsson, standing up from behind the table and grabbing Lagetha's wrist. Lagetha's free hand blurred as she pulled a dagger and held it to his throat. The guards immediately drew their weapons, leveling them off at Lagetha.
"I don't recall giving you permission to touch me, your grace," said Lagetha, her voice deadly quiet, "Now remove your hand." Hildirsson's eyes were wide with shock as he whipped his hand away as if she were red hot iron. "Thank you, your grace, for your generous offer. But I must decline." She bowed again and turned, walking towards the tent flap.
"Fine!" Go and die on a battlefield you crazy bitch!"
Lagetha slammed the empty tankard down on the table, pumping a fist into the air as her competitor groaned in defeat. She leaned back in her seat, lips curling in a lopsided grin as she bounced her eyebrows at him.
"What's wrong, Horik?" said Lagetha, "I thought you said you were good at drinking."
"Apparently not as good as you," said Horik, leaning back and crossing his arms, "A little thing like you shouldn't be nearly as good." Lagetha laughed. Horik looked her over, saying, "So tell me, what's with the glaive? Isn't it a little big for you?" Lagetha glanced at the polearm where it leaned against the table.
"It's my darling," said Lagetha, "I won my freedom with this. And she's yet to let me down." Horik chuckled, shaking his head.
"You're bolder than most men I know," said Horik, "I can't believe I've never heard of you after watching that fight with Isisson." Lagetha winked at the barmaid as she took Lagetha's empty tankard. She blushed and hurried away. Lagetha looked back to Horik and shrugged.
"You've probably heard of my other moniker," said Lagetha, "I just don't normally lead with it." Then a hand slammed down on the table beside Lagetha. She followed the arm to see a well built man with a thick beard and leather armor. Behind him were two other men, equally as built and both wearing armor.
"Can I help you?" said Lagetha.
"Who do you think you are?" said the hand-slammer, breath stinking of ale, "Stealing our kill like that?"
"Stealing a kill-- oh, you mean Bloody Mace?" said Lagetha, "Cause I don't remember seeing you three fighting him."
"We were about to when you stole it!" snapped the man, shoving Lagetha's chair away from her table, "You with your fancy glaive fighting. And your flashy armor. And your hair." Lagetha's eyebrows arched as the man's words slurred slightly. He leaned in closer to her. "And now you're going to make it up to me and my boys here." Lagetha smirked as she leaned towards him.
"Oh? And what is it you have in mind?" said Lagetha. The drunk flush in his cheeks was even more evident now, as was the scent of ale thick around him and his companions.
"You're going to entertain us until morning," said the man. Lagetha slowly stood, sighing softly. She looked over at Horik with soft smile.
"He's such a charmer," said Lagetha. Turning her attention back to the man, she the soft smile turned into a smirk. "From the way you're slurring, you wouldn't be able to keep it up for five minutes, let alone till morning. Unless you have the stamina of a bucking bull..." She leaned in as the drunk flush became an angered flush, whispering, "Don't waste my time."
"Why you--" The man's snarl was cut short when Lagetha popped him in the nose with a fist. He staggered backwards. Lagetha rested her hands on her hips as the back-up dancers caught the man. He looked at her through watering eyes as Lagetha winked at him. Rage replaced pain as he charged in, swinging a fist. Lagetha ducked under his fist and laid a couple of punches to his kidney. He cried out in pain, stumbling away from her.
One of the back-up dancers swung at Lagetha and she grabbed his arm, sweeping his feet and taking him to the ground. Then a pair of arms wrapped around her and clamped down, the third man grappling her. Other patrons in the tavern quickly scattered as the brawl broke out.
"Hey," said Horik. The man holding her suddenly staggered as Lagetha whirled to see Horik shaking out a fist, blood gushing down the third man's nose. "Three against one? I'm certain she could wipe the floor with all of you but I want in on the fun." Horik grinned at Lagetha as the three grouped back up.
Lagetha's back slammed into the wall as Horik thrust into her, breaths mingling in gasps of pleasure. Lagetha pressed her lips to Horik's, grinning into the kiss. Horik brough her down to the bed where Lagetha turned them over, head hanging back as she crested a wave of pleasure. Panting, Lagetha lay down on the bed as Horik propped himself up to look at her.
"You're amazing," said Horik, "Don't think I've had a day like this in a long time..."
"You've probably never had a night like this--" Lagetha reached between Horik's legs and gently stroked, feeling Horik shiver beneath her touch. "--ever before, old man."
"I might be older, but you seemed to enjoy my experience," said Horik, running a hand up the inside of Lagetha's thighs. She giggled and pulled back, gently pushing Horik's hand away. Horik sighed in slight disappoint as she sat up, looking for her clothes. He lay back, saying, "So you're really leaving?"
"Fighting's done here," said Lagetha, grabbing up her underdress, "Lord Hildirsson's captured Skapta Keep. Nothing left for a merc like me to do here." Lagetha slipped her underdress on and picked up her boots.
"I'm a merc too and I still have plenty to do," said Horik, sitting up, "Are you certain you have to go?" Lagetha glanced over her shoulder at him and smiled sadly.
"Yes, I'm certain." Lagetha grabbed up her armor. "My place is on the battlefield." She finished buckling her armor and looked back to Horik, an eyebrow arching seductively. "But that doesn't mean we won't see each other again." Horik smiled, an ironic curl to his lip.
"Perhaps." Horik reached up and took Lagetha's braid in his hand, slowly running his hand down its length. "Here's to hoping our work doesn't put us on opposite sides." Lagetha leaned forward and kissed Horik again. She turned and grabbed her glaive and pack. The bed creaked loudly as Horik quickly said, "Oh! I almost forgot to ask! What was the other moniker of yours I might have heard of?" Lagetha paused, slowly smiling as she glanced over her shoulder at him.
"The White Wolf."
The sun was high in the sky when Lagetha paused in her walk down the dirt road, hearing the sounds of a nearby camp. She looked over the gently rolling hills around her towards where the sounds seemed to be coming from. From the sound of it, it was a decently large camp.
Part of her knew it was stupid to investigate. The larger part of her didn't care.
Lagetha hunkered down and moved towards the sounds, moving slowly and as stealthily as she could. As she reached the crest of the hill, she lay down in the grass, looking down a surprisingly steep incline to see a cluster of tents and wagons. Armored people bearing weapons milled between them, seemingly taking stock and tending to wounded. Mercenaries? And so close to Skaptanir... She didn't recognize their armor from amongst Hildirsson's soldiers. Which meant... She shouldn't be here.
Lagetha started to move back down the hill when a swordblade rested against her neck, a deep, masculine voice saying, "And who do we have here?" Lagetha stiffened as she slowly looked over her shoulder. A man stood there, dressed in dark armor with black hair that swayed slightly in the breeze. A glint of surprise entered his eyes as he smirked. "Well, well, well. The White Wolf. I wondered when we would meet again." Lagetha's eyes widened.
"You know me by that name?" said Lagetha.
"It wasn't hard to guess who you were after watching your fights at Skapta Keep," said the man, bright blue eyes catching and holding Lagetha's, "Your involvement there cost me victory, I'll have you know."
"Want an apology?" said Lagetha, slowly pushing herself up. The man chuckled, keeping his sword tracking on her neck.
"I would never dream of asking a professional like you to apologize for simply doing her job," said the man, "But that's besides the point. I am Ragnar Morgenstern." Lagetha slowly shifted into a crouching position as recognition dinged in her mind. Ragnar... Morgenstern... She'd heard that name before in the merc taverns. Leader of the Ebony Riders, nicknamed the Black Hawk. They were supposedly undefeated on the battlefield. Well. Almost undefeated.
"The Ebony Riders, huh?" Lagetha smirked. "Then it must really be a rock in your boot that you lost at Skapta Keep." Ragnar chuckled.
"Normally, it would be," said Ragnar, "But the failure at Skapta Keep has born some..." He glanced over Lagetha. "Unexpected fruit." At that moment, Lagetha shot her forearm up, batting away Ragnar's sword with her vambrace. She grabbed her glaive and sprang up, sweeping at Ragnar. He jumped back and used his rapier to guide her thrust past him. He side-stepped and grinned. "How bold! You certainly waste no time!" Lagetha speared towards him again. He parried and slashed at her. At the last moment, Lagetha blocked, letting the heavy blow sliding down the shaft of the glaive with a metallic screech. Despite using only one hand, his blow was surprisingly heavy. And fast. This couldn't go on.
Lagetha dashed forward, slamming into Ragnar with her full weight. His surprised grunt was accompanied by staggering backwards. She raised her glaive to strike when a sudden stiffness overtook her and she froze, straining against nothing.
"My lord!" A number of people suddenly appeared, encircling them. Ragnar straightened up, smoothing back his hair and sheathing his sword. A woman with long, raven black hair and a bandana wrapped around her head and ears approached, hand outstretched towards Lagetha.
"I apologize for my tardiness, my lord," said the woman, "It won't happen again."
"You're- the- arcanist!" said Lagetha, straining against the magic that held her. The woman's eyes narrowed.
"And you're the brute from Skapta Keep." She voice positively dripped with venom.
"She's the one that killed Arnor!"
"I'd recognize that stupid hair anywhere!"
"We should kill her for what she did!"
"And waste talent like hers?" said Ragnar, holding up a hand, "No, such talent can be put to better use."
"No way!" A tall, wiry man stepped forward, his knuckles white as he gripped the hilt of a shortsword. "We should kill her for costing us so much!"
"Killing her will not change what is nor will it bring back Arnor," said Ragnar, turning to face his soldiers, "We all knew Arnor. He died the way he always wanted to. He would never begrudge her this victory or her skill." Ragnar turned to look at Lagetha again. He gently took the woman's hand and lowered it. She glanced between him and Lagetha then sighed in relief. Instantly, Lagetha could move again. She lowered her glaive to her side and quickly glanced around. At least thirty soldiers had her completely surrounded. This was far from ideal. Ragnar stepped forward, his soldiers tensing, and he said, "Lagetha Javya, the While Wolf, I want you to join the Ebony Riders." Lagetha blinked and burst out laughing. She hunched over, tears eeking out from her eyes. She looked up to see that his confident smile was unshaken. She slowly straightened, wiping tears from her eyes.
"Wait, you're serious?" said Lagetha.
"Completely," said Ragnar, "I would never joke about something like this." Lagetha's smile faded.
"Think again," said Lagetha, "I went to Muspelheim and back for my freedom once. I'm not about to give it up to some pompous pretty boy with more good looks than brains." A chuckle jerked the corners of Ragnar's mouth as he drew his sword again.
"Then how about terms I think someone like you will agree to," said Ragnar, "A duel. Should I win, you will join the Ebony Riders. Should you win, you may walk away without retribution from my soldiers. And you need only place one bleeding wound on my body to win."
"You're kidding, right?" said Lagetha, "I'm not about to agree to something so ridi--"
"Unless of course you're not confident in your abilities, Champion of the Frozen Colosseum," interjected Ragner. Lagetha stiffened, staring at him. Then her face twisted with anger as she grasped her glaive in both hands.
"Let's do this, pretty boy," said Lagetha, "I accept your terms." Break his nose. Break his nose and make him regret invoking those words. Ragnar's smile was inscrutible as he held up his sword. His posture was relaxed, one hand holding up his sword. But there was no vulnerability projected in that stance. "Not going to attack first?"
"A good warrior knows when to strike," said Ragnar, "You know that, White Wolf."
"You're right... I do."
In that moment, they both moved. Lagetha brought the glaive's blade cuting up towards Ragnar as he thrust at her. She deflected his thrust with the end of glaive side stepped Ragnar as he blew past her. She whirled around and slashed again. Ragnar parried, slipping past and in close.
Then he knew that was the safest place when fighting her. Which was his mistake.
Lagetha slammed the middle of the glaive towards Ragnar's face and he dodged backwards, quickly backing up. Lagetha moved to strike and jerked as she suddenly found the blade of her glaive half buried in the ground, held in place by his boot. And the tip of his sword rested at her throat. Again.
"My win, yes?" Ragnar lightly rested the razor sharp blade against her cheek. Lagetha smiled, jaw tightening.
"You sure like to talk... don't you!" Lagetha leveraged her glaive up and sent Ragnar stumbling as she leaped forward, grabbing onto Ragnar. She threw him to the ground as he counter grabbed and pulled her with. They tumbled over and over, scrabbling for dominance in the grass. Lagetha pinned him, slamming a fist across his jaw. Ragnar lay there, stunned for a heartbeat, as Lagetha said, "Not used to getting punched, huh? What with that pretty face--" Ragnar flashed forward and twisted her up in a grapple. Within moments, he had her neck and head locked in a triangle with his legs, arm stretched out in a position just before extreme pain.
"Will you yield?" said Ragnar, "Or will I have to dislocate your shoulder?" From the pressure on her joint, he could do it. And easily at that. She pulled at one of his legs only for his grip to tighten. She looked up at him, baring her teeth in a feral grin.
"Fuck you," hissed Lagetha. Ragnar's eyes flashed and he jerked her arm. Lagetha sucked in a harsh breath as pain exploded through her torso. Ragnar released her and rolled up into a standing position, dusting himself off. Lagetha pulled herself to her knees, staring at her arm. That bastard. He didn't even think twice about dislocating it. Jeering laughter cut through the haze of pain as Lagetha looked up a the watching soldiers.
"Yeah, that's right! That's what you get, you crazy bitch!"
"Yeah! You never should have challenged Lord Morgenstern!"
"He's the best fighter out there!"
"Fuck yeah! Bitch never stood a chance!"
Lagetha narrowed her eyes and levied herself to her feet, grabbin gher glaive as she did. She pointed it at the last speaker, eyes narrowed, saying, "Come over here and say that. Even one handed, I could beat the likes of you without a second thought."
"What was that?!" snarled the soldier as she reached for her sword.
"Enough!" Ragnar's voice was sharp as he stepped between Lagetha and the soldier, pushing the glaive down with a hand. He turned to face Lagetha, reaching out to cup the back of her head. He brought their foreheads together, blue eyes staring into her crimson. They were blazing as he said, "You are mine."