IN WHICH Osmorn’s love is made light of, and camp is broken.
Here’s how you break camp, in Andraste’s camp:
Leave everything but the food and the bedding. “We don’t need tents where we’re going, and we probably won’t ever again,” she said. Thomas and Ivy seemed okay with this. I looked around my tent. I’d only slept in it two nights, and both times a cot had collapsed under me, but on some level…
No, I wouldn’t miss it at all. Fine.
Packing for me was made all the easier by the fact that Thomas had confiscated my backpack and given it to Ivy. Instead of actually packing anything I simply asked annoying questions until Ivy growled and said “very well, I’ll find it.”
“You’ve had it for two days, how lost can it—“ I started, but I had followed her into her tent and no more words were possible. It’s a tent. You shouldn’t be able to make a tent catastrophically messy, should you? But Ivy’s was. Clothing was everywhere. Given that I’d only ever seen her wearing one outfit that seemed wasteful. So was bedding. And various…sharp things, not swords, but all manner of other metal instruments of death.
“Out, halfling,” She said.
“Now that’s just diminutive,” I said, but I left.
I went to help Thomas put things in bags on a cart. Well, I put bags on a cart. Thomas had a very specific system of packing, called “Not what Osmorn tried to do” apparently.
Once again I was stuck between two worlds. I wanted to feel useful, but also I absolutely didn’t want to be useful in this specific cause.
Fortunately I was now going to just feel ridiculous. Laughter burst from Ivy’s tent, a rare enough occurrence, I suspected.
“What the blazes?” Thomas asked. Whatever it was that was amusing Ivy, her amusement wasn’t letting up at all.
Andraste came out of her tent. “Ivy, are you okay?” She asked.
“How weird is it that Ivy being happy is so abnormal,” I said but nobody really seemed able to run with that topic.
Presently Ivy came out of her tent, still hooting with laughter. She was carrying, oh, blast it all.
“That’s my personal property,” I said, running towards Ivy, but she had apparently found the ability to read again.
“How could we have kept our love a secret but a bit longer?” Ivy read, the paused to laugh again.
“Per…per…perhaps,” She started but had to stop for breath. Then continued. “Perhaps I should simply have locked the door to my bedchamber that night.” She read and sat down hard against her tent wall.
I tried to grab the letter from her but Andraste beat me to it. She snatched the letter away from Ivy and, without looking up, held a sword out, stopping me cold in my tracks while she read it.
Ivy was barely recovering. “Oh, Ozzie, your precious little ‘Shady’ is as simple as you are.”
“Nobody calls me Ozzie, but that’s not my point right now. Look, you can mock me all you like—“
“And I will.” Ivy gasped.
“But that’s my personal nickname for her, that’s not..that’s not…” I stammered a little.
“Please, Ozzie, you replaced a voiceless postalveolar affricate with a voiceless postalveolar fricative, it’s not exactly the most creative nickname ever,” Andraste said. For a moment we all looked at her. Even Ivy stopped laughing.
Andraste glanced up at all of us looking at her and said, “What? I studied linguistics, one boring decade, a while back.” Then went back to reading my letter.
Andraste finished the letter. “Well, Ozzie, it looks like ‘Shady’ wants you to move on as badly as the rest of us. And she’s going to be wed to Viscount Melruth, no wonder the Baroness was willing to throw you to the wolves.”
Andraste walked to the campfire and threw my letter into it negligently, still holding her sword point towards me, still not bothering to look as she did so. I held my tongue as the letter flared up, burned down to nothing. It was then, somewhat to my surprise, that I found I could still hear it perfectly in my mind. Not read it; hear it, in Chaedi’s voice.
“Thomas, have the cart ready to roll out in an hour, Ivy, give Osmorn his backpack back, and help him load it up more intelligently. I’m guessing the seneschal forgot a bedroll, pillow, and other things elves don’t think about.”
“How...how did you know that?” I asked.
Andraste smiled. “He did the same thing to me when I left home the first time. The difference is, I don’t need a bedroll or a pillow.” She went back to her tent and Ivy looked at me laughing more. “How old is your Shady? Fifteen? Sixteen?”
“The Lady Chaedi is one hundred and fourteen years old,” I said and Ivy’s eyes crinkled at the corners. “Over a century old and still writes like a lovesick—“
“If you say ‘teenage halfling’ so help me—“
“Ivy, stop teasing my brother and get packed,” Andraste called out.
We walked for hours that night, Thomas leading a mule that hauled our cart. Well, their cart. A cart. I walked alongside Andraste, partially because I felt like my sister was somewhat less likely to kill me than anyone else in this party, partially because I love talking to her, and partially because it clearly annoyed Ivy.
“How long have you been with this group, Andé?” I asked.
She shrugged, exactly like Ivy always did. I realized in a flash that I had that backward. Ivy shrugged like that because Andraste did.
“I don’t know, six years?”
“And now you’re going to disband the group?”
“Of course. They can settle somewhere, stop fighting for a living, have good lives.”
“That doesn’t seem to be what they want. They seem to want to keep going. With you, specifically.”
“Osmorn. Do the names Wesley, Shaun, Kimberly, and Kelly mean anything to you?”
“Ummm they’re all human names?”
“Those are the names of the four soldiers who were alive when I left, who are not alive now. Being a mercenary is a calculated risk: you try to take jobs that are risky enough that regular people won’t do them, but aren’t so risky you die. I screwed up the calculation this last time, and I lost four people.”
“That wasn’t your fault, Andé—“
“Yes, Osmorn, it was. I’m the captain. When someone needs to be responsible for something that happens, it’s me. That’s what being the captain means. I took a job in good faith that turned out to be a trap, and I wasn’t there when the trap was sprung. I could have been more careful about the job before we started. I could have been back when they started the job. I could have done any number of things, but I didn’t.”
Andraste looked forward, her eyes clear, but uncharacteristically hard.
“Kelly had been with me since she was four years old. On and off. I found her lost, her family killed in a battle that I was waging. Our side hadn’t killed her family, but that didn’t matter, they were dead. I found her on the battlefield, trying to hold a short sword, protecting the bodies of her family. I took her to a family I knew who raised her, but the moment she was old enough to draw a bow and weild a blade she came to join me. I was her hero, her ideal of what it means to be powerful. For ten years we have been taking jobs together. I trusted her, she trusted me. And now she’s dead because I made a mistake. Osmorn. I’m tired of losing people. If we can do this one simple job, then I know I won’t lose Ivy, I won’t lose Thomas, and I won’t lose Osmorn.”
“Wait, so, you’re not going to take me with you either?”
She looked at me like I had offered her a week-dead chipmunk on toast.
“Why in the world would I take you with me? Osmorn, you’re mortal. You can die, and die easily. The places I go, the things I do…Osmorn, there are diseases that you can get, they will kill you. I can’t even get them. The first rule of being a mercenary is that you work to the job. You form parties to the job. If you’ve got the same group for too long, that’s just a small army. And I’m tired of being in armies.”
I nodded. This wasn’t what I was used to from Andraste; she was usually so calm, so composed so… ah.
She was usually hiding behind a façade. That was it. Even from me.
I didn’t have anything else to say. So I went back to the cart and dug my lute out. Thomas, who was running his sheath knife up and down a leather strap, looked up and said “oh no, up front or far to the rear, songbird.”
So I walked out ahead of Andraste. Ivy was talking to my sister, but her eyes followed me, narrowing as I approached and softening as I walked past.
I tuned up and started playing. I just needed to clear my head. I started with a pean to one of the patron gods of Rhys, but my heart wasn’t in it. So I just played the scenery.
I tried to remember exactly how old Andraste was. She’s younger than Chaedi, but not my more than a decade or so. She’d been out, wandering, for at least seventy of those years. So. Seventy years, among mortals. In other words, the lifespan of a mortal, from birth to death. If you mostly dealt with mortals who were already adults, say, twenty years old, and you were in a dangerous field, like, say, warfare for hire, you would figure that you would only know any one mortal for ten to twenty years.
And then they would be dead.
And you would be, essentially, the same age.
Seventy divided by fifteen was…math I couldn’t do while walking. But seventy divided by ten was seven sets of mortal friends that Andraste had known for a decade or so, then buried.
No wonder she wanted Thomas and Ivy somewhere safe. She didn’t want to watch them die.
She didn’t…she didn’t want to watch me die.
Dragons of ice and fire. What a thought.
Let me jump forward to right now. Yes, Andraste is still out in the world. Still doing things, still fighting whatever good fight she can find. When she wants to. She’s quite wealthy, when she wants to be, and she is comfortable living in a tent when she wants to do that.
But the thing I learned at that time, clear back with Ivy and Thomas on the road, was that I need to let Andraste hold me at a little distance. Not because she doesn’t care about me, because she can’t care about me the way I can care about her.
She’s a mercenary because she likes being among mortals. She thinks mortal cultures are more vibrant and interesting than the slow moving world of the elf havens. And I think she’s right. But this means that every person she knows will die before she does. If she gets close to anyone, there isn’t a chance that she will be there when that person passes, it’s an absolute certainty.
I think all those deaths add up. Elves are seen as elitist. Some of them are. But for many of them, they’ve simply learned that living among mortals makes you sad, gives you burdens that you have to bear for a very, very long time.
I hate this fact. I hate that knowing me, that loving me as a brother, carries with it the absolute certainty of living without me for innumerable years. The more I press myself into the history of Andraste’s life, the more she will feel the lack when I’m gone.
So I let her life cross paths with mine but infrequently. And there’s a lesson here for all of you as well. Elves are wonderful, but if they stand off a bit, if they push you away or just don’t interact, see the relationship from their perspective.
Well, that was depressing. Back to the story. Where was I again? Ah, yes, Ivy, Thomas, Andraste, and poor little Osmorn on the road. If only we’d known where that road would lead.