Elaine 14: "Necessities"

        There was a palpable tension in the air as Christoph and I rode across the remnants of the battlefield. Ahead, the dark bulk of Sorcha's army served as a formidable backdrop for the rider coming out to meet us. Involuntarily, I glanced back at the expanse of Glorethien's royal colors behind us, a small sea of vivid blue, accented with glinting points of highly burnished silver. Should all go wrong, the numbers, at least, were even.
        Quietly, though, I sent a small prayer to the Bright Lady. While the bodies had since been collected, the aftermath of the recent conflict was still quite apparent. Shattered weapons and tatters of cloth littered the field. The ground, churned to a sticky mud from the battle, had a decidedly rust colored hue. Too, the air here had slight tang of iron, and I swore I could still pick up the faint and somewhat nauseating scent of burnt flesh. We skirted a congregation of large boulders, though close enough that I could see those remnants of the dead that they could not remove from the deeply sunken rocks. I felt faintly ill at the evidence of my handiwork. Blood and death were no strangers to me, but I was oddly relieved by my reaction, that I have not yet become so inured to them as to feel nothing.
       I urged my horse ahead, sighing. Distasteful, yes, and unsettling, but such things as this were, I knew, sometimes necessary. And I would not hesitate to do what was necessary for Glorethien, or for Amber.

       Just ahead, Christoph rode wrapped in his own silence. He seemed none the worse for wear after his ordeal. Indeed, Christoph has proven to have quite the ability to take every adversity that befalls him in calm stride. I cannot help but wonder if that is just his nature, or if it is a cultivated attitude. Despite his inexperience with the minutia of battle, he handled himself well, accepting assistance from his staff rather than blustering through to save face as I have seen some do, to their own, and other's regret.
       Next to Joaquim, I found Christoph to be the most enigmatic of my newfound cousins, an aspect I found both intruiging and irksome. While I was fairly sure of the motives and methodologies of Eve, Harlan, Desire, Keir and even to some extent, Gillian (though she was a surprising complication, as I was to find out later), Joaquim, and to a lesser extent, Christoph, had a bearing of unpredicatability about them, though in entirely different ways.
       But such speculations I put aside as we reached the center of the field, where the lone figure awaited us. Sorcha's second wore a neutral expression, though hs anger and frustration seethed in his eyes. Obviously, Rufus' news that the Church would honor no agreement with mercenaries has been taken as badly as I would expect. I shifted my hand closer to Weirwindl's hilt, ready to draw in the signal I had prearranged with my commanders, should Christoph's tidings that Sorcha wold not go free for any price incite her forces to some action.
        But the second's expression changed little, as if somehow he had been expecting such a response, and he returned to his side of the field as Christoph and I sent for Rufus.

       The three of us stood near the center of the uneasy triangle of sullen mercenaries, confused Churchmen, and restless Glorethiens when horns sounded. A scout ran up, reporting that Sorcha's army was pulling out.
       I left Christoph to finalize what details he had left with Rufus, and returned to my troops, sending out scouts of my own to track the retreating forces. I was not taking any chances that they would double back.
       But the reports than came to me over the next few hours showed no indication of a return engagement, so I eventually left my commanders with orders to hold position, and returned to the remnants of Lira's capital.

        It had been almost two days since the retreat of Sorcha's armies. I was in the midst of one of my 'conversations' with Gillian, which were more amusing displays of our abilities to not say anything of import while attempting to draw tidbits of useful information from each other, when I received a Trump from Joaquim. He was seeking Avery, and Gillian helpfully pointed out that she was up on the battlements.
       We found her with little difficulty, and passed along Joaquim's inquiry. As she pulled her Trumps, I moved away, pausing when I noticed Gillian lagging behind, looking spuriously over her shoulder at Avery's intended contactee. I caught her elbow, and firmly conducted her along the wall, trying not to chuckle at her indignant look. "Most of the family consider that quite impolite," I pointed out to her.
       "She's not trumping Joaquim."
       The suspicious and, admittedly, curious part of my nature took over. "She's not?"
       "Should I tell you anymore, or would that be impolite?" She gave me a small of devious innocence, throwing my previous admonishments back in my face, and in response gave her my best air of conspiratorial superiority.
        "Sometimes politeness must be put aside."
        She looked at me askance for a bare moment, then laughed aloud. "She Trumped to the castle. We can listen in..."
        I shook my head, not wanting the repercussions if such a breach of unspoken etiquette were discovered. "You are very talented in those regards," I inclined my head back in the direction of the now vanished Avery, deciding that now was my best chance to try and discover what Gillian's true interests in the family, and me, were. I was certain she was a cousin, and was hoping she would confirm or deny my growing suspicions as to the details of her relation.
        "My father," she responded after a small pause, "was as well."
       My hand came to rest on Weirwindl's hilt. "You also seem to have a great deal of knowledge about me..."
       She watched the motion. "Not that much-"
       "Gillian, you grilled Jero about me, and showed enough knowledge of me to make him suspicious. Just tell me the truth."
        She looked about to proclaim her ignorance once again, so I decided I may as well confront her with my suspicions, if indirectly. "Unlike many members of this clan, I prefer to judge people on their personal merits, rather than their ancestry. Your father once carried this blade, did he not?" I asked softly, with no hint of anything other than curiosity in my voice. All I know of Brand the Betrayer is what I have been told, and I could not judge this woman on 200 years of conjecture, rumor and legend, no matter how near the truth it might be.
       She did not look trapped, exactly, but she wasn't pleased either. Yet, she replied, "My father once carried it, as did yours."
       I nodded, that small piece now in the puzzle, but that didn't explain everything. "But how do you know so much about me?"
        "If I told you the whole truth, I fear you won't like me very much anymore," She said quietly, looking down at the stones of the battlement.
       "And if you don't tell me the truth, I will be suspicious and distrusting of you, and like you even less," I pointed out.
        She looked away from me. "When I was eight years old my father left to purchase some small pieces of hardware to hang a picture for my mother. When I was nine and it became clear he wasn't coming back...."

       And so I discovered Gillian and I were connected by more than blood, or the by sword our fathers had each carried - a mutual disaffection for my mother.
       As Gillian spun her tale of the time she had spent with Mirelle, I could finally understand that odd kinship I have felt for her since we first met. She too, understands that sickly sweet feeling of being manipulated and used by someone who professes "it's for your own good."