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 [ 18+ ] who hath desired the sea — her menaces swift as her mercies, for bird
Lar
 Posted: Aug 24 2015, 02:10 PM
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Nestled in a cleft in the great white cliffs, the Cyprian capitol peers over the sea. She shines in the sunlight, all marble and gold—and this week, draped in the bright colors of the islands to welcome newcomers.

In the sprawl of grass behind the palace, tents have sprung up like flowers, flapping brightly in the breeze. There are representatives from every organization: the warrior-merchants of Ilamabad in their bedouin garb; the Cyprian Genteels in azure-crested helmets; the cold-eyed brigands from the lands north of Cypria, now in an uneasy truce with the islanders; the silent, dark-skinned Watusi orders from the south. The Cyprian navy is, as always, conspicuously absent from the tournament—busy, as ever, with patrolling the seas. Even so, their greatest galley has found its way to harbor at the base of the cliffs, the white of its sails rising like clouds.

Mariam is alight—with nerves, with excitement, with the joy of being dressed in the loose white garment of a graduate—ripe as a fig to be plucked away into a life on the waters. The galley seems to call for her as it lilts in the water, and her bright hazel eyes wander from the combat in front of her. Two men clad in their steel plate clash and flail, altogether graceless in their approach—and the ship sits below, a distant dream until she can sneak away. Mariam; from mare, sea.

"Watch," a gruff voice says behind her, and she scarcely adjusts her stance before a foot comes to sweep her leg out from beneath her. This time she catches herself and turns, polished glaive before her to block, and the headmaster smiles his rough-toothed smile at her.

"Good," he says, high praise from a laconic man. "You're next."

There is the familiar flood of nerves as Mariam turns back to the paddock-turned-practice-ring. Her opponent readies himself on the other side, in his own white draping—Samuel, she realizes, the top of her class and a sweet boy who has long smiled after her lush lips and soft brown curls. There have been whispers that he intends her as a wife.

She grips her glaive in calloused hands and steps into the arena.

His weapon is an axe—lacking range and grace, but weighty and lethal. Hers is the glaive, lacquered so deep that the wood is like glass in her sweaty grip. She knows it and it knows her, and the pair move as one at the starting call:

"By the gods, have mercy!"

Mariam is agile, cautious, reluctant to wield her blade. She takes up a defensive stance in the middle and holds as the axe lands a few hard blows to the pole, chipping away at the lacquer. There is a measured grace in her movement, like a cat waiting to strike; when Samuel breaks from his barrage for a moment, she takes her moment.

The glaive swings twice: once as the dull end sweeps the man's legs out from under him, and a second time as the blade comes down to rest a hair's breadth from his throat.

"Good fight, Sir Samuel," she says to him, cloaking her pride. "I will not marry you."

And she spits on the ground beside him, and turns on her heel, chin high, and turns pink as her schoolmates hoot and cheer around the ring. Someone claps her on the back and someone else passes her a sip of ale, and behind her a third someone crows,

"Challengers for the lady?"
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bird
 Posted: Aug 25 2015, 01:15 PM
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There are dancers whirling to island music in the courtyard and jousts planned for later in the eve, as there are every year, but the real fun has always been in watching the Provings. A little apart from the white-cosseted initiates, a few highborn youths tuck their helms under their arms and lean against the paddock fence, resplendent in their bright silks and shining scale. The margrave's daughter stands tall and frowning among them, with the summer sun glinting off the golden cetus snarling at each pauldron and the wind picking strands out of her sleek dark plait. Golden serpents and cresting waves snarl across the steel plate buckled across her arms and thighs, her steps ringing silver with Cyprian scale, though the white Cormeilles lion runs rampant across the blue silk of her tabard.

"I'd put my money on the glaive," Tomas says, yawning beside her, his lips and teeth dark with wine. In full armour at the ceremonies that morning, they might have been separated only by the surface of a mirror, riding in on dark bay steeds to renew promises of fealty to the young Prince and his promised bride, just as the islands now pledge their knights to the margrave's armies. Now, they share only the margrave's darkness and the gray, long-lashed eyes of his Rossani wife. "Look at him with that thing!" He nods to the double-headed axe gleaming wickedly against the paddock fence. "I'll never know why you like it so much."

"I thought that only bad swordsmen blamed their swords," Alis says. The first dull thnnk of metal on wood carries across the green. "Or is it just the slow ones?" At her elbow, a viscount's son dressed in Basadona gold scoffs: "Big talk from the kitten of Cormeilles!"

A little jeering laughter comes up from their companions. Alis goes stiff. She turns her head, a familiar heat burning in her cheeks and coiling in her belly, even though she isn't a child, even though she knows -- surely she knows better. After all, they have so many worse names for her. But he knows them, he must know them, smiling like that, and she wonders what kind of coward this Basadoni really is - the kind to say them to her face only without Tomas beside her, or the kind to wait for her to leave and say them only to her brother? She opens her mouth, and Tomas splays a hand over her shoulder, metal on metal. Don't start.

"Easy now, Felipe," he says, lightly. "No need for that. Let's leave the politics to our fathers, hmm?"

"Your father," the Basadoni says, "has a lot of nerve." He looks Alis in the eyes, saying it. Out in the paddock, the first blow takes out the young man's knees, quick and easy and graceful. The second nearly takes off his head.

Just as quickly, a whoop goes up among the graduates, a few spilling out happily onto the grass. Those who have fought toast with ale and wine bought from the palace merchants, and the lords presiding make their careful notes at the opposite edge of the field. Then the call comes for a challenger, and Alis should know better than this, too. But she has a little ale in her and is getting sick of the company her brother keeps, so she whirls about and cries, "Here!" instead through her cupped hands. "Bet on something else this time," she tells Tomas, pushing her helm into his arms. Then she grabs her axe, and vaults over the fence before she can see his look of horror.

The same voice calls, "Who challenges?"

"Adelais Cormeilles of the Eastmarch." As if they don't know, with how quiet some of them get, or how quickly they part around her as she makes her way across the green. She stops not even a yard from where Samuel fell, with a clever sort of tilt to her hip and the haft of her axe resting against one hand, the fingers of the other ready at the buckle of one gauntlet. Offering, because she is not unfair, looking the islander girl in the eyes -- "Without armour, if you'd prefer."

The tilt of her chin says: not like I'd need it.

--------------------
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Lar
 Posted: Aug 25 2015, 08:48 PM
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The cry of a challenge rises, and Mariam feels a little thrill shiver down her neck: this is her first true proving. The other graduates are known dangers, calculated risks. The woman vaulting over the fence is anything but.

Returning to her place at the center of the paddock, she meets her opponent's cold steel gaze—and smiles.

"Mariam of Thermyras."

Her voice carries the salt-soaked lilt of the southern isles, the isolated stretch of archipelago that plunges onward into the ocean. Water-hearted, her people are called, the unfathomables; never conquered but instead gained and lost as the tide takes the shore.

Mariam circles the other woman as she strips to her tabard, warm eyes crawling over her shape. The challenger is half a head taller, more muscular, brave and foolhardy—Mariam recognizes the stubborn set of her chin and files it away. Adelais won't be so easily exhausted as Samuel was. This time Mariam settles more deeply into her stance, braced yet fluid, waiting for the first blow.

The music drifting from the courtyard shifts to a torrid tune, whirling wildly with fifes and island drums.

The dance begins.
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bird
 Posted: Aug 26 2015, 09:39 AM
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"Well met," Alis says, taking her in with a single look. The gauntlet from her left hand is the first to hit the well-trodden grass, then the right, then the thighs and segmented knee plates and the golden Cyprian shoulders. She isn't shy or slow about it, and not a few of the young men gathered at the grass' edge immediately begin to pay attention, Felipe Cigogni of Basadona among them. Mumbling, a few of them ask, wait, is that...?

The shimmering scale hauberk comes last, yanked over her head and tossed aside as if it isn't twenty pounds of the lightest, strongest steel to come out of the capitol's smithy, until she stands in tabard and riding breeches, unarmoured but for a hammered bronze clasp holding fast her braid. At the paddock fence, Tomas rakes his hands through his war-shorn hair and groans, "Saints alive, Alis." But his sister just smiles and takes a dancer's step about the edge of an invisible circle, her broad shoulders bared to the hot summer sun.

She is still smiling when she lifts her axe. It has two heads to Samuel's one, each edge sharp enough to sing against the air when she tests its weight with a few easy swings. The Marches were won by the blades of axes like these -- won, then lost, then won again -- though Alis' was forged here in the capitol, and wears the emblems of her shores engraved across its cheek. A silver lion at the base of the leather-wrapped grip is a sole concession. He opens his jaws, his snarl softened with wear.

Someone cries, "By the gods--!"

But Alis doesn't have much by way of mercy. She leaps as soon as the call lets her, launching into a wild, whirling first pass that takes her across the grass in a flash of steel and blue silk and bared white teeth. She would be quicker than Samuel even in her plate and scale, and without it she feels like she's flying. The lion cub of the Marches swings twice - first feinting a little high, then whipping about to slice at Mariam's ankles -- each blow daring her opponent out of her stance. Each saying, go on. Dance just a little closer. The blade is a quick and vicious whisper above the grass.

"Are you going to fight, or stand around all day?"

Then she switches her grip, and comes about to close the distance.
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Lar
 Posted: Aug 26 2015, 10:18 AM
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Alis swings and Mariam dodges a few well-aimed blows—some closer than she'd care to admit, as she feels the wind of the axe ghost past her.

A spark of admiration alights in her heart, to be quenched by the cold waters of battle.

Mariam switches her grip in turn, from the defensive to the offensive—her great curved blade bites at the air, moving in gentle feints that have no intention of hitting. Here are the southern isles in her, the still waters of the ocean; the patience of a fisherman luring his prey.

"I'm sorry," she lilts, "I thought you were still putting a show on for the boys."

They are gathered more densely at the fence now, and one of them whistles loud and sets off a chorus of laughter in the crowd. Mariam glances and is nearly caught by a wild-armed swing of the axe. She raises her glaive to catch the blade, biceps tensing under the weight of the blow.

The hunger of ambition glows in her eyes as she swings free and backs away, eager to take the advantage of range. The glaive itself is taller than Mariam, simple and graceful. Utilitarian. Vicious.

Metal sings against metal, and the fight begins in earnest.

Mariam feints, eyes on the left as her blade swings for the right and vise versa, and once or twice the tip of her blade nips at the silk of Alis' tabard. On the offensive, Mariam is a force of nature, dipping in and out like waves on the shore; stepping with the grace of a dancer; striking like lightning.

She catches the axe-blade in the hook of the glaive-guisarme and holds, waiting for Alis to fall away, vulnerable—and swings the blunt end of her weapon forward to bruise an exposed shoulder before falling back to the defensive.

"You still have time to walk away," Mariam remarks, breathless and smiling.
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bird
 Posted: Aug 26 2015, 02:55 PM
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The axe is a considerably weaker weapon on the defensive, even in Alis's hands, and when the glaive tears silk and not flesh she is half-quick and half-lucky. The last vicious swing doubles her almost backwards at the waist, with her braid whipping in a circle about her. The glaive whistles just an inch above the tip of her nose.

But she rights herself deftly, and comes barreling back 'round again, leaping into an overhand swing that would easily split skull or staff with ease. She isn't smiling when it hits metal instead. For a brief and precious moment, when she yanks Alis close, Mariam gets to see what pure fucking shock looks like on the margrave's daughter's face. Who here wouldn't fight for a prize like that?

The blow that follows is both insult and injury. Without scale to protect it, her shoulder smarts something awful - but the retreating steps afterwards smart considerably worse. Still, Alis doesn't lick her wounds for long, and she comes about with a defiant laugh, circling. "Walk away?" she roars, "Is that what they teach you on the islands?" In a courtyard in distant Agramont, the master-at-arms cautions: temper, child, but Alis is too proud to hear it, not now, not ever, not over the crowd baying for her blood and her own hammering heart. "Keep your counsel, fishwife," she says. "I don't want it." She spits into the grass.

She is no less vicious on the offensive this second time around, though perhaps a little more measured. Mariam keeps her at glaive's length, comfortable in her distance, and Alis is generous enough to let her keep that comfort for a time. She whirls about, unstymied, bold and brash as ever, and starts them back again towards the paddock fence, with swings each as swift and heavy as the first. This time, though, when the glaive swings up to meet her, she is waiting. She slides her right hand down the axe's haft and throws all of her weight and momentum behind it.

The impact is bruising. It sings through her arms and into her shoulders, toppling them into the grass and pinning their weapons between them. The lion-headed pommel knocks the air out of her lungs on the way down, but Alis holds on with every sinew. She lands on top, with their faces close. Her knees dig into the soft red earth.

"You get one chance," she says, and barely manages to growl it instead of coughing. "Yield." Blood from a scrape at her hairline oozes down and slicks her cheek.
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Lar
 Posted: Aug 26 2015, 04:05 PM
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Mariam makes a half-hearted effort to throw the Margrave's daughter off of her, but axe and pole and arms and legs are so entangled that it's a waste of energy. Instead she throws her head back on the dirt and laughs like bells, releasing her glaive with one hand and clutching the haft of the axe.

Then she stares up into Alis' stormy eyes, lips parted and lush as she struggles for air against the other woman's weight.

"Never," she whispers, too quietly to be heard by the crowd. "Stand so I can gut you like a fish." A bruise is beginning to bloom high on her cheekbone where the edge of the axe caught her, but she is still in shape to fight. Too stubborn not to.

She slithers out from under Alis. Elbows and knees are rough in the process—one catches Alis' chin and knocks her teeth together; another slams hard into her opponent's crotch. Mariam is smart enough to roll out of the way and to her feet, her white graduate's tunic baptized with red dirt.

Sore though she is, Miriam lifts the weight of her glaive again and turns to face Alis, to whoops from the cluster of graduates at the gates.

"I am no one's fishwife," she says pointedly, and lunges, her blade a flash of silver in the summer sun. Each swing and twist of the blade forces Alis back until the pair of them are pressed into the corner of the paddock, where others all but scramble on top of each other to watch the spar.

Mariam's skin glows with sweat and her smile is well gone, replaced by a grim specter of determination. She will not lose at her proving. Once more she wields the blunt edge of her weapon, this time to sweep out one of Alis' legs.
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bird
 Posted: Aug 26 2015, 09:48 PM
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This is where the fight ends, usually. No master-at-arms or sparring partner or ornery nobleman's son has ever been so good or so foolish not to yield, not here, not in close quarters, where a way out would be an elbow or fist to Alis's face, or some scarring blow that might spill too much of her Marcher's blood for the margrave's comfort. No one laughs at her quite so brazenly, either – at least, not with her axe pressed against their chest. This is uncharted territory, distant as the southern shores Mariam has sailed from. There's a wide-eyed, slow moment where she can marvel at it.

Uncharted territory also gets her an elbow in the teeth and a knee to the crotch: here be dragons. Alis is slower to get up this time, kneeling in the muddy grass, looking up at Mariam with her lip split and her face blooded. Something between rage and disbelief and admiration and glee, all at once, ghosts through her just as the glaive comes down, though it isn't quite enough for her not to bring her axe up to meet it.

She leaps to her feet then, only to be driven back and back and back again into the fences, parrying with the haft, with the cheek, with the blade again. Then, backed into a corner too tight to swing the axe, Alis drops low and wraps her arms around Mariam's knees and drives forward, knocking them both back down together. There, she rears up snarling, with her axe in her left hand and her right hand coming down in a sharp-knuckled fist. She doesn't hear how quiet the crowd suddenly gets, or Tomas' frantic voice somewhere in the crush of white robes at the fence post. The yank at the back of her tabard pulls her to her feet with an indignant yelp.

The margrave is a tall and broad-shouldered man, not softened by middle age in the way big men often are. The sword he wears at his hip is plainer than the southern style, and he wears no armour, but a quiet authority radiates off him and silences the heckling youths standing by the practice green. Alis is quiet too, when she sees him, and wide-eyed, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand and smoothing down her hair without knowing she's doing it. Tomas mouths something silently at her – he must have been calling her name for at least a minute once he saw the lone figure striding across the grass.

“I'm sorry for my daughter,” the margrave says, offering Mariam a hand up from the mud. His voice is deep, with an accent that sounds more northern than both his allegiances and his daughter. Then, looking to Alis, he adds, “If I may.”

They walk a few yards together out into the paddock, far enough that the graduates would have to strain to hear them. The margrave doesn't have to say much, doing this in front of everyone out on the green. He checks the shallow wound at his daughter's head and sends her to gather up her scale hauberk. It's enough to stoop her shoulders and keep her eyes rooted to the grass.

He must tell her to apologize, too, because she comes back in shining metal again, solemn and supplicant. "Well met, Mariam of Thermyras," Alis says, bowing deeply at the waist. “I'm ashamed to have acted so poorly. I hope that you find it in your heart to forgive me.” The margrave, watching, makes a a sound in his throat like good enough and takes her by the arm into the milling crowd. Before she goes, though, Alis looks over her shoulder, and smiles at Mariam, bloody-mouthed.

Her voice is a whisper.

"Fishwife."

*


There must be hundreds of shields hanging from the great hall's vaulted white walls. Alis studies them now, by the light of a thousand blown-glass lanterns, meek - for once - behind her wine. She knows most of the blazons by heart from her father's books and maps, as a child , though there are many new ones now, and others still that she's just as likely forgotten. On the eastern wall the wolves and rams and hares of the old March lords rest, old familiar friends, now united under the lion that snarls among the Watusi dragons and the coiled sea-snakes of Ortissa. At the west, Veron casts a golden net over the salamander of Rossane and the sanguine crabs of coastal Basadona, while the melusine of Chavanton looks on sweetly from beneath the Dromen oaks. Between them run common threads, the ties that bind, blue for the sea and for fealty, gold and silver for the sun and sand and the many riches of the waters. At the southern wall, over the great dais, two eagles spread their great silver wings and clutch the crown and scepter in their claws.

There are speeches, of course. There are always speeches. While she cranes her head to look at the shields hanging further down the wall, the young crown prince toasts his lovely betrothed, and the southern isles, and all the youths who have attained this highest honour. This accomplished, the margrave lifts his glass and thanks them for their trials, and for their service, and then delivers a solemn promise to remember those brave souls lost to defend this age of peace.

"Gods, that's bad," Alis mutters. Her hair is loose around her shoulders now, with a few plaits pinned in a crown that almost hides the scrape on her forehead. "Did you do this?" Across from her, at the western table set aside for the lords of the prince's war council and their scions, Tomas parrots his father's speech word for word. "Same one every year," he says, shaking his head. He tears off a morsel of soft bread and pops it into his mouth. "I told him to go with my version, but he wouldn't listen." Beside him, tall and solemn Armel, now a grown man with a Vitturi viper for a wife and the scars of war etched across his knuckles, hushes them: "This isn't about you."

Truly, it's all very momentuous. The first graduate rises when called, and kneels at the azure pooling at the edge of the dais. The crown prince even has a warm smile and a kind word for each white-robed young man and woman that takes the shield and recites their vows. Alis knows these ones too: fealty above all, and honour and strength and glory. Then the gods will give courage, or the saints will watch over, or some other appropriate variation. Too bad he doesn't hold a sword particularly well.

Probably best not to stay too long here. Alis gets up as soon as she is able to, and takes her wine glass with her.
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 Posted: Aug 26 2015, 10:42 PM
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Alis' fist leaves its mark on Mariam's jaw; so too does the appearance of the margrave leave its mark when he reaches down to help her up. There are enough unkind quartermasters around the palace. She has learned to take any help that comes her way.

Scrambling to her feet, Mariam remembers herself and hurriedly wipes dirt and blood and saliva from her face. There is a certain decorum expected from the graduates, And from Alis, it seems—the man, presumably her father, says no more than a few words before the challenger returns, cowed.

"Well met, Adelais Cormeilles," she replies, with an unsteady bow of her own. Somewhere in her recently jostled mind the surname rings a bell; later, she will remember it from a combat tactics class she all but slept through.

"Consider yourself forgiven."

But Alis must have the last blow— so 'Fishwife' burns and fizzles like peroxide on a wound, like bubbles in champagne. Freezing heat floods Mariam's chest, and when the world slips back into focus she is red-faced.

Samuel frowns at her and wordlessly collects her glaive.

*


Some hours and a gentle bath later, Mariam is acutely aware of each muscle in her body; the red dirt under her fingernails; the whispers around the great hall about her spar gone awry. The bruise on her cheekbone has deepened to a plum thumbprint, and her jaw has begun to turn its own colors, and none of it can be hidden before the ceremony.

She hunkers down on one of the great wooden benches, alone, and prays that none of the schoolmasters notice. Until dawn tomorrow she is still in their care, and more than a few knights have had their shields taken the selfsame night they were won. Mariam dares not count herself among their number.

Samuel has loomed over her imposingly all evening, as if protecting her—caging her, more likely. The furrow hasn't left his brow, and pangs of guilt wiggle like fish in her stomach. When at last she is called up for her own shield, the prince is gracious enough not to count her bruises, and Mariam is gracious enough to look at the floor, contrite.

Argent, chief indented Or with a dolphin haurient Azure is hers now, but the gravitas of her shield seems to pass like mist.

Mariam retires to a quiet corner to soothe her throbbing headache, still dressed in her peal-edged white finery and with her shield tucked in the crook of her arm. Nothing seems to move her, not even the revelry of her fellow graduates—until she catches sight of a scowling mouth that was not long ago spitting blood.

"Lady Adelais," she says, in recognition as much as greeting. Although there is a light to her eyes that may not have been there a moment before, Mariam is still a pale version of herself, wan and aching.

"Well fought." Her tone is rueful, wistful—oh, to see how the fight would have ended.
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 Posted: Aug 27 2015, 11:31 AM
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The Proving fight hasn't had quite the impact that the margrave feared. Alis catches a few breathless whispers of it as she passes through the hall, each recollection more fanciful than the next one. By the blade of a sword-fish argent, crowned, the glaive beats back the lion and righteously breaks her nose; under smooth and curlicued column, there is the outrage of a southern girl losing her status for the just comeuppance of a northerner's dirty tricks. She refills her glass at a table by the far end of the hall, where a young man swears to every saint in the sea that the margrave's girl had stripped off her tabard, too, and also -- He doesn't get to that part, not without ducking his head down into his collar and shrinking behind the roaring laughter of his friends. Alis, holding the decanter, muses over which would be better: emptying it over that crisp white robe, or breaking it over his head? But he escapes unscathed when the fishwife girl shows up.

Alis stares at her, setting down the decanter, looking at her bruises with a only a little bitter satisfaction. To Tomas, to her father, to gentle, patient Beate untangling the snarls in her hair, to anyone who would listen, Alis had spent the afternoon snarling but I was winning!, despite her own bruises spackling her arms and chest and ribs and legs. It should have been an easier fight, and it should've ended properly, with her boot pressed to Mariam's ribs and her axe at the hollow of her throat. Instead, the fishwife gets the benefit of the doubt, and she gets her arms: the dolphin azure leaping through a field of silver and gold, snout raised to the heavens. It doesn't ring any bell in Alis' mind, but then what would she know about Southerners and their weird obsession with fish?

"You too," she says, and tries to manage an indifferent shrug no matter how much it makes her wince. "Better than that friend of yours." Praise doesn't come out of her easily, but the margrave's long shadow looms here too, for all the lovely shining of the lanterns. Alis might be lovely too, in that soft golden light, or at least at a distance where her split lip and bruised chin aren't visible. Her silk gown, in vivid Marcher red, is a little too heavy and severe for her tastes, but it covers up the lion's share of her bruises and suits her well enough.

After a sip of wine, she casts a long look at Mariam in her crisp white robes and shakes her head, slowly. "Alis," she says. Up close, it becomes apparent that she's missed a little dried blood caked into her hair.
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 Posted: Aug 27 2015, 12:18 PM
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"Alis, then."

The other woman is dressed well—beautifully, even, in vibrant red—and cleaned up, braided and primped as befits the margrave's daughter. Even so, Mariam hopes her shoulder still smarts beneath the silk—hopes she's learned a little respect. The air grows heavy between them and Mariam works to keep her eyes from darting over to Alis constantly, works to keep her tongue still.

Call me fishwife one more time, she thinks. See what happens.

"Samuel isn't so bad," she remarks instead, though her eyes track his stormy progress across the room towards her. "Just—proud." Doubt flickers like lanternlight in her eyes, but she shrugs it away. "He's been in a mood. Mad at me, I think. I—" Mariam cuts herself off and smile ruefully at Alis.

"Sorry, I'm sure you have somewhere else to be." There are few enough women around to confide in here, and though the maids listen they only nod and answer back in their chittering northern tongues. The ladies—Alis included—have no time to advise.

Mariam learned to swim in the depths, out past the crashing surf. Why should this be different?

Samuel himself is a few strides away by now, staring hatefully at the pair of them, brow furrowed and stubbled mouth drawn into a sharp frown.

"Get lost, Eastmarch," he says pointedly, "The real knights know who would've won that fight." Samuel wraps an arm around Mariam, who shrugs him free and steps aside, wishing she had her glaive.

"Sam—" she begins, but it's apparent he has already been in the wine and is growing red-cheeked with drink. He blusters at Alis—at both of them:

"There's a reason we used to keep you whores out of our ranks."
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bird
 Posted: Aug 27 2015, 01:58 PM
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"Does he always fight that badly, then?" she says, following Mariam's eyes across the crowd. "Or just when he's in a mood?"

He comes up to them then, drunk and spoiling for a fight, and Alis takes a good long look at him too, at the abhorrent both of them. Mariam the fishwife is even less interesting of a challenge than she'd thought, if this is the sort of company that she keeps. Still, with two glasses of wine in her and all this finery and ceremony about, Alis can tell herself that this isn't so bad, that she can force herself to play the gracious host for Samuel -- no, Sam, Sam of some stupid rock, Sam who even sober, probably thinks as slow as he fights.

"'Get lost'?" she asks, cool and frosty as you please. Suits Alis fine. She was already leaving. She should already be leaving, when Sam says something else and turns the wine to acid in her mouth.

It isn't anything new, not really, but the moment stretches and there is nothing, nothing but the buzz of conversation and laughter in the hall, nothing but a yawning, roaring chasm where a reaction should be, where she should smile and excuse herself and walk in the other direction. But the lords of the war council are just small figures on the dais when Alis sets her glass down and takes a step forward, and then another, a monsoon thunderhead gathering over the roiling sea. Samuel might be a little taller than her, and big, and from some godsforsaken shit-stained rock that is, for some truly incredible reason, not to be provoked, but there is no stopping her now and no changing her mind. She knots her fists into his uniform and shoves him into the curlicued marble wall, a wild and horrifying grin stretching from ear to ear.

"Say that again." She's on him now, spitting with gleeful rage, mashing her forearm into stubbled throat. "Say that again, you mewling little prick."

Then she slings a fist down, hard and low. Not to belabour the point.
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Lar
 Posted: Aug 27 2015, 02:30 PM
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Samuel does fight that badly, and it's proven all over again when he's caught off guard—always caught off guard, this one—by the concentrated might of Alis' fury. He flails with no aim in mind, no particular goal, demonstrating all the greatness of a schoolboy in a spat.

Alis handles him easily, before Mariam can right the world beneath her feet, landing a punch that crumples him forward and brings him to his knees. Somehow through the pain he slurs out more of his tirade:

"...sleeping your way to the top, bet you're screwing around with you brother just to get your shield you dumb bitch..." And on and on.

Mariam seizes Alis' wrist and yanks her back before more damage is done, and her eyes dart to the margrave who is already rising from his chair.

"He's not worth it" she hisses, wedging herself between the pair of them. If she treads on Samuel's hand in the process, it at least looks like an accident. "If you touch him again I swear to all the Gods you northerners worship that I will kill you myself." Mariam has the intensity of battle back, her flaming brown eyes meeting the icy grey of Alis' and sizzling there like hot steel in water.

"The man is drunk, you stupid hothead."
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 Posted: Aug 27 2015, 03:59 PM
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Samuel is just an excuse, really. He is as common in the ranks as pebbles on the shore, though a pebble would usually have the sense to sink when confronted by the ocean. He is so common that Alis might have even let this go if she had spent the week in some other, less salt-stained city, without bruises on her shoulder and islanders spitting at her face. After all, every seaside village has their idiot. Too bad some of them saw fit to send them north.

Too bad for Samuel.

"My brother?" she laughs, scrabbling to get another fist or a knee in, even as Mariam yanks her away. "Really, Sam? And who did you have to fuck before they gave you yours?"

The look on her face says, of course he's worth it. It's the happiest Alis has been since she stepped into the ring.

She disentangles her wrist, roughly, standing toe to booted toe as if she wouldn't mind if Mariam tried to follow through on that threat, right here, right now. But some of the graduates hoot and rise to their feet, and the margrave slides his carved wooden chair away from the war council to see what the hell all the fuss is about. She wants to stay and see if Samuel will prove her wrong and get the fuck up so that she can hit him in earnest. Too bad. Time to go.

"Fine," Alis says. The man is drunk. The man is also an idiot. These things are not mutually exclusive, but she doesn't have time to point this out. Instead, she smiles gamely, clapping Mariam on the shoulder. "He's all yours."

Turning on her heel, she sweeps across the mosaic floor towards the servants' entrance. Over her shoulder, she has the gall to tell them, "Enjoy the party!"
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 Posted: Aug 27 2015, 10:32 PM
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There is no stopping a storm in the sea, only bracing as the waves crash—and Mariam stands like a bulwark, like the rocky islands holding against the inexorable wash of salt and spray. Samuel is a drunk and an idiot, but still a friend, and Alis—

Alis has left her mark.

Still, Mariam feels sick at being the one to drag him back to his darkened room as he makes sloppy passes at her; being the one to have fled the margrave's attention; being a knight in the midst of all this. When she falls into bed, the softness soothes her physical aches—and chafes at the emotional ones.

*


Dawn breaks over the ocean.

In the pearly pre-sun light, a restless Mariam haunts the practice yard, her glaive swooping like a gull in the salt air. She strikes with precision in the same meditative pattern, and wills the cobwebs from her head.

Far below, the navy ship raises anchor.

*


By midday, the tournament is again in full force, alive with the blast of bugles over the jousting ring. For this last day, vendors have gone all out: the smell of fresh pasties and fish stew hang thick in the air; the plate and scale hanging for sale is the best in the isles; the dancing girls prettier and flirtier than any before them. Newly-sworn knights with their coin heavy in their pockets find space enough to spend it all as the tournament pours out through the royal city, infecting taverns and inns with its unabashed glee.

Mariam is alone today, red-eyed and grim. Her calloused hands find their grip on a glaive in one of the bright canvas tents, but it quickly returns to its rack beside spears and halberds. There are only silver and copper bits in the pouch hanging at her belt, and few enough of those. Today she is dressed for a fight, if not looking for one. Her dense curls are pulled back beneath a kerchief and a long dagger hangs at her waist. The steel-studded jerkin she wears has seen better days, and the hide of her shoulderplates has begun to crack—but there is a pride in each, perfectly oiled and shined despite their age. Mariam has little to own; much to care for.

The paddocks are still alive with the sound of fighting, but she gives them a wide berth, soured from the night before. Mariam comes to settle at the fence of the jousting arena, a mug of mead in her hand. The whuffling of horses and clanking of metal, the rising thrall in the crowd with each charge, the snap of lance against shield—the familiarity soothes her, settles the weight in her stomach.

Nothing erases the blue-black bruise on her jaw.

Nothing keeps her from looking for Adelais—Alis—in the crowd.
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