Illgotten Gains by Elora, Hanasian

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Story Notes:

Both protagonists are created characters.

3013, III – Dale, February

Videgavia squinted through the incessant drizzle, his bones so sodden and chilled that he doubted they would ever warm again. The land he looked upon from the edges of the dripping trees around him was scrubbed clean by yesterday’s pounding rain. They rolled, soggy and uneven, clear into Rohan from here, and they appeared empty. Not even the Easterlings were inclined to venture out in dismal weather like this. Just why he was here now, water steadily dripping onto his hood and sliding down his back, he didn’t know.

No…he did know, he just didn’t want to pick over why. Not his fault people were so damned difficult to get along with. If he’d told them once, he’d said it a thousand times: no one touches his knives. No one. This, perhaps, is why he was largely friendless. Taciturn, anti social, churlish, there were any number of ways his peers described him when he happened to be in the company of others. Preferable as solitude was, though, company usually meant a roof, a dry bed and respite from the incessant, creeping damp.

He brushed a hand across his brow to flick away water and debated with himself the merits of returning. They’d want an apology even though he’d done nothing wrong. He’d not even hurt the man…badly. As he considered that his knuckles popped. No, Videgavia thought, he was still too angry. Best to stay away a while longer in the infernal rain. With the summer season on its way the Easterlings would be back again and he’d prefer to deal with them with people that were not fixing to stick one of his own knives between his shoulder blades. If at all possible.

A frustrated sigh pushed out of him and he scanned the borders a final time before he pulled back into the trees in search of a relatively sheltered place to pass the night. He’d only taken a few steps, though, before something came to his attention. Voices…no a voice…female…highly agitated…with a talent for creative cursing. He turned about again and returned to the tree line. Still, nothing seemed to move in the borderlands and the woman’s voice had dropped away.

Videgavia frowned as he curled his fingers around a knife hilt, and squinted suspiciously out at the drizzle. Another brief burst, Rohirric. Definitely Rohirric…and then gone again. Not from the forest though. He crouched and drew his knife proper. Rohan was not Dale’s foe but all sorts of brigands called these borderlands home. From her turn of phrase, the woman was not some lost Daughter of the Mark. He’d heard cleaner mouths on Dunlenders.

Then he caught movement….not a woman but a horse and oh, what an animal. Even from this distance it was clear that this fine beast was one of the Méaras. They were different from other horses, more powerful, taller, cleaner lines. This one was one of the finest he had ever seen. Ebon black, perfectly made and…riderless. Odd to find one of the Méaras wondering alone. Rohan’s king guarded his royal herd jealously.

The creature picked its way unhurried as Videgavia’s thoughts spun. Would be irresponsible to leave an animal like this wandering the borderlands and forests of Dale. And, possibly, there might be a reward in returning it to the royal herd…a king’s ransom as they say. Videgavia’s sour mood was relieved instantly as he considered this. With a purse full of gold and silver, no telling where he could go. A man had options when he had coin to rub together.

The Daleman stood, stowed his long knife and left the cover of the trees. What seemed relatively straightforward soon proved to be anything but. Firstly, the sodden land was treacherous and slippery. He covered in mud and scratches from the spiny shrubs that prevailed in the borderlands. Then there was the horse. It had absolutely no intention of meekly accepting the Daleman’s company. Thirdly, there was the issue that the beast was not alone or riderless at all. The woman he’d heard swearing a thick streak of obscenity was little impressed with Videgavia’s attempts to steal her horse from her.

Understandably, given she had fallen off it, become tangled and by the looks of her had been dragged for a good league before Videgavia’s arrival. The gelding’s attempts to elude Videgavia did little to improve her humour, already foul. Lastly, and perhaps most notably, there was the fact that the woman was obviously a Shieldmaiden and not just a novice or hapless initiate at that. Her hair, sodden and muddy, was entirely braided and she was furious. Even Easterlings thought twice about directly engaging with a furious Shieldmaiden.

Cursing, snarling and spitting like a cornered wolf by the time he finally managed to bring the gelding under control, the Shieldmaiden demanded, ”YOU! FREE ME NOW BEFORE I-“

“Before you what, exactly?”
he returned, doing his best to keep his voice steady.

She had blazing blue eyes that she narrowed at him and had her legs not been entirely snarled she probably would have killed him with her bare hands. She would have had to, given her sword and spears and shield were all still attached to her empty saddle. And while he had knives, she’d probably succeed.

The best course for his immediate survival, however, was to not provoke the woman further. He drew one his long knives, she spat a series of blistering invectives about what would happen if he tried to use it upon on her and severed the strap that had entangled her so. No sooner had he done that was she moving.

The Shieldmaiden rolled, her speed and strength remarkable given she’d just been dragged behind a horse into Dale. Momentum carried her to her feet and within an instant she had a vicious looking dagger gripped in her own hand. Whilst her ankles were still entangled, Videgavia realised that she’d throw herself at him and not in a good way if he didn’t do something. Carefully, oh so carefully, he set down his long knife on the churned ground and stepped back from it, hands spread wide so that she could see they were empty.

”Keep a hold of that horse,”

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