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Le Mort Homme

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Burian received the news that his father and brother were killed three days after his first child was born. The messenger was filthy: once pristine attire saturated with blood and grime as if he had barely escaped the battlefield. It was clear from the news; he truly had done just that.

After he read the message, the new Lord of Dozel did not know how to feel. He sent the young man away for necessary rest and excused himself from his duties for the remainder of the afternoon. He spent it kneeling before Helswath, polishing it, and contemplating his newfound responsibility. Danann, his father, had entrusted him with the holy weapon during his last visit to Grannvale. He told him it was unnecessary to stain Helswath’s blade with the blood of the barbarians of Isaac. Perhaps if he had it, those “barbarians” wouldn’t have struck him down.

It was difficult, to grieve for a father that hadn’t felt like a father for years now, so very far away, with a new wife and new little brothers that Burian had seen grow in sporadic turns. Iuchar every time seemed to grow taller, taking after Uncle Lex in stature, while Iucharba grew thicker in the waist, like their father and Burian. Iuchar… Iuchar’s life had only just begun. And now he was dead.

That was the first lesson his teachers had taught him when he set down the path to becoming a Master Knight: no matter what weapon one wields, once you pick it up, that makes you a target. That was what war was about. Burian thought he had finished wrestling with his own mortality, after leading the garrison that assisted Queen Hilda of Friege in conquering Miletos. The merchants hired mercenary armies, but they all fell to Grannvale’s might, it’s superior numbers and superior armaments. Though he knew of death, he never expected it to come from Isaac. Even with Prince Shannan’s rebellion, what were rebels to Grannvale’s might and majesty?

Macha, his lady wife, came for him when dusk settled. She was a noble from Silesse and held their trademark locks. Their parents had betrothed them before the war, and some nobles turned up their noses at him accepting the marriage with a foreigner. Burian held his tongue, wanting to say the other Grannvalian noble houses could inbreed to extinction if they so chose. Macha was a kind and good woman. They treated each other well, and even if Burian wasn’t sure if he loved her with passion, he couldn’t imagine another partner in life.

“My lord, I heard the news,” Macha replied. She didn’t attempt to embrace him but sat down at his side, reaching out and taking his hand, which he accepted. It was almost comical, how different their hands were, but he felt a stab of protectiveness as he felt the smoothness and long, perfectly manicured fingers. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“I will have their tombs readied tomorrow,” Burian replied. “Even if their bodies aren’t returned, they will be given the full honors as members of House Dozel… I have no news of Iucharba’s fate.”

“Maybe he survived.”

Burian doubted it. Iucharba was honorable. Iucharba would never leave the battlefield. He’d fight until the last man. It was a trait they shared.

“It’s possible.” He acquiesced.

Macha nodded and pulled Burian to his feet. She wouldn’t allow him to stay here all night. Burian was also grateful for that. His knees were starting to ache.  “... Our child still needs a name. Perhaps, in honor of your lord father, we can name her-”

“No,” Burian interrupted. “... No. I thank you for your suggestion, Macha, but… we’ll give her another name.”

One that wasn’t already bathed in blood.

So they gave her the name of a distant relative of Macha’s, one that lived before the current wars but after the great war against Loptous. A name for peacetime. Burian would do everything in his power to ensure their child had a peaceful life.

Peace, however, grew less and less certain by the day. The ‘barbarians’ lead by Prince Shannan were, in reality, a group that was an entirely different sort.

Holy blooded, descendants of the Crusaders. Much like himself. To think that it had come to this. Did Neir look down upon him with pride for taking on Helswath to defend the land he and his fellow crusaders fought for, or tears, for the ties forged at Darna being so forsaken?

The “Liberation Army” continued, passing through nearly half of the continent. Macha could no longer send letters to her family in Silesse, and Burian had heard no news from friends stationed in Augustria in weeks. Grannvale’s glory was growing smaller and smaller by the day.  

Eventually, he was called to defend his own lands from the oncoming threat. Burian would not hide in Dozel, awaiting the horde, he decided. He would ride into battle with his men, and deal with them once and for all. Whether it was one holy weapon or half a dozen, he would defend his family and his land with all that he had.

As he finished dawning his armor, Macha came to him, holding their daughter in her arms. She was growing so big, and her eyes were growing a deeper blue. The blue of her grandfather, and of her uncle. Two men, who couldn’t have been more different, yet each thought themselves just. Burian lifted his helmet to kiss his wife’s brow, and then his child’s. It was almost comical, how her tiny hands tried to grip at the cold metal around his face. The holy mark had already appeared on her palm.

“Burian. You don’t have to go out there.”

Burian turned back to Macha, ready to object, but then he knew that she was right. As the lord, he could stay in Dozel, if he truly wished, but to do so... dooming countless men under his command due to cowardice…

“I will do what I must, to ensure our daughter grows up in a peaceful world.”

“Then, I will await your return.”

Macha nodded, and no other words were left to be said. He replaced his helmet and rode out, to the Final Holy War.