Dual Farewells

NOTE: This story contains spoilers for Mistress Mage! You have been warned…

Two riders reined their horses to a halt at the top of a gently sloping knoll overlooking an empty grass plain. Wind tossed the hair of the rider wearing battle-tested leather armor and tugged playfully at the raven-dark tail of the slighter, golden-eyed rider. Both looked solemn despite their peaceful surroundings.

“You’re sure this is the spot?” The black-cloaked rider looked doubtful, fidgeting with his reins. “I don’t remember it looking so pretty the last time we were here.”

“It was a battlefield the last time we were here, Reshi,” the battle-hardened rider replied, voice even, steady. “It’s been a year since then.”

Reshi shuddered, thinking about the blood and bones that must be hidden beneath the waves of wind-blown grass. “You like this spot, then, Kestral?”

Slowly, thoughtfully, Kestral nodded. “This is a good spot.”

The riders dismounted in tandem, Kestral untying a long, canvas-wrapped parcel from behind his saddle while Reshi dug through a saddle bag for two smaller wrapped items. The horses stood still, either by training or by magical command, as per the nature of their riders. Kestral unwrapped his parcel as he walked to the edge of the bluff, pausing between two knee-high leafy shrubs.

“I wonder if she’d think it too pretty here,” Reshi commented, looking around at the trees, leaves just starting to turn to their fall colors. Off to the west, he could make out a wide, slow moving river, marking the border between the realms of Zarapheth and Viaparaiso. “I feel like we should find a proper battlefield.”

“We might be at peace now, but when we go to war with Viaparaiso again, this is where the battle will occur.” Kestral removed the last bit of canvas tied around a heavy bastard sword. He raised his eyes to look down from the knoll. “This will always be a battlefield.”

“Niko signed a treaty and is making reparations to Viaparaiso, though,” Reshi reminded him, holding small, wrapped parcels in each hand. “He says it’s time for Zarapheth to rebuild, not fight.”

“Your brother is an idealist,” Kestral replied, glancing back over his shoulder. “He might hold the peace for a time, but war will come again. It’s human nature.”

Reshi shrugged. “I don’t know about that, but it certainly was Kila’s nature.”

A smile played on Kestral’s face. “Yes. It was.”

Reshi stepped up beside Kestral at the edge of the knoll, giving him enough room to turn the bastard sword point-down and drive it deeply into the earth. Reaching inside himself for the well of golden light that was his magic, Reshi hardened the clay-mixed earth into stone so that it gripped the blade of the sword. It would be impossible to free the blade without the use of magic. For a moment, they simply stared at the grounded sword framed by the two emerald-leafed bushes, each lost in their own thoughts. Then, Kestral held his hand out to Reshi.

Reshi placed one of the wrapped packages in Kestral’s hand, then began peeling back the canvas on the one he’d kept. Beside him, Kestral did the same. Each revealed a carved five-pointed star, Kestral’s practiced with sharp edges, Reshi’s a bit rougher, but more stylized in its shape.

Kestral looked to Reshi, who shook his head, usually laughing eyes shadowed, somber. With a breath, Kestral knelt, leaning his wooden star against the sword to prop it up.

“For Kila.” Kestral’s voice was rough. He stayed on one knee as he spoke. “A great warrior, but a better friend.”

He’d meant to say more, planned to say more, but his throat suddenly felt full of grit and talking became painful. Instead, he lowered his chin and let his eyes fall shut, finishing the rest of the eulogy in his heart.

Reshi shuffled, then knelt, placing his roughly carved star beside of the first. “For Laki,” he said, tone steady. “We never got to lay you to rest properly, brother, but I hope you found your way to your star.” He frowned, seemingly uncomfortable. “Seems a shame to remember you by such a poor carving, especially as you were a master carver. But I made it myself, so I guess that’ll have to do.”

“I think he’d appreciate the effort,” Kestral offered.

Reshi shrugged. “I didn’t know him well enough to believe that.”

Kestral fell silent for a moment, staring at the two stars set against the bastard sword. “We knew him well enough to know he’d like to be remembered alongside his twin.”

Reshi nodded, nearly smiling for a moment. “It’s what Kila would have wanted, too.”

They held their silence for long moments, remaining on a bent knee and staring at the sword and its two stars. Finally, Kestral climbed back to his feet and offered a hand down to Reshi.

“Think that’ll satisfy them?” Kestral asked.

“Who knows?” Reshi brushed dirt from his breeches. “If they really do share twin stars, then I bet they’re too busy arguing to have noticed us.”

Kestral huffed a laugh. His eyes swept the grass covered battlefield once more. “Where to now?”

“I don’t know.” Reshi stretched, face ponderous. “Are we closer to the southern cities or the northern oceans?”

“We’re exactly in the middle,” Kestral said. Then he considered. “Journeying to the south would be faster, though. The roads are in better condition and we might arrive in time for the Feast of Spoils.”

Reshi’s golden eyes glowed. “Isn’t that the wine drinking festival?”

“That’s not entirely what it’s about.” Kestral had to smile at Reshi’s suddenly cheery disposition. “But yes, it is.”

“Let’s go there!” Reshi reached for the reins of his horse, then stopped and turned. He offered a final bow to Kila’s sword and the twin stars. “We’ll pour one out for you at the festival,” he promised before swinging up into the saddle.

Kestral turned and bowed as well. “We’ll pour out two.”

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