Hero.

The dark haired woman moved to the lantern and turned it low. The room darkened.

“Now go to sleep,” she said to the girl in the bed.

“One more story Aunty Evie, just one more,” the little red head cried. Evoria turned to the girl, the image of her mother at her age, only much cleaner. The room was filled with books and toys, paints and parchment.

“It’s already past your bedtime Jess,” she said trying to sound stern. The girl smiled widely,

“Please,”

Evorias’ resolve lasted for half a moment more before she crossed the room and sat on the edge of the bed.

“One more, but you can’t tell your mother. This is the story of how Aunty Evoria lost her leg,”

“No, not that one,” said Jess

“It ends with a crossbow hidden in a fake leg, how is that not a fantastic story?” asked Evoria.

“But I’ve heard that one before,”

“Dragon?”

“Heard it,” said Jess

“Giants?” The girl shook her head.

“Snake people, the Old Hag?” Evoria asked.

“I’ve heard them all before,” Jess said, “tell me about the bridge,”

“No,”

“Please, please, please,” Jess begged.

Evoria tucked her in and gave a little frown, “It’s a good job your cute,” she said.

“Is that a yes?”

“Listen carefully Jess, I’m only going to tell this tale once…”

*

A friend once told me that to say the names of the dead is to call them back from paradise. I didn’t think much of it at the time, he was full of odd customs coming from the North as he did. Then I woke up alone on the cold stones of the bridge, and I’ve never had the courage to risk it. I wanted to, god’s know I wanted to be selfish and call them back, my Wolf and my Priest, but what would they say if I did? I couldn’t bear that.

I remember being on the floor, hurt and dizzy, the sharp taste of copper in my mouth. The sky overhead was clearing, but the smoke of the world choked my view. There was no sign of the slave we rescued, though I’m certain he saved my life. Maybe he thought we were square, he didn’t owe us anything else. Harsh, but that is often the way of the world Jess. Then I saw them, my Wolf and my Priest, among the bodies of the fallen Northmen. The so-called Lord of the Feast dead at their feet, his champion dead and their troops in disarray. That’s where the soldiers found me, sat between the two of them, the most unusual men I’ve ever met in my life. The best men I’ve ever met in my life.

They took me off that bridge, I let them, so long as they brought the others with me. I didn’t want to leave them out there, it didn’t seem right. The rest of that day is still a blur, I remember being taken to the palace, I slept for a long time. When I woke Odessa was there, yes The Sovereign herself. She didn’t say much, she didn’t need to, but Airik joined us and began to talk of the things that needed to be done.

Heroes, that was the word they used, the Heroes of Brennan Bridge. I didn’t feel like a hero, I never have, it always a word someone else calls you. Airik said there was to be a ceremony, a festival or some kind of national holiday. I had stopped listening to his words. I just wanted to see my friends.

Odessa led me down to the chapel, she asked if they would mind being there. I think the Priest would have found the irony amusing, the Wolf, well he never had much use for god’s. She said some nice words, the sort that are pleasant enough for a person you don’t know. She wasn’t insincere, she just didn’t know them well. She was thankful though, truly thankful, I could see that. For that I’m thankful despite the state of things now, how our nation has turned inward. We were on the right track at one point Jess, but the real world isn’t a story, there are no happy endings.

She left me to say my words, but words were never my strong suit. I sat in silence for a while, trying to think of the appropriate thing to say. I kept my silence and took from the Priest a rune, the one he always played with. And from the Wolf I took a silver dagger. At the time I thought I needed them, to keep them with me wherever I went.

Airik was waiting outside. He made his thanks, but the words rolled off me like water off a duck. He talked about a title and lands, I just nodded and told him I was tired. Back in my room I packed up my things, all I wanted was to go home. No, not to Skye, to Convally. I stopped at the window, how had such a backwater little town wormed its way into my heart, when did that happen? I was slow down the lattice, still unsure on my new leg. At the bottom was the decorative garden and Shup, Odessa’s bodyguard. She told me Odessa thought I would leave, and that she understands. I was offered the finest horse in the royal stable, but after Esmeralda, I declined. I would have to learn how to walk on this leg eventually, why not start now.

I walked from Euphron to Convally. It took me four months and in that time I was robbed, I robbed, I laughed and I cried. I talked to the campfire about the Wolf and the Priest, I talked to the Wolf and the Priest. It helped a little, to pass the time, to ease the loneliness. I tracked game, and I found water sources, using skills I had learned from both. I thought of going to Skye, back to Vasili and your mother, but I wasn’t ready.

After a very long walk I found myself looking at the new wooden palisade of Convally, a bustling little trade town, much smaller than it is today. I was filthy, almost unrecognisable as I made my way into the Pig and the Puzzle. I found a table by the fire, just wanting to be alone. It had been many weeks since I had seen this many people.I was lost in the flames when a bowl of stew and a pint were placed in front of me, Giselle gave me a brief hug and left me to my meal. It seemed news of the battle travelled quicker than I did. The folk let me be, I returned to our cottage and was thankful for the solitude.

A week after my return I woke to the sound of an argument outside. Tommil Tosscobble was furiously trying to drag Dink away from our door. When I asked what all the fuss was about Tommil told me that Dink has been chomping at the bit to talk about my leg since the day I walked back into town. Seeing the two small friends argue in the street made me smile. I had been alone for a long time and had forgotten what good company could feel like. Over the course of the next few weeks Dink made measurements and brought me a few prototypes. We slowly came to agree on what was needed, yes I know you’ve heard the story of my leg so we can skip that part. Eventually I had a leg designed by Humperdink Farnthwaite Springscuttle III and forged by Jago, it was a step up from the wooden peg I can tell you. One by one the folk of Convally came to see me, to see how I was doing and to see if there was a story to be told. I turned most of them away. Tommil bought me out of my shares of the company, at my request Bartimus stayed on as his second. I wintered in Convally but the static life began to chafe and by the time of the first thaw I had my bag packed once more and found a road, any road would do.

I spent years travelling, and no I won’t go into detail, I have to keep some stories in reserve should I be called for babysitting duties in the future. I visited Thaull, and the Jian Empire. I looked into my personal history and found a reconnection with my heritage. I have seen things you could not imagine my dear Jess, and I’ve experienced things I’d rather you didn’t. Eventually though I was drawn back to Skye. My beloved Corvids had fallen on hard times and your mother sought me out. It takes a thief to run a proper business.

She offered me a new purpose, contentment if not happiness. For that I will always be grateful. I began to work the pockets of Skye once more. Street by street the Corvids and their reputation were repaired, we began to thrive and so too did Skye after many hard years. The Broken Bay was reopened, trade once more made Skye a hub of culture and intrigue. Eventually, folk came to learn that if you needed money or a favour, you come to see Ms Magpie of the Corvids. On the outside everything seemed right, but inside dear Jess, that is more complicated. Some nights I’m back on the bridge, others I’m riding across frozen lakes. Often I turn still expecting to see them, even after all these years. My Wolf and My Priest. That, little Jess, is what happened on the bridge. That is what matters, not the fight or the politics. What matters is the cost. One that some nights I think was too high. For all my money, for all my power and influence, I still lost that day on the bridge, no matter what the history books say.

*

Evoria closed her eyes for a moment, the small room about her was quiet.

“I’m sorry Aunty Evie,” Jess said. Evoria pushed a red curl out of the child’s face.

“Hush now sweet, you have nothing to apologise for. Now go to sleep, and don’t tell your mother I let you stay up this late,” and she tucked Jess in once more, leaving on the table beside her a small copper rune, and a silver dagger. “You keep these a while, I don’t think I need them tonight,” as she stood and moved to the lantern.

“I wish I could have met your friends Aunty Evie,” said Jess.

“My friends,” smiled Evoria, “my heroes,” as she blew out the light.

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