The last couple of days have been quite the blur, between the flight from Fort Korvosa to the exodus to Harse and now the road to Kaer Maga. Ionas looked worryingly to Remmy, the skinny guardswoman that had joined them on their quest. She had been through so much since their initial meeting and more still as they worked to bring down what was controlling the Queen.
She reminded him of Valria, the raven hair and the terrible jokes he told himself. She was a liability, however, as her loyalties had been with the Queen, the very person they were trying to save Korvosa from. If it came to blows, he didn’t have it in him to harm Remmy, and would have to figure out something to avoid that from happening.
After noticing he’d been staring, Ionas cleared his throat and said, “Sorry Remmy, you just happen to remind me of someone I knew a long time ago. I didn’t mean to gawk.”
He smiled, something that had gotten a little easier in the last couple of days. “So, I imagine this has to be a lot different from patrol duty. Have you ever traveled outside Korvosa before?”
The Gray Maiden
Remmy was seated on a tree stump, with her heels propped up on the saddle from her horse. Her boots had gotten wet when they’d galloped into the river to avoid the grassfire, so she’d set them down beside her to dry while her pale toes wiggled free in the cool spring breeze. Her plate mail caught the last of the fading sunlight, lending her a golden tint. She was brushing and untangling the crimson horsehair plume on her faceless steel helm, which gaped mutely back at Ionas from its perch on her lap.
At his question, Remmy shook her head, still fixed on her task. “Growing up, the only times I left the city were to go picnicking by the river or to see visiting Varisian caravans at Trail’s End.” She waved the brush at the lightly wooded hills around them. “This is the first time I’ve been out of sight of the Castle.”
Apparently satisfied with her work, she lovingly tucked her helmet into her pack. Almost as an afterthought, she ran the brush through her own hair a few times, imposing a rough kind of order to her dark locks. Remmy tilted her head back and took a deep breath of the cool spring air, which carried the smoky odor of Kyra’s campfire, the tang of red and blue wild flowers on the hillside, and the distant scent of the river.
“I always wanted to travel” Remmy grinned, the scars stretching across her cheek like ley lines. “Probably the Varisian in me. I thought the Guard would give me the chance—everyone has to do a tour in the country during their first term. But then I joined the Maidens before my turn came up.”
“I really lucked out,” she said, ticking items off her gauntleted fingers. “I got recruited into an elite order of warrior women, I got my parents set up in a new place, I’m seeing the great wide world beyond Korvosa, and I’m part of a quest to save our Queen from unspeakable evil.”
“For that, I have you to thank, Slim,” she said. “You trusted me back at the Hospice and gave me a chance to fulfill my duty by fighting against the Physicians who’d betrayed Her Radiant Majesty.”
Her voice turned cold and her green eye flared with anger as she spoke those last words. For a moment, her whole body tensed up as if she were about to spring into action. But just as quickly she relaxed and a soft smile returned to her face.
“So whatever we run into out there, I want you to know that I’ve got your back.” She held up her right hand. “On my honor as a Gray Maiden.”
Ionas listened intently to Remmy, his eyes fixed on her as he absent-mindedly tended to his own wet clothes. Nothing too wet, but he took a few damp pieces off to let them dry in the spring time air. It had been some time since he’d be on the road and listening to Remmy had reawakened a long-slumbered wanderlust within him.
“Its something all Varisians share, the love for the road. Its a miracle that you hadn’t gone beyond the city walls thus far,” He said with a little chuckle. “The road we’re taking is a lot more than most get to see, you’ll have plenty of stories to tell when we get back. There’s nothing like the open road, for better or for worse.”
He stopped a little short as she mentioned the maidens and again listened intently to her words. He knew trying to sway her away from the hold they have on her is premature now. Having faith in an order is one thing, and blind allegiance is another entirely. There’s nothing he could say now, it would have to be actions that make her see the truth of it all, and that would take time.
“There’s no need to thank me,” Ionas said with a bit of apprehension. “Some of the others didn’t quite understand at the time as lines get blurred and it’s hard to tell friend from foe. Especially then, when we had to infiltrate the hospice, we had to consider everyone against us while we rooted out the evil plaguing Korvosa. I knew you and the other Maidens were just doing your duty, and it pained me to take my sword up against you. It’s why we tried to do everything we could to minimize a confrontation. I knew that once we could talk with you, you’d see that we were trying to help.”
He smiled a bit at the end, his gaze breaking toward the other’s for a moment, then back at his clothes that he was drying.
“Thank you Remmy. Its been a while since someone’s told me that,” Ionas said, sadness creeping into his voice. “Not since Cheliax in fact. No doubt to Ashla or perhaps even Arlynn I’m no more than a hired sword that has overstayed my welcome. I don’t have the obvious loyalties that a citizen of Korvosa would have to be here, certainly not to risk life and limb to do all that we’ve done so far. But there are things out in this world that need protecting, and none more deserving than all the souls who currently dwell within Korvosa.”
He paused for a moment, putting back on the few pieces he dried.
“I may do some things to make you doubt your oath to me, the nature of my craft is underhanded at the best of times, and I may do things that may seem traitorous or profane, but know that all that I do is for the good of our duty to Korvosa and to our band here. Just as you have sworn an oath to me, I swear on my life, my honor as a Tils and by the very blood that courses through my veins that I shall never turn my back on you, nor lead you astray, until the very end.”
He smiled, shaking off the solemnity of his words, and extended his hand.
“I may be known by many names, but the only one you need to know is Ionas, and only my closest friends call me by name.”
The Gray Maiden
Remmy rises to clasp his hand in her gauntleted fingers and shakes firmly.
“Ionas is a lovely name,” she says, “thank you for sharing it with me—it means a lot.”
She raps her metal knuckles on her armor with a sharp ting. “And don’t worry, I might wear a shiny uniform, but I’m no stranger to way things are done in the shadows. I grew up in Old Korvosa, after all.”
She starts to unbuckle the leather straps linking her breast plate to her back plate, but looks back at Ionas, catching his gaze with her single green eye. She turns and raises her left arm to expose the buckles.
“Mind giving me a hand?” she asks, cocking an eyebrow.
While the rogue leans in to start freeing up the straps, Remmy tugs off the gauntlet on her left hand and then bites down on the mental index finger of her right gauntlet to pull it free. She sets both on the tree stump. Once Ionas has the breast plate straps unbuckled, Remmy peels out of the polished steel and sets it down by her helmet.
“Thanks,” she says, her slender, pale fingers swiftly releasing the catches on her vambraces, rebraces and pauldrons to get the last of the plate steel off of her arms. As she goes about her work, she continues talking. “In Old Korvosa, you learn pretty quick which types to watch out for, which types to pay off, and which types care about more than just blood or gold.”
She props her bare feet up on the stump, one after the other, to access the inner thigh catches of her cuisses, finally unbuckling the whole assemblage from her waist. She is left standing in a sagging tunic of chain mail, which Ionas helps her shrug out of. The sudden heft of the chain links nearly knocks him over, but she grabs his arm to steady him.
“You’re the third kind, Ionas Tils, and I could tell from the day I first saw you hanging around the Sticky Mermaid,” she says. Remmy takes the chain mail from him and quickly folds it into a square bundle, which she gently tucks into her empty breast plate. “If the rest of the Blades haven’t figured that out yet, they’ve got rocks for brains.”
Outside her plate mail, Remmy is skinny as a spear shaft, with narrow waist and long, almost gangly arms and legs. But beneath red-dyed fabric of her padded cotton tunic and pants, wiry muscles ripple with hidden strength. She claps a scarred hand on Ionas’ shoulder and grins.
“Now, let’s go see what Kyra’s frying up for supper tonight. I’m starving!”