Red War P.2
Message 6 on The Critic's BoardSome hours later, Bella left Mother's house with a few packed things and was on her way. The sun was shining, and she was smiling and singing as she took the road to Kieron. Thoughts of death and the futility of life were far away as she walked past Edelmoed's ripe fields. She even exchanged waves with Tiarop as she passed his pasture.
The day was a good one, and she was free. At last, she was truly away from Mother. She was on the road to being self-sufficient, to getting the upper hand on all situations, even to be able to repay what'd been done to her in blood.
'You look cheery.' Bella grinned at the voice and turned to face her step-father as he stepped out from behind a tree far too thin to have hidden him.
'And you look up to no good, Tebryn,' Bella teased.
'I'm always up to no good. I have to. Rykilde's so nice and light, the children would start flying up into the sky and we'd never see them again. Someone has to keep everyone's head out of the clouds.'
Bella rolled her eyes at the outright lie but she did so smiling.
'Checking up on me?' she asked, amused enough to sound innocent.
'Nah, you're old enough to take care of yourself.' His casual shrug might be deceptive but Bella couldn't tell. He produced a pipe and tapped it against his boot to clear it.
'Thanks,' she said back. 'So why are you here?'
'To say good luck.' His smile faded, replaced by a rare look of sobriety, as he filled his pipe. 'I'm not your father. Never claimed I was. But it's been good to have you around the house. I'm glad I got a chance to meet you and get to know you. And I want you to know that you're welcome at our home. Anytime.'
'Thank you Tebryn,' Bella said, and she was surprised at the effort it took to hold her voice steady. For all that she thought less of Mother for mixing her blood with a half-breed, Tebryn had turned out to be one of the best parts of her time in Edelmoed.
'Sorry that I can't apprentice you myself, Bella. Promises and all. But I'll let Vickie know that you're signing up with the Rogues. If that's what you still want.' He lit his pipe and puffed contentedly on it.
'Oh yes,' breathed Bella. Vickie might be an elf but she was also everything a Rogue could hope to aspire to: Strong and cunning, pretty and persuasive, able to laugh and able to kill just as easily. It was Vickie and her quiet devotions to Zaal that she'd let Bella spy upon that had brought about the hobbit's fascination with death. Bella could learn a great deal from her step-aunt and she was smart enough to know it.
'Good,' Tebryn chuckled. 'Now get going. You've got a bloody career of infamy to get started on!' His laughter was infectious. 'And don't be a stranger. Marcu's missed you already.'
With that, Tebryn waved and headed up the road back to Mother's home, a thin trail of pleasant pipe-smoke following behind him.
Bella grinned at the mental picture of Marcu rushing Tebryn and knocking him down with surprise and a wooden sword. She liked the kid a great deal, an amount that surprised her. Maybe they were only half-siblings but that was the best she would ever get.
An unwanted image of Mother standing by the windowsill watching her go stole the smile away.
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17:09, Vaigday, Praxi 5, 165 AD.