Flash: Claims a Warrior’s Heart

Photo by Gioele Fazzeri on Unsplash

The noise echoed out into the darkness beyond the fur-curtained windows of the unnamed bar. Jareek had followed it inside, enjoying the laughter, though not participating, admiring the skill of the bard, who managed to keep her instrument in tune despite the dampness seeping in from the nearby fen with its ghost lights and quiet monsters. What he could do without, is the braggart telling loud stories from where he and his companions held court in the center of the room.

The hooded fae signaled the server for another drink from his far corner where he could watch everyone in the room and all three doors. She dropped the warm foaming beer on her way to refresh the mugs of those closer to the storyteller, scooping up two coins in return. She passed the one bearing the previous king’s face onto the bard and kept the newer, unshaven coin, for herself.

“Then we chased those evil fairy-kind back to their trees, reminding them to stay out of the plowed lands of men.”

Most of the humans and the handful of non-humans present, roared in approval, stomping feet.

A few understood the plowed lands of men would keep expanding until those within the trees could retreat no more. And when that day came, a steep price would be paid. The fairies always demanded a price. Those humans were more respectful of that coming day.

The local tree line had been cut back during the winter while the tree-bound slept. The price demanded for the treaty violation had been avoided by Springdale hiring these mercenaries to protect them. A debt avoided is not a price paid.

Jareek had been in human lands long enough his green skin faded to human brown, and his bark roughened skin matched their thin smooth hides. He was not the one to demand the price. He didn’t enough know the local treaty blooms. Still, he had been called to Witness – the same calling which pulled him on and on. From one end of the continent to the other, to witness and add it to the Memory of all fae. The gift of Memory wasn’t kinder than any fae gift, but it was more lonely than most.

“Another story Warrior Draymond! Tell us of outsmarting the Cap!” The request came from a dwarf. They and humans didn’t fight over land, yet. The small folk lived underground and the humans above, but humans liked the shinies the hunched creatures found. In other parts of the world, the youngest of the races have started to hunt out underground treasures on their own. Memory only knew of one incident where humans and the underground fae had crashed over their hunger for riches. It hadn’t ended well for the dwarves.

Jareek pulled a sip of the nutty beer.

Pity the dwarves refused to work with their fae brethren, thinking above and below are two separate energies, not understanding the trees reached deep and stood tall, connecting sky, land, and the dark.

“Ah, the Cap. That is a story and a half.” The bearded man nodded. “I’ll need food to keep my stamina up.”

More coin landed on the table than had passed to the bard all evening. A smaller fellow beside the hulking man scooped it up before waving four coins to cover the roast beef the bar was serving this evening. The six mercenaries would eat well on the braggart’s tongue and bluster.

Meanwhile the harpist underlined the story with some of the best satire Jareek had enjoyed in a while. Av Manag Dirlick. Sounded like a lovely tune, and the songs the humans and most fae sing to the tune are about lying in the grass with your love and watching the cloud go by. For the Caps, though, the song they sung, half a key lower, is about rolling in fields of blood after a battle and claiming those closest in an orgy the likes of which humans would never understand.

Silently laughing, Jareek had to stop drinking otherwise he would spray beer everywhere.

The other songs played through the night could have been a human being the typical unaware of other communities. But this was too perfect.

Jareek lifted his second lid, releasing his sight, his fae eyes glowing if anyone looked under his hood. A glamour covered the harpist. The fae Memory Gatherer closed his both lids, calling deep within to his gift giving him not just the sight many of the fairy have, but All Sight needed for Memories. He could feel it was nearly time for what called him here to begin. He didn’t reopen his eyes, but now he saw everything in the bar, and in the kitchen beyond the bar, in the floor above, and the cellar below, and out in the street.

The harpist was a Cap, the punisher of treaty breakers. The glamour’s red hooded cloak hid her blood-soaked cap, the leather vest and legging dyed in the blood of her kills. Her red hair curled close to her chalk-white cheeks. Her scent – cinnamon and iron – burned into the Memory alongside her song of warning.

“Our deal struck, a heart for a hand, we shook and the Cap joined us on our mission into the Reedy Swamp.” Draymond paused to take a bite of the beef.

“Stupid Cap should have got paid up front.” The dwarf declared. No dwarf ever took credit. As they said, the ground doesn’t wait to settle.

After washing down some bread with the local beer, the mercenary agreed. “But if he hadn’t joined us, we wouldn’t be here to tell the tale.” He launched again into his story.

The harpist changed her tune so subtly when the fighter betrayed his ally, Jareek nearly missed it. Av Truist y Pae.  

Inside his head, the unsung lyrics all children are taught buzzed.

Strike a deal, make a pack
Trade the thing, no one lacks
Price for price, common costs.
Good transactions together
Are tree to moss.
False faith, stolen skill
Never do, the act is ill
All suffer, feel the loss.
Call the Caps, demand the fee
Attack those who disagree
A broken charge is impure dross.
Treaty words must bind
When by hand signed
Otherwise, trust is lost.

Trust is the only currency of a civilized society. The fae adage was so ingrained into their species, it become part of them. Lying among the civilized ceased being possible long before the gods crafted humans. The fact dwarves could still lie said a lot about them. The ability to lie meant they had more dealing with Caps than most of the fae races and hated the enforcers in the amount equal to their interaction.

A few of the patrons around the crowded room were humming along, before the words in their heads overcame the bluster of the blowhard’s narrative. They started turning their heads toward the bard. One by one, the laughter and movement of the boisterous crowd faded. The harpist strings vibrated deep, hitting with almost bruising strength as the tune carried in the gathering quiet. A few of the smarter ones slid out the doors to the front and back. The server and her kin made themselves scarce as well.

Jareek would need to see them reimbursed if the damage exceeded the normally expected price of a public establishment.

The red-haired fae winked at him when Draymond finally realized he was losing his audience. She ended the song with a loud flourish, overriding his complaint about her music. Flush raised up the human’s throat as he pushed away from the table and approached her on the other side of the central fire.

She placed her hands against the vibrating strings, instantly silencing them.

“What to hell, girl?” Draymond rested his hand on his sword hilt, not in a threatening way. Anyone who wore a sword knew the ease of the stance, and the need to always be aware of position of the sword within a crowd, which having a hand on one end helps. The fact the mercenary carried nearly four feet of iron, plus various other weapons on his person, and remained half-armored, the heavy metals plates removed before the night’s drinking began, plus likely outweigh the harpist by a factor of three, that was the threat.

The red hood fell back. Jareek knew the human saw a gorgeous redhead on the younger side, old enough to travel, young enough to be enticed to staying in a town if the offer is good enough. The cost of the road is heavy until one is so used to paying it, the traveler soul forgets the burden. Older human entertainers Jareek had met seemed to delight in the rootless life.  He hoped to reach that age someday, though two hundred years of hard travel had not brought him the inner peace humans seem to find so easily.

The strikingly beautiful fae plucked a few notes, this one strictly a human love song. Her voice mixed in, words holding promise, as she looked up at him under her lashes. “I come, I come for a warrior’s heart.”

The song spoke of longing of a woman left behind when her man went to war. She follows him until they are reunited.

I claim, I claim my warrior’s heart.”

“Look girl, if you want to bed…”

The Cap’s voice grew louder. “From my father, a hand, to a warrior’s cause. I come to claim a warrior’s heart.”

Jareek’s opened up both lids.

Draymond might have realized the danger he was in, before the Cap dropped her glamour. His sword had been pulled nearly three inches out of the scabbard before the Cap’s claws ripped through his chestplate, ribs, and lungs.

A heart for a hand, A deal agreed. Betrayed, betrayed. Call the Caps to claim a Warrior’s heart.”

The vibrato of the Cap’s voice, stung with revengeful joy, as she pulled her hand out of the mercenary’s chest, holding his still beating heart.

As the man toppled, the Cap looked at his five companions. “Betrayed, betrayed, a contract undone. Those who participated shall die, every one.”

The Memory Gatherer felt his heart flip watching her leap across the fire at the other mercenaries. Flames, red, orange, blue, and rust reflected against her well-oiled leathers. The Cap was lethal beauty in motion, matching her gift of Song.

Never let a Siren sing her words. Words have power. Backed by music and magic, they become reality.

(first published 3/9/2022; words 1,744)

Series: Warrior’s Heart

  1. Claims a Warrior’s Heart – link to 3/6/2022
  2. Unexpected – Link to 3/13/2022

(Inspired by The Dragonborn Come as sung by VoicePlay featuring Omar Cardon. See below.)