Siobhan unwrapped the sword carefully, noting the position of the blade in relation to her fingers. The heft, the cold solidity of the steel, the straight line from pommel to point – all was as she had left it with no chips or imperfections. Once satisfied, she pulled her shield out of the chest on the floor before her and performed the same inspection on it.
“Don’t follow me,” Nioklas had commanded before kissing her firmly and riding hard into the night. But that was foolishness. She knew it before the darkness had even swallowed him from sight, and she knew that at some point he would likely realize it too.
Siobhan was a sword maiden. She had sparred Nioklas since they were children. Her sword style was different but equally deadly to his and her horsemanship slightly better. The hour was late, the need now, and none else was nearby to help. The raiders would attack by morn. With the mist they would rise and drench the white, frosty ground with her own red blood, and Nioklas could not rout them alone.
Even so, Siobhan placed her shield beside her sword on the earthen floor and fidgeted with the strips of worn cloth that had wrapped the sword. Nioklas had told her to stay, and she usually tried to respect his wishes as he tried to respect hers. He would likely be angry if she disobeyed tonight, this most deadly of eves.
Deep in the tangled woods behind their lodge, the yip of a fox was followed by the final, harrowing scream of a rabbit before both ended in abrupt silence. Siobhan listened, but only a feathered hush replied. Nioklas’s anger did not matter; his life did. And her life did. And both had a better chance of continuing past tomorrow morning if they fought together instead of being picked off one at a time.
As she packed her gear and prepared her horse, she finally understood. All those years she had begged for and then insisted upon sword training with her brothers (to her mother’s horror and her father’s amusement), all that time she had spent learning a purposeless skill for a girl destined to domestic life, all the jeers and taunts and lectures – as she paused in the stillness and inhaled the vibrant breath of night, she knew what it had been for.
She was perfectly fitted for Nioklas: for this night, this hour, this moment. One glance back at the home she loved, one forward towards the inky unknown, and away she rode into the quivering forest with the newfound glow of certainty burning in her heart.