Esther thanks Richard. Later, he has a strange dream.
| Richard lay face down on the medical cot, staring off into nothing in particular. Through the hole cut from the cot’s bottom, he could see little else, apart from the floor and the legs of his own cot. His back ached, from the small of it, clear up to his shoulders. At least the salve was working. Not that it did much in the long run, but it was better than none at all. It left the skin of his back feeling cool, while his muscles deeper in throbbed. The burning had also subsided, leaving the sensation of twenty pounds of raw leather lying on top of him. Maybe even thirty.
He felt like lying on the floor. At least then he’d be as low as he felt. He’d had plenty of time to think things over during his court martial, his sentencing, and now his recovery. He’d have even more time during recovery. Far more than he could hope for.
He went against proper doctrine, in favor of dashing forth to the aid of anyone who seemed the underdog, or the damsel in distress. That, and he would do so with brute force. He wasn’t a gentleman at all. Not at all like he was raised, or trained to be. He was a thug. He was just like those he opposed, no better. He had fooled himself into believing that he knew better than everyone else. That he was somehow more ready to uphold the law. That he was fit for law enforcement, the army. He was so damn helplessly stupid. Peggy would win a fortune off of how stupid he was.
“Sergeant Ordell?” called the nurse.
Richard instinctively went to lift his head to her, but his spine felt useless. Subsiding he called out from the hole.
“The lady is here to speak with you.”
No way. No possible fucking way. Her Grace, please.
“Lady, ma’am?” he fished in hope. He could actually hear her sigh in annoyance.
“Miss Vanderhauss, Sergeant,”
“Miss Van-” Richard mashed his teeth, foaming as he sucked air through the jolt of pain. In his surprise, he had agitated his back bloody fierce by attempting to get up.
“Sergeant?” the nurse cried in concern, trotting towards him.
“I’m alright,” he reassured, propping himself up more comfortably. “I’m alright.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” the nurse exclaimed matter-of-factly.
She began inspecting his bandages.
“Hmmm… well, everything seems fine. Though I should caution you, Sergeant, don’t overextend yourself, or your bandages will have to be reapplied, along with the salve.”
“I understand, ma’am,” he brushed the matter aside. “You did say that Miss Vanderhauss is here?”
“I did,” something about the way she said it, made it seem obvious.
“Here to speak with me?” he emphasized each word in disbelief.
“Indeed,” still incredibly obvious.
This wasn’t happening. There was no way. After everything that had happened? Everything that he had forced her to experience? Everything he had done to her? How badly he had hurt her? She wanted to speak with him? Probably to chew his ass out, royally, as she deserved to.
Come off it, she isn’t even royalty. Though she might as well be. Fucking Vanderhauss shipping.
He couldn’t just deny her, he had to see her. He had to see her.
“Alright,” he finally resigned. “Alright then. Can...,” he couldn’t help but feel embarrassed, “can you help me fetch me clothes?”
He felt like he might be sick right there on the spot.
“Of course, Sergeant,” she smiled reassuringly before turning to fetch his trousers.
Richard gradually pushed himself up to a seated position. All the while his mind spun in turmoil. What the hell was he going to do? What would he even say? What could he possibly have to say to her that would be note-worthy? And in his knickers? He began to panic.
“One leg at a time, Sergeant,” the nurse beamed that same reassurance.
“Right,” he mumbled. “Right. Thank you, ma’am.”
He took his trousers from her, and gingerly leaned down to pull them up his legs. It was a delicate process pulling those trousers on. She returned with his shirt, which he donned with much more ease. Then his belt, which agitated his lower back slightly. Though he persevered. He found his way to his feet, though it took some doing. Finally, he turned to the nurse.
“Right. My coat?”
“You look perfectly presentable, Sergeant,” the nurse reassured. Then she turned, and walked for the sitting room beyond. Richard watched her leave in disbelief.
“Ma’am,” he protested, but she just kept walking, straight for the door.
“The sergeant is ready for you, my lady,” she called into the sitting room.
“Ma’am!” he exclaimed in panic.
And then she was there.
“Thank you for the generosity of your patience, my lady,” the nurse greeted her. “Such wounds are… quite difficult to deal with, at times.”
“Thank you, nurse.” Miss Vanderhauss spoke with all the grace of an angel. “May I be left with the sergeant?”
A fleeting hope that the nurse might insist on being present, flashed through his mind. He willed beyond all probability that she would.
“Of course, my lady,” her words dashed all hope.
Richard felt the color drain from his face as he watched the nurse depart. And then it was just the two of them. Miss Vanderhauss, and him. The lady, and the thug. He felt so out of place.
He immediately stood to attention, the only reflex he trusted. Though it stung his back, he was too preoccupied with panic to be concerned by it. She gazed at him with those same eyes from the night before. He felt weak before those eyes. It was the damnedest thing.
He suddenly realized that he was standing behind his cot. Feeling foolish, he quickly adjusted his position, according to proper military conduct, so he was standing before her. Positioned in the aisle, at the foot of his cot, he felt much more formal. He also felt incredibly stupid, for performing the maneuver in the first place. What was wrong with him? Why did he have to be so stupid around her?
She blinked, appearing as though she wanted to say something, but she just kept looking at him with those same eyes.
“My lady,” he managed at above a mumble.
“I spoke with your commander,” her eyes darted downwards before returning to him.
He felt like he should’ve said something with the time she allotted him.
“He informs me that your previous sentencing was conducted on account of the nature of your behavior.”
He felt like a shard of ice had just been shoved into his heart. Dread rose, as his blood chilled. She glanced down briefly before continuing.
“Behavior that has been in violation of both civilian and military doctrine.”
He felt the sheer weight of his conscience bearing down upon him. Unable to look at her any longer, he gazed off into the vastness of the floor, praying for a hole straight to Regret to appear.
“I... “ Just finish the damn sentence, already. “Have… behaved… outside of bo-”
“You stood up for me,” the words just flowed from her mouth, like the most crystal clear waters pouring over his filth ridden figure.
His head snapped up to stare at her with profound disbelief. She glanced down again, eyes widening. Perhaps she didn’t fully believe she had just said that either.
“My lady?” he gasped.
She took a moment to collect her resolve, or at least it seemed that way. She set her face more sternly, then looked into him with those same wonderful eyes. Eyes that made him weak at the knees, yet lifted him soaring into the air, at the same time. It felt so…. damn… good.
“I know it may seem silly,” she explained, “but I am grateful to you for the gesture. You see, no one has ever done that for me before.”
Gratitude? Of all things she could feel towards him, she felt gratitude? The entire world was just flipped upside down.
“That you would act as you did,” she continued, “knowing that it would result in an infraction, and then turning yourself in, regardless.”
She glanced in every direction that wasn’t remotely near him, and bit her lower lip, before looking back into him.
“That is the single bravest thing I have ever seen any one do.”
You're shitting me.
Richard managed to suppress himself from saying the thought aloud, but in exchange, had made a noise like a cough. Brave? Bravest? She had to be joking.
“My lady?” he finally managed.
She began walking forward, appraising him as though in reverence.
“I have never had any one defend my honor as you have, nor uphold my status with such high regard.” She stood right in front of him, eyes melting him into butter.
Get a damn hold of yourself, man.
“You honor me as no other has.”
Did she really just say that? He honored her? If anything, it was clearly the other way around.
“My lady,” he managed through his shock, “clearly you are the one who honors me.”
He suddenly felt horrible for saying it that way, as if correcting her judgement.
“Not that I don’t appreciate it,” he stumbled. “It’s just that, well…” he thought hard about it, then decided to be honest. “I did what I would've done regardless of who was in need.”
She blinked, then continued to appraise him. Still with those wonderful eyes.
“I think, that is why you are so important to me,” she declared.
One of her hands lay upon his chest, as though trying to feel his heart. It immediately began pounding in an effort to free itself. Everything felt warm.
“I uhm…” he stammered, “am… grateful… that you would think of me… in such high regard.”
It felt like he should say more.
Say something more.
“My lady,” he added.
Yeah, that was much better. You massive ass git.
“I understand that you are to be reassigned to a new division?”
“Yes, my lady.” Shame tugged at his eyes.
She tipped her head down, as though about to burst into tears, then recovered. Her eyes held a hint of that same hurt from earlier, or something like it.
“I took the liberty to gain your new station information,” she seemed shy about this.
Of course, she would hear all about the Lucky Thirty Seventh, and just how lucky they really were.
“However,” she continued, “it would be most inappropriate of me to not ask it of you.”
Ask something of him? She could ask anything of him. Whatever it was, it must’ve been a very big deal. She seemed horribly shy to ask it of him. What could possibly be so bad?
“May I write you?”
“Of course,” it was so simple a thing. “Of course, you can-” the full meaning of her request hit him right upside the back of his head.
He gaped at her, stunned.
“With your permission, of course.” Her eyes seemed so full of hope.
His permission? She was asking for his permission? To write him of all things? Though it was her wish. Who was he to deny her?
“Of course,” it sounded too mumbled, so he reaffirmed his response. “Of course. My lady, I would consider myself to be the most fortunate in the whole of the empire, to be graced by your words.”
It sounded like something from a cheap romance fantasy. Her Grace’s sake, what was wrong with him?
She smiled approvingly at him, and everything became ten degrees hotter. He prayed not to sweat. She just gazed at him for the longest time. It was difficult telling if it was a good thing, or bad. He felt so stupid in front of her, yet he could swim in her eyes forever. A part of him wanted that more than anything.
“I really must be going,” she looked regretful about that. “I hope you have a quick recovery.”
“And a… timely journey to you, my lady,” he bid her farewell.
She seemed to be considering something, then leaned up, and kissed him on a cheek. Everything heated even more. Though she began making her way to the door, she seemed incapable of taking her eyes off of him. Finally turning, she made to leave. All at once, Richard realized something incredibly important. How could he have missed it before?
“My lady,” he called after her.
She wheeled about, looking at him expectantly.
“I never did ask you your name.” Silence hung in the air for an uncomfortable moment. “Seems rather rude of me.”
“Esther,” she smiled broadly at him.
If only he could see her smile like that all the time.
“You may call me Esther.”
“I… very much appreciate that, my lady.”
She stared at him for a long moment, and he was happy to allow it. He felt so warm within the depths of her eyes.
“Farewell, Richard,” she finally stated.
“Farewell, my lady,” the only response he could think of.
Still smiling, she made her way through the door, and disappeared.
Richard saw dragons in his sleep again. Giant, terrifying beasts that soared overhead in an array of colors. Most were a black, appearing as if their scales were made of charcoal. However, a few were tan, looking as if carved from bronze. Many also had coppery heads, or muzzles, and some even had copper on their talon-like paws.
They all roared in fury, throwing their emotions. Richard could actually feel it, seeping into his mind, like a nightmare coming alive. The voices of the dragons. He didn’t know how they did it, but somehow he swore he could hear them. Somewhere in his mind they spoke of their rage, their resolve, their determination. These creatures would have this ground. It was their mountain, and they would defend it. They promised to crush their opposition. Burn away the infestation of puny sapiens.
Those sapiens happened to be there rightfully. They needed that section of the outer mountain to continue growing ample crops. It was vital to their survival. The rest could be hidden away within the mountain, but this had to remain good for growing. Without food, they would starve in the tunnels.
The dragons were false in their claims. This wasn’t their mountain. It was a mountain to be shared. They were violating territorial dominance, and they would feel the full fury of a few puny sapiens. Richard felt as though he were pulsing. Anger flowed forth from him like a gathering tempest. It seemed to swell through every vein in his body, then seep into the air, where it built.
He seemed to be in two places at once. From one perspective, he was a man. A man he had come to know well, through the course of his dreams. Though he could never get his name right, he seemed to still know it somehow. He seemed to somehow know everything about this man, yet could only remember so much at a time. It was the strangest thing.
From the other perspective, however, he was something he never quite expected to be. A shield. While his name sounded much different from how he had heard it before, he still recognized himself as Kazimir.
He felt the combined rage of the man and Kazimir seeping forth, becoming stronger with each passing moment. He could hear the voice of Kazimir bellowing in his head, echoing across the mountain. It was the thoughts of two different beings. One organic, and one artificial. Kazimir spoke to the man, as well as on his behalf, booming his voice at the sky.
He sang in his strange language, a song that thrummed. It pulsed through every fiber, every speck. Absolutely everything resonated from the furious song. It was a song of death, destruction, and doom unlike anything ever heard before. It was a song that promised it.
A tan dragon with copper running clear down her neck and up to her elbows, swooped past, strafing a line of spit fire. The roaring blaze seemed to collide with the air several yards from himself. It danced across a field of energy that encased him in a bubble. Fire light refracted through the dense energy, and a show of thousands of tiny rainbows flashed with the passing flames. The spit-fire faded along with the display, as the dragon flew off in deep frustration.
Kazimir bellowed after her. His song mocked her pitiful attempts to burn them away. He mocked all of her strengths, and boasted of his power. He was taunting her, proudly. The energy from the flames seemed to pour into him, making him stronger still. Other dragons roared in annoyance. Kazimir simply extended the energy bubble, in boast.
Everything seemed to fade, then meld into a new scene. They were no longer on the mountain side, but somewhere within. They were standing in some form of a court-room. An absolutely magnificent court-room. Richard had seen the awe inspiring architecture and design before in previous dreams, yet he couldn’t help but stare in wonder. He appraised the scene from the perspectives of both man and shield as one.
Before him lay a series of grand benches. Seated at those benches were a few dozen members of, what Richard had come to understand as, the high military command. Hundreds more, dressed spectacularly, comprised a massive audience that filled the space. They were receiving some form of honors. It was hard to tell exactly what it was, or what it was even for. Still, it was a great honor, nonetheless.
The scene shifted again, returning to the court-room. Expect, this time, there was no crowd of on-lookers. Only the man, the shield, and the members of the high military command. They were being… reprimanded? How could they be reprimanding them? Richard just couldn’t seem to figure out why. Then, it suddenly didn’t matter anymore.
Richard felt the thoughts of both man and shield. Saw things for what they were from both views. Though they were disappointed with the resulting reprimand, they understood why it had to be done. They understood how they had earned it.
Yet they would do it all over again. It was the right thing to do. Still, this reprimand was also warranted under legitimate pretenses. So they accepted that both had to be done. That was all there was to it. It simply had to be done.
Richard’s eyes snapped open into surrounding darkness. He could feel something around the edge of his face. Where was he, again? He could sense that he was facing downwards. Whatever he was lying on, was stiff, but also had the touch of fabric sheets. Medical bed sheets. It all came flashing back to him. He lay on the cot for a while, just taking it all in. The sounds of the strange language he had heard in his dream still resonated in his head.
It was the damnedest thing. He figured that once the dream was over, that it shouldn’t be audible anymore. Yet the bizarre rhythm of a war chant, seemed to pulse from everywhere. It vibrated through the walls, the rafters, the floor. It called out from all around him, booming like a storm. The song of an ancient relic.
“Kazimir?” Richard was having trouble believing what he was hearing.
Still, he understood the meaning of the song. Kazimir was calling to him. Summoning him. Just the absolute damnedest thing. Being called forth by a shield.
His eyes adjusted to the dark enough, so he could find his clothes. Easing himself up and out of the cot, he dressed. The same trousers, shirts, and belt served well enough. He didn’t bother with an outer garment, but he did put on his shoes. Properly clothed, he made his way through the darkness.
The cots also seemed to be pulsing. Kazimir’s song called out from everywhere, and everything. He called for Richard.
It took a while to meander through the dark, but eventually he reached a set of doors that lead directly outside. In case of particularly bad injuries. Didn’t want to get a bunch of blood all over the infirmary sitting quarters. Pushing his way through the doors, he stepped out into the light of the stars and moon.
The chanting pulsed from every structure. It filled the air around him. He felt as though it were guiding him, and he followed.
The farther he followed, the more suspicious he grew. He couldn’t see, or hear anyone else around. Surely they could all hear the singing. Wouldn’t they want to know just what the hell was making all that damn racket? Sure, the chant wasn’t for any of them, but still. It wasn’t everyday that the voice of a hundred thousand year old shield literally boomed the fuck out of every-damn-where.
He followed it all the way to his barracks. Song poured from the structure, seeming to be amplified by it. Louder and louder still, Kazimir called to him. He approached the door, preparing himself for what would be inside. With a pull, he stepped through the door, and peered into the darkness. The sight that greeted him, left him feeling shocked and appalled.
Everyone was sound asleep. Absolutely all of them. Some even snored, as if in challenge to the song rattling the very walls. They actually snored. It was the absolute damnedest thing.
He trailed through the darkness, following the chanting past several other bunk cots. His comrades slumbered on. At long last he reached his own cot. Stepping around the mattress laden frame, he caught sight of Kazimir, nestled against the wall at the head of the cot, just like normal. Then his eyes filled with pure awe.
Strange how even after seeing it only once before, the sight still took him by complete surprise. Maybe because it really had been only once before. Still, much like the things Kazimir showed him in his dreams, he never found them to be anything less than astounding. Words didn’t exist, that he knew of, that could even begin to describe how truly awesome they were. It was like glimpsing the lives of gods from far long ago, even if they were gods of a completely different people.
It seemed wrong to think of them as gods. After all, Her Grace was the only one true god. These people were in fact, just that. People. Beings that existed within the physical realm, while Her Grace was far more than that. Yet what else could they be? Living gods? Even if far lesser than Her Grace? It didn’t seem so far fetched.
Considering all they had built, all they had grown, all they had created. They had created Kazimir. Binding him from metals Richard knew nothing of, along with synthetics and code. He didn’t fully know what was meant by either synthetics or code, but those were the words that felt right. Words that Kazimir had used. Damnedest thing, really.
The shield, which usually depicted the Greyshat coat of arms painted across his face, instead glowed a brilliant sky blue. Etched within his face, was an intricate pattern of twisting lines, forming an unravelable maze. Glowing blue pulsed forth, seeming to rise from the depths of the maze. Symbols of an ancient language rose over the maze. Though he had seen symbols like these so many other times before, in his dreams, he still had no idea what any of them meant. Still he could feel them. Feel their meaning.
They drifted across the face of the shield, as if floating. Sometimes they would overlap, then drift apart again. Yet the shield’s surface remained completely covered with the symbols at all times. They were absolutely teeming. They spoke to him, and while he couldn’t read a single one, he understood them perfectly. At least it felt that way. It was a scene that took him back to that first night at Greyshat Manor.
Not entirely sure why, he knelt down before the shield. It thrummed, vibrating through his entire being, clear through his bones. It felt good, in a strange way. Reaching out, he placed a hand on Kazimir’s face. It felt like the symbols were flowing into him, seeping through his skin, and coursing through his veins. They sizzled like words conjured from a heatless fire, neither hot, nor cold. Not warm, or cool. Just pleasant. The most calming, most soothing, most reassuring words he had ever felt. Feeling words, what a concept.
They melted away his fears, his doubts, his dissatisfactions. He wasn’t as bad as he thought himself to be. He wasn’t a misfit unworthy of achievement.
In place, they filled him with understanding, acceptance, approval, determination, and purpose. There was a reason he was as he was, and a damn good one at that. There were times when things just needed doing, even if they came with consequences. He wasn’t a thug. He was the one who was willing to see things done, damn the consequences. He could take them as they came, but just as long as things got done.
He was a protector. He was a shield, just like Kazimir. That’s why Kazimir had chosen him. Even after thirty thousand years, since being, quite literally, thrown from his own world into a land far younger. He still had only chosen three prior wielders, since being recovered some four thousand years ago.
Richard was a unique type of person, one with a resolve that was unshakeable. He shared that same resolve along with three ancient members of House Greyshat, and other warriors of Kazimir’s creators, spanning countless generations. All honorable men. All served well. They may have not always felt glory, but their people were safe behind them. Richard was reassured that his own people would be safe behind the two of them, as well. Man and shield, together as one. Kazimir promised.
Richard gripped the rim of the shield in both hands, drawing it closer. He bathed in the blue glow, feeling a new man. Continuous thrumming resonated all around, embracing him. It was still so awe inspiring. It felt so pleasant. So comforting.
“Thank you, Kazimir,” he whispered to the shield, still knelt in the darkness.