The usual things apply: everything is subject to change, deletion, keeps.
Ger: the giant warrior, the eldest of five brothers, the leader of orphans; Ger: with a red hued skin and scars in his hands; Ger: who fought his four brothers across land that gave birth to four nations; Ger: who fell from his wounds; Ger: who killed those he loved to save those he did not.
The Warrior God.
“Your eyes,” Illaan said to her, before the sun rose. “Your eyes are made from fire.”
It was not what Ayae wanted to hear. At the age of five, a month after her arrival in Mireea, the matron of the orphanage whispered that rooms were warmer when she was in them. A large, red faced woman, the matron had died days later when the oil lamp in her room turned over tragically. With a child's logic, Ayae blamed herself and for years feared waking surrounded by flames or suffocating in smoke. As she grew older, and could recognise the cause of her phobias, she never forgave the matron her ill timed words. Life was hard enough without unfounded fears: she was small, Asiatic, a minority amongst the tall, mountain dwelling whites, and her dark brown, almond shaped eyes were a map of hardships that only a child refugee from a continent torn apart by war could carry. She had physical scars, too, falling like drying tears across her back, inflicted by burning pitch in a incident she could not recall. The burn on the inside of her left wrist, however, she could. At the age of twelve, she accepted a dare from friends she no longer had. Ayae had pretended that the coal hurt as she pushed it against herself, but the burn had been curiously painless, and succeeded in only bringing back her childhood phobias. At twenty, the fear still lingered, and she was careful with the fireplace, had a distaste for cooked meat, and did not read by lamplight.
In the warm quiet of the night, however, Ayae told Illaan that he was dreaming, that what he had seen the day before had dug into his dreams. She spoke softly, as if to do so loudly would break the simple truth she retold. Mireea, the City of Watchtowers, was being raided, with villages being guttered by flame and sword, an occurrence none had foreseen. Running across the spine of Ger, the city that had begun as a trade stop before turning into the capital of a borderless trade empire. It was neutral, valued by all, and with binding treaties to ensure its safety. In the North, where the Asiatic Kingdoms of Faaisha sprawled, Mireea was the gate by which half their wealth emerged; in the East, the Tribes of the Plateau had for generations been pacifists and rarely traveled over Ger's spine; while in the South, the floating cities of Yeflam and the home of the Keepers Enclave claimed the Watchtowers a religious site for the corpse beneath them; and in the West, in Leera, the kingdom of vine covered fortresses and hot, steaming jungle, Mireea had funded its birth after war torn refugees from icy mountain ridges had been forced across the world, to a new climate, and a new life.
But it was from there that the raiders came.
At first, the attacks had been minor, nothing more than robberies on the roads. But then trade stopped, and white men and women so thin they were but pale fleshed skeletons appeared with stories of religious culling, seeking sanctuary. In Mireea, it was noted how similar the stories were to those that drove the same families from their homes, generations earlier.
The aging Lord of Watchtowers, Elan Wagan, a man who in his youth purchased a captaincy for a year in Leera, moved to stop the raids, by treaty first, and then force—but his ride into the steaming jungle had left Mireea's small army in tatters and he had returned haunted and blind. His wife, Muriel, petitioned for aid from the Enclave and received the attendance of two Keepers, Fo and Bau, one old and one new. If any but the Lady Wagan had seen the pair since their arrival, Ayae had not heard of it; but as Lady Wagan hired mercenary armies to supplement her own and began organising weapons training for all men and women in the City of Watchtowers, Ayae suspected that the lady was not impressed by the two visitors.
It was one of the last raids that had seen Illaan return to her, the shadow in his already dark gaze growing with haunting memories. He was a soldier who, though Ayae would not tell him, was best suited to organising those under him, training new recruits, parting arguing merchants, ensuring brawls were quietened, and then coming home to children and dinner. He was not a man who led soldiers to pick their way through charred buildings and the devoured remains of bodies. On his first night back, he sat in the stuffed cushions on the floor of her tiny house, silent, a bottle of beer in his long fingers losing it dampness and turning dry. Later that night he shook her violently, waking her with a harsh whisper about her burning eyes.
“It was just a dream,” she told him, stroking his shoulders as he shuddered. “Nothing but a dream.”
When he slept, he was cold to her touch.
In the morning, she awoke to an empty bed. Rising, she found him with his long body bent over the fire that stifled the room, turning the iron tongs as he cooked the last of her bread. The bread didn't need to be cooked, but she bit back her words. Instead, her hand dropped to his still cool shoulder, and he smiled, but it was narrow and did not touch the rest of his pale face.
“There will be merchants arriving in the city for tomorrow's market,” he said, “though it would be nice if more mercenaries weren't arriving with them.”
“Are they not employed, then?”
“Most, but we're expecting a new group called the Blind Soldiers.” Brown cloth wrapped around his long fingers, Illaan turned the tongs. “I'm tired of them. Do you know what kind of person sells their sword from one war to another for money.”
“They're just the kind—”
“Of people we don't want,” he finished.
She squeezed his arm, said nothing for fear that the flare of anger in her would work its way out. What he had seen had been terrible, but she also knew that once the memory of it started to fade, his cynicism regarding the mercenaries would also leave. Ayae would not be the first person to welcome another company of men and women who arrived road weary, with glints of metal in boiled leather. But she was also not the last person to acknowledge their importance, either: without them, the raids from Leera would have escalated into a full fledge attack.
Illaan pulled out the toast, smoke trailing from the burnt edges. With a rue smile, he said, “I was going to surprise you, to apologise for last night.”
She ruffled his hair, made her way to the tiny kitchen. Beneath the floorboards was a small chute of hard, dry ice, where she kept juice, milk, butter and occasionally meat. They froze on the edges when the rainy season came, but mostly, they were kept only chill.
“Just cold,” she said, stepping clear of the trap door, and stamping her feet from her sudden shiver. “Maybe we should go out for dinner tonight?”
He dropped the toast on the board before her. “Tonight?”
“Just.” He poked at the burnt edge. “I was thinking I might just go home tonight.”
“You're not still—”
“Yeah.” Illaan shrugged, rubbed at his narrow face. “I'm sorry. I'm trying, but it was just so vivid. Your eyes. I swear the iris was alive. I could see each line in it, burning.”
An angry reply was on her lips, but she pursed them together.
“I'm sure you're right, though,” he continued. “It wasn't—the bodies. I mean, I knew—one of them was only fourteen. I just need some time to get it out of my head. That's all.”
“You've been gone two weeks,” Ayae said, softly. “I missed you.”
“I just need some time to myself.” He did not meet her gaze. “That's all. Just a night. A night so I can wash out what I saw from my head, get away from burnt bodies and Keeper talk.”
“It was a Keeper that sent us out. Bau, I think. Maybe it was Fo.” Illaan picked a burnt edge from the toast, held it between his fingers. “No one human could have known what lay out there.”
“Was one there with you?”
She smiled to take the sting out of her words. “Then how do you know?”
Illaan shrugged, crushing the burnt remains between his fingers as he looked up at her. “Just what everyone said. Sometimes, what everyone says is true.”