The Hands of Varantir

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Balan stepped carefully down from the towerhouse, scrubbing at the streak of white marring the sleeve of his robe. Much to his irritation this only smeared the pasty stuff further across the cuff, and he silently cursed whichever genius had decided on ravens as a method of communication. Self-reliance in the face of magic was all very well, but he felt his could risk a little corruption for the sake of clean robes, particularly since his duties so often took him to the rookeries.

The sound of steel rose to greet him as his stepped into the training yard. It was a fine spring morning, though quieter than usual – most of the Hands were on a training exercise to the south. That left only the elderly, the novices, the infirm and the latecomers left, and it was the latter he hoped to find in the yards.

As he rounded the corner he saw precisely who he hoped to see: two knights, both clad in the plate of the Order’s warrior units, sparring in the area usually reserved for the training of novices. The smaller of the two, bare-headed with hair as golden as his armour, laughed as his axe bit into the shoulder of the other, and with every blow that struck after it. His opponent, taller and slimmer, fought his side of duel with seemed to be the intent of attrition, catching all but a few of the blows on his shield and striking only when a vital spot was left open. Unlike the other he was garbed in ungilded, massive steel, partly obscured in a tabard of deep blue edged with a white hand in the centre. The smaller man’s tabard echoed the design, in orange and gold.

Balan watched as the two sparred further, making unflattering mental comparisons to the chapterhouse smithy, before coughing politely and stepping forward. Though the sound was far from audible over the clamour, his presence was soon noted and the two knights stepped apart.

The taller removed his helm, revealing hair and eyes the same shade of dark brown as Balan’s, though tied in a warrior’s tail. “Brother, well met.” His eyes flicked to the parchment. “What news?”

“What news is there ever, Gareth?” Balan offered the scroll out, his other hand passing a waterskin to the golden knight, who drank greedily. “Sir Cai of Gilmersdale has requested our help in a matter of banditry. His outer villages have been plagued with a large band, and despite his best efforts he has been unable to halt their attacks.”

The golden warrior snorted, spraying warrior. “Bandits? Sir Cailess the Intrepid wants the Hands summoned to fight thieves?”

““We ask not for service, but to serve,”” Gareth quoted. ““The hands of the gods reach where they will.””

“Oh so noble,” muttered the other as he leaned on his axe. “Mother would swoon.”

Gareth shot him a dark look, until Balan came between them. “Alain, that is unfair to Gareth, and to Sir Cai as well. These are no ordinary bandits – on their last attack their leader, a woman they had previously taken as a scout only, killed Sir Cai’s steward with magic alone. Drew the breath from his lungs until they were emptied, and the drove his forces back into the Whiterage River with a wave of her hand. Now they are camped in the forests to the north, and their numbers grow daily.”

Alain straightened and shouldered the axe, his expression suddenly grim. “A wind-witch? How big is the encampment?”

“Two to three dozen. The count was not clear.” Balan tucked the scroll into one blue sleeve, adjusting the green sash at his waist and clenched-hand clasp. “Sir Cai has requested our help in the matter. There are no other chapter houses close enough to help, and Gilmersdale has no other men to deal with this matter.”

Gareth nodded, lowering the helm upon his head again. “Then let us illuminate them in Aurvandil’s name, brothers.”

Alain grinned as he went to the stables. “Brother, if you forgo riding for talking much longer, all that will be illuminated is the head of the wind-witch as I gift it to you.”