Thaler sat uncomfortably in the chair as Aemoten berated her, he spoke of having her mark removed, which was sure to be painful. Of course perhaps she didn’t want it removed? She didn’t care if it wasn’t that easy to fool some people or not, they were as likely to figure out who she was by her hair, eyes or weapon as they were to see a mark she only exposed while ‘working’. It may well have represented her illegal life style, her tortured past but not all of it was bad and painful. The bandits were the ones who gave her it while she was still a child, it had stretched and distorted a little since then but it had grown with her and she was glad for that. There had been good times, with laughter and drink and feasts and the men while criminals and villains were all loyal to one another. It had been like being in a huge great family of which everyone respected and cared for one another, in their own strange way.
Still the topic of her branding was dropped and traded for the disappointment and another lecture on the difference between her and Jillian. She listened in silence of course as the man, their leader and her friend continued to degrade her and point out her numerous flaws and short comings. It was hard to sit there and not just stand and leave but it was exactly because it was hard that she curled her hands into balls and sat there, white knuckled and listening to everything he had to say. He spoke of her always having a choice but simply not looking for it and she struggled to believe that, had an option opened up surely she would have gone for it. The guards would not hire her, a baker would not take her, what job could she have done? Then again once the Mercenary group had dissolved had she even tried to look? She didn’t think she had, no, she knew she hadn’t, it was too easy to just keep doing what she was good at, what paid well and ignore the suffering she was causing others.
It felt like all the bile she’d ignored for so long, the same black ichor she’d spoken of not long ago was bubbling to the surface, they could see how poisoned and twisted she was now and worst of all she could no longer deny it to herself. It began as a simple attempt to stay alive, then it grew into a resentment for her hard times and an attempt to get back at her grandfather for abandoning her and her city for ignoring her. Then it became just a way of life, another way to earn coins in this day and age. She wondered when exactly she’d taken that transitory leap, from doing it because she had to, to doing it because she could. When had she accepted that stealing was an acceptable way of life and required no more thought than what pair of trousers to wear that day? It sickened her that despite her efforts she couldn’t really remember that time, that crucial point which should have been forever engrained in her mind.
Before she could dwell too long on how far she’d gone from her original plan and how far from the person she wanted to be she had fallen Aemoten answered her question. The very important question that, while not deciding her answer, would speak a lot about not just the man but the group as a whole. The answer he gave came almost angrily like an arrow from its bow and she flinched slightly from her position at the strength of the conviction behind that voice. For a moment she almost argued with the man, why wouldn’t he turn her in? She was a criminal, a confessed one and while she felt guilt for the people she may have caused to suffer she wasn’t exactly full of regret and remorse while speaking to Aemoten about it. However she was lost for words for long enough that Aemoten had already begun speaking again by the time she found her voice. He explained in a much softer manner and he took her face in his hands again, running a thumb across her cheek, whether it was to remove the remaining wetness that lingered there or for a more personal reason she wasn’t sure.
He spoke then about her continued worries, she had first not cared if she burdened them she was only playing a part. Now though the idea that they could be burdened by her, held up because of her or incarcerated because of her worried her and had done since they met Jillian. She was as great a risk as the witch to them and it had only then dawned on her the trouble she might cause. However, now that she’d laid her dishonesty’s out in front of them Aemoten was brushing aside the concerns she’d harboured secretly with the stroking of his thumb. There was a small silence as he spoke of her choices and importance, the world indeed was falling apart and a few days ago she would have told herself she didn’t care. That though would have been a lie to herself and only since meeting these three had she realised such, it did matter, even if one looked from a selfish point of view it mattered.
It seemed odd that only now she realised what she had to do, she couldn’t see them hurt she’d known that for days. Regardless of their actions if she’d denied Aemoten’s request she had no intention of doing so, not really. If she didn’t want to see them hurt, didn’t want their names dragged through the mud then she had to quit, even if not forever for the near future. It was a terrifying prospect of course, she had no idea how she’d make the coin she needed to get on with life, to buy food or beds, clothing or a mount. She had the things she had already stolen but what should she do with them? If she wanted a clean break then to toss them now would be the best option but these were things she’d already taken and she could, at least, get a little coin for them and purchase the necessities for travel.
Thaler did of course miss Jaelnec’s grand display, though had she known it was of concern to him she would have told him she heard the soft ‘fwump’ of the fabric on the table. Just before he jumped up and knocked his chair back she’d been about to answer Aemoten and tell him of her decision. Though as the chair clattered noisily against the floor she was distracted and her head whipped around to pin point the sound, rational thinking overpowered by instinctual reactions. Jaelnec then demanded in an eager tone that she give him her hand, a moment of panic swept her mind as her first thought was that of the usual punishment for thieves. When rationality returned a moment later she knew Jaelnec was not the kind to cut off a woman’s hand, he was gentle and fair –though one could argue, as she did with herself, that it would be quite fair to cut off her hand for her crimes- and so she lifted a hand from her lap and hesitantly extended it across the table.
Jaelnec saved her the effort of attempting to find him by snatching it up in his own the moment she had complied to his request. Aemoten’s grip shifted slightly on her so as to accommodate the suddenly enthused Jaelnec though it felt as if there was a slight hint of reluctance to do so. Though for the time she was too curious and caught up in Jaelnec’s excitement to really understand why. It was so refreshing to see that melancholy tossed aside like yesterday’s bandages and to see the old Jaelnec once more. While she couldn’t’ see it was almost as if he were glowing like the sun and radiating his own heat, the clouds that had hung heavy since the lake had parted and he had returned like a true knight.
Then, barely pausing for breath, Jaelnec uttered something so simple and yet so farfetched she was completely confused. If she was able to join the Knighthood she would have done but she’d never thought it possible, then again she’d never thought it possible that she’d meet a squire of the Will either. She had resigned herself to the notion of hunting down her grandfather and making him accept her but here was a real alternative, something that didn’t require her to get the attention of the old man and it had, in their week of travelling together, never occurred to her to ask Jaelnec if such was possible. His enthusiasm and sudden epiphany was infectious enough to cause a smile to form through the tears, with which she used the back of her hand to remove the last of. “It would be, it is. How would that even be possible though?” She asked with a slight hint of laughter lacing her words. This was too impossible, too…she wasn’t’ even sure but it was the strangest feeling an immense relief and lightness. She’d told these men her darkest, ugliest side and instead of punishing her they were rewarding her and holding to her tighter than they had before.
So as not to completely ignore Aemoten, whose hand weighted on her shoulder, different than before but yet still the same, she turned her head a fraction so she might speak towards his own face. “Aemoten, I swear, while I travel with you I won’t cause you any grief. I wouldn’t lift or take a single thing that I have not bought or paid for fairly. It’s not much but I give you my word on that.”