"Very good, you're doing just fine," Sterren says, laying a gentle hand on her daughter's shoulder, "Both of you," she adds with a smile, proud of both of the young women she'd had the honor to raise. Elara's husband, Jean, leans over his wife, whispering words of encouragement as she grips his hands for support.
Taran, who had been waiting outside while his wife and Aouregan tend to the birth of his grandchild, leans through the doorway, catching Sterren's attention.
"Everything is going well, my love," Sterren assures him with a smile.
Taran nods gratefully, but his expression remains worried, "Your cousin, the lord Konan is here for you. He says it's urgent," he tells his wife.
Sterren's own smile fades at this; in these times of war, urgent summons are never glad tidings. She sighs, weary of the 15 years of sorrow the long wars against the Landgraabs have brought to her lands. Even a day like today, a day that should be celebrated, must be marked by this seemingly never ending war.
"You're doing fine," she assures her daughter, "I must see what Konan wants, I'll return shortly."
"Cousin," he greets her as she and Tran join him in the yard, "They told me I could find you here."
"What news? Sterren asks reluctantly.
"Penguilly has yielded. The war is done," Konan answers, his lips set in a tight, angry line.
War is over. The words should sound sweet. But the end of this war, the triumph of the Landgraabs, will not being the kind of peace that guarantees happiness for Avendale.
"Landgraab has sent me a summons," Konan continues, "I am to go to him to bend my knee and swear fealty." Anger and resentment poison his words as he speaks, "I have no choice in this. Avendale is not strong enough to fight him on our own, and we are now without allies. I can at least say I was the last of all of to bend my knee to this foreign usurper."
Sterren nods sadly, trying to think of some comforting words. But her cousin is not yet finished, and continues before she can breathe a word.
"There's more. Cousin, he says I am to bring you to Odet, to stand trial...." He does not have to say what crime she is accused of. With every town captured by the Landgraab forces, the trials have followed, and all who practice 'withcraft', as the priests of the Watcher have named service to the Lady, are burned at the stake. Sterren cannot help but shudder to think of the fate that awaits her in Odet. "I would bend my knee, and swear my fealty, but I will not allow this," Konan says firmly, "I will fight Landgraab to the death before I allow this."
"I do not think he'd agree to duel you for me," Sterren observes.
"More's the pity," Konan agrees, "But I will not back down. If he wants you, he can come here himself and try to take you!"
"No!" Sterren gasps in horror, "No, cousin, that I will not allow. I will not sacrifice this village to spare myself. You must not even consider it."
"Nor should you be so eager to sacrifice your life," Taran says. Always conscious pf his peasant origins, her husband usually keeps his silnce when Sterren converses with her noble relations, but he will not stay quiet while she throws herself into danger.
"Indeed, cousin," Konan agrees, "If you go to Odet, you are surely going to your death."
Sterren's lips form a tight line as she considers her options. "If I go, I may not have to die," she muses,
"What? Do you mean to assassinate the dragon slayer?" Konan gasps, his war experience suggesting only one solution to the problem they face.
Sterren's eyes widen at the thought. Could she kill Reinier, if presented with the opportunity? As a healer and a servant of the lady, she is sworn to do no harm. Yet, surely, no man has proved his capacity for harm more than Reinier Landgraab, and even though he has made himself lord over all of them, surely his reign of blood and terror is not yet over. The persecution of her kind will never be over, she fears, until every one of them has been burned in their unholy fires. But, still, to kill a man? Even if justified, could she do it?
"Even if I were given the opportunity to come close to him, I'm sure they would search me first, and take any weapon I attempted to conceal," Sterren muses.
"Not if the weapon was cleverly disguised," Jean says, coming out to join the trio in his yard, intending to bring news of the successful birth of his daughter. "I have a few small, sharp blades, of my own design, crafted to appear as harmless everyday objects." The young blacksmith had as a boy longed to follow in his grandfather's footsteps and become a healer and servant of the Lady, but as he grew to a man he took up his father's trade, even while studying under Sterren's tutelage. And from his forge came such wondrous items that many wondered if it were not magic that created them rather than simple skill.
He held out his hand, offering an amulet, wrought of silver. Sterren took it, looking at him quizzically. Jean smiled as he showed her how the pull the small latch concealed within the decoration, and Sterren gasped as the amulet broke into pieces, unfolding to become a sharp blade.
"Oh!" Sterren breathes, "But, I don't think...I doubt I would be given the chance to use it," she says, still not certain she would avail herself of the opportunity to kill Reinier if it presented itself, "The witch trials are held in the public square, are they not?"
Jean gives her a sharp nod, "Yes. In the market. I remember my grandfather's trial...my parents told me to stay at home, but I followed them anyway, and watched from behind a cart. Watched as they lit a fire beneath him, tied to a stake. And then the rains came," Jean looks Sterren in the eye, "And I saw, standing on the roof of a nearby building, I saw a fae. He had skin as blue as the sky and hair the color of midnight. You have allies among their kind, don't you Sterren? I remember seeing you speak with one, in the pond outside grandfather's house."
Sterren smiles, remembering the boy Jean was, "I didn't know you saw that," she says, "But yes, I do have friends amongst the fae, and I mean to seek their aid before I go to Odet to be put on trial."
Taran frowns, knowing he cannot dissuade his wife once her mind is set on a thing. "You should take Jean's concealed blade all the same," he advises, "You may find yourself in need of it."