Tarla Weaston

Tarla watched from the bushes as two raiders dismounted a wagon of fresh loot to investigate the fray as the camp erupted into a huge brawl between factions. The driver stayed behind to keep watch over the horses but couldn’t help but watch, transfixed to the melee. Tarla took advantage of his distraction as she crept barefoot into the back of the wagon, pulling her gaunt frame up with her one hand, dagger in between her teeth, and positioned herself behind him. He gurgled briefly as the blade plunged into the side of his neck and she pushed forward as hard as she could. Using rope and spears that had been behind the driver’s bench, she propped the body upright as best she could as she drove the wagon away, driving the horses as fast as she felt comfortable once they were out of sight.
She pushed the horses as far as they could take her, stopping at another small farm that had been pillaged by the same band of raiders just a few days prior, hiding the wagon in a burned-out barn. She unhitched the horses and let them roam to forage and drink. There was food and other sundries in the wagon so she made camp to rest and eat.
Her rest was cut short when she heard the sound of an armored person on horseback approach the barn. Quickly, she tried to hide behind some of the rubble as the armored raider dismounted at the barn’s entrance wearing the tattered mismatched armor and regalia of Kaldorn Infantry and Maladovek archers. Much to Tarla’s surprise, she saw the face of a woman as the raider pulled off her helmet, her short brown hair matted with sweat against her head.
“You don’t have to hide. I’m escaping that gaggle of children much as you are. I’m not here to bring you back.” Tarla remained silent, unsure what to make of this large and imposing woman. The woman scanned the barn briefly then shrugged before moving to the wagon to investigate the contents. She poked around a bit then pulled out some food before lighting a cook fire on the dirt floor in the middle of the barn.
Tarla watched the stranger beginning to cook some stew in a pot she had pulled from the wagon and simply sat there watching the fire and the stew. Whatever she was doing, it was evident she was in no hurry. The smell of the stew made Tarla’s stomach rumble.
“I had been watching you all week.” the stranger said softly, calmly, nearly causing Tarla to jump in shock from the broken silence, “What you did took guts. Dangerous but brilliant.” Tarla shrunk down lower, still too afraid to move. “When my farm was attacked, I was out gathering wood. My family…” she broke off, “…they… didn’t make it.” It took a few moments before she started again. “I killed one of the bastards with my axe. Killed the other two with that one’s bow and sword. I took what I could of their armor, weapons, their best horse… and rode off to join the louts, not as another raider but as their destruction.”
For a long while neither of them said anything except for Tarla’s stomach. Finally, the stranger spoke again. “The stew is ready. I know you’re hungry, I can hear your stomach from here. Come. Eat.”, she said as she spooned a helping into a wooden bowl and set it on the ground between Tarla and the fire.
The stranger seemed to wait for a while but after an exasperated sign Tarla could hear footsteps coming towards her position behind the fallen stone wall of a stable and began to panic. Tarla braced to attack or flee but was surprised as the stranger came into view unarmed with an outstretched hand just out of reach of Tarla’s dagger. “My name is Vivianna. I promise you I’m not going to hurt you or take you anywhere you don’t want.”
The kind smile on Vivianna’s face disarmed Tarla and melted away any reservations she had about this stranger. Slowly Tarla sheathed her dagger and grasped Vivianna’s outstretched hand to stand. “Tarla”, she said as Vivianna guided her to the bowl of stew next to the fire. “My name is Tarla. Um… thank you.” she said sheepishly as she cautiously sat down.
Vivianna strode to the opposite side of the fire and proceeded to prepare a bowl of stew for herself but paused in surprise as Tarla wolfed her bowl down with relish, happy to finally have something other than scraps to eat. Vivianna simply offered her bowl in exchange for Tarla’s while saying, “There’s plenty of stew and I can cook more. You’ll just make yourself sick if you rush.” Tarla simply nodded as she ate the second bowl, slowly this time.
They both ate their fill until they scraped the bottom of the pot and sat there in satiated silence next to the warm fire. The sun had set and the chill had begun to creep in. “Thank you, Vivianna. It’s been a while since I ate anything that wasn’t thrown to me on the dirt.”
“No, I must thank you for that amazing thing you did. I had been keeping night watch in the hopes that I could ‘neglect’ to see anyone coming in to deal with those monsters when I saw you creeping around the tents at night. At first, I just thought you were out doing some sort of chore for that brute, Marchek, but then the body was found and saw you out and about again the following night. I knew you were up to something good; I didn’t realize how spectacular things would turn out. I kept watch and even distracted a few from looking your way as the bodies piled up. I almost considered talking to you then and there, but I realized that would put both of us at risk. But the way you played Marchek!? Glorious. Dobrick had been itching to take over the raiding party and had half the camp ready to back him up. You pinning his murder on Marchek was beautiful. The entire camp went to war with each other as I watched. You did in a single week what I had been trying to do for a month and a half.” she said with a huge grin.
“I did what I needed to survive.” Tarla responded heatedly, “and I would do it again. I would destroy Kaldorn and Maladovek for this stupid war and its stupid soldiers while the rest of us pay the price. Nothing but hooligans, the lot of them!” She calmed herself by wrapping her arm around her knees as she stared into the fire.
“We both did Tarla. I had to pretend I was one of them and I’m not proud of the things I had to do to keep that up. At least I knew that for every raiding party I went out with, a few wouldn’t make it back because of me.”
Tarla continued to stare into the fire for a bit before asking in a thoughtful voice while maintaining her gaze, “What are you going to do now?”
Vivianna considered her answer for a moment, “I’ll probably ride back in the morning to survey what’s left of the camp. If there’s only a few stragglers I’ll take them out, otherwise I’ll probably just ride back here. My home is gone and if the raiding party is gone; this is as good a place as any I suppose. My heart wouldn’t be able to deal with going back home, too many memories.” The sound of the fire crackled as Vivianna placed another piece of scrap wood onto the fire. “How about you?”
Tarla looked away to consider what she’d do for a moment, “I’m not sure. I don’t know where I am, I had never left home before. I’m missing my good arm so I’m limited on what I can do on my own. I want to keep fighting but I don’t know what to do or where to go from here.”
“Who will you fight for? Kaldorn? Maladovek?”
Tarla quickly gave Vivianna a look of deep scorn then stood abruptly, animatedly pointing at the armored woman and gesturing wildly, “Oh hell no. They’re who I’m fighting against. I would rather drown in a vat of pig shit before letting them get away with what they’re doing to the people who just want to live in peace. Having our families slaughtered, our crops stolen, our dignity raped just so some high and mighty lords can have their fucking war so they can loot and pillage to line their fat pockets. They’re no better than those fucking marauders who do the same fucking thing but with less honesty. I swear to the gods and all the ancient spirits that I would kill them all!”
Vivianna’s grin seemed to grow wider as a strange glint appeared in her eye. A trick of the firelight maybe? “What woulds’t thou be willing to do for thine end?”
The tone of Vivianna’s voice caught Tarla slightly off guard, but she was resolute. She jumped to her feet and shook her fist towards Vivianna before animatedly point at her, “Any damned thing! I would haunt their dreams and make them wish that I was a mere nightmare. I would take everything out from under them, their money, their families, their prestige and laugh as they watched everything they valued burn to ash before I threw them alive like wood onto the pyre.”
Vivianna’s grin grew unnaturally wide at this. “I woulds’t gladly help thee achieve this… thou must merely speak mine name.” This took Tarla aback. This was no longer Vivianna, or it was but now showing a glimpse of who Vivianna really was. “Thou does’t knowest mine name, speak it.”
With this Tarla knew for certain who this was possessing Vivianna. One of the ancient spirits, a demon, a Veskadra. She knew the ancient tales. The stories whispered by candlelight to frighten children into good behavior. The Veskadra of Vengeance… she hesitated only briefly when she whispered, “Hrotha Draug”.
With this, Vivianna’s grin seemed unnaturally large, distorting her face like it was going to snap it in twain. As large as the grin was, it quickly disappeared as her head jerked into a left lean much like an inquisitive dog, much too quick to be comfortable, “Thou mus’t show the depths of thine desire. Thrust thine hand into the flames. Thou mus’t grasp the flaming ember and burn out thine eye to show thy resolu….”. Before the creature could finish the sentence, Tarla already had her hand in the fire, the skin blistering and peeling as she grabbed a large ember and jammed it into her eye with such speed and such force that she fell backward onto the ground. As she rolled round screaming in pain, the ember flared unnaturally bright in a purplish-orange flame, only amplifying the agony as the smell of charred flesh filled the air. Vivianna’s horse reared in terror before fleeing into the darkness. The demon possessing Vivianna smiled impossibly wide, cracking Vivianna’s lips.
After what seemed an eternity, the flaming ember in Tarla’s eye socket died down, the flesh around it completely burned away leaving her slightly more than half her face untouched except for the bruises that Marchek had left her. She calmed down after the pain subsided and sat up to face Vivianna again. The cook fire had completely gone cold though Tarla could see Vivianna clearly as if in twilight and the purplish-orange glint in Vivianna’s eyes seemed to show even brighter. She saw the blood trickling from Vivianna’s cracked lips.
Vivianna’s possessor spoke again, “Thine pact is thus sealed. Seeketh out the ancient library of Malromin the Mad, this one shalst know the way.” Tarla only nodded as her throat had gone dry and hoarse from screaming. Vivianna then reached over to grab Tarla’s hand with her left and placed her right hand over Tarla’s burned-out left eye. With the odd purple-orange glow, pain once again shot through Tarla’s face and arm as new nerve endings replaced the ones destroyed by fire. This time, however, she was unable to thrash around as she felt unable to move, unnaturally frozen in place. Once the pain subsided and Tarla found she could move again, she looked at the new skin on her hand, heavily scarred by fire but healed and capable of touch. The skin on her face seemed similarly healed and she felt the roughness of the scars. Despite being able to see, she was surprised to find her left eye completely missing.
She looked over at Vivianna and her painful grin, the glow in her eyes still present. “I shall do as you ask.”, she said. Vivianna simply nodded before the glow in her eyes faded and she fell backwards, unconscious.
Tarla rushed to Vivianna’s side, trying to shake her awake and gently slapping her face. After a moment, Vivianna’s eyes opened as she shot upright into a seated position and then screamed as pain flooded her face. “FUUUUUCK!!! What the FUCK just happ… ow ow ow!!”
Tarla pulled off her tunic and pressed it into Vivianna’s face. “You passed out and split your face open. Press this to staunch the bleeding while I look for something better… and cleaner… to dress that up.”, she croaked. Content that Vivianna was going to be okay, she searched the wagon for something better to fix her up with.
Vivianna knew that Tarla wasn’t being honest. She knew in retrospect what had happened, like a dream memory being lost on awakening. The fact that Tarla had a huge burn scar on her face where she was now missing an eye told her much. The fact she could see the unnatural glow of “Hrotha Draug” in that eye socket told her the rest. She would have to tell Tarla the truth eventually, the fact that the same glow exists where her heart once beat. Tarla was her master now and she would follow her to the ends of Dezengarth if needed, and she was glad for it.

Published by Rav

Husband, Father, Designer, Artist, Writer, and Gamer.

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