The Pale Priestess is a blaze of white before her, the thunder of their horses echoing against the castle walls as they depart Highgate and ride blindly into the night. Her armour is heavy on her, her sword a trusting weight on her left hip, their blinding sun banner snapping in the wind.
Fareeha gallops silently beside her charge, her black destrier bearing her easily down the road. The veil of darkness is still around them, the Pale Priestess’ white cloak almost blinding in the gloom, guiding their way away from safety to the perils of the wilds. Highgate’s surrounding lands are peaceful during the long, endless days of the summer. But the autumn is falling thick and fast around them, the leaves crushed under her steed’s hooves is proof enough of that, and Fareeha knows that with autumn comes hunger.
The Pale didn’t call autumn the Season of Decay for nothing.
“We ride to Overwatch.” The Priestess calls back to her. Fareeha nods silently, knowing her helm would swallow any spoken answer anyway, and urges her horse faster, drawing level, and then ahead of her charge.
They gallop on through the night, the road taking them past the vast lake of Highwater. Large enough to be a small sea, even Fareeha cannot see the farthest shore. Here and there the glimmer of dockside towns against the waters offer wordless safety and a warm bed. The Pale Priestess gives no word of stopping, though, and they continue on their way.
Dawn finds them on the eastern road. The first blush of light burns as brightly as a star and Fareeha knows the Pale Priestess must stop to rest soon. Her own body is aching with exhaustion, eyes burning behind her falcon-headed helm, legs almost welded to the saddle beneath her. But she keeps going, her silence bought through both exhaustion and habit. The Priestess also holds her peace, moving in the saddle with practiced ease. Fareeha throws her a glance, then offers her god silent blessings, praying for a sharp vigil as they continue along the shore of Highwater.
Overwatch is a tiny hunched mass in the far distance. Its buildings are curled in on themselves, like forgotten clay men hunched in defeat. Fareeha has the overbearing sense that Overwatch isn’t a pretty place, but understands that the women there aren’t so hard to look at. Even she, a Sworn Sword to the Pale and a Knight from the Barrens of Arga, isn’t above the tender heat between a woman’s legs.
The gates are barred to them when they come to a halt. Fareeha remains silent and still as the earth, one gauntleted hand clenched around her standard, the other curled around the reins. The Priestess wheels her horse back and forth, clearly agitated. Beneath her white hood, Fareeha can see her full lips are pressed into an irritated line.
“Who goes there?” Calls a voice.
“A priestess from the Pale, seeking sanctuary,” her companion replies bitingly. Her horse snorts, pawing the earth as though sensing her mistress’s anger.
“Hail. May the sun banish the night!” The voice replies.
“Stars guide your path.” The Priestess says the words automatically; the correct reply to the blessing.
With that, the gates creak open. Their horses walk through side by side - white mare and black stallion, one hooded and cloaked in the white of her office, the other armoured and armed, bearing the standard of the sun. They must make an impressive sight; Fareeha feels the stares of Overwatch’s people, and ignores them, trusting her helm to hide her face.
“My lady.” A huge man lumbers towards them, standing near as tall as Fareeha on her horse. His remaining eye is huge with wonder, grizzled hair falling about his face like a mane. But beyond the lines of his face, Fareeha sees the muscles of his arms and legs - even more so when he bends into a deep bow. He wears a purple cloak, emblazoned with the sigil of a roaring lion.
“Ser Reinhardt. It is good to see you.” The Priestess drops her hood, revealing her beauty. Even though Fareeha isn’t looking directly at her, the dawn seems duller for the shining radiance of her blonde hair, and the beautiful smile which she knows graces her face.
“It has been too long, Mercy. Too long indeed.”
As the Priestess dismounts Fareeha’s eyes flicker about the village square. More people are creeping out of their homes, disturbed at this early hour by their arrival. She sees more foreign faces; men, women. Even children, who clutch at their mothers’ skirts and gaze wide-eyed at her and the Priestess from the North.
The knight embraces Mercy tightly, murmuring something in some strange tongue which Fareeha does not know. She pretends not to listen, instead giving her destrier the rein and allowing the stallion to stretch out his neck. He does so, snorting and shaking his mane, eager for rest. Her horse seems to draw the attention to her, and she straightens in the saddle as Reinhardt and Mercy turn to face her.
“Ser, this is my Sworn Sword, Pharah of Aquila.” Mercy says. Fareeha stares steadily into the Priestess’s blue eyes, wondering how much more she would tell. “I would have her placed beside my quarters, if that isn’t too much to ask.”
Reinhardt gives her a very obvious once over, clearly looking for faults in her armour, or an unsteadiness in her resolve. Apparently seeing none, he gives a snort and claps one massive hand on Mercy’s tiny shoulder. She nearly collapses knee first into the mud, but her staff stops her.
“Is it just Pharah of Aquila, or do you have other names?” Reinhardt half shouts. Fareeha says nothing, the only hint she heard a tightening of her fingers around her banner.
Mercy rests a tiny hand on Reinhardt’s massive arm, patting it soothingly before speaking, “She is my loyal protector. But please, I ask that we are given shelter. It has been a long night’s ride.”
A stable boy hurries up to collect their steeds. Fareeha dismounts easily, relinquishing her banner to some other boy, who carries it carefully away after their horses. Her every step creaks, her armour rattling as she follows Mercy and Reinhardt silently, entering an enormous longhouse, carved from the bowels of a ship, long ago beached and set upon the earth, never to sail again. She almost feels the ship’s longing for the sea as she enters the cavernous room, taking in the sweeping heartfire and the long wooden tables and benches which make Overwatch’s court.
Reinhardt and Mercy are talking in their strange language again. Fareeha has little choice but to follow as he leads them both out of the main hall and into a narrow corridor. The mouth-watering scents of breakfast reach her even as Reinhardt leads them away from the kitchens and towards a pair of solid oak doors.
“Your rooms.” He opens one, biding Mercy entrance. She thanks him courteously, bowing her head delicately before shutting the door behind her. Fareeha waits impassively while Reinhardt eyes her over once more.
“Mercy is important to us.” He says gruffly as he shoulders open the door to the next room.
Fareeha nods once. She is important to me too, knight. It doesn’t become you to doubt me. She dares not say these words out loud, but instead clings to them as a drunk clutches his ale, desperate and pleading. When she doesn’t answer, Reinhardt grunts and shrugs away from the wall, allowing her to pass him.
The moment the door closes, Fareeha allows her shoulders to sag. Exhaustion worries at her heels, doglike and unforgiving, until she reaches up to pull her helmet off her head. She nearly lets out a groan of relief, striding further into her rooms. They are small, but lavish. A huge bed occupies one wall, a set of doors opening onto a balcony overlooking the valley below. It takes Fareeha a moment to comprehend the physics of it, before she realises the house is built on the edge of a cliff, allowing the spectacular sights without the use of staircases.
She sets her helmet aside, pulls off her mail coif and lays it out carefully beside the falcon helm. Before she had become a Knight of the Barrens, she had had her own sigil to bear with pride - the striking falcon on her cloak and her helm are the last vestiges of her dying house.
It is with practiced ease that she unbuckles her armour, leaving her in a set of comfortable leathers. With a sigh, she removes her final boot, wiggling her toes before crossing the room and collapsing onto the enormous bed.
She is aching. Wearing her armour for so long, and the ride around the lake, has tired her out so much, she barely has the energy to wait.
But wait she does.
After ten minutes of forcing her eyes to stay open, her door creaks open quietly, and shuts just as softly, the click of the lock quelling any fear of discovery. She lifts her head, allowing herself to smile as the woman creeps towards her bed.
“I hoped you’d still be awake.” Angela murmurs. She has changed into white cottons, leaving behind her cloak and her sigils and her staff.
“I hoped you’d visit.” Fareeha replies, voice cracked with disuse. She pats the bed, and Angela joins her, curling up at her side before placing a gentle kiss to her forehead. Fareeha makes a tiny noise in her throat, and sighs happily when Angela rests her head on her shoulder.
“I’m sorry to have pushed us so hard,” Angela murmurs drowsily. “We got here just in time.”
Fareeha smiles to herself when Angela yawns so hugely her jaw cracks. No more is she Mercy the Priestess from the Pale North. Instead she is just Angela, a healer and a lover. A woman Fareeha has come to love.
It is only here, in the privacy of a locked room, that they can be themselves, rather than who they have to be. Fareeha isn’t Pharah of Aquila, Sworn Sword and Knight of the Barrens. She is just a woman who loves another woman, curling herself protectively around her soon-to-be wife as their conversation is forgotten.
Sleep takes them both. A sweet release from the trials of the night.