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The Mercenary

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It’s been years since I’ve slept soundly enough to dream.


For a long time, I rationalized it—blamed it on my infirmity or, when I recovered my strength, I blamed it on fear. After the ordeals I went through in Gwellinor, it seemed reasonable to be afraid of everything. But before I even realized it, that fear had gone numb. The vulgar monotony of my new life had all but washed it out.


In time, I came to wonder if the reason I did not dream was because none of this was real; that, perhaps, everything that I’d experienced since waking up was just an illusion, the deluded reveries of a dying woman. Or worse: not dying but dead. Living in my own personal hell, each day more agonizing than the last.

I was always raised to know my place, though, and to accept it with as much dignity as possible. Even now, if my place should be Hell, so be it. I am no little Apseline to drown in my own tears.


The arquebus roars in my hands as I pull the lever, filling my nose with the smell of sulfur and saltpeter. For many seconds afterward I hear the sound of my gunshot echo into the valley below, joined by the echoes of the dozens of arquebusiers formed along either side of me.

The first wave of men charging our line falls dead in the field. Alongside so many others, I have no way of knowing for sure if my bullet struck true, but I’ve been doing this so long that I know there is blood on my hands one way or another. I’ve fired this gun too many times to hope I’ve always missed.

Outnumbered as we may be, these men are just farmers; armed simply with patchwork armor, plow horses and scythes, their advancing line melts against our superior firepower. I doubt any of them believe strongly enough in their cause to let a mercenary company eradicate them completely; soon enough, I imagine our forces will have demoralized them enough that they will retreat for the safety of their farms and villages.

I do not know what this conflict is about. I don’t even know for sure what country I’m in. All this battle, all this killing… it’s just my profession now.


I reach for one of the bags of powder on my bandolier and proceed to pour it gingerly into the barrel of my arquebus, using my ramrod to press a ball down into the barrel. I’d never fired a gun before I joined up with this company, but now it’s like second nature to me… I don’t even think about the steps as I carry them out.


In days past, I mourned for my lost resolve, for the resolution that I would never live by the sword, but I eventually realized that it was better than not living at all. Not by much, truthfully, but then it never needed to be. Better for the story of Madeleine Valois to continue, however pathetically, than for it to end abruptly, starved to death in some gutter. Or worse.


Does anybody even think about Madeleine Valois anymore? Nobody here does. I’m just another sellsword now, and not a particularly skilled one. Surely my family doesn’t, not even Juliette. They likely don’t even know I’m alive, and even if I did, my name is so disgraced that I’m better off forgotten. Prince Callum does, perhaps. He was, after all, once my fiancée, even if our engagement was never made official. Maybe he thinks about how I loved him; thinks, as I often do, about the promises we made to each other. Then again, he had been with many women before. Perhaps he quickly found another paramour, one who pushed aside any thoughts of the woman who had left his lands a disgraced criminal.

And Oscar? My sweet, unruly, clumsy little prince? Surely he must think of me. I cannot bear even to fathom the alternative. Oscar, alongside whom my life was so carefree, so happy… My influence upon him remains the accomplishment I’m most proud of, even the only accomplishment I’m proud of.

Did I ever rub off on you, Oscar? Did you manage to find a Wisdom in the end? That’s all I ever wanted for you. For you to be married somewhere, living in some lavish castle with a beautiful, affectionate and prudent wife… If that’s where you are now, my life hasn’t been a complete failure. Even now, when I temporarily forget the horrors of the present to relive the reveries of the past, our many adventures together… That is the only time I can crack a smile.


Another loud pop, and another line of farmers falls dead into the grass. The remaining mob isn’t close enough for me to see their facial expressions, but from body language alone it’s easy enough to see they’ve begun to realize how hopeless this battle is for them. They’ve stopped advancing entirely, and many of them have already begun to flee in the opposite direction.

I haven’t heard the order to charge, but soon our horsemen launch into the fray, quickly catching up to the retreating insurrectionists and impaling them with their pikes. I need not even watch; my contribution to the battle appears to have ended. We’re victorious, which means I’m going to get paid. That’s all that matters.

Goeie jûn,” the landsknecht besides me murmurs. From a province far to the northeast, he only understands a few words of my tongue, and I none of his. He, like many of the men here, is a commoner from some country or other, and likely a criminal besides. Though there was once a time when I wouldn’t have dreamed of ever associating with such odious company, few would still call me nobly-born. I’m no different from them now, really; I’m from another country too, and I am also a criminal, for all intents and purposes.

Our would-be enemies are almost completely quashed by the horsemen now, and the men beside me shoulder their arquebuses and begin to proceed towards the fallen bodies, covetous of what little wealth these pathetic men might have carried.

One of the men—a swarthy, gangly fellow with half his nose missing—turns back to me. “Oi! You comin’, Princess?”


That’s what the other mercenaries call me now. The epithet is my greatest indignity.

Though I am not the only woman in this company, we’re outnumbered ten-to-one, and I am, apparently, the only one of noble birth. Though I did not promulgate this fact, I was unsuccessful in concealing it; my literacy, refined manner of speech and polite disposition was enough of a departure from the onerous behavior of my companions to stick out like a bonfire in the darkness. In addition to the many other discourtesies this has led people to inflict on me, it also earned me the derisive nickname “Princess.” 

Even after I cut my hair short, and tried to dress more like a man to discourage their attention, the name stuck, through reputation alone. Eventually I gave up, and grew it back. I am the “princess” of these savage and crass men.

There are not words to describe how much I despise this. The teasing and scorn is painful enough, but the word brings to mind memories of the past. Painful ones.

“Don’t suppose you could see your way to letting me leave now?”

“Not happening.”

With those two words, my fate was sealed.

As I halfheartedly rifle through the belongings of a dead man—this one had two coppers and half a loaf of bread, a better discovery than I’ve made lately—my hand involuntarily reaches for the long, thick scar on my neck. I’ve been scarred many times since then, but this scar is the only one that matters. This scar is from the wound that killed Madeleine Valois.

I still remember, in perfect detail, the shifty little smile on Dolores’ face before she screamed at the top of her lungs. At the time, I was confused, shocked—I tried to stop her—but then the guards came into the room and attacked blindly. I later found out that Dolores had managed to escape in the confusion.

I did not. I was kicked supine and I glanced at a guard helplessly for a single moment before he stabbed me in the neck.

Even the thought of Dolores makes my hand crumble into a desperately shaking fist. The way she so nonchalantly left me to die. The way that she ripped me away from everybody I ever cared about.

Dolores destroyed me.



It’s later that evening, at our camp, that I use the recovered bread to supplement the meager rations we’re served for supper. It’s not pastries and tigernut milk, of course, but then I’m like as not to never taste those again. The charred meat and turnips I’m served are familiar to me now, and I gulp them down without so much as a semblance of protest.

Our camp is beside a river, and in the calm of twilight I’m able to tune out the sounds of my raucous companions and think about the events of the past, replaying them in my mind. I think about the first time I camped out by a river, with Oscar and Callum. Though I didn’t know it at the time, that was the last day of my life that truly made sense to me.

The next day, when we caught Dolores, Oscar and I had to keep Callum from killing her. But what if we hadn’t? What if things had turned out differently? Would I still have been accused of kidnapping Princess Cassidy? Would Oscar and I simply have been allowed to return to Ocendawyr?

I don’t know, but I wish with all my heart that that it had happened. I wish that Dolores was dead.

I want to kill her with my own hands.

What else is there for me to dream of, anymore? I will never be wed, will never hold lands of my own even if Juliette dies without an heir. I will never love anybody else. I always knew that disaster would be in store for me when I stopped being Oscar’s valette, and there in Gwellinor that disaster finally struck.

I never thought I’d be that woman, living day to day in squalor, with nothing but thoughts of revenge to keep me moving forward. I did have dreams once, but the time for dreams has long passed.

I can hear Prince Oscar’s voice in my head. Maddie, this isn’t really you, is it? Why the obsession with vengeance? Whatever happened to the wise, loving friend I fell in love with?

I’m sorry, my lord. I don’t have you anymore. All I have is her.

You didn’t have to leave me, you know, Oscar says with sunny naïveté. Why didn’t you come back home? You know I could have taken care of you.

A kidnapper, fugitive and attempted assassin? You’re the youngest son, Oscar. Do you really think you’d have enough pull with your parents to save me from the gallows?

I just wish I had tried harder to save you from the dungeon myself… If you’d relied upon me and not that crazy Prince Callum, maybe things could have worked out better for you.

It had nothing to do with Callum… But for what it’s worth, I wish I had accepted your affection, Oscar. I see now that, as bad as it is to have nothing, it’s worse to have no one. 

In the end, I wasn’t wise enough to be your Wisdom. I am sorry.

I did it, though. I won myself a royal bride, just like you wanted. I did it all for my dearest Maddie. 

You’re a good prince, Oscar. A good man, even. Every day you were in my life was a blessing.

You’re still wearing my token, though, right? As long as you wear that, we’re still together, Maddie. I’ll always love you. You mustn’t ever doubt that.

Oh, Oscar… I’m sorry…

“Sobbing again, eh, Princess?”

Looking up suddenly, I see a landsknecht standing over me with a sneer. My view of him is blurry and I realize I have been crying. It’s something I’ve been doing more and more as of late. But that’s certainly none of his business.

“Piss off, Cromwell, or I’ll cut off your tongue,” I hiss, putting a hand on the pommel of my katzbalger

I stare him dead in one of his badly-misaligned eyes, though, and eventually he relents and backs away. 

“Highborn witch…” he mutters.

Better that than a baseborn savage. I wipe the tears from my eyes and wash my face with water from the river.

I’ve been going a little crazy lately. I have those conversations in my head with a false Oscar, or sometimes Callum, or Cassidy, or even my sister Juliette, and I imagine them saying all the things I’d like to hear. And then I cry, because when I think of any of them seeing me like this, it’s more than I can take.

I hate myself. I hate everything.

But I hate her most of all.



The few women in my company are unpleasantly crass. Sleeping in a crowded tent with them is not ideal, but I’ve certainly slept in worse conditions. If nothing else, at least I am not a captive here.

Still, though, tonight I find falling asleep a challenge. Perhaps it’s because of this afternoon’s battle, perhaps it’s because I’ve been thinking of the old days again. 

Thinking of the day I awoke in a bed in a strange room, covered in bandages and white as the driven snow. 

The day I felt too weak to move… I couldn't even raise my arms. My throat felt as though it was filled with sand and my neck pulsed with a crawling pain. When I looked into the distance, my eyes exploded with a light so fierce that it was immediately drowned away in tears.

“Well, well. It would seem there is some life in you, after all.”

From a distance, I could hear Nazagi’s voice, but everything in the distance was a blur. I tried to respond, but it was hard enough even to breathe. I could barely even whimper.

“Do not attempt to speak. You have been in a comatose state for over a fortnight. Can you nod? Nod if you understand.”

I managed to tilt my head forward enough to complete the gesture, though it felt as though it weighed a ton. What had happened? Why was I here? What was going on? At the time, I was too delirious and confused to understand much of anything. Was I in Gwellinor? Why did I think I was in Gwellinor? Why did I know who this was?

“Good, you still have your wits. Much of them, anyway. You are very lucky to be alive, you know. Not even thought myself capable of saving one after such a traumatic injury, my dear.”

Traumatic injury…? I didn’t remember at the time being injured. It would be some time later before I remembered the incident with Dolores.

“No doubt you’ll lose consciousness again before long, so you had best try to drink something before that happens. My attendant, Yorik, will assist you.”

I heard the sound of a door closing, and there was an immeasurable silence before another man came in and spoon-fed me a weak broth until I passed out again. 

Several days hazy days passed before I regained enough strength to sit up and speak, and stay conscious for longer than few hours. Even then, I was weak. Eventually, I recalled everything—our adventure in the woods, my stay in the dungeon, my budding romance with Prince Callum. I remembered our discovery that Princess Cassidy had been born Prince Caspian. I remembered myself waiting with Dolores as Callum left to negotiate with Duke Pherod.

I remembered a sword against my neck.

Yorik tended to my convalescence for a few days before I saw Prince Nazagi again. It was around the time I regained my ability to speak, which was surely no coincidence. I had asked Yorik many questions, but he never answered any of them directly. I suspected he had beendeliberately withholding information to put his prince in a stronger bargaining position.

I don’t know how much stronger his bargaining position needed to be; already he had my life in his hands.

“You are a most interesting person, Miss Valois,” Nazagi began. “By all appearances, it would seem you are the sole agent responsible for the destabilization of the Kingdom of Gwellinor.”

“What,” I coughed, “do you mean by that?”

“Princess Cassidy is no longer the heir to Gwellinor,” he answered coolly. “She, and Prince Callum, have been removed to some remote part of the kingdom, their whereabouts not made public. Their cousin, Rielle, is now the heir to the Kingdom, and given that she will not come of age for eighteen years, it seems reasonable to say that Gwellinor has been taken completely out of play for the nonce. My… excursion there was a waste of time.”

There? The preposition was not lost on me. Did he simply misspeak, or… 

“Where are we now?”

“Oh, we are nowhere near Gwellinor now,” he answered slyly. “At present, we are in Essorestán, at the courtesy of a cousin of mine. I am returning to Asineth. Transporting you here in your condition was no small task, I assure you.”

What?! That was… so far away. Why were we here?

Nazagi must have seen the surprised look in my eyes, for he continued. “Believe me, you would not want to be there at the moment. The chaos around the kingdom was ready to erupt when we departed. Had we stayed, it is not unlikely that we would be left to the mercies of an enraged peasantry.”

“But… where is Oscar?”

Nazagi rubbed his chin. “Hmm… I’ve given you more information than you’ve earned, Miss Valois. If you wish to know more, I must have the answers I seek.”


“Yes. You see, while I see that Gwellinor is in chaos, I do not know why these events have transpired,” he said, tenting his hands in front of him. “The information is perhaps not as valuable as it would be, now that I have little hope of taking the Kingdom for myself, but as you are the only one in possession of this information who has not vanished, I would hope I have not saved your life fruitlessly.”

So that’s why he went to all this trouble, I thought. Not a shred of altruism in his body.

“What… what is it you wish to know?”

“Perhaps it is best you start from the beginning,” he replied. “From my perspective, mere hours after you were quite surprisingly struck down as an assassin in Princess Cassidy’s bedroom, the page, Dolores Olfe, went missing, and Princess Cassidy was removed as heir. And yet there would appear to be no motive for your attack, since Duke Pherod’s daughter was proclaimed the heir bloodlessly. The fine details of these events would not appear to add up.”

I sighed with resignation. “I am seen as an attempted assassin?”

“At an earlier stage of events, you were. However, as the situation progressed it would seem you were forgotten amidst all the chaos. I certainly had no trouble spiriting you away once it became clear the situation was going to become dangerous.”

So I am to blame for Dolores’ kidnapping and an attempted assassination, I thought resignedly. “I see…”

“So, please, Miss Valois, if you would start from Princess Cassidy’s initial kidnapping in the rose garden, I would very much appreciate it.”

Reluctantly, I told him everything. I had no choice. With my life in his hands, I could not risk withholding anything from him.

I told him of Princess Cassidy’s life in a gilded cage, her kidnapping by Callum and then Dolores, of Callum’s suspicion—and later confirmation—about Cassidy’s birth identity. I told him of my incarceration for Dolores’ crime, and the plot by Priedric and Paloma to force my confession. I spoke of Callum’s suspicion that Dolores was the king’s bastard, that she was immune to punishment as a result of her hidden status, and I spoke of the plans I once had with Callum, to be granted a plot of land and to wed him. I spoke of how we threw those plans away when I advised Cassidy to negotiate with Duke Pherod. And, finally, I spoke of how Dolores outsmarted me, throwing me to my death as soon as Callum left the room.

When I was finally done, I sipped from a glass of water as Prince Nazagi watched me thoughtfully. 

“I see,” he said, sounding mildly vexed. “So, in the end, you did have a hand in destabilizing the kingdom.”

That wasn’t how I would have put it, but, “I did, yes.”

“And were it not for your injuries, what might you have done? Would you have gone to Ocendawyr? Undoubtedly, you still would have been punished for the kidnapping.”

“I suppose I wanted to leave with Prince Callum.”

“And do what, exactly?”

“I don’t know.”

The prince rubbed his chin. “It would seem, Miss Valois, that you do not possess a great deal of foresight.”

No, I thought. I suppose that’s obvious by now. “I was just trying to do what was right…”

Prince Nazagi crossed his arms, looking for all the world like a fox cornering its prey. “Be that as it may, I doubt there are many in Gwellinor who would say that things have been made ‘right.’ I suspect that things there will continue to be a mess for quite some time, particularly if the Grandessa manages to seize power for herself. Ah, but I suppose there is no use crying over spilt milk.”

Ignoring that, I decided to cut straight to the point. “Where is Oscar?”

“You will be pleased to hear that your prince returned safely to Ocendawyr, after I informed him that you were deceased.”


“Please calm yourself,” Nazagi said, watching my outburst disinterestedly. “It was in the boy’s best interest. At the time, I did not believe you capable of regaining consciousness, and he refused to go home without you. Deceiving him was likely the only way to save him from the bloodshed. I assured him your body would be sent back to your homeland as soon as the present situation came to a resolution. As that situation has not yet been resolved, surely he does not expect to see a body.”

At least he’s all right, I thought. I suppose that is all I could have asked for, in the end. “But…What am I supposed to do now?”

“It would appear you are at a crossroads, Miss Valois. I, for one, do not expect to have any more need of you. I must needs return to Asineth and make plans of my own. I have wasted far too much time already.”

“You’re just going to leave me in Essorestán?”

“Is that not preferable to Ocendawyr or Gwellinor? Have I not done you enough courtesies?”

“You… you have,” I said sadly. “I am… indebted to you for saving my life.”

“Unfortunately, under present conditions, I do not believe it possible for you to repay that debt,” he says, nonchalantly spinning a thread of wooden beads between his fingers. “Under the circumstances, I find I have no choice but to be magnanimous. If you should ever find a way to restore yourself to your former social position, perhaps then I may call on you. For now, I must make preparations for the rest of the journey home.”

And with that, Prince Nazagi walked out of the room, and out of my life forever.

To his credit, I continued to be allowed to stay at the ducal palace of his Essorestáni cousin long enough to mostly recover from my long state of unconsciousness. As soon as I grew strong enough to walk, however, the household expelled me to the streets with little else than the clothes on my back and the pendant Oscar had given me merely a month ago.

I had no idea what to do. I had no money, no contacts, no resources. I was truly a beggar. Essorestán is an arid, harsh region, far to the east and wholly unfamiliar to me. I did not believe I would find respite in this country. Even living in absolute poverty would be more of a challenge here than elsewhere.

In the end, living by the sword was the only choice. I managed to persuade a passing merchant caravan from the east to take me on as a caravan guard, convincing him of my competence as a bodyguard, and was allowed to accompany the caravan back west towards Bardowen. Though the weapons and armor I was given were merely borrowed, and the wages I was paid an absolute pittance, in the end I managed to survive from day to day, returning to somewhat more familiar lands. 

Finding permanent employment seemed impossible. I found I could not work even as a chambermaid or washerwoman. I had never been trained to live as one of the underclass, and none of my abilities translated well except for those related to combat. Eventually I had no choice but to sign on with a company of sellswords passing through the region.

That was five years ago. I am only twenty-six, but I feel like an old crone now.



Our former contract ended, our company has proceeded north to answer the summons of another regional lord. Undoubtedly we will be hired on to deal with a small band of highwaymen or bandits. As expendable as most of us are, we never take contracts where there is any real chance of suffering losses.

As it happens, today is one of the few days where I’m not expendable. As one of the few literate mercenaries in our company, and one of the only ones with any notable skills at bartering, I and a few others have been tasked with accompanying the captain into a small, nearby town to acquire supplies for the unit. Someday, if I show dedication and promise, I might be invited to become an officer in the company, which at the moment constitutes my only real prospect for any kind of upward mobility. Of course, the likelihood of that happening is not especially high.

At the moment, I’ve been assigned with the task of purchasing horses and rope, which gives me the freedom to wander through the town center. It is a nice respite from the usual monotony of my life.

There is a market square where many local farmers are selling their crops. For the most part, all are identical—there’s not a lot of variety in these parts. Most farmers around here only sell tubers, though eventually I do find a man selling pears. It’s been ages since I’ve tasted fresh fruit, so I can’t resist the urge to spend some of my paltry wages on one. It’s not the finest specimen I’ve ever had, but as I bite into it, the juices taste like nectar from heaven. It’s been far too long.

Before I’ve even realized it, I’ve ravenously devoured every morsel of flesh on the pear. I should have paced myself better… I glance back at the pear seller for a moment, debating buying another, when a flash of pink appears in the corner of my eye.

I turn to focus on it, and in the distance I can see a transaction of some kind. About four hundred paces away, a slender woman with a shock of pink hair is handing a crate of apples to an elderly man with a wooden cart. The elderly man hands her a bag of coins, and the woman takes it briskly and heads down a narrow street.

Huh, that woman… She almost looked like…



Before I’m even thinking about it, I’m sprinting down the road, dashing in her direction with an intensity I haven’t felt in years. It’s her. It's her. After all this time, I’ve finally found that treacherous witch. I have to get to her. I must!

Dolores… I am going to kill you. I am finally going to make things right.

There are several surprised faces as I dash by them—no doubt people are surprised to see an armored and armed woman suddenly take off down the street. But I don’t care about them. I only have one purpose now.

When I get to the narrow street where she turned, I find… nothing? Where did she go?

I rush down to the end the street, but it comes to a three-way intersection. I decide to head left, but there’s no sign of her. I quickly run the other way, as well, but similarly, she’s nowhere to be found. 

No. No, to hell with this. You’re not going to slip from my hands now. Not after all this time. You ripped me from my loved ones, destroyed my livelihood, left me to die. This ends, Dolores.

I rush back the way I came, grateful to find the man she gave the apples to still waiting by his cart. By his appearance, he is clearly a local; undoubtedly, he will know where I can find her.

“Do you know that woman?”

He looks up at me, shocked to see a face red with fury and exertion. “Eh? What woman?”

“You just bought apples from her. Her name is Dolores.”

“Eh? Her? What do you want from her?”

“I need to find her. Now. Do you know where she lives?”

The man hesitates, clearly seeing the malice in my eyes, but he doesn’t dare challenge me. “She… look, lady, she’s just a farmer…”

“Where does she live?”

“The… the... she’s got an oat farm three miles to the northwest. I don’t… I don’t want no trouble. I don’t know how she wronged you, but—“

I’ve already turned around. I have everything I need.

I rush back to the entrance of town, where our horses are tied, and quickly mount mine, galloping down the road. I can hear the blood pounding in my ears. Each heartbeat in my breast feels like a thunderclap.

Finally. Finally this can come to an end.

If any of my company saw me leave, they might think I’m deserting them, but that doesn’t matter to me anymore. I am deserting them, in a way. This is my higher purpose. This is the reason I’m still alive.

To give her what she deserves.



All I can think of anymore is the past. Of Callum and Cassidy, of Ocendawyr and little Oscar with his hands caught in a crate. Of memories gone by, opportunities lost, advice best not given. But it all centers around Dolores. Smug little Dolores, completely immune to consequences, and me to bear the cross for her. But not anymore.

My eyes frantically scour the countryside, looking for signs of the farm where Dolores lives.

What’s been going through your mind, I wonder? Do you ever think of the good woman whose life you wrecked just because you couldn’t fit in with the rest of society? Do you feel smug about the way you took advantage of others to get the freedom you so desperately desired?

Well, your time has come, Dolores. Nobody gets away forever.

Though the tiny farm is a little hidden away, I soon recognize it nevertheless. It’s a beautiful farmstead, with many apple trees and well-tended fields. No doubt Dolores put the money she stole from Prince Callum to good use. It’s far better than she deserves.


There she is, in the distance. I see her hair. She’s unloading empty crates and supplies from a wagon.

She doesn’t seem to see me yet. I dismount from the horse and disappear among the greenery. I don’t want to give her a chance to gain distance from me. Dolores is slippery as an eel. If I lose her now, I might not get a chance to find her again.

Luckily, I’ve never lost my talent for sneaking around. Even now, with my leather and chain and battle scars, I’m still spry enough to get the drop on her.

I’m directly behind her now, merely twenty paces from where she’s nonchalantly unloading her cart. Though my hands tremble with anticipation, I still have enough self-control to do this the right way.

I step out from behind the tree. “Dolores…”

She gasps, nearly jumping in the air, and spins around briskly, her back against the cart. She searches for the source of the voice, and upon noticing me her eyes at first narrow with confusion, then widen with shock. Beautiful, perfect shock.

“Y, you…” she stammers, “…No. there’s not… there’s no way…”

She sees the sword sheathed at my side, and hews even more closely to the contours of the cart. I have her cornered. There’s no escape.

What?” I shout, my voice quavering with anger, “No way that I’m alive?” I gesture to the angry red line across my neck. “I survived, no thanks to you!”

“L, look, Lady, I… it wasn’t anything personal, I—”

You destroyed my life!” I howl. “Everything I had in this world I lost because of you! You took everything from me!”

Her terrified eyes begin to shift left and right, looking for a way out, and that just isn’t going to happen. I draw my sword and advance on her, closing the distance between us.

She’s white as a sheet now, and for the first time since I've known her, I can see tears start to pool in her eyes. But rather than make me feel a shred of empathy, they just bolster my resolve further. It’s only right that she cry. Better that she finally feel remorse for her crimes.

“Y, you, Madeleine,” she sobs, “you don’t gotta do this! Please, I’m sorry…”

“No. You’re not,” I hiss. “You don’t give a damn about anyone. You never have. I never did anything to you, and you tried to kill me just so you could have… have this. You’re only sorry you got caught.”

“I, I n-never wanted anyone to die! I didn’t want you to die!” she cries. “This was never about you. I just wanted my freedom!”

“And you didn’t care who had to die in order for you to get it,” I snarl, taking another step closer.

“I just wanted my own life!”

“And you took MINE!”

No longer able to restrain myself, I lunge at her, slashing across her chest with my katzbalger. The swing lands true, the blade embedding itself in her ribs. Bright crimson humours begin to flow down the blade.

No games. No deceptions. I’ve just dealt a mortal blow to Dolores. No running, no chasing. A fatal blow with a broadsword, just as she gave me. 

Without fanfare, she slides lazily to the ground, the wound clutched madly in her hand, watching me with eyes of fire as she falls flat upon the dirt.

M…maaalix… you…”

With one last, defiant glare, her eyes roll back in her head, and in this moment I realize I’ve done it. Dolores is finally dead. 

The moment passed so quickly that I can scarcely believe that it was mine. Five years of anger, of resentment, five years dreaming of vengeance, and in a single moment, it’s all gone, the fire extinguished. The one thing I truly wanted to do, and it’s done.

What now?

Well... now I truly have nothing.

My anger is gone. My sense of purpose is gone. And I my life no better than when I started. 

Soon, the residents of that town I was in will learn I slew Dolores. Though she deserved it, nobody in these parts will know that. As far as they are concerned, I’m a murderer—no, I truly am a murderer now. And eventually, somebody will come after me. The men of the company I deserted, or perhaps somebody else. 

“It would seem, Miss Valois, that you do not possess a great deal of foresight.”

I still don’t, Prince Nazagi. I probably never will.

Though I can’t stay here for very long, I linger long enough to dig a grave for Dolores. If nothing else, she deserves to rest on the farm she fought so hard for, and died for, in the end. I even let her keep the money she had on her person. I don’t want to owe her anything. We are truly even now.

Now my business in this land has concluded. There is nothing left for me to do.

I suppose it’s time to go home. Back to Ocendawyr. Even if there’s nothing for me there, I want to see my homeland again. I want to see my family again. Perhaps, fates willing, I can see Oscar again.

And then, if I should be thrown in a dungeon for the rest of my life, I will accept my place. I am Madeleine Valois. I will not drown in my own tears.

However, on this day, I will allow myself to cry.