Featuring Reichenbach and Herona
Summer, Year 763
Blackwood, near Widow’s Hollow Reichenbach
The Mother was good. Very good.
It was several weeks after Reichenbach had come to meet his distant cousin, now turned personal servant, and learned of his new destiny. That day was still fresh in his mind, the glee and pride he had felt running all through his body something he couldn't compare and, truthfully, the stag felt that he would still be reeling over the news for some time to come. It was still such a massive development, one that had come upon him so surprisingly he had had no time to prepare. But what great leader truly had time to prepare for his shining moment? Didn't the best qualities, bloodlines, and fawns come about from simple random occurrence? Situations where only the strongest and most witty could prevail where all others fell through the cracks?
He thought so.
Recently his thoughts had been so soaked in dazzling starlight that he was hard pressed to focus on anything else but himself and picture his hulking mass at the forefront of the herd, the eyes of hundreds drinking in his supreme prowess. And why wouldn't he? He was strong, hardy, and held the right ideals. He pictured Blackwood as a force that should be reckoned with, and not just hiding in the shadows (though they were appropriate cover).
“Things will change once I've gained my right,” Reichenbach murmured to himself, looking up at the sky through the trees that had parted on this particular path, the starry sky riddled with specks of glistening white numbering in the millions. “Uir, I shall not disappoint you. I will uphold your name and be your justice bringer. The weak shall fall and Blackwood will be more powerful than ever under my control.” He stomped a hoof. “You have my word!”Herona
Herona snorted to herself in frustration, practically kicking herself when her own stomach growled insistently. She had been looking for food nearly all day, but had been unsatisfied with the meager pickings that Blackwood offered, even in the muggy peak of Summer. A few roots here, a few woody vines there… Nothing like the grazing there was in the very heart of the herd, where the leaders spent their time. It was nothing to grow fat on, but it was better than what the outskirts provided.
Herona sniffed around at the broken up soil around her feet, lipping at spindly frayed foliage and damp, fallen shreds of bark.
She was just about to grunt in annoyance and condemn this whole useless scavenge, when a sharp thud against the ground struck her ears.
Head snapping up and ears jerking to attention, Herona squinted her eyes and strained her ears to try and catch more sound. Her muscles twitched anxiously; wolves sometimes hunted at night, especially since they were trying to fatten up on the newborn fawns before Winter killed all the food.“... Uir, I shall not disappoint you. I will uphold your name and be your justice bringer. The weak shall fall and Blackwood will be more powerful than ever under my control. You have my word!”
A deep, rumbling voice snaked from the darkness ahead like a viper in the leaves. For a moment, Herona didn't know how to react. Did she hear correctly? Her caution gave way to surprise, and then to a curiosity that she couldn't ignore. In all her life, she'd never encountered such a conversation.
Who was the stranger talking to? She lifted her nose and scented the warm air, but couldn't decipher anything apart from pine sap and needles. She'd have to get closer…
Interest firmly peaked, she cautiously stepped as silently as she could, keeping to the deepest shadows under the tall evergreen trees. As quietly as a wraith, she weaved in and out of the underbrush until she could hear the grumbling voice more clearly. As hard as she strained, she couldn't make out a second. But that couldn't be, could it?
Venturing farther, holding her breath so even her own lungs wouldn't give her away, she crouched low and stalked into a very thin clearing where she could just make out an enormous form bathed in dim starlight. Even though the growling tone of voice left little doubt, the hulking Fawnling was certainly a stag. She could smell him clearly now. And, to her mild surprise, no one accompanied him in the clearing.
Oblivious to her presence, he continued to growl and bark to himself, seeming to become more excited as time dragged on. Herona, somewhat fascinated now, attempted to duck down farther to avoid being seen. This was the most interesting thing she had seen all season.Reichenbach
Unaware that he was being watched, Reichenbach tore his attention away from the sky, taking to pacing the clearing like a caged cave lion. “No longer will I stand for weakness. The time of our imprisonment will come to an end and I will be the reason.” He sneered. “Skoll has long out welcomed his stay- he does nothing to rid us of our burdens and expand our borders. No wonder The Mother chose me. Obviously the old fool is not fit to rule.”
He snorted and turned, pacing the opposite way now, shaking his head in disapproval at what his kingdom had become. It was weak and misguided. It needed a fresh start, with a fresh face who knew only greatness and determination. He was that face.
“Skoll will know true shame when he meets his end under my hoof. His failure will not be treated with mercy!”Herona
Herona’s brown eyes grew impossibly wide as she listened to what the bull was shouting to himself. About the king! About ruling instead of him! Herona was suddenly very glad that she had gone out for a late night snack.
The stranger was growing increasingly agitated, much to Herona’s hidden amusement. He looked like he was about to jump out of his pelt, or smash a boulder- or both.
An idea leaped into Herona’s mind and suddenly she couldn't stop herself from standing up straight and flowing from the underbrush like dark water from a stream. She seemingly materialized out of the darkness surrounding the edge of the clearing. Though this was a rash decision spurred by her amusement and raging curiosity, she still stepped carefully into the larger stag’s line of vision. A small part of her warned herself that he may not take being startled very well… Or overheard.
A wicked smirk stretched Herona’s lips and a glimmer entered her eyes that was not due to the starlight above them, hiding her apprehension well. She felt like a cat that just stumbled onto a mouse. A dangerous mouse, but potential prey nonetheless.
“I take it that you're not a fan of King Skoll,” she teased in a cool, dark voice. She circled around the brute, sizing him up, studying him. Was he mad? High off mushrooms? Maybe sleepwalking perhaps?
“It's not every day you catch a would-be usurper announcing his plans for all the forest to hear. What a plan you have spilled.” She winked at him, but with little sincerity. Herona was testing him, playing him. Seeing exactly who it was that she was dealing with.Reichenbach
Startled, Reichenbach snapped his head up as a doe crept out if the surrounding brush, her lithe form coming out of nowhere like smoke from a fire.
Who was she and why was she here? He pinned his ears as his unspoken questions were suddenly answered, the doe circling him as she spoke about what she had overheard. Mothersblood, how could he not have known someone was listening?! Furthermore, how could he have been so loud? He should've kept his voice down… but oh, talking about it just lit a fire in his gut.
“Daughter of Uir, you have come upon me in a personal moment,” he said, reigning in his anger at her apparent snooping, face remaining cool and composed. She was a doe and by the looks of it a pure one born of the wood. He would not be so crass as to speak to one of the Mother's dearest creations with anger and insult. Still, even if she was special, he still wanted to know why she had stuck around.
“What brings you here?” he sneered a bit at the thought that she might be a spy of Skoll’s. “Are you a favorer of the current king?”Herona
She had expected him to say a lot of things: curse her for being nosy and eavesdropping, tell her to get lost, maybe even chase her off or spit at her. What she hadn't
been expecting, was how even and controlled his voice was, and the way he spoke to her with respect despite her obvious nosiness. ’Daughter of Uir’?
Herona’s brows lifted in amusement as she came to stand directly in front of him, staring at him coolly, if not curiously. She was just about to remark about how he shouldn't be surprised someone had heard with the way he was yelling into space- when she saw him visibly stiffen and suddenly his gaze was hard and his voice lost the formal polite tone.’What brings you here? Are you a favorer of the current King?’
Herona recognized the way his words dripped like melted steel; they were laced with suspicion. It was not lost on her that he emphasized ‘current’, making it specific as though there were more than one King in Blackwood. From the sound of it though, he thought there was.
Despite knowing better, Herona couldn't help but laugh out loud at the last question, but with no humor whatsoever. In fact, the giggle came out too loudly and too sharply.
“And what if I was?” She asked, pacing around him once more, turning her head to watch him as she taunted him. Playing with the poisonous snake…
“Would you buy my silence, or would you stomp me beneath that heavy hoof of yours?” She gestured at his cloven hooves pointedly, and the deep gouges they had made in the Earth. As she spoke, she saw his back go rigid and his nostrils flare. A bizarre look was seeping into his dark eyes, almost making them wild.
Perhaps teasing this snake was not so wise. She may be self-serving, but she sensed danger when it appeared to her.
“Don’t worry,” she finally admitted, “I am no tool of the King’s. I happened across you by mere accident,” she explained, feeling somewhat deflated that she could not keep the upper hand on this stag. At least not without risking his unstable mind… He seemed respectful enough of her, but if she had
been devotedly loyal to King Skoll, what would he have done? He certainly didn't seem averse to violence. Herona flicked her tail from side to side and pinned her ears back against her skull.
“Were you prepared to kill me to keep your intentions safe?” She asked in a steely, cold tone, eyes narrowing to regard him harshly. She wondered if he would tell the truth, or if she would even recognize it if he did.Reichenbach
The mountain of a stag watched as the doe before him took back to circling him, her form reminding him of a wolf, one who was trying to find the best way to take down its prey. He did not like her self confidence, eyes narrowing and tail twitching in irritation as she began to speak, spewing taunts his way with no apparent air of caution. She knew not of what he was capable and though harming a doe was something he did not wish to do, by the time she really got into it he wanted to trample her right where she stood.
He stayed quiet throughout her spiel, however, relaxing his tensed posture only slightly
when she explained she was not a spy. Though she claimed to not be loyal, her words had still angered him and he had only kept his mouth shut because of his mother’s strict teachings when he was a fawn.Mind any doe you come across, for she might make you regret what you say.
When it seemed like she was finally finished Reichenbach continued to hold himself high, speaking evenly despite it all. “My lady, you must think me a fool.” He narrowed his eyes, his gaze sharp. “Any person who asks for a bribe is not to be trusted. Loyalty cannot be bought, and if you were to have been such a follower I would have no choice but to end you.” His tone was even, speaking of promises that would not be fulfilled since she was not who she had tried to play to be. He flicked his tail again.
“But you aren't. I can see it in your eyes.” The stag took a few steps forwards, rounding on her. He stared down at her from his lofty height, reading her little by little as he made a slow circle around her. “You seek amusement, and that is all.”
“Yet, now that you know what a blessing I have been given, I must ask: What do you plan to do with this knowledge?”Herona
He was confident, that was for sure. It was no surprise in such a large, powerful stag, but it was still unsettling. Herona could tell by his shifting yet steady gaze that he was reading her like an open book. She didn't like it. It made her uncomfortable. It wasn't that she was unfamiliar with males who thought they were untouchable- practically every stag in Blackwood thought just that- but this stranger before her was so calculating and collected after just revealing such a large secret.
The Grullo doe tensed as he advanced on her, stamping out the instinctive reflex to take a quick step back to keep distance between them. She needed to show him that she did not fear him or his threats. Still, she had to swallow her pride and her apprehension as he cast a shadow over her, blocking out the stars in the sky above him.
Herona flexed her jaw at his matter-of-fact tone and the way he acted as though he could read her mind. But damnit, how spot on he was. What had originally presented itself as an intriguing investigation was turning sour.
“You claim that loyalty cannot be bought, but with the right maneuvers, anything can be. If it were their life that they were serving for, or the life of their helpless fawn, do you not think that someone would do whatever was asked of them? Of course I know that's not true loyalty. Service, more like. But at times they are exchangeable.” She turned her nose up in what would look like arrogance, but was actually just observation. He was so much larger than she was, she had to crane her neck to view him.
For a long time, Herona was silent, weighing her options and passing several different scenarios through her head, comparing the pros and cons and details of each. In the end, however, she could come up with no genuine answer to his loaded question. She knew he was fishing for a reaction, she just didn't know what kind. Any answer could be a wrong one.
“Well, that depends,” she said in a low, shadowy voice. “What do you want
me to do with that information?” She knew he wanted to get as much as he could out of her, to know her thought process before she voiced it, but she refused to give him any leads. Herona had to keep her mind sharp around him. She could feel his potential like a living, breathing thing.Reichenbach
Reichenbach took pleasure in her silence and obvious discomfort. Good, she should know he was not so simple minded.
At her response he flicked an ear. “What I want and what you will do are two very different things,” he said. “What I want may not be what you would like to do.”
“I ask not on the assumption that you will head to any of my requests, as that would be foolish of me.” He gestured to her. “You know my secret, and I am aware that I am at a slight disadvantage. But rather than demand, I would like to see what you would say without conditions.”
“Perhaps I should ask you what you would like? What do you aspire to be?” Reichenbach tilted his head at her, looking her square in the eye. “I can see you are as doe that wants more… but more of what, exactly?” Herona
Herona cocked her head to the side, lifting one eyebrow as she regarded his answer carefully. She wanted to breathe a huff of relief- for a moment there she had found herself on unsteady ground and only now did she realize how heavy the atmosphere had become and how her heart had begun to beat harder.
“I am a witch,” she answered, taking this moment to take a step back and give him some space. His enormous size was beginning to suffocate her, and it made her feel as though her skin was on fire- and not in the usual way that a stag affects a doe. She had to clear her throat before she continued, to get rid of the raspiness in her voice that would give her emotions away.
“And I work on a system of trades. I give to you, and you give back… You want something, you pay for it. I live on a balance of power, though the truth of that equality is up to debate. You're right, you are at a disadvantage… And you have given me a tool to use. In truth, what I decide to do with it depends on what it's worth,” she said, leveling him with her gaze. Herona wouldn't admit it, but she had not- and would never- plan on using his accidental information against him. She was many things, and a secret-spewing rat was not one of them. It took a wretched kind of creature to go fleeing into the night to put someone’s throat on the line.
Herona breathed a short sigh that fanned across the big stag’s face and sent a few strands of his mane out of place. They were still so close together that she could feel the heat on his skin. She was actually curious about how he would react or what he would offer her… If he would at all.
“And my name is Herona, by the way. Since we’re getting so intimate, we may as well be on a first name basis,” she smirked in good humor, hoping that he had a sense of humor. It deeply upset her that she genuinely could not read this stranger and had no way of anticipating what would come from him.Reichenbach
He listened to her response, nodding slightly. It was a fair enough system. He didn't expect a gracious reply that said he was safe and she wanted nothing. Everyone wanted something.
Reichenbach felt and heard her sigh, his nostrils flaring slightly as the air brushed across his face. She was a unique character, from what he could read. She was a risk taker, one who wasn't afraid of someone who dwarfed her, and was willing to do things in order to get herself somewhere. He had a feeling her trade would include a hint as to where she would like to be in time. Whether it was anywhere extremely high standing or important he did not know, but at least he would know her goals.
He shifted his weight onto his opposite hip, ears flicking forwards at her name. “Reichenbach,” he replied smoothly when she asked of his. “And yes, it would seem appropriate.”
“So what sort of trade are we speaking of, miss Herona?”Herona
Herona smiled at him, a sincere gesture that reflected her satisfaction at at least having his name. It was strong and heavy in her mind, wielding a certain power that she couldn't explain but wasn't surprised at.
She took another step back and glanced her own body up and down as if putting herself on display for him. Even though she didn't exactly revel in exposing information about herself to those she didn't know, she didn't pass up opportunities to gloat about her profession. She could tell Reichenbach was a stag who would know a lot of Fawnlings and maybe, just maybe, this could end up gaining her more attention.
“Why, I specialize in cursing others,” she lifted her head proudly and stood as tall as she could, though her height was still nothing compared to his. “Which is where the bartering system comes in. I have certain advantages that other magic users do not. My magic is subtle, but all-encompassing. There is not much that a well performed curse or hex cannot do, and if you want something done, you have to pay for it,” she explained. “I also make charms, but only on special occasions,” she shrugged nonchalantly, as though that were only a small unimportant detail.
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Now, your turn. Are you a warrior? You have the size and confidence of one. Or a witch similar to myself? Though I haven't met many witches with such… Ambition.”Reichenbach
Reichenbach hummed. “I am no warrior. I'm also not a witch, though I do take pride in my Necromancing abilities.” He squared his shoulders, arching his neck with vanity. “As of now I am partaking in my personal projects and bettering myself. I would prefer to do that before I try for a title, as not being prepared will not do me any good.”
He snorted. “But you are a Hexer? That is not a profession that many partake in.” He curled his tail around his leg. “Perhaps I could use one of your hexes, if that is what you are offering.”
He looked Herona up and down again, noticing how she had puffed up like a sparrow in winter when she had spoken of her magic. He was satisfied by her own pride. Many Blackwoods didn't even know how to harness their magic and it was a crying shame to the great stag. Their magic is what set them apart, and it was also what made them so fearsome. Five different strains? Who could lay claim to that besides themselves?
Hm… perhaps he could do with more than her hexing than just the obvious.
“Actually, your profession may be required for more than just cursing some unfortunate soul.” He tilted his head at her. “How would you feel about teaching?”Herona
Herona pursed her lips as the large bull spoke; she had to admit that this was absolutely not the turn that she had been expecting on this night. How many times had she ever found herself in such a position, discussing debts and a potential new job?
She paused a moment before answering his question; “It depends… on who I would be teaching and what exactly I would be doing.” Images flashed through her head of Herona giving lessons to of-age bucks and fillies, but she doubted that that was the type of teaching that Reichenbach had in mind. Of course he did seem to weigh a lot of importance in finding your place and being the best you could be, but there were other witches who would be better suited for classroom duty. Besides, Herona was rather antisocial at times herself and the thought of giving magic lessons to a lot of adolescents gave her the ghost of a headache in her temples. She could be patient when she needed to be, but not that
Herona watched the gleam of an idea spirit through his eyes; Uir only knew what he was imagining in his head. She couldn't deny that the thought sent subtle tingles of excitement through her though. She shifted her stance from one side to the other and flicked her tail, feeling her anticipation growing.Reichenbach
He saw her thoughts flit through her mind through the window of her dark eyes: uncertainty, doubt, excitement. They were peculiar, the stag having imagined she would not have thought so hard on a simple offer. Still, it was better than just blindly agreeing. Reichenbach could tell you without a hint of doubt that he disliked those who followed suggestions without caution… unless they were following his, of course.
“You would be teaching my charge, Zecho,” Reichenbach replied to her question, sighing as the name brought up thoughts of his scrawny shadow, the buck still in heavy training to change that. He shook his head and began to walk, taking a slow circle around the small clearing. “He is… in need of a special sort of teacher regarding his magic, as I am no hex artist. The most I can do is perfect his strength and make sure he does not fail me when he comes of age.”
He shrugged, walking still. “I was wondering how I might ever get him a teacher when you happened upon me. Now that I know of your talents, perhaps you would be so inclined to extend them to those less fortunate. It would certainly do me much more than a hex, as I have no enemies worth hexing at the moment.”
The giant finished his strolling, coming back to stand before Herona and look down and her once again. His eyes held honest question, if she would take his job offer or if she would refuse. He would fair better if she did, but if she didn't then he would be no worse for wear. “I leave the choice to you.”Herona
Herona had never heard of this “Zecho” he spoke of, but if he hadn't yet attempted his Ritual, it wasn't that much of a surprise. She didn't make a habit of hanging around youngsters unless they came to her or she got something out of it… And Herona knew that if she accepted this stag’s offer, she would definitely get something out of it. She'd make sure of it.
Herona nodded her head as she pondered his offer, then turned to him, watching him pace with cool regard. “Okay, Reichenbach. I will teach your charge how to hex. But you owe me, double since I'm keeping this treasonous secret of yours as well.” Her eyes glinted with the many favors she could ask of him in return, but Herona was not the type to jump at the first small opportunity that presented itself. She would sit and think on this.
“But I will not give you my price in return, not tonight at least.” She cast her eyes up to the sparkling sky, noting that it had grown unusually chill as the night wore on. The sun would rise in a few hours. “I will think on what I want, and I will meet you back here tomorrow at the same time. Are we in agreement?”
She straightened her neck, feeling in her chest that though this unforeseen encounter was coming to an end, she could sense that she and Reichenbach were not finished with each other yet… Not by far.Reichenbach
Reichenbach was a bit surprised when Herona didn't immediately tell him her price, but in the end he wasn't all that shocked. She was a witch, afterall. Witches were crafty, shady individuals. It was a part of their very being to linger on the cusp, to remain just out of reach until their terms were met. He found no fault in her, and he knew that she would not be so low as to go back on their deal and spread his plans.
At her terms he gave a slight dip of his head. “Agreed,” he rumbled in reply. “I anxiously await our encounter.”
The stag grinned, a sort of sly, devious grin, and then turned, walking back into the shadows and disappearing into the night, soon long gone.Herona
At his dismissal, Herona gave him a curt nod and held her gaze until his enormous figure disappeared into the inky blackness beyond the clearing. For a beast of his size, he made barely a sound as he vanished. Herona wasn't surprised. He was a creature who worked in secrecy. He was stealthy, both in body and mind.
Even after he was gone and his scent faded from the forest, Herona felt as though she were being watched from the shadows. The thought made her shiver, feeling bare beneath the ghostly scrutiny that she could not place.
Finally, she turned and picked her way back to the den in a hurry, eager to be gone from the eerie clearing and the energies that consumed it. And to prepare her plans for tomorrow and to think about what she would do next, now that she had unknowingly become tied up into a web that was destined to change her life.