She blinked, but did not drop either of her shields. “Aye, though I’ve been Caltrains fir th’ last near three years. Canna say I’ve any memory ay ye.”
“Yeh’ve far moar’n yeh realize,” he replied evenly, his grip tightening on his sword. “Ah dinnae ‘spect yeh. Yer boys ‘er fine, tho’ ah dunnae thank ‘ey’ll feel tae great when ‘ey wake up.”
“Who th’ fuck ARE ye? If ye’d wanted ta kill ‘em, ye’d th’ chance. They said ye’d been around all th’ local haunts, lookin’ out fir folk, but bein’ creepy an’ disappearin’. I canna place if yir friend air foe, an’ I dinna appreciate bein’ caught in between.”
“Yeh’ve changed in t’ree years, ah ken,” he replied almost wearily, squaring his shoulders. “T’ree years is ah lon’ time.”
He took hold of the greatsword, lifting the blade from his shoulder and striking a guarded stance.
“It’s me, lass. It’s Jol.”
“Hah.” She gritted her teeth around the word, biting off the corners. “Jol Taborwynn died four years ago. I burned his body myself, an’ his house wi’ it, an’ I sang his soul ta th’ West. Ye’ve some… some nerve usin’ tha’ name in front ay th’ likes ay me.” She squared off with him, setting guard on the other side of the little camp.
“Aye, but ‘oo else’d ‘ave tha nerve, aye?” he replied. He took a step to his left, away from the log and the three unconscious forms. “Turned awey ‘et tha gates ay Heav’n. Tol’ by tha Aes’kyr tha me life barred me from returnin’ tae tha Laight. Forced tae haun’ me ‘omeland. But suah as ah gave yeh ‘at shiel’, ‘et’s Jol.”
She moved to her left, circling with him. “Th’ shield’s fair ken ta be his, ye’ll need ta prove better. An’ I gave him th’ proper rites – he’d nae reason ta be turned away.” She paused a moment. “An’ if ye are him, wha’s th’ reason I shouldna send ye back ta th’ grave anyway? He had me do as I did ta keep fra’ bein’ raised – he wouldna want ta be th’ likes ay ye.”
“‘En wot yeh gonna dae, Righteous? Yeh say ah’m nae. Ah say ah am. Life, Fate, tha Aes’kyr, tha Titans…none ay ‘em care what ay man wants tae b’come. If’n yeh cannae stan’ tha truth, then END IT!” The last came out in a roar, and he charged forward, greatsword whirling.
She caught the sword with the shield, parrying a blow that was heavier than any she’d felt in a long while. Her counterattack swung low, hoping to knock him off balance. “What’m I gonna do? What d’ YE plan ta do? Kill me? Tha’s proof muir than I need ta ken what yir not who ye say ye are. Unless death has so unhinged ye what ye canna recognize one ay yir own?”
Her mace glanced off his knee braces, denting the metal as he spun back and away with the weight of the greatsword. “Well wot else is ‘ere, eh? S’wot yeh come tae dae, bury me a’gin, nae? Well Jol fuckin’ Taborwynn dunnae gae doen wi’out ah fuckin’ faight. Ne’er ag’in. Fuckin’ tried tae give in like a COWARD tae that Scourge!” he raged, more at himself than at the paladin in front of him. “Stood tall in tha face ay Angrathar! Fuckin’ let tha Bloodah Prince BEAT ME!” He roared again, loud and long and proud, and whirled to bring the greatsword down in a vicious downstroke, hacking in half the log he had been sitting on. His back was to her now, giving her all the great space she could take to send him under.
In two steps she crossed to him, dropping her mace and slamming her palm between his shoulderblades with a crack of Light that lit up the entire camp like daylight. “I dinna come ta kill ye. I came ta find out who ye are. An’ why yir hauntin’ th’ place I… well, we both love. If yir tellin’ me wha’ Jol Taborwynn dinna wan’ ta go back ta his grave, then I’ll na be th’ one wha’ sends him there. But I’ll also na be th’ one wha’ stands by an’ let’s him destroy himself out ay guilt. If anyone owns tha’, we share it – I gave ye th’ Rites, if it dinna take, tha’s oan my head as well.”
Whether the force of the blow or the Light, neither would ever be sure. Jol fell forward, kept on his feet only by the grip still on his greatsword, and acrid smoke curled up from his runes, his shoulders, his armor. His shoulders heaved, deep breaths. Moments stretched out, the battle begun and end between the two of them in less time. He turned his head, looking over his shoulder at her. “It wos ne’er yer fault, luv.” He grunted, yanking the blade free of its hastily made earthen scabbard. He heaved a great big breath, then sat himself down with a thump on the log. He looked up at her then, and the old Jolly was there in his eyes. “Light send yeh fair better’n ay, Aely.”
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