Hard Times? (Livin' It Up On Top) (1 Viewer)


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Lore Team

It was a road to hell, it was hard times;
It was a world of gods and men.
-”Road to Hell”, Anais Mitchell and Andre de Shields


Here’s how it starts; the Emira shows up one night at the barracks, and everyone’s fully expecting that one of a few things will happen. Either she was sent there by the Marshal and Klaus, in which case it’s probably bad news (why else would they send the one who everyone knows is non-combative, is pacifistic, is almost worse than useless?), or she’s there of her own will, in which case she’ll probably stomp around trying to play tough and act like she has any idea what she’s doing, and they’ll have to play along till the Marshal puts a stop to it.

Neither of those things happen. Instead she pulls bottles of wine from her bag and sets them on the table in the barracks, then looks around. “Who wants a drink?”


She doesn’t go away.

Once the wardens realize that she’s not there to try to do something stupid, they figure that she’ll probably get bored quickly, stop coming around, and things will go back to the way they were. But she doesn’t go away. She brings dandelion wine and, the first time she comes by after a skirmish, she brings good northern vodka for the units involved.

She starts to refer to a few of them by name at that point. Sometimes she gets names wrong; there are a lot of Wardens, and they usually look pretty similar covered in dirt and wearing scarves. But more often, she gets it correct. She greets Baz warmly by name. She asks Ali what he does when he’s not in the barracks, when he’s on leave. She finds out which of them are newest and offers to arrange a night on the town. She greets the new recruits with enthusiasm, internalizing their names as quickly as she can.

It can’t last; it won’t last; it’s the weirdest situation that any of them have been in. This isn’t how the army works. They’re not supposed to be on nickname basis with the noncombatant Emira with one arm. They’re not supposed to drink wine with her every few days as she plays games to practice their names.


They start a poker group. The Emira’s not very good at poker, at first, but she’s an enthusiastic learner and has an endless supply of trinkets and wine to bet with, and she fills cups and sings loudly and gives Omar and Amarne instruments to learn. “I can’t play right now,” she says, gesturing to her missing limb, “but I want to sing! I’m getting restless!”


The Emira is a talkative drunk, and not an unpleasant one; some of the wardens get into fights after a few drinks, which she always defuses handily and personally. It seems to get easier for her the more it happens, until she can get an apology out of the instigator over half the time, until she can at the very least lead one away with “so how’s Laila been doing, did she stop tormenting her tutor yet?”

She talks about philosophy a lot, and current events. She tells stories of her escapades and no one believes them (stealing a library from an old mage college? Really?) but they’re entertaining as hell. She’ll ramble on about the world if they let her.

“We just keep playin’ the same songs, like it’ll turn out different this time, and you know, that’s great. I love that! I love that we do that. We keep cyclin’ through, through worlds and lives and whatever, and every time we rebuild more and better even though we all kinda know it’ll be taken away again. Fuck the gods, amirite?” She raises her glass to the ceiling. “I’m thinkin’, you know, it’s kinda pointless, to take sides in cosmic battles; can’t I take our side? I’m takin’ our side. I don’ even care who wins at this point, I just care about us and that we get to keep on livin’ here! It’s great here. I love it here.”


It’s strange; it’s so strange; she never misses poker night (well, she does, but she always cheerfully tells them the sept before that she’s going to visit her partner-paramour-boyfriend-kinda-husband up in Camara and she wishes he’d come down here but well you know how it is, getting antsy in one place or another, and she’d be unhappy in Camara all the time and she’d be unhappy here all the time but if she moves around then she loves them both so much because Mutajara is so great--and well, if they’d never thought of Mutajara as anything particularly great before, it was almost infectious); she brings board games, chess and strategy and games played with little colored stones hopping around dips in wood boards; she has a never ending supply of dandelion wine; she keeps bringing the good stuff for units that performed particularly well, and when she asks the captains and commanders for status reports, they’ve figured out that she’s not asking for the status reports the Marshal gets detailing the outcomes of the battle and losses and gains and supplies, she’s asking who did well, she’s asking who to reward, she’s asking who to congratulate personally, her one hand on their shoulder, a hug if they allow it but never if they don’t.

She goes to every funeral. That’s, perhaps, most unexpected. Even the higher-ranking Commanders don’t go to funerals outside of their cohort, but at every funeral she’s there, always in the same black dress and red cape, always knowing who was closest to the fallen and comforting them and slipping flasks of vodka to the ones who are reaching a breaking point. Every few septs the graves are covered in flowers.

The ones who can play, play for her. She gives them sheet music she’s composed, sings on top of bars and cross-legged on tables, takes over the stage on nights out at the Hanging Gardens; her voice is an unusual one but she doesn’t seem to care, and always pays her musicians in trinkets or booze or sweets, with the biggest and most genuine smiles as she thanks them for being her arms.


It doesn’t go away; that genuine feeling. It would have slipped if she was faking it. It should have slipped even if she wasn’t faking it. The wardens are a rowdy and untrained bunch, disaffected veterans and foreign mercenaries, but damn if it isn’t hard to smile around her when she brings the party to the barracks and stays up to the small hours of the morning after a successful mission with dandelion wine and sweets. The Emira--Spinner--it wasn’t a stunt, it wasn’t a dalliance among the common folk. She likes them. All of them, individually, really and genuinely, and that’s probably the most surprising part; it’s easy to think of the Wardens as a singular entity, and that’s how most of the townspeople treat it. They’re grateful for the protection, but Spinner’s grateful that each of them is a person, that each of them exists.

“It’s like she doesn’t even live in this world,” a commander tells a captain in something like wonder. “It’s like she’s living in a completely different reality and--she’s refused to change for this one.”

(She almost never comes around when Klaus is in the city or stomping around the barracks. Kind of a shame, really.)


It’s known, after mense of this, to the new recruits. In battle, you would follow Garai and Klaus anywhere, and they’d lead you home safe. And back at home, Spinner will pour out wine and congratulate you and remember that conversation you two had about your wife’s troubled state lately and ask how she’s doing. Back at home, it’s sunshine, it’s summertime, it’s spring come again; like the entirety of the sun and the city has condensed itself into one woman. Still a noncombatant. Still missing an arm, still a spaced out drunk, still too idealistic, still waxing on about morals that are impossible to follow in the day to day.

But she knows them all by name, and that’s enough.


Cause here’s the thing; to know how it ends, and still to begin to sing it again

As if it might turn out different this time…
I learned that from a friend of mine.
….He could make you see how the world could be

In spite of the way that it is.
-”Road to Hell II”, Anais Mitchell and Andre de Shields


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