Why Is This Man Smiling?
Buffy and Guts arrived at the encampment of the Sisterhood that afternoon. Valkis welcomed them and some of the women in the camp looked at both of them with great awe. Bilbus joined them Chiana presented Valkis with a light, slim and deadly looking sword.
Buffy thought she saw Guts stare at the weapon with faraway eyes. It seemed completely different from the huge weapon he swung with such elite skill.
"An impressive weapon, Smith truly impressive I've not seen its like." Valkis smiled
"Ah tis a right piece of work, the design of the blade and handle Belong to Guts, tis his prompting that guided my hand at the forge. I've few precious things aside from my little girl, the Lady Buffy tells me that I owe you and yours for saving her.
"Dad made a bunch of weapons for every member of the Sisterhood in camp."
The women gave a cheer moving into line to collect their new swords. Pairing off, They began to spar and practice with them and soon cries of delight were being heard as they all discovered that as light as the blades were they were still strong and tough.
Valkis smiled at Guts "A masterful design, where did you first encounter it."
Guts looked at her a moment then turned away "You know where by now, She carried one like it every day. It saved her life, maybe it will do the same for you. "
Buffy found herself asked to spar and Puck buzzed around cheering her on. She paired off with a taller dark-skinned girl whose face reminded her of Kendra. Eventually the girl's flawless fighting style reminded Buffy of the dead Slayer as well. Even with her Slayer speed, Buffy was being pressed hard.
Valkis joined them later and Buffy asked about their Patron.
"The Duchess, her family controlled this part of the valley for generations of border disputes and quick conquests."
"What's her story?"
"The usual for a woman of influence in this world, Her father saw her as chattel. Useful only as trade goods to lure in decent royal blood to forge alliances of convince and to produce royal heirs to cement a claim of power. Her brother saw her as an obstacle to his hopes of succession. When her father married her off to some brute, she had a son. Her brother schemed against her and the child, especially after the husband died. More of the brother's dark plots no doubt."
Buffy had to admit all this intriguing was worthy of her mother's Passions fixation "What about the brother?" According to Valkis, the young scheming Duke, Her brother tried to usurp her a few times then one day several years ago the brother went in to the village to hire some girl he had seen as a maid. Brother Dearest was bringing her home when bandits attacked his Wagon slaughtering the young Duke. Her father was devastated. Would not eat, drink or rest, just wasted away. The Duchess took over running things acting as regent until her son reaches age of majority and is ready to assume the throne. Then she learned about Sisterhood of The Hawk. Since their membership was composed entirely of women sworn to emulate the now legendary White Hawk female commander, The Duchess saw them as the perfect guardians of her and her still politically naive son.
Buffy nodded " Still I wonder why Talson the head of the city Guard tried to arrest us today."
"Talson is a bureaucrat, fond of his family and often strutting and preening after the real danger has passed. He is a competent enough organizer but it is small wonder that mistress looks to me and my girls for protection."
She paused in her to look at Buffy who was watching a glimmering light on the hillside over looking camp from the erratic moment it was Puck and where Puck was Guts was usually brooding.
"Your friend is moody."
"Guts has things on his mind, so do I really but I think all this Sisterhood stuff has him remembering things. I mean a whole warrior sect grown out of the legends surrounding people he actually knew."
"I am as nervous as he, I have admired Lady Caska All my life; wondered if I am half the warrior and leader she was. He can say, one way or the other, yet what if they hated each other, What if he betrayed her somehow?
What if everything you know about her is wrong." Buffy said quietly
"There are women in this camp who freed themselves from lives of poverty, abuse, fear and ill-use because they heard the tales of Caska and decided to be brave." Valkis nodded "What if everything they have lived their lives for is a lie?"
"You make too much noise Guts complained as Buffy approached " if you can't move like a warrior we'll be helpless when we fight the GodHand."
"Valkis is sitting down there trying to decide if she wants to worship you or stab and kill you, Maybe you might want to calm her down."
"And tell her what, that Caska was a great warrior and great tactician. Do you know what their great warrior and tactician did once, … went into combat while having …women troubles." Guts snapped "I mean what made her think that she could do that. "
Buffy smiled at an odd memory, Willow, Cordy and her discussing how Buffy could fight, let alone do anything else during her time of the month. Giles and Xander had walked into the room at a point in the conversation when graphic detail was being used to illustrate Cordy's point of view. The reaction of the boys had been hilariously over the top. Very much like the tone Guts was using now.
Buffy applauded Caska in her head, fighting during her time of the month was a bitch and a half and she had increased strength, speed and stamina on her side. To Guts however she said "Maybe she wanted to be judged as a warrior not as a woman."
"As a warrior she had few peers. She and I only really fought the one time but she was good. Griffith was the best I ever faced I only beat him once. "
"Did she and Griffith…"
"She wanted to, hope and prayed for the day, resented me because Griffith came to care about me in a way that he cared about no one else. "
"Guess it just wasn’t meant to be huh? "
"What did you learn about their patron."
Buffy repeated the tale told her by Valkis and Guts nodded. "And The Sisterhood told you this is where Caska grew up?"
""Well there isn't a statue or anything but that’s what they said. Why is it important?"
"WE will have to fight for our lives to escape this place before this is over. There are too many that have thoughts they will not want to leave behind and they will hate us for the truth we have to tell."
"I'm not going to like this?"
"The girl the Duchess spoke of was Caska. When she was younger, her father sold her to a local lord who said he wanted her as a serving girl for his household. He didn’t even wait to get her home before trying to rape her, would have if not for Griffith that was who was leading the rogue bandit troop."
"This is bad. So Griffith Killed this Duchess' Brother. " Buffy sighed
"No, Caska did that. at Griffith's urging. After that moment, she decided her destiny. To fight for what she wanted to take by force what she had merely dreamed about before. "
"How could a girl younger then me kill anyone let alone a trained noble?"
"Griffith tossed her a sword and told her to fight, if she still had something to protect, she did. The noble died, end of story."
"Christ, this place is brutal."
"Doesn’t matter really we will have to fight for our lives anyway no matter what."
Guts held up a hand smeared with blood. Buffy noticed for the first time that the wound that Puck called The Brand was oozing blood. "Something is close," Guts said quietly "Very close and getting closer or we are getting closer to it. Soon we will see what's causing it. Soon we will fight."
What then " Buffy asked grimly
"We'll force them to call the GODHAND, You do whatever it is you are supposed to do …then you can go home and I can finish this here and now."
"And how exactly do you make a powerful demon call up it demon masters pray tell sir. "
"It did the last time I fought an agent of the GODHAND, he revealed his demon form, I cut him to pieces and he called the GODHAND to try and save his life and soul."
"It can't have been that easy "
"Well there was the several dozen troops I fought to get to him, the castle I pulled down around his ears in the process and the fact he came close to killing me. "
"I was afraid of that any other good news about our chances "
"The only survivor was a single girl, in the whole of the castle, one girl survived the attack. A girl left orphaned because of me. She swore she would have vengeance on me for the lives I took that day. I don’t expect this will end any better in fact I'm expecting that it will end even worse."
Buffy looked at the evil looking grin on the face of her partner and asked the only question that made sense at that point "knowing all of this …why are you smiling?"
He didn’t answer her nor did she expect him to. Buffy wondered if Guts' predications of bloody massacre were not a self-fulfilling prophecy.