Sorin was no longer weeping when unsteady footsteps sounded behind him. He hadn't moved, he knew not how long he had knelt there, but the sun had dipped below the horizon. The dust and sand had turned red and was now fading to inky blackness as the twilight dwindled. The footsteps slowly drew closer and stopped in the doorway with a relieved sigh.
"Gods I was afraid you'd taken that sword to your own neck." Black Eyes' voice was low and raspy. "You sure as hell did something, but there's not enough blood for you to be dead."
Sorin slowly turned his head and looked at his enemy leaning against the door frame through the curtain of his hair. His left hand was still coiled tightly around a handful of dry earth and his right was still clasped tightly to his shoulder just above the still sluggishly bleeding cuts. Stiffly he pulled his fingers away and winced at the creak in each joint as he flexed them. He did not look at the three parallel slices or the dried streams of red blood that coated his arm and his sword. It would take some polishing to get the dust and blood off the blade, but for now he was content to let it stay. Instead he looked at Black Eyes over his shoulder, tried to gauge the man's reaction. The black eyes remained impassive, showing nothing but blank calm. Just as slowly, but unhesitatingly Black Eyes took another couple of steps and crouched down in the dust beside him, giving the three cuts a cool once over.
"I'm not going to insult you by asking to bandage them, but I am going to ask why."
"What did you mean you could do nothing else without compromising your own position?" Sorin asked flatly, refusing to even acknowledge the man's question. His grief was his own, as was the way he dealt with it.
"Good deflection." Black Eyes sank to a sitting position beside him. "I'd been riding with them for some months. They hired me after seeing me fight, said they wanted a little more muscle on their side. As time went on I managed to gain the trust of some of the higher ranked pirates. Eventually I was able to convince them to come here and pit their strength against the wall, which was the whole point of the thing in the first place. If they had started to doubt me the whole plan would have fallen apart."
"Are they really stupid enough to think they could challenge this?" Sorin swept his good arm in the direction of the catapults and towers.
"Not quite. I told them I could open the gate for them. Their whole plan hinged on that, they knew they stood no chance otherwise. That's why I had to be certain they trusted me, or they never would have come here to the wall."
"So they indulged your whims when it came to women and children because they needed you to let them through the gate. And you led them straight into a trap. You've been fighting them all along." For a brief moment Sorin felt something that was not quiet but almost respect for this man. It dissappeared again as soon as Black Eyes spoke in reply.
"You and I differ only in our methods."
"I wouldn't go that far." Sorin said coldly. There was far more different between them than just that.
"No, you're far more reckless than I am for one thing." Black Eyes voice was calm still, ignoring Sorin's rising anger. "It was supposed to be me standing alone before the gates in the guise of and ally to draw them close. Instead you had to go make a target of yourself for them. It accomplished what I needed, they rolled that ship up close enough to the gates, and sunk in the sand to boot, but gods, what possessed you to stand right in their path? I don't know how it blew in so suddenly, but I'm sure that sand storm is the only thing that saved your life."
Sorin snorted and answered without thinking. There was a hint of pride in his voice when he spoke. "Of course it was, I called it up for that purpose."
"Huh?" Sorin almost laughed at the sight of the unflappable Black Eyes so confused.
"I'm a serkan remember?" Sorin fairly snarled the hated word. "The sand is in my blood."
"You truly meant to take them on alone didn't you?" Black Eyes wisely let pass the subject of serkans and sand.
"Of course, I cleared that ship of pirates once, and there wasn't even any sand around them then." Until the catapults and ballistae had started firing Sorin had every intention of gutting the ship as thoroughly as he had when he'd rescued the girl.
"How many pirates were there aboard the ship when you rescued that girl?"
"How many did you see aboard it at the wall?"
"More than ten."
"Gods you're reckless." For the first time since they had started the conversation, Black Eyes sounded unsettled.
"And what are you?" Sorin was not about to be labeled by his enemy. "Months of lies and dealing with the pirates for an elaborate and overpowered trap just to wipe out a few dozen of them in one go?"
"No, not the men." Black Eyes had his cool and calculating voice back. "If there's one thing they'll always have more of it's men willing or coerced to join them. You saw how fast they replaced the ones you killed. The ship was the target."
"Think about it." Black Eyes spoke as if tutoring a child and Sorin felt himself stiffen at the percieved insult. "That monster was huge and made entireley of wood. You've spent your life on that side, is there anywhere with enough and large enough trees to produce that size or quantity of lumber? Those ships are irreplaceable to them. I've never been to their headquarters, I don't know how many of those ships roll across the plains, but now there is one less. The loss of a few dozen men means nothing to them, but the loss of a ship will cripple them."
"So it was destroyed?" Sorin couldn't imagine otherwise, but he wanted to know for certain that the vessel that had carried his family's death was gone for good.
"What's left of it is lying in the sand just the other side of the gates." Black Eyes reasurred him. "I got the report while you were asleep."
"What are you to these people?"
"Just one of a handful of others who convinced them it wasn't enough to sit back and watch the Tighernoch run rampant on the other side." Black Eyes shifted to a more comfortable position.
"Why do they call you Nagendra?" Sorin simply let the questions pour out of him one by one. If he kept talking perhaps the cuts on his arm and the wound in his heart wouldn't hurt so much.
"Because it's my name," Black Eyes replied easily, he seemed to be feeling no pain or sorrow as they sat and talked. "or at least it's the one they've given me, and the one I tell people when I don't want my true name bandied about. It means 'Lord Snake' in the language of this side."
"Almost as much as yours Dorand den Leland."
Sorin was beginning to regret telling the old man to call him that. "Dorand is simply what I asked to be called when I could not stand Serkan. I do not know how or why den Leland got tacked on to it. But you're right, it is fitting for what I am now." He let a small pause grow before he sallied on with his next question. "If you are from this side of the wall, why would you care what the pirates do over there?"
"I was born and raised on that side." Black Eyes said softly. "I didn't make my way over here until..."
Black Eyes trailed off until Sorin prompted him. "Until?"
"Until my home was burned and my parents and younger brother were killed by pirates." Silence followed in the wake of his words. He quietly continued after the span of a few moments. "I found allies and came here, knowing that the resources of this side would be the key to beating them for good and all."
"Why did you bring me here?" Sorin had a sneaking suspicion he already knew the answer, but he wanted to hear it.
"Mostly because it was the only way I could think of to save our necks, and I couldn't let you die before we crossed blades. I'd be lying though if I said I wasn't hoping you'd stay and join the fight."
There was a question in there, and one Sorin had suspected was coming. He wanted none of it. "The enemy of my enemy is not my friend, only sometimes and ally and an uncertain one at that. Loyalties that shift once can shift again. You should not trust such a shaky alliance any more than I do."
"My loyalties do not shift so easily, only the appearance of them changes." Black Eyes sounded slightly offended, and Sorin found that slightly hypocritical. "Still, I accept the warning and will watch my back."
Now it was Sorin's turn to be offended. "If I wanted to kill you that way I would have already, or simply left you by the wall to bleed to death." And at last, in that moment the path he needed to take opened up before his eyes. "I will stay until your shoulder is healed. I will help you kill pirates, trick pirates, and be your ally in this fight of yours. But as soon as you can wield a blade with that arm you are my enemy once more and I will give you my challenge again. I do not hunt pirates for the good of the plains, I hunt them for myself and myself alone. If I must wait to fight you, then I shall at least be hunting down the Tighernoch while I do."
Blacy Eyes sighed in what could have been relief. "Not as good as I'd hoped for, but far better than I was expecting out of you. You were never my enemy, and I shall be glad to call you an ally for a time."
"Don't push it Nagendra." Sorin was wondering if he'd wasted his breath when he pointed out that they were not friends and only barely allies.
"My real name is Orden Raurus. I would like you at least to know me as something other that that ridiculous title they saddled me with." Black Eyes' serious tone was low and intense. "But please don't call me by name in public. Nagendra is who I am to them, all I am to them."
"I understand the power of names." Sorin was silent for a space, weighing his decision. Finally he chose to reply in kind. "Sorin of clan Stigandr. My wife's name was Emese, given the title Erreshkigal by my kin at our wedding. My daughter was Anfisa. Remember them well."
"What does Erreshkigal mean?" Black Eyes asked softly.
"Great mother of the earth."
"I thank you Sorin of clan Stigandr." Black Eyes said the name with respect, and Sorin found himself uncomfortable with that.
"Call me Dorand if you must call me anything. It is all I am to any but my kin now."
"Aye." Black Eyes whispered into the deepening night. "I too understand the power of names."
AN: And that's as far as I got before December freed me from working on it anymore. I may go back and finish it eventually, I may give it a monumental rewrite eventually. I like the story and the characters too much to nuke it entirely, but dislike writing it enough right now to drop it like a hot potato for at least a month or two. Until such time as I can get myself to work on it again, here it will sit and my creativity will be spent on my other stories. Thank you to all who have read my work, I really appreciate all you do.