Miledha wandered the keep and wondered what it might have been like to grow up here -- if the man she called father had actually been her sire, if her blood had been noble, if everything in the world had been different. Foolishness, she knew, but she couldn't help indulging it.
The stables were clean and well-kept, the as were the horses inside. Would she have learned to ride them? The barracks were neat and orderly, for all the evening's chaos and disarray; would she have known the men there? In the corner behind the barracks sat the smithy; though it was nearly dark, the smith still worked with his apprentices. They were forging arrowheads, by the look of it. Dark and heavily muscled, the smith seemed a stolid and practical man. Would she have known his name? Made time with his apprentices? Or simply passed them all by, as beneath her notice?
If everything was different, what would be the same?
She ascended the steps to the keep, and passed between the guards without difficulty. It had always been a small thing for her to deflect the notice of others; it had taken desperation and practice to turn her skills the other way: to attract notice, and coins, and food. Still... she had learned, and it had saved her. The Viscount of Langoish had noticed her, and brought her to study with Sister Naggia, whom the villagers, in their ignorance, considered a witch.
The passage into the keep was a gatehouse in miniature, with its heavy outer doors and tracks in the walls for two separate gates that could be lowered from above. There were murder-holes in the stone ceiling, and arrow-slits in the walls. There were guardrooms to either side, each with its own cache of supplies and steps leading up to whatever passage crossed overhead. In one, a group of group of armed and armored men and women played at dice around a circular wooden table; in the other, the guards had moved back against the walls to observe a pair who practiced against each other with heavy wooden swords.
Weapons like these didn't interest her. For Miledha, they would never be worth the time and effort it would take to learn to use them. She passed by, and found herself facing the massive, ornate doors that opened onto the great hall. They were closed, but Miledha found herself wanting to open them. The great hall of Langoish Keep was said to rival the finest palaces of much greater lords in its elegance and taste. Even if it were bare at present, its tapestries and paintings hidden away, it was said to have the feel of a forest chapel: the columns and buttresses carved with vines and the leafy faces of wood-spirits, reaching up to an ensorcelled ceiling that offered all the light the room might need, or displayed the sky overhead as if its own stones and the keep above did not exist. Even with the fireplaces cold and dark, and the tables stripped or removed, it would be magnificent.
Miledha wished she could have seen it in its glory. Would she have appreciated it with the same strength of feeling that she longed for it now, if she had been born to life in the keep?
She didn't know, and she supposed it didn't matter. She would find the new lord of Langoish Keep, or he would find her; and if he was willing, then they would go together to avenge the man who had been the father of his blood, and the father of her heart. Maybe then she could turn loose of this rage inside her, this simmering need to lash out, to damage, to hurt. Who was it, in the old stories, who had fought the sea itself? She couldn't remember the name, couldn't really remember the story. She only remembered that after his son had died, he had taken his sword and stood fighting the endless waves. Three days it had taken, to exhaust his grief and rage. She knew now how that felt; it seemed she could pound mountains into gravel and still not be satisfied.
She pulled her thoughts away from that; someone was approaching. It was a serving-woman, wearing a simple dress and blouse; not so very different from the peasantry Miledha lived among. She let herself be seen, and the other woman slowed... and then stopped. "Miss? Are you... are you Sha Miledha?"
Miledha turned, surprised. Sha was the femine version of sir, a term used for female knights, military officers, or others who merited respect. She would never have imagined it connected with her own name. It didn't sound like sarcasm, but for a moment she couldn't conceive of it being used any other way. "I am Miledha," she said. "The witch."
The woman was nearly twice her age, but still handsome; she squeezed her hands together and said: "I mean no offense. My brother... he rode out with the lord. He was one of the few who made it back." She looked away. "He has wounds, and they've taken on badly. He's feverish, and keeps speaking to our parents... They've been dead for three and four years. Can you help him? Would you?"
Miledha blinked. She was, she reminded herself, not the only one with griefs to bear. "Take me to him," she said, as gently as she could manage. "I'll do what I can."