I included a Seventh Tower fanfic in Dedications. That one was for Jarek and Kirr. Minor characters that weren’t given enough exposure in the book so it was easy to come up with my own interpretation of their characters, to come up with a backstory.
Writing minor characters are always easier. A lot of things are guesswork. It’s all up to your imagination.
This one was more challenging. It’s a story about the two leading characters. Tal, a boy from the Orange Order (that’s like, 1 level above slavery) and Milla, an Icecarl girl (that’s like, the nomad tribes travelling the ice).
It’s set after the series. It’s kind of an epilogue.
It’s always harder to write the main characters. You know them well. The books must have provided you with more information than you know what to do with. This time you have to pay close attention to how they were written. This time, out of sheer respect to the source material, you have to evaluate what you write, you have to make sure you stick to the characters and their motivations.
The struggle here? How do I write these two stubborn dork children to mature adults?
I can only do the best I could.
Afternoon. The emperor’s sunstone indicated that beyond the veil the sun must be setting.
He sat back in his chair, taking a rest. He just came back from the audience hall where he had attended to the needs of his people. A decade of his rule had passed and now there were no more Underfolk or Freefolk or Chosen. There were only only his people: the inhabitants of the Castle, and the Icecarl who travel along the ice. There were still folk who worked as servants to several families even though the colored ranks had long been dispersed, but now they were treated with higher regard and equal rights. Among these rights were education and freedom of speech, person and choice.
Freedom – as his old friend Crow had wished.
A decade since his journey with an icecarl girl – where they changed the systems and the Dark world together. A decade since they parted ways. He missed Milla terribly, but they were both highly keeping in touch, and so he almost ignored her absence. After all, he was the emperor and his priority was his people.
He looked out his window to watch an icecarl ship arriving by the castle gates. He smiled a bit.
Unlike the past rule of the empress Kathild, now the Icecarls were their friends. If the Ruin Ship was short on supplies or facilities, the castle is ready to accomodate them. Sometimes travelling Sword Thanes came for recovery and supply replenishment. Sometimes a clan would drop by to offer their regards, trade properties, or ask for a favor, most often regarding their sunstones. In turn, icecarl ships were free to accomodate their friends from the Castle if Chosen, now more know as Light Mages, to help forget the old lifestyles, or if Freefolk would like to travel or would need assistance therein.
Malen, resident Crone of the Castle, did not inform him of any guests that they should expect, but Tal simply dismissed it as both of them being too busy or the matter being of smaller importance than the ones he was attending to.
He sat back down on his chair, relaxing. No one else was on the room, only him and blissful silence until the door opened ever so slightly and a white-haired woman stepped in.
“Tal.” the crone put her fists together in greeting.
Tal gave a small smile, returning the greeting. “Malen. We have visitors?”
“Yes.” the woman said with a small smile that was hard to miss. It was obvioous that she was trying to contain excitement just for the sake of being a proper, composed Crone. “She specifically instructed me not to make a general announcement just yet. The whole ship is tired.”
He raised an eyebrow. “A powerful shield maiden, then?’
“More than that, Tal. Much more than that.”
Tal smiled a bit, assuming it was a powerful Crone then. He was about to say that when Malen opened the door wide.
A woman stepped in the room and Tal held his breath at the sight of long white hair pulled back into a low loose braid, a head topped with a tiara of bone, talons of gold and violet, a faintly glowing merwin-horn sword and the most striking evergreen eyes he has ever seen.
The woman before him was just stunning. Her eyes were stern yet calculating. She was smiling at him like an old friend and yet she bore unmistakable pride. She was tired of the travel, though he knew that he was one of the very few ones to actually notice that.
Tal smiled widely, feeling like he was fourteen again – that carefree young man who travelled thousands of stretches in Aenir and the Dark World with an Icecarl girl who dreamed to be a shield maiden.
“Milla!” – the said her name happily – he ran towards her without warning, catching her off guard as she was about to do the customary Icecarl greeting, like the child that he was.
He hugged her tightly, and Milla, a quarter-astonished, a quarter-tired and half-amused, carelessly released a small laugh as she held on to his robes when he had lifted her from the ground and twirled her around.
Malen watched with knowing eyes and a satisfied smile as Tal put the Icecarl War-Chief back down to the floor, his hands still loosely on her waist. Milla held on to his arm as she looked up to the Emperor of the Castle.
“You’re back.” – twenty-three, Tal Graile-Rerem said, a look of unbelieving astonishment in his face, graced with a wide, welcoming smile. No one would have seen the Emperor in him if not for the vibrant Violet Keystone ring he wore, because at that moment, he was just Tal, that boy from the Orange Order who liked to mess everything in his life up.
“You cut me off from my greeting, you still have no manners, Tal.” – twenty-three circlings, Milla Talon-hand was War-Chief of the Icecarls. She looked up at him haughtily – back to being the young ambitious hunter that she had been, that girl who wanted nothing but to be a shield maiden for the Far-Raiders. “Hugging me is an assault.”
“You can cut me in two now.” Tal laughed in his carefree manner, letting go cautiously, remembering that it was Milla – Milla who wouldn’t hesitate to kill him.
“I won’t do that. You’re the Emperor of the Castle.” Milla said, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “You’ve grown taller.”
“You too.” came the reply. They had both grown taller, of course. Though she only reached his shoulder now. Yet Tal knew that she’s a more efficient hand to hand fighter. “You grew your hair.”
“I figured it wouldn’t hurt.” she said.
Malen watched the interaction for a few more moments. Only two minutes had passed, but they had talked nonstop, from the small arguments about small things to the offended remarks thrown back and forth, to the sentiments that made them both frown or smile.
“You didn’t tell me you were coming…”
“We were tired from the ride. We also met several creatures on the way, and the Castle was nearer than the Ruin Ship. We’re in no hurry to come, though. I’ve just finished my mission that is supposed to take five more months.”
“You have that much time to rest now?”
“Yes, thank the Light.”
“How about your people on the ship?”
Finally, it seemed that they both remembered their friend watching them, and the Icecarl ship waiting for their commander.
Both turned to Malen, and then Milla spoke. “I told them all to replenish supplies and do as they pleased around the Castle. Will that be alright?”
“That is no problem. Would you like a feast? After all, this is special – the Icecarl Warchief is here.” Tal suggested.
Malen agreed. “Or shall a simple dinner be served before the Icecarls are guided to guest quarters?”
“That depends upon them. I am positive, though, that they would want a feast.” Milla decided. “I would not be joining, though. I would prefer a simple meal for myself and then I would take a rest.”
“As you say, Warchief.” Malen clapped her fists together and bowed, then turned to both of them. “Shall I leave now, or would you like a moment with the Emperor?”
“I would stay here for a few more moments. Thank you for attending to my ship.” Milla answered.
“That is my duty.” Malen answered.
“I will see them in a little while, too.” Tal said.
Both he and Milla clapped their fists at the woman. Malen only smiled and took her leave.
Tal told the Icecarl to take a seat, but Milla refused it, only settling down her merwin-horn sword and taking off her thick fur coat. Tal stood by his balcony, looking out towards the gardens where several children played, their mothers standing by.
He saw his sister Kusi, now a young woman, practicing Light Magic together with other young students her age. Milla walked to stand beside him and watch. Some Icecarls were talking freely with other inhabitants of the Castle. Tal recognized some as former Underfolk, Freefolk and Chosen – now all mingling together as equals.
“You’ve done things right on your side.” Milla remarked softly – a tone he didn’t hear from her often. She was too headstrong, sometimes he feared that she might not have emotions, but she’s shown him her best – she’s shown him that she can laugh and smile.
He only shrugged nonchalantly. “I just did what I think would work out best. How about your side?”
“Icecarls are very traditional people.” the woman explained. “But I managed to change some things. The Ice may be tough, but it could melt with the right heat. I did tell you of some of my travels.”
“You did.” Tal nodded, looking at her. “How are those girls that you helped become Shield Maidens?”
“They are now almost done with their training in the Ruin Ship.” Milla said, pride filling her tone. She knew how to dream, and when she met those young ladies with the same spark of ambition in their eyes, she did everything to give them stepping stones.
“That’s brilliant.” the Emperor said. “I am sure your people adore you very much.”
“As do your people.” Milla said. Tal scratched his head uneasily, still a young man who bore the responsibility to rule over the castle – he never failed to remind everyone that he is, as they are, human – and he chose to be laidback. The woman caught sight of the Violet Stone on the man’s finger, and looked on towards the Castle gardens again.
Companionable silence prevailed, and after a while, Milla spoke. “I wonder how Odris and Adras are.”
“I miss them too.” Tal chuckled.
Milla nodded. “Do you think we should go to Aenir?”
He stared disbelievingly, and after a while, he tried to say something, but he ended up tripping over syllables.
Then she laughed, her shoulders shaking, and he gaped.
“I GET IT! It’s that Icecarl joke!”
“Y-Y-Yes!!” Milla breathed out, still laughing. He laughed with her for a few good minutes, and when it all died down, they were wearing smiles on their faces. Milla sighed then, and decided to ask, “Where’s Ebbitt?”
Tal laughed again. “Ah, still in the Ruin Ship with the Codex. Having the time of his life.”
“And your parents?”
“Mother spends her afternoons doing housework. Father still maintains the Orange Keystone, but he is doing well.”
“How about the Freefolk? Gill, Clovil and the others?”
“They have learned Light Magic and are very efficient at it. Even Crow’s brother is doing well, we have made a new leader.”
And then Tal realized that he had nothing to ask Milla about.
He did not know her Icecarl friends except some prominent Shield Maidens and Sword Thanes – she did not have a father or a mother that he could ask about, nor siblings that he knew of. Although an Icecarl ship’s members and crews were called a clan and Milla’s ship members treated each other like family, she did not have the parents or siblings that shared her blood.
She kept silent after that, chin resting on her hand and watching the exchanges going on below them.
Tal spoke, “Milla?” – and he inwardly chuckled because it just dawned on him that he never addressed her as War-Chief nor she called him Emperor whenever they had a conversation. The woman looked at him expectantly, waiting for the question. “Will you stay here in the Castle for your five months of rest?”
It surprised him that she was ready with an answer, as if she was looking forward to telling him.
“Yes. Ten circlings is a long time. I would like to take a rest from all the journeys and stay put for a little while. Do you think, as a War-Chief, that was selfish of me?”
“Goodness, no! I think you deserve more than five months, really!” he laughed. “I would love to have you around- I mean… you’re my…” he trailed off sheepishly, and she eyed him with challenging green eyes, as if she was daring him to say it. “You’re Milla, and I missed you.”
“You didn’t change.” the woman said, face deadpan.
She was still that grumpy Icecarl girl who was too brave for her own good, still that pale-haired young woman with the striking green eyes – and what made him smile wider at her remark was that, like the very first time they met, her pale, almost colorless cheeks, were flushed with emotion.
“You didn’t, too.” the Emperor remarked brightly, leaning against the balcony’s railings. “And well… I’d still be so happy if you stay.”
“And what will we do, play hide and seek?” Milla said, raising an eyebrow. “You’re the Emperor, you have your people.”
“I also have you.” Tal insisted childishly, and the Icecarl punched his shoulder lightly.
“You are a bad Emperor.”
“Admittedly. This bad Emperor is your best friend.”
“Is he?” the Icecarl challenged.
The former Chosen nodded with dignity. “He is.”
“You’ve grown, Tal.” she gently mused – though somehow it astonished him that she could be gentle at all, knowing the fierce disposition of all Icecarls. Yet it fit her perfectly, because no matter how fierce her personality is, she still had that delicate complexion and that soft face which was malevolent yet gentle – she was still the Icecarl girl he travelled with. “You won’t contradict that by saying you still use the laundry chute, to travel downwards, right?”
“Right.” he chuckled. “I still would, really – but I won’t fit in as well as I used to.” – which was right. He still thought that the laundry chute was the most convenient way of travelling to the lower levels, but he’s grown and he might get stuck… “You’ve grown, too. You make the finest War-Chief.”
“Sometimes I think I’m too young to be one.”
He agreed. “But it’s for you. You’re that strong.”
“Thank you for that.”
Then it was all talk about creatures of the ice, how Milla’s ship defeated some, how the ice had shifted and routes have significantly changed.. and then it was Light Magic, how some rogue shadows were found and sent back to Aenir, how some new methods were being developed…
It was as if she was back to being Milla of the Far-Raiders, the fierce hunter of her clan who dreamed of nothing else but becoming a great Shield Maiden, to be passed down in stories proudly like Ulla Strong-Arm, and he was back to being Tal Graile-Rerem of the Orange Order, struggling to do his best for his friends and family, enthusiastic about an achievement that will help him climb to the ranks of Violet. Back then, even though they were too different, they had held to each other for support as if they were both the other’s lifeline. They had to.
Tal lifted his robe’s sleeve and bared his wrist – there was a triangular scar, the one he used to make a pact with her. Milla pulled back her furs and revealed her own scar, a replica of the one in her companion’s wrist.
It was funny how they reminded themselves of their former dreams – to be a Shield Maiden, to be a Brilliance in the Violet – just because they had been together when they both lost their chances at those dreams – he gave her a Shadowguard, she had him involved with Freefolk and other skirmishes.
But they got much more. She may not have become a Shield Maiden, but she became the living Sword of Asteyr, the Icecarl War-Chief. He may not have become a Brilliance of the Violet Order, but he became the guardian of the Violet Keystone, the Emperor of the Castle.
They often contemplated if this was too much for what they wished for, but they found themselves bearing with it. They find themselves thinking that they wouldn’t ask for anyone to take it away from them now.
“I missed you too, Tal.” Milla finally admitted. “There’s nothing like having a total idiot on the ship.”
“That kinda hurt.” he chuckled, daring to take her hand. It was a pleasant surprise when she twined her fingers with his, and he smiled. “Five months?” – a discreet offer, and he watched the woman beside him nod.
“Five months. That is enough to catch up.”
And after a decade, a different journey begins. This story starts not with a meeting, but a reunion. And though they wouldn’t travel stretches of Ice together or battle rogue Shadows using their Sunstones, they had begun their first steps.
Five months – but that can change.