Oscar and Maeve

Here is a scene giving some of Oscar’s backstory. It takes place in the desert wasteland in the lull before the host and Abaddon’s Iron Horde draw up their battle lines.

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Oscar clasped his hands about his knees and his eyes fixed upon a spot lost in the distance of quivering heat haze.
“My family was unlike many others,” he began. “My father wanted to have me brought up in the king’s household, thinking it would stand me in good stead when it came to returning favours. That is not unusual, but my mother wouldn’t have any of it. She kept us all by her, me, my brother and sisters, and my father let her have her way.”
“Why would you not have been brought up in your own family?” Maeve asked, curious.
“Parents want what is best for their children. Is it not better to be a foster son in the house of the king of the province than the son of an insignificant clan chief?” He asked, but the question was ironical. He knew already that Maeve would not see how it could possibly be better. “Then, when I was ten years old, Medb, my mother’s young sister, married the High King of the entire island, and my father set his sights higher for me, proposing that I join my aunt’s household as her foster son. But still I was loath to leave home, and my mother was set against letting me, so she, my father, and Medb made a bargain. I would stay in my father’s house until I was twelve years old, then I would join the High King’s household and train as a warrior.”
Oscar stopped speaking and he stared at something Maeve could not see. She wondered whether his childhood memories were pleasant ones. “Were you not happy?”
Oscar chuckled. “Oh, I was happy enough. And why wouldn’t I be? The spoilt son of his mother, hunting with his father’s men, dallying with his sister’s friends. I hadn’t a care in the world—until I turned twelve, and the time came for me to leave my home and live with my aunt and the High King.” Oscar hung his head.
“You didn’t want to go.” Twelve, she thought, the same age as David.
He shook his head. “When the time came, my best clothes were put in a bag, all my weapons and the few bits of gold I possessed. My father came to see me off and give me his blessing. The men were assembled, my mother, my sisters and my younger brother, all gathered in the hall to say goodbye. The messengers from the High King were waiting with them, impatient to be on their way back to Temaire with the High King’s young foster son. But I had run away, gone to hide in a place I knew in the oak woods. My father was furious.”
Maeve grinned. “I bet he was.”
Oscar sighed. “Would that I had not been such a young fool. My father was angry that I would so shame him before the High King. He took all the men of the household and scoured the countryside for me, leaving only a few old slaves behind at the fort.”
Maeve’s blood chilled as she guessed what was coming next.
“That was when a neighbouring clan chose to raid my father’s fort. They came on horseback and rounded up all our cattle. Before they left, they broke into the fort looking for women to steal. When my father returned, he found my mother dying, one of his swords still clutched in her hand. And they had taken my ten-year-old sister.”
“Did you get her back?” Maeve asked to fill the silence that fell.
“My father took his men and went after the raiders. They caught up with them on the plain and called out to them to stand and fight. When she heard our father’s voice, Dervla bit the arm of the man holding her and threw herself from his horse. She broke her neck in the fall.” Oscar’s eyes remained fixed on the middle distance, and Maeve guessed that he saw not a curtain of shimmering heat but a green field far away. “If I hadn’t behaved like a spoilt child, my father would not have left the fort unmanned, and perhaps my mother and sister would not have died.”
“But you aren’t to blame for what your neighbours did! It was the raiders who killed your mother and your sister, not you!”
“So it was,” he replied grimly, “and the lad we captured said they hadn’t even known the fort would not be guarded. They couldn’t believe their good luck.”
“You see,” Maeve said triumphantly. “They would have attacked the fort anyway.”
Oscar nodded. “As I said, sometimes there is nothing that can be done. Sometimes it will be too late to change anything.” Maeve hung her head. “But we bear our guilt regardless.” He covered Maeve’s hand with his own. “People are made like that. We look back and we regret. But life goes on, and though your young friend may face a small skirmish in the city, the real battle will be fought here, in the open, in this godforsaken wilderness.” He looked with contempt at the stark rock and thorn bushes and the dusty dunes.
“I thought you said the battlefield wasn’t a safe place for a girl?” Maeve attempted a pale smile.
Oscar laughed. “Anywhere is safe if I am there to look after you.”
“I’ve always looked after myself before,” Maeve said with a hint of annoyance.
“But now you are a guest of my house,” Oscar said with a smile, “and I have a duty to make sure you come to no harm.” His smile faded and his expression was one of deep sorrow. “I failed in my duty once. I have no intention of doing so again.”
“Then you had better teach me how to use one of those knives of yours,” Maeve said softly. “It might be too late to change anything, but if it isn’t, I want to know how to fight properly.”
A broad grin banished the darkness in Oscar’s face. “When I have done, you will make a shield maiden fit for the High King himself.”