When I wrote the original release post for this episode, I was apparently very worried that people were going to think that I was making some kind of editorial on immigration policy, since I dedicated the whole first paragraph to that concern. Considering that, when I did my pre-revision re-read, I didn’t once find myself thinking about immigration policy, I think that I probably didn’t need to be so concerned. Instead, what I was thinking was “hey, this story is really good.”
I’m not one to pat myself on the back too much, especially with regards to my writing – if anything, I probably spend a little too much time talking about what I perceive as the flaws in the writing that I’m trying to convince all of you to read – but this is just a really good episode, at least to me. It has everything that I like most about Blood Magic, plus a meaningful story and colorful characterization. You can argue that Ovra’s character is a little bit of a trope – the rural village matriarch in a fantasy series – but sometimes things become tropes for a reason.
It made me wish that this episode was longer, or that I had some plans to incorporate Ovra and her fellow immigrants into future episodes. Unfortunately, just like the tribes of the Unclaimed Territories that we encountered in Fallen Angel, I don’t think that there will be room to bring them back in Season Three, except perhaps a brief mention in episode 9 (no promises). At the same time, there was nothing when I got to the end of it that I felt really needed to be added. Unlike many episodes, it actually had a real ending, and there weren’t really places in the middle where I felt like I should try to develop the story more in revisions.
Most of my revising, therefore, was cleaning up grammar, punctuation, sentence structure…the usual technical stuff. I added a few sentences here or there to improve characterization or clarify something (like the fact that the Blood Decrees, which I have since written, don’t specifically disallow the immigration of Blood Worshippers, but that a rule was derived out of the fifth Decree in case law (can you tell that I did these revisions close to when I wrote a certain essay on common law?)), but otherwise left it largely unchanged.
Even so, you should give it a read. Whether it’s your first time through, or you’re re-reading like I did, I really think that you’ll enjoy this episode.
Thick, tangled underbrush tugged at Ovra’s skin and clothes as she ran, but she had no time to worry about the scratches and ticks and burrs she was doubtless accumulating, nor to pick a more careful path; it was all she could do to keep from tripping in the failing light. Behind her, she could hear the harsh voices of soldiers calling back and forth, the whining of their hunting dogs serving as a terrifying harmony.
Somewhere ahead she knew lay the Luovis River, and beyond it, safety, or at least as much safety as she could hope to find for the night. Though her bare feet were bleeding, and each breath was jagged in her throat, she kept running, and she stayed silent. Somehow, even a whimper seemed like it would have given her away, though her pursuers could not be far behind, not with those dogs to track her scent.
Maybe it had been foolish of her to wait. The other families had certainly thought so, and several of the mothers in particular had looked upon her with scorn when she asked them to see her children safely across the river while she stayed on the Rovis side. Now that she was moments from being in the hands of the Rovis soldiers, she was inclined to agree with them. Yet how could she have not waited? They had agreed to stick together, and that meant taking risks if there was even the slightest chance of saving one more family. To set out with a dozen families, and to make it to the border with only five…Ovra’s heart wanted to break, but she held herself together and kept running. No time for tears or regrets; the others would need her on the other side.
She tripped over a sprawling tree root, skinning her knees, twisting her ankle, and somehow managing to tear what small parts of her skirt weren’t already shredded; before the pain had even registered, she was on her feet again and running, heedless of the limp that had developed now in her stride. She could hear the water just ahead, drowning out the sounds of pursuit.
It would drown her, too, if the others hadn’t sent the raft back across for her as she had instructed. She trusted them, but she also knew that the temptation of freedom was strong, and besides, any number of things could have gone wrong. Merolate was more welcoming to Balancers than Rovis, but not by very much.
In the darkness she almost missed it, but then she realized she was right on top of the thick, knotted rope holding the raft to the shadowed cleft of the riverbank, right where it was supposed to be. Her fingers fumbled with it, and she bit her lip in frustration, trying to will her hands to stop shaking so much and only managing to make them shake more.
She got the rope free just as two dogs burst through the tall grasses. Bent down as she was, Ovra was staring right into their eyes. At the eye contact the dogs hesitated for a quarter of a moment, which was long enough for Ovra to throw herself over the bank and into the churning water below, moments before soldiers burst through the bushes after their hunting dogs.
Cold, raging river water seized Ovra and yanked her away, tossing her about like a jewel on a tumbler – there had been no time to make sure that she jumped onto the waiting raft – and she lost all sense of direction. She started clawing desperately at the water, hoping that she was heading towards the surface, but in the darkness there was no way to tell, and her lungs were already straining and burning, her vision was going white around the edges, and her heart seemed fit to hammer its way out of its boney cage.
She needed to breathe, had to breathe, and it didn’t matter if that breath was air or water – she realized that she was still holding the end of the slimy rope, the other end of which was connected to the raft. Without even the mental capacity to spare to curse her own idiocy, she hauled along the rope with all her strength, praying that it would not slip through her rapidly numbing fingers, and a moment later her head burst into warm, sweet night air in which she could gasp and splutter to her lungs’ content.
Except that there was no time to revel in the wonderful feeling of being able to breathe again; she could see soldiers running along the bank, paralleling her course, and she was still easily within bow range. With some hidden reservoir of strength, Ovra managed to clamber onto the raft’s slick surface. The pole had disappeared, probably swept off by the river, but at least she was able to breathe, and she was a little less likely to get dashed to pieces on a rock for the immediate future. That was the only future she cared about right then.
With the raft spinning erratically, and no pole, it would have taken someone with far more nautical experience than Ovra to find a steady course, but there was no one else, and Ovra needed to get to the opposite bank. Once she was there, the Rovis soldiers wouldn’t dare follow; they’d be risking an armed incident with the Merolate Union, and no one would care that they had crossed in pursuit of a dirty Blood Worshipper.
Laying herself on her belly, Ovra tried to steer the flimsy raft as best she could with her hands, guiding it towards the opposite bank. The running soldiers and barking dogs on the Rovis side made it easy to know which riverbank she was trying to avoid, but the thud of an arrow into the wood just beside her head made nothing easier.
“Blood and Balance, what do you Rovis fools think you’re shooting at!” a voice shouted across the water, and Ovra whipped her head around to look towards the source. She thought she could dimly make out a man in Merolate colors standing on the opposite riverbank; had she really drifted as far south as the nearest border post? “Are you trying to start a war?”
There was no reply from the Rovis soldiers, and the arrows trying to hit Ovra slowed; they must have been taking more care not to shoot too close to the Merolate side of the river. Then another voice came from the Merolate side. “Look, Sir! Someone’s in the water!”
Panicking, Ovra tried to kick her raft back towards the center of the current, hoping that she could outpace all of them. Being taken in by the Merolate guardsmen might keep her safe from the Rovis soldiers, but it would present its own dangers, and not only to herself. She heard a faint splash and wondered if the Merolate guardsmen were returning arrows of their own. Then her raft rocked sharply, almost pitching her into the river, and a sopping wet, half-naked man with a rope tied around his waist hauled himself aboard.
“Nice to meet you, Ma’am,” he said, puffing from cold and exertion. He turned back towards the Merolate bank, and shouted “Alright, reel me in!”
“Thieving Unioners!” a Rovis solider cursed from the Rovis side, but the arrows stopped flying; whoever was in command didn’t want to risk shooting a Merolate guardsman.
Time seemed to stretch, but it couldn’t have taken long for the swimmer’s fellow guardsman to haul the little raft up to the Merolate side of the riverbank. Ovra felt dazed as a strong hand helped her to her feet, and someone wrapped a warm cloak around her shivering shoulders. Voices were blabbering all around her, but she couldn’t make sense of any of them, and they all kept being drowned out by a ringing in her ears that came and went in heaving waves. It wasn’t until she had been bundled up by concerned guardsmen to lay before a roaring fire in the border post that she was finally able to regain some semblance of rationality, and almost she wished that she hadn’t, her new circumstances were so overwhelming.
She didn’t want to tell the guards about the other families, but she had to explain the raft, and they just kept asking questions – kind, good-natured questions, in concerned voices and with considerate framing, accompanied by loaves of hard bread and sour broth and apologies for the quality of both – and Ovra was too distraught and too exhausted and too frightened to come up with any reasonable story but the truth.
For four days she was allowed to rest and recover in the border post, and then on the fourth day a pair of guardsmen came back, leading the five families who had crossed the border before her. Two days later, two guardsmen set out from the border post with Ovra and the five families for Merolate City to have their case judged by higher authorities. It was exactly what Ovra had feared would happen to them.
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