A Lass That is Gone
When Shadows Fall
Location: Ravens' Sciptorium, Stormholm Caer, Harkania March, Cymeria
Timeline: October 3550
Gero could hear the horses’ hooves as a patrol thundered towards the main entrance of the keep and stopped to watch them leave. He stood at the side entrance that actually led into the main building of the Throne Room wing, once he had entered he followed a stairwell up ending in front of a door at the end of a quiet corridor. It did not stand out much, except for the sign above the door that indicated Wyr in the runes of the Cymry. As far as most people in the castle went this was the scriptorium of the Cainteoir of the Wyr, dealing with all matters revolving around their fractured nation and their integration into Cymeria. When it had been created a decade ago, most clerks of the castle had arched an eyebrow, knowing how much Wyr detested written things and assuming that a century had been enough to make Wyr dealings complex enough to put someone of their own on it. Some of the clerks had been very friendly and helpful to Scyrane who had become the main Wyr clerk, assuming that the warrior was not really happy with the injury that had damaged his sword arm so much, that he would be relegated to scribe duties.
Their friendliness had not been rebuked, though they could not know what the truth of the scriptorium was. While it would handle whatever matters Brithonin, the Keeper of Caer Draenar sent their way, in truth it served the headquarters of the Ravens. No one questioned Wyr coming and going, or message ravens being brought inside, and any other courier was easily explained as well, within a decade no one wondered any more why the small place was sometimes so busy.
When Gero entered, he heard Oréas voice. “No, Scyrane, it was all a wild goose chase, if there were ever Templars, y Carthu or other traitors in that part of the forests, it must have been years ago. All we found were a few drunken Vanir, I left them to Rakis to sober up through a good beating.” The tall Wyr stood with his back to the fireplace, eschewing the chairs that surrounded the main desk in the room.
Gero arched an eyebrow at his second-in-command. “You took Rakis along on a mission?” Rakaris was loyal but not a good liar, they used him occasionally for hard tasks, but never entrusted him with any critical information.
Oreás shrugged. “He only knew we suspected Templars in that forest and he seriously needs some enemies of the High House to tear apart - he has been close to a rage ever since the attempts on the Highlord. He’ll continue to prowl some of the lonelier regions around this keep in winter. I wouldn’t want to be the Templar that comes across him.”
There was no denying the words, and Gero accepted Oreás decision on that. “Any other news?” he looked around. “Iris?” His eyes fell on a diminutive black haired woman in leather armor, who seemed engrossed with a scroll that lay on Scyrane’s dark wooden desk. Her back was turned towards the other door of the room, that led to a smaller storage room, that presumably held the books, scrolls and other accounts on the Wyr, which was true… to an extent.
The small woman straightened up, Iris of Coldstorm Dawn looked almost lost between her taller and much more muscular comrades, but no one would think of dismissing her lightly. She had her black hair tied back strictly, which made her look stern. “Not all that much Nighthunter, Liska came in during the night, but she already said her report was mostly routine. Not too much happening at the Sea-Kings court this autumn. I am worried about Whisperwind… she was supposed to bring a report from Spitfire and is overdue. I know with Spitfire we never know when he can risk entrusting a message to the chain… but this is too long.”
Gero considered it, Spitfire was an especially riskily placed spy and while he had to be inventive to send any letters at all, it was rare for his reports to be delayed that long on the chain of messengers. “Oreás, Iris, you both better go and check the old oak lair, if Whisperwind ran into trouble or did not dare return openly, she would be there. Scyrane, can you go down to the drunken man and see if he received a message that has not yet been passed on to us?” The drunken man was a contact down in the city, usually left for lower level messages, but now and then he would unknowingly pass on a message of import. All three Wyr nodded curtly, Oreás and Iris heading out the door and down the hall to get outside of the castle, while Scyrane opened the window and shifted into his eagle form to leave for the city.
While he was gone Gero looked over his translation of the report Liska had carried - it was held in a slight ironic tone natural to Frostwanderer, the author, and contained a number of interesting rumours that were floating around at the court of the Vanir, some that were material to make Gero laugh, but nothing else of import. Lower in the report he had added various rumours the ship’s had brought along during summer. Engrossed in his reading Gero sat down by the fire, and silence descended on the room.
Mikhael and Hawke made their way from the upper regions of the massive old keep where his apartments lay, to the main floor and across the great hall. From there, they headed for a stairwell neatly ensconced in the front wall. A moment later, Mikhael was rapping on the door that led into the working heart of the Raven network. In the past, due to it being near the busy front courtyard, it had been little used thus making it ideal for being utilized as the Wyr’s scriptorium...and much more.
Entering the room, Mikhael was relieved to see that Gero was alone. He crossed toward where the other man sat, hailing him in his usual warm greeting. “We’ve news and the need for information, Uncle Old Cat!”
Gero looked up, there was no need to guess who it was, he had recognized the steps before he heard the voice. Mika was accompanied by ever-watchful Hawke. “Both news and questions are best shared near a fire, Stormchild.” he returned the affectionate nickname, pointing towards two chairs by the fire, as he rose to close the door of the room. It was an unspoken signal should the others return, to not disturb.
Mikhael settled in one chair, stretching his long legs toward the fire and gesturing for Hawke to get comfortable as well. He then shot his friend a quick look indicating he should give Gero the basics of how he had encountered the young woman and how she had come to be at Stormholm.
Hawke moved to his chair but stayed standing, resting one hand on the back of the chair as he turned toward Gero. “Brychan sent for me because of reports of a young woman asking after Lorcan. I joined Brychan and we went to the inn and saw her there performing. Well, we were able to get her somewhere private to speak to her and in the better light of the back room I was able to see her eyes.” Hawke then glanced over at Mikhael. “To put it in the best way I can...let’s say they were an exact match to a Stormdanovich we know well...and I was taken by surprise when I saw them. I may have overreacted when I knocked her unconscious and took her to the keep and locked her up until I could summon Mikhael. I will let him take the story from there.” Hawke then slid into the chair and tried to look relaxed.
Mikhael smoothly took up where Hawke left off, “Brychan came for me and to my surprise directed me to the unused...the surprisingly clean and well supplied...unused dungeons beneath the caer. Although the girl was still...sleeping... I confirmed the probable connection to the House but also dispelled any possibility that I was her sire. She is at least in her mid-twenties.”
“Her story is, however, a matter of concern. She is from Haradar and claims that Lorcan travelled there for some reason where he developed a liaison with her mother. Once her mother learned who he really was, despite him asking her to leave with him, she sent him away. He never returned. The girl, Renestrae, states she only learned the truth recently, in fact, as a sort of deathbed confession by her mother. She came searching for Lorcan.” Mikhael paused to stand and cross the room and pour himself a goblet of water from a pitcher standing on a low credenza. As he returned, he reached inside his tunic and drew out the papers the girl had given him. Handing those to Gero, he resumed his seat. “I was never privy to the workings of Kimber’s High Guard,” he said, a wry note coloring his voice. By the time he was of an age where he would have been expected to be involved from the position of First Marshal, matters had deteriorated with his father and he was gone from the hold. “But I do recall Lorcan being away much of the time when I was here. I always assumed he returned to his home to help with the family estate, but could all this be true? The girl is definitely of the House. I sensed as much when her powers stirred. Also, the eyes. They are, if I remember right, more the shade of Lorcan’s than mine, but easy to mistake for they are lightened by the same gray and silver flecks.”
Gero had listened silently to the entire story as it was related to him, his relaxed mien became more closed up, shuttered, when the name Lorcan was mentioned, one of his men, his comrades in the High Guard, fallen on that day in D’hassa, fallen trying to defend Kimber. He pushed that aside, not letting any feelings get in the way and cast a sharp glance at Hawke. “So… do I understand that right? You hear about a young woman asking about Lorcan up Gwenchillian and go investigate. Once you notice her eyes… the best thing you can think of is attack her? Next time you might consider inviting her to some jars of wine, get her drunk, get her story from her and when she wakes in the dungeon she will not be sure, whether or not she did something while drunk.” He might have gone more easily on Hawke, who was a straightforward and steadfast warrior, not a man sneaking in the shadows, but this might have ended less pleasantly.
He took the papers from Mikhael and glanced across them, some were letters, some were others but one name stood out. Vashti. “Vashti,” Gero repeated the word softly, “that makes it more than likely.” He looked at Mikhael. “Lorcan’s absences had nothing to do with his family, he rarely went home after his father died in the Year of the Mistfox, his absences - like those of two others - were to track y Carthu and other dangerous groups. Ever since the heir - meaning you - had been born, some strange things went on, and we tried to track the source best that we could. Lorcan was sent to Haradar, posing as a bard. The Mar’kathi are a troubling group, violently anti-arcane, Anti-Cymry and slightly isolationist. Lorcan did well among them, we had to call him back late in 3523, y Carthu had found another spy and began actively hunting out people.”
Gero’s mien had become hard, grim. That autumn had been bloody, within the span of three weeks about fifteen men and women had died, some had not been given the mercy to die swiftly. “Berios was captured but broke free and Eldarion, the mother bless a ranger’s cunning, led them on a chase they rued. We got Lorcan out more easily…” Gero’s voice trailed off, for a moment he considered leaving it at that. Lorcan had been a good man, a friend, in spite of the grave mistake he had made among the Haradar.
“Only later he told me that he had loved a woman there, that he had confessed to her what he was and that she had sent him away in anger.”
“Yet, in the end, it appears that she did not betray Lorcan to her people or to y Carthu,” Mikhael stated, almost in a musing voice. “That must indicate that there are those amongst the Mar’kathi that are not rabid supporters of y Carthu.” A brief flash of concern flowed through Mikhael, but it quickly subsided. The girl might now believe she was alone with the Chatelaine, but there were guards about. A number of female Morrighan were now interspersed with her ladies and forewarned is forearmed. Oksana was not incapable of defending herself now that she knew to be on her guard.
“So…” Mikhael added, “it is more than reasonable to assume that Lorcan was indeed this girl’s sire?”
“The way you describe her, it is more than likely.” Gero replied slowly, thoughtfully. “As for her not betraying him to the y Carthu, that might have been self-preservation plain and simple. Had they found out, they would have used her as bloody bait. So keeping the silence was doing the smart thing on her side. y Carthu would have killed her child… and no guarantees for what the Mar’kathi might have done, knowing the truth.” All this was the past though, the what-ifs and what-may-be’s of the past. Let the past have the ashes.
“What do you intend to do about this girl?” Gero asked directly. “She might well have inherited some of your family’s talents.” And she was not loyal like Lorcan had been, which meant someone would have to keep her in hand, there were too many third parties ready and willing to use an illegitimate scion of the Stormdanovich line.
Mikhael slanted a glance at Hawke before speaking. He knew he was about to hear objections, but he also knew that there was little choice in the matter. The girl could not be held prisoner. “After the night, she is free to come or go as she chooses.”
Hawke knew what Mikhael was about to say and while he knew the High Lord was right, he still knew he had to make the obvious comment. “I know we cannot keep her in the dungeon, I do not dispute that, but do you think it is wise to just give her the run of the place? She still might have other missions to accomplish.”
“Hmmmm,” Mikhael mused, blue eyes going slightly hooded and reflective, “perhaps I misspoke myself. Come morning, should Lady Renestrae choose to leave Stormholm or, indeed, Harkania, she may do so unhindered. She will be escorted safely out of the keep and pointed in the direction she wishes to journey. Returning to Stormholm in the future will be more...problematic...shall we say?” He leaned back in his seat, offering his two friends a rather wolfish smile.
“Which I find more problematic than letting her run around free in Stormholm, where we could have an eye on her.” Gero replied, his shoulders tensing slightly. “She may think that it is nothing to her, but she is in an illegitimate Stormdanovich, and if I were an enemy of this land, I’d know what I’d use her for.”
“Then I suggest you have some of your eyes keep watch as she travels. I have the feeling she got neither what she wanted or expected upon revealing her story to us,” Mikhael responded affably. “I also seriously doubt that she fared much better with Oksana. If you feel a need to keep her closer, then I will support...up to a point...whatever you choose to do, short of imprisoning her for life or eliminating her outright...yet.”
Hawke sat looking at the two men. “All I did was knock her out with a blow to the jaw...now we are discussing her elimination. Suddenly I am feeling a lot better about my part in all this.” Hawke flashed a grin at the other two men then sobered. “If she truly has no home, it would probably do us more good to keep her around.”
Gero arched an eyebrow. “Had you not knocked her out, but simply got her to talk over a few jars of wine, she’d not need to know she is of Stormdanovich blood, we could leave her to believe that she is Lorcan’s daughter. You are right, she has no home and that might be an opening to keeping her around.” The older man stopped for a moment, not quite willing to let Hawke’s critique of Mikhael’s suggestion slide. “If she becomes a tool in the wrong hands, she might have to die, Hawke. I’d rather prevent that, which brings us back to keeping her around…” he frowned. “Do we know of any contacts she may have had, outside her own people? Any other people she encountered, or mentioned to either of you?”
Mikhael shook his head in response, “I confess I did not even think to ask although I will check with Oksana to see if the girl said anything to her.” Then, he cast a glance at Hawke before turning back to Gero, “Hawke handled the girl based on his instinct to protect me. He did what he felt necessary to that end. I cannot state I would have handled the situation differently. Like Hawke, I tend to take action over thought.”
“If the child can be used as a weapon by our enemies, she is also in danger from them as well should her connection to the House become public. She is decidedly Cymry. I not only sensed her arcane abilities, minimal though they are just now, I felt them respond to her chaotic emotions. Yet, with all that, I still feel like it needs to be her decision whether to remain with the family or not. We can offer her a place and at the same time, keep watch.” The High Lord stood and stretched his powerfully muscled form, “But, the first step, I think, is to still allow her the freedom to leave Stormholm on the morrow...and if she chooses to do so, send a Raven to report back on where she goes.”
“I will have someone trail her.” Gero confirmed the order he had been given. “Two someones. One to report… and one to try and befriend her, most likely.” It was a rough plan, and it would probably see some refinement once he had discussed it with some of his people.
Mikhael rose to his feet, preparing to leave the old Wyr in peace. Snapping his fingers, he turned back to Gero, “Oh...I almost forgot...she mentioned that her mother and Lorcan wrote a song together. She kept half and he had the other half. Do you recall if Lorcan left anything behind?” It was not usual for Cymry to make a will. It was most often assumed that any personal items left behind devolved to the next of kin. The exception was when they were riding off to battle or other danger where there was a potential of being unable to see family again before Crossing. In those instances, a Cymry warrior would sometimes leave a should I not return from my venture document with a close friend or relative.
If I don’t return, I shall leave a message for you, carved in stone. Unbidden and unasked for the quote from the old story crept into Gero’s mind. More than one of the fallen High Guard had had a legacy to take care of one way or another. Gero had seen to it that their wishes had been respected. He too rose, ready to get moving on what needed to be done. “Lorcan did indeed leave things behind, personal possessions, letters… some other things. We talked about what should happen, prior to the battle.” Gero had broken tradition on this, asking his men to either make clear their will, or tell someone trustworthy what their wishes were. He had seen too many not come back from battles, too many life stories unfinished, too many legacies shattered to not have asked them to. “Lorcan wished that some of the things he left go to his sister - half-sister that is - back in his old home. His letters, writings, books… he asked Eldarion and me to either take care of them, or should we all not return to see them burned, with the letters of others. Eldarion keeps most of them, he does so more or less for almost all we lost that day.”
“Well enough,” Mikhael responded. “I suppose that should we all agree that Lorcan is indeed the girl’s sire or if proof can be found of this relationship can in his personal effects, then that which pertains to her should go to her.”
Hawke stood to follow Mikhael. “I don’t have any objection to that. If she is his daughter then by all means, she should receive her legacy. Perhaps she can find some sort of peace among whatever Lorcan left behind.”
Content in knowing that Gero would act on the best interests of the family and its newest member, Mikhael and Hawke took their leave.