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In the Valley of the Wyr

Posted on Thu Dec 15th, 2016 @ 2:01am by Kerowyn Snowspirit & Gero of Dawnrunner Clan & Renestrae tyr-Vashti & Brán of Coldshade Heights & Aereth Archive

Chapter: When Shadows Fall
Location: Caer Draenár, Daranau Eira, Harkania, Cymeria
Timeline: October 3550

The ways that led to the great hidden valley were obscure at the best of times. Even amidst the riot of color and falling leaves late in the month of Sun’s Dusk or October as it was known in Heniaith, the Cymry Old Tongue, one had to have an idea of where the trails were in order to find them. As the two riders progressed along, climbing steadily upward, they were accompanied by things unseen in the thick forest undergrowth. More than the rugged country through which they passed kept Caer Draenár safe from outsiders.

Caer Draenár lay slightly less than a half day’s steady march from Stormholm and slightly lower down in elevation than that lofty perch, but only if a person knew the trails well. In the case of the two travelers, it had required a night spent in the open and even then, news of them had already made its way to the valley. It was early the second day, before sun’s height, that the two riders entered the thickest of forests on the last leg of their journey. As the narrow trail bent prior to starting a gradual descent into the valley itself, a massive silver white dire wolf ghosted from between the trees to stand in the middle of the roadway. Triangular ears flicked upward and shimmering dark eyes surveyed the two riders critically. Surprisingly, standing shoulder to shoulder with the massive wolf, was a barsk, that notorious lone hunter of the upper reaches of Cymeria.

Brán put his hand on his horse’s neck to calm the animal. The dire wolf had come out of the forest like a ghost, like a creature straight out of the story about the Witch of the Wilds and her Werebeasts. Even after years living in Cymeria and knowing that Wyr were just people, strange people but people still, he could not help it - seeing the wolf on the road felt more like an old story, than an everyday occurrence. The barsk was even stranger, as far as he knew that kind of fauna was none that Wyr could shift into, though his own knowledge of Wyr came from watching them at Gatherings and reading Eiranuia’s “Book of the Wilds” a dozen times.

The presence of the barsk at least told him that this dire wolf must be Wyr, otherwise, the two animals would never appear together. He bowed slightly in the saddle, hoping that not dismounting would not be taken as rude. He did not trust the horse not to bolt if he’d dismounted. “We apologize for straying into your clan lands, Watcher of the Forest,” he said politely. “My name is Brán, and I am accompanying this bard to your settlement to speak…” what was the name of the Wyr settlement leader? There was a title he had heard before. The woman had been at the gathering, a slender, pale-haired woman with eyes that warned everyone to not believe her weak. “... to speak to the Keeper of Caer Draenár.” The Keeper, that was the title, and she would know where to find Gero of Dawnrunner clan. He glanced at Ren, wondering what she would make of this encounter.

The bard’s knuckles had paled as flesh was stretched against bone, fingers trapping the reins within their fold. Caught in the barsk’s even stare, she struggled with what her eyes were telling her, and what she knew only as story and legend. Her gaze darted toward Brán, who had offered a bow, and spoke as though it were nothing out of the ordinary. She, too, dipped forward in a bow, muscle against her stomach taut lest she fall out of the saddle.

She had not ever thought to have witnessed two creatures of such heartbreaking, unimaginable beauty, so perfect and pale and deathly in the enchanting stillness of the forest. Kai whickered, dipping her head, anxious; Renestrae unclenched one first and allowed it to move against the growth of the mountain mare’s hair, smoothing it back shortly thereafter, mimicking Brán’s own soothing action. It distracted her well enough that when she straightened, she was collected and even-keeled.

The silver white dire wolf seemed to nod back before whirling around and setting a brisk but not impossible pace for the two mounted riders to follow. Its companion, the barsk, faded back into the trees, guarding their rear path. Barely more than a game path, the trail itself would have been next to impossible for outsiders to see and follow without the ghostly shape of the wolf guiding them.

Eventually, the trail all but vanished amongst boulders and dense forest leaving the two humans having to dismount and lead their mounts to the floor of an immense rift valley that sliced through the highlands of Daranau Eira, the great mountain known as Thunder Snow. Buildings that seemed to grow from the valley floor were scattered amongst copses of trees and paddocks for livestock.

Between one breath and the next, the dire wolf shifted and became the slim form of a silver-haired woman with great slanting dark eyes. She was clad in dark leggings and tunic with a vest that rippled with the silver gray color of her waist length hair. Beside her stood the barsk, its head held high. The woman’s hand rested between the beast’s tufted erect ears.

“I am Kerowyn of the Ghostwalker Pack,” the woman said, her throaty voice carrying the lilt and accent of the highlands though her features were more reminiscent of the continent of Xia. “If you will follow me, I will lead you to Gero’s clan house although he is not in residence. He has been sent for.”

Brán dismounted and inclined his head towards the stunning Lady that had just revealed herself to them. He had rarely seen a Wyr shift directly in front of his nose and it was something prone to remind him of many old stories he had grown up with. ”We are very grateful for your assistance, Kerowyn.”, he replied politely.

Movement to their side drew his eyes to the flank of the building they stood in front of. Another woman had appeared, pale-haired and slim but beside Kerowyn quite plain in appearance. Brán remembered seeing her at the gatherings more than once. “Lady Kerowyn,” Brithonin greeted the white haired Lady with a bright smile. “What ghosts of the forest have crossed your path and followed you here?” There was a sparkle in her eyes when she spoke to the white-haired Wyr.

Lady? Brán tried to hide his frown, his mind racing. All he had read about Wyr indicated that they had almost no use for such titles inside their own communities and that they never styled their own leaders as Lords of any kind. Kerowyn must be more than just another Wyr of the Wilds.

Renestrae slipped gracefully from Kai’s saddle, unsure as to the protocol in her circumstance. She was tongue-tied at witnessing the faery-women, paralyzed by the notion that she knew so very little about the Wyr. It was one thing to speak flippantly to the High Lord, and another altogether to do so to these watchers of the woodlands. No questions had been asked of her, so she held her silence, hoping that it communicated respect.

Kerowyn flashed a smile at Brithonin while amusement danced in her dark eyes. She had tried to convince her Wyr-kin to stop referring to her as Lady Kerowyn to no avail. Their respect for Mathias and her son, Kimber, ran too deep. A rare few addressed her by name only but never in front of visitors. But, no matter. She treasured their respect, love, and acceptance. She adored her family, but she had never felt at home amongst them, not as truly as she did here in Caer Draenár.

She gestured with a graceful hand to their two visitors, “Brán of the Theurgy Guild, if I am not mistaken,” she stated in her lilting voice, “and his companion whose name has yet to be shared. They have come to see Gero.” There was another brief pause before she gestured to the woman next to her, “Keeper Brithonin of the Wyr.” Her other hand continued to smooth the fur on the barsk’s head, “This is Stelciwr or Stalker in Saesneg, the common tongue.”

With barely a pause, Kerowyn turned her gaze on the woman being accompanied by Brán. “And this one, again if I am not mistaken, bears some kinship to my grandson, our High Lord.”

This Lady surely could read minds! Or, as it had been proven, Renestrae’s resemblance to her grandsire was much in evidence. She bowed her head, and replied, “ ‘Tis so, Lady Kerowyn, of the Ghostwalker Pack.” As she straightened, she met the other’s haunting gaze, and said, “I am Lorcan up Gwenchellian’s child. It is my hope that Lord Gero is able to tell me more about my father, and it is Brán, my earnest friend, who has volunteered to walk with me on this strange path.”

“Gero should be able to answer many of your questions, child. He was close to my husband’s son. It was your eyes that spoke of your kinship to House Stormdanovich. In color, they are much like Mikhael’s, my grandson. That particular silver-flecked blue seems to be unique to the House.” Kerowyn gestured toward the building nearest them, “I am sure Gero will not mind if we await his arrival inside his hall, no doubt your mounts are weary and would like to rest and be tended to?”

Brithonin again studied Renestrae, contemplating the words of the High Lady, even as she waved another man closer, who came along with two boys, who would take care of the horses. “It is for you to say, or know if she carries the blood of your noble House, my Lady,” she replied to Kerowyn. “But I do believe it when she says that she is Lorcan’s daughter. Like him, she is a child of the Hills.”

The man who had come closer, a tall, huge man, with wide shoulders and muscular arms, directed the boys to take the horses towards the paddocks behind Echo Hall. He gave Renestrae a smile. “Your father was a very brave man,” he said to her. “It is good to see that his line lives on in you.”

Brithonin’s eyes sparkled a little and she took a step towards Renestrae, close enough for her hands to lightly touch Renestrae’s shoulders. “Be welcomed to Caer Draenar, daughter of Lorcan. I am Brithonin of Snowseeker Clan and he is,” she pointed to the man, “Rakarias of Rockspirit Clan. Let us go inside, it is much easier to talk by the fire.”

“I am most honored by your welcome, and I would be glad to share your fire,” she said, bowing her head. Her gaze was momentary stolen by Kai, who tossed her head with uncertainty as she was led away. She quieted shortly thereafter, soothed by her handler.

The bard was feeling a little restless and small, dwarfed by the nobility of the ‘Wyr people. They spoke of such lofty things! Renestrae did not feel as though she were Lorcan’s daughter, for the praise that was bestowed upon him, knowing what he was. She had grown up hunting and herding, with the hard labor of the lands worn on her palms. She was a nothing, although she had never considered that she might have been. She was simply one of the people of Haradar.

There had always been a quiet ache in her heart upon learning the truth of her parentage, but it swelled now, thunderous and lonely. Her pride felt so insignificant now -- and as much as she wrestled with it, she struggled. Lorcan up Gwenchellian was remembered well in people’s hearts. If only her mother could know his true worth, his deeds, that he was so well-loved. Had he received her letters at all? The notion that he had, and never replied, stung her most of all.

Kerowyn hung the water kettle over the fire to heat for tea before settling in one of the scattered comfortable chairs and gestured Renestrae and Brán to do the same. She knew that Gero would not mind that she and Brithonin played hostess in his stead. Her eyes were kind as they lit on the young woman. “Gero will be able to give you details regarding your father that I cannot. What I can tell you is that Lorcan was the son of my heart if not of my body. I loved him just as I did Kimber. He was conceived in love before I met Mathias Stormdanovich and, I am certain that had Matya known of him, he would have been a proud and loving father. It was Lorcan’s desire to keep his familial connection to House Stormdanovich a secret for many reasons, none of them shameful.”

Renestrae sat, her movements made slightly stiff by caution, but fluid all the same. She did not think that she could love one whom she had never known, and yet...her mother’s affection for her father, the way that these folk spoke of him, she felt a connection that she could not have possibly envisioned.

The sound of the water coming to boil interrupted Kerowyn’s narrative. Using a thick protective glove, she lifted the kettle and carried it to a nearby table where mugs had been prepared for tea. The tea was a wild variety blended with local herbs and wild mint. Its enticing aroma soon filled the room. Kerowyn returned and offered the mugs of tea to Brithonin and their guests before setting the kettle on the hearth, close to the fire to keep the water hot for refills.

Returning to her seat, she took a sip of the tea before resuming the story. “Lorcan chose to not publicize his connection in a belief that he was protecting the House, his mother, and most importantly to him, he felt it protected his brother, Kimber. I tell you this, Colli Renestrae, because, amongst the Cymry, there are no words that designate step or half relations although they do have teulu y galon, family of the heart, a term reserved for those that have become a chosen family rather than one of blood.”

Kerowyn tilted her head, “As you are the grandchild of Mathias, so too are you my grandchild and welcome in Ghostwalker Pack.” A bell-like laugh issued from Kerowyn’s lips and her dark eyes danced, “Although those of House Stormdanovich would tell you that I am not the warm and cuddly granny that sits by the fire knitting blankets for the little ones.”

They would accept her, just so? They knew nothing of her. But perhaps it was Brán’s presence there that lent weight, that spoke for her. Were it not for him, she would not be there, nor would she have the Lady Kerowyn call her kin. How ferociously she owed him, now! Her fingers absentmindedly found the braided band he had gifted her, twitching as they found the bumps and fissures.

“There are no words that would rightfully convey my sentiment for this happenstance, my Lady,” she said, dipping her head in a slow bow, her eyes never leaving the silver lady. Her lips turned upward in a mischievous smile, such that she had not given in some time, for her demeanor had become shadowed in recent months. “I shall tell thee, I would rather it be that my grand-dam be full of fire than be the sort to knit blankets.”

Kerowyn laughed in response, her eyes sparkling, “I believe I shall like you, Renestrae! And I do knit, just not well.”

Brithonin had easily deferred the role of hostess to Kerowyn. Like many houses in the vale, Echo Hall was a clan home, being home to Gero and a few others, who considered each other family. But whenever Lady Kerowyn were to visit Echo Hall she took precedence, for in the hearts of all who shared a home in Echo Hall, she was the great lady of this house. When Kerowyn explained that she was not a warm and cuddly granny Brithonin ducked her head to hide a warm smile. While Kerowyn certainly was a distant hunter of the wilds, like one of the great spirit wolves of old, she had never been anything but warm and caring towards the denizens of this vale.

Brán had silently watched the proceedings, listening to what was said. His guess that Gero, as the former Ryndar, would know more about Lorcan had been confirmed by Lady Kerowyn and he was surprised how calm she reacted to Ren’s bloodline. Or was this a Wyr trait? Few wives would have been so gracious given the circumstances. “It seems that many of you knew Lorcan, though,” he observed. “Brithonin, you were certain at once that Renestrae was his child, and Rakarias had no doubts either.”

Looking up Brithonin studied the quiet man from the Theurgy, he had a sense about him, something that tingled her senses, that she could not quit place. “Aye, I did meet Lorcan on occasion. Whenever High Lord Kimber came to our vale, Lorcan was among the High Guard accompanying him. Sometimes I also met him when I had to come to Stormholm Caer on matters of my people. Lorcan was a good man, easy to talk to, rooted in the earth, at home in the hills. He often had good, practical advice for tangled problems that cut to the heart of the matter…” She shook her head and looked at Renestrae. “I cannot tell you about his last hour, I was not close to the hill when he fell. My sister was and she did not escape the Black Hunter that day.”

A prickle scurried along the length of Renestrae’s spine. Lorcan, a man of practical advice, rooted in the earth...she was not the same as he, but there was much they shared, even having never met. She swallowed uneasily, the slightest of trembles entering her hands before she schooled them to stillness. It was enthralling as much as it was discomforting.

“He fought like a cornered wolf when the High Guard was severed and the hill surrounded,” Rakarias had joined them after the horses were taken care of. The tall, powerful man stood by the side of the fire, leaning against the hearthstones. “He moved like a snake when he stepped between the High Lord and an almost lethal hit. The blade sent him down to the ground and the Aquilonian Legionnaire moved in the for the kill, the blade came down and Lorcan grabbed the arm, using the hold to pull himself up again and rammed his own blade through the surprised Legionnaire.”

Rakarias deep voice had fallen low as he spoke of the events in the battle. “Knowing what I know now I wonder if that Aquilonian Tribune knew about it too. For when the High Lord went down, and Lorcan tackled the Tribune - the man who had wounded Kimber - he allowed himself to be drawn away from the High Lord to fight Lorcan. And even as he ultimately succeeded in killing Lorcan, it gave others the time to break through to Kimber.” Or he might have killed Kimber on the spot. It had not been enough for Kimber to survive, but enough for his final act that had turned the tide.

The bard sat with her head bowed. Her eyes became misted, and she sought to hide what tears threatened to come. He had died with incredible courage, such that she longed to possess. The very same courage had drawn her mother through the years alone, not knowing what had become of him.

“Would it be possible to find out what this Tribune knew?” Brán asked, his mind racing. A man of that rank did not vanish lightly inside the Aquilonian Empire. He could be found and asked about the battle, careful questions, prudently phrased that probed for what he knew.

“Go to the Hill of the Grey King and ask him to open the doors of the Underworld for you, Laddie,” Rakarias replied grimly. “The Tribune and all his men did not survive the day, Nighthunter tore them apart once he had fought his way back to that hilltop.”

Brithonin shivered. She still could hear it - it was not a howl, cats did not howl, but the CALL that had gone through her like lightning, the call of the pack, breaking all holds and restraints. She exhaled slowly letting it go. “Nighthunter, Gero, might be the only one to answer these questions.” She said.

Renestrae had her head tilted downward and away, allowing locks of hair loose from her braid to partially veil her face. Silently, droplets left their trails over the rise of her cheekbones, gathering at her jawline before they fell. She was breathing the slow, shivered breaths of one who was withholding their emotion, wrestling to force calm into her lungs. Her body was taut, one fisted hand coming up to roughly brush warm tears from her face as casually as she was able. Rakarias' telling had summoned visions into her mind of her father’s last moments. Had he thought of her mother, she wondered? Had he held Vashti’s face in his mind as the sword was run through him?

She would have to go to the gates of the Underworld, as Rakarias had said, to seek an answer. Perhaps they had found one another in the grey beyond. Perhaps they were joined in the song once more, and spoke to each other of their final moments, shared words of the love that had tormented them for long years. She would never know. That thought alone caused her to tighten her chest and hold her breath for a moment, lest she sob openly, and look an uncontrolled fool before the others.

Kerowyn leaned forward. Her impulse was to take the young girl’s hands, but she was unsure of her welcome in that regard. Her voice was kind as she spoke, “Renestrae, first...formalities. Please call me Kerowyn as do my children and grandchildren at the hold.” She paused for a moment to gather her thoughts because what she would say now still pained her heart.

“Renestrae, Lorcan was Cymry like Kimber and his father, Mathias, my mate. I think, had he taken training, he would have been far more powerful than Highlord Kimber, however, he respected his brother and chose not to follow that path beyond the elementary teaching that all Cymry that are aware of who and what they are pursue. In nature and sheer power, though, Lorcan was more like our current High Lord.”

“Cymry,” Kerowyn continued, “do not embrace a true death as most know it. Instead, when it comes time to leave this plane of existence due to illness, age or injury, they Cross to the White Road. Even their bodies disappear so I do feel they simply leave this world that we know for another. Still, that makes them as good as dead to us for they are beyond our reach and, as far as anyone knows, we are beyond theirs - if they even retain a sense of this life.”

Kerowyn again paused, but this time to sip her tea. Her eyes were now shadowed and her voice sad. “Lorcan Crossed upon receiving that last fatal wounding. Kimber felt him pass and told the family before he, too, had to make that final Crossing. I do not know if he shared that information with Gero. They were incredibly close so I would think he did.”

In the wake of Kerowyn’s words, a searing lance left its burning trail across Renestrae’s heart. Tiny muscles in her face twitched as she wrestled to keep her emotions from spilling forth. A vice tightened in her chest, and feeling as though her breath was being robbed from her, she stiffly rose and executed a careful bow.

“Forgive me, my lady. I must excuse myself.” She had forgotten Kerowyn’s request at how she should address her, her thoughts only in moving her feet to the door, and beyond. She had the cast and bearing of a wraith, drifting as her vision grew cloudy, barely registering as she passed the others on her way outside. She did not stop until she was some distance from the structure, immersed within a cluster of trees, leaning against it in such a way that she would not be visible from the hut itself. There, her breath came in gasps of quieted, intense rage and sorrow both, her frustration bringing her to the cusp of shrieking her fury to the skies.

He Crossed. Crossed. Moved into a realm where her mother would never reach him. Separated, for eternity. Her childish hope, with all the mewling weakness of a newborn phoenix, had been snuffed out. She clenched her fists, pressing them up against her forehead, her body racking with stifled sobs. Truly, the storyteller in her had desperately hoped that there would be some measure of happiness in her parents’ tale if only to ease the ache of her mother’s passing. But no, there was no happy ending there, no promise that they would sing together once more.

The wind stirred, then, a reflection of her grief.

The black cat had been moving through the forest like a shadow, having spotted the young woman coming out of Echo Hall the black panther had trailed her path towards one of the flanks of the valley, where she had stopped in a high mountain meadow. Her dark hair was torn by the wind and her anger was passionate and keen. It was written over her entire posture.

Knowing that anger had its time, the cat simply moved out of the bushes, sitting down opposite of the young woman, just looking at her.

The wind’s dirge died away, and Renestrae’s shoulders sagged. She pushed the heel of her hand against her reddened cheeks, banishing the worst of the dampness, although the soreness of her eyes could not mask her anguish. It was then that she -- she, who prided herself on her ability to observe, to be aware of her surroundings -- noticed the sable creature sat neatly before her, watching with what was beyond animal intelligence.

“That was not meant to be seen,” she said, swallowing against the lump that had formed in her throat. She drew herself up, every bit as dignified as a cat that had been knocked from atop a wall. She brushed away strands of hair that had become glued to her cheeks, rearranging it briskly, tucking them back into the folds of her braid. “I have heard many things today, and I wonder what it is you have for me, whoever you may be.”

The cat tilted its head slightly looking at her, as she got herself back to her feet, only to fade away a moment later and instead a tall, blond man stood opposite of Renestrae. “I had no wish to intrude,” he said in a calm voice. “But sometimes sorrow, or anger, needs company, and be it that of a silent creature. My name is Gero; of Dawnrunner Clan. You must be a visitor to our valley.”

“I am, and your company is welcome,” she replied, studying the man before her. She felt a little chill scurry through her. Here was the very individual whom she was to speak to, the one who, if anyone, could have some answers for her. Lorcan may have confided in him, but she would not know unless she asked, and it would not do for her to look foolish before him. His gaze had a depth that spoke of lifetimes’ worth of experience and wisdom. He seemed as patient as the grave. “You are also whom I came here to seek,” she added.

“And you have found me,” Gero studied the girl, now that he saw her directly he noticed the eyes. They were prone to catch the attention of anyone who knew the High-Lord’s family well enough. They held echoes of Kimber, of Lorcan, of Mika… of Mathias. He pointed to the side where a huge tree cast shade over the grass. “Let us sit, then you can tell me what help you seek,” he said, deciding to not go back to Echo Hall just yet. She had run away in pain and anger, the first encounter with the people here must have been temperamental.

She settled for trusting him and took her place on the grass. Not a nobleman’s sort of place to sit, but he was not any sort of nobleman. The stories had been true; there were those who could change their shape, but the shape had been beautiful, not monstrous. She felt far less angry than she felt she should be, but how would it have helped?

“There is much to tell,” she said, quietly. “What I seek first, then. Reasons later if you ask them of me.” She paused, fingers idly playing with the tapered end of her braid. “Brán bid that I look for you; I trust that you know him. I need to know more of Lorcan up Gwenchellian, and where his belongings are, anything he owned.” Her gaze was drawn upwards to his and she said, with some finality, “He is -- was -- my father.”

“So I take it you know that Lorcan fell in D’hassa,” Gero observed, wondering what she may have heard that had made her run away from Echo Hall. “I had asked, advised my comrades to leave some kind of will, some kind of indication what was to happen to their worldly possessions, for chances were we might not come back from that one. In Lorcan’s case he left what coin and worldly possessions he had to his younger brother Tír up Gwenchillian, the two were close. His personal journals, writings, letters and other things he left with one of his comrades, Erandir. I doubt that he knew he had a child, but maybe he did hope for a certain lady to one day look for him.” Gero tried to phrase that last part neutrally, they had debated Lorcan’s mistake once or twice and he had seen that Lorcan had been unable and unwilling to let go of a woman that could not be trusted. But that was nothing that ought to be told to her daughter, who could not be blamed for her mother’s ideology.

She had nodded when he asked if she knew of Lorcan’s felling. She listened intently, her body nigh-trembling at the exciting thought that, yes, his possessions had been bequeathed to not only a friend, but his brother! He had a brother! She stiffened at Gero’s last, careful suggestion, her fingers curling against her palms to form loose fists, nails digging into flesh.

“Did he receive none of her letters?” She asked with an angry quaver in her voice. “She sent him letters, yes, for all the good that it did. She took ill, and she died, not altogether long before my coming here. And now, I have just learned, she is not Cymry, so she shall not meet him in the beyond.” Her breathing had taken on an edge. She calmed it with a slow inhale and release, directing her gaze away. “Forgive me. I thought there was some small measure of hope that they might unite in death, but it is not to be so. For all they have both endured, it would have been of some comfort.”

Gero skipped the part on the letters, they would have to discuss that later, when he heard the pain and despair in her voice. “Not unite in death?” he echoed, turning fully to the dark-haired girl. Her blue eyes bespoke sadness, pain, and anger at the world, maybe the same anger that had driven her here. Or did he see it so clearly because he knew those eyes too well? “You mean because Lorcan crossed, when he was fatally wounded?” The last was spoken a little more softly, he had not been right there, he had still been fighting his way back to the hilltop, but he knew what others had said about it. He took her glance as confirmation and shook his head. “Lass,” he said, adopting a term that had become familiar in his long years here. “What do we - you or I or anyone - know of where our souls venture, once we return to the mother? The Cymry chose to cross, a path so alien to most of us, they say that they do not die - and I am sure their echoes are with us who loved them sometimes. But their journeys continue, just as ours do, when we return to the mother, for all souls have to journey on. Who is to say we won’t meet again in a world far away?” As he spoke those words Gero realized that they echoed many things he had been pondering ever since Kimber crossed.

Her gaze was averted for a few moments more before her head slowly turned mid-way through him speaking, blue eyes following a reluctant line to his face. Then, as if in thought, she looked to the grass before them, heard the gentle whisper of leaves as shifted by the winds, noted the trilling of late-season songbirds.

“If it is as you say,” she said, eventually, drawing her thighs up against her chest, and picking at a stray thread of the fabric of her leggings, “Then perhaps…” Her voice melted away, her gaze finding some point on the horizon that went beyond it into imagining. “I am Cymry,” she continued, softly, half to herself. “There is much about it I do not know, but perhaps I will find him, also, one day…” As though acknowledging Gero’s presence once more, she looked to him. “You knew what his mission was to my village, then? Why he was there?” There was a challenge within her gaze. The nobility of Cymeria had proven to be strange indeed; in spite of knowing what she had been taught, they had not immediately cast her out. Would he be the same?

There was something about her, a search for something, maybe for herself, Gero observed. Did she know what it was? Or was it just something calling out to her from beyond the horizon? “Aye,” he replied to her question. “I knew his mission, talked it through with him beforehand, and did send the man with the order to break off when it all went down badly.” There was no reason to hide any of it. “Lorcan was part of the High Guard during High Lord Kimber’s reign, I was his Ryndar, I knew where I sent my men and why.”

Smiling faintly, she said: “Not a single one of you are as was described to me. By you, I speak of the nobility, as painted by those of my village. I daresay you are...noble of the other sort, which is fitting.” The smile faded, and solemnity returned. “I ask a boon of you, Rytsar Gero. If his personal effects were indeed bequeathed to those whom he trusted, will you help me in finding them? There is something in particular that I am seeking. The other half of a song, written by my parents’ hand.”

“None of us is ever what we were told to be and many people we meet will not be what other’s painted them as,” Gero replied, shaking his head. “We all have to find our own truth, our own answers. As for the song you seek, Lorcan kept writings on several things including songs and poems when time allowed for it. All those are with Erandir and I will be happy to help you find him. But maybe before you head off for even higher mountains than these, you can stay awhile, and find out more about the people your father spent most of his life with?”

She took a slow breath, looking to her hands as though his words were weighed therein.

“It would be the right thing to do, yes,” she said quietly. “Perhaps...perhaps I’ll come to know him a little more by their words. About myself.” She looked so very much like her mother, but she also knew there were aspects of her features that she was sure were very much his. “Does there exist a portrait of him? I wish to know the face of my father, even if he is long since gone.”

“A formal portrait? No.” Gero shook his head. “But there are several drawings of him made by people who knew him.” Some of them Gero’s own, he had sketches of most of his fallen friends. “I can show them to you when we are back in Stormholm Caer.”

“I should like that,” Renestrae said with a slow nod. “I suppose, then, ‘tis time to end my childish melancholy.” She pushed herself forward so that her feet were sitting beneath her, before unfolding herself into standing. “I am ready at your leisure.”

“Then let us be on our way,” Gero replied, leading her down the path towards the village again.


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