Lost in Thought
The Feast of Samhain
Location: Stormholm Caer, Harkania
Timeline: Morning, October 31, 3550
Richard wandered the halls of Stormholm Caer, a bit at a loss as to what to do with himself. Normally this would not be a problem. The roughly two weeks since he had arrived in this strange new world had been a flurry of activity for the young soldier. He had managed to fill most of his days with training of one sort or another. As often as not he had spent his mornings in exercises with the guard. While the trainers had initially not thought much of this stranger with the odd accent and the funny name he had quite quickly shown his mettle. He had proved himself to be quite effective in unarmed combat, even if his style was more brute force than finesse. His swordsmanship on the other hand still left a lot to be desired. He tended to treat a sword like an overgrown fighting knife than the elegant weapon it truly was. The spear, however, was more to his liking, much translating from the bayonet drills he knew to the longer weapon. However, it was with the crossbow that his skills truly shone. After all the fundamentals of marksmanship, steady position, sight picture, breath control, and trigger squeeze translated directly. Once he had gotten a read on the flight path of the bolts he had been able to put all his shots in the ten ring with ease. The guards were impressed enough by his skill or disgusted enough by the fact that he only had one set of civilian clothes, that they had scrounged up a guard uniform for him. They had not provided him with the armor and had stripped away the insignia, so there was no mistaking him for an actual guard, but still, Richard had been proud to accept it.
His afternoons were taken up, when Laryn could get away from her official duties anyway, with riding lessons and with talks about etiquette and social norms to help keep Richard from embarrassing himself too badly. While he had taken to the riding lessons reasonably well, they still often left him with a bruised backside, and he was under no illusions that he was a long way from being ready to join the guard in their mounted combat training. His social lessons, on the other hand, had been far from smooth. The rules were complex and alien to his own way of thinking that he often forgot or mixed forms of address or subtle courtesies. Still, at least his table manners had shown improvement. Through that time though he had grown to really like Laryn, she had been a kind, if strict, tutor and her gentle support in dealing with being so very far from home meant a lot to him.
His evenings he had taken to reading everything that his hosts had been able to provide on the magics that had brought him here. While he was not ready to accept that there was no way home, he had come to the conclusion that if a way home existed, his hosts didn't know it. Richard though had no idea who else he could reach out to or how to contact them. Richard had resigned himself to at the very least a long stay and for the time being put away the books on magic to re-focus his studies on history.
Today though was different. It was a holiday, apparently a rather important one, and the guard training had been canceled. So after a leisurely breakfast, Richard had wandered the halls, a bit at a loss. He could go back to his room and read, but he was feeling too restless for that. He was entirely unsure if he was invited to this celebration, he was after all still a rather boorish outsider. He hoped that he would be allowed to attend, though, if nothing else to see what would happen. On the other hand, he realized with a wry smile, he didn't have anything appropriate to wear.
Lost in his own thoughts he continued his wandering, realizing after a time he wasn't exactly sure where he was. Damn this place was a maze he laughed.
Vasily and Aeonar raced ahead of Mikhael. The boys were excited to be going out to ride after spending several days restricted to the keep while Mika recovered from his wyvern injury. Mikhael followed along with Sofiya Grace at a more leisurely pace. Since the boys would not be allowed to attend the feast at the farm that night, they were being given the treat of going for a short ride. Just as the High Lord was about to once again admonish the children to slow down and make sure the corridors were clear of obstacles, like people, he heard a distinctive ooomph and a squeal from his son.
Watching Vasily and Aeonar run ahead of them, Sofi couldn't help but be reminded of herself and her younger sister, Kenna. She remembered yelling at her sister so many times not to run in the house, or she'd break something. And now, she'd give anything to yell at Kenna just one more time. There was an ache in her heart when she thought about her sister, or their father, who was no doubt worried and scared that she couldn't be found. Sofi was shaken from her thoughts when she heard the sound of one of the boys running into someone. "Uh oh." She said, giving Mikhael a smile and a shake of her head as she picked up her pace in case someone had been hurt.
Rounding the corner in the corridor, they saw that Vasily had collided with the Traveler, Richard Coyle. Vasily was picking himself up off the stone floor as he babbled an apology, his eyes wide, "Syr, I am dreadfully sorry. Father has told us not to run inside, so it was truly my fault." Aeonar simply stood quietly by his friend.
Mikhael laughed quietly, "Syr Coyle, meet my son, Vasily, and his friend, Aeonar. I am afraid the boys are rather exuberant about going outside today." He could not help smiling proudly and nodding at how well-spoken and courteous Vasily was in his apology to the man. The High Lord gestured to the fair-haired girl standing next to him, "Colli Sofiya Grace, may I present Syr Richard Coyle. I believe you have something in common, having both arrived here from a very distant land. One that you both have referred to as the United States of America. Cymeria seems to have attracted a surplus of Travelers."
Richard grunted slightly as he turned a corner and a small figure slammed into him at full tilt. It wasn't enough to so much as move the soldier, but the little boy went tumbling. Richard chuckled gently at the little one's fervent apologies. "It's alright, kid, just be careful okay?" Though when the boy's father followed around the corner, he snapped to attention. "Your majesty." he greeted him simply in the clipped respectful tone of a soldier addressing his superior. When the high king introduced the boys, Richard nodded to each of them in turn. "Your Highness... young man." He said as he acknowledged each of them.
Though as the king went on to introduce the young woman beside him as a fellow traveler, and an American no less, Richard's military bearing broke down. He was not entirely sure if he should be shocked, glad to have someone else who was familiar with his home, or sorrowful for her that she was just as trapped as he was. The emotions played out on his face until he managed to remember his manners. Offering a handshake he smiled. "It's nice to meet you... and just Richard is fine. I'm neither an officer nor a noble." He added with a slight smirk. He tried to get them to quit calling him 'sir, ' but it had been to no avail. "Where abouts are you from?" he added, letting a bit of his southern accent slip through.
Taking a moment, Sofi knelt down and checked Vasily over, wanting to make sure the small boy had not knocked his head on the floor or scraped something in his adventurous rambunctiousness. Giving him a smile, she smoothed the dark hair back out of his eyes before standing and taking the offered hand of one Richard Coyle. "Sofi." She smiled. "I keep telling the High Lord that Sofi or Sofiya is fine." She slanted a look and grin over at Mikhael. "And Syr is like Mister, it's not necessarily a ranked title." Honestly, Sofi herself was still trying to get used to everything since she'd arrived, reading anything she could get her hands on while tending to the High Lord's injuries. Fortunately, Mikhael was healing nicely and no longer needed her skills as much. "New Mexico, Gallup to be exact." She replied, looking at Richard. "You?"
Richard smiled as he took the young woman's hand. "It's nice to meet you Sofi, though I wish it were under better circumstances." He replied. At her question to where he was from, he could only shrug. "All over really. I was an army brat, then a soldier myself. So I've lived a lot of places. I was born at Fort Polk, Louisiana, moved around a lot, went to High School in Virginia, which is where my family was from originally. Though after I had joined the Army, I was out of Fort Benning with the 75th Rangers, at least until we got sent to Afghanistan. How I got from the 'Stan to here, God only knows." He added with a slight smirk.
Turning for a moment back to Mikhael he smiled slightly. "Don't let me hold you up, your majesty. I am happy to follow along wherever you are going," he said and gestured for them to continue. Falling in beside Sofi as he walked he offered her a slightly sad smile. "As much as I wanted to get out of Afghanistan, I can't help but feel like I need to go back and rejoin my unit. I'm sure for you, it's even harder, with your family back home not knowing what happened to you." He said in a tone that was surprisingly gentle for the soldier.
There was something about Richard's story that made Sofi pause and wonder, but she couldn't put her finger directly on what was. Shrugging it off, she gave him a smile. "No one's really sure how we got here, and as far as I've been told and read, there's no way back." That alone killed Sofi as she knew her father would be sick out of his mind with worry. "Yeah, my father's back home and I know he's worried. I was all he had left. Mom and my sister are gone."
Richard nodded slowly, his face somber. "I'm sorry for your loss." He added at the mention of Sofi's mother and sister being gone. "At least my family will get a letter from the Army saying I am missing and presumed dead, a folded flag, and the cold comfort that I died for my country, even if none of it is true." He said with just a hint of bitterness coming into his voice. Still, he couldn't imagine what this young woman's father must be feeling. Richard himself could not help but feel a certain tug at his own emotions. She reminded him, if only vaguely, of his own baby sister, and the desire to protect her in this strange new world was there.
"Thank you," Sofi replied, giving him a faint smile as she continued walking. At least his family would get that condolence, even if it was small. Her father would have no such thing. Her jeep and the rest of her gear had been left at the park, no clue as to what really happened to her.
Mikhael walked ahead of the two Travelers, content to let them talk. He felt bad for them as no way had yet been found to return them to their world. He planned on experimenting with the creation of portal gates, but he doubted anyone on Aereth had the power needed to construct portals such as the one that had brought them to his land. The High Lord was also slightly amused at Richard's strict deference to him, but he also understood it was intended to confer honor and respect. Mikhael appreciated that. He would ask Laryn to gently instruct the young man regarding addressing him if Sofi Grace did not do so beforehand.
True, the High Lord of Cymeria held the same powers as a king or emperor, but the protocols in address were less formal. It was proper to use highlord or Highlord when speaking to him instead of majesty and your majesty. Still, the man was showing him the respect due to being the country's leader so no fault in that.
Speaking over his shoulder, Mikhael said, "We are going to the stable so the boys can go for a little ride before tonight's festivities. Syr Coyle, you are welcome to join my party at the festival and feast tonight. It is being held on a farm that is a short distance from the keep."
Richard had fallen in behind the High Lord and his children and had been talking with quite a degree of interest to Sofi when Mikhael's words dragged his attention away. At the invitation to join them he smiled. He had been hoping he would be allowed to go. Laryn had told him about the festivities, providing him with at least a thumbnail sketch of what to expect, though he would not have been surprised had he been left behind. He was, after all, an outsider who was only beginning to earn the trust of the men tasked to protect the High Lord's life. Some of the bodyguards he knew would be having a fit if they had known their charge and his children were alone with him. That aside, he wasn't exactly up on all the formal etiquette, and there was no guarantee he wouldn't accidentally ruin things with an ill-timed word or gesture. Still, he had wanted to see for himself.
"Thank you, your majesty." He replied with his usual clipped courtesy of his military bearing. "I am looking forward to it, though I'm afraid I don't have anything appropriate to wear." he gestured down at what he had on, his guards uniform that had been denuded of armor and insignia, basically just a plain tunic and trousers. "I'm afraid my dress blues are still at Fort Benning." Shrugging he continued. "If you wouldn't mind telling me a bit more of what to expect, Laryn gave me a thumbnail sketch, but I'm not sure I understand. Though I did hear there might be dancing. Fun as that sounds I've got two left feet when it comes to that."
"The proper term to address the High Lord is HighLord or just Lord, something along those lines," Sofi said, leaning over to speak softly to Richard. She'd paid a lot of attention to how people acted and spoke while tending to Mikhael. "It's not the same as it is back home." She added. "And I don't think you need to worry about your clothing for tonight, what you have should be fine. It's not like we have huge closets to choose from." Sofi had been fortunate to where the Lady of the house, Oksana, Mika's eldest sister had fitted her with a couple of outfits for everyday wear as well as something for the night's festivities and the ride back and forth.
"It is bloody confusing, is it not, Richard?" Mikhael asked rhetorically.
Richard nodded slowly at Sofi's explanation of the proper etiquette and filed it away in his memory. "I still don't want to look shabby, pride in my appearance was beaten into me pretty heavily, first at home and then in the Army, it's a self-discipline thing, though maybe also a bit vain." He added with a slight smile.
Mikhael checked his stride so he could address Coyle without having his back to him while keeping one eye on the two boys. "I will have suitable riding attire sent to your quarters, Syr Coyle. The Gathering itself is not formal in nature. It is the changing of the physical year, a celebration of the harvest, and a time when we honor the ancestors." He grinned, "Cymry legends also say it is the time of year when the veil between the worlds is thinnest. Your and Sofi-Grace's presence here seems to give truth to those legends."
"I appreciate it, Highlord," Richard responded to Michael's offer of riding gear, though the title sounded a little awkward and stilted, at least in Richard's ears, not quite flowing naturally off his tongue yet. Pausing in thought for a moment he smiled and shrugged. "It sounds a bit like a cross between Thanksgiving and Halloween." Though at the blank look he continued. "Thanksgiving is a harvest festival... well sort of... at least it was originally associated with being grateful for a successful harvest, though these days it's more about being grateful for all that you have. Still, it's celebrated in the fall. Halloween, on the other hand, started as All Hallow's Eve, the day before all Saint's Day, when great religious figures of the past were honored. The idea that the veil between this world and the next was thin was part of it, but most people, at least in America don't much believe in that sort of thing anymore, so it's just a celebration of all things spooky." Shrugging once more he left off. He would tell them about Trick-or-treating sometime when the children were out of earshot lest he create an expectation. "We celebrate our new year though in early winter, shortly after the solstice."
"As do we," Mikhael responded, intrigued at the similarities and differences in their world. "Samhain represents the seasonal change. The first of January marks the change of the calendar year. It follows Yule which falls on the winter solstice. It is quite a bit to keep up with even for those of us born to it."
By now they were exiting the keep and making their way across the courtyard toward the caverns that housed the indoor riding arena and stables. "Go," Mikhael said to the boys, "get Moonsinger saddled and brought to the arena. Aeonar, have the stable master select a mount for you. Hurry now. You do not need me to select your horses and tack for you." The High Lord led Richard and Sofi to the low stone benches where they could relax, and he could work with the two boys when they came back.
Taking a seat on the bench, Sofi crossed one knee over the other and settled in comfortably to watch the boys when they returned. She was glad they were outside, sitting in the sun and taking in the fresh air. It was nice. She'd loved Thanksgiving and Halloween, dressing up with Kenna and taking her around to get candy, and then the three of them surrounding the table at Thanksgiving for a quick meal before going out to help at the food kitchens. It felt good to give back, to help those in need. That feeling of satisfaction was part of why she'd become a paramedic in the first place. She'd just have to find a way to help here...while she was here. Sofi didn't care what the books said or what she'd been told. She'd continue searching for a way home until she just couldn't search anymore. "Do they not get to ride much?" She asked, turning to Mikhael.
"Not as much as they would like right now," Mikhael answered. "They cannot go out without escort due to recent attempts on Vasya's life." His voice darkened on the last words, anger evident beneath the surface. He stood up as the boys entered the arena leading their ponies. "Mount up, start at a walk to warm them up. If you are both good, we'll take a short trip to the falls."
Richard for his part did not sit, not wanting to crowd in on either Mikhael or Sofi, but instead stood comfortably next to the High Lord. Richard listened intently, not doubting that both of the boys could ride far better than he could, but they likely had started riding as soon as they could walk. Though at Mikhael's comment about an attempt on his son's life Richard stiffened visibly. "He's just a child..." the words came out in a surprised half-whisper that held a hard iron edge to it. His thoughts drifted back to those two little children he had encountered in his first hours after arrival. He had damn near gotten himself killed to keep them safe, but he would do it all again in a heartbeat. It was what soldiers did.
"What kind of monster..." though before he finished the question he stopped his eyes hard. He knew that kind of monster, he had seen it in action. It was the kind that had strapped C4 to a ten-year-old boy and had him run up to a Humvee. Monsters were real, though they looked like men. His job was to hunt them. "Who?" His question now was cold with the unspoken desire to see whoever it was made to pay.
That the man was visibly outraged that anyone would attempt to harm a child made an impression. Mikhael considered his words as he watched the two boys on their ponies. "Collected trot," he called out, and after another moment, he chuckled. "Vasya! Not so much daylight between your backside and the saddle. Posting should follow the horse's rhythm. Count the beats. There! Much better. Good job, Aeonar."
The High Lord turned his attention to Richard then, trying to decide how much to explain. His voice was low, and anger filled as he quoted, “For hate’s sake, I spit my dying breath at thee, Thunder Lord. Know this, your witch-son will not survive reaching the snows of your home, and you will be the instrument of his destruction. It will be you, Cymry, that awakens the sleeping stone that will burn his soul to ashes.”
"House Stormdanovich has many enemies," Mikhael explained quietly. "That threat was levied by a dying man and nearly came to fruition. Aquitaine, a land in the east, despises magic and magic users. Worse, they have their own sect that calls themselves the Black Templars. Their gifts are laced with darkness." He turned his eyes to the other man, "We have a Gathering every year on the anniversary of a great battle to stop an invasion. Several attempts were made on the lives of myself and my family, including two against Vasily. One attempt at the Gathering in D'hassa March, and one here in our home. Many people see ending me and my line as the answer to destroying the power of the Cymry."
Richard nodded slowly. He had seen Aquitaine on a map in one of the books he had been provided, but he had not payed it, nor any of the other places labeled on the map, much thought. He knew now where he would turn the attention of his studies at the next opportunity. He would know his enemy. His enemy? He thought wryly. Had he really adopted these people as his own so quickly? He had certainly come to enjoy their company, particularly the company of one in particular, but it seemed awfully quick to toss in his lot with them. Realizing he had been silent just slightly too long for comfort, he nodded again. "I am glad they weren't successful. Both for the sake of you and your son and for mine. It doesn't seem that they might take to kindly to someone like me dropping in out of the blue."
Mikhael's grin was rueful as he shook his head, "No. I do not think Travelers would be long tolerated in Aquitaine. But, there are good people there, honorable people." He straightened and signaled to the boys, "If you will excuse me, I am going to let the boys ride down to the pool below the falls. The walk will do me good. I will see that you have attire for the evening." He gave a genial nod of his head and raised an eyebrow at Sofi, "You wish to accompany us?"
It unnerved Sofi to hear of not one but two attacks on young Vasily's life, she couldn't imagine anyone being able to get too close with all of the protection surrounding the boy. Even now, there were members of the Morrighan, which she'd learned was the High Lord's personal guard, stationed near the exit/entrance to the corrals. She smiled, watching the boys on their horses as they rode around, their excitement dancing through the air. "Yes please." Sofi stated, also standing. Mikhael had been rather patient with her while she asked endless questions about the magics that had brought her there and about Cymeria in general and she enjoyed speaking with him. "Richard," Sofi turned to her fellow Traveler, giving him a smile. "It was nice to finally meet you, you can't imagine how it felt to know there was someone else like me here...or actually you can." She laughed softly. "We will have to find time to sit and talk more, but if you'll excuse me for now." She gave him a nod before turning to Mikhael. "Shall we?"
Mikhael called the boys over, reminding them to stay behind him and Sofiya and to mind the Morrighan's orders. They took their leave of Richard and headed toward the labyrinth of tunnels that led down from Stormholm.