03 November 2014

Soldier Undaunted -- Chapter 8.1


Arden stood on a low cliff looking out to sea as the sun set behind him. The breeze had freshened and backed into the east some hours earlier, raising the surf. Now green waves towered up, curled and crashed in white foam. Their spray at times even reached him where he stood some thirty feet above the narrow strand. All along the shore the air was full of the hollow rumble of broken waves rushing in, and the hiss as they slid up the sand and back again.
For hours now he had stood there alone staring out to sea, basking in the brightness and warmth of this late autumn day. Nothing soothed or calmed him like the sea. Though the sea itself constantly changed – shimmering, shining, rising, falling, calm or storming – its beauty was itself unchanging. His heart yearned for it when he was absent for even a short space of days or weeks. He breathed in its beauty as he breathed in the salt air. It brought him a joy that always surprised him.
As he stood there looking seaward, it struck him all at once that he was here for a reason. He was seeking something, but when he asked himself what it was, he realized that he did not remember. This puzzled him, stirring an inkling of trouble in his otherwise tranquil heart. He wondered what he was looking for. Glancing northward along the shore he saw that he was not alone. A young woman stood by the edge of the sea, the foam of the broken waves racing around her feet and legs. Facing into the wind for so long had made his eyes water, and at first he could not see her very clearly. Then she turned and looked at him, as if she had known all along that he was there. It was Sorrow.
Joy burst within him at his first sight of her. He caught his breath and stared at her open mouthed. Then, like a cloud passing between him and the sun, the thought crossed his mind that she should not be there. Why, he could not remember. He began to move, to seek a way down the rocks to the shore. He was anxious to speak to her. Finally he found a narrow, steep path between the rocks and made his way downward.
He hurried across the sand towards her, but it was deep and soft, and his progress slow. She watched him the entire time, and as he drew near she smiled her broad, open, charming smile of delight; her green eyes shone with pleasure. But when he had almost reached her, her gaze shifted. She was looking past him. Her smile was now gone; the light faded from her eyes. He stopped and turned. There, close behind him, but out of his reach, stood his father, who was looking straight at him.
But it was not his father as he had known him. His skin was ashen, the look in his eyes far away. He was covered in blood from large gashes across his chest, like the raking marks of huge and merciless claws. One of his hands was missing, and blood dripped rapidly from the stump. He was dead. Arden remembered the night of horror. Narinen had fallen. His father was dead. And so was she. He gasped as the memory rushed over him.
“You’re dead,” Arden said to his father under his breath. A look was his only reply. A hand touched Arden’s shoulder from behind. It was the hand of Sorrow. He spun around to face her again. But no one was there.
“I’m sorry. I came too late. I’m sorry,” he cried out to the empty beach. He turned back to his father, but he, too, was gone. And Arden was alone once more with the sea that rolled and crashed as it had done before.
Arden woke up. As always, the shadow of the dream left him slowly. Strong at first, it obscured the border between this world and that. But it diminished steadily until before long nothing remained but a scant trace, like a distant echo in his mind that he never stopped straining to hear. All his dreams were like that, and all the dreamlike memories of the better days that he cherished in his heart. At times, upon awakening like this, he felt that the world in which he lived from day to day was in fact the dream. And he had so long nurtured those memories, and listened so closely for that echo, that he would not have been surprised to awaken one fine morning of summer to find himself a lad of seventeen in a world without dragons. He wished it were so, but did not think it very likely; and those better days he cherished were not, he knew, without a grief of their own.
He sat up and swung his feet down to room’s cold, stone floor. It was a small, windowless cell, one of the many kept ready for Rangers whose duties took them away for months or years at a time. On a table across from him an oil lamp burned with a warm glow. Beside it careful hands had arranged a stone basin, a porcelain ewer of water, and a wooden mug. The order and placement of them never varied. At the foot of his cot on a chest were clean garments, folded and placed with equal care. His own had been taken away while he slept to be washed and mended if possible. His boots, already clean, waited just inside the door. The rest of his gear hung neatly from pegs on the wall above them.
After dressing he went down to the kitchen to eat, then down another level to the baths to soak and scrub himself clean. Hot water indoors was a luxury he had been raised with, and had never fully appreciated before the Fall. Until then he had been unaware that most people did without it; and young Rangers in training took cold baths. The shock of the cold was good for the soul, Master Raynall always said, but this morning as Arden reveled in the blessed heat of the water, he suspected that this, like the pointed ears of elves, was another of the Master’s jests.
Telling of the Fall tale usually left him restless and sullen, keen to escape the Valley – where a few always wished to learn more than he had revealed – and to be gone into the wilds again, alone. But today he felt a quiet eagerness. This afternoon, for the first time in many slow years, the Council of the Rangers would meet to discuss the dragons.
“At last,” he thought. “At last.”
Images filled Arden’s mind, the faces of Sorrow, of his father, of the Captain of the West Gate. Beyond hope, Master Mahar strove against the dragon amid shadows and flame. A lone sword jutted up from the rubble, waiting for a hand to grasp it. Jalonn kept watch for hours in the rain over a bloody boy asleep beside three fresh graves. The red dragon laughed at him, and the Masters shook their heads in sad refusal. Thirty years of waiting, thirty years of swords in the night, thirty years of memories, dreams, and nightmares.
He had not always suffered the Masters’ counsels of patience with the best grace, but he had always yielded in the end. For Arden owed them his life. They had taken him in only because Jalonn, supported in time by Raynall, had refused to take no for an answer.
“This boy is dying of his thirst for vengeance, Jalonn,” Galt, Master of the Rangers in those days, had said within five minutes of meeting him. “Bitterness and rage consume him. He is a danger to us.”
In his heart Arden knew even then that Galt was right, just as he later recognized the wisdom of the Masters when they refused to attack the dragons again. That was what hurt so much.
Yet now Evénn was here. Perhaps patience would at last find its reward. Perhaps. The Masters were cautious. For a generation they had husbanded the last strength of Narinen. They would not now spend it recklessly, like young men hot for revenge, or drunk on the glory of the dragonslayer’s return. Evénn would have to persuade them. Jalonn at least seemed to be with them, and his was a powerful voice. Arden felt confident, but if the Masters were not swayed, this time he would not submit. He and Evénn would seek the dragons nevertheless. That much at least was decided. All else rested in the lap of the Council.
An hour’s soak in the heat drained the last weariness and tension from him. It was good to feel clean. Arden dressed and went up to the armory, where he left his sword and dagger to be sharpened. At some point he would have to go see Falimar, the Master of the Bow, to replace the bow he had lost, and Orom, the Master of Horses, about a new horse, but first he wanted to see Jalonn. So he turned towards the fencing chamber, where he knew he would find him. The ring of swords – two quick swords – ran down the long corridor towards him. The blows came so close together that the blades scarcely seemed to lose contact with each other. Every few seconds a flash came through the open doors to illuminate the wall opposite them as the light that spilled through the chamber’s high windows caught the steel of one sword or the other. Rangers ahead of him in the corridor paused for a moment to watch before moving on. Arden could tell they did not wish to go.
Nor could he blame them. It was Jalonn and Evénn, training, and the play of their swords together was a beauty of the world. Master Raynall was also present, as were Niall, Agarwen, and several others whom Arden knew. All eyes were on Evénn and Jalonn, but Raynall spared Arden a glance as he came to join him.
“Good morning, Arden,” he said. “You look somewhat fresher today.”
“Good morning, Master,” Arden replied with a smile and a bow. “Yes, a real bed at night and a hot bath in the morning were two things I sorely needed.”
Thank you for telling your tale last night. I know it holds no pleasure for you.”
The tale needs to be told, Master, or even the memory of Narinen will fade. I see many of our people abroad, and they seem willing enough to forget. Here we cannot. A Ranger cannot be ignorant of history.”
“True, Arden. We are the guardians of what was, and of what will be again.”
“Then you think the time has come?” Arden asked him.
“We will not discuss that here, I think, but at the Council this afternoon. Pardon my reticence, Arden. I know how long you’ve chafed under our decision.”
Arden bowed silently to the Master. Raynall smiled at this gesture and returned it. Together they turned to watch the fencing, but Raynall’s thoughts were running back across the years of their vigil.
Arden had no idea how much Raynall himself regretted the necessity of waiting. Although the Masters always spoke with one voice, their hearts were like the hearts of other men, often divided between wisdom and desire. Thirty seven Rangers died in their two attempts to kill the dragons, the Master of Swords and the Master of Books among them. The five hundred sent beyond the sea to Elashandra never returned. Through two winters after the City fell, and on into the following spring, the Rangers knew only defeat.
It had been on a beautiful, cool morning of that same spring, the day after Raynall was chosen Master of Swords, that he and the other Masters swallowed their passion and their pride, and admitted that no mere steel nor any enchantment known to them could prevail. Old Galt spoke, unhappily for a man of such profound faith, of the need for faith now instead of arms, and for patience under suffering until the day god revealed the means to defeat the dragons. The looks that Keral, the new Master of Books, and Raducar, the new Master of the Bow, had exchanged with him as they listened were still clear in his mind.
“We will wait long,” their eyes had said to Raynall.
And they had waited, fading into the wastelands, forests, and mountains, and tried to guard their people from afar and by stealth. They crept into towns and cities to search for books of enchantments or old histories that might help them understand how the elves had defeated the dragons of old, and that might disclose the secret of the ancient weapons that could pierce their flesh. They gathered many books at great cost from the ruins of libraries. Some volumes were crumbling with dusty age. Others were wet and moldy from the rain that poured through broken roofs. Many others were singed and slashed, rusty with blood. The Masters learned nothing they did not already know.
Years passed. The Rangers grew older. Their strength dwindled. Raducar died waiting. Those who had been children when the dragons came were now men and women in the fullness of their strength. From these they drew replacements for the lost, but there were never enough. The Rangers now numbered scarcely a third of what they had before the Fall. And through the secret years the people forgot who they were, shunned them from fear, or because they came to believe the lies the dragon’s men told of them. Even some of their own doubted their wisdom and their courage. But if the Masters at times wavered in their private conversations with each other late at night when the candles burned low, their faith endured.
“Arden,” Raynall said, rousing himself from his thoughts, “I noticed you told your tale somewhat differently last night. You spoke openly of the enchantments Strongbow used against the dragon, and of those the dragons used to shift the wind. You’ve never done that before.”
Well, Master, you know I’ve always been doubtful of claims to enchantment.”
“Scornful is the word I would have chosen, but tell me what has changed your mind?” Raynall asked, then allowed his gaze to drift across the exercise floor to Evénn.
“He has, of course,” Arden replied, tossing his head in the direction of the elf. “He healed my wounds and Argos’ so swiftly, as well as the sores on the backs of the enemies’ horses. He also taught me how to do so myself, and explained much I did not know about the dragons and their return.”
“Did he now?” Raynall asked. His manner was as often quite playful, but the look in his eyes grew intense when Arden mentioned the 'return' of the dragons. Arden cursed himself for being careless.
“Yes, and so when I came to Strongbow and the dragon, I mentioned things that I had seen, but long doubted. Everything that day was so far beyond all I had known before, and their duel so like some deed out of song, that I was unsure of my memory of it. Nor, until I met Evénn, had I ever seen any other magic in practice.”
“Hadn’t you?” said Raynall with a smile. Then he laughed and shook back his white hair. “Arden, I have never told you this before, because, as you say, I knew you did not believe. I remember how you scoffed that day in the library when Master Keral said enchanting was a skill a Ranger might learn. Do you think this valley remains secret only because it’s remote, or because the Guardians watch the forests and mountains around us? Enchantment upon enchantment defends us as well. So that those who don’t know we are here cannot see us.”
“Master,” Arden replied, as if ashamed of his former doubts, “I’ve learned much in the past few weeks.”
“So it seems, Arden,” Raynall said, patting him the back of his hand. “Well, we all have much to learn. The man who thinks otherwise is a fool. You should have believed your eyes when you saw Strongbow.”
“At the time I did, but...”
“But when all you loved died, you doubted everything else. You shut the doors of your mind upon it for fear of the pain of true memory. It’s no surprise, really.”
Arden nodded slowly, once, but his eyes were on Jalonn and Evénn.
“Those doors need not always remain shut, you know,” said Raynall.
“No, Master, that I do not know.”
As the Master paused and looked at him, he recalled the heartsick boy whom Jalonn had brought to them thirty years earlier. That child cherished his wounds and grew into a man who was a stranger to all happiness. Skilled, intelligent, clever, learned, dauntless in combat, but also hard, angry, and desperate, Arden feared only himself and his memories. It was not just to teach others what had been lost that Raynall asked Arden to tell his tale from time to time. By forcing the doors of his mind open a little, he hoped to leach out some of Arden’s grief through the passion of his memories, and to imbue the story of Narinen’s Fall with a sense of one man’s loss of homeland, family and love. How much it helped, he did not know.
Jalonn, though also present at Narinen, could not have matched Arden in this. For his was a different tale. An orphan who had grown up hungry and poor in the far south, hundreds of leagues away from the City, from his earliest days Jalonn learned to see the world in a far more calculated way. He weighed advantage and disadvantage against each other, and weighed them again with each passing moment. No shift in the balance was too slight for him. He took them all into account. It was the way of one who had been reared looking first to survival. Although Jalonn had changed much in the forty years since he had come to the Rangers, this way of seeing the world still persisted. It was one of the traits that made him an excellent swordsman, as he was now showing on the exercise floor with Evénn.
“But enough of this talk, Arden,” Raynall said finally. “You’ve learned something, and that is always good. Now let us see what these two can teach us.”
While they were talking, several more Rangers had entered the room. With the folded arms and steady gaze of experts, they were studying the combat before them. The swordmaster and Evénn moved quickly up and down the chamber in an elaborate dance, their feet always moving, their weight always balanced above them. Their swords danced together as well, almost never losing contact with each other, except when one swordsman would leap back or past the other, and the two would each take up a position to prepare to begin anew, like partners in some courtly dance who make their way down the floor together, weaving their way through the patterns they know so well until they come back to the starting point, bow or curtsy to each other, and start anew.
Looking over at Raynall, Arden saw a faint smile on his face and a light in his eyes. He wondered if he was remembering his own matches against Evénn sixty years ago when he was a young man of some twenty summers. He wondered, too, if the old man could see any change in the elf who had outlived two hundred generations of men and women, seeing far more of our lifetimes bloom and wither than any man saw generations of leaves fall. What must that be like? Was there any way for a man to conceive it?
Arden looked back to the elf and the man fencing, and recalled the speed with which Evénn had moved in attacking the men of the dragon. He did not move so quickly today.
“Evénn is holding back, Master,” Arden murmured.
“As is Jalonn. Even so, few could match them as they fight now.”
“True enough,” Arden replied, thinking of his own practices with the swordmaster as well as his combat with Evénn, when the elf had stopped his every attack with ease and held his life in his hands.
“Arden,” Raynall said without taking his eyes off the fencers, “what was it you called Mahar last night? The one foe in a thousand years who had done the dragon harm? I would hear more about that."
"No doubt you will, from Evénn, this afternoon," Arden said, hopelessly trapped by his own words.
Until this afternoon then," the Master said as he stood up and walked away.
“Until then, Master Raynall,” Arden responded.
Just before he left the chamber Raynall stopped.
“Oh, and, Arden,” the Master said, and waited for him to look his way, “Mahar’s contest with the black dragon is a deed out of song. It lacks only a singer.”
Arden turned back to the match, smiling to think what songs the singers he had heard in his youth could have made of Mahar and the dragon. Perhaps one day there would be such singers again. But even without them the deeds were no less great. He was suddenly glad to be reminded of that.
Evénn and Jalonn exercised for another five minutes, then stopped suddenly, each with one foot forward and the tips of their blades crossed. No word had passed between them, but both clearly knew the last movement and position of their dance. They stepped back and sheathed their swords. Both glistened with sweat as they thanked each other for the practice. For a while they stood talking together, gesturing with their hands and demonstrating footwork, discussing attacks and parries.
Eventually Evénn and Jalonn walked over and greeted him.
“Good morning,” Arden replied. “Master Raynall informs me the Council will convene at two.”
“So Jalonn has told me, Arden,” Evénn said. “As we still have several hours, I would like to look in on Moonglow and the other horses, and see if we can find the wolf. Will you walk with me?”
“I will. I was thinking of that myself, but first I must see the armorer. He has been putting a new edge on my sword.”
“That is on the way, I believe? Shall we go?”
“A moment more, if you please. Since you are both here, I would like to ask if I might join you in your training. I would like my skills honed as well as my blade. However the Council decides, I’ll profit by the practice.”
“Further training is always in order,” Jalonn responded. “We’ll begin tomorrow morning at six, if Evénn has no objection.”
“None,” Evénn replied.
“Tomorrow at six then,” the swordmaster said to Arden.
“Thank you,” Arden said. “We shall see you at the Council, Master Jalonn.”
“At two,” he said and walked away.
After watching him go, Evénn said, “He is a fine swordsman.”
“Yes. Master Jalonn spends almost all his free time training, and he supervises the progress of every student. Raynall says that his is the greatest sword the Rangers have seen in many a lifetime.”
“Raynall is modest. His own skills were not slight.”
“No, indeed,” Arden laughed. “Even at his present age, he can best most of us, though he rarely moves much anymore. He just stands quietly and waits for his opponents to begin. Mostly they end up face down on the floor, or find his blade unexpectedly at their throats. It is a good lesson in humility for the young ones who know only the attacks of strength and speed.”
“As it was for you?” asked Evénn.
Precisely as it was for me.”
“So it was Jalonn who found you and brought you here?”
“Yes, a long and dangerous journey. I owe him my life.”
“You must tell me of it as we go to see about our friends.”
“Very well,” Arden replied, wishing now that he were somewhere else. He did not catch the cunning look Evénn gave him as they went out into the corridor.

Across the room Niall and Agarwen were preparing to begin training themselves. As always when they trained together, he began by hefting Agarwen’s sword, which was lighter and slightly longer than his own.
“I still don’t see how this sword of yours stands up to combat with heavier blades,” he said.
“You always say that, Niall,” Agarwen replied, “as if surprised I’m not dead already. My strength is less than yours, and so must my sword be. We have different styles of fighting. I deflect the enemy’s blow and come inside his guard. You can meet the enemy’s force with force of your own. I usually can’t. My style and my sword suffice for me. Obviously, I believe, since they have kept me alive so far.”
“Obviously, and I am glad they have,” Niall said, with his usual flicker of a grin. He held up the sword before him, offering it to her on his upturned, open palms.
“Are you ready then?” Agarwen asked as she reached out for her blade.
“So,” he said abruptly, closing his hands when she touched the hilt, “do you understand Arden better now?”
Agarwen glanced away and back again with a thoughtful frown, then tugged gently on the sword. Niall did not resist.
“Yes, I do,” she said slowly and quietly, “but I don’t know which is sadder, the story of the City’s fall, or the story of his own loss, his father, his friends, and...”
“Gwinlan’s daughter?”
“Yes. He lost her twice, first to the betrothal, then to death. I noticed he never said her true name. If he will not say it even now, the pain must still be terrible.”
“It is terrible,” Niall agreed. “And it hasn’t gotten any better over the years. Arden has just grown used to it. He blames himself for her death. He will not forgive himself for leaving her. He thinks he should have returned sooner. As if he could have.”
“It would have made no difference,” she said.
“Except, perhaps, to him.”
“I wonder what her name was,” Agarwen said, half to herself.
“Once many years ago, when we were both still apprentices, Arden and I were abroad together,” Niall said after a pause. “One night while everyone else slept, I kept watch. Arden must have been dreaming of her, for he murmured her name. He just kept saying he was sorry. Agarwen, you have to know what Arden was like then. He rarely spoke. He was almost always polite, but neither courtesy nor silence could fully conceal his rage. It was like water boiling beneath the lid of a pot. Yet that night his voice was so faint, so soft, so utterly at a loss to find the words to express his regret, that it made me weep. I had to bite my lip to keep from sobbing.”
“Why didn’t you wake him?”
“I was going to. I reached out to take him by the arm. Then I realized that, wherever he was, at least he was with her.”
“He needn’t be alone,” said Agarwen.
“No one could replace a girl like her,” Niall murmured.
“I didn’t mean anyone could,” Agarwen replied, then stopped. She looked hard at Niall, who, like Arden, had grown up in the City. “What do you mean ‘a girl like her’? You knew Gwinlan’s daughter ?”
“Gwinlan was not her father’s name.”
Agarwen stared openmouthed at him. Disturbed, she paced about, slashing the air with her sword.
You knew her?”
“I was her betrothed.”
“Yes, though he and I have never spoken of it. Didn’t you notice that whenever he spoke of her, he looked straight at me? I think he tells that part of the story to me and me alone, no matter how many others are present.”
“You were her betrothed,” Agarwen said each word slowly, carefully, thoughtfully, rolling the idea around in her mind and letting it sink in. “What was her name?”
“No, her true name.”
“If he won’t speak it, neither will I.”
“Did you know Arden back then?”
“No, though I knew his face, and he as it turned out knew mine – we recognized each other the moment we met here. But I was seven years older than he was, and away much of the time, first at school and then with the cavalry. As for her, we met only a few times, but she was remarkable. Thoughtful, intelligent, educated, graceful. Her eyes were green, green as the sea. When she smiled they shone with her pleasure; and the joy that glowed from within her then outmatched the beauty of her aspect.
“The first time I ever saw her was at my family’s house in the City. I had just come home from a long ride with my cavalry company. It was the hour of lamp-lighting when I walked into the house, and there she was sitting by the window with my sisters, lit half by the pale light fading from the sky, and half by the glow of the lamps. The three of them were deep in some hushed conversation. My sisters were still very young, at that giggling age of whispered confidences when girls first begin to realize, without even knowing what they are realizing, that there is more to being girls than they ever imagined. I watched them for some minutes before they noticed me standing there in the doorway, and it was plain that to them Sorrow seemed quite grown up. When my sisters finally saw me, they blushed and burst out laughing. Then they called me over, and between fits of giggling they introduced us. She and her parents were dining with us that evening.
“That was about two years before the Fall. I knew my parents and hers were already discussing the possibility of our betrothal, but I don’t think she had any idea of it yet. We spent several pleasant hours together. She listened while I spoke of my studies and the cavalry, and I listened while she spoke of her friends. The name of Arden was constantly on her lips. I was not so young as to mistake the meaning of that.
“Over the next few months we met several more times. The last was in the early spring at the house Arden described. She was very sad that day because by then she knew. Everyone did. There was reproach and disappointment in her eyes when she looked at me. She didn’t mention Arden once, but I understood her silence just as well. A week later I left for Sufra with my company. Our parents had agreed we would marry when I returned in two years. While I was away we were supposed to write to each other, as a way to get better acquainted. That was the year the dragons came. It was not until after I came here that I learned that the Arden she loved and the young man I had sometimes seen around the City were the same.”
Niall finished with a sigh, and Agarwen looked at him.
“You almost sound as if you loved her yourself,” she said, not quite smiling.
“No,” he said, taken up for a moment by the memory of her, “but I could have.”
With that he raised his sword, and they began their match. For about an hour they trained, with short rests in which they discussed the bout just concluded. Afterwards they left the fencing chamber, climbed down the central stairs, and headed towards the stables. Niall had an afternoon of lessons in horsemanship to teach, and Agarwen was leaving to spend several months among the Guardians of the Forest. Along the way they talked of little or nothing, as if drained of the need to say more, but it was not so: just before they arrived, Niall took Agarwen by the arm and gently pulled her aside.
“Agarwen, please remember that Arden and I have never discussed her. I don’t want to offend him. Despite what lies between us he has always been friendly to me, probably because he knows I have some sense of what he lost when he lost her.”
“I won’t say a word,” she responded.
“Thank you. I’ll make sure you know what the Council decides.”
“What do you think will happen?” she asked him quietly.
“I think the Masters will agree that it is time. If they do, I’ll volunteer to go with Arden and Evénn.”
“As will I. And if they do not?”
“Then I’ll go with them regardless,” said Niall. Seeing her surprise at his words, he continued. “Of course I cannot see how the Masters can disagree, now that the dragonslayer is here. But aside from all the other reasons for this, this quest, if you will, I believe I should be there. In a way I feel I owe it to Arden.”
“You’re full of surprises today, Niall,” she said with a smile, “but I think I understand you.”
“Then you have me at a disadvantage, Agarwen. Fare well.”
“And you.”
In the stable Agarwen found her horse, Bufo, kicking the stall door and tossing her head, eager to be gone. She saddled and bridled the mare, all the while soothing her with a gentle song. As she was checking the cinch one last time, a gruff, short bark behind her and the push of a nose in the back of her knee announced the arrival of Rana, her wolfhound. Agarwen turned, took the hound’s head in her hands, and kissed him between the eyes. A moment later she was in the saddle, and they were out of the stable, out of the yard, and trotting across the open Valley towards the gorge and the forest. Rana loped along beside them with his long, easy stride. Just a few days ago Agarwen had been looking forward to the start of her duties with the Guardians, but as she rode out she found she could think of little but Arden, and Sorrow, and other things that could not be.
For the rest of the day Niall met with his riding classes, then returned home to his wife, Lissana, and the small cottage they shared with their children under the eaves of the southern woods. Beside the fire, playing with the children, Niall thought about how different it was all supposed to be.

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