A Dream

There was no sleep tonight. The moon was bright and full, and cast the bedroom in a faint white glow, unfiltered by clouds. It was a serene night, thus it was the perfect night for something to go wrong, so there was no sleep.

Valthier sat upon the edge of the bed, his knees adjacent to the floor, and stared out the glass panel window a few feet away. He couldn’t sleep, he thought, as he glanced over his shoulder to look upon Sadie in her quiet slumber. If he slept, something could go wrong without his knowing, something that could take the vibrant woman away from him. His dark emerald eyes then lowered to his side, where he brought a hand up to brush his fingers along the surface of a few ragged scars, the scars he was given protecting Sadie.

She made him feel vulnerable.

Was vulnerability a bad thing? A weakness? Was it so wrong for him to want to feel comfort? Despite the weight Sadie carried upon her shoulders, her presence had always been a comfort to him, but he knew he certainly did not deserve it. If only she knew the things he had done, perhaps Sadie would fear him. To not come forward about his past would be dishonest. It was his nature to be dishonest, of course, but it is possible for one to fight their nature in favor of a new beginning, a new start. A new start felt nothing more than a fleeting dream, to Valthier.

Would Sadie still care for him if she knew? Would Esthyr still adore him and seek his guidance? Would Najwa continue to find comfort in serving him or would she flee in terror? The life Valthier lived now, in his big fancy manor near the hidden lake in the hills, it all felt false.

“A few months, then you can kill me.” That was what he said to Cisse, or at least what he remembered telling her, when she threatened revenge upon his life. A few months to right some wrongs, to help good people that deserved it, he felt it was not a terrible request to ask for a few months more of living so that he could at least attempt to do some good in the world. It wasn’t for redemption, no. He was beyond redeeming. He merely felt a genuine desire to help others, a feeling almost foreign to him.

He could never escape his past. That much was evident by the return of those he had scorned, whose friends he had slain, whose home he had reduced to ashes and cinders. He felt he owed Cisse, the woman who felt the keen sting of his greed the most, he felt he owed her his death, at least on the surface. Deeper down he knew revenge would not sate that thirst inside of Cisse, as it had never been enough to satisfy his need for chaos in his life either.

He did not truly want to die, at least not entirely. He wanted a home, and not some great manor, but a humble, warm home with someone inside of it to care for, and to care for him. It was just a dream.

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Loss and Reunion

(This is an rp log taken straight from the game.)

Varidia and her nephew Brannt stood together at the dining table amidst the main hall of the Clarke family home, going through a few things in a box on the table. Brannt, no longer a child but a young man at seventeen, wore a dour expression while his aunt Varidia’s eyes yet held traces of tears and redness from displays of mourning. Varidia’s gaze caught hold of a framed portrait hanging on the wall. “Oh…” she said aloud. “Think… I should take that with me. It’s a shame that we couldn’t get a new one with you in it,” she spoke in a weakened voice.

Brannt glances up at the painting in question, then to Varidia. “It’s all right. The memories are enough for me,” he tells her, his voice deeper than Aston would remember.

It seemed like it had rained the whole way from Minas Tirith. Even now as Aston arrived in Bree after two years away, the skies poured down on the earth, turning the streets to mud and dampening more than the spirit. The door swung open and Aston stepped inside, holding his old, weather-worn hat, his last gift from his father when he’d passed many years before. The normally attractively semi-scraggly hair was touseled and dirty, and his beard had grown in. His cloak, dark as well as muddy, had a white tree clasp. Lightning flashed, framing him in its light for the split second before he shut the door and moved further inside. “Ma!” he called, footsteps squelching.

The sound of the front door swinging open gave both Varidia and her nephew, Brannt, reason to feel alarm, not having expected anyone to enter unannounced beforehand. Though Brannt had only glanced up with a faint frown, Varidia turned her entire body when the familiar, old voice called out to the home, asking for a voice that would never answer. “A-Aston,” Varidia greeted, voice weary and uncertain.

As he entered, Aston hooked his cloak on the rack by the door and kicked off his boots. “Varidia?” he said then, and continued on toward the fire where the two sat. Still holding his hat, he regarded sister and bastard son with the gaze of a man who had traveled many miles since seeing family. “I’m…home,” he said, a frown creeping into his features at the sight of their fallen faces and Varidia’s red eyes.

Varidia stood wordlessly as her older brother marched his way closer, her gaze lost in almost disbelief at the sight of him, as well as his timing. Meanwhile, Brannt lowered his own eyes to the box of his grandmother Willow’s belongings, not wishing to look upon the man until he could regain his composure.

Varidia eventually took a step toward Aston, finding her strength again, and clenched her right hand into a tightly balled fist upon her approach. Without a warning the woman lifted her arm and threw a punch with the strength of a seasoned archer at her brother’s face with full intentions to make it hurt.

Aston wasn’t that stupid. He had expected some choice words from Varidia after disappearing for two years without a word. The fist to the face, however, came as a surprise — blood fell to the floor as the punch connected, bloodying his nose. He reeled, still clutching his hat in one hand, the other moving to staunch the bleeding. “Ouch,” he said. “I probably deserved that.”

Varidia pulled her hand back, the contact forceful enough to crack the skin of her own knuckles, but she did not stop there. She stalked forward, chasing Aston, and lifted her other hand to shove against the man’s chest. “How dare you!” she roared, finding power in her previously weak voice. “Where have you been, Aston?! Go ahead, call for mother again, see if she answers!”

Brannt glanced up from his silent position behind the table and moved forward, reaching out to grab hold of Varidia’s shoulders, but the girl merely shrugged his attempts at placating her off and stared daggers at her brother, waiting for a response.

Aston was forced back a step as he was shoved, and he let his hat fall to the ground by their feet. He at least had the decency to look guilty. “I’m sorry, sister- I should have written. I’ve been in the south. Just had to leave for a while, is all.” He frowned. “Where is mother?”

The sound of the word ‘sorry’ leaving her brother’s lips was enough to give Varidia some pause, and so she stopped moving toward him and gave him time enough to recover, though the sharp glare in her eyes did not fade. “She’s dead,” she barked back at Aston. “And you weren’t there. Brannt and I were the only family at her funeral.”

Aston took the moment given to him to keep holding his nose. It didn’t seem to be broken, at least. He glanced past Varidia at Brannt, but then her words hit him like a ton of bricks. The crimson collecting at his nose seemed all the brighter against his skin as the color drained from Aston’s face. “Ma’s dead?” he said, softly now.

Varidia cycled a deep breath, swelling her chest and then releasing to aid in calming herself down. Her sharp, critical gaze appeared to soften as her eyes glittered with dancing firelight. “Yes,” she answered hesitantly. The single word she spoke threatened to break her voice, and her lower lip began to quiver in defiance.

Brannt stepped forward, standing next to Varidia to look upon his long absent father. “Sickness took her in her sleep,” he explained, his voice calm and more relaxed than his aunt’s.

Aston looked away, to his right toward the flickering fire in his late mother’s hearth. A long moment passed before he spoke again. “The funeral…where was she buried?” he asked finally, his gaze returning to Varidia.

Varidia narrowed her eyes, which in her anger had collected a well of tears around the corners. She sucked in a sharp breath, exchanging it briefly before daring to answer her brother. “At the graveyard, next to father.”

Aston sighed, the long-drawn out sound of painful acceptance. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here,” he said, for once completely serious, no smirk to his lips.

Varidia shook her head. “If you had only been here a week earlier. I bet you’ve even been nearby since then, haven’t you?” Despite asking a question, Varidia turned away and ducked into the nearby bedroom, her old bedroom, leaving Aston alone with his bastard son.

Brannt watched silently as Varidia took her leave of the common area, then brought his brown eyes up to meet his father’s. “She wasn’t here for it, either,” he whispered.

No wisecrack remark to make, Aston merely winced and watched Varidia leave with a lingering, thoughtful look. Then he turned to Brannt, green-eyed gaze finally taking the sight of him in for more than a moment. The young man’s statement caused his brows to raise. “What great children your grandmother raised, huh? Not her fault, though.” A trace of his old smirk crept back.

Brannt shook his own head, his dour expression gone away and replaced by only concern for the situation. “She was in the north with her guild, helping flood victims. Grandma was sick when she left, but neither of us thought it’d get that bad so quick. She blames herself,” he explained.

“Helping flood victims…” Aston said, and shook his head. “I take it back. What a great daughter your grandmother raised. It /was/ her fault.” He chuckled and leaned against the mantle, which was totally not five feet away. “She shouldn’t blame herself. Ma’d’ve been proud.”

Brannt watched Aston through his smirks and charismatic gestures, but not even a threat of a smile appeared in his stern expression. “Well, it’s hard to hate you when you’re not around enough to do things to make me hate you,” he said, pausing to glance at the bedroom that Varidia had wandered into. “I think she wants to leave, too. She mostly stayed because of her.”

Aston followed his gaze and nodded. “Maybe she will. But I think I’ll stay.” He returned his gaze to Brannt, his eyes the color of Bree-land’s rolling hills, especially in the light of the fire. “I plan to die in this wretched place if it’s the death of me. Which I hope it will be, or else my funeral will be an…interesting experience for anyone who bothers to come.” He grinned, then seemed to sober up again as if remembering the somber situation he’d found himself in. “And you?” he asked. “Will you go with her?”

Brannt knit his brows together when Aston asked him a question, then once again shook his head, though gently this time. “No, I’ve almost finished my apprenticeship with one of the tailors in town, and Varidia’s taught me enough about healing that I could work as a healer’s assistant if I wanted. I’ve got a few friends. I’m staying.”

Aston smiled slightly as Brannt spoke. “Sounds like a plan. You look like him, y’know.” He picked up his hat, and gave it a good long look. “My da. Your grandfather.” He placed the hat back on his head. “He could charm a fish out of water, ma used to say. And she wasn’t the only lady who agreed. They married late, you know- he’d run around with every lass between here and Trestlebridge before then, but it was only our mother who made him fall for her. Had him in the palm of her hand.” He smiled wistfully.

Brannt brought his hand up to rub the sleeve of his other arm, and for a brief moment a glimmer of a smile formed with thinly pressed lips. “I didn’t know him. So, why’d you come back?”

It was then that Varidia returned from her old bedroom, tears wiped away from her redenned eyes, and she lingered in the doorway with her arms crossed at her chest, watching her brother and nephew converse.

Aston He raised his brows. “Why’d I come back? I suppose it’s like I said before — I plan to die here in Bree. It’s my home. Gondor never was, never will be.” He shook his head, and glanced off at a window at the flickering lightning. “And besides, pirate-queens are beautiful but they are crazy.” He looked back at Brannt. “Speaking of beauties, have you seen Margaux lately?”

Brannt glanced down and away as Aston talked of Gondor. “No, not lately,” he answered in a simple manner before lifting his gaze again.
Varidia waited for a pause in their conversation before she spoke up. “Do you have a place to stay?”

Aston frowned at Brannt’s answer, an uncommon expression on his features, then he looked back toward Varidia as she spoke up. “Aye,” he said, “Unless the Watch has forclosed on my house down the street. I’m…friends with the lady in charge of town housing, so I doubt it.” He smiled slightly, and moved closer to Varidia. “Listen…I’m going to visit her grave. Talk to her a bit. Her and dad. As soon as this storm lets up.”

Varidia answered Aston with a slow nod of her head, more just a tuck of her chin, really, but her arms remained tightly bound to her chest. “That’d be nice. Do you want company?”

He nodded. “I’ll call on you. If you’re around and up for it. As for tonight…” He looked over his shoulder at the window. “Well, it’s time to make a mad dash for a certain lady’s castle, if I can dodge the dragon guarding it.” He gave Varidia a long look before going to hug her. “Despite the circumstances…it’s good to see you, sis.”

Varidia watched hesitantly as Aston moved toward her, and though at first she didn’t respond, she eventually lowered her arms enough to wrap them around him in a brief embrace. “Look,” she said over his shoulder before he pulled away. “If you do need a place to stay you can come back here. Brannt will be here too, though. He’s got your old room but you can use mine.”

Aston stood back and adjusted his hat with one hand and a slight smirk at some unspoken joke of his, no doubt. He nodded. “We’ll survive, you know,” he said, as if ignoring what she’d just said. “We Clarkes are hard to get rid of. We’re in every drop of Bree-land blood. You can thank our good looks and charms for that. And we bleed Bree-land, too.” He nodded and turned to leave, sliding on his muddy boots and his rain-soaked cloak before throwing a, “Good to be back home!” behind his shoulder and walking out into the storm.

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Home Is Where The Heart Is

It felt strange to leave Forochel behind. What was even stranger was that there were no family members left behind to explain why Akana, the Lumi-vaki man that had given Godric permission to share his body, had to leave home. Of course, he was a well-respected warrior and hunter amongst the Lossoth, so there were some people that Akana felt the need to speak to before he left with the Wayfarers. He gathered what clothes and supplies he felt needed to come with him, then made the journey south alongside the rest of the company.

Bree was warm. At least, it was much warmer than Forochel, especially during the height of a mid-summer’s day. Godric had arrived in Durrow along with the rest of the Wayfarers earlier that morning, but something kept him from returning to his home right away. Very few things made the man nervous, but a slight fear resting at the back of his mind of what he would find at home proved to stir some hesitation within him. Godric’s hand trembled as he walked along the path leading to his small home on the hill at the back of Durrow. He lifted his new hand to his forehead, which wiped away a collection of streams of sweat. It seemed that his new Lossoth body was not used to such heat, even within the thinnest of Akana’s clothes, having had spent its entire being in the frozen plains of Forochel.

HIs heart nearly siezed in his chest as he took his first step beyond the small wooden fence that barricaded his yard from the tree-covered road. Several steps further were no better, yet there he stood in front of his home, and no idea as to the first thing he should do. Before he could be bothered to consider an action, however, a deep, gutteral growl came from around the side of the house, followed by a territorial bark from a great, grey wolf. The sight of Wraith in her confrontational state caused a whirl of emotions within Godric from surprise to comfort, all tainted in confusion.

“Leofwenne, it’s me,” the Lossoth voice called to the large beast.

Wraith’s ears twitched at the sound of her true name coming from such a strange man, but the wolf found herself hesitating. She sniffed at Akana again from afar, finding his scent just as confusing and overwhelming as Godric felt. Cautiously, she slowly stepped toward him, sniffing while she yet bared her teeth.

“That’s right, my love, it’s… it’s me. I’ve returned to you.”

The growling within her stopped when she laid her eyes upon his. They were the same as Taja’s eyes, golden and bright with the magic of spirits, and she felt her suspicions confirmed. Despite their change, the look those eyes gave her was still recognizable. In place of growls there were whimpers as Wraith charged at him, not defensively, but out love. She jumped, and after she made contact with his chest the two fell back onto the ground, where she assaulted Godric with a barrage of cold wolf kisses against his face.

“I missed you too,” he shouted out to her between laughs of immense joy, and wrapped his arms around her, holding her near as tight as he could manage. This went on for some time, until a stern, familiar voice called to them from the home.

“Who are you?” The voice, of course, belonged to Cedoric, Godric’s youngest and last remaining son. The young man’s eyes looked on in shock to see Wraith assail someone in such a way. He figured it may have been a friend she and Godric made during their time in the north, though even an idea such as that did not feel like it was enough to condone such a reaction in his mother.

Godric stopped when he heard Cedoric’s voice, though Wraith continued to try and press her face into his. As he stood up, he looked upon his son, who had began to appear so much as he once did in his previous life, in awe. Tears had began to well up in his golden eyes throughout his rejoining with Wraith, who had accepted him, but they fell in streams when he was given the gift of seeing his son again.

With a quivering lip, he muttered, “My son.”

———- ———- ———- ———- ———- ———- ———- ———- ———- ———-

Several days later, Godric stood in the doorway of his home and looked out into the yard to see his son, Cedoric, climb into the saddle of his horse and begin the long, arduous journey back to Rohan. Though Wraith remained in Durrow with Godric, Cedoric chose to leave, to return to the life he had left in the Mark.

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A Nest of Snakes

“You’re sure you want to buy it? You’re mad, you know, but I’ll take your gold if you really want me to.”

The Bree-lander was answered by the sudden heavy thud of sacks of coins hitting the table in front of him. His face alighted with a sort of sorrowful glee at the sight of his payment and immediately placed his fingers upon the bags, checking their contents.

“I am sure,” the darkly clad man answered in a voice of firm certainty as he looked down upon the other, watching him count the coins. “Are you certain you wish to sell it, Arden? It was in your family for a long time, I hear.”

“Aye, I am…” Arden answered with thinly veiled pain. “Brigands murdered them all. It’s been a few years since, and I hardly go up to the house at all anymore. This place… it’s just too painful to be here anymore. This is enough to get me anywhere I want to go. I hear the beaches near Dol Amroth are beautiful year-round. Think I’ll buy me a nice spot there and take up fishing. Who knows.”

Several minutes passed between the two men as Arden counted the payment. Eventually he nodded his head in satisfaction and collected all of the coin back into their sacks. “That’s it then,” he spoke as he lifted his eyes to meet the gaze of his buyer. “The house is all yours, Valthier. Let’s go down to get the deed finalized and sort the taxes, then I’m on the next boat South. You’re sure you don’t want to go up and see it first?”

Valthier glared down at him with certainty in his gaze. “I am.”

————————————————————————

The journey into the hills surrounding Starmere Lake was longer and more arduous than the simple walk into the woods to his cabin. It was better this way, however, and the location kept him far more secluded from others than before. Valthier commanded his horse to come to a stop as the hill-top manor came into view. As he stared at the frame of the large house he began to take in deeper and deeper breaths, uncertain of how he should react to the swelling feeling in his gut.

He eventually slid from the saddle and left his horse, Nightmare, behind. A short walk around the expansive yard lead him to an old stone fence that separated the property from the perilous cliff it rested on. He gripped the barrier, glove against stone, and peered out over the northern Bree-fields below. It came to a surprise to him that he could see the abandoned Lowater farm from here, or at least part of it that was tucked away in the distance.

This manor, this perch, was perfect he thought. A nest for the snake.

The key to the front door of the manor inserted easily enough into the lock, and the door opened with similar ease. The craftmanship and shape of this new home was far superior to that of the worn, shabby cabin he had been staying in. The halls were dark and dusty; the windows were covered in a thick layer of dirt that kept out most of the light, though a few rays struggled to shine through and provide a small amount of lighting to the otherwise uninhabited structure.

There was plenty of furniture, furniture that had been there for years and held the dust to show for it. As Valthier’s eyes glazed over the setting he was struck with a sense of nostalgia like an arrow to the heart. He remembered it all. He remembered the family that lived here, and how he and his brigand allies took their lives several years prior. He remembered how they pleaded for their lives, but in the end it proved fruitless.

He heaved a heavy sigh that was sourced from the furthest depths of his gut and turned his back on the manor for now, for it was empty and needed filling. One snake was hardly a nest, after all.

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Grave Encounters 2

No matter how many times a snake sheds its skin, it is still a snake.

The cabin in the woods was a familiar sight once again. It was empty, quiet, and a little colder. Occasionally a sudden chill would race along Valthier’s spine and he wondered to himself if that was his father, or if it was merely nothing and his father had gone just like the rest of them.

It is better this way.

That was what he kept telling himself at least. It wasn’t truly better for anyone, not really. The cycle had continued, which meant he knew what to expect in the coming season. Blood and death. His or another’s, it did not matter to him.

He was lonely again, but perhaps he had never stopped being so, even surrounded by people he thought of as friends. It had been a long time since he had gone to see Callumn, and so he decided after sundown that he would go.

—————————————–

Valthier made his way into the Bree graveyard under the veil of night, the only announcement of his arrival being that of the snow crunching beneath his boots with every step. From a distance one would not even know it was him. He was shrouded by a thick, dark cloak and hood that he held close to conceal himself in the darkness. Of course he always wore a black cloak, but he never truly attempted to hide himself in it.

He came to the only grave he ever visisted and reached out with a gloved hand, dusting the gathered frost from the gravestone until Callumn Mossfoot’s name became clear to read again. Valthier kneeled, and with only a small amount of hesitance he began to speak to him.

“I’ve done it again, Callumn. I pushed everyone away, just as Lihn said I would. Najwa… my sister, Rose, you… Lihn. Lihn… she claimed to have fallen in love with me, and that it brought her pain to know I would never feel the same.  I never even acknowledged that she had admitted to it. What is wrong with me?” he asked in even tones with only a slight hint of well-guarded pain within the words.

“I bet my father is laughing at me as I speak. I do not want to be like him, Callumn, but I already know that I am not. I am worse than he ever was. My life is full of regret,” he continued without pause. “And yet I continue to do things that cause me to feel the same sting. Why do I do that? I used to blame him, my father. I used to blame anyone I could, but I know I am the only one responsible for it.”

The grave was, of course, silent. However, this did not matter to Valthier, and having someone to speak his mind to, even if they were dead, came to him as a comfort. He couldn’t speak to anyone else about this, he had tried and failed.

“I believe it is time that I finally move on from this place. I must find a way to kill my father for good, and there are people here I do not want to see harmed. They all get hurt around me, they always have. I seem to invite a danger that I cannot get rid of. The… frightening thing is, Callumn, that I do not think I want to be rid of it. Is that strange?”

Suddenly the flow of words ceased, and he merely remained kneeled in front of Callumn’s grave, staring blankly at the epitaph for what could have been hours it seemed like. Valthier bothered nothing and no one during his rare nightly visits, and he was still uncertain if the grave digger ever even noticed him. Surely he did.

Eventually, he spoke again. “I wish I could change places with you. If nothing else, I wish it was your brother and not you that had died. We did not have to go back for him. He abandoned the family, not you. It is not fair, Callumn.”

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I Hate You

The cabin was silent again now that his sister and Sadie had left earlier, leaving Valthier alone with his thoughts. Was it really his father? It must have been, he thought, since the details were all correct. She was even able to describe to him exactly how he killed his father, a haunting thought, even more than the idea that his spirit, ghost, could still be watching over Valthier. His father tried to kill him, and in the process endangered Sadie as well. This could not be left to stand.

The floorboards creaked and moaned beneath his boots, breaking the silence as Valthier stood from the bed. He glanced down at his hands, which were bare and worn, tired even, then clenched them into tight fists. Every small feature of his face began to tighten as well as an unsettling amount of anger started to surface. He nearly snarled before suddenly searching the empty spaces of the cabin with his gaze, then called to it.

“How could you?” His once idle hands firmly gripped the back of the small wooden chair that was kept near the bed, then hurled it across the room, strong enough to shatter the simple woodcraft against the wall.

“I hate you!” He barked in his rage as though its intended recipient was listening. His words easily drowned out the sound of the shattered wood hitting the floor, carrying beyond the cabin and into the surrounding frost-covered forest. “How could you do this to your family?!” he cried, but no one answered.

The cabin fell to a sudden and short-lived silence again, even the forest around him listened quietly. It was not enough, he thought. He needed to be heard, his anger needed to be felt. Without looking he began to attack his very home, hands lashing out to grab things to throw. The sharp sounds of clay pots and plates breaking against the walls mixed with the heavy thuds of wooden furniture being turned and tossed, creating Valthier’s very own orchestra of fury. Perhaps his only regret was that none were there to hear it.

He thoughtlessly made his way into the living room, where he struck the table and chairs there with his boot, sending them each to the floor, then he found the bookshelf to his left. There were not many books there, and those that were he had found already present when he discovered the cabin, having been left behind by the previous occupant. A swift motion of his arm saw most of them to the floor, all but one, which he reached out to take in his hands. His fingers flexed, digging into the cover briefly before sending it soaring aimlessly. The sound of glass in the window shattering caused him to pause, briefly, as though something clicked in his mind.

He could feel the well of frustration inside him begin to drain, but before it was gone he searched out for one final release. What he found was the small, weak bed that he had given to Najwa, but at the time it was not something that belonged to Najwa; it was only another victim in his path. One hand found the headrest, the other placed underneath, and with a thunderous roar he lifted it from the floor. Upon striking the wall the wooden frame splintered, leaving the bed no longer useable. The cabin was a mess, broken, beaten, and now it reminded Valthier of himself.

While malicious thoughts remained, his body grew tired and returned to its weakened state in the absence of rage. It was then that Valthier felt the pain at his side, and when he glanced down at his side he noticed the bandages wrapped around the injury to his abdomen stained red with fresh blood. He dropped to his knees, then collapsed with his back to the wall as he clutched his side. Heavy breaths and grunts of pain were now the music he created for the cabin, and his song continued for some time before he called out once more in a weary voice.

“I hate you.”

Tears escaped his eyes before he could close them. He sat there quietly amidst his destruction.

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Hello, brother.

He was alone inside his secluded little cabin, sitting on his bed in nothing but a pair of trousers, save for the bandages wrapped around his abdomen. Najwa was working, and Lihn must have been looking after some poor children or stray cats trying to keep warm in the winter. The only light in the home came from the small fire he had brought to life in the hearth, and apart from the crackling embers there was no noise throughout the home, to surrounding woods silent. It was peaceful, until someone knocked on the door.

With mild discomfort from the wounds in his side, Valthier stood from his bed and began to approach the door, but not without first grabbing his sword just in case. After swinging open the door, and allowing a burst of cold winter air to enter, he parted his lips in quiet awe at what he saw.

“Hello, brother.”

Staring him in the face was his sister Aerelin,  the one who kept him alive after Sadie’s mishap in the mountains to the north, and the one who had only come north to hunt and kill him.

“What are you doing here?” asked Valthier.

“You know why I am here,” she replied, an air of unmistakeable confidence in her voice.

After some slight hesitance Valthier opened the door further, stepping aside to allow her entry. As she wandered into the small home, Valthier set aside his weapon and closed the door behind them.

“This is it?” she asked condescendingly. “It looks worse on the inside.”

“It is all I need.”

“And it is so small,” she said, looking to the single bed nearby, Najwa’s bed. “I am surprised those two women still live here with you. They must truly like you.”

Valthier looked on with confusion. “How did you–”

“I’ve been watching you,” she said suddenly, cutting him off before he could finish. “It does not look as though there is any room for me.”

Still confused, but now surprised as well. “You are staying then,” he surmised, sounding yet uncertain.

Aerelin traced her finger along the simple wooden dresser nearby, then turned to face him. “I am. I finally decided against killing you, brother, at least for now. I’ve come to keep an eye on you.”

Aerelin was answered in silence. There was nothing more that was needed to be said, as the two understood one another perfectly. There was no warm embrace and very little eye contact. To any other they might have appeared to hate each other, and perhaps in some ways that was true, but this was an important moment to each of them.

“I will get us some wine,” he said, then disappeared into the back of the cabin.

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