The inn is much like any other. Vanyel has seen far too many to really distinguish one from any other. They blur together in his mind. Only the people stand out and the landscape that led up to it. He's learned by now how to read a crowd, to know what mood they're in and thus what music to play to make them more free with the coin. The more the crowd spends, the happier the innkeeper, the better his meal at the end of the evening. The places he plays are usually remote so he doesn't expect much in tips from the crowd. Surprisingly, it's the older generation that tip him the most, handing him a few meager coins after he's made the grannies' hearts swell with love ballads or brought memories of honor and glory back to the old men.

What would they think if they knew he used to be heir to the great Forst Reach? That his sister is the great Lissa Ashekevron, a renowned solider of the Guard? Or his aunt the Herald-Mage Savil? He chuckles to himself as he takes a sip of water. No one would believe him. After all, no one in their right mind would leave a life of luxury to travel the road as only slightly better than a beggar.

Obviously they didn't know that luxury came with a price. After getting his arm broken once, it was no longer a price he was willing to pay.

The door to the inn opens and Vanyel glances over at the newcomers from the far end of the bar. His break is almost over and the crowd eager for more music.

The man who walks through the door is like none Vanyel has ever seen before. His blonde hair seems to glow in the candlelight but it's his smile that holds the real light. Vanyel has to look away as a blush threatens to cover his face. He'd learned long ago that women were not to his liking, but he's had few opportunities to dabble with men. Sensibilities varied by region but he's found more areas in keeping with his father's notions of propriety than not.

He finishes his water and passes the cup back to the barkeep. He risks a glance back to the handsome man and freezes. The man is not alone and with him is a face Vanyel would never forget – his aunt Savil. Vanyel forces himself to turn back to his lute where it sits at the side of the room. There is no stage to perform on here, but all of the eyes in the room still turn to him when he begins to play. Including Savil's.

Vanyel dares not look at them. It's been years since Savil visited the keep and Vanyel was just a boy then, nothing like the man he's grown into. At least, he hopes. There is no immediate outburst as he sings an old ballad, archaic by most place's standards but one he's become quite fond of. He'd learned it from another traveler in a small town in the north of Valdemar, barely more than a few buildings clumped together but set on the only pass through the mountains for a good distance and thus ripe with traffic. He'd shown the traveler his appreciation in bed before they'd gone their separate ways, him north and Vanyel south.

Savil and her beautiful companion are gone when Vanyel finally ends for the night. A bit of tension seeps from Vanyel's shoulders as he packs his lute away. The innkeeper hands him a key and five coins, more than Vanyel's seen in a couple weeks. He thanks the man and heads eagerly to bed.

"That was quite a performance. What do you call yourself now, 'Tylen'?"

Vanyel nearly tumbles back down the stairs he'd just climbed. Savil is waiting for him, leaning against the wall at the top of the stairs. Vanyel glances back down the stairs, calculating the odds of escaping. He has his only belongings with him and he's learned to saddle Star with speed when he has to.

A strong grip closes on his arm and tugs him down the hall. He sighs and gives up the idea of escape. Still, he can't help but quip as she shoves him into a room. "Thank you, but I don't do private shows."

The blonde man is sitting on one of the two beds inside. "How disappointing." His voice sounds as good as he looks. "I could think of a few sounds I'd love you to make."

Vanyel flushes and turns back to his aunt. She's standing firmly in front of the closed door with her arms crossed. "It's been a long day and I really would like to go to bed."

Savil does not look amused. "I didn't think dead people could get tired."

He is in so much trouble. He just hopes this is the kind of trouble he can talk himself out of. "I think you have me confused with someone else. I'm very much alive, I assure you."

Savil raises an eyebrow. "I can see that, Vanyel."

He sighs and mutters a curse. The blonde boy chuckles. Vanyel sets his bags on the floor and takes a seat on the vacant bed. "So what now, Aunt Savil? Will you return me to my father at Forst Reach? Is there a prize for my return or are you just hoping to reunite my father with his wayward heir?"

Savil leans back against the door. "I haven't quite decided yet. Your father thinks you dead. Lissa thinks not. There's a lot of speculation as to how you disappeared and why."

Vanyel shrugs. "The how is quite easy. I walked out the front door. Well, I suppose rode is more accurate. I wasn't about to leave my beloved horse."

For a brief second, he thinks Savil almost smiles and then her face smooths back into a stern mask. "And the why?"

Vanyel leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "I was never going to be what my father wanted. It's a mold I wasn't made to fit in. I didn't feel like sticking around to see how many more of my bones they were going to break in an effort to reshape me." Savil looks surprised. Vanyel guesses no one ever told her about that part. He smiles. It isn't a very nice smile. "They never told you, did they? Everyone assumes that I was living in the lap of luxury and just threw that all away. I can show you the scars if you want. There's the ones from the 'harmless pranks' my brothers pulled – my favorite being the one where I was pushed down the stairs." He pushes his hair aside. "Left quite a mark when my head hit the rail. They thought I was dead that time, though that didn't stop them from getting right back at it once I was on my feet again." He rolls back his sleeve. "This one's from the one and only time I tried to fight our armsmaster in a style actually meant for someone my size. Have you ever seen your own bones stick out from your skin? It would have been fascinating if not for the pain."

Savil shifts on her feet. "Point taken. How'd you manage to fake your death?"

Vanyel smiles. He's actually pretty pleased with how that had worked out. "Bandits are surprisingly amiable if you offer them a good bit of coin. Some spilt blood, a bit of torn clothes on a body already dead, a few meaningless possessions to make it look convincing." His smile widened. "Just had to smash the face a bit to make the body unrecognizable."

The blonde man whistles appreciatively. "From your looks, I'd hardly think you had it in you."

"Oh, I didn't do it." Vanyel raises his hands. "These hands are far too delicate for that kind of dirty work and I don't have the strength. Besides, that's what I paid the bandits for. It'd hardly be a good deal if they did a shoddy job."

The blonde man snorts and shakes his head. "I like you." He turns to Savil. "Can we keep him?"

Savil rolls her eyes and finally moves away from the door. "Lendel, you're incorrigible." She eyes Vanyel for a moment. "But I agree that we should take him along, at least as far as Treva's Watch. Lissa will gut me if I don't bring you to see her."

The thought of seeing his sister again fills him with a mixture of longing and panic. He hasn't seen Lissa in years. Years in which he's let her think he's dead. She very well may fix that.

Savil is grinning as she claps a hand on Vanyel's shoulder. She obviously knows exactly what he's thinking. "Best get some sleep, boy. We ride in the morning." Vanyel stands and collects his things. He's at the door when Savil adds, "and don't think about running away. We'd just have to chase you and then I'll be mad."

Vanyel sighs. "Yes, Aunt Savil. I'll be two doors down the hall."

"Sweet dreams," the blonde boy – Lendel? – called.

Vanyel shut the door before they could see him blush.

He did, in fact, have very sweet dreams featuring the blonde boy on top of him.