And So It Goes
The sun had only just risen over the edge of the horizon when he awoke. It was habit, now, only five years after the Dragon's Gate had been sealed. Everything was habit; it was a continuous circle of work that never ended and papers that never stopped coming and going.
As he pulled himself from his bed, he recalled, with a strange sense of fondness, all of the times he had been forced to drag Sain out of his tent and into the morning sun while the older (and supposedly wiser) knight protested vehemently. A tiny smile flickered across his face, and he allowed himself that one small comfort. There was hardly anything to smile about anymore, after all. Smiling was unnecessary. Happiness was a luxury, one that he unfortunately did not possess, and as fate would have it, he likely never would.
It had been at his fingertips, and he had let it all go.
He shook his head and thought for a few minutes about their days in the little makeshift army, days that he would never trade for anything. First, he pulled a shirt over his head and wriggled into it as the fight with Lundgren played in his mind. Then, he slipped into his pants, securing them around his waist with a belt as he mentally relived the sheer terror he felt when Uhai had taken Lady Lyndis, and the immense relief immediately afterward when she had been released unhurt and he had seen so with his own two eyes.
His boots went onto his feet easily as he remembered the dragon; how everyone's sweat and tears and desperation all burned together, drifting about in a sea of hope. Hope, because that had truly been all they'd had.
He sighed and made his bed- because he still found it strange to have someone else pick up after him- before leaving his room, stopping only to adjust his curtains to be sure that they completely covered the windows. For reasons he could not fully explain, even to himself, waking up to daylight falling across his eyes did not seem…right. So draperies, as thick and suffocating as they made the room in the summer months, had been placed over the large glass panes that looked to the northeast, in the direction of a place he wished fervently that he could forget.
His morning and afternoon went as scheduled. As it always did. As it had for days and days and days that had stretched into weeks, and into months, and into years. Most days, he felt as old as Lord Hausen had the last time Kent had seen him, lying on his bed drawing his last breath as Lady Lyndis held his hand. He hadn't known what he was getting himself into all those years ago; he had not realized until it was too late. Mountains of paperwork greeted him every morning, and no matter how hard or fast he worked on it, the pile never seemed to dwindle.
Writing had never been something he excelled at, but after five years of it, he had, at the very least, acquired the ability to write neatly.
Despite the insistence that he eat regularly, he often found himself submerged in so much work that he forgot to remember to do so. It wasn't as if it mattered anymore, he would think to himself as he waved off one of the castle servants who came with trays of food when they had not seen him more than a day or two and became worried. No, nothing mattered now but work and duty- the same things that had mattered from the beginning. The same exact things that he distinctly recalled telling Sain that mattered more than life itself, and in a strange twist of irony, he had been the first one to forget his own words.
Laughing dryly, he rubbed the bridge of his nose with the thumb and forefinger of his left hand as his right hand gripped the quill that he had been writing with.
He had fallen for the one person he ought not to have fallen for. Thinking back, he could remember reprimanding himself for finding excuses to speak with her, to see her, to touch her. If it had been anyone else- anyone- he knew that nothing bad would have happened. He could have married, had children, had laughter and happiness and smiles and all of the things he wished he had but didn't.
But no, things did not work that way. Life did not work that way.
He had loved her more than he could even admit to himself, and she… she had gone before... Before he could work up the courage to ignore his embarrassment and shame at falling in love with her, and just tell her how he felt. That he had been in love with her for months and months and it displeased him to know that he might never know how she felt.
His glance flickered to the window as the sun started to sink, and he sighed to himself as he stared at the orange grass and the dying light.
Even when the sun sank and the castle was quiet, no one came for him. Nobody bothered him. There were no knocks on the door, no questions; there was absolutely nothing. The life of a steward was lonely, he realized, not for the first or the tenth or the hundredth or even the thousandth time.
He wondered how she was doing and where she was. Five years was nothing to most people, just a drop of water in the lake of time…but to him, it had been a lifetime. An eternity spent waiting and stalling and hoping and praying and resenting- resenting himself for everything he had never said or done.
She could be dead. Her bones could be bleached by the sun and weathered by the winds, lying in a heap surrounded by the grasses of Sacae, and it pained him to know that such a thing could pass and he would go on with his life without knowing. That she could be suffering, and he would never find out.
That she could be happy, and not with him.
It would be better for her to be alive, he reasoned with himself, sitting so completely and utterly alone in the dark room. Perhaps, unlike him, she had many children. He almost smiled at the thought of her, several little ones reaching out to be held, playing with one another, squabbling, tugging on her skirts… and Lyndis, with her wind-tossed hair standing among them; a smile on her face despite everything.
He wanted to go after her, needed to see her again, and had considered it many times. But what could he say to her now, after so many years apart? Even if he saw her for a single moment, it would do his heart good. He would feel relieved to know that she was healthy and alive.
The not knowing had eaten at him since the day she'd left, looking a little sad but still excited about going to the only place where she would ever be able to call home. The image of her, riding off into the afternoon sun at a relaxed canter on a brown mare rose to the surface of his mind, and he tried to force it down, but it refused to leave.
He blinked, and suddenly, it was as if he was there again, watching the only woman he had ever wanted leave. Just as it was then, his hand reached out of its own accord- reaching, reaching- and then…it fell back to his side, the metal of his armor making a loud clanking sound as pieces of it collided with his movement.
He started, dropping the quill on the desk, and shook his head in disgust at himself for making such a mess, hurrying to clean it up, but the ink had dried on the pen and it had not made a mess at all.
He buried his face in his hands and sat there for a long while, unable to think or cry or care about anything except the fact that he was emotionally dead. Perhaps the reason why he could not cry, and had not since her departure, was because she was not truly gone. She was not far at all. A few steps to the door, and then down the stairs and out of the gates. The stables had many horses, and he had his pick of the lot. A few weeks of riding, and he could be there, he thought vaguely, wondering what time it was in the same moment.
If the lady Lyndis truly lived, he decided as he stumbled to his feet and out of the door, ignoring the mountain of paperwork on his desk, then he would be certain to find her and reassure himself. He had to know. Had to see her again to prove to himself that she was okay, that she was living a good life on the plains, and…even if it hurt him to admit it, that she was indeed happy and not living in death, as alone and lonely as he himself felt.
Bulgar; the town was the biggest congregation of people on the plains of Sacae. Buildings lined the sides of the dirt streets and people bustled back and forth with real energy. Kent eased himself out of the saddle of the mare he had taken from the Castle Caelin's stables, sighing with relief at having his feet on the ground again. It had been some time since he'd found himself in the city of the plains, and he looked around him at the sights and sounds, almost identical to what they had been some six years previously when he and Sain had come looking for Lady Lyndis.
It was not long before he found the tavern and went inside, squelching all feelings of irritation at having to be in such a place. It was smoky and stank of alcohol and sweat, but as Sain would have said, loose tongues provided unintentional information, and he could not argue a truth such as that.
He took a seat at the bar and quietly requested only water, downing the glass only a few moments after it was placed in front of him. He had run out of water in his canteen some six hours earlier, and had ridden fast to get to Bulgar before he succumbed to the heat of the late summer.
"Excuse me," he said to the man in front of him, who was wearing an odd expression. "I am looking for…a woman."
The man laughed and scratched his beard as he handed Kent another glass of water. "Women?" he asked. "We have those everywhere; it always depends on what you are willing to pay for the company of one though, of course."
The redheaded former knight sighed and shook his head. "No, you fail to understand. I am looking for someone…in particular."
"Yes… she would be about…23 or 24 years old by now…long hair… Spirited?" He blinked and watched the barkeep's expression.
"That sounds…oh! Hey, Fran!" He gestured behind Kent to a woman who worked there, and she stepped forward and leaned against the counter.
"Do you remember that one woman… with the long hair that we've seen around here the last few years or so?"
"Hmmm…" As Fran thought, she twirled her dark hair around her index finger and bit on her bottom lip. "The one with all of those kids?"
"Now that you mention it, yes. She does have quite the brood, that one! She's a fiery young thing, too," he said, directing his second comment to Kent. "I don't know how old she is, though…"
"On her third husband, I heard," Fran told him, nodding solemnly. "The first died of the Fever that swept through here about…four years ago, and the second died last year of …a bandit attack, I think. This last one… I do not know what to make of him. He's rather quiet."
Kent sat in silence. So she was married, he thought. But was she happy? Did her children look like her? Who did she marry? Questions flew through his mind as fast as a herd of wild pegasi.
"Oh, yes." The man looked at the ceiling and laughed. "And the way she walks around with that curly hair of hers all done up… It's downright terrible, I say."
"Curly hair?" His words were soft, but both Fran and the barkeep turned to listen. "The woman I am looking for…has straight hair. Her name is…well, she goes by Lyn here, I would imagine."
Fran's eyes lit up. "Oh, a tiny little thing with pretty eyes? Maybe…half-Sacaen?"
Kent nodded, and the barkeep looked deep in thought for a moment before he spoke.
"I have seen her in town before… I think she comes two or three times a year to stock up on supplies. The last time I saw her had to be at least…"
"Six months ago?" Fran said for him, half-questioning her own answer.
"Yeah. Probably about then." The barkeep looked at Kent and shook his head slowly. "She's not really all that spirited, though, young man. She just rides into town, buys what she needs, and then leaves and doesn't come back for several months."
"…She used to be." Perhaps time had changed her as it changed him, he wondered.
"Life out here… it can get rough." Fran smiled encouragingly at him. "It takes the pluck out of a lot of people when they have to fight to survive a winter or two here. If I do say so myself… I think she lives alone, and a person can only take so much of that before they start to wonder what the point of being alive is."
"…Thank you. You've both been most helpful. Do you happen to know where she lives?"
Fran shook her head slowly. "I'm afraid not, darlin'. She hardly spoke with anyone in the years she's been coming here."
"I see. Thank you just the same." He started to stand, but stopped and held out his canteen apologetically to the barkeep. "If you don't mind…" he muttered. "I may have another long ride ahead of me…"
"No problem." The barkeep went to the back without another word.
"So." The woman smiled at him faintly and blinked once. "What is a Lycian like you doing looking for a woman like her? I don't mean anything bad by that… I'm only curious."
"I have not seen her for five years," he said frankly. "I needed to know that she was fine."
Grinning, Fran wiped up the bar with a cloth and continued, "A lover's spat?"
"No!" His face flushed lightly as he gave his hurried answer. "No…"
"You must be something to her if you are looking for her so diligently, and you are clearly not family. What are—I mean, what were you to her, that you would ride all the way out here just to see her?"
"I was a knight," he said, questioning his logic at answering a stranger's nosy questions. "I served under her. She was… Lady Lyndis of Caelin."
"Her Knight Commander, but still…merely a knight, Miss."
"Ahh, I see." Fran took the seat beside him and put a hand on his shoulder. "You are a knight no longer."
"That is correct."
"…What took so long for you to come here?"
"Hm? I took over stewardship of Caelin when she abdicated and came here…to her home."
"Making up for lost time?"
"I needed to see her again."
She winked playfully at him and stood back up, patting his back in a friendly manner. "Look, one bit of advice… I'm only telling you this because I think you seem like a good enough man. If I were you, I wouldn't go around askin' everybody about your Lyn's whereabouts." Fran looked around her to make sure nobody was listening and leaned in closer, speaking quietly, "Some people around here…they think she's a little…odd. You know? I heard, and this is only hearsay, but perhaps it will help you, that she lives alone somewhere to the west… probably where her people used to live, but far enough away from this place that she doesn't come very often."
"…I see." He rose to his feet as the barkeep walked back behind the bar and handed him his now-full canteen.
"Good luck," the man said, and Kent nodded.
"Thank you for your assistance."
I decided to split this into two parts, since it was dragging on a bit. The next part should be up within the week. Unfortunately, I'm not very good at dialogue, so any critique concerning it would be wonderful. (Especially seeing as how it's in this particular 'fic a lot, and in big chunks on top of that.)
Thank you very much for reading! I hope you enjoyed this little fic so far, and that you'll read the next (and final) installment. (Otherwise, how will you find out what happened to Lyndis?) Until next time!