Thanks to bluebearsg and TitleContreven for reviewing – it may have been some time, but that just makes receiving a review all the better.
I've made it to 50 chapters now... But I'm afraid it may be staying like that for a while. I'm going to have to take a hiatus from this for some time – my exams are coming up, and the pressure on me is greater by the day. Not to mention the ever-growing list of other obligations that threatens to consume me completely. I didn't have that much free time as it was,and things have just gotten worse. I'm sorry about this, I really am, but I don't think there's going to be regular updates until about the end of June. There may be the odd new chapter if I get time, but other that... Anyway, I'm sorry. I just hope this chapter is a decent enough temporary endpoint.
706 OV, 9 days after Ashe's kidnapping
It was night in the camp, and all was still. Even the Urutan in the distance seemed to have stopped their chattering, retiring to their hidden settlements much as most of Ashe's party now hid under their cloth coverings. But she herself remained awake, resting on a rocky outcropping overlooking the murky sand-waters.
There was a full moon tonight. Ashe had always admired the beauty of the huge celestial body, ever since she was young. There was something about the way the silver disc of the night sky cast its light, seeming to give her surroundings a faint glow. It was the one thing that remained beautiful to her, long after all else had ceased to
Merely the sight of the moon brought memories flooding back. In the past, she had spent many an evening on her balcony or atop the tower, gazing into its depths.
Sometimes it had been her father with her, particularly when she was very small. He would tell her tales, wonderful tales, of the moon goddess, Artemis, who, as a mortal, was both fair maiden and skilful huntress. So revered had she been by her people, the gods saw fit to revive her upon her untimely end at the hands of a jealous king, immortalising her soul as a scion of light. That was the basics of it, anyway – small details seemed to change upon each telling, and, though the story remained the same in essence, the young Ashe would listen attentively to each re-telling as though it were an entirely new narrative.
At other times, she would be surrounded by the children of the noble families of Dalmasca. Her mother had thought it proper that she integrate herself with them from a young age, though Ashe had oft-times resented the forced interaction. One boy, by the name of Cespar Cousland, took great delight in weaving fanciful 'legends' of monsters to scare her. It was he who had told her the tale of the Werewolves of Giza: men turned into beasts by the carrion flesh of wolves, who came hunting in the city every time the full moon rose. According to him, it was said that the face of the wolf could be seen in the full moon, if one looked hard enough, but to do so marked you out as the Werewolf's next target. Ashe had refused to look at the moon for months.
Later in her life, Ashe had most often found herself in the company of Vossler as she watched the night sky. He had managed to surprise her constantly with his knowledge of Dalmascan lore, and, upon being queried, would only mention that his mother had insisted he study. He had spoke little after such an admittance, leading Ashe to suspect that perhaps his mother had not wished him to become a soldier. She had never asked him about it again, out of respect for his privacy, but she had been curious about his family and heritage ever since.
It had not been so long ago that Ashe gazed upon such a moon with her husband. Rasler had enjoyed the moonlight almost as much as she did, and would spend many a night with her atop the tower. During the day, his mind had always been filled with royal duties, or aiding her father with the war campaign. It was only on these moonlit nights that Ashe enjoyed the company of the real Rasler, and those nights were some of the happiest memories she could recall.
Though still beautiful, now the moon did little but remind her of happier times, serving only to make her current situation seem even more dismal. Here she was, surrounded by sand, filth, and travelling company that was largely made up of strangers and criminals; just about as far removed from her upbringing in the palace as possible.
It took the sound of footsteps behind her to snap her out of her thoughts. Heavy footfalls, so familiar she would have recognised them anywhere.
"A beautiful moon tonight, no? It has been some time since I've seen one so bright."
Vossler settled himself beside Ashe. He had risen to take her place as the night watch, but was content to let her stay, if she wished it.
"It is beautiful, isn't it? It is a shame that Lowtown offers so little opportunity to see the sky."
"You know what they say about when the moon shines bright?"
Ashe almost smiles as the familiar words cross her lips.
"The moon goddess Artemis walks tonight."