The decision for Kayt to travel with the larger group was an easy one to make in the end, but the full understanding of the rightness of her decision took several more days to settle. The connection between her mother and the elder Couslands had been a close one. That was fact, as evidenced by her mother's journal writings. But for Kayt, the choice to join up with Fergus, to remain by his side for a time, to offer whatever help and assistance she might be able to was an opportunity she could not afford to pass up. She had not recognized him immediately in the marketplace in the village, but from the moment Nathaniel had spoke his name the night they had encountered Le Renard, she had known him. Besides the fact that it was something Le Renard would do, she had other reasons for joining his party. After all, his parents had offered her mother assistance during difficult times, it was only fair that she do the same for him. Was it not?
And so she settled into the routine of traveling among a larger group, an adjustment that despite her usual solitary status did not require much adapting. She did not speak often to the members of the group, but she found herself observing. She also assisted with scouting, hunting, as well as general defense of the group. But unless directly spoken to in regards to some specific matter at hand, she kept her own counsel. She did however, finally call Shadowhawk into the camp to join them, allowing the others to become acquainted with the wolf so that they would recognize him in a fight, if necessary.
During the days, they would travel. Of an evening, they would make camp and fall into their normal routines. Mending arms and armor. Preparing the evening meal. Setting up tents or taking inventory of items they had and others that might become necessary sooner rather than later. And then there were the more relaxed moments ….
The first evening a challenge was issued, Kayt had been sitting beside the fire while crafting new arrows to replace ones lost in battle against darkspawn earlier that day. Fergus was nearby, recounting some story from his youth which had Kayt laughing, the antics of Fergus and his sister as he described them something she could nearly see in her mind's eye. During the process, she rose and lifted her bow, nocking the arrow and pulling the string back near her ear as she aimed towards a tree across the small clearing.
Off to her right, she heard the steps behind her; soft, slow, but familiar enough in weight, and a smile crossed her lips. This Nathaniel Howe was good at stealth. Not quite as good as she was, Kayt mused silently, but close. And, after all, she had a few years on him in both age and experience.
"Do not stop on my account," his voice drifted over from her right as her arm began to lower.
Turning, she sought him out and smiled. "I was merely testing the balance," she informed him casually.
"Were you now?" he countered.
Kayt saw a hint of a smile at his lips and her brow arched in question. "You doubt my intentions or my abilities, ser?" she asked.
She ignored Fergus' soft, knowing chuckle and kept her eyes locked upon the shadows where Nathaniel currently stood. "Not in the least," he admitted, taking a step forward and showing himself in the waning afternoon light. "I simply wish to admire such skill and learn that which you would willingly share."
There was a moment's silence around the fire before it dissolved into general laughter from all parties involved. "If you simply wished to compare styles," Kayt finally managed as laughter wound down a few minutes later, "you only had to ask!"
Offering a lazy smile, Nathaniel countered, "I thought that was what I had done?"
Nathaniel, she saw, still had his bow and quiver at the ready. Reaching by her feet to grab her own, she nodded to the far side of camp. "How about those trees over there?" she asked.
Fergus shook his head in no small amount of amusement as the two wandered off. If there was one thing he had come to recognize and appreciate in Kayt since her arrival, it was that her sense of humor and personality fit in readily with their group. In some ways, she reminded him of his sister. In others, of his mother. And yet still in other ways, she was completely her own self. It was difficult to isolate these qualities as well, and so he kept his thoughts to himself.
Nathaniel moved into position beside Kayt, eyes upon every small movement, every minute adjustment. Most he recognized, but there were subtle little things that at first didn't seem as if they should mean much, but once she raised her arms and took the shot ….
The entire camp soon became entranced in watching the two archers practice. Two 'targets' had been attached to two fairly evenly distanced trees, a certain number of paces had been counted off, and once in agreement the two had begun. While they compared techniques and strategies, the others attempted to go about the business of completing the set up of camp, but every so often they would stop and watch and, occasionally, let out a whooping cheer for Kayt. The occasional glowering glare that Nathaniel would toss in their direction only seemed to increase this sort of reaction.
After completing his check of arms and armor, Fergus joined Rhyan who had arrived shortly after the two archers departed, and he leant her assistance as they sat near the fire working on preparing the evening stew.
Another thunk had Fergus glancing up from the vegetables he was slicing. Straight down the middle, right in the center. Squinting slightly, he could tell from this distance that it had been Nathaniel's arrow making that shot. "I still can't get over it," he muttered, more to himself than anyone else.
But Rhyan heard while she skinned the rabbits and began boning them so they could be placed in the stew. "And what is that, my lord?"
Shaking himself from his musings, Fergus turned to face her. "Oh, just the fact that she has been out there, all this time, so many years … and we never knew. I think my parents would have searched for her had they known where to look." He offered Rhyan a smile then. "Kayt's mother was a close friend to my parents," he explained. "Marianne's death was hard on them."
Rhyan watched as Fergus' brow furrowed just a bit at this. "Well," she offered, "from the sounds of it, she did not wish to cause your parents more grief." She smiled back at him. "And whether she was raised by a dalish guardian or your parents, she certainly seems to be quite well trained and skilled with that bow."
Fergus nodded, his eyes still watching as Kayt now was showing Nathaniel a trick or two and then took a more difficult shot, making it look simple. "Indeed," he agreed absently. It was definitely something to ponder.
~ 0 ~
Kayt lifted her bow and took aim. As she did so, knowing his focus was upon her, she murmured, "So … if I understand correctly, your wife is an archer as well, no?"
Nathaniel nodded. "And a ranger," he told her, echoing his words of the night of her arrival.
Kayt took the shot, a smile curving upwards at her lips as she turned without waiting to see where it landed. "It is good to know there are more of us out there." She watched him lift his bow this time, taking the time to set his shot before releasing the arrow. With a tilt of her head, she gave him an appreciative nod. "Nice shot."
"Thank you. Bry taught me that one." Nathaniel sighed softly, but noted that the pain that usually lingered when thinking on his wife was not nearly so uncomfortable this time.
Kayt could see in his eyes the hint of sorrow fighting back against the success of a good shot, and so she grinned, countering, "And did you teach her something in return? Fair is fair, after all."
But surprisingly, Nathaniel's look soured as he scowled, a look of concern filling his features. "I started to, yes," he replied. "Bry is an expert archer, better than me, I openly admit that. But her skills with blades …."
Kayt paused in taking her next shot, lowering her bow and turning to face him. "Nathaniel, you cannot worry so," she advised gently. "Not only do you do your wife a disservice, but you -"
His scowl turned into an almost menacing sneer. "And what would you know of such loss?" he growled. "By your own admittance, you were a child when you lost your mother. You have no real memory of her."
Kayt stiffened slightly, but held her ground before him. She did not care that he towered over her, or that his anger was clear as day across his face. She had faced much worse on the battlefields of Ferelden over the years. "I know of loss," she replied after a moment, her voice strong, unwavering and only a hint of sadness etching it. "My guardian was taken, right out from our camp when I was off tracking down supper one evening not two months ago. The man who raised me as his own, who saw to it I did not go without memories of my mother, who made certain I knew of her legacy and when I found a slightly different path to take, made arrangements for me to learn that as well … he was taken. Not killed, but kidnapped."
Nathaniel's eyes widened. "What?"
Sighing, Kayt stared off into the distance over his shoulder, but her eyes were focused on the past. "We had set camp for the night and Shadowhawk and I went off to hunt dinner. This was not unusual. When we returned, however, Andaer was gone. His belongings were there. His weapons remained. There were signs of a scuffle and I was able to determine that at least five people were involved … but he was gone." She shrugged. "What could I do?"
"Did you not find a path? A trail to follow?"
"I did," she agreed. "And I followed it until I reached the Imperial Highway. Shadowhawk assisted me, I even called for others, but we could not find the direction taken after that. I have been from Denerim to Gwaren. From Lothering to Highever. Nothing. I have no knowledge of who it was who took him, or why." Sighing softly, she turned her attention back to the tree before her. "One day, I will find out," she added, her tone suddenly darker than before and decidedly defiant. "At that time I will fulfill my promise."
Nathaniel blinked. "Promise?" he echoed.
Her eyes found his and he found that the 'promise' she had in them was enough to make his nerves jump just a bit though he knew he was not their intended target. They also told him much more than any words ever could. Nathaniel found himself incredibly glad that he had not crossed her in any way ….
~ 0 ~
"She is, in a word, remarkable."
Rhyan glanced over at Nathaniel. They both had drawn watch this evening, given the increased numbers in their group. "How is that?" she asked in return. With his eyes following back towards the fire where several of the others sat, including the only other woman in their group, she had no doubts about whom he was speaking of.
"Her skill - as an archer, as a ranger." He managed a half smile. "As a survivor." Shaking his head so Rhyan knew he would not go into detail on a story that was not his to tell, he concluded, "She reminds me of Bryallyn in so many ways."
"Ahhh." Rhyan offered a smile in return. "I believe I heard Fergus say something much the same before."
Nathaniel sighed and nodded. Yes, if anyone else would see it, it would be Bryallyn's brother.
Silence settled around them for a time, its presence comforting rather than foreboding. After a while, as they began to walk around the perimeter of the camp, Rhyan began speaking again. "Do we have a specific destination in mind at this time?"
Nathaniel shrugged. "Fergus mentioned Gwaren. I figure we will at least finish crossing the Bannorn, decide once we reach the Imperial Highway. Hopefully by then we will have a better idea which direction to take."
"Gwaren," she echoed. "Are we hoping for aid from the Teyrn then?"
Nathaniel shook his head. "I have no idea," he replied. "The rumors that have been filtering out of Ostagar and Lothering are troubling, indeed. But depending on whom you speak with, Teyrn Loghain is a friend or a foe. I think the only certain way to know is to face him ourselves."
"Is he not an ally with your father?"
Nathaniel scowled over at her. "He is also an ally to the Couslands," he returned. "Fergus has claim to that Teyrnir, no matter my father's grand wishes and schemes. Loghain would be mad to not recognize that."
"It sounds as if there is a lot of madness in this world of yours," Rhyan murmured.
Nathaniel sighed. "Indeed."
They neared the stream that they had camped within walking distance of and paused for a moment to take a drink. As he looked up, the moon shining down upon the water and giving some illumination to the area, he spotted a pair of eyes across the way, though they remained hidden in the scrub along the edges. It was difficult to tell from such a distance just what creature they belonged to, but Nathaniel thought perhaps a wolf. Shadowhawk? He knew Kayt allowed the wolf free passage in and out of camp. A different wolf? Maybe even a deer? Sighing softly, he found his thoughts wandering towards his wife, wondering of her fate. Bryallyn, where are you? The uncertainty of what lay across the stream was matched at that moment by his uncertainty of her fate. A moment later, he was distracted by the oddest sensation on his ring finger. He glanced down towards the band, wondering at it. It felt … heavy. Almost burdensome. Reaching out, he ran his hand through the water once again. The sensation eased a bit, but did not completely go away. When he looked up once more, the pair of eyes that he felt had been upon him specifically, were gone.
Rising to his feet once again, he turned towards Rhyan. "Shall we continue?" he asked, sweeping his arm in the direction they had been headed.
Rhyan nodded and started off before him.
They had almost completed their circuit of the camp when Nathaniel was startled as his companion came to a sudden stop, turning to face him. He sought her eyes first, but saw no hint of warning or of distress. "Rhyan, what is it?"
Without explanation, Nathaniel watched in stunned silence as she closed the distance between them and lifted herself the short distance, placing her lips on his. Her actions caught him completely off guard; his reaction to her intentions were delayed as they finally broke through the astonishment that had overcome him with the situation. Lifting his hands, he took firm hold of her shoulders and pushed her away. "Rhyan!" he rasped in shock. "What are you doing?"
Her eyes found his, but he saw no shame in them. No surprise. No … anything, really, except perhaps a hint of disappointment. "All those years," she whispered, her eyes holding his. "You always thought it was Devlyn I cared about, but you were wrong."
Blinking back confusion, Nathaniel asked, "What do you mean? You and Dev were inseparable."
"It was you," she replied. "Always you. Devlyn used to tease me about it incessantly. I had to bribe him to keep him silent around you so you wouldn't find out."
The silence that hung between them this time was awkward at best. Finally, Rhyan broke it. "Fergus mentioned that you talk to her. Is that right?"
Nathaniel frowned. "Talk to …. You mean to Bryallyn?" Rhyan nodded. "Well … yes. After a fashion, I guess you could say that."
Rhyan pursed her lips together. "When was the last time you spoke to her?"
Nathaniel's eyes widened. "Rhy -"
"How do you even know she is yet alive, Nate? Would you not have spoken with her more recently if she was?"
"It does not work like that!" he insisted.
"When was the last time?" Rhyan demanded.
Nathaniel sighed. This conversation was not one which he wished to have, and yet he suspected she would not let it go if he did not. "Weeks ago," he admitted.
"Then, do you not think -"
"No!" Nathaniel took a step back from her adding more distance between them to emphasize his point. "Rhy, I am sorry. Truly I am. But I know that Bryallyn is alive out there," he waved a hand out beyond the perimeter of the camp, "and I will find her again." Eyes meeting hers again, he added, "I love her, Rhyan. Can you not understand that? I married her because I love her. This is not just because of duty or because of my father's actions or the Blight or anything, this is because I love my wife. She loves me. End of story."
Silence fell again, broken only when Rhyan murmured, "So it would seem."
Turning away, Nathaniel ran a hand through his hair. "Is this … Will this cause problems between us?" he finally asked.
He heard her shuffle her feet, but she took a few moments before she replied. "I honestly do not know."
"That is not what I want."
This time it was Rhyan who sighed. "No, I know that. I … I think …." She sighed again. "Forgive me," she whispered before turning and walking away.
Turning back, Nathaniel watched her leave, heading towards her tent and slipping quietly inside. And while he sincerely felt for her, he knew that there could be no other way between them. She was a friend, nothing more. Whether Bryallyn lived or not, it would always be that way.
~ 0 ~
Miles away, Bryallyn woke with a start, suddenly fearful and uncertain as to the source. Fully alert, mind and heart racing at a pace with which she could not keep up, it took some long while and finally Constant moving over to nuzzle at her side before she could lay back, secure enough once more to drift back to sleep.