AN: This picks up basically where the last chapter left off.
In all the years that Tristan had been coming to Redcliffe with Leonas Bryland and had been involved with Athdara, this was the hardest it had ever been for him to leave. He knew it was foolish, but the entire time the party was in the courtyard of the castle preparing to depart that morning, he kept looking around hoping to catch a glimpse of Dane. Athdara never came to the castle's courtyard to see them off. Tristan had long understood it was too painful for her to see him leave, but he had secretly hoped that Dane would be with the group of young boys that invariably hung around watching all the hustle and bustle of their departure. Eventually, Leonas and his family walked down the steps of the castle with many well wishes and invitations to return from Arl Eamon. All was in readiness as the arl's family prepared to depart, and there was nothing left but for Tristan to order his men to surround the Brylands and for them to begin their descent to the village itself where their coach and other horses were waiting for them.
Tristan's hopes were dashed as no red-headed boy awaited him in the village itself or the surrounding area. Tristan knew that it would be a long seven months or so before he was once again in Redcliffe, and he felt as though he was leaving his heart behind. The night before his departure while lying in bed, Tristan had a few fantasies of pounding on the door to the seneschal's quarters and claiming both 'Dara and Dane as his. But Tristan's common sense overruled the roiling emotions inside him. Where could they go? He couldn't take them back to South Reach with him as his wife and other children were there. He certainly couldn't take them to his home. Even though his father was ill, he couldn't see his family accepting Tristan's leman and bastard son.
And what about Sarah and his two other children? Granted he and Sarah had never been "in love," but they had been betrothed from their cradles and managed to get along reasonably well. He had no desire to hurt her unnecessarily or rub her nose in the fact that 'Dara was the woman he truly wanted to spend his life with. His younger son and daughter also waited for him in South Reach. Tristan had to consider how their welfare was impacted by any action he might take. And then there was Dane himself. What was best for him? Was it the right thing for him to grow up thinking another man his father and be raised as no more than another servant in Redcliffe? Tristan acknowledged that his actions had caused this tangled web, but he was lost as to how to make this whole situation right.
All these questions and more bounced around inside his head as the winter wore on. He considered many different plans and spent as much time with his young children as he could. His son, Delaney was four and just starting to show some of the spirit that Tristan had seen which burned so brightly in Dane. His daughter, Rhoswen was only two and just starting to talk. Tristan considered going to Leonas, who was not only his sworn lord but also his greatest friend, and seek his advice, but Tristan knew this was something he would have to work out for himself. He had created this problem, and it was up to him to solve it.
By the time his brother Ferris came to South Reach in the early spring in place of their ailing father, Tristan had decided on his course of action. Tristan had considered confessing the whole story to him and asking his help and advice, but just as he didn't want to ask Leonas for help, he reached the same decision in regards to Ferris. There was just something about going to his younger brother for aid that grated against the grain for Tristan. He did corner his brother and extracted a vow from Ferris that if Tristan was not able to take care of Sarah and the children that Ferris would come to South Reach for them and take them home. As the next head of the family, Tristan had no doubt that Ferris would ensure all their needs were addressed and his children raised as well as Ferris' own son and daughter. With that concern off his mind, he was free to consider 'Dara and Dane.
Tristan planned to ask 'Dara to leave Redcliffe and her husband so the two of them could raise Dane together. If she agreed, he would ask Leonas to release him from his vow of service and carry messages back to his wife and family in which he would try to explain his actions. He then planned to head south, maybe towards Gwaren. Tristan would have to appear to be an ordinary man of arms traveling with his wife and son and hope that no one recognized him for who he had been. Knowing the pride of the old man, Tristan was certain that his father would disown him for leaving Sarah and their children. Regardless of that fact, Tristan just could not accept the thought of Dane being raised as the seneschal's son in Redcliffe with only 'Dara to look out for his best interests. If Tristan and 'Dara's relationship became known, then 'Dara was in a precarious situation, and her husband could possibly cast both her and Dane out of their home. No, this was the only way. He had done his best for Sarah and the children, but Tristan was the only one who could ensure that 'Dara and Dane were safe and provided for.
The unknown factor was Athdara herself and whether she would agree to leave her husband and two older children to follow him. Tristan realized that not many people, his own family included, would understand his actions, but Tristan just could not bear to turn his back on that little boy in Redcliffe whose face had haunted him these past months. His heart raced at the thought of spending the rest of his life with 'Dara and Dane. He had never previously allowed himself to hope that he and Athdara could be together, and the idea that it could actually happen seemed like a fantasy.
Tristan packed with much more care for this trip to Redcliffe than he had for any other in the past. He had to balance the things he wanted to leave for Sarah and the children against those that would be useful for him, 'Dara, and Dane on the road. He planned to take some items of value with him so that, should the need arise; he could sell them for coin. Finally, all was in readiness for the trip. As the arl's entourage slowly made its way out of South Reach, Tristan just couldn't wait to get to Redcliffe.
Athdara couldn't believe that she had squeaked by and Tristan hadn't demanded some sort of explanation from her before leaving Redcliffe last year. She had spent the time over the winter going over possible conversations and lining up responses in her head. By the time spring rolled around, she was almost glad. In a way, it would be good to finally get this confrontation with Tristan over. She knew at this point she was basically at Tristan's mercy. He could choose to leave things as they were and allow her to continue raising Dane or he could go to the arl, reveal their relationship, and take Dane from her. She didn't have any doubt that if her relationship with Tristan was made common knowledge that Durell would reject her and force her from their home. Durell wasn't good with confrontation, but his pride would not stand up to other people knowing she had been involved with another man.
When Durell had come home one night and informed them all that Arl Bryland's spring visit was to take place within the next few weeks, Athdara had felt a twinge of fear. This was vastly different from the anticipation that such an announcement usually heralded. She tried to calm her fears by telling herself that Tristan had as much to lose as she did if their affair became known. Surely his wife wouldn't put up with adultery any more than Durell would? Another concern she had was Dane's excitement. He had talked about Ser Maddoc for weeks after Tristan's last visit, and now Dane was telling them all about the stories he hoped his new friend would re-enact with him. Athdara almost felt sorry for Dane when Durell chastised him, saying that Arl Bryland's guard captain certainly had better things to do than run around with a young boy acting out stories. Dane had quieted after that, but Athdara knew that he hadn't given up his hopes.
The next few weeks seemed to drag for Athdara. Now that this was upon her, she just wanted it over. The day that the arl's party was expected finally dawned. Athdara spent most of the morning flitting from chore to chore unable to settle as she knew that any time now Redcliffe would be descended upon by the visitors.
It was late afternoon before she had the first indication that anything was amiss. Dane finally wore her down and received her permission to join his friends in watching for the arrival of the arl's party. He had been gone most of the afternoon, but Dane finally returned home shortly before five bells, as the family would then head to the servant's dining hall in the castle where they took all their meals.
"What's the matter, my Dane?" Athdara asked as the boy dejectedly entered their rooms and almost threw himself into a chair.
"They aren't here yet," replied Dane as he fiddled with his tunic with his fingers.
"Well, that sometimes happens, Dane. You never know what you will find on the road. They could have run into a large number of trees down that they had to clear, or parts of it could have been washed out and had to be detoured around. There are all kinds of circumstances they could have encountered while traveling. Don't worry. I'm sure your friend will be here soon."
"I hope so," replied Dane.
"Well, regardless, my dear. It's time for you to wash for dinner."
"Yes, Mother," said Dane as he rose and left the room.
Athdara felt a momentary flare of alarm, but she told herself she was being silly. She reminded herself of the first time she had met Tristan. The arl's party had actually arrived early that visit. A lost day on the road between South Reach and Redcliffe had to be expected sometimes. She and the children left their rooms shortly after that and made their way to the dining hall. Durell wasn't there when they first arrived, but he soon came rushing in. (Durell ruled the servant's dining hall like Arl Eamon did the one for the family and guests.) Once Durell had taken his seat, asked the Maker for his blessing, and then gave his permission for dinner to commence, he turned his attention to his food. Once they were done, Durell did inform Athdara that he would be home late that evening. He was going to stay at the castle on the off chance that Arl Bryland's party arrived that night. Athdara nodded and shepherded her three children back to their rooms. It was late before Durell returned, and Athdara had already retired. The next morning when she awoke, Durell was already up and gone, but she did vaguely remember him telling her when he came to bed that the visitors hadn't arrived yet
Dane once again wished to rush off with his friends as they found excuses to loiter around the castle courtyard watching for the expected arrivals. Athdara found she grew more and more nervous as the day progressed. She kept picturing Tristan showing up at the door demanding Dane. She knew the likelihood of that happening was slim, but her mind was only too willing to plague her with her worst fears.
Dinner time came and went with no arrivals. The entire castle seemed on edge as the worry in the form of tension rolled downhill from the arl and his family, the senior servants, even affecting the help in the kitchen and the maids cleaning the castle. Once again, Durell chose to oversee activities in the castle itself instead of spending the evening in the rooms with his family as normal. Athdara's nerves were pulled taut. Dane kept asking about Ser Maddoc and Athdara had no answers for him. She finally sent all three children to bed, but her mind was too active to allow her to find her rest. She sat up pretending to mend, but all she was doing was fretting. Where was Tristan? What could have delayed the arl's party? The evening progressed and when Athdara finally forced herself to bed, Durell still wasn't home yet. Athdara laid awake her mind restless and refusing to quiet, making sleep elusive.
It was the early morning hours before Athdara heard Durell return to their quarters. He came into their bedroom carrying a candle in his hand to light his way. Seeing she was awake, he sat the candle down on the small table at the bedside. He began to disrobe for bed.
"Any word?" Athdara asked.
"Finally, yes," Durell replied. "A messenger arrived a short while ago. The arl's party was ambushed on the road by a group of bandits, but luckily all the Brylands are fine. They should arrive sometime tomorrow."
Athdara sat up in alarm. She felt a sick feeling begin in the pit of her stomach. "Was anyone else hurt?" she asked as tried to keep her voice interested but not overly so. Her fear for Tristan was climbing into her chest.
Durell turned to find his nightshirt as he answered. "The arl lost three men, two of his guards and his guard commander, Ser Maddoc."
NO! Not Tristan! Maker, please no! The pain of Tristan's loss rolled through her and for those first seconds she forgot where she was, who was in the room with her, and about the secret she had kept from her husband for almost eight long years as the agony she felt at Durell's news showed on her face. "Tristan, my love..." she whispered brokenly.
"You BITCH," Durell thundered at her as he turned back in time to see her expression and hear her comment. He moved towards Athdara with his hand raised, leaving no doubt in Athdara's mind that he intended to strike her.
Athdara pushed herself back across the bed as the adrenaline starting pumping through her, moving too fast for Durell to hit her.
Durell started to come around the bed so Athdara dived back across it. "Durell, please!" she begged.
Durell reached out quickly, caught her arm, and started to draw her towards him. Athdara tried to escape Durell's grip, but he was too strong. Athdara did the only thing she could think to do. She stopped struggling and just looked at her husband as if daring him to continue.
Durell was almost panting from his chase of her and the anger that had seized him when he realized his wife had been unfaithful to him. He stood there looking down at her while she gazed up at him with no fear showing on her face. Slowly his raised arm lowered as he began to get his breathing and emotions under control.
Athdara stayed quiet, just watching Durell, waiting to see what he would do while inside she felt as if she was falling apart.
Durell continued staring back at her before finally asking, "How long, Athdara? How long have you been rutting with Maddoc?"
Athdara was quiet for a few minutes trying to decide if she should deny everything or if it was better for her to acknowledge what had gone on between her and Tristan. Finally, she replied, "For a little while."
As Durell's suspicions were confirmed his eyes burned down at her, "You whore. Get out! Get OUT!" Durell's voice rose with each statement.
Athdara wanted to flinch at his demands, but she knew she didn't dare. She had to protect her children, especially Dane. She rose from the bed raising her head to challenge him, "Are you sure you really want me to go? If I do everyone in Redcliffe will know what a fool your wife made of you. I'm sure the arl will be very impressed."
Durell's face lost its anger as uncertainty replaced it.
Athdara pushed her point home. "What about Rowena? Do you want her to be known as the daughter of a whore? She will lose any chance at a decent life. Is that what you want for her?" she asked and then waited for Durell's response. Durell stared at her for long moments, but when his shoulders sagged, Athdara knew she had made it through the worst of the confrontation with him.
Trying to regain the upper hand, he asked, "Was he the only one you've been with?"
"Yes," was Athdara's simple answer.
"How can I believe anything you say?"
"I've never lied to you, Durell," replied Athdara coolly.
Durell looked at her as if he was trying to gauge her response. Athdara continued to look him straight in the eyes, knowing to show weakness would be the worst thing she could do right now. "What about in the future?" he asked. "Is this behavior you intend to continue?"
"No, there was only Tristan. No other man can take his place," Athdara answered. Her implication that not even Durell could replace Tristan was unspoken between them.
Durell roughly pulled on his nightshirt and grabbed up a handful of clothes and the candle he had entered with. "I'll sleep in my study tonight," he growled at her before slamming the door on his way out.
Once Durell was gone, Athdara collapsed into the bed. Even with the worry over what the future would hold as far as Durell, all she could think of was Tristan. She couldn't believe he was actually dead. She had lived for his visits. How would she survive without the joy he brought into her life? How could a man who had been so full of life and laughter be dead? Athdara felt as if a part of her had died with Tristan. She laid awake all night with bouts of crying out her grief interspersed with periods of silence as her mind chased possibilities around in her head. But most of all, she dreaded tomorrow, knowing that she would have to tell Dane that Tristan was dead.
The next day passed in a blur for Athdara with only certain moments standing out. She had forced herself to control her crying so that the evidence of the rough night she had spent wouldn't show on her face the next day. She knew that Durell would be watching her over the following few days and expecting her to display only the emotions that were appropriate for her station as his wife. Athdara felt numb inside, but she could not allow herself the luxury of displaying her grief over Tristan's death in public.
The word of what had happened to the Brylands spread like wildfire through the village. By the time the arl and his family reached Redcliffe most of the inhabitants of the village had found an excuse to watch as the dejected party entered the small town. Horses and the coaches were left at the stables in the village except for those that bore the bodies of the men who had been lost. Those were led with dignity and honor up to the castle itself. The people grew quiet as the burdened beasts passed them on their climb up the hills, showing their respect for the men who had given their lives to defend their lord and his family. The villagers fell in behind and followed the visitors to the castle itself.
Athdara was in the courtyard with her children at her side standing with a number of the servants from the castle. Durell was in his place behind the arl, ready should the man require anything. She wanted to hold Dane's hand tightly in hers so she could feel some sort of connection to the man she loved, but she could feel Durell's eyes on her watching to gauge her reaction. The most important thing she had to do now was to protect Dane. Durell must not be provoked to the point of questioning his parentage. Athdara had been saying since shortly after Dane was born that he took after her family and looked much as her younger brother did when he was small. She just hoped that Durell would not put Dane and Tristan together in his mind. Dane had been upset about the loss of his friend when she had informed him that morning, but with the resiliency of the young, he was already falling under the spell of the excitement the arrival had generated in the younger children.
As the horses carrying their burden came into view followed by the Brylands themselves, a hush settled on the crowd in the courtyard. Arl Eamon followed closely by Durell descended the steps of the castle so he could greet Arl Bryland. Athdara couldn't hear what the men said, but she could tell that Arl Eamon was offering his condolences.
After a few minutes of consultation with Arl Bryland, Arl Eamon climbed the steps of the castle once again and held his hand up for silence. He said in a loud voice so that everyone in the courtyard could hear him, "My good people, today we will allow our guests to rest and recover from their recent experiences on the road. Tomorrow, we will burn pyres for those who have gone to the Maker and mourn their loss. I know most of you didn't know these men, but we will stand in for those loved ones that await them in South Reach. We will represent those families who even now have no knowledge of the loss that awaits them. Thank you all for your show of support to our visitors and friends." With that Arl Bryland and his family joined Arl Eamon, and they all made their way into the castle.
Athdara stayed watching almost in a daze as the horses were led away to the ice house where the bodies would be stored until the next day. The crowd was dispersing as the excitement for the day was over. It was only when her children demanded her attention that she forced her mind from Tristan to what was happening around her. Dane and Rendorn went running off with some of their friends to play while she and Rowena made their way around the castle to the servant's entrance to return to their rooms. Athdara spent the remainder of the day in their rooms unable to think about anything but her loss. She took the children to the servant's dining hall for supper as usual. Durell barely acknowledged her and Athdara held her silence, the numbness she felt inside serving her in good stead. That night, Athdara went to bed right after the children did. She lay awake as she listened for Durell to return. One of the few things he had told her at dinner was he was working late that night. Athdara was sure it was to avoid spending time with her alone in their rooms, which didn't bother her in the slightest. Athdara finally heard Durell come in shortly after midnight. As his steps stopped outside the door to the room they had always shared, Athdara felt a tightness in her stomach as the door was opened. Athdara pushed herself up to lean against the wall at the head of the bed as the light from the candle Durell carried lit up the small room. She looked at Durell's face which was cast in shadows. He didn't seem as angry as he had been the other night, but of course, he did not look pleased.
"I've decided for Rowena and the children's sake to let you stay," Durell said without any inflection in his voice.
Athdara nodded her head, but didn't say anything suspecting there was more coming.
"There are a couple of conditions and these are non-negotiable."
"What are they?" Athdara asked in a level voice.
"You will never engage in this sort of behavior again with anyone and no one finds out about what was going on with you and Maddoc," Durell answered. "Does anyone else know?"
"No," replied Athdara with a shake of her head. "I hadn't told anyone. I knew that if I told one person the secret would be spread."
"Good," said Durell. "I'll be staying in my study." A tormented expression crossed his face. "I have no desire to share a bed with you at the moment."
Athdara carefully controlled the look on her face so he wouldn't see the relief she felt at his statement. "Anything else?" she asked.
There was a long silence as Durell watched her. Athdara knew this was the time that Dane was in the most danger. If Durell didn't bring up the issue of his parentage now, then he never would. Durell preferred to sweep any unpleasant facts under the rug and not deal with them unless he was forced to. Finally Durell spoke, "No. Do we have an arrangement?"
"Yes, we do," Athdara replied with a nod.
"I expect you to continue to take care of the children and our rooms and to present a demeanor in public that nothing has changed with us."
"Of course," she said hardly believing that Durell would let her get by this easy. The gibe about Rowena must have hit home with him. Like Athdara with Dane, she knew Durell would do almost anything for his daughter.
"Fine," he said ducking his head and then turning to depart. "You know where I'll be."
Once she knew she would be alone the rest of the night, Athdara allowed herself to give into the grief and tension she had felt all day. She buried her head in her pillow and released the torrent of tears that had been threatening all day. Athdara wasn't sure how she was going to make it through the ceremonies that would take place the next day without breaking down. She just knew she had to stay in the boundaries Durell had set for their relationship or be summarily thrown out in the street with nowhere to go.
The next morning, Athdara dressed the children in their best, and she put on the dress she usually only wore to chantry services. It was Redcliffe tradition for the dead to be put in boats and have fire arrows set them ablaze on Lake Calenhad. Since these were South Reach men, however, they would have a traditional pyre, and the ashes would be gathered for the families and carried back when the arl returned to his lands. Athdara stood quietly, unemotional as Arl Bryland performed the ritual ceremony for the lighting of the pyres of the two regular guardsmen he had lost.
Athdara expected that as a ser and the leader of the guards that Tristan would have a little more honor than the two common guards. She was surprised, however, when the ceremony for him actually began. When the Revered Mother of the Redcliffe Chantry removed the cloth covering Tristan, Athdara's breath was almost taken away. He looked so life-like. She could almost believe he was sleeping and he would jump up, tell her it was a joke, wrap his arms around her, and then kiss her until she was breathless. Unfortunately for Athdara that didn't happen as his eyes remained closed and no breath caused his chest to rise and fall. Care had been taken to clean his wounds and with his appearance, and he was dressed differently than the other two men. They had both worn the uniform of Arl Bryland's guard, but Tristan was dressed as a nobleman in rich cloth and bright colors. Athdara was used to seeing him either in his armor or a loose tunic and breeches. How ironic it was that she had never seen him look more handsome than he did today. His bier was covered with flowers that had been cultivated through the early spring in the arl's greenhouse, and Athdara swallowed as tears threatened at the honor shown to Tristan. Athdara felt as though her heart was breaking, but she struggled to not let any of the emotions she was feeling show on her face.
Athdara's shocks for the day weren't over yet. Once the Revered Mother finished leading the Chant for the Dead, Arl Bryland walked up to Tristan's body. He had his back to the assembled crowd, but Athdara could see his shoulders shaking before he gathered himself, took a deep breath, and turned to address the onlookers. He began to speak, "Many of you didn't know this man, but I've known Tristan Maddoc since childhood. His father was one of my father's best friends, and I fostered with his family from the time I was twelve until I turned fifteen. Tristan and I were inseparable, always finding a way to get into trouble, but somehow Tristan would flash that smile of his and talk us free of any punishment." Arl Bryland paused as a wistful smile passed his features. "When my time came to return home, Tristan and I vowed that our friendship would remain strong. Tristan promised to come to me when he was done his training and he did, rapidly becoming indispensable to me.
Shortly after Tristan became the commander of my guards, his older brother died in a hunting accident. His father wanted him to return home and inherit the family title, but Tristan knew himself. He knew he would never be happy in such a position and that his people deserved a lord who would put his whole heart into serving them. Tristan was a man of action, never happier than when he was leading his men. Luckily, Tristan's younger brother, Ferris was willing to stay at home and assume the duties of heir. Tristan's refusal to come home and do what his father thought was his duty created a rift between them that remained unhealed to this day. I know Tristan deeply regretted this, but both of them were proud and refused to bend, thinking they would have the time to resolve their differences. It saddens me that will never happen now." Arl Bryland paused for a moment before taking a deep breath and continuing on.
"When we were attacked on the road, Tristan was killed protecting the life of Habren, my daughter. He kept her safe at the cost of his own life. Tristan leaves behind a wife, son, and daughter."
Athdara's eyes went without thought to Dane. No, Arl Bryland, he left behind TWO sons.
The arl turned to face Tristan's bier once again as he picked up the burning torch with which he would light the fire that would take Tristan's remains. "I promise that your wife and children will lack for nothing. Their needs will be provided for and I shall watch over them as you watched over my daughter, giving your life in the process." The arl moved over by Tristan's body and lowered the torch. "You will be missed, my friend, " he said so quietly he could hardly be heard. Arl Bryland raised his voice one last time, "Farewell, Tristan, son of Bann Ewan of Waking Sea!" The oil that had been soaked into the cloth Tristan's body laid on caught and the flames flared up.
At Arl Bryland's last words, Athdara caught her breath as the world tilted crazily around her. Tristan was the son of the bann of Waking Sea? Why had she never known? Had Tristan not trusted her enough to tell her?Her eyes once again went to Dane as he watched the fire take Tristan's body. Oh my son, so much you have lost and you don't even realize it. Athdara quickly lifted her eyes searching out Durell, but Durell's attention was held by Arl Eamon. Athdara watched as Durell made a little bow and discreetly left to carry out whatever order the arl had given him.
With Durell gone, Athdara was able to turn her attention once again to the bier. She even allowed a few tears to fall as the fire continued to consume Tristan's remains. No one could ever take his place in her heart. Athdara felt as though a part of her burned with Tristan on the pyre, but she could not allow herself to wallow in her grief as she wished. Tristan had left her a gift and a responsibility. He had left her a part of himself in Dane, and it was Athdara's charge now to make sure Dane was raised properly.
She still couldn't believe who Tristan's family had been. Athdara had assumed he was just one of the many minor nobles raised to his position because of his bravery and dedication. She'd had no idea he was from a major noble house, much less a prominent member of such. Tristan had certainly not acted like any of the nobility she had ever seen who visited Arl Eamon. Athdara hoped it was because he had felt free to be himself with her.
Her musings were interrupted when Rowena broke into her thoughts asking if they could leave yet. Athdara would have liked to stay to the end and possibly retrieve some of Tristan's ashes, but she knew that would be foolish. It would betray an interest better not questioned now that she and Durell had reached a tentative agreement. She therefore gathered her children and they headed back to their rooms in the castle. Dane was quiet and Athdara realized the pyre burning had affected him. This was the first one he had ever attended, and she hoped it hadn't been a mistake to allow him to go.
Once they arrived home, Athdara sent the children to change out of their good attire and back into their everyday wear. She also went to change. When she came back out to the main living area, Rendorn and Rowena were both there, but there was no sign of Dane. She sent the two of them off to play before heading towards the room the children shared. Athdara walked quietly down the hall. The door was partially open and Athdara stood silently in the doorway watching Dane. He was kneeling on the floor by the bed he shared with Rendorn. He had Tristan's amulet pulled off and lying on top of the straw mattress. His head was bowed and Athdara could hear him mumbling to himself, but she couldn't understand what he was saying.
As Athdara watched Dane, she looked at him with a new eye. He was now more than just the child she loved most in the world. Dane was descended from a noble line and deserved more than growing up to be just another common servant here in Redcliffe. As Athdara stood there, a plan formed in her mind. Tristan was gone. She could not bring him back, but she could mold his son into a man to be proud of, a man Tristan's family would be happy to acknowledge if the truth of Dane's parentage came to light. It wouldn't be easy, but if she was willing to make the sacrifices it would take, it could be done.
"My Dane," she said quietly.
Dane turned to her. She saw the tears falling from his eyes and the dejection in his small body. Her initial reaction was to want to sweep him into her arms and try and take away the hurt he was feeling, and that is what she would have done before today.
"Why the tears, my boy?" she asked, not moving from the door.
Dane brought a hand up to wipe away the aforementioned tears. "It's my fault he's dead," he said softly. "Ser Maddoc's amulet was supposed to protect him, but it couldn't because I was wearing it instead."
Athdara forced herself to cross her arms and lean against the doorframe when all she wanted to do was hug him tight. "Do not be silly. Whether Ser Maddoc had the amulet or not, it wouldn't have changed anything. When the Maker calls for you to join him, you go, protective amulets or not. It wasn't your fault."
"Really?" asked Dane, obviously wanting to believe the words his mother said.
"Really," said Athdara decisively. "Now, put your amulet on and go find Rendorn and Rowena."
Athdara watched as Dane picked up the chain and brought it over his head. He picked up the amulet and dropped it inside his tunic. He gave his mother a halfhearted smile as he brushed past her and headed out to find his siblings.
Athdara didn't move for several minutes as she stared blankly ahead of her and her mind raced as she considered possibilities. Being Durell's wife opened up doors she never would have gotten past without his status in the castle. She could read more than most women in her position because Durell had taught her when they first married. All the children had basic reading lessons from Durell, but she could ensure that Dane was well read and educated by getting permission to borrow books from the arl's library. The arl was betrothed and soon to be married. Athdara would ingratiate herself to the soon-to-be arlessa. This would give Athdara an inside look at the manners and characteristics expected of a nobleman, and she could then teach Dane.
Even her relationship with Dane itself would have to change. Athdara had a tendency to baby him, but no more. Nobles were expected to be leaders of men that others looked up to, and Dane would have to learn young to stand on his own two feet. Yes, whatever it took; whatever the cost, she would pay it. She swore to herself that someday her son would rise to the station in life he had been born to.
AN: And there you have, just why Dane's mother became the way she was. I picture her obsession growing worse year after year as she allowed nothing else in her life to ease the pain of Tristan's loss.
When I was trying to decide what family I wanted Tristan to come from, I saw a picture of Bann Alfstanna and I thought she and Perth had hair almost the same color. Therefore, in this universe, she and Dane are first cousins. Tristan and Ferris were brothers, and Ferris is the father of Alfstanna and Irminric. I couldn't find a last name for them so I figured Maddoc would work.
And yes, ladyamesindy, I do hope to write the story of Dane finding out about his true father… someday, maybe in that sequel you keep asking for. Thank you, my friend, for your help once again.