Xanth Filatine stood at the highest look-out of Lake Landing and surveyed what of the Free Glades he could see. It had been almost twenty years since the War. Everything was different.
He looked down at the young boy curled up on the floor, asleep. His and Magda's son. Rufus. It still pained him to look at Rufus. He was the image of Magda. Magda, who had died to give Xanth a son. He felt the familiar ache in his chest, but focused on the joy Rufus brought him. It always helped ease the pain.
He turned his gaze eastwards, towards the Ironwood Glade, and the Roosts of the Freeglade Lancers which lay therein. Rook Barkwater, Xanth's closest friend, was in there somewhere. Rook had devoted himself to training new Lancers for the past fifteen years, barely sparing a moment to eat and sleep, not unless Xanth or Felix Lodd or Deadbolt Vulpoon or his Uncle Tem forced him into it.
Rook hadn't had much time for people since he'd lost Ylena.
Xanth could remember it near-perfectly, with almost as much clarity as he could remember the awful moment when the woodtroll midwife had emerged from his and Magda's chambers and told him that his wife was dead. It had been a run-of-the-mill summer's day. Rook and Ylena had been married for almost a year, and she was big with child. He was fiercely protective of her, almost afraid to be more than a yard away in case something happened to her and he couldn't be there in time to help. It hadn't made any difference, in the end.
They - Rook and Ylena, Xanth and Magda - had been sitting on the banks of the North Lake, and one of the few remaining bands of rogue goblins had ambushed them. Xanth had been Flight Marshal of the Librarian Knights at the time, and Rook had been steadily working his way up the ranks of the Lancers, and the goblins soon regretted their choice of victims.
Ylena's scream and the terror on Rook's face were etched forever on Xanth's memory. Rook had ignored Xanth and Magda and taken off into the Deepwoods after the goblins, after Ylena. He'd been gone for a week, and come back broken, without his wife.
Xanth's eye caught on movement out in the tripweed fields. It was long after midnight - why would there be anyone out in the fields at this hour?
"Rufus," he said quietly, gently rousing his son. "You run and find Parsimmon, lad. Tell him we're to have guests." Rufus climbed sleepily to his feet and ran off to tell the High Master. Xanth began the long trek from the look-out to the main doors of the Great Library.
It was two people, he saw as they drew closer. A man and a woman, he thought, going on the length of their hair. The man, at least, was young and strong and tall. He seemed to be almost carrying the woman. When they stepped into the light thrown out by the lanterns on either side of the Library doors, Xanth saw that he'd been right. The man had dark, curly hair, and the woman - his mother, by the looks of her - had unruly dark brown hair. Her face was pale and drawn, covered in a thin layer of sweat. Every time her left leg was allowed to touch the ground, even slightly, she moaned in agony. Xanth could see the torn flesh under the hasty bandage on the calf of her leg. He could see the hot, shiny redness of deep infection, too.
"Lay her here, lad, and I'll see if we can help her at the Academy or if she needs Tweezle's help," he instructed the man. Looking closer, he saw that he was speaking to a boy. He couldn't have been more than sixteen or seventeen.
Taking a knife from his belt, Xanth split the material of the woman's trousers right up her thigh. He swore violently when he saw the vivid red streaks of blood poisoning the ran up her leg. He tore away the bandage and had to force back a retch at the state of her leg. He could see the bone, see where - despite the boy's best efforts - her flesh was all but rotting away from infection. There was nearly no skin left below the knee, and Xanth could make out where the vicious fangs had torn lumps from her leg.
"Whitecollar woodwolves," the boy said quietly. "About three days ago. I ran out of clean bandages and I let her drink whatever water I could find so she wouldn't die from the fever. Can you help her?"
Xanth nodded. "You stay here. I'll bring her to Tweezle. If anyone can help her, it's Tweezle. You wait here. My lad, Rufus, is gone for Parsimmon. He'll look after you. Are you hurt?"
The boy shook his head. "No," he said, his dark blue eyes watching his mother worridly as Xanth picked her up. "Just hungry."
Xanth nodded and walked away. Before he was out of the light of the lanterns, he turned.
"What's your name, lad?" he asked, only now realising that he didn't know.
"Quint," said the boy. "Quint Barkwater."
Xanth forced himself to turn away and carry the woman - carry Ylena - to Tweezle. Tweezle would know what to do.
Rook Barkwater was exhausted when he came back from patrol. It had been a long, hard night. All he wanted was to collapse into his hammock, maybe, for once, sleep without his dreams being haunted by the sound of his wife's screams, by the fear in her huge, round, dark blue eyes as she was carried away from him, by the thoughts of her, alone, probably losing the child she had carried.
He didn't get his sleep, because Xanth Filatine was waiting for him when he got to his hammock. One look at Xanth's face was enough. Rook followed him wordlessly, not questioning why he was being led into the Caves of Light. Had his Uncle Tem fallen ill?
Deeper, deeper, along more paths, up inclines, over bridges. Rook became worried. These were the rooms where Tweezle kept his very worst patients, those for whom there was no hope. He wanted to give them the dignity of dying in private, away from noisy apprentices.
Xanth pushed open the door of one small room and stepped back, motioning for Rook to enter. He did so, looking back as Xanth closed the door. Then he looked at who lay in the bed.
A cry burst from Rook's lips, and he all but flung himself across the bed. This had to be some sort of cruel joke. It had to be. Why would they give him Ylena back after all these years, but only give her back as she died? Why?
"Don't be sad," he heard a soft voice say as he started to sob. Weak hands stroking his hair, the caress of a trembling finger on his cheek. "At least this time we get to say goodbye. That's a luxury your family haven't had very much, isn't it?"
He looked at her, barely registering that she was clearly only a very short while from her death. She was still the most beautiful woman on the Edge. He leaned up and kissed her as gently as he could.
"Look after Quint for me, Rook. He's going to need his father."
Ylena managed a smile as Rook began to understand what she meant.
"Your family have a habit of just managing to survive into the next generation, have you noticed that?"
Ylena Barkwater, wife of Captain Rook Barkwater, died at half past three on a warm summer's afternoon. Her husband and her son watched, two days later, as she was buried in the soft ground between the Ironwood Glade and the Great Lake, beside her best friend, Magda Filatine. Magda's husband and son, Xanth and Rufus, stood nearby. Even Rufus, who was little more than a child, could see the tension between Rook and Quint.
"I didn't think you and your mother were still alive," Rook said at last. "I never stopped looking, but..."
"Mam thought you would. She never believed it when she was told you'd probably moved on."
"Never," Rook insisted. "Although... Quint, I live in the Roost, but... My grand-uncle, Tem - you've met him, haven't you?"
Quint nodded. Xanth still couldn't believe how he'd missed the resemblance between father and son.
"He lives in New Undertown. I bought him a little house. And I'm sure Mother Bluegizzard would give you work, if you didn't want to enter the Academy-"
"Me? A librarian knight?" Quint interrupted. "Could it happen?"
Rook smiled and put his arm around his son's shoulders. Xanth glanced back and saw Felix Lodd coming towards them.
"Quint, with the favours I'm owed, I think we can safely say that it's possible."
Father and son walked off.
Rook had a family.
AN: I'm completely ignoring the existance of The Immortals, much and all as I love it. Nate is so like Quint, I think :) Even the love story with the pretty rich girl? SCREAMING Quint and Maris, isn't it?
And I love Xanth and Magda as a couple! Why did Rook marry Magda? WHY?
Reviews welcome. I want to know how my characterisation works :)