For those of you tracking me from the ffxiii fandom, please forgive the aside. I promise an update to On Babylon and Gilead as soon as possible. But Wren and Triss were calling me, and they're a sentimental (if ancient) favorite. I felt obligated to give them an ending that ran true. Alas, I'll never forgive Terry Brooks for leaving it so ambigous that I had to do the work myself.
This is a tiny fandom, but I do hope that it reaches someone who loves these characters as much as I do.
Harrington Penn, once called the strider of Callahorn, was orgiastic in pain. Pain that was so beautiful he wanted it to last forever; that was hazy and transcendental, with the shapeless quality of a dream. Through the varicolored multiplicity of his tears, he saw an exquisite female shape in the distance, almost a study in perfection of the form.
"Valerin" he breathed, as her shrouded figure descended lightly, quickly upon him.
Valerin Dyce had flawless skin the color of slate, but she kept her face veiled and her body wrapped tightly in thick woolen robes. Rumor held it that her beauty had been legendary once, and that she had been a favorite consort of Rimmer Dall's at the height of Federation rule. On his death, it was whispered among the ruins of Southwatch that had decimated her face for grief of him, tearing out wild chunks of flesh with her fingernails so that she could be forever reminded of his loss.
The tableau they formed was compelling, the writhing man and the elegant woman, she looking down on him in with a still kind of mercy. Surrounding them were the cool trees of the forest and the magnificent cliffs of the Vikas which opened their mighty arms to embrace the flower strewn highlands. Valerin considered quietly: you might think us lovers. Yes. But for. Forcing the words through the ecstasy of his transportation, Harrington Penn mouthed: It is taking me.
She nodded, undisturbed by the admission, then kneeled down in the dirt where he was writhing, lifting his twisted face to her hands. Around Valerin, men were milling like ants, dissecting the Creepers, pulling blood and metal from their broken joints. Running her finely articulated fingers over his deeply contorted face, she surveyed the work that was being done, felt the burning of her own power in her fingertips. "Yes Harrington it is", she said softly, deliberately. She watched the red sun rise, tugging at the sky like the kites of her youth, and smiled. "It will take us all soon."
Calm rushed through Valerin Dyce like the very blood in her veins. She rose, and motioned for the men to begin the inevitable rights. As they kneeled to pull Harrington Penn through the bubbling muck of the forest floor, as they dragged him upright, pinned him against the steel scaffolding and splayed him out like the prophet martyrs of a long forgotten world, Valerin Dyce was at peace. The time was coming. She could feel the ages of man shifting beneath her feet. They would all be so much greater than they were.
Then, like music, Harrington's screaming began.
Wren was fingering a piece of freshly pressed parchment paper absently in the candle light. A map of the reconstituted Four Lands, such as they were. The Federation retreat seven years ago had left an empty void of power, and alliances were forming and disintegrating on a whim, as fickle as childhood love. The repatriation of Leah to the Freeborn Southland alliance was barely holding, and the acknowledgement of any authority in Aborlon was yet more tenuous. Many of her High Council members, accustomed to deference from their own kind, were finding it difficult to adjust to the other races as the world of diplomacy resumed turning. That said, the Elves had to reassert themselves. Cleaving to the insular Westland was going to be too perilous to be sufficient for the future. In that spirit, the High Council had grudgingly decided that two refugee nations were stronger than one, and had determined to send Maris Shart, her First Minister's youngest half sister, to Leah as an ambassador. Whatever that meant these days.
Wren yawned deeply. It was late and she was exhausted. But she would be accompanying Maris on the flight over in order to lend gravitas to the occasion, so plans for Aborlon's ongoing defense had to be made. As a result, she had one more meeting to make tonight before falling into the arms of her only lover, sleep.
"Triss" she called out into her chambers, her voice thick with weary.
Triss appeared seconds later, solicitous and swift, as was his custom. He was a little older than her, and the seven years since the fall of Southwatch had deepened the lines of worry around his calm grey eyes. The scars on his left arm, so long ago broken on Morrowindl's melancholy shores, had etched themselves permanently into his skin, like the signature of a ghost. Wren found herself casting a gentle gaze on them, so spiderweb thin, artifacts of one of the many times he'd saved her life without thinking. She suppressed a surprising desire to reach out and trace them with her fingertips, remaining instead quietly in her chair.
"What's the protocol for tomorrow Triss?" she said finally, breaking the soft silence that had settled between them like snow.
Triss thought for a moment, running over the itinerary in his mind. His voice was careful, formal when he spoke. "We're assembling at dawn. I'm accompanying you to Leah, as you know, with Tiger Ty. General Oridio is going to send a rearguard after us. There has been news of recent uprisings, some violent. Morgan has rangers out in the lowlands, and spear-sights around the city, but we want to make sure we arrive in brisk daylight."
"Alright", Wren answered, the word drifting out on her exhalation like wayward poplar fluff. "And Aborlon?"
"The High Councilors should be sufficiently covered. Devlin Sanderling is overseeing things here during our absence. We've made some headway with the Sealer cults that have been cropping up, although not as much as I would like."
Wren's brow furrowed quietly. The Sealer cults were causing a problem recently. Human fundamentalists, their central belief was that the force that brought down Southwatch could be harvested from Elven blood, and transferred to men using something her scouts were referring to as transference rights. Some said they had come into league with the remnants of the Federation, who were desperately seeking to emerge from the deep Southland, and disturbing rumors were spreading in the West. She shuddered. The chaos of the fall had left too many with too little to believe in. Chaos was an inevitable result.
Wren nodded her head in mute assent. She had been intending on querying Triss further, but she felt drained. Given how obsessive his interest was in Aborlon security in general, and Home Guard obligations in particular, she decided to take his assessment on faith. If he hadn't earned her trust, she was uncertain she could trust anyone remaining in her life.
"Will that be all my lady?" he asked tersely, awaiting dismissal. She looked up at him from her seated position, trying to catch his eyes. She remembered how they looked upon first meeting; how open and honest; like still grey ponds folded into the hollow parts of night. There seemed a mask of something there now. Some pain she couldn't access, some closeness she couldn't penetrate. It made her sad. That her closest companion these last seven years since Garth's death, who could so disconcertingly read her thoughts, remained so stubbornly distant. Wren cared for him deeply; more so than she cared to admit, but she often wondered if she could ever really know him other than as an implacable cipher. He wore the mantle of his rank like armor. She wondered how well it really shielded him.
"Yes Triss", she said. "I'll see you in the morning". Wren got up and brushed by him to walk across her sitting room to her private chambers. She felt him involuntarily stiffen as her shoulders grazed the hard plane of his chest and stifled a sigh. A queen must always stand apart, she thought, remembering Ellenroh, remembering Tib Arne, remembering Garth.
"You can go now Triss."
The Captain of the Home guard was light on his feet as he left Wren's chambers. Truth be told, he had been uncomfortable entering it, standing among all of her private things. Everything about her, in point of fact, made him uncomfortable these days. Particularly the way her hazel eyes kept searching for something in him he was going to be incapable of giving. Exhaling deeply as her doors closed behind him, Triss tightened his grip on his short-sword harshly, needing some outlet for the impossibility of his situation. His love of her made him angry, and his anger made him cold.
If there had been a time when he had not been in love with Wren Elessedil, Aborlon's most dedicated son could barely remember it. It had been, at the very least, since Tib Arne had abducted her and rendered tangible the horrifying prospect of losing her. He had mistaken the gnawing, evil sensation for a fear of failure at the time. It was not until afterwards when he found himself utterly unable to forgive himself for failing to accompany her and Erring Rift that afternoon, when thoughts of what she must have gone through alone began to stalk his nightmares, that it became clear to him what he had staked on Wren Elessedil.
Since the Federation retreat, Triss had made an endless study of distance with her, carefully erecting walls at every possible point of breach. He trained with her, but rarely touched her. Was with her constantly, near and intimate as breath, but had not, in at least six years, addressed her by her familiar name. While Wren's loneliness had made her brittle, Triss' had filled him with a low and burning rage, directed predominantly at himself. To serve as Captain of the Home Guard was an honor, and Ellenroh had selected him personally. Loving the Queen was a blasphemy against everything he believed. Yet there it was.
All this aside, there had been certain lapses in his better judgment. In the long arching years since Southwatch came to ruin, there had been a handful of times when his nearly impassable guard had fallen. With a slight tightness in his chest, he remembered the night in the Ellcrys garden after Wren's formal coronation, when they had spoken until dawn about Garth, and Morrowindl, and her dreams for the Elven people. Or, how on her twenty-ninth name day, he had lied to the High Council and taken her from the Elessedil palace to go hunting on the outskirts of the Sarandanon, wanting very much to give her some small taste of the freedom she could still feel swimming in her blood like birthright. In the torchlight, he smiled, remembering the swiftness in her arms as she drew back the traditional longbow of the Elven Hunters. In those instants, he had wanted nothing more than to let their rank collapse between them, held up as it was by Triss' own unerring faith in its necessity. But still, the Captain of the Home Guard was nothing if he was not disciplined. Sometimes he wondered if that were all that remained of him, after all.
It had been this way forever with the royal family. Since Triss was a child and the path of his duty had become clear to him, he knew his lot was to stand both with and against the kings and queens of the Elven people. Gavilan had been his friend, true, but also his charge. His was a battle, half of violence, which he knew like an intimate friend, and half of restraint. Impulsiveness had cost the lives of Ellenroh and Gavilan alike, and he had allowed it to happen. He could not abandon the clarity of thinking that had enabled him, thus far, to keep Wren from sharing their fate. And yet his name from her lips could still stop the earth on its axis, and he had failed miserably, with woman after woman, to start it spinning again.
He brushed the thoughts away like mulling flies, as he had daily for years. Pacing the halls quietly, he submitted to the chill jurisdiction of his guard.
Morning came without daylight, and Spirit bristled anxiously in the wind. The horizon wore a formal cloak of darkness, and Tiger Ty awaited his passengers with a sense of menace. His leathery, wrinkled face was pursed in thought, and he surveyed the marble courtyard suspiciously, looking for signs that might confirm his foreboding. He didn't have a good feeling about this trip at all, and the city of Leah in the Southland was a long hard ride. Ever alert, he noticed Wren's lithe figure before she had even stepped onto the lawn, with Triss' lean, hard silhouette a mere halfstep behind. Eton Shart, First Minister of the Elves was standing straight against the stone arch of Aborlon's central stair, nearly indistinguishable from the stone itself, speaking something quietly to Maris.
Tiger Ty nodded gruffly in Triss' direction, not expecting a reply. Triss didn't say all that much when we wasn't barking orders, and Tiger Ty had grown accustomed to their interaction. Mutual respect, certainly. Familiarity, none. To be honest, Tiger Ty was beginning to think the Captain of the Home Guard was made entirely out of leather and piss. When he had picked the boy up on the shores of Morrowindl, battered and broken as he'd ever seen a man, he had seemed grim and dedicated, uttering no sound of distress even as Tiger Ty had been forced to reset his broken left arm. Same thing when he had retrieved him after their first night raid on the Federation. Triss had killed six Federation sentries at close quarters armed only with a long knife, and afterwards he looked like he was coming home for breakfast. Nothing much had changed.
Wren Tiger Ty bowed to straight away. "Lady", he said simply. Wren wasn't having any of it and threw herself happily into his open embrace. "Nice to see you too, stranger" she replied wryly. Tiger Ty laughed and closed his arms around the girl tightly, although he thought he saw Triss stiffen at the presumption, his regularly impassive face scowling slightly.
"Let's be going," Tiger Ty said quickly after slipping from Wren's arms. "We need to make Leah by afternoon, according to your Captain of Charm over there."
Triss met his gaze sternly and replied "You know the Sealer Cults are operating around Leah as well as I do. Let's not take chances if we can avoid it."
"Perfectly aware boy." Tiger Ty said affably, prodding him somewhat, and trying to use the exchange to calm his own jumpy nerves. "Probably moreso than you. But it doesn't take the wind out from my wings."
Triss ignored him. "What news have you then, Wing Rider?"
Tiger Ty's eyes narrowed. "Rumors mostly. But on the Southland patrols, we can see the Federation fortifications creeping north now. And it's being said among the scouts that tracks of forest to the southeast of Leah are being cleared with fire at night. We can't make much out, but I don't like it."
Wren and Triss looked at each other. "We'll send a land based scouting party when we get to Leah," Wren said definitively. "Let's not make any decisions until we know what's happening. That said, we probably listen to Triss and get going now." Wren turned away from the men and called out to Eton and Maris.
The First Minister and his sister broke their conspiracy to come to Spirit's side. Tiger Ty signaled extravagantly with his sword-arm, and Arlin Fell astride the Roc Silence gracefully descended into the perimeter from their holding pattern in the sky. Triss yelled out sharply for Lin, a young lieutenant of the Home Guard who emerged from the central barracks like a shadow shaped like a man.
"Let's go," Triss commanded abruptly, and motioned for the young man to join Maris and Eton on Silence's broad back.
Triss watched Wren and Tiger Ty board Spirit, and went quickly to Silence to ensure that Eton and Maris were properly secured. As Lin jumped aboard, fastening himself to his harness, Triss worked quickly to tighten the leather tie-lines on Silence's flank that held their supplies in place. As he was doing so, Maris Shart leaned gracefully down and touched Triss gently on the shoulder. "Many thanks, my Captain," she said. "I overheard your discussion with the Queen. I should like to be appraised when you return from the Southland patrol."
"Of course," Triss said, not looking up. "I'll see to it."
"Good" Maris said, smiling gently, trailing her long slender fingers from his shoulder to the side of his face, so absently, so lightly, it could easily have been accidental, although both Triss and Maris knew it was not. "As always Captain, I look forward to your counsel."
Triss completed his task quickly, stepped back from the Roc and smiled back at her ruefully, twisting one side of his mouth a little dangerously as he completed a shallow bow. Fine, he thought to himself, still tight with frustration from the previous night in Wren's quarters, why not play along then. Maris Shart had been trying to get his attention for years now, and his feelings for Wren were growing increasingly untenable, increasingly impossible, as her duties as Queen and his as Captain of the Home Guard stood between them like ice. He bounded quickly back to Spirit, and mounted the Roc in a single arcing jump, honed by now with years of repetition.
I will never have you, Triss thought miserably, settling in behind Wren, catching the faint arboreal smell that always seemed to cling to her skin. The scent filled his senses, and it took all his strength not to reach out to her in that moment, wrap his arms around her waist in the obscuring tableau of flight. But it was pointless. The Queen's hazel eyes were facing front, betraying nothing. Intent, as always, on the horizon. As it should be. Still, he yearned to reach out to her in some way. But when he opened his mouth to say something, the first rush of launching wind carried his words impotently away into the stubborn darkness of the morning.