A lone figure walked through familiar forest, swords on his back and his hood up. He walked like a man who had traveled a great distance but had nearly arrived at his destination, and when he reached the crest of the hill ahead of him, he could see the small home and forge. It was a small home, barely big enough for one or two to live in, but it was well-tended. The garden behind the home was laid out neatly, a small fence around it to keep out the milk cow and wandering chickens that spent their time around the settlement. Just the sight of it raised his spirits.
"Gawain!" The nine-year old Excalibur shrieked happily and threw herself into the strong arms of the approaching warrior. "You're here in time for my birthday!"
"Am I?" Gawain swung her up and around in a circle before setting the giggling girl back on her feet. "That's lucky for both of us because I brought you a gift."
"Something for me?" She looked up at him with her big brown eyes full of curiosity.
Caliburn appeared in the doorway of the small home he'd built for Excalibur and himself next to his forge and smirked when he saw the younger man there. "You'll never be rid of her now, you know. She'll be talking about you for weeks after you've gone again."
Gawain chuckled when the girl's father disappeared back inside their home. He didn't mind in the slightest because truly he was rather fond of Excalibur. Not that he'd admit it aloud.
She tugged at the bag over his shoulder, excited for whatever it is that he brought. She doesn't get presents often, and never from anyone but her Papa. "What did you bring me?"
"It's nothing special," he laughed and handed over the bag. "Just some seeds a farmer gave me for helping out." And by 'helping out' he really meant 'killing some bandits'.
"What kind of seeds?" Excalibur asked and searched for the small, cloth-wrapped parcel in his belongings. She dropped the bag at her feet so she can open the smaller package without risk of losing any.
Gawain shrugged. "You need to plant them and find out, I guess."
A closer inspection revealed that the only ones she could identify at first glance are pumpkin. "I'll have to make space in the garden for these. The next time you come to visit we can eat them!"
Excalibur rushed off to the garden on the backside of their home, just in line of sight from where he'd taken a seat at the base of a large tree.
Eventually Caliburn came out of the house, finished with whatever he had been doing inside. "It's about time you came back for another sword. What are you looking for?"
"I've found myself without use of my favorite blade." From his boot Gawain produced a dagger with a broken blade. "Think you could make me a new one?"
"I didn't make you this one," Caliburn studied the blade with an edge of disdain. "You call another man's blade your favorite, then you bring it to show me?"
"Your blades are stronger than others; it's why I came to you." Gawain hid a smile at Caliburn's reaction because he knew before he said it how the older man would react.
Caliburn frowned over at the warrior, "You still called it your favorite."
"Relax, my friend," the younger man laughed and patted him on the shoulder. "Your blades are my most reliable; the dagger is just my favored weapon for its usefulness."
"You should have asked for one at your last visit."
Gawain knew he was right, he could have added a dagger to any of his last three visits, but he hadn't. "Could have," Gawain shrugged. "But if I had you'd have missed me this year."
Excalibur ran back to the two men and threw herself across Gawain's lap. "Are you staying with us for a while? Papa, can he stay? Are you making him a new sword?"
"Breathe little one," Gawain tickled her and wrapped her in a hug. "You're talking too fast to understand."
The tiny body on his lap giggled and squirmed from the tickling. "Are you staying with us?"
"I'll be around until your Papa makes me a new dagger, Cali," He used his special nickname for her and laughed when she hugged him even tighter.
"Excalibur, you should leave Gawain alone," her father told her as he walked over to the forge and dropped the dagger on his work table.
"She's fine, Caliburn," the younger man assured her father.
The swordsmith looked back at him and silently studied the pair sitting beneath the old oak tree. Excalibur was the most precious thing in his life, the only good fortune he'd been blessed with in many years, and he usually kept her as far from his visitors as he could. There was always something about the young warrior that Caliburn trusted, however, a level of confidence he never allowed for anyone else. "If she bothers you, just tell her to get."
Gawain barely heard Caliburn's words over Excalibur's excitement, "Where have you gone since you left? Will you tell me about the ocean again? Have you been to Castle Pendragon?"
He laughed at her exuberance and truly enjoyed his visit to see her and the swordsmith. Just being near someone as innocent as the little girl in his lap allowed him to hope that maybe he wasn't completely ruined by his actions throughout the rest of the year. He was a fighter, pure and simple, and he had more than one man's blood on his hands. The blood and guilt could never be completely washed away, but one little girl helped more than anything else in his life could. "Which question do you want me to answer first?"
The young warrior may be a man of few words, but for Excalibur he will talk as long as she wants him too. It's her birthday, after all.