A/N: Don't you just love those little Eureka moments you have when you're writing. I got to a point in Fastion's POV the way I was writing earlier when I thought why don't I start with Karigan's arrival and everything just flowed so much better from that starting point. And it increased the word count considerably so there's even more, which is always a plus! So this has been completely redone if you've read the original Not Broken I posted. DISCLAIMER: Any thing, one, or place you may recognize? I own nothing. It all belongs to the wonderful Kristen Britain. Enjoy!
Fastion was on duty, watching the king in the Great Hall as he conducted the public audiences of the day. It had been the same routine items as it was most days: land and livestock disputes, marriage blessings, and the like. The sun was starting to sink into the distance outside the windows and servants were coming through to light the sconces along the walls. The line of petitioners was starting to dwindle to where only a handful remained to be seen.
Fastion was working on subtly shifting his weight on his feet to relieve some tension when Neff, the herald, came dashing through the doors and up the length of the hall. He skidded to an unceremonious halt at the dais. King Zachary was immediately alert. The few remaining petitioners watched the herald with barely concealed curiosity. They knew something important had to be going on.
"What is it Neff?" the king asked the panting herald.
"Y-y-your Majesty, it's S-sir Karigan," Neff said. Fastion noted the sudden tension in the king's posture at the mention of Karigan's name. He knew the feelings the king had for his rider, and knew that he had been worried about her. She had been missing for a little over two months after the events of Blackveil and she was presumed dead though no one believed that. Fastion hoped Neff brought good news.
"What about her? Has she been found?" the king said, barely concealing the urgency in his tone.
"Yes Your Majesty, she is riding up the Winding Way even as we speak," the herald said with a grin. Fastion wanted to shout with relief, but he was on duty and his training restrained him. He was ecstatic that his friend and honorary sister-at-arms had finally made it home. He had never given hope that she was alive somewhere.
"Thank Aeryc," he heard Captain Mapstone say. He glanced over at her out of the corner of his eye and saw that she was on the verge of tears. Fastion knew that she had been worried about her missing Rider and she blamed herself for Karigan's disappearance since she was the one who had chosen her to go on the Blackveil mission.
The king abruptly rose from the throne and descended the dais to address the petitioners still in the hall. "I apologize to you all, but an urgent matter has come up that I must attend to. Audiences are closed for the day."
Castle guards began ushering people out of the hall as the king swept out into the main corridor with Captain Mapstone on his heels. Fastion and Donal were close behind. Fastion found himself wondering what kind of legendary adventure Karigan would to tell about the time she had been gone. The girl seemed to have a knack for attracting trouble and lots of it. Even the stoic Weapon was having trouble wrapping his mind around some of the things she had told him that she had done and seen.
The king led them through the busy hallways, barely acknowledging those he passed. Everyone was finishing up business for the day and the halls were filled with people either headed for dinner or for home. Finally they came to the main entrance of the castle. Somewhere along the way Captain Mapstone had snagged a Green Foot runner to join them. The boy trotted alongside her as two guards pulled the heavy doors open and the party emerged onto the marble stairs leading up to the castle. Captain Mapstone said something to the Green Foot runner and sent him on his way.
The king did not stop until the bottom of the stairs. Here he and the Captain took up post on the bottom stair looking at the gates that led into the city. Donal and Fastion took up positions that were nearby, but not conspicuous and then they all waited; hoping this wasn't some cruel trick.
Karigan felt like she had aged two lifetimes since the events in Blackveil. She had a feeling that she never would really be the same again, particularly after the being trapped in that Eletian cairn in a Sleeper grove for nearly a month. Somehow she had managed to stay alive despite the lack of readily available of food and water. She had her suspicions that Westrion and some other divine beings had a hand in that. According to Gael, the Eletian who found her, she had been in some kind of strange suspended sleep state. Karigan shook her head. She still didn't completely understand it all.
Karigan had stayed with Gael and his family while she recovered from her ordeal. Three more weeks passed before she deemed herself well enough to travel, which basically meant that she was able to sit on a horse without the world spinning and making her want to hurl her guts out. The Eletians had wanted her to stay longer and recuperate more, but Karigan knew she had to get back to Sacor City. She had to know what happened to the rest of her companions. She had asked her hosts, but they lived on the edges of Eletia and had not received any news yet.
Finally, realizing that she would go whether they liked it or not, the Eletians supplied a horse and provisions for her journey. While she and her new mount got along, Karigan still found herself wishing she had Condor with her, but he was still at the Wall where she had left him. Getting him back to the city would be her first order of business once she got back.
Karigan had been riding hard for two and a half weeks when she finally caught the first glimpse of Sacor City through the trees. Tears of relief pricked her eyes as she gazed at the city gates and the roofs of the buildings beyond. She had never seen a more beautiful sight in her entire life.
The sun was sinking behind the horizon when she reached the city gates. A pair of guards came out to greet her, wary expressions on their faces. She was surprised at their reaction, then realized that they didn't recognize her being on a different horse and covered in dust and muck from the road. She dusted off her once green coat as best as she could as they approached.
"State your business," the taller of the two declared.
"I'm a rider in the Green Rider messenger service, returning from a run," Karigan said.
"I don't see a message satchel anywhere," the other one said coming closer with his torch to see her better. "How do we know that you're not some imposter trying to get into the castle?" Karigan gave these guys credit that they didn't just take her at her word and wave her on through. She would have to get their names so she could commend them.
The taller once came closer as well and peered at her face, "You look fam-." He broke off in mid-sentence as his eyes widened in recognition.
"It's her!" he exclaimed to his partner.
"Rider Sir Karigan, the Green Rider who vanished on the Blackveil mission."
Karigan winced at the title. She still wasn't used to it yet. The man turned back to her.
"We all thought you were dead," he said with a tone bordering on awe.
"Well I'm here and I would really like to get to the castle so I can give my report and crawl into bed for the rest of my life," she said feeling the strain of the past few weeks starting to catch up with her. All she wanted was a hot bath, a solid meal, and her bed.
"Of course, of course. Crofter, dispatch a rider to the castle. They'll want to know about this right away," the tall one said. His partner hurried off to round someone up.
"Thank you," Karigan said as a side door was opened for her to pass. After recent events, the city gates and the castle gates were kept shut at night as a security measure.
As she urged her horse through the door, thundering hoof beats burst from off to her left as a horse and rider went galloping up the Winding Way to alert the king of her arrival. Summoning up her energy, Karigan urged her horse into a more sedate trot and followed the rider.
After her time on the road and in both Blackveil and Eletia, the sights and sounds of the city seemed overwhelming to her. It had been five months since she had been here or even in something remotely resembling civilization. On her return trip, she had stayed away from towns as much as she could in case anyone may have been looking for her.
At least she had arrived just after the time most businesses closed for the day and the streets were blissfully crowd free. Anxious to finally arrive and not sure how much longer she was going to be able to stay on the horse, Karigan took every short cut and side street that she knew to get to the castle, never breaking her horse's easy, steady rhythm.
After about twenty minutes the castle wall and gates came into view with the towers and turrets of the castle looming up behind them. Karigan saw that the gates were already open in anticipation of her arrival. A handful of guards stood on top of the wall above the gates, while there were more on the ground. Apparently news of her arrival had gotten around.
Calls of "Welcome back!" and "Good to see you" greeted her as she trotted through the gates. She could see a pair of people standing on the stairs leading up to the main entrance of the castle. As she got closer she could see that it was Captain Mapstone and King Zachary.
Karigan drew her horse to a halt before them and dismounted, grateful that her knees still seemed to be strong enough to support her. Falling face first in the dirt in front of her captain and her monarch was not something she particularly wanted to do. She handed off the reins to Hep, who was standing nearby and turned to face them. As she did she caught the two matching shadows of Donal and Fastion lurking in the background. She could've sworn she saw them faintly smile.
King Zachary looked as if he had aged even more than she had in the time she was gone, but she could sense an exuberant joy beneath his exterior mask. While he was doing a good job at keeping his king's mask in place, the relief at seeing her alive was as plain as day in his almond eyes. Even looking haggard he could still manage to look handsome. Karigan had to remind herself that they were in public and there were other people around otherwise she just might have thrown herself into his arms as happy as she was to see him.
Karigan dropped to a knee instead, "Your Majesty, I have returned from Blackveil Forest."
She felt him slip a hand under her arm to pull her up," Arise Rider Sir G'ladheon please. You've done enough and I think we can dispense with the formalities."
"Yes Your Majesty, I do have much to report," Karigan said.
The king held up a hand to stop her, "That can wait until later when you're of a more coherent state of mind. Right now I expect that you're in need of some food, a bath, and a good night's sleep. You can report to me when you've rested and recovered." He clapped her on the shoulder, "It's good to have you back Karigan."
Karigan managed a smile, her shoulder burning from where he touched her, "It's good to be back Your Majesty." He nodded and turned to head back inside with his two silent shadows. Donal greeted her with a warm nod as he passed.
Fastion did the same with an added, "Glad to have you back in one piece Karigan." The three of them disappeared into the castle.
No sooner had they left than Karigan was tackled in a massive bear hug from Captain Mapstone. Just when Karigan thought she was going to pass out from lack of oxygen the captain released her and held her out at arm's length, giving her a critical once over.
She fixed Karigan with a mirth-filled look, "So, do I want to know?"
Karigan grimaced, "Probably not."
Captain Mapstone nodded, "I figured as much. I'm just glad you're back. Now let's see about getting you settled in." She draped an arm over Karigan's shoulders as the two women headed inside.
"Welcome home Rider."
A/N: So what did you think? I want to hear from you, especially those who read the rather awful, stinted first effort. Also to the guest reviewer Machlud: Thanks and yes pacing is an issue of mine. I tend to write the bare bones in my mad sprints of inspiration and then have to go back and fatten them up a little (or a lot).~Naomi