Declan expected Aiden to be there when he woke, but he wasn't. Fear crept up into Declan's throat and he shook Bowen awake. "Have you seen Aiden?"
"Wh- He run off again?"
"He was with Nuka, but neither of them has come back."
"I'm sure he's fine, Declan."
"No! We look for him. Now."
Bowen nodded and sat up, gathering his gear. Together they woke Thorn as well, and they were all off in the direction he had last seen Aiden.
He figured they should be quiet if there were any enemies lurking out there. But he couldn't handle it anymore and he started yelling his name. The other's followed suit.
It was almost an hour before their efforts seemed to work. By this point, Declan was furious and worrying so much he was bound to rip his hair out. But Bowen called him through the trees. Declan followed his voice, hearing Aiden't small one, and came lumbering through the forestry and into the small clearing. He was so wrapped up in the sight of Aiden that he didn't even notice the small figure beside him. He just scooped him up into a long hug. And when their reunion was over, he pulled away and scowled at Aiden. "You had me so frightened! What had you out here for so long?"
As if answering his own question, he looked to Aiden's side. Confusion crossed his features. She was only a child, but that look in her eyes told him otherwise. The more magic he was exposed to, the easier it became to spot, apparently. He instantly narrowed his eyes.
Bowen bit his lip, Nuka nudging his hand for a pet. "She's a kid?" he said, just as confused as Declan. Aiden, where'd she come from? Where are her parents?"
Declan rolled his eyes. "She's not a child."
"What? Declan, your eyes working?"
"She's not human. Aiden, who is this? Why have you been here all this time?"
Thorn finally met them, and as usual, seemed to assess the situation with one glance.
"A whisp," he said simply. "Pure magic in a form we recognize. She's weak though. That's why we see her as a child." Declan listened to his words and looked back to Declan. "This must be her forest. I'm surprised there's even any whisps left, seeing how humans treat the earth." The whisp just stood there, watching their conversation, as if amused by it.
"Is she dangerous?" Declan asked.
"I don't know," Thorn admitted. "She could merely just be curious about us. Or she could have tricks and plans up her sleeve for us. It's always hard to tell with whisps."
Declan looked to Aiden, his eyes thoughtful. "What happened here?"
The moonlight was an odd sort of warmth- the faintest whisper of tempered comfort. It banished the chill of the winter night that would have otherwise made him shiver and want to turn back. In fact, as Aiden rode silently atop Nuka, one hand grasping the fur at the great wolf’s neck, he slowly realized that he was different. It was much more than just the cold. It was the dark too. It did not seems so frightening, and the loneliness he would have feared being apart from Declan, did not seem so consuming or frightening as it might once have been. Somehow the quiet forest was familiar to him... He felt at home here as he was. The only thing that seemed even remotely out of place then and there... was that his other hand was empty.
Frowning a bit, his silver eyes lowered to glance at the upturned palm resting on his left thigh. His fingers curled ever so slightly... An image suddenly flashed through his mind; of a tall silver and ivory staff with a gleaming stone that swirled in smoky, crystal hues of deep blue and black. Of ornate filigree and a sharp-tipped end that would find itself very at home embedded in the chest of his enemies. Aiden closed his eyes a moment and let out a breath, quickly pushing the thought back. Enemies? And who were his enemies? He had no enemies- save for anyone who wanted to harm Declan. Was this the image of Peace? The scepter Haverghast had spoken of?
Suddenly a soft growl emanating from Nuka pulled Aiden from his thoughts, and the mage sucked in a breath and looked up, realizing he’d been staring at his hand the whole time. What he saw made him give pause... They had wandered into the far side of the forest, well away from camp. Here, the trees were bare; made of a white, papery looking bark and spindle-like branches that reached up to the heavens and reminded him of skeleton fingers. Along with the snow, the monochrome surroundings almost appeared to glow in the moonlight, giving it an eerie, iridescent quality only found in dreams where one had strayed into the memory of a fairy, and might not ever come out.
They had wandered into a clearing of come sort, the trees making up a wide outer ring, and before him Aiden could see another, much more ominous circle. This one was comprised of stones, tall stones that towered like ancient statues; carved with swirling Kell-like runes and designs, and glittered as if wet. They were black stones, onyx or lava rock perhaps, half crumbling from what might have been a thousand years of weather and solitary confinement. And while the look of them alone was enough to make him want to hang back, there was something more... Something stranger. All around him, the snowy ground glittered and gleamed, resonating with the starlight and the moonlight. Yet in the enter of the circle, made visitable between the monoliths, was dark. Despite being open to the sky and its nighttime glow, the circle was thick with shadows a dark shade that Aiden fully believed would swallow him hole if he so much as touched it. It was strange... but he could not help wondering if he had indeed found the end of the world- made apparent by a circle of darkness that seemed so entirely out of place.
Nuka made another sound, somewhere between a whimper and a growl, his large body tense and unyielding, and Aiden glanced down at the beast again. “What is it?” he asked, quietly, his breath casting soft opaque clouds on the air. “Are we alone?” He did not know what to ask him- only that, that question seemed as good as any. Nuka’s answer was a sharp breath out his nose, shaking his head so that his fur shifted wildly for a moment.
Aiden’s gaze snapped back up to the shadows, brow furrowed and muscles on point. Sure enough there was something now there- crouched in between the rocks, peering out at them with an intent the young mage could not fathom. The eyes were large, almond-shaped and luminous, and through the shadows around them remained thick and impenetrable, they glowed. They glowed like animal eyes. But this was no animal- and even Aiden, who in so many things, was incredibly nieve, knew it. There was a calculating intelligence within them...
The string of Usna’s bow hummed against his chest as if heated, and acting purely on instinct,Aiden lifted it, unsheathed and arrow from its quiver, and notched it in one fluid graceful movement. He aimed the silver arrowhead at the eyes, his ivory fingers steady. “Who are you? What is this place? And do you want?” For a moment the eyes narrowed, but somehow Aiden knew the look was not hostile... rather amusement.
“So many questions for so bright a thing. Most glowies would shoot first...” Aiden blinked. The voice was the smooth soprano of a female, decked with a thick brogue that brought with it the memories of an ancient Celtic bloodline. “Then again...” Suddenly the eyes disappeared and he heard the sound of movement and a whisper like a fast moving breeze. When the voice spoke next it came from behind him. “Been awhile since one came here. Have glowies so changed that they are no longer so mean? So angry?”
Aiden’s head whipped around, hands still gripping the readied bow, blinking in confusion. “Glowy? I’m not a glowy. I’m Aiden.” The voice laughed- no giggled, sounding almost childlike in its humor, and the youthful timbre of the voice was not lost on Aiden at all.
“Aiden? That’s a funny name. Means ‘little fire’ in tae old tongue.” The voice jumped again, somewhere off to the side. “Fire or Aiden- no matter a’tall. Yer still a glowy.” Every time it spoke, the voice jumped from one direction to another the owner hiding just out of sight. Behind a tree, behind a stone, just beyond the reach of Aiden’s vision. He followed it, turning his head this way and that.
“What’s a glowy?”
“You are. You light up like some pretty thing. A star under the moon. But stars have no arms and legs of which tae speak of, like you.”
“I’m a mage.” Laughter again.
“No. No-no. Not a mage. Them are boring. Boring as sleep, I kens it! No-no, yer much too powerful tae be a mage!”
Aiden frowned for a moment. Both Haverghast and Declan had made it clear that it was not the smartest idea to be going around and telling people he was a godson. For most, it would go over wrong. But then... Haverghast had also made it perfectly clear that ‘power noticed power’. That it didn’t matter how much he wanted to hide it, anything else who could wield magic or divine abilities would sense him. This thing already knew he was not a normal mortal- and something more than just a mage... “I’m a godson,” he finally said. There was a slight pause and then another chime-like giggle.
“Fancy that. A godson here. Been so long...” Aiden’s eyes widened in surprise ever so slightly as the voice jumped yet again to land inside the dark circle of stones. He lowered his arrow, letting it rest against his hip.
“There have been other godsons? Here? In this place?”
“Godkin yes. But not for a long long, long, long... long, long time. Yer the first in ages!” His heart started to pound and he leaned forward a bit, peering into the shadows, trying to see the eyes again- and perhaps more.
“What... are you?” he murmured. “Where are you?”
There was a scritching sound, like nails on stone, or something more. “Not what! Who!" the voice called out, this time sounding much louder and a bit more... real. And Aiden gasped as his head snapped up and he finally found the owner perched high atop of one of the stones in a crouch. He blinked, fully taken aback my its appearance. The voice belonged to nothing more than a child; a little girl with skin as pale as his own, and hair has white as the snow. Two great green eyes glittered amusingly down at him, her little lips puckered into a smile, and one fine, silver brow arched. She was dressed in what appeared to be animal furs, belted over a simple, ivory shift, and through the ankle-length mop of her ghostly hair came two pointed wolf ears; rather like Nuka’s when he was transformed. Her appearance came complete with dirt smudges on her cheeks, knees, arms,, and forehead, but despite the obvious wildness she embodied, she seemed to glow in the moonlight too. She reminded him instantly of Susabean with her cute, sweet face, but he had no time to feel homesick, as the moment she showed herself Aiden was struck with a wave of magic so powerful he knew that whatever this being was- she was no more a child than he. Ancient magic. Ancient Power.
“My name is Aisling,” she said, looking down at him, wrinkling her little nose. “And what are you doing in my forest?” The name sounded like ‘ash-linn’, and Aiden blinked again, not certain how to reply.
“T-traveling,” he finally settled with.
“Traveling? Where are you going?”
“To-” he began, but no sooner had he uttered the word, did Aisling leap off the stone, flipping a summersault in the air, and landing on the ground before him. She stood them, coming hardly higher than Nuka. The wolf, however, instantly wined and pressed his nose to her cheek, nuzzling her as if he knew her. Aisling stroked his furry face and while she did, she looked up at Aiden and lifted a brow high.
“To... to Iona,” he finally managed. Aisling looked back at Nuka, sliding her hands beneath his chin and coaxing it up so that she could nuzzle the wolf’s nose in return; giving a small giggle.
“To Iona,” she repeated.
“Yes,” Aiden replied- because he did not know what else to say. For a moment she merely kept her attention on the wolf who stared back at her, and then finally glanced back up at him with a stern face.
“Nuka says there are others with you.”
“You know his name?”
“Of course I do,” she said matter of factly and patted Nuka on the head before stepping back and placing her hand son her hips. “He told it tae me.”
“You can talk to him too?” Aisling looked like she wanted to laugh.
“Are you daft, then? Of course I can.”
“Are... are you a godkin too?” With a sigh she placed her hands behind her back, bounced a moment on her heels, and then turned around and started to walk away.
“No,” she finally replied and Aiden watched, in amazement as she made her way to a tree- and then began to walk up the trunk, hands still behind her back. Unable to help it, he slung his bow over his back once more and dismounted Nuka, making his way to the tree where she had disappeared up into.
“Are you a fairy?” he asked the dark branches overhead; unable to see her now.
“No,” her voice answered. He frowned up into the darkness, trying to catch a glimpse of her. He didn’t want to lose her- too eager to talk to another being with as much power as he had. He was far too curious. He’d never met someone who could do the same things he could! “Aren’t you gonna ask me anything else?” she suddenly said from behind him, and he turned with a gasp to find her hanging up side down at his eye-level; legs swinging from a branch. “I like this game.”
“I don’t know anything else,” he admitted. She actually seemed dissapointed at that and gave a little sigh.
“That’s too bad.”
Aiden stared at her and suddenly stuck a finger out, aiming to touch her. Her hands snapped out and caught his finger between her palms; startling him. She stared. “What were you gonna do that for, then?” Aiden swallowed, his hand radiating with a strange tingle as his own magic touched hers.
“I just wanted to see if you were real. I’ve never met anybody like me before.” She gave him a strange look and released him, falling from the branch into a crouch and standing up.
“But I’m not like you. Not a’tall.”
“You can use magic,” he pointed out.
“No. I am magic,” she corrected. “I’ve been here since the very first forest. When all the world was forest. And there were none like you about. I was thought- and then I was. Simple as that. The magic is my mother. It’s my father too.” Aiden blinked blue eyes gleaming and then he had a thought and turned to point up at the sky where the moon sat half full and gleaming like the beginnings of a pearl not yet complete.
“That’s my father.”
“Ohhhhhhhhhhh,” Aisling said and smiled. “That’s a good father. He’s a friend.”
“You know him?”
“All things know him. Even the day. He keeps me warm, and whispers stories. He turns the sea and makes the wind.” Suddenly Aiden had a thought, and it made him nervous. He swallowed and stared down at Aisling who appeared perhaps no older than seven or eight and came up to his chest.
“Is he good?” he finally asked. She stared at him for a long moment.
“You know,” she replied definitively. Aiden shook his head, but Aisling merely nodded. “You know.”
“But I don’t.”
“Yes you do,” she said and crossed her arms, staring at him expectantly. Aiden reached up to press his fingertips to the pendant Declan had given him... and suddenly was gifted with several memories both before the prison and after... all of them during the night. He might never have met his true father... but the moonlight had done nothing but help him on many occasions. “See?” Aisling smirked, though he hadn’t said anything.
“Maybe.” The little girl just let out a laugh.
“So you’re just plain magic?” Aiden asked again. Aisling seemed to consider her answer.
“Yes. Some say ‘wisp’. As if its such a grand thing to be a wisp...” But Aiden’s eyes lit up as he recalled a night long ago, listening through the floorboards to his father tell Susabean a bedtime story.
“You’re a will o’ the wisp!” he said almost excitedly. Aisling rolled her eyes and gave another little sigh.
“I am magic. But if it so suits you, I suppose ‘wisp’ will do.” Aiden grinned.
“I’ve heard stories about wisps. That they try to lead travelers off the path- to their deaths.” Aisling rolled her eyes once more.
“I’ve no time to lead anyone, anywhere. Besides, why would I want to? Nobody comes here. Why would I want to kill the only company I’ve got in over three hundred years?”
“Three hundred years?’ Aiden breathed completely surprised. “You mean... no one’s been here in that long?” Aisling shrugged, her white hair fluttering.
“People come and people go- but never here. This place stays while everything else changes. It’s the way of things I suppose. But you see that?” She turned than and pointed behind her to the circle of stones, and Aiden nodded. “That’s my ring,” she told him, and there was a sort of pride in her voice in mentioning the fact.
“Aye. We all have rings once we find where we’ll be. And that’s mine. They built it for me. It’s quite cozy. And it’s kept everyone away. The more life changes, the smaller we get. Soon there’s nothing left over but a smudge. It keeps me smudgeless.”
To be truthful Aiden had no idea what she was talking about. Who built it, exactly? And what did she mean by ‘we’? And what the heck was a ‘smudge’, anyhow? However, he did understand the significant of the ‘ring’. Like wisps, he’d heard many stories of fairy rings, and their importance, and suddenly he realized why the shadows in the center of the circle seemed out of place. The fables all said that stepping into a fairy ring meant being whisked away to their world. Maybe they weren’t just stories anymore... In the stories, the rings were almost always made of mushrooms or toadstools, but he suddenly realized that perhaps a ring could be just about anything...
“What’s Iona?” Aisling suddenly asked. Aiden blinked.
“It’s a town. About two days from here.”
“Why are you going there?”
“My home is there,” he admitted.
“What are you doing all the way out here then?” It was his turn to sigh, and he rubbed idly at an arm; hating to remember.
“I was taken away from it.” Aisling cocked her head to the side in curiosity.
“I don’t know,” he replied, honestly. “There are bad people world. They took me away from my family because of what I am. Because I know magic. They think I’m dangerous.”
“Are you?” He stared at her.
“Are you dangerous?” Aiden blushed ever so slightly.
“I don’t know...”
“Then how do you know they are bad? Maybe they are good, and you are bad? Or they are bad and you are bad... Or they are bad and you are good because they are bad...” Aiden held out a hand to stop her before she made his head really start to spin.
“They’re bad,” he assured her.
“Did you run away?”
“Yes. I ran away. I’m going to go back to my home.”
“Yes, in Iona.”
“Has the world so changed?” Aiden frowned.
“The world is always changing,” he answered before he could stop himself. Aisling actually laughed; green eyes glittering.
“That is true.”
“When is the last time you left this place?” he asked her then, and Aisling gave a small and thoughtful ‘hmmm’ as she thought about it.
“Four hundred years or so,” she said. “Maybe five. Time seems to run together...”
“Are you running from someone?” he asked her. Immediately she bristled up.
“I run from nothing and no one! You would do well to remember that.” Aiden lifted his hands apologetically.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend.”
“What did you mean then?” she glared.
“Well... why have you been gone so long? Are you hiding here?” She stared at him for a moment and then gave a blustering sigh, turning on her heel and wandering towards the stones once more.
“When the people first came to my forest- they lived in it and they were good. It was good. I shared with them the water and the land- the trees. The air. But years passed, and the humans they grew stronger. And stupider. And they forgot what it meant to love the earth as it was. They chopped down my forests. Filled the air with their smoke. They choked out the streams with their dams.” Irritated she jumped from where she stood, and the air made a soft rushing sound as she scurried up the stone like a squirrel and sat at the top.
“They began to kill what I had provided. And then, when they grew dull, they began to kill each other. They buried the bodies all over the land, and poisoned the green and the brown. The red and the yellow. And when once they gave me thanks? Now they sit and forget who it was that I was. Who I am. Who I shall be. With each passing age I grew to be small. And I will be smaller still as the world turns and I am forgotten in all things. The world is a horrid place. Why should I want to leave here?” Aiden stared up at her, saddened by her words. Immediately he was reminded that he too had once thought the same, locked away in a house with no future; doomed to be forgotten. But that was before he met Declan. Bowen. Marae and Farren. Even Thorn. People who had given him kindness when he had none.
“That is not all true,” he told her. “There is goodness in it too.” She crossed her arms where she sat, the ears atop her head twitching.
“You said yourself that you were taken by bad men. The world is full of them.”
“Not so,” he tried with a gentle gesture, and she merely gave him an incredulous look. “There is bad. But there is good too. I learned that when I met Declan.”
“Declan? Who is Declan?” Aiden blushed, but his body grew warm at the thought and he smiled.
“He’s who I love. He’s everything to me.” Aisling watched him curiously as Aiden closed his eyes and pressed a palm over the pendant at his throat. “He showed me that men can be good. That people are not always so hurtful.” For a moment she narrowed her eyes and then turned her nose up at him.
“I do not believe you, Aiden.” He looked up at her.
“But it’s true. There are good things in this world. I’m rather new to it myself. But I have found it. Sometimes, even when I’m not even looking...”
The sound of the voice echoing in the distance, made him suck in a breath and he turned to peer through the shadowy trees behind hime. After a moment the voice yelled out again. “Aiden!”
“Declan,” he breathed, recognizing it as once.
“Aiden?” Bowen‘s voice followed soon after.
“Is that him, then?” Aisling asked and he glanced down to find her standing right at his side and looking in the same direction with curiosity.
“One of them, yes,” he replied. “The other is Bowen. He’s a friend. And Thorn is with them.”
“Are there others?”
“Only Nuka,” Aiden said, and sure enough the wolf made a whine and trotted over to his side. Aiden ran his fingers over his ears.
“Aiden! Where are you!?” Aiden bit his lip.
“I could have sworn I left asleep,” he muttered.
“Time is different here,” Aisling informed him.
“Yes. In this place, magic is stagnant and so is the time for the most part. Out there is already morning and more.” Aiden immediately widened his eyes.
“I have to get back then! I’ve worried them!”
“I shall come too,” Aisling said matter of factly.
“What?” Aiden exclaimed. She merely gave him a look.
“You said yourself that the world is different. Perhaps I need to see it too. And maybe I shall find ways to no longer be a smudge.”
“Nanna!” the call came again, and the deep voice belonged this time to Thorn. The sound had Aiden panicking.
“Are you sure you can leave here? Isn’t this your home?”
“All the earth was once my home,” she told him and dropped into a crouch. Let it be again.” And suddenly, in teh blink of an eye, the little girl was no longer there. Like Nuka, she had transformed into a wolf, as white as the snow with emerald eyes flashing. Beautiful and sleek. Nuka gave a small bark and the two of them nuzzled and licked each other in a circle before Nuka came once more to Aiden and bowed so that he could climb aboard his back. Once securely on, they made their way back through the forest heading towards the clearing. No sooner had they begun to move than the world around them began to lighten, and Aiden realized that Aisling spoke the truth about time.
They were only part ways to the clearing when someone shouted his name. “Aiden!” Nuka came to a halt and Aiden turned to find Bowen jogging towards them, looking irritated.
“Bowen,” Aiden smiled but he only came to a halt and grabbed the mage by the upper arms, hoisting him up and giving him a sharp shake.
“What in the hell is wrong with you!? We’ve been looking for almost two hours!” Aiden’s eyes widened. But he’d only been gone from the came for an hour t the most. He suddenly realized that the light sky was that of midday and not even morning. How long had he really been gone? “Where the hell have you been!? For fuck’s sakes, Declan’s damn near lost his mind!”
“What?!” Aiden breathed as the guilt descended.
“He thought you left for good! Or was taken! What the hell were you thinking running off like that!?” Suddenly the air was cut through with the sound of Declan saying his name, and Bowen released the mage immediately. Aiden’s feet didn’t even managed to touch the ground before he was suddenly in Declan’s grasp and he stared up at him, seeing the raw emotion in man’s face.
“Declan!” he breathed, blue eyes wide. “I- I’m sorry!”
“Supposing there are soldiers there when we go?” Bowen questioned.
“We can only hope… that they have moved on,” Aiden replied quietly, fiddling mindlessly with the map. “That they found me gone… and they thought it enough.”
Thorn actually scoffed, speaking up for the first time in what seemed like forever. “Men have little will but for the demands of a higher power. Their prison was their pride, and you escaped. They’ll be seeking you- and your warrior, for comeuppance if nothing else.”
Thorn was right, of course. And there were the informers that the king had spread out over the kingdom as well. Their jobs were to stay with the times and report anything and everything. Generally speaking these men were no more than commonfolk who were chosen at random. If they gave any sign that they were lying when the time came to report, their lives would be over. But most did not feel the need to lie. Being an informer paid well. Better than most. And they’d report anything for a small amount of silver. Declan remembered assassinating several of these men, their minds turned greedy, selling out the only good men left in the kingdom. Those that made their homes in Iona would surely be more alert and neither Declan nor Aiden or any of them would truly be able to tell them apart from the normal rabble. If anything, this visit must be quick, he told himself.
The darkness grew slowly as the night went on, and as Aiden leaned in to kiss Declan’s cheek before lying down for the night, Bowen passed him his pipe. Declan smirked and brought the old wooden thing to his lips and puffed several times. He knew instantly that it was the pipeweed from his home and instantly his mind was full of old memories. Nostalgia grew in the pit of his stomach, making him feel heavy and safe.
“Where on earth did you get this?” he asked Bowen slowly, as if he figured he must have gone through hell and back just to obtain the leaves themselves.
“Just an old stash I’ve been rationing,” Bowen replied with a smirk.
Declan inhaled it once again, another smile coming to his face. But this time it was small and almost sad. He had refused to think about those happy days for so long. “It seems like forever since I’ve thought of home. Truly thought about it.”
“We had a lot of land back then,” Bowen said. “Enough for a young man to roam and get into mischief. Enough for a boy to become a man.” Bowen let out a soft chuckle as he watched the fire.
“Been a man longer than a boy, I fear,” Declan replied, passing Bowen the pipe. Bowen only nodded solemnly. “I hope Nathan will have a longer childhood.”
“He will,” Bowen said. “He will….”
Declan hardly remembered falling asleep, his back still against the tree. But when he woke, it was because of the rustling of fallen branches and the crunch of a light snow. He pulled his head against the tree and turned to Aiden, only to find he wasn’t there. He took one look around him and realized Nuka was missing as well. Declan didn’t feel any danger in the air, and Nuka knew his one job was to protect Aiden. But Declan still never felt right without knowing where the mage was. He stood quietly and after spying the prints in the snow, both human and wolf alike, he followed them. The trees gave way to field after only a few minutes, and it took Declan no time at all to spot the two of them. The moonlight reflected off of both of them brighter than the layer of snow, brighter than the moon itself. And the light almost trailed after him as he rode on Nuka’s back. It was as if Aiden absorbed the moonlight and made it something more. More beautiful. More powerful. Declan leaned against a tree and watched. He’d never thought he’d see anything like this, he’d never even dreamt. Yet here he was, taking it as casually as it came.
“He truly is a godson,” he heard Thorn say at his side. Declan wasn’t surprised. “If only he’d act a little more like it.”
There was silence for a while before Declan finally tore his eyes from Aiden as he grew smaller in the distance. He had no fear that he wouldn’t return. “Why are you still here?” he asked Thorn. There was a surprising lack of hostility to his voice, pure interested was laced through his words instead.
“I was also curious where he got off to,” Thorn replied, gesturing to the field, though they both knew that’s not what Declan meant. Declan kept eye contact, and after a moment or two, Thorn knew he wasn’t going to get away with saying nothing about the matter. He sighed, as if annoyed. “It’s obvious that Aiden is in love with you and it’s obvious that there’s no way for me to pull him out of that. And if I return empty handed, it’ll be the end of me. I will have failed and therefore I lack use. So I figure why not stick around.”
“The gods are that harsh?” Declan asked.
“Lachiea is,” Thorn replied. “Aiden’s true mother,” he said, though Declan did not need the reminder. Haverghast’s stories had stayed with him it seemed.
“So, you’re neither my friend nor my foe, now,” Declan thought aloud.
“Just as I like it.”
And with that, Thorn turned away and slunk back into the darkness, back to the fire.
It occurred to Declan that he had just had a real conversation with Thorn. No insults or scowls, just speaking and listening. And That settled strangely in Declan’s mind. Thorn was now a person to him as much as anyone, god or not. He could no longer think of him as purely his enemy. Declan didn’t know what to do with this information. He sighed and when looked back up to find Aiden again, he was gone as well.
Declan made his way back to the fire, and he went back to sleep trusting that Nuka would take care of Aiden. Trusting that they would come back.
There was a long pause and after a moment Aiden swallowed and moved to drop his gaze. Declan, however, sensing his uncertainty, reached out to cup his jaw; holding it firmly betwixt his fingers. His dark eyes glittered, catching the adjacent firelight. “I don’t see why not,” he finally answered. “I think we can make that happen.” Aiden let out a breath, relief flooding him, and he closed his eyes as Declan pulled him closer to press a kiss to his temple.
“Are you sure, though?” he asked, releasing him and sitting back against the tree, his expression serious.
“We’ll have to be extra cautious. I doubt they’ll be expecting you to return home, but you are a fugitive now. The authorities might be looking there.” Aiden blushed ever so slightly and looked down at the padded dirt beneath his feet, the hints of grass determined to survive the winter brushing up against the soles of his boots.
What Declan said was true, and Aiden well accepted that. There was no doubt that some sort of message had been delivered to the house of his family to let them know he had escaped. More than likely they’d gone and checked themselves.
“Supposing there are soldiers there when we go?” Bowen questioned, one thick brow arched in question, fingers idly stroking through the silver fur at Nuka’s neck. The wolf had his eyes closed, but his ears were perked, letting them know he was very much awake and aware.
“We can only hope… that they have moved on,” Aiden replied quietly, fiddling mindlessly with the map. “That they found me gone… and they thought it enough.” From where he sat almost hidden by shadow, Thorn scoffed.
“Men have little will but for the demands of a higher power. Their prison was their pride, and you escaped. They’ll be seeking you- and your warrior, for comeuppance if nothing else.” He spoke the words as if they were laced with poison, but somehow Aiden knew that the anger he held was not directed at either himself or Declan. Rather… he mentioned the prison with such a vehemence that Aide wondered if he had some kind of experience with such places as Caislean Rarmarch. For the first time he found himself wondering about Thorn…
Aiden finished the supper up and as Declan and Bowen took to smoking a pipe between them and talking, the mage bedded down with blankets tucked around him and Nuka curled beneath his head like some massive, breathing pillow. The warmth from the wolf and the pleasure at having Declan close had Aiden drifting quickly off to sleep. However, when he opened his eyes again, early dawn was not what greeted him. The forest around him was still shrouded in darkness, with only a distant hoot of some ancient owl for music. For a moment Aiden wondered what had woken him, but he turned his head and was prepared to close his eyes once more. In doing so, however, he came to realize what it was that had stirred them. Nuka’s head was fully lifted; ears on point and body tense. Aiden blinked. In the darkness of the night, the moonlight through the forest trees made the wolf’s eyes glow.
He sat up, shoving a hand through his hair to keep it out of his eyes, the long locks now down to his elbows. “Nuka?” he whispered. The wolf turned his head, silent and intimidating in that moment with his predatory gaze. But there was something mystical about the look he gave him… Suddenly Nuka pushed up and Aiden watched in stunned silence as he made his way to the edge of the woods, his steps completely and utterly silent- yet every where his feet touched he seemed to leaving a glowing print behind that shimmered for a moment before fading. When he was at the very edge, he turned and stared at the mage and Aiden immediately realized that Nuka wanted him to follow. Glancing down at the pile of blankets that had been next to him, he saw that Declan was well asleep, and across the dying fire that was now little more than embers Bowen was also dead to the world. He did a quick sweep for Thorn, and although he was no where to be seen, Aiden was almost positive that somewhere in the shadows he too lurked and rested; like some great sleeping predator.
Quietly he got up, his arms bare in the sleeveless tunic he wore. A night breeze softly kissed his skin, and although it was cold, the chill was not cruel and carried with it the soft whisper of moonlight; a sensation he both loved and hated. But cared for or not, he was drawn to it either way, and made quick work of tightening his boots, grabbing his bow and arrows, and making his way towards Nuka. When he was at his side, Nuka suddenly bowed just enough for Aiden to realizes what he wanted. Though he never would have thought to ride the wolf, he some how intrinsically understood that was what he wanted… and so Aiden suddenly found himself mounting the massive beast; and as soon as he was on and steady, he dashed from the woods and he and Aiden whipped through the open field adjacent. The moonlight came full force here, and suddenly Aiden was bathed in silver and his features changed to accommodate his godhood; the prismatic writing glittering over his skin. In that moment he looked more like a god than ever…
“Well enough,” Aiden replied to his question. “He left me no instructions, but somehow I can understand how to use it. Maybe…” he blushed slightly. “Maybe it’s because I’m a godson.” Declan had no doubt about that fact as Aiden focused on bringing the map up and into view. It just looked like a jumbled mess of scenery to Declan, but the magic still amazed him. To see a place not in your eye’s view that wasn’t a painting of some sort was amazing enough.
“What way do we travel, once we reach the glens?” Bowen asked, his eyes constantly watching the image in front of him. Nuka whimpered selfishly when Bowen stopped petting him to focus on the current events, which brought his hand back down to stroke his ear. Nuka’s tongue lolled out of his mouth, seemingly uninterested- almost bored- with the map. It didn’t surprise Declan, he was a magic creature after all. Magic was nothing to him.
“Northwest,” Aiden said. “I don’t know how… I just know that northwest is the way we should go.”
“Good enough,” Bowen murmured.
There was silence then and Declan took a large swig of from his water. He felt Aiden turn to him, almost solemnly, and Declan dropped his canteen to face him as well. Water dripped down into his newly groan beginnings of a beard. He reached up an arm to wipe it away as Aiden started to speak once more.
“We have to go through Iona to get there,” he said quietly. Declan knew what was coming. “Do you think… we could visit my home?”
Declan continued to look into Aiden’s eyes for a moment as he thought. He wanted to make sure there were no downfalls in letting this happen. He couldn’t find any, and for that he was glad. He wanted Aiden to visit home, to see his sister. After all, though he lost his own sister, Declan had gained the rest of his family back. He saw no reason why Aiden didn’t deserve the same. Not to mention, Declan had a bad habit of wanting to give Aiden anything he asked. He nodded once and reached up to cup the side of Aiden’s face with his large, calloused hand. The contrast between their skin was almost beautiful now, and it no longer reminded Declan how different they were. “I don’t see why not,” he answered truthfully. “I think we can make that happen.” He brought Aiden’s head closer to plant a kiss on his forehead like a promise. But when he pulled back he looked serious. “Are you sure, though? We’ll have to be extra cautious. I doubt they’ll be expecting you to return home, but you are a fugitive now. The authorities might be looking there.” Not to mention Declan was a bit weary of how Aiden’s mother would react. All the stories Aiden had told him about her had him thinking she might just yell and scream for guards to take him back. But he figured Aiden knew what he was doing. He was no boy. Not anymore.
And how that was an understatement. Declan thought back to the scared kid he met in his prison cell. It seemed like so long ago. Scared and huddling, calling him The Butcher. Yet there was so much good in him that he chose to save and heal one of the kingdom’s most wanted murderers, or rather vigilantes. And that good only seemed to have grown over time, outweighing the boy. He was stronger, both mentally and physically, and even magically.
He was magnificent.
Aiden would have honestly thought that the loss of the extra clan members would not have affected him After all, he had been born and grown in solitude and loneliness. But he had been with the Lysander clan since nearly the start of his journey and having the couple hundred or so dwindle to only four riders and a wolf made the wilderness around him all that more daunting. They rode their horses in silence, Aiden having quickly taken to the animal beneath him, well enough, and as they made their way down from the mountain and towards the open gladelands below, he listened to the sounds of the world; its tastes and its smells. There was too much of the open to explore, but he took what he could get, closing his eyes and letting the wind play with his long hair and the scent of pine permeate the clothing that he wore.
Winter had not yet relinquished its chokehold on the land, and the ground was covered in wet snow; the sky above them a bluish-grey. It was not until the sun began to set that a light snowfall began, and knowing that the further they went the less cover they would have, Declan bade them stop and set up camp for the evening. They tied the horses up around the thick trunk of a giant oak, and set up their tents while Aiden started a fire and pulled from the sacks they brought with them the fixings for supper. Soon the world grew dark and after eating. Aiden leaned back against a tree sipping hot tea. On the other side of the flickering flames, Bowen sat idly strumming his old guitar, staring comfortably at nothing while Nuka lay curled up at his side; his head nestled in his front paws. Thorn was nowhere in sight.
“So the map that Haverghast gave you,” Declan asked, coaxing Aiden from his thoughts. The mage glanced up with a smile as the clansman took up his seat next to him, a blanket wrapped around his shoulders which he quickly lifted up enough to allow Aiden to curl against him. “How well can you read it?”
“Well enough,” Aiden admitted and raised his wrist, to reveal the bracelet. The golden coin caught the firelight and gleamed brightly. “He left me no instructions, but somehow I can understand how to use it. Maybe…” he blushed slightly. “Maybe it’s because I’m a godson.” Turning it over, he took the coin into the flat of his palm and in his mind he asked for Bast. There was a chime that echoed in the darkness and sure enough the image erupted in a soft and comforting light; zipping back and forth between the forest where they were, and the elegance of the fabled city.
“What way do we travel, once we reach the glens?” Bowen questioned, brows arched as he watched from where he sat, stroking Nuka behind the ears.
“Northwest,” Aiden said. “I don’t know how… I just know that northwest is the way we should go.”
“Good enough,” Bowen murmured.
Aiden didn’t reply at first, his blue and silver eyes on the floating images, and suddenly it disappeared, zipping back into the map’s coin. He lifted his gaze to Declan, something hidden in his expression. “We have to go through Iona to get there,” he said quietly, his eyes never leaving Declan’s. “Do you think… we could visit my home?”
“So,” Declan heard Bowen speak up, filling the long silence. “Think you can ride that all by your lonesome?” Declan turned from adjusting his saddle to see that he was talking to Aiden, just as he assumed.
“Declan said I could. He said I should have the practice. Right?”
“You’ll kill yourself,” Thorn gruffed atop the massive Buliwyf.
“I will not!”
“Oh? Mount it then.”
“Mount it?” Aiden asked, looking from Thorn to the saddle. Declan watched the whole argument from the side, curious enough to not step in. Besides, it looked like Aiden wanted to prove something, and stepping in to help him wouldn’t do him any good.
“Get. On. The horse,” Thorn demanded, unrelenting. What did he get from this? To see Aiden make a fool of himself?
Aiden looked nervous, but then he took on his determined demeanor, much like a child would wear. He reached up several times, trying to figure out how to hold onto the saddle as he mounted. Then he put his foot in the stirrup and tried again. Then he took a chance and tried to push himself up and over, but his boot slipped and he landed on his back in the dirt. The horse looked back at him in amusement.
Thorn laughed and Aiden grew red with anger at that. But Declan didn’t have time for games. He approached Aiden and told him where to rest his hands and how to push himself up against the side of the horse. He help guide him with his hands as he did so, but Aiden seemed to grasp it just fine once it was explained.
“Comfortable?” he asked, looking up at him. Aiden looked good alone atop a horse and Declan seemed to think that Aiden felt the same. He wore a look of pride. “Now just remember when I let you take the reins with me. And remember what I taught you about how much pressure to put into the horse’s sides. Tad too much and you’ll go flying off into the horizon.” Aiden seemed to take in every word he said, and as he spoke, Declan made sure that Aiden’s saddle was nice and secure.
Nuka paced the horses legs, eager to be on the move. The animals didn’t seem to mind him once they grew used to the idea that he wasn’t there to eat them. Declan mounted his own steed finally and lead them all away from the castle. Aiden seemed to understand how to control his horse for the most part as they made their way though valleys once more.
They stopped rarely. Only enough to let the horses graze and fill their bellies. And it was only when the sun was sinking low did Declan decide to stop for the night. The trees had been thick along the way, but they were starting to lessen. Declan chose a nice spot next to a large oak to take camp. Once a fire was lit and he was sitting next to Aiden, a blanket wrapped around their shoulders, he asked him about the map. He asked if he could read it easily and if they were headed in the right direction.
As Aiden replied, he prodded the fire with a stick. He could feel the cool wind through the trees, but there was almost a hint of something new in it. He could smell it. Like the foreshadowing of spring. Or perhaps it was just Aiden’s scent…
“Never say you can’t, because then you never will.”
Aiden fell asleep with those words echoing through his head, curled up against Declan in the big bed. It was amazing what a week could do to replenish both his spirit and his strength, and the idea of going to Bast and getting the chance to truly find out who he was had his stomach fluttering with excitement like a child at Yule- something that Declan had teased him mercilessly about until he’d forced the mage beneath the blankets and wrapped an arm around him to hold him down. “Stop squirming,” the man had chuckled. “Or you won’t like where it takes you. Now go to sleep.” And sleep he had; his face buried in Declan’s broad and muscled chest with a smile on his face. Declan had given him everything- his freedom, in more ways than one. Freedom from more than the prison, but also the prison of the home he’d come from and the lifestyle he lived, the prison of his fears, and the prison of his own hidden potential…
He loved him with all his heart and soul.
“Aiden? Aiden…” Aiden forced himself to open his eyes with a small moan, feeling the gentle shake of Declan’s hand’s on his shoulder. It was dark and cold, the only light coming from the single, solitary lantern that sat on the end table of the room; the flam inside flickering.
“Declan?” he asked, his word muffled in a yawn.
“It’s time to wake up. We need to move out as soon as possible.”
“But I’m… so tired.” Declan smiled and leaned over to press a kiss to his forehead.
“You can sleep on the ride,” he whispered again and left him to get dressed. Aiden rubbed his eyes and slowly sat up, shoving back his dark hair which had become frizzy during sleep. It was getting longer- hanging to the middle of his back in curling tendrils. Bowen had joked with him about perhaps turning them into dreadlocks like Declan’s, but the Lysander chief had said that his hair was too beautiful to ruin.
In the week that they had been in the castle, prepping for the next phase of their journey, Declan had used more of the gold that Haverghast had supplied them with, and some of that money had gone to outfit them all with new clothes. Aiden was glad for it, and climbed out of bed to dress himself in the warm leather breeches, tunic, and vest that he’d been given. His parka had been ruined from the wound Pyrce had given him, and to replace it was a thick cloak that sat close to the body and buckled up the shoulder; and with it were leather gloves and a matching belt. Last but not least, Aiden silenced another yawn and quickly wrapped the glittering, enchanted map around his wrist.
“Dressed?” Aiden blinked and looked up at Declan who stood ready to go, his expression drowsy.
“Yes,” he managed, but it ended on a gasp as Declan suddenly reached down and picked him up, slinging him over his shoulder. “Declan!” he laughed, gripping at the back of his tunic as Declan carried him out of the room and down the steps, to the kitchens where Bowen was already eating. At his feet, Nuka gnawed on the beef bone that had been in the soup they’d eaten just the night before.
“Oh, what’s that?” Bowen asked, pointing to Aiden on his shoulder.
“You know,” Declan said, “Just more luggage for the road.”
“Hey!” Aiden called out. “I am not!” Declan laughed and set him on his feet.
“Oh! There you are! I thought I lost you,” he grinned before reaching out to one of the sacks on the table in the cent of the kitchen, grabbed an apple. He took a bite out of it as Aiden made a plate for himself. “Nuka, where were you last night? My feet were cold.” Nuka let out a bark, his tongue lolling out as Aiden crouched next to him and ran his fingers through his luxurious, silver fur. Despite only having been with them for a week, it was as if he had always been there. He got along with everyone save for perhaps Thorn whom he did not seem to trust. Then again, after what had transpired in the dwarves’ caves, no one seemed to trust him at all. Even Aiden did not know what to think of the dark horseman.
Bowen shrugged as he tore apart the meat on his plate with his fingers, licking at the juices. “He stuck with me for a while. Then I think he went out. Came back with some fresh turkey.” He gestured to the bird on the table which had been plucked and cooked. “Help yourselves.” Declan abandoned his apple almost immediately.
“Nice to have yet another hunter,” he murmured. Aiden smiled down at Nuka who gave a bark in return, but they all feel silence as heavy boot-steps suddenly filled doorway and they turned to find Thorn himself standing there. His dark eyes surveyed them with his usual stoic glare, black hair in jagged locks hanging to his chin.
“And was no one going to invite me?” he asked, his voice a ragged growl, and when his hard gaze settled on Aiden, he quickly averted his eyes. Almost immediately Declan stepped to the side; one of his legs positioned in front of Aiden like a guard. He was protective of the young mage almost to a fault after Thorn had nearly killed him in the guise of trying to help him survive, despite the fact the horseman had had no other choice.
“Hmph. Didn’t actually think you ate,” Bowen said, voice dripping sarcasm. “Though drinking blood and stripping the flesh off of poor hapless creatures was more your bit.” Thorn’s eyes flickered darkly but he said nothing, stalking further into the kitchen towards the meat. Aiden watched him in silence, his expression torn between uncertainty and anxiousness. In all this time that Thorn had been with them, Aiden still had yet to figure him out. He still wasn’t even certain exactly who- or what, for that matter- Thorn even was… Without warning Aiden gasped sharply as Thorn snapped out his hand and grabbed his wrist, forcing it up to reveal the map. “Where did you get this?”
“H-Haverghast…” Aiden revealed uncertainly.
“Wha’s i’?” Bowen questioned, his mouth full of food as he leaned over to get a better look.
“It’s a celestial map,” Thorn said knowingly, thumbing the golden coin for a moment until Aiden took back his hand.
“Haverghast said it would show us the way to Bast,” he said, his voice still full of wonder at the prospect of traveling. He lifted his gaze to Declan across the counter. “We… we are
“We’re going,” Declan smiled, a glimmer in the darkness of his gaze. “We’re going…”
“So,” Bowen said as they readied their horses for travel back down the mountain. He glanced over his shoulder at Aiden who stood in front of a dark brown stallion, running his pale hand over down its muzzle with a happy smile on his face. “Think you can ride that all by your lonesome? Aiden looked up at him and then over at Declan who was tightening the last leather strap on his saddlebags.
“Declan said I could. He said I should have the practice. Right?”
“You’ll kill yourself,” Thorn gruffed atop the massive Buliwyf. Aiden wrinkled his nose rather like an unhappy child.
“I will not!”
“Oh? Mount it then.” Aiden blinked and looked at the saddle.
“Get. On. The horse,” Thorn replied. Aiden made his way to the side of the saddle and gripped it. He’d never ridden a horse on his own- only ever with Declan. He had no idea how to mount the animal on his own, and sure enough he got a quarter way up before his boot slipped in the stirrup and he landed backwards on the ground and knocking the wind from his lungs. Thorn only laughed and Aiden glared, red faced as he got back to his feet and rubbed his elbow which stung from striking against the ground.
“Is the desert really as warm as they say?” Aiden had asked. “I think that will be nice. I don’t always like it to be so cold.”
“Ha!” Bowen laughed. “No? But when it’s cold- all the more excuses for you to cuddle up to Declan.”
Declan rolled his eyes with a smirk.
“I like that,” he heard Aiden say quietly. He turned to face him and found him smiling up at him. “I like to… cuddle with you.” Declan wished he was better with words. But he was dencent enough with actions, so he ran a thumb down the side of Aiden’s cheek gently, as if to say he agreed.
“Yeah- yeah,” Bowen said, and hefted the bags off the floor once more. “The desert will get cold at night. So there will be plenty time for that. In the mean time- why don’t you two head out back? Show Declan what I taught you.” Aiden nodded and tugged at Declan’s arm.
“Come on! I bet you I’ll be able to knock you down this time!”
Bowen looked over one last time and said, “Careful Declan- I’ve been training him up. He’s gotten better.”
“Oh, really?” Declan asked as he was lead back outside. “Eager are we?” he asked.
Aiden turned on him suddenly and stuck his hands up, looking as determined as ever.
“Bowen showed me some new tricks,” he said.
“Show me,” Declan prompted.
The fight was short and sweet and Aiden wound up where he did just about every time he tried to face Declan: on the cold ground with a pout on his face and Declan leaning over him.
“But I thought…” he managed, blinking in surprise, and finally moaned. “Man! I can never beat you!”
Declan let out a low rumble of laughter. “You are getting better though,” he praised. “You have to remember, I grew up learning to fight. I have my whole lifetime of experience, Aiden. You’ve only just begun. But you are coming along quicker than most.” He stuck out a hand to help Aiden to his feet. “And I would love to let you win if I could. But I have to be hard on you. It’s the only way we grow.” He let Aiden think on that for a short moment. “Now come at me again. Slower this time, in steps, so I can position your weight better. The only reason I didn’t fall is because all your leverage was in the wrong place.”
He and Aiden spent the next few hours perfecting the move. And by the end, Aiden managed to bring Declan to the ground. Three times in a row.
“And who said he couldn’t beat me?” he asked Aiden, smiling. “Never say you can’t, because then you never will. Now, let’s go get some dinner and get some rest. Tomorrow will be a long day.”
That night, when Aiden was curled up against his side, his head resting on his chest, Declan was almost sad that they would be moving on. For one, because the bed was the softest thing he’d ever slept on. For another, it was just proof that their journey was far from over. Declan looked over to Aiden and pressed his lips against his forehead gently. One thing he did know was that they would be alright one way or another…
That next morning when Declan woke, it was still dark out. But the earlier the better. When he and Aiden had dressed, he slung the mage over his shoulder with a laugh as he hauled him down the stairs and to the kitchens where Bowen was already eating. Nuka gnawed on something at his feet.
“Oh, what’s that?” Bowen asked, pointing to Aiden on his shoulder.
“You know,” Declan said, “Just more luggage for the road.” Aiden’s humorous squirming and pouting was enough to make Declan finally put him back on the ground. “Oh! There you are! I thought I lost you,” he said with a smirk and grabbed an apple. He took a bite out of it as Aiden made a plate for himself. “Nuka, where were you last night? My feet were cold.”
Nuka let out a bark and his tongue lolled about.
Bowen looked up from his food and said, “He stuck with me for a while. Then I think he went out. Came back with some fresh turkey.” He gestured to the bird Nuka had in his mouth as well as the one he had already plucked and cooked. “Help yourselves.”
Declan abandoned his apple for a moment as he turned to the turkey. “Nice to have yet another hunter,” he said.
Thorn came walking in next. He had hardly shown his face for the past week or so, which was surprising. But Declan made no complaints. Everyone looked to him as he gathered his own plate. Declan wished he would abandon his post and leave them to their job. But something told him that Thorn had yet to play a part in all of this.
By the time they were ready to set out, the horses prepared, their luggage packed up, the sun was barely coming over the horizon. Thorn sat atop that massive steed of his, the rest of them all picked the finest horses the stables had to offer. They let the rest of them go, to wander off and end up wherever they may.
It was strange to sit on the brink of leaving. Declan sat atop his steed and looked in the direction he knew they needed to head. The first step of his horse was hard to make. But once they were a decent distance away from the castle, it almost seemed freeing. Proof that his nephew was alright. That Aiden was alright. That it wasn’t all just a dream.
“Yes! I surrender!” Declan pleaded jokingly as he swung Aiden around; the mage’s long hair fluttering out in an arc behind him. He laughed, unable to help himself. These last few days had been full of a happiness that Aiden had never known existed. He was allowed to go outside the walls of the castle, feel the grass and the wind. He could run about whenever he wished- wherever he wished. He was allowed to speak his mind, to eat at the table, and not once had he been told… he had to hide. The only place he stayed away from was the room on the top floor in the very west wing where he had been kept locked away as the Jarl’s prisoner. Day’s were spent playing in a way he had missed in his childhood, and nights were spent locked in Declan’s embrace and under the spell of his kisses. And it was- a spell. Anything Declan wanted of him, Aiden gave gladly and without question. He was truly in love with the man…
Suddenly Declan turned and twisted, and Aiden gasped as the chieftan sent him flipping over his shoulder, breaking his hold and catching him in his strong arms. “You’re getting better at that,” Declan said as he brought him swiftly to the ground and was suddenly straddling him, tickling him until Aiden was breathless and almost screaming.
“De-De-DECLAN! AH! NO!” he cried out between giggles.
“But you gotta work on that grip,” he added with a hearty laugh as Aiden tried to push his hands away. Finally he stood and Aiden took several deep breaths before grabbing the hand offere to him and letting Declan pull him to his feet. They glanced over at where Bowen was still on the ground, trying to wrestle with an overzealous Nuka. Only Bowen was a man big enough to make Nuka look like a puppy.
“Nuka, I think his face is clean now,” Declan chuckled and the wolf barked playfully and backed off, sitting with tongue hanging out and tail wagging. “Oh, is that what you look like under all that grime?” Bowen pushed himself to his feet and wiped his face off.
“Watch it,” he said pointing at Declan threatening. But they both broke into laughter.
“Alright, everyone. Gather your things. We move out in the early morning,” Declan reminded them, his arm around Aiden’s shoulders. The mage smiled up at him.
“Is the desert really as warm as they say?” he asked. “I think that will be nice. I don’t always like it to be so cold.”
“Ha!” Bowen laughed. “No? But when it’s cold- all the more excuses for you to cuddle up to Declan.” Aiden blushed but it was a happy blush.
“I like that,” he said quietly, smiling up at Declan. “I like to… cuddle with you.”
“Yeah- yeah,” Bowen said, and hefted the bags off the floor once more. “The desert will get cold at night. So there will be plenty time for that. In the mean time- why don’t you two head out back? Show Declan what I taught you.” Aiden nodded and tugged at Declan’s arm.
“Come on! I bet you I’ll be able to knock you down this time!”
“Careful Declan- I’ve been training him up. He’s gotten better,” Bowen smirked and made his way down the hall with Nuka trotting at his side.
Aiden had been spending his days on and off with Declan and Bowen both to get his strength back up and learn both offense and defense when it came to protecting himself. He could shoot and arrow, sure, but Declan had told him he wouldn’t always have an arrow. And Aiden was determined to never be so weak again. He didn’t want to force Declan to have to give up another year of his life… Not when either of them might not have another year to give… He led Declan out to the yard and turned, smiling as he raised his fists and took a stance. Declan made a joke as to how eager he was but Aiden merely stuck his tongue between his teeth and hunched his shoulders. “Bowen showed me some new tricks.” He watched as Declan finally prepared himself and then swung, and Aiden ducked. He did this several more times, evading the man’s attempts and finaly took his chance where he saw it and came up against him, hooking an arm around Declan’s waist and his leg beneath the Lysander’s knee; throwing him off balance. Declan, however, righted himself quickly and before Aiden knew it, he was pinned on the cold, frosted grass once more. “But I thought…” he managed, blinking in surprise, and finally moaned. “Man! I can never beat you!”
Bowen had always thought of himself as Declan’s brother. Though they shared no real relation except for perhaps an ancestor or two, Bowen knew he would always think of him as his own blood. That’s what the Lysanders did in the first place. And Bowen just simply built on that. As children they had played together, bathed together, threw mudballs at each other. As teens they spoke of girls and showed off their weapons to one another. And as adults they had tried their best to remain side-by-side. Though it was hard with their clan torn apart and Declan in prison.
But things were different now, even if they had found each other once more. Declan was not only his old friend, but his leader now too. His Ashaveh. And these were no games they were playing as they had when they were younger. They were on a real adventure! To do what? Eh… He wasn’t exactly sure. He tried to keep up with the changes and the stories they told him. But all he really, truly knew was that it was of utmost importance. And that seemed to be all he truly needed to know.
Bowen was a beast of a man. He was taller than Declan and broader of shoulder. His muscles would never allow you to forget their existence. But there was something about his face that made him seem like the nicest man you would ever know, despite the random scars that decorated it. And some people would say that was true.
Bowen slung a roughspun bag over the back of a saddle. The horse, that used to be one of the Jarl’s, neighed at the sudden weight. He climbed on after and watched as Declan did the same to his own new stallion and together they started their way back to the castle.
“Did we really need all of this?” Bowen asked, his voice deeper than Declan’s.
“I don’t want to have to stop anywhere for a long while,” confessed Declan. “The more places we stop, the more likely I’ll be recognized. Though it does seem that the search for me had lessened while we were underground.”
“Maybe they finally figured out that they’ll never have a chance at catching you,” Bowen said with a grin.
“Or maybe they’re just waiting for me to screw up.”
“Gods, Declan, aren’t we bleak this morning?”
“Just tired is all.”
Bowen knew it was more than that. Declan was worried about everything these days. Bowen was much more of a wait-it-out-and-see kind of man. Declan was always having to plan and think and frankly he was worried that it was frying his brain.
The castle was visible, even from the town. But the closer they got, the farther it seemed to get. The hills and flat land were deceptive and what looked to be an hours ride turned into three. Though they expected such from the ride out. When they finally arrived and left the horses to graze, Bowen took the large pack onto is shoulder again so that they could fill the rest of it up with whatever goods were still inside the castle. He waited while Declan pushed open the large door and they both stepped inside to the warmth of the castle walls. As Declan called out for Aiden, he laid the pack down on the ground.
There was no reply for a while from Aiden or Nuka. Only silence and the crackling of a fire from the next room greeted them. When Declan called out again, this time with worry in his voice, a high battle cry rang throughout the hallway. Bowen turned just in time to get a face full of fur as Nuka came pouncing. “Again!?” he managed to muffle through the fur once he was on his back and Nuka started to lick his face all over. “Egh, dog breath!” That got an insulted bark out of Nuka.
As soon as he heard the yell, Declan let out a sigh of relief, as strange as it was. But the cry soon turned to laughter and Declan felt the impact of Aiden’s body on his own, gripping his wrists and holding them captive behind him. He almost fell forward. “HA! Surrender!” Aiden demanded.
Declan smirked. “Yes! I surrender!” he pleaded jokingly, but the next moment, he was twisting his wrist in a certain way that released Aiden’s grip on him. He turned and pulled the mage close, resorting to tickling him. “You’re getting better at that,” Declan said as Aiden screeched and fell to the floor in a fit of giggles. Declan followed, straddling him so he could not escape. “But you gotta work on that grip,” he added with a hearty laugh as Aiden tried to push his hands away.
The last week had been great for Declan and Aiden. In all the time they had known each other they had only known the rush of time as well. And to be able to kick back for a while and get to know the casual side of each other was something they desperately needed. And Declan found that it only made his love for Aiden grow more, which he was unsure could even happen.
Declan smirked and stood before helping Aiden up, who hesitantly took his hand, obviously afraid that another tickle war would come about.
“Nuka, I think his face is clean now,” he said, looking over to Bowen. “Oh, is that what you look like under all that grime?”
Bowen pushed himself to his feet and wiped his face off. “Watch it,” he said pointing at Declan threatening. But they both broke into laughter.
“Alright, everyone. Gather your things. We move out in the early morning,” Declan reminded.
I was the first. I was born when the cold north winds met the roar of thunder. With fir and fang I touched the earth running, and my pulse echoes the heartbeat of mother nature who held me to her bosom and had me drink of life- of milk and honey that once flowed through the very veins of this world. And when I was lonely and baled to the moon, they heard my call and kissed the thunder that rolled through my soul, and gave me brothers and sisters. Our mother was earth and our father the moon.
When the gods first made man, we were the first to offer them companionship. And when the gods first bade us protect their precious creations, we were the first to oblige them, having come to love them as they did us. But mankind was fickle and they soon lost the reverence they’d had for their creators. They pulled away from the magic, and the makers of magic. Too many of my kind followed, for our loyalty is unyielding and unbending. We would not leave the posts we had been given. We followed man and remained their steadfast sentinels. But mankind is fickle- and as with the gods before them, they came to fear us and the old magic our kind represented. They pushed us away. Those that had given up their magic remained at their side, but the rest of us fled to the vast wilderness where we took up a new post- to watch from afar. To remain alive.
There was a clan of man, however, who kept their reverence pure. Who held us as equals- not as mere animals to hunt and be hunted. These men were of the old way and so we stayed with them. I was the first and so I pledged myself to them as I had pledged myself to all of them once. I was the first and so I am the last. None of my brethren remain, having laid down their lives to protect those of the clan. I once more stood my post, and so have remained. He is the last- the last of the great chiefs. He shall lead his clan to glory, and I shall stand at his side when we both raise our face to the moon and howl our triumph to the moon.
Nuka lay at Aiden’s side as the mage practice his archery. He didn’t exactly need
to practice- firing at the makeshift bull’s-eye that Bowen had painted on a bit of animal skin hanging from a tree limb several yards away; at the end of the stonewalled courtyard of what was no longer the Vargas’ castle. It was littered with the silver shafts of arrows that glittered in the winter sunlight. Nuka’s silvery coat glittered as well. In his wolf form, he came up to half way to the boy’s chest, and acted as his bodyguard- ordered so by Declan when the chief was away. Right now he was out gathering the last of their supplies with Bowen in the town below the mountain.
Aiden strung another arrow from the elegant quiver at his back, and aimed the bow, a sable curl fluttering against his cheek. For a moment he stood there… and then let out another breath and lowered the bow. Nuka made a small whine and lifted his head to look up at him, finding him standing there and staring off into space. He’d been doing that a lot lately. Nuka wondered if Declan knew. Knew that some nights Aiden stood out in the dead garden and stared up at the sky painted in hues of silver. Nuka whined again, shaking his head to fluff out his fur, and gave a small bark. Aiden blinked and glanced down at him and then with a sigh dropped to his knee and ran his hands over the wolf’s fur. “I’m more confused then ever,” he whispered. “Does it show?” Nuka barked again and licked his face, and Aiden smiled despite himself. “I hope Declan doesn’t see it… He’s got enough to deal with than my insecurities.” Just then there came the distant call of his name and Aiden looked over his shoulder. “They’re back,” he said and then grinned as evil as Aiden was capable was. “Let’s get ‘em!” Nuka barked again, and both of them made their way back into the castle.
They snuck down several halls and hid behind a corner, watching Bowen and Declan set their goods down on the foyer floor. Aiden bit his lip with a grin and looked down to Nuka trying not to laugh. Raising a finger to his lips, both he and Nuka readied themselves. They watched Declan call for Aiden again and finally the mage let out a cry that didn’t last long- he was laughing to hard. Together he and Nuka ran top speed down the corridor and launched themselves at the two men. Aiden latched onto Declan’s back and Nuka pounced on Bowen’s front. “HA!” Aiden laughed, pinning Declan’s hands behind his back. Nuka was too busy licking Bowen’s face. “Surrender!” Aiden called out.
Declan had never seen nor heard of anyone simply passing out after making any kind of love. In fact, he was rather worried for the first few moments. But Aiden’s skin still glowed and that soothed Declan’s mind. He smirked and shook his head and took to running a hand through Aiden’s hair as he waited for him to wake again.
When he did, Aiden looked up into Declan’s gaze as the clansman traced his back bone with a gentle finger. It only took a second or two for Aiden’s face to turn red. He bit his lip, but he smiled. It was rather contagious and Declan smiled back.
"Declan... is it always... like that?” Aiden whispered.
Declan smiled wider. “Yeah… Yeah I think so. And I think it only gets better.” He smirked and kissed Aiden’s lips.
"I love you,” said the godson.
“I love you, too,” whispered the warrior. “I love you so much.”
And taking Aiden around the waist, Declan rolled them over together, switching their positions with a mischievous grin. He kissed Aiden’s bare chest all the way down to his bandages. Then ever so gently, he kissed him there too. And after using the sheets to wipe away the mess, he set to work on lacing up Aiden’s breaches before reaching over to grab the mage’s borrowed tunic that lay forgotten at the foot of the bed. He aided him in pulling it on, careful of his injuries. Only after all this did Declan start to redress himself.
As he pulled on his boots, sitting in the wooden chair across from the bed where Aiden still sat, Declan said, “You must have worked up an appetite by now,” with a grin. “Do you want to go to the kitchens with me, or do you want to lie around some more and have me bring something to you on a pretty serving plate? Because as wrapped around your finger as I seem to be, I wouldn’t put that behind me.” He stood and smiled lovingly. A smile that said even though he was jesting, they both knew it was true.
As it turned out, Aiden decided to go with Declan. Neither of them could seem to keep the grin off their faces and they held hands all the way to the dining room. Marae had no doubt been cooking, and Aiden seemed to spy some kind of pastry that suited his fancy. Declan watched him part and make his way to it.
“I know that face,” Bowen said from behind him and Declan turned.
“What?” he asked, already knowing where this was going. Bowen made some suggestive movements with his hips, wagging his eyebrows. Declan shook his head. “Stop that before I shank you. Nothing happened.”
“Oh, come on, ‘nothing happened’? You disappear for a while, then you come back with this stupid grin on your face, and you can’t take your eyes off him. Something happened.”
“Even if it did, why would I tell you?” Declan asked, jesting.
“A- I’m hurt! I mean, I’m your best friend. We threw mud pies at each other when we were kids.”
“I’ll throw a mud pie at you now,” Declan promised.
“I need you to round everyone up,” Declan said, suddenly changing the topic, and suddenly serious. He turned back to watch Aiden.
“You’re going home,” he told him. “You and everyone else. Aiden and I have things to tend to, and we’re faster alone now. I need to let my people go to their families.”
“Whoa, Declan, I’ll round ‘em up. But there is no way I’m going with ‘em.”
Declan turned back to Bowen. “I said all of you.”
“I’m not leaving you. You need my talents. Besides. I’ve seen the dead come back to life,” he said, starting to count the list on his fingers. “I’ve seen a direwolf. Then I’ve seen that direwolf turn into a man. I saw you talking to uh- nobody. Something is going on. And I want to be a part of it.”
“You know I’ll follow you anyway,” he said stubbornly. “Track you if I have to.”
The two of them shared a long, determined stare before Declan finally said, “Fine! But only you. And Nuka.”
“Wait, Nuka? Now I’m not so sure. That dog cheats,” Bowen said sarcastically.
It didn’t take long to round everyone up and inform them that they would be going back to their families. Even knowing that their Ashaveh would not be joining them, they still cheered at the news. Declan was glad for them. If he had anyone specific to return to, he would almost be jealous. But his sister was gone now. And though he would miss Nathan, he knew he would do great under the care of Marae and Farren, who heartily agreed to watch the boy. Other than that, the only person Declan wanted to be with was Aiden, and he would be right there alongside him.
His people left in groups throughout the rest of the day. And by the time the numbers dwindled down to a handful, it was time to say goodbye to Farren, Marae, and Nathaniel. Declan touched his forehead to Farren’s.
“Wish I could come with you,” Farren said.
“Your wife needs you,” he replied. The man nodded knowingly. It seemed as if he had aged to twice his age in the last few days.
Marae stepped up to hug both he and Aiden next. “I’m going to miss you both so much,” she said. “Take care of him,” she instructed Declan. He smiled and nodded.
“And you take care of my nephew,” he said. She nodded as well.
Declan picked up Nathan in a hug when he got to him. He squeezed him tight, never wanting to let go.
When he sat him back down and knelt before him he said, “Finding you, then having to leave you like this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”
“It’s okay,” Nathan said, smiling. “I contact Aiden if I want to talk to you.”
Declan smiled at that before standing and ruffling his hair. “Be safe,” he said.
“Love you, Uncle!” Nathan called after they had started to walk away with the last handful of clansmen.
“You too!” Declan called back and waved. He watched until they were out of sight before turning to Aiden. Bowen, Nuka and- to Declan’s dismay- Thorn stood off to the side, waiting for their next move.
When Aiden opened his eyes again, it was only moments later, and he found himself laying heavily over Declan's chest while the Lysander chief held him close and ran a soothing hand through his hair- down his back. He blushed... and yet he smiled, and curled closer. "Declan... is it always... like that?" he whispered. "I love you."
All posts are either in parody or to be taken as literature. This is a roleplay site. Sexual content is forbidden.