<---back to Through Faeire Halls

"Please, d-don’t make me go b-b-back” she cried. “I hate it there!" She sobbed violently, her shoulders heaving.

"Carasel" her mother pleaded, "don’t cry my darling." Her voice was calm, with dulcet tones that seemed to calm her daughter. "It can’t be that bad" she continued, "You seemed happy enough when you left in the spring".

"Dammit girl! Stop this nonsense this instant!" a new voice boomed. A brusque man thundered into the small kitchen. He stared at the young girl, then at his wife. He sighed loudly. The crying had clearly been going on too long for his liking.

Carasel cowered under his gaze. Her sobbing, which had moments before been reduced to a whimper, returned full force again. She laid her head on the simple wood table and cried, hiding her head in her folded arms. She would not look at them.

"Stop this I said. I will not tolerate this foolishness!" her father continued. Her mother reached out to pat her daughter’s head, smoothing the light red tangle of knots as she did so.

"Care, please talk to me," her mother cooed. "You can tell us what the problem is. Did something happen while you were at the Abby? Something that made you not like it anymore?"

"N-n-no, nothing happened. I just don’t like it anymore. I want to stay home" the girl replied weakly. She did not raise her head from the table.

"But why dear? Please tell me. I’m sure I can help if you would just tell me the reason" her mother said. Her voice had the same calming effect as before.

Carasel raised her head, her eyes filled with large tears and her nose running. She looked to her parents, one and then the other. She seemed to be considering something; trying to decide what to say next. They all waited in silence for a long moment.

"Speak girl!" her father rumbled.

Carasel began sobbing again, the tears rolling down her cheeks.

"And stop that crying, or I’ll give you something to cry abut..."

"Armand!" The voice cut the air, and ended the sentence before it could be finished.

Armand Childermass swallowed, looked for a moment at his wife, and nodded. "Yes Sarah, I’m sorry." He turned on his heel, and left the room, muttering "baby’s that girl... weak..." under his breath.

"You father is right, Care. It’s time to stop the tears. You’re fifteen years old. You can talk about things like an adult."

"But he c-c-can’t!" Carasel shot back, still crying.

"Now, now girl. He is still your father and you need to be mindful of your tone," her mother replied in a stern voice. "You try is patience is all. Now, tell me about the Abby. What makes it so terrible?"

Carasel stopped crying and looked into her other’s eyes. She always felt safe in those eyes. "Mother..."

"Well?" the old dwarf asked. "Did ye tell her?"

"That was almost t-t-two years ago," the girl replied.

The dwarf simply stared, waiting for more.

"I don’t remember," Carasel mumbled.

"You never could lie very well, lass" he said in a mocking tone. "But, that's not the worst failing to have, I s'pose." He smiled.

They were sitting in a private study in the Keep of Menethil Harbor, both occupying overstuffed chairs that faced each other. Books crowded the walls on all sides, and were in piles on the small tables that dotted the room. The two seemed very much at ease with each other.

"I thought Paladins d-didn’t lie" she quipped back at him.

"Ho ho! Just because a Paladin shouldn’t lie doesn't mean they don't lie," he said in an overly serious tone. He stared at her hard for a moment, and then they both started to chuckle.

"I know t'was hard for ye in Northshire. The other students were cruel, as children will be. I remember a mentor of mine told me 'Bairn are like rams... they can smell fear.' Well, they certainly smelled yours."

Carasel looked down at the floor, remembering.

"But, that was a long time ago for a lass as young as you. You've changed so much. And you've learned so much. Ye'r strong now. Strong enough ta face this. Ye can't continue ta let it haunt ye."

"I know, I know" Carasel replied sullenly, shaking her head.

"I mean it Carasel," his voice getting stern. "Ye must let it go. The anger, the pride, the self pity; they're an anchor that'll weigh ye down."

"Easy for you t-to say" she retorted petulantly. "You were the one g-g-getting teased mercilessly. You weren’t the one getting p-pushed around and b-b-beaten and..." she faltered. "It’s easy for you to tell me to get over it."

"Perhaps you could tell them in your next letter home?" suggested gently. He reached over to put his hand on hers. She snatched it away, then bolted up and dashed out the door. The old dwarf sighed.

"I told you it was a mistake to let her stay, Glorin." The voice came from a darkened alcove. A tall man in a heavy brown robe emerged and walked slowy into the room. He stopped a few paces from the dwarf and crossed his arms, the gemstones in his bracers reflecting red and blue sparkles across the room. "She cannot let go. She uses her pain as a shield. It will be her downfall, and you know it."

"Aye, but she's found someone ta care for her now. Someone she can trust completely. He gives her strength,” the dwarf countered.

"That too, is a mistake. She needs to be able to stand on her own. She must devote herself to serving the Light. This infatuation with Crownguard is just another place for her to hide. We must take steps to separate those two. For their own good."

Glorin sighed. "Are you done with your speech, Falkan? Mind who you're talking to. I understand the stakes. But this lass can succeed, if we are open minded enough to help her. I believe they are in love, and that's a powerful thing. Even you can't deny that."

"Love? She is seventeen; she would not know love if it flew here on a Griffon and bit her on the backside! She is a child and this is an infatuation. It is a destructive force, both for her and Ardhan. And I will not allow it. The others are in agreement, Glorin Steelbrow. We may not be as open minded as you, but we know what has worked for many years. We will not allow this to continue." Falkan stared at the gray haired dwarf intently as he spoke the final words.

"So... you've decided on a course of action already? Why am I not surprised?" Glorin slouched back into his chair. He looked tired. "Is there naught I can say ta change yer minds? Ye misjudge that girl. In some ways she is more mature than students three or four years older. She's had to be, with her life. She'll see through yer attempts to separate them. But, in other ways, she is still the bairn ye profess her ta be. She'll be devastated."

"If she is... so be it," Falkan replied coldly.

Glorin stared at the tall human, the shook his head sadly. "I'll not let this pass, Falkan. I'll write ta Farthing and..."

"Do not bother, old friend. As I said, I have already discussed this with Telurinon and Captain Stoutfist. They agree. We tolerated you training the girl, but it has gone far enough. They will be separated, your friendship with the Bishop not withstanding. He will not... he cannot intervene in these matters. It is done."

Carasel ran out of the keep and into the dusty courtyard, still wiping tears from her eyes. She felt the eyes of the sentries on her and she flushed pink with embarrassment. "What are you looking at!" she shouted at one of the guards near the outer wall. The guard turned and continued her circuit. Carasel immediately felt foolish for the outburst and sensed the tears returning. Get a hold of yourself, girl she told herself. She sat down near a large tree, and tried to regain her composure.

"Hey bear, you gunna hide in this here tree?" a voice whispered in her ear.

"D-d-don't call me that." she responded crossly, stifling her tears.

"What's the matter Carebear?" the voice continued to tease. A young man turned her face towards his as he spoke. "You a grumpy Carebea..." He stopped the instant as he saw her face and her tears. "Angel..." he said tenderly. "What is it? What’s wrong?"

She began to cry again, her emotions getting the best of her. He pulled her to him and she buried her face in his shoulder. He whispered in her ear again. "I'm sorry angel, I didn't mean it." He held her close and tight, feeling her body go limp as she cried. The sentry, walking back along the wall, stared at them. He paid the guard no attention. He continued to whisper in her ear "It's all right, angel. I'm here, I'm here."

Carasel began to get control again, the tight embrace sheltering her and making her feel safe. She stopped crying and lifted her head to look into his eyes. He gave her that crooked smile, and loosed one arm to brush the hair from her face. He dried her tears with his rough hand, then bent his head down and kissed her softly on the mouth. She smiled.

"What was that for?" she asked.

"You looked like you needed it" he replied. "And I didn't know I needed a reason" he gently teased. "Now, what were you upset about? I get the feeling it wasn't my teasing..."

Carasel looked down at the ground again. "I was talking to Gl-l-lorin,” she said quietly. "Talking about the past." She would not look at him as she said it.

The young man sighed, and pulled her close to him again. "And what did Master Steelbrow have to say?" he asked carefully.

"Oh Ardhan, I don't want to think about it. Ever. It's gone, history. I'm here now with you. That's all that matters." Carasel said.

"But Carasel" Ardhan whispered. "If he thinks it's important..." he let his voice trail off. She shook her head and held him tight.

"I can't do what he says, Ardhan. It's too hard, and he doesn't understand. I wish he would leave me alone," she replied.

"Now angel, you know that's not true. He's just trying to help you."

"I don't need his help," she said, pouting.

He could tell she was getting defensive, so he held her tight and let it go.

"Excuse me Lieutenant Crownguard," a stiff voice said, "but you are wanted in the Keep. Captain sent me to fetch you."

Ardhan looked at the sentry, then down at Carasel. "I’ll be back in a bit. You okay?" She nodded, and he wiped her eyes again with his hand. "Okay Sergeant, let’s go." He walked off towards the Keep to meet with Captain Stormpike.

"Refuge Pointe?" Ardhan said.

"Aye, did I not speak it clearly... Lieutenant?" the Captain growled.

"No... I mean yes... I mean it was clear Captain," he replied. "It's just, well I thought I would be staying here in Menthil... to continue my studies."

"I believe it is time for you to move on," a smooth voice said from the corner of the room. Ardhan and the Captain turned towards the sound.

"Master Falkan agrees with me," Stormpike took up again. "Ye'r too distracted he..."

"You're skills will be in demand in the Highlands," Falkan inturrupted. "You should focus on the journey ahead of you. It will not be without peril."

Ardhan stared at his Captain, then at Falkan Armonis. He nodded, then turned and left the room.

Armonis loked over at the stubby dwarf. "Will he follow orders?"

Stormpike pondered this question a moment, chewing his mustache. "He's taken with tha girl, but he'll go. He'd not disobey my orders. But what's ta say he won't return?"

Armonis snorted derisively. "If he does not go... and stay gone... I will ensure that he remains out of the picture. This behavior is completely inappropriate. We are teetering on the brink of open war. Now is not the time for childish fanatasies. The Horde remains a threat, this unspoken armistice not withstanding. I'll not allow our forces to be weakened from within." Stormpike nodded in silent agreement. "Our action here needs to serve as an example to the rest of the garrison. Perhaps we need to make the lesson suitably clearer..." He let his voice trail off, lost in thought.

As Ardhan left the Keep he decided it was time to talk to Glorin. He had considered this in the past and the new assignment was a fitting catalyst. He walked out into the road and headed for the Inn, hoping to find the dwarf there.

Glorin was Carasel's mentor and teacher, and he was training her in the ways of the Paladin. He was nothing like Ardhan’s commander, Captain Stoutfist. The old dwarf was pleased to see him, and ushered him into his room upstairs. After the initial awkwardness, Ardhan told him about his relationship with Carasel and his worries for her. To his great surprise and relief, Glorin already knew about the two of them and seemed pleased. They talked a long time, mostly about Carasel, but also about Ardhan and his life. Glorin seemed protective of his young pupil; an outlook that endeared him to Ardhan. He also knew about her dreams. The dwarf did not, however, share what the dreams were about. "Ahh laddie, that is for yer lass ta share" he said. "Be patient with her. Ye have filled her heart. She'll tell ye when she's ready. And laddie, I know yer strong enough ta hear what she has ta say."

Later that evening, Ardhan returned to Carasel's room above the tailor's shop. "Carebear, I need to talk to you," he said as he walked in. She was sitting quitely in her small chair near the fire. She looked up from her book, noted the serious look on his lovely face, and wrinkled her nose. "I met with the Captain... and with Master Armonis. I have to go away."

"Away?" she echoed softly. "For how long?"

"It's not like that Bear... it's not a mission." She frowned at him. "They are sending me to Refuge Point."

"For how long?" she repeated. She would not look at him.

Ardhan sighed and moved to her side. He knelt down and took her hands in his. "Look at me Bear." His voice cracked with emotion. "Please..."

She was quiet for a long moment, then stared at him.

"I want to tell you s-something, before you go. I want to tell you about me." Carasel looked solomn.

She stood and pulled him to the bed. As they faced each other, she made him sit still and promise not to say a word. Ardhan knew this was a delicate subject with her. Before this moment she had never talked about her home, or her time prior to Menethil. He had been there for the nightmares, though. He had held her close after she bolted upright, her nightshirt drenched in sweat; fear and pain on her pretty face. He had asked about the dreams and knew she was lying when she passed them off as nothing. He hated feeling so powerless to help her, to protect her. As she began, he remembered Glorin's last words to him. He wanted to live up to them.

Carasel stared into Ardhan's eyes. She swallowed her fear and began to talk.

He steeled himself, and whispered a silent prayer of thanks that Glorin had readied him for it. He felt his heart simultaneously breaking and filling with joy as she told him her story. The pain and anger at what had happened to her was made calm by the joy at her trusting him enough to tell. When she had told it all, he reached for her. He sensed fear and shame in her eyes; she would not look at him. He lifted her chin with his hands and stared into her placid brown eyes. He wanted her to know it was alright, that he understood, that he thought she was the bravest person he had ever met. He said the only thing that made sense. "I love you." They both cried, and then he rocked her to sleep in his arms.

Early the next morning, Ardhan woke to find an empty place beside him in the small bed. He rose, stripped off his bed clothes, and walked to the basin. He emptied some water for the nearby pitcher into the stone bowl and washed his face. He sensed her watching him, but did not turn around. Instead, he finsihed washing and walked to the bearuau. As he put on his travelling robes, he saw that she had packed his remaining clothes for him. He smiled, and picked up his saddlebags.

He turned, and saw her sitting quietly in a small chair near the hearth. "I d-don't think I can take it," she said. He dropped his bags and walked to her. He squatted down and brushed her hair from her eyes.

"If you need me, you need only to call for me."

"And you'll come?"

"If you call me," he repeated, meeting her eyes. "I will always come."

She sighed and he smiled at her. He grabbed his bags, then leaned down and kissed her tenderly.

In the courtyard Ardhan saddled his new Palamino. He was proud of his mount and was anxious to see what he could do in open country. Near the back of the stables a figure appeard, shrouded in a dusty brown robes, and watched him from the shadows. He whispered to this horse, then got on and wheeled around. The shadowy figure began moving around the outside of the stable towards the main gate. Ardhan rode around the Keep before heading towards the stone bridge. He smiled and waved to his friends on guard duty.. The shouted warm wishes and warned him to "be careful" and to "watch his arse". He traded hearty farewells with the stevedores and sailors working along the pier. He stopped a moment and took a long last look at the harbour, and at the sea beyond, before resuming his tour. As he completed his circuit Ardhan slowed to a stop in front of the Keep. He saluted the Captain and Glorin, noting the absence of Falkan Armonis.

"There's a long ride ahead, Lieutenant. Follow the road as best ye can," Stormpike said.

"Give my regards to Captain Nials," Glorin added with a smile. Ardhan nodded.

He turned his Palamino and cantered towards the city gate. The shadowy figure from the stables had, until this moment, remained motionless as Ardhan talked to the two Dwarves. Now, as Ardhan's horse began to trot, the figure appeared near the far side of the gate. The figure moved slowly and deliberatly out into the road as Ardhan began to draw near.

The horse began tossing it's head from side to side. The figure stopped in the middle of the road and stood between Ardhan and the bridge. He patted the horse on the neck and urged it forward. The figure raised a hand and shiny metal glinted in the sunlight as it's sleeve fell. Ardhan bent low behind the head of his mount and urged it on again. His horde responded and the powerful legs of the Palamino sounded like thunder. Ardhan narrowed his eyes as the horse began to pick up speed. He stared at the figure in the road and heard a voice ring in his ears.

"Ardhan... my love!"

Ardhan saw the glint of metal from the hand of the robed figure and saw the hand spring open. In an instant of recognition he swung low in the saddle, grasping its horn with one hand as he approached. In one fluid movement he clasped the open hand with his free one and heaved the figure up onto the saddle behind him. They thundered through the gate and over the bridge in a storm of dust.

"Hold tight, Carebear. "

                   Lord I'm one, Lord I'm two,
                   Lord I'm three, Lord I'm four.
                   Lord, I'm 500 miles from my home.

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