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Wake Up! Shake dreams from your hair, little one. Attn Rhya


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    Almost a month had slipped away and Owen had still not regained consciousness, something that caused Rhya and others in the Wolfkin great concern, but also growing optimism that Owen could still recover. However Rhya had been warned that it could be a long wait and there was still a chance that he could die.  They had done their best to make him as comfortable as they could, but Rhya knew Owen would not want to be in a place like this but no matter how much she pleaded with Aislyn, the Sage had been adamant that Owen had to stay where they could watch him and not have to be inconvenienced by making the trip out to Owen’s tree house.  “Why anyone would want to live so far from the rest of the Stedding is beyond me, you would almost think Owen did not want to be part of the Community here.”

    Rhya knew some of the reasons why Owen lived where he did, but no one knew the entire reasons and it was doubtful they ever would, certainly they would not if Owen did   not recover his consciousness.


                                        My whole world surrounds you, I stumble and I crawl

                                        I wonder what you’re doing, imagine where you are.


    At long last the meeting with the Aes Sedai was over. Owen, stiffly, rose from his hiding place and sat on the edge of the chest. “Well that went well didn’t it?” he said with a laconic tone to his voice. Ehlana just looked at him. No words needed saying. He could feel her disgust at the arrogant way she had been treated. “Don’t worry sis, in a few days they will be gone and we can get on with our lives without their interference.

    “I suppose your right, but there was no call for the arrogance! Where were they when we were fighting at the Gap?” All the pent up frustration she felt came across in those words. “They were safe doing Aes Sedai things I guess Ehl? Look it’s late and I need some sleep, but tomorrow we ride out early and continue your training, ok?” This brought a tired smile to Ehlana’s face. “My training?” She arched her eyebrows at her brother’s statement but he could feel her amusement. “Yes your training” A smile appeared on Owen’s face as he felt her bristle  at this. “Don’t worry though I will go easy on you”

    Deciding that his best course of action was to leave before he got something thrown at him, Owen ducked out of the tent, making sure the way was clear and made his way to his tent.

     How long was it since he had slept in his own tent? It was so long that Owen had forgotten when. Ice made her way over to my cot and climbed up on it and curled into a ball.

    Tired now White Fang, sleep, was the message Owen got from Ice

   “You’re not wrong there my friend.”


    Getting off to sleep was not as easy as he would have liked. Owen’s mind was mulling over what he had heard in Ehl’s tent but eventually sleep took him, but it was far from restful. Hardly had he closed his eyes than he felt Wolflovers presence and a request to meet in the Wolf Dream.

    The next morning dawned bright but cold. Still feeling tired and worried at the news Wolflover had told him, Owen got dressed and carrying Ice went to meet Ehl and set off on their short ride.

    Eventually they found a place Owen was happy with and dismounted, letting the horse’s wander here they liked. Ice and Shadow watched the two humans for a while before starting to chase each other around.

     “Now, the other day when you first tried this you where trying too hard and searching too far with your mind. Don’t try and use my emotions, I will need them if we are fighting together.”  Owen laughed at this as Ehl’s face creased up in mock anger. “I know, you’ll be behind your desk and I will be doing your fighting.”

    Dodging the punch she aimed at him, Owen pulled his sword free of its scabbard and increased the distance between them. “First I want you to close your eyes. Go on I’m serious.” Drawing her sword, Ehl closed her eyes and waited for her brother to continue. “Now think of one emotion that is the strongest in you. Perhaps after yesterday anger will suffice. Now think back to a time when that emotion was overriding; recall an event or occasion. When you have it fixed in your mind start feeding your other emotions into it. Combine them. You will know when you have you will feel it; you will be able to sense the flow of them and so will i. Do you understand that?”

     Ehlana nodded her head slightly at Owen’s question, “Then begin and don’t forget I will be able to sense when you have done begun”

    Owen closed his eyes and focused his thoughts. He had used this at the Gap and it still surprised him how much strength and endurance it had given him.



    All the while this was playing through Owen’s mind, the only outward sign that anything was occurring was the flickering of his eyes. At times it was quite intent, at others barely noticeable.  If Rhya had seen this she would have had cause for renewed hope, it was the first sign of movement Owen had given since he had been laid low.


To be continued.




The Whitewolf


Ranger Leader


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    The memories were coming with more frequency now, and with each passing dream Owen recovered more of his innate abilities and so the dreams themselves became more real for him. He still had no control over which memories surfaced, nor was he sure what if anything they were trying to teach him. He was only just coming to terms with this new condition he found himself in. He knew where he was, and why he was there, but he could not move or communicate with anyone and yet he could hear everything that was being said around him. He was puzzled about one voice he had not heard for a couple of days now this was beginning to cause him some concern. The memories surfaced again, and Owen stopped listening to the voices around him, instead he relaxed and let the dream begin.



    Ehlana dropped her sword and crouched down by his side, almost out of breath herself, she managed to gasp, 'Sorry about that it was a cheap shot' Owen, looked her straight in the eyes, capturing her gaze, 'Cheap shot? Do you think this would have lasted as long if you were facing a 'normal' opponent? Angrily, he pushed her away and got to his feet.


    'All the time we were fighting i could sense<^> your moves a split second before, that was why i could counter them!!Have you forgotten the 'link'? I haven’t!!Owen was still angry. He hated to fight, but knew he could give a good account if necessary. 'You were pulling your blows all the time! You’re the Commander of an Army, a skilled swordswoman, yet you were losing, why?


    Ehlana looked at Owen, not sure what to say. How did he become so much better with the link? She thought to herself. I was pulling my blows and i should have been able to 'finish' him. She felt 'confused' and not a little bit embarrassed. She 'hated it ' when people didn’t take her seriously and here she was doing the same to her brother. 'I'm sorry, i didn’t take you more seriously, but i didn’t know how good you were. I was only trying to find out how competent you are'


    'You also forgot all the things i told you about the 'wolf dream', that’s helped me to strengthen the mental 'link' we have, you can't surprise me like this, you should try it, I’ll bet that i couldn’t surprise you, either!'Owen replied. 'Just concentrate on your sword and try to 'connect' with my mind, see if you can feel my moves and anticipate them. Then you'll understand what i mean.'


    Owen picked up his sword and motioned, with it, towards Ehlana's sword,’ Now concentrate on the sword, then let your mind search out mine, just fight by instinct and see if you can make the 'link'.


    They started to spar, slowly at first, as Ehlana tried to find the 'link'. They moved around the practice field, drawing a small crowd of curious Band soldiers, even Lilli stopped her practice and watched, as the two of them seemed ‘almost’ to be moving as one. Both of them were fully immersed in what they were doing and didn’t notice the crowd around them. Eventually, after what seemed like forever, they stopped. Just like that .No words spoken, no sounds made, they stood there, lost in concentration, Owen’s eyes blazing with an inner fire, Ehlana’s face, bathed in a slight sheen of sweat, when suddenly she burst into a smile,


    'That was wonderful! I’ve never felt anything like that before. Can you do that with other people? Or is it just I? She wanted to know 'I can 'sense' other people's moods, or emotions, but not like this. It’s totally different with you. Just like before at the Stables and back in your tent when i woke up. I know you, sis, i think you can do the same, just don't make me angry again’ he said wistfully.


    Suddenly, they became aware of their surroundings and the people watching them. Lilli moved over to join them and looked at Owen with a curious smile on her lips. 'I have never seen two people, fighting for the first time together, work like that. How did you do it? She asked incredulously.


    Owen turned to Ehlana, not sure what to say, he waited for her to reply.



    Owen smiled as he remembered Ehlana’s words in response to Lilli’s question. He had not thought about Lilli in a long time, almost since the time of Ehlana’s death. She had been a strange one that Lilli, but under different circumstances Owen thought they could have become friends.


    But why that particular dream, and why now?


    Owen knew the circumstances that surrounded that period in his past, knew them like all of his memories of his sister, like the back of his hand. Owen let the memories take him where they would in the hope that he could make some sort of sense out of what they were showing him.




Ranger Leader


The WhiteWolf


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  • 2 weeks later...

  An entire day to make up for one lost night. It was obvious Owen had spent time in other women's arms; he was far too skilled for someone who was just now sleeping with someone for the first time. It was simply a fact Iris would have to accept, if they intend to make it last. She'd never felt like this with anyone, and no one had ever made her feel like she needed to be with them, to know they were alright, that they didn't really need anything. She ran her hands through his hair as he napped, her head resting beneath his chin, the blankets blocking out the cold and the tent trapping heat easily.


    They'd spent an entire day and night, stopping only long enough for Owen to go out as if nothing was out of the ordinary, and to let someone know he'd be busy and to not be disturbed until the next day. She'd hand fed him sandwiches, something which he seemed to enjoy and found rather amusing. They'd both fallen into giggles, and then reminisced about their lives a little. The scars on his body were interesting, and for some reason she felt as if they made him more attractive, but according to what he'd told her, it was something he didn't like to think about. "There were how many people? All of whom thought you were a monster? Honestly, even the greatest soldiers in history could've been taken by a mob that size. It happens, okay?" She ran a hand along his chest, feeling the scars. "They're a part of who you are. You're a much stronger person than you used to be, and you've learned a lot since then, am I right?"


    Owen nodded, but seemed distant, until she laid a hand on his cheek. He stared into her eyes as he closed his hands around hers. All she could really do is comfort him. And around him, the voices seemed to dwindle, then fade. It was odd, how two people with so many problems could heal one another just by being close. She had to take the herb her mother had instructed her about when she first reached thirteen years, to keep herself from being with child. She wasn't sure about Owen, but any child wouldn't feel safe in these times of trouble and battle. Perhaps later, when they'd reached a haven, or Stedding. She'd talk to him then about it, but until then she could easily survive just by being close . . .

    “I had to leave Iris for a short while, I had to ask Hawkeye if he would organise the training of the Guardians and the Rangers and officially promote him to Ranger.”


    When that was over with Owen headed back to Iris’s tent but remembered something he needed to get from the Bands camp. Borrowing a horse Owen rode down the slope into the camp. It was just coming alive and many people seemed to be having a hard time waking up after the festivities of last night. Arriving at the Blacksmiths tent he found him slumped over his forge, groaning slightly and holding his head. When he raised his head to look at Owen his face had a strange greenish tinge to it. Owen asked him if he had finished what I asked for and he indicated a cloth wrapped bundle on the far table. Owen made his way over there and picked it up. Owen had given strict instructions to him on the design and shape of what he wanted and was eager to see if he had achieved the required item. Just then Owen heard a loud retching sound from behind him and decided to wait till later to check his work. Beating a hasty retreat Owen made his way out of the camp, just in time to see Ehlana escorting an Aes Sedai and her Warder to the medical tents. Arriving back in the Wolfkin’s camp Owen found Hawkeye and told him about the new visitors to the Bands camp and to place it off limits for now.


    Entering Iris’s tent Owen saw she had made something to eat and placing his bundle on the floor he sat down and they spent the next hour, or so, feeding eat other titbits, something Iris seemed to find very amusing. We talked over events in our past, and no matter how Owen tried to put her off she insisted on knowing how he got the scars on his back.


"There were how many people? All of whom thought you were a monster? Honestly, even the greatest soldiers in history could've been taken by a mob that size. It happens, okay?" She ran a hand along my back, tracing the scars, a look of intense concentration on her face, as if she was memorising their shape. "They're a part of who you are. You're a much stronger person than you used to be, and you've learned a lot since then, am I right?"


Owen could feel memories stirring that he thought he had buried forever, brought forth by her innocent question. The howling of the mob cut through the daze he was in from the beating and the lack of sleep. The ropes around his wrists cutting deeply and blood trickled down both his arms. He was dragged over towards the stables where a rope dangled from an overhanging beam, beckoning him onwards like a siren. The rope around my wrists was attached to the rope on the beam and my arms where stretched above my head until I had to stand on tiptoe to maintain my balance. I waited like that for what seemed an age, but could have only been a few seconds, then I heard the hiss of the whip as it flew towards my back……


    Something soft brushed my cheek and Owen opened his eyes to see Iris smiling down at him, not the expected ending to that particular memory, “Where did you go then Owen? You seemed far away?” Again there was innocence in her voice that seemed to cut through him, right to his heart. Shaking his head and smiling at her Owen gathered her up in his arms and held her close, not wanting to lose this calming effect she had on him.


    Owen woke from a brief nap, a few hours later, their lovemaking had been gentle, but still passionate, maybe more so for the gentleness involved, but still exhausting, especially when combined with the events of last night. Iris’s head was resting on Owen’s chest and her right hand was entwined in his, holding on as if her life depended on it. Brushing her blonde hair from across her forehead, Owen noticed her lips moving and tried to hear the words she was saying. It sounded like she was telling someone to leave her alone, to shut up and stop annoying her. She seemed to be getting more annoyed, but her voice was still too quiet to hear properly. Her body started to twitch and her forehead creased as if in concentration. She smelled of annoyance and frustration as well.


    Owen stroked her forehead and gently called her name, over and over until she finally seemed to come out of it. Her eyes slowly opened and the pressure lessened on my hand, although she didn’t totally release it. “Iris what was that all about? You where shaking and crying, and it sounded like you where carrying on a conversation with yourself as well. ?”


She looked up at Owen; her golden eyes shining with unshed tears, the pain in them clear to see. Not knowing what to do, Owen gently kissed both of her eyes and waited for her answer.


  Coming bolt upright in bed, Owen’s eyes shot open as if the eyelids could not longer stand being in close proximity to each other. Without conscious thought, Owen swung his legs out of the bed, and placed his feet on the floor. However, when he put his weight on them they promptly slipped out from under him and he collapsed, unceremoniously, to the floor.

    Cursing himself for having less intelligence than a stone wall, Owen tried to rise from the floor, however his arms had all the strength of wet grass and so he decided the wiser course was to sit on the floor for a while until he had enough strength to get to his feet.

    By the time Owen safely got to his feet, his backside was as cold as a side of meat that had been stored in a cool room. Slowly he made his way to a small cupboard where he hoped to find some clothing; a naked leader of the Rangers was not a sight to promote respect for the person or the position. Opening one of the draws Owen removed a green wool shirt and a pair of brown leggings. They had been washed smelt of the soap that Rhya used, smiling to himself Owen wondered where she was, as he had thought she would be near him. Obviously at this point Owen had no idea how long he had been unconscious but he would find out soon as one of the Sages were making their rounds and his room was next on their list.

    It was late afternoon when Owen finally managed to leave the Infirmary and make his way to his home. On the way he was stopped many times with people asking after him and saying how glad they were that he had made a full recovery. Owen tried to respond as politely as he could, but he had never been the sort to enjoy attention and by the time he had reached his home, and climbed up the tree, he was nearly ready to smite someone. Finding the house empty, and no sign that anyone had been there for a while, Owen’s mood was not improved, if anything it darkened considerably.

    Sitting in his chair on the balcony, Owen let his mind wander over the last memory he had had before waking. For a long time he had wrestled with the guilt he felt over what had happened to Iris. Finally he could stand the not knowing any longer and had taken the rangers on a trek through desolate lands to find Iris’s parents and see if they knew where she was. All the way there Owen had been racked with doubt, he had got to the stage where he had convinced himself that Iris had left him and wanted nothing more to do with him. What he did not know was how far from the truth that was. Finally they had found the farm where Iris’s parents lived and had found it utterly destroyed. In his rage at this, and at being captured by the worthies of the nearby town, Owen had broken free and set fire to the nearest buildings. Partly to aid their escape, but partly in retribution to what they had undoubtedly done to Iris and her family.

    It was late in the night before Owen finally roused himself and made his way to his room, not before one lingering look out over the forest, his mind filled with the image or another female who it appeared had left him.




The WhiteWolf


Ranger Leader



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Rhya paused at the door, preparing herself for the sight inside. She hated seeing him lying there helpless, seemingly shorn of all the things that made him who he was. She knew it wasn’t really the case but even the appearance of it was distressing.


Finally pushing the door inwards quietly, she discovered there was nothing she could have done to prepare herself for the stripped and empty bed before her eyes. There was no trace of Owen at all. Gone….dead…. Her hand clamped on the doorframe to keep her upright before her mind latched desperately onto a new possibility.


They must have needed the room. They’ve moved him. That’s all. Trying to ignore the panic rising inside, she turned back to the corridor and frantically worked her way back to the front of the building, checking each of the rooms she passed. Nothing. She shook her head in denial, all of her worst fears coalescing into a hard knot in her stomach, her lips compressing against the emotion bubbling up. In the last room she disturbed a trainee tending a wound on a young girl’s hand and the look on Rhya’s face had the woman opening her mouth as though to speak.


Rhya didn’t want to hear the news she knew must be forthcoming and held her hand up for silence as she backed away slowly step by step.


“No…nooooo,” it was a barely a whisper, sliding from between her lips and lost in the rush of air as she turned and bolted from the building, hurling herself down the steps. She could hardly breathe but she ran. She ran like the wind for the woods, branches whipping at her face, catching her hair but she paid them no heed, the growing sense of loss nipping at her heals as she tried to outrun it, her eyes wild. An unseen tree root caught at her toes suddenly, tripping her and sending her headlong but she was up and running again in seconds.


It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have left. Shouldn’t have gone away. If I’d been here… the accusations spun through her head, guilt making room beside the grief as she aimed arrow straight for the only sanctuary she knew.




Home, the word hung there taunting her with a comfort that was unattainable as she looked up at the tree house. How can it be home now? Her hands reached for the rope and she struggled to find the energy to pull herself up. The emotional exhaustion of weeks of waiting added to the strain of the long journey was taking its toll but minutes later she was on the solid floor of the balcony and reluctantly walking towards the door. It looked like a barrier to her in that moment, a line drawn between what once had been and the present but it was a barrier she had to cross and she shoved it gently, and moved into the room.


She was assailed immediately by a familiar scent in the air and closed her eyes against the pain.  One step, another ... and she opened her eyes again... and stared blankly at the figure before her. She blinked. It was an illusion. It had to be. But he was breathing...


Her hand moved first, flying up till the back pressed against her mouth, the blood draining from her face as her other hand instinctively caught the nearest object to steady herself. It was too much, it was all too much. Too many shocks and her brain was in overload.


“Owen...?” the soft query hung there, doubt and disbelief in her voice as her eyes devoured the apparition. “How..? You... I... you weren’t there. The bed was empty. You were gone. I looked.” Rhya’s voice rose several octaves with stress as sentences tumbled out on top of each other.


As she reached her limit, Rhya swayed where she stood fighting the sudden weakness in her knees as tears spilled unnoticed down her face. She was past the point of watching what she said.  “Light! I couldn’t find you... I thought I'd lost you... I thought.. you were dead... I couldn't find you.” The words repeated like a mantra almost as though she were talking to herself. She wanted to touch, to make sure it was true, that this apparition was real even though every sense told her it was so. She couldn't move though, glued to the spot like a sapling putting down roots and, much as she would have disliked the idea had she been aware of it, every bit as fragile.


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    The morning of Owen’s first day out of the Infirmary dawned bright and clear, and the morning sun's first rays found Owen still sitting on his balcony gazing out across the expanse of forest, his troubled mind not allowing him any rest as he fretted and worried about where Rhya was and why she had left him. Fatigue was etched across his face, his eyes had taken on a sunken appearance and to all intents and purposes Owen looked a shadow of his former self. All the vitality that he usually displayed was nothing but a distant memory. Eventually Owen roused himself from his chair and, after briefly scratching Ice behind her ears, Owen entered the house and walking over to the kitchen started to look for some food. However, all he could find was some mouldy bread and some stale herbs. Sighing to himself he left the kitchen and went to his room and picking up his green cloak, he made his way outside and down to ground level. He knew there would be food at the Inn and that was a much better option than cooking for himself right now.
    Returning to his home later in the day, after trying to do some exercise, which had made him feel faint, and buying a couple of loaves and some other supplies, Owen returned to his chair on the balcony, musing over the strange path his life had taken to get  to this point. Realising that thinking that way would serve no purpose, Owen went inside to prepare his evening meal, while doing so he poured himself a glass of Lentrian Red from the small barrel on the shelf and proceeded to cook his meal.
    It was late the next day, actually early evening, when a familiar scent came to Owen, and the sound of someone climbing up the ladder to his home.  Emotions clashed inside of him, first anger at being ignored, and anger at being left on his own when he was in the Infirmary, then concern and worry, followed by self doubt.
    “I suppose you have come back for the rest of your things Rhya. Well don’t let me stop you, you know where they are and are welcome to collect them and anything else you need. “
    So lost in his own thoughts was he that he heard nothing that Rhya had said before he spoke, instead wrapped up in his own emotions, Owen carried on. “However, you choose a poor way to repay my hospitality by leaving when I am laid up Rhya, I expected better from you.”
    Owen did not mean to sound so hurt and disappointed, and at any other time his voice would have been its usual emotionless self, but he was still weak and disorientated from the long time he had been in the Infirmary.  He did not even bother to stay where he was to hear Rhya’s reply but instead made his way into his home and poured himself another drink, it was then that he felt the hand on his arm, and sighing again, turned to face Rhya.


The WhiteWolf

Ranger Leader

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Slowly, so slowly it felt like waking from a deep sleep, Rhya’s brain clicked to the fact that Owen was talking but she wasn’t listening to him. She was still staring, checking him over for any signs of damage as though there would be visible evidence of his accident but there was nothing. He seemed perfectly normal.


Released from her frozen stance by the wave of relief that washed over her, she wiped a hand tiredly across her face and started to speak again, only to stop short as some of Owen’s words hit her like a slap in the face.


What? Leave? Why? She stood there, stunned, as he turned his back, walking away from her into the kitchen. She knew she shouldn’t have left the Stedding but to throw her out? That made no sense! He couldn’t be that upset when she’d only been trying to help. It was completely unreasonable. No, wait... there had been more... Rhya shook her head in confusion. He thinks I’m leaving? “I suppose you have come back for the rest of your things”, that’s what he said. Why would he think that?


Suddenly her head flew up as the tone of his voice registered and she watched him pouring a glass of wine, noting the tension in his shoulders and back. He’d been hurt, disappointed. Not angry. Disappointment at her breaking rules she could understand, but there was no reason for him to be hurt. Was there?


Rhya began to walk hesitantly towards the kitchen. “You choose a poor way to repay my hospitality by leaving when I am laid up Rhya, I expected better from you.”  Then her anger sparked as she took in the underlying import of what he’d implied. Rhya’s temper was slow to flame, even when provoked, but there was a steel core to her that drew certain limits. She was Saldaean through and through after all and that temper was as hot when it did surface as any ice pepper. Her eyes narrowed at the insult. What did I ever do to make him think me such an ungrateful, ill bred wool head? She knew she’d given him no reason to slight her in that way and moreover, acknowledged that he would not normally do so.


Realisation dawned finally and though the insult yet grated on her nerves, the anger was tamped down. He doesn’t know why I was gone! More to the point, it mattered to him that she hadn’t been there. Not just hurt, something else...something more than that.


Laying a hand on Owen’s arm until he was forced to turn and face her, Rhya tilted her head up, her uncertain eyes looking at him from a pale, tear stained face as she tried to straighten her frantic thoughts into a semblance of coherence and bring her fast changing emotions under control.


She sensed that reassurance was needed, an unusual fact that tugged at her heart, pushing her own concerns to one side. She’d never known him to look vulnerable, not even when she’d asked about Ehlana and Iris. He’d been brusque, private and shown little emotion other than a wish not to speak about it. All this ran through her head in seconds, intuition telling her that those two ladies had more than a little to do with this. She spoke quietly.


“I left the Stedding Owen, I didn't leave you.” The statement hung in the air. “I was always coming home. The Sages... they said that you might not recover. It had been weeks when I went. Weeks of waiting, of watching, hoping. You hadn’t moved at all. You were so still.” Rhya made no attempt to disguise the stress and worry behind the brief remarks. “The more time passed the more Aislyn fussed at me and I tried to get her to move you home you know, but she wouldn’t listen, she didn’t understand. I just... I couldn’t sit there any more like that, doing nothing, so when Shadow wanted me to help, I went... to find a Wanderer. I didn't tell anyone where I'd gone.” She paused, her eyes growing distant for a moment. “When I got back your room was empty and I looked for you, looked in every room but you weren’t there, weren’t anywhere and I thought... I believed you’d died, that I hadn’t been here and...” her voice caught at the memory of the recent pain and she drew in a ragged breath, throwing out the last thing she could think of to reassure him and dragging distracted fingers through her hair. “But you’re here and I’m home and if I have my way I won't be leaving you ever. I don’t leave people I love unless they force me to.”


For all there was much she did not know, Rhya knew three things for certain. If Owen could not let go of the past, it would ruin his future; if he could not judge her on her merits alone it would ruin hers too; and regardless of either, the only way she would leave him was if he asked it of her.


Still not daring to hope and fighting exhaustion to stay upright, Rhya wrapped her arms around herself defensively. Pushing down memories of her family sending her away, only the need to be sure he understood kept her eyes on his as the treacherous question took shape. And what will you do if he does ask it?


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    Scent after scent reached Owen’s nostrils, pouring from Rhya like a waterfall in the high mountains, except waterfalls did not contradict each other. First there was concern and shock, then anger and resentment and then pity and love. Of all of these Owen found the last one hard to believe. Love? She is too young to know anything about love.

    Love was something that Owen craved, but whenever he thought he had found it, it had slipped away like mist on a summer’s morning. First with his sister, then later on with Iris, the one person who had seemed so in tuned with his own feelings that it was like walking around inside the mind of the other. That ability had been something Owen had fully shared with his sister, to an even greater degree than he had with Iris. With Ehlana they had put it down to being twins, even though to look at the pair of them it would have been hard to tell they were related in anyway, something that had worked to their advantage. And then there had been Iris, cut from the same cloth as Owen, Iris was the ideal soul mate for him, and he for her.

    Poor Iris troubled by voices she could not ignore, voices that caused her so much inner turmoil. I only hope she has found peace now.

    It was a bitter sweet thought for Owen. He had mourned her loss for so long he had begun to believe that he would never recover from her loss. That was until he had been sent to find Rhya and bring her back to the Stedding. So unlike either Iris or Ehlana, there had been an almost instant respect, from Owen, for her. Since her return to the Stedding, they had spent months in each other’s company, helped by Rhya asking if she could live at Owen’s place. Her presence had brightened the atmosphere in Owen’s home and that alone was worth having his solitude removed. That and the way Shadow had taken to her. It was an old fable in the Wolfkin that it was the wolves that choose its Wolfkin partner, and if a wolf did not want to remain it would not. Seeing Shadow’s reactions around Rhya Owen had known that Shadow would be with Rhya for as long as he could be. Just then the last words that Rhya had spoken broke through his musings: ““But you’re here and I’m home and if I have my way I won't be leaving you ever. I don’t leave people I love unless they force me to.”

    “Love? Tell me Rhya what do you know about love? Do you know the love of a two-leg for another two-leg? Do you know that it is said that when two Wolfkin mate, that they mate for life, just like the Wolves do? Have you any idea what it feels like to lose your mate? To have them ripped away; no reason other than they had yellow eyes?”

    Turning away, Owen could not hide the tears in his eyes. What he had said about mating for life was true, and with that came a burden that some found almost impossible to put down when their mate died. Continuing on, in a voice suddenly devoid of emotion. “I am not sure i believe in love any more. I have loved, and been loved, and the price to pay is too high. It is better that you find another, or better yet, guard your heart well and not allow this pain and tragedy to invade your life. There are times when i wish i had not.”

    The last was said so quietly that Rhya would have missed the words if she had not been paying such close attention.




The White Wolf


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A calmness fell over Rhya as she listened carefully to Owen’s reply. She had suspected her age would come into this, somehow, ever since she’d first acknowledged her own feelings for what they were so she was unsurprised by his first question. Something told her that was more of a symptom than a cause though.


Tears that he could not quite hide tore at her. They were both overwrought. She didn’t wish to cause him more pain but she also knew that such an opportunity might be long in coming again. She had no illusions that under normal circumstances he would never have let her see so much. In fact she doubted he realised just how much she could sense and it was naught to do with being ‘Kin but rather an observer of humanity.


Of course, usually her own emotions were not involved and those she observed tended to be eminently less capable at hiding, which made this a more complex matter and Rhya more determined to take advantage of the lapse in control. Owen might not, in the end, either return or accept what she offered, but she would cope with that. The cost to herself was unimportant and that acknowledgment, that his happiness took precedence, gave her strength. For his sake, she had to try to make him see how wrong he was.


Rhya moved stiffly, finding a glass for herself and gently removing the one Owen held, placing them on the counter and filling them both with wine. Reaching up silently, her fingertips brushed a stray tear from his face and she handed him his glass again.


“Come,” she said firmly, her normal practical nature taking over. “If I don’t sit, I am like to fall over and you are still weak. Don’t deny it, I can see it well enough.” Owen opened his mouth as though to refuse and she continued, “Humour me. You only need to listen.”


With that she turned, walking out to the balcony and taking a deep breath of the evening air. The sun was low behind the trees and even under so much stress, Rhya could appreciate the beauty of the view and the peace of her favourite spot. It took a few moments but with a visible reluctance, Owen appeared in the doorway and went to sit in his usual place. Kicking a few cushions into a comfortable pile, she sank down cross-legged with a thankful sigh and leaned back against the wall of the house. To anyone passing, the scene would have been a familiar one. So many evenings had been spent sitting just like this as one subject after another came under their scrutiny. Never had one been so vital as this though.


Putting his last round of comments to one side for the moment, Rhya set out to clear up what she thought was the centre of the problem. She did not like the air of rejection Owen was projecting and that had to be dealt with first.


“I want you to do something,” her tone remained firm. She would get nowhere if he did not pay attention. “I want you to put aside whatever you think you know and actually listen to what I am saying Owen because I have already explained this once. Did you take in any of it?” She did not wait for his answer. Certain that she had his attention properly now she carried on, explaining again where she had been, why she had been away from the Stedding and what had happened on her return. “You know how happy I have been here Owen, when did I ever give you cause to think I would leave? Home… this is my home. It took some time for me to feel that but it is so and has been for many months now.” She kept a close watch on his face as she talked, making sure he was taking it in this time. “Did you stop to check my room and see what was there? If you had you would have found my pendant on the table. It is still there. The one my grandmother gave me.  I told you of that. Would I leave it behind if I was leaving permanently? You know I would not. No-one could tell you where I was because I did not take time to tell anybody...” Rhya paused as she realised that wasn’t entirely true, “…except for Ice. Shadow told Ice where we were going. You can ask her if you do not believe me though why you would not when you have not doubted my word before…”


She took a long, careless drink of her wine. “I am no coward to slink off while you lie ill… without a word, without an explanation, with no thanks. Did you think this through at all? Is my character so flawed in your eyes that you believe the worst of me with no evidence other than my absence? Was there no other possibility than that I had just decided to walk away?”


Rhya’s spare hand waved around in agitation as she spoke, her emotions not yet completely under her command. “Did you ask yourself what possible reason I would have to leave? Where on earth would I go? I have nobody, nowhere else. Back to my family who did not want me and sent me away… for no reason other than I had yellow eyes?” She flung his own words back at him. “No. Do not ask me if I have suffered loss, Owen. It may not be in the way you mean but I understand loss all too well.” Her eyes pinned him, flashing dangerously as her tone went flat. “That room was empty. You hear me? You were gone. Do you think I felt no loss then, thinking you dead? You have no idea how many years I aged in that moment. I do not have such a wealth of people to care about that the loss of one can be accepted with equanimity.”


Flinging more wine down her throat her voice softened, “Guard my heart well? It is long past the time for that. Long past. It was too late the day a very naive girl watched a young soldier leave with his Lord to do battle in the Blight. So young, so full of ideals, so certain that life was forever...so unprepared. It is not forever. Death is a part of life. Was it love I felt then? In its way. Hero worship, innocent infatuation perhaps, but no less caring for that. It hurt badly enough when that young man did not return. Reality can be a harsh teacher. There was more than one reason I would not marry when my father insisted on it. Loss... yes, I know about that. What Borderlander doesn't?” She sighed, calming once more, “Admit it to yourself if not to me, you were not thinking clearly at all when you got home. No more clearly than I when I took off without a word to anyone.”


Rhya fell silent then, shifting to a more comfortable position. Tiredness was making her limbs leaden and she closed her eyes for a moment wondering if anything she had said would make the slightest difference.




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    If Owen had been paying more attention he would have been taken aback at the resemblance to his sister when she had her hackles up, Rhya was displaying traits that were very similar to Ehlana. Owen had always admired the no nonsense approach to problems that Ehlana had always shown, which was in marked contrast to Iris who had always attacked problems with a verve that could frighten and confuse those who did not know her.

    “Admit what? That i was concerned for you? Concerned were you where and what you were up to? Of course i was concerned. It is not like there are so many of us that i would not be concerned over your absence? As for me not thinking correctly when i got back here, what did you expect? I still don’t know what happened to me, except that i was in the Infirmary for al length of time and that everyone thought i was dead or dying. Events like that can take a person to places they would not normally wish to visit.”

    The silence enveloped them as their fury suddenly vanished. I t has been a near run thing with Owen’s life, if the small stone had been just a bit lower then Rhya would now be talking to herself, an experience that should be avoided at all costs. “I guess this has affected both of us more than we would have thought. Life is transitory Rhya that is something that you need to remember the next time you go haring off on some errand. Mind you the wolves do not normally ask something of someone who cannot cope with it. I take it you accomplished your task?”

    As a change of topic went, it was not the smoothest, but for now Owen figured it would give both of them some time to come to terms with recent events, and prevent it boiling over and becoming a bone of contention between them.  That is if Rhya would let it rest, Owen knew just how persistent women could be, of all ages and persuasions. Hopefully Rhya would turn out not to be like most of the women he had known, but there was still time for her to disappoint him.



The WhiteWolf


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Rhya kept her eyes closed. The only sign of irritation as she listened was the compression of her lips and a slight frown creasing her forehead. She knew he could be stubborn but this was bordering on block headed! As Owen clumsily changed the subject, she sighed softly and let the annoyance go. He was right about his accident. It was still very recent and he was obviously not his usual self yet.


“Your worry over and duty to the ‘Kin does you credit. Concern is understandable. Jumping to a conclusion which is not only unlikely but highly improbable is not. That is all I was attempting to point out,” Rhya kept her words light and reasonable, not wishing to argue further. “Yes, I did what I set out to do. I found a young man, Rahien and his wolf friend, Snow. I left him with Aislyn earlier today before I went looking for you. We had no problems on the journey and I promise I was careful. Shadow was with me and he and Snow kept a watch over us too. I do not think Rahien or Snow will have too much trouble accepting their new home.”


Rhya finished the remainder of the wine in her glass and placed the empty vessel on the floor to one side, noting vaguely that she felt light headed. She was more than drowsy but forced herself to speak, “I’m sure the Sages would have told you about the accident when you awoke. It happened the day we arrived home from Niall’s, do you remember that part?” Her voice was toneless, relating only the bare facts. She was not too proud of her own behaviour in the aftermath, aware that she had shouted at the Sages and been too frantic with fear and worry to accept what they had said. “We were walking through the woods and almost back to the village. There were children playing and one of them threw a small stone. I was ahead of you and didn’t see it, I only heard you fall. It was a random thing, wrong place, wrong time. The Sages took care of the wound and you were moved to the Infirmary. That’s where you stayed until you woke up, as you know. They had little hope that you would recover but it seems the Creator is not yet done with you this Turn.”


Rhya dragged her eyes open and struggled to get up then, knowing that if she sat much longer she was going to fall asleep and that it would be unwise to do so without at least eating first. Once she was on her feet, she raised her arms, lifting her heavy mane of hair away from her neck and tugged the strand of leather that lay there over her head. Catching the object it held in one palm, she coiled the leather atop it and considered it thoughtfully. Reaching over, she dropped the object into Owen’s hand and curled his fingers over it.


“Keep it. It is not every day we get second chances.” Half turning, Rhya hesitated, some impulse forcing out the words, “Don’t regret being loved Owen. Ehlana and Iris must have been remarkable women and you do them no honour to wish that love had never happened. You’ve experienced what few people ever do and their presence in your life was a blessing, however brief. You have not lost them for they are a part of you, of who you are. Mourn them well… and then ask yourself this; is your life truly so empty that you will let it pass you by while you live with memories?”


Having said all she had to say, Rhya went inside in search of food, leaving Owen alone with his thoughts. She sensed, if he did not, that he was at a turning point of sorts. It is time he made a choice. It is unhealthy to wallow in such self-pity, no matter the justification. 




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    After Rhya had gone into their home, Owen stayed in his seat, mulling over what Rhya had said. Well if the Sages did tell me what had happened i have no memory of that.

    Rhya’s mention of Niall’s name stirred something in Owen’s memory, a picture of a balding over weight jolly person came to mind, but he could not remember any recent trip to Niall’s home and certainly not one involving Rhya. The last time Owen could recall going there was at the end of a training session for one of the Guardians and that had been some months ago now.

    As he thought over what Rhya had said, Owen unconsciously turned the stone over and over with his fingers, almost as if he was worrying away at the stone, trying to get it to impart some memories. The more he thought about the lapses in his memory, the more concerned he became. It was not like him to forget things, especially not something like a trip to Niall’s with Rhya, but he honestly had no memory of that event, or of the Sages explaining what had happened.

    Letting out his breath, not realising he had been holding it, Owen ran his hand through his long hair, brushing it back from his forehead before taking another sip of his drink and then settling back in his chair, continuing to try and force some sort of memory to come forth. It was no good however, and the more he tried to force the memory, the more frustrated he got. What he needed was some sort of distraction, something to take his mind off the problem and let his subconscious work on it instead. A distraction was just what he got when Ice and Shadow returned from their trip and let Owen know they would like entry to their home. A small smile appeared on his face at Ice’s insistence that it was her home and not Owen’s. There were times when Owen questioned just who did own this place, he was almost certain that it was not him.

    Standing up, Owen mover over to the balcony and then climbed down the trunk of the tree. When he reached the bottom, Ice and Shadow were waiting for him and it only took a moment to get Ice into the sling. She had played this [i[game[/i] with Owen many times and waited patiently for Owen to climb back up the tree and start to pull her up. When Ice was safely on the balcony, Owen took the sling and lowered it back to the ground. He was just about to start back down to the ground, when he looked down and saw that Shadow had position himself in the sling and was ready to be pulled up. Well I’ll be! Now that is a trick that Ice should learn. Smiling in amusement Owen returned to the rope and started to lift Shadow up to the house. It did not take long and as soon as Shadow was safely on the balcony he made his way inside the house, no doubt in search of Rhya, and it was not long before Owen heard Rhya greeting Shadow as he made his presence known to her.

    Returning to his chair Owen picked his glass up again and continued to periodically sip at his wine, his mind returning to Rhya’s last words. Mourn them well… and then ask yourself this; is your life truly so empty that you will let it pass you by while you live with memories?”

    The problem is that i do not mourn them, all i went is to have them back, to know they are here and safe.

    Sighing to himself, Owen stared out at the deepening gloom that was settling over the forest, one that was matched by his mood. 

    How does one move on from a loss so deeply felt? It was not a subject that had ever come up in Owen’s training, either with Wolflover or Riverwind. Grief such as this affected people in so many different ways that there was never an easy way to deal with it. Owen did not think Rhya did fully understand the feelings he had, to be connected so closely to someone, such as he had been with Ehlana, was an experience that was not easy to explain. It was then that a thought occurred to Owen, and without waiting he decided that he would try and explain to Rhya just why he felt the way he did and reveal to her something that only a very small number of people knew about.

    Owen entered their home and walked into the kitchen where Rhya was doing something with a knife and what looked like a loaf of bread. Standing there for a moment he watched her work, sawing away at the bread as if it was a log for the fire.

Clearing his throat, Owen noticed Rhya jump slightly, so intent on her butchery of the bread, that she had not sensed him come in. “I know what you are trying to do Rhya, but i am not sure you fully understand how things were between Ehlana and i. We were twins and because of that we shared a bond that is almost unique. If i had to describe it so you could understand, or at least begin to understand, i would say it was like having another person in my head. Although we could not speak to each other this way, we knew what the other was feeling and the closer we were the more we felt from the other. Even when i was here and Ehlana was far away, we could still feel each other and let the other know we were ok. Trying to get over that loss took me a long time. To become used to the silence after all those years was like losing your hand and having to relearn everything again with the other hand. Only there is no other hand to take her place. For a while Iris did, but it was different with her, we could only approach that level of intimacy, we could never truly reach it. But Iris helped quiet the memories in other ways, and combining the two helped to make up for the silence. Now even that is gone and after this accident it feels like i lost both of them just yesterday.”




The WhiteWolf


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You are troubled cub.


Rhya spun and dropped to one knee, flinging her arms around the wolf and burying her face in the shaggy fur at his neck, taking a deal of comfort as always from his presence.


Indeed. You see much Shadow. But it is something I’ll have to work out myself. It’s good to see you, though I didn’t expect you back so soon. Is Ice with you? Did you hunt well?


Rhya returned to hacking at a loaf of bread as she “listened” to Shadow with half a mind. Unaware of Owen entering, she jumped in surprise as his voice interrupted the flow of tangled thoughts tumbling around in her head. She was further startled when he chose to explain more about Ehlana and Iris given how reticent he normally was on the topic, but over that lay a growing concern. I knew they were twins and of the unusual bond. Does he not remember telling me that himself?  A frown began to mar the skin of her forehead but she hastily smoothed it away, not wanting to worry Owen. She had heard of people losing periods of time after a hit to the head and decided that if it did not improve over the next few days, she would speak to Aislyn.


Hunting out a jar of berry jam that she’d made several months ago, Rhya set about spreading it onto several thick slices of bread then poured two mugs of steaming hot tea. They’d had more than enough wine for one night in their condition.


“I can’t imagine what such a bond would be like or how painful its lack would be. It sounds more than we share with the wolves from the way you describe it and that would be bad enough to lose,” she responded. Keeping her back between Owen and what she was doing, Rhya dropped some herbs into his tea and disguised any lingering taste with a spoonful of honey. The herbs were harmless, simply relaxing anyone who ingested them, which was exactly what he needed. The tension she had noted earlier had not eased at all and since he would never admit to any weakness, she took control of the situation with her usual practicality.


Folding a piece of the bread, Rhya turned and seeing Owen about to speak further, popped the bread into his open mouth smiling impishly, “Hush, you need to eat as much as I do.”


Gathering the mugs and the rest of the food, she wandered into the sitting area with Shadow trailing at her heels and made herself comfortable on the floor. Once Owen and Ice had joined them, she handed him his tea, sipping cautiously at her own as she tried not to burn her mouth on its heat before tucking into the bread, enjoying the sweet stickiness of the jam. “You know, food always helps. I remember thinking that the day you found me. There’s something very reassuring about having a full belly. Somehow, it cures a lot of ills.”


Rhya picked her next words with care. It was not that she had wished to avoid responding to what Owen had told her but more that the subject deserved respect and no small amount of tact. “It seems to me that you’re thinking of your relationships in the wrong way. What you shared with your twin was unique and it’s hardly surprising that you haven’t reached that same closeness with anyone else. I would imagine it’s a loss you will always feel keenly because Ehlana is irreplaceable. You said it yourself, what you had with Iris was different, special and unique in itself. You make a comparison that doesn’t need to be made when you talk of being unable to reach that same level of intimacy with her. Each of them had their place and their time.”


As she talked, Rhya lifted his right foot, placing it in her lap and beginning to massage it firmly. It was something subconscious that prompted the action, a memory of performing the same service for her grandmother during her long illness. It was said to ease stress and relax the whole body and though she didn’t entirely understand the why of it, she had become reasonably skilled at the art with practice. It didn’t occur to her that there might be any objection so she didn’t stop to ask and she found the rhythm of the work soothing.


“I am quite certain you had many reasons for loving Iris as you did, more than a mere salve to cover any silence. What you felt for her and for Ehlana does not preclude loving anyone else either. A child loves its father no less for loving its mother. A sister loves her brother no less for loving her husband. They are distinct, separate and equally as strong in their way. Love has no limits except that of our own choices, there is no finite amount that runs out. This is not about replacing either of them in your heart. It’s about acknowledging the place they hold, accepting it, and then accepting that you still have need of more than the emptiness they left behind.” She moved on to his left foot, projecting feelings of love, reassurance and empathy that seemed so natural a part of her that she was oblivious to it, wrapped up as she was in her train of thought. “You do not need a hand to take the place of Ehlana’s, Owen. You simply need one that is yours to hold.” Rhya raised her eyes to meet his directly, “It is there and will remain so until you are ready to take it... if you can find the will or the wish to do so. If not, find one that you can... but do not lock your heart in the past.”




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    “Oh how easy you make it all sound Rhya. If it was like that then everyone would be walking around holding hands. Now wouldn’t that be a sight to see?” There was no malice in his tone, just a resigned amusement. Something that was not helped by Rhya trying to turn his feet into dough. What on earth possessed her to try that was a mystery to him. Owen had gone barefoot more times than he could recall in his youth. This had left his feet quite tough, but also with a few scars from sharp rocks and quartz. Eventually Rhya finished her manipulations and sat back in her chair sipping at her tea, eyeing Owen over the rim of her cup, content for now to sit in silence.
    Reluctantly Owen took a sip from his glass rather than his cup. The wine, as usual, was of a vintage he liked and was known to favour. It was not that easy to find, but Owen had been given a few casks by the miners in the Mountains of Mist a year back, and he still had a couple secreted away for future. Taking another sip, he thought about what Rhya had said. It was not that dissimilar to thoughts he had had, but Owen had ruthlessly crushed those thoughts. Somehow they seemed like a betrayal to the memory of Iris. Now however he had to confront them again, and before someone else.
    “What you say has merit. The problem is though that I am supposed to defend our brothers and sisters not lead them into danger. It would seem from past experiences that I have not been as good at protecting those as close to me as I should have been.” Seeing the light in Rhya’s eyes suddenly change, Owen held his hand up to forestall her reply.  “Yes I know, I cannot be responsible for all of our ‘Kin all of the time. Nor can I prevent harm coming to them when I am not around. I cannot just cast what I believe aside like a pair of cheap britches though. I have my own code that is important to me, and part of that code is not to allow harm to come to those who cannot help themselves. I have not been as attentive to that as I should have been.”
    Owen stopped and took another sip of his wine. “Talking of which, with all the travelling you have been doing I am guessing your feet are sore and would appreciate a good rub.” Owen knelt on the floor and picked up one of Rhya’s feet and started to massage her toes. Without warning Rhya emitted a shriek and her foot jerked out of Owen’s hand and hit him on the chin. The force of the blow knocking him away from Rhya.
    Sitting up Owen rubbed at the sore spot on his jaw, working it side to side to make sure there was no permanent damage.
    “Well I guess that answers my question then.” Owen looked up at Rhya, a small smile appearing on his face, the first genuine one for a long time.


The WhiteWolf

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Settling back in her seat and pleased with her work, Rhya listened to Owen talk, barely drinking from her glass. The wine that had followed the tea was a good vintage, the various flavours of it delighting her taste buds despite her intention to have no more. It was strong too though, so she would make it last. She had no time to realise what Owen was about before he was kneeling and lifting her foot. Her reaction was a foregone conclusion if he had but known it and she had no chance of controlling either the shriek that left her throat or the sudden kicking of her foot.


Rhya clapped both hands over her mouth, half in horror and half to stop the shout of laughter that yet managed to gurgle out between her fingers. “I am so sorry,” she gasped. “My nurse always had the most dreadful time washing my feet as a child. I could never stand for them to be touched without warning.”


Leaning forward hurriedly, she batted Owen’s hand out of the way, taking his chin and turning his head so that she could better examine his jaw. “Well, no lasting damage as you say, though you may have a pretty coloured bruise come morning,” she said, finally letting go and adding in amusement, “Your whole head must be like a rock with the number of bashes it takes…”


Rhya’s voice trailed off as she studied him carefully, noting the difference made by his slight smile, which had her own lips curving upwards in response. She could yet see the ravages of recent tiredness and worry around his eyes, the strain from having been ill that lingered in the translucence of his skin… and the words she’d been about to speak, died on her tongue.


Her hand lifted of its own accord, the backs of her fingers brushing gently across his cheek. “You are supposed to lead the 'Kin wherever it is right for them to go, be that danger or safety. Life can rarely be lived without risk and avoiding it can end far worse than facing it head on. You are not alone in that responsibility, Owen... no single person is meant to shoulder that burden. And meantime?” she queried quietly, tilting her head quizzically, amber eyes regarding him solemnly. “Not all dangers can be seen but it makes them no less harmful. Who protects you when you cannot help yourself? It seems to me that someone needs to be attentive to that.


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    Her nurse? Blood and bloody ashes she never mentioned a nurse before. Just what sort of family was she from?

    In Owen’s experience the only people who had nurses were those who had money, lots of it. Well this is a fine pickle. The thought stopped there as another one followed hard on its heels and was pertinent enough to cause Owen to pause for a moment. She has adapted really well considering. It must have been hard on her to be so suddenly dragged away from her home like this.This sudden insight caused him to consider Rhya anew and he missed the rest of what she was saying as he considered events in a new light. Then again there is a good chance she had already told me this and it has got lost in this jumbled up head of mine.  Suddenly realising Rhya was watching him with the stare he had come to realise meant she was waiting on him to respond to her, and he had no idea what she had said, so caught up in his own thoughts. “You will have to repeat what you said Rhya, i think the blow to my jaw has left me feeling light headed again.” It was a small lie, but a lie none the less.

    With a small, almost inaudible sigh, Rhya repeated what she had said, leaving out the part about his head being like a rock, that was now something she took at face value. ““Not all dangers can be seen but it makes them no less harmful. Who protects you when you cannot help yourself? It seems to me that someone needs to be attentive to that.”

    “Oh they do, do they? And i suppose you are volunteering for the position? I am not so old and infirm that i cannot out run you, out fight you and out drink you Rhya. But if you think you can handle the responsibility then please be my guest.”

    Owen kept his voice light and continued to smile. He had no idea what scheme was running through her head, but he was willing to let her play it out as long as it did no harm to her or anyone else in the Stedding. He also needed time to think, and rearrange his thoughts, this sudden insight to her character meant he needed to revaluate how he saw her. It was dawning on him that she was not some adolescent running away from an abusive father, or a tyrannical step mother. Up until now he had not really seen her as she really was, instead viewing her through eyes grown accustomed to a world grown colder, and getting colder with every minute.  This was a strange turn of events, and one that would lead him down paths long disused and forgotten about, or that was how he saw it. The reality was vastly different as he would, perhaps, find out.




The WhiteWolf


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Rhya regarded Owen as though he were a puzzle that required solving, which in some ways he was. She had never known anyone like him nor met anybody with so convoluted a personal history that it was comparable to wandering through a maze.


Searching his face for clues, she wondered whether any woman ever wholly understood any man. The silence stretched, disturbed only by the faint sounds of the forest, their own breathing and the slight movements of the two wolves.  Rhya registered it all with a distant curiousity, still easily surprised by the increased sensitivity of her hearing.


Was he mocking her? Uncertainty crawled through her veins, undermining her reliance on instinct - intsinct that told her he was not so immune to her as might appear on the surface. But no, that was not his way. He might tease but she did not believe he would mock. Then what? Her comments had been innocuous enough but something in them had... unsettled?... him. The deliberate levity of his response had twisted her intent with apparent humour, yet Rhya was not convinced it had been fuelled by amusement.


She sank back against the cushions, curling her legs up beneath her as she continued her speculations. Humour, she thought, is a defense – a way to keep people at a distance – but why should he have need of such with me? A new idea filtered through her consciousness, one born of an insecurity she’d been unable to rid herself of. Perhaps he believes you have nothing he requires? The question lingered, taunting her with its truth. Although her sense of self worth was solid under normal circumstances, there was nothing normal about the past year and she continued to be troubled over her usefulness to the Stedding... or her lack thereof.


“...out run you, out fight you and out drink you...”


The words echoed through her mind. That would be the case for most of the ‘kin, she acknowledged, lashes lowering to cover the confusion and worry in her eyes. There is nothing I can do that others can not do as well or better.


Once, she had known her place, slotted neatly into the life she was born to and the duties that went with it. Now, that was gone, irrelevant. It was little use to her in the Stedding. In truth, she felt adrift on currents that she had no control over and the only thing that anchored her, that made sense in the midst of so much change...


Rhya’s gaze lifted, focusing intently on Owen. There was one thing… one thing she believed she could do that nobody else was doing... one thing she was prepared to spend a lifetime achieving. She shifted a little, removing her two sheathed daggers from her belt and held them in her lap but made no move to draw either weapon. A Saldaean bared steel only when the intent was to use it and that was the farthest thing from her mind. Instead, she admired the beauty of her two prized possessions, feeling the balance of them in her hand, seeing the craftsmanship of their carved hilts – and she spoke.


“No, I am not volunteering for a position and I do not think you either old or infirm,” she marshalled her words as skilfully as any player of Stones might, laying them out with unassailable honesty. “I can not run, fight or drink as you do. But then, you can’t run from memories, you can’t fight pain and you can’t drink away loneliness – can you?”


Her voice took on a fierce pride. If she was going to lay her heart on the ground for anyone, it was this man before her, so she might as well make certain there was no room for him to doubt her intent or that he was dealing not with a child, but a woman grown who knew her own mind.


“I have no money, no lands, no titles, no skills you do not have yourself. At least none you require,” she amended. “All that I had was left behind in Maradon, another life, another time. There is nothing for me to give but myself, my love. They are already yours, given freely, whether you accept or not.” As she talked, Rhya transformed without appearing to do anything, every inch of her expressing an innate sensuality and provocative challenge that any red-blooded male would recognise instantly yet still, somehow, retaining her own quiet dignity.


Slowly, carefully, she reached for his hand, placing her daggers into his grasp.


Burn me! What have you done Rhyanon? Surrendering everything like some lightskirt in a tavern. Have you no shame? part of her berated silently but already knowing the answer. Where he was concerned, it was far too late for shame. She would use whatever she had to, short of throwing herself at him.


She had no idea whether he understood the importance of her action but she had gone too far to back down now. Leaning closer, her eyes telling a story as old as time itself, she continued in a softer but no less challenging tone, “Well White Fang, are you man or ghost? The worth of what is offered is something only you can decide. Are you strong enough to choose life over shadows? If it is not what your heart wants, you need only say.”


Rhya stilled, waiting… one heartbeat, two… as the seconds passed in what seemed like eternity with no response forthcoming. Either he needed time to think or she had made a complete fool of herself. She was uncertain which but exhaled quietly, releasing the breath she’d been holding and began to rise...



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                                            If you didn't care what happened to me,

                                              and I didn't care for you,

                                              we would zig zag our way through the boredom and pain,

                                              occasionally which of the buggers to blame

                                              and watching for pigs on the wing.



    Blast and be bother all women.....and a plague of boils upon all of them.


    The silent response was not aimed at Rhya, or her startling offer, one which Owen knew the implications only too well.  Although he had not been born in the same region as Rhya, and Kandor had its own customs and practices, they all sprang from the same source. In the Borderlands the only true enemy was the minions of the Dark One. Life was too precarious to be wasted in petty duels or arguments, and all Borderlanders knew that. They would also have recognised the ritual Rhya had just performed and many would give everything they owned to be the recipient of such an offering.  That however was not the cause for Owen’s mental outburst. The cause of it lay exactly in what Owen had said earlier about responsibilities and what he saw as his duty to the Wolfkin. Anyone who attached themselves to him would be inviting an arrow in the back, an assassins dagger in the night, or any other number of attempts to kill them. Love, given freely or not, was one way into a person’s soul, and Rhya had just entwined herself in a situation that was beyond her understanding.

    Or was it?

    Owen respected her enough to know she did not flit from one thing to another. When she set her mind to a task, that task was completed or there would be a very good reason as to why she could not complete it. Owen recognised all of this in her and admired her for it, and he had seen something in her that he doubted she had recognised yet. Although he knew she would have denied it until the sun set in the east, Owen had seen a core of steel  in Rhya. She did her best to hide it, but Owen had had the opportunity to observe her at close quarters since she had lived with him. Her natural tendency was to humour, she gave the impression of seeing something humorous in many situations where others would not.

    Silk and steel, now who does that remind me of

    Shaking his head at the unbidden memory Owen raised his gaze to where Rhya waited expectantly. An answer needed to be forth coming and delivered with all the dignity and solemnity that an occasion such as this required. However, no matter how hard Owen tried he could not shake the thought that she was committing herself to a course of action that she had not fully thought through. Granted she had not rushed into this like some babbling idiot, sweeping away all in front of her, but she also did not fully realise the implications of her actions. This was not a step to be taken lightly or without reflection.

  The sound of claws, tick tacking their way across the wooden floor alerted both of them that one of their Wolves was making their way out of the house, and as one their gazes were drawn to the doorway and Owen smiled when Ice appeared, yawning and stretching at the same time.  Slowly the large female wolf made her way over to Owen and sat down in front of him, her clear blue eyes focusing on Owen’s.

    White Fang needs new mate. Life is more interesting with a mate by your side.

    Obviously she did not use words, but those where the words that Owen used to translate the images Ice sent to him. “I would be honoured to find another mate Ice, but is it fair on them.”

White Fang thinks too much

Owen had long ago got into the habit of talking out loud to his companion. When he realised what the implications of Ice’s statement and his reply was, he slowly looked back to Rhya, realising that she had heard everything he had said.




The WhiteWolf


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The impetus to stand, to seek space, died as she caught the slight shake of his head. He raised his eyes, regarding her in silence as though weighing something and she waited with outward patience for what might come.


The staccato clatter of claws on the floor drew their attention to the door where Ice had appeared. The she-wolf approached them leisurely, coming to a stop by Owen and obviously communicating with him.


“I would be honoured to find another mate Ice, but is it fair on them?”


Rhya’s eyebrows rose to her hairline, her gaze flying back to Owen’s face as she thought for one heart stopping moment that her ears must have deceived her. His head turned slowly, returning her look and she realised from his expression that she’d heard correctly and the slip had been entirely unintentional. She was used to this habit of his, talking aloud to Ice, and normally thought little of it. Given the current circumstances, however, the humour of the situation was not lost on her and she couldn’t prevent her lips twitching with suppressed laughter.


The import of the words did not bypass her either and Rhya was warmed by Ice’s apparent support, thinking back to their joint vigil at the Infirmary. Though they hadn’t exchanged any thoughts directly, a kind of harmony had sprung up between them in their shared concern for Owen and it seemed that had won some approval.


Owen’s reply to Ice was another matter. The strong sense of duty he had sometimes went too far in her opinion; crossing the boundary between natural concern for peoples’ well being and an intrusion into their right to self determination. Though it was understandable and, for the most part, admirable, it placed far too heavy a burden on his shoulders and put obstacles in the way of his own happiness that were unnecessary. That was something she had to put a stop to… at least where she was concerned.


“Fair?” Rhya queried gently but with steely determination. “I’m not asking you to take responsibility for me or for my choices. I will live with the consequences of those and decide for myself whether it is fair or not. I’m not blind to the realities of what I have done and will take the good with the bad. All that is required of you is honesty. I am not asking what objections you have. They matter not if we are not of one mind in this. I am asking only whether you want what is offered... or not,” her eyes danced with faint amusement as she continued, covering her tension by teasing lightly, “and it is not considered polite to keep a lady waiting when she has just laid her soul at your feet.” 


Folding her hands in her lap in a semblance of calm, her final words were an absent murmur and the only indication of her true state of mind, “Mother would have me skinned if she were a witness to such wanton behaviour.”


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    As with any ritual there is both a beginning and an ending. Some customs and rituals demanded absolute adherence to the forms and rituals, others were less strict. The custom that Rhya had invoked was as old as the Borderlands themselves and a way in which those of a lesser station could pledge themselves to those of a higher station. However, down the years it had acquired a second meaning, one used between those whose feelings for another were so great they literally bare all. This was the case with Rhya and Owen and there were two responses left open to Owen, and only two. The clarity of the responses left no room for misinterpretation, or confabulation. There were only two options, to agree or to disagree. It was a stark choice, one that reflected the lives that the people of the Borderlands lived.
    Hesitantly, with Rhya’s words still ringing in his ears, Owen picked up the two blades, considering them for a moment and all that they meant. Slowly he stood up, having placed his glass on the table before picking up the daggers.
    “Have you ever considered how it is on such small details and actions that our lives turn? The simple act of offering a pledge, whether it is of loyalty or love, can have such enormous consequences. Consequences that are most often both unseen and unplanned for.” As he spoke, Owen turned the daggers over slowly, first with the blades pointed at himself, and then at Rhya, then back to himself.  “An offer made in all innocence and without guile, is one to be treasured and savoured.  It is not one to be entered into lightly, by either party. This is even more true when you consider the lives we lead; they can be both brutal and short and often leave no time for the finer things in life, such as companionship and love.”
    Sensing that Owen was coming to a decision, Rhya had also stood and as he spoke her hopes both rose and then were dashed, only to rise again.
    “I do not know what I have that I can give, or that you would want. But I willingly accept your offer, Rhya.”
    As he finished speaking, the blades stopped revolving, the hilts coming to rest pointing in Rhya’s direction. Slowly her gaze lowered until she was focused on the daggers Owen was holding. Reaching out, she placed her hands on top of his, her palms slightly damp, and raised her gaze up to his pale face. “Now what do we do Rhya?”


The WhiteWolf

Ranger Leader

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“I do not know what I have that I can give, or that you would want. But I willingly accept your offer, Rhya.”


There were no words to encompass the emotions the last few minutes had brought to Rhya, but as the internal storm quieted, there was only one that expressed the result. She focused on the hilts of her daggers, letting his acceptance filter into her overtaxed mind and a quiet joy spread through her; calming and pure.


The strains and worries that had become such a weight over the weeks simply fell away, inconsequential now in the face of gaining what she desired most. She knew the decision had not come easily to him but that only served to make it all the more precious. Her smile, as it grew, seemed to make her features glow as she responded, “You have just given yourself. That was the only thing I wanted and I can think of no greater gift.”


Placing her hands over his, she looked up at him intently, imprinting the moment on her memory. He spoke of being honoured but it is I who am honoured, she mused. Few men… no… few people, had impressed her on so many levels as he had from the moment of their first meeting. There had been an attraction for her that transcended the physical and the intervening months had only increased that with an added respect for his astute mind and his commitment to the ‘Kin. In learning what little she had of his past, a deeper admiration mixed with empathy had grown too. And yet… none of that accounts for why my heart is so ensnared.


“Now what do we do Rhya?” the uncertainty in Owen’s voice broke through her reverie, reminding her that matters were not altogether settled.


Carefully, she replaced her daggers at her belt though her eyes remained fixed on his, their expression unfathomable. She raised a hand to the side of his face, snagging a strand of silvery hair and winding it slowly round the tip of one finger. “Burn me, must I do everything myself?” her mutter, threaded with laughter, lacked any force as she tugged gently but insistently on the hair, pulling his head down to hers and kissing him with a passion and ferocity that would have buckled the knees of a lesser man. It lasted mere seconds before she pulled back, regarding his slightly glazed look with satisfaction and spoke a trifle unsteadily, her own breathing ragged, “Now? Now we find whomever we need to, to see about a wedding. Though it had best wait till morning. I’m sure nobody would appreciate being disturbed at this hour.” She paused briefly, wrinkling her nose as a new thought occurred to her and belatedly added with concern clear in her tone, “Unless you object?”


There was no answer that would prevent her from claiming what was hers and doing so with pride, but she silently hoped she would not have to compromise her honour that far. Some things were too deeply ingrained to be ignored. I’d be as well proclaiming myself a Domani hussy and be done with it!



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    “A wedding? Who mentioned anything about getting married?” Two shocks in one night, the second one almost robbing Owen of the shock of the kiss, almost but not quite. “You’re not serious about getting married are you Rhya? I am not sure that i am the marrying type you know.”
    Well this was a pretty pickle that Owen found himself in. The idea of marriage had never crossed his mind in his life. It had not been something he had discussed with Iris or that she had wanted and that was the only serious relationship he had had. Making his way over to the rail that ran around their balcony Owen lent on it and looked out over the darkened forest in front of him. The sounds of the night creatures drifted up to him, the bark of a fox as it went about its nightly business. 
    Owen was not sure how long he had stood there before he became aware of Rhya’s hand covering his, but when he did he slowly with drew his hand and placed his arm around Rhya, drawing her close. For a while they stood there, arms entwined. The nightly noises offered up an almost soothing back drop to their companionable silence, and so they enjoyed the peace and quiet, soaking it in. “I suppose you have your heart set on getting married, even if it is only to me?”There was only a slightly self depreciating tone to Owen’s voice, one that he would more than likely never lose. “You know, i have never given marriage the slightest bit of thought. Ten years ago no one would look at me twice, unless it was to order me out of their village or town. Finding someone who wanted to be with me is still new now, even after Iris, it is not something that i thought would happen.”
    Spinning Rhya around until she faced him, Owen held her gaze, tracing the outline of her face in the moonlight with his eyes then on an impulse he reached up with his hand and slowly caressed the side of her face, letting his fingers run up and down her smooth skin.  As his fingers got near her mouth she playfully tried to bite them and hold them with her teeth.  While she held the fingers in her mouth her eyes turned towards Owens and he could see the mischievous smile there. Slowly he pulled his fingers away and replaced them with his lips, this time the kiss lasted longer, and it was a close run thing as to who was the more breathless when they did eventually break from it.


The WhiteWolf

Ranger Leader

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At the back of her mind, Rhya wondered faintly just how many times her legs were likely to fail her in the course of one evening as she wound her arms around Owen’s waist in an attempt to steady herself. Not that she was concerned enough about it to put a stop to the kiss. In fact the complete opposite was true. She’d decided almost immediately that this particular activity was one that should be indulged in quite frequently and with a great deal of diligence. Had she known the reality was going to be so much better than anticipated, she might even have taken matters into her own hands far sooner. No doubt her musings would have continued along that general trend had it not been for the sudden difficulty her brain had in functioning at all and so she gave herself over to the moment, oblivious to everything outside their tiny circle of intimacy.


When they finally did break off, Rhya’s eyes filled with suppressed mirth and catching her breath, she picked up the conversation with a husky laugh, noting in satisfaction that Owen seemed no more steady than she was,  “I would suggest, my love, that if you intend to make a habit of that, thinking about a wedding now would be a very good idea.” Burrowing closer again, she rested her head against his chest, revelling in the difference in their heights. She was tall enough for a woman that it made rather a novel change to feel more diminutive. Her tone became more solemn as she continued, “I don’t wish to bring any dishonour to my family or to my name... so yes, I suppose I do have my heart set on marriage. Not because it is only to you but because it is to you.” Rhya’s arms tightened possessively. “I would have the whole world know we belong together and be more than proud to have your name added properly to mine.”


She shifted a little tilting her head upwards and grazed her teeth in a playful nip against the hollow at the base of his throat then soothed the skin with a soft kiss, feeling the pulse beating there. “I will bind you to me with whatever ties I can... but... still... I do not wish you to agree if it would make you unhappy.” Rhya pulled back once more, searching his expression carefully as she tried to project all the love she had held in for so long. “I’m going nowhere whatever you decide.” A teasing grin eased across her face as she uttered a mock threat, uncaring that the effect was rather ruined by the wicked glint her eyes, “You are mine now Ranger man. All hope of escape is fruitless.”


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    Honour could be both a shield and a weakness. To live up to one’s perceived honour could result in actions that could be both misunderstood and reviled. However, protecting another’s honour can only bring respect and gratitude, when the cause of that honour is noble. Rhya had manoeuvred Owen rather deftly to the point where she knew, or hoped she knew, that he would act in an honourable way. It was not like she had done it deliberately, or even planned it this way. However, that is the path Rhya had set both herself and Owen on. Whether it was a path they could both walk would remain to be seen. The first steps had been taken, and although neither of them knew where these first steps would lead them, they had taken them willingly and without any preconceptions or aims. For now, the innocence of the moment enveloped them and would sustain them.
    “I don’t wish to bring any dishonour to my family or to my name... so yes, I suppose I do have my heart set on marriage. Not because it is only to you but because it is to you.” He felt her arms tighten around his waist rather possessively. “I would have the whole world know we belong together and be more than proud to have your name added properly to mine.”
   Owen, wisely he thought, kept silent in response to Rhya’s remark about name changing. For now she could believe what she wanted to, but she would have to do an awful lot of persuading for him to change his name to hers. It was not that there was anything wrong with Rhya’s name, but Owen had been denied his own name for so long, that he had a fierce loyalty to his surrogate mother and the “name” she had provided for him.
    “I will bind you to me with whatever ties I can... but... still... I do not wish you to agree if it would make you unhappy.” Rhya pulled back looking up at him. “I’m going nowhere whatever you decide.” A teasing grin eased across her face, “You are mine now Ranger man. All hope of escape is fruitless.”
    Owen’s laughter rang true and clear across the forest at intent of Rhya’s words. “What makes you think it is escape that is uppermost in my mind Rhya? Mayhap it is you that will find yourself the captive, and we will see then if you want to escape.” Chuckling quietly to himself Owen watched the expression change on Rhya’s face.


“Say what you will Owen, I am just happy to be with you. We can decide later who is the captive and who............” The rest of Rhya’s sentence was cut short as Owen kissed her again.

    This is not an unpleasant way of keeping her quiet, i should have tried it earlier.

    When they broke apart yet again, Rhya saw the amusement on Owen’s face. “And what is so funny Ranger man? A kiss with your beloved is hardly reason for amusement.”

    “I was just thinking that I had found a perfect way to keep you quiet that does not require a gag.”


The WhiteWolf

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Rhya arched an eyebrow, trying and failing to look annoyed. She compromised by sticking her tongue out at him instead. “I would be able to afford your ears more of a rest if you listened better. It is hardly my fault that I had to repeat myself several times this evening. Your memory may have been effected but there’s nothing wrong with your hearing to my knowledge.”


As she spoke, Rhya turned in Owen’s embrace, pulling his arms around her and resting her head back against his shoulder. Part of her was disquieted by his lack of response on the subject of marriage and she was never going to be able to think clearly if he kept distracting her with kisses.


Silence enveloped them and Rhya’s gaze rose above the treetops to the velvet midnight blue of the sky with its veil of gleaming stars. A pale sliver of light hung just above the horizon. A Knife Moon, the crescent was called in Saldaea. She had once heard it called 'the moon of dreams.' Which will it be tonight? A dream coming true, or a knife destroying that same dream? she wondered breathing deeply of the cool air, not minding the chill edge to it. She was tired in spite of her elation but knew that sleep was as far off as dawn.


She could just imagine her parents’ reactions were they ever to discover that she’d set up home with no lawfully binding marriage vows and her lips curved slowly in a rueful smile. She was fairly certain she could live with the lack… but was aware enough of her own character to realise that it would still always be an omission that would cause her no small amount of shame. Can I settle for less in return than I am prepared to give of myself? The question plagued her. It would be a constant contradiction of something that was particularly important to her. Eventually she realised that, no matter what came of it, she had to continue as she’d started, with complete honesty.


“As I got older,” she began, “I was … troubled… by the inequality in my parents’ marriage. My mother was… well, she was afraid of my father, afraid of losing something by standing up to him. I suspect she loved his money rather than him. Mother isn’t from Saldaea and perhaps that was a part of it, but she always struck me as weak. Either way, she took and gave little in return.” She sighed lightly, trying carefully to explain something that was at once simple and very complicated. “It shouldn’t be that way. A partnership of any kind should be on equal footing and I know you agree with that. If one gives or takes more than the other, it can breed resentment or end with a lack of support or any manner of other problems.” She shook her head, lacking the correct words to express what was in her heart and tried another tack. “Perhaps… if you could tell me why you would not wish to take such vows? I might understand it better.”


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    “For so long i was always shunned. People in my own village would turn their backs on me and it was only the perseverance of my mother than stopped the good folk from running me out of my home.  That was not all however; i was never a part of the normal events in the village. If there was a celebration i was not welcomed. If there was trouble, such as a bad harvest, i would be the one the villagers would blame. It was often a case of when i did something to help the village, no one noticed. When i made a mistake no one forgot.  I was shunned, ignored, beaten, the list is endless.” As Owen spoke he felt Rhya’s grip on him tighten almost as if these memories had wings, wings that could take him away from her without a moment’s thought.

    “Then when i left my home to make my way in the world, i found out that prejudice was not something that was confined to the people of my village. I slept wet and cold more nights than i can remember. Even when i found a place to stay, sooner or later and usually sooner, i would be chased out of there, if i was lucky.” Suddenly Owen broke their embrace and pulling his shirt up he turned away from Rhya.” The marks you see are the legacy from various punishments i had to endure, the last of which left me near death. So i am sure you can understand why i have never felt part of the world you knew with its rituals. Being on the outside looking in has left me with a lot of anger for the values two-legs seem to govern their lives by.” Owen slipped his shirt back over his shoulders and then turned to face Rhya again, his face a mask of neutrality. “It is not what the vows mean that bothers me, it is what they represent. A world that turned its back on me from a very early age and then when this happened.” Owen pointed his finger at his eyes. “All it did was give them even more reason to hate.  Even after we fought and died in defence of Emonds Field, there was still two-legs that did not trust us and wanted to hand us over to the blasted Lightcloaks.” Owen’s voice gave out there; he did not want to dredge up any more painful memories on a night that had become almost magical. But there was one last thing he had to say, and if he did not say it now he was not sure he would have the desire to mention it again.

    “However, this ritual is important to you, and of course your honour.” A small smile spread across his as he said this. “So i could not be so churlish as to demand you abandon what is important to you. Could we not work out something that is acceptable to both of us? Something that is ours, and not tainted by any outside influences?”

    Owen hoped that this would help her understand the reasons for his lack of enthusiasm for marriage. Rhya had lived a very different life to Owens and he was not sure she would be able to comprehend just how much the events of his formative years had scarred him, both figuratively and literally.



The WhiteWolf


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