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DRAGONMOUNT

A WHEEL OF TIME COMMUNITY

No Longer Alone (Rahien's Arrival) - (ATTN Aislyn)


Taymist
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The sigh of relief that Rhya let out came from the tips of her toes. The journey had been so long that she had started to doubt her own ability to find the Stedding again. She had no difficulty as it turned out and need not have worried anyway since Shadow knew perfectly well how to get home but the farther they had travelled, the more self doubt had filtered into her thoughts.

 

The morning had dawned bright and clear, the sun now well up in the sky as Rahien and she made the final approach to the Stedding. The ground had only a light covering of frost, the forest being too dense to allow much snow through, and the air had a nip to it that was both invigorating and slightly uncomfortable to uncovered extremities. Rhya rubbed her hands over her ears gently trying to bring some feeling back to them. Her nose was not much better off and she couldn't wait to reach the warmth of the Infirmary.

 

The village would be quiet at this hour with few people abroad and, in fact, she had deliberately timed it so, knowing that a wealth of trouble was liable to be waiting for her. The fewer witnesses the better as far as Rhya was concerned and she struggled to suppress the apprehension fluttering in her stomach. The other side of the coin was of course impatience to see Owen and worry over his condition, but as usual she pushed that away until she could deal with it properly. First things first. She had to get Rahien to a Sage.

 

Some few minutes later Rhya came to a halt as a familiar feeling stole over and she grinned merrily as she turned back to face Rahien who was a little distance behind her. She said nothing, just watched in anticipation as he moved closer, understanding now the reasons for Owen's behaviour when he'd brought her here for the first time and preparing to enjoy the moment in her turn.

 

 

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Over the next couple of days they made slightly slower progress. The thick forest saw to that, though they still made good time. Rahien's spirits picked up slightly just walking in the woods. The sunlight filtered dimly through the canopy where wildlife chirped, flitted, chattered, and scurried above them as they pushed through the forest.

 

He had asked a few questions of Rhya, mostly those pertaining to what to expect. Once again, she had seemed content to let silence be the main form of conversation. Snow continued to ghost along on the edges of his vision, flashes of white as Shadow disappeared completely for the most part. Only when direct sunlight happened to penetrate the canopy and spear his side in passing was Rahien even aware of the wolf. He blended in, earning his name.

 

Rahien was weary to the bone, sleeping on rocks and pushing hard from the gray of early morning to the dark of night took its toll on a body. Rhya showed signs of wear if slight and far in between, but Rahien could tell that even she was tiring. The need for secrecy had screamed loudly in the careful way of moving and constant checking of their backtrail. It gave him a note of satisfaction, a familiar feeling of security in solidarity.

 

There was no warning.

 

Suddenly He stopped dead, completely motionless. There was no difference in the wood around him, yet he resisted the urge to take three steps back and then forward again. It was as if he had emerged into..into...he didn't know what exactly.  In the space of three small steps, climbing over one log, he had felt worry and weariness ebb. It was as if the sun had broken softly through the canopy and washed through him like warm waves of light, washing away a bit at a time, his worry and fatigue. He felt his fears, his worry, and his pain, Light! his private pain, fade to almost a muted hum. Tears threatened.

 

Abruptly he realized Rhya was looking at him openly with a small amused smile on her lips and despite himself, he smiled back broadly. A single tear carved its way from the corner of his eye to trace a track across his cheek. It was beautiful if inexplicable.

 

"Wha- I- What is it?" He asked, wonder touching his voice. Before she could answer he felt something, it was as clear as a sending had ever been.

 

~Home.~

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Rhya was transfixed by the look of wonder which settled over Rahien’s features. Not everyone reacted in such a way. She clearly recalled Arienna’s suspicion and wariness, the girl believing she was somehow being tricked. This time, the response was much as she suspected her own had been and her eyes twinkled in delight at the emotions pouring off the man.

 

“That is the boundary to the Stedding, Rahien,” she explained, reaching out to pat his arm comfortingly. “Strange sensation, no? The Stedding was home to the Ogier a long time ago. Owen told me that their own numbers had reduced to such an extent they were happy to let the ‘Kin stay here. It is remote too, so it was perfect for the needs of the ‘Kin… sheltered, large enough, hard to find and so on. Everyone feels something when they cross that invisible line, it all depends on what they bring with them. For some it is a homecoming, a sense of joy, for others it can be frightening, making them feel lost or despairing. Look at Snow and Shadow.”

 

The two wolves were chasing each other in what could only be described as play. Their guards were clearly down and the constant vigilance that both had displayed throughout the past days was gone.

 

Rhya laughed, her own weariness dissipated. “They know we’re home. But come, we have some way to go yet to reach the village.”

 

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

 

The path they were following began to rise gradually, showing signs of the passage of many feet and long use, and the trees thinned out. Rhya had spent the past hour trying to describe the village and its surrounding area to Rahien so that he’d know what to expect but as their steps brought them closer to their destination, she had fallen silent and moved as though being dragged to a place she did not want to go.

 

The wolves had left them some time before. Rhya was certain that Snow had been reluctant initially to leave Rahien but she must have received sufficient reassurance that he was in good hands as she’d eventually padded off with Shadow in search of food. It was as much a homecoming for the she-wolf after all and just as Rahien would need time to settle, so too would Snow.

 

Emerging at last into the open, Rhya pointed to the large Infirmary building which dominated the village. Its main door stood ajar as always, despite the cold and the main steps had recently been cleared of snow and salted down to prevent accidents.

 

Rhya stared at the building mutely, her eyes distant and sad. Finally she turned to her companion, dragging fingers through her hair in a mild sign of agitation. “Rahien, I haven’t been entirely honest with you,” she spoke haltingly, picking her words with care. She knew she could not allow him to hear the story from anyone else and so, slowly at first, Rhya explained that she was not a Tracker…not even a fully trained Wolfsister…and that, in truth, she should not have been out of the Stedding alone. “No,” she held up one hand to stop him speaking, grimacing ruefully, “I don’t know why the wolves contacted me. Snow’s sending came a long way and it came to Shadow. At the time, perhaps foolishly, it seemed to me to be the right thing to do.”

 

Returning her gaze unwillingly to the Infirmary’s walls, she started walking towards the building and continued softly, “I’m going to be in a fair bit of hot water,” adding somewhat defensively, “but I had my reasons.”

 

Rhya felt as though she was moving through thick mud, her movements becoming ever more sluggish as she forced herself to push the main door open and step into the empty hallway. A feeling of hollow dread settled in her stomach with the uncertainty at what awaited her and she was relieved to see a trainee emerge from one of the store rooms. She didn’t recognise the girl but hailed her and gave brief instructions that Rahien must be taken straight to Aislyn.

 

“I’ll be leaving you now Rahien. I have… other business to see to,” her look was closed now, no longer the open and friendly one that he was used to seeing and her words sounded cold. Realising this somewhat distantly, her mind already elsewhere, Rhya tried to smile and failed, “We’ll see each other again soon. Aislyn will take care of you and find you a place to stay for the moment.”

 

Rahien nodded his understanding though he looked uncertain and with a rush of empathy despite her own preoccupations, Rhya laid a hand on his shoulder, squeezing slightly. A twitch of the lips that came nowhere close to passing for a real smile and she issued her parting words, “Truly, you will be fine. Snow will find you when she is ready. Welcome home Rahien.”

 

With that she was gone, heading for the small room that contained her entire life.

 

 

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“That is the boundary to the Stedding, Rahien,” she explained, reaching out to pat his arm comfortingly. “Strange sensation, no? The Stedding was home to the Ogier a long time ago. Owen told me that their own numbers had reduced to such an extent they were happy to let the ‘Kin stay here. It is remote too, so it was perfect for the needs of the ‘Kin… sheltered, large enough, hard to find and so on. Everyone feels something when they cross that invisible line, it all depends on what they bring with them. For some it is a homecoming, a sense of joy, for others it can be frightening, making them feel lost or despairing. Look at Snow and Shadow.” she motioned at the wolves, doging and tumbling and playing together. “They know we’re home. But come, we have some way to go yet to reach the village.”

 

She promptly put word to action as she pressed on through the trees. Rahien was silent once more, only this time it was different. The lessening of the stifling emotional burden was the only thing that made him aware of its existence. Now that the Stedding had washed most of it away he was able to look at things slightly more clearly. Oh the pain was still there, many years of heartache and fear did not just melt away, even for a Stedding apparently. It was there, however muted at the moment.

 

Many things tumbled through his mind and he attempted to pay at least half an ear to Rhya as he tried to describe what the Stedding was like. The wolves padded off, hesitation plain from Snow. And after a while, Rhya grew silent and moved almost reluctantly. It was a puzzle that Rahien was intriuged by.

 

Emerging at last into the open, Rhya pointed to the large Infirmary. Even had she not pointed it out, it would have been hard to miss for its size. Curiously enough the door was standing open. Rhya grew sad and somber. She had not been quite forthcoming during their journey, but she had been friendly and open. Now she had an air of someone resigned to their fate, and not liking it.

 

“Rahien, I haven’t been entirely honest with you,” she spoke haltingly, picking her words with care. She picked up speed as she spoke, explaining to him her lack of authority. Rahien listened with interest. The fact that she was not fully trained either or that she left without permission did not strike him as odd. For some reason it just made a sort of sense. He was about to open his mouth and let her know that he didn’t care. That he was here now and it was not his place to judge her actions, but she held up a hand forestalling him.

 

“No, I don’t know why the wolves contacted me. Snow’s sending came a long way and it came to Shadow. At the time, perhaps foolishly, it seemed to me to be the right thing to do.” She abruptly turned and started heading for the infirmary, before speaking softly. “I’m going to be in a fair bit of hot water, but I had my reasons.”

 

Rahien resisted the urge to voice his opinion and reassurances. Once again, it was not his place, and he assumed that whoever was in charge around here would not care one way or another, what he thought about it. Rules were rules. Men lived and died by them. Sometimes you simply broke them and paid the cost if it was worth it. They stepped inside and warmth closed in around them, reminding him of his cold and tingling extremities. Rhya waved someone down and told them he was to be taken to someone named Aislyn. Alarm flared briefly before Rhya could turn to him.

 

“I’ll be leaving you now Rahien. I have… other business to see to,” Her expression was hard and distant. Rahien was suddenly wary and the back of his hair tried to rise. “We’ll see each other again soon. Aislyn will take care of you and find you a place to stay for the moment.” The infirmary suddenly felt like a trap and he had to try hard not to hunch away from her touch.

 

“Truly, you will be fine. Snow will find you when she is ready. Welcome home Rahien.” The words were flat and did little to comfort him, why the sudden change? Rhaien told himself that he needed to relax but the itch between his shoulder blades kept him on edge despite himself. He suddenly realized just how alone in a strange place he was, and vulnerable.

 

The woman Rhya had spoke to waited for her to step outside before softly asking him to follow her. She smiled slightly and turned, casting a glance over her shoulder to make sure he was following. She led him to a room with a chair and a cot. The furnishings were simple but an infirmary should not be as a palace. It was meant to be functional not pretty. The woman made her assurances and left him waiting for Aislyn. He had managed to stamp out most of his wariness but being alone in a strange place, waiting for who knew what…it wasn’t easy.

 

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Aislyn entered the room, leaving the door open behind her. The young man standing there seemed tense and ill at ease so Aislyn determined to make him more comfortable.

 

"Welcome to the Stedding, Rahien. My name is Aislyn and I am what's known here as a Sage. I cater to the physical and mental well-being of those here in the Stedding." She paused with a friendly smile and continued in a warm tone. "Please won't you join me and sit? Hot food and drink is being prepared as we speak, I'm sure you must be hungry." As she spoke she indicated through the door she had left open, through which soft comfortable easy chairs could be seen.

 

"I've heard you've travelled a long way, I'm sure you want to get out of those clothes and have a hot bath too, but we'll get to that once you've something hot inside you." She kept her tone light but warm, ready to gauge his reactions at every step so she could adjust accordingly. Everyone had a different reaction to their arrival at the Stedding and Aislyn had seen and dealt with a good many of them so she was reasonably confident that she could deal with whatever this young man threw at her.

 

Just as she was stepping through the doorway, the door on the opposite side of the room opened and a trainee entered bearing a tray laden with a steaming bowl of beef stew and hunks of fresh bread. Aislyn indicated that she should set it on the table and turned to see the reaction of the new arrival to the food.

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The door opened and Aislyn entered the room, the door remaining ajar behind her. Rahien eased slightly at that although not by much. She was tall and thin, her hair held tightly in a greying bun.

 

"Welcome to the Stedding, Rahien. My name is Aislyn and I am what's known here as a Sage. I cater to the physical and mental well-being of those here in the Stedding. Please won't you join me and sit? Hot food and drink is being prepared as we speak, I'm sure you must be hungry."

 

As if on cue, his stomach  rumbled. In fact, he was just starting to thaw out and it seemed his appetite was as well. She motioned through the door at what looked to be comfortable chairs.

 

"I've heard you've travelled a long way, I'm sure you want to get out of those clothes and have a hot bath too, but we'll get to that once you've something hot inside you." Pausing only slightly she turned and entered the room she had spoken of earlier. Since there was nothing to do but follow, he cautiously did so.

 

He realized that he was inhaling deeply, testing the air subconsciously. The smell of warm bread and stew filled the air and his nose, eliciting another rumble from his rebellious stomach.

 

He was indeed hungry, but Rhya had put him on his guard. He glanced around the room, noting the two doors and a window. Aislyn was looking at him and he looked back, watching her. Edging himself away from the door towards a chair, he perched lightly on the edge of a seat. He remained on the balls of his feet, not quite being able to bring himself to relax.

 

"So," he said, smoothing the tightness from his voice with an effort. "What's next?" He told himself once again that he was being foolish, that they meant him no harm, but years of living alone had bred Caution in him. No, it had seared it into his bones. Rhya's odd actions had gone unexplained, and he did not like things he could not explain.

 

He considered asking Aislyn about Rhya's sudden oddness, instead he forced himself to wait patiently for a reply.

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Rahien's wariness was not lost on Aislyn, his body all but screamed tension. Aislyn was used to the initial mistrust and fear that wanderers exhibited though and so she kept a warm smile on her face as she sat down in the chair opposite Rahien. She ensured her body language was as open and friendly as possible, she knew that little things like that went a long way to making people feel at ease.

 

"Well, once we've got you fed and warm, we'll find you a place to stay and get you a hot bath and some new clothes." Aislyn answered his question in a warm and friendly tone. "Tomorrow we'll introduce you to some of the others in the Stedding and see about getting you settled in." She paused and studied the young man in front of her.

 

"Are you not hungry? There's plenty more where that came from and some fresh baked apple pie for pudding. Come and eat, and if you've any questions you can ask me whilst you are eating and I'll answer them to the best of my ability."

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Aislyn was friendly, almost like a grandmother. Rhya had told him that here he would be home. He wanted so desperately for that to be so. Her answer elicited more questions however and he made himself try to smile as he responded.

 

"A hot bath would be welcome, I will-" He moderated what he was going to say. "That is, i would like to keep my clothes however."

 

He nodded to her next question. Dried and smoked meat had made up most of their meals. The sense of smell he was told would continue to increase in sensitivity, chose precisely that moment to kick in. Smells of warm crusty bread, and spicy beef stew filled his nose. He caught the scent of fruit and the pie Aislyn had mentioned.

 

She motioned to the table and he walked over, it had been prepared with trays of food, definitely more that he could eat. He was proven wrong however, as he piled food atop his plate long after he had meant to stop. Returning to his seat he set in hungrily, mindful of Aislyn's eyes on him.

 

The bread was deliciously soft and thick, the smell of it fililng his nose. The stew was pleasantly tangy, and Rahien found himself wishing it had more meat in it. The thought surprised him but was soon drowned in tea and more stew.

 

Suddenly he realized that he had barely taken time to breathe, let alone ask questions. Swallowing a thick piece of bread soaked in stew, he looked up at Aislyn embarrassed.

 

"Sorry, was hungrier than I thought." She smiled and assured him it was fine. In truth she looked completely at her ease, lounging in her chair. "Rhya told me a little about this place, and about the Kin. What is life like here? Who is in charge? How much time will i get to myself and how much will be taken with training? Can I leave when I like?" Questions tumbled out despite himself and he shut his jaw with an audible click of his teeth. It seemed blushing would be a common occurrence today...

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Aislyn laughed. "That's a lot of questions! Ok, where to begin.." she mused as he ate. "Firstly let me reassure you that you'll get your clothes back - they will be cleaned and pressed and mended is all." She paused, watching in amusement as Rahien polished the plate clean.

 

"Life here is good, it's peaceful and quiet, though that's not to say there isn't fun and excitement at times. Most people are really friendly, once you to get to know them. The training depends on who's available to teach. We don't have as rigorous training schedule, it's more flexible than that, although you will be expected to complete your training before you can leave the Stedding. We want to ensure that you can take care of yourself, you see. Once you've completed your training you can leave the Stedding, indeed some leave for months on end, but they always come back to visit. Some people, like myself, haven't left the Stedding since they arrived because they love it here so much. " She stopped with a smile.

 

"Now, what have I forgotten to answer...oh yes. Who is in charge here? There is no 'one' person in charge. We have a Head of the Rangers, a Head of the Trackers, a Head of the Watchers and even a Head of the Sages. They all rule, if such a term is the right one, together in a council. Have you any more questions? And would you prefer seconds or a slice of pie?" Aislyn asked, looking in open amusement at the empty plate.

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Aislyn assured him that his clothes would be returned after be seen to. He noted with surprise that he had cleaned his plate and was idly licking the crumbs from his fingers as she spoke.

 

The thought of not being allowed to leave the Stedding made him nervous, even with her explanation that he needed training first. Aislyn made the Stedding sound wonderful and Rahien found himself somewhat looking forward to it. Indeed, it was akin to how he had felt back home in the woods. The solace, the peace and ability to live his life without outside interruption. He thought he might be one of those that never left after all. Only time would tell.

 

Have you any more questions? And would you prefer seconds or a slice of pie?" She asked, obviously amused at the clean plate, now forgotten in his lap. He nearly blushed again, but made himself look her squarely in the eye.

 

"some warm pie sounds awfully nice about now, it has been a long time."

 

She smiled at him and took his plate, bringing the pie to him. He had more questions but figured they could wait. Digging into the pie. He asked for more tea and after finishing the pie, taking his time to enjoy it, he drained the tea.

 

"So, what now?"

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"Now we get you out of those clothes and into a hot bath! Excuse me for saying but you do need one just a wee bit." Aislyn wrinkled her nose and grinned to take the sting out of the words. She rose and took the now empty tray off Rahien and asked him to follow her. She led him through a doorway and down a long corridor, stopping briefly to take the tray into the kitchen and to show Rahien where he might find everything should he fancy a snack or something to drink later on.

 

"You can help yourself to what you like, all we ask is that you leave everything tidy after you've finished and also if you use up something leave a note so we know to replace it." Aislyn nodded to the girls washing up and indicated to Rahien that he should follow her again. They re-entered the corridor and, a few doors down, came to the room he'd be staying in for a while.

 

"Here we are" Aislyn said as she opened the door revealing a small, clean but plain room containing a bed, closet, a comfy chair, a shelf of books and a set of drawers. "This will be your room for a while. There are clothes in the closet and drawers, just rummage until you find something that fits. But...." she said as Rahien went to step into the room. "first a bath..."

 

She led the way further down the corridor, pointing out her room on the way and telling him that he can call on her if he needed anything, and down some stairs into the basement where there was a small changing room with a communal bathroom leading off it. One of the baths was full of steaming water. "Off you go, leave your clothes outside the door and we'll wash them and return them to you in the morning. There are clean robes on the wall over there and clean towels in that cupboard. Don't worry, there's no-one in the infirmary at present, saving myself and a few trainees, so you'll be undisturbed. Take as long as you like."  She paused and grinned. "Tomorrow I'll find you a mentor. They will help you in your training, but for now, the bath!"

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After taking the dishes from him, Aislyn led the way down a long hallway. Stopping at the kitchens she left the dishes to be washed by a particularly cute girl. Mentioning that he could return should he feel the need for a snack or something like it, she swept him out of the room before he could more than smile at the lass.

 

Luckily she only stopped a few doors down and showed him his room, the thought made him smile behind her back.

 

"This will be your room for a while....But first a bath." Rahien could swear that she almost wrinkled her nose.

 

They came to the end of the hall and turned the corner, Aislyn pointing at a door just a few down the way. "This one is my room, call on me should you need anything." Halfway down the hall Rahien caught the scent of soap and steam. Aislyn turned them down a flight of stairs and the air grew warmer. They pushed through the door that stood ajar, and into a small changing room. Rahien could feel the hot, moist air from the opening in front of him.

 

"Off you go, leave your clothes outside the door and we'll wash them and return them to you in the morning...Tomorrow I'll find you a mentor. They will help you in your training, but for now, the bath!" Rahien went a deep shade of red as she stood there grinning at him. Once when he was younger a wisdom had had to look at him in his small clothes to check his physical fitness. He wondered if Aislyn planned to do the same.

 

"You want me to, I mean that is, um you are going to..." He stammered as he gestured to his clothes...

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Aislyn laughed. "No. I'm not going to wait for you to undress. I can tell you are of good health already, not least by the amount of food you polished off upstairs." Aislyn paused, an amused smile twitching at her lips. "Just leave your clothes outside the door in this bag." She reiterated, indicating the laundry bag hanging on a hook. The bag was usually used for wet towels, but his clothes could also go there. "For that matter, put your wet towels in there too please."

 

"Now, I'll leave you to bathe in peace. If you need anything, you only need ask, and we'll do our best to accommodate you." With that she smiled and turned and went back the way she came. She could smell his bewilderment, coupled with a sense of relaxation. She nodded to herself, that boy would soon fit in, she was sure of it.

 

Now to prepare his room before he got out of the bath. The sound of distant splashing reached her ears and she smiled again. This job was so rewarding. Humming to herself, she set to work, making the bed up and ensuring everything was ready for his use.

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