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Winter Mist

Renalie's Arrival

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The wheels came to an abrupt halt as the merchant drew rein. How Renalie had managed to remain undetected on her journey, an under-seat stowaway as quiet as a mouse, she did not know. She was grateful for that fact though. Her slender build had always made her good at hiding games and no one would find her if she put her mind to it. Nevertheless, this seemed to be the wagon’s final destination, and in time it would be well past time to get out of this conveyance before she was discovered and told off. A buzzing sound – excited grown-up conversation from the sounds of it, floated on the still air and a half dozen strange smells assailed her nose. Her heart leapt in her chest. Was father here?

 

Nothing but stillness reigned after a few moments. All jolting movements and motions in the wagon itself had ceased and glimpses of bare shadows under the crack in the door melted away to nothing as though dawn had come to banish the Forsaken hiding in the cupboard, waiting to punish naughty children. Or so her mother had always said, anyway. Exhaling sharply, Renalie realised she had been holding her breath and caused the sandy locks of hair on her head to fall into her face. Green eyes the same as her mother’s peered out curiously from under the dune-coloured mop, shadowed still by the seat she hid under. Inching forward slowly, Renalie brushed dust from her dress and stood in the wagon wondering what to do. Would father be waiting for her? Waiting to pull her into a big hug and to not let her go for a long, long time? The thought made her smile.

 

Pushing the door open tentatively, Renalie’s eyes widened at the sight of the place she had wound up in.

 

Wow…

 

Everywhere was a-bustle, far busier than her hometown of Lugard, in Murandy. In truth she was a little awed by the thought of asking all those people where her father was: some might be nasty to her. Her life had been somewhat sheltered by her mother wishing to protect and keep her safe; at times a little restrictive as though there were something about her that was special – more special than most, and it would pain her dearly to lose her daughter. Renalie worried briefly, having not even left a note for her mama. She must be worrying about me. I think she would be worrying about me. As soon as she got the opportunity, she vowed to send her mother a letter telling her that everything was alright and that she would be home when she had found her father. But what if people did not want to tell her where he is… Or if they even know?

 

It was easy to recognise that Renalie was in a stable-yard. Where else would a wagon draw rein? That would account for certain of the smells she had first sampled on climbing down from the wagon. It could only be horses. She loved horses! Eyes smiling, her heart wanted to sing – Renalie wanted to sing out loud with the fact that she was with the magnificent equine beasts and she crossed the floor oblivious to anyone that might be there watching and stroked the nose of a delicate seeming white mare with dapples on her flanks. She looks like a lady, a proper lady.

 

“Who’s there?

 

The voice had taken Renalie completely by surprise. She had thought she was free to make her own enquiries as to her father’s presence, but she should not have been surprised that someone had found her. Smiling so that the new person would like her, Renalie began to speak.

 

“Hello. My name is Renalie.†She knew the brogue of Murandy was quite thick in her accent and felt conscious of it, but continued. “I’m looking for my father. Have you seen him? His name is Mehrin.â€

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Drea scratched off one more thing from her list. She was almost done with her own tasks, and completely done with those Mehrin asked her to do. Luckily, none of them consisted of seeing him, he's been so moody lately. The man could at least try to lighten up one of these days. Just because he didn't have his tonic, he had been the biggest monster she'd ever seen, as if it were her fault!

 

Setting off for the stables, her next event was to check on Blazing Glory. AD was doing an excellent job with the horses, and she trusted the young girl with BG. However, Drea had been separated from her mare for over a year, and treasured the tedious tasks that came with owning a horse. Drea eyed a merchant train that stopped near the stables and scanned the crowd for Mehrin. No doubt he'd be around soon to search the merchants for any sort of wine or brandy, and knowing this type, there was pleanty.

 

Drea opened the door to the stable, a slow creak as not to startle AD if she were taking a nap. Drea stopped and watched in the distance. Outside, she saw the figure of a young girl petting BG. She hadn't noticed any other children around the merchant train, and this child was smaller than AD. "Who's there?" She asked, trying not to snap and scare the girl away.

 

The girl turned and smiled. “Hello. My name is Renalie. I’m looking for my father. Have you seen him? His name is Mehrin.â€

 

Drea nearly choked on her own breath. She cocked her head slightly to the side and raised her eyebrows. Her mouth went dry, making her voice rough. "Did you say your father?" The girl nodded. Drea spoke quickly before the girl could muster another word. "Mehrin?" She nodded again and opened her mouth this time, but Drea interrupted her. "Yes, I can take you to him." She softened her voice. The girl was kinda cute, and she must have been mistaken. There's no way Mehrin could be a father. She wasn't even sure Mehrin had ever loved a woman like that. Drea shivered at the thought and focused on the girl instead. "My name is Xandrea, but you can call me Drea. I'm a friend of your... father's."

 

Drea started walking in the direction of Mehrin's office. Both girls in silence at the awkwardness of the situation, at least awkward for Drea. She turned to Renalie again. "Are you sure it's Mehrin you're looking for?" Out of the corner of her eye she saw him, but it was too late. Drea walked right into Mehrin who was looking at a piece of parchment and not where he was going. Drea caught him in time to keep him from falling, holding the man who is much taller than her by the elbows. Mehrin looked up at her, none too happy. She smiled with half her mouth and nodded her head toward the young girl next to her. "Mehrin this is Renalie. Renalie, Mehrin." Then leaning up to whisper in his ear -well, as close to his ear as she could get- so no one could hear, Drea added, "Your daughter."

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Mehrin strode through the streets of the Citadel, occasionally glancing up from the paper in his hands to check where he was going. Absently he counted the days since his last drink: eight. Eight days... and the Red Trench is in two! Blood and bloody ashes, that will be difficult. The report in his hand was the reason why he was out of his office. Reading over it again, Mehrin turned a corner... and ran into something. Backpedaling quickly, his feet tangled into themselves, and only a sudden grip on his elbows kept Mehrin from falling on his back.

 

Finally noticing who it was, Mehrin resettled himself, thinking, Hmmm, Drea's a bit stronger than I gave her credit for being. Before he could start apologizing- or telling her to watch where she was going, which seemed more likely, given his mood, Drea gestured towards the ground. His eyes shifted down to find a young girl looking back up at him, her green eyes staring up from a red hair-framed face. Something about her tugged at Mehrin's memory, but he couldn't place it. All of a sudden, Drea spoke. "Mehrin this is Renalie. Renalie, Mehrin." Mehrin's brow wrinkled in curiosity at the emphasis that Drea put on his name. She surprised Mehrin again, though, by suddenly stretching up to whisper towards his ear, "Your daughter."

 

The words seemed to ring in Mehrin's head like the reverberations of some sadistic bell. My daughter? Faces and names began flashing through Mehrin's mind; the child appeared to be about ten years old, which could only fit one of the three names on that list. Kneeling, Mehrin looked the child in the face, pulling his hat back to allow more light between the two. Light, it can't be true... but what if it is? "Your mother," Mehrin said, his normally gravelly voice now a touch broken and empty, as if he had been hit in the chest with a forge hammer. "What is her name? Is it Ana Malon? Is she well?" He knew that he sounded harsh, but Mehrin couldn't help it. That was the only possible choice, and his greatest failure ever if it was the case.

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~Renalie~

 

It was her father! Oh! Renalie wanted to dance and sing happily. As it was, she had a hard time keeping the smile from her face despite the looks on the two adult’s faces. The lady didn’t know how to look and was a mixture between cross and worried and her father… Well. It was nice that she could say that now. Who would have thought that Renalie would find the one person she was looking for so quickly? Who else would know her mother’s name? Renalie clutched her hands to her chest and looked up earnestly at the man that was her father.

 

“Yes, Papa, that is mama’s name. She is well. I’m Renalie Malon!†Grabbing the hem of her dress, she performed a passable curtsy before looking at her father once more. She was surprised with his appearance, wondering if it was living without her and her mother that had made his face seem so … hard. There didn’t seem to be a trace of happiness or anything in it - a hard face that did not welcome smiles. None of it mattered though. Renalie had found her father!

 

A thousand questions bubbled in her head, one after the other and fighting in her mouth for which one to be asked first. His stern regard silenced most of them, so she settled for telling him a little about herself and her mother to hopefully be as helpful as possible and answer any of his questions.

 

“I grew up in Lugard. Mama raised me and it was nice, but I missed you. Mama’s name is Ana Malon. It was her that told me your name, then I decided to try and find you.†She swallowed, feeling thirsty and hungry for the first time, realising that she had not eaten for a long time, and her tummy hurt. She took one hand off her skirts and ran it over her unruly hair trying to flatten it down. Genuinely grateful for the woman that had found her and had taken her directly to her father, Renalie wanted to get to know both of them, her new found friends but more importantly, a friend and her family! Now to get him to come back to mama…

 

Her stomach squeaked noisily, startling her, and Renalie pressed her hands to her middle looking aghast. “I’m sorry! Can I please have something to eat? I don’t remember the last time I ate on the way here.â€

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It was all that Mehrin could do not to collapse to the ground sobbing. His daughter... Ana Malon's and his daughter. Light, how long had it been since he'd thought of her? Eight, nine years? He could still remember the sheer amount of loathing that he had held for himself after leaving her and her mother in the state they were. Light, Ana, I'm so sorry. Sorry that I couldn't stay, sorry that I left you to raise a child that I didn't even know about, he thought as Renalie spoke. The shock was such that Mehrin could hardly hear what the child- no, not 'the child'- what his daughter was saying. Until her stomach protested noisily. "I'm sorry!" she said, seeming quite embarassed. "Can I please have something to eat? I don't remember the last time I ate on the way here."

 

That got Mehrin's attention. His previously-important task forgotten, Mehrin stood from his crouch, still quite unsure what to do about this sudden revelation. Light, this was so much easier with Dashiva's daughter. Offering his hand to the child, Mehrin looked at Drea with an expression that was begging for a drink. "You didn't eat at all on your way here?" Mehrin asked, shifting his attention back to Renalie, his voice carrying his sudden concern, his alcohol-starved mind screaming obscenities at the careless wretch who would allow such a thing. "Light, even the food that they serve here is better than that! Drea, would you care to join us?" Mehrin didn't know where his invitation to the woman had come from. Maybe he was hoping that she'd provide some sort of grounding in reality.

 

Maybe he was hoping that she'd tell him that this wasn't actually happening. Blood and bloody ashes! I've got an army to command; how can I raise a daughter with that? How could I think to even raise a daughter here? How can I get her back to her mother, hopefully with enough coin to see both of them through? I owe her at least that.

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Drea watched in half horror half amusement as Mehrin was introduced to his daughter. The girl really was cute and had a certain charm to her and twinkle in her eye that gave away the fact that she was somehow related to Mehrin. It had been a long time since she's seen that twinkle in his eye, but she knew it was there. Perhaps this child would bring that out again. Perhaps. A part of Drea's heart smiled seeing Mehrin crouched in front of the girl, and taking her hand as he invited her to eat with them.

 

"I'd be honored to." Drea smiled at Mehrin and then to Renalie, a true, genuine smile. She fell behind as she watched the two walk hand in hand. Drea's eyes watered at the thought of walking with a child of her own.

 

"Are you coming?" She heard from a rough voice, obviously Mehrin's and hurried on, quickly blinking her eyes dry. Chores could wait.

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~Renalie~

 

“Yes, daddy, I’m coming, I’m coming!†She was delighted! Her father had invited to her their first meal together since she had arrived. I wonder what we’re going to eat… I hope there are cakes! Little honey cakes like mama makes! That meant he liked her … didn’t it? He had not turned his back on her, nor shouted at her, so that was a good sign. Would they sit down to dinner every night now, like a family? Maybe he would come back to Lugard with her to see her mother. She’d be so surprised! Renalie could not help but give a little squeak of happiness as she took his hand and fell into step alongside her father and the nice lady that had found her in the stables.

 

I’m so happy!

 

The corridors seemed to go on forever. Renalie stared at people she did not know that seemed to melt out of their path and yet still they did not reach their destination. It was nice to stretch her legs though, having been stuck under that wagon seat for the duration of the journey, only able to stand at times when the merchant had been definitely away from the wagon and even then not able to run. She loved to run.

 

What was the other woman doing with him though? She seemed to know him, and quite well it seemed. It was the only thing that was dampening her mood, yet the petulance it created was beginning to make her feel as though she wanted to run back to the wagon and hide. Why couldn’t she be on her own with her father? She bit her lower lip, feeling tears start to fill her eyes and a lump at the back of her throat. It was no good. Renalie was tired and hungry and a bit overwhelmed by everything. She cried.

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There were very few things that frightened Mehrin, and up until the time he stepped out of the building he had been cutting through and into the streets of the Citadel, he had assumed that none of them were a sound. He was wrong. It started softly, but Mehrin could soon identify the sound, and it terrified him. It was the sound of a child crying. More specifically, it was the sound of his child crying. Oh, kiss a flaming goat...

 

Mehrin was a soldier, a commander of soldiers. If a man cried, it was because he was injured or green. An injured man could be comforted with brave words. A green man could be shouted at. A child? Mehrin had no idea. Her hand still held in his, Mehrin crouched down again so he could look at Renalie from her level. "Rena? What's wrong? Was it something that I said or did?" Mehrin asked, trying to make his voice as sympathetic as he could, but knowing full well how much sympathy his voice could handle.

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~Renalie~

 

She could see he was trying, but Renalie couldn’t really say that a woman she had only just met was getting in the way of her plans with keeping her daddy all to herself. That was silly and the sort of thing a baby would think of. She was nine years old. Nine! She was not one of those silly little babies that needed their mamas around all the time to hold their hand. Hadn’t she travelled all the way across the world to find her father? She was a big girl now and should be more self-reliant. It was just… The tears continued for a little while. Renalie could hear the lady standing watching her with an odd look on her face as though jealous and it made her cross. She threw herself at her father, flinging her arms about his neck and hugging him tightly.

 

“You don’t know how long I’ve been looking for you…†She murmured into his neck, smelling him and wondering what the odd scent was. It hadn’t really been that long, but it seemed like it. And the journey had been one like a Daughter-Heir would have endured if she had run away from having to marry and evil suitor from another House. Renalie was something from the stories! Someone who had endured a journey to go on an adventure and find true love! Well, her daddy at least. But she would find true love too! The stories always ended like that. Unable to help it, she smiled over his shoulder. “I’m hungry… Can we eat now please?†She unwound herself from his body, wishing he didn’t feel so stiff or that he would hug her back the way the other children’s daddies did. It was a start, no matter how small.

 

She stood back and sniffed, wiping at her eyes with her fingers and surreptitiously wiping her hands on her dress. Renalie wondered if he would give her a real hug, and tuck her into bed and maybe even read her a story when it was time to go to bed. She sighed, her lip trembling as though she might cry again.

 

“I’m sorry. I’m all right now. Can we eat? Please?â€

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Drea walked next to Mehrin, on the other side of him than Renalie, just because she was cute didn't mean she wanted to look at her. Besides, who was she to take away time with her father? She was the Undercommander of the Band of the Red Hand, current Banner Captain for the scouts, and Advisor for the Commander, that's who.

 

When the girl started crying, Drea stood behind Mehrin with her arms crossed and hip stuck out. An expression of irritation across her face. This girl was going to be more of a hassel than an amusement if she continues to act like this. She observed Mehrin as he handled the situation. Not the way she would have, but then again, it was not her duaghter standing infront of her throwing a fit in the middle of the Citadel.

 

Drea looked around at the people passing by, watching with wonder and confusion of their Commander talking to a little girl. Drea shrugged at them, rolling her eyes. What was this girl thinking? Her father has a reputation and she was going to throw it all away by acting like a child. If she was going to survive in this place, she'd have to grow up, and quick.

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Renalie did not answer right away. Rather, she spent a few moments trying to compose herself. Just before Mehrin could stand again to stretch his back, he suddenly felt two small arms latching around him and a small face burrowing into his neck. "You don't know how long I've been looking for you..." his daughter murmured, her words muffled against his neck.

 

Mehrin was shocked. This child had only come into his life a few moments ago, and she was already clinging to him as if she'd known him for her entire life. It was odd how much trust a child was capable of showing. At any other time, Mehrin might have been flattered. However, he was still trying to get over his own shock at discovering that he was a father. Despite the part of him that was telling Mehrin to hug Renalie back, he couldn't. Mehrin spared a brief glance at Drea, hoping to get some idea of what he should do from her. To his hidden dismay, she was staring at the two of them with a barely hidden look of disgust, most of it seeming to be directed at Renalie. Blood and bloody ashes, woman, what's wrong with you?

 

"I'm hungry... Can we eat now, please?" she finally asked, disentangling herself from Mehrin. She stood back, sniffing and wiping at her eyes and dress and trying to compose herself. Her lip still trembled, but she sounded a bit more steady. "I'm sorry. Can we eat? Please?"

 

Do something, you bloody oaf! Mehrin's mind screamed. But what? another part of him answered. With a wry mental chuckle, Mehrin thought, Both of you just shut up. He wasn't anywhere near insane; a good laugh at his own expense was always a good thing. Standing up, Mehrin held his hand out to Renalie again. "Yes, let's go eat. I'm warning you, though, the food here is nothing like your mother's cooking," Mehrin said with a chuckle. A glance at Drea that demanded answers at a later time, and the trio was off again.

 

His status allowed Mehrin quick passage through the crowd, and in no time, the trio found themselves outside one of the dining halls strewn about the Citadel; Mehrin had chosen this particular one because the cook was actually capable of making the food edible. Of course, that made the place popular with the rest of the Band, meaning that there was quite the lineup of men and women in uniform. With a barely audible curse, Mehrin decided to do something that he didn't like doing. He pulled rank. "Okay, stand aside!" he barked. A few men began laughing rudely until they turned to see who was addressing them. The laughs gradually faded to murmurs as Mehrin nodded grimly. "Let's go eat something, then," he said lightly as the three of them walked past the line and to the servers.

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~Renalie~

 

Renalie took her father’s proffered hand, feeling once more how rough his skin was against hers. She took it and walked alongside him, remembering with a touch of glee how daddy had mentioned about mama’s cooking. Did he still like it? Did he miss it and want to come back with her after all? Better yet, Renalie could cook for him here! On thinking about it, she rather liked the idea of working in a large kitchen, making bread for her daddy. Mama had been giving her lessons, how to make bread and cakes … she did like cakes … and lots of other little things like stews and the like.

 

Such musings were interrupted by a realisation. Renalie noticed how people continued to melt out of their path. Surely it wasn’t for her? A childish thought, quickly dismissed as her mind worked, telling herself it couldn’t possibly be her because no one knew she was here apart from her father and the nice lady that wanted too much of daddy’s time. One of them was very important here, and highly respected at that. On arrival at the dining hall, Renalie realised she had not seen so many people in one place in her life! Not even the busy marketplace in Lugard when she had gone there with her mother had held as many people in such a small area as this; it was so busy! People milled everywhere like ants in the summer when the heat made them boil out of their nests looking for food. Some were sat at tables, others standing in lines waiting to be served whatever was on the menu for the day and the latter falling out of their way at her daddy’s voice.

 

“Okay, stand aside!â€

 

Wow. It must have been her father that was the important one then. Renalie idly wondered if all these men were soldiers working for him and then a great question came into her head. Is he one of the good people or the bad people heard about in stories all the time? He wouldn’t hurt me… I’m his daughter… A plate was put into her hands and some food put on it, Renalie being too distracted by her thoughts to notice what was put on it and when all three of them had food, she looked around expectantly, wanting to know where they were going to go. Where they going to eat amongst all these people?

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There was something about this girl, something that tapped at Drea's nerves. She watched the girl as they walked through the line, starring up at her father with glorious admiration. Drea clenched her jaw tight and murmmured through her teeth at the man who put a spoon of slop on her plate, trying to keep her irritation down. This girl was trouble. The last thing Mehrin needed was a distraction from his duties, a soft spot.

 

She could see it now: Time for war comes and all Mehrin can think about is if his poor little bastard daughter is safe. He thinks he's made mistakes previously, just wait until this little monster plunges her talons into his heart and takes him for everything he's worth. Which, to the Band, Mehrin is everything. Mehrin is their crutch. If this little brat barges into their army and takes Mehrin away from them, away from her, she'd hurt her and it wouldn't be pretty.

 

Like a little puppy, Drea followed Mehrin and his daughter through the thick crowd and sat down with them. The last time she ate with Mehrin was when she met AD, whom she thought was Mehrin's daughter. Drea chuckled at the ironic humor as she moved the slop around her plate. Yes, that was a good word for all this: Ironic. As well as obnoxious, unnerving, and nauseating.

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Mehrin chose a table as far away from the rest of the gathered soldiers as he possibly could. Very often, the far corners of the mess hall were left abandoned because of time; most people who came in to eat had maybe five or ten minutes to do so before their next training session or shift. Situating himself with his back to the corner of the room, Mehrin offered Renalie the open spot on the bench next to him. Unsurprisingly, Drea chose to sit on the opposite side of the table. What did surprise Mehrin, though, was her demeanor. She seemed almost... hateful for some reason. What puzzled him was why that hate seemed to be directed at Renalie. She had done nothing to the woman as far as Mehrin had seen. Mehrin couldn't say that he loved the child, but he could say that he owed her something, at least.

 

Mehrin allowed Renalie to eat in silence, his own mind struggling with possibilities. He couldn't ask her to stay here, he knew. She might prove to be too much of a distraction as it was. And with an army... Mehrin's rank allowed him some privilege, but he didn't know whether it would extend to protecting his daughter from some sick soldier who was feeling a bit lonely... The thought alone made Mehrin tighten his fists until his knuckles cracked. Light, Ana would be devastated. I'd be devastated. She can't stay.

 

Mehrin continued to watch his daughter eat, all the while trying to find the right words to say what he needed to say. He couldn't treat her as he would treat a soldier. He couldn't afford to show weakness. He couldn't make up his bloody mind. Blood and bloody ashes, man, just say it! As Renalie began to pick off the last of the meal, Mehrin said slowly, "So... what do we do with you now that you're here? I can put you up in my room and sleep elsewhere, and we can discuss how to get you back home in the morning."

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~Renalie~

 

The food, which had started off as being as tasty as anything her mother made; largely due to hunger and the company she was enjoying, suddenly tasted like ashes in her mouth. All Renalie could do was stare at her father. How had she ever thought he was a nice man? Talking about sending her away in the morning, when it had taken her so long to get here. He didn’t love her. It was obvious, else why would he hurt her feelings so by threatening to send her away? Her heart felt like it was breaking and she felt sick. Daddy’s so mean! She saw the quick flash of smile, quickly suppressed, by his lady-friend and a tear leaked from the corner of one green eye. Everyone is so horrible to me! They hate me because I’ll be in the way. Daddy’s mean and he smells!

 

Why did he want to send her away? Had she done something wrong to make him not like her anymore? A second tear ran down her cheek, causing her emerald gaze to go watery like a reflection of summer leaves seen on a gently undulating millpond. All around her were noises of people talking and eating an oversized beehive that abounded with unspoken feeling and energy. Renalie was not blind despite the unshed tears and she could see questioning and puzzled faces turned in their direction even though they were somewhat removed from the majority of folks in the dining hall. He thought he was too important for his own daughter!

 

Her appetite gone, she pushed the plate away from her, spilling something over her fingers. She flicked it off angrily, seeing spots of whatever it was landing on her dress, making her cross. Renalie had crossed miles and miles trying to find her father and sheer luck had brought them together at the first port of call. It was meant to be, just like in the stories! Renalie had made a dangerous journey; the merchant may well have found her hidden in her wagon and done anything to her! She could have been left at the side of the road, lost and alone and scared … at risk from bandits and thieves or even worse… Renalie shivered as she thought about the fact that she was the right size for wild animals to attack her. Wolves would find her tasty; bears would consider her a light snack. She voiced her thoughts to her father, emphasising the dangerous wolves and bears and their sharp teeth, and how much she had done to get where she was now.

 

“I’m meant to be here. Don’t send me away now I am here!†Tiredness was catching up with her, and it made her feel irritated. “I’ll only run away again. I can be useful here and I want to be here… I can cook! Do you remember Mama’s cooking? I bet you do. She taught me how to cook! I can cook for you!†She saw his expression and wanted to cry. Everything she had done was for naught. Raising her voice, Renalie looked angrily at him. “You don’t love me anymore, Daddy!â€

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Drea watched with cocked eyebrows as Renalie pushed her plate away and threw a fit. Light! Were all kids like this? The story of wolves and bears and watching Renalie gesture madly made Drea laugh out loud. She couldn't hold it in any longer. The terrified look on Renalie's face, her big eyes twinkling with tears, it was all too much. Just too much. Covering her mouth quickly, Drea bit her lip at the look she received from Mehrin: two stabbing daggers. "Sorry." She murmmured as best she could without letting another giggle pass her lips.

 

Renalie carried on, almost as if Drea had never interrupted in the first place. That could be a good thing, or a bad thing. Drea took it as good, the last thing she needed was Renalie twisting Mehrin's mind about her. "You don’t love me anymore, Daddy!"

 

Drea lost all control of her body and stood, towering over the little girl like a tree. She tried not to let her voice get too loud, but held nothing back in the growling tone. "Love? You're nine, and you think you know what love is? You come parading in here and expect everyone to drop what their doing and take care of you. Renalie, Merhin doesn't love you, he doesn't even know you." S

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Renalie's tirade did not fall upon deaf ears. At the mention of Ana's cooking, Mehrin allowed his mind to drift back, trying to remember... The sound of a shattering dish and a scream in the kitchen drew Mehrin's attention away from the letter he was writing to Ana, trying to express with writing what he couldn't say. Running into the kitchen, eyes hard and his fists balled, Mehrin found Ana and Orin's wife holding onto each other as if they were the only things keeping each other standing. Both were weeping bitterly. Looking through the outside door, Mehrin saw why: Orin lay in the streets, a pool of blood spreading from around his body. And ducking into an alley... Mehrin dashed back to his room and seized ahold of his claymore, the man's last gift to him. With a sorrowful look at both Ana and her mother, Mehrin darted back through the door and out of their lives...

 

It was a bitter realization when Mehrin realized that he could not, in fact, remember Ana's cooking, or her laugh, or her smile. Light, why? The pain that that memory brought was not helped by Drea's sudden laughter. Mehrin's eyes locked onto hers with a look that should have sent her flying as if struck. She mumbled an apology, but that lasted for only a short time.

 

"Love? You're nine, and you think you know what love is? You come parading in here and expect everyone to drop what their doing and take care of you. Renalie, Merhin doesn't love you, he doesn't even know you." Drea's harsh words were enough for Mehrin.

 

His normally expression-vacant face twisted into a quiet anger, but his eyes were blazing. "That's enough Drea!" he growled, his voice more appropriate for threatening an opponent than addressing a friend. "She is young, yet, and I'll be damned if I'm going to change that so soon for her. What you say is true-" Mehrin spared Renalie a sorrowful look. "But that doesn't mean that she's ready to know. Now, unless you're willing to apologize and actually help me here, leave."

 

If anything, Drea's anger only seemed to increase. With an angry sniff, she replied, "Why should I apologize? I'm not the one who expects you to change your life for me. Maybe you should just go with her back to Lugard and live with Ana too!"

 

Mehrin shook his head. He was not going to mention what Drea had done to convince him to stop drinking, not in front of Renalie. She wouldn't understand. But he couldn't leave it at that. "You know just as well as I that I can't return to Lugard, Drea. Blood and bloody ashes, woman, if I step foot in the city, and they'll have my head stuck on a pike inside an hour!" As soon as he finished saying that, Mehrin wished that he could take those words back. He tried to spare his daughter one pain, just to give her another one. He also noticed that about half of the mess hall was staring at him and Drea. "Ah, son of a..." Mehrin muttered.

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Drea looked around as Mehrin did. Her blood rushed through her head so fast she didn't care what others thought of her, she never did. Drea sat back down anyway, and leaned forward, whispering harsly.

 

"No, Mehrin, I didn't know that you couldn't return to Lugard. And I don't know why. You don't share anything with anyone. You're the most cold hearted man I've ever met." Why was she angry? Drea had nearly forgot until she saw the little brat siting next to Mehrin, near tears. Drea did't care, she looked back to Mehrin and growled "If I were still Undercommander, I'd tell you to leave, I'd make you go back. Maybe a little enforcement in your life would do you good. You seem to have trouble doing your job anyway, maybe a vacation, or resignation would do all of us some good." Drea met his stare eye for eye. Neither one blinked and Drea merely waited for a responce. Stay tough, Drea. You can win this.

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"No, Mehrin, I didn't know that you couldn't return to Lugard. And I don't know why. You don't share anything with anyone. You're the most cold hearted man I've ever met." Mehrin nearly started at Drea's words, delivered in a harsh whisper. They sounded odd in the context of the situation, but Mehrin didn't call her on it. It didn't work well to irritate people more. "If I were still Undercommander, I'd tell you to leave, I'd make you go back. Maybe a little enforcement in your life would do you good. You seem to have trouble doing your job anyway, maybe a vacation, or resignation would do all of us some good."

 

Drea's eyes stayed locked on Mehrin's, both of them trying to make the other look away first. It was a power struggle, and Mehrin would not back down. His gaze became hard, lips drawing back into something resembling a snarl. If he didn't vent his anger somehow... In one smooth motion, Mehrin drew the heavy-bladed knife that he kept belted on his left side and drove it into the table with a loud bang. The feel of splinters of wood hitting his leg where the knife pierced the bottom of the table barely even registered. Feeling the stitches in his arm pull, Mehrin dimly remembered to watch himself, but his mind was already somewhere else.

 

"You call me cold, Miss Raylin, when you would send me to my death without a qualm. I've wanted to return to Lugard, dreamed of it." Mehrin's voice sounded too calm in his ears for what he was saying. A strange sensation, as if his heart were being torn out, had set in, and he was not about to reveal that. Mehrin had only felt it once before, and he didn't know why he felt it now. "I often send a scout to Lugard under the pretense of picking up rumors. You've seen the scouting reports, I'm sure. I have them ask at the gate about me, quite discreetly. They're still looking for me."

 

Why was he telling her this? Surely she didn't need to know. Light knew that Renalie didn't need to know. "I'm accused of two murders, though I only committed one. The one of which I'm innocent was her grandfather!" Shut up, Mehrin, just shut up! Somehow, Mehrin had forgotten that Renalie was even there in his anger. All that existed was Drea, as beautiful and as cold as a winter morning. So she wanted to send him to his death, did she? "Blood and ashes, Drea, if you want me dead that badly, just kill me right here, right now. Don't push the dirty work off on somebody else. Do it yourself."

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She kept her eyes locked on his, hoping they showed at least half the anger she felt at that moment. There were no words to describe how she felt, only a look, the look she gave him. A look of resentment. What did she resent him for? For taking Cabroci's position? For allowing, even concidering another girl in his life? Light, Drea! You're not even in his life. Grow up.

 

"Blood and ashes, Drea, if you want me dead that badly, just kill me right here, right now. Don't push the dirty work off on somebody else. Do it yourself."

 

Drea stood slowly and raised a daring eyebrow toward Mehrin. A smirk she didn't want there slid across her lips as she rested a hand on her belted dagger. The temptation boiled as her unblinking eyes stayed on his. This would be all too easy. Yes she was in a room filled with witnesses, and most were probably on edge the way it was, but at least it'd be done. She slid the blade out only inches, more of a threat than anything else and opened her mouth to speak.

 

One think caught Drea off guard: Mehrin broke his pose and winked at Drea, as if teasing her, challenging her to go through with it. Drea snarled and snapped the blade back into its sheath.

 

"Go to hell, Mehrin." She spat and stormed out of the mess hall. Her life was too chaotic to be dealing with his drama right now. What she really needed was a drink, maybe a few. She stomped off to the nearest tavern, full intention of forgetting the whole bloody day.

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~Renalie~

 

She hated arguments. Oh, Light, how she hated arguments! Renalie had listened as her father gave her reason and rhyme for not displaying such childish behaviour, and yet they were the ones arguing! Childish! The lady that had found her and her daddy were arguing and Renalie was the one considered childish? She harrumphed noisily, watching her hair move about as she exhaled and folded her arms sullenly across her body. A lot of what they were arguing about made no sense to her, but Renalie looked shocked as she saw the lady laid her hand on her sword. It had surprised her. Renalie hadn’t noticed she had even been wearing one until that moment. What kind of place did her father live in if the women had to be armed? She felt a little scared…

 

…Until Renalie’s green eyes widened at the sight of the woman debating whether or not to draw her sword on her father, her knuckles whitening on the hilt and her posture rigid. Was she going to hurt daddy? He might be a stinky mean old bear but she didn’t want him to get hurt. She wished she’d never come to this place; there had been nothing but pain so far and there didn’t seem to be any end to it in sight. Would the nasty lady her Renalie too?

 

Before she could continue with that line of thought, the one that had found her stalked off like some lion from the stories, looking a confused mixture of anger and pain. Renalie looked at her father, noting how his face was a riot of conflicting emotions. So, his loyalties were divided were they? She still felt scared at the remembered sight of the sword but told herself to be brave, brave like the ladies and the warriors in the stories she loved. They were never far from her thoughts. She trembled, but stayed near her father momentarily too scared to go anywhere else, as she did not know where she could go. Maybe she should just go back home to Lugard without him if Mehrin didn’t want her. Silent tears rolled down her face before she could tell herself to stop being such a baby.

 

He doesn’t care. He truly doesn’t care… The litany rolled over and over in her head. Renalie studied her knees, watching the tearstains widen on her dress and rocking back and forth. Why didn’t he come around and give her a cuddle? Why was he just sitting there? Why? Why? Unable to stand it any longer, Renalie didn’t care where she ended up, but she definitely didn’t want to be near him at the moment. With one hand held to her chest, Renalie too ran from the room.

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Mehrin's mind was a jumble of emotions that even he could not sort out. And he couldn't say whether it was Renalie's arrival or Drea's attitude that had done it. The woman confused Mehrin sometimes. No, wait... All the time. He couldn't even sort out whether she was a friend, an enemy, an advisor, or... No. It is not that. Part of him seemed to reply, Are you sure? It didn't take much to squelch that voice. Anya, her tanned and beautiful face framed by a myriad of blonde braids, was enough to do that.

 

But then there was Renalie. His daughter. Light, his daughter... Ana must be frantic about her child by now. A child that was in a far more dangerous place than Lugard. A child that he didn't love, but that he couldn't reject outright. That would devastate her and, Mehrin accepted glumly, himself. He could kill a man without a guilty conscience. He could kill a woman who was trying to kill him, though he may suffer for it later. He could not hurt a child. That made all the difference.

 

Mehrin's left hand slowly wrapped around the hilt of the knife still jutting out of the table, and with a heave that lifted the table off the floor, he withdrew the heavy blade from the solid wood. Sliding it back into its sheath, he looked down to where his daughter was sitting to tell her what he had decided to do... only to find that she was not there. There was just an empty spot on the bench where she had been sitting. Standing fast enough to knock the bench over, Mehrin said loudly, "Where'd she go?!"

 

The men and women closer to Mehrin looked at him, but said nothing right away. Angrily, Mehrin overturned the table that he had been seated behind and shouted, "Dammit, where did she go?!"

 

"Which one? Banner Captain Raylin or the little girl?" somebody offered. Opening his mouth to answer, Mehrin suddenly realized the validity of the question. Who was he looking for? Again Mehrin's mind was filled with confusion. If he couldn't answer that question... Light, what's wrong with me? There was only one solution. Remembering that Renalie had come in with a peddler, Mehrin waded his way through the mess hall. There was an answer that he knew, an answer that he intended to try...

 

*************

 

Sitting at his desk, Mehrin stared intently at the bottle that was occupying the spot in the middle of the desk. He had been staring at it for the past fifteen minutes. Occasionally, he would reach out to it, but something always stopped his hand. Mehrin couldn't say what it was, though.

 

If she hates you so much, then why do you persist in staying away from the drink? Why bother? It has helped you through the hardest times in your life. That thought had been cycling through Mehrin's head for the past fifteen minutes, as well. And it had just about convinced him many times. However, it didn't end there. If she didn't care about you, why would she want you to stop? She was right when she said that you were endangering the Band, so why would you continue to do so, especially now that you know.

 

"Light, I just don't know," Mehrin muttered to the air around him. His alcohol-starved mind was obviously trying to make its will known. As was Mehrin's conscience. A sudden thought struck him then. Light, man, you've spent the past fifteen minutes staring at a bottle, and another ten to get it and get back here! Your daughter is still out there in the Citadel somewhere, and you're sitting here with a damned bottle! If you're like this when you're sober, what in the Pit of Doom are you going to be like when you're drunk, you dumb bastard?

 

What will you do to your own daughter if you're drunk?

 

That did it. With a look of anger, Mehrin siezed hold of the bottleneck and strode out of his office and to the front door. With a yell, he hurled the bottle across the street, where it smashed against the stone wall in a spray of glass shards and hard liquor. Returning to his office, Mehrin retrieved his hat, leaving his cloak, claymore, and bullwhip behind. Slamming the door behind him, he told the officer on duty, "If anybody needs me, tell them that I'm looking for my daughter and that they can go boil their heads for all I care."

 

Not even waiting for the man's reply, Mehrin strode out of the office and into the streets, occasionally raising his voice to shout, "Renalie!" I'll be damned if I'm going to leave her alone in this place!

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~Renalie~

 

Faceless shapes blurred as Renalie ran past, barely able to make out her way ahead through eyes red-rimmed with sorrow. Not that she knew where she was going, or where she’d end up, but of Mehrin didn’t want her around, then Renalie didn’t want to be around. If she could only make her way back to the stables … maybe the merchant’s wagon was still there and she could hide under the seat again. No wonder her mother had been reluctant to tell her about him. Oh, Light, Mama! Fresh tears rolled down her cheeks and legs fuelled by the thought of her mother scolding her for running away beat faster, propelling her further away from him.

 

Once, she ran headlong into a man and knocked all the air out of her. Other than that, people melted out of her way and when they didn’t, she snaked around them as slippery as an eel. Her mother had always found it difficult to find her in their games of Hide and Seek, and Renalie smiled at the memory, a watery smile flashing over her face to be replaced by heaving sobs. Why was he so mean? She hadn’t been naughty; it almost made her want to be naughty, just so he would have to pay her some attention and maybe a forgiving hug if she played her cards right. More tears fell.

 

I can’t run any more. I hurt.

 

… Wheeze…

 

The stables seemed an awfully long way away, and she wasn’t going to stop and ask any of the hateful people here for directions as they might try to trick her, and take her back to her father. If she asked, Renalie would likely find herself under the stern gaze of that horrid lady that had found her in the first place with that sword at her throat, but Renalie needed to rest.

 

A little stop wouldn’t hurt. Dad… Mehrin is likely on the other side of this place by now.

 

She only needed to find a place to get her breath back for a few moments and then she would try to run for the stables again. All the people, men and women, all looked really mean, and Renalie would sooner ride a lion than risk confiding in anyone at the moment. A door to her left seemed the perfect opportunity, as it was likely a cupboard or a storeroom or something. With tentative hands, she pushed it open. Eyes widening, she stepped inside.

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*Very, very temporary character*

 

Plainly and simply, there were days that Captain Aldar Gesparion hated his job. Days like today, for example, when the Commander seemed to be out to kill somebody. Or when he just didn't care about his bloody job, like today. It had been about ten minutes since he had left the office, and Aldar was just starting to enjoy the peacefulness of not having to deal with the constant petitioners parading through the door. Leaning back in his chair, Aldar put his feet up on the desk and wrapped his hand behind his head. Life was going to be easy for the next few hours.

 

Aldar did not hate his employer in the least; he actually owed the man quite a bit, even if he didn't remember it. Besides, this was one of the easiest jobs in the Citadel. One told people to sit down and the Commander would be with them shortly, or one handled the more minor problems. And the pay wasn't too bad either. The Commander could actually be a fun guy, as long as he wasn't in one of his moods. And to top it all off, how often could a captain tell a Captain General to go boil his head?

 

A creak at the door told Aldar that somebody was coming into the building. Hastily shifting so he looked more professional, Aldar prepared to convey the Commander's message to the officer or petitioner who came into the room. What he wasn't expecting was a little girl. Children typically avoided this area. Maybe she's new here. Vaguely remembering the Commander saying something about his daughter, Aldar asked as kindly as he could to the lost-looking child, "Welcome to the Commander's office, miss. Can I help you?"

 

-Aldar Gesparion

-Officer on Duty

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~Renalie~

 

Big green eyes widened even further as she looked around what she thought were going to be a tiny cupboard or a storeroom and it turned out to be an office of someone important. A man sat in a chair spoke to her in a voice that was supposed to be kind, but his words only seemed to make her feel a little more scared, a little more on edge than she already was and wondering if she was going to get out of this place at all. Why had she come here? Oh, Light, she was in trouble now! He was being nice though…

 

"Welcome to the Commander's office, miss. Can I help you?"

 

Could he help her? Could he get her to the stables and out of here before her father or that horrible woman found her? Whatever! Renalie just needed directions to get to the stable yard before Mehrin found her, and, as this man was being nice … and looked sort of official … maybe he could help her. Necessity overcoming fear, and Renalie had never been overly timid; she walked up to him and looked up with those same teary, large green eyes.

 

“I’m looking to get out of this place. I came to see my father and when I found him it caused a big argument so I’m going home before I can get shouted at again.†She sniffled, wiping her hand across her face. “He doesn’t want me here.†She looked up at him again, wondering if the man she was talking to had any little girls her own age to play with and it made another horrible thought come into her mind. Did she have any brothers or sisters? He wouldn’t, surely? No! I’m not going to cry over it. I don’t care! Huffing, she stood, clenching and unclenching her fists at her side and breathing heavily to stop herself from crying before looking up at the man again.

 

“I need to get to the stables. Will you take me there?â€

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