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  1. #1
    Forward Motion: The Reborn Guild Grows (GW2)

    Forward Motion: The Reborn Guild Grows (GW2)

    Stefan Baruch




    Old Fiach’s Lorestead, Hoelbrak


    Stefan had been to Hoelbrak countless times, and had even been to visit Old Fiach to hear his stories. He hadn’t realized until he asked around, though, that the elderly Norn had a sizable library of documents, in addition to the lore contained within his head. It was there, amid the dusty volumes of the collection, that he found Nairn.

    The Norn woman was squinting over an old book, wearing a pair of glasses he’d never seen her in before. When she looked up and noticed him, he gave her a nod of greeting.

    Stefan was a tall man – although not as tall as Nairn – and broad, large-boned and muscular. He was not, however, the sort who threw his weight around. Stefan moved with control, with the sort of grace that came from mastery of physical combat, so he wasn’t lumbering. Nor did he move into Nairn’s personal space; he hung back a pace to give her breathing room. Stefan had noticed Nairn wasn’t too fond of men as a general rule, but he didn’t know why and had never thought it polite to ask. He hoped his presence didn’t offend her.

    It wasn’t as though Stefan and Nairn had never spoken. They’d been on a number of missions together, and had been cordial, even friendly… but always, Anakita had been there as a buffer. Stefan had no idea what Nairn thought of him. That was one of the reasons he’d sought her out. The other reason was that it was long past time he thanked her.


    ***


    In the dark tunnel, the stagnant water at his feet filled the air beneath Grendich Courthouse with a damp chill. Stefan heard the footsteps approaching, and he drew his sword. He felt the twinge that came upon him sometimes – the thought that there was something he desperately needed to remember. He no longer had any idea what that thing was.

    There were Charr coming toward him. The alarm had been sounded. Every fiber of his misty, ghostly, physically insubstantial body demanded that he answer the call. Stefan issued a challenge to the intruders, somehow feeling like this had happened before, but unable to recall any details.

    “That’s far enough! The courthouse is under my protection. No Charr leaves here alive!”

    The lead Charr had hair like honey… the shade seemed familiar. Before he had a chance to grasp the thought, though, it slid from his grip like a slippery fish in a stream. The honey-haired Charr drew a knife… but to Stefan’s surprise, she dug it into her own wrist, drawing blood.

    He opened his mouth to question her, but the words he wanted wouldn’t form. All he could do was repeat, “That’s far enough! The courthouse is under my protection. No Charr leaves here alive!”

    “I’m not a Charr, Stefan,” the Charr replied, taking a step toward him. “You know who I am.”

    For a moment, Stefan thought he did. A word, a name, just out of reach…

    “That’s far enough! The courthouse is under my protection. No Charr leaves here alive!”

    The Charr was undeterred. “You’ll know in a moment, anyway. I’m going to save you.”

    Stefan saw her own blood glistening on the knife, subtly reflecting the low light of the tunnel; the blade itself was as white as freshly fallen snow, so the red liquid stood out in sharp contrast.

    Save him? No, it was a lie. This Charr was part of the invasion force, just like all the rest. Stefan grabbed at her before she had a chance to cut him. She squirmed away, but in the process their hands briefly interlocked. The skin of her hand wasn’t smooth, like he’d expected – there were callouses on the fingers and palms. Stefan felt another faint glimmer of familiarity.

    “Stefan, it’s me!” the Charr said desperately. “Your wife. Anakita. I'm sorry for what I'm about to do; it'll hurt, but it will free you, I promise.”

    The words didn’t make any sense to him. He wondered if the Charr was speaking another language. Stefan tried to tell her he didn’t understand. “The courthouse is under my protection. No Charr leaves here alive!” he said. He had a fleeting thought that this hadn’t actually been what he’d meant, but it was gone as soon as it crossed his mind.

    “Stefan…”

    How did she know his name? She must be a spy. He couldn’t let her get away. Even as confused as he was at the moment, he knew he couldn’t let her report back to her legion about the defenses here. Stefan swung at her with his sword and missed when she ducked, but followed through with his shield, cracking hard against her left arm. He heard the crunch of breaking bones, and had the strange sensation of satisfaction at following his orders mingled with a nagging twinge that he’d done something horrible. It couldn’t be wrong, though, could it? The Charr would kill him and everyone else if they were given the chance…

    “Don’t hurt him!” the wounded Charr called to her companions, holding her broken arm at a protective angle against her body. “He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He doesn’t understand who I am.”

    A tiny part of him believed her, screamed at him… wasn’t strong enough to stop his sword arm from swinging again. He struck her at the same time she struck him. Her blade plunged into his belly, inexplicably piercing through his armour like butter. This attack left her open, and even as he groaned in pain, he gave her a wicked slice across the forehead on an upward swing, severing a number of her small braids and spilling copious amounts of blood. If he’d been far enough away to get more momentum, he would have taken off the top of her head; as it was, he’d wounded her grievously, maybe even fatally.

    Stefan expected the Charr to take a step back, but for a reason he couldn’t fathom, her instincts brought her forward, closer to him. As the other Charr moved in to grasp his arms, the honey-haired one dug the knife in deeper, wrapping her good arm around him to gain the leverage she required.

    A wave of agony swept over Stefan from within that strange pale knife… more than just the physical pain of a blade in the gut, but an anguish that was soul-deep. He screamed, felt himself burning again as the misty cloud that was now his body solidified into flesh, bone, and muscle. He was on fire, agony exceeded only by the original blast of rending magic. As suddenly as it had started, it was over.

    The first thing Stefan was aware of, when he came back to himself, was that he finally remembered her name. Anakita…

    The Ranger was rapidly losing consciousness. Her knees buckled, but Stefan dropped his sword and shield and caught her before she fell, pulling her toward him and holding her close.

    Anakita smiled at him. “You’re back,” she said weakly. Apparently she could tell by the look in his eyes. “I missed you.”

    Stefan tried to reply, but his vocal cords refused to comply. Only a harsh grating hiss came out. The fire had taken that too; it would be months before he managed any sort of intelligible speech. His face, hands, and body were scarred forever, the skin like melted wax, a permanent testimony to what the Foefire had wrought. What had been bought back still came at a cost.

    He realized with horror what he had done to the woman he loved. Unforgivable, surely… why was she smiling at him? Gods, how long had he been lost in that haze? It felt like forever…

    “Let’s get out of here,” Anakita said.

    She still loved him, even after what he had done to her. Even after what he had been. He could see it in her eyes.



    ***


    “I owe you my thanks, Nairn,” Stefan said. His words came slowly, laboriously, without intonation. Air hissed beneath the flat tone, and every syllable sounded strained. At least he could talk again… but most people still didn’t understand him. Outside the family, few people were interested enough to pay the attention it took to follow his strange, monotone speech.

    “I’m sorry I didn’t say this sooner, but… saying anything has been hard.” He gestured in explanation toward his throat, referring to the searing flame he’d breathed in. “I owe you a great deal. I know you helped save my life. More than that… you gave me back what was most important. My wife and my children. I’d never even had a chance to meet Kenden. Anakita probably told you that. He hadn’t been born yet when I… when I was taken. There’s no going back, but I’m making up for lost time. I will always be grateful for the part you played in that. Even though at the time…”

    Even though at the time, Nairn had watched him bludgeon and cut his own beloved wife. Stefan wasn’t the sort of man who did things like that. He was a fierce warrior, but all of it was left on the battlefield. At home he was kind, gentle, and patient. Stefan had always despised men who harmed the people they loved. Now he was one of them. It hadn’t been a power trip; he’d been so confused and disoriented by the Foefire, so controlled by a will other than his own, that he’d had no idea what he was doing.

    It was hard to forgive himself. It would have been easier to hate himself – but Anakita refused to let him. Stefan thought there was a good possibility that Nairn might despise him for what he had done, though. He wondered if she had regretted helping to free him, now that she had seen for herself what he was.
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 12-02-2012 at 01:32 PM.
    "Sleep to dream, and we dream to live..." -Great Big Sea

  2. #2
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    Nairn Tuckamore

    Answers to her questions had led her not into civilization, as some might have assumed, but into the depths of a lonely library. It was as though the burning she’d always felt in her deepest self was finally allowed to fan into a full flame. She knew who she was. Not that learning of her family history cemented some level of self-awareness in her, but finding the roots of ones family tree seemed to help her sort out the branches. Learning about a history that actually applied directly to her was a completely new experience and she was enthralled.

    So engaged, Nairn hadn’t noticed Stefan’s approach in time to remove her spectacles before he saw her. The golden-rimmed glasses winked in the candlelight as she removed them, keeping them folded in her fingers, dangling as though she were about to toss them away. They looked like a child’s toy, far too small for the Norn’s face, and out of place in her world of daggers, swords and pistols – though definitely less ostensible in her current surroundings.

    Her clear green eyes now regarded Stefan with a curious edge. The warrior may have noticed that she looked over his shoulder briefly, searching for someone who wasn’t there. Nairn released the scroll she had been reading, allowing it to roll back up with a loud flapping sound as she leaned back on her stool. Her fingers still twisted the glasses back and forth, but her left hand now resided across her hips to touch the hilt of her dagger. Her posture wasn’t meant to be threatening, but old habits die hard, particularly in a Norn.

    Stefan had never...concerned her in the way so many men did. Certainly, she had been there that day when he and Anakita were reunited. It was she who had found part of the answer to the curse, so naturally she was curious to see how it all turned out. Unlike the others in attendance, she hadn’t moved toward Stefan when he attacked his wife. Her role was largely an observatory one. Besides, she had faith in her comrade’s skill and stubborn nature. Even then, it was plain to see the man was acting against his true will.

    Nairn knew that she would never forget the look in Stefan’s eyes when he became self-aware and once more walked among the truly living. It was full of pain, surprise, regret –so many emotions. She understood that look. She had lived that look. It was one of the reasons she found herself tolerant of his presence - in a positive way. In fact, as Nairn thought on it, Stefan had not made her feel uncomfortable at any point from first they met. Though surprising, she did not expect that to change.

    His love for Anakita was more than what could be offered by someone with only one life to live. Certainly, the Archer’s love had been self-evident and as far as Nairn could tell, it was reciprocated in full. Stefan took great pains to regain his speech – something she admired. She had never seen anyone act so differently in how he treated his children compared to how he treated a battlefield. Nairn found that the reasons to respect him far outweighed the reasons to mistrust him.

    It was for that reason that she now bent her ear to hear his words, raspy and quiet as they were. She had a keen ear, and had been around him long enough, to discern the body of them. It was harder, however, to understand the meaning of them without intonation or cadence. Still, Stefan had her keenest attention and Nairn, a lifetime of experience in reading between the lines.

    When he first thanked her, the Norn bowed her head in response, though she had not done so when he had nodded a greeting upon his arrival. The gesture was repeated when he explained the reason for his timing, proving that her nod had not simply been because she was accepting his thanks, but to show she understood what he was saying.

    Nairn turned her head to the side slightly as he brought up the idea of debt. Strange, she had never felt like she was owed anything at all. They had both benefited from this enterprise and gained things they had thought lost forever. A wife and children were equivalent to an ancestry and a guild, in her mind. Still, she could acknowledge her role in the matter happening as and when it did, and so felt it was appropriate to respond in kind.

    Leaning forward, her hands slipped to rest on her knees, her permanent slouch keeping her at eye-level with Stefan. His words tailed off, regret again twisting his features. In contrast, a smile suddenly flashed across her face. It was as though his awkward ending and anxious thoughts gave her the ability to speak.

    “You’re welcome.” Her own strange, purring notes echoed off the walls. Stefan’s difficulty with speech and his victory over silence had egged her on to further practice of language. Nairn was still difficult to understand in her own way, but she was confident that the Warrior could keep up.

    “There is no debt owed between us. I am glad that I could be of assistance.”

    Here, she paused. It was clear that he hadn’t shown up alone merely to thank her. For that, Anakita likely would have attended. No, this meeting was connected to that aggrieved face of his – Stefan was expecting condemnation – again, something she understood all too well. In true Norn fashion, Nairn leaned over the table, decreasing the distance between them, and gave him a close look up and down. After a moment, she leaned back again with a smile.

    “Your time possessed by an evil spell must have been fascinating, but I see little evidence of it now. I have no interest in blame.”

    She seemed certain that she’d understood his intent, but if he caught the flashes at the corner of her eyes, he would see that she was watching for his reaction. Judging to see if she had guessed his heart correctly. Had she no care for him, Nairn would not have minded what he thought, but even she had to admit that their attachment was more than mere proximity. More like...friendship, though she was loathe to consider the fickle word even for a moment.
    Winner of the dubious Vaarsuvius Award for Verbousness!

    I support altruism.

  3. #3
    Stefan Baruch




    Stefan noticed Nairn’s hand go to rest on her dagger, was trained to notice such things, but he didn’t see any immediate cause for alarm. He wasn’t sure if it was because he was a man, or because it was him in particular, or if it was just force of habit with nothing to do with him… but in any case, unless she actually drew it, he wasn’t going to worry about it. He didn’t plan to threaten her or do her harm. To indicate this, he crossed his arms. It still wouldn’t, of course, be impossible for him to draw his sword, but it would require an extra motion to do so, so the position tacitly indicated he didn’t have that intention. When she moved so her hands were on her knees instead, Stefan was relieved – not because he’d been afraid before, but simply because it indicated that his presence was actually accepted, not just grudgingly tolerated.

    It also hadn’t escaped him that Nairn had looked over his shoulder for Anakita. The Ranger wasn’t there, though. Anakita knew where he was, but they’d both agreed that it was best for him to make this particular visit alone. She wanted to make sure Nairn understood that Stefan was speaking his own words, not ones his wife was pressuring him into. Anakita was elsewhere in Hoelbrak, haggling with a trader over some metal she wanted to sell – something she’d discovered she enjoyed. This conversation was Stefan’s, though.

    He dipped his head again when she acknowledged his thanks… and he nodded subtly when she told him she didn’t blame him, indicating that she had indeed hit on the second reason for his presence. Stefan was grateful for that, too. It seemed he owed Nairn even more than he had realized, for her compassion as well.

    “I don’t think ‘fascinating’ is the word I would use,” Stefan said. Although his voice still didn’t manage to convey anything tonally, the expression in his eyes and the angle of his mouth would indicate the comment was intended lightly, jokingly. He wasn’t offended by Nairn’s phrasing, and his response was characteristic of his rather dry sense of humour.

    “I suppose in a way it was a mercy that I wasn’t more aware. At first, I had more of a sense of what I’d lost, and that was… painful. My life was so good before. I had everything I’d wanted. I’d never had dreams of power or glory. Just a peaceful little home with my wife and kids. As time went by… it got harder and harder to remember what I had lost. There was a just a sense, you know? That I’d forgotten the most important thing I’d ever known.”

    He shrugged, hoping that made sense. Stefan didn’t normally talk this much to people outside the family. Even before the Foefire, he’d been a man of few words. This was something of a gift, in a sense. He knew Nairn was interested in his experiences from a standpoint of academics and arcane lore, and telling her about being a Foefire ghost was a small way of repaying her for what she’d done for him.

    “When the rescue came, I didn’t understand. I thought you were all Charr. That’s what the Foefire did to us. We couldn’t recognize enemies from… loved ones. And friends. It’s strange, I don’t hate all the Charr. Not really, not when I'm myself. There are good ones and bad ones, like anyone. But sometimes, it comes seeping back. The feelings, I mean. Sometimes I get confused, and think I’m back there. It changes you.”

    Stefan gestured to his scarred face, but the physical wasn’t all he meant.

    He felt sorry for the other Foefire ghosts, but there wasn’t much to be done, aside from laying them to rest. It was only because of the lich curse that Stefan could be saved – it had prevented him from entering the Mists while the Elder Dragons were still alive. The others had no such benefit anchoring them to Tyria bodily as well as in spirit.

    “I’m happy again now, though. I have my life back. I know how incredibly fortunate I am.”
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 12-04-2012 at 10:41 AM.

  4. #4
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    Nairn Tuckamore

    In the time she had known him, Stefan had barely uttered more than one or two sentences in a row. She immediately deduced that his discourse was of some importance. By the time he reached the word “sense”, Nairns’ quill was raised and brushing strokes seemingly on its own. Her eyes never left Stefan’s, but they had taken on somewhat of a glow. Excitement was an emotion she seemed incapable of hiding.

    A first-hand account of what it was like to experience the Foefire. Amazing. She wondered if the other ghosts had a similar experience, or if Stefan’s nagging feelings were related to the ties of his curse. Shame the other ghosts were truly dead – and likely had no one to stand in their stead to give them life – or she could questions them as well. One account would have to do and any seeming anomalies related to his unique circumstances.

    She also realized the personal nature of this revelation. How many other people would know this? Anakita, definitely. Nairn had often heard them whispering to one another when they thought they were alone. The Norn had made an effort to provide them with privacy in spite of her curious nature, but at the very least she knew they spoke often and on a wide variety of topics. Perhaps some of their children knew these things as well. At any rate, Nairn felt privileged to have this information.

    As he finished speaking, she finally looked down at the page she had written. Certainly, he had spoken to her of something she was interested in and she felt as though that it had become her property, in a way. Yet, it was strange to be writing a story as it was spoken to her – a story that she had been a part of. She had asked Anakita for details on various tales she had recorded of the Ranger’s exploits, but this seemed different somehow.

    It wasn’t history yet.

    Her hand shook slightly over the document even as her eyes flickered back up to Stefan’s face, ever judging his expression. Was it right to appropriate the story he had given her for the purpose of sharing it with a wider audience, even as he showed no intention of doing so himself? Surely, the tale of his return to the land of the living had been spread around by now – but probably only that fact alone.

    It was a strange crisis of conscience for a thief with ambitions of being a Skaald. Stealing a tale should be of not consequence to her...but yet it mattered. Abruptly, Nairn rolled the scroll in one hand and held it toward Stefan.

    “It hhhisss yourrr ssstorrry.” She said, after a moment of awkward silence and again she gestured with the scroll, encouraging Stefan to take it.

  5. #5
    Stefan Baruch




    Stefan accepted the scroll, and read it carefully. As he did, a faint smile curved his lips upward. Painful as the experience had been to remember, seeing it in writing was strangely comforting. It was as though getting it down on paper had solidified it, confirming that it wasn't just a delusion brought on by the Foefire madness. When the story had life outside his own head, it was more clear which parts were real and which parts were burned into his brain by the dark magic.

    "Thank you for recording my story so faithfully," Stefan said.

    Then he rolled the scroll up again, and passed it back to Nairn.

    "It's your story too, though. You were part of the most important moment, and you were the one who thought it merited being preserved on paper. I want to entrust it to you, to do with as you see fit. You can share it if you like. I'm confident that you'll make wise decisions about how and when to tell it."

    Just seeing it had been enough. Stefan couldn't imagine himself going back and rereading it. Living through it once had been unavoidable; he had no desire to relive it over and over. In the hands of a skaald, maybe the story would have some worth to others that it didn't hold for him.

  6. #6
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    Nairn Tuckamore

    It was unclear at first why Stefan was smiling as he read her script. She withheld self-judgement, choosing instead to continue watching the man before her. The Norn ducked her head when he complemented her scribing, the shadows disguising any changing shades on her face. However, there was no hiding her surprise when the scroll was passed back to her.

    She took the scroll from him gingerly, as though it had suddenly become more than a piece of paper. In a way, it had. It was now a certified tale – something of great value. The lesson presented in Anakita’s love for a man who didn’t even recognize her at the time she was being stabbed to save him was a powerful one. It would be a good one for around the fire of the Great Hall.

    Stefan’s inclusion of her in the tale was also a surprise to her. Certainly, she had played a minor role, but that paled in comparison to the main players. It was good of him, though she wasn’t sure about the inclusion of her portion beyond being there to observe the events. It was important to weed out distracting details while still including enough to provide a sense of truth.

    While she had him here, Nairn thought she might as well take advantage of the fact and ask him for his opinion on something when it wouldn’t be compromised by others’ inputs.

    “Whhat isss hhit lihke to live forrreverrr? Do you get tirrred of hhhit – of the people? Do you worry that they hhwill neverrr change?”

  7. #7
    Stefan Baruch




    "I'm afraid I don't know the answer to that," Stefan said, feeling bad that he couldn't give Nairn more interesting material. "I haven't really experienced it. I wasn't particularly old when the Foefire took me. I hadn't yet reached the end of an ordinary human lifespan before it transformed me."

    He looked across the room, his eyes not really settling on anything. This part was still hard to talk about. All the things he'd missed.

    "When I was a Foefire prisoner, I didn't really have a concept of how long I'd been there. I had a vague sense of time passing, but the years... I couldn't count them. I had no idea. It seemed like I'd been there forever, but somehow at the same time like it was always fresh. The more I forgot of my old life, the less I was able to keep a handle on reality."

    Of course, Stefan wasn't really going to live forever. Their family was only immortal until the Elder Dragons were defeated. When that happened, they would begin to age; they would be allowed to finish out the human span of years, but not beyond. To Stefan, it seemed like a fair compromise.

    "It'll be a long time before I get tired of life. I missed out on so much of it. It's like I fell asleep one day, and woke up the next to find decades upon decades gone. When I left for Ascalon, Kenden was still in his mother's womb, and my other sons and daughters were still children or very young adults. Now they're all grown men and women, and would be long dead if not for the curse. I feel as though I've been frozen in place, and now I'm racing to catch up. The opposite of what might be expected of one 'cursed' with immortality. I don't see it as a curse, because it allows me to be with the ones I love. I couldn't tire of them in a thousand years."

    He smiled, and added, "As for the people... yes, I imagine they won't change. They never have. I don't think that's such a terrible thing, though. There has always been both good and bad, in all of our races. So it will continue to be. I'd rather try to dwell on the good."
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 12-05-2012 at 10:01 PM.

  8. #8
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    Nairn Tuckamore

    She had been right – Stefan’s view of the world was unique. Interesting how a man cursed with immortality would be racing through his life as though it were going to end tomorrow. Throughout his explanation, her head twisted back and forth as though she were storing the information in various spots of her mind – but the smile did not come until the end.

    Never growing tired of one’s family. How blessed this family was – to be able to be in a place where they could truly say they would never tire of each other’s company. History would hold them to it. It was a strange concept. Something completely foreign to Nairn. A family was what she was searching for in all this paper. She had never had anything else.

    Still, she wondered what it was like to be missing the middle of one’s family’s life span. Surely he hadn’t simply ‘missed out’. Kids change over time – become people as they grow up. Stefan would expect them to have changed. It would probably be more like meeting strangers for the first time. But what about someone he knew a lot better?

    “Hhhas yourrr wife?” the question seemed a little out of place, unless one recalled that the initial question of whether ‘people would never change’. Nairn continued with a slight clarification. “Hhhas hhAnakita changed frrom beforrre hyou werrre made prrisonerrr?”

  9. #9
    Stefan Baruch




    It was a good question, one Stefan realized he should have expected but somehow hadn't. He had to consider it for a moment before answering, to make sure he was conveying his feelings accurately. Like Anakita, he found it easier to speak with actions than words; it was one of the many reasons they were well suited for each other.

    "The person she is is fundamentally the same," he said after his brief pause. "She's still just as loving, compassionate, caring, and smart as ever. She's still very much the woman I was fortunate enough to marry. I wouldn't say the passing years have had no effect, though. She's been through a great deal of pain in the meantime, and I think anyone wouldn't be quite the same after that. At first, she seemed a little wounded - I wouldn't tell just anyone that, but you're her friend, so she wouldn't mind. That has healed some now, though. Anakita was always strong, but I think the years have made her even stronger. Stronger and more stubborn. I mean stubborn in a good way; I guess I should say determined. It's even more clear now that her will is iron. I think she's gained more confidence in herself, because of having her family together again, and the victories she's won, and the way her father - Forgal, I mean - believed in her. Some part of her always craved the approval of a parent. I also think... this is very subjective, of course, but I think she's gotten even more beautiful than she was before."

    Stefan was sure he'd been rambling, but he wasn't sure how else to answer such a complicated question.

  10. #10
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    Nairn Tuckamore

    The Norn storyteller knew she was likely pushing it with this question. She found that she was holding her breath as she awaited Stefan’s response. Even as he began to form his answer, she didn’t let it out – as though she were afraid that her breathing may be interpreted as an interruption.

    Most of the stories she had read about Stefan had painted him as an idiot – a buffoon that merely followed Anakita around like a newborn pup. The more she spent time around him, the more Nairn found that notion to be far from the truth. It took a great deal of intelligence to truly know someone you loved.

    So many times she had seen the opposite – love causing blindness – but that was certainly not the way things were in the relationship laid out before her. He knew his wife so well that he could give a succinct and completely whole description of her in but a few sentences. Nairn had glimpsed some of the Ranger’s traits, and so easily believed Stefan’s opinion was correct.

    It interested her that he would refer to Nairn as Anakita’s friend – and divulge personal information as a result. Again, she struggled with that idea. How friendship caused one to do things they might not usually do and how it more often opened up that person’s defences instead of bolstering them. Why bother? She had to admit, though, a warm sense of pride welled up within her at the word “friend” - but the Norn was at a loss to explain it.

    Instead, she focused on Stefan’s discourse – and his final admittance of continued attraction to his wife, in spite of the distance they had just crossed to find each other again. She smiled as he finished.

    “Yourrr love hhas trrruuly lasssted thrrough time hhand distance. hhI think hit hhis one forrr storrries – hhof hhow love hhand marrrriage ssshould be. hhIf you two chhan be ssso loyal over many lifetimes, sssurrely hhotherrs could manage to do ssso forrr hone.”

    Nairn had great difficulty with the subjects of courtship and marriage. The Norn customs were straightforward, though elaborate, and she could certainly appreciate the battle to choose a good mate. However, she had grown up in a place where these connections were for mating and the privilege of hunting in a pack – a far cry from what humans, and indeed many Norn, said it should be about. Love.

    Many of the relationships she had witnessed had actually focussed on that thing alone, and often did not require the choosing of a single mate. It was...confusing. Despite her indecision, Nairn was of the opinion to have only one mate – something she had just said in about as many words. It was the way of the snow leopard, the wolf, and the raven - creatures that had lived long enough to set an example of how to survive.

    Her eyes shifted to the papers before her. So many names. So many names that were the same. Surely they could not all be related. Perhaps it was a popular name – or maybe they were just...how did they say it? Sowing their wild oats? Nairn let out a light puff of air. How was she to know what sort of people these supposed ancestors of hers were? Would she be able to trace her lineage, or would it be lost in the flurry of temporary human interactions?

    Her brow was still knit together as she lifted it back toward Stefan. She was still learning to treat people who were present as of more immediate importance than paper – a profound discovery for the reclusive Norn.

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