Severn waited in the Aerie for Kaylin to get in to work. They had only just gotten back from the West March yesterday, but he could feel her tension at having to live in the palace again. She valued her space and needed to be able to retreat somewhere when her anger and frustration got the better of her ability not to offend people. She had spent weeks in close quarters with Barrani where one misstep could create a world of problems. Yet even now that they were home she had to watch her tongue and he could see it was affecting her.
As she stumbled in, dark circles under her eyes, he pushed off the wall he’d been leaning against and fell in beside her. “Late night?”
She nodded and grimaced, voice coming out a tired grumble, “Bellusdeo wouldn’t let me go to sleep until she heard everything that happened.” They took another few steps before her frown deepened. “Why were you waiting for me? I’m not going to like it, am I?”
“A courier arrived from the High Halls this morning.” Her expression froze as he continued, “We’ve been summoned to attend the High Lord and Lady at a gathering tonight. As it is short notice, the High Lord decided he would gift you with an appropriate dress for the occasion.”
Severn turned to look at her as Kaylin came to a sudden halt, mouth dropping open in shock before audibly snapping shut. “What kind of gathering and why now? You know I’m no good with nobility and we both know what happened the last time I had to wear anything fancy to a Barrani event.” The memory of their sojourn in the High Halls clearly replayed in her mind as he watched her expression darken further and she began cursing. “You did say the Lord of the… the High Lord gave me a dress? I think the Quartermaster would skin me alive to make the damned dress if he had to outfit me again.”
He chuckled softly, thinking privately that the Quartermaster didn’t dislike her as much as she thought, especially after she managed to save Marcus. “The dress was left in Caitlyn’s keeping as Sergeant Kassan was busy growling about Barrani castelords thinking they can simply demand time off for his men to go to a party.”
Kaylin groaned and rolled her eyes, “It’s not like I ASKED to be invited to some high society thing. You still haven’t told me what kind of gathering it’s supposed to be and why.” She glanced at him as he began walking again and she hurried to catch up.
“You can read the summons yourself, but it is a party to celebrate the safe return from the West March and to welcome home the lost. As to why we were invited, I’d guess it might have something to do with the name you managed to save as the Consort penned a note saying she wished some time with you.”
He watched her closely as she looked first puzzled, then as realization dawned and a tone of resignation and concern entered her voice.
“I don’t even really know how I took the name, much less how to return it to the Lake.”
“Perhaps the Consort has an idea,” he replied.
“Just great. Exactly the thing I needed to deal with on no sleep. How pissed is Marcus?”
“Let’s just say you might need to go shopping for a new desk for him later this week. He may have ripped a corner off when he was told we needed to be free by mid-afternoon to ‘prepare for Court.’”
She cringed, steps slowing as they neared the office. Before entering she tipped her chin up to expose her throat and headed right for Marcus’ desk. Upon seeing her, he jumped clear over the now tattered writing surface, eyes a menacing orange-red, and closed his claws around her throat.
“You just came back from six WEEKS off prancing in the forest, Neya.” came the barely intelligible words.
“And I am supposed to let you go off to some party… with a large group of nobles…”
She winced but responded, “Yes, sir. If I could get out of it –“
His growl cut her off. He turned his gaze to Severn, who stood at perfect attention by her side. “Make sure she doesn’t offend anyone too important. I’ve got enough on my plate right now without having to listen to some pompous ass go on about what she’s done wrong.”
“I will do my best, sir.”
“Since I have to release you from duty early, and the Private decided to stroll in 2 hours late, you two get to pull desk duty filing paperwork until you have to get dressed up.”
Severn could feel the protest forming in her mind and he quickly and unobtrusively stepped on her foot, shutting down her ill-advised retort. Instead she grumbled, “Yes, sir,” before stalking towards her desk. Caitlyn, however, waved her over to hand her three packages.
Caitlyn gave her a smile, “I was informed that there are a dress, shoes, and ornamentation to match.”
Kaylin gaped at her as people nearby began to snicker, then snatched up the offered parcels as she cursed ever having met the Barrani. Her annoyed gaze fell on Severn and she snarled, “Don’t tell me you get to wear your dress uniform?”
Shaking his head he sat at his desk, beginning to sort through the papers Marcus unceremoniously dumped there. “No. We are going as Lords of the Court, not Hawks. I have suitable attire at home.” Laughter danced in his eyes as she muttered, “Of course you do…” as she dropped into her seat and started to write.
In the early afternoon they left the office, parting ways to get changed at their respective homes. Severn told her he’d arrived at the palace with a carriage to take them to the High Halls.
He knocked on her door, the sounds of her repeated curses greeting his ears as Bellusdeo opened the door. The dragon looked both amused and annoyed as she went back to helping Kaylin. Brush in hand, the woman did her best to tame the messy locks that Kaylin so rarely tended.
Severn stepped in a few paces before halting dead in his tracks, his heart stopping for a moment as well. Gods she’s beautiful… His eyes took in the sight of her, roaming from head to toe as she tried to stay still to let Bellusdeo finish her hair. The High Lord, or more likely the Consort, had chosen well for her. The dress was a deep shade of green silk embroidered with golden birds and flowering vines. The collar was high enough to cover the markings on the back of her neck, but then opened to a diamond shaped open neckline revealing a fair amount of cleavage in which nestled a simple golden medallion with an emerald tree at its heart. The long sleeves were flowing without being a hindrance and the skirt tapered to her form, but with slits up the sides to allow freedom of movement. The ring of the Lord of the West March graced her hand and her feet were adorned with slippers in the same shade of green as the dress. Her roommate had managed to wrestle her hair into an elegant twist held in place by twin gold hairsticks with emerald beads dangling from the ends.
He bowed, licking suddenly dry lips as his face was hidden from view, and schooled his expression to not reveal the longing he felt upon seeing her.
“Don’t you start with that!” she grumbled as he straightened. “It’s bad enough we’ll have to deal with that at Court. If any of the other Hawks see us like this, you know they’ll start calling me ‘Lord Kaylin’ again.”
He chuckled and was rewarded with a grudging smile from her. She looked him over and said, “You just happened to have that lying around?”
Now he grinned. “Some of us passed etiquette lessons and are required to deal with nobles both in official and slightly unofficial capacities.” His attire was simple, yet elegantly tailored. The tunic was a dark slate blue silk trimmed in silver that brought out his eyes, fitted well enough to not hamper movement but still show off his toned physique. The black slacks tucked into high, polished boots, and even the chain of his weapon had been glossed over to brilliant shine. He offered her his arm. “We should go or we’ll be late.”
She took his arm and let him escort her outside. With her so close he could catch the scent of cinnamon and sandalwood on her and he raised an eyebrow in question.
Rolling her eyes she said, “Bellusdeo apparently felt that if I was going to get all dressed up I should ‘complete the effect’ and smell nice too. It’s not too much, is it?”
In point of fact, he wanted to bury his face against her neck and just breathe her in. However, all he said with a small smile was “No.”
As the carriage rolled along, Kaylin kept fidgeting in her seat, picking at the embroidery of her dress, twisting the ring on her finger, tapping her foot as she stared out the window. Severn watched in silence for a while before finally calling to her, “Kaylin.” He had to repeat himself a little more loudly before she registered it and looked at him. “Kaylin, we’re not going to an execution. Relax.”
“Easy for you to say. You don’t manage to piss everyone off just by opening your mouth. And I am still not sure the Consort has completely forgiven me yet, which just makes the whole thing more awkward.” A frustrated sigh escaped her, “I don’t even know why we’re going to this, why the Hawklord allowed it. There’s a thousand better things we could be doing right now.”
“Failing to anger the Barrani High Lord by refusing his invitation is an important task. There is also the potential we’ll be able to find out something useful while we are there. If nothing else,” he grinned as he continued, “you’ll be able to get some good free food.”
She laughed, which was exactly what he had hoped for. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea for me to eat. With my luck I’d spill something all over this gown and ruin the High Lord’s gift.”
Now it was his turn to laugh and he watched as the tension eased slightly from her frame. He’d watched her thousands of times over the years and he never grew tired of seeing her smile, of hearing her laugh. He was grateful he could finally be the cause of some of those happy moments again, that he didn’t have to hide in shadow to be with her. He shook himself from those thoughts as the carriage rolled to a stop and he stepped out to help her down.
She linked her arm through his, taking a deep breath. “As I’ll ever be.”
Their entrance caused pauses in conversation, but that only seemed natural as they were the only humans present, the only human Lords. His title felt hollow to him as it was only through her that he came to the Test, though he still wondered why the Halls allowed it. But now he had to play the part and help Kaylin through the traps the court had for them tonight. Since she gave him her Name, he had rarely spoken to her through the link, but he did often send subtle feelings of reassurance, of calm, to provide a steady base for her to work from.
They made their way to the Lord and Lady, offering their obeisance, her bow showing vast improvement thanks to her lessons with Lord Diarmat. The Lord offered them a slight smile, his eyes a shade of green just tinged with blue.
Seats were offered near the castelord as he said, “It is good you were free to attend, Lord Kaylin, Lord Severn. You rarely find your way to the High Halls and your presence is always a welcome distraction.”
Severn’s eyes narrowed slightly as he studied the High Lord while Kaylin replied, “Sorry. Work was busy and then we had the trip to the West Marches… Well you know how that turned out.”
“Indeed. You brought home those thought lost forever. Not a small feat and it has caused much talk amongst the Court since the retinues return.”
Severn could almost hear the curses running through her mind. “Teela… Lord Anteela… had a big part in that.”
The Lord’s smile widened. “Believe that we will be speaking with her at length.” Kaylin shivered just a bit at those words. He looked to the Consort, whose eyes were shaded more blue than green, before continuing, “I would speak with you about this more, but my Lady wishes you to attend her for the time being.” The High Lord caught Severn’s stiffening posture and reassured, “It will not take long and Lord Kaylin will be returned to your keeping for the night.”
Kaylin’s grimace echoed the one Severn managed to hide within as he bowed again to the rulers of this place. His eyes didn’t leave her until she and the Consort passed from sight down the garden path. He turned his attention back to the Barrani beside him, the High Lord quietly studying him.
Tone contemplative, the former Lord of the Green murmured, “Does my brother’s kyuthe appreciate the champion she has in you?”
“Kaylin can take care of herself,” was Severn’s brief response.
“So it would seem. However, she has the only living mortal to bear one of our weapons, granted by the heart of the Green, as her protector. Does she know how you came to be in the West March 6 years ago? Does she truly understand the significance of what you bear?”
“No and it is unnecessary for her to know. Should it become relevant, I will be the one to tell her.”
The High Lord raised a single brow and shook his head. “Very well. I can see why my father found you interesting. I understand he spoke with you at length not long before the Leoswuld.
Severn did not want to relive that conversation now or ever and so he bowed low, voice even. “Your pardon, My Lord. While I am honored by your interest in me, I must excuse myself for the moment to attend to a matter of the body. Please forgive my human failings.”
Cool amusement lit Barrani eyes at the obvious evasion, but the High Lord granted him leave to go. “Perhaps we will continue this discussion at a later time.”
Bowing again, Severn left the main gathering to find a quiet spot away from the prying, judging looks of the court. In the back of his mind he could feel Kaylin still engrossed in her meeting with the Consort. As he walked he found a small fountain gently burbling beneath a bower of trees and he splashed water on his face to help himself relax. Fingering the chain wound round his waist, his thoughts drifted to the past, to a time when he was still new to the Wolves, when he had run where few mortals had ever tread and earned a weapon no other mortal had ever born.
The darkness from those events threatened to engulf him and he clearly failed to keep his emotions in check as he felt Kaylin’s concern flit across their link.
I’m fine. You should pay attention to the Consort.
We just finished and we’re heading back to the others. Her weariness bled through to him. Right now I just want to sleep for weeks, but instead I get to have all those Barrani lords stare at me like I am some prized pet or maybe a filthy rat that crashed their party. Hell, I’d rather be in an etiquette lesson with Diarmat; at least he’s honest about not liking me.
I’m sure LORD Diarmat would be pleased to hear you prefer him over the Barrani.
She groaned. Can’t we just leave now that I’ve done what the Lady wanted?
The High Lord might take offense if we leave so quickly. We’ll eat some of their food, dance to a few songs, and then make our polite farewells. If we are lucky the court will be too engrossed with the antics of the returned “children” and they’ll hardly notice us.
The gods aren’t that nice.
He grinned inwardly as he stepped out into the main gathering just as Kaylin and the Consort returned. Kaylin hastily joined him as he offered his arm to escort her to the tables piled with food. Musicians had begun playing at some point while they were gone and there were pairs dancing in a cleared area while other Barrani spoke in small groups, but all paid attention to their newly returned kin thought lost all these centuries.
Kaylin allowed Severn to direct her to some stones that had been shaped into something resembling seats and they ate quietly, occasionally having to field answers to questions from curious Barrani who deigned to speak to the mortals. Teela made it over to them briefly before having to race off to stop Mandoran from doing something everyone would regret. On the whole they managed to eat in peace despite obviously being the topic of discussion with some groups as said people looked in their direction numerous times.
Severn murmured as he felt Kaylin’s irritation grow, “Ignore them. We’ll be talked about for a while thanks to what happened on our journey, but eventually they will move on to some other passing interest.”
She nodded, eating some fruit as she shifted her gaze to watch the dancers move gracefully to the swelling music. There was an enchanted look upon her face that she probably didn’t realize she let show, but Severn noted it and stood, offering his hand. “Shall we dance?”
She nearly choked on a bit of melon, staring first at his hand then his face. “Are you kidding? I’ll look like a clumsy fool beside them, especially since I don’t know the first thing about dancing.”
Never retracting his hand, Severn smiled warmly and said, “I promise you won’t embarrass yourself. Dancing is similar to a fight, reading your partner’s moves and anticipating where they will go next. Both take intuition and dexterity, which you have in abundance. The music is there to set the pace. Watch me, feel how I move, and I guarantee you won’t miss a step. There’s a small plaza near enough to hear the music where we can practice first if you like.”
A blush graced her cheeks and his pulse raced as she took his hand. As the music came to a finish, he led her into the trees to the little fountain he’d discovered before. Severn directed her to place her left hand on his shoulder as he gripped her right and his free arm came around her back. The notes of a new song lilted through the air and Severn began to lead her through the twining chords.
At first she was stiff in his arms, on occasion stepping on his toes, but with murmured encouragement she gradually let herself relax and move in time with him. Soon she was smiling, wrapped in the music, letting her body flow to the rhythm. She was a vision of loveliness to him and he could sense her joy at the feeling of freedom the dance created.
The music shifted, becoming slower and more intimate, and he drew her closer, bodies in tandem as they swayed to the beat. He felt a moment’s hesitation from her before her head came to rest against his shoulder; he nearly froze, but managed not to disrupt their movement, taking in the feeling of her pressed close to him. As they continued to dance, he gently leaned his cheek against her hair and breathed in. Neither noticed as the music stopped, lost in each other’s arms, until they startled as a more fast-paced melody began to play. They laughed at their response and Kaylin started to step away, but Severn kept his arms around her, not ready to let go just yet.
Kaylin blinked in surprise, looking up at his avid gaze and whispered hesitantly, “Severn?”
The slight thrill of fear and uncertainty he felt radiate across the link made him let go, stepping back and bowing his head as he murmured, “I’m sorry.”
As he turned to leave, she surprised them both by grabbing his arm, turning him back to her, and soundly kissing him.
For a moment he froze, captured by the feeling of her lips pressed against his, wondering if he was hallucinating or dreaming. Then gently, hesitantly, his hands came up to cup her cheeks and he returned her kiss. She stepped closer, her hands coming to rest on his chest. He heard her whisper in her mind, Severn? Can you hear me?
Yes, Kaylin. He pulled back from the kiss, his forehead pressed against hers as he looked into her eyes.
You know I can’t lie to you here in our minds.
Yes. A battle waged in her and he remained still, fingers stroking her cheeks as he felt her come to a decision.
I won’t ever forget what you did. He flinched and started to let go, closing down, but she held on and pressed forward. But I think maybe we can move on. I… I’d like to try anyway. …that is if you do…
He let his love for her flow through her name and she flushed. Kaylin, I’ve never wanted anything more in this life than you, than us. If you think we can try and be more than what we have been, than I am willing to give everything I am to you. We do this at your pace. You tell me what you are comfortable with and I will not step beyond your limits. Just promise me you aren’t saying this because you think you owe me. Promise me that if you change your mind, if you feel it isn’t working, you’ll tell me rather than carry on out of guilt.
I promise. She could feel he wanted, needed, her to say more. I promise I am saying this because I want to see what we can become. And I swear I won’t stay if it isn’t right.
In that moment he could feel the truth of her words and emotions. Unable to restrain himself further he kissed her, fingers sliding into her hair as she pressed herself against him and returned the kiss with all her heart.