The sun had traveled past its noon mark when Lhachiel passed the first stones of the ruins. Her arrival had hailed some isolated warm greetings, yet predominantly raised eyebrows, the latter among those who had only heard, not ever crossed path with her. The sight of a woman bearing arms as readily as the men congregated within these ruins, was an unusual one, and Lhachiel was all too aware of this while trying not to show any signs of unease. She deeply disliked company, and the many pairs of eyes settling upon her made her feel uncomfortable beyond what she could have put into words, yet she needed this audience, and the urgency outweighed any pains it may brought her.
Next she found herself waiting in a small room, its walls, once probably splendidly adorned, now bare, were closing in on her like a trap. She did not like walls as little as she liked the company of strangers, and even the few crude furnishings on offer felt too elaborate, too 'civilized', too much of something she was simply not familiar with. Fighting the urge to pace and even to just twitch, she stood frozen, her back straight, her chin lifted in defiance against all which made her feel such unease. How much longer?
Just when she thought she could not bare the wait any more, the door opened with a slight creaking. The man who entered greeted her with a warm smile and a nod, before taking a seat on one of the simple chairs gathered around an equally simple table, gesturing her to follow his example. Lhachiel complied, glad to move, even if just for a brief moment.
"It has been a while since we met", the man noted before taking a deep breath, his brows furrowing in sorrow. "And I sure wish happier tidings would have led us to cross path again. Your father was not only one of our finest, but I also count myself honoured to have called him my friend. His loss is all the greater as these dark times challenge the few of us left beyond what some believe we can bear, but we must continue on."
Lhachiel avoided the sympathetic gaze bestowed upon her and sent her eyes to investigate a small wooden box instead, placed upon the crude table, unusually delicate for its surroundings with its silver inlay depicting leaves and vines. "Don't", she exclaimed rather sharply. "Don't speak of him as if he is lost to us, when we do not know such."
The man sighed once more. Unveiled pain had gathered in the weathered lines of his face. "I do not mean to cause you additional grief, nothing could lie further from me, yet how long has it been? Nearing 3 months? We received the report from the one you spoke to in Bree, and same as you, we have since been trying to find a trail, some trace or sign, yet we have come no closer to an answer than you have. For I gather you do not have news, or do you? I would have thought to find you more excited and agreeable, had hope risen. Without such hope, however, I believe we must accept that your father is lost to us. He was one of our most able, and I would have thought he raised his daughter to stand strong even in the face of the greatest adversity and sorrow. Or is that not a so?"
Silence fell upon the room, while Lhachiel's jaw muscles visibly worked under her suntanned skin. Eventually she tore her gaze from the box, her eyes shimmering with the tears she fought not to cry. "I hear your words, yet my heart tells me they are not true." Her shoulders, which had slumped some, straightened. "I combed the lands for signs, and indeed I have found nothing, but this leads me to believe that whoever is responsible for father's disappearance, took him away from here. This was not the work of simpletons. Brigands would have killed father and left his body behind. Raza has not found a trace of his remains, even though he tried sniffing him out until his nose bled. There is no doubt in my mind nor my heart, that father was taken alive, and as his friend you should not give up on him, but aid me in finding him."
Again silence settled between them. The man had placed his elbows on the table, his hands folded. He was watching his knuckles turn white under the pressure applied, before looking at Lhachiel once more, his expression now stern and less aimed at providing comfort. "Let us face the facts here, Lhachiel", he exclaimed. "I think we must wish he has died. Your tale of disappearance would mean the work of far darker foes, and you should not hope for this. Should your heart be telling you correctly, the implications would be worse than any death dealt by brigands. How can I long to hurt you, when I know your grief.. but still I must be cruel to wake you from your dream. If your father was indeed taken away alive, by now he surely will have died of torture, or if not so, still, the man you called father would be no more. Certainly you must have enough understanding of the enemy, to be aware of this, and thus I am telling you, cherish his memory and honour his sacrifice. You were just a wee babe in your mother's arms when I saw you for the first time. She was a proud and strong woman, and many of us envied your father, but still she was but a woman, and as are you. I assume this news has not reached you, as you were too busy hunting after a lost hope, but dark riders have been spotted. We are to be at war once more, child, and I can spare none to help you further find out what truly has become of your father. Instead I ask you to return to the shores of Lake Evendim. I disagreed strongly with my friend when he took you, a child of but 2 summers. He raised you in the wild as a son, where you should have remained with our people. So few we are now, and you are of true blood. Return to Lake Evendim, choose yourself a husband and if it is hope you seek, then find it by bringing forth a new generation. If we are to live, then sons and daughters must be born to carry on our legacy. I know your father was beyond grief when he took you with him, but he erred, and it is time to righten this wrong. Return, Lhachiel, and live the life you were destined to live, not one that beyond doubt will lead you into further peril and hardship. Your father is gone, and you can not continue in the wild without him. You are a beautiful woman. Make one of our kin happy, while there is still time to do so. This is not a request, Lhachiel, but a command from your superior. I want for you to travel to Evendim, the sooner the better. Grant yourself a night's rest among these ruins, but on the morrow, I wish to see you on your way to a better and more suited life."
It had not been easy, but she had listened without a word thrown in to interrupt, however, her expression had grown darker and darker with every sentence finished. Her eyes were no longer shimmering wet with uncried tears, but had come to glow with furious anger. The walls felt as if they had truly closed in on her now, and she jumped up, knocking the chair over, pushing back against the trap.
"You tell me we are to be at war, yet order me to find a husband, mend his clothes and cook his meals. You say I shall honour father's sacrifice, yet you want me to throw away all of his teachings. Yes I am a woman, and my arrows shall never travel as far as yours, but still each and every one of them finds its target. You are right, I was raised as a son, and as my father's son I will either find him, or die trying! My blood runs as red as yours, and it has just as much right to be spilled in defense of these lands. Few we are indeed, yet you wish for one who knows how to bear arms, to run from our foe. Nay..." She almost spit the words out, throwing her chin up in the air, nostrils flaring. Her hand came to rest upon the dagger on her right and she petted it passionately. "I shall not spend my time bearing sons to wield these weapons of mine, when I can wield them myself, to protect the sons and daughters of others, here and now. You can not command me, for as you say yourself, I am not a soldier but merely a woman, and with father missing, and no husband, I am free to choose my path as it pleases me, and that I shall do."
Turning on her heels, she stormed towards the door, yet after pulling it open, she shot the man one last glare. "And father lives. My heart knows it, and I shall not abandon him a second time!"
The door slammed shut behind her, and the man sat for a while longer, his elbows still resting upon the crude table top, his hands folded, but his knuckles had regained colour. A brief smile curled the corners of his lips. He knew his friend would have been proud today, and so was he, on his friend's behalf. Quite a stubborn whirlwind that wee babe had grown into, he could not help but admire her determination, yet his smile was not to last. Worry and sadness overcame him once more. There was no doubt in his mind that his friend was lost, and what dangers his daughter could come to face before she too would accept this truth, he dared not even ponder. Dangers awaiting them all, his mind continued the thought.
He slowly reached for the small wooden box, which had been unearthed in the ruins. Some ancestor had once treasured this little trinket. So much they had built, then had come to lose.
Maybe he could do with sharing some into that girl's hope, right at this precise moment he felt it would not go amiss, yet still he would have preferred she had listened. He could not force her, in this she was correct, but her anger at him was misplaced. All he wanted for her was a life happier than the one she was living...