We spent a lot of that day on our own agendas. Angel had gone off on her own adventure; we last saw her talking with some of the patrols and could only guess that she was helping them out. I knew that she preferred a fight over standing idle. My guess was that she was with the patrol because she was looking for some extra practice before we entered Orr. Or perhaps she was learning the new strategies of and against the Risen from those who encountered them often.
Tobih was taking the extra time to do a few touch-ups on his armor and weapons. He sat by the water with a cloth in one hand and a sword in the other. When it came to the items he owned, he spared no attention to detail. It still impressed me just how small he was beneath his bulky armor. The lights from the trees shimmered across the blade and the armor that lay on a blanket next to him.
Ragnvaldr and I took this time to be relatively alone again. He sat in the cart and I had laid my head to rest in his lap. I stared up at the canopy of leaves above us as we conversed about a number of topics. There was little time for us to bond, just the two of us, on our current phase of the trip.
Birds chirped away around us, telling the world that all was peaceful in this nook.
Angel had covered the plan with us again after we had all bathed. We were still going through the Floodwater Causeway, the only safe way to travel into the lower half of the coast with a cart. We would pass through to Shimmerstone Cave, where Angel told us she knew of a place to camp for the night. We’d make our way around another swamp and stay a night in Brackwater Village, a fairly new sylvari haven. We could barter with some merchants there for anything else we might need before slipping into Orr’s straits.
We would leave the cart with the Pact before heading into what was officially Orr. The cart would slow us down from that point on. The fewer living who could not fight we had with us for the remainder of the trip, the safer we would be.
I knew I was risking everyone’s lives with this trip and yet they still followed me. We all knew the dangers; Angel knew more of the sickened land than the rest of us. It did not keep me from worrying for her. She certainly wasn’t going to.
Tobih was frail and it dawned on me even more with each passing day. He tried to convince me that he was okay. He continued to hold even through the many battles and long days so I was beginning to see that he was right. Maybe not okay, but he wasn’t weak. In my eyes, he was the epitome of ‘strong’. In the span of our journey, which was much shorter than I realized at the time, I had learned not only about my new team, but also more than a few life lessons. One of those was the difference in being strong and having strength.
Tobih represented being strong. He could push through any situation with that smile on his face. His happy disposition continued despite all of the hardships he had faced not only with us but before all of us. Yet, he grew from it and kept being the only person he knew how to be: himself.
Angel, however, was different. She also went through so much in her lifetime, and it shaped her into someone jaded and cold. Angel found more satisfaction in honing her skills for her own survival as well as for sport. She turned to anger and fury and harvested that into whatever object lay in her hands. That object would do more speaking than she ever would. She embodied strength.
“Your brow is furrowed. Something troubling you, Claire?” Ragnvaldr brushed my silvery bangs towards either side of my forehead.
I closed my eyes for a brief moment, pausing before stating, “Are you sure you want to go through with this alongside me?”
“I would do anything beside you…” He paused as well and heaved a great sigh, “Honestly, I’d rather not do any of this. I like you the way you are and I don’t want to risk losing you.. or any one of our friends. Going into Orr is a huge risk to all of our lives.”
It was something I expected to hear from him but didn’t want to. I opened my mouth to reply back, but was unsure what was going to come out of my mouth, if there even was anything to. Luckily, he continued, “But this is important to you. If you are unhappy, then I can’t let it pass.”
He scratched his beard with his free hand, the other resting on my shoulder. “You’re stressing a lot about this, I only hope that it’s going to good use. I will always be here to repeat all of this many more times than I already have if you need me to.” After that he leaned down and placed a kiss on my lips. “I will always be here.”
“The Shiverpeaks…” I blurted out loud.
“What about them?” he responded, moving his face a few inches away from mine.
“That’s where I want to live. With you.” I smiled gently towards him. The subject change was supposed to help calm my nerves and his as well. “You did ask.”
Ragnvaldr gave a hearty chuckle, “I suppose I did. Then it’s a plan. We’ll begin looking at property in the Shiverpeaks when our mission is done.” The smile on his face was genuine and full of life, I couldn’t help but to smile just as much. “That’s a smile I haven’t seen in a while.”
“Your smile is contagious,” I giggled and kissed him this time.
“I should really get to making dinner for the lot,” he said as we pulled away.
“You can stay for another few minutes,” I begged him, pulling at his arm to keep him pinned in the cart. He chuckled again, clearly giving into me.
“Done!” I heard Tobih exclaim from by the water. I sighed with a smile and let Ragnvaldr’s arm free.
“I guess this ends our short time alone today,” I said. I was neither annoyed with Tobih, knowing he would come to visit us, nor was I elated that he would break up this personal time.
“I’ll get started on dinner, then.” He leaned down and kissed me once more before standing and jumping down from the cart. After Ragnvaldr had gathered his food and tools from the cart, he left to our campfire circle and set up. As expected, Tobih jumped into the cart just as Ragnvaldr left. He began carefully wrapping and stashing his weapons and surprisingly his armor as well. It was unusual to see him without it for so long; perhaps that’s why his stature stood out so well to me today.
“You’re moving to the Shiverpeaks after this, then?” he asked while he worked his items under a bench in the cart.
“You heard?” I wasn’t so fond as far as public displays of affection went. My cheeks grew red as I realized that all of my actions could have been so noticed.
“All of it.” He looked up at me with his emerald eyes. If my cheeks weren’t crimson before, they probably had just gotten there. I was afraid of what he would say about it. He caught me off guard instead, “Don’t ever worry about taking me into a dangerous situation… I know it stresses you, taking all of us into Orr. You might think it’s for a selfish reason, but I don’t think it is at all.
“It may be a little more selfish to say that I’m interested in learning more about you. Including this ‘past you’. I’d willingly go into Orr to fight for that and to fight for you. With you.
“I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will die one day. I’d rather do it fighting for something I want. I don’t have any plans on dying any time soon, of course… but you know what I mean.
“I’m not going to let you watch your friends die before you. I’ll fight with my life to help free you of whatever ails you.” He raised his hand towards my face, hovering for a mere second before he hesitantly placed it on top of my head, ruffling the top of my hair.
“Everyone has their own reasons for doing this. As Ragnvaldr said, put this stress to good use. Use it to formulate emergency plans or something.” His voice was soft and reassuring.
“Thank you, Tobih. It’s just difficult knowing that the push towards Orr is based on a theory that may not even work. A theory that revolves around me.” I wanted to tell him that his words meant so much to me, but all I could muster was a thank you. He smiled that toothy smile anyway.
“I-I guess I should move my hand now.” He laughed a little and took his hand from the top of my head. “And, Claire?”
“Thank you for being my friend,” the silvery words slipped from his lips so easily and yet it concerned me a bit.
“You don’t ever need to thank me for that, you know?” I responded, taking up smiling as I did. “We’ll always be friends.”
“Friends forever then,” He held out his hand, “A promise.”
I held out mine in return, “A promise.” He took my wrist and I took his and we shook firmly.