My door flung wide open as Dee and Quint burst into my room, ready to save me from whatever trouble they imagined waited inside. However, all they found was me leaning against my now-righted chair as I rubbed my sore neck and Danae sitting on the floor, holstering her pistol. As the ship captain rose to her feet, she didn’t show much concern for the greatsword Dee thrusted to within a few inches of her throat.
“Are you okay?” Quint asked as he stepped between Danae and myself. He checked me over for wounds but I furiously waved him off.
“Yes, I’m fine,” I insisted.
“We were just having a discussion,” Danae offered as she casually retrieved her belt and scabbard that had fallen to the floor during the scuffle. She flashed Dee a friendly smile while fastening the buckle on her waist.
Dee nodded to the knocked over chair. “Looks like more than a discussion to me.”
It’s fine,” I insisted, straightening myself, but still keeping a hand on my chair. “Put the blade down.”
With an audible grumble, Dee lowered her greatsword, but never took her eyes off Danae, nor did she make any attempt to move. The norn remained planted between Danae and the door, poised for battle should the need arise.
Danae straightened some of the feather-shaped panels on her long-coat and brushed back a few loose strands of dark hair from her face, tucking them behind her ears. “Well, I can certainly read a room. I think it’s time for me to leave,” the ship captain announced.
“I rather think that’s a good idea Captain Morgan,” Quint replied as he courteously motioned to my door. “I’ll see you out.”
“What a gentleman.” Danae nodded with a smirk and started for the door, but she stopped abruptly and looked over her should at me. “Think about what we talked about.”
I nodded and Quint escorted her from my room.
“Who was she?” Dee asked as she finally lowered her broad weapon and then crossed the width of my room in just a few steps. “Friend of yours?”
I nodded. “Yeah. We met when we were much younger.”
“You should be careful of the friends you keep,” Dee warned as she adjusted her hold on her greatsword.
After seeing Danae out, Quint returned and I thought I would need a crowbar to pry him and Dee from my room. Using just about every reassuring and forceful word I could think of, I finally managed to shoo them out of my chamber amidst a flurry of protest. Once the door was shut, I breathed a sigh of relief, resting my forehead against the hard wood.
The fire had long since died down, leaving behind glowing embers and the occasional pop and crackle. I shuffled across the room, picked up the iron poker, and gave the embers a stir before tossing on another small piece of wood. The flames kicked up just as another chilly breeze blew in through my open window and I bathed in the warmth. My muscles still felt tight from my forceful interactions with Danae, but the heat helped soothe them and soon they started to relax. Alone again in my room, Danae’s words crept into my thoughts. No matter how hard I tried to dismiss them, they kept repeating in my head:
“The woman I knew back then would not give up. Never.”
I sighed, leaning on the iron poker as I looked down at my feet. I couldn’t shake Danae’s words nor could I help but question the choices I had made which lead me to this point. For so long, I had believed in what I was doing. I believed I was right. But I found that my choices had led to only pain, suffering, and death. My knuckles ached as I tightened my grip on the poker, however, before I could get much further in my thoughts, I heard a flutter at my window. I turned to find Athena folding in her wings as she settled. Staring at me with her bright, yellow eyes, she offered me a gentle, throaty hoot hoot and then remained still, waiting for an answer to her call.
“Yes, I see you,” I replied. “Still haven’t decided to leave yet, huh?”
The owl offered me another set of hoots and then set to cleaning her feathers under her wing. I shook my head and uttered a frustrated sigh. Other than to haunt me, I had no idea why this creature insisted on staying around the hall since Liliana died. Once the bond between a ranger and their animal companion was severed, the animal, if still alive, was free to go. However, this bird did not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. I stared at Athena as she folded her wings back to her sides and went back to stoically watching me.
“You done?” I asked her. “Can I get back to my thoughts now?”
“Alright then,” I muttered and allowed myself to sink back into my thoughts but they had apparently moved on. I uttered a frustrated growl.
Restlessness settling in, I leaned the poker against my chair and padded barefoot into my office. The dimly lit space was cold and felt empty despite the simple furnishings already present. I hadn’t opened the window in awhile, so the whole room had taken on a musty odor. It occurred to me at that moment just how long it had been since I had sat down at my desk to review supply lists and requisition orders. I actually missed the mundane tasks.
I opened the window and then pulled out the sturdy wooden chair so I could sit while admiring the large, carved piece of furniture. There were two neatly stacked piles of documents sitting off to one side that I had yet to reviewed. Running my fingers over the smooth desktop edge, I smiled. My two late friends and associates, Rhys and Sir Fendall, had the desk made for me and it matched the ones they had, even down to the secret compartment built into one of the tree trunk carved legs.
Reaching down, I opened the hidden cubby and drew out a few pieces of folded parchment. Opening each of them, I placed one document next to the other, arranging them in a line before I read over them. I picked up the hall’s deed first, and even though I had read it many times before, I read it through one more time. I remembered the old farmer. We gave him twice what he asked for his farmstead, knowing full well the construction we would have to undertake to turn it into the home we had intended. His eyes nearly popped out of his head as Rhys handed him the bag of gold and he thanked us profusely before inviting us to dinner that night to celebrate the deal.
The three of us were so happy that night and so certain of the future. We were going to build our home and keep the blade safe, but in the process, I didn’t take the people who would be involved into consideration. Rhys and Sir Fendall had, but I stayed distant from them. Years of living on my own had done that to me. It had taken time to grow a trusting friendship with Rhys and Sir Fendall and it would take even more time to create one with these new people. But they had reassured me it would be fine and I reminded myself of the fighters we would have to defend our home if the need were to arise.
Folding the parchment up, I moved on to the next document. I had taken it from Rhys’ desk when Seren and I had found his body at his home. I unfolded it and read over the executive order. In the event of Rhys’ death, Sir Fendall and I would inherit his holdings since he never married and had no living heir. However, because Sir Fendall was also dead, it all came to me. My jaw tightened as I read it again. I hadn’t taken the order into the bank yet, and I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to do so, because I didn’t quite feel like I deserved it. I felt the heavy weight of responsibility for their deaths resting on my shoulders.
I then moved onto the third piece of parchment. It was older than the other two, as evidenced by its ragged edges and heavily creased folds. Even though the ink was faded, I could still make out the random smattering of words written in three different scripts. It was the scrap of parchment we had written on while brainstorming over a late dinner one evening at a local tavern in Lion’s Arch. Various descriptive words were written in different angles as we passed it around the table, but at the center, written in Rhys’ handwriting and circled heavily, was the name we chose:
The Defenders of Peace.
Three people from three different backgrounds came together to make a place for people who had nowhere to go. For Rhys and Sir Fendall, it was as simple as that. But for me, I admit I had the ulterior motive of having capable fighters at our disposal to unknowingly guard the blade. At the time, it seemed like a good plan, but I didn’t anticipate the connections that would be made with the other members. I didn’t understand the magnitude of the rewarding feeling I would feel by getting close to them and the pain that would come when I brought tragedy to our door.
I let the document go and watched the parchment land on the desktop. I was never honest about my intentions, so how could it have even been possible to form a solid foundation for the guild was to be built upon? I lied to them all like I’ve lied to everyone else because I thought sparing them from the truth was for the best for everyone involved. But what was I to do now? I considered leaving and take the blade with me, but now I knew others were aware of the blade and would likely find a way to come after it. My departure might draw any watchers away from the hall, but it could prove to be too dangerous if I was ambushed at the blade’s resting place.
Before I was forced to take his life in a moment of defense, Alec had mentioned he had been working for someone he claimed would come for me, just like he came for my parents. There was no doubt Alec’s employer would hear of his failure and send someone else. Perhaps this puppet master himself would come and then maybe I could finally solve the mystery that was my parents’ death.
Agitated, I pushed back my chair, rose, and began pacing in the open space between it and my desk. I couldn’t leave, but I also couldn’t stand to live here with the pain and rifts I had created. With a growl, I slammed my hands down on my desk, gripping the edge so tight, my knuckles turned white. Then, with a sudden surge of anger and without any reasonable thought entering my mind, I summoned all my strength and lifted the heavy piece of furniture, tipping it forcefully onto its back. It landed on the hard wood floor with a loud crash and papers fluttered everywhere. I stood over the mess, catching my breath from the sudden exertion of energy. My chin began to quiver, but I bit back the sobs that were fighting their way up.
“Events are changing. You will need help in the days to come,” Grenth had said to me near the Zintl Holy Grounds. Rhys and Sir Fendall had said something similar to me when we started bringing in people. For the first time, I started to really believe that maybe they were right. Trusting did not come so easy, but I had to try.
Guarding the blade was important, but now so were these people. I had unintentionally connected with them and they had become more important to me than I let myself believe. But after all that had happened, after the lies and the loss, we weren’t a guild anymore. We were fractured, the pieces scattered throughout Tyria. My heart ached from missing them all and even though I had sent them away for what I thought was for their own safety, I wanted to make things right. I had to tell them the truth and I hoped that in doing so, it would bring the others back.