It was a near spring when she finally saddled Dogger. Pate was bundling her clothing into a satchel atop of an old gray mare that had seen better days. The weather was warming, but the wind still blew cold through the open stable doors. She smiled. The cold air felt like a long-forgotten embrace. Sir… Lord Henric had been right. Ice ran in her veins.
“Are you leaving us without saying goodbye?” The voice came from the side door and striding through it were the Lady Inara and Lord Henric. She was dressed in a simple woolen gown with golden thread work, her graying hair caught in a net. Lord Henric wore a simple black doublet made of velvet, something new and rich she’d never see him wear, but his woolen pants and boots were the same ones Skyah had always seen him in on the road. That made her want to smile.
“I didn’t wish to disturb you, my lady,” Skyah said and tried a curtsy but the action caused a twinge in her chest, making her catch Dogger’s saddle to not fall.
“You’re not healed yet,” Henric said and crossed his arms. “Stay a while longer, you don’t have to go.”
The offer had been tempting. Shield Port was small and comfortable and Skyah had never even had a room of her own before. It over looked the ocean and she could walk out onto the Widow’s Walk and feel the spray on her face. Peter was there sometimes, a phantom smiling at her, shaking his head. “I wanted to give you a castle,” he’d say. It was part of why she could not stay.
“I do,” she told him and straightened. Her clothes had been thrown away and Lady Inara had new ones tailored for her. They were men’s clothing, but tailored for a woman. She did not hide her bosom as she did before, the lines of her hips were no longer concealed beneath a loose jack. Her doublet was cinched and hugged her sides, her pants loose at the thigh and tucked into sturdy new boots that were more comfortable than anything she’d ever worn in her life. “Thank you for everything, I cannot ever repay you.”
“You saved my life and became my daughter,” Lady Inara said, her voice a whisper. “That is payment enough.” She came closer and put a hand on her arm, and then her cheek. The lady’s eyes were glistening. “I will miss you, but I knew you would soon leave as soon as I touched that sword to your shoulder.”
Henric grunted, shaking his head. “See sense, child! You have a home here. Stay with us.”
Skyah looked from Henric to Inara, and the look in the older woman’s face was one that understood her. She had to go, but she would be missed. Skyah realized she would miss them both too.
“I’m sorry but I have to,” she said.
“Where will you go?” Henric said, his beard quivering.
“North,” she said.
“North?” Inara blinked at her and frowned. “That is a direction, not a destination. What is there in the north?”
“Blood,” Skyah said. “And a mountain.”
“Blood? Mountain?” Henric spread his arms wide. “Think sense girl. You’ve been knighted, not given the world. It’s dangerous out there. I promised your mother… I swore I’d…” His voice failed him then and Skyah felt slightly guilty. She wanted to go to him, to embrace him and tell him that he’d always be the only father she’d ever have. A part of her wanted to stay, to have this growing family that offered her a home, and still another part, a larger part, remembered the Dream.
“Henry, she has a purpose to fulfill,” Lady Inara said, still staring at her. There was a small smile on her lips. She was happy and Skyah thought there was a hint of pride in those eyes. “There is something for her to do, some great deed left for her, can’t you see that?”
Henric didn’t answer, but only looked away, to where Nightsong stamped his hoof and shook his head. For a moment Skyah thought he was going to go to his horse and come with her, but he only sighed.
Skyah looked from him to Pate, who was finishing with his old gray. She’d promised to take the boy with her and he’d had his father’s shield repaired to bring with him. The mountain loomed in her mind, and Peter was falling, falling. She struggled to tighten the strap on Dogger’s saddle.
“There is something I must do,” she said. Inara was nodding, Henric was shaking his head. The lady of Shield Port bid her to wait just a moment and turned, asking her husband to fetch ‘it.’ She didn’t know what she meant until Henric returned with the most beautiful fighting staff she had ever seen. The wood was plain but tempered, oak possibly, and the ends were capped with steel.
“Heavier than that last one, reinforced with steel rods through the center. It won’t break like your old one.” Lord Henric sighed and came close, offering it to her. She took the weapon, holding it like it was made of glass. She had never owned more than a dirty tunic before she’d come to Shield Port and now she had her own forged weapon. She preferred the staff to the sword after all. There was also the silk dress that Pate had carefully packed for her.
There was a snort and dancing of hooves and when Skyah looked up, Henric was leading Nightsong to her. “Take him too. He’ll serve you better than Dogger.” The black destrier looked at her, snuffled her cheek and she stroked his neck. It was hard to see through the tears that sprung into her eyes. “This is too much.”
“You’ve earned it,” Inara said softly. “Let your new squire have your old horse. That one seems about to have its last gallop.” Skyah turned to Pate who had begun to transfer her things from Dogger to Nightsong. He stopped, his good hand cradling a bag under his arm.
“New squire, my lady?”
“Pate, you served me well in that battle as well. Had I a mind I should have raised you too, but I feel you might do better as Sir Skyah’s squire first. What do you say?”
Pate looked from her to Skyah, who laughed away a happy sob. “A proper squire, Lady Inara. I couldn’t think of a better one.” Pate colored, his whole face turning red.
“My honor, Sir, my lady.”
When their things were transferred to their new mounts, Skyah struggled into her saddle with Pate’s help. She looked back at Lady Inara and Lord Henric. They held hands, the other raised to her in fairwell.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Go with our blessing,” Inara said and touched Lord Henric on the arm.
“And remember to visit,” Henric put in, his voice tight.
She smiled to him. “I will. I promise.” She turned Nightsong and made for the open stable doors. Pate followed her on Dogger. Once they were out on the road, he came up alongside her. “What is all this about a mountain and blood, Sir?”
Skyah smiled to herself and didn’t speak until they were through the gates of Shield Port, the entirety of Aranor spreading out before them. “I dreamed of death once and I stopped it. Now there’s a path I have to find, and someone else to save.”
“A path?” Pate asked. “There are paths all over, how will we know the right one?”
“We’ll know it when we see it,” she said. “The Path of Kings is long and full of pain.”
Pate looked up at her, wincing, his claw-like hand touching the shield at his side. A cold wind began to blow and she closed her eyes.
What will be, she thought. Will be.