It had been two weeks since Lord Ariden had sent that first message, letting Lady Laurin know where to find a good stone worker. There had been a few requests since then, along with words of comfort and reassurance. She thanked Ariden for all he did, commenting he was still a beloved friend and a trusted man of wisdom. She was thankful to have once more what they had so long ago. Ariden still felt something was lacking, but he had long realized he would never get that back.
That morning, however, Ariden had a dream of fates. Red ribbons were being woven together between himself and Lady Laurin, threads which had long ago been severed so violently and painfully. When the man woke, he knew this was but a lie, another little distraction from his true goals in life.
Master Terrigen was waiting in the armory for Ariden. There were only a few months left before the King’s tournament, and Ariden would not disappoint. Already several of the nobles within his court had commented on how much the Lord changed, both his disposition, his piety, and his physical appearance. Many of the young maidens of the kingdom commented on the last with a mirthful smile and quick giggles.
However, when out in the training yard he was still seen as weak and incapable. Terrigen admired quietly to Fiedrick the hard work put in by the man, but to Ariden’s face there was no mercy. Fortunately Fiedrick found it in his heart to tell Ariden of the minor praises.
“You’re late,” Terrigen said, whetstone in hand as he sharpened his blade. “You know where your sword is. Take care of it. Then get your armor. We’re doing full training today.”
“Master Terrigen, am I ready for that?” Ariden fetched a whetstone and worked his blade over until the edges were keen.
“Likely not.” Terrigen spit. “But I’m tired of holding hands. Time to run.” When Ariden finished sharpening his blade and donned his armor, Terrigen nodded to the training circle, “Find a partner. Get to it.”
It wasn’t uncommon that the lord would fight the other soldiers. Most of them knew the lord personally, and Ariden did his best to remember names and families. From time to time, those with the most promise as picked out by Terrigen were allowed at his table at night so he could meet more personally.
Hershem was a strong fighter, though very instructive. Ariden went to him and the two sparred for some time, though the older warrior did not take it easy on the lord. It was another reason Ariden enjoyed their bouts. By noon, Ariden was covered in bruises, but his mind was filled with knowledge and his body was forced into shape. Hershem complimented Ariden on his improvements, and Ariden humbly accepted the praise, as he always had.
When removing the armor, a messenger approached Ariden. “My Lord, the Seneschal would like to see you. He says it’s of great import. Waiting for you in your chambers.”
It was rare Feidrick called Ariden on important matters. There were several important matters which occurred each day, but none warranted private meetings. Once, Ariden had asked why Feidrick hadn’t summoned him earlier, to which the Seneschal replied, “No one would die for this matter. It may be resolved today or next week. When someone would die for the matter, I will let you know forthright.” Feidrick had staid to his word on that, only calling Ariden for five private meetings, each one either dealing with someone’s death, or a decision which would lead to such.
The halls seemed longer and darker. Torches were unlit in the midday, though little enough sun was still let through. Perhaps it was an oversight, some architectural flaw he should have paid more attention to when looking over the designs. The architect never commented on a lack of light, so Ariden thought little enough about it. Then again, maybe castles weren’t meant to be well lit. Perhaps they were to be dark dwellings, filled with a fear and hardness that other buildings didn’t afford. A castle wasn’t a home, at least Ariden’s wasn’t. There was no family, nor any promise of such. An emptiness filled Ariden, dread which pooled in his sternum and made him temporarily ill, until he shook it off and willed himself to forget the loneliness.
When Ariden opened his door, sure enough the older man was sitting at Ariden’s desk with a note. Feidrick didn’t look up, but continued to read until he said, “It would seem there is an issue with the woods to the northeast.” The woods were a source of lumber, one of the reasons the town was able to grow so quickly. Timber could be rare for a village, and any village without easy timber would see slow growth. Ariden wanted a village which grew quickly so the income would be substantial, something to support his family with Lady Laurin.
Ariden took a pitcher of water and poured himself a drink, “What is that issue?” He poured another for Feidrick, but the old man refused the drink.
“Some of the workers have gone missing. It is said the trees move and trip the people out there. Whispers spook even our bravest warriors sent to investigate.”
“Are you suggesting an enchanted forest from fairy tales? I’m a little old for that, Feidrick.”
“I’m suggesting nothing more than something is seriously amiss in the woods. There are several men missing, and they need to be found. You have some training. Why not see for yourself, and decide from there? At the very least, if the noble of these lands is willing to brave what his warriors fear, the people know you are one of courage.”
“I’ll leave tomorrow with a few soldiers. Make sure provisions for five are ready. Terrigen and Hershem will join me. The other have Terrigen choose.” Ariden took a drink. “Any word from Lady Laurin?”
The old man let out a sigh of breath, “Yes. Do you truly wish to go through this?” Ariden nodded. “She would like to meet with you in a fortnight. The place where you first traded what may never be ungiven.” Feidrick scowled. “I’m fairly sure I don’t wish to know what you traded, but think upon this and if you’re making wise decisions. You should cut ties, or at the very least, do not personally meet with her. Keep your distance, Ariden. For your health.”
Lord Ariden looked saddened, but thoughtful. “If she needs me, I will be there for her. I still love her with all I am. She is woven into my heart, and it will take the divine or a patron to remove her from my fate.”
“My lord, you will either become wise and break from her of your own accord, or she will would you so grievously you can never see her again without feeling great pain. I beg you to choose wisdom.”
“Feidrick, you’re my friend. I’m doing all I am for her. I became so devout because she wanted that. I train for the king’s tournament to impress her. I write so eagerly so she might view my soul and find it something she could love again. She will have to slay me before I remove her from my life.”
“Whether or not she is woven into your very fabric, as you so pathetically put it, you do have other women being presented to you. I’ve found a few you may like. When you return from your trip to the woods, there will be a woman waiting for you. Her father is a lord to the east, Lord Bandmoore. He’s fairly wealthy, though more important I’ve heard his daughter is quite lovely in body, mind, and soul.”
“I’ll keep that under advisement. Have dinner prepared. I wish to eat and retire to my readings and writings.”
“As you wish.” Feidrick left Ariden to his thoughts.
The lord’s mind whirled at the possibilities of why Lady Laurin wished to meet with him. Could she be ready to move with him, ready to take her place beside him in the castle? Is she going to say that she never wished to abandon him? Or was it to speak at length about some man she had met, the one she had originally left Ariden for? It was difficult for Ariden to process. It was difficult for him to decide whether or not he wished to meet her. It had been months, but he still wasn’t sure he was ready.
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