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A Stable In Waterdeep:
Fin, or Gregor as was revealed that his name actually is, was brushing Thunder's flank when a soft voice asked from behind him: "So ... Do you have someone waiting for you back in Cormyr?"
Fin/Gregor paused in his task. Nyia noticed him glance briefly to the signet ring on his hand before his deep voice calmly replied, "It was my plan never to return to Cormyr. I thought that was understood by all the company and, the troop's feelings aside, I am not relishing returning to face my shame once again. So in answer to your question ... as far as I know, no."
Fin turned, slowly, and placed the currying comb and brush down on a barrel. Looking up at Nyia he asked, "Whyever would you ask that question? It would seem to my mind that you have many more unanswered questions that you'd care to resolve."
Sitting down upon a bale of hay, patting the space next to him lightly, he continued, "Come and sit. I'll do my best to answer any of your questions. You'll have to excuse me if some of the past is painful ... and I fear that what I reveal will make you think less of me. What would you like to know?"
It took quite a lot of courage to come to him like this. But then again, she can only imagine how he must feel after the revelations of the past short while. Mostly because of her own nosiness. She can't regret it. These were things that needed to be revealed. And it changed nothing, really. Not to her. Not except... for this one thing. So it is that when Fin invited her to sit beside him, she went willingly enough, settling upon the hay bale with her usual long-limbed grace.
Hugging her knees to her chest, she rested her chin upon her upraised knees... and allowed herself a soft sigh. Then... no more sighing. She has to know. Her mother raised her to be a forthright young woman. To say what she means and act upon it. She turned her head finally to look at the man seated beside her, dressed with his usual lack of pretension, perhaps slightly damp about the brow from his exertions.
"Your past matters far less to me than you might imagine," she said finally, her voice soft. Almost gentle, but definitely resolute. "I know who you are *now*. *That* is what matters." Though there was a momentary pause then. She caught the fullness of her lower lip between her teeth for an instant before continuing, looking away, out across the stables. "All except for this one thing. A friend... warned me. A friend that meant well, I know. He mentioned that your heart was ... engaged. If that is the truth, I hope you will tell me it is so. I will leave you be. I wish you only every happiness, Fin." Another pause. "If you still wish me to call you that."
Fin/Gregor sighed. "My heart?" He glanced down at his rough hand turning the small signet ring about his finger. Noticing what he was doing, he stopped. "My heart's desire is part of that past that I can no longer return to." He turned a steady gaze to the young woman sitting beside him. "And why would that ever cause you to leave me be?" Seeing the look in her eyes and the flush to her face, a sudden epiphany seemed to alight upon him. "Are you asking if I am..." He paused. "Do you mean..." He frowned as he hesitated again. Cocking an eyebrow (as she had seen many times before) he softly said, "I'm sorry, but I seem to be at a loss for words..."
She'd really done it now. She could see it. The moment he had that epiphany... She shouldn't have said anything. Swallowing a bit, she rose from her spot on the hay bale, unfolding long legs, brushing hay from her clothing... It was just easier to do that than to see the possibility of disinterest on his face. Or worse yet, pity. "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable, Fin. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have..." She couldn't even bring herself to finish that. She just shook her head, her gaze lowered and starting making her way to the barn door.
Even more confused now, as she seemed to be up and leaving without the conversation coming to any form of point, he said, "Now, come... Please sit down. You haven't made me feel uncomfortable. This is just an arena that I am unused to." He turned his gaze from the young woman to stare down at a stain on the cobbled floor of the stable. "In fact, I have never been the best at reading the lay of the land in campaigns such as this." A small, deep chuckle passed his throat. "It may not surprise you that I have not the silver tongue of our friend Garrick.
"To help me along in this, tell me what your friend 'warned' you of - my heart being 'engaged' and all. I would think that nobody aside from my men knew of my previous history with your gender. It appears that I am now become a man of mystery after all."
He smiled gently at the young woman, trying his best to put at ease her flustered air.
It doesn't make explaining herself any easier. She'd thought he knew. That he had some inkling. It would appear he hadn't had any warning as to any feelings she might have had. And that left her feeling more foolish by the moment, odd little nervous flutters rippling through her. She turned again from the door, unable to settle back down beside him, resting instead upon the doorframe. Simply unable to make her feet move. She hugged her arms to her chest as she continued, obviously in some kind of distress.
"I was warned..." she managed to get out, attempting to look at him as she spoke... Never had she had to do anything so difficult in all her life but to get this out with some form of her dignity intact. "If I had any feelings for you, I should be aware that your heart was already promised to another. This friend wished me to know of that before I was ... hurt." Whoever the friend was, it was also clear that finding out such a thing *already* hurt. It was all a matter of degrees.
"I wanted to ask you. To know the truth of it, whatever way it stood." She sighed then, looking away finally, her arms still held close against her chest. "I probably seem very childish to you right now." And then, more softly, "Whatever else I might wish you to be to me... you mean a great deal to me, Fin. Your friendship is important to me. If that is all you feel for me, I will understand. I just ... I need to know."
Fin stood and approached the young woman. Smiling softly, he placed his hand upon her cheek. He gazed down at her with an odd (for him) feeling of warmth.
"Childish? Hardly. I see now why you are concerned about my heart. I gather that you have feelings for me. Odd as that seems to be to me, for I know not why, I do cherish and respect you more than I perhaps should - certainly more than I deserve..."
Brushing a strand of sun-burnished hair from her face, he looked at this fine woman before him. Then, as a shadow of sadness passed over him, he sighed and turned back to sit down on the hay bale.
"Sadly, I have no power or right to give anyone my heart, regardless of how deserving or warranted that person is." He glanced down to find he was playing with the silvered signet ring again. He stopped and, turning to look at Nyia again, he asked, "Would you like to hear the tale of how I became such a wretched animal?" as he slid over to make room for her to sit down.
She found herself gazing up at the man as he spoke, uncertain of the emotions she was seeing in his face. She'd made something of a study of those expressions. There were really quite a few of them, despite what others might think... though they tended to be understated. Alright. Maybe that was an understatement in and of itself. But there were nuances to his expressions that others might miss.
To be unfamiliar with the look he gave her then, disconcerted her somewhat... but at the touch of his hand to her cheek, the light brush of hair away from her face, she found her head leaning into the touch, her skin left tingling. It lasted only a moment. Perhaps that was all she was ever to have.
"I could tell you why, Fin. If you had a month." She smiled then, just a little, her gaze lowering. "But I suspect you don't want to hear that sort of thing right now." And with that, she moved back across the barn to settle beside him upon the hay bale. "So yes, tell me, if you wish," she murmured, looking up at him again.
Gregor smiled again at her use of his nom de guerre. A private joke, but she'd soon understand. He looked across at his stallion. Thunder canted his head back over his flank towards his master and, with a derisive snort before going back to his feed, seemed to say, "You really don't have a clue; do you?"
Again, Gregor chuckled and then turned to Nyia, a wistful - almost mischievous - look in his eyes. With a slight smile he asked, "I don't quite know where to begin. I've not talked about this for over five years or more. Perhaps we might begin by you telling me how much of my 'storied' past you think you know..."
Thunder drew Nyia's eye as the horse snorted like that. What was *that* all about? But Fin's question brought her attention back to the matter at hand. How to answer that one...
She took a soft breath and let it out slowly before finding the words, her voice quiet and considered. She had certainly done her research, that much is obvious.
"Your full name is Lord Gregor Finrael ap Thorning. And you made quite a reputation for yourself as a Purple Dragon. The youngest knight to ever be appointed to the staff college at Suzail."
It was apparent that some of these places, places she had never been, were merely names to her. But nonetheless, she had more to say.
"There was an incident where you rescued Princess Alusair, wasn't there? Somewhere in the Storm Horns?" She paused then and watched his expression closely as she continued to speak. "You were dismissed," she says softly. "After Count Magred was assassinated while you were off duty. Gervais mentioned it. And that his widow was incredibly cruel even though her grief was understandable... Nothing I have heard has made me think any less of you."
She lowered her gaze then, looking at the hands she carefully clasped in her lap, thinking back to the disastrous encounter in the library ... "The letter you crumpled and threw away... I admit to being tempted to read it. I'm sorry for that. I burned it instead. Though ... not before the Selune priestess read some small part of it. The signature was from Count Magred the second. That is all I know."
As Nyia recounted what she knew, Fin's expression grew to one of near amazement. She seemed to know quite a bit. Could Garrick have told her after Yartar? He doubted that. Even that popinjay who played at nobility had some shred of honour in that area. She had certainly seemed to have done her homework. He remembered that it was she who first determined he was from Cormyr to begin with. A low rumbling chuckle grew from his throat and a smile began to broaden on his face.
"My!" he finally breathed. He turned and cocked his head at the young woman beside him. "Are you sure that you never studied with the War Wizards? It seems you might even be able to give Old Vangerdahast a run for his money. Although I fear you may not be telling me everything you know." He chuckled, shaking his head. "But none of that is really of import. I was merely doing my duty. And I was indeed head of the household guard for the Magred family." He paused, his face growing more sombre. "Perhaps that's where I should begin my tale. Did you suspect that I was ever engaged to be wed?"
"My father was a knight much as I was. He travelled some and made his way at one point into the Silver Marches, where he met, wooed, and won Brianna… my mother's hand. He returned to Cormyr but was constantly on campaign. And once he never returned." Fin's face took on a sad wistful look. "My mother never recovered and passed on that winter of illness. They had fostered me to the house of Count Magred and his wife, but I was still sorrowed at the news."
"But that passed eventually. By the time I was in my teens, the Count had taken a fatherly interest in me and had me appointed as a squire to one of his knights. It was here that I learned the feat of arms. It was also here that I first met … her."
A long pause grew and, to look at him, it would be hard to tell if he was saddened or cheered.
"When I first met Emilie Magred, she was six and I eleven. By the gods, she was a pest. But - as time is wont to do - things changed. As I grew older, so did she. We spent much time together being of an age, and the young people of the household (for the Count and Countess had no sons). By the time I won my spurs at sixteen, she was a constant companion. I went off and joined the Purple Knights, serving as best I could and gaining some distinction. There was a small incident in the Storm Horns where I proved useful to the Steel Princess, and I was indeed granted entry to the staff college in the capital, Suzail.
"When I returned home before taking my posting, I learned the Emilie had grown to be a beautiful woman of fifteen. Gone was the gangly bratty tag-along that I had known. In her place, the most beautiful creature I have ever had the pleasure of seeing." Fin's face had softened and turned thoughtful. A small tear broke from his eye and trickled down his worn leathered cheek. "What I had presumed was friendship and almost brotherly concern had blossomed into love; a pure and wholesome love that I was shocked to feel. And indeed, I was even more shocked to see it returned.
"While I was attending the college, Emilie and I began courting … with the approval of her parents of course. They thought it a good match. Some small military escapades later and I was appointed the head of the household guard for the count. Emilie and I were betrothed and our wedding date set for a few months later."
Now Fin stopped. His jaw worked, but no sound came out. He closed his eyes and dropped his head.
She couldn't help but take a small amount of pride that she might have surprised him with her enterprise. She had known where to look and partially, what to look for. And while she might be quite a foolish young woman, she had never been stupid. So it is that when Fin began to recount his tale, speaking of his Emilie... tears glistened in her own eyes. So that is as the way of it. She could see that the wound that parting created had far from healed. That if he loved anyone... it was still his Emilie. A lump grew in her throat. Not only for herself. She'd known the risks. When offering a heart, it will sometimes not be wished for or accepted. That is the simple way of things. But she cared too much to ever wish such pain upon him. Putting aside her own aching heart, she reached out to rest her hand over his.
"Everything fell apart?" she murmurs. "I understand. But... the kind of love you speak of is a strong thing, Fin. It would not be torn asunder by rumours and hearsay. You give yourself far too little credit. And your lady too. She loved you and that will not have changed. If she was able, she is waiting for you. I feel certain of it."
Everything in her demeanour showed that she believed what she said… even as a tear slid down her own cheek. She turned away. He didn't need this from her. She'd only made things worse. Brought up old memories that pained him. A distinct feeling of shame moved through her then. Thinking of only her own troubled heart… she had hurt a friend. Pained someone she cared about. "I'm so sorry…" she whispered.
Fin sighed and patted the hand clasped around his. "Sorry? There is no need for you to be sorry. It is perhaps a good thing that I talk about it. If I'd had anybody around, it would probably have been a good idea to talk about it sooner." A wry smile twisted his lip. "They say it's cathartic."
Taking her hand in his two, he continued, "With a wedding approaching there was such a celebratory air about the village and castle. Many people arrived for the ceremony from across the land. Nobles, knights, ladies ... there were many. Ah, Nyia, you would have marvelled at the spectacle. My men got it into their heads to set a small party for me in the barracks." His grip tightened and he stared fiercely at a spot on the wall across from them. "And so, like some are wont to do on these occasions, I turned out much the worse for wear from too much wine and song." You could almost hear him gritting his teeth. "During the night, someone entered Count Erik's chambers and slew him ... cut his throat from ear to ear."
"When the alarm was raised, I set men out after any intruders ... I even started to have them question guests. But the countess was grief stricken. She blamed me, rightly so, for failing in my duty and banished me from her household. I left the next morning that was to be mine and Emilie's wedding day. All I have left of her is this small token," he spread his hands to display the small signet ring worn on his smallest finger, a small crest glittering in the sunlight streaming through the door and widows, "And my pledge given before that day to love her until the end of the world."
He once again paused and, after running his sleeve across his face to wipe away tears that now streamed freely down his face, he placed his hand tightly around hers, still held in his other hand.
"So there you have it. My doom ... brought on by a failure of duty and betrayal of trust ... And as that part of my life is closed to me - despite your kind words - no, I have no one in Cormyr waiting for my return. I have been commanded to return by the Princess Alusair to account myself before the new Count Magred. A final ride for me before I can finally bury my dishonour."
He drew a deep breath to regain his composure. Once again he was the stoic solider she'd some to know (all to well by some counts). But now there was more of a softness about his face. It was sorrowful, but she could see more emotion to it now, even as he turned to her and asked, "By the way... who told you of Emilie anyway?"
Nyia sighed a little when that question she'd known was coming, came finally. She held his hand quietly and tightly as he recounted his story, lending what gentle support she could. She listened without interruption. And she felt her heart sink. He would never love another. Not like that. And how could she bear being second best? The one that would never live up to the first... if there was even a chance he could feel any such thing for her at all, that is. As the moments passed, she doubted it, more and more. Acceptance. That would be her lot now.
"I cannot say, Fin. Truly. It ... I know he meant well. And ... he was right to tell me. I would sooner have known than made a complete fool of myself in your eyes. I ... value your opinion of me a great deal." Her head bowed. She glanced down at her hand and his, joined...
Perhaps he might puzzle it together himself. That she was dancing with Garrick for a time before her mood suddenly changed at the masquerade ball... Nothing was quite the same after that. But ... what must he have said to change her mood so?
Fin suddenly sat straight up. "It wasn't one of my men; was it? It was . . . GARRICK! Wasn't it?" He could tell by the light flush to her cheek that he had hit the mark. "How could I not know? You must think me quite the dunderhead myself. But Garrick didn't know anything of Emilie. So how . . . ?" Fin began to chuckle. "What a silly fool!" The chuckling became a laugh that grew heartier by the second. Nyia - or most anyone - had not heard fin laugh so. "That peacock always wants to stick his nose in others' business!" Now belly the laughter spread across his face in waves.
It was a moment or two before he could compose himself. As he calmed down he said, "I wondered why he was expressing concern about my 'paramour', Princess Alusair!" More laughter ensued. "MY! But some barrack room gossip gets taken for gospel; doesn't it? Was that who you initially meant about 'someone waiting for me'?" Again a small flush. "Dear sweet Nyia," he said, taking both her hands in his and going down on one knee, "Know you that the Princess did express an interest in - for politeness shall we say - 'frolicking' with me at one time. But my heart had already been pledged to my dearest Emilie. She and I got on well enough that she respected that."
His face and voice softened, he smiled gently, and he leaned toward her. Softly he said, "And know that I hold you very dear indeed. Although I cannot give you my heart, know that you have my love and respect as the dearest of friends - if that matters at all from a wretch such as I. I will devote whatever honour I have left to you and yours, until which time we return to Cormyr and they put paid to a poor excuse of a soldier."
With that he kissed her softly on the cheek, then on the backs of her hands. He rose and strode out through the doorway of the stable, chuckling as he went, "Garrick! That nitwit! Ha!"
The young lady was left to her thoughts alone on the hay bale.
Suddenly a hand leaned on her shoulder from the window behind her and a soft but gruff voice spoke. "Ah, lass! But you certainly have brought a smile to this old heart," said Bors, Fin's man, softly turning Nyia to look at him. "I haven't seen the cap'n so happy since the day he rode out of the castle and bid farewell to all he held dear. You've brought him great joy this day . . . I'm surprised he told you the story. He must like you awful much; not even some of the men know the whole story. Only me self . . . and now you." The grizzled old soldier looked after his commander, the golden sunlight glinting off unshed tears in his eyes. "I hope he'll more like himself now. Not so gloomy or stormy. I always figured that bard would provide good entertainment . . . I just never figured that it would be this way. The lord meant what he said too, you can count on that. He still has more honour in his right hand than most have in their entire body. And I'll stand by you as well. We're kindred now, you and I. Our little secret."
He turned and, running a dirty cuff over his eyes, looked down at the young lady. "Well . . . sun is powerful bright today. * huff! *" Then he stopped and, leaning over the sill, kissed Nyia softly on the forehead. "Thank ye, lass." And, not unlike his master had a short time before, he brushed a stray lock of hair back behind Nyai's ear, smiled at her and turned to walk away, singing to himself, "Oh! I luvs to go swimmin' wit bowlegged wimmen . . . "
When it was all over, she was left blinking and alone in the quiet of the barn, Thunder's stomping and soft whinnie, the only remaining distraction. Well. Bors' singing went on for a little bit. But she tried not to pay too much attention to it.
She had meant to say so much more... That Fin was innocent of any crimes. That he'd been treated unfairly. That it was the guard in charge that *night* - and *on duty* - that had the most to answer for. That she would help him find the killer and she had a good idea that the others would gladly do so too... But ... it all passed out of her head when he laughed and spoke of the Princess and ... well. All of it. She sincerely hoped he didn't get angry with Garrick. Though his laughter had seemed to indicate otherwise. She'd uncovered an entirely different story, apparently...
Bors just ... confused her. But it warmed her aching heart a little to be treated with such kindness by the gruff fellow.
She walked to Thunder's side, reaching out gently to stroke the majestic animal's neck. Thunder turned his head back over his shoulder and gently nudged hers. Silently, she stood there. And for a little while, she held it all back. But she only managed it for a little while. Tears started streaming down her cheeks, her head bowing. If the horse allowed it, she found her head buried against the animal's neck, needing something to hold on to as she shook with the onslaught of her emotions, keeping her tears all but entirely silent, in case anyone should pass by. Not wanting anyone to hear or see.
For a time, that's all there was. Her tears and the warm, comforting scent of clean horse. And then, after a little while, she lifted her head, stroking Thunder's velvety nose, and thanked him softly for his indulgence. "You're a good friend too," she whispered, offering a smile through her tears.
And with those tears over and shed, it was time to move on. She'd promised. Herself, if no one else. A good friend, he will remain. Maybe he still thinks her a foolish youngling. But this was a good life lesson, wasn't it? At least... that's what she would tell herself in the years to come.
She swiped her tears away, righted herself as best she could, and stepped from the barn, her chin held high. At the very least, she knew now. And life went on. She would meet it with as much courage as she could manage.