Rowan struggled to breathe, sometimes. Within the confines of that room, listening to older villagers talking about… and bragging about his battles, as though they had been there themselves. They listed the names of places he had been, the battles he fought... they spoke on and on about how he was a great hero, they congratulated him.
But they were not there, themselves. Had not seen what he had seen, had not felt the death of so many comrades. They had not lead so many men, good men to their graves.
Worse, that name. Dirt General.
How they mentioned that word, repeatedly, in phrases much like. “Here comes our Dirt General! Rowan, whose given the Orcs the runs!”
They may have been well-intentioned, these older men of Arthdale, but that singular word was a sword deeply-entrenched into his soul. There was a deep, festering wound within himself, Rowan thought it might never be mended. It was an insult, not only to himself, but to those who served with him, fought with him, died for him. It was a dagger to his heart.
And Rowan felt like a coward. His men were so loyal, they would have fought for him at a moments notice, to restore Rowan’s honour, to set wrongs to right, to redeem the name of those who had fought and died. And Indeed, Rowan wanted to see Werden hanging from a rope… but at what cost? The Demon war was over, was it worth it to add a rebellion on top of it. No.
But the wound was still fresh, it lingered unchecked… and there was no salve to bind his wound.
Rowan struggled to come to grips with reality. With Karnas dead, the war is over.
But the war was not over. Not for Rowan, not yet… and It seemed as though it would never end. Not when his chest strained and fought for air, not when his mind replayed those memories over and again before he could put them in the box and lock them away in his mind. It had gotten easier at least. But still he could remember the dead crying out to him in his dreams, where he could not will them away so easily.
He had to leave, politely refraining from the attention of the others as he withdrew from the house of the most prominent villager, who hosted him on the first day of his arrival.
He stood outside, resting his palms against the wall of a nearby house as he placed the weight of his body forwards, his neck craned downwards looking down on the ground beneath him.
He tried to fit in with the other villagers, He did. But he just couldn’t. Not yet. Not when the wound was still so fresh. Not when he had changed so much, and they had not changed at all. He almost felt like an outsider, he felt so lost. He wanted to be back with his men.
The hero quickly stood upright again, turning slowly towards the village well, squinting his eyes as the evening rays of light tried to blind him. First he saw a sea of red, contrasted by a grey kirtle. As his eyes adjusted he saw her face… one he knew, white skin and emerald eyes.
Rowan slapped himself mentally. How could such an angelic voice not register through his mind, had it been so long? He thought if he had heard her but a year or two ago, he would have known who she was just by voice alone.
“Alexia.” He replied, happiness and shock both evidence in his facial expression. Then, noting the strain in Alexia’s hand from her bucket, he rushed over and helped her, grabbing the water-filled bucket from her hand. Alexia blushed from the contact as Rowan’s fingers brushed against her own for a moment, before the bucket was withdrawn from her grip.
“Thank you, Rowan. It is good to see you back again.” Alexia said, looking at the man she once admired from afar, off in the distant fields of a time long ago. But even from a glance, she saw that he had changed in the intervening period between his leaving… and his returning to Arthdale. It seemed as though he had thinned just a little from what he used to be.
“So good to see you back safe and sound.” Alexia added after a moment.
Rowan smiled at that comment. He could forget himself for a moment when he looked down into her eyes, which seemed to calm his own. “And it is good to see you again, Alexia.” Rowan returned. “Let me walk you back home at least…” Rowan suggested a moment later.
Alexia nodded her head and taking this as permission, Rowan moved forwards at a slow pace, Alexia following along from the side. “Rowan… can I ask you something?” Alexia said.
Rowan picked up the nervousness in her tone. “Of course Alexia, anything.”
Alexia stopped, causing Rowan to stop a moment later and face her. “Will you…” Alexia couldn’t say what she wanted. She began to shake like a leaf.
Seeming as though the meerest wind might blow her away, Rowan, seizing upon his own sense of fear and trepidation, took hold of Alexia’s shoulder with his free hand and gently reassured her with a press from his fingers. “Will I what?” He queried.
Alexia looked down at the ground, wishing that she could erase time. But the hand on her shoulder made her heart race, it beat so fast she thought that there were butterflies held within, fluttering about inside, wishing to be set free. “Do you want to dance… at the feast tomorrow?”
“I would dance with you, no matter when or where.” Rowan replied. “Just say when.”
“I’ve always liked you… Rowan.” Alexia admitted.
Rowan thought he would collapse from the strain placed on his chest. In this moment something different than hatred or anger stirred in its place.
“Somewhere deep down” Rowan said. “I’ve known.”
Alexia placed her own hand over Rowan’s arm. “Watching you go, and not knowing if you would ever come back. I wish I had told you then.”
Rowan dropped the bucket down without a care, freeing his arm so that he could hug Alexia once he had moved her arms away. “I wouldn’t have gone... But, I am here now.”
Tears fell from Alexia’s face. Rowan took a risk and wiped her tears away with thumb.
“I thought of you, Alexia.” Rowan stated with conviction. “When I was fighting in the field, fighting in Karst. When I was running the bridge of Bloodmeen with Deanora and the other heroes by my side, when we entered the hall and stood against Karnas and won, I thought of you.”
Having said this, Rowan let go of Alexia before returning the bucket back into his hand. Alexia quickly wiped away the tears from her cheek. “Really?” Alexia asked.
“Yes.” Rowan answered. “Come, let's get you home.”
Alexia tried her best to hold back more tears, but failed. “I can’t wait for tomorrow… Rowan.”
“I want you,” Rowan whispered. “Tomorrow, after the feast.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
For that day, and for many days afterwards, he had forgotten his wounds. He felt like he had a place again.
He yearned for love.
How those peaceful years went by.