The silence was the last thing on there mind while walking through the dense forest. Duncan, the commander of the Grey Wardens eyed the path ahead of them. So far, he could sense anyone around here just yet. Howe’s men might have gone another way or gave in. Knowing the arrogant bastard. “Hmm…” He cast a stray look over his shoulder to notice the lady still keeping up with him. She is strong and determined. He thought to himself with a small smile. Turning back to the front once more, he tried not to show her pity… But the way she looked appeared to make anyone pity her personally.
The forest-covered there tracks easily, it was just the near the end of spring, fitting for a war zone that he pictured in front of them all. Today had to be May, 31st. Signaling the time for summer to come in very soon, that didn’t stop the cold frost building through the night. Causing there cheeks to warm like the Cousland who looked flushed – Duncan prayed it wasn’t something much worse than that at least.
The walk was a blur to her. personally, the grass felt like ice she used so often in training back home, Home... Home is gone now, what home? Shizuka thought to herself in bitterness while staring at the path ahead with her breath, making the air frost in front of her. She felt hot. Too hot, but refused to allow that to slow them down even once.
Fragments of the night haunted her till right now, she could hear the screaming and screeching of those put on fire while her mother pulled her through the castle. She wanted to help, she did. However, part of her was wise enough to know when to give in to her mother and accept it. The Cousland treasury was more important and they had to go to father, everything was a mess and the family knew this wasn’t the end of there long life.
“...How are you holding up, My lady?”
The sound of his rough voice rose the heiress out of her musing for the moment. Tired eyes blinked slowly, while her slow mind processed the question. Blue eyes revealed a slight dullness to the vibrant blue he saw during his visit. “Hm..?” Her head titled slightly, her brows knitting together for a second. Her body screamed at her to stop, every bone was aching from the rough fight and then the run, not to mention the constant walking and cold.
Strong or not, there was so much she could do. Shizuka smiled tiredly, “Forgive me... Duncan, I believe I might be getting tired.” She admitted honestly since the commander was a close pal to her father she saw no reason to hide anything from him.
Duncan's hardened gaze smoothed over his entire face, the smile fading to a thin line of worry and concern. “I see... A little further, we might as well find a lake close by.” He nodded his head, turning his gaze forward to hear the sound of water. She can’t even heart that, strong girl. That pride and stubborn nature might get her killed on the day.
A quiet sigh escaped the female behind him, but her step picked up to catch up to him at least. Her hand coming up to rub her eyes, usually she was strict around looking too weak around people. Everyone had there limited and Duncan was the only person here. This was fine, everything was fine.
The silence of the forest came back to the two companions, but the curiosity in those blue eyes was almost too childish to ignore. “What is it?” He asked after a moment, his smile coming back for a moment. “If you have a question ask it. You will be busy later.” Duncan shook his head at her while a slight chuckle escaped him.
Shizuka dared to flush at her obvious or childish curiosity, it was the one thing she didn’t dare hold back around her. Her chapped lips pressed together, while her head lowered to stare at her feet.
“I wondered, did my father ever speak to you?”
“Speak to me?”
His dark eyebrow rose at the question, maybe it was too soon for her to know right now. He could write a letter in case something happened. But to tell her now?
“My father is no fool, to think he wouldn’t know if that attack or had some hints of it...” She sucked in a deep breath, her long eyelashes falling as she closed them tightly. Her heart clenched at the thought of talking about this and she knew it was her own fault. “I-I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t have asked but-”
A hand touched her shoulder gently as if her words didn’t have to be finished her mouth shut firmly, and nodded her head in acceptance. His hand fell back to his side, but she knew he was capable of seeing through her little act – If you could even call it that. Shizuka didn’t have much of a façade going on with her strength down so low.
With a bit of pet talk to herself, her head rose once more to look forward and breathed in the frosty air, thankful it was going to end soon. The cold breeze did nothing for her flushed face, which didn’t seem to go away once she calmed. It only darkened, getting sick at this point wasn’t something she could deal with and held back from the man beside her. The cold air brushed against her cheek and for a moment, Shizuka could feel the heat soothe over the icy breeze. Her eyes fluttered closed and opened slightly, her lips pressed together hard.
It was true, though. Bryce Cousland was no fool. When Arl Howe came around everyone could see the resentment he felt toward them for the power he never gained. Shizuka, not being born then failed to understand what happened. Surely, the king had some reason to deny him? She wondered if the king failed to like Howe himself. That would be slightly amusing, her lips twitched upwards for a moment to imagine such a thing was hard. But, he was over so often that he became a sort of uncle to her as a child.
Desperately she tried to push those images and thoughts to the back of her mind. The slight bark just beside her causing her to flinch out of her thoughts. Blue eyes darted to the side in a slight panic to see her wolf.
The great wolf looked up at here with match crystal hues before tilting its head with another quiet bark. Eleanor used to say that an animal could choose to be with someone for life or till death. Even something wild, in this case, her little pet was as wild as they get being a great white wolf. The animal was fully built as big as a wolf would get in his grown-up age, truthfully this one beside her was quite young and rash. The fur on him was wild and untamed but groomed so it was the best it could be. The moonlight made his coat shimmer, previously shaking off the water he had found.
Shizuka slowly came to a stop at that moment. “Oh...!” She gasped slightly, catching the startled look of Duncan. However, she paid him little mind. Instead of allowing her dull eyes to widen with some brightness of water. “Did you find some water boy?”
“He is a little wet.”
The wolf is known as Blanca almost looked like he was grinning from the black lining of his jaw, the teeth showing with some vigor. His front bent forward while wagging his tail behind him. Releasing a loud bark he jumped forward to the east of where they were heading before looking back at them. Duncan spared a glance of amusement at Shizuka who laughed quietly, “He rarely acts like a wild animal. Duncan, he was trained to be my companion when he was tiny.” She answered his silent question.
Duncan’s black eyebrows rose slightly, almost shocked that an animal like this would be so loyal. “ Rather strange, but I guess he’s a step up from a normal dog.” He commented. Taking a step to follow the dog with a small chuckle.
“He is, and very protective,” Shizuka smirked slightly, her face hiding something amusing behind it while her eyes gleamed something evil. Maybe not evil, but it was pretty away from her serious attitude. She followed him while her loyal wolf leads them through the bushes to the east.
An hour later the two joined in quiet chatter between them. Duncan had been with her family for a long time and even then they knew the royal family together. The king right now was her brother's best friend, unfortunately, that meant a lot of childish pranks around them. The sound of the gentle river was hidden between a set of bushes for privacy, thank the maker.
“I will set up camp, you should get cleaned up and ready yourself for some rest.” He ordered gently, taking a step back to the main side of camp where he decided to mark the camp.
“Should I do anything for setting camp?”
Duncan spared her a look and settled his dark brown eyes on her tired form. “No, my lady has been through enough.” He said firmly, “I will be an hour away if you need me. We need some things for sleeping tonight.”
Shizuka frowned. She did not enjoy being seen as weak in front of people she knew but nodded anyway since her body was dragging itself for a long time now. “Very well...” She uttered before turning on her heel to head into the bushes to clean up. “Blanca, go with him.” She ordered the wolf who peeked from the bushes, barking in response before rushing toward the rogue commander.
With some time alone her blue eyes shifted to the full moon this time around. It was slightly less tense with them gone, and Shizuka was almost thankful for there leave. The snow haired maiden kneeled down on the floor first. Setting down the sword and shield for a clean up later on. Then, she reached her arms up and tied her hair into a messy bun. That would be the last to wash and the hardest with blood and much in her lovely locks.
The news of the Cousland household wouldn’t go around until it was too late, and while she knew this her eyes dropped to her lap, slow and precise actions only removing the metal corset she had on her chest for armor. Not the best thing to wear, but it was more for looking at than fighting – Shizuka was proud it was still in the piece yet. Her shoulders rolled and removed the sleeves from her arms with the metal gloves protecting them before standing back up.
There were not many who even hated the proud family, but with Rendon Howe, she didn’t think many had to anyway. The fool. Her perfect heart-shaped face titled up slightly, the moonlight hitting her pale features instantly. Almost instantly did her face and expression became Stony with fiery anger in her blue eyes, almost resembling blue fire. Did he think this would give him power? The king will have his head for sure. But... What if someone else is in this? Her eyes narrowed dangerously, the idea unsettled her the most.
Shizuka mumbled to herself with a slight ping entering her head of an ongoing headache. Her eyes closing tightly with annoyance, this wasn’t the perfect time to think.
Deep breathes pup, The voice of her father whispered hauntingly into her ear. His training coming back to her all at once. Never allow your mind to be cluttered before you act. Calm yourself, and then think. The voice faded into a mere whisper, but it left the heiress to suck in a deep breathe, even as her chest clenched painfully and her eyes pricked with tears she could feel the tension ease off.
Sorry, father... I wasn’t strong enough then, but I will be when I see him again. She promised herself with a small smile, her hand clenched slightly before touching the locket around her neck once more. You can count on it.
Shizuka shook her head and pushed depressing thoughts to the back of her head. This wasn’t the time, she was right about that. Once she stood without falling her fingers tugged off her metal boots and blue stockings before she removed her blue cape on her back and the dress slid down her thighs to reveal some white underwear. It wasn’t the best, but she took them off carefully and waddled to the edge of the water.
Her toes touched the freezing water, and then she backed off and found her dress and underwear to fix up a fire in the middle of the camp. Coldwater and no fire don’t mix at all.
Satisfied. She smiled to herself and wandered back to the river quickly, before removing annoying clothing to the side. She hoped he came back soon with something to change into. Though her dress was fine she guessed, but there was too much knowledge of her to wear them again and further into the land of all things.
Meanwhile, just as the Cousland girl went back into the cold water. The commander of the grey and Blanca made some quick time with both being more fit to wander than the tired girl. Duncan ran with the white wolf for a quicker trip into the village.
“Maker! A wolf, a great wolf!” One of the farmers tending to his field dropped his bag of plants, staring at them with horror on his face.
Blanca looked almost amused. Barking with his teeth flashing, the farmer fell on his backside from the threat. Duncan allowed warmth to come into his eyes for a moment while he watched the playful animal sniffing at the farmer. Then sitting down, the stunned man blinked and soon realized he wasn’t going to attack.
Shaking his head, he left the wolf to his own amusements and quickly left for the few shopkeepers for some new clothes and a cloak. Paying with a gold coin, then he turned to the market to buy some food and anything that would make it edible for the young lady. He was sure she might have camped out before this, but he couldn’t allow her to sleep without some medicine and food. He paused in his musings when someone whispered near him.
“Did you see the fire nearby?” One of the ladies spoke up first, picking up an apple by him.
The lady beside her blinked and glanced at the sky thoughtfully. “Oh, yes. There was a fire...” She nodded her head, brows furrowed. “....The Cousland castle is in that direction.”
The first woman gasped, her eyes instantly tearing up. “Maker, I hope they're all okay, my sister lived in the castle.” The two ladies then gossiped about other topics while the rogue slipped by quietly, turning his gaze to the sky once more. I wish it wasn’t so...
Back at the lake, the lone female was just starting to scrub into her skin to get out what she could before going to the actual camp in the king's army. This would be the best she could do to make herself feel clean for a time – Maker she hated the dirt. Shizuka’s face scrunched up slightly, her nose wrinkling slightly, and yet that pretty face stayed rather pretty with the ugly expression. The sound of howling rose her interest just slightly, and her gaze flickered to the bushes before her wolf bounced out and into the lake with a large splash.
Her laugh echoed throughout the camp, as bare as it was she grinned at her loveable companion with the first genuine smile. Pink lips stretched just slightly more than usual, her face glowing with shock and mirth in those bright blue eyes. “I will leave these by the bushes, my lady, I suggest not staying in long with your condition.” The rough voice chuckled at them. Her face flushed with a pink hue covering her pale cheeks.
“Of course, Duncan. If you leave the food I will cook for us.”
Duncan shrugged slightly, it would seem like she was firmly demanding some kind of job to do this night. “Very well... You might want to wash your companion. The dogs might... Stick to him in the king's camp.” He warned briefly before leaving her in peace.
Shizuka began to blink at his last words, then she turned her crystal eyes to the wolf. He was right. Personally, she didn’t want anything happening until this war was over. Blanca was a wolf after all he wouldn’t care about waiting, war or not.
“...Alright boy, wait there.” She ordered, Blanca laid his head down into the surface of the water. Ears flattened against his head somewhat, but a subtle whine came from him. “It has to be done, don’t be like that and come to the edge.” Her tone was firm when she wiggled out of the river in all her glory, her hands pulled out the clothes bought for her.
The spare cloth was used to dry her skin the best she could. The same with her hair, it was still damp for the moment but she considered that acceptable for the time. After all, she was going to be in front of the fire later on. Once dry she grabbed the dress shirt and pulled her arms through the sleeves before using her fingers to button everything, Then she fixed the puffy sleeves, and pulled on a vest to cover her chest more before sliding on some underwear and her black skirt with a side cut of frills down her left leg. Not the best thing to wear, but it was more common among folk around her so this will do.
Blanca dog paddled over to the edge of the river and whined again.
She didn’t understand her companion. He actually enjoyed her grooming when it came to it. The idea of him being dirty annoyed her the most, though. Her hand grabbed the spare cloth and began the long job for scrubbing down his fur with water and the soup the commander brought to her. Then, she backed off.
As if knowing it, the wolf jumped into the water again and back out to shake off the water from his fur again. Shizuka smiled warmly, her arms covering her face. “Oh, Blanca!” She scolded him lovingly, the laughter reaching the camp where Duncan sat down poking at the fire.
And so, the two came back into camp with the wolf looking proper for the noble house though a little peeved from the way the ears are plastered to his head. Shizuka snickered, her grin still on her face. You don’t see this very often, but when she was comfortable her smiles or grins came on more often and she began to let the imperfection of herself show. As an heir, she had to be perfect and that included being strong, wary, and strict. Such a pity considering her face lit up when her smile reached her eyes. Duncan watched her with mirth in his dark brown eyes, the scene causing him to smile at them warmly. “All clean?”
A whine came from the animal. “Oh yes,” The owner replied for him instead both going to the other side where a tent stood up. Blanca huffed and fell down to the outside of the tent. Head on the front of his paws.
“Cook the food and get some sleep.” Said Duncan, his brown hues eyeing her carefully in case something happened to her.
Shizuka did as he asked and began the job of settling the metal bowl over the fire before cutting the rabbit meat down into small sizes, once they were the right size to cook – Bigger was always hard to cook fast so the slower they are the better. Mixing the flour, thyme and a good pinch of salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper in a spare bowl. She at least Melted the butter with a wooden spoon, at least once. Then added some of the oil in the bowl. Stirring it with the spoon until it was melted into the meat.
Once that was finished her attention went to the leftover rabbit. Just before putting some in her fingers began smudging the rabbit into the bowl of flour and other herbs before moving it into the bowl again. This was rabbit stew, she saw no reason to wait for it. Her eyes would shift from the bowl to check it was turning a good golden brown color. Once all the rabbit is browned, she adds a little more oil to the pan and cooks the bacon until the fat is browned and beginning to crisp, stirring regularly. After that she began to fry the onion for about five minutes until lightly browned and beginning to soften, stirring once more.
Duncan watched her, deciding to sit on his sleeping mat near his tent. While Shizuka Poured roughly half of the cider into the bowl over the fire and stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon to lift any sediment from the bottom. Simmering for a few seconds. Finally, adding some carrots, She turned all the rabbit portions, ensuring that as much of the meat is covered by liquid as possible.
“I have to say, that smells really nice.” He addicted, not sure if he should be surprised that cooking was something she did well... Eleanor was much the same.
“I should feel insulted that you think I would feed you bad food.”
“Of course not.” He chuckled, her sarcastic tone loud and clear.
The two companions soon began to eat there fill with food and with her things, Shizuka was wishing him goodnight before going into her tent. The fabric hiding the heiress behind him it while Duncan watched over them for one night. The rest would be done safely, and hopefully, she would feel better before moving once more.
No one ever thought their arrival would be such a big thing, though.