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A Daughter's Place

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The memory is fever-dim now, his hand pushing the ring inwards, covering it over, but she can still see it, still marks the exact place of it, every time she wanders by the great fallen thorn.

And so, when the time came, it was easy to find the place, even in the dark, easy to replace the ring with what she carried in her hand, prepared for such a time. The grey cloak covered her, and by her side was only a knife, well-sharpened, and some food in a deerskin bag. She rose, and vanished Northwards, fading into the mist.

When she sees him amid the crumbling walls, she feels a sense that time has not passed at all, so much so that she forgets all the years in between and expects to see Dog, faithfully following behind Owain. And yet, at the same time, there is a sense that too much time has passed, that Owain's face, older now and weary with cares she knows nothing of - not yet - is a stranger's face.

They take hold of hands in the darkness, that night, tucked away in their small bower. Owain has made the shelter so that it can keep the rain out, and they are warm as they can be, fire crackling merrily in the dark, her body leaning into his like it remembers how.

Owain, ever careful and prudent, does nothing more than hold her hands and kiss her forehead, gentle and soft. But he sighs against her in the dark like she is the only treasure he ever wants to find, and she smiles to herself to hear it.

Here in the darkness, his face is more familiar, and he looks much younger, all the lines of care softening in the firelight. She lays her head on his shoulder, and they sleep curled up against each other as if they were eleven years younger, and not grown man and woman.

The next day, they set out. Regina brings the battered crock, not for any great need of it, but because Owain first touched her the day before over it, fingers brushing against her hand as he tried to carry it in her stead. Her little brown hen she carefully secures in her deerskin bag. She wears her warm cloak, and straps her knife by her side.

They walk south-west into the hills, and have little need of words. She watches him, carefully, tracing his face in her mind as if to draw it there forever, comparing it with the child's face she held in memory for so many years. Sometimes she catches him watching her, too, and it comes to her that he is doing the same thing.

The days pass quietly, and each night they curl up together. Regina feels that her heartbeats quicken whenever Owain touches her, but says nothing of it, and at night, Owain sighs softly against her hair as they sit together. Regina learns to wait for it, and shivers with an unknown delight when she hears it. It is not a sigh of grief or weariness, but something altogether warmer, and yet patient.

-----

When at last they reach the small hut among the fields, and Owain knocks on the door, she feels a sudden worry that she pushes back down. Those feelings which have always been between them have surged up like waves in the last days, and she almost fears to let any other see them. They must be plain to view on both their faces.

"Well, and so at last you return!" she hears as the door opens and an old woman stands there. Owain grins like a child, and then is calm again, but she has seen that delighted smile. Regina looks up, and the old woman meets her eyes. "And who do you bring with you, young one? Your wife?"

Owain turns to Regina, and the look on his face is blazing love, so much so that Regina cannot look at him for a moment, and blushes hot. "My wife," he says slowly, tasting the words as if he has never dared to so much as think them before. "Regina, this is Priscilla, and once, a very long time ago, she was kind to me."

They enter the house at Priscilla's beckoning, Regina first, and she is blinking in the dim light as she overhears Owain speaking again to Priscilla. "What of Priscus?" he says.

"Gone to Our Lord," she says, "less than a month ago."

Regina can hear Owain's breath in a gasp, and then he speaks, tone low and grieved. "I am sad to hear of it." Regina turns, and sees Owain gently drawing Priscilla against him like a son would embrace his mother. He kisses her cheek.

Even in the dim light, Regina can see Priscilla smile, her face turned away from Owain, but then she draws back, and says roughly with a voice half-choked, "I once offered you a son's place at the hearth, Owain. Have you come to take it, or will you go on from here again?"

Owain smiles. "If you have a place for a son and a daughter, we will not go on from here."

After those words, it all settles into place easily enough. Regina releases the little brown hen among Priscilla's chickens which scratch about the ground just outside, and Owain wanders off to look at the fences, and, she thinks, reacquaint himself with old memories of the place. They are both used to becoming reacquainted with old memories, learning places and people anew.

"You are not actually wed yet, are you?" Priscilla's voice is brusque, but kind, and Regina glances up, carefully.

"No," she says, watching the trees in the distance, swaying in the breeze. "There has been no chance. You are the first person we have seen or spoken to, since we met once again in the ruins of Viroconium."

"That sounds like a tale," Priscilla says, voice thoughtful. "But two days from now is the Sabbath Day, and we will go to services then. I have a gown that may fit you well, and I will lend you my blue glass beads, to be married in."

"Thank you," Regina says, not knowing what else to say, and then she breathes in, a great well of relief soaring up in her, and turns to Priscilla. "If I am to be a daughter here, I ask that you show me your ways in all things." She feels happy, and yet almost at the point of tears, and does not understand quite why this is. "I have no family that I remember. I served a woman who was kind to me, but she was not my mother. If Owain is to take a son's place at your hearth, then I will gladly take a daughter's place by your side."

Priscilla gives her a pleased glance. "So," she says. "So will it be, daughter." She beckons with her hand toward the kitchen. "Come now, there is supper to be made."

That evening, in the firelight, Priscilla tells Owain of her plan to have them married on Sunday. Owain looks up, and smiles, and casts a shy sweet glance over at Regina by Priscilla's side, already busy with sewing a new border around the edges of one of Priscilla's gowns.

That night, she and Priscilla share the bed in the small inner room, while Owain sleeps in the larger room by the fire. She misses him. So short a time were they sleeping side by side, as they wandered from Viroconium, and yet she had become accustomed to the feel of his body warm against hers, and the patient sweet sigh he breathed against her hair, all those nights.

"Once you are wed," Priscilla murmurs, "this room will be yours. It is right that a married couple should have their own space. I will have Owain build another room, for me."

They spend the next day in work and plans, Owain eagerly taking to the idea of building another room, and laying out the design of it before the sun sets. Regina finishes adding the new border of blue material to Priscilla's old grey gown, ready for the next day, and Priscilla brings out her melon-shaped blue glass beads, showing them off as though they were the greatest treasures.

Regina smiles to see them, and holds them up to her throat so that Priscilla can see how they look, just to see the look of happiness come into Priscilla's eyes.

-----

Years later, Regina would not be able to recall what was said in the marriage ceremony before the doors of the church, or indeed what was said afterward, in the service that followed. But she remembers the light of the day, how it spilled golden across Priscilla's iron-grey hair, across Owain's dark head and calm face, how it lit up the glass beads around her neck, shining blue as it might seem with some inner fire, how it caught the green of the emerald in Owain's ring as he placed it on her hand.

They held hands all through the service, and walked back to the house afterward, still holding hands, their eyes meeting now and again, Regina feeling that the look in his eyes was almost too much to bear. The feeling that he was a stranger had utterly faded, and the memory of him that she had held for so long was now overwhelmed with daily new ones. He was Owain, loved, lost, remembered, regained, and now he was her husband. A lifetime of new memories was waiting to be made.

And that night, as Priscilla left them in the small inner room, closing the door meaningfully, Owain turned to her in the candlelight, a look on his face as of patient longing about to be fulfilled.

"Oh, Regina!" he gasped, and took her in his arms. Regina felt her whole body surge to meet him, and lifted her face gladly to meet his kiss.