(Continued from A Wolf Arrives at the Cottage)
Corryn mounted up after the last goodbyes and began heading off to the south. He hoped to encounter the beautiful tracker with the wolf, but he didn't tarry long. As they rode, he engaged his new man-at-arms, trying to discover the man's name.
His name was Barton, he readily revealed.
As they rode away from the cottage, he couldn't see the Huntress.
Riding hard all day brought them to within fifteen miles of Leaning Stone when darkness fell. It would be perilous to continue across such rough country, it seemed - and could take three hours or more riding cautiously in the darkness.
Corryn motioned for Barton to slow his pace. They rode on only so far as to find a place they could settle down for the night. He'd already lost one man to the woods, he was not about to risk pushing onward. His exhaustion hung heavily upon him by now and that would put them at further risk. They discovered a small brook with a patch of comfortable moss and some grass nearby. While Barton tended to the fire, Corryn made sure the horses were washed down and fed. Once more he was struck by a sense of reminiscence. He'd been away from this too long. The comforts of White Harbour had settled in his bones, clouded his eyes. Now that he felt the pain and headiness of exhaustion again, it left him wanting this life back.
He walked over and sat across from his new associate. "I think we have half a day's ride left," he said. "I'd stop at Leaning Stone, but it would simply slow us down. How are you holding up?"
Barton gave a nod. Away from Marshend, he was grim-faced and almost silent, as though he was coming to terms with the enormity of what he had done in betraying his house.
"You want some meat?" he said. "I can hunt. Maybe get a late coney."
"If you wish, Barton," Corryn said. "But stay close. There's no telling who might be hunting tonight. Better we have a rabbit on our spit, rather than the two of us end up on someone else's. I'll have some tea ready for you upon your return."
He waited until the man rose from his seat, "And Barton. You did the right thing. I thank you for that. And you'll be well done by for it."
And then he returned to the matter of tending the fire; allowing his companion to explore his own soul as he saw fit.
It was some half hour later than his companion returned. he took a seat by the fire with a grunt. A young coney was limp in his hands and he set about skinning it with all the skill and efficiency that one would expect of a man who had spent his life under the banner of the Flayed Man. Some skills are never lost.
Corryn took the meat when the other man had finished with his task. He spitted the coney and rubbed down it with some saved bacon grease and herbs. Over he fire it went, slowly roasting and filling the air with a mouthwatering aroma. He began the slow process of making sure it didn't burn.
He raised his head and smiled faintly. "How is she? My daughter. Has she been treated well at least? She would not react well to rough treatment. Is she still fighting, at least?" He prayed she was. If she had fallen back into the numb silence he'd found her in, there might be no bringing her back this time.
"He treats her as the lady she is, and his hostage," replied the other, stealing a glance at Corryn. "She fought at first, and then she wept. Now she rides quiet enough - but none of the men come close. They show her the proper respect, Ser."
Corryn threw his head back with a sigh, his hands curling into fists. He gave a short nod, "At least her spirit remains. And she has not been..." He could not form the word and dismissed it quickly.
His hazel eyes glimmered in the firelight, wetness clouding them. "I should have paid her closer attention," he admitted. "There was too much happening that night. But, I should have kept her with me at every moment. This is my fault."
The other was tactfully silent.
Corryn and Barton enjoyed the silence for a time, allowing the night to draw them to its shadowy embrace. Once the rabbit had been finished off, they lightened the mood by exchanging witty tales and songs of past battles. Barton, being older than Corryn, had plenty of colorful stories to tell about the cold Eastern Shores and the colder Umber women. The Riverwolf drew him out, letting the man grow more at ease with his new life and coming future.
In the end, Corryn took first watch, letting Barton settle down for the night. In truth, as exhausted as he might be, the thoughts of slumber felt foreign and unobtainable. And the thoughts that did come to him as the night drew on confounded him further. He knew he should have been thinking of Limosa; although she did, indeed, occasionally stray into his mind as he stared into the fire.
But it was Syndra that dominated his thoughts. He lightly rubbed his arm, feeling the dull pain beneath the bindings.
So much had changed between them. And he wasn't entirely sure what that transformation entailed. All he knew was that the girl he'd once loved had gone. She'd become a woman, right before his very eyes. This, above all else, troubled him deeply. Each time he tried to recall the stubborn little girl he loved so dearly, the only image that came to him was the Hall in Holdfast. Of how much he'd wanted to kiss her at that moment. To hold her, not as a father might, but as something… more.
He tossed a stick into the dying embers. "Old fool," he cursed himself quietly. He walked away from the fire and let the darkness smother him, patiently waiting for Barton to relieve him of his watch… and his foolish thoughts.
The following morning, the pair broke camp and made their way toward the main road. Corryn remained quiet as they rode, focusing on the journey and the dread of what he might find at Winterfell. Having always been skilled at the art of self-deception, his troubled thoughts from the previous evening had long since been buried. So too had he buried that night's dream; the whispered affections and spectral touches hidden beneath a cloak of denial. By the time they'd reached the High Road, he'd almost forgotten the name he'd whispered in that dream. Almost forgotten how he'd called her 'wife.'
But love was rarely that kind.
(Thread continues in Corryn - The Sad Ballad of the Wandering Wolf)