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Niko left the room, his heart heavy with the tasks he had been given. He had returned to Clearwater to find... well, it really didn't matter anymore. He had become more entangled than he'd ever wanted or intended, and that had resulted in ... this. He paid no attention to people as he passed, lost in thought, becoming more troubled with every step he took. By the time he'd reached the Septa's room, he had come to one conclusion though, and with that a grim line of determination was set upon his face. Arriving at the door, he was surprised to see Tyek and Eron on duty, and another point was solved within his mind- hopefully. But for now, he had an unwelcome task to perform. "Hail and well met, to both of you," he said approaching the door. "I don't even want to know how you drew this unpleasant duty," Niko said amiably enough, his spirits lifting to see the two men. "I have a ... Proposition for the two of you. But later. For now, Lord Draupaud has bid me carry some news to the Septa," he said, even as he drew closer to the door and knocked.

"Come in!" called the Septa.

When Niko entered, she was rising a little stiffly from her knees. Clearly, she had been praying. Her face was pale and composed, but there were lines of tension around her mouth.

"Well," she said. "What doom has my Lord decided on for me?"

"I am sure none as bad as what you have already heaped upon yourself, with the knowledge you possessed," Niko said quietly. He sighed. "Your 'sacrifice' has had part of the effect that you wished," he continued, measuring his tones, giving her time to process what he was really saying. "In preparation for his new family, Lord Draupaud has seen fit to remove Ranulf from Clearwater, to a small village hence, until such a time as he is ready for the Wall," Niko said, somewhat formally. "In light of the threat to his succession that the boy could pose left here, he has put him in my charge until then."

"With the, umm, revelations, that led to this decision, he has decided to leave your punishment to you. Become a Silent Sister, or continue to watch over your charge, going into exile with him until your duty is discharged, then being free to go wherever you would." He paused, wondering if he had played this the correct way. "In this way you can continue your penance to the seed of her whom you confessed to ending the life of."

"The decision, however, is yours," he concluded, standing at attention, his face showing nothing of the turmoil he felt inside.

The Septa's face twisted with terrible grief.

"I hoped to spare the boy," she said. "I hoped ... his father would never know. But ... "

She was silent for a moment. then looked up at Niko with tears in her eyes. "The Wall? He is too delicate ... it will kill him."

But Niko was unrelenting. "Spare him? His father knew from the beginning. So to make your sacrifice make a difference, we have to get him ready for the wall. He's more capable than his father ever gave him credit for; I know that he can do this. But this one cannot do it alone. He needs you, and not to coddle him. If he is to survive, he needs both of us to be strong for him- to make him ready."

Finally his tone softened, if only a bit. "I know that this is not what you would have for him. Only the ashes of the life laid before him. But ashes is all that is left. Better that than the cold ground."

"Yes," said the Septa. "Like my poor Lady ... " At last she began to weep, great tearing sobs that bent her over, her hands pressed to her face.

"And Aerin?" she demanded through her tears. "If you and I both go away, what will become of her?"

"I ... do not know," Niko said, though he had thought of it. Though he did train her, they were of similar ages, and realistically, he had known the instant Lord Draupaud had pronounced this, his relationship with her was over. Ranulf would be his charge, and Aerin would remain behind. But this was the first time he had brought the idea to conscious thought. He had grown fond of the girl, but as he had said to the Septa, things are what they are.

"She still has her father," he said at last, not without some measure of sadness in his voice. "And I suppose, just like us, that is all that is left."

"But her father ... " began the Septa, and then she broke off. "No matter. As you say, we must endure what is willed. How soon will we leave?"

"We are still, for the moment, at the service of his Lordship. But I indicated as soon as possible, once I talked to you," he said, shrugging. "For after all, there is nothing else left here for us," he finished, a note of finality in his voice.

The Septa nodded sadly. "When I came here with my Lady, I had suich hopes," she said. "That one day ... she would forget ... But the King ... he meant all for the best, I daresay."

"Ah yes," Niko said, a cynicism beyond his years in his voice. "The works of great men. The good of the whole at the expense of the few." There was pain there, and much more than impersonal. A pain that showed that for all of his supposed maturity, he was still very much only a lad. "Sometimes I think..." He closed his eyes, and sighed.

After he opened them a moment later, they were clearer, his former resolve present again, the burden of manhood once again assumed like a mantle on his shoulders. "Right then. Just so." He bowed to her. "I will tell his Lordship of your choice, and arrange our departure then." He straightened, then bowed again. "Thank you," he said, sincerely.

Then he turned and was gone.

Niko left the Septa's room with a bad taste in his mouth; one that stopping at the water trough as he retrieved his horse didn't help. He'd learned that Lord Draupaud was in the fields, toward where he'd first come to the manse. It was not that hard to find him after that, and so it was that he came upon the Lord in the fields, almost where he'd first saved the Lady that day.

Reckless, or perhaps merely tired of pretense, Niko said without preamble as he drew up to Lord Draupaud, "This one has wondered many times hence would it have been better to have let her choose the manner of her passing."

"Perhaps," said Lord Draupaud. "Now that we are here and can look back ... " He turned and looked fully at Niko. "But I always hoped, you see, that one day I might be able to undo the damage I did to her. Or at least, move us together beyond that."

Niko didn't know what to say to that, so a long silence stretched between them before he finally changed the subject. "The Septa has chosen to accompany us into exile. She understands Ranulf's fate, and what we have to prepare him for." He paused, sighing. "That is it then- whenever things are prepared, we are ready to leave."

"Good," said Lord Draupaud. "Tonight I shall stand vigil for my wife, before she is laid to rest in the vault tomorrow, before you set out. Will you stand beside me, Niko?"

Niko could not hide the fact that he was taken a little aback by the request, and also to his surprise, pleased by the request. Regaining his wits, he answered, "I am at your service, My Lord."

Page last modified on June 12, 2006, at 05:15 PM