They left Lothering with the rising sun. Neither the young lord nor the elf had said much to each other, the talk between them was strictly formal, about the route to take back home. Aidan honestly wasn’t certain how to approach the elf, what to say. Should he apologize? Say that he didn’t mean to dash off, tell him that he just sort of got caught up in this adventure?
Should he tell Thatcher that he was wrong- about so much? Tell Thatcher what he had seen, what he had learned? Would Thatcher even believe him? Or maybe ask Thatcher how, by the Maker, he had managed to get to Lothering in the first place?
Ask Thatcher about home? Figure out how bad the winter had hit Frimere, learn how the town was taking his disappearance? Maybe try to see if going home was even a smart move? In the end, Aidan didn’t even realize how much time had passed until Thatcher was sitting on the other end of a campfire and they were a day’s travel from Lothering.
And, finally, it was the elf who spoke first.
The young lord seemed rather shocked by hearing his own name. It made him jump. Thatcher cracked a smile.
Thatcher shook his head, “I don’t know what to say. It’s been weeks since you’ve been home. I have so much I must know, if you wouldn’t mind, I don’t want to… shock… you—“
Aidan held up his hand, interrupting Thatcher. The human saw how carefully Thatcher was picking his words, trying to glean information about what had happened without actually prying into Aidan’s affairs. It embarrassed Aidan to think he had once been that cagey around elves.
“I was a fool about a lot of things, Thatcher. That distrust of you, and other elves, was one of them,” Aidan said, the always returning easy grin on his face.
The word distrust hung in the air, an unanswered question. Truth be told, Aidan still didn’t feel at home among elves, and he had come to the conclusion he never might, but he had been an idiot before. He could at least accept that much. The elves were not the great enemy of mankind he had made them out to be. They were just… well, just trying to make the best out of a bad situation. And he could accept that.
The elf just shook his head, asking, “Who are you? Surely you aren’t the same kid that left Frimere only a few short weeks ago.”
Aidan replied, “I can’t say I am. I don’t know if I’ve become better, but I do know one thing. I’ve changed for good.” The human paused, looked into the fire, and decided he knew where to start after all.
“I’d have never made it if it wasn’t for you.” The elf turned his head to the side, curiosity practically written all over his face.
“You see, that first day, the day I left, was when the blizzards started. I’m sure they were rough back home, but out in the wild- it was a wall of white that chilled and soaked you to the bone. I had… gotten sidetracked, I walked off the path. Then the snows hit, I had to find shelter, and it was those old tidbits of survival information you used to mention on the side, and the rations you packed me that kept me alive that first day. But I knew that I had to find help soon- I can’t hunt or prepare a carcass. So, I waited for a break in the snow and left the cave I had been using for shelter and ran into, of all things, a dwarf!”
Thatcher leaned in closer. The elven retainer wasn’t that old, but knew the start to a good tale when he heard one. And, from the starts of it, Aidan had been busy while he was looking for him. The young lord saw his elven companion get interested in the tale and warmed up to the story telling. Kentrell obediently barked and introduced himself when it came to his part, and Thatcher kept plaguing Aidan for details, how things looked, how people sounded, what things smelled like for the Maker. But the tale was a long one, and it brightened up their nights by the fire, and made the days of walking seem far less tedious.
Thatcher had outright stopped Aidan when he had gotten to the camp with the mirror-copy of the wizard Benoit. Aidan had been describing the battle. The elf had started laughing while they were walking.
The elf managed to say over his laughter, “You can’t be serious, Aidan! That… Lothaire, was the name?” Aidan nodded.
“No man could cause that much carnage. I don’t care if he was on horseback or not!” The young lord just chuckled in return.
“You weren’t there Thatcher. I know what I saw, right Kent?” The Mabari woofed soundly in reply, before darting away from the pair again, off to investigate some great doggy mystery.
“See, he agrees with me.” Aidan said, with a finality that made Thatcher chuckle.
“He’s you’re dog, true enough, Aidan, but he’s not actually saying anything. He’s just excited you mentioned him.” Aidan shook his head.
“Maybe you think so, but Kent has his own way of talking. You just need to pay close attention and remember that he’s a literalist. That rascal is a master of loopholes.”
Thatcher shot Aidan a rather incredulous glance, and let the human continue on with his tale.
It was a night around the campfire when Thatcher slipped in an objection in edgewise.
“A Griffon, Aidan? Come now.”
The human threw up his hands. “Let me finish, Thatcher. If you want the end ruined for you we can cut right to tha—“ Thatcher interrupted Aidan.
“No! Even you must see that it’s a little hard believing that you saw a creature that everyone believes has been dead for years!” Thatcher immediately seemed to regret his outburst.
“I apologize if I offended you, ser.” A moment before Thatcher had been all ears, engrossed in Aidan’s tale, but now he seemed to remember something he’d rather forget, his face screwed up like he ate something that tasted terrible. He took a deep breath and continued on with his apology.
“I was so engrossed in your tale, ser, that I forgot how your customs are usually toward me and my people, and your dislike for sudden movement—“ Thatcher looked legitimately shocked when Aidan burst out laughing.
“Thatcher, have you been paying attention? I told you about the Dalish elf Gheris, right?” The retainer nodded. Aidan reached over and scratched Kent’s head.
“My friend, there is nothing you can do that would put me more ill at ease than what she was like. It was like trying to go to sleep next to an angry poisonous snake. I thought for the longest time she would try to kill me- It kept me up at night, pretending to be asleep, always leaving my sword within arm’s length for when she finally made her move. There is no love lost between her and humanity.”
Thatcher stiffened when Aidan had called him a friend. He gave a sarcastic smile.
“I’m sorry, I must be hearing things. Did you just call me, a friend? There was a time when the only way you would talk to me was through a closed door. And now… after only a few weeks away from home, I’m a friend?”
Aidan shrugged, “We’re getting to that part, Thatcher. Now after we saw the Griffon…”