The Shieldmaiden and the Carver: Return

Rojer’s horse trotted into the stable of the inn in which he stayed previously, the rider wearily falling off and neatly landing on his feet. The stocky but lean man patted the horse and grabbed his large satchel, heading out into the night air with a tired gait. He headed into the inn with little else on his mind but sleep.

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Ceolwyn trudged to her regular spot, tired after yet another unplanned dinner with a suitor she couldn’t even pretend to think about finding interesting. Her mother just would not give up. Her younger brother finally had come of age, so she was hoping beyond all hope that he would begin to divert their mother’s meddling intentions. Maybe she could encourage it, somehow…

She tossed her sack in its usual spot, her eye catching a new horse sticking its head out the stable. I recognize that horse… Her shield hand immediately flew up to her neck, feeling the cord and amulet through her shirt. Ceolwyn dropped her shield and sword to the ground, walking up to the horse slowly. Sticking her hand out, she let the horse sniff and lick her hand to catch her scent. “It’s alright, you sweet thing. I won’t hurt you.” After gaining the horse’s tentative trust, she began to stroke its nose, petting him softly. “What brings you back here, hm? I thought he was gone forever.”

“Sorry to disappoint.”

Whipping around at the sound of that low, confident voice, Ceolwyn actually jumped a little. Not expecting him to be right behind her, she flushed bright pink at being caught talking to his horse. She locked eyes with him, standing straight as she looked across to them. Now that she wasn’t preoccupied with training, she realized they were the same height. Did that make her tall, or him short? His lips were already curved into a smile: a bit of confidence there, but still a genuine smile. His eyes, a deep green, shone with the same warmth. The bags under his eyes, though, told the story of a long journey. She knew that all too well. She tried to keep her cool mask on, but a small smile made its way out.

“Um, hello. Back from your long trip?”

His smile grew to a grin, making the bags under his eyes all the more apparent. “Yep, I finally got back from Gondor. Nice place and all, but wouldn’t want to live there. Too stoney and too watery.”

Never the master of pleasant conversation, Ceolwyn stood quietly, practically staring at him. His fiery red hair, his deep green eyes, his previously well-kempt facial hair (it hadn’t been touched in days), his rather foreign facial structure. She eventually realized she was staring without responding. She was grinning, too. “Oh, uh, you look tired.” She immediately winced in her head. What are you doing?

She was greeted by a laugh in response. He chuckled loudly, crossing his arms. “I suppose I would, wouldn’t I? I only got up this early because I wanted to see if you had disappeared on a scouting or whatever it is you’re training for. Say, I’m going to get a late breakfast. You want to come along, or should I bring it out here?”

Opening her mouth to protest, she turned her head to look at the shield and sword carelessly tossed upon the ground. Slowly closing her mouth, she pursed her lips. She should train, she really should. But now that they were actually speaking to each other, the only thing she wanted to do was continue speaking. That had never happened before. She had talked to interesting people before, but he was different somehow. Managing to steeling her face back into her neutral expression, she turned back to him and nodded.

His smile turned into a smirk, one corner tugging up more than the other. “You can tell me where to go then, Lady Ceolwyn.” He swept into an elaborate bow that surprised her so much that she didn’t even give him a look at the use of “lady.” Her surprise must have broken through the mask of indifference that she tried to hide behind, because when his head lifted, he laughed again and gave her a warm smile.

Pursing her lips specifically to not smile at his laughter, she nodded and went to safely stow her items near his horse. After that, she lead him to the quietest inn in town. The “quietest inn in town”, not so surprisingly, just happened to be the one furthest to her house. Interesting. They both sat down quietly, ordering water and whatever left over breakfast food they’d kept. Any questions the barmaid may have had were very quickly swallowed under Ceolwyn’s glower.

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Rojer gave the barmaid a friendly enough smile, furrowing his brow in a little confusion at the way Ceolwyn scowled at her when she gave them a curious glance. After the young thing trotted off, he leaned forward on his crossed forearms. “What was that for?”

She looked confused. “What was what for?”

He tilted his head thoughtfully, inspecting her features with no attempt at hiding what he was doing. Her proud cheekbones stood underneath dark bags, the dark bags framing those beautifully bright blue eyes. Her hair was wild, and he wondered if she had ever actually pulled it back once in her entire life. It tumbled down her back in long, golden waves. After a long moment, he dragged his gaze back to her eyes and kept his head in the curious tilt. “You scowled at her. Why?”

Ceolwyn was clearly trying to work out some sort of answer, her eyes widening slightly then looking down at the table. Her jaw worked a little and her hand involuntarily rose to her neck, splaying across her collarbone. He sat patiently, enjoying this side of her: he could see a normal woman, not just an angry lady with a sword. A lock of hair fell into her eyes, making her blink. She shoved it back, her eyes focusing again on him. “She talks.”

He couldn’t help it as a smile spread across his face; the first thing that came to his mind just sprang from his lips. “Of course she does, everyone talks.”

He almost immediately regretted it as her cheeks flushed a little and a spark came to her eyes. She put both elbows on the table and leaned forward. “You know what I meant.” She didn’t look even remotely amused as her hands found her hair and her fingers ran through it. Her head ended up between both palms as she looked away from him, sighing. “What am I doing here? I should be training.” She made another movement – graceful as the last – as her head tilted back, giving him an ever-tantalizing view of her throat. The view, unfortunately for Rojer, was fleeting as her head then hung down.

He sensed he had to do or say something quick, or lose this opportunity forever. Panic set in, and his confident nature began to melt away as he imagined that. Say something, you complete moron. His jaw worked, then he coughed to clear his throat. “So, um, what are you training for?” He held his breath as he watched her think quietly to herself. It was his last gamble. Would it work? Oh, he hoped so.