Chapter 38 – Guilt, Shame and Fear

Winter walked along the forest path, an animal track that was once a roadway, now disused and forgotten to time. After finishing her investigation of the campsite she had followed the tracks of the children and their guard. Though, she was concerned that she could only find evidence of three souls, not four. The thought that another had slipped through the gate or portal kept occasionally creeping into her mind. She sighed, biting at her lip absently. She had tracked their movements along the river, until she reached the intersection of the wreckage the dragon had left behind. At that point she had become satisfied that they had decided to follow the river downstream. The most logical of choices when searching for civilisation in an unfamiliar land. If that were the case, catching up to the children would be an easy task. It also prompted her to shift her attention to their main concern without guilt, the search for Silvast.

 

While the vague words of the Goddess, Silvan Darneltar had mentioned ‘nearby the river’, Winter could not imagine Silvast randomly stumbling through the underbrush like some mindless beast, even in her worst state. Instead, Winter had walked directly from the water’s edge and into the forest until she encountered the disused trail less than a couple hundred yards in. She turned left, away from the ruined forest and followed it. The trail followed the river and its curves, and just before midday she had found the first sign of Silvast’s passage. A long, bright silver hair hooked by a bush. Strangely it caught Winter’s eye as it reflected the sunlight like a cobweb. From there on, heavy footsteps, dragged steps, the occasional depression of a knee and hand as she stumbled and fell.

 

Following Silvast’s trail, she caught herself touching her lips occasionally, she could still feel the press of his lips on hers from when they had kissed, or at the very least she was imagining it to be so. One thought kept plaguing her, her own words, her definition of herself, if she were a tool, why did she feel this way? The Goddess Lumos was her mistress, of that she was sure. But Silias’s question from the night before and Antrandis’s echo of the very same query concerned her. Could others see what she couldn’t? Or was she unaware of a simple truth before her. She blinked as she heard faint words, whispers and then laughter from within. Regardless, he had promised to help her. That in itself gave her hope.

 

She almost jumped, caught off guard as she looked up while coming out of her inner musings. Snowshadow stood on the trail ahead, the white in her fur gleaming in the dappled sunlight, her emerald eyes flashing with the play of light, a breeze rustled its way through the forest, making the errant shafts of sunlight dance. The sight itself was of another time and place. Misgivings entered her mind, suddenly conscious of her fingertips at her lips again, the heat in her cheeks. It was like those emerald eyes could see her thoughts laid bare. Dropping her hand to her side; Sian, the last of the Eladar Wilderelves and consort to Antrandis stood before her, a knowing smile in her eyes and on her lips.

 

‘He has that effect, Winter. It is nothing to be ashamed of.’ Sian’s voice spilled like aged elven brandy from the bottle, smooth and intoxicating.

 

Winter stared at her in silence, her face reddening even further as Sian’s words sunk in. Her voice catching.

 

‘Now, that is a sight I thought I would never see, I never thought possible.’ Sian’s eyes seemed to penetrate deeper, as if she were looking through her, ‘A flustered Valkyrie.’

 

Winter watched Sian warily as she stood on the path. An unreasonable fear building within her, rooting her to the spot. Sian looked at her, frowning.

 

‘Winter, what has happened to you?’ Sian started to approach the stricken Valkyrie.

 

‘Why do you fear me so? I can smell it, taste it in the air. Why? Has the removal of your bindings caused such upset?’

 

Before Winter could react, Sian had closed the gap. Standing directly in front of her, she watched as Sian reached out and redirecting the hair out of her eyes. Winter remained resolutely silent.

 

‘Five years, Winter. I have been finally whole for such a time. Memories of my past life were restored to me like a gift, memories that included you. I came home, at the arm of our beloved,’ Sian smiled with a measure of sadness in her eyes, ‘And yet you hide from me. Even now. Why do you do this?’

 

Sian gently took Winter’s hand, holding it in both of her own. Her emerald eyes locked onto Winter’s steel.

 

‘Guilt.’ said Winter with a small voice that trembled.

 

‘I thought I was too late to save you, and yet I did not see or understand that you stood nearby, trapped in the form of your familiar. I felt guilt.’ Winter frowned as she continued.

 

‘Shame, because it was only shortly before I last spoke to Antrandis, before your transformation into what you are now, that I realised.’ she looked into Sian’s eyes fearfully, ‘I realised who you were, who you once were, I should have seen it sooner. I felt shame.’

 

‘Then fear grew in me, I did not know who you were. Were you still Snowshadow or did you fully become the Sian of old? Did you just gain memories, or did she return in Snowshadow’s place? Would you see me as what I was then, servant to the Host of the Underworld? Or as your friend, Handmaiden of Lumos, lover and confidant to a child of the gods. I felt fear.’

 

‘By the gods, Winter.’ Sian exclaimed as she shook her head.

 

‘My guilt, shame, and fear, before the spectre of the Sian of old, blinded and deafened me from the truth that stood before me.’ said Winter, tears in her eyes.

 

‘My power was returned to me, my freedom granted. But I am no longer of singular purpose any more, I am rudderless. But those three feelings made me build a wall between myself and Antrandis. Snowshadow knew of our past, but Sian did not.’

 

‘I know of most of it, but not all. It is one of the very few things that Antrandis will not speak of.’ said Sian.

 

Winter nodded, her voice cracking, ‘Sian, I am just a shadow of what I was. I have no direction, I have no purpose, all I have is those three feelings, and now regret for allowing myself to be blinded by them.’

 

Winter slowly dropped to her knees, ‘Last year I abandoned my duties, yet I remained the Handmaiden to Lumos, she did not judge my dereliction, but I have not heard her voice, only the whispers. I only came forth, because Silvan arrived in my bedchambers. She forced me into action.’

 

Tears flowed freely down Winter’s face as Sian knelt in front of her. She looked into Sian’s eyes, ‘Please, forgive me. The first time I felt peace was when Antrandis kissed me this morning.’

 

Sian smiled, ‘There is nothing to forgive, Winter.’

 

‘I just can not seem to function without him. I have tried so hard.’ Winter stuttered.

 

‘Winter, listen to me.’ Sian said, embracing the valkyrie, her hand on the back of Winter’s neck, pressing her close.

 

‘You have known him, his whole life. I have only been a part of his life for little more than eight thousand years, does that not make me the one who upset you? I have only truly become aware of the way I felt over the past sixteen or so of those years. I only felt jealousy of you, and how you could be with him, not of his love for you or yours for him.’ she held Winter tighter.

 

‘Do you not understand my bond to our love? I was never his familiar, even I find it difficult to explain, just that it is so. Somehow, I am a part of him, and he is a part of me. The easiest way to understand, is that it is akin to the binding of souls that the elves of the old world would… Winter?’

 

Winter had pulled away, staring into Sian’s eyes in mute understanding, ‘But he is, he is a…’

 

‘Yes.’

 

‘Your soul is embedded within his?’

 

Sian nodded, ‘From the moment we encountered each other.’

 

‘But that would mean…’ Winter faltered.

 

 Sian watched Winter as she visibly struggled with the concept, ‘Your bond was not of a familiar to a master, because your soul was not of an animal. Instead elven.’

 

Winter looked at her in wonder.

 

‘Winter, I can no longer abide the distance you have put between yourself and Antrandis, especially how it is affecting you. You are an integral part of both his life and my own.’

 

Sian watched Winter’s face with intensity, ‘You always have been. Without you, I would not be who I am now. Watching you with him, your words and experience with him, brought about my realisation quicker.’

 

Winter stared at her, not quite believing what she was hearing as Sian continued.

 

‘You look at me and you see the Sian you knew before, but I am who I am now, I am still Snowshadow. I am the same soul and spirit, just with the additional memories of my previous life in the old world. The last eight thousand years shaped who I am now. The returned memories gave me a rapid education and worldliness.’

 

‘I am not going to stand by while you torture yourself any longer. From this moment on, you return to our side, you follow your heart.’ Sian kept her face close, almost whispering, ‘I have the memories and the remembered emotions of what you were to me then. Those stolen moments of tenderness where you took me behind your wall of stoic armour. The very few moments that were. And in this life, everything I have experienced with you…even just watching you with him.’

 

Sian suddenly leaned in, pressing her lips to Winter’s, stealing the valkyrie’s breath, ‘Our desire for you is mutual.’ Sian whispered, her lips brushing Winter’s. ‘And our desire for him is mutual. And your desire for us is cannot be concealed. Whatever excuses you are fabricating, in guilt, shame and fear. I don’t want to hear of them. Let them go and return to us. Stop hiding, you will be ours.’

 

A great roaring built in Winter’s head as Sian’s words and actions sheared through her misgivings like a razor sharp sword through silk. The walls of self-inflicted imprisonment were no more. Tears streamed down her face as Sian kissed her cheek. Winter slowly found strength in her arms and returned Sian’s forceful embrace. After a while, Sian slowly released Winter, looking into her eyes.

 

‘You have purpose and direction, Winter. To be at our side. That has never changed.’ said Sian as she wiped at Winter’s tears, watching her.

 

‘Ready?’ Sian asked as she caught the smile slowly coming to Winter’s lips. 

 

 Winter looked at her, biting at her lip, her voice breaking as she spoke quietly, ‘You have that affect too, Sian. I am no longer ashamed, I am free.’

 

Sian smiled, ‘Come, unfortunately we have a trail to track, notes to compare and a Silvast to save.’

 

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