It was as I feared. Archet remained in a state of ruin, caught within a stalemate between a seemingly distant past trying to hold off a foreboding future. Blackwolds, encamped within the ruins of an old kingdom, meant long ago, and still mean to this day, to drive out all life from the village we call home, to spread their ruin as far as their ignoble hearts would take them.

But the people stand firm, defiant. Both pride and guilt swept over me as I hailed the watchmen and walked Dandi through the gate allowing passage past broken walls and into a burned-out village. Those who remain, who made their own walls to protect each other, placing hand within hand and shoulder next to shoulder, give rise to my spirit and hope that all things can be withstood by those of noble heart. That is why I have come.

The path I chose that day, that led me away from here soon after the Blackwold attack, while the others stayed to rebuild, is one I turn over in my mind time and time again.  Two paths diverged, and I chose the one I believed was best for me.

I must still think so, for not only am I about to retrace those steps…

… but I mean to convince another to take the same path with me, at least for a while.

I have been blessed, fortunate beyond measure, to have so many whom I call friend. From the time when I first began to wander and play as a little girl, getting to know the other children of our village and the surrounding lands upon which we made our home, my days were brighter when I had someone with whom to share them.

Children live in worlds of their own creation, surely as much as they walk within our own. And they have a precious gift, one that oftentimes seems to diminish with age, for an openness to creating pathways between those worlds, so that others may share them, and that they might share theirs with others. We all share so much more than a casual glance can witness. It was in these days that I began to see how our lives, all of our lives, are shared.

From the first day we met as children long ago, Deverell and I have shared so many things.  Her father, Sebastian Artri, was known for miles around as the traveling healer who would craft the most remarkable curatives and poultices, combining the herbs from his garden, roots and leaves from growing things in the wild, and weaving them together by the cauldron’s fire with an old-world wisdom passed down from his father and his fathers before.

When my chores did not keep me, the two of us wandered, sometimes near, but often far, past brook and over field, from light into the shadows cast by the trees, and into the light again, by whatever paths we found, whether real or imagined.  She would come by our farm to see if I could join her, finding father and I in the fields and giving him advice on planting seeds, how to till the soil, and the like.  He did not mind her doing so, at first.  But I think it gnawed at him a little when she was proven right.

We shared in mischief as well, more than our share…

Stealing arrows from the bucket the watchmen kept on the training grounds…

…playing tricks upon the watchers at the crossroad outpost, outside the village…

She straightened up much sooner than I, it shames me to admit. We began to quarrel more and more, with she taking the higher road, and I teasing her for it. Our paths could have parted at that point. How tragic that would have been.

In the end, it was another tragedy, the death of my mother and promises she asked from me, along with the guidance of Father, and Deverell, and so many others, that helped turn me from a darker path. And I will always be grateful to them, and grateful for the time to change, because not everyone has that chance.  To help to give others that chance, as it was gifted to me, has led me on my path ever since.

Sadly, my path and Deverell’s parted around the ruin of Archet, that dreadful, fateful day, at least in material terms. But, even though I chose to leave and she to stay, I have to believe we still share many paths, and many things along those paths. She has taken over for her father, who was lost that day, as my father was. Her poultices heal the body. Her words of wisdom mend the soul.

When it comes to mending ruin, few stand taller than Deverell Artri.  To ask for her aid is the reason for my homecoming, home but not home.

It did not take long to find her, for she was treating those injured whilst skirmishing on the training grounds.  She saw me approaching and slowly rose…