A/N: So...last chapter. Sorry to spring it on you...darn plot bunny kept opening side-plots. I'm leaving you all with quite a few cliff hangers but I WILL be working on a 4th. It will start appearing when I am far enough ahead (10-15 chapters) to give my infamous/famous quick updates. Thanks so much to everyone who read/reviewed! You're all great! I'd love to hear what you all thought of Search so here's the deal: If you leave a signed review (log in and leave it so that I can reply) for this last chap I'll pm you the first chapter of the next story when it's written. That way you'll get it a minimum of a week before everyone else. Note that 100 Themes will be continuing as well. Make sure to either a) add me to your author's alert list or b) add Search to your stories alert list or c) keep an eye out for the 4th story. I'll put an announcement here when it's ready.
Morning: Boys can be very frustrating. And I'll do a one-shot over the Warden-Scout-Daniel triangle.
Raider: Darn plot bunny that acts before it thinks...
Wannabe: Don't be sad! The 4th will be up before you know it!
Disclaimer: I don't own Ranger's Apprentice
Kane stepped aboard the Wolfwill with Elizabet in front of him. Kineta had gone up the gangway first and gone straight to the room they'd all share. She had yet to miscarry but felt terrible pains that worried everyone. She needed to be lying down. Once Kane safely escorted Elizabet up the swaying plank she darted towards her mother. Talia, cuddling Russ close to her chest, was right behind him. It was too windy for a baby to be above deck and Talia felt protective of Kineta anyway. That was best, though. They were the only females on board side from Elizabet.
Since his companions were all going to the bedroom Kane joined them. He hoisted the large pack he carried onto his shoulders and followed Talia. Kineta was still under strict orders to refrain from carrying anything heavier than a feather and Talia had her arms full with Russ. Elizabet had a small pack but all it held was two stones from Shigeru's garden, a painting of a bird in a tree, and the leather-bound journal and pencil she'd been given to communicate. Kane was left with the extra clothing, food, medical kits, and weapons. The things to care for Russ alone made up a good portion of his pack.
"You may have to stay in Araluen a few days," Talia told Kineta. "This is the longest you've held onto one, right?"
Kineta nodded. "Listen Talia…if I start…"
"I'll get Elizabet away with haste," Talia promised.
Scout reunited with Gwen and Kelly with great joy...and Lady Melissa with a sour taste in her mouth. Sean became scarce. The absence of the royal family piled up work to do and he didn't have Kineta to help him. The citizens were elated to have Sean and Scout back with the promise of Kineta to come. It seemed the common man hadn't a clue about Elizabet. Best leave it that way for now.
Scout found it hard to put aside her feelings for Daniel. Being around Warden made it slightly easier. It seemed he guarded her whether he was on shift or not. He took meals with her as often as Kelly and Gwen. During the day, Warden was always in her mind. However when night came things changed. Scout couldn't bring herself to share her bed with Kelly anymore. Nightmares of those hungry nights locked below deck made her thrash around and she couldn't bring herself to give her maid cause for concern. Scout placed three candles in her window, as promised, and lit them each night. Daniel filled her every thought once she was alone. When she woke from a nightmare she wanted him to be there comforting her, even though of course nobody came, and when she didn't have those terrible memories she dreamed of him. It wasn't anything too intense…just their hunting together or playing together as children.
It made her feel extremely guilty.
Gabby took a deep breath as she leaned against the cold stone wall in the nook above the chef's garden. She heard Lina's crutches coming towards her. She clasped her hands together as she realized she'd be confronted.
"Halt's back," Lina's voice said as she leaned next to Gabby. "Caitlyn and I will be going to Redmont soon to rejoin Liam."
Gabby sighed heavily. "What do I do, Lina?"
"I know we aren't desperately close but…what do I do? You seem to always know the right place to go."
She could hear Lina shift her weight. "What do you mean?"
"Kane and I plan to get married."
"That's not exactly a well-kept secret, Gabby."
Gabby leaned closer to her. "You and Liam were new to this country while you two were engaged. What were your living arrangements?"
"Well," Lina said slowly, "Alyss and Will hadn't married yet either. I was staying with Halt and Pauline. Halt took Liam as a formal apprentice but he'd already had the best training and he didn't want us living under the same roof. Liam built our cabin and alternated between his tent and Will's spare room."
Gabby gripped her cane. "I don't think his mind has changed about that type of thing."
"You and Kane have spent the night together before. To our knowledge you've never done anything you shouldn't and no offense but you two aren't clever enough to outwit experienced people with our type of training."
"Nobody is," Gabby agreed. "But where will I go upon his return? I can't stay with Halt and Pauline. It'd be too strange."
"I guess you don't want to go back to your parents?"
"No," Gabby said shortly. She calmed down. "No…they still see me as the little girl stumbling around in the dark."
She felt Lina's hand rest over hers. "Hard for parents to let go of their children, Gabby. I still can't see Scout being a princess."
"But you're a princess."
"I was one. I haven't made the withdrawal formal but it's going to happen. Scout's going to choose to stay in Hibernia as their heir."
"How do you know?"
Lina squeezed Gabby's hand. "She went through more in the past two years than she has her entire life and she still went back."
Gabby sighed. "I suppose."
Daniel lay down in his bed in Dun Kilty's inn. He knew Scout wasn't there but it was the port the cargo vessel he'd hired to carry him from Iberion to Hibernia landed. It was long past sundown and he was in unfamiliar territory. He'd travel to Roscrea in the morning. But for now he needed to sort some things out…including what he'd say to Scout. At first glance everything was in his favor. He'd successfully intimidated the younger guard. While Scout and Gabby's stunt during William's wedding dance brought a change in plans he'd still come out on top. Warden thought Ace held her affections. Daniel knew Ace didn't like her any more than William did. The princes and Hibernian princess were like siblings.
"I've got to think of something," Daniel sighed into the empty space.
Caitlyn held Scout's bow firmly as she drew back an arrow. She released. It whizzed through a branch of the apple tree far above her head. Caitlyn smiled and caught the apple that fell. She took a bite and sat down at the tree's trunk. She lay down the bow next to her quiver and took out the book she'd been reading. It was beautifully illustrated, like her mother's Nihon-Ja folklore book. She'd heard about Flynn Masque growing up but her stories of choice as a child had always been Nihon-Ja. She knew the illustrated book belonged to Elizabet but Elizabet was gone at the moment. Taken, just like her sister.
Caitlyn missed Scout dearly since she left but the independence brought on a new life. Without Scout's shadow she was free to do things she'd always shied away from for fear of being poked at. She became better with a bow and unheard movement. Once she used to chat when her older sister and parents fell silent because she hated silence but now she found it could be enjoyable. Caitlyn read one of the stories as she ate her apple. It was a beautiful book, really. Its price was easily that of both her parents' annual salaries…but the stories were simple. Why would a child read them over and over? Sure, she and Scout studied their Nihon-Ja book, but that was…Nihon-Ja. The words were lines written vertically. Reading Nihon-Ja was special. But this book? Elizabet should have moved on at least to other volumes Sean and Kineta no doubt got her.
She turned to the last page of character profiles. It was Nezi, a pretty merchant's girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. Odd how much the girl in the illustration resembled Elizabet. Caitlyn tossed her apple's core far away where squirrels could feast upon it and turned to the back cover. She ran her fingers over the smooth binding. She paused at a…ribbon? Caitlyn tugged at it a little and a false lid opened up.
"No wonder the back cover's so thick," she said. She found a sheet of parchment yellow with age. Caitlyn glanced around. Nobody was there. She wondered if she should turn it over. What if Elizabet didn't know it was there? What if she did? Curiosity swarmed into her mind and she picked it up. The ink had faded but was still legible.
My dearest Lizzie,
I am so sorry I had to take you to the orphanage but a jail is no place for a child. When you find this I hope you are able to forgive me. If you ever want to seek me out, I will be waiting for you at Claymound Jail. However I do plan to make arrangements for someone to adopt you. When I find a good person I'll seek you out, even if you've already been taken. I'll let no niece of mine be raised up a farmer's free labor.
I hope we meet again soon. Keep your parents and Jackson close to your heart.
Caitlyn reread the letter before putting it back into the false back. No doubt Lizzie was Elizabet. But jail? The only kin of Elizabet's they'd ever heard of was in jail? She closed the book. This uncle of hers would try to get her back. Sean and Kineta needed Elizabet. They gave her a good home…much better than some petty crook could.
She had to get word of the letter to Sean. Perhaps she should have handed over the book to him in the first place. He would have discovered it…sometime. However when Sean and Scout passed through Caitlyn had been unable to let go yet. For some reason she'd felt as though she had more to discover.
The gut feeling had proven itself right.
Lina went back to her family's apartment and began wrapping food. She and Caitlyn had left before Scout but had to turn back less than halfway home when one of Lina's battalion friends met them with information that needed to be relayed to Gilan so that he could pass it off to the Rangers. Lady Farrin had been in a hurry while Lina hadn't reported back in weeks. She had time; Farrin didn't. Caitlyn came in after awhile with her usual messenger bag across her torso. Messenger bags were part of the Charmed ladies' uniforms; however the style had changed since the original uniform to better a rider. Lina had given her old one to her youngest daughter because the girl once liked to gather wildflowers and berries and the large bag took hours to fill.
But since Scout left her younger daughter had taken interest in other things. She became proficient with the bow Scout left behind. In fact, Caitlyn rivaled Mason's skill and he was a Ranger-in-training. "Have a good afternoon?" she asked. Caitlyn nodded.
"I just went for a walk in the woods."
Caitlyn went to her bedroom and shut the door behind her. Lina shook her head. Scout hadn't been so secretive when she was that age. But then, Caitlyn wasn't the daughter they easily understood. She'd been chatty from age two until recently when she slipped into a more reserved state. Caitlyn went off alone more often and kept to herself. Liam and Lina tried not to worry over it. After all, Caitlyn was in the process of finding herself as an adult. She was still their sweet always-happy Caitlyn. She always helped when asked and sacrificed for the good of others.
But still…Lina couldn't quite figure out what made her little girl so reclusive. Someone once told her that it was just the age and to think about how she herself was back then. Caitlyn was thirteen. She'd never caused lethal harm to another person. She'd never really left Araluen nor could she speak a language aside from the common tongue and Nihon-Ja. She went to banquets and balls, sure, but she'd never had one in her own personal honor. She'd never had to rely on hastily drilled skills to save her and others' lives. And she'd certainly never been clapped in chains as prisoner…or by instructors teaching her how to escape from them.
Thirteen-year-old Caitlyn and thirteen-year-old Lina were very different people.
William went to his room. Upon marrying Anamaria he'd been moved to the other side of the castle far away from his family. Now he and his new wife shared an apartment that would be their home until they were crowned king and queen. It had several rooms his grandfather not-so-subtly implied needed to be filled with children before he died. Lord Duncan was getting old. William wanted kids…eventually. Right now he just wanted to enjoy Anamaria. She somewhat mourned her own Iberion family but all in all their fall wasn't unexpected. He found his wife staring out the glass doors that led to a balcony. She wore an Iberion gown cinched at the waist and baring her shoulders. Tears stained her cheeks and her eyes seemed puffy. He walked over to her and wrapped his arms around her torso.
"What is it?" he whispered next to her ear.
Anamaria kept staring outside. "I can never return to Iberion. I'll never see my family again."
William took her hands in his and kissed them. "You won't ever see that family again," he corrected her. "You've got a new one here."
"Do I?" she asked as her eyes snapped to his. "We're married but does your family truly accept me?"
He squeezed her hands and snaked his arms around her waist again. "We'll have our own soon," he promised softly. Anamaria smiled gently and looked back out.