Return of the Native

Title: Return of the Native
Time Period: December 22, 134
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Beisdean's reluctant return to his homeland is not met with a very warm welcome on the outskirts of Dornie.

Gray-white skies, white snow, and skeletal trees in shades of ash create a pale palette for the landscape that the lone rider barely remembers from his childhood. The last time he'd been in these coastal woods, he had been on foot and it had been spring — Scotland had been green and lush when he ran away so many years ago.

Somehow it seems fitting that he returns to find it quiescent and still, with even his bay gelding's hooves muffled by the snow. The pace is a slow and steady one — Beisdean is in no hurry to get to the village of his youth, now that he is so close, and he knows the snow can mask dangers to his horse's legs if they move at too fast a pace through rugged terrain.

The man's cheeks are rosy from the chill, and his face is all that is visible; scarf, cap and gloves are more than mere accessories to the thick wool coat he wears to ward off the cold. Blue eyes squint into the glare caused by an aloof sun not-quite hidden by the thin layer of clouds; it is just bright enough to throw its light across the wintry whiteness which reflects it back twofold.

The blanket of snow does more than give cover to danger, it also masks the sound of the figure keeping pace behind the man and his gelding. It's not difficult, even after leaving his horse a mile or so up the road to make its own way to the stables. This wouldn't be the first time that its come in riderless and it certainly won't be the last. Like a ghost, Jain dodges from tree to tree, claymore at his back and shield just out front to help with cover.

His breath that comes out a small cloud, muffled by a tatter of a tartan wrapped around his face, a prize taken long before this. His clothing is layered and thick; a mix of his own clan colors, fur, and more modern trappings such as trousers. His boots are handmade, a gift from one of the locals, also lined with fur.

Narrowing his eyes at the target ahead, he takes the opportunity when the horse balks and then stands still.

The man is easily thrown from his mount, his blue eyes staring up at the stranger bearing down on him. The horse bolts and he is left alone, confused at the pain in his side and head, wondering what manner of beast has hit him from the side. The dark scarf masks his assailant's identity well enough that only identifiers are his dirty blond tangles and a chilling gaze the color of a legume soup.

"Please," is the plea of mercy sounded out before a small cough. The biting cold has given him a rattle in his lungs rendering him unable to scream at the flash of silver that pervades his vision. Then everything turns red… then there is nothing, nothing but the sound of the jewelry he carries being torn from his possession fading into the distance.

Darkness becomes glaring white again, and Beisdean stares with confusion at his surroundings — Iago, who he still sits upon, has come to a stop without his master’s prodding to go on, and the horse gives a snort of impatience, hoof pawing at the snow. Beisdean takes a long and shaky breath; faint, he pats Iago's neck and swings his leg over the saddle in a graceless dismount. The exhaustion he suddenly feels biting into his very bones makes him stumble, and he falls to his knees into the snow.

Coughing like he might be sick, he tugs off a glove to reach for the small flask in his coat pocket, taking a swallow of the whiskey inside and letting the sharp taste bring him back to his surroundings. "Get away from me," he shouts in a rough voice, reaching for a handful of snow to throw at the path in front of him, as if throwing a snowball at an imaginary foe.

A little marten pops its head out of Beisdean's coat, chittering while escaping its confines and scampering up a nearby tree.

Allow me, my love, there's something up in the tree that I cannot shield you from.

Jain's eyes open as the voice in his mind dims and fades. He crouches down behind a bit of scrub, low to the the ground, to allow Traa-dy-Liooar to crawl from his scarf and disappear into the snow. There's a moment of nothing but the shouts of the man in the distance before she grows from the snow like a boulder freshly turned in a field. Then she is still, only the clouds of hot breath spewing from between two tusks to hint at the monster that lays beneath.

It's not so much a pig’s squeal as it is a roar that is prelude to the man being run down by cloven hooves and his mount frightened enough to bolt. The boar is close at its heels, not wishing for her prize to escape.

Iago, used to Beisdean's odd displays and sudden tantrums at times, is not a skittish creature. But when there is suddenly a beast crashing through the brush toward him, he rears up on his hind legs with a whinny, before launching into a full run to try to escape. Only then does Beisdean look up, flask falling from his hand to spill in the snow as the young man tries to make sense of a world gone suddenly to hell.

And that's saying a lot, for him.

"What's going on?" he says weakly, turning to find his familiar.

I did not see where it came from. I will follow, says the voice in his head, and from Darklight's tree there is a rustle and black feathers take to the sky in the form of a raven. Be careful.

Jain watches the tree as the creature that was once crawling along the bark takes the dark shape of a carrion bird and flits off after the boar. A smirk curls on one side of his lips as he rises partway from his crouch, slowly pulling the blade from his back. He has no doubt that the boar will lead the bird on a merry chase, allowing him enough time to dispose of the man on the ground. What he doesn't need is a mage for a captive.

The shield strapped to his arm makes sufficient cover as he runs toward the man on the ground. His own breathing sounds as though another boar is on the run along the same path as the first, but on two legs rather than one. Coming up from behind, the highlander raises his sword and—

Beisdean lies awake but still for some time, eyes closed, trying to remember what has happened to him. Trying to push the spirits away — these cloister around him, clawing at him and murmuring their needs, their voices overlapping and crowding his head that feels much too heavy, much too big for the rest of him.

All he knows is he feels like he was just murdered twice, two visions overlapping and blurring into as much unintelligible "noise" as the voice of the ghosts he’s trying to ignore.

Finally he manages to push away the voices and concentrate on his surroundings. There is the crackle of a fire and the smell of smoke in the crisp winter air. He's still outside. He strains to listen for his horse and sends out a mental call for Darklight; finally he opens bleary eyes, one hand reaching up to touch the knot on the side of his head.

"You're awake," not so much announcement of surprise as a fact. A letter in the hand of the man to whom the fire presumably belongs rustles before he folds it away carefully and holds it out to Beisdean. "I was beginning to worry, you'd been out for so long. There's a healer in Dornie, the town up ahead, I can take you there if you'd like."

The tartan scarf hangs loose around Jain's neck, allowing his whole face to be visible. There's a bit of scrub there, a few days growth but trimmed up to a neat line along his jaw. A nervous glance is cast toward the horizon and the sun that's lower to the ground than before. "It'll be nightfall soon, we should make our way before the dark sets in and the wolves start calling."

"Aye, was I unconscious longer than all the other guys you beat over the skulls with your sword?" says an irritable Beisdean as he casts a glance around for his familiar, gelding and pack. Darklight's voice murmurs in his head, I am in the tree above. I lost sight of the other.

Seeing Iago tied to a tree nearby and knowing Darklight is close, Beisdean turns to look at his assailant, sitting up and reaching for the letter and scowling. His cheeks flush with anger, or shame perhaps, as he tucks the folded paper into his coat.

"Do you usually take your victims for healing after? You make a strange highwayman," is tossed to Jain in an accent rather local to the area, if blurred about the edges with hints of the south.

"Not usually, no," is the unabashed admission. A hand tucks into his pocket to retrieve the flask that was once in Beisdean's. After unscrewing the cap, he drains the contents into his mouth and passes it back empty. There's an audible gulp, perhaps to add insult to the fallen man's injury. "But you ain't the normal sort, then, are you?"

Before giving Beisdean a chance to answer the allegation, Jain picks up a stick and prods at the fire, spreading the coals to allow it to extinguish a little quicker. Then he gets up and offers the other man a hand to his feet. "You're Slainte's boy, she mentioned you once. Maybe more…" A glint in the blonde man's eye would suggest that it was a little more than passing conversation that had Beisdean's mother chatting about her son.

Beisdean's eyes narrow when the other speaks of him being abnormal, scanning Jain's face to try to remember if he knew him as a child. He shoves the flask into his pocket; it was the last of his small store of whiskey, not that it would do him much good with a head injury and the exhaustion that had him near collapsing from the strange vision.

The hand is regarded coolly for a moment but he accepts it; he might not have the energy to stand without help. At Slainte's name, Beisdean's eyes flash to Jain's face. "Aye," he says carefully, moving to his horse slowly, his body awkward with stiffness and the cold.

They stand nearly eye to eye, it doesn't take much of a head tilt to allow Jain the advantage of an arrogant stare. Even though he doesn't look much more than a ragged woodsman, he carries himself with pride. "I'll escort you into Dornie, so you don't meet any more of the militia." It's explanation enough, at least to the highwayman, why Beisdean was nearly murdered for a flask.

"You're not what I'd thought you'd be, bein' Slainte's boy." The idle conversation doesn't seem easy for the man on foot but the claymore is bound at his back again and the shield held down at his side. At least if he gets frustrated he doesn't have an easy weapon to swing. "A rather delicate thing, I always imagined her son would be… something more like me."

That flush comes back into Beisdean's cheeks as he tries not to determine just how well the militia man knew his mother. "I'm not delicate when people aren't trying to take my head off. Hard to figure that Dornie's changed so much that you need to attack lone riders for no clear reason. And unless she changed quite a bit, my mother wouldn't have been the type to condone that."

He picks up his hat from where it's been tossed or fallen, running a hand through his hair before donning the cap. "So you know who I am. Though I prefer my own name rather than 'Slainte's boy.' And you are?" he asks, mounting his horse more gracefully than he dismounted, though his motions are very slow and deliberate, meant not to jostle his aching head.

"I never heard any complaints from her," Jain rebuts, apparently refuting the claims that Slainte wouldn't condone his livelihood. He walks a few paces ahead of the horse, purposely keeping his strides long in some sort of imagined race with the beast. A test of manhood or something. "Besides, you haven't been to Dornie in quite a few years, aye? Things change." No mention of the other man's mother by name.

When the first lights of the cottages along the outskirts of the village make themselves visible, Jain falls back, coming to a stop and pointing the rest of the way. "The Wandering Albatross, that's the inn. Slainte's room's been picked up by one of the others but I s'pose her things are all there for you. I haven't been in since she passed on."

"I remember," Beisdean says with a nod to the inn. The raven that has been following high above alights on his shoulder suddenly, black glossy feathers becoming dark glossy fur. "Thank you for the 'escort,' I suppose." There is no real gratitude in the words, but he's trying to be polite. Blue eyes take in the village to note the changes, no matter how small, from the way he left it.

He is quiet a long moment before turning to Jain. "I'm not the first person you've waylaid on the path there, am I.” It’s not really a question. "But you haven't taken anything of value from me — aside from a few swallows of whiskey. Why bother?"

"Might be better if you don't ask those types of questions, boy," reaching a hand up to replace the scarf over his face, Jain gives Beisdean a hard look before glancing at the raven. When his green eyes flit back to the man, it's the same narrow eyed squint as greeted the apparition in his vision before the swing of a silver sword. "They have a way of coming back to haunt you later on."