Courage and Strength Chapter 3


By Meriko Robert

A full month into their visit to the Daguerro archives, Sir Fratley suddenly wondered if he would be forced to spend the next ten years here, poring over old scrolls, piles of papers, and tattered leatherbound books. On their very first day here, Freya and Fratley had discovered, to their dismay, that no one in the massive library could remember anything specific about the Burmecian scholar who had stayed so long there. One archivist would have a vague memory of the man spending a great deal of time poring over the scrolls found in one section, and another would think that the Burmecian had last been seen writing notes from journals in another part of the library. In any case, nothing had been found out for certain, and the two Dragoons had decided to begin their search from scratch.

At first, Sir Fratley had suggested that they methodically go through all of the sections of the library that pertained in any way to the object of their Journey, such as ancient treasures, sources of magic, and spells. However, within one hour, Freya had rather disgustedly observed that although categories were clearly marked throughout the shelving system of the archives, very little material was actually where it belonged. In fact, there were great stacks of books lying on tables, in aisleways, and even in the halls and being used as seats by those weary of standing. And the large collection of scrolls seemed not to have a special place at all, being found stuffed into odd baskets, propped up in corners, and underfoot everywhere they looked.

"With your leave, I shall begin my search in the East wing of the first floor," Freya had decided. "And perhaps you might begin in that corner of the second floor," she added, pointing to the opposite end of the semi-circular main room.

Fratley had nodded and then noted, "Hopefully we shall find what we seek before we meet each other halfway on the staircase."

The younger Dragoon had glanced through the doorway, where some smaller archives lay branching off, and where the knowledge they sought might well be hiding, and then had shrugged. "And if not, well...we will surely have learned much in our searches, and be the better for it."

And so they had begun their hunt, without even knowing what they were looking for, exactly. Mention of a jewel to bring the Divine Sandstorm back to life, what form? A list of gemstone deposits? A book of spellbound items? A random treasure map, disguised as a scroll? They had carefully examined every item that could be examined, from handwritten papers to heavy tomes, rising early each day to attack the archives anew, and only returning to their grassy camp just outside the library many hours after sundown.

Sir Fratley had given in to practicality after a few days of an aching back, and made for himself a seat out of a pile of particularly heavy books, shifting it every day or so as he finished ransacking a particular shelf or table...or pile on the floor, as the case might be. And every once in a while, he would stand up, ostensibly to stretch, but in reality to peer over the railing of his floor to look for Freya. Most of the time, she would either be tucked out of sight, or wholly engrossed in some work, but now and again, she would glance up and see him, and then immediately put down whatever she was reading in order to come talk to him.

Whenever she did so, he would ask her for an update on her progress, and these briefings remained the official reason for her quick trips up the stairs to where he was. Unofficially, however, they both knew that the main reason was that they craved the other's company. Sir Fratley only wondered now and again if Freya even realized how often he missed her random conversation, or even simply her presence, which was an inexplicable comfort to him. Yesterday, he had found himself bringing books over to the balcony, so that he could read and yet watch her.


Perhaps he was homesick for Burmecia as well as learning quite rapidly to like this fey Lady, which explained this growing attachment a little better, although not quite satisfactorily. The Dragoon paused for a moment as he realized that he had stopped reading the book he was holding and had been poring over the topic of Freya instead for quite a while.

For the fifth time this week.

And it was only Tuesday.

Shaking his head, Sir Fratley put down his book for a moment, walked over to the railing once more, and let his gaze travel around the library, but the now-familiar dusty blue tunic was nowhere to be seen. Of course, given the multiple levels and twisting aisles of shelves scattered about, Freya could have been only five feet away from him, and he might not have seen her. With a small shrug, he turned back to the volume he had been perusing and became lost in his searching once more, determinedly putting aside his vaguely confused musings over his traveling companion.

It was unlike him to be distracted by anything remotely personal on a Journey. All Novices had a certain code of priorities hammered into them from their first day, and this list of King, Kingdom, and Knights was as much a part of any Dragoon as their name and weapon. And when on a mission for the King, there was a separate, much simpler list, with only one item on it. The completion of the Journey. All other considerations such as family, friends, or other duties became so secondary that they did not even exist. Although he had not been sent on any missions since his return to Burmecia, still, he did not doubt that this code was as firmly placed into his being as any other precept of the Dragoon Order.

Of course, this segment of the Journey was different from most, in that it involved nothing more strenuous nor stressful than thumbing through pages and trying not to fall asleep after seven hours of this monotonous duty. Perhaps it was not so strange after all, that his mind would insist on wandering now and again, and that his attention would seek out something - someone, rather - more entertaining than dry records.

"Happy birthday, Sir Fratley."

The knight looked up in surprise, shutting the book he had been trying to read - and losing his place in the process - and asked the woman who had interrupted his thoughts, "What did you say?"

"I said happy birthday," Freya responded with a smile, which was quickly replaced by a surprised look as Sir Fratley stared back at her rather blankly. "Don't tell me you've gone three years without anyone wishing you well on this day," she said in a protesting tone.

As Freya continued to stand over him, the Knight glanced away from her and continued his blank look, this time at nothing and no one in particular, and finally looked up at her once more and shook his head. Freya sat down abruptly onto the pile of large books he had been sorting through, absolutely aghast.

Amused at her reaction to what was actually a slight against himself, Fratley asked, "What day is it, by the way?"

Freya attempted to collect herself, and replied in a more normal voice, "It is the twenty-fifth of April."

Her companion nodded and then fell silent, with a thoughtful frown creasing his brow. After a few quiet moments, with only the occassional cough or dropped book echoing through the massive archives, he looked over to where Freya sat and said, "The year I returned to Burmecia, I did come home one day in April to find that a book had been laid upon my doorstep. And the next year, there was quite a fine lance left for me."

Shaking his head now at the memory, he told Freya, "At the time, I thought that perhaps they were items I had owned, and were at long last finding their way home from procrastinating borrowers, hiding behind anonimity and my memory loss. It seemed logical, as both the book and lance were quite to my tastes, but perhaps there was one person in Burmecia who had kept my birthdate, even if I had not?"

"Perhaps," agreed Freya quite non-commitally, nodding at his updated theory.

Her nod was mimicked, and then he said in a grave and quiet voice, "Thank you."

His thanks was quite ignored by Freya, who had subsumed into a sad sort of fog. He had been respected by all and yet loved by too few, and then seven years had gone by in which he was presumed dead and gone, but she found herself nearly to the point of tears that none had even kept his birthday save herself. Sir Fratley of Ice everyone thought him, and she had to admit, partly through his own fault, but Freya knew without doubt that he was as capable of love and care as anyone else, and also as capable of loneliness and hurt.

Swallowing back the thickness in her throat, she attempted a smile and said, "I have had neither time nor opportunity to search for an appropriate gift this year, but I will give you something that rightfully belongs to you." Fishing a small silver ornament from her tunic pocket, she held it out and said, "I give you back a small piece of your past, Sir Fratley, and my wishes that each April finds you more and more content with your present and future."

He held out his hand, and she dropped a silver Novice's medal into his waiting palm. The Dragoon looked at it in some surprised, and without thinking, his other hand flew up to his heart, where an identical medal lay pinned to the inside of his vest.

Freya watched him with some curiosity, for the gesture seemed rather theatrical, and therefore utterly unlike him. Wondering, she offered, "It is your Novice medal. I begged it of you one day as a memento, close on the end of my novitiate, and have kept it ever since."

Fratley nodded, but made no comment, simply looking at the small medallion with more wonder than Freya had ever anticipated. In actuality, his mind was quite seriously poring over the fact that this medal in left palm was his, with all of the wonder being directed toward the hidden one underneath his other hand.

The thought had crossed his mind back in Cleyra...that this medal he'd kept near his heart might be Freya's rather than his own. And such a sentimental gesture, combined with that day's events and his own rapidly changing attitude towards his former Novice had briefly sent an idea through his mind...that he might have loved this unique person so many years ago, and had forgotten it just as he had forgotten everything else about her. With the passing of time, the fanciful, rather romantic idea had seemed to fade, and he had been more inclined to return to his assumption that it was simply his own medal from long ago.

But it wasn't.

Closing his hand over his old medal, the Dragoon unfastened the first few buttons of his vest and began picking at the inside of the left panel, while Freya watched him with growing perplexity. She frowned slightly in confusion as he dropped his hands from his vest after just a minute, and then held out his right hand to her.

Just as he had opened his palm to her a few minutes ago, so she did the same to him this time, and was not at all enlightened when his Novice medal fell back into her possession. She blinked at the ornament in her palm, and then raised her head to ask why he had returned the memento, when she caught sight of it still resting in his left hand.

For a comic moment, Freya's eyes glanced back and forth a few times, in order to make sure that she was not hallucinating, and then she peered more closely at the silver token in her hand. She tossed it lightly, causing it to turn over, and then drew in a quick breath as she caught sight of the "F" scratched into the back of it.

"My medal!" she exclaimed, and then quickly looked up to meet Sir Fratley's eyes, which were intent upon her face. "You had this?" she asked in amazement. "All this time?"

He replied simply, "Yes, pinned to my vest."

Almost in a whisper, she murmured, "You had me give this up along with my old lance and Novice's uniform...I thought it had been thrown away..." and bent her head to look at it once more, and then both Dragoons fell silent and still as the same question formed in their minds.


Fratley had already made tentative answer to himself a long while ago, and felt it confirmed. Who he was, and how he was, taken into consideration, there was no reason save one for him to keep such a little token of hers so carefully hidden against his heart. Freya had confessed already her love for him, and just now told him she'd asked for his old medal to keep...for that same confessed reason, it was to be assumed. If he'd kept the same memento of her in turn, and in even more secret...

Freya's thoughts traveled the same path as his, but so tremblingly that she barely formed the words in her mind, much less dared to wonder or hope. Already a bit emotional over Sir Fratley's forgotten birthday, Freya became afraid that she might actually weep in front of her former mentor. She'd faced up to their lost past, and acknowledged the fact that she might never regain their former camraderie, but to discover such a thing as this...a new what-might-have-been reared up in her heart and needed to be dealt with, but Freya felt that it was a bit much for her to face down with aplomb at the moment.

She hoped fervently that Sir Fratley only meant to make an exchange of these tokens to their former owners, and that she could leave him to his books once more without any emotional outbursts on her part.

Clearing her throat experimentally, she straightened up from her bowed position and said as normally as she could, "Thank you for keeping this for me, Sir Fratley," and began to search for a place under her shirt collar where she could pin her old medal. However, a hand immediately reached over and uncurled her hand, plucking the ornament away.

Sir Fratley replaced it with the medal she had given him and said, "You are the keeper of my past, and this belongs with you. As for your medal, I wish to keep it...with your leave, of course," he added, and Freya nodded her acquiescence as she pinned his medal into her vest - without really thinking about it, over her heart - with unsteady fingers.

"Thank you again," Sir Fratley mentioned, "for the birthday gift."

With raised eyebrows, Freya noted, "I did not actually give you anything, Sir Fratley, except for my well wishes."

"A piece of my past, you said."

Tapping her vest where his medal lay, she rejoined, "But you gave it back to me."

"I did not mean the relic," he said gravely. "I meant the knowledge...the more meaningful piece of my missing past." Freya only returned his steady gaze and did not respond, and so he went on, his voice soft even in the hush of the library. "You did not know either, did you, that I had loved you?"

Freya continued to gaze at him, quite still, and Fratley waited patiently and wondered if she would even respond to his admittedly uncharacteristic question. It seemed to him that the words were better suited for Freya's mouth than his, and yet it did not seem unduly unnatural for him to have spoken his thoughts so openly. It was a generalization of his to mark emotional people as weak, yet he admired and respected Freya, who was the most outwardly emotional Dragoon he had ever met. She was, at times, easily provoked into hot words, and as often had her inner thoughts broadcast upon her face. But somehow, this was simply the way she was, and it was not a weakness or fault to overcome, but one of her strengths, and he admired her all the more for her strange ways.

Recently, he had found himself wondering if perhaps his own reserve and rigid self-control might not be detriments in some way, and if he would be improved by taking a lesson or two from Freya's hand...or heart, as it might be. She let her heart hold sway over her head sometimes, but it only led her to noble pursuits, such as aiding the Queen of Alexandria, helping to rebuild Burmecia with her own hands instead of taking her post as Dragoon...and even setting off in search of a lost fellow Knight. Her heart was worn on her sleeve, displayed with neither pride nor shame, but simply because it was her nature, and she was no less noble, honorable, or dutiful for it. And now, having spoken openly as he thought she might have, Fratley waited to see how she would react.

Finally, she shook her head, hesitantly at first, and then more smoothly, as if her body were slowly coming awake from a brief doze. Her face still rather expresionless, she said in a subdued voice, "No, Sir Fratley, I never knew...whether you loved me or not."

The other Dragoon made note of her phrasing, but before he could comment, Freya went on. "But be it love or hate or indifference, the fact that it is in your past, and therefore lost, is certain." She smiled, but the expression was singularly lacking in its usual liveliness, and Fratley found it almost painful to look upon. "Thank you, Sir Fratley," Freya continued, "but I believe I shall put the fancies of my novitiate behind me, for they do not comfort or amuse me any longer, and hope instead that I may continue to be worthy of the friendship and regard you offered me back in Cleyra." With that, she rose, bowed politely, and then swiftly disappeared along the hallway and down the stairs.

Fratley remained seated for a moment, admittedly confused by what had just happened, and then stood as well, intending to follow Freya downstairs and back to her particular section of the archives. However, as he glanced over the railing to look for her, he saw her slip out of the main entrance instead. With a frown and a small sigh that escaped despite himself, the Knight turned back to his stack of books, picked one up, and sat staring at its pages.

* * * * *

Not in all the years of her novitiate had she ever voiced aloud any complaint, despite the long hours, torturous training, and oft-times harsh commentaries on her faults and failings. She had broken her wrist once - actually, Sir Fratley had inadvertently broken it for her - and she'd found herself gritting her teeth so hard in her determination not to shed a single tear, that soon her jaw had ached as much as her arm. Sir Fratley's concern and quick apology had given way to a surprised admiration at her stoic refusal to cry, and it had redoubled her desire to be "strong."

And now, high atop Daguerro's lonely peaks, Freya still did not cry, for fear that red eyes would betray her later on to her former mentor. She sat hunched over with her knees drawn up to her chest, facing into the wind, swallowing back the tears that threatened, and letting the cold wind help dry her full eyes.

The closest she had come to breaking down in the past fifteen years was when a messenger had come to her door with news of Sir Fratley's death. She had not cried during her novitiate for pain or weariness or heartache, but of course her first impulse on that day had been to mourn. However, two things had stayed her tears. First, her incredulous denial that Sir Fratley could be dead. One did not mourn a person who still lived, and so she had denounced the news in an angry voice and refused to weep. And secondly...she had not ever cried in front of him, and she felt it would be wrong, somehow, to cry over him now.

She had not given into tears when he had finally come back to Burmecia and not recognized her, either. She had not wept in the three years since his return, either from hurt or betrayal or more heartache, but now, she was overwhelmed with the need to mourn once more. Not for her loss of him, for he was nearer to her now than he had been when she had first heard of his death, but because of what he had told her.

You did not know either, did you, that I had loved you?

No, of course not. She had admired him, been infatuated with him, and loved him. She had given him all of her loyalty and dutiful attention, and respected him to the point where she would presume to argue with him on occassion since she would not lie to him, not even by nodding assent where she thought him mistaken. And she had been able to draw out his humorous, affectionate nature, and reveled in it. Every smile and laugh she wrung from him seemed a grand triumph for her, just as every moment in which she found him alone and lonely would seem to her the greatest heartbreak of her life. Yet as close as she was to him, although she was the only one in all of Burmecia to hear him truly laugh, there was nothing in his manner to suggest - to her eyes, at least - that he thought of her as than more than a friend.

He had loved her. Of course he had loved her! But as his bright and unusual Novice, as his tried and true friend, and as his strange and unique fellow Knight. She loved him in the same way, and in one way more, and it was as a lover that Freya felt she could not fill the void in Sir Fratley's heart. Everyone thought Sir Fratley lacked such a common, lowly thing as a sense of humor except for Freya, and she became adept at the light mockery and banter that seemed best to bring his rare smiles to light. And in the same way, everyone had long ago decided that the only companions Sir Fratley needed were duty and honor, so Freya made it her habit to constantly attend him, that he might not feel alone. In these things Freya had been utterly confident of her place at his side...but when her love for him was foremost in her mind, she had quailed.

Crossing her arms over her knees, Freya sighed and frowned, almost piqued with herself that she could not manage to quash down the very last of the tears that had welled up in her eyes when she'd first scrambled up this mountaintop over an hour ago, seeking solitude. Blinking rapidly while concentrating on drawing in deep, even breaths, she reflected on the state of things as they had been this morning.

She had been content, and more than content in the years prior to Sir Fratley's departure, despite her unrequited love. And until a brief hour ago, had been content as well, to let the memory of their former relationship lie quietly in her heart. There was no longer bitterness or anger, and neither did she want to pore over her memories and stir them up again. Like Sir Fratley's Novice medal that she had treasured for so long, she thought to simply keep them with her as a memento of what had been. She had his friendship and respect, and seemed to be regaining her position as the one oddity in all of Burmecia to make him smile, and dislodge a bit the mantle of formality and reserve he wore. As she had decided in Cleyra, it was enough. Even if she never again had the chance to speak of her love, even if he never regarded her more than a curiosity and companion, it was enough for her now. She had gotten over her loss, and found that what remained was sufficient.

But now there was a "what might have been," and it was this that made Freya struggle - have to really struggle - against tears of mourning for the second time. She had already fought her one battle of anger and pain at everything that had been taken away along with Sir Fratley's memory. But those were memories that she at least still held, even if Sir Fratley did not. Now, his brief question revealed a possible future that had been lost as well.

You did not know either, did you, that I had loved you?

Of course not! If she had, she wouldn't have hesitated a single instant, but asked - no, demanded - that he take her with him. Perhaps if she had known, she might have made known to him her own feelings, and she would not have even needed to ask...he would have come to her first. They might have even planned the trip together, assuming that the other would as a matter of course make the journey as well.

She hadn't just lost their shared past. She had lost one possible future with him.

She might have gone with him, and shared in the danger. Perhaps his memory would have remained intact, had she been there to give him aid. Or perhaps her memory would have been taken as well, but then at least she wouldn't have known what she'd lost.

You did not know either, did you, that I had loved you?

If he loved me then he should have told me so!

...yes, well, I loved him and I did not tell him either.

Freya gritted her teeth, her eyes shut tight and her expression a closed-in mask of pain. Then, as if her angry, unspoken accusation and mournful reply had been a sort of slap to her own face, she dropped her head into the arms crossed over her knees and moaned. It was a soft, helpless noise, and anyone who heard it come from her, of all Dragoons, would have likely staggered and then fallen over their own feet in surprise. She was, as Sir Fratley noted, emotional, but all of her outbursts were of a fiery, passionate sort...nothing at all like this quiet, despairing cry that no one was meant to hear.

* * * * *

Freya started and opened her eyes, and was surprised to find that she had dozed off after dropping her head down into her arms for a while. Still sitting in the same position, she closed her eyes once more and gingerly raised her head, wincing a bit at the stiffness that had settled into her muscles during her cramped nap on this cold, windy mountaintop. Massaging her neck with one hand, she gave a brief sigh as if to expel the very last of her unsettled emotions, and then opened her eyes.

Seated in front of her was Sir Fratley, watching her with as normal an expression as if he had simply joined her for a brief moment of stargazing.

The same could not be said of Freya's features at first, but she soon got them under her command once more, and then greeted him for lack of any other immediate ideas. "Good evening, Sir Fratley." She was relieved to hear her voice come out quite steadily. Her brief nap seemed to have settled her mind and heart wonderfully, and she felt quite calm now. Sir Fratley nodded to her in reply, and she asked, "What are you doing here?"

"I thought to watch over you, lest you tumble off of the top of the mountain," he said lightly.

She flushed slightly, but hoped that the dim moonlight was not sufficient to make it apparent, and retorted, "I am possessed of better balance and reflexes than that, Sir Fratley."

"Of course," he replied. "My apologies." They were both silent for a moment, and Freya began to wonder anew what he really was doing there, but then her companion spoke up once more.

"I have wronged you on another point as well," he began. "I have upset and distracted you while on this Journey, and I apologize."

Freya nodded briefly in acknowledgment. She knew as well as any Dragoon the importance of staying focused on a Journey, and felt regret that she'd once again behaved with such obvious emotion before her former Mentor. Self-control was not going to be high on Sir Fraltey's list of her commendable qualities. "I apologize as well," she said quickly, "for letting your words have such apparent effect on me."

After a moment's thought, Freya said, "In one way, I regret speaking so freely to you the afternoon before our departure, and must apologize for bringing it before you time and again. I spoke of broken hearts and unbearable pain, but I would now ask you to forget that I spoke at all, for truly, I am content as you bade me to be, with being your companion now." With a small moue of embarassment, she added, "It is to my shame that the topic would come up, and then lead to me abandoning an afternoon's worth of work, and I would not have it happen again."

After a moment's consideration, Fratley asked, "I am your former mentor, and a more seasoned veteran within the Dragoon Guards, and may command you as such, may I not?"

Freya had to stop her mental tracks entirely and reorient herself into the new conversational territory. It seemed that she would need to adjust herself to her companion's apparent propensity for responding to her sentimental moments with apparently unconnected questions and lectures about the code of knighthood they lived by. Although Sir Fratley's character and mindset had not changed in the years that she had thought him lost to her, still she had never before trod such conversational grounds with him, and every blundering thing she blurted out seemed to lead her straight into one of these strange, confusing talks with him.

"Of course," replied Freya, wondering if perhaps he would command her as her superior to not speak anymore of her feelings, that they might complete their Journey without any further distractions. A Dragoon on a mission for the King had one concern, and one concern only, and that was to return to the King, successful. All else in that Dragoon's life was secondary, and such insignificant secondary that it did not exist at all. On all the trips she had previously accompanied Sir Fratley on, there had been much confidential conversation and absolutely inane remarks made solely for the purpose of entertainment and camraderie. But of course, Sir Fratley did not remember any of their shared past and shared friendship, and disapproval of idle banter would be quite in keeping with his proper nature. But surely on a journey that might last for years, with two experienced warriors, allowances could be made? He had forgotten, but perhaps they might rediscover the friendship that had lain between them so long ago.

Freya turned her ears attentively to her former mentor, and readied herself for whatever command he might choose to issue.

"Then, Lady Freya," her former mentor announced sternly, "you will not apologize for how you feel towards me ever again."

Freya blinked, and then before she could help it, one eyebrow quirked up and one ear drooped down, and she stared at Sir Fratley all askew in obvious confusion.

He observed her expression, and to his credit, did not burst out laughing. He did press his lips together slightly, however, but perhaps it was a moue at her immature display, rather than an attempt to keep from smiling. With a thoughtful look at nothing at all, located somewhat to the left of her, Fratley said, "Perhaps it is churlish of me to say this, without being able to promise you a like devotion in return, but your faithfulness and love are a comfort to me."

"I have no memories of my life," he continued, and then looked off to the north, where Burmecia lay beyond the ocean. "And I found no one in all our kingdom who could claim to have held for me any large part of my past. None but one, who with remarkable steadfastness kept my memories alive within her own heart for the five years that I was dead to all around her, and then with great patience waited three more years for me to ask her about them once I had returned."

Pulling his eyes away from the inky darkness of the sea, Fratley fixed his gaze upon Freya once more and said in a grave and yet gentle voice, "I can not promise you anything, and do not take this harshly, for I have truly only met you a scant month ago. And so I will not expect nor ask you to keep so ever faithful...but while you do love me, never think that it is a burden to me. Indeed, in addition to comfort beyond measure, it is an honor to me, to have such a heart as yours to think of as mine."

Freya stared for a while, amazed beyond the realms of speech and motion at this unexpected and unprecedented confession. Apart from the sentimental tone of his words, there were hints of the loneliness and loss that Freya had guessed at yet never thought to hear him admit to, and it was several minutes before she found the voice to reply in a rather husky whisper, "The honor is mine..." She dropped her tented knees to sit in a cross-legged manner, and then bowed her head to him, feeling a bit overwhelmed.

When she raised her head, he was watching her still, and now with a faint smile about his face. Feeling that the conversation was safely over, Freya got up, twisting slightly to work a few kinks out of her back, and waited as Sir Fratley also rose at her mute suggestion that they leave this windblown spot and make their way back down to their encampment.

Once standing, Sir Fratley spoke again. "I agree with you," he added, "that our lost past is a distracting topic, and we shall not speak of it again while on this Journey." Freya nodded, but then Sir Fratley declared, "But once we are in Cleyra again, I intend to have this out with you. I can not forget your words, and neither do I wish for you to regret speaking them."

From bubbling anticipation over being able to wish him well on his birthday to sympathetic depression over the fact that she was the only one to do so, and from lonely tears at what had been lost to a new, secret hope welling up at what might yet be...all in one day. She really didn't have any control over her heart at all, and from the slight smile that now flickered over Sir Fratley's face, she could assume that she was not exercising very much control over her expression, either. She attempted to pull her features down into a mask more appropriate to a calm, collected Dragoon Knight, but then gave up after only a moment. It seemed to be her oddities that Sir Fratley found amusing, and she might as well be her-odd-self in front of the one she wished for. If she were to win him with utterly formal ways and manners, then the rest of her life would be torturous at least.

Freya gave up and smiled at Sir Fratley as inclinations gave her to do. It was a wide, utterly unabashed smile that had the qualities of both a blissful child and a contented woman, and this combination of innocent and wise happiness was a particular one that Fratley liked very much to see on this strange friend of his. To see her smile thus, and because of some chance thing that he had said, proved as satisfying to him as if he'd had a hand in some far greater task than simply making a woman smile.

How many people could he make smile, anyway, in this genuine manner? Probably no more than were gathered here on this mountaintop. But then, Freya was a rather unique woman...and on further thought, certainly he was a rather unique man. The thought seemed to him unusually amusing, and in his present mood - which was certainly more sentimental and light-hearted than even Freya might have dreamt - Fratley found it quite natural to return Freya's smile with one just as heartfelt, although perhaps not as wide.

The smile stayed on her face, but Freya's eyes went quite comically wide. But of course, as the sight of the most reserved of Dragoons smiling at her was as pleasing as it was unusual, her pale blue eyes were soon crinkled up in a happy expression once more. The quick revolutions in her features actually teased a short, breathy laugh from her companion, who then turned to lead the way off of the peak, shaking his head at her most of the way down.

Chapter 4

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