Thalric and Jalinda stood in the dappled sunlight of deep, mossy greenery and dark and massive leaning trees on the edge of the forest near Evermore with a weary Durana between them, her arms about their shoulders, watching Balaudron's wagon rumble away.
"As promised," Durana murmured to Jalinda. "Welcome back."
Jalinda nodded a little shakily. "That was... it's going to take a lot of getting used to. When will-?"
"Harl be in your mind again? Only when the need arises."
"I should be on that wagon," Thalric growled. "The duke..."
"Will do just fine without you. Halwend will speak in your absence, and Thegryn is watchful of the other Camlorn Blades. They'll both try to explain to the duke that they had nothing to do with this."
Thalric sighed. "I very much want to know what the two of you are doing in Evermore at all."
Durana nodded. "Trying to accomplish three things: One, save High Rock from its present troubles - treacherous nobles as usual, but also the puppeteers behind them - plus other villainy that's gathering around Tamriel and awaiting a good time to strike."
She looked meaningfully at Jalinda. "Two, secure the loyalty of certain individuals such as yourselves to aid in the serving of High Rock and the rest of Tamriel."
Jalinda went white. "I... I don't think I'm ready... or worthy."
"Good," Durana said with a sudden smile. "That reassures me greatly; you'll do fine. Three, gather up artefacts of certain value to Harlwystyr, to use them to do a good and necessary thing."
"Later, Thalric. I need a few answers, first. Where does Thalric Camry stand? What is Jalinda to you, really? And whom do you serve first: yourself, the Camlorn Blades, the Crown of Evermore, or-?"
Thalric stared at Durana Emhardt for a moment then said slowly, "I regard Jalinda as a friend
. One I am honoured to have, not a playpretty or someone to, ah, exploit. My lady, if she'll have me. And no, after standing for her and the company, I stand for no one."
Durana smiled again. "And Jalinda, what matters most to you, right now?"
Jalinda blushed and stared down at the toes of her boots as she spoke, "Thalric's regard. After that, the Camlorn Blades."
"And becoming mistress to a mercenary captain whose name may or may not be Camry seems less than attractive?"
"Lady Durana," Thalric said sharply, "those words try both my honour and that of this lady!"
"No doubt," Durana replied calmly. "Yet being as you leap at her defense, Sir Camry, I ask you: if the authorities of Evermore would seek danger upon her because she aided you in 'stealing' the Flamesteel Blade, what will Jalinda do?"
A mercenary's hand waved dismissively. "In half a day I could see her well placed in service to the duke again, if she wishes."
Jalinda's face told all of the surrounding forest how little this suggestion pleased her, and Thalric added hastily, "Or I have influence enough - with some certain contacts I have made - to get her into the castle."
Jalinda gave him a sidelong glance. "Oh? Nobles and guardsmen like to watch bare redguard women dance?"
Thalric nodded then reddened. "Yes well, there are also... ah, other things."
Jalinda's stare sharpened. "So what is a woman who does those 'other things' around the castle called? Bedescort? Bedmaid? Or something slightly less polite?"
Thalric winced, then said carefully, "Jalinda, I did not mean to give offense. I- oh, Divines blast, I'm less than good at this..."
"Oh, I'd not say that," Jalinda replied gently. "So, would you expect to be a frequent patron of mine? Or will I be nightly facing a long line of snooty old nobles?"
Some hours of striding later, Durana turned Thalric a little wearily. "So we're in a forest. Are you leading us to an available hunting lodge or something?"
Thalric shook his head. "I know a better place. We want to be properly cozy, if the duke is sending out hounds for us soon."
Jalinda whirled to face him, almost knocking Durana headlong into a three. "Is
the duke sending hounds after us soon?"
Thalric smiled crookedly. "We'll just have to see, Jalinda. We'll just have to see." He reached out to run fingers through her hair. "In the meantime, this strong and tall body of mine-"
"Is getting hungry and will want to eat well before dark," Durana said firmly. "Even lust-smitten young mercenaries have to eat. Although I'm certain this 'better place' you speak of boasts a bed the two of you will waste no time in bouncing on, I trust there's also a hearth, and plenty of firewood, and a good cooking cauldron or two. Oh, and a ladle; scalding my fingers through stirring with them is not something I've grown fond of."
"Gods," Thalric murmured, "this journey is going to be as lengthy as a harvest season."
Jalinda glanced at Durana, then sent Thalric a rueful smile. "If you say so, Thalric."
"That which you have agreed to; do you regret it?" Durana whispered. "Shall I try to find a priest who can reverse the spell, and free you from Harl's riding?" She pulled the coffer from her bodice and held it up meaningfully.
," Thalric said forcefully.
Jalinda wagged a finger at him and said fiercely, "This is my decision and my
business, Thalric Camry. Not yours."
She looked at Durana. "No. I... I've been allowed to read his mind in equal measures, during the... the eternity we spent sharing. I... Divines, there's a lot to be done! Let's be getting on with it!"
Durana smiled at her - and started to weep silently, her eyes shining through her tears.
"Well done, Jalinda," she whispered. "Oh, well done!"
Over Durana's shoulder, Jalinda caught sight of Thalric's face. He looked so unnerved that she smirked and added dryly, "Thalric, I do believe we'll manage to find a little time together first. Just find us that bed."