Demacia, Manor Farrister, Twelve Years Ago ...
A dainty hand rose and hovered wonderingly over the board before it would pick up the piece – an ivory rook, carved with excellent detail – before placing it on the square of her choice, pressing it lightly on the wooden board as if double-checking the situation, before she took it back and spoke out with a trace of smugness. “Check.”
Her opponent was none other than General Bryce Farrister, dubbed as the ‘Battle Falcon’ for his prowess in combat, the cunning in his tactics and the very living birds he had at his beck and call for which he was named after. He tilted his head slightly, his body bent forward in the seat so that he could prop his elbows on his knees and consecutively rest his chin in his open palms – his strikingly blue eyes ran across the board as the gears in his mind whirred and turned silently while he scratched the golden fuzz that covered his jaw. What she couldn’t see, however, was the sly smile that was hiding in his beard before the man straightened his back and reached out to move the black queen over the spot where the white rook stood, exchanging their places and then placing the sacrificed piece next to its brethren that formed the ‘graveyard’ at the edge of his side of the board.
Bryce took on his previous comfortable position, the game utterly forgotten as he stared at his daughter wistfully – how she changed. He could hardly believe it. Sitting opposite of him was a young girl on the verge to womanhood, with the same golden hair framing her fine, noble features and falling over her shoulders in spiraling curls. She also shared her father’s strikingly blue eyes, except that there was a spark of childish joy in them as she focused on the game of chess set below them, totally oblivious of the loving gaze her father was giving her. Unlike him, she sat in a straight posture which slightly leaned forward – ‘just like a lady should stand’, as her teaches would like to say – while raising her head slightly, trying to get a good view of the game board from the ‘high ground’, something her father had taught her well during their strategy lessons.
Bryce narrowed his eyebrows in interest as he noticed Tybresa crinkling her nose in focus – a subtle pang of pain shot through his heart as that small, almost insignificant tick reminded him of his wife. She is the perfect copy of her mother, he thought to himself. If it weren’t for the blonde hair and blue eyes she got from my side of the family, she would look –just- like Marcee. The thought brought a bittersweet taste in his mouth.
‘Check mate!’ the excited chirp brought the game back to his attention – while he was off in his own reverie of thoughts, Tybresa moved her tower where his black queen once stood, not only trapping his king in the corner, but his very own pawns blocking all the possible ways, having formed a front line of defense … while forgetting to cover his flanks. His eyes ran all over the board, his mind trying to tinker any possible way to keep the game going and turn it in his favor – which was unlikely. He hadn’t focused on the game at all, choosing to brood in his own thoughts instead.
However, he smiled as he reached out to pick up his king and make the piece jump past the pawn’s defensive line. “I think not, Bree.” He chuckled lightheartedly in his beard.
“Father!” her high-pitched voice chimed out. “That’s not fair!”
He stood up from his seat and walked over to where Tybresa was seated, lightly bending forward to pick up the girl and hug her lovingly. “Trust me, darling – if things were remotely fair during war, we would’ve won the one against Noxus a long time ago.”
Tybresa giggled as she willingly moved to complement her father’s own actions, standing up from her seat and wrapping her arms around his mid-section while letting her head rest on his chest and nuzzling her forehead against it lovingly.
Bryce laughed as well, one hand patting her warmly on her back while the other was caressing her hair – within him, however, he felt his heart twist painfully. When did Tybresa grow up so fast? He could hardly believe it that she was just one head shorter than him. He still remembers the quiet little doll that could barely reach his belt, had it not been for the pigtails that made her seem just a little bit taller than she actually was. He leaned in to plant a fatherly kiss on her head – he realized that his daughter was growing up and changing. And even though he felt infinitely proud at the beautiful and intelligent woman she was turning out to be, it was shadowed by the sadness of the thought that she would gradually slip through his fingers and out of his grasp, a poor little canary soon to be sucked in the cruel, harsh storm the world outside their house would turn out to be.
A knock at the study’s door was the entire announcement they received before Otis, the Farrister Steward, stepped in and smiled at the sight. It did not last long, however, for he immediately assumed a serious expression as he spoke out. “It is time for Lady Tybresa to go to bed.”
“Awwww …” she said dejectedly as she was the first to break the hug, still keeping one hand resting on Bryce’s back while looking at Otis with sad puppy eyes. “Must I really, Uncle? I was about to win at chess!”
The sagely man kept his composure as his clever brown eyes went from the General to the child, seeming immune to her pleading as he spoke out wryly. “I fear it is an indisputable fact, Tybresa – besides, we wouldn’t want to you to beat the General too much at his own game. That may ruin his reputation.”
Tybresa giggled once again, the sound filling the room like an orchestra of glass bells ringing in harmony as she walked away from her father with small, reluctant steps and instead wrap her arm around Otis’, clinging childishly to him. “Very well then, Uncle. The least I would want to do is to bring dishonor to my beloved father’s name.” She threw a glance at Bryce, who had taken one step forward towards the two before awkwardly folding his hands behind his back, only to find his resolve melt when his daughter looked at him. He smiled in his beard – he would give away his entire reputation just to see her smile, if only for a moment. He would give away the world just to make her happy …
And yet, he averted his gaze off the two, his expression dropping to a frown – he noticed the spark of genius and maturity in his daughter’s eyes that had replaced the childlike glow he remembered when he last looked into them. Did that change or disappear, as well? He asked himself.
Still, he took notice of the silence that fell over the room as the two of them were waiting for the General to snap out of his thoughts and say something – anything – to assure them that he would be fine. That he would live through another night.
He cleared his throat awkwardly and spoke out in a joking tone. “You forget, Otis, that I beat the King himself at a game of chess – the only person I would expect to top that off would be my own daughter!” He let out a boisterous laughter, yet he knew it was forced.
It had an effect, however, for Tybresa’s own girlish giggle distinguished itself amongst the General’s laughter.
“Good night, Father.” She said softly as soon as it all had died down. “Sleep well.”
Bryce nodded his head as he saw the Steward gently lead his daughter towards the door, before he felt a sudden panic wash over him. “Otis!” he called out far louder than he had intended, making their heads snap back towards him with expressions of concerns.
****. He cursed at himself as he stood there awkwardly, unsure just what he had intended. Bryce raised his hand to wag his finger at Otis while he smiled nervously. “You take good care of my daughter, now.”
The Steward’s brown eyes lit up if only for a moment, seeming to take a sort of hint in his words. He then bowed his head in a gesture of servility. “Yes, my lord.” And with that said, he pulled at Tybresa’s hand as the child moved with a great deal of reluctance, keeping her gaze glued to her father’s form until it was severed by the door closing between them.
The General let out a sigh and went to sprawl himself on his chair as he morosely stared at the ‘unfinished’ game of chess laid out on the table. He ran his fingers through his beard absentmindedly as he brooded, finding his gaze pinned to the black queen that lay forgotten in the graveyard at the side of the board.
A fear took over him after realizing the fate that could befell his daughter, now that she was old enough to be expected to stand on her two feet – how would she fare against the waves the world would throw against her? Would her petite frame crumble under the weight? Would her heart be scarred by the cruelty she would see? He knew full well that his daughter was still quite naive – she led a sheltered life, sticking to her books and lessons. Tybresa did not have an accurate portrayal of the world that stretched itself beyond her bedroom. He was afraid – no, terrified – that as soon as she realized just how ugly the outside world could be, that her heart would simply … break and shatter.
He realized she needed a protector …
But he was growing older with each passing year – he was still standing strong at the present, but how long will that last?
No … he needed someone else …
He didn’t realize that Otis had since longed entered the room again and was well on his way to pour a glass of brandy for his General.
“Is she asleep?” was all he could muster.
“Reading a book, but as we speak, her eyelids must be already drooping under the night’s weight.” Was the answer he received amongst the soft clinking of the bottle being set down before the Steward walked over to Bryce and offered him the glass.
Bryce accepted the brandy with a curt nod of his head and drank it all in a single go, grimacing as he felt the liquid burn down his throat. It did not clear the frown on his face and neither did it pierce the black clouds hanging over his head.
“What is on your mind, Bryce?” Otis spoke out – though this time, not through the guise of a humble servant, but more as an adviser. His brother-at-arms and childhood friend.
“She … she grew up so fast.” Was all Bryce found himself saying.
“She has. She will make a fine woman. I almost feel sorry for the other girls of her generation – she took all that was best from both you and Marcelaine. She is not a flower – she is a diamond.”
Bryce nodded, wholeheartedly agreeing with his friend’s words. And still … “Am I a bad father, Otis? I never realized this even happened. She’s just …. She changed a lot.”
Otis paused in thought. “You’ve been through a lot, Bryce – don’t kick yourself too much about it. Tybresa understands. She misses her father, but she understands you’re still going through a hard time.”
“… how long has it been?” he spoke out weakly.
“My god … two years. I can’t believe it.” He said, still staring into the nothingness as he hated the bitter taste he felt on his tongue. “Where did time go?”
“It kept moving on while you closed your eyes and pretended it was standing still.”
His friend’s words stung, but they rang as true as the falcon’s cry. Bryce immediately jumped up from his seat, as if it was searing hot, and walked towards the door, barely taking note of Otis’ concerned voice. “Where are you going?”
“Out.” Was all he said, before adding. “For a breath of air.”
The chilly air helped clear his head and his lungs as Bryce stalked the empty streets of Demacia, dressed in a simple white military uniform with the same-colored falconer’s cloak covering his shoulders that helped fend off the cold. Under the moon’s pallor, he looked like a ghost wandering aimlessly – but the General had a plan forming in his mind as he walked at a brisk pace, his gaze focused forward.
A shrill cry overhead broke him out of his thoughts, managing to throw a single glance up before being shadowed by the form of a bird soaring above the rooftops. The creature cried out again before it suddenly folded its wings close to its body and fell at an incredible speed, seeming like it was intent to crash against the cobbled street - …
Until it opened its wings at the right moment, bouncing back up in the air only to slow down and circle directly above his head before perching herself on the left pauldron-perch of his falconer cloak, letting her claws comfortably sink in the armor, knowing full well it would not hurt her master.
Bryce smiled as he raised a gloved hand to stroke the she-falcon’s head, the bird lovingly nuzzling its head against his hand like a kitten. “Hey there, Misha – I thought you were asleep.”
All he got from the falcon was a squawk, though the sound itself was far more meaningful – Bryce was a descendant of the falconers of Farrister, said to have been able to communicate freely with all the creatures of the sky like they could with another human being. The gift was passed on from generation to generation, albeit becoming weaker as the bloodlines mixed – while he could still make out just what the birds were saying, it didn’t compare to the gift his ancestors had.
“Yeah. Just out for a night stroll…” he said thoughtfully. “Actually, I have a plan in mind. If you want to come with me, you’ll have to promise me to keep it secret.”
Misha opened her wings and squawked again – that was all he needed to hear. Bryce resumed walking, this time at a slower pace as not to throw the perched falcon on his shoulder off-balance, the creature constantly folding and unfolding her wings, ready to fly should she feel the need to.
The General made his way through the seemingly-deserted city, the citizens blissfully unaware of the ghost stalking outside their cozy homes as they relaxed before bed-time. He followed the Main Street through the market, where he met a guard patrol. He was quickly recognized, however, and after passing formalities with the soldiers – fine men, those two – he was left to his own devices, seemingly making his way up the street that branched off left and right. To anyone watching him, it almost looked like he was making his way to the palace, until he took a sudden turn left and kept on walking, then taking another right and …
He found himself before the Crownguard Estate, the lights still shining through the night’s veil through not only the manor’s windows, but also all around the grounds. The household was still awake, which was a relief. The General quickly covered the distance, the guards once again stopping him at the gilded gate before they let him in with a salute and a formality – until finally, he was in front of the grand double doors that would allow him inside.
He almost turned the doorknob open before Misha let out a shrill shriek, reminding him to knock at the door – what was he thinking? – And not to forget his manners. The General stroked the falcon’s chest in a sign of gratitude before he did so, knocking several times on the door as loudly as he could, making sure to wake up the entire household if he had to.
He needed to talk to the Patron of House Crownguard tonight.
The Crownguard Estate's residents were still awake, mostly due to a sort of celebration for Garen's entry into the military with high marks. There were still more expectations being put on the young man's shoulders, but it was to be expected from a first-born of the Crownguard line. There was a swift knock on the door, and Garen's father excused himself from the presence of his family as he opened the door. To his surprise, he found General Farrister and Misha on his doorstep.
"General Farrister. A pleasant surprise. Please, do come inside." Garen's father said, then stepped aside to make room for the General to enter through the doorway. As the General entered, the father closed the door.
"To what do I owe the honor of this visit?"
Bryce would flex his hand into a fist and back open nervously as he waited for the door to open – what took so long? He was set to knock again, but he heard a key turning, the knob being pressed on and the door swinging open – to reveal the very man he sought to speak with.
Well. This is a fortunate circumstance.
The General raised his hand to give the man a respectful military salute as befit someone of his stature – even though they were on friendly relationships, Bryce’s peasant-born house couldn’t compare to the noble house of Crownguard.
“Lord Crownguard.” He returned the greeting with a joyous hint in his voice, as if there was nobody else in this world he would have rather seen. “I’m honored it was you who opened the door. My thanks.” He bowed down respectfully – making Misha squawk as she fluttered her wings and took flight, unable to hold her balance with all the sudden movements he was making. Damn, I forgot about her. He cursed himself in his thoughts as the she-falcon would perch herself on the open door instead, letting out a displeased squawk.
“Ah, heh – do not mind her, Lord Crownguard. Misha’s one of my favorite falcons. She’s well-trained and can be quite the harmless kitten.” He said apologetically until, finally, he stepped within the large main hall the Crownguard Estate had to offer. His blue eyes and clever mind, however, immediately got to work, studying the structure and furniture, taking notice of any tactical spots or defensive weaknesses. It was a habit that, while many people would consider it as paranoid, he was thankful for – it kept his mind sharp.
The General turned to face Lord Crownguard as he smiled in his beard – Misha promptly flew back on the left shoulder-perch Bryce’s falconer cloak had to offer her. “I hear the sound of celebration further down the hall. Don’t tell me I interrupted some family festival, did I? If so, my apologies – I’m sure your family misses you …”
He was starting to have second thoughts about this. It was such an odd, unfamiliar feeling to him – to be riddled with doubt and indecision. Those were the very things that would’ve proved fatal on the battlefield. “Ah … perhaps we should stop by another time?” He exchanged glances with Misha, but the falcon squawked angrily at him – she admonished him for even thinking of fleeing the battlefield. Great. Even my falcon is calling me crazy. He thought bitterly to himself.
Lord Crownguard smiled as the formalities were over, then observed as the falcon squawked at the General. Lord Crownguard has not much experience with falcons and their behaviors, but it must be somewhat important for the falcon to be squawking as much as it was. It was his speculation.
"Do not worry, General. It is my son, Garen, who had been missed until now. The boy returned with exemplary marks from the military."
Lord Crownguard let out a controlled laugh, then raised a brow at the sudden change of heart of the General.
"You've come to my doorstep this late into the night, General. I am sure we could discuss it now, if it were that important to have you leave your household."
Bryce looked at Lord Crownguard with an expression that grew more and more surprised at his words, only to quickly smile as widely as his beard would let him.
“Ah, so I’ve heard. My most sincere congratulations – you must be the most fortunate father in entire Valoran, second to only the King. I’ve heard many things about your son – about his courage and exemplar discipline, his strength and valor … I am impressed. I am sure dragons would cower at his sight.”
Then he swallowed dryly and paused, before he would walk to Lord Crownguard’s side and speak in a lower tone than he had until now. “To be completely honest – I came to you so late of an hour to speak about both our families.” He glanced at Misha – and the falcon glanced at him, almost suspiciously so – no backing off now, Mish, he thought to himself.
“Ah, but perhaps …” he raised his hand to gesture forward. “Could we discuss this in private? Your study, maybe?”
As Lord Crownguard listened to the General's kind words, his lips curved upward into a smile. However, he was surprised when General Farrister lowered his tone. Lord Crownguard took a deep breath, then glanced toward where his family had been gathered. He ushered the General towards a hallway and a flight of stairs, eventually into Lord Crownguard's study.
"Speak your mind, General. These walls have heard many secrets, but told none."
Bryce narrowed his eyes ever-so-slightly as he studied Lord Crownguard's reaction, only to finally relax a bit as the man would gesture for him to walk with him, following the man to his study while brooding on the way. He got so far now - how was he supposed to state his claim now? He had never been a good diplomat - that was Otis' job ... Nevertheless, he promised he'd do his best - for her sake.
The General stood in the middle of the study, not exactly interested in his current ambient - Misha, however, remained obediently quiet, tilting and canting her head as she would look around with fascination. It certainly was more spacey and decorated than her Master's ...
Bryce raised his gaze to meet that of the man, before he cleared his throat - it was important that he not speak his mind, lest he'd fluke everything. He would have to take a more subtle approach to the topic.
"Your son is a very accomplished man at his age, Lord Crownguard. The best of the men in his division - hell, I can almost see him being Captain of the Vanguard soon. Well trained, good upbringing ... If anyone could point out a flaw at him, it's him being too perfect." He chuckled wryly, but he realized it must have been a very very bad joke, for Misha would stare at him before lightly shaking her head. He cleared his throat.
"Ah-he-hem ... what I am trying to say is ... he must certainly be a very sought-after bachelor. All the ladies turn their heads to stare at him when he passes. Some of them even faint ..." He was beginning to prattle off aimlessly again. He would lightly pace left and right. "Anyway, I imagine you must have a good match for him in store, do you not? Or does the lad already have someone in mind?"
Lord Crownguard started getting a faint hint of what the General was getting at, but it was best to let it unfold. He looked at the books and parchments, and other documents in his study as he listened to the General.
"It is true, my son has brought great honor to our family. He's had his eye on House Laurent's eldest daughter, though a bit of a father-son conversation about duty and serving Demacia, he hasn't been in... active search, of the ladies."
Lord Crownguard shrugged a little, then turned his attention to the General and his falcon.
"I have not a woman selected for my son, General. Although... You have a daughter, do you not? A fine, intelligent girl as I have heard."
Bryce would nod his head as Lord Crownguard spoke his peace, pacing around the room only to turn to the window of the study, returning to his usual brooding demeanor as a frown marred his previously-cheery features. At his last sentence, he deepened his frown, turning his head to the man's general direction, but not looking at him at all - his cunning blue eyes were now unfocused and cloudy, shadowed by whatever storm clouds riddled his mind. His voice was hollow, yet tinged with sorrow.
"Yes. She is already seventeen years of age, or so I have been told. On the brink of womanhood - she grew up ... fast. And I never noticed it through all this time."
He sighed and turned his attention to the window - he did not want Lord Crownguard to see him cringe in pain like a wounded hound. Misha remained quiet and frozen on her shoulder-perch, as if she were a statue and not a living creature - her amber eyes, however, seemed to weight heavily on Bryce, staring at him blankly.
"My daughter is everything to me in this god-forsaken world. I worked my hands to the bone to provide her with all there was to have, if only to see her smile..."
Pause. He breathed in, telling himself to get a grip of himself - the Lord won't look on him any favorably if he tried to appeal at his pity. He had to make his point now, before he'd lose his opportunity ... and the Falcon never loses the opportunity. While Bryce didn't look at him, his voice boomed out gravely, like a General would whenever he had to make a speech to the thousands of men and women that he may never see again after the battle was consumed.
"I think you already suspected what I had in mind to tell you, Lord Crownguard. I wish to offer my daughter's hand in marriage to your son."
Lord Crownguard was not one for dilly dallying when it came to options. He was decisive, to the point where his critics say he barely thinks before he acts. He was a stalwart man, full of conviction, and he dealt with the consequences of his decisions after he had made them. Nevertheless, the General should not be surprised at the fast response.
"I ask you, General. If we take my son out of the picture, and just replace him with a regular soldier who had an abnormal amount of skill and valor. If he was not Garen Crownguard, would you still offer your daughter's hand?"
The Lord Crownguard has had many fathers visit him, offering the hands of their daughters for Garen, though he had rooted out that all the previous men just wanted a connection to House Crownguard. A marriage with such an intent was bound to be very unhappy. Lord Crownguard did not doubt the General's spirit, but he had to be fair to all his peers. If he asked the previous fathers this question, he must ask the General as well.
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