The Arl of Scowls
|Residence||Kirkwall, Free Marches (not for long)|
|Occupation||Squire to a noble family of Kirkwall.|
|Gear||Antivan Longbow, full leather armor including The Bear's Embrace (Dark brown, almost black leather tunic with the Howe/Amaranthine crest embossed in the middle), Worn Golden Ring, Dusk Ring|
|Behind the Mask|
Nathaniel scowled, his callused hands working to maintain their grip on the ship's rain-slick railing. The merchant ship had left Kirkwall only a day ago, but the Waking Sea was angry, and apparently intent on digging into his past memory with every salty, stinging wave. How long had it been since he'd made this voyage? Six, seven years? A long period of time, to be sure, but in truth he'd expected it to be longer. Father had intimated as such in his previous letters. His father. Nathaniel's face tightened as both his mind and body suffered another cold blow. He could still remember the day he'd left for the Marches, dark cloak wrapped tightly around him in the shadow of Amaranthine and its harbor. The smell of salt and posies from his sister's tearful goodbye. His father's face, jaw locked and eyes expectant. Thomas, keeled over vomiting in a nearby barrel. The heir apparent, obviously.
"Nathaniel." He could hear father's cool, almost mocking tone reverberating in his head. "Jealousy does you no favors, boy. Perhaps you'll learn some manners and some skill in your time away from here."
They were words he had taken to heart. To be a teenage squire in Kirkwall was an honor many of his comrades failed to fully appreciate, in his mind. He was there to learn his craft, to become worthy of the prestige and honor that associated itself with the Howe name. Others seemed to find the opportunity given to them in the Free Marches as some sort of extended vacation, which was a level of ridiculousness and frivolity that he himself found hard to fathom. Chasing skirts did not teach you how to track a man; did not teach one to notice the subtle signs of passing and activity that evaded most normal eyes. Drunken lechery and revels did not instruct you on the careful mixing of toxic and paralyzing agents, nor steel your nerves to wait for the impossibly short moment where a man left his guard down, allowing an arrow or dagger to pierce his flesh. No. These things did not teach you to be worthy of a name.
Seven years earlier:
Nathaniel reached to feel the worn Antivan bow almost instinctively, its careful polish being ruined by the maelstrom. His father's last words to him were more vivid now, as if he could hear Rendon's voice even over the constant roar of thunder and waves.
"Nathaniel." Simple. To the point. Without any useless emotional embellishment. "You know what your duty in the Marches is, do you not?"
He nodded, eyes locked with his father's. "I am to learn, father. To become a man worthy of defending and honoring the Howes."
"Mmm. Worthy." Rendon looked away, the frown lines in his face creasing again. "Do you understand how it is that the Howe name came to be honored, boy? We drove the Orlesians out with our bare hands, took back what was rightfully ours." His gaze turned back to Nathaniel, appraising and unwavering. "A man has a duty to take what is rightfully his. To maintain and expand his name. There are others in this family who forgot the call of duty for their own fanciful whims." The look grew almost menacing. "Pray you learn your role, rather than forget it."
Nathaniel could feel his own eyes steel in response and the then-unmarred fingers of his right hand gripping his own splintered bow. "My duty to my family has always been foremost in my mind, father. I will not disappoint you."
"Indeed." Rendon looked to the side, finally noticing his eldest son's distress. "Well, Nathaniel. We'll see."
The storm was dying down now, both in his mind and in the air. With the renewed sense of balance, he let go of the railing and dug in the pocket of his tunic for the letter he had read so many times since its delivery. His father, summoning him back to his side. A country in disarray, his family at the forefront of setting things right once more. Clearly, Delilah's somewhat worrisome correspondence owed itself to stress and miscommunication, no doubt on the part of their drunken brother or the chatter of jealous nobles. He unfolded the letter to remind himself of its contents once more, before settling back to look out towards the waning waves.
He was needed, finally. And he would fulfill his duty to the Howe family.