Tori enjoyed the season of war more than most Altonians. Not because he took pleasure in battle; in truth he possessed little heart for war. There were seldom wars any longer and queens were less eager for conquest than their husbands or fathers. In his one trip abroad for battle, Tori had been near the rear of the formation and he had not felt any real danger from a foreign blade. Tori Trediasryn enjoyed the season of war because its end saw her return.

He would not call it love. They were far too young for such a thing and they saw each other far too little for such commitment. She was, however, his dearest friend and closest companion. She was what he longed for, so much so that the months without her seemed empty. When her father returned for the hunt, Tori's world became complete.

Torches surrounded the festival ground, bathing the dancers in the flickering light. The music played and the dancing had already begun. On the outer edges of the Altonian kingdom, people still grasped at the heritage they cherished before they were conquered by the warrior race. In Tori's village this desire manifested itself in the people's dance. Side by side, two couples would dance with distinctly differing styles. One pair would have swords drawn, their movements designed to display their physical skill and martial prowess. The pair beside them would dance in the style of the northern people, their movements intended to bring them close and allow them the comfort of physical contact.

Tori, however, was not among those enjoying the dancing. The young man was lacking in both the desire to display his skill and a partner to seek comfort in. Instead, he watched, pleasantly amused by the actions of his kinsfolk. The drink was the subject that interested him the most and he had already enjoyed several before the crowd grew around the bar, eager for their own round of ale. His people joined him in their own time and Tori was glad for the company.

She had not yet arrived, which was expected. Perhaps half the years, she would be with Tori during the celebration of the festival. He did not overly concern himself; she would not approve of his actions if she had been present. As the crowd gathered around him and the drink took a stronger hold upon his senses, Tori would often take to dancing and singing to express himself. He would entertain those around him for a time, though his enthusiasm for the song was far greater than the strength of his voice. His dancing was of the northern style and was more for his own enjoyment than for anyone else.

The problems would arise as the hours passed. Tori's knowledge of the songs he chose to sing faded, replaced with an incoherent mess that more closely resembled shouting than any tune or note. His dancing similarly suffered as the night progressed and he became a rambling, stumbling accident as he moved recklessly about the room.

It was then that he lost the crowd to other forms of entertainment. At a point in the evening when the early risers had taken once again to their homes, Tori was left alone to find company in his drink. As the stars began to fade in anticipation of the coming dawn, Tori spoke slowly to his sole remaining companion. To the owner of the inn, who had spent his evening catering to the young man's needs, Tori said;

"One more before the night ends,"

These were the intended words, at least. The thought that formed them was significantly clearer than the mouth that gave them voice. The words that came out were unintelligible and gained nothing for him aside from the frustration of his server. The annoyance was made greater when Tori did not choose to make his intention more clear. Instead, he made a move to stand.

The owner did not know if Tori intended to depart from the inn or if his motion was to allow a violent act. It is likely that even Tori did not know why he stood. Neither choice came to any importance, however. Before he came to any decision, the movement cost him his footing. He made no effort to right himself as he fell, nor did he attempt to catch himself and lessen the impact. Tori lay on the floor, sleeping unaware.

The morning passed him by and gave way to the afternoon before he stirred from his sleep. His arrival in his home was a mystery to him, but he had encountered that question often enough to make a guess at the reason. He made a slow movement, taking his time before he would properly rise. When he did, his head pounded and ached with each step, giving him a greater reluctance to continue the tiring journey toward the door. His bed was far more inviting than the unpleasant encounter that awaited him beyond this room. For this reason, Tori abandoned his attempts at leaving the comfort of his room, choosing instead to take an extended break from movement.

For several hours he lay there, awake but dreading the motion needed to continue with his day. Finally, his headache passed and he felt himself gain more control of his body. He rose once more and made his slow exit into the remainder of his home.

Beyond the door, lying in a predatory wait, was the explanation Tori expected. His father had patiently awaited his son's emergence from the hold of slumber. He sat upon his chair, reading his book. It was filled with the great heroes of Altonia's past, written by Tori's father in the hopes of convincing his future wife to courtship. The book had once belonged to Tori's mother, but it had returned to his father when she died. It was not out of sorrow that he read the pages that day, however. He looked to the stories written within for guidance and as a reminder to his only child.

"Did you enjoy yourself last night?" the father asked.

Tori considered for a moment, making it appear as a laborious effort to decide the answer to so simple a question. His smile grew as his silence took a clear toll upon his father's mood.

"I believe I did, father," Tori replied as he gathered a cup of water that had been brought in that morning.

"Is that uncertainty due to a lack of memory or is it your idea of wit?"

"Wit," Tori assured him. He took a long drink in the hopes it would fight the ache that began to linger upon his head. "I was not so bad last night."

"It is difficult to tell sometimes," his father admitted. "It should not be a question I have to ask anymore, however. Such excess is the mark of a child, not a man."

"I am still young," Tori protested. His voice remained as calm as any other time. This topic was one that had been broached before. "There is nothing wrong with enjoying my youth while I am not burdened with great responsibility."

"You are a man," his father stressed. "You have had your Acceptance and you have taken your oath to your knight. You must accept that there is a responsibility that comes just from this." There were the beginnings of anger in his voice as he said this, but he took a moment to calm himself before he continued. "You must learn to accept that acting so selfishly and so thoughtlessly will take its toll upon you. It will cost you. She arrived this morning. She seemed very disappointed that you had not awakened, but I assured her that you needed the rest to shake off the night's festivities."

Tori was no longer amused with conversation with his father. His father could have easily told him of her visit when he awoke. He would have been out the door already, racing across the village in an effort to see her. It is possible that he would have already arrived at her father's lodging, for the village was small and Tori had the speed of a driven youth. Instead, the old man had delayed and his son still faced the task of making himself ready to face the world, something he had hoped not to do that day. Still, the season of her arrival was far too short to waste a moment and Tori rushed as best he could. His heart raced as he dressed. He would see her soon.

His boots sounded over the well-worn road, a graceless falling that announced each step. The markets neared their close and Tori was forced to compete for the space to move. He grew impatient, knowing that the waning of the day would soon limit the joy of their reunion.

He passed by the shops, which provided for the basic wants of the people. He passed by the farmed fields, which provided for the basic needs of the people. He even passed by an area of woods, which provided the things that the fields could not. It was here that he came upon her house.

It was a simple house, consisting of only a few small rooms. It was worn in many places and would require maintenance before it became comfortable during the approaching winter. Her father was accustomed to this, having done such work many times over the years. Tori admired her father's handiness. Aside from his work as a royal hunter, he seemed as skilled in matters of the house as he was with the bow.

He stopped running. He had only a few steps remaining before he was at her door. Sweat covered his skin and soaked his clothes. His boots were heavy and dragged as he walked. He was tired, yet still he smiled. His body ached but he urged it on, knowing she awaited him just beyond that door.

He knocked and she answered. His breath was still short yet he smiled. Her face had not changed since the previous year, though her black hair had grown longer. The look she gave him was a mixture of bewilderment at his arrival, amusement at his state, and joy at the sight of him. He leaned against the frame of the door, weary from his exertion. She made a move to embrace him but he spoke to stop her.

"It's okay," Tori said. "I am sticky." His words were broken and his ragged breathing slowed him down.

"I have been exposed to sweat before, Tori," she assured him. She wrapped her arms around him and he made no move to avoid her. "I am glad you woke up today."

"I did not sleep as late as you say," Tori answered when his breath had returned to normal. "But I am glad that you arrived so soon." They parted but remained near each other as they entered the small home. Water was brought for Tori and he drank it eagerly, enjoying the return of the fluid he had lost.

"Where is your father?" Tori asked. They had taken to the small lounge, near the front door. The inside of the home was clean yet rustic. In truth it was little more than a winter home for the royal hunter.

"He is gathering wood," she replied. "He said that, should you arrive, you may eat the evening meal with us."

"Good," Tori said with a smile. "Afterward, we can go into town and celebrate your return properly. The drink is especially good this year."

After a long seven months, Tori's world once again became complete.