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It wasn't a smooth journey, but then, whoever expected a smooth journey? Still, a few blood zombies and an extremely unfortunate bandit hardly constituted serious trouble, and after a few days of travel, they made it back to the old estate.

Well, what was left of it. Almost two decades had passed since the House had fallen, only a little less than that since she'd last been there, and nature and time had taken care of what little Malbride and the Order had left behind. The old keep was a tumbled-down ruin mostly hidden from view by the vines that had grown over it, and only barely could she see the vague outline of the foundations. Somewhere under all of that was the old cellar, which had survived the fire and the fall, but there was very little here of the home where she'd grown up...

For a second, tears pricked her eyes, and she groped blindly for Squint's hand. He was there, of course. He was always there. Fathom... no, she had to try to remember, Ceridwen now... glanced up at the man she'd wed and saw that his eyes were distant as he stared at the rubble. Better to break him out of whatever thoughts that were trying to grab at him.

"Come on, we should find a good place to pitch a tent for the night," she said, pulling at his arm, away from the ruins. In a few days or weeks, others would start arriving, hands to help build actual buildings and people who were willing to start new lives here, but for now, they'd be living like they were still traveling.

Down the hill slightly there were the ruins of the farmsteads, and even less remained there. Wooden houses burned even more thoroughly, after all, and enough time had passed that the ash had been absorbed by the soil. Remarkably healthy weeds grew here, as well as a mixture of the plants that had originally been cultivated. Trees growing in, too, it'd be a pain to clear them.

"Did you ever come back... after?"

He shook his head. "Not since they dug me out. We started running hard and fast after that..." he looked down at her with a gentle smile. "Well... you know."

"There's a grave marker over there," she said, nodding. Not much of one, and only one grave for so many dead, but by the time someone got around to burying them, no one knew who was who (or if they did, hid that knowledge for fear of joining them).

"Maybe later," he said, turning towards her and embracing her. "We should find a good spot before it gets too dark."

Ceridwen looked around, trying to match the unfamiliar surroundings with the old lands of her childhood. "This way, I think." Back behind the old kitchens, there was a worn path to the river, one that not even 20 years of neglect could erase. And off of that path... an old deer-trail, now nearly as clear as the path itself. The animals had come back to it, then. But she'd traveled the path a thousand times as a young girl, and her feet still knew the way. Down to the left, up over the little hummock with all the ferns, right at the old oak... and the path suddenly opened up into a small glade on the edge of the river. It'd had been her favorite place to hide when she was a child.

"Ceri... this is beautiful," he said, walking up behind her and wrapping his arms around her, and she fought back tears again with a conditioned reflex.

"Only Enid and I knew about it," she said, looking around. It seemed miraculously unchanged. "I remember it being bigger, though."

"Well, you were a lot smaller then," he said with a laugh.

Without another word they fell to their normal tasks, she pitching the tent and he starting the fire. She laid out the bedrolls and carefully set the stones that were tied to Lin Zeshu near her pillow. 'Your ancestral home is beautiful', Maeda Kaito said into her mind, and she smiled briefly.

"Thank you, I thought so," she murmured in return, causing Squint... Tomas... to give her a questioning look, to which she held up her wrists in reply.

"I didn't think I'd say it, but I can't wait for everyone to arrive," she said, grabbing a piece of bread from where it was warming by the fire. "I got... used to people being around. I miss them."

"Well, Yoko and Erin and the rest... both Erins, actually, they'll be here soon... ish..." he said, sitting down next to her. "And New Liberty isn't that far."

"It's not like many people were staying there... but we could visit sometimes. And Najita and Miyako both said they'd visit. But it feels... odd."

"Agreed," he said, staring into the fire, before glancing worriedly at her. "But not bad?"

"No, not bad, just different. This... we haven't had a home in so long... it's just going to take some time to sink in." Though maybe less than she thought.. in HER grove, it feels more like home than she has in a long while, as if the place is welcoming her back. "I'm glad I could show this to you," she said, moving to lean against him.

"Me too." There were a few moments of silence, and then he smiled. "You know, a bit of privacy isn't entirely a bad thing. We do have work to do..."
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