[P] Misty water-coloured memories
OOC: Backdated to early Sept 2022?

Whispers seemed to circulate around New Caledonia far more - and with more speed - than they had at Old Ironsides. Then again, the three-year-old stepping into the sun with a pinched brow had spent the majority of his formative years festooned in love and security; somewhat protected from the horrors of the world.

He’d been too young to repay the favour - but he was no longer a teenager. Thistle owed the same protection to the rest of his family.

So when the latest whisper told of a newcomer, a man who’d arrived with a girl with the name Cormier, Thistle knew he couldn’t resist reaching out. Some things about his family’s history were entrenched: fishing; the Goddess; the tales of a prosperous pack led by his parents… and some things remained mysterious. He’d held off a little, thinking the newcomers would appreciate a chance to settle - but ultimately, Thistle was far too curious a man to forgo learning more about those who shared his name.

As Thistle sauntered from his home seeking the scent unique to his bloodline, his fingers roved to his choppy mane. Claws raked through the short layers a couple of times. He was certain, in his recent wanderings, that he’d caught familiar and unfamiliar aromas mingling in the river valley. It was there he headed, his tongue alternating between lolling and sweeping over his lips.
Hood shielding his eyes from the early autumn sun, O’Brien dozed on the grassy shore, lulled by the whisper of the river and the quiet plop of a baited hook dropping into the water. For a time, he dreamed, and those dreams mirrored his reality in such a benevolent reflection of what-could-have-been that, when a dragonfly landed on his nose and woke him with the flitter of its long wings, he woke not understanding where (rather when) he was. He sat up and looked toward the riverbank, saw Beth, and remembered.

With memory came grief, fresh despite the long and lonely months since their great loss, and so O’Brien resolved to keep awake.

His jaw clicked when he yawned, and he rubbed it with a grimace, watching his daughter as she fixed her gaze on the water, line wrapped in her hand. Though he could not see her face from farther up the riverbank, he read the focus in her body, that straight, prick-eared stance that spoke of complete concentration. It wasn’t often that Beth was so quiet, and it reminded him of her childhood — the hesitant and thoughtful girl she was, absorbing every word her parents said and every detail of her surroundings, whereas her sister always vibrated with impatient energy and tore off without thinking. These days, Beth did not wait quite so long to make her decisions, and the father was not sure if this was a sign of growth, or something else.

”Any luck?” the dog asked, smiling.

Beth shook her head, which flopped her dark ears. ”But ‘tis a nice day,” she said, her tail waving behind her; a hint of tiny green feathers woven into the fur caught the sunlight.

O’Brien could agree with that sentiment. The breeze was occasionally brisk, but it was warm in the sunshine. Autumn was still young, with glints of gold in the birches, and the first calls of migrating birds ringing out in the soft blue sky. Lebennin was itself beautiful, and here in the stretch of green fields and gentle waterways, one could almost forget their troubles.

Just not entirely. Idyllic as the valley was, O’Brien could not lose himself in it as he was wont to; it was still part of the king’s realm.

As if to remind him, a figure crested one of the gentle hills.

O’Brien raised a hand in acknowledgment of the stranger, polite but reserved, as he did not voice his greeting. It was only a sudden bark from Beth that made him get to his feet, eyes trained on his daughter as she began tugging at her fishing line. ”Got summin’,” she exclaimed, and O’Brien’s gaze followed the taut line to —

”Canny, lass!” he woofed, but it was too late. She’d reeled her line through debris in the water, a tangle of plant matter that snagged on it and now caused her to drag practically the whole river along with her fish. O’Brien took the line from her hands to tug then, recalling their approaching packmate, looked over his shoulder at the man. ”Cuid ye give us a hand?”
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The valley was an oasis, a haven for Thistle when his mind went to less than pleasant places. Ambling through the green slopes with the river singing nearby sometimes made him feel more grounded in New Caledonia than even the presence of his siblings - not that he’d ever say it. He was certain - perhaps naively so - that any of his brothers or sisters would’ve understood the pull of the waterways.

Thistle tugged once more on an unsettled strand of hair before dipping his muzzle to acknowledge the hooded man. His steps slowed, his gaze flicked from the male to the girl and his features relaxed into an easy grin. The look of intense focus was familiar to him. He halted, hesitant to break such a wholesome moment.

The sudden snagging of the line did that all by itself a few moments later, anyway. Thistle’s ears pricked. He half jogged, half slid down what remained of the slope, tail swishing to aid his balance.

“I got ya,” the young man panted, eyeing the tension on the line with pursed lips. “Goddess knows I’ve got meself in a pickle with more than one line before. Kind of a rite of passage in my family.” Crouching on the bank, Thistle observed the undulation of the water around the debris for a moment. “Reckon I can untangle that.” A note of confidence rang in his voice, seldom heard from the youngest of the Parhelion-Cormier children; Thistle spent most of his time cheering on his siblings and paid very little heed to his own strengths. His cradle has been the Chokehold itself, though - this was one area where he was relatively comfortable.

His toughened pads pressed into the edge of the bank, testing the solidity of the earth there before he navigated his way - with care - into the water.
There was something familiar about the agreeable stranger, something in the wiriness of his fur and even the half-flop of his brown ears. O’Brien had an inkling what this was, an assumption all but confirmed by the drawl so very like the one he’d treasured so much in the northwestern wilderness. His expression shifted with a frown, but the other Caledonian was focused on the tangle Beth had created.

He could see similar thoughts churning in his daughter’s mind, her mismatched eyes brightening at mention of family, before her mouth gaped as the man began to wade into the water. ”Ach, ye dinnae hev t’--” she began, then began to wiggle and wag her tail wildly as the man helped. ”Reckon there’s even a fish oan th’ line anymore?” she giggled, her ears pricked with interest (or, rather, one was fully pricked; the other flopped half-at attention, exactly like the stranger’s).

O’Brien decided to get right to the point, his fingers keeping hold on the line but not daring to tug as the man got to work. The last thing that needed to happen was for the line to suddenly loosen and the hook at its end to tear into him. He tried to keep his voice steady.

”Might ye be Thistle?”

He thought he knew the answer already, and no small part of him dreaded it, as he had dreaded finding Percival.

Beth, on the other hand, absolutely beamed at him.
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