They don’t talk about it. Ever.
The years - decades - of captivity and insanity. But they both remember, no matter how much they wish they didn’t.
Samuel can see it in his Da’s eyes some nights across the fire, when it’s too quiet, with no audience to play for, no one to enchant with his music and tales. Never tales of the Beast or the witch who held it. Never of the chaos and death it visited upon the countryside for years both at her behest and at its own. Those nights, Samuel sees the darkness of memory and madness lurking behind the warm hazel of his Da’s eyes. It chills him to the bone and it’s those nights when he takes up his harp and sings.
Da’s the true bard, the one Called to the music, who can hold an audience spellbound as he weaves magic from thin air with only his voice. But Samuel has the gift as well, if in somewhat lesser measure, and it’s on these nights that he truly embraces it. The nights when he can’t stop remembering and his Da needs desperately to forget.
His voice might not be as rich as Bran’s, but it’s warm and deep and his fingers are nimble on the strings of his harp as music fills the small circle of light around their campfire, holding the darkness at bay more surely than any flame. He sings of simple things; of planting and harvest, the changing of the seasons and the turning of the years. Life and love and birth and even death come in the natural order of things. A reminder of their humanity, lost though it is...and of all they lost with it.
Samuel sings through the night and into the dawn, and when the sun rises and the fire’s burned out it’s his Da looking back at him across the smoldering ashes again, not the monster the witch - never grandmother - made. It feels like just as great a miracle as it did all those years ago, when the berserker madness finally faded from his Da’s eyes, and they walked away from the rotting flesh and bleaching bones littering the monster’s den and never looked back.
Samuel’s not sure what it says about the pair of them, that the memory of loss is what keeps them human and brings them comfort still.
Samuel’s seen exactly two other weres before in his life, his Da and the monster that Changed them both. The man before them is nothing like either of them, but there’s no mistaking what he is. Or what he wants.
It almost amuses him that the stranger obviously believes Bran to be younger, weaker, less dominant. That he thinks the fight will be between himself and Samuel, with Bran perhaps some sort of booty to be handled at his leisure once the real fight’s been won. It doesn’t amuse Samuel at all to see how quickly his Da disabuses the man of this notion, how short a time it takes before Bran has him pinned beneath him, growling and covered in gore as the stranger’s heart’s blood fountains from the ruin of his throat.
His own wolf is wild and raging, wanting to join in the kill, and it feels like the world coming down around them again. Fighting his own bloodlust, maddening rage tickling at the edges of his mind as he coaxes his Da back from the brink, head down and eyes averted in careful, unnatural submission. No matter how far the Berserker rage has taken him, the one thing Samuel can always count on is that his Da will never turn it on him.
That doesn’t mean he can count on Bran not turning it loose on the rest of the world again, though, and he steps carefully for days, until Bran’s eyes have lost the memory of shadow and the teasing lilt is back in his voice. Only then do they head for the next village, where a bard will be welcomed with winter setting in and Samuel wonders, not for the first time, if Bran really is the more dominant of them. If he could take him down if he had to.
As before, he finds he doesn’t really want to know. Bran’s his Da, and no matter how bending his neck and lowering his eyes grates, he’ll do it and never utter a word of complaint before he’d ever risk having to take his Da down.
That, perhaps, is an answer in itself.
Healing is Samuel’s Calling as the music is Bran’s, magic in his hands as sure as there is in his Da’s voice. For a time - such a long time - he’d assumed the Change had taken it from him, taken a Healer and left nothing but a predator in its place. It had seemed a reasonable assumption, and it had ached as soul deep as the loss of wife and child.
He finds he was wrong in a small thatch hut on a dark moor in the middle of a storm. They’d meant to stay only a night, hospitality offered in exchange for a few songs and news of the outside world. But the weather decided not to cooperate and when the farmer’s goodwife goes into labor the pounding hail and the raging streams overflowing their banks keep the village midwife away as surely as they’d kept them from moving on.
Bran has to leave, taking refuge in the ramshackle byre with the underfed livestock to escape the stench of pain and birthing blood. His control is good these days, the madness almost never shadows his eyes and his wolf is under his control, but tempting it with blood and pain is not a good risk. Samuel joins him at first, but as time stretches on and the tenor of her cries changes, piercing even through distance and the storm, he finds himself tense and restless. Not the wolf’s restlessness, called by blood and the need to kill, but the healer’s restlessness, called by a life in danger and the need to make it safe.
He’s so unused to thinking of himself that way anymore that it takes him over an hour before he recognizes it for what it is. It takes him another twenty minutes of pacing and a piercing shriek of pain to take the risk and return to the hut. He’s almost too late, mother and child both exhausted from hours of strain, but in the end, as day breaks cold and clear, he cradles a weakly squalling infant in his arms and looks down into the sweat and tear streaked face of its still-living mother as he bends to lay it - him - on her breast and smiles.
He’d never thought to bring anything but death into the world again, and when Bran starts in on a cheerful traveling song as they set off on the muddy, rutted track - with the thanks of the farmer and his wife, plus a chicken and half a dozen carefully packed eggs - Samuel joins in, voice free and easy as it hasn’t been since before his Change.
The fact that his soul feels light for the first time in decades--decades that he suspects are nearing the century mark--tells him that perhaps there is more of his humanity left him than he’d thought.
They learn early that to lay claim kinship among men they must be brothers, father and son is too hard for mortals to believe. As centuries pass Samuel wonders, sometimes, if the day will come when it’s too hard for him to believe as well. There are days when he can hardly remember his Da’s face, crows feet radiating from the corners of his eyes and laugh lines set deep around his mouth, or the calloused, work worn hands that had first set a harp in his own, and later taught him to plough a field and mend a harness.
It’s strange to think that they are father and son now only through force of habit and mutual agreement, Bran’s mere two decades seniority irrelevant in the face of long centuries of life and shared experience. The man Samuel travels with now wears a different face than the man who sired and raised him, the marks of age and experience burned away from it in the agony of the change. The man he once was is gone, leaving the image of a laughing boy in his place.
The irony isn’t lost on either of them, especially on the days when Samuel looks into his father’s eyes and can feel the weight every tragedy they’ve lived behind them.