It had been years since Derek stepped foot on home soil. He’d forgotten little things about it, like the way the town sounded on market day, how his mother’s bread smelled right after she finished baking it, the feel of one of his sister’s hugs as she held him close. War made things easy to forget, every nuance to his life before slaughtering countless men had been stripped from him, leaving only bare bones, his bow and arrows, and a sword. Derek didn’t remember a time where he wasn’t covered in blood, in filth, with no escape without abandonment. Derek had stayed, had killed, would return with honors to the life he’d left behind.
With a sealed decree from the king himself, Derek returned home to Beacon Hills, to deliver said decree to the sheriff. Though the travel itself took weeks, via ship and horseback, Derek kept the decree safe in an oiled leather bag, to ensure that the ink didn’t run. It had rained for most of the journey, so Derek was grateful for the satchel draped over his shoulder as he ran his horse as hard as he was able without injury. He wasn’t alone in this endeavour, for with him was his wartime companion and closest confidant, Vernon Boyd. Together, they took watches throughout the numerous nights together, keeping each other safe from road bandits. During the war, they’d had each other’s backs and that wouldn’t change now that they were out of harm’s way.
What Derek wanted most, as soon as he saw the gates of Beacon Hills in the distance, was to return home to his family’s estate and set eyes on them for the first time in four years. But he had a job to do, a duty that he had to put above his own wants and needs. He hadn’t done a single thing for himself in almost four years, putting his country before him in every aspect of his life. He merely had one more task to do, then he could go home. Then Boyd could go home.
Upon arrival, Derek didn’t notice much of a difference to the outer walls themselves, the gate open, guards atop the tower above as he rode his horse across the bridge and beneath the portcullis. It wasn’t until he saw what was supposed to be the marketplace that he saw what had changed in his absence. He looked around him as he removed the hood from his head, the rain merely a fine mist as it fell as he exchanged a look with Boyd. The market was a saddened state, the booths in disrepair and scant when in his mind he recalled nothing but memories of the outer bailey being full of not only booths, but of people selling their wares. Now, there was merely a handful. He and Boyd needn’t speak, after years of camaraderie that bore a deep bond between them that allowed them to speak without words. Derek shook his head minutely, showing Boyd his dismay at what he saw within the walls. Boyd wasn’t from Beacon Hills, but from the north. He didn’t know what Beacon Hills was like before.
Derek dismounted, keeping his horse close by the reigns as he walked over to a fishmonger who looked at them both warily. Derek knew his appearance wasn’t that of a nobleman, but of a vagabond. He was dirty, his beard untrimmed for some time, and his face was surely gaunt, as was Boyd's, though he held a slightly more imposing figure than Derek did.
“Is it not market day?” He asked with trepidation, once more looking around him, afraid of the answer.
“It is that,” the man said, lips pursed. There were no bright fabrics draped over the booths to keep out sun and rain, no children running by, no chickens afoot, no hanging boar or pheasant to be bought, no furs to be traded.
“How did this happen?” Derek asked, not expecting a response as he eyed the fish that was for sale before him, picked over and smelled days past fresh. The fishmonger laughed at him derisively.
“Hard times have befallen the entire countryside. I don’t know where you’ve been--”
“The war,” Derek said plainly. He didn’t know what he expected as a response, but the man before him spitting on the ground wasn’t it. Derek’s eyes widened, shocked at the disrespect to the king. Another glance at Boyd, whose face was blank, though his hand was on the hilt of his sword, still tucked safely away in it’s scabbard. It could be unsheathed within the blink of an eye, if needed. The man before them seemed not to notice how close he was to being gutted, the threat of war still looming in both Boyd and Derek’s minds, always ready for a fight.
“You’ll not find a fanfare for your return, I expect.” Derek looked to the keep, still a ways away, deep into the castle, across another moat and through another portcullis where he was stopped by the guard. Before, one could easily walk to the keep itself without being stopped, so Derek was surprised that he wasn’t allowed through without papers. Derek looked through the guards, to the inner bailey, where there seemed to be no one walking about. Above him, thunder rumbled and the rain picked back up. Derek refused to believe it to be ominous.
“No weapons,” the guard stated, looking to both Derek and Boyd’s swords, along with Derek’s bow and quiver. Boyd opened his mouth to protest, but Derek held his hand up, stopping him.
“We travel here at the request of the king himself,” Derek said, his voice as imposing as he could make it, bringing forth an air of authority. He reached into his satchel, showing the king’s seal that was on the rolled parchment. “You deny the king’s very messengers their weapons?”
“You’ll be escorted to the sheriff, but no weapons are permitted unless you’re of the guard.”
Derek relented, giving over his weapons. Boyd followed suit, begrudgingly. They were escorted by four guards. Instead of it feeling like they were being lead, though, Derek felt more like they were being brought to the sheriff against their wills. Derek knew the sheriff well, having grown up in Beacon Hills and being the first son of a Baron. Sheriff Stilinski was a good man, fair and just. A feeling of dread overcame Derek as they walked into the keep, though, as Stilinski’s colors did not adorn the halls as they once had.
Though torches were lit, it somehow felt dark within the walls that seemed dreary, and not because of the weather. Derek had run within these very walls as he grew up, playing with other baron’s sons, with the sheriff’s son. He knew the rugs, the tapestries, the furniture. He knew the secret passages, as shown to him by the sheriff’s son. This, though, was not the keep he remembered. His stomach sank as they were brought into an antechamber to the main hall, a lesser place to meet reserved for peasants. Derek refused to let it show on his face, a chip to his pride meant nothing to him, not after war. Besides, he didn’t look like the son of a baron, and how were the guards to know that he was a Hale returned from war.
They waited there, in silence, with their four guards at the door. Without an offer to sit, or given food or water, they waited for hours. Beside him, Boyd visibly showed his impatience by his jaw tightening, his hand repeatedly going to where his sword would be, it being his companion for years, finding nothing but the ghost of it there instead. Derek rolled his neck, closing his eyes as he tried not to let Boyd’s temper get the best of him, as well. After such a long journey, having to wait now seemed like a slap in the face.
Above them, a chandelier made of wrought iron held lit candles that kept the room dimly lit. Derek stared at the crest tapestry that hung on the wall behind the throne, trying to place it. It wasn’t Stilinski’s, which was maroon, but blue and silver. He knew it, but he couldn’t place the banner in his mind. He hadn’t thought of baronies or house crests in years. Growing up, he was made to memorize them all, but that was before the war, before his mind had been overtaken by battle strategies and the need for survival. There was still a feeling of dread that stayed with him as he waited, beneath the surface of his calm demeanor.
They stood there like the soldiers they were, straight with their hands behind their backs as the time passed. Dusk swept into the room, the sound of the rain outside picking up the only sound in the antechamber. Beside him, Boyd’s stomach growled with hunger. Derek, too, felt the pangs of hunger roil through his body. They both turned their heads towards a door that had opened beside the banner, creaking as it did so, revealing the sheriff. He wasn’t Stilinski, much to Derek’s dismay. He hadn’t expected Stilinski, not with the shambles that the bailey had been in, and the change of the banners, but he had still held hope. But alas, his last hope had been dashed as Baron Argent, no, sheriff Argent, stepped into the antechamber, flanked by guards.
The four that had been stationed with Derek and Boyd stepped forward, urging Derek and Boyd to do the same. The Sheriff sat in his throne, elevated on a two step dias, looking down on Boyd and Derek.
“Step forward,” Argent said, sounding bored. Derek did so, his hands dropping to his side, his head lowered. “Name yourself.”
“Derek Hale, sir.” There was a pause of recognition on Argent’s face, Derek’s family name known to him.
“You were thought to be dead, killed in combat,” Argent said flippantly. “You could be an imposter.”
“I assure you, I’m not,” Derek said. “I’ve word from the king himself.” Derek brought out the decree, still sealed and addressed to the Sheriff of Beacon Hills. He knelt as he held it out for Argent to take. Argent, though, did not move, but mere sneer down at Derek’s dirtied hand.
“The hour is late. I’ll receive you in the morning.” Argent stated as he stood. Without taking the decree, he turned to leave. “I expect you to be more presentable to me in the morning.”
And then he was gone.
Derek knelt there, his eyes wide as he still held up the decree. The sheriff of Beacon Hills had refused to take the king’s message. Unable to believe it, Derek slowly lowered his arm, his gaze falling to Boyd, who shrugged.
They were escorted back out to the gates and given their horses and weapons without a word. As soon as they mounted their horses, Boyd couldn’t hold back any longer.
“That was completely--”
“I know,” Derek said.
“The disrespect alone!”
“I know,” Derek conceded with a sigh.
“The very nerve--”
“Boyd,” Derek said, giving him a look. “We are within earshot.”
“I care not,” Boyd spat. “For he is a boorish barbarian. He had us stand there for hours, and then sent us away because of the hour? Uncouth, vile--”
“Boyd,” Derek said again, though he felt the same. “Let us away, to my family’s estate. There we will be welcomed with open arms. Think of the meal we’re to have.”
“That I can do,” Boyd said, dropping his anger only to replace his scowl with a smile. “I long for a bath.”
“Me as well,” Derek said, thinking more of his family than to be scrubbed clean.
During the war, Derek had dreamed of what it would be like to return home to his family, to be welcomed and adorned with kisses and his mother crying at his safe return. As his family’s estate came into view his stomach sank once more. His family’s tenants had always been well looked after, but even in the darkness he saw shambles when there used to be quaint cottages with thatched roofs. Some of the roofs were sunken in, others looked ransacked.
“Not now, Boyd,” Derek said, his voice strained. He got off his horse, running towards one of the houses. He found it empty. This wasn’t the welcome he’d envisioned. He walked back to his horse, stopping when he heard footfalls approaching: someone was running. Boyd pulled his sword as a young man stopped just before them, his eyes wide. He had a torch with him, despite the rain. In his other hand was a knife, as if he was ready to fight them.
“This land has nothing of worth,” he said, his hand shaking as he held the knife out. “Leave at once.”
“What do you mean, nothing of worth?” Derek asked as he stepped forward. He wasn’t the least bit afraid of a knife, not when wielded by someone he could snap like a twig in his hand.
“We’ve already been ransacked,” he said. “There’s nothing left to take.”
“Do you know who I am?” Derek asked him. “This is my land, my family’s land. Explain yourself.”
“The Hales are all dead,” he stammered. Derek took a step backwards from him, the news hitting him harder than he expected, despite his rising dread that something was horribly wrong. “They were hung.”
“Enough,” Boyd said, stepping forward, his sword pulled from its scabbard. “State your name.”
“Isaac. Isaac Lahey.”
“Isaac?” Derek asked, his hand on his face, pushing his hood back as he ran his fingers through his hair. “Do you not remember me?” He remembered Isaac. He was the blacksmith’s son, timid but had a mouth on him. They’d played together a lifetime ago, had gone hunting together.
“Derek?” Isaac asked, tears welling up in his eyes. Tears that Derek didn’t believe he had for himself. “You’re supposed to be slain.”
“Do I look like a ghost to you?” Derek asked as Isaac brought the torch closer, looking him in the eye.
“Oh, sir,” Isaac said, his head shaking. “You’ve returned home.” Derek allowed himself to be hugged, though he felt nothing inside as he pushed back his hopes of seeing his family again, of holding his sisters close, of showing his family pride by returning home from war. “I’ll take you home.”
Isaac lead them to the house, which was dark, the brush overgrown, the door stuck closed.
“We’ve kept brigands away from your family’s things,” Isaac said. “Well, as best we could.” Isaac went around, lighting candles. “I can get a fire going,” he offered. “There should be dry wood stocked, still.”
“Thank you, Isaac,” Derek said as an automatic response, unable to fathom the fact that he was the only Hale remaining. He sat in a chair by the unlit fire as Boyd walked around the main room.
“I can go wake the others,” Isaac said. “They’d be happy to have you home.”
“If you wish,” Derek said as Isaac began to ready a fire. He waited for it to catch, then stepped back, all of them watching the wood begin to burn.
“Food, you need food, surely, and -- and what else?” Isaac asked. He was a blacksmith’s son, not a servant.
“If you had anything to spare,” Derek offered. “I would be much obliged.”
Isaac left them, then, to explore the Hale estate. They lit candles as they went through the undisturbed rooms. The windows were boarded up, leaves and dirt littered the floors. Tapestries were missing, furniture too, but the house still looked as though someone would walk around a corner at any moment. No one did, though. There were no ghosts to be found. Derek could still hear their laughter, their footsteps running up and down the halls, haunting him as they returned to the fire.
“I’ll fetch us some water,” Boyd said. “I saw the well on the way in.”
“Thank you, Boyd,” Derek said as he stood by the mantle, staring at the fire.
While Boyd was gone, Isaac returned with one person, a young woman with blond hair, braided and clothes as worn through as Derek’s own.
“Erica?” Derek asked, trying to recall his parent’s tenants. She’d grown much in the four years of his absence, but her eyes weren’t to be forgotten.
“Sir,” she said, bowing her head. “I’ve brought you bread and cheese,” she said, handing Derek a basket. “It’s all we have.” Derek took it, frowning at the meager portions before him.
“Thank you, Erica,” Derek said.
“Since you’re returned to us,” Erica began, though Isaac shook his head imploringly for her to stop. “Are you going to save us?”
“Save you?” Derek asked.
“Save us from Sir Jackson,” Erica said, her voice resolute. “He’s taken your land.”
“I’ve an audience with the sheriff tomorrow, I’ll put this to rights,’” Derek assured her. “But first Boyd and I have to bathe, to sleep, to eat.”
“I’ll ready a bath,” Erica said, taking the water from Boyd as he reentered the room. Derek raised his eyebrows at her brazenness, but didn’t stop her as she set to work heating water.
Derek sat, splitting the food that was brought to them between he and Boyd equally, before devouring it. Boyd, too, ate his in record timing.
There was enough water for both he and Boyd to wash up considerably, but not enough for a real bath. Erica and Isaac gave them privacy as they stripped their dirty clothes, then scrubbed the dirt off of themselves, rinsing their skin off, and washed their hair. When they were done, Erica gave them cleaner clothes, found in a trunk upstairs, the garments possibly once belonging to Derek’s father or uncle.
They fit him perfectly, but were a little tight on Boyd, especially the tunic. Derek tried not to think about the fact that he was alone, save Boyd. Boyd, Erica, and Isaac, in reality, but in that moment, Derek felt bereft as his fingers ghosted over his father’s clothes. He needed to be alone, before his emotions overcame him, finally.
“I must bid you all a good night,” Derek said to Erica and Isaac. “I will come speak with you and whoever is left on these lands tomorrow upon my return from the Keep.” Erica and Isaac both bowed reverently to him, as if he was his father, before leaving he and Boyd alone once more. Derek, not wanting to talk of the day, offered Boyd one of the empty bedrooms. “Pick one," Derek said. “And I will choose another, save for the master bedroom. I don’t -- It’s not to be touched.”
“Tomorrow will be a better day,” Boyd whispered in empathy, placing his hand on Derek’s shoulder.
“I hope this to be true,” Derek said before finding himself in his old bedroom. It was as it always had been, with a four poster bed, the drapes closed, sconces on the walls ready to be lit, a chair by the fireplace, books piled next to it, a life long forgotten, preserved--
Derek fell into his bed, falling asleep without crying for the loss of his family.