- --by Ayrma
She heard Edrek approach the door long before he poked his head into the one room house that sat above the falls in Elwynn Forest. Probably the Defias, in the way again, though Edrek hadn’t a scratch on him. "...Annoying buggers. Ayrma, how are you? You couldn't have chosen a place less remote, maybe?"
Ayrma didn't get up from her chair to greet him. She couldn’t. Instead, she craned her neck. "Ed. Glad you could come. I need your help."
"Ayrma? What's wrong?" He rushed in. It amused her, how quickly the druid in his floppy hat and Cenarion-issue robes could go from confident to concerned.
She smoothed down her own robe – high necked to hide the bruises. "It's time for me to go home. I just.. can't make it there alone. I don't think I'm welcome." The admission took a lot from her. She eyed Edrek, waiting for a cynical retort.
One which never came. Edrek smiled ruefully. "I know that feeling all too well. Of course I'll help you. Where's 'home' for you? Astranaar? Feathermoon?"
"... Moonglade." Her smile was bitter, though not a bitter as the memories.
Edrek looked very surprised at this. "Really? That's astonishing. I didn't realize that anyone other than the Sentinels and Wardens actually LIVED in Moonglade." He shrugged. "Of course, I suppose if your father is Januus Moonsong..."
"Was. Was Januus Moonsong." The smile was even darker. "After the destruction of Nordrassil he seldom left, not until the gates of Ahn Qiraj opened."
Ed looked embarrassed at his gaffe. "My apologies. Well, yes, I can see how getting home might be difficult then. And I don't think the Furlbog are your concern."
She looked down at her hands, avoiding Edrek’s gaze. "The problem is more than twofold, actually. My father is ... missing, and he was Fandral's aide de camp. That's sure to raise questions, as I'm sure Fandral KNEW he was off to visit his estranged daughter. On top of that... I don't have the magic to take myself in under my own power, not anymore. And I can't walk." Ayrma kept her gaze down.
"You can't WALK? I knew your power was being leached by something but I didn't realize..."
From Edrek, the speculation was too hard to bear. "Inquisitor Debonaire broke my back. My power - or lack thereof - has nothing to do with it. If not for..." She sighed, adjusted her glove to hide her hesitation. "A good man found me. Without him, I'd be dead."
Edrek paled, grabbing the back of Ayrma’s chair. "He did WHAT? Elune... Why?"
"I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Over the wrong body… so to speak."
He shook his head angrily. "That bastard. And I thought his little notes were amusing." He looked disgusted with himself. "...The worst of a bad bunch. Something has to be done about him... But later. Task at hand."
And finally, a bit of pride broke through. She was still alive, after all, immobilized or no. Ayrma smirked up at Edrek from beneath locks of dark hair. "I have the feeling he'll be leaving a new one soon... and there will be something done about him. Just... not yet."
He noded absentmindedly. "The mobility thing won't be a problem, I have a friend who can make a conveyance for just such a purpose." He broke off. "Erm, you ARE off the furlbog's hate list, right?"
Ayrma rolled her eyes. "Honestly, Ed... I DID spend six years in training in Moonglade, and ALL of those years were spent avoiding my father... what else did I have to do than make nice with furbolgs?"
"All right, all right, just checking. So that shouldn't be a problem." Edrek cleared his throat, looking a little uncomfortable with the topic. “The issue of your father, of course, remains troublesome."
That was no surprise. "They'll assume I killed him. I'll be brought up before whatever law the Circle now uses, in a heartbeat."
Edrek sighed. "Indeed, it would be the logical conclusion. Give me a moment to think." He started pacing again. "To a certain extent, you're lucky you decided to do this when you did, because since I was just appointed to Acolyte I can offer limited protection."
Ed, in a position of power? Wonders would never cease… and neither would the opportunities that came from them. "Acolyte...? Congrats, Edrek. Certainly never a position I could attain."
He noded. "Thank you. To a certain extent the speed of my promotion is because I'm talonic, and we're severely underrepresented on the circle... Anyway, not the point."
She eyed Edrek, the potential of his new position foremost in her mind. "What rumors have you heard of my father's disappearance?"
"...I must admit that the rumors I've heard don't exactly favor you."
Not surprising. "And what do YOU believe?"
"What I believe is irrelevant." He shrugged. "Honestly, if they're true, I don't want to know. Because if I vouch for you to the circle, and it comes out that I have been colluding... That's not something either of us want."
She eyed him again, then looked down at her hands. "I did not kill my father. By all that's holy... he didn't die by my hand." She didn't elaborate. No need for him to know more. The truth – the simple truth, without other facts to bend it – should be plenty.
Edrek gave her a long, hard look for a moment, then noded. "All right. In that case we need a way to convince the Circle of that."
But not enough. "I don't know how, not without dragging in.. the one who DID do it." From the tone of her voice, that would be highly unlikely.
He sighed again in frustration. "Ayrma, you need to either be honest with me or not tell me anything. These half-truths are not going to help you."
"I did not kill him.” Truth. “Giving more information would put lives at risk... yours included." She spared a Ed a glance before examining the wooden walls very carefully, hands folded lightly on her lap. "You DO remember who I used to work for?"
Edrek considered for a moment. Then his face lit up in realization. "Oh. OH. That makes this considerably more difficult."
Ayrma gave a curt nod, barely restraining herself from rolling her eyes in frustration. "I didn't kill him. That should be enough. We can work from there."
"OK. Just... give me a moment." He covered his eyes with his hand and squeezed his temples. "So, with an Acolyte vouching for you, we can get you into Nighthaven without you being locked up in a barrow den cell until your trial. It's also probable that they won't kill you in such a circumstance. Beyond that... We need something. The circle only has circumstantial evidence that your father died at your hands."
Circumstantial evidence? Less than that, surely. "They have no evidence but hearsay. Besides, I could lie and claim I did it, and acted in self defense." She snorts. "Even Fandral couldn't overthrow THAT verdict."
"It might be enough. But if we can counteract it with something that suggests you could not have possibly done it... not even necessarily an alibi, but something in your character..."
"I don't have an alibi." Or anyone to bribe to create an alibi, as most of the people she knew had been in the room that night.
Edrek shrugged. "It may not be necessary, as you say. Hearsay only holds up so well even in the circle... but if they have even one solid piece of evidence, you're sunk."
She shook her head. "There is no evidence. I didn't do it."
"...Speaking as the grandchild of a crimelord who controlled the courts in Astranaar, that is not always relevant."
She snorted. The justice of the de Medici clan was something of legend. "Think you can get your grandmother to clear me?"
He snorted himself. "Astranaar is one thing. Even if Jhansi DID have the influence to sway the Circle, she certainly wouldn't waste the effort on a friend of mine… I speak more specifically of fabricated evidence. You need to know your enemies. Know who might want to see you guilty, who is spreading these rumors. You can't waltz--" He catches himself-- "can't enter Moonglade and just plan to wing it, Acolyte protection or no.”
That hadn’t been the plan. However, calling her one advocate an idiot would probably not get her far.
Edrek continued, oblivious. "So far your best option seems to be self-defense. Let's call that 'Plan B', because it's based on just as much hearsay as is the charge itself."
She scowled. "My father was well known for his verbal abuse. Convincing the elders that he went a step further shouldn't be much of an issue."
"Certainly I was on the receiving end of that more than once...” He started pacing again “But, again, the problem is one of credibility. To a certain extent I help with that, but I wasn't there, I can't..." An unwelcome realization dawned on his face. "....Ayrma, why did you stop your Druidic training? Was it because of your father?"
She pursed her lips. Vital information.
At least Edrek was bright enough to notice her hesitancy. "All right, let me rephrase that: Will the Inner Circle THINK it was because of your father?"
She nodded, and paused. "... it was because of him."
"All right. We may be able to work with this…" His pacing continued as he wove his story. "Your father, filled with rage, took his verbal abuse a step further. You did what came naturally." She muttered under her breath: "Wouldn't be the first time."
Edrek didn’t seem to hear as he gestured wildly. "Afterwards, however, you were filled with a great sense of remorse, because, the circumstances notwithstanding, he was clearly a great man who somewhere had lost his way." He paused. "Yes, I know," He said, accurately reading the look on Ayrma's face. "But bear with me, you don't want to be locked in a barrow den for the rest of you life, right?"
"Rather not, no."
"So, you're overcome with remorse at having to kill a great druid who has clearly been affected by the taint in the Emerald Dream. The reason you haven't come forward before now is because you have been doing some soul-searching. And, after doing so, you find that the only way that you can do penitence and honor the man whom your father was, not whom he had become, is to complete your training."
Training? He expected he could convince the circle to let her train, rather than take the punishment she deserved? She glared. "I'm not listening to Fandral Stag-horn-up-his-ass and his dumb as rocks training again."
"I think you'll find that with a master who actually cares for his apprentices, the Archdruid's methods become much less of a concern."
That was hardly the point. "I don't want to complete my training. I just want to learn what's wrong with my healing abilities... and leave."
He snorted again and eyed her paralyzed legs. "And you think that likely, do you? The great healers of Moonglade spend their time on an apostate who may or may not have killed the Archdruid's aide in self defense, and who shows no remorse for it either way?"
A good point, however little she wished to concede. There were other ways, though… "I suppose I can lie my way in."
Ed didn’t take the suggestion well. "Ayrma, they're not stupid. It's OK if you don't actually feel remorse about your father's death, it's OK if you feel the need to protect his actual killer, but if you throw yourself at the feet of the Circle requesting to return, you have to MEAN it." He sighed. “Look. From what I can tell you're almost done with what you have to do. My apprenticeship lasted as long as it did because I've been aiming for Circle standing. All you want to do is achieve standing as a Druid, full stop.
As long as the painful truth was being outed, she figured it was time to spill… most of it. "... I was two weeks away from completing it."
Ed's eyes nearly bugged out of his head. "...Two weeks? You left two weeks before...? No, no, not important. The point is, that's good. You should be able to make that little up in no time at all. Two months, say."
She shook her head. "I won't stay in that hellhole for two months. I just want to know what's wrong with me!"
"And I tell you that they won't even give you a second glance if you aren't a Druid in their eyes. Whether or not you manage to avoid sentence from the Inner Circle. You have to believe me, Ayrma. I don't know what's wrong with you, but I know that these people will, and I know how these people think. I've had almost a century to learn it."
She began a retort, but snaped her mouth shut for a long moment before continuing. "Do you think I can do it in a month?"
Another long, hard look. "If you put everything you have into it... then yes. It will be hard, but you have not a small amount of skill. You are a Moonsong."
She shook her head. "I'm not a Moonsong. I never was. Not how he wanted me to be."
Nod of understanding. "And I am not a de Medici. And yet, here we are." He started to the door. "I'll have my friend prepare the conveyance for you. I'll tell him to keep the bells and whistles to a minimum, too many bells and whistles on an Asparagus Stronginthearm device tend to be... unpleasant for the user."
Ayrma snags a piece of paper with an awkward reach and scribbled a quick note, which she leaves folded on the table beside her. "I'll do my best, Edrek. I just... this is going to open up the worst years of my life."
He turned back. "I understand, Ayrma. I've been there. But if you don't confront your demons, eventually they come to control you. Even I had to see Jhansi again."
She smiled - it's not pretty, and not kind. "Yes... but my demon is dead."
Edrek returned the smile, similarly ironic. "Well, then, this should be easy for you, shouldn't it?" He turned and left Ayrma staring out the door.
When she’d left her studies six years earlier, it had been in the dead of night, creeping through the furlbog den to keep her father off the trail. Her return was was in the light, carried past the guards because she did not have the ability to move under her own power. A complete reversal, almost, one that sat at the forefront of her mind.
And of course, little had changed in six years, a mere blink of an eye to the Kaldorei druids. Though faces had faded in Ayrma’s memory, it was possible even the guards were the same – probable, even, considering the way one scowling woman turned and dashed for the nearest building when she got a close look at Ayrma and Edrek. “Bad feeling was true,” she muttered.
Edrek ignored her and continued carrying her up the ramp into the nearest building. Their ending point was at the top, a small room overlooking the tranquil grove that was Nighthaven. The man seated on a bench overlooking the scene was deep in conversation with the female guard. He was old, even for a night elf, and his serene face was familiar. If she’d been able, Ayrma would’ve been on her feet and running for her life.
Edrek bowed. "Master Jacor. I presume you have been informed of the identity of my... guest." He eyed the guard, who nodded curtly and descended from the room.
Jacor peered closely at Ayrma. "Acolyte... no, I don't know. She's not your wife?" He eyed her again. "Did you know she has only one ear?"
Ayrma grabbed the stub of her ear and glared at Edrek. If he had any idea what he’d just brought her into…
At least he had the good sense to look embarrassed. "No, she is not my wife, But yes, her missing ear is in fact one of the reasons she has been brought here." He presented his report. "The Scarlet Battalion has apparently been taking matters of scourge-friends into its own hands. This woman is crippled because of the torture inflicted on her by its head inquisitor."
"Oh my." The old druid read he report several times, tracing the tip of a finger along the words and squinting. "This is the Moonsong child?" As Ayrma expected, it was the name which caught his attention. He entirely ignored the rest of the situation.
Edrek sighed. "Yes, that is the other reason she has been brought here. She surrendered herself to my custody."
"Hmm... I'll call off the Sentinels, then." Ayrma froze. Sentinels, on her trail? As bad an idea as coming to Moonglade may’ve been, it was beginning to look as though she hadn’t another choice. Jacor peered at the report again. "Moonsong. He was a student of mine, you know. As promising as you, Edrek."
She couldn’t help but gape, turning to glare at Ed. A situation from bad to worse – not only her father’s colleague and mentor, but his teacher?
Ed bowed quickly. "I can only hope to one day aspire to the heights reached by Lord Moonsong, Master." He shot an apologetic glance at Ayrma, who muttered to herself. "...someone else would've killed the bastard eventually." Jacor didn't seem to overhear, but Edrek’s scowl suggested otherwise.
Edrek took a deep breath and continued. "Master, it appears that Lord Moonsong was overtaken by the Emerald Nightmare in his final days. I did not see the full effects when I paid my respects, but something did seem... off. Young Mistress Moonsong tells me that he attacked her."
Young? Look who’s talking.
Jacor seemed taken aback. "It's not possible. I saw Januus off myself. He said he headed for Stormwind to bring his child home."
"And so he has... In a matter of speaking." He bowed obsequiously again. "Master, I do not mean to question your observations, but his behavior was erratic at best. Muttering to himself. Raging at the world. Moreover, I have been observing Lord Moonsong's daughter for quite some time. I have no reason not to believe her."
Jacor sighed deeply and examined Ayrma. She couldn’t help but fidget under his venerable gaze. "You have the look of him, child. I should have recognized you."
"An honest mistake, master. As I recall, Lord Moonsong was not entirely proud of his progeny. I would not, however, have thought that he would have gone so far as to attack her."
Jacor finally rose to his feet and inched forward to watch Ayrma more closely. He was unsteady on his feet. All she needed to do was reach out, tip him over, make a run for it… She stuttered, "S-sir," before staring at her hands - staring daggers, though Jacor didn't appear to notice.
In return, he reached over and gave a condescending pat to Ayrma's head. She leaned forward and let her hair fall around her face to hide the anger she was unable to repress. "Ahh, child... a girl child in a man's world. This was no place for you. But your father could never understand that."
Her face burned, and she barely understood Edrek’s next words. "Master... Lord Moonsong attacked his daughter... and she tells me that in protecting herself, he was slain."
The hand stoped on Ayrma's head. She did her best - rather a shabby job - at looking young and innocent. "This girl... killed her own father?" The chance to escape was gone, and the old man was stronger than he let on. His fingers dug into her skin like claws.
"Only to save herself!" Edrek did a much better job of projecting a mix of empathy and concern. "I could not say that were someone I loved actively trying to kill me, I would relent. Do you expect it of one who has not had our emotional training?"
She couldn’t help the fear that crossed her face as Jacor's hand pressed down more firmly. "She cannot be more than a hundred. She's a girl. I cannot expect her to have restraint, but to commit murder..."
"She would have died otherwise! Master, is not the goal of the Druid to preserve life?"
"To preserve life, yes... as she should have preserved life."
Ayrma sat very still. She sent a frightened glance over at Edrek.
His return glance was imploring. He turned back to Jacor. "Master, I urge you to consider the circumstances. Attacked by her own father, incomplete emotional control, barely out of adolescence... How much of this was in her control?"
Jacor held her head still. "How did you kill him?" She didn’t answer, tightening her muscles to ready herself for whatever escape was possible.
But Ed wasn’t done. "Master, please, she's a child!"
Jacor didn't remove his hand. "A child cannot kill. A child is innocent. She is not." The claws dug in.
"MASTER! You did not say the same of me when I came to moonglade!" Through the veil of her hair, Ayrma could see the anger on Edrek’s face – an emotion he hadn’t exhibited before, as far as she knew. He puffed up to his full height, helped by Jacor’s elderly stoop. "I killed more in my first 30 years than Ayrma has killed in a lifetime. And you knew this. And when I told you this, you told me, 'no one is beyond redemption.'"
Edrek took a deep breath and yelled. "APPLY THE SAME STANDARD HERE OR STAND DOWN!"
Immediately, Ed looked horrified at himself, and Ayrma lost any hope of coming out of the meeting a free woman. "I apologize master, I meant no--"
Jacor straightened to his full seven and a half feet and turned on Edrek. His voice was low. "I can see you care for this child. Do not let it impair your control. You are but an acolyte, Edrek de Medici."
He looked down. "I am aware, Master. And I should not have raised my voice in anger. I will stand in atonement at this meeting's conclusion."
Jacor noded. "You will. And what do you suggest for this girl, Acolyte, as you feel such empathy for her?"
"...She has expressed to me a desire to atone herself. I presume her fear has prevented her from voicing this to you. Will her execution permit her to restore the imbalance in the world she has created? Will her imprisonment?"
Execution. No one had mentioned an execution. Being locked up in a barrow den for eternity, perhaps, but to lose her life confessing to something she actually hadn’t done? There was a dagger hidden in her boot. If she was to go, this man would go with her. Another life on her conscience would hardly make a difference now.
He didn’t seem to notice her hand stray to her leg as he addressed Edrek. "And will her freedom make up for the loss of the Archdruid's aide, and my student?"
Edrek had stopped paying attention as well, lost in the art of argument. "Master, you know that one cannot trade life for life in redress, either in nature or elsewhere. That is one of the first things you taught me."
And she could relax, finally, as the old man released her head. Ayrma hunched down in her seat and let the dagger drop back into its boot sheath. "She needs guidance. She needs the very father she killed - whether in defense or bad blood, it matters not."
"With respect for Lord Moonsong, master... I believe she needs guidance from an archon who does not resent her very existence."
The elder druid knelt down next to Ayrma's chair. She flinched back instinctively. Jacor paused and examined her for another moment. "How old are you, child?"
She’d known it was coming, unfortunately, and her lies were about to come back to haunt her. Ayrma glanced hesitantly at Edrek before muttering, "... 82." She could see Edrek start at her words and stare in shock. She couldn’t remember what age she’d told him.
Jacor grew noticeably more gentle at that. He reached to pat Ayrma's cheek in a fatherly gesture - and she cringed. She couldn’t help it.
Jacor stood slowly, comprehension dawning on his face. "It is as you said, Edrek. I... apologize for doubting you."
"The fault is mine, master, I allowed emotional display to cloud the truth of my statement."
Jacor nodded and petted Ayrma's head, as though she really were a small child. The cringe this time was her attemp to restrain herself from lashing out. "There, there, dear... you will learn that you've done wrong. You are home."
Her shoulders drooped. She kept herself quiet, through all the willpower she possessed - and glared through her curtain of hair at Edrek.
Edrek gave her a sheepish look, as though that would be enough to make up for the hell she was going through. Turning back to Jacor, "Thank you, Master. If a sponsor is needed I am more than happy to offer my services."
The old man noded and stroked her hair again. "You will be her sponsor." Then, giving a shrewd glance, he reaches over and snags Edrek's wrist, pulling the younger man closer. "And you vouch for her. Remember that." He sets Edrek's hand on Ayrma's head. "She is the age of your sister, yes?"
"Approximately, yes. A bit older." How embarrassing, to be compared to the insane pyromaniac of the de Medicis.
Ayrma caught Jacor eyeing Edrek. The expression on the old man’s face was something to fear. "This girl is too young to be without family. Januus' mistress died during the last war, if I recall. Januus' son died long before this girl took her first breath."
She tensed, the rest of the conversation fading out. He dared to refer to her mother as a mistress?
"...Before my time as well, I believe,” Edrek was saying, “Master, is there...?"
He gave a smug grin. "What do you think I ask of you, Acolyte?"
"...You ask a fostering, Master.” It was those unfortunate words that dragged her back to the present. “Of course I accept. Though my own family experience is somewhat... suboptimal, I will do my best."
Ayrma glared from beneath her hair, her entire body tense, her scathing response barely withheld. Jacor was either ignoring it, or oblivious. The smirk remained. "You know me well, Edrek. I would not have the last child of the Moonsong line fall into darkness. I charge you with bringing her back to the light, so to speak." He squeezed Ayrma's shoulder. She clenched her hand into a fist.
Edrek was watching her closely. "Indeed, master, I will see to it. Do you require anything else?"
"Nothing of you... except..." Jacor rounded Ayrma's chair and knelt again - she wiped the glare from her face quickly, replacing it with the 'confused child' look. He set his hands on her knees and whispered a call to the earth for aid. Light wraps around her knees, her ankles, her thighs, and her eyes widened in shock as feeling spread through her legs. She flexed her foot – and it responded.
His eyes narrowed. He leaned forward and whispered into her ear, his hand clamped in a vice-like grip on her knee. “Elune forgives her children for blasphemy, for murder, for fel magics. But you must first ask her for it.”
Ayrma found herself unable to move as Jacor then regained his feet - wobbling a bit - and gave a fatherly smile to Edrek. "Take her, please. Teach her everthing. She has... so much to unlearn."
He bowed again. "I will find a suitable archon tomorrow, Master. Now I will to the Shrine of Remulos to atone for my outburst. Please also pass the report on to the inner circle, it is important that the Crusade not think it can intimidate the Circle."
"I intend to do so immediately. Your report does miss one important detail, though, Edrek..."
"What is that, master?
"This Battalion has taken the grave misstep of harming a child of the Kaldorei." His amused grin returned. "A child of your clan, by the fostering. Though I doubt dear Jhansi will take up arms... you might."
Ayrma quietly seethed at the very thought.
Edrek nodded. "Understood. By your leave," He bowed one more time, and fled, conspicuously avoiding Ayrma's glare.
Ayrma followed, under her own power. She bothered with little more than a quick curtsey before chasing Edrek downstairs.
Ed seemed more than a little surprised to see Ayrma walking on her own, and sped up his pace. Ayrma wasn’t about to let him leave. She shifted into cat form and broke into a dash, finally attaching herself to his leg. With claws.
"Gah!" He went tumbling and scrambled across the floor. "Um, I thought that went well, don't you? At least they don't want to kill you anymore..."
She sunk her teeth into Edrek's robe and dragged him to a quieter locale – a few feet away, behind a tree. After all, it was Moonglade.
"Um, You seem to have made a speedy recovery, that's good, which leads me to believe you were less hurt than you let on in the first place but that's OK, at least they'll look at your magic no-ow-ow-OW watch the claws!"
Ayrma promptly shifted back and grabbed the front of Edrek's robes. She let the frustration of the past hour out as she shoved him into the tree, her glare daring him to fight back.
"Honestly, I had NO idea he was going to make me take you into my clan. I'm not even sure I'm technically allowed to do that--"
She swore, loudly and fluently, before shaking Edrek by the collar. “What just happened?”
"...Um... hi, sis?" He winced.
She growled and tightened her grip on his robe, hissing, and imagining it was the old druid she slammed against the bark. "I am NOT a de Medici. I will NOT pretend to be a part of this madness."
"It's only temporary! After we get you trained up and back on your feet we can get you out of it." He muttered, "Probably."
"Well, I'm not actually sure what the precedent is on this... nobody's been fostered under Circle law and then been defostered... I mean, I suppose it's possible, but--"
She growled, turned, and kicked at the grass. It was less than fulfilling.
"I'll look into it. I WILL. Just... go with it, OK? You just got out of a whole MESS of trouble back there. Don't throw yourself back in."
Ayrma snarled, then slumped, leaving her back to Edrek. "... Aylee's going to kill me."
"Wouldn't be the first time she's gunned after a member of her family. Even an honorary one." He snorted. “Anyway, in for a penny..."
"You think this is funny, don't you.”
"No! No! I'm taking this very seriously. Seriously." He took half a step back. "Though... I've already got numerous family members who want me dead, suppose at least one of them should have a good reason." Edrek let a small grin escape.
Rage bubbled up, and she was sure her face reflected it.
"Um... I'll get right on that, then." Edrek turned and scuttled off, his hat flopping as he went.
She let him go. For now.