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Confrontation

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The Warden: Haddock sat outside of the small hut with his head in his hands, rubbing a bit of his hair between his fingers. The Warden hadn’t been able to take her mind off of what Hel had said to her. She still hadn’t reached a decision on what to save: the boy and the king, or her own wounded pride. No, she hadn’t expected this to be a glorious possession, but neither was it as fulfilling as she had expected.

If only Mother hadn’t…

Footsteps quickly began to approach and Haddock looked up, seeing someone coming at him from a few houses down.

Oh, no.

Treepelt Halfpaw: There he was.

She managed to keep her rage at a mildly simmering level as she approached the King. At the sight of his familiar face, her memories and protocol dictated that she be respectful and loyal. But Tree knew better now. She came up in front of him and folded her arms, tail flicking. “How are you, Your Majesty?”

The Warden: The Warden felt a bolt of… some… unpleasant emotion… shoot up her body. No, don’t think about it. “Doing quite well,” the Warden returned, pulling out a fake smile. “Do you like my new prize?” Haddock held up both his arms and gestured grandly to himself. The arms faltered for just a second.

Treepelt Halfpaw: Well, she had tried. It had been an honest effort.

“SHUT UP!” she exploded, shoving him in the chest. “Just SHUT…UP!! You come back here MONTH after MONTH sticking your dirty paws into anything that suits you, and now you pick HIM? And for what!?” Her claws were bared now. “What are you trying to do, why do you keep coming back?!” She’d heard it from Tezz’s mouth but she wanted to hear the Warden say it out loud.

Gareth Haddock: Upon hearing Tree’s shouts, Haddock paused in his grand, sweeping gesture.

In fact, he halted it altogether. It was as though he were remembering something… something of human love… of tears… of…

A different posture arose from him. It was a stoop. And his eyes, they were weary.

“Odin above, I’m sorry, Tree.” A quiet voice, hardly perceptible. But words nonetheless.

Treepelt Halfpaw: Tree stopped with her mouth open, still in an aggressive posture with one foot forward. No. It’s got to be a trick. It’s…she must be getting more powerful…

And yet…the Warden never swore by Odin…

It was flimsy, but it was starting to convince Tree. She had to try.

“…my King?” she said tentatively.

Gareth Haddock: “Tree,” he said uncomfortably and meekly - and it was him, it so seemed, “it appears we have… traded places.”

His eyes might have been wet as he continued, “I respect you all the more now that I… know.” A euphemistic way of commenting on her prior possession. “How… how…”

He seemed to be fighting something. Maybe the Warden. Maybe himself.

“…how did you endure it?”

Treepelt Halfpaw: Tree’s eyes filled with tears. It was him. It was really him.

“Your Majesty, I…I’m so sorry. I would never wish this on anyone, least of all you…I…” She tipped her head down, looking at her boots. “I don’t know how I did. She must not have been trying as hard on me as she is on you…”

The Warden: Something wavered and the eyes went maliciously dark in Haddock’s body. “I do indeed have full control of him, cat-child,” the Warden taunted. “Though maybe I can let him speak more of the torment he has gone through? Would both of you like that, hm? To hear his broken voice?”

Treepelt Halfpaw: “You’re a monster,” she spat, the tears still shimmering in her eyes. “You told me you changed. No. You’re just a liar. I can’t trust anything you tell me any more. Let me talk to Haddock. Give him back.”

Gareth Haddock: Something wavered again. It was hard to say what. The unknown process took a while, too, and during that time, Haddock appeared to be thinking to himself intently - perhaps even talking to himself intently. A conversation between the Warden and the king? A struggle for power? The demon merely contemplating her choices? Difficult to say. At one point Haddock even seemed to flinch very visibly before relaxing into the posture of a man with tired eyes and a tired spirit.

“Don’t… don’t worry about me, Tree,” he said. “It’s not so bad as the Warden would make you believe. I am fine.”

Treepelt Halfpaw: “Why are you both lying to me?” Treepelt complained. “Your Majesty, with all due respect, I’m calling you out on your crap. I’ve been possessed before. I know you’re suffering. You’re…I can’t imagine what she must have done to…” She bit her tongue, not wanting to finish that thought aloud.

I can’t imagine what she must have done to break you.

Gareth Haddock: "Loki’s curved horns, I wouldn’t lie to you,” Haddock retorted stiffly. His entire body seemed rather stiff now. “It’s dishonorable. And… and… and dishonorable for you to accuse me of it.”

Treepelt Halfpaw: “Look, I think honor is the least of our problems right now, wouldn’t you say?” Her temper flared and then she sighed, bringing her anger back under control. “Please, my King…tell me what happened. Tell me what she did.”

Gareth Haddock: His eyes shifted downward. He hesitated. Frowned. Sighed.

“She showed me my place.”

Treepelt Halfpaw: Those five words punched Treepelt in the gut and she bit her lip.

“But your place is with us, Your Majesty. Your place is being our king.”

Gareth Haddock: Something struggled in him. He could not respond for a long while, and when he did, it simply was to say, “It’s over, Tree. I’m sorry.”

Treepelt Halfpaw: Breathing hard, Tree retreated a few steps, shaking her head. “No…no." A tear traced the corner of her eye, ran down the curve of her cheek, and she dashed it away angrily. "No,” she said, firmer, louder. “I don’t care if you’ve given up. I’m going to get rid of the Warden if it’s the last thing I do.”

The Warden: “Then your end shall come quickly,” said the Warden with a grin, taking control of the body once more.

However, underneath her, she could still hear Haddock mumbling beneath. She tried to push his words aside to an unobtrusive corner of the mind so she could focus on the cat-child, yet he continued babbling, babbling like a madman, his thoughts focused solely, deliberately, obsessantly, insanely on his gibberings. There was an intensity to his speech that a sane man could not have achieved.

She found herself attuning to his speech, broken though it was. If Treepelt responded to the Warden in their outward conversation, she heard it not, for she was listening to Haddock’s low chant.

A leaf on the wind trusts its course.

It could have been a proverb, a country saying, a line of a poem, or the deluded babblings of a broken mind. The Warden could hardly tell, yet she scoffed nonetheless, A philosopher now, are we, monarch? I highly doubt any of your thoughts will be considered sage.

Another phrase, shattered into strong emotions… the words trailing out slowly and warped but nonetheless with increasing boldness.

Branches break on the oak that stands firm, but the willow which bends survives.

There was a strange determination about which he spoke of this willow, peculiar and random though the commentary seemed.

Did I really break you that much, king?

But the willow which bends survives… a dedication to repeating that line in particular.

A retort: It was your own doing, falling to this.

But she was feeling enormously uncomfortable. She already had been feeling slightly queasy during her ongoing encounter with Treepelt - more than a little queasy, admittedly - but this was bordering on outright disturbance. What was going on? He had never done anything like this, never.

The willow survives.

Stop that! she mentally hissed, lashing against him. She heard a grunt, but then he returned to his rhythmic chanting.

The willow survives… the willow survives..

No…

It was not chanting.

It was metrical, yes, but it was no mantra. It was a song.

Haddock… was singing.

.

A leaf on the wind trusts its course.

Though it sinks it still feels that it soars,

And the gusts of the gale shall ne’er underpin

The bright hope that its sentiment stores.

 .

For branches may break on the oak

Which firm standing snaps under force;

But the willow which bends survives through the wind

And returns to its strength after storms.

.

The trees drop their leaves in the cold,

Not defeat but a choice they controlled;

And the snow and the frost cannot break or exhaust

The trunks in their self-made stronghold.

.

For the tempests that rise shall soon die

And the blizzards that bite turn aside.

The strongest onslaught can always be fought

By outlasting the enemy’s might.

.

For branches may break on the oak

Which firm standing snaps under force;

But the willow which bends survives through the wind

And returns to its strength after storms.

Returns to it strength after storms!

.

And then… there there was an ominous… nothingness. Haddock was completely, utterly silenced, leaving the Warden to speak to Tree alone.

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