This is turning out to be almost a book by itself, so since it's taking so long, I thought I'd throw up a teaser here. Here's Lark's first meeting with Lath. Enjoy!
Lark glared at the cheery-looking inn from her seat across the road. Beside her, her nightsaber chuffed and nudged her arm. "I know," she muttered. "You want bed and supper. Problem is, we don't have either anymore." She sighed in frustration.
When the big gray cat came up next to her and sat down, she didn't seem to notice. After a few moments, however, she reached out and began scratching around its ears. The cat purred, then spoke up. "You don't look very happy," it noted in a definitely masculine voice. Lark gave a wry half-grin. "That's because I'm not," she replied. The cat flicked an ear. "What's wrong?" he asked.
Lark waved a hand at the inn across the street. "Got kicked out of there because I couldn't pay my tab anymore. I have no job because no one wants to hire an untried free-lancer, no money, and no food or stabling for my buddy here, either." Wynd rumbled faintly at her mention of him, and the druid-cat smirked a bit. "That is pretty rough," he said. "Is there anything I can do to help? I know I'm a stranger, but..." Lark shook her head. "We've camped out in the woods before, we can do it again. I appreciate the offer, though. I just don't want to be indebted to anyone else right now."
The druid digested that in silence for a bit. "My name is Lath," he said finally. "Lathenil Skywing of the Claw, to be exact. If I can't do anything else, could I buy you some dinner? Just as an offer of friendship, you don't need to pay me back." He looked at her from the corner of his eye, waiting for her response.
Lark's stomach chose that moment to growl loudly, and she chuckled as Lath smirked. "I suppose I ought to take you up on that. I'm Lark." She offered a hand as the druid simultaneously stood and unshifted, and he took it and shook it warmly. "I know a place nearby, and they'll even provide some scraps for your friend," he said cheerfully, then struck out down the road. Lark clucked to Wynd and fell in beside him.
"Scraps" turned out to be leftovers from the tables and raw cuts of meat that didn't pass the cook's inspection. Lark looked it all over first and found it satisfactory, so Wynd was soon fussing daintily over a good-sized supper. They sat at a table just inside the door, so Lark could keep an ear on him. She naturally also took the opportunity to look her unexpected benefactor over.
He was tall, a good deal taller than her, but thin as a post. Despite that, what muscles she could see were well-defined; he was obviously used to hard work. His light blue hair was possibly the most impressive thing about him. He had a veritable mane that reached partway down his back, with various trinkets braided into it. She couldn't see all of them, but she made out several feathers, a tiny bird skull, and what looked like a bear claw. His face was narrow, like the rest of him, but his expression was friendly and open.
Lath chatted all through their meal, somehow pulling out a good deal of information from her while telling her about himself as well. She found out he was a guard for a trade caravan, home for a week or two while they restocked before setting out again. He did have a home here, just close enough to be considered part of the village but far enough away for privacy. He appeared genuinely interested in her, and her occasional bouts of self-critical humor seemed to puzzle him. He joked with her often, to try and keep her spirits high. She thought he was good company, but didn't expect it to last longer than the night.
When they left, and Lark started toward her favorite campsite, he fell into step beside her. "Hope you don't mind an escort, but I've nothing better to do right now, and the least I could do is make sure you get there safely." She shrugged and said, "I don't mind. Ought to crash soon, though, so I can start looking for work tomorrow." She frowned. "Again." He cocked an eyebrow at her, but said nothing.
They arrived at the clearing in short order, and Lark began setting up her tiny tent. Lath, to her surprise, turned cat and prowled around the perimeter, returning just as she finished arranging her bedroll. "Everything around is clear. You should sleep well," he told her, and she grinned. "Thanks." He stood there for a few moments more, shifting his front feet as if he were nervous. Finally he said simply, "Goodnight Lark. I enjoyed your company, and hope to see you around more often." Lark blinked at him in surprise as he turned and trotted back toward the village.