8 ~ Caelum

Jourd’Umbra, 22nd Novena
Midwinter Day

It had been an interesting night, now over, thank heavens.

Yarrow and Jules were both half-conscious, having each imbibed enough noge to kill a family of large boars. Caelum wasn’t really sure who had ‘won’ the drinking contest, but he was sure they would both feel like losers in the morning.

The taproom of the tavern was mostly empty now, patrons having gone upstairs to their rooms or outside, to their homes. Quite a mess. Jules and Yarrow, in their drunken wisdom, had done things that were, no doubt, very entertaining to anyone else who had forgotten the meaning of the word ‘sobriety’. Things such as dancing on tables, having belching contests, and falling over every time one of them got another brilliant idea, taking down another table or chair or patron with the execution of said idea.

He was glad each had been able to forget her troubles that night, but wished it hadn’t caused such a mess in the Cauldron. He went to apologise to Kasandra for the broken steins and chairs, and offered to pay for them, but she waved her hand.

“No, Major. Ghia’s the one who let them get so rowdy, so it’ll just come out of her pay,” the woman said, and smiled at the major.

Ghia’s long-suffering sigh as she worked on getting Jules upright so she could lead him to his horse had not gone unnoticed by Caelum. “All the same,” he said, taking enough coin out of his purse to pay for the damage and drinks, “I feel responsible.”

Kasandra shrugged. “If you insist.”

Caelum gave a short nod, and the tavern-keeper took the money with no further protest. Caelum went to pick up Yarrow, who lay drooling on the floor, and saw Ghia struggling mightily with Jules.

“Always heavier than they look, eh?” he said, picking up Yarrow with a grunt. The bellica may have been skinnier than a birch tree, but she’d been in the military for almost twenty years. She was made of nothing but solid muscle and bone. Still, Caelum was stronger, and he placed her on his shoulder, her arms dangling down his back.

Ghia sighed again and just let Jules slide to the floor this time. “Wish I were strong as you,” she said, taking in the apparent ease with which Caelum held Yarrow. “Want to give me a hand with this one?”

Caelum laughed. “I’ve got my hands full already. Just leave him on the floor of the tavern if you can’t lift him onto his horse.”

“Bad for business.” She shook her head. “I’ll just find him a room to sleep in; drag him upstairs. I think I can manage that.” She had her hands on her hips in a healeresque manner, and glanced up at Caelum with a small smile. “Thanks for taking care of the damages, Major.”

He nodded in her direction and turned towards the door. “Anytime, Healer. Happy Midwinter,” he added as he went to grab his and Yarrow’s cloaks. He knew a dismissal when he heard one.

“You too,” he heard her call, and then he was ducking out the door, built for people much shorter than he. He hefted Yarrow onto her stallion, Pyrrhus, and placed her cloak around her shoulders before putting his own cloak on and mounting his mild-mannered mare. The wind had, thank heavens, died down, leaving the tops of the buildings dusted with a fairy sprinkling of snow, and the clouds were gone, leaving the stars to twinkle in the night sky.

Truly, it was beautiful. Too bad Yarrow was still unconscious. He grabbed Pyrrhus’ reins, clucked to his own horse, and began to lead both horses in a slow walk down Perimeter Road, into the poor section of town, taking the long way to give Yarrow a bit of time to recover.

He still wondered what had strained her friendship with Jules, and if it had anything to do with Caelum’s own betrayal of her trust. Jules had followed her when she’d gone up the stairs to kill Seigneur Timor, he knew, and he’d made damned sure no one else had followed him to bear witness.

Most days he himself couldn’t believe what he’d done, but then he thought of what he would have risked losing by not doing it. He didn’t fairly see he’d had a choice.

Maybe I could have chosen a different poison. 

He’d not made the decision until they were far on their way to Nucalif, past TwoSides, where there was no shady apothecary to visit, no real selection. He’d only been able to harvest what was in the wild, and the only thing in the wild had been a small, innocuous-looking plant with blue flowers and orange leaves.

A mistake. Yarrow would never forgive him. But it had saved her life―this he knew as well as he knew the layout of his hometown.

If Jules had seen…Caelum should take care of that. I should get the man alone–more alone than in a crowded tavern–and talk to him. 

And tell him what? Hope you’re not thinking of reporting Yarrow, because she’s innocent. No doubt Jules knew that, or he would already have gone to the Empress.

No, it was Yarrow he needed to talk to, to make his apology. But how did one broach the subject? Yarrow, I betrayed your trust and have risked your entire life in order to save it, because I’ve never been good at thinking things through.

Sure. That would go over well.

He suppressed a groan and kept his horse on a steady path. All he could do was hope she would bring it up first.

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