She could have cut the tension between them with her sword, if she’d still had it on her. She stared off down Perimeter Road, unable to bear looking Caelum in the face. Pyrrhus danced uncertainly on the cobblestones, and Yarrow could hear the scuttling of rats in the alleyways. The silence between them dragged on until she could take it no more, and looked back at him in exasperation.
He sat alert in his saddle, looking behind them. A cold stone settled in her gut.
“What is it?” she said out loud, fearing the worst.
He hesitated before answering. “I think someone was listening to us. A spy.”
“Well I’m fecked then. Royally, even.” She gave her small joke a small, slightly manic laugh.
“You could run,” he said simply. She knew he suggested it as a matter of course, for they both knew she never would.
“And would you come with me? Be like Jared of myth, defending his bellica even in her madness?” She smiled sardonically at him, and he looked away, his face stricken. Her mouth hardened as her heart twisted. She looked away again. “No. Better: I just march into my sister’s study on the morrow and profess my guilt.”
She heard him scoff. “And what good would that do?”
At some point their horses had started moving again, she noticed. She did not stop them. “Why draw out the inevitable? We both know it will come, so why not sooner, instead of later?”
“Because we both know you won’t do that.” She had no response. He was right, as usual. He knew her too well. She ground her teeth in frustration.
“It’s better than being completely helpless over my own fate,” she growled, earning his small laugh. “What do you suggest I do, Caelum? I’ll never run, I’ll never throw myself upon the parsimonious mercy my sister may grant, and I’ll never take my own life. I’m pretty much out of choices here.” She raised her eyebrows at him.
His shrug was infinitesimal. “You could give someone else up in your place.”
She almost laughed at his suggestion. “And what poor fool would I send to the gallows?”
His look was direct, his eyes burning into hers. “Me.”
It caught her completely off guard. She swallowed convulsively in the raw emotion crackling the air. She grasped at her old, Umbra-may-care mood, but her jesting tone fell flat. “What, you’d sacrifice your life for me?”
His look didn’t waver, but a small smile, almost as infinitesimal as his earlier shrug, curved his lips. “I swore as much when I became your major.”
“That’s different,” she said immediately, and broke her gaze away from his, unable to stand the intensity of it anymore. “And no, I won’t. You had nothing to do with this, Caelum.”
They fell into silence again, the matter over and done with. She railed at her helplessness, but there was literally nothing she could do. Except, perhaps, commit myself in madness to the care of the priestesses at the Temple…but I should think the gallows would be preferable to being closeted up with those religious wingnuts.
When Caelum spoke again it was such a surprise her brain didn’t register his words. She asked him to repeat himself, wondering what else there was to say.
“But I did.”
She looked at him blankly for a moment before the import of his words settled around her like a dense fog. “What?” she asked, ice embracing the blood in her veins.
“You always give me your sword for the blessing before the battle, remember?” He smiled, belied by tears in his eyes. “I did it then. Terrabane grows in abundance outside Nucalif. I would have chosen something milder, but….” he trailed off.
Yarrow was so far gone into anger, an anger so deep it was cold, that she didn’t care if he wept. The breath had been sucked from her chest. Her heart skipped a few beats and then thudded dully in her ears, louder than breath. She couldn’t think; couldn’t speak. The only reality in that moment was that great and terrible anger that rose up from some hidden, unknown part of her, threatening to engulf everything in its path.
This was not the fury of battle, no. This was something deeper. Colder. More primal. She could not name it. Could not speak to name it; her tongue was heavy in her mouth and a red haze cropped the edges of her vision, blurring out everything except him.
Before she knew what she was doing she had lunged and knocked him from his horse to the ground below, her dagger already at his throat. He offered no resistance, did not try to throw her off, and it was his passive acceptance that gave her pause, made her hesitate before drawing her blade across his skin to slice the tender jugular.
Somehow she found her voice back; somehow made her inhuman tongue work again. “What…what were you thinking?” she hissed, a low sound, animal in origin.
He swallowed, his Lucian’s Pomegranate bobbing against the blade and pressing it harder to his skin. “I did it to save your life, Yarrow.”
She nearly dropped the blade in shock. “A right fine job you did,” she hissed, pressing the knife closer to him instead.
It must have awakened some spark, some need in him to live, for now he flipped her over, pinning her to the cobblestones, hands above her head. “I know. I messed up. Beyond repair. But my intentions were pure.” He looked at her, pleadingly, begging something they both knew she’d never yield.
Not now. Not anymore.
She kneed him in the stomach viciously and kicked him off her; getting up, she retrieved her knife and sheathed it at her belt again. “You know what they say about the road to Tyvian, Caelum,” she said, her voice ragged. “Guess I’ll see you there.”
She mounted Pyrrhus and kicked his sides, urging him to a canter, wanting to get away from Caelum as fast as possible.
She did not look back, did not think back, did not open that door again.
It was over. All of it. Whatever had existed between them―whatever feelings they had or might have had―no! All gone now. She was empty. Numb. Closed off from him forevermore.
Only after she’d stabled her horse and staggered back to her room by the barracks, only when she looked in the mirror, did she see the tears running down her face. She nearly vomited in self-disgust.
With grim determination, Yarrow lifted the hidden plank in her floor and brought out her Pyra’s Breath. Pouring herself a glass of the whiskey, she proceeded to drink herself into a coma, and hoped against hope to die in her sleep.