39 ~ Aro

“You’ve been sent WHERE?”

Aro’s voice reverberated through Anala’s room. She glared at him as she continued packing. “Keep yer voice down, Aro.”

“I can’t believe that – that – that – cur of a treecat would send you there!” he continued in an angry hiss. “Of all the missions…why didn’t she choose a bellica from a lower regiment?”

“Ta cause me a mite of pain, Aro.”

“If she wanted to cause pain, she could have sent Yarrow.”

“Ye know very well that would be a mite politically unwise.”

Aro had nothing to say to that and settled for making an irritated sound in his throat. A few minutes of heavy silence passed, Aro fuming and pacing while Anala packed. When he’d calmed down a bit, he spoke again.

“When do we leave?”

We dinnae. I’d be departing a daybreak.”

He stared at her incredulously. “She’s sending you alone?”

“She reckoned me battle skill’d be more than needed in case of an…incident.”

“Incident?”

“Her words, ye ken.”

“It’s a deathtrap.”

“Might well be.” She shrugged and shut her bag.

“You can’t go, Anala.”

“I must, Aro.”

Instantly she was wrapped up in his arms in an embrace so tight she could barely breathe. “No. I won’t let you,” he said into her hair.

“Would ye take on an Empire, Aro?”

“Yes,” he said vehemently. He couldn’t let this happen, couldn’t go on without hearing her speak his name with her accent that made it sound like ‘ara’, rather than a misspelled weapon. He couldn’t go on without her smile, without seeing how clear her eyes were when she looked at him. Not like this.

Not with her unwell. Despite his heroic words, he knew he could not prevent her from going. One woman cannot fight the world. He’d let his soul go to Umbra if he let her go without first being looked over medically.

“Come on,” he said, pulling away from their lengthy hug. “We’ll have one last night at the tavern before you go.”

~

Ghia had slept for only three hours when Anala and Aro arrived at the Cauldron.

“She’s resting, Major,” Kasandra told the officers.

Aro sighed. “It’s a matter of importance,” he said urgently.

Kasandra looked from him to Anala, who’d not heard his last statement, and nodded reluctantly before disappearing upstairs.

Aro felt a brief tinge of regret for waking the healer as Ghia descended the stairs, for she looked little better than Muerta. An angry-looking Jules followed her.

“You should be resting, Ghia,” he was saying.

“I’m needed,” was her response, so soft Aro almost didn’t hear.

Jules turned his glare to the officers. “Aro, is this really necessary?”

“Yes,” the major replied, drawing Anala next to him. Anala looked about to protest, but did not speak, as usual. “I think Anala’s unwell.”

“Since when?” Ghia’s hoarse voice cut off whatever the bellica had opened her mouth to say.

“Since the seventeenth, roughly.”

Ghia nodded and took a step forward; then stopped. She evidently listened to an inner dialogue and then turned to a back room, gesturing for them to follow.

It was the privy. Very clean, even if it’s smaller than a flint-and-tinder box, Aro thought as he squeezed in with the rest of them.

“Best I could do,” Ghia croaked, unable even to smile. She beckoned Anala forward, closed her eyes for a moment, and unerringly placed one hand on Anala’s forehead, the other over the bellica’s heart.

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