Jourd’Selene, 22nd Decima
Yarrow was glad leave was over. She’d spent a restful and quiet month alone in Harbourtown. After a tredicem she’d become bored; another six days later, she was crazy with inactivity. To keep her mind and body in shape she took to running up and down the length of the shoreline every day at dawn. It was too cold to swim. Trust Zanny to give us leave in the coldest season of the year.
When she’d wearied of walking down memory lane, eating, sleeping, or being gawked at by townspeople, she’d gone to secluded areas to think. Countless hours of her vacation had been spent in an isolated cove, sitting on a rock and staring at the waves.
That had been her purpose. She had come to Harbourtown hoping her mother’s spirit would give her some guidance. Not that she literally believed Zameera lived in the sea, or the town – she was simply more clearly reminded of her mother there and so could listen to what she knew was really her own judgment. It was the only judgment she relied on, in the end.
Those hours in the cove had yielded some decisions, and by the time she rode into Atherton at dawn on the twenty-second of Decima, she felt considerably better about her circumstances. Which was not saying much, but at least now she felt less helpless, able to do something – and that did wonders for Yarrow’s stability. And peace of mind, as much as she could attain that.
Surveying her surroundings in the dawn light, she was surprised to see her comrade Anala riding out of the West Gate, in the direction of Harbourtown. Alone.
She tugged on the reins and urged Pyrrhus towards the other Bellica. “Anala, what ho? Leave’s over – it’s too late to visit your family!” She tried to make her voice jocular, but Anala visibly flinched at her words.
The second bellica had stopped her horse, however, and now Yarrow was close enough to touch her. She did so, grabbing Anala’s arm gently. “What gives, friend? Where are you off to?” It was the first time in years she’d used the honorific for her comrade.
“I’d be on an assignment to our neighbour nation,” Anala said after a pause.
Yarrow froze in shock, keeping careful eye contact with Anala. A thousand questions ran through her head and she wanted to yell them. She barely kept her voice calm.
“Who sent you?”
Anala’s face said it all. Yarrow swore viciously, her lips curling back in a snarl. Anala raised her eyebrows but said nothing.
“Why?” she said through clenched teeth. What business could her sister possibly have with their mother’s murderer, that she would send her second-best bellica alone?
Anala shook her head. “I cannae tell ye that, Yarrow. I risked enough telling Aro, ye ken.” Yarrow frowned, about to ask more, to get the classified information from Anala, when she belatedly caught the meaning of the other bellica’s words.
She nodded. Anala returned the gesture.
Releasing her grip on Anala’s arm, Yarrow sat back in her saddle and said her farewell. “Travel safely, friend. May Bellona protect you from harm.”
“I thank ye kindly, and I’d be seeing ye in little less than a month, friend.”
Yarrow restrained the urge to hug Anala, whose eyes glistened with unshed tears. This could be goodbye forever — but bellicas didn’t talk of such things. They accepted them. That was their job.
Yarrow blinked furiously as Anala rode off. She did not turn to watch her friend go.
Upon her entry of the castle, Yarrow’s fingers encircled the arm of the nearest servant. The girl squeaked as the bellica drew her close until they were face to face.
“Major Aro – where is he?”
“I know not, My Lady.” The girl was visibly frightened, but Yarrow did not care right now.
“Find him. Tell him Bellica Yarrow seeks him and wishes to speak to him post haste.” She released the girl and stood back up. All too eager to be away, the youngling picked up her dropped linens and scampered off.
Yarrow felt a small twinge of remorse as she watched the retreating figure, but smothered the feeling ruthlessly. It was no time to be soft – not until she learned what was going on. And perhaps not even then.
It was over two hours before Aro arrived at her quarters. She’d long since unpacked her bags, bathed, and rested.
“Come!” she yelled at the knock on the door, not pausing in her furious pacing.
The tall major stepped inside and stood at attention. “Ma’am?”
“At ease, Aro. Close the door.” When he’d done so, she continued. “Why was Anala sent to Mt. Voco?”
Surprise registered on his face briefly. “I take it your paths crossed this morning?” Yarrow nodded. “She doesn’t know the details herself, Bellica. She told me what she knows – it has to do with a peace treaty between our nations.”
“Peace treaty! Between Zardria and Exsil Vis, you mean.”
He nodded carefully. Yarrow’s anger was palpable, a thick tension in the room.
Aro’s face stayed neutral, but Yarrow caught the brief flash of pain in his eyes, and remembered his battle skill was rivalled only by his devotion to Anala.
“The Empreena’s reason was to show good faith. She also assumed any trouble could be handled by Anala alone.”
“It’s a deathtrap.”
“I said as much myself.”
They fell silent. Until this moment, Yarrow had not realised how much she cared for Anala. There was not more trust than was needed for their relative career positions, but that was usual these days. Yarrow just had assumed that care and trust went hand in hand. It seemed that they didn’t.
She sank down onto her bed slowly. Head in hands, she felt tears sting her eyes and willed them away. If it killed her, she would not cry in front of Aro. She breathed in sharply and looked up. Aro had not moved from his position.
“Do you want a drink?” she asked plaintively.
“You keep alcohol in here?”
“Reserved for such occasions.” She got down on the floor and felt for the loose panel of wood. Pulling it up, she was pleased to note her store of Pyra’s Breath was untouched.
“You do know it is not yet noon, right?” Aro said as she poured a glass for him.
She took a swig from the bottle. “Good thing I’m not working today.”
He nodded in assent and raised his glass in the air. “To Anala’s safe return.”
She repeated the toast, and they drank, Aro downing his glass in one. Yarrow had two more swigs, and put the bottle away half-full.
Handing her the glass, Aro looked down at where she sat on the floor, a bemused expression on his face. “I did not realise you cared so for Anala.”
Flashes of memory stole across Yarrow’s mind – the beach, the rain, the caves, the fight. Voco had changed things. That was a regret. But things can change again. I hope they do.
Realising Aro was waiting for an answer, she forced a wan smile on her face. “Neither did I,” she said.
Satisfied, he nodded and headed for the door.
Belatedly she realised she’d forgotten to ask how their leave had fared. “Aro,” she called, but he was already gone.