The last day of winter dawned gloomy and cold. The snow of last night lay in small white patches on the untrodden ground, which was better than the black slush it had turned into on the city streets.
She’d not been kidding when she’d said tardiness would not be tolerated, and had been glad to see that the others had taken it to heart. She didn’t include Caelum in the term “others”. Why couldn’t he have been late – as usual?
No, he’d been there even before she, determined not to be left behind. Damn him. She’d agreed to let him come only because she hadn’t wanted to hurt him. I should’ve, really. Anything to keep him away from me.
She could still hurt him in Mudflat, she supposed. After Ghia, Jules, and Aro leave for Harbourtown, though. Wouldn’t want him under care of the First Regiment’s CMO and Head Healer for the nation.
In truth, she couldn’t really do anything like that to him, and deep down she knew it. She just didn’t want to admit it to anyone.
Shaking her head to clear the cobwebs of her thoughts, she glanced behind her to see Caelum engaged in conversation with Jules and Ghia – apparently friendly enough. Goddess knew Caelum could use a friend right now.
Jules glanced her way and the look that then passed his face was almost guilty. As if he knows and doesn’t want to upset me.
The whole castle likely knew she and Caelum had fought. She held no illusions about that. Did Jules know the nature of her fight with Caelum? How could he? That was between her, Caelum, and…the spy.
Feck. Looked like a misstep in judgment there! Trusting your CMO? Were you crazy?
I thought I was. Mayhap I wasn’t far off the mark.
Nothing to be done about it now, except to curse her stupidity in bringing a possible spy along on this trip.
Two possible spies, she amended, seeing Jules and Ghia ride together. They were close – if one was a spy it was likely the other was, too.
It was her own fault that Ghia had no horse on this trip, and had to share. She’d forgotten that not everyone was so lucky as Jules and had not requested the use of a castle horse for the healer. Instead of wasting more time in the finding of a mount, Ghia had elected to ride with Jules.
She could have shared with someone else and she chose Jules instead. Why?
Maybe they’re just friends, Yarrow. They work in the same field, after all, said a sensible voice in her head.
She dismissed it. She worked in the same field as Anita and they weren’t necessarily friends.
She realised she was still staring at the three behind her and Jules still had that guilty look on his face. She kept her face carefully neutral and shrugged her shoulders slightly before turning away.
What was that guilty, hangdog look? As if he feared her anger for speaking to Caelum… which indicated he was still loyal to her, obviously. That could just be an act. No, no – I’ve known Jules for a long time and he’s not that good a liar.
She’d just have to order him to remain in Mudflat with her and Caelum. And Lt. James, when they found him. Then Yarrow could discover…whatever I can discover. She’d at least be separating the two possible spies in the group – always a good thing.
She glanced to her left and noted Aro looked a lot better than he had last night, though he must have a terrible hangover. Good thing it wasn’t bright today. Strange thing, that. Aro had a reputation, albeit now ruined, of being extremely levelheaded and sober. In fact, thinking back on it, had Yarrow ever seen him drink in public? How could he allow himself to get like that? Was it just that he missed Anala so much?
Considering that, she shook her head. No, that didn’t seem very Aro-like. But after he’d had that drink with her, he’d disappeared into his room. It wasn’t until Ghia had roused him that the truth had come out and spread like wildfire throughout the castle – that he’d disappeared into a drunken stupor.
It was quite mysterious. Sober Aro, drunk for over a sevenday. Yarrow wanted to ask, but she didn’t have the courage to be quite that rude. She just hoped she hadn’t been an enabler to a dangerous addiction for him.
The sun broke through the clouds then, and Yarrow was able to note its position in the sky. Not bad. They were making good time, for the castle was a small dot on the horizon already and they still had plenty of daylight left. In an hour, she’d call a break.
The break came in a little less than an hour, because on seeing the small brook, she decided it would be a good chance to water the horses.
They dismounted and let their horses drink while they walked out the bunched muscles in their own legs. Ghia was having difficulty dismounting and walking, and Yarrow guessed the girl wasn’t used to long rides. She doesn’t even have a mount – of course she’s not used to this.
What had possessed her to take along a non-military girl as escort? Ghia was soft; she could only slow them down.
Not as if I had much choice. Going to Harbourtown was, after all, Ghia’s crazy idea. Yarrow had just offered them the chance to do it without certain court martial for Aro and Jules, while solving her own escort problem. She couldn’t tell Ghia to stay behind, for it was obvious the girl would go anyway, and that could have proved extremely dangerous for the healer. Yarrow and the boys were as much an escort for Ghia as she was for them.
Who knew? They might need her skills as Head Healer, which were undoubtedly greater than Jules’ CMO skills. There was a reason Ghia stood to inherit that post and he didn’t. Yarrow just hoped the girl wouldn’t cripple them.
Her solitude by the brook was then interrupted by none other than the very one she was trying to avoid. Intent on talking again, it seemed.
“Will nothing make you feck off, Caelum?” she asked tiredly.
He shrugged and settled down beside her. “No,” he said simply. “I’m very persistent.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yeah. I know.”
They sat in an almost comfortable silence, though it wasn’t quite there yet. It wasn’t angry or insurmountably awkward, however. It would be a while before their silences were comfortable as they had once been. Or comforting.
At length he spoke, and she suppressed a sigh. He wanted to talk and she probably couldn’t stop him. Why fight the inevitable? I don’t have to really care or even forgive him. I’ll just listen.
“I spent some time at my family’s farm during leave. What was left of it. Paid my respects to mother, father, and Stella. Spent time with Uncle Pieter, whom, I’d like to think I learned a lot from.”
Ok, so I was right – but where are you going with this? He sighed and stopped speaking, but Yarrow doubted he was done. She waited.
“One very important thing he taught me, which I’d never really grasped until I heard him say it, is that the ends don’t justify the means. They never have and never will, no matter what certain tacticians and historians have said.”
Yarrow nodded. He was referring to Bellica Minerva of the First Age and her many books on military strategy and tactics. The books were considered essential to a military education, and required reading for all bellicas, majors, and majoras to be. They’d studied them together. There was no doubt in Yarrow’s mind that Minerva had been a brilliant bellica in her time, but Yarrow had never agreed with the woman’s insistence that the ends would always justify the means.
Sometimes there was no choice, however.
Caelum had finally grasped that. Good. It didn’t change what he’d done, but it gave hope for him to change. Hope for the future.
He sighed again. “I suppose I could tell you the reason I did what I did, but in the end – it was wrong, no matter how well-intentioned I was. The Road to Tyvian….” He trailed off. “I’m sorry, Yarrow. I did something stupid – well, I’ve done a lot of that. But this was perhaps the most monumentally stupid thing I’ve ever done in my long history of doing stupid things. I hope someday you can forgive me. I know that’s too much to ask, so I only hope that you hear me out, and maybe not hate me.”
A silence followed his speech, and then he got up to leave her alone with her thoughts. Again.
Except now they were all a jumbled mess. Dammit! She’d gotten clarity and now he’d fecked things up again.
But he’s trying. Isn’t that what matters?
No. Trying and failing means nothing – only accomplishment is important.
Her two sides battled it out for a while until she told them to SHUT UP because she couldn’t think with their bickering going on.
She was out of time to think. Break was over.
She got up and shouted for her party to get their butts in gear, because they were leaving now.
She went and checked her saddle and stroked Pyrrhus while the others scrambled, Ghia lifted up by Jules because she was obviously too stiff to move. Yarrow stopped herself from making a pitying noise–what a tomboy!
She glanced to her side and saw Caelum getting ready to mount Gloaming. She hesitated for all of five seconds, then faced him and said very softly: “I don’t hate you.” Then she mounted and headed back to the trail, giving him no time to respond.
Still, she didn’t forgive him.