61 ~ Ghia

This wasn’t so bad, she supposed. I mean, once you get past the hardness of the saddle…and all the bumps on the road…and the constant jostling that make my tits feel as if they’re about to fall off….

Scratch that. Horseback riding was terrible. Her continued cramping made it worse. She’d thought that pain was part of the drug’s effects on her. But didn’t the drug get cleared from me? Maybe it was having lingering side effects on her system. Terribly vexing, to have abdomen cramps while on a steady trot along a hard road.

At least she had Jules to sit in front of – he made a comfy cushion – for all that he’d been acting incredibly standoffish all day. She could’ve found out why quite easily, but honestly, she respected him too much to want to pry into his thoughts. Weren’t they friends? Friends don’t read each others’ minds without permission. Maybe he’s just in one of his moods.

But he’d been friendly enough with Caelum through their conversation, and with his bellica and Aro earlier in the day. It was only with her, Ghia, that he’d been…awkward. Almost cold.

Maybe it was she. What had she done? Nothing, to be sure. Mayhap he’s mad I took over his bed last night. He should have said something, instead of keeping things bottled up.

Ugh. She didn’t want to spend this trip wondering about what she may have or may not have done. Jules would get over it eventually, and they could talk about it, and she could call him an idiot for not sharing it earlier. Things would get back to normal.

Aside from a prolonged trot on a horse who definitely did not like her, Jules’ moodiness, and the constant cramps, she was excited about this trip. She could be riding into danger but she couldn’t curb her happy anticipation. for, as of midnight that night, Ghia would be twenty years of age.

A real adult now, with opinions that mattered–not that she’d ever believed hers hadn’t. She’d be allowed to drink (finally!). She’d made sure to get her card before leaving, for she wanted no one questioning her legality in Mudflat or Harbourtown. The clerk at Social Administration had been leery of giving a card a day early, but the combination of her best smile, a bit of flirting, and the records saying she’d be on the road all that day had convinced him, though he had put the “valid as of” date as 1st Primera, 4020.

So what? There were to be no taverns tonight, not between here and Mudflat. Ghia actually hoped they would ride on through the night, despite her discomfort. She wanted to be in Mudflat tomorrow evening so she could have a drink on her birthday.

It wasn’t as if they could celebrate New Year’s while on the road, anyway. Might as well keep riding until Mudflat, right? She wasn’t in charge of this mission, but she would speak to Yarrow and ask if they could. Sleeping in a saddle may be preferable to the rocky ground.

Not so good as sleeping in a warm bed, which she would have in Mudflat tomorrow evening if they pressed on. Or that I’d have at home if I’d stayed instead of planning this crazy thing. Something urged her on, something she couldn’t deny. Sometimes it was a real trial, having such powers. She did wish she could be in Atherton for her birthday, for she’d spent every birthday with her mother and aunt since they’d found her. Their Regala de Primavera, they called her — “spring gift”. She didn’t really know whether it was her real birthday, but that had been the day they’d found her, in 4001, when, they said, she’d been about a year old. It seemed reasonable to have her birthday entered into the archives as the first day of the new year.

It could have been worse, had she landed with foster parents not so caring. After all, who wants to celebrate after New Year’s Eve? However, Helene and Kasandra always made sure her party had started the night before, at the celebrations for the end of winter, and lasted until the evening of the first day of the new year.

Truly, she had a wonderful foster family. She regretted not being able to spend this birthday with them, for this one was a rather large milestone. What could she do? She needed to go to Harbourtown and if she had decided to stay in town instead of accompany Yarrow to Mudflat first, she would have been flat out of luck. Traveling to Harbourtown, alone, in the beginning of spring when everything was muddy? Without a horse! There had been no choice, so very early that morning she had slipped out of Jules’ bed and gone to say her farewells to her comatose mother in the hospitalis, and her very sleepy aunt at the tavern, which was still a hospice for those patients from the clinics. Her aunt had given her a small wrapped gift with some hugs and kisses, but only on the condition that Ghia wait until the first to open it. As if I wouldn’t! They’d had a very teary goodbye. She hoped her mother had heard what she’d said to her, too. It was difficult, doing this so differently from how it had been done her whole life. At least I’ll get to spend my birthday with Jules. I really hope he cheers up between now and tomorrow.

Soon they came across some small hills and Ghia guessed they were getting closer to Mudflat, which, she knew, rested on a plateau between two ranges of the foothills of the Blood Mountains. She’d never been there, of course. In fact, this was her first journey out of Atherton. She had studied maps and books and felt she could make reasonable guesses about what she might find.

Caelum nodded to the two of them and rode on ahead to ride beside Yarrow. Ghia noted the surprise in Yarrow’s posture as her major joined her and Aro dropped back to ride beside the two healers.

Yarrow didn’t yell at Caelum or ride on ahead without them, so it looked as if things were better between the two would-be lovers. A bit better than they had been, at least, for the two still weren’t speaking, and it had been clear this morning that Yarrow was not pleased that Caelum was tagging along. But better nonetheless. Ghia forced herself to be happy about the change.

She turned to smile at Aro, for she wished for conversation. “How are you today, Major Aro?” She made her voice kind, for even though she’d been genuinely angry last night, she felt bad about how mean she’d been to him.

He shrugged. “Hungover. But that’s better than drunk, so….” he gave her a game smile. She said nothing in reply, for how would she know? After a pause he spoke again. “I want to thank you, Ghia.”

She looked at him bemusedly. “For what? I was really mean to you last night – for which I’m sorry,” she added, glad to be able to apologise.

He gave a brisk shake of his head. “Please, don’t be. You were kinder than Anala would have been had she found I’d fallen off the caravan.”

It took a moment for that to register. “Fallen off… You’re an – ”

Recovering,” he said, cutting her off, though he smiled. “I’d been dry for over ten years. Didn’t realise how much of my strength to remain so came from Anala.” His smile turned bittersweet. “It was because of her that I recovered at all; so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Anyway, I thank you, Ghia. That kick in the fustanella that you gave me was just what I needed.”

Ghia was flabbergasted. She’d never thought Aro was a…a Friend of Terra, as they called themselves, for Terra was Althea’s daughter, Goddess of all the good healing things of the earth and then of healing and cleansing the body.

“You’re welcome, I guess. But Aro – oh, I feel terrible now!” she said, upset. “I called you such names….” she trailed off, hating her mean streak. She looked down at the saddle horn, feeling tears well up in her eyes. Why are you crying, stupid? So weak….

A hand bridged the gap between their horses to rest on her arm. She looked up to see Aro looking at her kindly. “It was as I said, Ghia, You were kinder to me than Anala would be. Didn’t I say as much last night, Jules?” he added, looking at the medic behind her.

She twisted in the saddle to look at Jules, but barely succeeded in facing him. “You didn’t tell me that last night!” she said, hating that she sounded like a petulant child.

Jules looked at her mildly, lips curved in a small smirk. “I didn’t get a chance. And yes, Aro, you did say as much,” he went on, while Ghia was very glad Jules didn’t say why he’d not gotten a chance, sure she was blushing furiously already. “I believe you also said ‘Thank Terra for that know-it-all healer,’ am I right?” Aro nodded and looked at Ghia nervously for her reaction. She merely shrugged. She’d been called worse. Jules patted her leg affectionately. “See? No reason to be upset.”

“Right,” chimed in Aro, and Ghia gave up.

Men are impossible. “Fine. But I’m not going to be that mean again,” she warned.

There was a snort behind her. “I doubt that,” said Jules, but there was no malice in it and she let it go.

She looked ahead to where Yarrow and Caelum rode, and saw they were talking now. Or, rather, Caelum was talking and Yarrow was listening.

“I wonder what they’re talking about,” she said softly, so only Jules could hear her.

He didn’t have an answer for her.


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