The bellica had been completely taken off-guard by Ghia’s request to ride all night long. Maybe the girl wasn’t so soft, after all.
Maybe, she thought, glancing at where the healer slept in the saddle, almost sliding off before Jules caught her. It was a miracle she was still mounted at all. She probably just wanted to get to Mudflat sooner so she wouldn’t have to sleep on the ground that night.
Mudflat, coincidentally, was exactly as Yarrow remembered it. She wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad thing, as the last time she’d been here was for Caelum and Isidora’s engagement and joint bachelors’ party. There had been much drinking, dancing, and wenching. By everyone, even Yarrow. She’d waked between both the woman and the man she’d been flirting with the night before, plus a splitting headache and no doubts as to what had transpired upon falling into bed with the other two, as their clothing was all over the room. Caelum, on the other hand, had gone to bed with Isidora and only Isidora, though even his fiancée had not been so virtuous. The major had not been upset, however, for it had been quite a gorgeous woman Isidora had latched onto. He’d gotten quite a show. Yarrow knew, for he’d told her all about it the next day.
She smiled a little as she slowed the party to a walk, coming into town proper (could that word ever be used to describe Mudflat?). That had been a good few days.
Letting her gaze slide sidelong to look at Caelum, she could see from his facial expression that he remembered, too, now with less sadness than any other time he thought of Isidora.
She’d shone that night like a brilliant star. Nothing could taint that memory – not even her untimely death naught a year later.
“Where to?” came the voice of Jules as he pulled up beside her.
She shrugged. “The Sword and the Sceptre looks good,” she said, gesturing to the sign, and Caelum guffawed loudly.
She arched an eyebrow at him. He was unrepentant as he said “Sounded good in ‘fourteen, too.”
She snorted. “Was good.”
Jules regarded them with consternation for a moment, and then his face cleared abruptly and he shrugged. “Lead on, then. Anywhere where I can get a drink.”
Yarrow chuckled as she led them through town towards the tavern and inn. “Oh, you can get so much more than a drink there,” she said, only loud enough for Caelum to hear.
Ghia was awake by the time they reached the inn, and after she dismounted stiffly and recovered her bearings, Yarrow sent the girl in to book two rooms for the group. Blearily the healer nodded and stumbled wearily into the building, hardly able to move after her long ride. Yarrow breathed a discreet sigh of relief.
Not discreet enough, apparently. “What was that for?” asked Jules.
She shook her head and regarded the medic coolly. “I must have been crazy to take her along. She’s a fine healer, I know, but the girl’s not cut out for the road. Too much of a tomboy.” Ghia didn’t even own pants, from what Yarrow could tell.
Jules glanced at the inn door and back at her, and Yarrow was surprised to see defiance and anger in his eyes. “Strength comes in many forms, Yarrow,” he said quietly. “Yours is in the ability to wield a sword, the ability to ride for so long, your ability as a bellica. Ghia’s is in her spirit, which has never flagged that I’ve seen, her courage when she’s scared stiff, and her ability to spend a tredicem healing with less sleep than most of us get in a night before she picks up on a trip across country.”
She looked at him and saw he was completely serious. Loath to admit that Jules, her CMO, had shamed her, she murmured, “I didn’t know,” rethinking her harsh assessment of the young healer.
“I didn’t think you did,” Jules said with asperity and a small smile.
Before she could answer he turned back to Suki, ministering to his horse with the greatest care.
Maybe, she sighed, she was too quick to judge…Yeah, and maybe you shouldn’t do your job right, Yarrow? Quick judgment is what makes a bellica a bellica. Your harshness saves your life, and those of your troops.
Their horses tied and fed, the four officers grabbed their saddlebags (Mudflat was not the place to trust to peoples’ good nature) and headed into the inn.
Quite a scene awaited them.
“Just give me the rooms, old man,” Ghia was snarling at the innkeeper.
The man calmly cleaned mugs as he answered her. “Tyvian, no. How do I know you’re really with whom you say you’re with?”
“Why would I lie?” she exclaimed, throwing her arms wide.
“Why wouldn’t you?” he responded equably.
Ghia’s lip curled and she growled in frustration. “Look, my gold is good, so just take it and give me the rooms.”
The innkeeper eyed her suspiciously. “And where’d you get that gold, eh? You’re too young to have earned it yourself.”
That did it. Yarrow could see something snap in Ghia. The girl reached across the counter and grabbed the man’s collar, pulling him down until he was at eye level with her. “Look, you stubborn old bastard, I may be young, and I may look soft, but I am someone you don’t want to feck with. And neither are my friends, who ARE who I say they are. Get the damned rooms.”
The man did not flinch, simply glared at her. “Do you want me to call my bouncer on you, girl?”
“Do you want your bouncer to die?” Yarrow asked, finally cutting in. She’d seen enough.
Instantly the man’s demeanour changed. “Bellica Yarrow!” he exclaimed, the image of obsequiousness. “It’s been too long! My apologies, Ma’am – this girl claims to be your escort.” His arm indicated Ghia and his face showed his disbelief.
“Yeah, well, that would be because she is,” Yarrow said, watching his face fall. “Now, are you going to get us those two rooms, or am I going to have to go elsewhere?”
He stood, agape for a moment, before bowing deeply. “Yes, yes, Bellica, as you wish.”
“It better be,” Yarrow said with a bit of a growl, and was gratified to see the man jump. “Three beds to one room, two to the other. And get me a pint of ale,” she said.
“One for me, too!” came Jules’ voice from behind her, and she stifled her smile.
The man was still staring at them, terrified. “Now, Xavier,” she barked, and he scurried to obey. “I’ve been on the damned road all damned night and I expect to get some damned service when I show up at your inn.” The pint appeared like magek before her, and Jules’ pint came a second later. He didn’t get a chance to enjoy it, however, for as Xavier disappeared to get the rooms ready Yarrow told the boys to follow with their bags.
She took a seat at the bar, nodded at Ghia, and lifted her mug in salute. “Cheers,” she said, taking a swig.
Ghia stared between the bellica and the stairway the boys were disappearing up, and shook her head. “Thank you,” she said softly, with a gesture to indicate Yarrow’s interference between Ghia and Xavier. “Here’s your gold back,” she added, moving to give it to Yarrow.
Yarrow waved her hand, indicating the girl could keep it. “Consider it payment for having to put up with that curmudgeon, and for acting as my escort – I am taking you away from your job, am I not?”
Ghia smiled shyly and pocketed the coins. “Jobs. And thank you, again.” A small pause, then she said hesitantly: “That was pretty impressive.” She inclined her head towards the bar, referring to Xavier’s obeisance to the bellica.
Yarrow shook her head and spun on her stool until she rested against the bar with both elbows. She scanned the room almost lazily. “No. I reminded Xavier of how much he owes me. Nothing amazing about that…likely I could have gotten the rooms free without causing a scene, or throwing about threats. Now,” she added, deciding it was safe enough to close her eyes for a moment, “now what you did, Healer Ghia…standing up like that to a complete stranger, in a town where you don’t know anyone, and have no sword to protect yourself…that was impressive.” She turned and opened her eyes, regarding the girl. “I’ve misjudged you, for which I apologise.”
Ghia shrugged. “Accepted. It happens – just part of being human.” Her face clouded then. With what, Yarrow didn’t know.
Wishing to pick the conversation back up, she nodded in the direction of the stairs. “I hope you don’t mind bunking down with me tonight. It seemed the best arrangement.”
Ghia waved her hand. “Not a problem. I’m sure Jules will be happy to have his bed to himself tonight,” she added unthinkingly; then clapped a hand over her mouth and blushed deeply.
“Oh?” Yarrow said, arching an eyebrow, and wondering anew just how close the two healers were.
“Uh, well, what I meant was, um….” Ghia blustered, wringing her hands together. At that moment Jules returned from upstairs, and Ghia blushed even deeper, if possible. “Jules!” she said, latching onto the distraction he provided. “Perfect! I’m going to go now and, um, check that our bags are…okay. Yes. Okay. Um. Bye!” She fled up the stairs, red hair bouncing over a redder face.
Jules frowned at the healer’s retreating back, and then looked at Yarrow perplexedly. “What was that about?” he asked as he sat down to his ale.
“Oh, I gather she feels she said too much.” Yarrow said mildly, and paused. “About you two sleeping together,” she added nonchalantly, taking a sip of her ale and watching Jules carefully.
Jules choked on his ale and started coughing, a flush similar to the one Ghia’d had building on his face. Yarrow patted him on the back and resisted laughing, for she didn’t wish to have ale shoot out her nose. It burned, she knew.
When he’d finished his coughing fit, he sat back and replied. “It’s…not what you think. She had trouble sleeping, so….”
“…so she crawled into your bed?” Yarrow asked dryly.
Jules cleared his throat and took a sip of ale. “Yes. Well. I offered to sing her a lullaby, and I guess it made more sense than both of us walking all the way back to the healers’ barracks.”
The fact that he’d slept in the Regiment’s barracks did not escape her, but Yarrow could only focus on one thing at that moment. “You sang her a lullaby.”
He coughed again. “Yes,” he said into his ale.
This was just too much. “You had Ghia – a gorgeous, young, buxom girl – crawl into your bed because she couldn’t sleep, and you sang her a lullaby? Juno, Jules, what did you do to piss off Desirelle?” she said, and then she couldn’t keep the laughter back anymore. She started guffawing loudly.
“I wondered the same myself,” he said, so quietly she almost didn’t hear him, and then he put all his attention on his ale.
Calming down from her laughing fit, Yarrow finished her ale and then, still convulsed with the occasional giggle, climbed the stairs to her room and a much-needed bath.
A lullaby. She shook her head.