Bellica Yarrow stood to the entrance of the North Wing of the castle with a feeling of dread. Every day, since their return from Aeril, Ghia had been bothering Yarrow with this, and every day Yarrow had found reason to put her cousin off. Not anymore, however, for Ghia had finally cornered the bellica and given her the death glare the healer was famous for — and not even Yarrow could fight against that look.
So she stood, waiting for the healer to get off work and meet her here, wondering what under the heavens Ghia would want to show her in the North Wing. And, presumably, the closed-off tower that went with it — there certainly wasn’t anything else of interest in this end of the castle. Legend said the tower was haunted and, while she was loath to admit it, Yarrow was fairly superstitious when it came to ghosts and other night terrors. Who was to say they didn’t exist? She’d certainly seen some strange things in her lifetime. She was not going to discount restless spirits. But aside from the tower’s status with the dead, Yarrow wondered what business Ghia could possibly have there.
“Hello, cuz,” came Ghia’s voice from behind Yarrow, and the bellica tried not to jump. “Sorry to have kept you waiting. My mother awakened today.”
Yarrow inclined her head graciously. “Not at all. I’m glad to hear Helene is doing better.”
“Thank you,” Ghia said, bobbing a small curtsy in Yarrow’s direction. “I’ll be sure to tell her you wish her well.”
Yarrow grunted and gave a brief nod. “Are you going to tell me what’s so goddessdamned important I had to come here?” she asked when Ghia said nothing else.
Ghia shrugged, a slight smile tugging at her features, and headed off down the hall, deeper into the North Wing. “Better, maybe, if I show you.”
“And how can I trust you?” Yarrow said, though there was no force behind it and she found her feet were following Ghia regardless.
Ghia glanced at Yarrow over her shoulder. “You have a sword. I assume you know how to use it.” Yarrow glared at her and Ghia laughed. “Though I admit surprise that you don’t trust me yet. Jules does,” she said, and stopped suddenly.
Yarrow rolled her shoulders to release the tension in her muscles. “Jules isn’t that bright. And I’m just a paranoid old bellica.”
“You’re not old,” Ghia said defensively, and Yarrow didn’t argue. She wasn’t, but she felt it some days. Nothing more was said, and the two women fell into a silence, neither strained nor comfortable.
When they reached the entrance to the tower Yarrow stopped. “Tower’s closed off, Ghia, and for good reason.”
Ghia turned around slowly and gave Yarrow a sardonic look. “Are you telling me you believe in ghosts?”
“Not sure how I feel about ghosts, to tell the truth, but never mind that. This tower’s been closed off for three hundred years. Things are bound to be falling apart and dangerous. I forbid you to enter, heir of Atton.” She gave Ghia her own death glare.
The girl just shrugged, turned, and disappeared into the tower.
“You have got to be fecking jesting me,” Yarrow said, looking skywards, though she doubted any Goddess was listening to her bitching. “That look always works. On everyone. Tyvian, it made Caelum piss himself the first time I used it on him and on her it does nothing? Seriously?” She waited for a moment, but got no response. “Ah, You all never listen when I complain anyway. Come out of there right now, Healer!” she said a bit louder, but not too loud lest some piece of stone inside fall and crush the girl. Ghia did not re-emerge. Frustrated, Yarrow kicked the door viciously. It rattled on its hinges and she stood back and waited, but still Ghia remained in the tower. “Son of an adulterous mother-fecker,” she muttered. “I mean it, Ghia. I’m not following you in there!”
She waited a full minute of Ghia not coming out of the door before kicking it one more time. “Bugger this for a lark,” she said, giving up, and opened the door and strode in angrily.
“Sweet Juno, cuz,” Yarrow said as she left the North Tower with Ghia, “you could have warned me there was a thousand-year-old — ”
“Older,” Ghia cut her off.
“Two-thousand-year-old — ”
“Older still –”
“Really fecking old Magi living in the tower! I thought they were just a legend!”
“You mean to tell me you weren’t listening when I told you about Rosa, in Harbourtown?” Ghia gave her a stern look.
Yarrow coughed and looked away. “Didn’t believe you, to be honest,” she said, glancing back at Ghia. The healer intensified the glare. “What? Being told there’s an ancient talking tree in a closed-off tower is supposed to be believable?”
Ghia sighed and dropped the look, moving her eyes to stare down the hallway. “No. I hardly believe all this myself sometimes. I’m sure that any moment I’ll wake up, even though it would be a cheap trick, to escape all this.”
There was a brief pause before Yarrow spoke. “Bring me with you if you do, cuz.”
“Wouldn’t that be akin to running from a fight?” Ghia asked, her tone lightly teasing.
Yarrow smiled sardonically at Ghia. “All good bellicas run. Didn’t you know that?”
“Because I know so much about military…stuff,” Ghia said, rolling her eyes at Yarrow. “How many times have you run, then?”
“There have been many times, in the course of my career, when retreating was the wisest course of action. I can’t say I took the chance every time, because I’d be lying, and what’s the point of lying to a Magi who will just read my mind anyway?” She punched Ghia lightly on the shoulder, who snorted and muttered something that sounded like, Part-Magi, actually, but Yarrow ignored her. “Let’s just say I’ve done my fair share. I’m still alive, at any rate.”
“Then it must have worked,” Ghia said, shrugging.
“Though,” the bellica said after a moment, something else coming to mind, “truth be told, there’s a time that I ran and lived when I shouldn’t have. Not lived a life worth it, anyway. After my survival course — got mauled by a treecat. Was pretty sure I’d be a cripple for life, but the healers…they fixed me up pretty good. You know anything about that, Healer Ghia?” She pinned Ghia with an intense stare, but the girl looked straight ahead, refusing to meet her gaze.
“Not the cloudiest idea, Bellica Yarrow. My mother would know; you should ask her.”
“Yeah,” Yarrow said, scratching her chin thoughtfully, “I did. She said something about the most talented healer in the nation. I thought that was you, but if I’m wrong….”
Ghia’s fist connected with Yarrow’s shoulder then, rather more forcefully then Yarrow would have expected from the girl. “Shut up, cousin,” the healer said. “My mother did not say that about me and yes — I was the one. We’re going to drop the subject now because we’re no longer in a secluded area of the castle.”
Yarrow sketched a quick bow to appease the glaring Ghia and tried to keep in her laughter. “Aye, M’Lady,” she said, in all seriousness, and Ghia glared harder. “What? You technically outrank me,” she said softly, teasing only slightly.
Ghia sighed, though it sounded more like a huff, and started walking down the hall again. “Only in times of peace, Bellica.”
Yarrow sobered then, and matched pace with her younger cousin. “True. Too true.” They reached the junction of the North Wing to the more central and populated area of the castle and Yarrow dropped her hand to Ghia’s shoulder briefly. “Have you the rest of the day off? Good,” she said to Ghia’s nod. “Saddle up your horse and meet me outside the stables at 1600 hours. We need to talk, but not here.”
Ghia nodded her assent and silently the two women blended themselves back into the human traffic of the halls.