Ghia paced at the doorway to the stables in frustration. She’d gone to Yarrow’s room, the barracks, and places in between and had missed Yarrow everywhere. Now she waited here, because she knew Yarrow hadn’t left yet. Pyrrhus was still in his stall and Yarrow wouldn’t leave without her warhorse.
She heard footsteps then, which must be Yarrow’s. She ran to meet the bellica. Ex-bellica.
And collided with Jules. Just the person she didn’t want to see.
She mumbled some sort of apology and looked around him to see Yarrow.
“Cuz. You aren’t really going, are you?” She grabbed Yarrow’s arm, but Yarrow shrugged her off and moved to Pyrrhus’ stall.
“Got no choice. Death warrant’s out for me and I can’t challenge anymore. I’m through.” She flung a blanket and saddle onto Pyrrhus and began to tie on her bags. Jules moved into the stables, grabbed Suki, and started to do the same.
“You can’t just leave us to her!” Ghia said, not caring that she was shouting.
Yarrow looked up sharply. “What would you have me do, Ghia? Outnumbered already, with no legal means of taking the throne I can’t hope to win! Everyone will die.” She punctuated each word with a tightening of her horse’s saddle.
“Everyone could die anyway!”
“Could. Not will. And it is a certainty if I try now and others throw their lots in with me. No, Ghia. It’s over.” She finished tying her bags to her saddle, and grabbed Pyrrhus’ reins to lead him out of the stable.
Ghia felt any lightness and air she’d ever had go out of her, as if she were deflating into a little puddle on the floor. Her head hung forward and she couldn’t bear to take another look the cousin she’d never see again. “Where will you go?” she asked, and didn’t recognise the spectre that was her voice.
“Atton. Jules knows some people who will hide us for a while. If that doesn’t pan out we’ll head into the Blood Mountains. Lots of caves in the mountains. Beyond the borders. We’ll be safe there.”
Ghia thought she nodded then, and saw Yarrow’s feet and her horses’ walk past her, out of the stables. Jules and Suki followed, but stopped right in front of her. When he didn’t move she looked up again and saw him staring at her. “What?” she asked wearily, too tired and defeated to be upset with him anymore.
He grabbed her by the shoulders, pulled her close and before she knew it was happening he was kissing her deeply, like she was the only thing tangible in his world. Her arms moved up of their own volition to wrap around his neck, and she twined her fingers in his un-combed hair as her body folded against his, fitting perfectly, as if she were falling into a well-worn piece of furniture. His arms had slid down to her back as he held her as close as he could, crushing her to him in desperation, and soon Ghia began to feel light-headed from the sheer force and passion of the kiss.
Just when she was sure she was going to faint, he broke off the kiss. She kept falling forward, but their lips didn’t meet again.
He looked at her as if he were trying to memorise her face, and she realised that was in fact what he was doing. “Ghia, I love you more than you could possibly know. I’m sorry I was such a prize idiot for so long, and I wish I hadn’t been, so I could spend every day of the rest of my life showing you exactly how I feel for you.”
Her mouth opened in shock as she stared at him, hardly able to believe what she was hearing. Desperately she groped for words, for anything to say, and then he kissed her again — brief and sweet, where the first kiss had been long and commanding. “Goodbye, love,” he said, and then she was standing in the fall-out of his release, swaying and trying to find some balance in a wildly twisting world.
Jules led Suki after Yarrow and Pyrrhus and, once they reached the road, mounted. Then he and the Bellica were riding off, towards the North Gate, before Ghia had a chance to pull her thoughts together to say anything.
A full minute passed before her losses hit her; then she ran after them, down the road, down towards the Gate. She ran faster than she ever had in her life but they were still just tiny figures by the time she could see them.
“No,” she wheezed out, still running, and then tripped on a loose stone. She went flying and landed face-first on the cobbles, where she lay for a moment, her body ringing in pain. Finally able to look up, she saw Jules and Yarrow were now just specks on the road to Atton, horses at full gallop as they made all haste to become ghosts.
“Dammit,” she said, tears in her eyes. “You’re my prize idiot, Jules.”