IV

Heddwyn pressed himself against the shed’s wall and closed his eyes. Beyond the wall was his town. He heard the screams of terror and the people begging, people who he recognized just by the sound of their voice, and then the begs cut short. He smelled the burnt flesh and hair and the smell of sweat. He heard the soldiers shouting, though he did not know what they said.  Still, he knew they enjoyed the slaughter.

He had to get home. He had to get to them and maybe help them get out and away from all this.

He turned again and peeked around the corner of the shed.

“Puppy!”

Heddwyn blinked. Somehow, though the town burned behind him, little Miha tottered across the street, just barely able to keep his balance. Heddwyn glanced towards the town but saw no soldiers near by.

“Puppy!” Miha said again.

Heddwyn took a deep breath and began to run towards his brother. He had to get him at least. Miha did not deserve this.

Suddenly, one of the soldiers shouted something. Heddwyn glanced up for a moment to see two of them running towards him, their swords drawn. Heddwyn gasped and hesitated.

The next moment, Miha laid on the ground, crying and bleeding. Heddwyn blinked. The soldiers ran towards him.

Heddwyn couldn’t think. He turned and ran. He couldn’t look back. He couldn’t think about what he just saw….

The smell of smoke still hung in the air. Heddwyn quietly walked through town, trying to ignore the body parts that littered the ground. No one lived here anymore. He could feel nothing, not even the emotion of pain. No one could call this place a town anymore.

He stopped outside what was his father’s shop. For a moment, he stared at the rubble heap. Then, he grabbed the center beam and heaved. It took all his strength but ever so slowly, it moved out of the way and he could crawl into the shop.

For a moment, he didn’t move. Then he slipped into the hole and knelt on his hands and knees. The ground was still very warm, almost hot. Heddwyn began to crawl into the building, unsure even what he was looking for. Perhaps the cash box. They would need that.

Something cut his hand and he gasped. Through the dmi light that came from a hole on top, he could see blood slowly flowing down the palm of his hand. Heddwyn glanced down and saw the handle of a sword. Slowly, he drew it out of the ash and felt the weight in his hand. This was his sword, somehow thrown across the whole shop. He took it and began to back out of the shop. Now he knew why he came here one last time. He came for his sword.

He left town the way he came. To go the other way meant he had to see Miha’s body. He should have been able to protect the boy. Instead–

With a gasp, Heddwyn shook himself awake. The rain, that so far began to hold itself back, had begun to fall. He wiped his eyes dry and kicked the horse into a faster walk.

He hadn’t remembered about Miha in so long. He hadn’t wanted to. Miha reminded him of his utter lack of courage. He should have been able to take down two soldiers, even untrained. He was over two feet taller than them. Instead, he hesitated long enough to let them hurt Miha, and then ran when they began to chase him. He had failed Miha, the one time when the boy needed him.

It had to have come back from the exhaustion. He only had a few hours of sleep each day for the past week. But now he could not stop. He could see Targo City from where he was.

He exchanged his horse for a military supply one as soon as he reached Targo’s border and left instructions for his horse to be sent on. He then kept exchanging his horse at each million supply station along the road, stopping only a few minutes and eating in the saddle. And, as just seen, sleeping in it as well.

Although he tried to convince himself that his mind kept playing tricks on him, he felt certain that Major Pauldor had not told him the full truth. Just the way he said it, with the faintest of hesitancies, made Heddwyn doubt his word. Because of that, Heddwyn felt he needed to get to Jacey as soon as he possible.

He arrived at Targo just as the gate was lowered at dawn. In the gray light of morning, he could see nothing that proclaimed a victory for Targo. Somehow, he must have beat the messenger here. The few people that rose this early in the morning stared at him as he rode through the town. It was not often that a commander rode through town without a squad following him. Heddwyn said nothing, even when asked. To say that the war was over without reporting to the palace would not be proper. The messenger should be here today, if Heddwyn already arrived.

Instead of going to the palace, he turned towards Eva’s house. If something had happened, Eva would know. If nothing had happened, and Jacey just decided to stay at Eva’s house instead of theirs, he did not want to have to come back into town. If Jacey was in fact safe at home, then he could ride there with confidence that he would soon see his wife.

Even so, when he stood outside Eva’s door, he could barely bring himself to knock. Finally, he did, only to have to wait a minute because of the early hour.

The slave girl from last time opened the door and blinked at him. “Oh, Commander.” She moved back.

Heddwyn walked in and glanced around. The silence

The house was silent. He glanced at the slave girl, but she had already moved away.

“Heddwyn?”

Heddwyn turned at the sound of EVa’s voice. Eva sat in the living room, her eyes so tired and worn, and her face gray with strain. She still wore a robe and held her youngest, now nearly a year, in her arms.

“You’re back already?” Eva asked.

Heddwyn gave a curt nod.

“Did–you go to your place?”

He shook his head, tried to speak and found that he could manage the words. Eva’s dark face made him fear what her answer would confirm.

“That’s–probably for the better.” Eva leaned back.  “I hope you don’t mind but I needed to hire a wet nurse. The little ones–”

“She–had it?” he croaked.

Eva nodded. “Two of them. Two little boys.”

Heddwyn felt the strength drain out of him. After trying so hard to make it back in time, it was all for nothing.  He had lost his Jacey.

Suddenly, the exhaustion he thus far avoided fell on his shoulders so strongly he did not think he could stand. He took a deep breath and ran a hand over his eyes. All he could see was Jacey, her smiling face teasing him about being scared of a little lump, so innocent and naive that that little lump would kill her. Her laughter when she felt it kick for the first time haunted him.

“Heddwyn?”

Heddwyn blinked and looked at his sister. Even with the added exhaustion of caring for three infants, she looked at him like she understood.

He licked his lips. “The war–it’s over. You don’t need to worry about me running off again.”

“Over?”

He nodded. “I have their surrender. I just–I was just hoping….” He didn’t look at her, searching the flooring again for some secret pattern.

“Heddwyn, did you hear anything I just said?”

He nodded. “I almost thought I could do it, Eva. I never thought I wanted to marry. It was too dangerous for her. And then I had Jacey and she was so–wonderful. I thought maybe, for her, I could have a child. But now that–” He felt his throat closing up on him.  He might have thought he could survive this but now he knew he couldn’t. He needed to get away before he started crying.

“You–didn’t get my letter?”

Heddwyn glanced at her for a moment. “When? Any letters you sent in the last two weeks would not have reached me. I–changed my camp location without informing the generals.”

“Jacey made it. I wrote you, so you won’t panic when Major Pauldor told you she went in labor.”

Heddwyn blinked at her. “Jacey–”

“She’s upstairs. She bled some, yes, but not anymore than someone with twins. For a moment, we thought we might have lost her but–”

Heddwyn turned and began running up the stairs three at a time. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I did! Right after I said you had two sons.”

“You never did!” He rounded the corner and stopped. The door to Eva’s guest room was closed. Beyond that, Eva said, Jacey slept. He only need open it and see her.

Absently, he wiped his sweaty hands in his hands, then cautiously, like she might float away, he opened the door.

Jacey laid on her back, sprawled out across the whole bed. Her face was ghostly pale, like she was made from china. Her hair, the beautiful honey hair, sprayed across the pillow and fell over her shoulder. She slept, not stirring once as the door open or close quietly as Heddwyn slipped in.

For a long moment, he stared at her, unable to take his eyes off of her. The only sign she lived was the slow, steady rising and falling of her chest. Yet, she was alive. Somehow, she had had two little ones and still lived to see him again.

Against the wall stood two cradles. After watching her forever, he crept towards them and peeked inside. Two of the tiniest younglings he had ever seen laid nestled in blankets. One of them curled himself into a ball, so much like Jacey did when he left and came back during the night. Heddwyn watched them for a second, and then glanced back at Jacey. One of the younglings sneezed softly. Jacey shifted but kept sleeping.

Heddwyn sat on the side of the bed and pulled off his boots, all the while watching her sleep so as to not disturb her. She shifted again and rolled onto her side.

Then, suddenly, her deep blue eyes opened slightly and looked at him dreamily.

“Heddwyn?” she whispered, like she  doubted his existence.

He blinked. Jacey reached out a hand towards him and he took it. Gently, he kissed her fingers.

“It is you,” Jacey said.

“Who else would it be?”

“A dream.” She smiled faintly and weakly pulled him closer. He followed her lead, kneeling beside the bed so as to be closer to her. Jacey reached up her hand and stroked back his hair. “You’re back soon.”

He nodded.

“I was hoping to be a bit stronger before you came back.”

“I do not care how strong you are, so long as you’re alive.”

Jacey nodded and slipped her hand behind his neck. She pulled him closer and he kissed her gently. She kept an arm around his neck and he could sense waves and waves of happiness. He pulled back a moment and she smiled at him.

“Already forgot how?”

Heddwyn shook his head and drew her close again, kissing her in some kind of hope she would understand what he felt.

A small cry caused Jacey to pull back. He searched her face worriedly but she just smiled.

“We aren’t alone anymore,” she said with a smile. “Can you get him? I’m not suppose to stand for much of anything.”

Heddwyn glanced from her to the cradle. A little arm waved above the crib, followed by another cry. Heddwyn pushed himself up and went to it. The younglings face was all scrunched up but not quite ready to cry.

“He won’t break if you’re gentle,” Jacey said softly. “He’s just little because I’m little. And you’re little.”

Cautiously, Heddwyn reached down and scooped up the little one. Almost automatically, he remembered how to hold one so small, though in truth, this child was smaller than Miha ever was. Heddwyn stared at him a moment, and, for a moment, the child seemed content to stay there. Then he opened his mouth and let out another cry. Heddwyn turned and handed him to Jacey.

“What–does he want?”

Jacey had already unbuttoned her shirt and placed the child to nurse as soon as he gave her him. “He’s always hungry when he wakes. And poor Maja just finished with his brother and desperately wanted to sleep.”

“I thought–Eva hired someone for this.”

Jacey nodded, leaning back against the pillows and patting the bed next to herself. “But only until I regain my strength. I have to feed them occasionally or I won’t ever be able to.” She glanced down at the little one she held and shifted him slightly.

Heddwyn stared at her, taken once again by surprise at her beauty. True, no one else would ever see her as he saw her now. Her hair fell randomly around her face, down as it always was when she slept. Her face, though pale, still seemed to have a sparkle of life in it. Her blue eyes laughed softly at everything as well, just like they always did.

“What is it, Heddwyn?” she whispered.

“Hmmm?”

“You haven’t stopped looking at me and smiling your own special way.”

He brushed back the hair that fell over her shoulder. “I’m just so thankful you’re alive.”

She smiled and leaned against his hand. “And I am for you.”

“Ah, but it wasn’t nearly as dangerous for me as they claimed it was.”

“Good.”

For a moment, he paused. Then he leaned over and kissed her head.  “I love you.” The words came out of nowhere and lingered in the air a moment.

Jacey smiled. “I know.”

For a moment, Heddwyn  searched her face, unsure how she could have known when he said nothing. Then, he just smiled for the first time in ten years. “Good.”

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