V

Dylan helped Jacey down from the horse and held her arm a moment longer as she regained her balance. She smiled at him when she did and he moved back.

“You haven’t changed much, have you?”

Jacey shook her head. “Not really.”

“I’m glad. I was worried you would come back completely opposite of what you were. Five years with an overbearing master would put anyone out of sorts.”

“It wasn’t… that bad.”

Dylan raised his eyebrows. “That bad?”

“It doesn’t matter now. I’ve been with Heddwyn for close to eight–nine months.”

“And… when is the child coming?”

“Next month.”

“And he lets you stay out here?”

Jacey sighed and took a drink from the canteen. “He rather wanted me to stay and I would worry about him if I wasn’t around. He gets so depressed sometimes. I catch him just staring at the fire, lost it some other world. It takes a lot to pull him out of that. I… stayed, against the rules, because I guess we both thought it would be better for each other. I can’t really leave much when I have the child next month.”

“You’d have it out here?”

Jacey shook her head. “We go back to Targo City next month for a break. That’s when I’m due.”

“And you’ve just been… out here, tramping around.”

Jacey grinned. “And loving every minute of it.”

Dylan shook his head. “You always were a bit different.”

Jacey brushed back her hair and nodded.

“Does he love you?”

She looked at him and shook her head. “You are always trying to protect me, Dylan.”

“Well, someone needs to. You sure don’t watch out for yourself.”

She paused a moment, searching the trees. A flock of birds flew out from them and swooped over the treetops. She pointed them out to her brother. “I think that’s him.”

“What? That’s off topic, Jacey.”

Jacey sighed. “He’s never said he loves me. But he doesn’t have to. I see it in his eyes when he watches me and with how he touches me and just with how he acts. I think he’s scared to love but… he does anyway. He just doesn’t want to admit it.”

Dylan frowned and rubbed his chin. “We’ve been attacked by at least someone who acts like him for the last several months. I’ve never even once thought of him as a person. As someone… like you see him.”

Jacey nodded and absently fingered Heddwyn’s knife. “You will like him, if you ever have a chance to know him. He’s… he’s not what the rumors said.”

“I’ll take your word for that.”

“Dylan!” one of his companions called.

Dylan turned. “Yes.”

“There’s someone out there. I saw something flicker in the branches.” He motioned off towards the edge of the clearing.

“Borut?”

“Unknown.”

Dylan glanced at Jacey. “Perhaps you were right.” He turned and began walking towards the brushes.

“Dylan–wait!” Jacey hurried after him as best as she could.  “Let me go.”

He looked at her. “Jacey, it could be anything.”

“It’s him.” She didn’t know how she knew that, but she did.

Dylan searched her face.

“Let her go. Now.”  The voice sounded strict and dark and echoed off of the hills.

Both of them turned towards the forest. Jacey took a step towards it, searching for some sign  of him.

“Well?” Dylan asked.

Jacey glanced at him. “It is.” She couldn’t be certain, but it sounded enough like Heddwyn when he called his orders.

Dylan licked his lips nervously and ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t know if I’m trusting you so much, my little sister.”

“I said to let her go or–”

“Heddwyn!” Jacey turned. “I’m all right.”

“Then drop your swords.”

Dylan glanced at her again but unfastened his sword and tossed it on the ground towards him. “Sir, I do request, per Jacey’s request, that you allow us thirty minutes of your time. There is some confusion that she thinks you need to hear about.”

Jacey already began walking towards where she thought Heddwyn stood and pushed back the bushes. It was him, standing back a bit with his sword drawn and his eyes darting frantically between her and Dylan.

“Heddwyn.”

His eyes riveted on her. Gently, she touched his arm. He shuddered and lowered the sword, drawing her close with the other arm.

“It’s okay, Heddwyn. It’s okay,” she whispered.

He buried his face in her hair and breathed deeply. “Why–why are they letting you go?”

“Because I told them to. That man, Dylan, he’s my brother.”

Heddwyn looked at her sharply.

Jacey licked her lips. “You need to let him tell you his story. I think–I don’t think it was such a bad thing that I was captured.”

“Why?”

“Because he said that Lord Conward of Ketekey told him where to find me.”

He searched her face for a long moment. “And he is your brother?”

Jacey nodded.

“Very well then.” He put his sword back in his sheath. Jacey smiled faintly and leaned against him as he walked out of the thicket.

Dylan glanced at her and then him. He shook his head. “I don’t know if I ever would have had the guts to do that, Jacey.”

Jacey smiled faintly.

“My wife,” Heddwyn said in Aldroian, “said that you have something to tell me.”

Dylan’s surprised flickered visibly on his face as it dawned on him that the commander understood everything they said. “Yes, sir. At least, that is what she seems to think.”

“And what is this?”

Dylan motioned to the ground. “She wants you to hear about the last six months in Aldroa.”

Heddwyn followed suit after Dylan sat. “Very well.” He glanced at Major Pauldor, who stood behind him. “You might as well join us.”

Major Pauldor nodded and sat. Jacey smiled faintly and leaned against Heddwyn, absently rubbing his hand. Tension seemed to slowly ease out of him the longer she did so.

Dylan glanced at the ground for a moment and then took a deep breath before he began.

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