V

The snow had fallen fresh and clean, making the world both cold and beautiful. Being midwinter, it was not the first snow Jacey had seen that year but it was indeed the first snow in Targo she had seen.

With a warm cup of tea in her hands and a robe wrapped around her, Jacey stepped onto the back porch. The cold air nipped at her cheeks. Quietly, she watched the white world glimmer in the sun.

Heddwyn always rose before she woke and disappeared as he always did. Thankfully, that meant he did not see how lazy she had become. Or perhaps it wasn’t laziness. Perhaps it was just the differences in air. For some reason or another though, she began sleeping late the moment she arrived at Targo.

A pounding in the back shed echoed through the empty hills. Curious, Jacey stepped off the porch into the crisp snow, thankful it wasn’t so deep she needed boots. Although she had now been in Targo a little more than a week, she still had yet to see what was actually in that building. Shed was not a correct word for it for in reality it was a building. A firm, well-built building at that, but set off from everything else so as to make it seem unimportant.

Quietly, Jacey pushed open the door. The warmth of the building surprised her, though it took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dimness. She stood in the doorway and blinked a few times.

Heddwyn turned and straightened, running a hand through his hair. “What are you doing out in the cold, Jacey?”

Jacey shrugged. “I was just curious, since I heard you pounding.”

Heddwyn nodded and glanced at the bucket next to him. “Your horse need a shoe adjusted, and I wanted to try a few things. But seriously, Jacey, you shouldn’t be out here with just that on.” He wiped his hands in a towel at his waist and walked towards her. “Targo tends to be colder than it feels.”

“It’s rather warm in here.”

He shook his head. “You’ll probably lose you hearing if you stay.” Gently, he took her shoulder and steered her back towards the house. Jacey walked with him without protest.

Only when he had her inside did she look up at him. “So what is in there?”

“My shop.”

Jacey frowned. “What shop?”

“It’s basically a blacksmith shop.”

Jacey raises her eyebrows.

“I’m guessing that means you want an explanation.”

She nodded. “I am a curious little thing.  You should know that by now.”

His eyes twinkled slightly. “Can I during lunch? I should be done by then and then I won’t think about my fire going out.”

Jacey nodded. “Of course.”

“Thank you.” He kissed her forehead and slipped back out the door.

Much of Jacey’s normal routine had been lost once she arrived in Targo. Heddwyn had a large enough house that it made sense him owning his slaves. However, that meant Jacey had very little to do. Before, she could fill her day by talking with the soldiers or mending clothing or even washing or tidying up. Now, she didn’t need to do any of that and she felt lost.

So she resorted to reading the few books Heddwyn had in his collection, surprised that her ability to read Targo after so many years.

Still, she was thankful when she finally heard Heddwyn come through the backdoor. Discarding the book on the end table, she rose and walked into the kitchen.

Heddwyn leaned over the basin,  splashing water on his darkened face. Jacey grabbed a clean towel from the drawer and handed it to him. He took it and wiped his face roughly. Between the water and the towel, his face came clean. He tossed it in the basket in the corner and raised his eyebrows.

“I have a feeling you were waiting for me to come in.”

Jacey grinned. “You could say that.”

“And why is that?” He sat at the small table in the kitchen, where the lunch waited.

Jacey shrugged, though she knew why. And apparently, he expected her to know as well, for he watched her with his grey eyes steadily, waiting for an answer.

She sighed. “I suppose I’m having a difficult time finding things to fill my day with.”

Heddwyn frowned. “Well…?” He blinked, like he had no clue how to continue.

“It’s just a different routine here. Much slower and more casual. I almost liked it better when things were formal and stiff and I knew what to expect.”

“We can find things for you to do, I’m sure.”

“Oh, probably. But I’m more on the practical side of liking to do things that need to be done.”

“If you asked Eva, I’m sure she could tell you a hundred things that should be done.”

Jacey blinked.

“She doesn’t think I take good care of myself. Or proper. Or whatever you ladies call it.”

Jacey stirred the soup thoughtfully. “Perhaps that might not be the worse of things.” Jacey’s eyes danced teasingly. “It’d help if I could ride.”

“There is nothing stopping us from riding.”

Jacey grinned still. “That’s not quite what I mean.”

“I know. The answer is the same as last week however.”

Jacey started to respond, more in jest than any real expectation he would change his mind, but paused. Though his whole family being dead shouldn’t give him excuses, it did. He could be overprotective for that exactly reason. He probably was in fact.

“Fine.”

“Thank you for agree with what I’ve already determined not to change my mind in.” His voice didn’t change, though something kept drawing Jacey to his eyes. Whereas before she could only tell his emotion by how tense his face was, here, it seemed that his eyes were almost better windows, for right now they nearly seemed to dance.

She blinked. “I–I think that you’re teasing me.”

“I assure you, Jacey. I am not teasing you. I will not change my mind about this.”

“You’re laughing at something.”

“I find you very amusing.”

Jacey gave him a look, which caused his eyes to dance all the more.

“How about you tell me about the blacksmith place, as you promised?” Jacey said.

Heddwyn finished chewing before he answered. “When I retire from the army, it’s where I plan to work.”

“In the backyard shed.”

Heddwyn shook his head. “It isn’t merely a shed.” He paused. “No family and no real life gives some people a lot of money to spend in the army. After a while, it just seemed like too much. So I hired someone to build me a blacksmith shop. I rent it out to a man for ten months out of the year, he makes sure it is in proper order, and then it is mine during the two months I am here.”

“So… you’re a blacksmith?”

“My father was a blacksmith. Being the only son, of course he trained me from when I was old enough. I had only perhaps a year left until I knew everything he did. Perhaps not a master, but I knew it. And I wasn’t that bad either. Just not wonderful.”

“And then?”

He paused for a long moment. “It happened. I joined the army at sixteen.”

“But–why build it, if you’re gone so often?”

“I want to retire, Jacey. When I joined I was sixteen, young, rash, very foolish and with a lot of anger and bitterness. I didn’t know that I might actually be any good and honestly didn’t really care. Now, ten years later, it’s worn me out. I want to be done with it and just want the war to end.”

“Why hasn’t it?”

Heddwyn shook his head. “I’m not sure. I’ve asked every time I’m here for the last three years to let me go to the capital and end it once and for all. They say it’s too dangerous and they aren’t going to risk us.”

“Well? Is it?”

He shook his head. “No one knows that I know how to do it, but I do. And if I ever do get the permission, the war should be over in a week.”

Jacey smiled.  “What would you do if you could retire?”

“That building out back would be my business. I’d be a blacksmith, like I was always meant to be and live here in quietness.”

“You don’t think people will try to come out here and see you?”

“Are they now?” Jacey paused. Apparently, they didn’t. “In all likelihood, they probably actually will. But if I use that to get my first orders, and then when people see I’m actually decent, they’ll come because of how I work.”

“You seem to have it figured out.”

Heddwyn nodded. “At least after the war is over. Up until then, I play it a bit more by ear.”

“I see.”

Heddwyn finished eating and leaned back. “I assume then you’d like to see Eva today?”

Jacey grinned. “Well, that would be nice.”

“Very well. We can leave in a perhaps an half of hour.” Heddwyn rose.

“Heddwyn, one more question.”

He looked down at her.

“You said that they were four children who died. Who are the four?”

Heddwyn blinked at her for a moment. “I said four?”

Jacey nodded.

Heddwyn half-closed his eyes and began absently counting, muttering names under his breath. After a moment, he looked at her again. “I don’t know. I must have misspoke. There was only Eva, Kala, Carissa, and Ashi. So that makes three, with Eva in Targo City.”

Jacey nodded, although something on his face told her that something wasn’t quite right but she also knew not to press it. “I’ll be ready when you are.”

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