When Heddwyn first began, he drilled his men every day during the break. Just for a few hours every day but still, something to keep his men in shape. That was how he planned to be the best and to have the squad that everyone wanted to join.
He maintained that pattern for a long time, until when he became injured and could not move from his bed, let alone drill his men. Nor at that time had he a chance to appoint a second, to replace the one that died in the same battle. So instead, his men drifted to their own lives.
When they regrouped again, a month and a half later, he watched each man closely. Originally, it was because he knew that he needed a second and he was still deciding. As he watched them though, he noticed others who were a bit slower than they should be, or a out of sync with everyone else. And he realized that a few of them, though not all, had not practiced. Many people had, realizing the honor it was to be in his squad, but those that had not, or had become lazy with their break, showed it.
He could, and did, relieve those men. After that though, he never drilled them. Much of him didn’t care about it anymore. If they did not want to practice, then they obviously did not care for it as much as the hundred other men who tried out for his squad every six months. And then, too, everyone could spend more time with their family. It also gave him an excuse to be removed from it all for a month. Even just a month gave him some energy so he could continue on with the never-ending war.
Heddwyn did have one tradition that only about half of his squad cared for, that half being the one that came from commoner background. That tradition was a party of sorts the day before they were to leave and varied greatly than the one that heralded their entry. Though he himself did not often care for much of the merriment, he liked to watch the men he would be spending the next five months with and watch the wives talk with each other and the children dart between everyone else. Something about the party made the house seem brighter and more alive.
Jacey though, almost changed his opinion of the party but for the better. In the month that they spent together, he had discovered so much about her. Her smile lit up his heart each time he saw it. Nearly every day he found himself thinking about how beautiful she was. Yet, her mind amazed him just as often, catching him for saying something not quite right. Many nights they spent playing chess before they went to bed. Oftentimes, he had to force himself to concentrate on the game, too caught up in the furrowed brow and the angled eyebrows of Jacey as she studied the board, her hair falling around her shoulders. Some part of him felt like he might be finally waking up after years of being asleep.
It was during the party that she just seemed to shine. He saw her everywhere, smiling at everyone, playing with the children, giggling at the poor man’s attempt to speak Aldroian. (Heddwyn wished to wait until they were away from the capital before she showed her skill.) Still, everyone seemed to love her and her, his Jacey, just seemed to want to please everyone.
Yet, she was his to dance with. Her hair shone in the light and curled gently around her face. Her cheeks radiated health and her eyes sparkled with happiness as he spun her. Somehow, she managed to keep up with the large steps of everyone else two feet taller than her, and somehow everyone managed to dance with her well enough it caused no problems. But she always watched him, and he knew that because he always watched her.
Heddwyn suppose that it shouldn’t have surprised him that they noticed the change in him. He had taught them to observe any little change in things. Yet, it still caught him by surprise when he heard two men remarking that he seemed completely infatuated with his bride.
“Indeed,” the other one said. “It is good too. He needs someone like her.”
The first man smiled. “We need someone like her. I’m personally glad she’s coming with us tomorrow.”
“As is everyone else, I think.”
Heddwyn glanced once again at Jacey in the corner, showing something to a young girl of five. Though he considered pointing out that he heard them, he refrained. What they said was true. The moment they learned that Jacey knew everyone they said, the more they would love her. And they already loved her before they came to Targo City.
The guests slowly left out of the house, all being gone by eleven. With their departure the slaves appeared to clean up the mess, Heddwyn stayed to finalize a few things, and Jacey slipped upstairs.
When he arrived some ten minutes later, he paused in the doorway. Jacey sat with her back to him, looking out the window. Her honey hair feel in gentle curls down her back as she brushed it absently, though it hardly needed her. Her face, always easy to read, was thoughtful, like something was terribly serious.
Silently, he sat behind her and gently brushed back her hair. Some part of his mind told him there was something important happening, but he didn’t want to pay attention to that. For at least a few more hours, his sole attention could be on his wife.
He kissed her neck. Her hands stopped working through her hair and she looked at him. He kissed her again and ran his hand through her smooth hair.
“Shhh.” Speaking would break the spell.
She leaned back into him and pulled him close. He obeyed, kissing her lips and jaw and neck. He brushed back her hair and pulled her onto his chest.
“Heddwyn,” Jacey whispered.
“I–heard one woman say she won’t be coming this time, because she’s with child.”
He sighed and looked at her. “You have the oddest time for asking questions.” He brushed back her hair. “Do you know that?”
SHe gave him a wane smile, but enough to tell him something bothered her. “I–was thinking.”
“Why won’t she be?”
“It’s the rules.” He watched her, wishing she would stop asking pointless questions.
“But–how much of a rule?”
“Official. No woman with child goes into the field.”
Jacey looked him in the eyes, her grey eyes catching the light from the fire. “How–certain do they need to be?”
Heddwyn rubbed his chin and shrugged after a moment. “I’m not sure. I think most men leave their wives at home if they aren’t certain, sending for them later.” He ran a finger along her cheek. “Is that all that’s bothering you?”
Jacey wrapped her arms around herself and closed her eyes. Fear began forming in his gut, although about what he wasn’t certain. But Jacey–this wasn’t Jacey.
She swallowed and looked at him. “I–I think it is very possible that… I’m with child.”
The words hit him out of nowhere–like a mountain ice storm, totally freezing every part of his body. All he did was stare at her dumbly, positive he heard the words wrong.
“I want to go with you; I want to go so badly. You–I think you need me there. But… if it is….”
Heddwyn pushed himself up abruptly and turned, shaking and trying to hid it at the same time. “How–” Even his voice shook. “How can this happen?”
He heard Jacey move. “It–just does.”
“But–it wasn’t suppose to. It can’t. It–” He swallowed. Jacey–his Jacey–with child? “I can’t be a father. I don’t want to be.”
Jacey paused and gently put a hand on his shoulder. “We have probably six months. That’s enough time to come back still. You should even be here when its born.”
He looked at her. She was scared, both for him and what this meant to her. And she didn’t even know why she should be scared and why he could not help but hating the very mention of the possibility.
“You–aren’t certain though, correct?”
She shook her head. “Not… certain.”
He swallowed. Unwillingly his eyes strayed to her abdomen; nothing showed yet. “Then nothing changes. We leave as planned tomorrow.”
“Are… you sure?”
He nodded. He would keep her to himself for as long as he could, even if that meant lying.
Jacey leaned forward and kissed him. “I do love you, Heddwyn,” she whispered. “And I do wish to give you a son someday, to stop all those wagging tongues at the banquet.”
He brushed back her hair and held her close. “You don’t need to give me any children. I’m happy to have just you.”
Though Jacey seemed to fall asleep quickly, curled in her ball that she always slept in, he could not sleep. For a long time he stared at the ceiling. How could this have happened? After how much he didn’t want a child–after when he married Jacey he knew he would be committing himself to having no children—Jacey was with child.
Worse, she didn’t even know. Somehow she had lived in Targo City for a month and she had not heard what happened when a Targo man made a non-Targoian woman pregnant. He couldn’t tell her. To know that as the closer she came to having her child, the closer the day of her death would come, would surly remove the joy that always surrounded her.
Maybe, just maybe, she wasn’t with child. But some part of him knew it was a futile hope. Jacey would not seriously mention that she should stay behind, even for a few weeks, if she did not seriously think she was with child. He had only six months left with her, and of those six months, five of them would be spent fighting a war he didn’t even care about anymore.
He looked at Jacey again. Perhaps it would have been better for her if he just let her go when he first met her. None of this would have happened then. He wouldn’t have to deal with the looks that everyone would give him, all the while never actually saying anything to his face. Everyone would try to make the most of it when they all knew she would die. Jacey, of all people, didn’t deserve that.
With a sigh, Heddwyn turned and laid an arm over Jacey. She leaned into him, perfectly content. He’d have to tell EVa when he left tomorrow, but that would be all. Then they had six months. If all went well, they might have one more month here together, then the child would come and Heddwyn could throw himself back into the war in an attempt to forget he ever knew her.