With a gasp Heddwyn jerked away. The screams still echoed in his years. He could almost smell the smoke. But none of that was real. None of that had happened for ten years.
Slowly the tent materialized around him. He felt sweaty; he must have fainted. Someone touched his shoulder. Automatically, he grabbed the wrist and twisted it back, pinning the person to the ground. Pain flared through his arm and he gasped.
He blinked. Under him was Jacey, her face pale. His heart began to pound wildly as he slowly relaxed his grip. She blinked at him and cautiously brushed back his hair from his eyes.
“Can you lie back now?”
He blinked but obeyed, rolling once again onto his back. Jacey pushed herself up and took the canteen he tossed on the floor earlier.
“Here. You should drink.”
Cautiously, Heddwyn pushed himself up on one arm and reached for the canteen with his bad one. The cool water felt like a fresh stream down his throat. He took several large gulps before he handed it back to Jacey.
Jacey set it aside and then removed the bandage. For a moment, she paused. Then, quietly, she got up and gathered some things from around the tent. He tried to watch her but just that task now felt like too much. The day had gotten the best of him it appeared.
She came back and knelt again. “I’m going to wash this properly now and bandage it. It’ll probably hurt though.”
He watched her through half-closed lids as she dipped a cloth into a bowl of water and gently began to wash it. As soon as she touched the tender skin, little pins stabbed the wound and he gasped.
“I’m sorry. But I think it’s a lot worse than you think.”
“I know how bad it is. I’m just not fond of the medic.”
Her eyes flickered to his face a moment. “Here I go again.” She touched the cloth to his arm. He tried not to flinch but it took every ounce of self-control not to shove her away. Rarely did the pain truly lessen, no matter how often he was injured.
She seemed to work as quickly as she could though and soon began bandaging it firmly and properly like it should have been, not hazily tied in the middle of a skirmish.
Heddwyn opened his eyes again and looked at her as he pushed himself up. She put a cool hand on his shoulder. “Careful. I don’t want you to faint again.”
Embarrassment flooded him enough that he looked away for fear that she would see him blush. “Pardon. I didn’t realize it until too late.” He rubbed his face, trying to remember it more clearly and failing. No one up until now had seen him faint. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
Jacey shook her head. “Not much.”
Heddwyn nodded and studied her face. He felt twice as awkward because he had not realized some of her basic needs. Worse, it had not even occurred to him.
Perhaps this marriage was foolish, especially since it was in part done to avoid the marriage with Cynthia. He knew nothing of her though, or even what an ordinary woman needed here. This place was so different than anywhere else.
STill, anyone needed to bathe every so often. He should have realized that she could not bathe in the river and have found a way around it. The buckets they used were small enough for her as well.
As he studied her, he realized that he had been correct. Now clean, she was beautiful. Her honey hair–for truly it was nearly that color–curled gently around her face in soft curls. Her blue dress set off her deep blue eyes perfectly and seemed to reflect her whole soul back to him. The dress–he could almost not believe that she made it in a day–fit her much like her previous one, where it neither hid nor paraded her form, but showed it as it truly was, slender and graceful.
Yet, all he felt was simply a dull admiration for her. She had handled all this traveling and blood and everything well and yet… yet she was a stranger to him. He knew nothing of her and she nothing of him. What did she call him–commander?
Then again, it felt equally awkward calling her Jacey.
“Have you eaten?” he said.
“No. Not yet.”
“I fear that the dinner has ended for the night but I have some extra stored away.” He rose cautiously and walked again to his trunk. “Mostly it’s for times as these.”
She rose too and followed him. “Does this happen a lot–you coming back late?”
Heddwyn nodded. “This is actually a good one. Occasionally I’m gone for two or three days.” He pulled out a small box and handed it to her. “That is why it is important you learn Targoian.”
Jacey sat on one of the cushions. “I’m sure if I hear it enough I’ll pick it up eventually.”
He pulled out a clean tunic as well and let the lid fall back in place. “I think you need a more proactive approach.” He pulled on the tunic and moved to sit next to her. Jacey already began looking through the box to see what he had.
Jacey sighed. “I–I don’t know.”
He watched her for a moment, trying to read her emotions when all he could tell was her desire to avoid the conversation. The reason–he could not tell where it stemmed from.
“I doubt that they will be very nice to you initially in Targo. Even if we are at war with Ketekey, you spent five years there. There will be distrust.”
“I spent five years there as practically a slave.”
“A voluntary slavery however.”
“I did it because nothing else worked out to help my family. I did it so we didn’t lose the inn and everything we had worked for.”
He frowned and took a dried meat roll.
“I do not think that your people think your Ketekey slaves suddenly have a loyalty to Targo after living there five years,” Jacey said.
Heddwyn glanced at her, her blue eyes flashing at the mention that she might have loyalty to Ketekey. He took a bite of the roll before responding. “I am merely trying to point out to you that it would help you in Targo City if you could speak our language. It would give a reason for people to think they could trust you. And then….” He paused a moment and rubbed his chin. He did not know how Eva, his sister, would respond to his marriage. It would be anything from excitement to fear for him. He did not blame her for worrying about him. After all, he had told her on several occasions he did not ever plan to marry. A sudden marriage for no apparently good reason did not appear honorable or good.
He sighed. “My sister does not know Aldroian.”
Jacey blinked. “You have a sister?”
He nodded and took a drink of water. “Two years younger than myself, married and living in Targo City.”
“Is that all of your family then?”
He did not look at her, though almost in the corner of his eye he could see his two youngest sisters spinning together in a field, begging him to play with them.
With a shuddered sigh, he shook his head. “Just Eva.” He rose abruptly, wishing to cut her off, and walked towards the water. “We are leaving in the morning, as I said before. Same as last time too, with getting up early.” He swished his dirty tunic in the water and scrubbed it slightly to remove the smell that would otherwise penetrate it. Only when he hung it on a hook did he look back at her.
She watched him still with soft, blue eyes. Almost cautiously, she reached out a hand and touched his shoulder. Her cool hand felt so small and slender. He held her eyes, trying so hard to figure out what she wanted. Yet, all he could feel was an overwhelming desire of hers to be there for him and comfort him. Not even a desire to know, just to understand him. It was like she understood how difficult this situation was for both of them and wanted to make the best out of it.
He looked down and closed his eyes. He couldn’t open to her like she was so open to him. For a moment he felt very old, and that this girl before him was very young. She had so much life left in her that to marry him randomly like they did was wrong. She could have done so much better. He shouldn’t have even thought about asking her.
Quietly, she took his hand and pulled him quietly to the bed. She sat and almost pulled him down with herself. As soon as he had settled amid the blankets, she knelt behind him and gently began to rub his shoulders. For a moment, he tensed. But as the steady, deep motion continued, he slowly relaxed. He closed his eyes and she kept rubbing.
For a long time, she did only that. It felt like the world had stopped for a moment and he let it stop. He almost didn’t realize right away when she stopped. When he did, he glanced at her.
She smiled faintly. “You don’t have to tell me anything,” she whispered. “I don’t mind.”
Heddwyn paused and cautiously brushed back her hair from her cheek. Up until now, he feared the night because he doubted he could sleep through it without a nightmare. But now… something with what she did, he thought he might survive.
“You–I don’t know. I–thank you.” He felt so tongue-tied all of a sudden, unable to even find the words to express what it meant that she had done.
She smiled again, that ever ready smile of hers that just lit up the room. “I suppose to be here for you. If you need anything, you just need to ask.”
He pulled her towards himself and laid down. With a sigh, she leaned against him and closed her eyes.
That night–for some reason–Heddwyn didn’t dream about them like he always did he fainted. For some reason, when he woke and found Jacey still sleeping next to him, he almost had a feeling that he dreamed of her.