IV

Heddwyn always enjoyed the freedom of having his own camp, just him and his men. A certain comradeship enveloped the whole camp and brought with it a certain relaxation that one felt nowhere else. Everyone acted more casual and yet, more alert at the same time. They now were the dreaded twenty-second.

Also, for  really the first time, his men were able to meet Jacey. He never thought he saw someone  captivate a group of men so quickly as Jacey did with her smiles and personality. For some reason, she made them feel special. She would do things for them and then they would boast to their companions about how good of a job she did. He could not believe that he had been right about Jacey being good for his men as exact as he had.

Yet, Heddwyn had to admit to himself that Jacey had almost the same effect on him. Not as strongly, no, but in such a way that he found himself enjoying her company.

Jacey always stood in the entrance of his tent when he came a night.  She often talked while he worked on something. She had such a way to get his mind off the day and to make his tent feel really much like a haven and not just a tomb. Jacey also watched out for him, making sure that took care of himself as well as everyone else. She understood when he needed to leave and seemed to look forward to his return. For some reason, during the few nights he left camp, he found himself missing her carefree company.

Still, he stubbornly refused to care for her.  Their marriage was a matter of connivence more than anything. If he began to care for her… he feared how that would hurt him. There was a reason why he did not want to marry at all.

Yet, during moments like these he found himself catching himself mid thought. Jacey slept next to him, the early-morning sunlight shining slightly through the tent. Her hair fell over her shoulder as she slept. Her skin, although tan from often being in the sun, glowed with life and beauty. Her arms held a blanket closely to her, like protection. Nearly always she slept with her arms wrapped around something, moving to find something new if what she previously held moved. Occasionally, he had woken in a start to find it was him that she held. She said she was only five years younger than himself but moments like these, when the sun caught her just right and his heart began to throb, he doubted that to be true.

Heddwyn turned away quickly, fearing that if he did not stop watching her, he would touch her and then wake her. Instead of staring at her, he grabbed the mail pouch that came in the day before and began the leaf through the letters.

At the bottom of the pile rested the one he hoped for and dreaded at the same time. Setting the rest of them aside, he slit it open with his knife and read:

My dear  Heddwyn

I received your letter yesterday and still don’t even know what to say? You–married? That is my greatest joy and what I have longed for for the longest time.

But I don’t know if I wish for it under these circumstances. I agree completely with you that you need to marry. You need someone else with you to keep your mind off of everything and to be the equal for you when you are above everyone else. But–Heddwyn–this is foolishness! You know the lords dislike you almost as much as you dread associating with them. And by making her your prundi-ila, no matter how beautiful she really is, no one will care for her and thus for you.

I know you hate the politics of your position. But it would have been better for you to marry someone who was Targoian.

I know what you’ve said before. I’ve thought often about how you said that with being in town only twice a year, you have hardly a chance to meet anyone, let alone develop a relationship. And I know that you do not want to leave your wife alone for months on end. But there would have to be someone here for you that is just as efficient as she is. (Imagine that. You’re describing a bride as efficient. It is so like you though.)

I wanted you to marry–yes–but I wanted you to marry because you truly loved the woman. And I know what you’ll say. You will say that the only person you can ever love anymore is me, because I’m your sister. And that you have decided long before anyone started mentioning it that you would not marry and you would most certainly not have children. And that you keep saying I can’t understand because I wasn’t there. But you need something to live for. You and I both know that the honors are beginning to mean nothing and your revenge is long burnt out. So is she worth coming back to your camp for at the end of a day?  Is she worth not having any children ever?

I know you cannot change your mind now. What is done has been done. I just want you to think for a moment about what you have actually done. You have just made yourself sole provider for a foreign woman you know practically nothing about. And with your logic of honor, you will never have children even if you desire them.

Please stay safe my brother. I look forward to seeing you in a month. And your wife.

All my love,

Eva

Heddwyn stared at the letter a moment and then glanced at Jacey. Eva’s one question was moot; he would not ever have children. He did not want the threat that came with them. But the other he wasn’t sure about. Was Jacey worth coming back to at night?

He rubbed his chin for a moment as she shifted. He never thought there could be anything good on a day after a battle. Yet, he found himself wanting desperately to see her and just to hear her chatter when he returned now. He found himself enjoying the noise in the tent, for at least now, he did not dread the night. So… would that make Eva happy?

Heddwyn carefully pulled the blanket around her chin again. The fall air held a nip in it that caused her practically bare shoulders to look cold. Jacey snuggled deeper into the blanket and sighed contentedly. Her eyes fluttered open and she looked at him sleepily.

He caught himself brushing back her hair.  “Good morning.”

She smiled. “You look thoughtful.”

“Perhaps.”

She watched him for a moment. “Can you tell what I’m thinking, Heddwyn?”

He shook his head. All he could feel was an overwhelming amount of contentment.

Jacey paused. “I don’t think I’ve never seen you smile.”

He blinked, looking at her and thinking back the month that he knew her. “Surely you just missed it.”

She shook her head. “No. I know. I haven’t seen one yet.”

Heddwyn searched her face but she meant every word she said. She did not tease him now.  And he knew she was right.

“I don’t think I can,” he whispered.

“Why not?”

He laid next to her and propped himself up with one hand. “I… do not think I have since I have joined the army, except at my sister’s wedding.”

Her blues eyes looked at him worriedly. “Do you hate it that much?”

He shook his head slightly. “I do not hate it. I just… don’t see anything worth smiling about.”

“But–that is a long time. What happened?”

Heddwyn looked at her for a long minute before he finally just dropped his gaze. Something about it–he couldn’t tell her. He hadn’t even told Eva much about it.

Gently, she rubbed his cheek. “It’s okay. I don’t need to know.”

A shudder went through his body. Even now, the terror in their screams and the smell of the smoke and his cowardliness came back ever so easily.

“Heddwyn?”

He looked up quickly. She searched his face so earnestly. He locked eyes with her and slowly the world materialized again into a cold tent and a hard floor on a cool fall day.

Heddwyn rolled onto his back and breathed deeply once before sitting up again. Jacey followed quietly, watching him, openly worried.

He waved her away. “It’s nothing.” He rose and tossed Eva’s letter into the fire absently.

“What was that?”

“What?” He already began pulling on his clothes for the day.

“The letter. It wasn’t on the normal government paper.”

“You are an observant little one.” He finished and grabbed his sash from the hook. “A letter from my sister.”

Jacey’s face lit up and she stopped combing her hair. “And? What did she say?”

Heddwyn glanced up from tightening his sash. “Almost everything I expected her to about you.”

“Which was?”

“That she’s glad I’m married but politically I should have married a Targoian and  she wishes I put a bit more thought into my choice.”

Jacey blinked. “Thoughts like…?”

He took his sword and slung it across his back. “Thoughts like… like if I’m certain I do not want children.”

“Why–wouldn’t you?”

He did not look at her as he finished with the sword’s strap. “Less for the Ketekeys to attack of mine.”

Jacey began braiding her hair back again. “Would they really attack your children though? Little children?”

Heddwyn looked up sharply. “Given the chance, Jacey, they would kill any Targoian they can. Including younglings.”

Jacey blinked, stunned by the harshness of his words. Mechanically she slid the tie into her hair. “Still….”

“It’s better if we don’t, Jacey.”

Slowly she nodded, although her face still searched him wonderingly. He ducked out of the tent. Perhaps later, he would explain better.

Next

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