I

Still warm and lethargic, Jacey rolled over and pulled her legs closer to her chest. She could be awake now, if she wanted to be. But she didn’t want to think about anything. She liked the warmth of the blankets  surrounding her and holding her close.

Suddenly, the memories of last night flooded back. How could she have been that foolish? She knew nothing of the man or his customs or even–anything. All she knew was his language and even he didn’t she knew that much.

She stared at the empty place next to her; panic slowly began to squeeze her chest. He had left. After all that, he just left. And why not? She was, after all, only Aldroian.

With a shudder, Jacey leaned back and closed her eyes. She could not panic. She must, absolutely must, remain calm. She concentrated on her breathing and tried to black out her panic. But whenever she thought she could handle it, she thought about it again and could not help but begin to panic again.

The tent flap opened. Jacey opened her eyes just as the commander placed  a small box filled with food on the table. He glanced at her and nodded slightly.

“We need to be packed in an hour,” he said.

Jacey nodded and pushed herself up, holding the blanket to herself more out of nervousness than modesty, though in truth, she felt dreadfully exposed now that the sun shone through the tent to light up the room. Quickly, she found her dress draped over the trunk at the head of the bed and pulled it over her underdress that improvised as a nightgown. Still stiffly–soft blankets did not change how hard the ground was–she rose and walked towards the table. Commander Borut poured her a drink from the jug and motioned her to sit.

“I will see about finding you more clothing when it is possible.”

“If there is even just material, I can make some quickly enough. I’ve done it like that all the rest of my life.” Jacey picked up the roll and bit into it. Surprisingly, it tasted the exactly the same as the rolls they had been fed these past days, which was completely tasteless.

He nodded. “That is good to know. It will be difficult to find clothing sized to fit you no matter where we look I think.”

“That is why I needed to do it. Although three brothers and two sisters meant we could not buy pre-made clothing that often.”

He nodded, though he glanced away. Jacey took some of the meat and chewed that thoughtfully. The commander, in turned, continued studying a map.

“Where are we going next?”

“More towards the mountains at the moment.” He absently traced their path through the grassland. “We’ll rendezvous with General Putwet by nightfall. One day for gaining of supplies and reorganization and then we will be going again.” He glanced at her. “We generally move quickly.”

Jacey nodded. “So I’ve heard.”

“You will have a horse today though if you can ride.”

“More or less.”

“Good. Because otherwise you need to learn.” He took a drink.

Jacey took another bite of the roll and chewed thoughtfully. He stood and crossed the room to the trunk He rummaged through it for a moment before he pulled out a cloth the same color of red that he wore.

“It is a common enough thing for officers to find a wife while in the field.” He handed it to her. “And tradition always has it that the wives wear the color of their husband’s rank.”

Jacey took the sash and looked at it.

“My advice is you wear it whenever I wear mine. When I am off-duty in Targo, there may be some times you need not wear it. Other than that, you should.”

Jacey nodded and examined it. The material was smooth and soft. “I–don’t even know how to put it on.”

He motioned her to rise and knelt before her. Almost deftly, he wrapped it around her waist, though it half way up her chest as well, and pulled it snugly. He frowned slightly though when he was finished. “Obviously, they meant it for someone larger.”

Jacey smiled faintly. “My brother’s always said I was too tall for my own good. Now you say I’m too small.”

He did not respond but rose. “I’ll see if it is possible to get one to fit you better, though that will take at least two weeks.”

Jacey shrugged, suddenly aware how much she had to depend on him for basic supplies of life.

He rose and pulled out an unsealed letter from the bag. He scribbled something else onto it and glanced her. “Is there anything else you need?”

“Besides…”

“Well, obviously better dresses and the sash but besides that?”

Jacey paused but shook her head. “I can think of nothing.”

Deftly, he sealed the letter and put it in the pouch again. “Being so close to the mountains will make the letters and packages arrive quicker.” He rose again and began to put things into the trunk. Jacey watched quietly, as she finished the roll and meat.

“I can help.”

Almost self-consciously, he looked up. “There is only one way to pack everything. With the little time we have….” He paused and shook his head. “I will show you tonight when there is time to explain.”

Jacey slowly nodded and rose. Now, she did not belong in this world. She hardly belonged in it to begin with. And worse, she needed something to do. She started to wander outside.

“Jacey.”

She turned from the doorway.

“Be careful out there. There will be comments. When the tents start coming down, I need you here.”

Jacey nodded. “Certainly.” With that, she slipped outside.

The morning happened to be much earlier than she expected. Dew still covered much of the ground and sparkled like little diamonds in the sunlight. Around her, men rushed to and fro, hardly giving her a second glance. The red sash around her waist felt strongly out of place though and awkward. Before too long, she caught sight of the soldiers’ eyes glancing at it as they rushed passed.

Adela and Jared already stood outside a packed tent and glanced around nervously. As soon as Adela caught sight of her, she called her name. Jacey hurried over.

“Jacey, Jacey, what happened to you last night?” she whispered.

Jacey paused and shook her head. “It’s–confusing.”

“You were gone all night.”

“I know. I–” She swallowed and glanced around. “He married me.”

Adela blinked. “What? For–real? Why?”

Jacey nodded. “I don’t really know why. He… never actually gave a good reason. It happened so quickly. But yes, by Targo standards, I am.”

“Are you–are you sure you’re not drugged? Or hallucinating?”

Jacey sighed. “I don’t know. I can’t imagine how. But–he said I could go but I don’t know where I would go. Or I could marry him. Either way offered dangers but I believe that by marrying him I will at least be partly safe.”

“You married a giant, Jacey! They’re–they’re–”

“He is gentle enough.”

“He’s the one that everyone feared!”

“Only because no one knows where he will strike next.”

“But you saw what they did in the town.”

“And I’ve heard what the Ketekey soldiers have done as well. They are basically the same. If I do not marry him on account of ruthlessness, then I can’t marry any soldier.”

“At least Ketekey–”

“Ketekey is no different than Targo. I have known many Targoians at my father’s inn. I–I’m not afraid of them.”

“Obviously.”

“Some of them can be very pleasant.”

“I don’t like this, Jacey. I’m scared for you. I’m scared you’re going to get hurt. I’m scared he’s going to hurt you. Or–”

“I don’t think he will. I believe that he meant what he did. And–I  didn’t have much of a chance of a life to look forward to in Aldroa. My father–if I found him–would have married me off as soon as he could. A doughtier at twenty-one and unwed is a shame on the whole family. It usually means she did something dishonorable.”

“You did do something dishonorable by marrying that–that monster!”

Jacey closed her eyes for a moment and sighed. “I’ll be with you as far as tonight I think. After that, I’m sorry. But I do not think this is as bad as you do.” Quietly, she turned away.

Soon enough, the tents began to fall, each like giants crashing to the earth. Jacey picked her way carefully around the piles of possessions and men, most of whom did not seem to see her. Just as she rounded a corner, one young soldier barreled right into her. sending her and his bags to the ground.

“Why you little–” He began in Targoian, stopping just before an oath escaped. Jacey scrambles up just as he knelt down to gather his packages. Even as she began to help him, she could feel his eyes on her red sash. “A–a thousand pardons, ma’am. I–I just didn’t–see ya and–” He ran a hand through his hair and then hastily began gather the bags as well. “You probably can’t even understand a single thing I’m saying. But I really didn’t mean it.”

Jacey just smiled at him and replied in Aldroian. “It is very much all right. We are both at fault. Don’t worry about it.” At his blank expression she smiled more and said in Targoian, pointing at herself. “Sorry?”

“Yes, yes.” He nodded and took the bags from her. “Indeed I am. I didn’t realize–” He looked again at her sash and shook his head. “Fires! I can’t believe he got married. AFter how hard he’s been after us and girls.”

Jacey just smiled still and nodded to him, then continued on her way. ABsently, she wondered what he meant. She had seen the looks the sash gave her, but she assumed it was because she, an Aldroian, married an TArgoian. Never had it crossed her mind that the glances might be because Commander Borut had actually married someone.

Still, she should admit that she understood Targoian. She should tell him. Some part of her still feared that he was using her for something or that he didn’t mean what he did. If he didn’t know that she spoke his language, then perhaps she would be able to know for sure what he wanted.

Commander Borut was conversing with Major Pauldor when she arrived. Already, his tent had been collapsed and rolled into a pack along with the trunk, a large bag and the table, now also disassembled. Quietly, she stood back a few feet and waited for them to finish. He did in just a moment and walked towards her.

“Come,” he said and began walking.

She fell in step next to him. “Where?”

“Another tradition.” He paused as they carried something large and rolled into a tube past them. “You must meet Commander Rousin.”

Jacey looked up at him. “Rousin is a lord’s name.”

“Indeed it is and indeed he is the son of one, though I am surprised you know that. It is very common for lords to be higher ranking in the military than commoners, as such, you will soon be hearing  many lords’ names in the army.”

“How does that–but you are…,” She paused, not sure how to explain.

“The son of a blacksmith?”

She nodded.

“It is a sore spot for many of the lords, especially those who wished that they had come up with my method of attacking. There are a few of us who are high in rank and come from common families but only a few.” He caught her hand and turned her slightly towards him. He caught her eyes before she spoke. “I am not ashamed of my father, Jacey, or my family.”

Jacey nodded slowly.

“If I could, I would still fight with my father’s sword.”

“Why don’t you?”

He began walking again. “He was apparently not a good wordsmith. The balance was all off. But I learned to fight with it and with that sword I enlisted. It wasn’t until I became a lieutenant* and after I loaned my sword to someone for a demonstration that I got a new one.”

Jacey nodded slowly as he steered her around the loading station and then directly towards another man in a red sash just like his. The other man looked towards them and frowned slightly.

“Rousin,” Commander Borut said in Targoian, “before I forget and neglect the privilege, allow me to introduce to you my prudi-ila, Jacey Lea from Aldroa.” He motioned her to come.

Jacey smiled faintly, though she could feel the man’s dark eyes glance over her quickly and openly. “She is beautiful, I will give you that.”

Commander Borut nodded.

“Though a wee bit short. She will have difficulty when you get to Targo City.”

“Nothing I do not believe she can’t handle. She is very bright.”

“I’m assuming she does not speak Targoian?”

“No. But she knows Aldroian and Ketekey, so I doubt she will have much difficulty learning a third language. Targoian is very much a mixture of them both.”

“Well, now I know who to speak to if you are unavailable to deal with my prisoners. Or when you become stubborn that it would be better if you did not reveal to anyone outside of Targo that you speak Ketekey. I would think you are feared enough by them without needing to have extra advantages.”

Jacey turned away, so as to hide her confusion better and pretended to be more interested as one of the final tents fell.

“If they were to learn that I speak Ketekey, any man who nearly matches my description would be suspected there for spying.”

“And for good reason. You do as much harm with that as you do with your raids. So I suppose there is advantages to being a foot below average height.”

Commander Borut paused. “I am sure that we both have things to do.”

“Of course.” Commander Rousin turned to Jacey. “Mospa Borut,” he said in strongly accented Aldroian. “It was a pleasure to meet you. Do treat the commander well. He needs it.”

Jacey smiled. “I will do the best I can.”

Commander Borut put a hand on her waist and gently led her away. She glanced at him, noticing the tenseness of his chest. Gently, she touched his shoulder.

“Are you all right?”

He looked at her for a long minute and shook his head. “Don’t worry about it.” He glanced around the camp and then headed towards where the horses waited. “I will warn you that Commander Rousin may ask you to translate for him.”

“Why is that?”

“Someone who can speak Ketekey and Aldroian can do a lot of good among the prisoners. It is better than sad attempts at miscommunication that often occurs. But do not let him intimidate you into doing something you do not feel comfortable. With us being of equal rank, it is not an insult to refuse.”

Jacey nodded. “I’ll remember that.”

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