Yesterday will not remember me, they

Who dared to walk a new path, straight and tall

Far from their people, to find a new way,

To reach for a star and climb to the moon;

I knew the cost when I left them behind.

Unknown

In the tiny space, Ionas stretched out his legs and took up half the room. Sarea ignored him, curled up on her side sipping at another cup of cool tea. He seemed set on clearing all the soup from the pan, ice-cold or not. It hadn’t been much, just whatever herbs she could find in the woodland, a few wild onions, and the last scraps of meat from her pack. Her tea was mint and thyme, not the best of blends…

There’s nothing better than a cup of tea on a cold night, she decided.

Something cracked in the darkness. She shivered. More than anything, she wanted to be in the city, off the road. Where she could wash and wear clean clothes and prepare proper tea. Where it was safe –

“Hey.”

She started, looking across. Ionas held his hand out. “Come here,” he said.

“I’m fine,” she said.

Crack. And a howl that sounded so very like the demon dogs. She clutched her cup tightly.

“Comfort me.” Ionas smiled. “I hate storms.”

“Well, if you put it that way,” she said, and shifted across. He drew her into the shelter of his coat, arm carefully loose around her.

“First storm without her?” he said.

“Mm?” Surprising, how warm the man could be. Thin or not, he wasn’t the least bit bony, either. “Who?”

He stroked her arm soothingly. “The cursed and blessed Tineke.”

Sarea nodded, keeping her gaze just a little away from the fire. Her attempt at tea bags hung above the hearth by strings, tied around each bag and hooked on the nails that’d held the discarded pans. Half a dozen, one drying from use. Tineke always managed perfect tea that way. She’d never managed it herself. But it would do. “She was my aunt, really,” Sarea said quietly. “Father’s older sister.”

“Mm?”

“Father planned to send two of us out to her. Amisine was to be her apprentice, and she’d find another occupation for me. We were going to forget that we were Durasoona. Let the name on the Charter be nothing more than ink.” She shifted, leaning her head against his chest. “Father said, ‘What is the Charter doing for us?’.”

Ionas paused, hand curved around her arm. “Amisine?”

Better that he knew, before they reached the city. “My sister,” she said. “My twin. We looked nothing alike. She died. They found her in the pit. When I went out to Tineke, I refused to change my name. It was all I had of her.”

“Sarea -”

“Durabilis killed her,” Sarea said. “It did.”

He said nothing. Rain thundered down on the roof. The fire hissed. She sat up. “If it rains down the chimney -” It didn’t have a guard, like her cottage did.

“Relax,” he said, waving his free hand lazily. “It won’t.” And the fire did seem to settle again. “I’ll bet you were the elder.”

She nodded.

“Even if you weren’t, you’re a born older sister.” He tugged at her shoulder. “You’re always so tense,” he said.

“What about you?”

He blinked at her owlishly. “What about me?”

“Your cousin. What was he like?” She set her cup down. “You know more about me than I do about you.”

He held his arm out. “Come back here and I’ll tell you.”

She crept back into his hold. For his comfort, not hers. The wind and rain didn’t make her want to be wrapped in a dozen blankets. Even if he was the only person since Tineke to hug her…

“My cousin wasn’t a man who knew children,” Ionas said. “His idea of a good day out was to have me follow him around warehouses then test my numbers. When we travelled, there were better role models. Guards who’d show you how to wrestle, or how to stick a bandit with a child’s knife. People who wouldn’t let you be fooled by people like them, with weighted dice and crooked hands… if destiny hadn’t gotten in the way, I might have inherited his business.”

“Trader and a madman,” she said.

“So either a rich trader, or a dead one.” He laid his head against hers. “But my cousin used to sing to me, some nights. Something like…

 

“Boy, beg, steal or borrow,

They’ll come on the morrow,

Faces bright as morning light,

Horses black as old midnight.

Cold their hearts, cold their blades,

Cold their touch, cold their ways.

They’ll take you down in the hill,

Keep you ’til you’ve paid your bill.”

Sarea opened her mouth, shut it again, and settled for a quiet, “Interesting.”

“The fey folk are very interesting.” Ionas laughed. “You’ve never heard it before?”

“I’ve never heard of the fey folk.” She curled her hand into his, closing her eyes. “Tell me about them.”

“Well, once upon a time there was a girl in a cage…”

:-#-:

Ionas was quite sure she didn’t hear most of the story. Her breath evened out into sleep before the girl traded a gold ring for a key, much less married the prince. He kept talking anyway. Sarea twitched against him, lost in his memory-dream spell. When the story was over, he rubbed her arm, humming. It seemed to soothe her a little.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispered. If there was any other way, he’d take it. His training took years. He didn’t know how much time they had, but it was nowhere near that long.

He magically tugged her blanket out of the pack and wrapped it around them, cradling her close in the shadow of his coat. The least he could do was keep her warm and make sure the roof didn’t fall in.

He might even get her to laugh at him tomorrow.

:-#-:

Sarea woke up and she didn’t know why.

She clutched at Ionas’ shirt. They were coming, they were coming –

Listen to that, she said to herself. Night terrors. Nothing’s coming.

“Bad dream?” Ionas said drowsily, nudging her.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I woke you.”

He shrugged. “I wasn’t really sleeping. You’re just in time, I think. I haven’t heard rain in a while.”

“Sleep too much, sleep too little,” she said. “How do you survive?”

He grinned. “I found a way to eat moonlight.”

Sarea shook her head. “You can let go,” she pointed out.

“Can I? That’s nice.”

“Ionas!” She hit his chest. “Let me go. I have to see the damage.”

“And it was so idyllic,” he sighed, loosening his hold. “Go on then.”

She had to brace her whole body weight against the door to get it to open again. It creaked a few inches, then abruptly gave way, slamming open. She caught herself on the door frame with both hands, blinking in bright sunlight. Midday, she decided, shading her eyes. Much warmer than the last week. The ground was muddy puddles, littered with leaves and fallen branches. No footprints in the mud, or claw-scrapes on the tree trunks.

“Ionas,” she called out.

“Don’t tell me. Go to the river and clean the crockery.”

“You’re reading my mind.” She ducked back in. “And dry them out whilst you’re there.”

He rolled his eyes. “Anything else, my lady?”

She bit back a sharp retort. It was too good a day. Even if her feet still hadn’t stopped aching from last night. “There should be a village on the river,” she said. “Look around for posts with sigils on them. They’ll tell us how far away we are.”

“Yes, my lady.” He climbed onto his feet, bowing his head carefully.

“And be careful. It’ll be running high.” High and silted, but better than sticky bowls in her pack.

He patted her shoulder. “I knew you cared,” he said, and stepped out of the way-station in two easy strides, everything floating along behind him.

Sarea waited until he was gone before she turned to the fireplace and clicked her fingers. The fire flickered high and disappeared. She moved forwards, touching the ashes. Cold, as if there hadn’t been a fire here for a day. Good.

She took the ring from her pocket, peering at it in dim sunlight. Half sun, half moon – she knew that symbol. It was the crest on the high temple in Durabilis, the crest that once sat proudly above the front door of her father’s house. Yellow and white had been the Durasoona colours back when the Durasoona family could afford to choose the clothing they wore. She turned it, catching sunlight on a worn inscription.

We endure.

By some unhappy chance, Jesse’s gift was a Durasoona family ring.

 

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