Sloane’s legs didn’t stop, not even the sun started to show through the canopy. Their eyes kept straight ahead, swollen from the hours of crying.
They were never told about this feeling, whatever it was. How do you feel nervous from seeing another person you aren’t trying to kill? How do you feel tongue-tied when you aren’t caught in a lie? How do you feel clumsy while remaining still? All these questions ran through Sloane’s mind, the lack of an answer making them frustrated to the point of tears.
“Running away again, eh?” A voice behind them called out. Sloane stopped and took a deep breath.
“You aren’t real,” they whispered to themselves, a steady hand on the hilt of their knife at their hip.
“All you ever do is run.”
“NO, I DO NOT.”
“You ran from your duties–”
“You were going to KILL me!”
Sloane ground their teeth in anger, their eyes full of fury. A twig breaking behind them made Sloane snap around, pointing the end of their knife at Yura’s neck. Yura’s deteriorating eye looked down at Sloane, eyebrows raised. A small line of blood moved down the blade.
“Yura…” Sloane put their knife away and reached up, wiping away the blood. “I’m so sorry, I didn-”
Yura put a hand up, Sloane closed their mouth.
“Are you alright? Who was trying to kill you?” Yura wrapped an arm around Sloane, sitting them down at the foot of a young tree. Sloane took a deep inhale and slowly exhaled.
Yura smiled and nodded, sitting next to them.
“So, you ran off in the middle of the night because Wyk farted?”
“No…” Sloane blushed, a small smile pulling up in the corner of their mouth. Sloane asked Yura the questions that had been going through their head as they walked and told her about the frustrated tears they had shed. Yura listened to Sloane, listened to the way the words sounded when they left Sloane’s mouth. Yura looked up, beyond the canopy.
“You are in love,” she said flatly. Sloane furrowed their brow.
“What? No… Tha… That’s not how love works! Love is supposed to make you feel like… Like in the stories Sister Lyal would tell us before bed!” Yura scoffed and laughed.
“You mean in ballrooms? Stolen glances from afar? Aye, that’s not love at all, that’s lust. The clumsy bits are the fun parts if ya ask me,” Yura teased. Sloane blushed and fumbled with their robes.
“What do you mean, clumsy bits?” they asked quietly. Yura smiled at them.
“The feelings you have now. You’ll start to notice things, small things, you like about them you never noticed before. You study their moods and things they like during said moods… But maybe that’s just because of my training, ahaha…”
“Have you ever been in love, Yura?”
“Plenty of times.”
“Do you love someone right now?”
“Yes. But not in the way you mean, so no.”
Sloane nodded, listening to the wind. Yura stood up.
“Let’s get you home. I’m sure Aife is worried sick.”
In lieu of actual training, Aife had taken up the chore of cutting firewood. Yura had collected some fallen trees during storms and had a pile of 7 rather large trunks. Between Sloane running off and coming back around lunch, Aife had managed to cut two of the trunks into piles of firewood, enough for the spring. She was a third of the way through a third trunk when she looked up and saw Yura and Sloane.
“HOY!” Aife called out, putting the ax into the wood and walking over to them. Sloane stared at Aife, eyes wide. Between the sweat and the way the light shone through the leaves, Aife was practically made of raw bronze. Sloane took a deep breath and looked away, sighing. Yura chuckled and squeezed Sloane’s shoulder.
The next few weeks, Sloane and Aife trained with Yura in the ways of stealth and archery. Sloane took to archery like a fish to water, Aife did not. Yura had Aife keep up with her letters and numbers instead by responding to letters and doing accounts for clients Aife didn’t know Yura had.
“I am a spy, silly, why wouldn’t I do these things… It just gets hard since… I can’t see as well I used to,” Yura said quietly, shrugging as she fitted Sloane for new garments. Aife nodded slightly, scribbling down numbers into a ledger.
“How come you couldn’t save my mother?” Aife asked quietly.
Sloane became still as ice, the humid room becoming cold. Yura chuckled, looking up at Sloane.
“You’re free to leave,” she said, her voice too calm. Sloane slowly nodded, gently removing the unfinished garment from their body and leaving the cabin. They did a quick whistle, their eagle swooping down from the trees.
“Roam,” Slaone whispered, patting the giant bird’s beak and hopping onto it’s back. The bird nodded and took off into the forest.
Aife’s full stomach was caught in her throat. Her question shouldn’t have passed her brain, but there it was out in the open, raw and naked. Aife’s hand didn’t move across the book, eye’s staring at a bunch of numbers that suddenly didn’t make sense. Yura left the room for a few moments, only to come back with a small box. She set it in front of Aife and patted her shoulder.
“This box is why. Take all the time you need,” was all she said before leaving the cabin completely.
Aife didn’t feel any less reassured. She closed the ledger and stared at the small box. It was no bigger than the palm of her hand, made out of mighty redwood and tinted with gold. Aife slowly opened the box, her breath caught in her throat along with her dinner. A small crystal of ocean jasper sat in the box, nestled in black silk. Aife’s heart stopped; her mother had one that looked just like it. Shaky fingers slowly made their way towards it, her eyes watering with emotions.
As her fingers gently grazed the stone, her body suddenly felt warm and at ease. She pulled her hand back, the wave of cold and dread coming back to her. The crystal tinkled and started to glow. Aife’s eyes started to relax, her hands suddenly clasping around it. When Aife shut her eyes, she was suddenly engulfed in fire. She opened her eyes, looking around and coughing.
Smoke filled the area she was in, people rushing past her as if she didn’t exist. She watched them only to go in the opposite direction, where the smoke came from. Tapestry was on fire, the family crests burning away. Aife heard sword fighting and rushed toward the noise, almost…. almost tripping over a body. Aife bent down, staring at the face of the woman. She looked familiar, but only in passing. She was older, the skin around her shocked eyes wrinkled and covered in blood and bruises. Aife shuddered and kept going, the sound of sword fighting becoming louder now. As Aife turned the corner, she saw Yura. A younger Yura, no older than Aife currently, holding up a shield and a heavy sword.
“YOU FUCKIN’ RAT,” she screamed, charging at the figure in front of her. Aife squinted, trying to see through the smoke and fire. A big bellow of a laugh made her hair stand on end.
“The only rat here is your sister,” the voice said, pushing their own shield against Yura’s sword attack. “She is the one who let this happen.”
“YOU’RE LYING. YOU COME HERE, DEMAND MY SISTER AS BRIDE ONLY TO SET OUR HOME ON FIRE.”
Aife’s heart tried to burst through her chest.
“And your sister denied ME. I will have her and your family will die.”
Aife watched them fight, her eyes suddenly shifting toward a figure in the doorway behind the man Yura was fighting. The man laughed again and charged at Yura, only to side step at the last moment. Yura gasped, stumbling, not noticing the figure in the shadows.
“BEHIND YOU, YURA!” Aife called out, seeing the whirlwind of fire being made behind her. Yura glanced toward the area where Aife was, crying out when a ball of fire hit her in the back and the man’s spiked shield scraped her face and body. Aife’s own body went up in flame, coming back to reality. She slowly opened her eyes, face first in the ledger. Her body shook, her dinner still in her throat. She rushed outside and threw up. Her body continued to shake, her eyes letting the tears flow. She still clutched the crystal in her hand, the warmth it gave off before was gone. The cool rock in her hot hand helped her put two and two together.
“I’m going to kill him.”