"I haven't?" Deru's green, mossy eyebrows raised slowly. "What more could there possibly be?"

"Well, you said it yourself when we first met Finala - she hates me, too. How did you know?"

"Oh, come on, it was obvious from the way she looked at you, what she said... You're not telling me you can't see that?"

"Yes, I see that" Alesha sighed. "But do you know why she hates me so much?"

"Because you signed into Valdis's army?"

"Yes. It was only after we left that his army made enemies of all the rest of the world. Including my hometown, although most people understood that we simply erred. Not her" Alesha looked at the ale bottles. They were all empty, and somehow, she wanted to get really drunk. "I'm going to order more beer, you sure you don't want anything?"

Deru smiled weakly. She was sitting again, with her hands in a pitcher of water. There was visibly less of it now. "No, thanks. I'm good. So, Finala hates you because you fought with the Morden, whom she wants to exterminate. And she's unable to put that behind. But that would mean..." her voice trailed off.

"Yes. That means she has the same feelings for Drevin, only Drevin can't do anything to redeem himself anymore" now Alesha's hands bunched into fists. "The first night we spent here, when she asked me to take her along... She started badmouthing him. I kept quiet, for a moment, but couldn't take it in the end. I confronted her about her feelings for him, and his for her. And she said..."

There was a knock at the door. A young man came in, carrying some more ale and cheese. He put it all on the table, looking at Alesha with bright-eyed hero worship. The two women thanked him and he went out.

"She said she didn't really care for him all that much. Said she went along with it, because he would make a good husband, but she wasn't all that intent on having one. If he came back with fame, glory and money, then maybe. But since we fought for the Morden... She said he was reserved and didn't show much feeling for her, so she understood he felt the same" Alesha laughed bitterly. "Hah, of course, great Finala is such a marvellous catch, guys would court her even if they didn't love her, right?"

Deru kept silent. She felt there was nothing she could say at this point.

"Well, that's what she seems to think. So it was all right! Drevin died, big deal! Shouldn't have enlisted with the Morden, but if he was stupid enough to do so, hey, I can betray him and befoul his memory!" Alesha grabbed the knife and held it so tight that her knuckles went white. She stood still for a moment, breathing heavily, then hurled it at the wall, where it stuck. "You know what she did with the letter?" she breathed, her eyes closed.


"She burned it without opening. She didn't even read it! He knew he was going to die, and wanted to confess his feelings to the woman he loved, the woman he went on the entire bloody journey for," she slammed her fist on the table so hard that the bottles jumped, "and she burned it without reading. Because we 'sided with the Morden', and so were only worthy of great Finala's contempt."

Alesha fell silent. So did Deru. For a long while, only the cracking of wood in the fire could be heard in the room. That's enough to drive anyone insane, thought the dryad. Not only is your love rejected, not only do you watch your loved one die, but you are stuck with the very same person you were rejected in favour of. And said person has no idea how much they hurt you both. They also insist on acting like they were doing the world a favour by living. Deru would have understood perfectly if Alesha had killed her rival when she first had a chance, but no. She loved Drevin too much to hurt his beloved woman, even if she was a complete bitch. So she took care of her and watched her back, even as her own heart was screaming.

There was a clink of pottery as Deru filled a tankard with ale and took a gulp. "I think we need to get roaring drunk" she said. She poured another one for Alesha. "Here. Let's drink to Drevin, who could foresee his death, but not his future with Finala. Which would have been miserable."

"Yes... It would be" said Alesha, taking the tankard and rising it in silent salute. "At least she didn't get him" she said, trying to smile.

The two women clashed their tankards in a toast, and in the same moment, the door opened. Sartan eclipsed the light for a moment and then he came in, uninvited. He looked strange in a shirt and leather breeches, without armour.

"I heard the sounds of drinking" he boomed. "Finally! I can get you both drunk and have my way with you!" there was a crash as he put a barrel of alcohol on the floor.

"I have a better idea" laughed Alesha. "We will get you drunk and have our way with you. How about that?"

"Hey! You two redbloods behave or I'm out of here" snapped Deru, but without much conviction. She was already through her first tankard, and dryads get drunk quickly.

They sat and drank, talked and flirted, exchanged tales and boasts, fears and worries. They stayed up late into the night and the sound of their laughter would have annoyed other guests, but there weren't any. So they just had a good time, and it was really good.

Because love is bittersweet, but friendship is gravy all the way.