Title: Venus Going Down, or Mars
Pairings/Characters: Beritte, Old Bitte, and Heddy. Heddy/Frederick? Because that's a thing that happened?
Notes: My Codex Alera fic: not particularly interesting to anyone but me and featuring minor characters you probably don't remember. Utterly, utterly superfluous.
Beritte's arms feel like they should have fallen off three years ago. She stops stirring meat and grain for a moment to give her exhausted limbs a bit of peace. Not that it will help. No one in the Calderon Valley had had peace for over six months now. She just stops herself from grimacing. The vord had been defeated; she could live long enough to get wrinkles now, and that would never do. She supposes they could still break the defenses at the wall and bring screaming, merciless death to everyone crouched behind it. Beritte can't find it in her to get very excited about that; months and months of constant anxiety had ground her fear down like seeds in mortar. "What do you think he's going to do for us?" she asks the kitchen at large.
"Who?" Old Bitte, improbably alive after all these years, asks. "Who would do for what? And keep moving, girl. We have refugees to feed."
Always more flea-bitten refugees. They sat, in thousands, outside her door, and somehow she had to help feed all those people. She takes the ladle back in hand and gives the thick porridge-cum-stew a desultory stir. "The First Lord, of course."
"Eh? Why would he do anything for us?"
Because Beritte would not be able to bear it, otherwise. "We knew him when he was a furyless—" She almost says freak "—boy. We've stood in stalwart support of his uncle and of the realm. Surely he would find it in his heart to reward us."
"Treated him badly while he was here, too," Old Bitte says. "Called him all manner of names and bullied him pretty bad. I'd be surprised if he wanted anything to do with our folk."
Beritte puts her hands on her hips. "Well, no one knew he was Princeps Septimus' son."
"And had you known, you would have been kinder to him? Crows, child."
"That's not what I mean." There's enough decency in Beritte to know what the older woman means, and it shames her a little. Still, to be forced back to the steadholt when she had been building a life for herself as a Rivan shopgirl, to have everything snatched from her right when everything was going so well—it is beyond bearing. Now she's stuck with possibly years and years of life and everything she had built before washed away. Crows take responsibly, and duty and honor and valor along with it.
"That's not his place," says Heddy from the oven. "If anyone were to give out prizes to people in the Calderon Valley, it should be Count Calderon or Lord Riva." She shakes her head. "And Riva's in no position to give anyone anything, and after this war, neither will be the count."
"Heard that from your husband, did you?" Beritte snaps.
Heddy doesn't react at all. "No. Frederick hasn't come back from the wall yet."
Some vile part of Beritte doesn't want him to come back. Let Heddy face it, then, the abandonment of a suitor! But perhaps that part is small, because shame washes over her. Beritte knows better than most the screaming, crying woman Heddy had become when she had been rescued from Aricholt. Knows how she had lost Frederick, good, clean, calm Frederick, to Heddy as inevitably as the seas grind rock to sand. "Surely he sent word to you."
"He has. They are only waiting out the attack. He'll be fine." There's a small quiver to her chin as she says it, and a hand goes to rest protectively on her swollen abdomen. "I've lost one husband to the Vord. I won't do it again."
"There now," Old Bitte says, "Heddy, you sit down before you faint. And you!" She rounds on Beritte. "I told you to keep stirring."
Beritte sighs, and does.