"No," she said. "No, no, no, no, no!"

He didn't answer. Oswin had never been talkative to begin with, and he certainly refrained from speaking when his wife was on one of her tirades.

Serra paced their bedroom, the lines at the corner of her mouth digging into her skin, the furrows in her forehead more pronounced than usual. Her knuckles were white as they clutched at her skirts. "No!" she said again as he opened his mouth.

Wisely, he waited.

She sank onto the edge of their bed, tired and looking a little ill. "No," she murmured, almost to herself, her distress showing clearly in her eyes.

"I'm sorry, Serra," he said as gently as he could, lowering himself to sit next to her, draping his arm over her hunched shoulders.

She shrugged him off, sniffing, but held onto his hand. "Can't we have, just…even a moment—just a moment—of peace? Can't we be allowed to just live?"

There was a moment of hesitation before he shook his head. "There's nothing else we can do. Lord Hector says—"

"Fiddlesticks on Lord Hector!" she said loudly, tears squeezing out of her eyes. "I've lost too much already, too many people! Parents who said they'd come back but never did, friends who said they'd write but disappeared, my closest and most beloved friend—"

"Lady…" he began, but paused and started over. "Florina…was Lord Hector's wife."

"Well then," she said, her eyes watering. "Well then, he should understand!"

He said her name then, sharply, as if he were issuing out a reprimand, and she turned to look at him, her hand covering her mouth, almost as if she couldn't believe he would speak to her in such a way.

"He does understand," he said, his voice gruff but gentler. "There is no choice. There is nothing else to be done, but…"

"But war," she finished, and took a folded handkerchief from the bedside table to blow her nose loudly into. "L-Like I don't have enough to worry about, what with my best friend dead more than ten years, and…and wondering every time I hear about an orphanage if it's L-Lucius, and then never hearing from Lady Lyn o-or anybody else, either…"

"I have to go." His words were just a murmur, but she heard them, and hiccupped as she pressed the back of his hand to her tear-stained face.

"I know," she moaned, most terribly, as if it were the end of the world approaching.

"I'm sorry," he said, an attempt to comfort her, but she ignored him, just held onto his hand as if it'd be the last time she'd ever be able to.

The war's approach was inevitable, and she had known as much, herself, but that didn't make the news any easier to digest. It hadn't been all that long ago when she had charged out on the battlefield with a different sort of army, and only sheer courage and wit, only sheer foolishness had kept them alive.

And a lot of good that had done, she thought, remembering rumors of several people dying only months after facing the dragon, dying of their injuries. Oh, but there was nothing you could have done, Florina had tried to console her, but Serra knew that there was always something. Her bragging was not unfounded—she was a skilled healer and everybody knew it.

She liked to tell herself that Sain ran off to Ilia to be with Florina's eldest sister. It had been his plan, the one he had told to anyone who would listen. She found she preferred it to Farina's hastily scribbled scrawl on rain-soaked parchment that said he died of his burns only a month after returning to Caelin, so technically her letter was "undeliverable". Florina had burst into tears at the news, but Serra… Serra had been left dumbstruck. Couldn't she have done something—anything—to prevent such a thing from happening? She couldn't help but think she had forgotten to do something, something important. But years of research and wondering had given her no further insight. She had done everything in her power to save him, but it hadn't been enough.

When her tears stopped, she sighed a little and leaned against Oswin, letting his weight hold her up for just a moment. "I can't let you go," she said slowly, meaningfully, and he opened his mouth as if to say, "You have to," or maybe even, "I'm sorry," again, but she stopped him with a glance, the way she had on their wedding night, and she shook her head.

"Not alone," she told him firmly, resolutely.

And then she stood, looking quite her old self, though her hair was pinned back and her face lined from age and stress. She had the old fire in her eyes, a determination that they both remembered well. He was not going into battle again, not without her.

"After all," she said from across the room, rummaging through one of her chests and pulling out a well-worn staff, "my skills are legendary. Whatever would you and Lord Hector do without me?"


Just some practice writing. I am still quite rusty.