"My God, amazing how we got this far
It's like we're chasing all those stars"
She rides Heiress to Mutare, numbness spreading down her arms and her ears ringing.
Because she is her mother's child, she thinks for a moment about leaving- turning her horse around and heading for Tyra, or even Tortall. Easy and quick and painless- well, that last one is a lie. But she is her father's child also and that side is stronger (and for the first time she thanks the Goddess it is). Her father would not leave a friend behind, much less in danger, even less someone he loved, and neither will she.
(But she did think about it, and she feels the guilt acutely enough through cracks in her numb body and keep it together, oh Lianne.) Chin up, shoulders back, smoldering eyes, and that's a princess riding into the village, don't you know? (nobody knows)
"Hello," Lianne says to a young woman she sees by a well. "Would you mind directing me to your headman?"
"Ay there, miss, we got no 'eadman, only 'is widow," the woman says in heavily accented Common, straightening up with a bucket in hand. "What d'ya want with 'er?"
"I need help… finding a friend," Lianne says. "Disappeared right after we crossed the border."
The woman raises her eyebrows. "On the Great Road Ayst?"
"I'll be," the young woman says. "I'll be takin' ya to the 'eadman's wife, see what she can do. I'm Minnie, then." She smiles at Lianne.
"Vania." The name slips past Lianne's lips before she thinks. It shocks her (to the core, if she still has one) but Minnie accepts it easily. It makes Lianne uncomfortable how easy she lies, now.
Minnie is speaking again. "Now then, 'ere she is. 'Ope it all goes well with yer friend!"
Lianne smiles and raises a hand in thanks (perfectpolitemodestdutifulpr incess) and a flash of memory runs through her as a shiver, head to toe. She enters the headman's wife's tent as the sun continues to rise (he is daybreak, and she is dusk)and she barely restrains herself from bobbing a curtsey. (regress, regress, oh Lianne)
They talk for a time, Lianne keeping to bare facts and fewlittlelies here and there. The headman's wife Thayet (and oh, oh, how that stings, even though Lianne knows it's a popular name nowadays) seems agreeable enough, but when Lianne suggests a search party-
"No," Thayet says, "we haven't the men t'spare from crops, or defendin' our own village."
(This is not your mother, this is not your mother, no, and this doesn't hurt so much)
"Very well," Lianne says in her coldest (Conte) voice. "If you'll excuse me-"
Thayet leans in right before Lianne rises. "Prisoners of the Daerdgar are kept in Winslow Castle."
And Lianne's head fills with swears and questions, but she voices nothing.
She leaves Lerant's horse at the village stable and goes for a little ride, with only vague directions from Minnie. So this is being alone, she thinks (this is what you wanted, Lianne). This is being alone, alone, alone, useless- this is nothing new to her.
Winslow Castle is large, gray stone and turrets and faintly reminiscent of Conte, but twisted and bent and curved into the shape of fear. It's the pitch of Vania's scream in Lianne's nightmares, and the deadness in Lerant's eyes.
(But Lerant is in there, Lianne, so keep going)
And she does. She shakes dust out of her plain skirts and approaches the castle. She must be Lianne of Tyra now- not a princess, not special, not modest because she has nothing to be modest about. (Should she be worried that the distinctions between her identities are starting to blur? Who is Lianne and who is Lianne and who is she?)
She approaches the castle and the path is hard packed and reminds her of the Corus roads, roads home that she can't- won't- take (or even think about). Alone, alone, alone, she walks, though servants and peasants in plain dresses bustle around her. For once she walks not to herself (freedom) or to Vania (duty) but to Lerant, who is maybe freedom and duty all in one, in a package that happens to be a person too- one that she loves.
The sun reaches its highest point just as she reaches the castle.
"Your squad will be dispatched with the envoy to Sarain next week," Raoul says, fiddling with some papers on his desk.
Dom takes a step back and ruffles his hair. "Really, milord? I mean, thank you for the assignment- it'll be good to get out of Corus- but Sarain?"
"You'll be fine," Raoul says. "The fighting has died down, or at least I'm told it has. Princess Vania has to get there somehow, and I trust you."
Dom bows to hide his grimace (Vania still hasn't stopped chasing him, and it's honestly getting ridiculous, but that has no place in this discussion, does it?). "Yes, milord. Thank you."
Raoul flaps a hand. "Unless you're going to help with the paperwork, could you find Keladry?"
It will be a long trip, of that Dom is sure. It'll be good for him to get away from the palace, though, from most of Third Company and the memory of Lerant- where did he go, anyway? All Dom heard were crazy rumors like that he ran off with the princess, so Lerant probably just went back home.
(Dom misses the standard-bearer, even though he tries not to let it show.)
He exits the room still thinking and inelegantly slams into a body right outside the door. "What?" he gasps as they fall to the floor.
"Oh- Domitan- if you wanted me beneath you, you only had to ask," Vania says with a curved smile from the ground. Dom immediately scrambles up and presses his back to the wall and sincerely hopes Kel is not around (this girl just won't take a hint).
"We're going to be together for quite a long time on the way to Sarain," she says in a voice obviously intended to be seductive.
Dom bites his lip to avoid saying anything too nasty and pity mingles with disgust and sadness in his heart. "Just- behave yourself, Princess."
He leaves her on the floor, not looking back, but Lerant has left his mind completely.
It's taken quite a few bells for her to make her way downdowndown- just her, trying to be uninteresting, walking like she belongs there, like she has a home and knows where it is. She's used to being polite and invisible (and worthless and lost and nothing) but it works in her favor when she's a servant, thank the gods. She hears other servants talking (festival mop Kalasin wages bread) but Lianne doesn't stop because she can't.
She finds the place quickly- there is a guard in front of only one cell, after all- so she puts on her best don't-dare-bother-me-I'm-official expression and tries to enter.
"No one is allowed in, miss."
"Pardon?" she sniffs. "I-"
"I know who you are," the guard says. "I can't help you. Go upstairs and ask the higher-ups."
"I can give you anything you want," she says, and her voice is smooth as silk. She's definitely improved from that long ago time she tried to convince Lerant to leave with her. "Jewels, fame, women, anything. Your heart's desire, all for handing over a little piece of silver, that's all. Don't you have a family, think of them..."
"I can't let you in. My family has no place in the discussion." The guard does not budge, does not hesitate, and time is running out- the sun is already setting- and she doesn't care anymore (but she does).
And so Lianne stabs him and grabs the key.
She is not too numb to feel the blood on her hands and in her heart but oh gods it must sink in later because she doesn't have time for it now. She pushes the weight of the dying body to the side and she opens the cell door with a hand that is not trembling.
The numbness is cracked through by a spurt of pure agony before it seals itself up and Lianne can breathe again.
Lerant is not awake, but at least he is not dead (maybe it would be better if he was, she thinks somewhere deep down, but she doesn't want to think that). Shivers chase each other down her back as she takes one step forward, two, three, and reaches for him.
The blood crusted on his shirt hides the truth, but not for long.
"Arm," Lianne says. Her vision is a bit black around the edges and she feels like she did when she used to twirl with Vania until they fell down (and oh, that image is out of place here). There's a moan from him but no words. Lianne can feel her heart speed up or maybe slow down, who knows, and she touches his face lightly.
"Lianne," he murmurs, rolling his head. She can see his glazed eyes and this is so surreal, she thinks, so strange, like she is sinking out of her body and into the stone floors. She does not want to speak, only to gaze at him (the days without him have felt like so much longer) but her time is (probably) running out and they have to get out of here.
"Lerant," she says quietly, raggedly, brokenly, "come with me now, it's all right," and as he moves a bit and starts to shake and whimper, "I know it hurts, baby, I know, please." She helps him down the corridor, not looking (at all) at his arm- or lack of arm- who is this boy beside her? Certainly not Lerant, no, this must be a dream, this cannot be her Lerant with his floppy hair and haunted eyes and too true words (and strong arms to hold her tightly).
But it is Lerant, and she knows that it is, so she walks quickly through the shadows, up the stairs, and then they're out of the castle, finally.
She has a dark feeling in her stomach and she can only think that the Daerdgar, whoever or whatever it is, is not done with her.
They flee east and by night, they're camped and she is working on healing his injury. She's never been a good mage, even though healing is her strength, and besides even Aunt Alanna can't grow back an arm. All she can do is heal the infection, stop the sluggish bleeding, halt the pain, and pray like it will make a difference.
"I'm so, so sorry," she says plainly. "If you want to go home- go back, I mean- Tyra or Tortall or anywhere- I completely understand. Do you?"
Pause (thump thump thump) and for the first time, as she looks out at the horizon, she catches that impossible, liminal moment between dusk and night, yes and maybe, fear and denial.
"I will not leave you alone, not ever," he says and nothing more must be said and he wraps his arm around her shoulder and they don't acknowledge they're crying, but they are.
They still have a job to do, a girl to rescue, a country to save, and there will always be more, more, more to do, won't there? It's too much and she's finding that, in her heart at least, this was always about escaping that burden known as duty(she failed at failing, how pathetic is that?).
Lianne hiccups. "I killed a man today."
"I know," Lerant says.
"Aren't you- doesn't it- no, no, no, I couldn't. I'm not any better than them." Lianne turns her head into his uninjured shoulder.
"No, you aren't," he says firmly, and she looks up at him incredulously. "You aren't any better. You did what you had to do. It doesn't make it right but you did it. Let's focus on getting east."
"What did they do to you in there?" she says as she steps away to open their packs.
"It doesn't matter, Lianne," he says flatly.
"It does!" she starts to argue. "And- oh, all right." Her shoulders slump because he is injured and it's her fault and the least she can do is drop a matter he clearly doesn't want to talk about. He is so much like Roald that homesickness hits her (suddenharshohgods) again.
"Tomorrow," she says. "We're heading through a fairly large town, so be prepared."
He must nod because she doesn't hear anything after that. She rolls out her bedroll and finally, finally gets to sleep.
Disclaimer: The world and characters of Tortall belong to Tamora Pierce, not to me.
AN: Well, that was a longer wait than I intended! Sorry about that. I decided to skip the cliffhanger this time- you've suffered enough. Reviews are lovely and be on the lookout for a new chapter sometime in the next month or two. I've started school, so it's unlikely updates will increase in speed, sorry.