warning for: death
Strangely, it was anger more than grief that swelled in Isadora’s breast as they wrapped Kizia’s body in cloth and reed and whatever else the villagers had on hand.
Kizia had only been an apprentice. She was a year younger than Isadora was, and twice as bright as anyone at the Citadel. She was always so kind and helpful.
Futile as her anger was, she couldn’t shake it. It was unfair. It was wrong. Kizia had done something good, something brave and noble and right, and for that she had been punished.
There were no morals to the laws of the universe, and it weighed heavy on her shoulders. She couldn’t change what had already happened, but she needed something to be done about the bandits, preying on innocent, unarmed folk. It wasn’t right. Shouldn’t someone do something?
What if they hadn’t been lying? What if Queen Juliette was imposing herself upon the roads built by Chromium? That was barbaric, surely no leader would extend themselves in such a cruel manner.
Mishal stood stoic beside her as the final touches were set around their makeshift tomb. Gracia was lighting torches stuck in the ground in a ceremonial positioning, coaxing the fire to spark with her words. But she had been doing it for a long time now, lighting the end of the torch and then dousing the flame with another command, and then repeating the process.
Her heart ached to watch. What must Gracia be feeling?
“If Rowan were here, they would grow her favourite flowers,” Mishal said quietly. It quickly dissipated into the choking silence in clung the early afternoon mist.
He was looking better, but not healthy. His fever had broken two nights past, and he was still weak, but the wound had been tended to meticulously. Margaretta had insisted. His skin was still ashen, and he was shivering despite the fur shawl someone that the stable boy, Thaddeus, offered him. And he had already resumed his swordplay again, determined to stay in shape. Now more then ever.
“She liked bluebells,” she said, equally soft. Just as all other noise, it faded into the breeze.
Margaretta was standing nearby, overlooking the last efforts for the funeral service. She looked grim, more so then she had the entire expedition. Her hair was down, and there were dark crescents under her eyes. In attending to everyone else’s needs, she had been neglecting her own.
Villagers had given strings of beads and dyed cloths and dried bits of food. Offerings to the Wilderlands, offerings that would be borne by Kizia. It was much more of a funeral service than the others had, more ceremonial. Kizia probably would have been fascinated.
If Ashael was here, he would be whispering facts about services across Stellarsyl. About the Towers of Silence in the Ruby Desert, the ancient, expansive, and wondrous crypts of Chromium. He would find some way to shed light upon such a dire situation.
Now then ever, she missed him. She missed her family.
The last fixings on the wrapped Kizia were completed, and the two that had been working stepped back silently. Margaretta approached Gracia and extended a hand to touch her shoulder. Gracia look ready to drop. Margaretta whispered something to her, and Gracia nodded, before relighting all the torches she had put out.
Gracia must have been exhausted, to use so much magic, but nobody had tried to stop her. To have an outlet, in that moment, was likely what she had needed.
Forestter and Gillian had offered to carry the body to the edge of the fence, where the tamed land turned feral. There was no telling what they would find, but at least the land closer to the domesticated earth would be less wild then that further in.
They held a silent ceremony. Nobody had the energy to perform anything extravagant, nor the equipment. Margaretta looked frustrated until Kizia’s body was carried away, at which point she disappeared. Gracia followed Forestter and Gillian, moving more like a spectre than a person.
The sun was already beginning to fade by the time they had finished. She and Mishal sat on the fence of one of the livestock pens, where they watched the brood of ornamental fowls pecking at the ground.
“We haven’t even gotten to the ruins yet,” she said. Mishal was silent. But they had been quiet the entire day, and she was sick of the chill and the silence and the foreboding grey mist hanging the air. “Do you think Margaretta knew it would be so dangerous?”
He shrugged, tugging at the edges of the furred shawl. He had never been good for the cold. “I don’t think she intended it to be this dangerous before we got to the ruins.” Then he shook his head. “Unless whatever we have that other expeditions didn’t is some kind of mythical shield.”
She turned at the crunch of footsteps on the chilled, damp grass. Thaddeus offered her a brief smile, holding two bowls of food. She smiled back, and just as soon as she did, he was already turning towards Mishal. His expression grew shy.
“With all that’s been on today, I thought the two of you might need some food,” he said, holding out the bowls. His accent was curling and gentled his voice.
She accepted gratefully, as did Mishal. “Thank you,” she said, when Mishal didn’t immediately respond. “It’s much appreciated.”
Thaddeus dipped his head. “You’re welcome,” he said. He eyed Mishal. “I saw you training yesterday. You…’ve got great form.”
Mishal tilted his head. “Oh, thank you. And for the food, and the shawl.” He took a bite, though his hand once unoccupied went towards where the wrapping was hidden beneath his trousers. “Do you train with any weapons?” he wondered.
“Oh. No. I don’t think I’d be any good at fighting,” Thaddeus said. “But I liked watching you.”
She tucked a spoonful of the spiced oatmeal into her mouth as it curled up. Mishal ducked his head like he was embarrassed. “I’m not exactly up to par yet, but that’s what it’s for, I guess. I used to train with some others back at the Citadel, I could help you if you wanted.”
Thaddeus’ cheeks grew ruddy. “Maybe I’ll take you up on that.” He hesitated for a moment, watching Mishal, before he bowed to both of them and scampered off to, presumably, return to his chores.
For the first time that week, since everything had begun to go wrong, she laughed. Mishal gave her a funny look.
“I think you have an admirer,” she said, glancing off at Thaddeus’ retreating figure. “He’s nice.”
Mishal took a thoughtful bite, and then frowned in Thaddeus’ direction. “If he doesn’t do any training, how would he know whether I have good form of not?”
She smiled and shook her head. “I don’t think he meant your fighting form.”
It took him a moment, but then Mishal’s cheek darkened, and he glanced down into his food bowl. “Oh.” Then he met her gaze, and there was much more worry then the situation seemed to warrant. “Belle, he’s very nice, but I don’t— We’re not going to stay? There’s no time—”
“I’m sure he knows that,” she said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t overthink it. Do what feels natural. Or nothing. You don’t have to do anything.” She traced the furrowed lines across his face, and then raised an eyebrow. “I’ve seen at least one of the village girls approach you back home. Those flowers you gave to Lana when she wasn’t feeling well?”
He turned back to his food and took a bite. “That’s… different,” he mumbled.
She recalled the time Cassius had been trying to pry information out of Mishal about who could distract him in the library. He’d asked if there were any boys or girls who would be able to pull his nose out of a book, but he’d been so preoccupied at the time on meeting the challenge of there’s no girls distracting enough, he hadn’t paid attention to anything else.
“Oh,” she said, smiling behind her hand. “Cassius is going to lose his mind when he realises what he was doing wrong every time he tried to distract you in the library.”
“Good,” Mishal grumbled. “I was ready to lose my mind in the library. I could never focus.”
“The whole time, you stared at books and flipped through the pages just to pretend that Cassius’ distractions had no effect on you?” she asked. “The absolute pettiness of the two of you when it comes to each other boggles me.”
Near the barn, in the distance, she saw Gracia disappearing inside. There were those still wounded from the fight, like Mishal, and Kizia…
She took another mouthful of oatmeal and hopped off the fence as Mishal ducked his head sheepishly. She pat him on the knee. “I’m going to see what I can do to help Gracia. You better go easy on her when she comes to check your leg later, nor be conveniently missing at any point.”
“I wouldn’t,” Mishal said genuinely. “My only protests had nothing to do with… what, pride? There were others more injured then I was.”
She offered him a smile, though it was weak because her joy was already fading. The grey mist had settled back into her skin and her spirit, and she wanted to do nothing more than lie down.
But there was work to be done, and Gracia didn’t need to be doing it alone.
word count: 1,595