The spring night fell upon the city, winter’s chill still clinging when the sun went down. Jehanne had hardly begun to consider her supper and the night was already creeping into the windows of her home. She sat quietly by the hearth, absently running her bare toes over the grout of the hearth stones. So many of her friends had made themselves busy elsewhere and she found herself alone much of the time. The corner of the small kitchen was decorated with a rough hewn table and many candles. She rose from he stool by the fire to light the candles passing a small window as she walked- there were no stars in the sky tonight.
The faint scent of tallow wafted from the candles as she began to burn them and she was distantly aware that the scent would settle in her hair. On and impulse- took a seat at the table, focusing her gaze on the empty chair across from her. She had seen him seated there many nights- laughing and joking in their own language, rifles and pistols spread in front of him. This thought was accompanied by a certain heaviness in her chest, as though something had settled there. She allowed her eyes to lose focus over the candle flame, imagination bringing his shade into focus across the table.
A man was seated at the table, weapons laid out before him, some oiled- some in the midst of disassembly. His hooded eyes were creased with smile lines as he looked up at her, the golds and browns of his beard soft in the candle light. “ We’ve to at least finish oiling the pistols before we sleep my love- they’re needed for tomorrow’s work”. The mind-conjured version of herself smiled and winced as the skin of her right cheek burned. She lifted one of her silver cups from the table and inspected her reflection. A long scar ran from her left temple to the peak of her lips, it was still the deep red-purple of a newly healing wound.
The scraping of chair legs on the rough stones jarred her gaze from the cup. His arms slid around her waist. “It will heal. I do not think it detracts from your beauty.” His strong hands rest on her shoulders- massaging gently “In fact, I think it gives you a certain fierceness. A lady Jack indeed.” He gently turns her in his arms, voice low “I am sorry about your hair though- I wouldn’t have let Walt take it if there had been any other way to get you free.” She nods softly- a quick movement unencumbered by the usual weight of her hair. “I know- and you saved me Lucien. I could never be angry at a husband who saved my life.”
Jehanne stepped backwards from her husband’s arms- towards the assortment of weapons on the table. “So we need all of the pistols cleaned, reassembled and shot must be allocated. What about the knives? Are we in charge of inventory or does Walt expect us to do the minor repairs to the loose tine as well?”
He closed the distance between them – hands settling into the pockets of her trousers “Let me make you laugh again Jehanne. I miss your laugh. Remember when someone mistook you for my apprentice? They thought you were a boy and nearly fell over laughing when I told them that you were my wife.” She felt the curve of her lips twitch involuntarily and laughter erupted with the recollection. “I love the sound of your laugh.” She leaned back into his arms “And I love the sound of yours.”
She reluctantly returned to her seat at the table “If I ever wish to take my husband to bed- I’d best start re-assembling these weapons” She pulled a pistol barrel towards her and began to swab it clean. Lucien remained standing, eyes surveying his wife. She was more muscular than when they had first met- her forearms had become much more defined as she had began practicing knife work. “You really do look ferociously beautiful my love- and you knife work is improving” his hands casually traced their way down her forearms, fingers tracing the outlines of a small braided leather bracelet. The strands had been deeply colored when he’d given it to her; rich brown and cold and red. The bracelet had faded now- the colored softened with ware and in the years since he’d gifted it to her it had lost its leathery roughness- becoming a part of her as they’de become a part of one another.
Her eyes followed his hand to the bracelet- and she felt his thoughts in that way of spouses “You’re remembering the night you gave that to me?” Lucien nodded softly- a smile creasing his eyes, “to be fair”- she added softly “after all of that wine- terrible wine I might add” “which you kept drinking!” He interjected in jest, “which we drank together” she emphasized. They laughed. She brought her lips to his wrist kissing the pulse there. “I really hadn’t expected that you know- I didn’t know you felt that way about me- but we made sense and I suppose there was something to be said for a night spent dancing and laughing, and avoiding everyone who would interrupt us.” She turned her head so she could meet his eyes, they were a lovely pale green and she smiled. He would always remind her of Spring and hope and briefly she wondered if their baby would have had his eyes.
Another occupational hazard. Mercenaries didn’t have children- not usually. She hadn’t known she wanted children until she had seen the joy in Lucien’s eyes that first summer after their wedding. Heard the joy in his voice when the spoke of all the things they would teach their son- who he would be. As if reading her mind he kissed her cheek softly “it wasn’t your fault Jehanne. These things happen. Thistle said you were lucky to live- and selfishly” he swallowed and she could feel a tear sliding down his cheek “I couldn’t have lost you.”
Their daughter had died in the fall. Born too soon- it wasn’t clear what had caused the birth. It could have been the fighting- or the new poisons she had been experimenting with. They had named her Amelia before laying her to rest in the cemetery. He had held her- and Stragosa had become Home- they wouldn’t leave her like that.
“I think about her too Jehanne.” “We never said it would be easy- I still choose you- I choose this” she gestured to the table and the small kitchen- to everything that represented their life. “if all the losses of my life brought me to you- and us- it has been worth it” his eyes welled as he spoke. She kissed him fully- silencing his words and her mind. “it’s still worth it- you’re worth it-“ there was something else there, but the words stuck and she let them rest. “Now help me with these weapons. We’ve still work left.”
The snapping of a damp log on the fire broke the silence of the kitchen, jarring Jehanne from imagined memories of a life that never was and would never be. Something that was not quite a smile passed over her lips. With images of his spring-green eyes still in her mind she knew that somewhere in herself she could have- or did- feel love for Lucien. The feeling gaped somewhere just above her stomach, hollow and tender and knowing. It was a satisfied ache, no longing or eagerness in that pain. It didn’t gnaw or pull, rather it lay contented with feline grace with her. The anger she had felt for him- for his words- stung less in the presence of those feelings, as if they provided some insight into the source of his anger. She sighed and began rummaging in the basket near her feet, searching for her own pistols- they were due for a cleaning. She paused, momentarily startled as her fingertips glanced over the smooth surface of an enameled music box. Her heart skipped a beat, recalling the letter inside. Picturing in her mind’s eye- the life that could have been
The spring air was thick with the scent of wild flowers blooming sweetly in the meadow beyond the estate and she welcomed the breeze as it blew through the open window offering a momentary respite from the flushed discomfort that seemed her perpetual state of being these days. Lady Jehanne Durant smiled as she adjusted her bulk against the cushioned window seat. Lord Sebastian- she still called him Sebo, as she always had and always would- had commissioned the window seat especially for her. A gift to remind of the window seat in her childhood home where she had so often waited for him to arrive. A pulsing flutter in her abdomen brought a smile to her face- less than two months now before they would meet their next child. She briefly wondered if this one would have his deep inviting eyes like her the other two boys- or the tawny gold of their youngest- Elise. Running her hand over the swell of her stomach, maybe they would be blue- they hadn’t had a blue eyed child yet and there was something so beautiful about blue eyes and dark hair. She was certain the child would have dark hair, even Hector who’s hair had been pale when he was born had come to have his father’s rich dark waves by the time he was four years old.
Her window overlooked the rear courtyard of the estate, and she could see Sebo- his hair escapings its tie as he lifted Henri above his head as Hector circled him planning his next strike with a wooden toy sword. The little boy was only three, but already sharing his mother’s love of the birds and the sky. She watched Sebo’s shoulders tense slightly, as though he could feel her eyes on him, and he slowly turned to meet her gaze. Even across the distance of the courtyard and through the window pane she could see the way his eyes shone- as though lit from within- and she waved as he smiled.
He gaze was drawn away from the window by the presence of a small hand pulling at her skirt. “Ma? To Ma?” the little voice inquired. Elise’s golden eyes peered up at her, perfectly matched to the ribbon around the waist of her tiny pink dress. Even though she was just learning to speak there was a precociousness to her voice and Jehanne imagined she would grow up to be a true Lady, in name and demeanor.
She lifted the little girl into her arms, only briefly regretting the additional heat the small girl brought to he already warm body. Elise placed her small palms against the glass, leaving little smudges as she moved her fingers to point at the boys in the garden. “Da- Heeri, Hecy” Jehanne giggled under her breath at her daughter’s pronunciation of her brothers’ names, but replied “Yes, Elise- its Da and Henri and Hector they are all outside”. The little girl turned to look at her as she spoke “We go side too.” It was more a statement than a question, but Jehanne replied simply “Ofcourse we can.” She scooped Elise up in her arms, shifting the little girl to her left hip as she slid from the window seat. Jehanne noticed with annoyance that it was less of a slide and more of a scooting motion- and for a moment she longed for her long misplaced agility. As she turned to face the door of the study she cast a glance towards the discarded notebook that was resting on the cushions. She hadn’t written in it in ages, and a part of her missed those afternoons she used to spend dreaming- but these days there was little time for dreams. So much of her life was a dream come true, there wasn’t a great need to dwell on what she didn’t have time for. Slowly she began to make her way into the hallway and out towards the courtyard, her love, and her beautiful sons.
A gentle rapping on the kitchen door startled her and she swiftly moved her hand to the pistol in her basket, suddenly aware of how alone she was in the guildhall. The blue of his cloak was the first thing that registered and she felt her body relax almost before her mind had connected the pieces. “Its you.” she giggled at the sight of her husband. She could call him that now, and the notion made her smile in an uncontrolled way only he seemed to elicit.
Bakara raised his eyebrows quizzically “Assan has moved the last of you belonging into the wagon- are you ready to leave?”
Had she ever been ready? Was anyone ever ready for a fall like that. To love in a way that burned all the lives she could have had to ash in its wake- scattering them to the winds like glancing memories. She had never been ready- but that hadn’t really mattered. Loving him had never depended on her readiness- but her acceptance that he was the force which bound her to the earth. She had chosen him, had chosen this- the one life she couldn’t imagine in perfect detail. She didn’t know what the future held for them- but she knew it held them together and that was enough. Having him was enough.
“As ready as I will ever be- take me home, husband.” She smiled as she offered him her hand and he took it eagerly, engulfing her small hand in his own. And without a backward glance they made their way to the wagon and to the life they have chosen.