Can a person who’s lived a life of sin be called good? I’d thought for a long time that the answer was no, but ever since I came to Luisant I’ve been reconsidering. How could someone like Cadence ever be called anything but good?
She inspired me to be a protector, instead of a killer. I watched her shield the lives and happiness of others with her body and soul, to sin so that others don’t need to. To kill so that people like Henry can save. It took me a while to figure it out, but I followed her example. I did my best to be by her side when things got dark so that I could see how she would shine, so that perhaps I could catch some of her light and learn to use it like she did.
I now see her for the rest of what she is. Someone who’s taken on more than they’re sure they can handle. Someone who rises to meet the challenges and expectations of the people around them, who pushes themself beyond their limits because it’s needed, who will burn themself at both ends if it means saving their community. Someone who is Just. So. Tired. She’s been chosen by her community to be their voice of reason, their rock, their sword, and their shield. What an Honor. What a Tragedy.
I know that she can’t keep it up by herself. The people don’t see me like they see her. I didn’t grow up among them, I don’t blame them. As much as I want to help her, I can’t take these responsibilities out of her hands. But I can stay with her when she’s overwhelmed. I can watch the town while she eats. I can hold a sword for a while, no matter how poorly it fits in my hand. I can be there when she feels alone. I can’t take this weight from her, but I can do my best to bear it alongside her.
I’ve never felt love in this way before. I look at her and I don’t feel giddy or nervous. My palms don’t sweat, my knees remain still, I feel none of the storybook romance tells. It was not love at first sight. Nor second, nor third. It was and is respect. Trust. It is knowing that I can show myself for what I am and not lose her, and the hope that she knows the same of me. Love like this isn’t measured in romantic notes or poems of adoration, but in the times we’ve set our jaws and faced the dark, and the sounds of our boots as we cross the bridge to protect our people.
Our wedding is as we live our lives; brief, blessed time carved out between crises almost six hours later than we’d intended. It’s no less special for its impromptu nature in my eyes, though. More people show up than intended and I feel that pit of fear rise in me. Alphonse’s magic steadies me, and Cadence quotes a curt and harsh line from the Testimonium. An insult to anyone else, but it puts me at ease. Henri asks us our vows.
I’ve never been one to put my feelings into words. And I don’t believe she is either. But we don’t need to be. Perhaps our vows seem strange to others. Harsh and pragmatic. Rude, even. But we know what they mean.
Don’t die. I love you. I trust that you will take care of yourself as you care for me. And I will care for myself as I care for you.
Kill Chiropoler. I will face the unknowable and stare down impossibility at your side. I will be at your back when I’m needed. I will be your strength when your arms falter. Nothing can defeat us if we are together.
Don’t be a bitch. I don’t trust easily. Relying on others is the hardest thing I can do, but I trust that you will be there for me. I put my soul in your hands of my own will. Do not hurt me.
We test our vows in the tunnels less than eight hours after we made them. I pull songs from my youth that I’d long thought forgotten to bolster her spirit, I cut off flanking routes for smaller threats, I distract the skull-monster so she can cut at it with impunity. I stand next to her as her family Saint blesses us, and I can’t help but see a similarity between them. Iron will and indomitable courage. I see what happens when someone gives too much of themself to protect their people in Gabrielle, and I resolve myself to not let the same thing happen to Cadence. I’ll be by her side when the end comes. We’ll face it together.