Ilvara gazes out the open window, letting the sky spit rain into her face. It’s been a week since the soldiers left, but word arrived a couple of days ago that the victory was theirs. It didn’t list how many survived. It didn’t confirm or deny Ilvara’s constant worry: Is Evelyn dead?
It is Quindie, the twenty-fifth of Viridis. In two days it will be time again to sit in the Sanctuary and listen to Gabriel teach from the Epistles. Ilvara does enjoy worship time with other followers. It distracts her from her worries temporarily, and the prayers and songs calm her distressed heart for awhile. Then, always, Evelyn enters her mind again.
Ilvara clenches the sill of the window. It’s so difficult to suppress the anger and bitterness in her heart. Despite the healing she’s had this week at the Sanctuary, every night she lies awake, wondering how Evelyn could leave her tied to that tree, how she could leave for battle without so much as telling her, after everything Ilvara had done for her?
I’m selfish to be thinking this way, she often scolds herself. When I helped her I truly didn’t want anything in return. It is cruel of me to be upset at someone who was simply doing what she needed to do. She is still Evelyn. She still doesn’t realize that what she does can hurt people. She doesn’t know her own power.
Even if she comes home alive, what will become of them? Will their relationship endure even while she moves on with Caius? Will Evelyn even notice Ilvara’s anguish?
Ilvara struggles to keep herself together. It is just so difficult when it feels like she has lost everything. Grogar visited on Secdie to gravely inform her that Hadrian was dead. He died during battle in Lockmire.
At least he fought for something. If not for me, then for Lockmire, she reminds herself, but even that relief is too small to quench the hollowness deep in her chest.
Priscilla has been such a vital support lately. Even when Ilvara has grouchily dismissed her, Priscilla has responded with meekness and understanding. Sometimes, she has even asked to sit with Ilvara. She has prayed with her every evening and often mornings, too. Lately, Ilvara has stopped dismissing her, instead welcoming her gentle company. She has even gone to visit the beggars again on multiple occasions. Priscilla finds it necessary to comfort Doran during his time of loss. He also needs much help caring for baby Priscilla Rose.
Truly, it pains Ilvara to consider leaving Tarreth. The Herus Sanctuary has been her lifeline. Without the encouragement of the other followers and the presence of Herus within this place, she does not know where she would be.
A shout in the street catches Ilvara’s attention. Her eyes fall on a cluster of guards rushing toward the door. At first she wonders if there is trouble, but then she sees more armoured men in wagons and on horses proceed inside Tarreth’s walls, shouting victoriously. Her eyes find a golden head, and the knots in her chest immediately unwind.
Ilvara rushes down the stairs two at a time, leaving her worry and frustration and bitterness at that windowsill, and races out the Sanctuary door. Suddenly, all that matters is that Evelyn made it back. Everything can work itself out now. They can start new, with no constant drape of death clouding their minds.
Ilvara stops dead outside the doors, her heart stopping with her. For some reason, there is a numbness in her hands that spreads up her arms and into her neck and face. Her eyes are planted on the golden head she had seen from the window, which is certainly not Evelyn’s, since she is wearing a helmet.
The woman next to Evelyn smiles hesitantly at the ornate buildings of Tarreth, gazing around. With her golden hair, blue eyes, and petite frame, she looks hauntingly like Evelyn.
No. She’s dead. She died in the village. She’s dead.
But her eyes tell her differently. Evelyn’s mother is alive.
The city is just as huge and foreboding as Goldie remembered it. She visited here years ago, directly after the first war. She had coloured her hair with coal and dressed in rags so she would not be noticed. Those were the days she used to spy for Esterden.
Goldie sees a quite pretty, pale woman with dark hair close to her own age standing in the doorway of what she assumes to be this "Herus Sanctuary" Evelyn’s been talking about the entire trip. Evelyn leaps off the wagon before it stops. She limps as quickly as possible to the woman and grips her in a tight embrace, saying something Goldie doesn’t hear. Goldie descends the wagon, still glancing around the city. It feels so wrong to be here.
Evelyn reaches back and pulls her mother toward the woman in the doorway. “Ilvara Deumont, I want you to meet Marigold Brightwater, my birth mother,” Evelyn announces proudly.
Goldie smiles stiffly and nods her head. Evelyn spoke so much of Ilvara on the way here. Apparently, she woke up in Ilvara’s cabin with almost no memory about seven years ago, and eventually everything began returning. Evelyn briefly recounted the times they’d spent travelling the hillsides, hunting to eat, and sleeping under the night sky. She even confessed she called this woman “Mama.”
“Good to meet the woman who raised my daughter,” Goldie says with a polite smile.
“Very good to meet you as well,” Ilvara returns with a seemingly genuine smile. Goldie reads a certain air of shock from her though. And there is some kind of deep unrest in her eyes. She must not enjoy her territory being threatened.
A dark-skinned woman appears at Ilvara’s side. “This is Priscilla. She is a minister here in the Sanctuary,” Evelyn says to her mother. “Priscilla, this is my birth mother, Marigold.”
“Goldie,” Evelyn's mother replies, nodding to the woman.
“Wonderful to meet you. Come inside and rest awhile. I’ll fetch some bread and wine,” Priscilla offers.
“Thank you," Evelyn says, "but I must first ask if you will allow a few more to join us. Asher is rather badly injured and needs a place to stay as well. And of course, Caius will stay with me.” Evelyn gestures toward one of the wagons, where Caius is helping Asher out.
“Of course. This Sanctuary is yours,” Priscilla tells them.
Alesia emerges from the Sanctuary, her blue eyes bright as she looks between the women. “Did you say Asher was injured?” she asks.
“Yes, and he’ll welcome the sight of you,” Evelyn tells her, then smiles gently. “As we all do.”
Alesia gives a smile, then rushes out to Asher as Priscilla ushers in the ladies. It has been nice to be well enough to walk around again. She has thanked Herus every day since she was able to stand up from that bed, and she has also prayed every day for Asher to return safely.
Caius and Asher approach the door, and Alesia steps to Asher’s side, following closely. His face is bruised, and there are cuts healing all over him. His leg and arm are heavily bandaged. Despite all this, his eyes brighten when he sees her, and he grins hugely. “Alesia! You’re up and about!” he says.
“Yes. Are you all right?”
“Oh, don’t worry about me. I just need a few days’ rest. How are you feeling?”
“Good" --she swerves to avoid two men exiting the Sanctuary-- “I eat two full meals each day with enough watered wine to drown a cow. I don’t feel sick at all anymore.”
“My dear, that is magnificent news. Follow me up, won’t you?”
Alesia stops at the base of the stairs to let Caius help him up. “I’m right behind you,” she assures him.
Upstairs, a Sanctuary minister directs the men to a room on the right side of the hall. Caius helps Asher to the bed, and once he has been laid carefully down, a woman comes to arrange his blankets. She and Caius depart, and Alesia stands again at his side.
“Alesia, I have to tell you something,” he says.
She pulls a chair forward and sits next to him. “That doesn’t sound good,” she replies.
He laughs slightly. “Well, I just wanted to tell you that I would have died on that battlefield if it hadn’t been for you.”
“Me? What did I do?”
“Caius told me as...as I was dying that, well, you wanted me to raise you in his stead. Was that true?” he adds, just to be sure.
“Yes,” she confirms with a smile. “He waited until you were dying to tell you that?”
Asher laughs again, relief flooding him. “We didn’t have much time to talk before that moment, I suppose. Perhaps he even forgot among all the chaos.”
“Was it scary? The battle?”
“Terrifying. But we won, so it was all worth it.”
“And you, Evelyn, and Caius made it out alive. That’s important.”
“Indeed,” Asher agrees, “and Evelyn’s birth mother too. She’s with us.”
“I noticed. You’ll have to fill me in once things calm down.”
Alesia smiles. “I’m thrilled to have you back,” she tells him. “We can start making plans.” Asher can’t help the tears that fill his eyes. When he tries to speak, his voice breaks, and Alesia cuts in. “Are you all right? Does your leg hurt? Shall I fetch a minister?”
He grins, shutting his eyes and letting the tears roll into the sides of his hair. “I just didn’t think I could be this happy, after everything,” he says shakily. “After your mother...”
“Me neither,” Alesia responds, then touches his shoulder. “But we will be.” She swallows hard. “We will be very happy.”
Asher nods in agreement, the future finally looking bright again.