Yurieth hugged Roserae before he boarded a transport for Xelusia, she sobbed quietly in his mother’s arms as he walked away. He hated it when she cried, and she hated it when he went back to the war. Almost a century had passed since they had been joined but this time his leaving her was different. This time she was pregnant and he would not be home to see his daughters born.
Abrieth waited patiently for his twin. “Perhaps you should take a year’s leave.”
Yurieth flashed his brother a dark look. “That would only further her ridiculous notion that I would abandon my duty to the kingdom for her.”
“Yurieth, she is pregnant. She is supposed to be emotional and worried since we are at war,” Abrieth pointed out as they edged into the small room they would be sharing. “She loves you.”
“She knew what I was when she agreed to marry me, she also knew I did not wish to have children until after the war,” Yurieth answered coldly.
Abrieth stared at him, exclaiming, “By the light, you don’t love her.”
“I do too.” Yurieth snapped in defense. “I just... I just... I don’t know. She is so clingy, it annoys me. I could barely get away to take a walk in the woods this time. I am unsure of what she expects of me, and I don’t know if I could be the thing I think she wants. Her fear is overwhelming, smothering... I don’t know how much longer I can stand it.” His last statement is as much of a confession as a realization.
“Yurieth, you need to figure this out, you will be a father before we return home.” Abrieth said quietly. “I am going to find my warriors.” He left his brother alone to his musing.
Many were packed onto the transport; the newer engines would mean the trip to Xelusia would last less than two days instead long three it had before the Aetherians pushed the Xelusians from their world. The Aetherians now held half of their enemy’s planet. And more than that, the Aetherians were working hard to restore the lands of the Xelusians to usable territory. Farms were built, towns were managed, and no one in the Aetherian occupied lands feared for their lives or that they would starve.
Yurieth looked through the troop movements and intel updates, much had happened in the year he had been at home, but it was now mandate that for every nine years the warriors spent at war, they would spend one at home. He looked at the missive from the king, the Aetherians were to hold their lines and offering sanctuary to any refugee. There would be no advancement of the lines for the next decade. For the two-day trip, Yurieth studied the reclamation of Xelusia. Forest had been replanted with saplings from Aetheria , waterways purified, fish stocks replaced, herd animals replenished, and renewable crops grown. The Aetherians were remaking the wasteland the Xelusians had turned their world into.
After landing, he went to his assigned post. He hated that his duty basically was a watchman in a tower on the edge of the new forest. He spent his days doing nothing but carving wood and tending the new growth forest, protecting it from illegal lumbermen and poachers. He spent his nights wishing for an assignment to relieve his boredom.
During the seventh year he was surprised to come home to his station and find a familiar face sitting on the stairs.
“Calisto, it is good to see you.” He said as he hugged her.
“Yurieth, I can’t believe they have you here, we need you in the south. Mauraders are attacking refugees, the Amazoi believe they are led by a former Assassin of the Blood Brotherhood.” She explained.
“Why wasn’t I informed of this?” He demanded angrily.
“I don’t know, I have repeatedly asked for you to be sent, but they said your duty was too important. I had to search you out because no one seemed to know exactly where you were.” He led her inside and had started to pour them some wine when she added, “I was told to stop looking for you, that you were unavailable for duties that involved risk by royal mandate.”
His eyes narrowed and he realized he had been placed here not to work, but to be kept safe from the battles. He suspected his mother had something to do with it, or perhaps the Queen was trying to protect her cousin’s husband. He realized Roserae would not hesitate to ask it of Xena and it made his blood boil that she would interfere with his honor and his duty in such a manner.
“Sorry, I just realized something about why I was put here, and it has nothing to do with the needs of the war and everything to do with the needs of my pathetic wife.” He growled handing her a goblet and downing his in three quick gulps.
Calisto raised an eyebrow at him. “So joined life isn’t going as you expected. I thought you Aetherians all had perfect unions.”
“Not perfect and I will no longer be married once I return.” He announced, enraged at the manipulation that had him wasting six plus years tending woodlands. “I will not be held hostage by another’s petty fears.”
“That is why Amazoi don’t get married, no attachments.” Calisto held out her goblet and he refilled it. “That’s why I liked what we had, what we could have again.” She smirked when he hesitated, thinking Aetherian men were so easy to seduce.
“I couldn’t do that until after I am separated from her. It would be dishonorable.”
“What’s dishonorable is that you were forced to marry that pathetic healer.” Calisto shrugged, she finished her second glass of wine and set it aside. “No one ever found out then, no one will know now. I’m just saying I am yours, but if you’d rather be lonely...” She stood up and walked over to him. “No one needs ever know.” Then she kissed him, and he didn’t resist.
Three weeks later, Yurieth stood on the edge of a high cliff next to Calisto. They were watching a caravan of supplies and refugees winding through the canyon toward an ambush, but they had seen no sign of the alleged brigands. Calisto seemed nervous as she laughed about it being like old times. He eyed her curiously. His intuition was shouting at him that something was very wrong. And his conversation with his brother last night had not helped the nagging feeling. While he was tending trees for six years, eleven of his Huntsmen had been lured off on their own and killed.
“Calisto, is there something you are not telling me?”
She looked at him and knew he knew so she turned and faced away from him. “They have my sister at the Temples of Ashwrath. They caught us together, held us for decades. You don’t know what they did to us, Yurieth. You promised your king was coming soon, but a century passed, and I spent half that time in chains, being bled for their altars or used in ways I don’t want to remember.” Slowly, she dropped her throwing blade into her hand; her body shielding her movement. “You shouldn’t have lied about coming back; you should have stayed with me. I loved you then. I know you loved me; you still love me.” She turned suddenly to throw the blade, but he was standing mere inches from her and caught her wrist easily. “You shouldn’t have killed King Apollyon’s son, Lord Yurieth. They won’t stop coming for the Huntsmen until every last one of you is dead.”
His blade was embedded in her heart. It was so sharp she didn’t even feel it slip in or out, just the warmth of her life’s blood flowing down her front.
“I’m sorry, Calisto. I was hoping my brother was wrong, that you weren’t the one I would have to kill.” He held her gently as she sagged, lowering her to the ground.
Tears flowed down her face and she coughed blood onto him. “Save my sister, you owe me.”
“I owe you nothing.”
“But... but...I love...” Her head lolled to the side as she died, cradled in his arms.
He pushed her dark red braids to the side, looking at her strong jaw and prominent cheek bones, the rich tan of her skin and full lips. Suddenly, he wondered if he had the capacity to love anymore. Here was a woman that should appeal to him in every way and had betrayed him almost to death, and yet he felt almost nothing. He sent a thought to his brother to come get her body. Standing, he looked to the east. His sword flashed as he removed her head so she could not revive.
“Goodbye, Calisto. I will try to find your sister.”
Then he vanished into the desert.
Arriving at the Temple of Ashwrath a month later, he found it busy. The blood mages and their priestess witches were going about their business of evil. However, after a month in the stench of blood magic and perversion, he had found no sign of Calisto’s sister and he wondered how long the girl had been dead. The priestesses seemed intent on some kind of magic that involved music, he listened carefully but it only made his head hurt. Rolling his eyes, he took his leave. Singing to create magic was the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard. So, he moved on to the next city and the next set of temples. He never found Calisto’s sister or proof that she had ever existed.
After almost ten years of moving within the Xelusian kingdoms, Yurieth slipped back to the Aetherian lines.
Regulus found him sitting behind his desk with his feet up.
“I brought you a present, Guardian.” Yurieth announced coldly.
Regulus eyes him like an enemy, “You’re are absent from your assigned station, Huntsman.”
“So, tell my mother on me, or the Queen,” Yurieth taunted nonchalantly.
Regulus snorted in amusement, “I told them you would figure it out and be angered. What did you bring me?”
Yurieth smirked, “Intel. Maps. Troop movements. Mage counts. All the secrets of Xelusia.”
“Very good, Huntsman. Now, go home to your daughters, I will see you on Aetheria in ten years.”
Yurieth surged to his feet, “Ten years!”
“You heard me, Huntsman. You will be training me a new crop of your kind at the King’s Academy since your lover killed a third of them here.” Regulus announced. “Remember skills first ,then magic because...”
“Magic will not make up for poor skills.” Yurieth finished hotly. “And she wasn’t my lover.”
“Mmm, of course not... You have a lovely wife of royal blood at home.” Regulus looked at him with a great deal of disapproval then stated, “Lord Yurieth, Huntsman of the House of Adamos, you are hereby given a reprimand for dishonor and dereliction of duty and reassigned to the King’s Academy until further notice. Enjoy your family.”
Arriving at the Adamos family home in the City of the Kings, Yurieth looked at the gate and steeled himself to see Roserae and his daughters. He had been shocked to realize he didn’t even know their names and been forced to accept that he had behaved with the highest dishonor toward his wife. He walked slowly toward the house. Several servants stopped in shock then bowed hastily. He could hear her singing in the back and wandered around the main building to find her kneeling in a small garden of healing plants. He stood watching her for several minutes, somehow she looked more beautiful than he remembered.
A baby cried from the open window of the nursery, and she rose dusting off her hands on her skirt. She froze, seeing him there. Then she turned slowly and went into the house. He followed her; it was not the greeting he expected at all. Inside, she went into the nursery and took her daughter from a nurse-mother and sat rocking her as she ate from a bottle. Neither spoke as Roserae tended their children and laid them back to sleep.
Yurieth finally said, “They are beautiful like you.”
Roserae whirled and slapped him as hard as she could. “I hate you, Yurieth of Adamos. I hate you with my whole soul. So, go back to your war or your wandering or your Amazoi whore, I don’t care. Just go.”
Her words wounded him. “My apologies, my lady. I realize now how hard my absence has been on you. I was only doing my duty as a Huntsman. I promise I will not be going anywhere for a long time. I have come home to teach at the Academy and to be close to you and our daughters.”
Her eyes widened like the full moon, “You are home for good? But... but what about the last two times you did not return, and that Amazoi woman.”
Yurieth reached out and pulled her into his arms, she struggled for a minute then just stood still refusing to embrace him back. “I was on assignment gathering intel on the whole of the Xelusian held territory and temples, I could not leave and return as one does to the market. But that job is finished now.”
“And what about her?” The jealousy and hurt was as obvious as the sunrise to Yurieth and he did not want her to suffer so he buried his dishonor as deep as he could in his soul and lied, “I do not know what this nonsense is, even the Guardian Regulus accused me of such, but I have cared for no one but you. I have fought alongside many Amazois, and I had to kill one who was a traitor, she tried to seduce me and failed. It was her treachery to lure other huntsmen to their deaths and my honor to end her life.” Rested his cheek on her hair, inhaling her scent of wild roses and patchouli. “I am home to be with you and our daughters. I am going to build us a house near my parent’s summer retreat and teach at the Academy. I promise I will never leave like that again.”
She pulled back to stare at him happily, her arms circling his waist. “Oh Yurieth, I... I was so afraid that you only came home to leave me forever.”
He pressed a gentle kiss on her lips. “No, my wild rose. Now please, introduce me to the beautiful daughters you have so graciously given me.”
“The little blonde one is Lily, and the darker haired one is Willow,” She said proudly.
“Willow and Lily, I like that.”