She tries not to think it could be for the last time. His is a Warrior, and she is so proud of him, proud to be his. On these mornings he needs her strength, and so she forces herself to stillness, and keeps the things she wants to say inside her head.
He ate last night, a large meal of his favorites that she prepared for him, with all of her love. They slept intertwined, his arms around her, making her feel safe. She wanted him inside her, but she knows his routine before battle, and he needs to be at full strength.
The first time, when she pouted, he told her that being with her was the most amazing thing, but there was a 30% chance that he would not be able to walk in the morning. She argued that he grossly overstated it, but in her mind she had to admit when they got going they got Going, and they’d wear each other out.
So she contents herself to lying wrapped in his arms, unmade love to, pretending to sleep so he will, but worried sick over the coming onslaught. He always tells her not to worry, it cannot change anything, but she cannot help it. She would never ask him to give up being a Warrior; that’s who he is, and she would not change him for anything. But he is also her man, and she wants him safe at home in one piece, piercing her, not hearts and throats.
He looks at her with such love and gentleness, with a whispered, “I will return to you, Inamorata, in this life or the next. Keep watch for the Color."
A fierce hug --stronger from her even than him--as if she could imbue him with her fury, and he is moving to the door, pulling on weapons and armor, his face hardening to battle-violence.
And then he is gone.
She tries to fill the time. She has been working on knitting a blanket for their bed during the bitterly cold months. She cannot keep her mind on what she is doing and gives up after a third missed stitch.
An attempt to read a favorite book goes nowhere, either, even one featuring ripped clothes in a moonlit garden. Normally she savors and suckles the scenes of violent need and frantic union in the midst of strife. Now they just serve to remind her of him out there in the snow and mud, the sweat and blood. She even feels a flash of jealousy for the story’s heroine for getting what she wanted and the thought shames her to the bone. She tells herself she is just missing her man.
She strains her eye, hoping to see the Golden Flag that signals Victory. She would even take the White Flag of Surrender, though she would die before uttering that thought aloud. Her heart stops as her eye catches an imagined swath of Red; every village woman’s fear. They will whisper about it in small groups of twos and threes.
Of the Black Flag, no one ever speaks. No one. Ever. No one even thinks it, but it rests in the subconscious; a shadow of unnamed terror.
There are other Flags of difference color combinations and symbols; explaining at a glance a score of different possibilities. She knows them all well, and she also knows that information coming back is often garbled. Rather than reveal every rumor, the Village Council has decided to only post what they can confirm, and it is common not to see the first Flag change until the afternoon wanes.
Finally, in the late afternoon, she cannot take it any more. Impulsively she straps a blade to her ankle by its sheath (and another hanging hidden down her back), quickly makes a bundle of bread and cheese with a skin of water brought up from the well, slips on the coat of ermine he made for her and quietly steals out of the village.
She knows what she is doing carries a great deal of risk, but she just cannot handle waiting here any more. She flows through the woods silently, a ghost unseen by hostile eyes. She knows the woods well, as she used to come here with him in Spring and Summer, picnic lunches and languorous afternoons, the canopied branches silent sentinels to their passion.
She knows if she can get to the Army Camp she will be safe enough, and if the Camp is overrun that means he is fallen, and if that happens she doesn’t care what happens to her anyway.
She doesn’t see anything. She doesn’t hear anything. But she senses something. Someone.
She stills instantly, wary, scared but not panicked, listening to her senses and searching for what does not feel right. She is not alone in the woods; of that, she is sure. Slowly, she frees her knife from its ankle sheath, ready to run if she can, fight if she has to, determined to sell her life dearly, showing the heart of a warrior, one befitting of whose woman she is.
Just ahead is a clearing; she knows enough to go around, to not get caught out in the open. She catches movement on the other side of the clearing and watches, ready for a trap. Whoever it is takes no pains to hide his presence.
Then he steps into the clearing, and she understands why.
Heart in her throat: is this a mirage? Could her man be here now, not fifty feet away?
He could. He would. He was. He is.
With a half bitten-off shriek she is running to him, eyes drinking in the sight of him, searching anxiously for signs of injury. There is blood on his body, but she can see it is not his. The blood of the vanquished bathes his glory: her warrior, her man.
She sheds her coat and drops her bundle (the knife she keeps; one never knows when enemies might be about), and leaps with abandon into his arms.
He grunts--no wounds does not mean no bruises--but she cannot bring herself to care about that right now. All she can think about, all that matters in the world is being in his arms, tasting him on her lips.
He holds her tight, the dust and sweat and blood of battle rubbing off of his skin onto hers. It feels wonderful. They cling to each other, kissing away the worry, the fear melting with the sweet heat of their embrace.
If she does feel the snow at all as it falls from the sky, it is as if she is wrapped in the pure White Flag of her Surrender.
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