He crossed the room, and no one tried to stop him. He walked up the steps and looked down at me, his eyes searching mine, and then he pulled me into his arms, crushing me, his face nestled in my hair. “I already told you,” he whispered in my ear, “and I won’t take it back. I love you, Kazi of Brightmist, and I will never stop loving you, not through a thousand tomorrows. Come back with me. Please.”
My face buried in his shoulder, breath jumping in my throat. Make a wish. One will always come true. My fingers curled into his shirt, holding on to what I had thought was far beyond my reach, trying to understand what was happening, and then words tumbled from my mouth, words I didn’t want to hold back any longer, no matter how risky they might be. I didn’t care if every god in the heavens was listening. “Le pavi ena.” I gasped. “I love you, Jase Ballenger.”
“I know,” he said. “I’ve always known.”
I turned my face to his and our lips met, a kiss that was salty with tears. “My tomorrows are yours, Jase. I want them all to be with you.”
We held on to each other, tight, as if weaving some solid part of us together so nothing could ever separate us again, and when we finally parted there was no one left in the room but us, and I guessed the queen knew that my answer to her was yes.
* * *
Jase helped me with Mije’s saddle and pack. This time on our trek across the wilderness together we would have ample supplies and boots on our feet. We’d already said good-bye to the queen and king, and Jase had signed the necessary papers to begin the process of Tor’s Watch becoming a recognized nation on the continent.
He buckled the strap on my bag. “So does this mean I have to call you Ambassador Brightmist now?” he asked.
“Or perhaps Magistrate Brightmist,” I answered. “I think that is the queen’s intention.”
He pulled me into his arms. “I’ll definitely be misbehaving, just to make sure you have something to report. I wouldn’t want you to lose your job.”
We kissed again, like it was all delicate and new, and wondrous, a turn neither of us saw coming, and I knew I would fiercely fight to stay on this path, no matter what it took or what it cost me.
“Stop, would you?” Synové called.
Jase and I stepped apart as she and Wren walked over. Synové held up a small package tied with twine. “Just a little good-bye treat for the trail.”
“I’m not sure there’s room for one more thing,” I said.
“Trust me, you’ll appreciate it once you’re out there in the middle of nowhere.”
“I’ll find room,” Jase offered and took it from me. When he turned his back, Synové made all kinds of suggestive eye signals. Wren only rolled hers. I wished they could come back to Tor’s Watch too, but the queen had another mission for them once they had rested. I also suspected she wanted to spend some time with Synové to review how Bahr met his fate. It was already becoming legend throughout the settlement.
Wren shifted on her feet. Hissed. Pulled out her ziethe, spun it, and shoved it back in its scabbard. She shook her head. “You sure about this? Who will have your back?”
“I’ll be fine,” I answered, though I was still uneasy too. I knew Wren had heard the same deadly threats I had in those first hours after we had taken Jase and the
prisoners. His family had been quite articulate in their rage. No doubt the whole town held similar thoughts by now too. I would be a prime target.
Jase finished stuffing the package in my bag and turned around. “I’ll have her back, and I promise you, once I tell my family everything, they’ll be grateful to Kazi.” Jase told me Bahr and Sarva admitted to him they planned to kill the whole family, taunting him with some of the ugly details, especially regarding his sisters and mother. It had prompted their last scuffle. Once they no longer had a use for Jase, provoking him brought them sick pleasure.
Wren still looked unconvinced, but she nodded.
Synové leaned up unexpectedly and kissed Jase’s cheek. “Give that to Mason for me, will you?” she chirped. “I know he must be missing me terribly by now. Let him know I got here okay. It will be such a relief for him.”
Jase couldn’t suppress a grin, and maybe a bit of an eyeroll. We’d heard Mason’s threats too, not to mention we’d only seen him grudgingly tolerate her attentions in the first place. “I’ll let him know.”
We stood there awkwardly, none of us wanting to say good-bye. I shrugged. “Then I guess this is it.”
“Nooo,” Synové said and winked. “It comes later.”
Wren jabbed her with her elbow, then hugged me. Synové joined in. “Blink last,” Synové whispered before she let me go.
“Always,” I answered.
“Remember, Patrei,” Wren warned as they walked away, “watch her back, or we’ll come after yours.”
* * *
Late afternoon we stopped at a spring to water the horses and to rest. We’d been estimating how long it would take us to get back to Tor’s Watch. Three to four weeks at minimum, depending on the weather. The crispness of autumn nipped the air.