We raced to the market and searched quickly through the ranks, fighting a mix of shadows and Brayton’s actual soldiers. But we both froze when we saw it.
Count Caleb had been swarmed, his axe was not doing what it needed to do. We both raced over.
“Athena,” Martin called, “get him back to camp.”
“Yes,” I said as we pulled him away. Aaron was pale.
“Aaron,” he whispered, “is she,” he swallowed.
“She’s safe,” he said, “she went into the palace.”
“Good,” Caleb exhaled and then lost consciousness. I looked at the man I loved as we rode back, his father strapped to a wagon. He didn’t say anything.
“Aaron,” I said softly. He looked at me. “Marina will know what to do.”
“I hope so,” he said as we arrived. After he was settled in, we stood quietly outside the tent. “I should, my mother, and Lisette.” I took his hands.
“You don’t have to,” I said, “go be with him.” He touched my face. “Say what you need to.” He pulled me close.
“I don’t want this,” he said, “I don’t, I can’t.” I clung to him. I remembered that feeling, the hollowness, how suddenly you realized a part of you was gone that would never come back. “What am I going to do, Thena?”
“I don’t know, love,” I whispered to him. “I don’t. Come to me if you need me though.” He smiled softly and kissed me.
I wandered back, feeling ghostly, people were streaming into camp, injured and dead and safe and sound and everything in between. We won, that much was clear. I knew I should find Annalise. And Tristan, but I couldn’t. I found myself in the command tent. Elodie was standing with Martin and they turned. I ran and hugged her.
“I’m so glad you’re safe,” I whispered to her.
“You too,” she said. “Commander, General, I should check on my squad.”
“Of course,” Martin said and nodded, she saluted, “dismissed.” She left. “We need to promote her.”
“She’d make a good Captain,” I said, “I always thought so.” He nodded and we sat down. “He’s dying.”
“I know,” he whispered, “Olivia went to him.” I nodded. “Is Aaron alright?”
“No,” I whispered. “How could he be?” He took my hand. “I wish I could be happier that we won.” He laughed. “I keep thinking of my parents. I wish they could see it.”
“I know,” he said softly. “I should write to my brothers, they’ll be glad to know they can come back.” I smiled and stood up. “Just be there for him, Athena, as much as you can.” I nodded and went to my tent and found Aaron waiting for me.
“How was it?” I asked. He swallowed and we walked in and sat down.
“Difficult,” he said softly, “my mothere’s there now, and Lisette. He’ll prefer that.”
“Oh, Aaron,” I whispered and we lay down holding each other.
“We talked about Pantona,” he said softly, “for maybe for the first time in my life, about home and how he trusts me to it.” I buried my face into his chest. “He apologized, we were always supposed to have more time for that part.”
“I don’t know how it works for you,” I said softly. “Caleb was a warrior, I’ll sit vigil for him, if that’s what you’d want.” He laughed.
“We don’t honor the gods, Athena,” he said softly, “those are for those above us, and those below. Our soul belongs to home, to Cammadan itself, to Pantona, to our families.” I’d never heard him speak on it. “When it’s over, my mother and I will light candles, and we’ll say the names of each Count. When we have children, I’ll name one for him.” I smiled and cupped his face.
“Who are you named for?” I asked. He smiled.
“My great grandfather,” he said softly, “My father loved him, and never much liked his own father.” I laughed.
“Have you put a lot of thought into our children’s names?” I whispered.
“I’d always thought something with John and Alexia,” he whispered, I closed my eyes and he pressed a kiss against my forehead.
“I love you so much,” I whispered.