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Return to Part V (second half)
It would’ve been too tough to explain what’d just happened, so we didn’t try. Only John—and Alison, I suspect—got the whole story, and even though the King knew of Dariel, he still shook his head in disbelief. If I hadn’t been there in person, I wouldn’t have accepted the story myself. It made our negotiations all the more urgent, and Bram helped guide things to the necessary conclusion. By the end of the morning, we’d arranged for Amelior to keep the lands west of Belfalas, and for Belfalas to be neutral once again. More important, we’d agreed to send ambassadors west with Alexander’s returning army to prove to ourselves the Goblins existed and that they threatened the Eastcountry too.
Speaking of threats, Alison must have made her own. Bram’s wedding was only a few weeks later, and it was an interesting little do. Alison was more obviously pregnant than most brides, but with me standing there by his side, I don’t expect Bram heard many wise-ass comments. I hadn’t given up my sword. I was surprised by how many important people came, and I suspected the Queen’s hand had been involved. The royal seal of approval was a nice gift to Alison—and to Bram, now that I thought about it.
On the whole, things went pretty smoothly except that Bram didn’t sleep a wink the night before. Explain that, if you can! He wouldn’t even have a drink or two to relax himself. After the way the two of them had been carrying on for the last half-year, and all we’d been through together, it made no sense at all. Alison was pretty and cool all through the ceremony and—from what I’d heard from a female friend—the night before. Actually, to be blunt, she was so smug about the whole thing it sent a chill down my spine. I guess women are all the same when it comes right down to it.
Even with all this fuss going on, things started getting dull again. People were too happy for me to find anyone to fight with, even when they didn’t recognize me and offer to buy me a drink instead. Bram and Alison had gone away together, and John, of course, was too busy most of the time. I started getting fidgety again.
After a time, I met a guy from Volonor, one of their commanders who’d stayed behind to act as liaison when their army left. He and I got to talking about how Somorrah would be acting up again soon, and how there was growing pirate activity along the coast. I’d never seen the sea before, and that perked my ears up pretty quick. And just after I’d told him I would think long and hard about his offer, John let me know he needed a man who knew which end of a sword to hold to accompany our ambassadors and look into this business with the Goblins. That was even more tempting than Volonor’s offer... I wanted to see where Bram’d come from, and to see what a Goblin looked like too. I accepted John’s offer and made my arrangements to leave, then went looking for Bram.
I found him by applying just the right amount of silver to a few knowledgeable palms, and managed to pry him out of Alison’s clutches for long enough to get him alone. We talked a while about nothing much, until he brought up what was on my mind. He’s almost too bloody perceptive.
“You're restless, Gareth, and rumors have reached me that you accepted a new commission. Want to talk about it?”
“Not much to say. My job’s fighting, and that’s over here.”
“So you are leaving us?”
“For a while. There’ll be a few ambassadors going to Amelior in a day or two—you know, to figure out what’s going on there and how important it is for us to join in. Someone has to keep an eye on things and figure out the military part of the equation. Maybe kill a few Goblins and bring them back, packed in salt, to make the Eastcountry believe in the problem. That’s my kind of problem.” I tried a longshot, not serious. “Maybe even your type of problem if you want to tag along. For old times’ sake.”
“You know the answer to that already.” He smiled, awkward. “Alison will soon be near her term, and I can neither bring her with me, nor leave her. Even if I could, I doubt I will ever be welcome in Amelior’s lands, treaty notwithstanding. Moreover, John has asked me to help conclude our negotiations and to ensure we understand enough of the Westcountry to be of use to them when we go to Amelior’s aid.”
He grinned. “Did you ever doubt it? Even if there was resistance, I suspect Dariel's 'higher power' will not let events follow any other course. In any event, John has offered me the position of chief advisor on western matters... now that I have given up my other trade, and for as long as I am allowed to serve in that role.” Bram shivered. “With the child due soon, that fits best with our plans, so I accepted.”
“Yeah, John told me. But I don’t want to get fat and lazy just yet.”
“Meaning that I will?” We smiled at each other. “Just make sure you stay alive long enough to get fat and lazy. Someone will have to teach my sons—and daughters too, I suppose—to defend themselves. And I suppose it should be a man I can trust. The formal war may be over, but there are many fights yet to come with the council; a councilor's children bring a good price on the black market.”
“Then you’d better pay me well, hadn’t you?” We both laughed. “Just make sure you take care of yourself. I haven’t got so many brothers I can afford to lose the ones I do have. I’ll be back now and then to make sure... as long as your wife doesn’t try to rope me into changing diapers. Every man has his limits, and I’m betting she’ll try to push me to mine.”
“See that you do come back.”
We embraced then and went our separate ways. Next day at the same time, I was on horseback and riding west with a new companion, one of Amelior’s junior commanders. John’d agreed it would be wise for me to go on ahead of the ambassadors and scout out the lay of the land. The letter of commission in my pocket, signed by both Alexander and John, would get me past any guards and would pay for room and board wherever I wanted to spend the night.
When I rode out past the palace walls, I resisted the urge to look back. I’d said my goodbyes, and wanted my mind on what lay ahead, not what lay behind.
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After Gareth left, I rejoined Alison. John had given us a few days in which to be married and to spend uninterrupted time alone. I was not going to leave her during that time if I could help it. Nor ever, for that matter, not even when I rode to Belfalas towards the end of summer to inform them they were now neutral in name, but vassals to Ankur and Amelior in fact. Alison and I had talked about it for a long time, and it was good to see how relaxed the idea made her. She was uncomfortable about me leaving the military, for she knew that people would talk. In the end, though, she understood and accepted my reasons. After all, it meant that we might never again be separated, not knowing whether we would see each other again. That soothed me as much as it did her.
The next day, we stood on our balcony watching Gareth ride away. I stood behind Alison, holding her contentedly as she leaned against me and waved to him. For a moment I felt a deep sorrow; I should have there beside him, riding tall and waving back at Alison, almost managing to convey good cheer. But for better or for worse, Gareth’s back was no longer mine to guard, at least for a time. My regrets vanished as the woman before me snuggled deeper into my arms.
Gareth disappeared around a corner, and for a time, Alison and I stood motionless. Then, beneath my hand, there came a tiny movement. Our eyes met, and there was perfect calm in that meeting. And a new life.
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