After the Inn
Kaiva exits the inn and glances around to find Jalmari. Once she spots him, she goes over to him as casually and inconspicuously as possible, and quietly—hoping to not be overheard by anyone else—asks him for a private word.
Jalmari turns around as she approaches and waits for the others to walk some ways ahead. “Yes, Kaiva?”
Kaiva keeps her voice low and even. “Have I done something wrong?” She looks at him for a moment to gauge his reaction and then looks forward again. “You were upset with me earlier, and now…well, you’re still upset, but it’s different.”
Jalmari’s lips are a thin, pale line. “First there was this foolishness at the gaols,” he says. “You, the most wanted person in Easar, walked right into the heart of the enemy. Then your reckless assault on the Royal Archives itself. Kaiva, if you had been caught, not only would we have lost our best hope, but we would be compromised. You would not last long under the Inquisitors’ tools.”
Jalmari rises, pushing himself off the wall against which he was leaning. “If you are to be what you must, what you are capable of, you must be an arrow launched unerring at its target. There can be no wavering, no recklessness, no hesitation even in the face of temptation or death.”
Kaiva stares at him in surprise, her form rippling briefly. Then she takes a long, deep breath and looks away. “I know,” she says lowly. “You’re absolutely right. I’ve wanted this for so long…” she trails off, and then she looks directly at him, her jaw set in determination and a slight hint of desperation. “But you know that, don’t you? That I won’t hesitate when something needs to be done, that I won’t be tempted away from this goal?”
“I trust you in that,” Jalmari says, the tension easing out of his jaw. “Forgive me, Kaiva. The stakes are incredibly high right now—men have died on my watch—and I am not immune to the pressure. You have done well, and Guildmistress Solange has made it clear that at least some of what you have done was dictated by prophecy. You have also assembled a competent, if motley, assortment of traveling companions. They have served the Prince ably.” He gestures toward the Keep. “But now, let us speak to him directly.”
Kaiva preens a bit under the praise, relaxing now that they seemed to have reached an accord. She nods in agreement and walks alongside him for a moment.
What he’s said plays itself in her mind and she glances at him repeatedly out of the corner of her eye. She clears her throat, “When you say no hesitation…you mean for anything, don’t you? That is, not even a personal emotional bond, like loyalty or…or anything, right?” she asks awkwardly, glancing again at him out of the corner of her eye.
Jalmari glances down at her, and there is the flicker of a smile on his lips, something warmer than usual in his eyes. “No hesitation,” he says, and it sounds like it is as much a reminder for himself as anything else. “Not even for emotion.” He starts walking away to join the rest of the party, and Kaiva can barely make out the words he murmurs: “But if something comes your way along that arrow’s path, perhaps it is not reckless to give into that temptation.”
Kaiva stares after him in confusion, something that is like both hope and disappointment bubbling in her chest before she walks quickly to catch up with everyone else. She ponders over his words, trying to discern what they mean and she glances at him out of the corner of her eye again as they walk, not sure if she should say anything.
Finally, just before they get to their destination, she says quietly, not looking at him, “Just because an arrow veers slightly off course doesn’t mean it won’t hit its target.”
“No, Kaiva,” Jalmari says gently. “We must stay the course. What we find along the way is ours, but our lives are not our own.”
Kaiva takes a deep breath and nods, still not looking at him. “You’re right, of course. As you always are.”
“When this is all over,” Jalmari says, “when our work is done . . . then, perhaps, we can go back and live for ourselves, go back and find the simpler pleasures our course forced us to leave behind.” He pauses, and he looks less resolute than normal. “If they are still there, waiting.”
She looks at him seriously and directly, as though gathering up her courage. “I don’t…Trust doesn’t come easy to me, you know. There are many reasons for this. But I trust you, always, and I can’t image placing my faith in anyone else as I do in you. If you say it must be this way, it will be this way.” She looks away and lowers her voice. “I’ve always had to wait, for everything. Waiting for this is hardship like any other, one that I will endure if I must.”
“Thank you, Kaiva.” Jalmari puts a hand on your shoulder. It could be seen as comradely, but you sense something more. “If we make it through this . . . no, no. Let’s go see the Prince.”
She nods at him, then grips his wrist briefly. “Just…promise me something? If..things change. Or, should the worst happen, please get word to me.” She looks up at him, trying to convey to him how important this is. “Somehow. Will you do that, if you can?”
She takes the ring, placing it carefully in the pouch she wears around her neck with her most prized possessions, and then discreetly clasps his hand and smiles beatifically at him. “Thank you.” Pulling away, she takes a deep breath. “I will promise you the same, if you want, though I suspect you’ll be able to keep track of my movements better than I can keep track of yous.”
Jalmari smiles and squeezes her hand once before letting it go. “Oh, less than you think. You had me in a state of panic for the three months or so you were missing.”
Kaiva smiles a bit shyly at him. “Really? I was so worried when we parted ways after the warehouse. I had no idea if you’d made it or not, and that was only for a day. I can’t imagine not knowing for so long…” She frowns a bit and looks at him seriously and earnestly. “You will take care of yourself, won’t you? If I’m not to be reckless, then you’re not to be, either.”
Jalmari laughs. “I’ve never been reckless in my life.” He waves over the rest of the party. “Come. We have to go around to a side entrance to see the Prince.”
Kaiva raises an eyebrow at this, and then follows him and the rest of the party.