The rest of the evening passed in a blur. When all was said and done Freya and the others were given a wagon with horses for gear and travel, along with rations and water for all of them to last a good 50 to 60 days.
Freya adjusted one of her knives as she watched Samson playing with their new dog, a must have for their journey that Samson had also managed to get from the baron. The dog, Maximus, as Samson was so calling him, was a larger breed and jumped for the stick that Samson held tauntingly out of reach. Samson looked amused and content as he threw the small branch. Maximus retrieved it with speed and precision, bringing it back and dropping it at Samson’s feet. The two had been playing since very early this morning and Freya smiled at the scene before her.
As she finished addressing her daggers Freya’s thoughts wandered to the baron.
Baron Brightwind was not anything like Freya had expected. Nor were his companions. Freya knew that she trusted the baron, but there was still something gnawing at the back of her mind about him. She felt as if she had awoken from a vivid dream but she was unable to recall any of its details. Like she had seen the truth but now was uncertain of it. There was something that the baron wasn’t telling them, she just had no idea what it was.
Freya picked up her bag and made her way to the back of the wagon deep in thought when she ran into James. He was checking the inventory, no doubt for the third time that morning, when he spotted her. The two awkwardly stood there for a moment. They hadn’t said one word to each other since he had yelled at her in the hallway yesterday. She hadn’t addressed him at all when they were making their plans in the dining hall the night before.
James cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable and not sure of what to say.
Freya adjusted the bag on her shoulder, “Everything in order?”
James looked down at the parchment in his hands unable to make eye contact, “We have what we were promised. It’s all here and accounted for.”
“Good,” Freya placed her bag on the back of the wagon. “I’m ready to go whenever you are Captain Highwater.” Freya saw his shoulders slump at the formality as she hopped up into the back.
“Freya I wanted to talk to you,”James crossed his arms in front of himself, unsure of what else to do with them.
Letting out a sigh Freya sat down, her feet dangling out the back, so she could look him in the eyes. “I’m not sure that we need to.” She fished in her bag for the apple she had stowed away earlier. “I’m ready to move on,” her tone wasn’t angry as she spoke, but tired.
Taking a bite from the apple she noted that it was just ripe enough and deliciously sweet.
The baron was right, the fruits this year are exceptional.
“About what I said,” his jaw tightened as he replayed it in his mind. “I was trying to help you.” His voice held more emotion than his words did. She knew he was trying to protect her, she knew he was trying to keep her safe and out of harm’s way. She knew him enough to know that he would do any and everything he could for her. He had already proven that many times over.
“I know,” Freya took in a deep breath. “But that isn’t what I need you to do.” She looked into his eyes. They locked onto hers and she had to take a moment before she spoke again. “I need you to trust me,” he looked away then, down to his boots. “You have to trust that I can take care of myself. That I’ll have your back,” she looked out the back of the wagon, out at the busy streets filled with Aggramon’s people starting their day. They rushed around the city as if in a dream. But this was their life, they were living it as best they could. Despite the dangers, the pain, the heartache, and the death. They all pushed forward. There was no other direction to go.
Freya looked over at Samson again as he rubbed the dog’s belly. They both looked happy. Those moments were what they all kept moving forward for. “Trust that I’m capable of living my life.”
James let out a long breath, leaning against the wagon and looking out at the city they were about to leave behind. “I’m sorry,” he stated still looking out at the people.
Those words, though simple, held so much emotion. Freya sat up straighter at the sound of them. They ran through her like lightning, a mix of fear and adrenaline, bristling the hairs on the back of her neck, sending a chill through her spine. She followed his gaze out into the crowd.
Not far off from their wagon, playing around a great oak tree that rested in the center of the square, were some children. There were two girls, each with dirty blonde hair and fair skin, their eyes alight with laughter. Chasing them was a boy with dark brown hair and a kind smile. He shouted and chased them as they ran around the tree, trying not to be caught.
The scene reminded Freya of her childhood with Anca and James. Life had been so simple then. That was when it hit her. He was apologizing for everything, everything, that she had been through, that he had put her through, that he couldn’t do for her. That they had let go of. That they had shoved away and left to become dust in the corners of their minds.
Freya placed a tentative hand on his shoulder. He looked away from the children, back down to the ground, as another long breath escaped him.
“I’m sorry too,” Freya whispered the words, afraid that if anyone else were to hear them the moment would shatter into a thousand pieces. But her voice held all of the emotion that she had bottled up. It was time for both of them to move on. James deserved it as much as she did, if not more for all he had done for her. They would always be tied together, and they would always have a past. But now it was time to look to the future, whatever that was.
He turned to face her, eyes once again locking onto hers. As she looked at him Freya’s eyes started to well up with tears. It was time to let go and move forward. She knew James felt the same.
He moved slowly, as if moving faster may scare her, and in a fluid motion he took her hand off of his shoulder and stood in front of her, her legs dangling by his sides. He stared at her for a long moment, her hand in his. Freya didn’t look away, both of them saying everything without uttering a word.
Slowly, a few tears rolled down her cheeks as she looked at him. She couldn’t hold them any longer, nor did she want to.
James gently wiped the tears away but his hand lingered on the side of her face. She felt a slight tremor go through his fingers and watched as a silent war waged within his eyes. Before Freya could react, James lifted the back of her hand to his lips. The kiss was delicate and sent her nerves on fire.
“I trust you,” he whispered. Releasing her hand he held her gaze for a moment more. Then he was gone, moving towards the others who now surrounded the dog, shouting orders.
Freya let out a breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding as the men finally made their way to the wagon. She quickly shifted out of the way as they all placed their own gear in the back.
James and Boom moved to the front. They sat in the long seat, Boom floating slightly, as James took up the reins. Freya noticed that the wood of the wagon was unfazed by the heat that Boom emitted. Aikos and Samson hopped into the back of the wagon, Maximus jumping in last. Freya stayed where she was, her feet dangling off the back, as the wagon lurched into motion.
As they headed for the gate out of the city Maximus came over and flopped down next to Freya. She smiled, unable to help herself, as she reached over and rubbed his head. As she did he stared out the back of the wagon.
Freya found her gaze drifting back over to the children around the tree. They were still laughing and playing, still holding on to innocence. They started to fade from view as the wagon pressed on.
Freya took another bite of her apple. This may be the last time she would see the city. She wanted to enjoy the moment. It was early and the sun sent beautiful oranges and pinks across the sky. There were a few birds chirping their early morning greetings. Despite the look of some of the buildings from recent attacks they rose and fell in a mesmerizing display against the bright skies.
This was her city.
She caught one last glimpse of the children playing as the wagon turned a corner. She swore that she could hear their laughter and she smiled to herself.
Freya knew in her bones that she would do all she could for Aggramon.
For the broken and beaten people. For her city.
As the wagon made its way through the gate Maximus moved his head into her lap, a small whimper escaping him.
Rubbing behind his ears Freya whispered down at the lovable mutt next to her, “I know boy, I know. We’ll be back soon.” She looked back at the sun rise, so beautiful against the destruction of the city.
“But first, we have work to do,” she took another bite of her apple.
Truly exceptional, she thought as the dust kicked up behind the wagon and Aggramon disappeared from view.