The chapter house courtyard was windy and cold. Winter Veil was in the air, the leaves having long ago fallen from the trees, and the roses that Ryn so carefully tended wore a layer of frost, clinging to the edges of the petals.
She stood on the stones of the yard, clothed in a pair of leather pants and a sleeveless shirt. Her burn scar could be seen grazing over the top of her collar in the moments when she raised her sword arm, bringing the practice sword up above her head over and over again, blocking an invisible opponent.
The mess of her back was pink and brown, melted flesh mottling into the remainders of pure skin on her shoulders.
Ryn’s breath hung in the air.
She blocked, and then she blocked again.
Veldarin watched for a while under the arch, arms folded. She didn’t seem to notice anything going on around her, focused on the motions, over and over again. When it looked like she wouldn’t be stopping anytime soon, he called to her.
She kept moving. “What.”
“Come have dinner, they’re shutting down the mess hall for the night.”
“I’m not hungry.” Her arm blocked. Up, and down again.
“Then keep me company.”
“I’m BUSY.” She threw the practice sword onto the ground, grunting.
“Maybe I need you to not be busy.”
Instead of answering Ryn put her face in her hands, hunched her shoulders, and started to cry. She shook with noiseless tears.
“Hell, Ryn.” He went to her, putting an arm around her. “Let’s go inside. It’s cold out here.”
“I don’t know how to be me,” she said, her voice watery, tears tracing lines down her cheeks.
“Trust me, dear, you’re very you. And I love you. Come inside, we’ll talk about it.”
“No.” She turned her face away from him, looking at the stones beneath her feet.
He sighed. “So let’s talk about it here, then. Let me help you.”
“What is there to talk about, Veldarin.” She wiped her face with the back of her arm. “I am wrong. I am.”
“I don’t care if you’re wrong, or not wrong. I care that you’re miserable. I care that I can’t do a damn thing about it.”
“Dorri is right. You shouldn’t love me.”
“You can’t tell me what to do.”
“You don’t get it.” She grimaced, and started crying again. A low and plaintive wail escaped her. “They took you because of me.”
“And I’d go again if it meant you didn’t have to do it alone. Ryn, love doesn’t make sense, and you can’t make me shut it off just because it’s hard.”
“They wouldn’t hurt you,” she said as she wrapped her arms around herself, beginning to shake and shiver. “If you just left. If I were just alone. If I could change…I would. But I can’t. I don’t know how. I can’t.”
“Whatever needs to happen, I sincerely doubt that you can’t do it. You’re the most determined person I know.” He put both arms around her, pulling her in close. She was cold.
She leaned into him. “I don’t want to hurt you, too.”
“Too late, babe.”
She looked up at him then, her mouth open, eyes filled with tears. “Why?” she asked.
He looked at her, then down, jaw working, mulling. “You hurt me more than anyone, Ryn.”
“Why do you stay with me?”
“Because you’re it. The girls my mother threw at me, the women I met at parties, the ones I took home or the ones who never even made it that far? They couldn’t hurt me if they tried, because I didn’t give a shit about them. I care what you think.”
“I love you.” She gripped his shirt in shaking hands. “I wish I could be better for you.”
“Fuck, Ryn.” He rested his chin on the top of her head. “I want to help you. I wish you’d let me. Or anyone.”
She nodded. “Yes. I do, I…what do I do?”
“First you come inside and lie down with me, because I’m fucking freezing out here. And so are you. Then I’ll tell you whatever you want to know. Okay?” He kissed her forehead.
“Okay.” She shook. “Okay.”