The leaves were already turning brown as the small group walked to the border. It had been a long summer, the heat still lingering as the trees shed their foliage. Lethe crushed them underfoot. Crunch. Music to her ears.
“Just how long is this going to take? The recruits need their captain to keep an eye on them, otherwise they’ll start slacking off,” she grumbled.
“Where are your manners?” Ranulf crossed his arms behind his head and turned to grin at her. “Escorting guests is part of your duties.”
“Watch where you’re going. I won’t be held responsible if you trip.”
“So nice of you to worry.”
“Would it be so much to ask for you two to stay alert?” Soren asked. “You insisted on accompanying us. The least you can do is keep watch for bandits.”
Ike laughed. “I don’t think we have to worry about that. No one would be stupid enough to attack us when we have two of Gallia’s strongest warriors on our side.”
“You give us too much credit,” Ranulf said. “I think brigands would be more scared of the Hero of Blue Flames.”
Soren shot him a sideways glare. “A flashy title like that will never catch on.”
“Oh? I think it’s perfect!”
Lethe ducked out of the conversation before it could turn into an argument, slowing slightly to match her stride with Ike’s. “Do you really need to leave?”
He blinked at her. Confusion, so typical of a beorc. “Gallia is nice but I don’t think I can stay here forever.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
He opened his mouth to reply, paused and closed it again. Silence. And then, “if there really is nothing out there, I need to see it with my own eyes.”
She sighed. “And the fact that no one has found any land besides our own in hundreds of years will not persuade you to stay?”
“That’s what we’ve been told but has anyone ever gone to check?”
“Your endeavour is foolish. You’d be better off staying here.”
“You sound like you want me to stay.” He smiled.
Lethe crossed her arms. “Bah, you’re speaking nonsense. How do you lead armies while spouting such idiocy?”
“Oh, look, her tail’s thrashing!” Ranulf shouted from up ahead. “She’s lying!”
She shot him a glare that could have melted the goddess herself. “Don’t listen to him. He’s trying to meddle, as always.”
Ike nodded. “Of course. It will take some adjusting though.”
“Not having you as my sparring partner.”
She almost stopped walking. Such a change in subject was surely a low beorc tactic. She took a deep breath, “I’m sure you’ll be fine without me.”
He shook his head, ducking under a branch hanging over the track. “No, I need to thank you. You said training in Gallia would be hard. You weren’t lying. But I did learn a lot from you.”
“Good. But no matter how strong you are, you cannot fight the ocean.” She bit her lip. “You won’t reconsider?”
He turned to her as they walked into a clearing. “As I said, I need to see it for myself.”
“This is as far as we go.” Ranulf said. He put his hands on his hips and sighed. “I really would like to take you the whole way but I can’t leave Skrimir alone for too long. He’s still a bit too... hands on with day to day duties.”
“I can imagine.” Soren shook his head.
Lethe turned away as they said their goodbyes. Stupid beorc. Always running off to places they had no business being. Always thinking they knew best. Why couldn’t Ike just stay in Gallia? Why couldn’t he just stay?
She clenched her fists. No, she was the stupid one. To entertain such thoughts would be shameful. He was a good sparring partner and would be missed. That was all. Nothing else. She would no longer permit herself to think beyond that.
Her composure wavered at the sound of his voice. Turning, she met an outstretched hand.
“What?” She grasped his hand in her own and shook it. It seemed like the right thing to do.
“Thank you for everything,” he held on for just a moment longer. “I know you’ll be a great captain. Goodbye.”
Watching the two figures, one tall and one short, slowly vanish into the trees seemed to take an eternity. Even when they were gone she found herself rooted to the spot. That was it. The end. All those years of fighting side by side and he was gone.
It might have been better if they’d never met.
“Hm? You okay, Lethe?” Ranulf tapped her on the shoulder. “It’s not like you to stare at nothing.”
She shrugged him off and started walking back the way they came.
“Nothing to say? Cat got your tongue?”His words reached her but she pretended not to hear.