Time does funny things in battle. Seconds can become minutes. Hours can pass in the blink of an eye. And this phenomenon can linger long after a battle has ended. Our showdown with the fae was to be no exception.
Kate and I had dealt with the Sheriff, and set about outfitting the Falcons, those who were still in any shape to fight. After alerting Griever of his role in the battle, we combed the castle for armor, weapons, and any who still remained captive. By the time we made it outside...
It was over.
The fae king was dead, by Jem's hand no less. So much for the fae king's 'prophecies' and all that nonsense. I didn't believe in fate anymore. Destiny. I spent years believing in fate while my mother and I cowered under my father's hand. The day I took matters into my own hands... that was the day I lost faith in fate, and instead put my faith in me.
Not that there was much time to consider the fae king's words. The days after battle flew by in a whirlwind of bodies, burials, and burnings. If the dead weren't resting, then neither would we.
The Hawks and the Falcons split after that. Kate and her band looked to their own affairs in the forest, while I cleaned up after the Sheriff. Kate and I took turns visiting for short rides and detailed accounts of the days affairs. Boring stuff really. The news wasn't the highlight of these visits; it was merely an excuse to be in each other's presence. Though that would soon change.
Ten days after our victory, I left for the forest, patting my pockets for the fourth time in as many minutes. What they carried would soon be the highlight of the week. Maybe even the month. After all, we'd already won battles against the fae, but this... this was cause for real celebration.
As I rode along, I mused at how, just a few short months ago, this forest had been completely unfamiliar to me. Now I wondered how I’d ever been so lost in a place that now seemed so much like home.
My horse reared, nearly throwing me from the saddle. An arrow was lodged in the pommel of my saddle, and I wheeled Eldun around, scanning wildly for the miscreant who’d shot it. Was it fae? A sympathizer of the Sheriff?
Realization dawned after a few tense moments, and the knowledge that I’d been in this situation before hit me just before the laughter did.
“Kate! That’s not funny!”
She dropped from the trees, bow in hand, smile on her face. A real smile. When was the last time I’d seen one of those? Before the battle most likely. Which, I had to remind myself, had only happened the week before. Could have been months for all the work I'd been doing.
“Well I’m laughing” Kate said, as she climbed up behind me. I nudged Eldun into motion and we were off once again.
“So how long have you been waiting there?”
“Oh, not long… since a few hours… before dawn.”
I chuckled, and, remembering the reason for my visit, I hastily dug out a folded piece of parchment and handed it back to Kate.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“Just read it!”
She was silent for a long while. Longer than she’d need to read the words on that parchment for sure. When I looked back, Kate was staring at me. Hard.
“You said no, right?”
I blinked. That wasn’t the reaction I’d been hoping for.
“I… no, of course not. I said yes! Kate, this is a good thing-“
“A good thing? Corin, I thought you were staying with us! You and the falcons. We’ve been expanding the camp to accommodate you all. You knew that.”
“So we’ll use it at as a forest base. In case something happens. It’ll be a home away from home. I thought you’d like this Kate… the King would have just sent someone else if I said no."
“And we’d do what we’ve always done!” she said, punctuating each word with a thump on my back.
I pulled up on the reigns, bringing Eldun to a halt, and turned in the saddle. “Kate, what’s really wrong here? Wasn’t the whole point of the fighting to ensure we’d never have to fight again?”
Kate looked away, not meeting my eyes. When she did look back there was an old, familiar steeliness to them. “Our job is to keep an eye on the people. If you’re already doing that, what need is there for us, Corin?”
I blinked again, taken aback at her words. Trying to lighten the situation I joked, “Well, who’s going to keep an eye on me?”
“Guess you’ll bloody well find out, won’t you, Sheriff?” and with that she leapt from the saddle, and into the cover of the forest.
All of a sudden the familiarity was gone. The forest felt hostile all over again, just like it had been all those months ago when I first arrived. I turned around towards the castle, and though I saw nothing, I could feel the eyes of the forest on me the whole way back.
Did they notice me obsessively patting my other pocket? The one that contained my other reason for visiting?
The one with the ring for Kate?