From the branch that I was sitting on, I could see the village and the castle. It had changed so much in two weeks. Somehow, it all seemed brighter. Happier. I could see villagers milling about, and children playing in the market square, where before, they had basically been hiding from everything that might hurt them. Everything that wasn’t a Hawk, or their family.
And now they were safe. But they wouldn't remain that way if another Sheriff came along. One that was like the old one, anyhow. I sighed and frowned. Corin should accept. He would be fair, and kind to the people. He knew how to lead, and he knew what to do. He would be excellent as Sheriff. The kind of man that everyone deserved.
And Jem and Griever... they would be gone. Exploring the world. Jem would no longer be there alongside me. I didn’t really know how to… be… without her next to me.
As for that last parting shot from Jem, that was what was playing on my mind most of all. What could possibly have brought it on? Corin is... our relationship is so complicated, and this felt like adding another complication. I still felt so tired, even two weeks after the battle. I had a slice across my cheek that was beginning to scar, and dark bruises that were only just beginning to yellow. It had been a hell of a fight. But I was lucky. Others had come out far worse. Others had died.
I brushed away the tear that had fallen down my cheek, wincing as I caught the cut. It would never disappear, but I would wear it with honour. It would mark me forever, as a reminder of those who died fighting for the freedom of these people; this land.
I should go and see Corin. I should talk to him. If the loss of so many had taught me anything, it was that life was short, and that if there was something left unsaid, I would regret it.
“I heard you wanted to see me.” Corin said. I’d heard him approach, so it wasn’t a surprise, but the hurt in his tone was. “You know I can’t always be at your beck and call.”
“I know. I wanted to talk about… before.”
“I was wrong. It’s what is best for everyone. I was just upset that… well, that things would change. I’ve devoted so many years to being the protector… I don’t know who I am without that.”
“You can find out.”
“Listen, Kate. There was something else that I… well that I wanted to ask.”
“Before you do, and believe me, I’m… I’m flattered. For want of a better word. But, I know what you’re going to ask.”
“Oh. Guess I shouldn’t be surprised?”
“No, you shouldn’t. But… I just want to say… at some point, the answer will probably be yes.”
“At some point?”
“You can’t ask me now. I wouldn’t be saying yes for the right reasons.”
“Why not?” He looked hurt, but at least he was listening. At least he wasn’t angry. Yet.
“Because I just lost the reason I’ve been living for years. Jem is going, most of the Hawks are probably going to want to relax, and the ones that got pregnant want to settle down… I’m losing everything that has made me… me, for a long time. I don’t want to cling on to you for the fear of losing you. I want to say yes, in the future, because it’s what I want. What the me without all of this wants. But for now… I want to find out who I am.”
He didn’t speak for a long time. It seemed to stretch out, weighted with indecision. And then, when he spoke, his voice was full of acceptance.
“I want you to have the ring.”
“Keep it safe for me.”
“What will you do?”
“I haven’t decided yet. Stay at the camp for a while. See that everyone else is happy. Then who knows?”
“So I’ll still see you?”
“Of course. Like you said, someone has to look out for you.” I grinned, and smoothed my hand over his cheek.
“But you won’t let me look after you?”
“Do I need looking after?”
He chuckled and shook his head.
“No. I suppose you don’t. But I’d like to all the same.”
“Maybe, one day. I’ve had to rely on myself for a long time. I can’t promise I’ll ever break that habit.”
“It’s one of the things I love about you.”
I reached up and kissed him gently.
“Keep them all safe.”
“I’ll see you soon. Maybe.” I winked and chuckled.
“You’re going now?”
“Yes. Jem and Griever are leaving.”
“In which case, allow me to accompany you?”
“Always the gentleman.”
I hugged Griever.
“Thank you for everything.”
“My pleasure,” he replied gruffly. “And thank you for inviting me in.”
“I doubt you’d have listened if I’d said no.”
“True.” He chuckled, and then went to say goodbye to Corin. Jem threw her arms around my neck and pulled me close.
“You take care.” I could feel her trying not to cry; I was barely managing as well.
“And you. You’re my sister, forever Jem. No matter how far away you are, no matter where, if you need me, I’ll come.”
“I know. And I will do the same.”
I let her go and dashed a tear from my eye.
“Goodbye Jem. Keep him honest.”
“I doubt anyone has that power.” She chuckled.
Goodbyes said, and not a dry eye around, we watched them climb on to their horses. With one last wave, they set off. We all watched and waited, as the sun began to spread across the sky in its last few moments above the horizon, and Jem and Griever grew further away. I glanced at Corin, who stood just across from me. He was still watching their retreating figures.
This was the time. I drew back, walking slowly through the group of Hawks that had gathered. When I reached the edge of the forest, I glanced back. He was looking around, trying to find me.
I pulled up my hood, and slipped on the mask that would soon be retired. And, as Corin found my figure, I smirked, remembering our first meeting. I lifted my hand, and blew him a kiss. Then I turned and faded in to the forest.
The time of the Night Hawks was over.