The morning dawned bright, with a cold snap at the end of every sentence. Despite Beatrix’s resolution to pack the night before, all she’d managed to do was sit on the edge of her bed, her whole being devoid of anything save the cold.
And so now she was packing.
‘I know you’re disappointed in me.’
It was a statement, not a question. She turned quickly, to see Keiran framed in the doorway. He looked tired and worn.
‘And I know what you think I should do,’ he continued, his face set in lines of empty sadness. It was a stark contrast to his usual sparky self. ‘But you must understand that what’s right for you isn’t necessarily right for me.’
‘That doesn’t even count as an excuse,’ she said, trying to keep her anger under control. ‘That’s like saying ‘when I am bad that’s my version of good’. It doesn’t work! I thought you said you wanted to help people who needed you! Well, the rebels need you right now, and -’
‘That was before you lied to me! You never said a word about who-’
‘You’re not listening to me!’ Beatrix yelled. ‘Why won’t you listen?! You think you’re the only person who matters, so caught up in you’re whole ‘I’m an outlaw’ persona, you just ignore the important things going on! You think you can just turn your back, betray everyone’s trust just when you’re needed! You’re so selfish!’
Keiran rounded on her, eyes blazing. ‘How dare you?! After all I’ve done for you, all I’ve done for Disnarta! You’re so caught up in your politics, you haven’t paused to think about what this means for the ordinary people. I’ve seen wars like this, and they are the worst kind - families divided, fighting raging throughout the whole kingdom, loyalties broken and betrayed. And these aren’t guardsmen we’re talking about - most of the army will be ordinary working men, untrained in war. Whoever wins this war will be ruling over a kingdom of corpses.
‘And what happens to the people that survive the war? Taxes will be hard to fund the fighting, new laws will be enforced, and who will protect the people from the violence of the new king’s rule?’
‘You know full well Owain won’t be like that!’ argued Beatix.
‘Do I? All people promise to do good, but in the end, he can’t if the royal coffers are empty. And who’s to say he’ll even win? If I swear alliegence to these Erls of yours, who will protect the people? Can’t you see this? I don’t care who’s king. I am an outlaw - why should I? Even if your cousin becomes king, I will still be an outlaw.’
‘There you go again! Being an outlaw doesn’t mean you can’t make good decisions! It doesn’t have to define your character!’
‘But it does. It has been so long, it has changed me. It is part of who I am!’
‘I think you enjoy it!’ Beatrix snapped. ‘You enjoy never having to face up to what’s right! You enjoy stealing from good people like Erl Lockspate! You’re dispicable!’
‘You’re right! I enjoy this life - it’s what I’ve chosen. I am happiest right here, where I belong - among people I trust. But do you really think this life comes without a cost? One day I will have to face up to everything I’ve done, for good or ill, and that day will be my last. The path I follow is a short one, there is no way off it, and it ends with a scaffold. This I know! But it is the path I have chosen, and I must live and die by it. I would not have it any other way. Do you really think that these Erls of yours would accept me as one of them? They who have hounded me for years! They who have ordered my execution, time and again! Have you ever looked up at the scaffold that is to be your own? I may not be what you want me to be, but I don’t exist purely to please the daughters of Erls! I am bound by my calling - to protect those who cannot protect themselves.’
Exsasperation forced Beatrix to speak. ‘You make it sound as if you are only good person in Disnarta! Was not King Roald good? These Erls are raising opposition to Aaron because they are good people, and because Aaron is a tyrant.’
‘But this is your world you are talking about. Your Erls talk, but nothing ever comes of it. Politics have nothing to do with the normal world. Why should the people care who is king? Can Owain promise a better harvest next year? Or no famine? Or will he come out in the rain halfway through the night to see a dying woman who has asked for him?’
‘And you can do all this, can you?’
‘No! No man can! Nor any woman. But we can try and ease their passing through this life. I have seen so many good people - kind people, loyal people - brought to submission by starvation, illness, or even beaten into oblivion. The justice of the court is warped - men are condemned for trying to feed their family. But justice dealt with the blade - that is pure and clean. Steel does not lie.’
‘You make me sick,’ Beatrix spat. ‘You think you’re so wonderful! The lovable rogue, hero of the people. But all you are is a killer.’
‘And you think your Erls are better? They do not even lift swords themselves - they are too cowardly! They will stand by and watch while their soldiers die in swathes, and they will not stop the war! All they want is power. They survive with cowardice - I survive by the strength and skill I have worked for, all these years!’
‘Stop it! These are good men! Something you wouldn’t understand!’
Keiran snapped. ‘Fine. You go off with your beloved Owain and swear alleigance to those Erls of yours. I won’t stop you. But I am here for the people, and here I will remain until I can fight no more. So you go and ravage the kingdom with your civil war. I will be here when you need me.’
Beatrix watched, fuming, as Keiran strode off. ‘I won’t need you!’ she shouted after him. ‘All my life, I’ve been dependant on other people. I’ve been controlled, told what to think and do. You just assume that you can do it too! But I’m tired of just being a puppet. I’m making my own decisions now, and no one is going to stop me!’