SadiceI thought I was over her, until she rode into town with her company of one hundred and fifty men.Arden had aged since the last time I saw her. A scar ran down one side of her face, and her hair had a white streak where the scar disappeared up into her scalp. There were lines where there had been none, and her normally quiet face kept a slight frown in place as if it belonged there.But I would know those eyes in any crowd.Steel grey and flinty when she was mad, I had seen her pin a drunk soldier to the ground with them, and keep rowdy subordinates in line with a glance.She was a captain now. I wasn’t surprised. Only a sargeant when I met her, we had both known she was meant to do more. Be more.That was why I had let her go.*****When I had first glimpsed her riding at the front of her men toward the center of town, I had spun around and frozen in place, shot through with a fear and hunger so fierce it almost brought me to my knees.Arden. My heart. My soul. Eight years… She had survived. She probably wouldn’t remember me.We had met near the beginning of the war. Her battalion was stationed in our town, and while the war wasn’t too bad yet, the soldiers had laughed and danced and spent money. Arden had been young and fresh and full of quiet passion. We made love as young people do, with abandon and without a care in the world.The war got ugly. And vicious. And inhuman. Our soldiers came back from the front lines bleeding and missing limbs and dead. The light left their eyes. After six months, our soldiers became hard and vicious themselves. And Arden…Arden became distant.I cringed as I recalled my own fear and horror, and how I had clung to Arden when she visited from the front. She had tried. I know she had. But her anguished eyes and shaking hands still haunted my dreams.*****I kept myself busy that first day the Company was in town, hoping to avoid both Captain Arden and my feelings. I helped unload the supplies they brought, and got underfoot in the kitchen until Cook shooed me out with a curse.Jaden laughed at my inability to focus, assuming a general swoon over the young and virile company, and sent me to pick apples until the call for supper. I barely filled one bushel all afternoon. In the hubbub of everyone getting food and drink, I quietly slipped to the outskirts of town and to my little house.Relieved to be away from the noise and excitement and the possibility of having to interact with Arden, I gratefully closed my door behind me and set myself a small supper of bread and cheese. Sinking down into my chair, I realized for the first time that my hands were shaking. Taking a long, slow breath, I gently blew it out and willed calm into my body. It took four more deep breaths to still the trembling.I chastised myself as I ate, wondering why the sight of Arden eight years after we parted would trigger such a dramatic response. Was I terrified of seeing her? Or of her seeing me, staring into my soul with that piercing gaze of hers?A shiver ran down my spine, but was it from fear or anticipation? I didn’t look at that too closely.Arden had left when her company was reassigned closer to the front lines, which had moved away from my town. Nine months after the soldiers had come, they were gone, taking my heart with them.Our last night together, Arden had set aside the war and her nightmares, and had been fully present with me, as she hadn’t been able to in months. We made love, desperate and passionate güvenilir bahis love. We talked of what might have been if we had met under different circumstances. We swore our love to each other in this life and the next with tears and an overwhelming sense of fatality.Arden left before the sun rose. I watched her close the door and go to a war we both knew she wouldn’t survive.*****That evening passed slowly, and I methodically ground herb remedies in the mortar and pestle, and bagged them for future use. I had healer magic, but herbs supported my magic and sometimes did all the work for me. When the sun finally went down, I collapsed into bed, hoping sleep would take me quickly.It did not. Anxiety gripped me, clenching my muscles and giving me a headache. After tossing and turning for what felt like half the night, I got up to make soothing tea.A brisk knock on the door startled me so abruptly, I spilled most of the tea grinds onto the floor. Annoyed with the spillage, but suddenly hopeful my misery would be interrupted by some sick townsperson or soldier needing my ministrations, I quickly went to the door and opened it.Arden stood there, the moonlight outlining her warriors form, the lamplight illuminating her face. My heart stopped. Here, standing in my doorway, was my soldier woman, in all her sexy, masculine glory, leather armor and sword, muscles and scars, short hair and steel grey, piercing eyes. Those eyes roved my face, taking me in.Heat rushed to my face, and I stumbled back from the door, making space for Arden to step in. She hesitated.”Can I come in?” she asked, and her quiet, husky voice carried me back eight years.”Yes, yes of course,” I stammered, and motioned lamely toward the center of my little one room house.She stepped in, and I swung the door shut behind her. Stepping to the table, I was going to offer her tea, but then remembered the spill on the floor, and suddenly I couldn’t find any words at all. I turned to her and found those eyes staring at me, haunted and almost… hungry.Seeing the burn in Arden’s eyes sparked an answering longing in me that stole my breath, and I clasped my hands together to try to collect myself, to find what I was supposed to do or say –Arden closed the distance between us in a stride, and took my face in her hands, covering my mouth with hers.Oh! This was what…Her kiss was gentle at first, almost hesitant. Asking permission. My hands slowly went around her neck and tangled in her hair as I leaned in and deepened the kiss. Arden’s smell filled my lungs, lighting a fire that raced down my body. She groaned against me as I fisted her hair in my hands, pulling her closer. Her arms wrapped around me, and I lost all track of time and place.*****We didn’t speak as we divested each other of our clothes. Skin against skin, I reacquainted myself with my heart’s love. There were new marks, new scars, but she responded the same way to my touch. Her cries were the same. The way her body shuddered with release was the same. And her touch ignited old but familiar surges in me, and when my release came, it was soul wrenchingly deep. There had never been anyone else but her.Afterward, we lay together in the darkness, on my single person bed, wrapped in each other’s arms. My tears came then, unexpected. Arden held me as great heaves of grief and loss, long buried, bubbled to the surface.”I’m sorry,” I said quietly, after they subsided.She rubbed my arm. “Don’t be.”After güvenilir bahis siteleri a moment, she said, “We passed through Jampe on our way to the eastern front, and it had been burned to the ground.” She paused, and I felt her struggle to keep her voice even. “I thought you died.”I shook my head against her shoulder. “We had warning. Most of us were gone by the time they came. I relocated here with Jaden.”She nodded, and fell silent again.I was almost asleep when Arden stirred and eased herself out from under me. Sitting up, she turned, placed her feet on the floor, and ran her hands over her face. I sat up, and wrapped my arms around her from behind, doing my best to ignore the nasty looking scar that jagged its way from shoulder to waist across her back. The war had been hard on her, and I found myself wondering how much a toll it had taken. Would we be able to be together?A horrible thought stabbed me. Had she really come back to me, or was this a one time thing? Her next words confirmed my suddenly worst fears.”I lied to you eight years ago,” she said quietly, holding my hands against her chest. “I swore my heart to you.””Is there someone else?” I asked, fighting back a rising panic.”Not in this way,” she said, turning to me, still holding my hands. “But I swore myself to the king and his service.”I relaxed, dizzy with relief. “I understand that –“”No.” The word came out harshly. She shook her head, squeezing my hands. “You don’t. You didn’t then, and you don’t now.”I studied her, confused. Of course I had known she was sworn to the king. That was why she had gone to war, why she had left. I had known all along, and accepted it. I hadn’t been jealous, only heartsick. Arden was a kingswoman, and always would be. It was one of the things I loved about her.I watched her struggle to find words.”The war was horrible. Beyond anything I expected to ever experience. There were…” she trailed off, and I saw in her eyes the unbearable things the war had subjected her to. And I saw her put it away and meet my gaze. That broke my heart.”I haven’t come back from the war,” she finally said. “I do the next thing. I lead my men. I get up every morning. But in here,” she tapped on her temple. “I’m still fighting dragons.”My eyes widened. We had heard tales, but I thought them far fetched. If it was true… Arden’s grip on my hands grew uncomfortably hot, and I wriggled them. She abruptly let go, and hugged her hands to herself.”I should go.”Arden stood, and began putting her clothes back on. I watched her dumbly, unable to grasp the import of her words. There had been too many emotional ups and downs today.”Will you be back?” I finally asked, hating the plaintive note in my voice.Arden straightened from lacing up her boot and regarded me, that warriors mask back in place. I wilted. My love had come, had revived my heart, and now she was going to break it all over again. All in one night.”I’m sorry,” she said hoarsely, her voice breaking. “I saw you in the street this morning, and I had to see you face to face. I didn’t mean for it to go further. You have my love. You always have, always will. But the war took my heart. I don’t have anything left to give you.”And with those agonizing words, she left me. Again*****I didn’t sleep the rest of that night. By the time the sun came up, my emotions were so spent, I felt numb and wooden as I rose, dressed, and went to the infirmary to check on my patients. After iddaa siteleri checking in with all of them, there was nothing left to occupy me there, so I went to find Jaden, who was chopping wood for Cook. He said nothing as I wordlessly began stacking the wood as it fell from the block. We worked in silence until Jaden couldn’t hold it in any longer.He quirked an eyebrow at me. “That Captain Arden puts me in mind of a young Sargeant that graced your bed some years ago.”I nodded.”Seems like you two would be all over each other. Not many have found their lovers since the war. You’re both lucky.”I clenched my jaw to keep the tears in, but my vision blurred until I couldn’t see the logs to pick them up. Jaden paused, and leaned on his ax, turning his full attention on me. I kept my head down, and fidgeted with the wood in my hands.”Did she find someone else?”I shook my head.”Does she no longer like women?”A laugh escaped, and my tears spilled over. I looked at him, and his face softened.”She’s still at war,” I said.”Ah.” Jaden gathered me up, and held me until the tears quieted. “Many soldiers are. She may come around, especially if she’s near you.”I shook my head. “She came last night and told me she doesn’t have anything to give.””Right now,” Jaden insisted. “Right now she doesn’t. The war’s only been over a couple months. Things like this take time.””Maybe.” I was still too numb to muster anything but despair.”I have said it, it is so,” Jaden laughed, and pushed me back, gripping me by my shoulders. “Dry your tears, Sadice. Arden is alive. That is something worth celebrating.”I started to shake my head, but he tsked. “While she is alive, there is hope. Reflect on the possibilities, and set aside your moping. Did you do more than talk last night?”His eyes twinkled, and I couldn’t stop the shy smile from my face.”I thought so.” He laughed again. “Go help pick apples, and get more than a bushel this time.”Jaden gently shoved me away, and I went and did as he bade, my heart a tiny bit lighter.*****The days slowly rolled into each other, and autumn moved toward winter. The soldiers were here to help rebuild and reinforce defenses, and they set to work with enthusiasm. Trees were cut down and split, half burnt buildings torn down and new walls erected in their place.Captain Arden had seven towns to oversee, so she was gone more often than she was here in our town. Those days she was here, I kept my distance, my wounded heart unable to bear her presence for long.I did watch her, though. I watched her interact with her men, guiding more than ordering, encouraging more than disciplining. And they loved her. They worked harder when she was nearby, and spoke of her with respect when she wasn’t there. Unbidden, my heart swelled with pride when I overheard them discussing my soldier woman. I had known she would be great.Stories slowly leaked out from the soldiers as the days passed, time and hard work putting space between them and the war. This company had been with Captain Arden for a year, and they had all been at the final battle at Dragon’s Mountain. Shadows fell over every soldier’s face anytime Dragon’s Mountain came up. They never said much about it, but I gathered they had lost more than three quarters of their company in that one fight, and Captain Arden had done or become something they were all in awe of. None would speak of it directly, but they always fell silent with a grave nod of respect.I wondered about it, and spent countless hours debating possibilities with myself. I finally decided she must have single handedly slain the dragon herself. Although as more stories came out, I learned there had been multiple dragons, so my theory had holes.