| There was a whisper in the fields, a soft murmur as the wind stirred the grass into gentle waves. Beyond, the distant snow-capped mountain peaks had begun to shine with the first scarlet fingertips of sunrise as the sun started its ascent into the heavens. Upon the wind was borne the scent of a spring morning - of dew-touched grass, of new flowers - of freshness. Everything, from the shimmering grass to the sun-crowned mountains, bespoke calm, the calm that comes of a perfect morning, where troubles are far away.
"Do you have to go?"
Seccair's hands left the stone edge of the tower balcony as he turned. His gaze flowed across the room behind him until it came to rest on the woman looking at him from the rich four-poster bed. He was silent for a moment, until at last he said, "Who will lead the men, if I don't?"
"The king," the woman replied.
"The king," echoed Seccair bitterly. "Whole villages burn. Scores die every day. And still the king is content to sit in his banqueting hall at Castle Harthen, while demons and sorcerers ravage his lands." He shook his head.
The woman slipped from the bed, clad in a simple, quiet blue night dress. She came to his side and stared out over the sun-touched plains. "Do you know what it's like," she murmured after a moment, "to wonder at every moment whether the one you love is still alive? If you'll ever see him again? To stand at the gates as the soldiers return home, praying that he is among them?"
"No," Seccair whispered. "I'm sorry, Halyne." He turned his head towards her, but she was still looking at the fields beyond. Her black hair flowed over her shoulders and back and hid most of the side of her face. He reached a hand gently towards her and brushed the hair aside. Her cheek was shining with the tracks of silent tears. "Halyne," he said quietly. "I go because if I do not, the next castle to burn may be this one. The next list of names of the dead may be of the people here. May have yours on it. I go because every battle we win makes you safer."
She looked up at him, then, emerald-coloured eyes still glistening. "And what happens if you lose? Just once?"
Seccair bowed his head. "If my life should be the cost of yours, I would gladly pay it."
Halyne didn't answer.
"I want to see a world," Seccair said, "where children can set foot outside the walls once more. If one day we should have a child, I want that child to be able to see the world from beyond the shadow of a wall."
"That child will never exist if you don't come back," Halyne said.
"How could I ever tell him that braver men than I fought and died so that he could live, while I did not?"
Halyne leaned against the balcony's stone rim and the gentle wind nudged her hair away from her face again. Seccair placed a hand overtop hers. "I will come back."
Halyne stared down at the stone. "I'm...not trying to convince you to stay...I know that what you're doing...why you're doing it...is..." She sighed. "...is good. But when you're gone...when I'm awake I sit alone, dreading what news each battle will bring. And when I sleep, my dreams are filled with..." She shook her head. "It's unbearable. Being alone...the silence..."
Seccair grasped her hand and pulled her gently towards him. She leaned against him as his arms folded about her. "Halyne..." he whispered. "I'll always come back. I promise." He reached up to his neck and removed the thin woven strand that hung there. To it was strung a simple wooden carving. He pressed it into Halyne's hand. She looked at it, then up at him. "Your father gave you this."
"To remember him by when he went away," replied Seccair. "And he always came back for it, until one day he didn't have to go away anymore and gave it to me for good."
Halyne shut her eyes and laid her head against Seccair's chest. Her hand folded tightly about the wooden carving. "Come back for this."
A horn sounded over the castle. Seccair held Halyne tighter for a moment, until after an all-too-short eternity he released her. "That's the signal," he said.
She looked up into his eyes. After a long pause, she whispered, "I want to meet that child someday."
Seccair nodded. "I love you."
She reached up and kissed him, holding herself to him one last time. "Come back."