A flash of inspiration crosses my mind just as our lips part. Unfortunately, my eyes must’ve flickered as a result because I belatedly notice that the right corner of her mouth rose, revealing a canine which is a good indication she’s about to kick my butt.
I take a step back while pulling my training sword away from hers but her left hand snags my wrist before I can leave her reach. She twists my arm down and to the side while stepping around me, it isn’t painful but plenty enough to prevent me from instantly breaking her grip.
“I’ve told you a hundred times not to cross swords.” She berates.
“Be gentle?” I plead meekly, aware that I’ve lost because she’s too close to kick and it’s difficult to land a shoulder blow with less than half of a left shoulder.
She flicks her right wrist to send a rapid slice at my torso. I barely manage to crouch and angle my chest to slide under the blow. She takes advantage of her grip on my wrist by jerking me forward.
I stagger for a few steps. Smack. The flat of her training sword lands on both my butt-cheeks with a resounding slap. I block the reflexive yelp inside my throat but can’t do anything about the hot sting pain.
“Hwee-hwoo!” A piercing whistle reaches my ears from afar.
It sounded appreciative, and mocking. This is going to earn someone an extended stay in the snow. As soon as my ass stops throbbing. I turn, expecting to find Hale because Frank wouldn’t taunt us like this, and he shouldn’t be in the area.
“Yvonne!” I exclaim, finding her riding downhill on horseback.
Lance’s back is turned on me but I have no doubt she’s returning the sword-sworn’s grin. I ignore my love to rush towards my friend. Once I make it past Leomi by a few steps, I dignifiedly launch my training sword backward over my shoulder.
“Hey!” Lance protests with a touch of panic. Clack. Hmph, she managed to parry. “That was petty!”
I ignore her because it was most definitely an honorable move. Yvonne is wearing a simple riding outfit with a marine blue cape over her shoulders and a pouch to her side. I lion’s step towards Yvonne whose eyes widen at my sudden acceleration.
Too late. I grin and leap up to tackle her off the saddle. She raises her arms in panic just before I crash into her. Our limbs tangle as we flip in mid-air, both of us landing in the soft snow on our sides.
“Uhrg!” She groans with a grimace.
“I missed you so much!” I throw out my pretext, showing no regret.
“You’re not a dog!” Yvonne exclaims in response.
I chuckle and get up to my feet before holding my hand out to help her. She takes hold of it and rises to give me a bear hug which lifts me off my feet. I laugh as she drops me back to the ground.
“We’re getting engaged!” I tell her, unable to hold it back.
“Really? That’s amazing!” Yvonne cries out, throwing her arms around me to embrace me again.
She lifts me off my feet but this time she spins me in the air a few times. I giggle like a little girl, my happiness surging from her reaction and the fact I catch a glimpse of Leomi’s prideful expression as she watches us.
Once she returns me to the ground, she opens her arms to welcome Leomi. While the two exchange a more restrained but just as intimate hug, I smack off the snow that stuck to Yvonne’s back and shoulders.
“I’m going to propose to Jessica and Elizabeth.” Leomi tells her friend with a smug and serious tone, as if I hadn’t already informed her.
“That’s great!” Yvonne replies with a slightly confused but understanding smile.
“They’re going to agree.” Lance unnecessarily adds before throwing me an odd look that seems both questioning and commanding.
“I am.” I confirm, unable to repress my grin. “I am.” Liz grunts with a hoarse voice. Leomi reaches out to take hold of my hand, grinning back at us.
“Iiih!” Yvonne makes a cooing sound and grabs us in her arms for another bear hug, she squeezes but doesn’t quite manage to lift us both up.
“I heard you’re dating a boy.” I speak up.
“A man, although he’s playing hard to get.” Yvonne replies with a chuckle. “We have a lot to talk about, how about we go inside and settle around a fire?” She suggests.
“Ah!” I cry out. “We don’t have any beer!”
“Nooo!” Yvonne howls in dismay.
“I’ll go to the village with Yvonne while you make lunch and feed the fire.” Leomi suggests. “We need to talk, I owe an apology.”
“It’s alright, honey, I understood.” Yvonne reassures.
“What about?” I ask, curious.
“You!” They both reply in sync, startling me.
“I was cold to Yvonne for concealing your whereabouts and her changing opinions about Elizabeth Vil, all of which made a lot more sense to me when you told me what happened.” Leomi explains, looking regretful.
“Oh, okay. Come back quickly!” I urge them.
We separate after hugging once more. I snatch a few dozen portions of energy from Leomi’s reserve as I watch them leave with the horse, exchanging excited whispers. The golden jay perched itself atop of Yvonne’s head, which she likely didn’t notice.
I frown at the fact they’re clearly talking about our engagement rather than Lance’s apology but I then sigh and smile as it doesn’t surprise me much from Leomi. I head inside to start peeling carrots and potatoes, looking forward to cooking the best welcoming stew ever.
They return just as I put the pot on the fire to simmer for a few hours. Leomi sets the keg of beer and the three tankards they brought back on the table while Yvonne washes up from her journey at the well outside.
“Did you apologize?” I ask Leomi.
“… We talked.” She replies after a revealing pause. “I will, soon as she’s back.” She hurriedly adds.
“I’m not going to make you. It’s between the two of you, I’m just giving you a reminder. I wasn’t really around so I don’t want to butt in.” I tell her. “Mine still hurts.” I add and stick my tongue out.
“Ha!” Leomi chuckles, her eyes glancing down.
“Will you tell me what this bird is at last?!” Yvonne exclaims as she barges inside, her dismay enhanced by her disheveled light brown hair, which is likely because she tried to dislodge the jay once she noticed it.
We flip to her and burst out in laughter at her expression, causing the sword-sworn to glare at us which only makes it harder for us to stop. Leomi walks up to the jay with her hand extended out. The golden bird hops onto her index and she lifts it up to her shoulder.
“We don’t know. It’s made of unstructured flow and represents Leomi’s image of me, or her feelings, or how she perceives me… we don’t really know.” I tell her.
“It’s cute.” Leomi speaks up as if it explains everything.
“If it’s supposed to be like Jess, why did it pick on me as you would?” Yvonne asks, turning her glare to Lance alone.
“Hey! She can get almost as bad as I am!” Leomi protests.
“No way! That’s a lie.” I immediately deny.
Yvonne throws me a questioning glance that I fail to sustain. I break eye contact by looking up and to the right, making an attempt to appear innocent. I catch a glimpse of silver and a blur at the edge of my sight, just before I feel a finger poke the side of my stomach.
“Aih!” I yelp, jumping a meter and a half away.
“That’s for messing my hair up.” Yvonne mutters as she combs them with her left hand. “And you!” She turns to Leomi. “You look like you barely slept last night, and you have white hair, and you both have bruised cheeks.” I chuckle, elated to hear Leomi spent hours staring at my sleeping face.
“What exactly did you two talk about?” I question Leomi because she should have explained.
Lance opens and closes her mouth to respond but no sounds come out. She seems lost as to where to begin and who to answer. Yvonne and I exchange a quick glance. We silently reach a common agreement and start slowly approaching Leomi to pressure her.
“I’m sorry I was so cold to you, Yvonne.” As Lance retreats, she quickly tells Yvonne who waves the apology aside with a smile. “I have white hair because of Jessica and Elizabeth, they like the color. Um…” She trails off, clearly growing a bit worried as her back approaches the wall. “Can you stop?”
“Stop what?” I ask with a grin. “We’re listening.”
She raises her hands to block us from advancing. We keep going so she has to physically restrain us by placing her palms on our collarbones. We continue pressuring her but don’t try to force her back against the wall.
“The bruises because we had fun and it got a little rough.” Leomi explains, a flicker of guilt passing across her traits.
“Hm.” Yvonne makes a disapproving frown. “Well, doesn’t surprise me from the two of you.”
“As for what we spoke of, it’s personal.” Lance tells me with a serious look.
A weak attempt at evading considering we have no boundaries. I simply hold her gaze and wait for her to spill it or for Yvonne to tell me. Leomi presses her lips together but ends up sighing.
“I had to show off my tattoos, you understand, right?” She asks me awkwardly, almost pleadingly.
I freeze out of embarrassment. Even though I don’t want to look to Yvonne, I suddenly have to try very hard not to turn my head. Wait, that means… Don’t say it! Leomi had to… Liz!
My dear sister doesn’t finish but she doesn’t have to, I know precisely where I carved my symbol. I snap to Yvonne, finding her blushing as she avoids my gaze. I grunt and return to glare at Leomi.
“She liked the ones on my back too.” Lance tells me with a thin hesitant smile. “She said ‘Elizabeth Vil’ looks eerie but the handwriting of your name is both hesitant enough to be loving and curves nicely.”
“Okay.” I say, sighing as I fail to summon any anger when it’s entirely in Leomi’s character to do this. At least, it shows how much she likes these tattoos.
“Alright, let’s get started on that beer!” Yvonne exclaims.
I step away from Leomi so we can both settle at the table. The sword-sworn draws a dagger from her pouch and cracks the keg’s wooden lid with the pommel. She then grabs our tankards one by one to dip them in and distribute them.
“That was not only insubordinate but also unfair, by the way.” Leomi complains as she takes a sip.
“How so?” I ask, ignoring the provocation.
“The double-teaming.” Yvonne whispers towards me with a suggestive tone but remains staring straight at her liege.
Leomi’s traits remain still. She doesn’t react in any way, which is a sign that it’s all she can do to suppress her emotions. After a few tens of seconds, it becomes clear that her cheeks are turning quite red. Yvonne and I start chuckling at her expense.
“Your turn!” Leomi exclaims at her friend.
“Well… not much to say, really.” Yvonne replies with a bright expression. “Rowland is handsome, strong, and funny when we’re alone. His one fault is that he is trying to tie me down with an engagement before sleeping with me. And that’s only because I negotiated him down from marriage!” She sounds outraged at the end but her sweet smile proves she isn’t serious, his condition clearly amuses and touches her.
“Impressive.” Leomi comments.
I throw Lance a look, finding that she’s being serious or concealing the sarcasm so much there would be no point in being sarcastic. Is Yvonne that… Good? Seductive? Experienced? She is pretty. Still.
“Isn’t that the only way to get her? I ask Leomi.
“No, it’s the best way to lose her, which is exactly what makes it impressive that she stuck to him.” She explains.
“Ah, makes sense.” I say, nodding in understanding.
“Hey! Don’t talk like I’m not here!” Yvonne protests.
“You changed.” I tell her with an appreciative voice.
We haven’t known each other for very long, all things considered, but we’ve spoken enough for me to know that she very much likes fooling around with men, and women although I’m almost certain she doesn’t sleep with them.
“After everything that happened, I wanted to have something to return to.” Yvonne explains awkwardly. “I didn’t realize how much I needed a relationship until I ran into him, looking lost after the fall of Meria.”
“Sorry.” Elizabeth mutters because we caused it.
“Don’t be.” Yvonne tells me with a cheerful tone while briefly patting my forearm. “I wouldn’t have taken an interest in the mindless soldier he described himself to be before you threatened to cut his throat, which you will never do again.” Her voice turns quite dark at the end.
“Um, nope, never.” I hurriedly agree with her. Don’t mess with Yvonne.
“So, you two are getting engaged soon?” Yvonne asks. “When are you getting married?”
“I need to find an engagement ring, so within the winter depending on our schedules.” I reply. Leomi throws me a bit of a hard look. “I don’t want to fight you over this, kitten. I have things to do and so do you. My time isn’t yours to control unless I give it to you.” I firmly tell her.
“But you’re not planning to use it.” Leomi counters.
“The fact my plans aren’t exactly planned doesn’t mean there is no plan to how I plan my time, or it does, or something…” I pause as my response grows more and more confusing. Yvonne discreetly smothers a snicker. “I have plans for the winter.” I end up saying.
“Fine.” Lance grunts.
“Kitten?” Yvonne asks, perking up in interest.
“Isn’t she just like one?” Liz asks teasingly. “You can’t have missed her habit of toying with her prey while you gobbled yours down.”
“You’re making me look like some kind of glutton when I’m an adorable and innocent girl who likes to party!” Yvonne exclaims in fake outrage before firing back. “And, is it me or are you going through male puberty? Not to say your gravelly voice isn’t nice to the ear but…” She trails off, waving her hand to likely signify that it’s a bit too different from my own.
“No, that’s just my sister’s voice. Elizabeth Vil, nice to officially meet you.” We explain.
“Are you even more insane now?” Yvonne asks, blinking in surprise but apparently not very dismayed.
“Less… I think.” I reply before taking a long gulp of beer.
“Nice to meet you as well, Elizabeth, but we’ve been friends for a while so this is a bit late.” The sword-sworn tells Liz.
“Best friends.” I correct.
“Indeed.” Yvonne grins.
“Wait, what about me?!” Leomi questions.
“You’re my ward, it’s different but no lesser.” She replies gently.
“Hmph. Edusa wouldn’t betray me like this, she’s my best friend now.” Lance says, raising her chin. I narrow my eyes.
“That hunting dog?” I spit out.
“The comparison is apt but not in the condescending way you’re implying.” Leomi responds with a frown. “She’s more loyal than either of you.”
“Blindly so.” I note before experiencing a burst of fear that drowns my jealousy. “Wait, the two of you didn’t… did you?” I question, unable to say it out loud.
“No, you occupied all my thoughts and she resembles Rowland in the way she considers relationships.” Leomi explains with a gentle voice.
I exhale and drink some beer to soothe my edges, noticing that Yvonne has been doing the same as she watched our exchange from the side. I throw her an inquisitive glance.
“I’m not crazy enough to get in the middle of your spats unless I have to.” She tells us with a shrug. “That being said, I agree with Jessica. Blind loyalty isn’t true loyalty.”
“I disagree.” Leomi utters flatly. “But we’re not having that argument, again, I love you how you are.” She adds with a soft voice.
“Aww.” Yvonne fawns before concurring. “I do too sweetie.”
“About the engagement, it’s disappointing but we’ll have to hold the wedding ceremony in private among close friends when it happens.” Leomi says and turns to me. “To ensure that your full name doesn’t leak out.”
“Full name?” Yvonne asks.
“Jessica Elizabeth Vil Freepath.” I tell her, forcing myself to remain expressionless.
“Pffffft!” She snorts.
“Hey! You came up with the last one!” I protest, offended by the mockery.
“How did that happen?” Leomi asks with a curious expression.
“She read the fact I wanted to help but didn’t want the recognition so she managed to trick me into using the name before I realized I didn’t need to have a name.” I explain. Yvonne’s face turns surprised. “You’re surprised I read the fact you read me?” I ask her.
“Yes, next time, I’ll read you reading me reading you reading me reading you.” The sword-sworn answers with a giggle.
“Unless I…” I start. Bam. Leomi interrupts by smashing her tankard on the table.
“Will you two stop flirting!” She cries out.
“We’re not.” I tell my kitten, unable to help the smile her possessiveness puts on my lips.
“We just determined that the two of us are best friends!” Yvonne exclaims.
“And we love each other.” I add teasingly.
“So, there really is no need for us to flirt anymore, other than to annoy you that is.” The sword-sworn continues while nodding with her tankard up to her lips.
“You!” Leomi explodes, failing to use words.
While she seethes in anger, we explode in laughter. Lance narrows her light gray eyes to the point where I couldn’t pass a needle between her eyelids. She gets up, passes one arm under my knees and the other behind my back.
I hurriedly put my tankard down on the table. Leomi picks me up just after I do and returns to her chair to place me on her lap. She embraces me possessively with her arms around my belly before burying her face in the pit of my neck with my hair.
“She’s mine.” Leomi utters defiantly, clearly addressing Yvonne.
“Hhh.” Yvonne exhales loudly, one hand pressed on the left side of her chest like she’s trying to push out the feelings contained within.
I can’t help but furiously blush, my heart panging as much as my friend’s certainly is. The tender vulnerability pulsing in my chest is no doubt resonating in hers. It is a raw emotion of longing and affection.
My reaction comes from Leomi’s jealous but loving declaration and from how much it touches Yvonne. My reaction is in no way different from the sentiments she is experiencing because she loves us both.
I start crying, again. I’m unable to help myself, I am simply not used to feeling so much joy at being alive. Or, at least, it has been years since I have, and I have spent those days until recently trying to forget what it was like.
Yvonne extends her hand out to give me her handkerchief, embroidered with a gray wolf from house Shipwold and a lance from house Lance. Leomi takes hold of the cloth and starts wiping my eyes with it.
It takes a long time because I can’t stop shedding tears and my kitten can’t stop kissing my wet cheeks. She does finally succeed in helping me calm down enough to appreciate how happy they make me feel.
“I’m going to start carrying one.” Leomi tells me with an apologetic voice.
“It’s fine.” I tell her, adding a kiss on the cheek. “You will not.” Elizabeth adds to make sure.
“I will not.” My kitten inclines her head in acknowledgment.
“You two are just…” Yvonne trails off, failing to find the words.
“It was because of you.” I complain, throwing her a dark look. “I forbid you from looking so moved by us from now on!” Liz throws out.
“Nope.” The sword-sworn denies instantly.
“Okay.” Elizabeth agrees. Hey! Just appreciate them, sister. But, it hurts too good sometimes. I know.
“You shouldn’t be able to make me yearn for you when I’m in your arms.” I whisper to Leomi in a tiny accusatory voice.
“You shouldn’t be able to steal my heart over and over again.” My love replies in the same tone.