Chapter 8

Sleeping next to strangers. When had he signed off on this? “Alright, hand over the weapons.” Sion said. Amaris turned, startled, as if she thought Sion meant her. Sion shot her a ridiculous expression, and then looked at the two siblings. Briair gaped, Adreaga glared, clenching her bow.
“I mean it.”
“You want us to surrender our weapons after you’ve taken us further into the woods?” Briair clenched his hilt, and Sion watched his hand.
“Each night, Sion, Amaris, or I will guard your weapons: so we can get some sleep, to.” Illuma chimed in.
“What?” Adreaga looked at Amaris. If she was hoping for a backup, she failed. Amaris seemed devoid of emotion.
“We did not decide on your coming.” Illuma gestured to herself and Sion. “Just so we are clear, this is our condition.”
Amaris gave a small nod. “Adreaga, Briair, we will not hurt you. But . . .”
“We need to make sure we survive the night.” Sion offered. Amaris’s obvious irritation delighted him. No one else spoke. Adreaga looked like she might cry. “If I were to kill either of you, I would insist on your being armed first.” Sion forced himself not to smile when he saw Briair swallow a knot the size of an egg. “Neither of you have given me a reason to.” Sion held out his hands, but both siblings stood frozen. He nodded to Briair’s sword. The young man unstrapped his belt and laid a sword and knife along Sion’s arms, narrowing his eyes on his opponent as he did so. Sion clasped onto the two and held them to his side. The sword was heavy enough to be of actual use. “I remember your having a dagger.”
“Adreaga has it.”
Sion nodded. The girl ought to have something besides a bow and arrows. What if they encountered enemies close at hand? More than likely. Adreaga evaded Sion’s scrutinizing gaze as she surrendered her weapons. “The second quiver of arrows.” Sion said. Adreaga sighed and retrieved the other arrows from her things. She half threw it at Sion before turning her back on him. “Watch yourselves. Unless you are planning on a temporary stay, getting along with us might be worth a try.” Neither so much as looked toward Illuma, Amaris, or Sion. Sion nodded, assessing the flaring, hushed tempers before him. Given a full day’s advance on their next weapon removal, Adreaga and Briair would have plenty of time to find ways to hide a weapon, or conjure a new one. As Sion did not intend on searching them each night, he would settle in knowing he owned — for a short time — any tools of warfare these two came with. He counted Adreaga’s arrows and then began examining the weapons, though he had to be careful of when he drew Briair’s sword. Offending the man was at the bottom of Sion’s list; still on his list, though. Strong, but simple blades, and a barely usable bow. Sion wondered if Adreaga could manage a decent range with it. Clearly it was meant for hunting, not battles. At least they had defenses. Sion grunted. If only Adreaga and Briair had come to them unarmed, they could have been sent away easily —Sion eyed Amaris— easier.

Sion slept with the weapons tucked between him and a tree. He noticed not only himself, but also Illuma and Amaris, kept their own swords so near by any movement of their blades would waken them. Sion woke with a sore back from pressing against the youngster’s small arsenal. He would need more sufficient rest than this. Sion set his eyes on Adreaga and Briair, already awake and chatting in hushed tones. Early risers, or too terrified to sleep. Sion silenced his groan. He sat and moved a few inches from the bow and sword behind him. “They are all yours,” Sion kept his voice low, the two women still slept with apparent ease. No one moved, the three just exchanged looks. Once Amaris and Illuma got up, the tension rose, but the volume remained stagnant. Only after Sion walked away from the tree did they arm themselves again, and they waisted no time in doing so.

After another long day of traveling, Sion chose not to collect weapons in the evening, but waited to see if Illuma would uphold her side of their deal. Confused relief resulted when Amaris took the sword, bow, and knives. Sion watched with interest as she demanded each piece of defense the two had. They did not fight her or give attitude. No resistance to Amaris, only annoyance and, from Braiair, a deep glare when he turned away — Sion could handle the young man’s discomfort. He mused. Fine, if they wanted to deal with Amaris and not Sion, he would be only too happy to oblige.

For several days Sion said little to Amaris and only studied the two youths. Illuma received courtesy, but nothing more. The group settled into a solid and brittle co-existence. Exchanges translated into sharp words and unreceptive listening. Amaris seemed put out with Sion who could not have cared if he tried. Amaris put him under torture and inconvenience each moment she made a blundering decision. She could live with the consequences, he wanted to ignore the whole situation. His agenda was to protect the daft woman until she had completed her mission, then he could leave. The two younger compatriots did not ignore Sion in return for his silence. They watched him as much as he kept an eye on them, more because they had twice the capacity as he to stare.
The others seemed to settle into Sion keeping to himself. He even started sleeping in — or at least pretending to do so — to drive home his statement. Sion closed his eyes and crossed his arms. Less than five minutes passed and he could feel the atmosphere change in camp. They thought he slept. He heard someone settle to the ground not ten feet away from the sound.
“Sion.”
The whispered hiss made Sion’s face contort with his insides.
“I know you are awake . . .”
Did Amaris Tempth just curse? Sion opened his eyes and arched his neck so he could see her. She brooded with a stunning glare. She seemed actually upset, though. Sion closed his eyes again. “What?” He tried to sound uninterested, but his voice betrayed his bitter resentment. He did not need emotional women. He still did not know what to do with them.
“You are becoming more useless all the time.”
Sion sighed, pretending the comment did not affect him. When Amaris started exercising wisdom again, they could talk. “Turn them away.”
No response. Did she leave?
“That is all you have to say?” Amaris asked.
Clearly.
“Are you still here to help me?”
Sion snickered.
“Why are you here if you do not even speak with me?”
Sion opened his eyes and torqued so Amaris could see his glare. “Because I still have something to accomplish here. Let me know when you are back to thinking about what brought you from home. Until then,” Sion gestured over camp, “this circus is yours.”
“That is how you want it, then?”
“I am trying to help you, and the sooner they leave, the better we can work together.”
Amaris stood and brushed her hands down her skirt, chin facing up. She eyed Sion. She walked closer and leaned down, her voice a stunning threat. “Help or do not, but I will decide what I do. Just remember my grace does have an end with you.”
Sion would have given a variety of responses when Amaris left, but he knew she was serious. Sion pulled in a breath and laid back down, trying to close his eyes again. He slept without waking once, and woke damp with sweat while camp was a flurry with preparations to leave. He shoved his things into his pack and buckled his sword on, ready to mount without even a scrap for breakfast. He had to walk by Amaris to saddle , the others had already prepared their horses to ride. “Trying to leave me?” He said beneath his breath.
“If you would let me.”
Sion stopped and focused on Amaris. She shrugged.
“Let us act like adults, please.”
“Good concept. Sketchy execution.”
Sion snickered, but once he pulled the reigns over ‘s head, Amaris left, before Sion had even mounted. He followed the tense trail of horses, frustrated with Amaris’s scare tactic. Would she really have left him? They took a midday break, and though no one mentioned it, Sion thought Amaris must have pitied Sion’s empty stomach and was allowing him a chance to eat. As he was finishing Amaris mounted, forcing Sion to rush again. When they stopped for the evening, Sion approached Amaris, but she walked straight into the trees. He followed for a few seconds before pulling her around by the arm. “Speak,” she insisted. “I need to go relieve myself for the night.”
Sion scrutinized her in disbelief. “Can you honestly say you feel safer with them? Will Adreaga and Briair have capable enough skills to keep you alive?”
“No! But at least they listen when I speak. I am not willing to keep you around for protective purposes only. I could hire a body guard, I need an ally. Of which you are turning out to be a poor one. Now excuse me.” Amaris peeled Sion’s hand off her and left. Sion wasted no time stripping his horse of its saddle and the children of their weaponry. They seemed too shocked to resist with any words. Illuma watched in silence as Sion resisted throwing the boy’s sword into a tree. These were the people Amaris would take in his stead? Sion sat against a tree, and pushed his fingers into his hair. Ridiculous. Amaris seemed bent on tormenting him.

After more than a few minutes to herself, Amaris returned and started questioning the two tagalongs . She decided now —after they had traveled half way into the forest with the little wretches— was a good time to ask for more information. He listened as Amaris politely grilled Adreaga and Briair. After several minutes Sion realized Amaris was trying to have an actual conversation with the two, not just digging for answers and information. Sion rolled his eyes and pinched the skin between them, willing the moment to pass.

“There is no chance of your telling me why you actually followed me, is there?”
Sion looked at Amaris. Adreaga caught his eye. She was shaking her head at Amaris.
“Please just be pleased we are here,” Briair said casually. “I am hoping we can help you with. . . ?”
“Sorry.” Amaris said no more on the topic.
Sion rolled his eyes at the double standard. He knew how Adreaga and Briair felt and, for a moment, pitied them.
Briair nodded, and the conversation stayed stagnant. “Either way, Adreaga is your greatest asset between us.” His sister stared at the ground. Amaris looked at the girl and nodded. Sion could no longer stand watching the conversation taper off with Amaris standing on a pedestal looking down, again.
“You are ridiculous,” Sion shouted. He joined the group, but did not sit down. “Amaris, if you do not tell these two something, I swear I will leave you this instant.”
Amaris’s face whitened, but she remained calm. “Sion we have discussed—”
“No. What you are doing is not right. Maybe you can stand their blood on your hands, but I will not play part, not with this antic.”
Amaris’s face began reddening, but she did not answer. So Sion looked at Adreaga and Briair. He squatted to their level and looked between their young, hard-set faces. “If you knew what was best for you you would already be on your way home. As it is you have no idea what you are grappling with. This woman will lead you straight to your death.”
“You care since when?” Adreaga said haphazard.
Sion bit the inside of his lip before answering. “If you know where you are throwing your lot, your life, and still chose to waste it—”
“Sion!” Amaris protested. Sion ignored her and continued.
“Then so be it. But until you know what Amaris is about, I do not think anyone should go with her.”
“Yet you follow her.” Briair stated.
“I have a vendetta.”
Briair narrowed his eyes. “Do tell.”
Sion hesitated. Why not? He held out his hand as if to shake Briair’s. “I am Sion, son of Valmier, past lover of this wretch beside me—”
Amaris yanked Sion backward and he toppled off balance. Sion stood and wiped the dirt off himself.
“You are her son?” Briair tried to keep from laughing.
“No!” Sion and Amaris shouted in unison.
“An unfortunate acquaintance is all.” Sion glared at Amaris.
“Sion, do you need a map or anything before you go?” Amaris asked.
“As if I have not directed us half-way here? I think I will be fine, thank you miss Tempth.”
Amaris narrowed her eyes when Sion said her name. He smiled unkindly.
“Get on your way. Now!”Amaris stood up and stared him down.
“I already know you want me gone. I am not listening to you anymore, this is about them.” Sion gestured to Adreaga and Briair. “What Amaris is about will kill you both. Has she told you—”
Amaris grabbed Sion by the arm and started yanking him away from camp. “Loose your grip, Amaris.” Sion pried Amaris’s hand off with ease and walked faster than she could without almost running. Amaris spun him around after they could shout comfortably without being heard.
“What is this about? You are trying to get me hurt. Are you taking vengeance on me for your father?” Amaris’s eyes flashed with panic.
“Of course not.” Sion looked at her with disdain. “How could you think those things? And what good would destroying you accomplish?” Sion shook his head.
“Then what?”
“Do you not care about them at all?”
Amaris did not answer.
“Tell me your heart is not so shattered underneath your ruse you cannot even care for a common person.”
A liquid glaze covered Amaris’s eyes, but she just set her jaw closed tighter. Sion gripped her upper arm and watched red flush her face. She seemed so fragile, unstable, and defensive. Sion worried that emotion was the only thing left of Amaris Tempth. Sion’s tone softened at the pain exuding from Amaris. “Amaris, I thought . . . You are better than seducing children to help you. We will find aid in the city. Why will you not wait?”
“They are here with us for a reason. Sion, they want to come.”
“At least tell them what they are stepping into. Something. I want to help you but—”
Amaris brushed Sion’s hand away. “Do you?”
Sion studied Amaris. He knew her deceptive side dove deep and wondered what else lingered in that depth. His gaze dropped to the broach.
Amaris’s hand flew over the jewel and ripped it off her neck. “Now look at me.” She waited for Sion’s focus before continuing. She wrapped her hand around Sion’s. “Are you willing to help me?”
Amaris looked in that moment both soft and sincere, and Sion saw things beside fear and panic, and much stronger than her tenacity and deception, dancing beside the deep sorrow which never left this woman. “Why the facade Amaris?” Sion barely let go of the words. Sion wanted to dash the broach aside himself if that was what bound Amaris. Amaris, the woman his father pursued in and outside of her presence, should draw at least one breath free from the obligations and burdens which threatened at any moment to crush her.
“I cannot tell you.”
Sion nodded. She had secrets too deep to tell. Maybe their connection with the truth of her errend made it too ominous to speak about. “I can tell Adreaga and Briair your business if you wish not to.” Why was he offering this easy solution to Amaris when she shouted commands at him constantly.
Amaris bit her lip. “You are pushing my hand, Sion.”
“Tell them something to make them understand the danger we are putting them in. Anything. But do not lie to them.”
Amaris looked down and tried to withdraw her hand. Sion squeezed his grip closed around Amaris’s small fingers. “Look here,” and she did. “I did not search for you to leave you. But we are either together, as allies, or I cannot help you.”
“I see.” Amaris contemplated for a moment. “Are we agreed to bring Adreaga and Briair along?”
“If they are going of their own will, I doubt they will harm us. They need to have an informed decision, though, Amaris.”
Amaris nodded quickly, shaking each mask back into place. Sion supposed it must be that way for her own sake. “You tell or I will take care of it for you if you do not want to—”
“I! —Can handle these two.” Amaris huffed. “Probably better than you can.”
Sion smiled. “Too true, miss Tempth.”
Amaris blushed, but smiled and tugged at her hand. Sion instead pulled Amaris into his arms. After hesitating, Amaris returned the favor, and her cheek pressed against his chest. Sion did not want to let her go; she needed protection. But maybe his father had been in too deep to give Amaris what she needed. Maybe Amaris never needed a lover, although she wanted one badly enough. A loyal friend though, an actual ally . . . What could that accomplish? Sion supposed they would find out. Amaris went almost limp. “Hey, could you not faint in my arms? I could not explain it to the others.”
Amaris chuckled and stood back.
“Do you ever sleep?” Sion asked.
Amaris huffed, as if the question was absurd.
“Yet very rarely do you rest.” Sion stated, not asked.
Amaris had no answer.
“You do not have to lie to me. I know you are ill at ease. Resting is like a permanent disease to you, so you avoid it like the plague.”
Amaris looked nervous.
“Relax. The comment was not an attack, just an observation.” Sion sighed. “If we could figure out how to act more of a team, share the burdens more, perhaps you could rest.”
Amaris shrugged. “I prefer not discussing this.”
“With me.” Sion finished what he believed Amaris meant and paused. All the possible progress for the time had been made. “Are we talking to those two now or later?”
Amaris jerked back and gave Sion a dirty look. “I will discuss things with them.”
Sion rushed to stay on Amaris’s heals. They would have looked odd walking back into camp side-by-side anyway. Amaris scrutinized Adreaga and Briair. Sion wanted to tell her to swallow her pride and open her mouth. But she did not speak.
“How old are you?” Sion asked, filling in the silence. “And no lies.”
Briair looked at Sion. “I was not intending on lying.” He turned his gaze away. “We are seventeen.”
Sion nodded slow. He thought as much, but Amaris’s hand flew over her mouth too late to suppress her surprised gasp. Sion was not the only one watching Amaris.
“Children,” she muttered.
Adreaga shook her head with a crewel smile and her brother glowered. “Could two children do what we have? My sister and I are every bit a man and woman as you and Sion. I will thank you to remember so much.”
“Only two children could annoy as much as you do.”Sion said.
Briair stood and approached Sion. “Then you are just as adolescent as I am.”
Sion narrowed his eyes. “You are both seventeen?”
“Adreaga is the elder by seven minutes.”
Sion scrutinized the two, seeing them differently.
Amaris made an exasperated but quiet noise, and started to walk away.
Sion stepped aside and gently grasped Amaris’s arm. “Nice try.”
Amaris all but groaned and talked in circles before she told Adreaga and Briair anything worth listening to; the latter waited patiently as Amaris did so. Then she gave rough outline to why she would endanger them, and also their ludicrous destination, and several other important factors. The story, brief and without emotion, drained Amaris’s visible energy until she finished, and told the two to think about their decision once more, promising she would never ask again. Famished of strength, as if the words had been pulled from her flesh, Amaris left as far as she could without actually leaving the group. She spoke to no one for hours. Sion admired the grace Amaris used when speaking about the broach, a bitter reverence etched in every word. She even hinted at a few of the more poignant family points. Adreaga and Briair must be children in their deep core, they believed every word . . . Or they were proficient actors.
That night, as individuals settled down, Sion sat only a few feet from Amaris, laying his sword beside him.
“What are you doing?” Amaris whispered. Amaris looked like a thousand tears had been shed that day, but she had not cried one.
“Please rest, now.” Sion kept his voice low.
Amaris sighed and her head drooped. Sion laid down and closed his eyes, but he did not sleep until Amaris proceeded him. He knew little actual danger would threaten them yet. Amaris seemed not to understand. He prayed she would rest through the nights so her face would appear less wan throughout the days.

Dawn crept upon Sion with more chill than rest. Dew stained his skin and clung to his clothes. Either fall was threatening to grasp the small company early, or Sion was beginning to feel strain from keeping watch over Amaris. Three days had passed since their treaty of sorts, and his duty to protect their leader fell heavy on Sion’s every decision. He scooted away from Amaris before stretching so he would not wake the latter. After a sound rubbing of his eyes, Sion noticed Illuma watching him. He joined the young-looking woman on the opposite side of camp.
“The way you watch people is a bit unnerving, Illuma.” Sion kept his voice to a light whisper so the three remaining sleepers would rest.
“Habit.”
Sion nodded, his eyes straying to Amaris. “She seems vulnerable.”
“Like a treasured possession you cannot replace.”
“What?”Sion scrutinized Illuma who gave a kind smile in return.
“Amaris. There is only one of her left. She dies and we perish. Every time you look after her, in an odd way, you are protecting yourself.”
Sion did not know how to react to Illuma’s objectification of Amaris. “You think of her that way? A thing to be guarded and used at will.”
“No. A great advantage and equal weakness. And she is my friend . . . Which over complicates the complexity of the Tempths.”
Sion said nothing.
“Do not tell me it has never passed your mind, Sion. I will not believe it.”
Sion bored his gaze into Illuma’s eyes, hoping to see if she meant her words or not. “I abhor those thoughts and hope they pass swiftly. You . . . Churn them into patterns is that right?”
Illuma pursed her lips. “Try a decade with her and then lecture on mental purity.”
“I would rather get her out of this situation, now.”
Illuma gasped so quiet Sion almost missed the sound. “What?” He asked.
“You are not guarding life, just her?”
Sion let loose the glare he had been trying to harness; why should he, since Illuma was being so blunt. “Does she not also deserve life?”
Illuma looked confused.
“At least I know where you stand, what sort of ally you are.” He huffed, and stood. “If only Amaris knew.”
“Sion.”Illuma pleaded, but Sion ignored Illuma until the others woke.

“Sion, is everything alright?” Amaris waited ‘till Sion was near to whisper her concern. Sion smiled and took in her every feature, from creases in her worried brow to the burgundy hair surrounding her pale skin and deep, solemn eyes. Amaris deserved more respect than Illuma gave her. Only then did Sion begin to wonder whom else had so mistreated Amaris. Sion just nodded in return to Amaris’s question. The latter waited and listened for a moment before trusting Sion’s answer.
Throughout the day’s travel, Sion did not once look at Illuma, and the trek lasted long. He had to blink himself awake several times and, whether from the change in weather or his early morning discord with Illuma, Sion’s head started to ache, and grew in pain until they rested from the day. When they stopped for the evening, Sion could hardly slide himself from his mount without stumbling. His feet thudded on the ground, and he winced, leaning against his horse, and waited for the fog to clear. An unfamiliar and firm hand gripped Sion’s arm. He whipped his head to the side. Briair cocked his head, and Sion sorted through the mush of his mind to find words. Nothing came.
“What is wrong with you, man?” Briair asked.
“I will be fine.” Sion blinked long and steadied himself before pulling the reigns over his horse’s head. Briair pulled a little on Sion’s arm.
“Really Briair . . .” Sion could not say anymore, his thoughts drifted and filled with Illuma’s cruelty. He felt tears in his eyes and regretted Briair’s presence.
“Stubborn.” Briair released Sion’s arm, but the latter could feel the young man watching him settle his horse and then laid down. Only then did he find he had forgotten to take off his sword. He managed to unfasten the buckle and lay the weapon aside. Briair approached him again, this time squatting in front of him. Sion had not the will to move.
“Just let me rest.”
Briair rolled his eyes. “Alright.” He sat back and stayed in front of Sion.
“My head just aches Briair, it will pass.” Then he added, feeling more groggy, “leave me alone.” It sounded half-hearted, and felt slurred. Briair did leave, though . . . Only to come back a short time later. He sat beside Sion, closer this time. He took Sion’s hand and put something in it. Sion fully opened his eyes which had been half-closed, and saw some leaves, already beginning to crumble. He looked at Briair.
“Amaris said to chew on these for a while, drink lots of water,” which Briair placed in Sion’s other hand, “ and rest.”
Sion stared a moment and then looked over camp for where Amaris sat watching him. He nodded and she smiled. Sion tossed the leaves in his mouth and winced at the bitter taste.
“Uh . . . do not swallow.” Briair said with caution.
Sion turned his eyes on the boy. What, was he being poisoned?
“Amaris said to chew them, but try to not eat them.”
Lovely. Sion chewed until his jaw ached and his head numbed, then spit out the grainy bits of leaf. He drank water and tried to push himself to a sitting possition. He was somewhat aware of Briair sitting near, but opted to not have any half-conscious conversations. Then he slumped into a more blurry state — what had Amaris given him?

Sion’s eyes batted open. A blanket laid over him and he was curled up like an infant. He judged by the amount of sunlight that he had slept the remainder of the evening and straight through the night. He noticed while propping himself up that his head only had signs of the previous banging. He sighed and pushed the blanket from his shoulders; then he saw Briair watching him. Sion gestured for the young man to join him. Briair listened and silently came and sat beside Sion who could now recognized little pricks of pain in his head.
“Thank you for yesterday.”Sion said.
Briair nodded.
“You certainly have no reason to actually help me.”
Briair nodded again.
“I apologize for my treatment toward you, but how can I trust someone who . . .” Sion shrugged, he could not finish the sentence.
“I understand.” Briair’s strong gaze unnerved Sion who realized he was not dealing with a boy, at least not entirely.
“I could lie to you and say I now believe you are safe,” Sion sighed, “but I will not do such.”
“I appreciate that. I will tell you the same.”
“Why, then, did you come? Three vagabonds who held you by the sword seemed good company to keep?”
Briair smirked. “I know Adreaga provoked you. I smacked her around, to.”
“I did not touch her, Briair.” Sion defended.
Briair held up his palms. “I did not mean to imply such.”
“Where she now?” Sion noticed he could not find any others. “Briair, where are the women?”
Briair smiled toward the trees. “Adreaga is giving a show of her skills.”
Sion’s heart quickened. She had a bow and was actually using it? Her last demonstration, short as it was, had impressed Sion. “You do not mind if I excuse myself?” Sion stood, slow. He took a couple steps and looked back at Briair who lounged back without interest. “No intent on watching your sister at her game?”
“I have seen her shoot hundreds of times.”
“Hundreds? But who—”
“Go watch her. You will see why.”Briar waved Sion away.
Sion started walking, but Briair called his name. “Yes?”
Briair watched Sion a moment. “She came, I had to follow her.”
Sion pressed his lips together. “I am sorry for that.” Then Sion left.

The thrush of a flying arrow made Sion take a quick step back. He could not yet see Adreaga or her small audience. Then an idea came to Sion. He stepped behind a tree and made quiet progress toward the performance in progress. Careful to remain anonymous, Sion slipped behind the last tree he could hide behind before someone would see him. Yes, he could see Adreaga, poised for her next shot, and Amaris standing beside and a little behind the young woman. Perhaps Sion could watch without having to actually interact with the youth who so loathed him.
Sion caught his breath when the next arrow flew; Adreaga had made no preparatory gestures for the shot. The next followed same as last, and so did the following few arrows. An easy-looking pull proceeded a soundless stare down her arrow before she released her effortless grip on the string. After a long guffaw at Adreaga’s form, which made his own seem laborious, Sion turned his head until he saw where the arrows were heading. Narrowing his eyes, Sion began counting arrows when another wooden shaft stuck in the ground beside the others, perhaps five or seven. Adreaga was showing an arc shot. He watched as an arrow flew off Adreaga’s bowstring, glided upward for a fraction of a second, and then dove until its tip thrust into the ground alongside the other which stuck feather end-up in the ground. Sion looked for any missed arrows, perhaps lying without confidence on the dirt beside the others, but he saw nothing. This girl’s aim was ridiculous. Yet, Sion had only seen her shoot the ground, an unimportant target indeed. “Limit the time between shots,” Sion startled Adreaga, but Amaris looked annoyed, as he stepped out and started toward the two women. “And shoot at something that matters.”
Adreaga set an arrow and turned the bow on Sion whose heart ceased beating and feet froze in place. Adreaga jerked her bow in the direction of the other shots, her face still facing Sion with crewel satisfaction. Her arrow shot and spun out of control, smashing into a tree and breaking into wood splinters. Sion felt perspiration on his forehead. “Damn.” He muttered. “Do not ever do that again.” Sion wanted to take the bow from Adreaga and dash it against a rock, but he needed to show better control.
“Can you not trust any skill better than your own?” Adreaga tightened her lips.
“Not without a trial.”
Adreaga smirked, and mumbled. “You must give a lot of tests, then.”
Sion, unamused, asked Adreaga if she would comply.
“What do you want me to show you?”
“Speed. I want to see your accuracy hold up.”
Adreaga mumbled again. “Wake up sooner next time.”
Sion nodded. Perhaps Adreaga had already showed her full potential, but Amaris did not wake Sion, and he needed to see himself, this child’s ability.
“Humor me, please.”
Adreaga gave Sion a cocky grin. “How fast?”
“As fast as you can.”

Within minutes, Sion was outlining paths for the next round of arrows and Amaris watched, void of expression, as Adreaga shot with precision . . . and speed. If only the over-confident annoyance had a polite demeanor, Sion might actually enjoy having this girl around. She shot at his command until she called it quits on account of a sore arm. Sion believed her excuse. Besides, she had proven herself.
“Who taught you, or did you figure archery out on your own?” Amaris asked.
Adreaga huffed. “Not a chance.”
Sion fumbled a moment with Adreaga’s remark. “Wait, which question were you answering?”
Adreaga looked between the two and then walked away.
“Amaris,” Sion shook his head, “I have to teach you about introductory phrases.” He began fetching his arrows which he had volunteered for the demonstration.
“What do you mean by that, Sion?”
“Amaris, you and I have too much history to hide much from each other. Ordinary people need to be coaxed from the shadows a bit. You expect too much, and too rapidly. You will not tell those two more than half of what you are, and you want them to answer your every question?” Sion knew Amaris held back far more than Sion. Over half the time, Sion felt he followed Arian. “Give your words some thought.”
“You think I do not?”
Sion smirked. “You think plenty about your replies, but questions? Respect people enough to ask as slow as you tell.” Sion’s quiver was full, and he had three of Adreaga’s arrows in his hand. Amaris waited to reply, and then she only nodded.
“The girl left some arrows.” Sion joined Amaris who had watched him pick up after Adreaga’s shots.
“I will return them,” Amaris tried to take the arrows, but Sion pulled back his hand.
“No. I finally have the smallest incentive for her to not hate me.”
Amaris laughed. “You need it.”
“Exactly my point.” Sion pricked the tip of one arrow. “Pathetic bow and arrows, really.”
Amaris held an open hand, “Can I? I will give it back—” Sion hesitated “—to you.” He dropped an arrow into Amaris’s palm. She turned it over, flicked the warn feathers, and returned the weapon.
“Odd.”
“I know.”
Amaris nodded.
“She did not damage a single arrow,” Sion exhaled. “Thank god. I cannot afford it.”
“I doubt she can either. Go return her arrows.”
Sion nodded and straitened a bent feather before taking it back to Adreaga.

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