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Not Family

Gwenn’s journal entry, during the day before the midnight attack.

Well.

Well. That was…. was that a mistake?

I don’t know. Everything seems so upside down right now.

Firiel told Emilien, Ordune, and Tristram about her new…. affliction. I recruited Tristram to help keep her nourished– the gods know I won’t be able to do it by myself. It was a relief to see how quickly he agreed, how easily they all accepted her.

They accepted Emilien, too, when I brought him into the Harriers, officially. He’s now one of ours, for good or ill.

But that doesn’t mean he’s “family.”

That realization was brought home to me last night after I followed him upstairs to tell him the Harriers’ other dirty secret.

He laughed at me. He laughed at me for kidding him about something so serious. “Damn, Gwenn– when I make a bad joke, you don’t have to take it and run.”

Oof. I made sure he understood what I was really saying. Showed him the ring, explained its property, that there was literally no way I could have killed the previous bearer of it and still keep it in my possession.

In return, he made sure I understood the kind of man he was before he joined the rebellion.

“I want you to know, I didn’t take the job– it wasn’t me….” But my ears were already ringing, even as I schooled my face so he wouldn’t know how unsettled I was.

The job. To kill House Jader’s heirs.

Rob and me.

Am I alive because Emilien didn’t take the job? Is that what it’s come to? A quirk of fate– I’m sure he passed on it for financial, not moral reasons.

“I can already tell you, he’s dead, the man who tried to hire me.”

I heard my voice say, “What interests me is not the man who wanted to hire you, but the man who hired him.”

Dear gods, is this who I am? I barely know myself! The man I’m interested in is the one who slid the knife into my brother’s chest!

No, that’s not true. That’s as short-sighted as Ordune’s blood-hunt against House Normand– how could he not know the Head Inquisitor is a Normand! It is as short-sighted as every enemy who targets Firiel or Ordune or Tristram instead of me. They are the hands, the feet, the eyes, the knives of the Harriers. They are not its head, which guides the hand. Without me, they would be simple adventurers, looking for the next bandit group to slay, the next town in need of defending, the next dungeon to be cleared. Without me, they would almost be safe.

I went back downstairs, back to the drinks my friends were still pouring. Uncharacteristically, I ordered another, stronger this time.

It was when I landed on my ass in the middle of the inn floor that the bouncer told me to move on upstairs. Good advice, once I found my sea legs. Ordune and I stumbled up the steps, and I tumbled into my room with Firiel.

Another lesson to learn, I suppose. In talking– gossiping, really– of men and the goings-on between them and women, I learned… well, I learned that Firiel’s relationships have been few and… complicated.

She is not like me, not at all. I’ve known this for a long time, but I let myself allow our physical proximity, the camaraderie of tragedy, turn into a greater intimacy than I should have.

Firiel is not my peer. She will never be, and it would serve me well to remember that. She is a soldier in my army– an army of 5, but my army, nonetheless. I love them, but they are not my family. I need to remember that– even Fariga was a beloved retainer. Not family, but our family’s responsibility.

Talking with Firiel about consorting with… Well, I may as well confront it. She has relations with women as well as men. It brought home to me a simple fact: I will never have the carefree loves, physical or otherwise, that Emilien and Firiel can have. Even Ordune has been in love before, at least once, though I suspect that loss is buried in a village up north somewhere. Firiel’s tale of loving another maid intrigued and confused me, I’ll grant that– but in the end, it is nothing but words. Someone like me will only ever observe that kind of affection from a distance. At best, I can hope to die a virgin on the battlefield. At worst, in childbirth, bringing an heir to some awful Regency-allied house into the world.

I am never going to be an old woman. That, at least, Firiel and I have in common now.

Tomorrow, I may ask them to do the impossible. I may ask them to make the ultimate sacrifices. And I will trust completely that they will lay their lives down in service to our cause. You do not ask your children, your brothers, your sister, your mother to walk into an ambush, knowing that one or more of them will likely die, but knowing the information, and the risk of missing something important, is too great to leave it be. That is why I must remember, they are not family.

Oh, gods, what will I do if I lose them? It will break me–

STOP. These are the ramblings of a girl, not a lieutenant holding her army together. They are the whimperings of a child, not a conqueror. Firiel, Ordune, Tristram, and Emilien are not my family, because I must rely on them more than I would rely on kin. And it will break me if I also love them as much.

It may be too late for that, but if so, let that be my private burden. I must be cooler towards my friends. Not so much that they disdain me, but we have allowed each other to become too close recently. It is time to restore boundaries. If only so I will have the space to grieve when it becomes needful.

Today, watching over the precious silver we’re having re-cast into bars, I wish yet again that I could lay my arms down and let it be over. It could all be over. We could give up. Surrender. Or I could, and let them move on into simple lives of mercenary freedom. What am I fighting for, if we are only five of us, and the tales of the Harriers do not seem to be catching the imaginations as we hoped? Would death be preferable to this awful uncertainty?

No more whimpering. Only strength.

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