Quick info: This is both a stand-alone story, and a short prequel introducing another major character that will be appearing in Age of Blood And Bone.
The circle of visitors gathered around Adran, silently praying behind him. He glanced back at them for a moment as he walked to the window and opened it. In the distance, he heard the faint sound of birdsong, and a cool breeze wafted into the room.
â€œDo you hear that?â€ He walked back to his wife's bedside, and sat in the chair beside her. â€œIt's going to be a beautiful day.â€
â€œThat's good.â€ Chelena smiled faintly, and raised her head slightly to look out at the blue sky. â€œI wonder if my roses are blooming, yet?â€
â€œAlmost. Just a few more days.â€ Adran choked back tears, taking Chelena's hand. The two had met under those bushes, ten years ago. At the time, Adran had been a mere deputy, although Captain Makal had spoken warmly of his promise, and Chelena was the daughter of a local farmer. Her father had protested the existance of the roses, feeling that the family didn't have the space to waste on frivolous matters in ground that could grow another patch of tomatoes, but she had insisted quietly, and he had been the one who gave ground. Everyone gave ground to Chelena, those few times that she truly wanted something. Everyone loved her.
â€œWe've made all the sacrifices, Chelena. Everything's going to be alright.â€ Adran smiled, running a hand through her hair, matted against her brow by the wasting disease that had taken her. For the last week, she had been unable to eat at all, and to one who didn't know her, the light still shining in her eyes would be the only thing beautiful about her. Her skin was pale and clung to her bones, and when she spoke, it was in a whisper. But Adran refused to give up - and so did the city. For Chelena, every man and woman in town had found something to sacrifice to Hadol, the Croplord. Everyone wished for her to be saved.
The town's healer listened to Chelena's raspy breathing, and shook her head. Adran knew what she had said; Chelena was fading quickly. The healer had been forced to give her medicines that were of dubious use in one so weak, and she was afraid that if Chelena faded now, they would never have time to work. And so Adran had left the business of defending his town to his deputies for just a little while longer, and had sat vigil with his wife. He had kept her awake throughout the night, sharing old memories and future dreams, and now the dawn was breaking. In the next few minutes, they would see if the god's blessing had been given.
Chelena, meanwhile, was smiling, looking out at the dawning day. â€œI hope someone will take care of those roses, after I'm gone. They're the second-most important thing in the world to me.â€ She winked, with some effort, and her hand reached up to weakly grip his. â€œAdran, I'm sorry I never gave you a son.â€
â€œShh, there's still plenty of time. Stop worrying.â€
â€œTen years, Adran. I don't think there is.â€ Chelena laughed sadly. â€œI made prayers to Hadol every night, you know. I gave him a single rose each twilight and prayed for a child. But they never came. I wonder if I offended him?â€
â€œYou could never. What man or god could not love you?â€ Adran felt tears welling. â€œHow could anyone?â€
â€œFlatterer.â€ Chelena chuckled weakly. â€œBut then, you've always been there to protect me. No matter what I need, you'd have it for me. Sometimes before I knew that I needed it.â€ Her hand clenched his. â€œYou'll always be my hero, Adran. But you can't...â€ She broke off, coughing heavily. Adran looked at the healer with alarm, and was met with a sad shake of the head. When she resumed, her voice was weaker than ever. â€œYou can't protect me from this. Not this time.â€
â€œDon't leave me, Chelena. I don't know what I'll do...â€
â€œLive. That's all that I need. Don't forget me, but don't let your life...â€ Chelena's voice grew fainter as she spoke, and with the last word she slumped back against the bed and closed her eyes. Adran clutched her hand more tightly, shaking his head.
â€œNo, this can't...â€ He broke down then, holding his wife's hand, as the healer gently started the quiet dirge to send her soul to heaven.
Adran sat silent for the next two days, as the people of the town prepared for the funeral. On the third day, as she was laid into her grave, he placed with her a bouquet of roses, half-opened. The mayor gave the eulogy, and Adran, though he cried, did not speak until she was buried - and then only to thank everyone who had gathered for him.
No one was very surprised, although many were disappointed, when he chose to leave the city, handing the farm over to Chelena's sister on the condition that she always keep the rosebush safe. The mayor met him at the gates. â€œWhere will you go?â€
â€œI don't know.â€ Adran looked out over the horizon. â€œI sat up each night at Hadol's shrine, Romen. I asked him only one thing - why?â€ He shook his head. â€œHe didn't answer. But I need to know.â€
â€œThis can't end well, Adran. Don't forget her last request. You have to live.â€
â€œI will.â€ Adran smiled sadly, clapping the mayor on the shoulder. â€œBut it doesn't change my need. To understand why he didn't bless her.â€
â€œYou may never learn.â€
â€œThen I will keep travelling.â€ Adran shrugged. â€œMaybe we'll meet again, someday.â€
â€œI hope so. Take care of yourself, old friend.â€ Romen sighed, and stepped back. Adran nodded, and turned to leave, walking down the path. The sun shone down on his back, and the smell of roses floated through the air.