Originally written for a friend. There’s a crick in my neck, and I think that’s what wakes me—the discomf ...
Paladin and Witch
The two women stared at one another for a while, before the knight finally cracked, her expression sliding into a tired, sideways smile. “It’s good to see you, Gwyn.”
The witch, Gwyn, felt her face soften in return. “It’s been a while, Ari.”
Ari unbuckled her sword and shield. “It has. I’m sorry. Can I come in?”
Gwyn stood aside, waving the knight into her home. Inside, the fire cackled warm against the chill night air. Bundles of herbs hung drying to one side, while comfortable looking furniture sat piled with furs and blankets, enticing. The house hinted at other rooms further back, a hallway opening there, a door here, but Ari ignored them. She set her weapons by the door, and with a glance at the witch, who nodded, sank down onto one of the high-piled chairs by the fire.
A loud exhalation punctuated her movement.
Ari nodded. “If it’s not too much trouble.”
“You know it isn’t.” Gwyn pushed a sloshing kettle over the fire. “Did the village send you to deal with me?”
Ari made a noise in the back of her throat. “I told them I’d look into things.” She leaned forward, arms on her knees, gaze staring past the flickering firelight. “I thought…it might be you.”
Gwyn’s lip twisted a little as she stood to retrieve mugs and the tea. “Are the rumors that bad, then?”
“Oh, they’re horrible. But that’s not why I wondered if their witch was you.”
The witch paused, giving a short, sharp shake of her head before setting the mugs on a short table by the fire, and resuming her seat. “So what, then, if not the rumors?”
This time it was the knight’s turn to shake her head, though Ari did so with slow, deliberate movements. A smile tugged at her lips, but never fully formed. “Moon lilies.”
The witch, watching, said nothing.
“This part of the forest is covered in them.” Ari shook her head, ran a gauntleted hand over short, dark hair. “They were always your favorite.”
The kettle whistled. Gwyn plucked it off the fire and poured water into the mugs, still saying nothing. But her eyes softened at the knight’s words, and her fingers lingered when she passed Ari her tea. And when their eyes met again, there was warmth, and sadness.
They sat together for a while, with tea, and the fire, and silence. Until the tea was finished, and the witch reached out for the paladin’s cup, tilting it here and there to examine the leaves before setting it down.
“What do they say?”
Gwyn’s mouth turned in a wry smile. “The same thing they always say. Wife.”
The paladin flinched. “You were gone when I came home. What did… I thought…” She swallowed the remaining words with her eyes closed tight, only to open them when she felt a light touch on her arm.
Gwyn slid her hand down to take hold of Ari’s, and squeezed. “It wasn’t your fault. I didn’t want to go. I had no choice.”
Ari sighed. “The rumors?”
The witch nodded. “Without you there, the villages turned against me one by one. I had to leave before things got unpleasant. Before I got unpleasant.”
“I should have been there.”
“No.” Gwyn squeezed her hand again. “You are a paladin. You go where your Goddess sends you. You were needed elsewhere.”
“I was needed at home, by your side.” Ari pulled her gauntlets off and tossed them to the side, taking the witch’s hands and gripping them tight. “I missed you. I was scared for you, and angry, and I didn’t know if I’d ever find you.”
“You found me.”
“It’s been years. It took years.”
Gwyn reached out a hand and cupped Ari’s jaw. “It’s only been a moment. I knew our Goddesses wouldn’t keep us apart for long. And here you are.”
“Here we are.” Ari sighed and leaned her forehead against her wife’s. “I missed you.”
“I missed you, too, Ari. Every day.”
They sat like that for long moments, foreheads together, breathing the same air while Gwyn’s thumb stroked the scar on Ari’s cheek that hadn’t been there the last time she’d seen her wife. Eventually, Ari took Gwyn’s hand again and pulled back to look her in the eyes.
“So. You’re eating babies now?”
Gwyn burst out laughing. “Really? That’s what they’re saying this time?”
The sideways smile made another appearance. “Among other things. All ridiculous nonsense, even without knowing it was you.”
“I should hope so, with a witch for a wife.”
The paladin chuckled. “I don’t know who comes up with these things. Although, I have a fairly good idea who put the ideas in the town’s heads this time. There’s one of those new priests that’s settled in. He was fairly adamant that you be gotten rid of.”
“They’re showing up more.”
Ari nodded. “I’ve run across a few.” She sighed, then slowly grinned. “What do you say we give them something to actually talk about?”
She was pretty sure the laughter that followed would fuel stories long after they were gone. But there was no sound Ari would rather hear. Home wasn’t a place, it had never been a place. Home was her wife, Gwyn’s laughter and love. Whatever waited them, they’d face it together, like they should have before.
It was good to be home.