Three girls underneath a hedge, trapped in a love triangle
How Journeys End

How Journeys End Chapter Nine: The Letter

How Journeys End by Pineapple | Content warnings

It was a few quick weeks before Viola returned to the castle. She slipped in, bathed, and made herself presentable to give a report to The Royal Magician, Via. Via had been at the castle longer than anyone else in the court, as far as Viola knew. Via had accumulated a good amount of trust and power in her years, so orders from her and reporting to her were not unusual for the young knight. Via had her own tempers, her mind worked in its own way.  It was late—few were awake, but Viola was familiar enough with Via’s habits. She would be working still.

Viola approached Via’s lab slowly. The lamps were lit, and when Viola looked in, she saw the back of the Royal Magician.  Via was in the middle of her own research, brewing a potion that was steaming a vivid pink color.

Viola flexed her hands, her shoulders a few times. She wasn’t prepared for the information she’d received or what she was about to pass on. Viola cleared her throat and bowed her head. “Lady Via, I’ve just returned from my duties,” she announced.

Via spun around, her eyes wide and bright. A delighted smile spread across her face as she dropped a lid on top of her concoction and pulled a stool close. “Come, sit, sit,” she said. “Close the door and give me your report. You look weary. Was the journey hard on you?”

She closed the door behind her and slid into the stool across from Via. With a deep breath and an apprehensive look, she drew a folded paper from the inside of her tunic and held it out.

Via looked between Viola and the letter she offered, trying to meet Viola’s downcast eyes. She took the paper and opened it carefully, eyes scanning over the contents.

It was addressed to the picture of a sun. And it read:

The smell of the trees will hurt those who listen.

The water jugs have run dry.

The flowers look to the eye for answers

but I smell nothing but lies.

When there is no other choice,

the day rises on the sword.

At the bottom of the letter was a signature—the pounded imprint of a daisy, a kind only found in Gladiolus.

Via read it over a few times. “What does this mean?” she asked.

Viola sighed. “I don’t know.” She stood, pointing into the letter. “It’s… code. Obviously. I suspect the rebels are… preparing an attack.”

Via looked up at the knight. “Where?”

“The border, I believe.”

Via leaned back in her chair, raising her brows as she appraised Viola. “Do tell.”

“There is a rebel camp near the Gladioli-Nastur border.” Viola stood, pointing over the top of the paper to the poem written out before them. “The Sword Lily of Gladiolus, the smell of trees… They can’t move through Drangea, despite the pull back, for some reason. They have support from the sympathizers and insurrections here in Nastur. But…”


“They feel pressured, for some reason…”

Via sighed. “Likely the terms of surrender King William has placed on Gladiolus. Denia wanted to install education programs to help improve infrastructure and aid them in their reconstruction, but… His Majesty isn’t too keen on that. He has his own ideas about them and, in particular, how they should handle the rebels.”

“Our soldiers didn’t get very far into Gladiolus land. They pushed back and started destroying our towns and farms and—”

Via hummed, and Viola took that as a signal to be quiet. “Of course, the war was going on much longer than we know,” she said offhandedly. “How did you manage to retrieve something so valuable without so much as a scratch on you?” she asked, tossing her hair over her shoulder.

Viola felt the back of her neck heating up. “I… um,” she fumbled. “The letter is addressed to General Helianthus. I… I infiltrated his camp, looking for something about Camellia, but… I believe the General has been in contact with the rebels for a long time.”

“That’s a serious allegation to make against him, Lady Viola.”

Viola shrunk into herself, biting her bottom lip. “I… I know. It’s addressed with a sun. It came from his camp, and everything I can think of leads to him…”

“It could have been planted. Someone attempting a coup, setting him up.” Via cocked her head, looking back down at the paper in her hands.

“Of course, the thought occurred to me. But… the flower hammered at the bottom… it can only be found in Gladiolus. There were other letters, as well. This was the most recent.”

Via nodded. “I will tell Denia,” she said, her eyes drifting over the perfectly written calligraphy on the paper that separated them. “He should know, at least, how against his programs the rebels are. After he worked so hard, poor thing…”

“If someone high up enough gives the rebels support… the insurrection here in Nastur will grow, but maybe…” Viola shrugged. “Maybe whoever it is might be able to stop them before any violence occurs at all.”

Via hummed in acknowledgement that she heard. “And what would the general get out of sympathizing with our enemy?” she wondered out loud.

“I… don’t know, Lady Via. His unit was a lynchpin of our military before Gladiolus surrendered, so… I can’t imagine…”

Via was looking at the letter with furrowed brows and pursed lips. She hummed again, tracing the paper. “Yes. Curious, isn’t it? And the pivotal battle kept their hands clean from ending the war. I heard the stories of Lady Camellia throwing away food rations. If her plan hadn’t worked, she was dooming her own men.”

“Lady Via…” An unsettling feeling sank to the bottom of Viola’s stomach.

“Excellent work, Lady Viola. We’ll report formally to His Majesty in the morning. Please get some rest.” Via waved a hand and turned her back as she read over the letter again and again.

Viola wanted to stay, to know what ideas were swirling around the mage’s head, but as far as Via was concerned, Viola had already left. It was a look Viola had seen often on the magician, as she began to pace around her lab, the bubbling cauldron completely forgotten.

So Viola let herself out. As she returned to the barracks, she let out a heavy sigh, her shoulders falling. She thought back to the letter—and how she really received it.

It had been a few days, watching over Camellia’s old unit. Via had her own suspicions about Camellia’s “infiltration,” as she called it, and wanted to look into any leads regarding her character and inevitable betrayal. Viola didn’t believe it for a second, but orders were orders.

So she stationed herself far enough away from the camp that she wouldn’t be noticed and kept tabs on everyone that came and went. There was nothing suspicious, so far as she could see. She recognized some of the soldiers, even knew some of their names from her own time in service of the Kingdom’s military. Viola quickly picked up the faces and figures of the ones she didn’t know immediately as she watched them.

It was nice seeing Chrysan again, even from afar. His hair was much longer than before, tied at the back of his head. But… No. Something was wrong.

Something was—

Viola felt herself rolled over, a hand smothering her face, a knee in the middle of the light, leather armor covering her chest, digging into her sternum just enough to hurt.

“Stay quiet,” a voice warned above her.

Viola reached for the sword at her side and—


She looked into the peony-colored eyes of the woman above her. There was no malice, but there was a serious threat. If she’d wanted to kill Viola, she would have. The woman on top of her had no weapon in her hand, but there was no doubt in Viola’s mind that she was still in danger if she tried anything. This woman was skilled. Viola hadn’t even heard her approach.

“Did you think we hadn’t noticed you?” the woman taunted. “I had you pegged the minute you set up here.”

She heard the clank of armor, the sound of feet crunching grass—all the sounds she’d been listening for during her investigation.

A familiar voice rang out, fearless, from the tree line. “Don’t bully her, Cori. She was never trained to specialize in espionage like you.”

Viola’s eyes followed the noise, the voice, and there he was.

There was Chrysan. His hair was short, like how she remembered. His eyes just as striking, just as focused and charismatic. When he smiled, it was a mischievous one. He crossed his arms and leaned against a tree.

“Hello again, Viola.”

The woman above her slowly withdrew her hand, but Viola was too stunned to speak.

“You’d better be right about this, Chrysan,” the woman muttered.

“Have I ever been wrong before?” he asked, shrugging.

“Should I list them for you?” she bit back.

He sighed good naturedly and kneeled down next to Viola. “This will have to stay a secret between us, understood?” he asked.

“What is going on?” Viola stammered.

“Cori knew we were being watched,” he explained. “She and I kept out of sight while you were here. I knew that Yarrow was good for something…” He let out a small laugh.

“How long?” Viola asked.

The knee on her chest lifted, and the woman—Cori—settled for straddling her. “From the beginning,” she said. “You did a solid job. But the general’s unit is filled with specialists like me. I knew right away, and Chrysan’s vision is… well. He says you two worked together before. You know what he’s like.”

Viola nodded. He wasn’t the kingdom’s top archer for nothing. She’d seen him in action, before he left the castle. She’d heard of him even before that, when she was still just a soldier.

Cori took a letter from her tunic and tucked it into Viola’s leather breastplate. “You infiltrated our camp while we were investigating a lead on a rebel group,” she said. “And you found this in the general’s tent. Understood?”

Viola nodded again.

 “I trust you to do the right thing,” Chrysan said. “I don’t know why His Majesty has sent someone to spy on us, but… I’ll leave who you trust in the castle up to you.”

She felt something in her heart fall, her eyes twitch. “Chrysan, don’t…”

 “If you’re going to tell me not to do anything stupid, Viola, save your breath.” He slipped a second note into her breastplate with a smile. “I don’t know who to trust there anymore, except you and Camellia.”

Back in the safety of her own room, Viola lit a candle and locked her door. She undressed slowly, first taking off her boots and setting them by her bed, then changing out of her tunic into her nightshirt, and lastly sliding out of her pants. There was a knot in her shoulders the bath hadn’t been able to ease, a strain in her back she couldn’t stretch out.

Viola reached into her boot. She lifted the bottom part of the shoe and pulled a piece of paper from beneath it. She opened the weathered letter delicately.

At the top was the address—the simple drawing of a daisy.

The tree is not the enemy. The lace stained with red started this and so it shall end it. Soon I will no longer smell blood, no longer see my dead flowers. Carrots will feed the people without poison. The sun will rise with the day. Should day not come, the sun will shine on the castle.

And at the bottom, the crude, badly drawn signature of another aster-type flower. A sunflower, Chrysan had assured her.

Chrysan had said he didn’t know who to trust at the castle. So why protect it? She bit her lip, looking over the letter.

There was a knock at her door.

Viola quickly folded the letter, tucking it back into her boot, hidden beneath the bottom leather. She stood up and padded over to the door, unlocking it and swinging it open.

Cera stood on the other side, his face breaking out into a boyish grin. “Viola!” he whisper-shouted. “I thought I’d heard that you returned!”

Viola felt a fondness creep into her. “Earlier tonight,” she confirmed. “I’m tired. We should catch up in the morning.”

He flushed the same color as his pink-toned hair. “I mean… I’m just… glad. You seemed anxious before you left. Camellia told me not to worry, but…”

“But you did anyway.”

She couldn’t help it as she watched him barely even try to contain a smile, not even ashamed to nod. What kind of knight would he be if he was so scared to lose someone? Maybe, she thought, maybe that innocence she saw in Cera was worth the weight she felt, a few feet away, sitting at the bottom of her boot.

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