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

How Journeys End Chapter Fourteen: Intel

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Camellia was in her normal position, protecting Siana as she was told the news of the traitors. Her heart beat steadily as she stood at Siana’s side, and the smell of the princess’ personal soaps on Camellia’s skin was more than enough to calm Camellia even in the high stress situation.

Because of the letters Chrysan had brought from General Helianthus’ tent at the camp, General Narsi was deciding to put together a troop to track down rebel units. Originally, General Helianthus had been doing it. The king now wanted someone more trusted, someone closer to do it. They would have less free reign than General Helianthus had during his time in the position and would report directly to the king.

General Narsi would lead it, and he was asking Princess Siana for her permission to once again borrow her favorite knight when the occasion called for it.

“Not always,” he explained, “but for certain missions. Lady Camellia’s skills have been proven unrivaled on the battleground. Chrysan, Viola, and even Lady Via have all vouched for her.”

“And I as well,” Siana said with a smile. “However, she is my protector. I would prefer her at my side as much as possible, if things are so dire, as you say.”

General Narsi nodded. “Lady Via and Yarrow have volunteered to take on the task of intel and recon,” he said. “Yarrow said he thinks he may have some ideas about where Cori might be hiding.”

“Not Chrysan or Viola?” Siana asked, tilting her head.

The general heaved a sigh. “His Majesty is… worried, Your Highness. He’d rather keep an eye on them.”

“Worried about what? Viola is a trusted knight and Chrysan a skilled soldier,” Siana argued.

“I am aware of their qualifications,” he said with a nod. “But they are not my orders.”

Siana settled back in her seat. “Please let me know ahead of time, and Camellia and I will discuss whether or not she feels it is safe to leave my side,” she decided.

He nodded his head once. “Understood, Your Highness.”

“Thank you, General Narsi.” She stood up, nodding her head more for genuine respect than etiquette. Camellia bowed, following her princess out.

Once they were safely out of earshot, Camellia cracked a smile. “Your protector, am I?” she teased.

Siana tossed her hair over her shoulder to look at Camellia. “Are you not?” she said with a scoff. “Is there someone more suitable?”

Camellia pretended to think it over. “I can’t think of anybody, no.”

Siana smiled, pausing in her stride so Camellia could catch up to her. She took Camellia’s hand and pressed her lips to the top of it, her eyes sparkling as she looked up at her knight through her lashes. “Then I suppose you’ll have to do, won’t you?”

Camellia snatched the princess’ hand back, kissing her fingers delicately. “I suppose I will, My Princess.”

Siana giggled. “My protector.”

It took only a week for Camellia to forget she was promised to help General Narsi and attempting to quash any news of insurgence in Nastur. A week of the way Siana smiled at her, the way she trailed her gentle fingers up Camellia’s arms, leaving goosebumps in their wake. A week of secret chaste kisses, stolen glances, and quiet conversations in the nighttime.

And then she was called by the general into a meeting with Yarrow and Lady Via, Chrysan, Tarra, and Viola. King William was sitting at the head of the table, his eyes trained straight ahead, his rough, calloused fingers crossed in front of him.

The air was still, the energy tense.

Yarrow was the first one to speak. “Gladiolus is gaining sympathy among our people,” he said. “More so than before, Nastur citizens are showing support for rebels and refugees. The leader of their rebels is planning to hold a public rally.”

The king scoffed. “A public rally?”

Yarrow nodded. “I went to look for Cori. I suspected she went back to Gladiolus,” he said. His eyes looked desperately, sadly to Chrysan. “She… was fond of it. It was pretty there, and you know how she liked to see new things.”

“Did you catch his name?” General Narsi asked.

Yarrow shook his head, attention drifting back to his new captain. “Not… exactly. He said that Gladiolus would rise with the day. But they seem to be planning a major attack on the castle, as Chrysan said.”

Camellia’s head snapped to look at him. Lady Via tried to catch Camellia’s attention from across the table but failed. Her eyes narrowed as she watched Camellia try to calm herself down.

“Isn’t that what the letter said?” Tarra asked, looking over at Chrysan.

Chrysan nodded. “Something to that effect, yes.”

“Do you think we can believe them?” King William asked.

Yarrow ran a hand through his light hair. It flopped back in place over his forehead, into his eyes. “I believe they’re gearing up for something. Lady Via and I read some literature—pamphlets we saw when we stopped in Gladiolus. Heard a few people speak, but none of them the leader we heard of. They say the leader is a young man with eyes the color of the sun.”

“Lady Via?” The king asked, turning his head to look at her with a raised brow.

“Know thine enemy and such,” she said simply, answering the king’s unease. Then, she tossed her hair a bit as her eyes narrowed. “We learned that the rebels remain wary of magicians and adamantly anti-monarchy,” she reported. “However, it seems that they’ve changed the direction on their usage of magicians. Of those who have been captured, less and less are being found dead.”

“They’re being returned home?” Tarra asked warily.

“That isn’t what I said,” Lady Via responded, tapping her fingers on the table lightly. “The insurrection’s goals in Nastur are to destroy the unjust monarchy. In Gladiolus, it’s to gain enough power to protect themselves. They’re doing so by exploiting magic.”

Yarrow nodded. “A few magicians seem to have joined their ranks,” he added. “Who knows if they’re sympathetic or if they’re being forced to fight a war they don’t want.”

“Ah, just like any soldier, then?” Chrysan snarked. Tarra quickly slammed her foot down on top of Chrysan’s.

Yarrow sent Chrysan a side-eyed glare and continued. “We didn’t meet Cori, but I suspect she’ll be a lynchpin in whatever they’re planning.”

“What gives you that idea?” General Narsi asked, raising a brow.

“Well, Chrysan trusted her,” Yarrow answered. “I have no doubt that Chrysan told her a few things and that she was able to wean information from him.”

Chrysan scowled, his joking mood gone sour, but General Narsi shrugged. It seemed a good enough argument for him.

“And you think their grievances are so strong that they would mount an attack against us?” King William asked, his sweeping gaze pausing on Chrysan. “Have we not provided them with safety? With wealth and opportunity?”

“People were going hungry during the war,” Chrysan answered. “Gladiolus burned farms and villages.”

“It was wartime,” he responded. “We did what we could.”

“The poor of our country are lacking education, particularly neighboring Gladiolus. You know this. Queen Ann pushed for—”

King William slammed his hand down on the table, leveling Chrysan with a heavy glare. “Do not presume that you knew my wife better than I did,” he said, his voice low, like a growl.

Chrysan bared his own teeth. “She wanted peace. Not a war started in her name.”

“Chrysan—” Viola warned, grabbing onto his arm.

“Don’t bother,” he said, snatching his arm away. He looked at the king. “I’ll see myself out. General Narsi can give me my orders.”

He bowed and left the room.

King William looked at General Narsi, then at Lady Via. “Is his skill worth such insolence?” he muttered.

“Chrysan is the best archer I’ve ever seen,” General Narsi said with a sigh. He rubbed the back of his neck. “Please excuse his behavior. The majority of his unit was traitors. It’s been hard on him.”

“I find him rather fascinating, anyway,” Lady Via said, resting her head in her hands, her eyes alight with amusement. “Nobody defends your late wife as ardently as he does.”

King William waved his hand. “What else do we have?”

“There is a rebel unit nearby. I don’t believe that the girl we are looking for is a part of it,” Lady Via said. “But they have been loudly recruiting in towns, rallying for support. I suppose with their biggest cover and support gone in the late General Helianthus, they’re desperate for whatever they can get.”

“Are they a big threat?” General Narsi asked.

“Big enough.” Lady Via hummed, leaning back in her chair. “I would advise that we attack them and see if they have any intel on other groups.”

“Historically, all units remained separated,” Camellia said. “It helped keep the rebellion moving.”

“But for such a large-scale attack, they may be planning something together,” Tarra countered. Camellia nodded her head to the side in agreement, shrugging her shoulders. Many things could have changed since she’d been undercover, after all.

“We won’t know until we go and find out,” General Narsi decided. “We’ll go with Lady Via’s lead first and see if there’s any information there. Prepare and meet by the barracks tonight. Understood?”

Everyone nodded, and everyone was dismissed. Camellia went to relieve Cera of his position at Siana’s side, to take her rightful place as the princess’ bodyguard. Before she could reach Siana’s quarters, Lady Via caught her by the wrist.

“May we talk?” she asked, smiling.

Camellia stopped in her tracks, turning around to the royal magician. “Did I do something wrong, Lady Via?” she asked back.

“No, nothing like that, Lady Camellia,” Lady Via said. “I just wanted to check up on you. How are you dealing with the death of General Helianthus?”

“I’m fine, Lady Via.” Camellia bowed her head. “Thank you for asking.”

Lady Via gave her a onceover. “Good,” she said shortly. “Then may I ask why you seemed distracted during our meeting?”

Camellia winced. It was a small thing, almost undetectable. Her brows stitched together the slightest bit. “It’s… a difficult topic.”

“Your homeland?”

“Yes,” she said, and Lady Via knew she was lying, but Camellia continued. “You saw how Chrysan stormed out of there. I feel much the same, but he has allowances that I do not.”

Lady Via’s lips curled. “That is true.” She hummed again, crossing her arms. “Do you happen to know, is that Chrysan from a noble family? I have not looked into him.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know. Lady Tarra Dracul might know a bit more about his lineage,” Camellia said. “If you’ll excuse me, Lady Via.”

“Of course.” Lady Via bowed her head, watching as Camellia walked away, towards the princess’ private quarters.

Gladiolus would rise with the day, Camellia thought. She was sitting on the floor, leaning against Princess Siana’s bed. The room was almost gloomy in the late afternoon light—it was half-lit in gray, shadowed where Camellia was sitting. Above her on the bed, Siana was penning a letter to Lord Denia Pine. Camellia hadn’t bothered to ask what it was about. She was too busy thinking that Yarrow had likely gotten the wording wrong in his report.

It was “Gladiolus will rise with Day.” There was someone she knew who always said that, before she left. Her heart ached at the idea that they were on different sides, that if she wanted to continue to survive, to continue this life, she would have to kill him.

He had been a friend. They grew up together.

Camellia buried her head in her arms, in darkness. When she felt fingers in her hair, massaging her head, she looked up.

Siana had lit the lamps around her room. It was golden and warm in the room instead of the listless gray of before.

“What’s the matter?” Siana asked.

“Nothing, Your Highness.”

Siana pouted and Camellia wanted so badly to kiss the expression off her face. Instead, she laughed, and that made Siana’s smile reappear.

“I will be leaving tonight,” Camellia said. “Cera will take my place again at your side.”

Siana’s hands remained in Camellia’s hair, combing through tangles and unbrushed sections that the knight didn’t bother with. “Alright,” she agreed. “You will return soon?”

“Lady Via said the rebel group was close by,” Camellia said. “General Narsi assures us that this is simply recon. We won’t be chasing any runaways or any leads. He wants us close to the castle in case anything happens.”

Siana nodded. “Then what are you so worried for?”

Camellia shook her head. She unthreaded Siana’s hands from her hair and turned to face the princess, taking her hand in two of her own, cupping it against her chest. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” Camellia said. “I will return to you, whatever it takes.”

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