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

How Journeys End Chapter Fifteen: The Rally

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General Narsi and Lady Via led them to the rally. Though sanctioned by the king, this felt like the most informal group Camellia had ever been a part of, aside from when she was undercover and working with the rebels. The troop had decided that pretending to be a mercenary group would be good enough cover to infiltrate the town. General Narsi was no longer a general for the time being, just the leader of a bunch of ragtag fighters. Overall, the general was much more laid back than he appeared to be, even before they decided on their plan. Both Lady Via and Chrysan seemed to trust him, in a respectful and begrudging way.

Lady Via was more cooperative than Camellia had ever seen her when she was with General Narsi. She may have argued with him or even disagreed, but ultimately, she believed in his call and did what he requested. Apparently, he hadn’t led her wrong so far.

As for Chrysan… it was strange to see him being treated a little bit like a child. Viola told Camellia that Chrysan had worked at the castle when he was younger and had been in General Narsi’s unit before he requested a transfer to the warfront. Camellia never knew how to handle Chrysan’s moods, but apparently General Narsi had mastered the art a long time ago. He wasn’t a top-notch leader in one of the strongest armies for nothing.

“I believe this seems like a good place to stop for the night,” Lady Via said, dismounting from her horse.

The general nodded. “Viola and I will go and find lodging. The rest of you go and see what you can find out about this place. Understood?”

The “do not tip off the rebels” went unsaid. They all spouted yeses off to him and scattered after handing the reigns literally to Viola and General Narsi. Tarra latched onto Camellia’s arm, dragging her towards the marketplace. Lady Via walked off, and Camellia was sure that the magician must have been aware of Chrysan and Yarrow heading in the same direction.

“Do you think they’ll tell us anything?” Tarra asked, eyes bouncing around, taking in all the sights, the smells, the lives of everything around them as they passed.

Camellia shrugged. “I think the best thing to do is wait,” she said thoughtfully. “It won’t be long, and, if Lady Via is to believed, then everyone in town should be aware of what’s happening. Some will listen. Some won’t.”

“Do you think she can be trusted?” Tarra asked.

It made discomfort surge through Camellia like she’d been struck by lightning. “I…” she began and paused. “I don’t know.”

Tarra shrugged. “Her Ladyship doesn’t seem to like her,” she said. She was falling back on old habits by calling Siana that, but Camellia couldn’t blame her, if they were trying to gain the trust of the villagers around them. They weren’t far from the castle, and support was historically higher here than other areas, but they couldn’t be too careful.

“That is true.”

“She seems fond of you, though.”

Camellia scoffed, rolling her eyes as Tarra idly picked up fruit at a stand, giving money to the merchant and nodding. “You’re being ridiculous.”

Tarra bit into the apple she’d bought, raising a brow. “Am I?”

Camellia glared, and Tarra laughed.

“Anyway, I can’t tell what she’s thinking or what she’s planning,” Tarra continued. “I don’t know if I trust her as my ally.”

“You’d said the same thing about me,” Camellia reminded her.

“You proved yourself time and time again.” Tarra tilted her head, her hair swaying as she did. She took a thoughtful bite from her food. “You kept your head down, didn’t do anything unnecessary. You kept your distance, but Lady Via always seems as though she’s watching everything. Like she’s plotting something.”

Camellia didn’t feel the need to respond. The townspeople were moving, slowly, but noticeably. There was chattering among the people around them. It wasn’t long before Chrysan and Yarrow found Camellia and Tarra.

“I think our friends will be making an appearance soon,” Chrysan said, gesturing with a nod towards a large building. “Town center, according to a very helpful child who wanted to cut Yarrow’s hair for money.”

Tarra sputtered a laugh.

Yarrow sighed deeply. “He was very insistent,” he said. “He wanted me and Chrysan to look like twins.”

“He thought you were brothers?” Camellia asked. She tried to imagine it. And couldn’t. They argued far too much, threatened to kill each other too often, and went for days without even looking at each other. It had always been… interesting… working with the two of them. Thankfully, Chrysan was rarely hurt and didn’t often need Yarrow’s expertise, but he insisted on bothering Yarrow all the time anyway.

Chrysan nodded with a proud grin. “Sure did!” he gloated. Chrysan grabbed Yarrow’s narrow face, squeezing his chin and cheeks with his hand. “Can’t you see the resemblance?”

Yarrow hit his hand away. “Are you just going to tease me, or are we going to meet the others at the townhall?”

Chrysan chuckled to himself, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “We were sent to come get you,” Chrysan said. “The others are there already.”

Tarra tossed her apple core over her shoulder, into a patch of grass, as they walked back towards the large building Chrysan had pointed out earlier. There was a hefty amount of people gathered, but it was hard for Camellia to gauge whether it was good reception or bad. Perhaps it was curiosity, getting the best of them, that brought them here, in front of the rudimentary stone steps of their town center.

She found her allies across the crowd. General Narsi and Viola kept close to the back. The general wasn’t exactly afraid of being recognized, but… his armor, or maybe his sword, he said, might give him away if someone knew the Royal Army. (His sword was distinct—it had a beautiful and ornate handguard, coated in silver. There was a blue gem in the pommel, and Cera had once told Camellia that the stone enchanted it with magic.)

Lady Via was much closer to the town center. She’d perched herself on the edge of a flowerbed, draping her cape around her like a blanket. She looked every part the nobility that should live in a town like this, with an air of expectation about what would unfold in front of her. Her eyes were sharp, though. Calculating. Camellia could see what Tarra had meant—she looked like she was… not scheming, exactly, but planning. Whatever it was, Camellia couldn’t be sure.

“Closer?” Yarrow asked, and Camellia nodded.

Tarra and Chrysan stayed behind, keeping their stations in the middle of the crowd. Camellia would have preferred to stay somewhere blended in, but she knew someone needed to be closer. They had planned this beforehand. Yarrow had been to the rallies before, and Camellia would likely be recognized as Gladioli by the rebels. This was the best place for the two of them to be, she reminded herself, as they made their way closer to the front.

The thought went straight from her head as she saw the leader of the rebel group.

A young man, Camellia’s age, in his 20s, came to the crowd and ascended the steps. He looked out at everyone with a warm stare from striking yellow eyes. His hair was wavy and brown, hanging over his forehead. He was wearing a light green tunic with no armor. He held no weapons. He smiled, eyes sailing over the crowd with a deceptively critical eye but a definite, genuine fondness.

Camellia knew him.

She did know him, in the past.

It was Day Bellis. He was clearly different from the boy she’d left behind when she fled Gladiolus—the boy who said he was never leaving their home because he believed he could do more good there. The same boy who cried when the rabbit he’d been feeding died. The same boy who taught Camellia how to make dandelion chains, how to braid flowers into her hair. The same boy who used to spar with her. They went swimming together in the summers.

Leaving him was the hardest thing she’d ever done, and seeing him again, Camellia felt her heart drop to her stomach.

“Cam?” Yarrow asked, knocking her arm with his elbow.

She shook her head. “I’m fine.”

“Then I won’t ask,” he said back, a small smile gracing his thin lips.

Camellia nodded her head gratefully.

Day was greeting the people. His voice was exactly the same. A bit deeper, more adult, of course, but the same, distinct timbre. He’d always been good at talking—he’d talked them out of trouble when they were kids, and then later, as they were older, he talked people into supporting him and whatever cause he had. This was the biggest cause he’d had yet, and it seemed he was making excellent use of his skills as a charismatic leader.

“We do not want to rise above you,” Day said, “only to rise on our own soil. We do not want to be taken advantage of, though we have much to offer. Today, I offer you a chance. We want to make things right. Between our country and yours—my people and the people of Nastur.”

It was hard to listen over the sound of her heart in her ears, the sound of his laughter as a child in her memories.

“There are rumors that we’ve been targeting the magicians and royalty of Nastur,” he said. “The truth is that the war began because of Queen Anne. She visited to aid Gladiolus’ people. She taught me about magic and those who can use it. The truth is that nobody is above anybody else, in our country or yours. She was a kind woman. A good leader, and I mourn—”

He didn’t even flinch when the knife flew past him, landing in the ground next to him. He looked outward, at the people, with bright, alert eyes.

“Lies!” someone screamed out.

Camellia tore her eyes away from Day to search the town behind her. The rebels must have planted their own in the crowd—a few people were searching the same way Camellia’s own unit was, readying weapons and… magic. Lady Via hadn’t been lying about that, then.

“You killed our queen!” the voice from before shouted.

Camellia looked desperately towards Chrysan. It couldn’t be—

It wasn’t. Chrysan was shouting—she couldn’t hear over the sudden commotion of the crowd—but he was shouting, guiding townspeople away, out of the square and towards safety. Tarra was at his side, trying to keep people calm.

“Camellia!” Yarrow yelled next to her.

Her attention snapped back to the rebels. They were looking at General Narsi, Viola, Camellia, and Yarrow with recognition that they weren’t citizens—that they were soldiers. A magician nearby was moving her mouth, readying a spell of nebulous black between her hands.

Camellia pushed Yarrow out of the way—he had hardly any armor on—he wasn’t a front lines fighter like she was—

She fell back when it struck her, her head knocking into the stonework of the town square. Her side burned. It burned and it stung where the magic had hit her. When Camellia went to check herself, it was wet with blood and black residue from the spell and… she let out a breath.

She was dizzy.

“Camellia!” Yarrow shouted, his voice on the fringe of her consciousness.

Instead of the voice yelling in her ear, she focused instead on the boots she could see that had stopped running, stopped in their fleeing. A green tunic. Soft, brown hair that bounced when he walked. Wide, surprised, yellow eyes the color of the sun.

Day Bellis.

He was staring at her.

He saw her. He was frozen in his spot, seeing her as she was bleeding out in front of him. Someone behind him grabbed him, forcing him along before General Narsi or Lady Via could get him. And then he was gone.

Camellia wondered how this happened.

Something went wrong. A long time ago, maybe.

Yarrow said something. She felt cold.

And then nothing.

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