How Journeys End by Pineapple | Content warnings
When Camellia awoke, it was to the ceiling of her room in the barracks. Even the light from the lamp made her dizzy, and when she turned her head to extinguish the flame, Camellia felt her whole world shift. It wasn’t just the back-and-forth swaying in her head, or the surge of pain in her left side, but the sight of the Princess Royal—a bright splash of pink and yellow in the dreary, minimalist soldiers’ quarters—asleep over a book at her writing desk. From the looks of it, Siana hadn’t even changed from her dinner clothes or undone her hair.
Camellia squeezed her eyes shut, digging her head further back into her pillow. How long had she been out? How long had the princess been waiting for her like this?
Camellia felt a hole in her stomach distinct from the wound in her side. She gulped a few deep breaths of air before prying her eyes open again and daring a look to her side.
“Princess Siana?” she ventured, her voice soft. She was all at once eager and afraid to wake the other woman. Hope, feeling an awful lot like anxiety, pounded in her chest. She had promised to return to the princess, and yet…
Her breath hitched the same whether she tried to move or she saw Siana start to wake.
A brief look of fear passed over Siana’s face when she opened her eyes. She froze at the unfamiliar surroundings for a second before she sat up, routinely checking herself over. Camellia watched with fascination as Siana seemed already at home in this room, how there was ink and pens that hadn’t been there before in containers on the desk, and wondered again how long she had been unconscious. When Siana was done wiping sleep from her eyes and realizing the timer in the candle was still in place, her head quickly swiveled to check on Camellia.
“Camellia!” she shouted. She jumped up, the chair clattering behind her, and rushed to the bed. “My knight!”
The heat that had been pooling in Camellia’s chest rushed to her face. “My princess, please—Viola is in the next room—she’ll hear you.”
Siana grasped Camellia’s hand with both of her own, shaking her head. “I’ll call for Yarrow and the doctors in a bit, but how are you?”
“I’ll yell at you for nearly leaving your princess once you’re well enough to take it,” Siana said. She set Camellia’s hand back down, patting it lightly before stepping out into the hall. Camellia heard voices and footsteps. She closed her eyes, letting herself drift until Siana came back into the room.
“Yarrow did an excellent job patching you up and bringing you back to me. I’ll be thankful to him forever,” Siana said.
Camellia felt the mattress shift and opened her eyes just enough to look at the princess on the edge of her bed. “I’m sorry,” Camellia said again. “It was not my intention to…”
“I know,” Siana said. It felt as far away as a dream. “We’ll discuss it at a later time.”
When the castle’s doctors came into the room, Yarrow was with them. Camellia lifted her shirt as best she could on her own, and the assistants peeled the bandages away from the wound as a doctor asked her questions. How was she feeling?—How was the pain?—Were there any lingering effects of the magic? It all blurred together. She was tired, and sitting up was a monumental task.
Once Camellia’s dressings had been changed and the princess had been properly updated, everyone else left except for Yarrow. He stood by the desk. He drew a small bundle of dried herbs from the rough cotton robe over his tunic. “I’m not a magician,” he began. “But you can chew this or boil it and make tea. Only twice a day, when you can’t sleep or if you aren’t feeling well. It’s especially good for the stomach. It’s a family remedy.”
Camellia had to crane her neck to look at him.
“It will stop the burning and keep the magic from eating away at you,” he added.
“Thank you for saving me, Yarrow,” she said.
He nodded his head. “Thank you for saving me,” he said back. He bowed to the princess. “Your Highness.”
Siana nodded, a small smile on her face as she dismissed him. It fell from her face when she turned back to look at Camellia. She patted Camellia’s hand, sat down again at the desk, and Camellia fell asleep.
The next few days all blended together. The windows in Camellia’s room were small and she couldn’t sit up to look out of them, so she never knew whether it was night or day. It didn’t matter because Siana was there. As soon as she could move enough, Camellia scooched towards the wall and invited Siana into the bed with her.
In the periods when she was asleep, Camellia didn’t know what the princess did. There were books she appeared to be reading, journals being written in, and letters she was writing. She must have kept up her duties, Camellia assumed, likely with Cera at her side. Once the haze faded and Camellia was awake more often, she realized that the princess came in between her usual hours of visitations, studies, and training.
Yarrow visited often to check on her. He reminded her to get out of bed as much as she could, that she would have to build her strength back up. However, he assured the couple, Camellia was healing well and quickly. The sleep was a good sign. She was a good patient.
When Camellia began doing small exercises in her room, Siana tried spending more time there. Siana absolutely delighted in seeing Camellia upright, her face sifting through several emotions before settling on exhausted relief. She reprimanded her for “daring to leave her princess” and then hugged Camellia gently around the middle. “Thank you for returning to me,” she said into Camellia’s shoulder.
Camellia combed through Siana’s hair with her fingers. “Of course, My princess,” she said. Siana lingered a few minutes longer before they parted, and Siana settled onto Camellia’s bed as though it were her own. Camellia immediately missed the warmth and the comfort but continued her exercises.
“Did you mean what you said?” Siana asked.
Camellia stopped in the middle of a particularly painful stretch. She eased back into a normal position and sat down in her chair for a rest. “What did I say?”
The princess had just finished her own training with Cera a little bit ago. Her hair was still tied up and braided, her face flushed and natural without rouge. She looked younger, more innocent when she blushed at Camellia’s question. “What you said in your letter.”
“My letter?” Camellia repeated, freezing, breaking into a sweat that had nothing to do with her workout.
Siana nodded. “Viola gave it to me upon your troop’s return,” she explained.
Camellia’s mind ran to catch up as Siana twiddled with her training clothes. It must have been the letter she wrote before leaving to fight General Helianthus. Camellia wasn’t sure she’d come out of that one alive—much less unscathed. (She hadn’t, honestly.) So, she poured out her soul in writing—said everything she’d been afraid to say before that fight. Everything she was afraid she might never get to say. The princess was beyond Camellia’s station, beyond her wildest dreams, but… she’d tried to deny Siana, and that was just as fruitless as it had been to deny her own feelings.
Camellia had given the letter to Viola, just as Viola had given hers to Camellia before her own risky mission. After that… Camellia returned to the princess, and it all seemed pointless. It had been pointless to write the letter at all. It had been pointless to doubt her own feelings, the princess’ feelings. It was embarrassing, by now, to realize how dramatic she had been then. She was never going to leave Siana. She was meant to be at her side, protecting her.
Siana continued, her voice cutting through Camellia’s panic. “Viola apologized. She said she wasn’t sure whether or not you would recover, so it might be best if she gives it to me before I worry too much.”
Camellia spoke quickly, a blush crawling up her neck. “You weren’t supposed to receive that.”
“It said ‘In case anything happens to me’—”
“You weren’t supposed to receive it ever.” Camellia huffed, the red in her cheeks deepening. “I—I wrote it before I went to investigate General Helianthus. She should have thrown it away.”
“So then, is what was written invalid?”
“No, but—I just… We agreed that I would protect you. That you would survive and take care of your people.”
“You are my people.”
Camellia shook her head. “I am one person.”
“What’s the point of taking care of the majority if a few suffer?” Siana argued. “My work with Denia—we are offering aid to those who were devastated by the war. Nastur soldiers are aiding our towns and villages, of course, but Drangea is aiding Gladiolus thanks to Denia. All of this to keep the people who suffered before from suffering further.”
Camellia tried to breathe—she felt something welling up in her chest. In her eyes.
She wanted to cry.
“And am I learning to fight for nothing?” the princess continued, her voice raising. “I will not be a burden to you!”
“You would never…”
“We talked often about what would happen if you weren’t here to protect me, but…” She took a deep breath. “We failed to consider the possibility of if you couldn’t protect yourself. If survival is the most important thing to you, allow me to let you have it. It is my duty as princess, after all, to give the people what they want.”
Camellia shook her head, covering her face with her hands. “It is no longer my priority,” she said. “Did I not say that?”
Siana took her knight’s wrists gently. “You did,” Siana answered, pulling Camellia’s hands away from her face. “I’m trying to say you are mine as well.”
Camellia looked into the earnest face of the princess until her face blurred. Tears fell from her eyes and cleared her vision, and Siana was smiling.
Siana leaned in, pressing her forehead against Camellia’s lightly. She smelled like sweat and flowers. Her skin was cool, compared to Camellia’s flushed face. Camellia’s eyes fluttered closed, and she felt hands on her cheeks, on the pulse point just beneath her jaw.
“I’m trying to say I love you, too,” Siana said, wiping the tears from Camellia’s face. She closed the short distance between them, kissing Camellia.