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Part 1

Sasha ran toward Henry, excitement and pure joy filled her at seeing him for the first time in months. Henry’s face said it all as he ran to meet her. He looked tired and a bit ragged from travel but she ignored it for now.

“Sasha!” Henry repeated excitedly, coming up fast on her and lifting her off her feet. Wrapping his arms around her, he twirled her in a circle, hugging her tightly. “I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you too,” Sasha giggled with her own excitement.

He set her down after another spin and they embraced tightly, holding each other with determination as if they would lose each other if they let go. Henry’s warm body next to hers caused her heart to race so she pulled back, resisting the urge to kiss him then and there.

“How- When did you get here?” Henry asked, confused but happy with her presence.

“Kyburn sent a letter to me and my grandmother. He wanted me to surprise you when you arrived in Xerixes. So… are you surprised?”

“Well of course I am. I can’t tell you how good it is to have you here.” Henry grinned. “Did you come alone?” his face turned to a slightly concerned frown.

“No. I traveled with a caravan headed to Xerixes. I wasn’t in any danger, I promise.” Sasha assured him. “So don’t worry about that.”

Henry couldn’t stop grinning at her, his eyes staring into hers. His brown clear gaze made her heart leap in her chest, which made her blush. His charming smile and wavy black hair made him look dashing and she resisted once again, the urge to kiss him.

“I’m so glad you’re here.” Henry said, ignorant of her blush. “So much has happened these past few months.”

“As am I. I couldn’t wait to see you again.” Sasha said, trying to control her reddening cheeks, unsuccessfully. “Grandmother said to tell you that she misses you also and hopes you are doing well.”

“Ah. Well when you see her again, please tell her the same and that I am well.” Henry replied. “Where are you staying? I am quite tired and I smell awful. I’d like to clean up before we do anything but I could come by your place after. Would you care to walk the city with me later this afternoon? Perhaps have lunch before? I’m starving.”

“Yes.” Sasha said immediately then shied back. “I mean. Yes, I would like that.”

Henry chuckled, bent down, and kissed her cheek. “I won’t be long. I’ll meet you at your place after I clean myself up.”

“No rush. There is still plenty to the day. I’m staying in that inn right there.” Sasha pointed to a tall building sticking out from the rest of the houses. “I’ll be waiting for you.” she winked. “Room twenty-three.”

Henry visibly blushed which made Sasha laugh and smile. Unwilling to part, Sasha rushed into Henry for another hug, breathing in his scent. He smelt of sweat, which didn’t bother her but she also smelt blood on him and was instantly concerned. Looking down at his chest, she noticed a small blood stain seeping through his shirt.

“Henry? Are you hurt?” Sasha looked up at him, worry written all over her face.

“It’s nothing. Just a scratch.” Henry dismissed her concern.

Sasha ignored his attempt to reassure her and pressed her hand to the wound, which made him wince. “Henry you are hurt. What happened?”

“Sasha, it’s fine, I promise.” Henry grabbed her hand and kissed it. “There was… an incident. But no one was seriously hurt.” he leaned down again and gently kissed her cheek, trying to distract her.

“Kyburn promised me these missions you were going on weren’t dangerous.” Sasha pursed her lips trying to focus. “Is what you’re doing dangerous Henry?”

“Well… yes.” Henry shrugged. “But don’t worry. I have Kyburn training me and a bunch of soldiers are coming with us.”

“You’re leaving?” Sasha looked confused.

“Uh…” Henry paused, thinking of a way out of the hole he was digging himself. “I’m going with King Erik and Kyburn to Kligira.” he winced in anticipation of her objections.

“Kligira!” Sasha raised her voice in shock.

“Shh-shush.” Henry put his fingers to her lips. “No one is supposed to know. In fact, I really shouldn’t have told you.”

“You’re lying to me.” Sasha pulled back from him. Everything was going sideways. Their reunion was quickly darkened by the news. She stepped back from him and Henry frowned down at her.

“Sasha I...” Henry started but stopped, at a loss for words. “I have to go with them. They are depending on me.”

“Why you?” Sasha complained. “Can’t someone else go in your stead?”

“No.” Henry said blankly, his eyes flickered, unsure how to feel. “We’ve already talked about this.”

She noticed the change in his eyes and look, which worried her deeply. He had changed somehow in the short amount of time they had been apart. Unable to pinpoint what she was actually seeing in him, Sasha grew even more concerned.

“Something happened to you, didn’t it?” Sasha asked.

“I’m fine. Just… leave it alone.” Henry said coldly.

“Why are you acting this way? You would always tell me the truth.” Sasha pleaded. “Why are you lying to me? Don’t you trust me?”

Henry looked angry, his nose, flaring, but it disappeared an instant later. “I don’t want to talk about it.” he admitted. “Everything I say has only made you more upset.”

“Fine.” Sasha said, defeated. She wanted to cry all of a sudden, her emotions started to boil up and threatened to overcome her. She couldn’t help but feel betrayed somehow, that he wouldn’t tell her what was wrong. A twinge of pain tugged at her heart and she hated the feeling.

“I’ll-I’ll come by your inn after I clean up. We can talk more, then.” Henry suggested.

“Fine.” Sasha repeated, then turned away from him, a tear falling from her face. She didn’t want him to see her like this and headed straight for her room.

Henry called after her once but she ignored him, unwilling to speak to him at this point. She wanted to know what had changed in him but her emotions were blocking her from thinking logically and she thought she might be overreacting and being dramatic so she wanted to go home, cool off, and think without him there.

Inwardly she wanted him to chase after her.

She made her way through the city and reached the inn but before going inside she glanced backward, hoping to see Henry coming after her.

He wasn’t.

Sasha gave a heavy sigh and entered her room. Closing the door quickly, she flopped onto her bed and couldn’t stop thinking.

 

Part 2

Henry looked after Sasha retreating, her red hair bounced up and down as she quickly left him on the stairs to the palace. He could tell by the way she walked she was crying, her long red hair obscured his view.

He was angry and confused at her reaction, Sasha was being completely unreasonable. Anger, pain, and fear gripped his insides, making him feel strange. He had never felt this way before, a sickening feeling came over him, one that refused to go away. The thought of Sasha being angry with him and knowing that he hurt her by not telling her weighed on him.

“What am I supposed to do?” he thought. “I killed a man. She’ll hate me. She wouldn’t understand why I had to do it. Would she ever look at him the same if he did tell her the truth?”

His mind raced when a voice interrupted his thoughts.

“Excuse me young sir.” a voice called from behind.

Henry turned to see Cassius, gazing at him with an enormous grin on his slender face. “Why was he here?” he thought.

“I couldn’t help but overhear the argument you just had with that nice young woman.” Cassius tilted his head. “Perhaps I might give you some advice if you’d allow my input.”

Henry looked back at him with a look of confusion and skepticism. This man was a stranger, his whole persona was odd, to say the least, the way he walked and talked, how his body shifted slightly every time he spoke, it was unnerving. But he couldn’t help the curiosity that ebbed its way up, wanting to know what he had to say.

“You do remember me don’t you, Henry?” Cassius said, his voice almost sounded musical.

“Yes. I remember you. Cassius wasn’t it?” Henry said. “What advice?” he asked bluntly.

“Ah. I like it, straight to the matter at hand.” he continued to smile. “I will tell you something I wish my father had told me, growing up. It’s quite simple really and honestly the best remedy to a woman’s heart.”

Henry raised an eyebrow in doubt. “Sure.” he mumbled.

“Oh, you don’t believe me? Well, listen to this very carefully my dear boy.” Cassius looked excited to reveal his secret to him. “Be honest with her.” he said bluntly and matter-of-factly.

“That’s it?” Henry cocked his head back, unsure if he was serious.

“That’s it.” Cassius shrugged. “Believe it or not, Henry, a woman desires a man that is always honest with her. A man that confides in her, provides for her, and isn’t afraid to ask for help in return.”

“Help? I don’t need help.” Henry said confidently. “I’m fine. She is the one that needs help.”

“Is she now?” Cassius raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “Then why are you the one being torn apart from the inside?”

Henry squinted his eyes in suspicion. “You don’t know me.” his boyish side forcing its way out of him. Whatever Cassius was saying, he didn’t like where it was going.

“Ah but I do Henry.” Cassius sighed. “You killed your first man, and it's eating you alive. You can’t shake it, can you? Unable to cope with the fact you took a human life.”

“Shut up.” Henry clenched his jaw, anger rising. “It was self-defense. It was me or him and I chose me.”

“That explains things more clearly.” Cassius seemed to sympathize. “Your innocence has been taken away but not by choice. A result of this harsh world we live in I’m afraid.”

“What do you know?” Henry asked spitefully.

“Your eyes, Henry.” Cassius stated. “Your eyes have darkened. Less… shiny. I know far more than you think, young man. It is you, who does not know. I’ve seen it in countless men coming back from war. You are no exception.”

“You’re crazy. You know that right?” Henry shook his head.

“Ah-ha!” Cassius chimed. “Well of course I am. But it doesn’t mean I’m wrong. A man can be crazy and speak the truth can’t he?”

He turned from Henry and started walking away in his long flowing robes. He looked frail but he held an air of… power about him. Something that Henry couldn’t explain.

“Wait.” Henry called after him. “What do I say to her?” giving in and admitting he was right about him. His desire to understand Sasha more overruled his spite and lack of wisdom.

He smiled happily back at him. “You are not a bad man. You killed someone but you regret it, obviously. If she loves you and you speak the truth and share what you are struggling with, then she will understand. Don’t underestimate the power of a woman’s love.”

“But…” Henry started. “I don’t… I don’t want her to think I’m weak.”

Cassius raised an eyebrow. “That is a dilemma. If she is the kind of woman who looks for weaknesses to exploit then she is not a woman you want to have around my dear boy.”

The rhetorician scratched his chin, deep in thought.

“It is true that most women seek strength and despise weakness.” Cassius frowned. “But you also shouldn’t sacrifice weakness by shutting off all your emotions and acting like a cold piece of iron. A good woman will seek your strength but also support you when you are weak.”

“Sasha is a good woman,” Henry stated confidently. “She’s been there for me at my most vulnerable.”

“Then what are you doing standing here talking to me for?” Cassius cocked his head. “Go after her. Don’t let her go. Women like that are hard to find.”

With that he walked away, this time, leaving Henry alone to ponder what he had to say. The king’s rhetorician was right. He had been battling all these emotions and guilty feelings inside, shoving it down and trying to suppress it but he couldn’t do that with Sasha. Henry couldn’t do that to her... wouldn’t do it. He had to tell her the truth even if it damaged their relationship. At this point, Henry was afraid by not telling her that she would push him away regardless.

Breathing in deeply several times, he strode down toward her inn, forgetting that he still smelled of blood and sweat. He was focused on one thing, making it right with the woman he loved.

 

Part 3

Henry searched for Sasha’s room, remembering the number she had given him, “Twenty three” he repeated in his head. Walking up to the door, he hesitated, unsure of what to do or say. His heart started to race, then he knocked, waiting for a response.

The door opened, revealing Sasha standing before him, beautiful as ever. Her red hair and green eyes demanded his attention every time.

“Henry.” she looked surprised. “You’re still dirty.” stating the obvious.

He looked down at himself, uncomfortable, patting at his sides and bits of dried blood on his rib. “Right, I kind of forgot.” he shrugged.

Sasha nearly chuckled, but he could tell she was still upset with him. “Well come on in. You can have a bath in here.”

Henry’s face flushed and turned bright red.

“It’s in a separate room, silly.” Sasha rolled her eyes but secretly she too was surprised by her offer.

“Okay. Sure, that would be nice.” he confessed.

Sasha left the door open, and disappeared into another room, which he guessed was where the bath was. He heard water running as he stepped inside and glanced to his right to see her filling the bath with lukewarm water.

“Thank you.” he whispered but he doubted she heard him over the sound.

“This place has running water!” her tone completely changed. “I can’t believe it. It’s like our well back home but in every room. Here, look at this.”

Henry approached her and watched as she pushed up and down on the lever as water poured from the faucet. “That is genius,” he responded, his curiosity overtaking him.

“I know.” Sasha smiled. “It makes washing clothes easy too. Wouldn’t have to walk to and from the well each time.”

He chuckled, “Saves my back from the trips.” he said.

They both laughed at that, then Sasha pointed in the corner of the room. “Put your clothes in that basket and hand them out to me. I’ll wash them while you are bathing.”

“You don’t have to do all that.” Henry said, feeling uncomfortable with her doing everything for him.

“It’s fine, Henry. I want to.” she smiled. “We can talk afterward.”

She left the room but turned before closing the door behind her. “There’s soap right there too.” she pointed next to the tub.

“Thank you.” Henry nodded.

After ten minutes of washing and scrubbing, Henry finished his bath and waited for Sasha to dry his clothes. He grabbed a towel and poked his head out the door to see Sasha hanging his wet clothes in the window, drying in the afternoon sun.

“Oh. You’re finished.” Sasha glanced over as she clipped his shirt to a wire sticking out of the inn. “It’ll take at least an hour for them to dry.”

Henry was embarrassed to come out so he stayed behind the door. “I think I have some pants in my bag over there.” he pointed. “Can you get them for me?”

“Mhm,” Sasha murmured. She reached in and was startled, pulling out a shirt that was caked in dry blood. “Henry?” she looked at him, scared and confused.

He cursed under his breath. He had forgotten to throw those away. It was the shirt he wore when the bandits attacked. “Uhhh. Don’t worry about that, I can explain. Just-Just hand me my pants... please?” the strangeness of that question was overshadowed by the look Sasha gave him.

“Why is there so much blood? Is this yours?” Sasha asked him as she brought the bag to him.

“It’s complicated.” Henry murmured, unsure what to say. He had hoped to get dressed and sit down with her before talking with her. “It’s not mine.”

Henry grabbed the bag from her hands and closed the door. He could hear her pacing outside as he dressed himself but didn’t have a shirt, which would make it a bit awkward but ultimately decided it wouldn’t matter. Checking his rib, he saw it was nearly sealed but would leave a scar as it was just deep enough to do so. He hoped Sasha wouldn’t notice it but he highly doubted that.

“Henry, please tell me what’s going on with you.” Sasha said as he entered the room. Her gaze shot downward then back up, a moment later back down again. She blushed slightly but her mood wouldn’t have her give up on the issue. “Why is your shirt covered in blood? And what happened to your rib?” pointing to his minor wound.

Henry breathed in deeply, remembering Cassius’s advice. “We were attacked on our way here by bandits.” Henry stated plainly. “I fought two of them. It isn’t my blood on that shirt... it's theirs.”

“There.” he thought. “He said it.” His mind raced, hoping her reaction wasn’t too extreme.

“What happened to them?” Sasha asked, clearly knowing the answer but insisted on hearing it from his own mouth.

“I defended myself.” Henry needed to explain it to her, willing her to understand. “I killed one and Erik saved me from the second. If I hadn't fought back, they would have killed me. I had to.”

Sasha’s green eyes pooled with tears, then she walked up to him and nestled into his shoulder. “Henry. I’m so sorry. That must have been terrifying. I’m sorry I pushed you to tell me. I should've given you space and let you tell me in your own time.”

“It’s… alright, Sasha.” Henry said, slightly confused by her reaction. For some odd reason, Henry expected her to change her opinion of him and even perhaps hate him but the exact opposite was occurring. He should have known she would’ve understood and given him the benefit of the doubt. “You’re not angry with me?”

“Angry with you? Why on earth would I be angry, Henry?” Sasha looked up at him. “You could have died. I’m relieved you fought. No one would have expected any less from you.”

“Right. Sorry.” Henry shook his head, wrapping his arms around her. “I just… don’t know how people will react knowing I’ve killed a man.”

“Don’t worry about that. Are you alright?” Sasha asked. “Really… are you alright? If you need to speak with someone about it, I will always be here for you. As will Kyburn I’m sure.”

“Thank you.” Henry contemplated. “I… I think I’m alright. I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. Kyburn and the others definitely helped me through the initial shock of it all. I just don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

“That’s okay.” Sasha said with a soft and loving tone. Her touch and soothing voice relieved part of his anxiety. “Whenever you’re ready to speak about it. I’m so sorry I pushed you before.” she repeated.

“No. I understand your concern. I would have wanted to know if it were you, coming home with a shirt caked in blood.” Henry sighed. “I want to be upfront with you Sasha, but sometimes… I can’t. Sometimes I need time to think things through and keep it to myself. Not in spite of you, nothing against you, but rather I’m unsure how to say or admit certain things.”

Sasha pulled away slightly, getting a good look at his blank face, staring into nothing. She placed a gentle hand on his cheek, brushing back bits of his unkempt hair from his face. Henry looked into her brilliant green eyes and lost himself in her mesmerizing beauty.

“I love you.” Henry said softly but firm enough to emphasize his seriousness. “When all this is over and I come back to Zulin... I want to marry you.”

Sasha pulled further back from him, shock written all over her face. She was utterly speechless, unsure how to react or what to say to that.

A sense of panic rose in him, instantly regretting his words. The look on her stunned face brought pure dread racing through his body, wishing he could take it back. He had done it again, rushed into his feelings, and blurted these things out before thinking.

“Do… do you want that?” Henry gulped, feeling as if he was digging his own grave.

Her face remained shocked and for several moments, Henry’s heart sunk further into unrest before she answered. The tips of her lips slowly curved into a smile, so pure and true, it was all he needed to know.

“I would like that.” Sasha said softly. Her voice low and calm but he could tell her heart was racing a mile a minute, as was his.

Henry’s dread and panic turned into pure joy. He grinned stupidly at her then pulled her in for another warm embrace, holding her tight. His emotions had run loops around him, bringing him to a slight sweat but he quickly was overcome by the sense of gleeful bliss.

“I love you too.” she whispered in his ear.

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About the author

MorseCode

Bio: Hello, all. I am a new aspiring author and I'm extremely excited to share my stories. I've always loved writing and bringing the ideas in my head to life, though it was only recently that I began to write on a more serious level. I have many many books I wish to write and I hope I can share them with you all in the future. I have a lot to learn but I hope to grow into a more experienced and learned writer.

I don't shy away from gore, which will be present in all my books to come. I hate plot armor, and I do everything I can to make things as real as possible. Real decisions, consequences, logical outcomes, and making a darn good story are my main focus.

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