As Ashia stared at the sleeve of her blue uniform, she was surprised by the amount of guilt running through her stomach. There was no regret for helping the Lieutenant, but she hadn’t expected that single action to enlist her in the Xamalian Army, either. Although, perhaps she should have been thinking more along those lines, because she knew people that were serving the South who had not chosen to enlist – they had been forced to. Like her.
But still, Ella and the Xamalian king had made it clear that she was now theirs. Knowing that the two of them considered them to be true blues, Ashia was thankful that Redding had been hurt in the battle, because she had a feeling that he would not be as willing to obey their enlistment as she had been.
“He did what?” Leandra demanded, drawing Ashia’s attention back to the conversation the troop was having.
Seeing the shock on Leandra’s and Jones’s faces and the confusion on everyone else’s, Ashia figured she better start paying better attention to what was being said.
“Alston asked me to pretend to be his wife,” the Lieutenant said, offering a simple shrug. “I know it is a long shot, but we might actually be able to figure out where Kendrick lives this way.”
“If you’re going to his home, why don’t you just take a knife with you and stab him while you’re having dinner?” Stephen asked, sounding hopeful that it was a possibility, but understanding that it wasn’t.
“She’s not going to be armed,” Jones growled, giving the Lieutenant a pointed look. “Are you?”
“No,” the Lieutenant admitted, holding her gaze even with the Messenger’s.
That is an interesting thought, Ashia considered. If we said yes, that would keep the majority of us safe . . . although, if the Lieutenant were to fail, that would make our mission considerably more difficult.
“You’re asking us to let you go into Kendrick Kavich’s home under a false pretense and you want to do it unarmed?” Jay gasped. “Are you out of your mind?”
“You do know that our chances of succeeding on this mission are significantly reduced if you die, right?” Jones asked, her voice a little softer than it had been a moment ago.
“I am aware of that, Jones. But I honestly do not think that Alston is leading me into a trap,” the Lieutenant responded slowly.
“I don’t think that either,” Jones said. “But I also don’t think that he has a back up plan if your charade doesn’t work. That is a big gamble, Lieutenant.”
“In some ways,” the Lieutenant agreed, “but if we do this, then I am the only one from our squadron that is at immediate risk. If we try to find Kendrick on our own, then we are all at risk.”
With a glance at her comrades, Ashia could tell that the last point won over some of them, specifically Annette, Tirzah, Perry, and Jay.
“You really think that you can do this and come out of it alive?” Jones asked.
Inhaling deeply, the Lieutenant affirmed, “Yes. I do.”
“And you will be back by tonight?” Stephen pressed, giving her a weighted look.
“That’s the plan,” she shrugged.
Stephen and Jones shared a look, but both of them nodded. Turning her attention to Ashia and her cousin, the Lieutenant asked, “What do you think?”
Neither Ashia nor Leandra said anything at first. Truthfully, Ashia didn’t know how she felt about the situation. She did trust that Alston would do his best to keep the Lieutenant safe, but if she were wrong about that, and something happened, how would she be able to forgive herself for letting her go? After a couple of silent minutes, Ashia was the first to speak.
“I trust your judgment, Lieutenant,” she said carefully. “If you think it is necessary, then I will support that decision.”
The Lieutenant gave Ashia a small nod and then looked to her cousin. Seeing the concern in Leandra’s face was truly touching. Glancing between them, Ashia realized that the love they shared was more akin to that exchanged between siblings, rather than cousins, though she didn’t know why that had surprised her. After all, hadn’t they been living together their entire lives?
“I’ll see you tonight,” Leandra said, giving her approval of the plan.
“You will,” the Lieutenant agreed with a solemn nod. With those final words, she left, headed in the direction that she had taken to go to her meeting with her dad that very morning.
“I can’t help but think that we are making the wrong decision in letting her go,” Stephen offered.
“It is a risk, certainly,” Jones agreed. “Hopefully it is one that will pay off for us in the end.”
“There is nothing we can do about the decision now,” Leandra said, turning away from the direction that the Lieutenant had left in. “I am going to go for a run. Anyone want to join me?”
Ashia gave Leandra an uplifted eyebrow in response to the question. Seeing it, Leandra said, “I work out when I am stressed, all right? I may not know my way around the city, but I have a lot of extra energy that I need to burn off if I am going to survive the four or five hours that Kel is going to be gone.”
“I’ll go with you,” Stephen offered. “You’re right – better to remain occupied instead of worrying about things you can’t control.”
Seeing that Stephen was going to go for a run with Leandra did peak Ashia’s interest, a little, but ultimately, she declined the offer, as did everyone else. Instead, Ashia headed off towards the dining hall. When she had almost reached the entrance, she noticed that Tirzah and Annette were headed that way too. Curious as to whether they were following her or just merely going the same way that she was, Ashia turned and watched their approach. The two girls walked right over to her, as if they had been old friends.
Ashia greeted them and they returned the gesture, asking if she minded them joining her at a table. Shaking her head, Ashia followed them to the corner and sat down.
“You were one of the Rebels in Mor, right?” Tirzah asked, once they were all seated.
“Correct,” Ashia nodded, wondering which direction the girls were going to take the conversation.
“So, how do you go from being a Rean Rebel to wearing Xamalian blue?” Tirzah asked, with a look of contempt on her face.
After taking a slow drink of fihae, Ashia said, “I was with the Lieutenant when she rescued her uncle and dad and there wasn’t really time to take my leave before Ella showed up with my uniform in hand.”
“How did you wind up with the Deluvias in the first place?” Annette asked.
“The Lieutenant rescued me after I had been taken prisoner,” Ashia responded. “I had been one of the Moran rebels for some time and the guards were waiting on word from Temoragu to execute me. When the Lieutenant asked for aid in rescuing her dad and uncle, I felt obliged to offer help as a sort of payment for her saving me.”
“So you didn’t want to enlist for Xamalie?” Tirzah asked.
“Truthfully?” Ashia asked, taking another slow drink. “No.”
“How bad is it?” Annette asked, lowering her voice. “Honestly?”
“If it weren’t for the fact that Ella and King Samra are very involved with the troop, I would say it wasn’t so bad. But since they do seem very concerned with every step we take, it is getting to be rather annoying,” Ashia grunted. She meant it, too. She still had no complaints with any of the humans in the squadron, but Ella seriously freaked her out. And Samra – he was a fool. If it weren’t for the fact that Ella fought on the same side that Samra did, Ashia had the feeling that Temoragu would have won the war by now.
“Well, I don’t care what Xamalie says,” Tirzah said in a fierce whisper. “The very first chance I get, I’m bolting. I don’t care if they kill me – it’s got to be better than serving under them.”
Ashia was surprised by the clarity that Tirzah had spoken with. She hadn’t sounded concerned with the fact that Ella would most likely kill her at all. That is an interesting thought, Ashia considered silently. If I could make it back to Mor, I would most likely be safe . . . between the Rogues and Ella being too busy to bother wondering what happened to one of her Warriors . . .
No, Ashia shook her head after a moment’s consideration. I swore fealty to Xamalie. For better or worse, I’m stuck here until that debt has been paid.