My eyes are still narrowed as I look out across the border, into the land which we’re about to call our own. It’s quite bright, and sunny, and hot. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the weather yet, I’m more used to cold and sunny. And yes, that does make sense when you live up a mountain.

“Hey.”

I turn my gaze from the vast expanse of scrubland to the person who’s just come up to me. It’s Francesca, a noble I’ve been speaking to on and off since I joined up with the wands a little while back now. I like her, we get on well.

“Hey yourself.”

“Nervous?”

“Not so much nervous. More, like, that energy of anticipation, can’t wait to actually get going, possibly slightly too hyper about this whole thing.”

Francesca grins at me. I don’t think it’s indulgent, okay, maybe a little. But on the other hand, I think she gets what I’m saying.

We kick around for a bit more, as people in the massive group triple and quadruple check the stuff we’re bringing with us. No wheeled vehicles to help, they’d be useless in the sandy environment we’re going into, so everything’s being carried. Not like we mind, we are wands after all.

Heh. Feels good to say that.

The entire column turns to look at our Queen as she steps out, looking out into the distance, then she makes a single gesture, and we start moving.

It’s not fast, it can’t be with this many people, but it is a sustained pace. We’re all pretty hardy, invested in working for it, and we knew that this was going to be a bit of a slog. And it’s still scrubland, so it’s not hard going as of yet.

Evening comes, and we spend another hour walking in the cooler air before the halt is called and we can group up and pitch tents. Francesca asked me if I wanted to share, and that’s cool by me. I know a few people around the court now, but I’m as friendly with Francesca as I am with anyone. Probably more so now since we spent the entire day walking together and chatting. Turns out, we joined for much the same reasons: that pride of doing something with your own two hands and skills, not really wanting, no needing, recognition for it, but just taking a sense of pride in having done it. I mean, sure, I’m very capable of showing off, but I don’t really take to it like the Swords do. I have Fuoco, but that’s more just useful for keeping warm up in the freezing conditions of the mountains. Heh, I even admitted to her that a small reason for coming along was the potential for new places to climb. She just seems to be really on board with the court, and to be fair, being part of something new like this is pretty exciting.

Also she’s a damn decent cook. Way better than me, especially considering the small fires we’re having to use. I leave her to it, and get some nice food out of it. Score.

The next day I wake up early, I signed up to the scout group. So I pack up everything that isn’t the roll Francesca’s still sleeping in, and the tent itself, giving her an easier time of it when she does wake up and they break camp, and go join the other people in the early morning air.

Honestly, it’s quite boring. Just scrubland for miles and miles around. Not even any creatures around. I mean, that’s good from a threat point of view, but means we’ve got quite a way to go before we find home. That’s okay, I thought it would take a while. We just have to trust our Queen.

I get back to the column just before midday, make my report, and then amble off to find Francesca somewhere in the column. From there it’s much the same as it was yesterday, and I feel like it’s going to be much the same for most of the trip.

Day three and we’re on stretcher duty. Some of the people who came with us, not nobles, but you need far more than nobles to make a city, have already reached their limit. That’s fine, we all have a limit, and as long as you kept going as long as you could, then the rest of us are here to help you get there when you can’t by yourself.

The women on the stretcher is a cobbler by trade. She’s coming along mostly because she’s heard that there are giant lizards out in this land, and she wants to try her hand with the leather that comes off them, since it’s apparently nightmarish to work with. Sounds like a fun challenge.

Francesca’s in front, throwing back the occasional comment. I’m at the rear, smiling and chatting. It’s easy and comfortable.

Which is probably why the women on the stretcher says “It’s so nice to see two young people starting their lives together in a new place. This is all about new beginnings you know.”

Wait, what?

Francesca almost trips up, jolting the stretcher a little bit. I’m not all that much better, I know I’ve gone bright red and I’m choking on air slightly. We stabilize the stretcher, and then I can’t look at either of them anymore as my cheeks continue to burn bright red.

The women apologises, and frankly, won’t stop apologising for assuming, and then keeps going on and on about new beginnings, and seems to be subtly hinting that we would make a good couple.

I still can’t really look ahead of me. My neck’s going to have such a crick in it by the time we stop tonight.

I’m frankly relieved when we do stop for the night. We pitch the tent, both not quite looking at each other, both being awkward, and frankly, it’s terrible. I’m surprised we can get the tent up with how we’re acting.

I mumble something out, and scurry off to get water for dinner, but find a quiet spot so I can take a breather.

Its fine, I tell myself. It’s all fine. It’s just an older women, with some opinions. We don’t need to be this awkward. Just breathe and start acting like a normal person again. You’re friends. You can shrug this off and laugh about it.

I get the water, and managed to fool myself into thinking it’s all okay, and that I’m cool and collected, until I duck through the tent opening and actually look at her again, then my stomach’s gone.

Although, there is a delicious smell coming from that pot already.

“Water, hang on, is that?”

Francesca looks down at the bottles I’ve just spotted. One’s wine, and the other looks like it’s filled with coffee granules.

“Yeah. I know everything was done on weight, but it’s just the one. And creature comforts are so nice after all.”

“You sure you want to share?”

“With you, yes.”

And there goes my stomach again. Dammit.

It’s good. Like, better than normal. I’m forcing myself to just be cool. Just, enjoy it for what it is. Don’t get weird. Pretend your stomach isn’t churning or flipping out every time you look over at her. The wine does help with the relaxing, I’ll admit. By the time we get to coffee, I’m pretty chill.

Or, at least, I can pretend to be.

I’m not sure what Francesca’s doing, or feeling. She’s harder to read than I am. But she seems fine. Yeah, let’s go with fine.

“So, I’m just going to ask this, straight up.”

Uh, what?

“Do you think I’m attractive?”

Shit. Thinking. Words. Thoughts. Need to do those.

“Well, yeah. I mean…”

I have more words that are going to get garbled out, possible involving the word ‘obviously’, but I don’t get the chance as suddenly Francesca’s there, on top of me, kind of pinning me to the floor. Kissing me.

You know what?

I’m totally fine with this.

At some point we lose the clothes. Or more accurately, Francesca starts pulling them off, looks at me, and I respond by pulling hers off. I am so fine with this. More than fine. It’s amazing.

We end up lying next to each other, sort of cuddling, a blanket warding off most of the chill of the night. Not that we really need it after working up all that body heat.

I’m mostly just looking at her face. Her eyes are currently closed, and there’s a little smile on her face. It’s kind of amazing to see. I’ve not really had a relationship before, but this feels…right.

Her eyes open, “What are you looking at?”

“You.”

The smile gets a bit wider, and I can see her emotions a little bit clearer through it. There’s delight and pleasure, but also, relief?

“What are you thinking?”

She looks at me, “Mostly that I’m really glad you like me back.”

There’s something in there I pick up on, “Were you interested in me before today?”

She flicks her eyes away briefly, a tiny bit of colour coming into her cheeks, “Sort of. I thought you were cute when I met you. Spending this much time with you, yeah, I was interested. Had no idea if you were back though.”

“Well I hope you have a satisfactory answer now.”

She smiles, and slips an arm around my back, her fingers splaying out over the bare skin.

“What do you want out of this?”

I blink a couple of times, “That’s a bit deep, don’t you think?”

“Not really? I mean, this happened, and don’t get me wrong, it was fantastic. But, what about tomorrow?”

I discard my first, slightly flippant answer, and think about it for a few seconds. It seems like something she’s a bit, not worried…concerned about.

“I like you. I like what just happened. I would very much like it to happen again in the future, with you. I’m pretty sure that’s considered dating, so, I’d like to date you.”

She looks, kind of like she’s holding her breath, but I can hear her breathing, “You sure? It might not work out”

“Yeah I’m sure. And that’s kind of the point of dating. You do it for as long as it does work out, and if it doesn’t, that’s a problem for future us. Present me very much wants to date present you.”

She smiles, and tugs me in just a little bit further, her fingers pressing in on my back as they squeeze tight. Yup, I’m very happy to be right here.

The next couple of days almost seem to blur past, until time slows down again. I’m in the tent, starting dinner this time. Really, it’s not going to be as good as Francesca makes it, but I can at least make something edible.

I look up as she comes in the tent and greet her with a smile, which soon gains a frown.

“What’s up?”

She looks at me, and then sits down heavily next to me.

“It’s just…nonsense.”

“Tell me.”

Her face pulls to the side. I’ve not seen worry on her face before, she’s usually quite confidant and assured.

“I can’t help but think that there’s nothing out here but sand. And rocks. It’s been days since we left the Diamonds kingdom, and there’s nothing out here.”

I leave the spoon in the pot and turn all of my attention to her.

“We wouldn’t have started this journey if there wasn’t a destination out there for us.”

“I know, but…where? Do we have any idea where we are actually going?”

“She (Wands) knows it’s out there. We have to trust her, trust that she wouldn’t lead us into a situation where there is nothing but death at the end.”

“I know, I know. But, all the court is here. And even all the people who follow the court. If we don’t find anything, we’re all gone. The entire court, swallowed up before it could really get going.”

I crawl round a few inches until I’m behind her, and I can slip my arms around her shoulder from behind.

“You trust me, right?”

“Yes.”

“And you trust the Queen?”

“I do. It’s just…”

“Well then, have a little faith that this will work out. And when you can’t, come to me. Trust in me to at least be able to make you feel a little better. I believe that we will find a home out here, no matter how long that takes. If you can’t believe that for yourself, then believe in me.”

Francesca closes her eyes, and one hand closes over mine, squeezing it.

“Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?”

She opens one eye and looks at me, a tiny predatory glint in there. Excellent.

“Well…”

Time seems to fast forward again, until the distance starts to come into focus again, and we can see a looming rock in the distance. It’s day sixteen, and the laugh of the Queen that echoes out over the column lifts my spirits as she points at the rocks.

“There. That’s home.”

We’re not there yet, and I hear a lot of mumbling and talking as we complete the last length of distance over to the massive rock face. Really? That’s it? Where’s the water? How can we survive out here with no water?

I trust the Queen. She knows what she’s doing. And home is in sight now, I can feel my spirits starting to soar. I reach out and take Francesca’s hand. She’s got that tiny little frown that she doesn’t seem to realise she wears, just pinching her brow together. But it does disappear as I smile at her.

See? It’ll all work out, as long as we work for it.

The rock just juts straight up out of the sandy earth, almost completely sheer on this face. Almost. I’m looking up at it, trying to plot a route up if I was going to climb it. I can’t help it, it’s what I love.

The Queen strides forward, her inner circle of princesses following her as she walks up and down the face, examining it. Eventually she picks a spot, and talks to the princesses. That’s when the work starts. Menders, Troubadours, and anyone else with Shape charms surge forward, following the orders of the princesses as they start digging a huge channel, which then opens out into what can only be described as a reservoir.

I can’t help with that, and instead my attention wanders back to the sheer cliff face that the Queen is standing at the bottom of, looking at it and judging how I would climb it. Not whether I could climb it, definitely how.

It’s only a few hours for them to finish the work, benefit of magic really, but by this point even Francesca has given up and is sitting next to me, leaning against the pack I’m sitting on and my leg.

There’s a signal to the Queen, and she unslings her massive sword from her back and turns to the wall. I nudge Francesca so she can look at this as well, as the Queen carefully chooses a spot, and then stabs the sword down into the rock.

Yeah, her sword wins against rock. Because of course it does.

At first nothing really seems to happen, she pulls the sword out of the wall, and there’s just a massively jagged hole. It seems like the entire court is holding their breath as suddenly there’s a spray.

Dust? No, water.

Abruptly, it starts pouring out, bursting through that crack into the channel which has been packed down and lined to retain the precious liquid. A massive cheer goes up, and I can’t help but join in, laughing and whistling along with the rest of the people.

Francesca reaches out and takes me hand, giving it a squeeze as she smiles at me, a proper broad smile that I can’t help but return.

We’re home.

 

The starts above us glimmer in the night sky. There’s a warm breeze, ruffling our clothes as we sit here, the city splayed out below us.

It’s been twenty years since that day, and we’ve really made ourselves a home here. It’s still a long way from finished, people are talking about crop cycles and dirt and things I sort of understand now after working on this place for so long, but still, we’ve come a long way. The tent city is now almost entirely replaced with rock buildings, and the tunnels extend quite deep into the cliff, although we’re constantly looking for new places to expand into. I’m pretty sure I’ve found some natural caves higher up, it’s just working out how to join them into the existing network and make them useful to us.

The night life of the city below is actually quite active, and there’s a bit of a party due to finding the underground lake with fish in it, but there’s no place I’d rather be than up here with Francesca, looking down at it all, legs dangling over the edge of the cliff, side by side with her.

She leans against my shoulder, “Say it again.”

“Hm?”

“That thing you say. Say it to me again.”

“Now what could that possibly be?”

A smile’s playing around my lips as she thumps me, both us very aware that I’m teasing.

“What I always want you to say. Tell me again.”

I clasp her hand, intertwining our fingers together as I bring it up to my lips and kiss it.

“Take my hand, and I swear I’ll love you ‘til the stars go out and beyond.”

She hums and settles back against my shoulder again, and smile firmly placed on her face. I place my cheek on top of her head, feeling it press into me as I look down, seeing her and the city we’ve helped build.

You and me. Forever and always, my love.

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