Tales from the Empire

Fiction from the Empire LRP world

A Grand Remembering

The gardens had grown somewhat, taller plants stood where only seedlings and smaller flowers had been scattered.  But the memories were as fresh as if they happened only moments ago.

The children ran along the stone paths, giggling as they tagged each other relentlessly.  The younger child following on, wanting desperately to be part of the game his older siblings played and yet not quite being mobile enough to keep up.

“Tag!” Cesare cried, as he caught his sister on the shoulder and then dashed off to hide, badly, behind one of the ornate statues.

“For virtues sake!” Nerezza cussed, as she rushed to catch him, spinning wildly on a flag stone as she overshot the mark and zipped back to find him.

“Tag!”

Cesare laughed and caught Nerezza with a back hand tag, and ran through the gateway to another section of the garden.  Nerezza huffed angrily, before running along behind him.  Magnus following behind.

As the children left, and the memories faded with them, the draughir stared off through the gateway into the fading light after them.  Unable to pinpoint exactly where the memories came from, she squinted her eyes.

Something more than just the old house had been reopened.  And she wasn’t entirely sure what.

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Isabella’s Lament

The inside of the tent was bathed in golden candlelight, but the numerous tiny flame scattered around in a myriad of holders.  Paperwork and maps were scattered across the chest, serving as a temporary desk.  In the corner of the tent, the draughir stood, tall and pale, eyes more sunken than usual, perhaps a minor deception of the light.

Scarlet eyes, peered out of the dreary corner, examining the paperwork as if somehow the inky scrawls would make more sense from the distance than close up.  If the letters were correct, as they’d fallen back, once again Lupo had been lost.

When word had reached her ear, she’d held her gaze, she’d stood tall, orders were orders, she’d not return for him.  Her troops, her brave, brave women had wanted to offer their sympathy, but she’d made clear it wasn’t welcome.  They were prepared to go back for the Captain of the Tower, for her lover, but she was not.
Orders were orders.
Enough of the blood shed, enough of the death and destruction, it was time to take the women home, to Holberg, so they could rest briefly whilst she attended Anvil.

Part of her wanted to believe that, as usual, Lupo would come bounding through the gates of Anvil, or perhaps would be carried, some life threatening injury that Beatrix would fix up, mocking her familiarity with his internal organs.  Good draughir, that one, touched by Winter in ways others would never know.  But part of her was terrified, cowering in the dark, crying like a puppy left alone in the shadows, craving a kind word and a gentle touch.

Every time Lupo went out to battle, they were one step closer to being torn apart.  Every time he faced his foes, not a line of fear on his face, her stomach would drop and she’d embrace the cold, icy arms of the terror that he may never come back.

Like Soldier, like Igraine, like beautiful Nymeria, like gentle Vitoria.  Like her brothers, her sisters, ever vigilant, ever proud as they graced the lines of the Labyrinth.  Whatever creatures lurked there knew the Tower as brilliant and boldly as the barbarians they faced in life.  And yet it never became easier to watch her loyalty stretched and torn across time.  Her friends, her lovers, her family, people she’d bared her heart and soul to, now just wondering souls in the darkness, finding their next life, one she may never know.

That one day, the draughir would stand alone, was a fate that bought with it a terror of its own.  Losing everything and everyone she cared about, her loyalties laid bare and meaning nothing to anyone that mattered anymore.

Her hands began to tremble, she clenched a fist and like a wolf, she sprung from the corner and landed on the table, throwing the carefully draw plans into the air, growling and screaming like a beast unleashed.  Parchments floated gently to the ground, some meeting flames as they floated carefully, little sheets of fire surrounded the draughir as she wailed.

Two soldiers looked into the tent, the creature’s screeching concerned them.  As the realisation dawned that the animal threatening their commander was in fact one and the same, they looked at each other.

“Winter does odd things to a person” one said to the other.
“Winter, and war both” she replied.

They let the fabric of the tent front fold down as the rampaging draughir collapsed in a heap of screwed up paper, tiny islands of fire on the floor around her.  Tears flowed from her scarlet eyes, her breathing rasped as she sobbed.
“don’t leave me” she pleaded, to no one in particular, and yet to everyone.  “Please, don’t leave me alone”.

Geraint Prompts

 

Day of Reckoning

People he had considered his friends, people he had respected, total strangers: all of Dawn, it seemed, had an opinion on their child – and few were shy in expressing it.

The first of these were the hardest.
He heard the steel of fury in his own voice as he spoke to Bo, though he tried to temper it because of all he owed his friend.
“I will not be sending my child away.”

The thought of it alone made him want a blade in his hand.

He saw the hurt in Heidi’s eyes whenever the subject was raised. It was the only thing he regretted in this: that they had not been already married, safe from censure.
He could regret nothing else. Not the life growing within her, the flutter of movement beneath his hand. Not the promise of a future he had never expected. Not the love he felt for her, that had quickened into something separate from them, yet entirely linked.

He would fight anyone who tried to take their baby; he would kill them if he had to. He knew he would not stand alone.

If there was to be a Reckoning, he was ready.

 


 

“A mirror before your future”

He had always thought it harder to look into the past than to the future. So listening to Flora speak of True Love had unsettled him in a way he had not expected.

“One has one true love – and one alone.”

“One?”

“Yes. One.”

He could see her still, looking back at him, eyes wide with sincerity, clear and guileless. He had no doubt she believed the words she spoke with such conviction.

One.

Was it the man who had brought him to life and given him hope, who had showed him the road ahead, mapped along his skin? Who would have left his Nation and his family for him? Whose words of constant love had been silenced only by death?

Was it the woman who had bled for him, would bleed for him? Would die for him? Who could read him with one glance at his face; who would always know what he needed better than he did himself? Who had shown him what it was trust another?

One.

He turned his mind from the third; from the constant presence in the shadows, from the warmth and the strength at his back.
If one could only have one true love, then it must be lust only, after all. Despite all that had passed between them…

He had always thought it harder to look into the past than the future, but the past would not change, like a portrait fixed even when torn into shreds. The future was more like a mirror: even if splintered it threw back pieces of what had been. Of who had been.

Yet any way he pieced it together – past, present, future – it added up to more than one.

So he could stand and watch, as long as he did not wish to move. But how could he go forward without seeing only his past selves coming back?

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn 380YE – Beatrix

Dagger
“If this is how you truly feel, take this dagger and kill me now. I do not want to live without you.”

The blade had glinted golden in the light of the glowstones, a cruel reminder of the one that had begun all this pain.

“I… I did not mean it like that! I do not want to leave you…”

His eyes had been as cold as the metal of his dagger.

Beatrix woke from exhausted dozing on the back of a cart on her way to Applefell. It had been hard to leave Garravaine, off to arrange some matters at his estate before rejoining the army. She took a few breaths to calm her fluttering heart, not quite recovered yet from its short stint attempting to become an amphibian. She would go to see him, soon, as soon as the situation with Clarice was in hand. Beatrix sighed and returned her attention to the notes on her patient’s course of illness she had fallen asleep over.

Loyalty
“Try to meet me here again at six for dinner?” he had asked her, and “do not overstretch yourself,” as he always did. And Beatrix had nodded and promised, of course she had. She remembered that now, her burning legs hardly willing to carry her across the Highguard camp for the third time, her head swimming as she tried to sort the information she had gathered so far. She knew she needed to sit down, to eat, maybe, to allow herself the rest he had pleaded her to take, and in her mind she saw his disappointed eyes as she grit her teeth and carried on. It was just another cautioning ignored, after all, like so many before, and her service to the Empire was more important than her wellbeing would ever be.

What comes next
Another step, another conversation, another long walk across Anvil, the mud setting fire to her legs and making her heart stumble in her chest.

Another smile, another nod, another warm embrace freely given, another mask on her face.

Another journey, to Weirwater, then, to Astolat, to Stoke, another walk to listen, to work, to help.

Another tear in the night, a letter half-written, then burned with bright green flame, another hour of longing, another cup shattered in rage.

And again, another smile, a head held high, a duty done, because if there is nothing but guilt and fear and the physick’s curse, all that comes next is another step.

Matters of the heart
In the darkness of a stolen hour that she had at some point intended to use for sleep, Beatrix set her hand mirror down on the small table in her guest chamber in Castle Novarion. The blue light from her glowstone made her reflection pale and gaunt and she sighed as she pulled the wedding ring from her finger and set it down before the mirror, her eyes focusing on its silver reflection.

“It has only been two years. Two years since he came to me and told me his heart was cracked but not yet broken and he would win my approval to court me. Two years since he found me and made me fall in love with him with this ridiculous Dawnish way of his, and his letters, and his touches and his smile and his gentleness and… It feels like a lifetime. Everything was simpler two years ago. I could smile and wear a mask and not be this, not be hurt, or grieving, or ridiculous and scared and aggressive, just do my work and return to my rooms and lock it all away. It was not easier. But no one expected me to feel, no one expected me to be honest about this.” For a moment she buried her head in her hands.

“Why is this so hard? It did not use to feel like this. I lost people before, everyone has, why does it feel like my heart is being ripped apart every time now? This is not how I am supposed to be. This is not how I was, two years ago.”

In the pale light of the glowstone, her reflection cocked her head. “And yet. Two years ago, I thought I was incapable of Virtue. I thought I had loved and lost and would never love again. I was a teacher at an unimportant College with dubious reputation, not a hero of Anvil, a member of the Imperial Household. I was not feeling like this, I was not *feeling* at all, but I was missing so much. It was Leonora, first, who made me care. And then…” Her fingers ghosted across the ring. The moon broke through the clouds outside her window and it seemed to her as if she could see Garravaine’s dark brown eyes reflected in her own, just for an instant, a breath.

“How could I? How could I do this to him, how could I be so cruel? Had I not met him, had I not fallen in love with him, I would have never found my path in Virtue, I would have never found the friends I have, I would have never opened my heart to anyone. How could I tell him I regret this? He is right to be angry at me. To be disappointed.”

Beatrix sighed. Stifled a yawn. She needed to sleep, a tired physick was a bad physick, and Clarice needed her at her best.

“I will go to Astolat as I promised after this, and then to Stoke. Give him time to take his mind off all of this. Of me. And then I will return to him, and apologise, and start again.” Slowly, she reached for the ring, slid it back on her finger, then brushed it against her lips. “It is not like I can be without him anymore.”

Advice
Beatrix had never considered herself one for giving advice on matters of the heart. She has never much thought about her actions in that regard, never considered whether what she was doing was special in any way. She had fallen in love with a politically convenient citizen. What more was there to it?

And yet Leonora had sent her questions and the Looking Glass printed her portrait, and suddenly they kept coming with their concerns and their queries and their “how do you love a Dawnish one?”

“We have set a trend,” Garravaine said with his wry grin when she told him and pulled her into an embrace.

“Yes. I think we have.”

Fingers

She was thankful that the sun has set, before she had finally managed to remove her armour, wash the blood from her fingers and take a moment to breathe and scream and sob. It meant that it was dark before she ran from her tent, where Robbie had slept the night before, within arms reach, where they had joked and laughed and talked as only briars could, openly and freely and pulling no punches. And it meant that no one could see her run from her tent in a state of un-League undress and with tears streaming down her face, desperate to find a family member.

She was thankful that the tent was dim, when she entered the back of the Foxes’ tent in her chemise, carrying her dress in shaking hands and trembling fingers that could not fasten her sleeves properly. It meant that no one could see her shock, or her embarrassment, no one could see the blush that sprang up to her cheeks at seeing Fred inside with the others, waiting for her. And it meant no one saw her slowly hug her dress closer to herself and feel utterly naked in present company.

She was thankful that none of the other Foxes said anything about it, if they noticed (and they surely noticed!), when she sat down beside Frederick with her dress tossed over her knees, struggling to make a start on the sleeves. It meant that she could sit here quietly with her mortification, and focus on getting dressed without embarrassing herself any further, without the usual snark and loving insults that, while normally a sign of acceptance and affection, would have pushed her over the edge. Only her fingers would not stop shaking, and the task would take all night at this rate if she couldn’t…

She was thankful when Fred’s fingers picked up one of her sleeves and set to helping her, his attention engrossed in fitting the ribbons into the tiny rings that held them along one shoulder, while she worked on the other side. It meant that from the corner of her eyes she could watch his fingers caress the ribbons of her sleeves, the fabric; she could compare her own trembling fingers to his assured ones, and wonder at all the things that fingers do…

She was thankful that the whole task did not take long, and that she could gracefully excuse herself to step out the back of the tent to put the dress on. It meant that she could try and get her mind off of the idea of what his fingers would feel like on her skin, of whether the world would stop and everything in the midst of the storm would fall into place, like in everyone’s stories. It meant when she sat down next to him again, she had mostly stopped her fingers from shaking, when she put her hand in his and he squeezed it reassuringly.

It was a long while before her mind successfully moved on from thinking about it.

Treading

Now walking to bed Magda would often feel her feet ache because of the steps she must take to and from the hills with Alessandra to overlook the site of the foundations. Her feet ached and she thought of her time amongst the Summer Crows with a great affection that warmed her, but when thinking of the trods she must also think of the events that drove her there and so it was that when her feet ached, she thought of Nora and so too would her heart ache.

Regarding Nora, Magda in an attempt to quell and rein in the wild and insurmountable emotions of grief and loss into something ordered, had made the understandable and yet unwise choice to reduce it all down into a small and hard, crystalline shard that had of course taken residence at the core of her. And as her heart beat, it squeezed over that sharp point and she was reminded of pastries and poetry.

Lucrezia seeing much and saying little, would attempt to comfort her owner whom she loved, in her own hawk-like way, by demonstrating the fragility of all animal hearts. This was done deftly at every mealtime, tearing them out of her dinner and eating them first and in great number often ignoring the rest of the carcass. In fact several of the builders concerned with the only slightly rotting foundations of the sea front house, would comment that they had never worked in a home so free of rats and other vermin.

When Gold Speaks

‘Not now darling, I’m dog tired.’ Magda implored without turning from her desk, and Lucrezia, liking to pretend she had no other effective ways of communication, screamed again before shuffling on her perch. For good measure she plucked out a feather, one she fancied Magda particularly liked, from her plumage out of spite. Anyone who knew Lucrezia, and anyone who knew Magda (and really anyone who knew the former by virtue of Magda’s fierce protection of the bird must therefore be close to the latter) would have been blind not to see why the young cambion had become so decidedly attached to this predator. Demanding, particular and joyful as they both were.

The plans for the fortifications were keeping Magda from Lucrezia, they were in fact keeping her from a great deal of what she loved deeply. Michelangelo entered the study and was bombarded selfishly with fresh cries on Lucrezia’s part for the freedom of the open sky, though as it turned out, she would pause negotiations for the strips of dried meat he had begun – much to his surprise as any other – carrying about on his person for moments just like this. He had found in his heart a special place for her, and could not bear to deny the falcon anything, so demanding, particular and joyful was she.

‘Here’ Magda murmured. The lack of words did not mirror a lack of love, in fact the opposite, because it was that as the affection between them grew larger there was less and less space for the sentence, and here in his coming home, and her missing him quite acutely, the singular word must stand softly and alone and the rest must be said in small gestures of a hand slipping into its pair and the picking of building debris off of his second best (and only other) doublet and the wiping away of a blotch of oil which only served to spread it further over his cheek.

‘The carpenter stopped by today to look at the joist over the door.’ He told the flowers in her hair and his buttons were instructed not to let the craftsman charge a ring over two thrones for the whole lot.

Later they took dinner wrapped in greaseproof paper that was rapidly surrendering its namesake to the heavily buttered shellfish inside. The sun melted into the sea and for half an hour they watched the illumination of its heart as it glowed in resplendent glory, unlocking the vast depths of emotion it had for the wide world; Purples, blues, reds, oranges and at the very top, gilding every wave so prosperously, gold. Dove l’oro parla ogni lingua tace.

“You Are Not Alone”, “Battlefield Charge” and “If You Will Not Fight Them”

You are not alone:

 

Bo pulled his sister into his arms, giving her the warmest, most Loving embrace he could muster.

 

“You are not alone”, he managed, softly.

 

He barely knows his Sister. She is new to Nobility, and has been through horrors that Bo could barely imagine. She had internalised the shackles of slavery. She had been through so much, and now Robbie had died, too.

 

Bo had been there. He, Serena and Lady Tam had made the charge to try to get him back. He had been too late. His leg had been broken. Bo had crawled through the dirt with his last ounce of strength to get back to the Imperials.

 

“Fred and I will look after you,” he added after another pause.

 

And Vitoria will look after him.

 

But who will look after me?

 

He tightened his embrace.

 

 

Battlefield Charge:

 

“Anvil Lance, move in to support the Barossas!”

 

Bo gave the order, his Company responded fluidly as over twenty of Dawn’s finest made their way towards the Jotun formation on the right flank. They had Ogres.

 

Bo noticed that Roderigo was down. Gabrielle was attempting surgery, but she was wide out in the open. An Ogre was making its way towards them.

 

With House Sepulchre on his left, Bo sprinted to cover his friends.

 

Yes, his mind rang as he moved, problems aside, these are my friends.

 

Bo extended his shield over the loving couple, adopting a defensive stance and digging in.

 

This may well be what True Love looks like, thought Bo as he prepared to receive the enemy charge. I cannot say I do not envy them.

 

The Ogre reached the young Lord and pressed its attack.

 

Bo held the line, but he knew things were tenuous at best.

 

He couldn’t quite remember what happened next. He knew there was an Ogre, he knew he and others from Anvil lance killed it. He knew they killed other orcs, too. He knew he gave 3 orders to charge and, eventually, the cumulative momentum accrued by repeating that most archetypal of Dawnish manoeuvres caused them to rout. 

 

The dislocated hip, however, he remembered vividly.

 

With a cry of pain, Lord Bohemonde fell to the floor. Someone dragged him back to triage. He had no idea who they were. He felt like his body was on fire.

 

He was put next to Serena. She looked like she was in excruciating pain, too.

 

Marrowwort was administered by a man who looked like a Griminir.

 

Bo reached out and touched her forehead. She was in so much pain.

 

To his shame, fear stopped him from crying out her name.

 

Last night, she got hurt because of me. It was my fault. I failed her.

 

After a minute of this, she returned to her feet. Bo followed suit soon after. She went back to her family, Bo went to resume control of Anvil Lance.

 

Leaning on his shield as he walked, Bo made his way back to his people with more than a melancholy pang in his chest.

 

That’s us, I suppose, he mused sadly.

 

 

“If you will not fight them…”

 

Bo could understand Geraint’s logic and why he might feel offended by his stance on the “nobles” that had assaulted him the evening before.

 

There had been some violent disagreements over their Nobility of Spirit. Bo thought they had none. As if to affirm his words, the member of House Cordraco in question decided to headbutt him and call him a “fop”. Bo replied calmly, urging that the “sad little man” refrain from such puerile displays in the future. 

 

Thank Loyalty that Ree, Flora and Colwyn had my back, he thought.

 

Bo’s more pragmatic, soldierly side knew he could crush Geraint easily in single combat. Bo had seen him fight enough to pinpoint his weaknesses – a dignity he extended to anyone he felt he might one day have to fight. That didn’t mean he wanted to, though. He did not want to humiliate his friend. Geraint had been through enough.

 

They were birds of a feather, in a way.

 

That said, the plans of these unmarried blood-cousins to fornicate on a battlefield, irreverently upsetting the social contract at the core of the Dawnish meritocracy, as well as their reductive and asinine geopolitical views, all threw their nobility of spirit into question, as far as Bo was concerned.

 

Geraint was doing his best to act in a manner befitting an Earl, but Bo could see the fear in his eyes.

 

A House like Cordraco, with so many composite parts… Geraint’s position must be rather… precarious at times.

 

Bo would await the punishment that Geraint would set them for their misgivings, then he would make up his mind.

 

—-

 

Later that day, D’eon made a remark about Bo forfeiting the “moral high ground”.

 

As ever, thought Bo, my Earl fails to commit. How grindingly predictable. How very, very him.

 

 

Earlier that day, the Nobles in question had covered Bo during an extremely dicey situation with the Grendel.

 

They had failed to get to Robbie in time, and Bo paid the price.

 

Bo crawled through the mud, his leg was broken and he was barely remaining conscious in the face of extensive bloodloss.

 

They had patched him up, without so much as a complaint.

 

Bo respected that degree of dedication to one’s fellow citizen, even if the traditions of their House remained reprehensible.

 

 

At the end of all this, Bo duelled the Noble who had headbutted him. Bo won, despite another broken leg.

 

“I do not respect your traditions, but I respect you.”

 

That was, perhaps, enough.

 

Geraint looked relieved he hadn’t had to make a hard choice. Bo’s own train of thought echoed that sentiment.

 

Geraint has had to face enough tough choices.  

 

 

Lupo Prompts

MY EYE

The battle raged. Everywhere he looked more Jotun came; an axe came at him in a high arc and blocking it with the shaft of his spear he danced back a step, then sprang forwards, his spear finding the barbarian’s heart. Pulling it free, he let the filth drop. 87, he counted to himself: 13 more and he could strike Silvia’s name from his book – just 13 more. 

As the next Jotun charge hit the line, he roared with his kinfolk, laying another orc low with another thrust, this time finding its mark in the jugular. As he was retrieving his spear he saw it, just out the corner of his eye: a blade flashing in the light. Without thinking he leant backwards, turning from the blade, but he was too slow. 

An explosion of pain washed over his face. It felt like a burning coal was behind his eye. Dropping to a knee he closed his right eye and tried to open his left. Nothing, not even a blurry image. Opening his right eye again, he waved off the physick near him and rose to his feet, stumbling forwards to rejoin the melee, sheer anger guiding his hand. His spear found the bastard who did it to him, all his vision now going blurry as the adrenaline was wearing off. He stumbled back out of the line looking for a familiar face, everything blurring into shapes as a hand reached out to grab him.

“Lupo, what’s wrong? Are you okay?” Nym asked as she propped him up.

“MY EYE, Nymeria, I need it covered, I can’t be out the fight for long,” he replied, taking his hand away from his bloody wound. 

She didn’t hesitate in taking her favour off to tie around his head, or to help him with some herbs.

 

Monster 

“Hand it all over … everything, everything we have for their lives. That’s what they want, now give it up – or are their lives worthless to you?”

Lupo was seething that they had even had to think about it. He had already handed over everything he had, but some were hesitant. Some were already emptying their pockets but some were not, and the Navarri were even looking over their shoulders at the portal.

“YOU FUCKING RUN, I’LL KILL YOU MYSELF,” he barked at them, and all five of them took a step back, back towards the gate.

 Fuck, he thought to himself. Fuck, if they run it’ll start a panic. He was not going to loose this many people. He wouldn’t!

“Neamor … you’re a mage, if anyone tries to run for the gate get there before them and close it – fuck it, if we can’t get them back we can all die here together. I’m ready. How about you?”

The Wintermarker’s nod was all he needed.

“Right, let me repeat myself: empty your pockets.”

More listened this time … people always listened to a monster.

Family

“So, the Imperial Household?”
Perched on her customary spot on the side of her brother’s workbench, her feet resting on a box of doubtlessly precious materials, Beatrix nodded. “The House of Seven Mirrors, technically. And I have not sworn yet.” She spread her fingers slightly, indicating the lack of a ring for her new guild to be.
Her brother scowled.

In the cold of a Holberg winter, the serving girl in the flimsy cloak had not quite forgotten her errand. But the wind was biting and her hands were blue and numb and it was nicer to take the long way and warm yourself on a fire for a moment, and share some gossip with a friend or two.
“What?”

He shook his head. “Nothing.”
“Hans…” There was a warning tone in her voice. Johannes sighed.
“Household. It just… I don’t know.”
“Don’t know what?”

At the moment, she was huddled behind one of the ox stables at Silver Lane, stepping from one foot to the other to stay warm, keeping an eye on the street. Sure, the College work and rations meant she did not have to do this anymore, but that did not keep her from doing a favour for a friend.
“Elena! Hurry! Someone’s coming!

Hans rose from his chair and started pacing. “They look like a Camorra from the outside. Like… A family! And then there’s De Rondell. You are not even Dawnish and they consider you one of theirs. Call you sister, don’t they? It’s like you’ve gone and married and walked into politics and suddenly…”

The steps nearing the stable were light. A servant, maybe, or an apprentice, they lacked the assertiveness of a Mistress or Master. Beatrix looked around for something to create a distraction with, her fingers ghosting over the hidden knife against her hip. If she cut one of the grain sacks, the sound would make the apprentice look and they could slip away down the alley and…
The hand grabbing her by the nape of the neck came almost out of nowhere. Beatrix let out a squeal, dropped low and spun, twisting her attacker’s arm and forcing them to let go, ready to run.
“…Bea?”

For an instant, Beatrix’s hands clenched around the edge of the workbench, a low growl escaping her. But then, she took a breath and slid off the table, firmly taking her brother by the shoulders.

She froze, the quiet, quavering voice chilling her to the bone. There were tears in her eyes already when she looked up. “Hans…”
“I… I thought you were dead.”
“I was looking for you but could not find you!”
She did not know who of them moved, just that she suddenly was in his arms, her big brother’s arms, breathing in his scent between hiccuping sobs, and that his hands were warm on her back and his voice thick with tears. “I am here, Bea. I am here now, and I always will be.”

“Hans. You are not losing me.” She smiled. “I am here and I always will be.”