The early rays of morning still hid beneath the horizon, even looking out over the cliffs at the edge of the sea they were hidden, stalling the sunrise. There was light enough to make out the ships beyond the rocks and spray, bobbing black and silent like toys. There was light enough to see the path she had walked to the edge of the cliffs. And thankfully there was light enough to see the edge of the stone that marked the end of the land and the beginning of the sea.
It was fitting that the edge of the cliff was barren, she thought. In the end all things fall away and bones are all that remain until they too crumble.
The wind blew at her from the sea, carrying with it the smell of salt and brine. This mixed with the softer scents of the garden behind her that tucked itself behind a sheltering wall, and with the heavier scents of baked fruits and bread from the house beyond that.
She waited some moments, breathing slowly and deeply, until the scent of oil and leather joined the rest to tell her that she was not alone. Hands came down to rest on her shoulders just as the first rays flashed across the sea, turning the little ships into tiny bobbing jewels. The sight brought tears to her eyes.
She tensed, not sure that she wanted to turn around and see him in his armor, wearing his black sword and his new cape.
His arms slid around her shoulders, creaking and embracing her from behind. The metal bits of his armor tugged at the fabric of her sleeves, and the smell of oil and leather threatened to overtake the salt and brine.
“It’s time,” he whispered.
She raised her hands and clasped his forearm where it rested across her bosom, holding him tightly to her, the metal cold and hard against her hands. “Must you?”
“You know I must.” He leaned forward over her shoulder, bringing his clean-shaven face against her cheek. His skin still smelled like soap. “I will carry you with me, in my heart. And when the year is over I will return and bring back the part of you I keep with me. And we will both be whole again.”
She closed her eyes and swallowed past the lump in her throat, willing herself not to cry.
He turned his head and kissed her cheek, gentle and lingering, then whispered in her ear. “Watch the skies, my love. Every night, watch the stars dance and know that I am watching them with you.”
His arms were covered in the leather and metal, but she held as tightly as she could, pressing her cheek into his. He held her a few more heartbeats until the sound of voices called him from the house.
Pulling his arms from her grip, he turned her chin toward him so that he could kiss her tenderly on the lips, tasting the salty tears she had been struggling to keep hidden. “I will come back to you… Terena.”
She nodded, not trusting herself to speak, and turned back to the sea.
When his arms fell away she circled herself with her own, wishing they were his. As she listened to him turn and walk away she pictured him in her mind, wished that the sound would stop and get closer as he returned to her. It didn’t.
Voices drifted to her as the other men greeted him and as they all mounted their horses. Laughter and goodwishes from those outside the little house mingled with the wind. Then the clack of hooves on the stone of the path leading down the back of the cliff and winding away to the west. Then those left behind slowly drifted off as well.
She listened to the wind, watched the light grow in the east. At some point she sank to her knees, still holding her arms tight across her chest, holding onto the memory of his arms there.
She bowed her head and wept.