Toini looked up – a hopeful smile on her face. “Aha?”
Something to break the silence. Something else to talk about. A distraction. Anything.
“Why didn’t you call?”
“Call?” Why would she call? She hadn’t known she was coming until yesterday.
Paivi sighed. “Why didn’t you let me know you were still alive?” She crossed her arms over her chest. Not a hint of a smile on her face. “You must have known I was still here. You can’t have been that busy?
“Oh…” Toini’s heart sank – it was that question.
She stared into the fire. The flames were just flames now, crackling to themselves, leaving her memories alone. That demon had been put to rest, for now. There were other challenges to face.
Toini steeled herself, took a deep breath, and tried to think of a good answer. “Safety precautions.”
“Safety?” Paivi scoffed at her. “Who’s safety? Mine or yours?” Glaring at Toini she took a swig of her beer. “That’s ridiculous.”
“No.” Raoul put down his knife and fork, and dabbed at his mouth with a napkin. “The nature of our duties is such that associating with any friends or family will put their safety at risk and potentially jeopardize our integrity as operatives.”
“Yes.” Toini nodded. “That’s correct.” It was. A bit formal, but correct all the same.
“What?” Frowning, Paivi looked from Raoul to Toini and back again.
Raoul cleared his throat. “Maintaining contact with you would be a security risk, both for you and for Toini.”
Toini kept her face serious and nodded again. Bastard was good with words. She’d give him that. Then again, that’s why he was the chronicler. Knew how to express himself.
“Seriously?” Paivi looked back and forth between the two of them, mouth open and eyes full of disbelief.
“I make a lot of enemies.” Toini shifted in her seat, grimaced, and faced her sister. “They can’t get to me directly, but if they hurt you… If they even threatened to hurt you, it’d ruin me – both as a paladin and as a person.”
It was the only way. No matter how bad things got for her, her sister would always be safe and happy up here in the north. She took great comfort in that. Always had. It kept her strong. “I’m not a popular paladin. It’s better this way.”
Paivi gasped. “Better!” Her eyes clouded over and her lip pulled back in a sneer.
Toini said nothing. Without blinking she met her sister’s stare straight on. She’d known Paivi wouldn’t get it. Not at first. That didn’t change anything. She knew she was right. That’s just the way it was.
“I haven’t spoken to my mother for six years,” said Raoul.
Toini glanced over at her chronicler. She didn’t need his help. He had a point though.
“Raoul’s from these parts too. He could go visit his family now that we’re…” She shouldn’t be saying too much. “Now that we’re in the region, but he won’t.”
Clasping his hands in front of him, Raoul turned to Paivi with his most winning smile. “Toini actually offered me the choice on the way here, as I will be leaving her retinue shortly, but I decided against it. It’s just not safe.”
“Yeah, well, but at least your family knows what you’re doing.” Paivi glared at him. “Your mother knows that you’re alive.”
“Yes.” Raoul nodded, and for just a moment the smile wavered. “But she also knows that at any time she could receive a letter that says I’m not.” The smile slipped, and his face turned serious. “Every single day she dreads opening the mailbox. For six years. That’s the magnitude of the risks we’re dealing with.”
Paivi leaned forward in her chair and stared at him. “I already got that stupid letter,” she snarled. “Your mother still has hope.”
Raoul stared back. “That letter could come any given day. Don’t think it’s easy for me to know what she’s going through, but it’s for the best.” He straightened up, nodded towards Toini, and turned back to Paivi again. “What we do is bigger. It matters.”
“You utter bastard!” Paivi shot to her feet. Teeth bared. Fists clenched. “Do you have any idea what you’re putting her through?”
“Hey, let’s not fight, please?” Toini raised her hands, and motioned for her to calm down. “Paivi, why don’t you tell me how it’s been here?” Change the topic. Something nice. “How’s mom? Dad?”
Paivi froze. Her face paled, and for a moment her eyes drained of life.
Toini gasped. Pain seeped out of her sister in cold sluggish waves.
“You! Raoul.” Paivi’s raised her hand, pointed at the opening of the snug, and growled. “Leave. Now. This is personal.”
Raoul ducked his head. He tried a smile, but it fell right off. A moment later he got to his feet, picked up his pint and his plate, and left.
Paivi looked after him, standing tall with her hands on her hips, taking slow, deep breaths. Eventually she sighed and sat down again. “Eat, Toini. You haven’t touched your food.”
Toini swallowed and picked up her knife and fork.